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Prospicit occasus, interdum respicit ortus : a metapoetic journey through Ovid's Phaethon, Metamorphoses 1. 748-2. 400. Runacres, Ian Peter

Abstract

The question of the Metamorphoses’ genre has largely been replaced by analyses of how the various genres react against each other within the hexameter framework of the poem. How Ovid instructs his reader to see how he breaks down strict generic divisions within the poem is, I shall argue, explicated by the literary symbolism in the most extensive single story in the poem, that of Phaethon’s destructive commandeering of the Sun’s chariot (Met. 1. 748-2. 400). In the Introduction, I shall make a case for undertaking a metaliterary reading of the episode. I shall then argue (Ch. II) that the ecphrastic palace of the Sun and the chariot which Phaethon is to ride embody Virgilian standards of epic (Ch. II) and Ovid’s own previous prescriptions for poetry (Ch. III) which Phaethon’s ride deliberately flouts. This flags Ovid’s generic leap forward from his earlier poetry. I shall examine how the Phaethon narrative reacts specifically against two pieces of Ovid’s previous programmatic poetry, Am. 2. 1 and the Daedalus and Icarus narrative from Ars 2, to turn the story of Phaethon into a perverse Gigantomachy (Ch. IV). I shall demonstrate how Gigantomachy can be used negatively as hubris and positively to represent artistic innovation to show that the Phaethon narrative simultaneously fulfils the promise in Am. 2. 1 to write a Gigantomachy and inverts its traditional attributes to assert the productive power of Ovid’s mixing of genres. References to Ovid’s apology for his elegiac poetry in the Remedia will show how Ovid pre-empts the critical opprobrium he might expect this experimental poetry to attract, and at the same time vaunts the high quality of the result of that experimentation (Ch. V). By showing how Phaethon’s catasterism into the constellation Auriga is under erasure, I shall demonstrate how the initial lack of confidence in the project of the Metamorphoses, represented by Phaethon’s ultimate failure, is overturned by the contrasting fate of Hippolytus and Ovid’s own super-catasterism in the sphragis in Book 15 as part of a growing movement throughout the poem away from written verse to the disembodied poetic voice.

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