Ovid reveals two similar tales of incest in the Metamorphoses. First, he describes the non-sisterly love Byblis acquires for her twin brother Caunus. Later, he revisits the incestuous love theme with the story of Myrrha who develops a non-filial love for her father, Cinyras. The two accounts hold many similarities and elicit varying reactions. Ovid constantly tugs at our emotions and draws forth alternating feelings of pity and disgust for the matters at hand. "Repetition with a difference" in these two narratives shows how fickle we can be in allotting and denying sympathy, making it seem less valuable.
Both tales begin drawing forth a sense of disgust for the situation in general yet arousing pity for each girl's predicament. Ovid clearly labels the love Byblis and Myrrha pursue illegitimate when he summarizes the moral of Byblis' tale stating, "when girls love they should love lawfully" (Mandelbaum 307) and reveals that "to hate a father is / a crime, but love like [Myrrha's] is worse than hate" (338) before describing Myrrha's tale. By presenting the girls as criminals, Ovid leads us to despise them. He then proceeds to draw out sympathy for Byblis and Myrrha as he describes their unsuccessful attempts to overcome these desires. Byblis dreams intimately about Caunus, but "when she's awake, she does not dare / to let her obscene hopes invade her soul" (308). "[Myrrha] strives; she tries; she would subdue / her obscene love," but she cannot (339). Right away, Ovid makes us question if these situations deserve our sympathy.
Byblis and Myrrha compel readers to sympathize with their plight as they orally confess their incestuous passions. They use selective lang...
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...d leaves us feeling sorry for Myrrha.
Ovid tells this tale of forbidden sin twice to show how inconsistent we are in allotting pity. He begins both tales drawing forth our contempt for the matters at hand, then ends both tales with images that arouse our pity. Throughout each story, our emotions sway between pity and disgust. Even though incest disgusts us, we sympathize with Byblis and Myrrha as they seek incestuous loves. Byblis' broken heart arouses our sympathy, yet Myrrha's "fulfilled heart" disgusts us. Ovid devalues our sympathy by showing how unstable we are with our emotions.
Mandelbaum, Allen, trans. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. By Ovid. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & company, 1993.
Crane, Gregory, ed. Perseus Project. 1995. Tufts University. 6 Oct. 1999 <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/text?lookup=ov.+met.+init>
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