Ancient poem about lustful god inspires modern artistic response


A wicked machine from Candice Lim and P. Staff called Hormonal fog projects plant particles into the air via steam to promote estrogen and reduce testosterone in the show audience.

Equally daring is a running figure wearing a Daphne-like laurel by Sanja Ivekovic atop a large public obelisk from 2001. The same running figure may also represent victory, and indeed Ivekovic grafts his triumphant wife with a monument to the dead in Luxembourg.

On the basis of this boastful pole, Ivekovic denies the fantasy by poetically echoing inscriptions – such as “culture culture… justice justice… bitch bitch” – which represent the symbolic transformation of female figures from allegorical aspiration to misogynistic reality .

Lady Rosa from Luxembourg by Sanja Ivekovic at ACCA.Credit:Andre Curtis

So how much of the anger do we send against Ovid through figures like Daphne who have the indignity of becoming plants or animals to avoid rape? The film compares the rape parade with Myrrha’s memories of men who annoyed her, and those composite triggers leave the uncomfortable poet exposed.

If I could have helped Myrrha’s clumsy classics teacher, I would have offered a more philological view of ancient love.

Thanks to the Romance languages, we think that “amor” is simply “love”; often in Latin, that’s how it would be translated. But not always. Sometimes it is better to translate it as “lust”.

Eros or Cupid or Amor is not a benevolent deity. Even as a personification, he’s an irresponsible winged kid. In Daphne’s own account, Ovid directly reports Cupid’s fierce anger (saeva Cupidinis ira). In book nine, these are his weapons of strength (violenta Cupidinis arma); and for Myrrha herself in book 10, we are told that illicit love is worse than hate.

The myths told by Ovid were born perhaps a millennium before him in Greece. The stories reflect a period between creation and civilization: it is a primordial landscape of impulses and instincts and catastrophic slippages. As in nature, power is not mediated by justice or equity. In the same way that a wolf feels no moral obligation towards a lamb, Apollo has no ethical respect for Daphne, who shuns his embraces.


If Ovid had romanticized Apollo’s lust, I think we could complain. But although the gods are splendid in their privilege, they are never glorified in their moral choices. The poem remains puzzling, unsettling, boring, but it fully justifies Myrrha’s enduring affection for her, as well as a slight infatuation with the professor she almost tried to murder.

This is a fantastic consolation for the art-loving public that ACCA has managed to project A poem and a mistake. It is accompanied by a helpful podcast where author Magid talks to her own Latinist, Professor Stephanie McCarter. You will never think of classical literature again without these women springing to your mind.

ACCA exhibition A biography of Daphne was extended until November 14, but the film is only online until October 4.

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