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Narrative Nefas and the Taboos of Incest and Bestiality in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

WATSON, JOSEPH,LAWRENCE (2022) Narrative Nefas and the Taboos of Incest and Bestiality in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis explores the taboos on incest and bestiality, as they are presented in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, from a psychoanalytic and narratological perspective, through the lens of nefas (‘unspeakability’). I argue that taboo has a destructively transformative effect on Ovid’s poetic language and that, in bringing incest and bestiality to the page, the fabric of the epic warps and ruptures.

I begin with a detailed study of nefas, its role in the Roman world generally and within the Ovidian corpus specifically; I then outline the taboos on incest and bestiality in the Augustan world and how their position as unlegislated crimes informs Ovid’s approach to them through the lens of nefas. In Chapter 2, I explore two ‘spectres’—Oedipus and Pasiphaë—who are absent from the text of the Metamorphoses, but who ‘haunt’ multiple figures in the poem and, so, make their absence present. My third chapter focuses on Byblis and her love for her twin brother, Caunus; in particular, I explore how unspeakable nefas runs up against the episode’s concern with speech, in the form of Byblis’ letter and monologues. Chapter 4 uses Kristevan notions of abjection to examine Myrrha, who sleeps with her father, Cinyras; I show that she is an ambiguous figure to whom polarities like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ do not apply. In Chapter 5, I analyse how Arachne’s tapestry—full of images of bestiality—interacts with the epic as a whole; Arachne becomes an avatar of Ovid’s super-ego, who critiques her creator for not telling the stories that she explosively creates. My final chapter groups three narratives which are concerned with aesthetics—Cyparissus, Io and Europa—in order to develop Chapter 3’s findings about the relationship between desire and aesthetics.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Taboo; Incest; Bestiality; Ovid; Metamorphoses; Latin Literature; Psychoanalysis; Freud; Kristeva; Intertextuality; Byblis; Myrrha; Arachne; Io; Cyparissus; Europa; Pasiphae; Oedipus
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Aug 2022 11:56

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