The Tales of Archne and Narcissus

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I admit right at the start of this exegesis that my focus will inevitably spiral into a strange sort of hybrid beast: a colligation of the topics pertaining to the authority and identity of mythological beings from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In honor of the English language’s unique ability to employ paronomastic devices, I will endeavor to transmogrify one topic into the other and thereby allow the notions of both authority and identity (through Ovid’s mythological structure) to exist in a state of unadulterated symbiosis. Indeed, I am fully inclined to argue that the identity of an individual is often yoked to the amount of authority placed over that person’s life. Identity is largely molded through networks of interactions, and authority maintains the boundaries of such interactions. As a result, I would argue that both topics depend on each other in much the same way a developing child relies on the connection to the mother for survival. The tales of Archne and Narcissus aptly demonstrate these connections between the notions of authority and identity. Therefore, starting first with the alteration of identity and subsequently dealing with the distribution of authority, I will demonstrate how each tale inevitably exudes each respective topic.

In the case of Narcissus, the question and manipulation of his identity are both humorously and cruelly adjusted to fit his enormous ego. Narcissus is so preoccupied with his own identity (or perhaps more specifically, his appearance) that he completely loses sight of others’ needs due to his self-absorption. Throughout the myth, Narcissus repeatedly spurns the advances of potential suitors. He is pathologically drawn to his own appearance or anything that resembles and imitates his own pe...

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...rd, simultaneously preserving her identity and affixing her morose fate.

The inevitability of fate and the absolute impotence of humanity hang like pall of inescapable sickness throughout Ovid’s account of Arachne. Arachne, much like Narcissus, is confined to her mortality and thus is vulnerable to the authority of higher deities (particularly of the volatile variety). Arachne unwisely proclaims that her ability to spin thread exceeds that of Minerva’s. Minerva, highly affronted by such a claim, seeks to amend the crass (but truthful) woman’s boasts. The goddess of wisdom, under the guise of an ancient woman, magnanimously offers Arachne a chance to retract her controversial claims. Rather than heed the advice of an elder, Arachne instead defies the natural order of authority for the sake of artistic integrity and debases the disguised goddess’s chastisements.

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