"My mind carries me to speak of bodies changed into new forms"
These lines from the beginning pages of Ovid's epic poem, Metamorphosis,
carry special significance as we look at today's bizarrely morphing humans
and animals. DNA is changing with new codes being unraveled, stem cell
production is thriving, men are changing into women, women are changing
into Barbie Dolls: Humans are rocking robotic limbs on the runway, and
robots are the latest in customized companionship. Deserts are turning into
wetlands, and once vital streams have now become haunted slot canyons.
The end of Book One in Ovid's fifteen book masterpiece is where I would like
to focus this essay. Many cultures insert tales of Divine Rape into their fables
and this Poem is no different. Usually the rape is glorified and justified as "for
the good of all". I am interested in the story of Apollo and Daphne because it
is a story of an attempted Divine Rape that not only did not happen, but the
rapist godhead was humiliated, scorned and made to look like a real douche
bag. According to Ovid's account, Daphne was the daughter of a forest
nymph and Thessalian river God. Daphne loved and embraced every aspect
of the rich woodland existence that surrounded her as she grew. When she
became a beautiful woman she told her father that she would remain a virgin
forever, and that she had married herself to Muse. She was an artist, a poet,
and a musician and could never be content with the life of some man's help
mate, brood mare, and object of lust. Her father reluctantly agreed to help
her maintain her blissful existence.
Apollo enters the story a lustful, foolish, Narcissist who sees Daphne and
decides he must have her,and chases her down like a rabbit or deer.
Now, it is not all his fault, after all he was shot by one of Eros's golden arrows
of passion. (well, I guess now he has an excuse for his schmuck behavior).
Eros also shoots Daphne with an arrow, but this arrow tip is made of lead,
which further anchors Daphne's resolve to remain an artist. Lead is also the
symbol of Saturn, the inner light, the wisdom that hides behind the brilliant
sun. Lead represents meditation, perseverance, concentration, and
After a heated chase, Daphne felt she can no longer escape the shadow of
lust that ripped at her clothes and lunged at her limbs, and she begged her
father to save her. She changed at this point into a Laurel tree, an evergreen
of epic healing gifts, an evergreen that would become the symbol of the heroic
poet, the artist who works through the Muse to some how save humanity.
Apollo on the other hand becomes the poster child for blind passion as he
continues to rip at her bark and dig at her roots, even after she has made her
transfiguration. Most cultural stories would make Apollo the victim here,
starved for real love, he is unable to control his passions. But thankfully Ovid
does not make Daphne responsible for Apollo's psychosis. Daphne instead is
the Hero here, who sacrifices her human form for the sake of artists and
healers, people who heal through the arts.
The story of Apollo and Daphne illustrates that often the newly emerged
body,( that is a result of abrupt metamorphosis), is the divine version of the
higher self of the one who has changed. I think many artists find
metamorphosis a constant and expected phenomenon in their lives.
I embrace every opportunity to transform myself for the sake of new
knowledge and new experience. Always a change for the Better.
Ovid's metamorphosis is a Field Day for an artist like myself.
The poem is jam packed with opportunities for debate
surrounding art and philosophy. In my next blog I will explore how the
Metamorphosis became the template for many later Epic works of art, in
particular, the Bible and James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. If you enjoy my
blog share it with friends, or comment if you have some cool ideas to share as
well! Blessed Be!