The abuse of patriarchal power in Rome: the rape narratives of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
By around 8AD the Metamorphoses, a single poem divided into fifteen books, had been completed by Publius Ovidius Naso. The text, written in the meter of epic, links together over two hundred myths through the theme of transformation. In the poem there is an unprecedented prevalence of rape stories. The Metamorphoses is essentially an encyclopaedia of Greek and Roman myth. Ovid includes stories of rape to be faithful to these traditional myths. It is not his inclusion of these stories which triggers interest, but the way in which he treats them. Ovid uses repeated imagery and terminology when representing rape victims, constructing an overall image of the disenfranchised female who has been victimised by the patriarchal system of Rome. This thesis argues that, by examining the abuses of power in interpersonal relationships Ovid implicitly points to patriarchal dynamics in Rome under Augustus. The topic of rape is chosen because it perfectly embodies the idea of the voiceless, powerless victim who is violated by the dominant and oppressive male figure. There are several key stories in the text that will be examined repeatedly, from different angles, to support this argument. The main source used will be the Metamorphoses however evidence will be draw from other ancient sources and the argument will be supplemented by scholarship on the subject. The poet’s prior work, the Ars Amatoria, was controversial at the time of production and it remains a controversial topic in modern scholarship. The text was deemed to be a promotion of rape culture and his attitude towards women was, at best, considered dismissive.1 Due to the nature of this text, as well as other earlier works, secondary scholarship has developed a tendency to brand the poet’s work as “insincere, immoral, shallow and rhetorical.”2 As this academic dismissal appears to have strengthened over time, it is often necessary to source information from much earlier publications in order to present a balanced argument.
1 Amy Richlin argues that Ovid actually took pleasure in violence, condemning his work as “pornographic.” (Richlin, 1992: 158) This sentiment is shared by Eva Keuls (Keuls, 1990: 221-224). 2 A.H. Griffin, “Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’” Greece and Rome 24 (1977) 58.