Ovid's Eighth Book Analysis

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The studied passage is from Ovid’s eighth book: Daedalus and Icarus. This book treats about heroes. This study aims to analyse several literary devices, which announce the death of Icarus, their function within the story, and the purpose they serve.

Daedalus is trapped in the labyrinth of Minos, king of Crete. As the king controls the earth and sea, Daedalus decides to craft a pair of wings for himself and his son Icarus.

Daedalus is inspired by the birds: ‘ut ueras imitetur aues’ .Ovid here changes the common word order. As Kenney(1973) points out, Ovid can be very liberal in matters of syntax. This freedom is used here to keep the form sustaining the content. By inserting imitetur between ueras and aues, Ovid juxtaposes two almost contradictory words; imitation being from the realm of illusion, as opposed to the real. Ovid underlines as well the paradoxical enterprise of Daedalus; as realistic as the crafted wings appear, they remain a mere imitation, a ‘close copy of an anatomical feature belonging of another specie.’

Furthermore, Daedalus ‘alters nature’s law,’ he thus threatens the equilibrium of nature. When Daedalus fixes the wings on his son, Ovid uses the adjective ‘strange’, in order to emphasise the unnatural nature of the wings.

The thought of crafting those wings appears in the first part of the poem as a sign of bad omen. Icarus ‘plays with own peril’ , by metonymy, the components of the wings becomes peril, thus enhancing the feeling of danger. The climax during the crafting of the wings appears when Icarus soften (mollibat) the wax; not only we are reminded of the fragility of the components, but the used verb introduced a fatal prolepsis. Indeed, ironically, the same verb is applied to the sun,...

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... the guilt felt by Daedalus.

The change of tense nourishes here a double function. First Ovid uses the perfect indicative active tense, ‘dixit’ , which anchors the reader in the present of the action, of the narration. Then he uses the imperfect indicative active tense, ‘dicebat’ , since the progressive aspect is meant to describe habitual or repeated action, it crystallises all of Daedalus’ emotions in a never-ending plaintive moaning. Secondly, because Icarus fell into the sea, ‘that forever bears his name’ and give as well his name to ‘that island’ where he is buried; the use of the imperfect indicative active, a tense generally used for description, is used here, to fix the aetiology in a distant past and yet at the same time in eternity. The name of the island and the sea ‘so named provides an endlessly repetitive commemoration of the death’ of Icarus.

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