multi illam petiere, illa aversata petentes
impatiens expersque viri nemora avia lustrat,
nec quid Hymen, quid amor, quid sint conubia curat.
Many sought her, [but] she turned them all away,
unable to take it, and freed from men she wanders the trackless forests,
nor does she care what Hymen*, what love, or what marriage are.
Well, here we are again… I’m uploading waaaaay later than I’d have hoped. The PhD is coming along and I really only have a little bit left to do – it’s crazy to think I’ll be submitting in two months! I will try to do what I can to get some pages of the comic out in that time, but since this is the final push, everything has to take a backseat to the dissertation, sadly. Hang in there with me – it’s only a little bit of time to go!
This page is quite detailed, considering it only covers three lines of the Metamorphoses. This is the strange thing about adapting a poem into a comic. These lines are packed with imagery, which puts pictures in your head of many activities, taking place over an indeterminate space of time (some of that imagery, I even used on the last page). The text exists outside of time, and merely invites the reader to imagine. Having, imagined, I drew. Well, actually, I imagined what Daphne must be like, and what she must be doing (in my mind), but I also had to think about the structure of the comic’s narrative. I knew I wanted the story to flow in way that made sense visually (comics are, after all, a visual medium) and so I concocted the current sequence of events. They don’t follow Ovid to the letter – they represent my personal extrapolations from reading his text. Basically, reading this page means you’re reading my mind while I read Ovid. It’s a rather interesting way of translating texts, and shows you just how subjective translation can really be. Nevertheless, I hope that it is at least close to what Ovid had in mind when he wrote these three lines.
Actually, these lines are packed with more meaning than might be apparent at first. Line 478 is actually a poetic echo (we call it an “allusion” in literary criticism) of Catullus, poem 62. Poem 62 is about marriage: a chorus of boys and a chorus of girls, waiting for the bride to arrive at the wedding feast, give their competing views about marriage, and heterosexual power dynamics in general. The girls complain that they have to suffer marriage, but are spoiled in the process. Look at lines 42 and 44, which are the ones Ovid is referencing:
Ut flos in saeptis secretus nascitur hortis,
ignotus pecori, nullo contusus aratro,
quem mulcent aurae, firmat sol, educat imber;
multi illum pueri, multae optauere puellae:
idem cum tenui carptus defloruit ungui,
nulli illum pueri, nullae optauere puellae:
sic virgo, dum intact manet, dum cara suis est;
cum castum amisit polluto corpore florem,
nec pueris iucunda manet, nec cara puellis.
Hymen o Hymenaee, Hymen ades o Hymenaee!
Like a flower that grows hidden in the hedged garden,
unknown to sheep, struck by no plow,
which the breezes make soft, the Sun strengthens, the rain rears;
many boys and many girls want it:
when the same [flower], plucked by the slender nail, loses its blossom
no boys and no girls want it:
such is the maiden, while she remains intact, she is dear to her own;
when she loses the chaste flower with her polluted body,
she does not remain pleasing to boys, nor dear to girls.
Hymen oh Hymenaeus, Hymen be present oh Hymenaeus!**
We’re going to gloss over the fact that this poem is actually pretty progressive in its depiction of adulescent lesbian relationships, and talk about what it says about the female experience of marriage in Roman culture. This is one of the complaints of the puellae (“girls”) in Catullus’ poem; the juvenes (“youths”, i.e., “boys”) respond with an agricultural example of their own, comparing girls to vines that need a strong tree to support them as they grow. These examples make more sense in light of ancient concepts of marriage. Young girls were given a good deal of freedom compared with adult women; they moved about more easily and didn’t have to comply with the requirements for modesty that were placed on married women. Marriage, therefore, was often a scary prospect for girls, because it meant losing independence and being subjected to terrifying things, like the sexual proclivities of their husbands (there was no law preventing rape in marriage) and childbirth, which could be often fatal or disfiguring. Moreover, ancient people viewed life as a series of phases, with each person treated differently at different phases. When a girl was married, she ceased to be a “virgin” (a word that has little to do with sexual experience in the ancient world) and became a full woman. Essentially, she ceased to be who she was before and her life changed dramatically as a result. Catullus’ juvenes try to soothe the girls’ fears by promising to support them in marriage, but fail to see the ultimate identity crisis looming in many girls’ minds. It is assumed by scholars such as Sourvinou-Inwood (1987: 143-5), Zeitlin (1986: 129-35) and Lefkowitz (1993: 28-31) that myths, such as the one we see unfolding before us with Daphne, were inspired by the anxieties of girls as they came to a marriageable age. Thus, Daphne is assailed by proposal from boys seeking her out, but is terrified by the prospect of accepting those proposals. Ovid’s subtle reference to Catullus leads the reader back to that poem, where they can hear an articulated example of what it is like to be desired and then thrown away; he thus gives Daphne a reasoned argument, without needing to reprint it directly in the Metamorphoses. We’ll see on the next page what Daphne’s solution to the whole problem is…
In making this page, I was unsure of how to make the same effect work for modern readers. I decided to take inspiration from a negative aspect of modern sexual dynamics that I and many other women experience on a regular basis: street harassment. It was a bit difficult to draw this page, because I was drawing on ugly experiences of my own and those recounted to me by friends. Nevertheless, I thought it would be in the spirit of the Ovidian passage to use this story to reflect a contemporary problem with heteronormativity. I hope my own allusion can be at least somewhat as effective as Ovid’s. At any rate, it was also a fulfilling page to draw, because putting these ugly things on a page for all to see felt cathartic. I only hope that my readers who have experienced this kind of harassment will feel some solidarity through this page, and that those who might be inclinded to cat-call will think twice before they do it next.
*Hymen (Hymenaeus) was a marriage deity. His name is often just used to mean “marriage” in poetry. Here, however, it is explicitly referring to the god, who was said to attend all marriages. (Ovid uses another word, “conubium”, for “marriage”, on the same line, 480)
**^ See above ^