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Ovid’s Devaluation of Sympathy in Metamorphoses

Ovid’s Devaluation of Sympathy in Metamorphoses

Ovid reveals two similar tales of incest in the Metamorphoses. First, he describes the non-sisterly love Byblis acquires for her twin brother Caunus. Later, he revisits the incestuous love theme with the story of Myrrha who develops a non-filial love for her father, Cinyras. The two accounts hold many similarities and elicit varying reactions. Ovid constantly tugs at our emotions and draws forth alternating feelings of pity and disgust for the matters at hand. “Repetition with a difference” in these two narratives shows how fickle we can be in allotting and denying sympathy, making it seem less valuable.

Both tales begin drawing forth a sense of disgust for the situation in general yet arousing pity for each girl’s predicament. Ovid clearly labels the love Byblis and Myrrha pursue illegitimate when he summarizes the moral of Byblis’ tale stating, “when girls love they should love lawfully” (Mandelbaum 307) and reveals that “to hate a father is / a crime, but love like [Myrrha’s] is worse than hate” (338) before describing Myrrha’s tale. By presenting the girls as criminals, Ovid leads us to despise them. He then proceeds to draw out sympathy for Byblis and Myrrha as he describes their unsuccessful attempts to overcome these desires. Byblis dreams intimately about Caunus, but “when she’s awake, she does not dare / to let her obscene hopes invade her soul” (308). “[Myrrha] strives; she tries; she would subdue / her obscene love,” but she cannot (339). Right away, Ovid makes us question if these situations deserve our sympathy.

Byblis and Myrrha compel readers to sympathize with their plight as they orally confess their incestuous passions. They use selective lang…

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…d leaves us feeling sorry for Myrrha.

Ovid tells this tale of forbidden sin twice to show how inconsistent we are in allotting pity. He begins both tales drawing forth our contempt for the matters at hand, then ends both tales with images that arouse our pity. Throughout each story, our emotions sway between pity and disgust. Even though incest disgusts us, we sympathize with Byblis and Myrrha as they seek incestuous loves. Byblis’ broken heart arouses our sympathy, yet Myrrha’s “fulfilled heart” disgusts us. Ovid devalues our sympathy by showing how unstable we are with our emotions.

Works Cited

Mandelbaum, Allen, trans. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. By Ovid. San Diego: Harcourt Brace

Sympathy in Medea, Aeneid, Metamorphoses, Orlando Furioso, and Hamlet

Sympathy in Medea, Aeneid, Metamorphoses, Orlando Furioso, and Hamlet

Euripedes tugs and pulls at our emotions from every angle throughout The Medea. He compels us to feel sympathy for the characters abused by Medea, yet still feel sympathy for Medea as well. These conflicting feelings build a sense of confusion and anxiety about the unfolding plot. In the beginning, the Nurse reveals the recent background events that have caused Medea so much torment: “She herself helped Jason in every way” (13) and now he “has taken a royal wife to his bed” (18). Right away we are angry with Jason for breaking his wedding vows, and we are building up sympathy for Medea as the Nurse describes her acts of suffering. When we first see Medea, she speaks passionately to the women of Corinth and convinces them to side with her. She evokes their sympathy by drawing further attention to her suffering and speaking in terms that bring them all to common ground. Aegeus becomes Medea’s first victim when he, unknowingly, provides the final building block in her plan for revenge against Jason. We sympathize for Aegeus in his ignorance. Medea now has confidence in her plan, so she reveals it to the women of Corinth. She is going to send her children to Jason’s bride with a poisoned dress that will make her die in agony. We are still compelled to sympathize with Medea at this point because she has justified her reasons for seeking revenge. However, the princess is oblivious to Medea’s plot; she will accept the gift for its beauty then meet an unexpected, agonized death. The image of pain and agony elicits our sympathy as well. Medea presents her most perverse speech when she explains how she will kill her own children then flee Corinth. Alone, these acts provoke pure disgust, but Euripides has developed Medea’s character as a coercive force; we still sympathize with her for her plight, yet we also hate her for her decisions. The women of Corinth try to persuade her away from this morbid choice, but their arguments are ineffective. Euripides employs stichomythia in the exchange between the women and Medea to show Medea breaking down boundaries between self and other, which prevent sympathy (811-819). Euripedes focuses on suffering, ignorance, and rhetoric to leave us torn in our sympathy for every character.

Vergil elicits sympathy from readers in the beginning of The Aeneid when characters suffer physically and emotionally.

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