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Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ Ovid's Metamorphoses ~~

Although the theme of "transformation" is supposedly what gives this epic achievement its thematic unity, at the heart of Metamorphoses is the same fascination that Ovid has elsewhere: a fascination with the psychology, sometimes the pathology, of love: every kind of love. Because metamorphosis plays such a minor role in many of the tales, and in some cases seems perfunctorily tacked on, it seems that the transformation theme is just a peg to hang a hat on, albeit a sturdy peg that serves him well. Each tale does involve a radical transformation, divine or human. But it's clear that Ovid's real interest is elsewhere, whether it be the avenging passions of the gods, or the earthly passions of their human counterparts.

Metamorphoses is one of the last works Ovid completed before being tossed into exile. Maybe it was his reputation for writing "immoral" books, or maybe he did something specific to deserve it—the affair is shrouded in mystery, still—but he was banished by Augustus ostensibly for being a corruptive influence. Although he staunchly maintained his innocence, he died in exile far from the world he loved on the outer edge of civilization, in a town called Tomis on the Black Sea, in what is now Romania.

Ovid's incredible achievement with Metamorphoses can't be banished so easily, though.

Here's a book that uses mythological materials from Greek culture in a new literary way that is not tragedy, not quite epic poetry, and not the typical satire—yet it is something from each of these older forms and more, and less. It's a book, in other words, that's very difficult to classify. It's been called a "mock-epic"—and it does serve us with a roughly chronological "tale," in dactylic hexameter, spanning from creation through the deification of Julius Caesar—but there's no central hero. There are tragic tales, tragic scenarios throughout, but they are routinely stripped of tragic emotion and spiritual content. There's satire, but it's (apparently) "amoral," one ironic wink after another. Ovid appropriates the past only to strip it of its moral certainty, only to fill it with ambiguity and irony. He shapes his tales of antiquity so that they reflect, not their ancient Greek tellers, but their contemporary Roman listeners.

Ovid is a great artist, no mere transcriptionist! By rearranging, re-envisioning, reinterpreting these stories, he vividly reinvents and reawakens an entire cosmic pantheon, revealing not only the nature of divine justice, or injustice, but the tastes and temperament of contemporary Augustan Rome. A close reading of the small sampling of stories in Fantastic Worlds will reveal his unique concerns and achievements.

The Myth of Actaeon

In its original Greek version, Actaeon is one of many cautionary tales dramatizing the overwhelming power of the Gods—in this case Artemis (who becomes Diana in the Roman pantheon). Actaeon's "innocence" is Ovid's invention; in the original tale, stumbling upon her bath in the woods, Actaeon is overcome by Artemis' beauty and so he deliberately hides himself and sneaks a long guilty peek. Unfortunately for him, he's discovered, and the chaste virgin goddess responds with fury at being spied upon. She immediately accomplishes her revenge, turning him into a stag, and he's quickly destroyed by his own dogs.

Obviously, this is all but the same story Ovid tells, yet the differences he introduces are too significant to call it the "same" tale. It's no longer a simple piece of didactic moralism. Instead it becomes a short bit of black comedy that raises more questions than it answers. What kind of a world is it when bad things like this happen to good people? Was the goddess "too cruel"? Are the gods just or unjust? As our narrator cuts away from Actaeon's unfortunate end, we learn that public opinion is divided about this story. Some think yes, the goddess was too cruel, but some think she had every right to defend her honor, and both sides can reasonably justify their positions. That is moral ambiguity writ large, but writ with a wink.

If Ovid repulses our sensitivities and frustrates our moral sense by (1) having an innocent young man meet a gruesome death, and (2) refusing to tell us the meaning of his doing so, it seems to be because he's abandoned simple, single-minded didacticism in favor of literary ambiguity. The shallows are giving way to the depths. The "myth" is transformed into "story." Just because meaning is open-ended and ambiguous doesn't imply the story is vacuous, a piece of lightweight, colorful entertainment—on the contrary, it's ultimately deepened, darkened, heavier.

