Ovid reading Vergil: Aeneas and Turnus reflected through the character of Cephalus
in Ovid's Metamorphoses

Jessica Luther

University of Texas, Austin

At Aeneid 11.41, Vergil portrays Aeneas weeping over the dead body of Pallas before he sends Pallas off with a fitting eulogy.  Aeneas's speech is introduced with the phrase lacrimis ita fatur obortis. The image expressed in the phrase is commonplace; but in fact this exact phrase reappears only once in Latin literature, and in precisely the same metrical position: at Ovid, Met. 7.689, to introduce Cephalus's narrative of his accidental killing of his wife Procris.  In what follows, I will argue that Ovid is deliberately invoking Aeneid 11 in his treatment of the Cephalus and Procris myth.  In so doing, Ovid "reads" the relationship of Aeneas and Pallas in erotic terms (thus supporting Michael Putnam's claim that Pallas's funeral is overtly figured as a wedding between Pallas and Aeneas) and retroactively blames Aeneas for Pallas's untimely death; similarly, Ovid casts Procris in the role of the innocent victim who died at the hands of her protector.  Finally, Ovid's innovative characterization of Procris as a follower of Diana makes sense if we assume that he is referencing Vergil's warrior maiden Camilla.  The Vergilian background to Ovid's treatment of the Cephalus and Procris myth has not yet been acknowledged by commentators or other scholarship.

It is true that authorial intent can rarely be recovered successfully, but I want to suggest that the multiple thematic correspondences between Ovid's treatment of Cephalus and Procris and Aeneid 11 suggest at least moderate intentionality on Ovid's part (cf. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext).   Like most intertextual allusions in Latin literature, this one is signaled by verbal and metrical repetition.  There is nothing exceptional about the phrase lacrimis ita fatur obortis.  Yet an electronic search of classical Latin literature reveals that the exact Vergilian phrase appears only once, to introduce Cephalus's story of Procris's death.  Significantly, the phrase occupies exactly the same metrical position in Ovid's text as in Vergil's.  One might argue that, even so, it was too pedestrian to draw the attention of even the most literate readers; yet, as I will demonstrate, Ovid deliberately reinforces the connection through close thematic parallels.

The erotic subtext of Aeneas's relationship to Pallas (itself modeled on Homer's Achilles and Patroclus) has been convincingly established by Michael Putnam (Virgil's Aeneid).  As Putnam notes, Pallas's death is described by the phrase pectore vulnus.  The phrase itself is rare in Vergil, and in this case most directly connects Pallas's death with Dido's suicide in Aeneid 4.  Like Dido, Pallas becomes collateral damage in Aeneas's quest for empire.  These two deaths are invoked by Ovid when he describes Procris's death at the hand of her unwitting husband: Procris erat medioque tenens in pectore vulnus (7.842). By implicitly comparing Procris to Pallas, Ovid takes what has previously been a homoerotic relationship between Aeneas and Pallas and turns it into heterosexual, married love.  In this regard, it is worth noting, other versions of the Cephalus and Procris myth as recounted by Hyginus, Pherecydes, Antoninus Liberalis, and Ovid himself (in the Ars Amatoria) preserve a homoerotic element that is absent in the Metamorphoses. Ovid's decision to omit this subtext in effect draws attention to Vergil's version, even if through absence rather than presence.

The connection between Camilla and Procris is even more apparent.  Only Ovid's version of the myth has Procris retreating into the mountains and becoming a devoted follower of Diana. Like Camilla, Procris is gendered masculine through her behavior.  Whereas Camilla is Turnus's co-commander in battle, Procris is figured as a jealous male elegiac lover.  In both women's cases, this "acting out" of their prescribed gender roles eventually leads to their death.  While Procris is killed as she spies on her husband, Camilla is distracted by the stunning outfit of Chloreus.  As they die, both women grab for the spear in their body and give their final speech, each one's fitting to the character she is playing: Procris, as the envious lover, demands that Cephalus never marry while Camilla, the true soldier exhorts the troops to continue the fight.  

The second half of the Aeneid, but especially the final three books, pose considerable interpretative difficulties--and indeed have produced the infamous "optimists" and "pessimists" divide.  While the optimists tend to focus on the final victory of Aeneas and the Trojans as evidence of Vergil's pro-imperialist (and pro-Augustan) politics, the pessimists emphasize the ambiguity of these final books to argue that Vergil is offering a reading critical of the costs of imperialism.  I will conclude by suggesting that Ovid's treatment of Aeneid 11 in the Cephalus and Procris episode suggest that, at least in this instance, he is a pessimistic reader of the Aeneid.  By referring back to the phrase lacrimis ita fatur obortis, Ovid is implicitly but strongly showing that Aeneas and Turnus are as guilty for the deaths of Pallas and Camilla as Cephalus is for Procris. 

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