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Ovid's Metamorphoses Essay

1621 words - 6 pages

In 8 AD, Ovid, author of Metamorphoses, was banished forever from Rome, and by order of the emperor Augustus, all his works were removed from the public libraries. In the years that followed, he never stopped pining for Rome, and his final works in exile are poems of supplication, which, while sincere and moving, failed to rewrite his past. Mikhail Bulgakov toiled over his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, for over a decade. He lived for it, obsessed over it, and memorized it, but nevertheless also burned it and never stopped revising it until the day he died. Never did he seriously consider publishing it. If he had tried, not only would it have certainly been suppressed, but Bulgakov would almost certainly have come to a violent end. The themes of the written word, its power and permanence, and of the opposition to its power from those it threatens, constantly informed the work and lives of these respective authors. The texts of concern in this paper, The Story of Caunus and Byblis by Ovid and The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, are at their core meditations on these very subjects. In Ovid's story, Byblis is in love with her brother Caunus and decides she must reveal her true feelings. "Can I speak out?" she wonders, and decides against it: "It might be better if I wrote a letter." Ovid then describes the tortured process of writing: "She starts, and stops, and writes, and makes corrections, rubs out, and changes"¦She had written sister: that required erasing"¦" (p. 224-5) This very brief passage is rich with insight on written language and its manipulation. We are first alerted that the form of Byblis' confession is significant in her indecision over it. We are not told explicitly why Byblis decides to write instead of speak, but it seems that it is out of fear more than anything else. She doubts that she would be able to speak, though she is not mute, leading to the conclusion that fear of rejection, and all that entails in this rather delicate situation, would hold her tongue. Hence she writes, either because she believes an intermediary can ease the pain of rejection, or the chance of rejection is lessened if her plea takes written form. In any case, she writes the letter and takes advantage of the luxury of alterations and corrections that the form offers, but she overestimated the possibilities of revision. We are told that she originally referred to herself in the letter as her brother's "sister," and that she immediately erased the word, and when we are shown the full text of the letter, we see "sister" has become "a lover of yours." Byblis believed that in writing this letter, she could "erase" her true self and the nature of her relationship with her brother. In fact, the final, revised version of the letter can be seen as a revision itself in its entirety: as a "revision" of reality. Byblis tries to overturn morality, theology, history and identity in the letter, ignoring the significance her...

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