From its opening lines, which echo the last lines of one of the greatest tragedies ever written, the satiric content is aimed straight at tragedy, straight at the quintessential tragedy, Sophocles' Oedipus. In that play we beheld another "innocent" who was driven to a horrible destiny by "fate." But unlike Sophocles, who explored the labyrinthine relationship between character and fate, Ovid would have us believe that fate alone, quite apart from any "character flaw" or hubris on the part of Actaeon, led him on until he reached the grove where he accidentally glimpsed the goddess. "Calm reflection will show that destiny was to blame for Actaeon's misfortunes, not any guilt on his own part." Reflecting on such injustice is supposed to make us feel calm? Why is destiny so cruel to Actaeon? Does he deserve it? Not that we can see. What's the meaning of Diana's rage? If utter destruction can be the result of an accidental glimpse, then life is a minefield, indeed. When powerful forces, like goddesses (or emperors), can destroy an innocent life at will, to satisfy a desire for revenge, and feel justified in doing so, then the less powerful among us better watch it.

Some readers are perplexed that Actaeon's "misfortune" doesn't seem to arouse Ovid's sympathy. But I would disagree. There are passages where Ovid's fellow feeling finds expression, as when the dogs give him chase and he longs to cry out to them, and later when they do catch him and Actaeon groans; "The ridges he knew so well were filled with his mournful cries." However, sympathy for Actaeon is not the main show, and it doesn't last long. The tale is not tragedy. What we are served by this tale is irony, satire, even a little burlesque, and more irony. And then a little more irony.

It's a dark comedy. Looking for moments? Try:

  • The very beginning echoes the theme of antiquity's greatest tragedy, and then proceeds to strip the present tale of all tragic emotion, all emotional involvement
  • Actaeon is attracted into Diana's grove because it's a place where "nature imitates art" (a reversal of Aristotle's great dictum that art should imitate life); it has the feel of a perfectly arranged snare, a cosmic trap (which it is), which the expert hunter walks right into
  • Diana, goddess of the hunt, is portrayed exactly as any wealthy "lord of the manor" being attended by servants might be portrayed; not a very macho moment
  • The nymphs trying in vain to hide Diana, but she's "too tall"
  • Diana's blushing cheeks are described in ironically mellow terms (reflected sun rays and rosy dawns) when in fact she's murderously furious
  • The narrator sarcastically refers to Actaeon as the "hero"
  • The way Actaeon takes a moment, as he runs away in a Diana-induced panic, to "marvel" at his swift speed in his new stag form
  • Actaeon's "hesitation" allows his dogs to catch up with him ("As he hesitated, his hounds caught sight of him."), an ironic nod to Sophocles' "character determines fate" theme
  • The long, ironic passage cataloguing Actaeon's dogs as if they're brave, wise, long-suffering soldiers parading before the gates of Homer's Troy (epic epithets aplenty: "the wise Ichnobates," "keen-scented Agre," etc.), and at the end, the even more ironic, "and others whom it would take long to name"
  • Actaeon's "supplication," his prayer-like pose, ironically has the effect of intensifying the carnage
  • Actaeon's friends ironically lament that Actaeon is "absent" and Actaeon ruefully, ironically, notes their error
  • Actaeon's playful response about being "all too present" when he hears his friends call to him
  • Diana's unrepentant pleasure in revenge, her "satisfaction" at Actaeon's gory death, shows a complete lack of understanding of Actaeon's innocence, and demonstrates her further lack of awareness that many people will have lost respect for her because they will see her as "too cruel" and unjust

Why does Ovid make a comedy of this potentially tragic tale? Perhaps he (and his audience) felt it too much of a joke to believe that a woman would guard her "honor" so vigorously when all contemporary evidence seemed to suggest that chastity was a rare thing, as unguarded as the full moon on a cloudless night.

The Story of Echo and Narcissus

The Story of Philomela

Questions for Analysis

  • Is "The Story of Echo and Narcissus" a single-minded moral tale or does it have elements of literary ambiguity? Explain.
  • What are two kinds of "lovesickness" explored in the story?
  • What do you consider some of the tale's comic moments?
  • Do you consider Echo and Narcissus' transformations "tragic"? Why or why not? Is Narcissus' metamorphosis portrayed tragically?

Questions for Analysis

  • Is Tereus suffering from a kind of "lovesickness" that's different from what you observed in Echo and Narcissus? Explain.
  • How are the main characters in the story transformed even before they metamorphosize? What is the cause of their transformations, in each case?
  • Is the violence in this story obscene or immoral in your opinion? Would you indict Ovid or defend him for the way he tells this tale?
  • Analyze the narrator's tone and attitude throughout the tale. What inferences can you make about Ovid's purpose?

 

 

 

     

 


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