The brief story of Tiresias’ punishment in the third book of Ovid's Metamorphoses (Met. 3.316–38) becomes a privileged site for mapping the different ways readers can reinterpret episodes of the poem in the light of the rest of Ovid's corpus. Tiresias, the first human uates of the poem, who is punished with blindness for voicing what he should have kept silent, can be included among those punished artists who double the poet in the Metamorphoses: while Tiresias is condemned for having voiced his knowledge of both sexes, Ovid is exiled for giving amatory advice to, and therefore knowing, both men and women. Thus the Tiresias episode reads as a pendant to that of Actaeon in the same book (the latter explicitly likened to Ovid's fate in Tristia 2.103–8), with the pair suggesting a veiled allegory of the carmen and error that caused Ovid's exile.
This is far from exhausting the interpretive possibilities of the passage as metapoetic and autobiographical, since recognition of Ovid in Tiresias invites further reflections on the interaction of gender and genre in the Ars Amatoria and the Metamorphoses. To elicit these different readings, the present paper is divided into three freestanding but interconnected sections. After a brief foreword on how the story of Tiresias was still used in 2013 as an authoritative myth to legitimate a recognisably chauvinistic view of sexual pleasure, the first section analyses the interplay of genders in the episode and elaborates further on Genevieve Liveley's intuitionFootnote 1 that what Tiresias voices is essentially a male-authored verdict. It thus examines the connections between this verdict and the similarly chauvinistic views expressed by the praeceptor of the Ars Amatoria, whose treatment of women appears as peculiarly different from that which emerges in the Metamorphoses. This observation cues interplay of literary genres in the episode, with Tiresias providing a point of contact between elegy and epic, and signalling Ovid's different attitudes towards women and sexual pleasure in the two poems. This second section explores how Tiresias’ metamorphosis into the blind uates of the myth of Narcissus accords with the trajectory of Ovid's literary career. Finally, the paper turns to a reading of the episode as a double for Ovid's exile in the light of the Tristia, and ends by suggesting that this conspirational reading bears directly on the character of Livia and her involvement in Ovid's punishment. Having started by reading mythological Juno anachronistically as an outraged feminist, we end by interpreting the episode as an allegory of the anger of outraged historical Livia at the frivolity and sexual liberty of the Ars. Which prompts deeper questions concerning generic interplay within Augustus’ household: does Ovid's Tiresias episode moot the paradoxical possibility that a woman might wield imperial power?
1. A Foreword on Reception: Tiresias in Blue is the Warmest Colour
The tragic nature of the character of Tiresias as the blind prophet of Thebes has never been questioned. On the contrary, the earlier story of Tiresias the judge, the man summoned by Zeus and Hera in order to settle upon whether men or women experience more pleasure in sex, seems bound to be wrongly associated with trivial matters. In its latest rendition, in Abdellatif Kechiche's 2013 Palme d'Or film Blue is the Warmest Colour (orig. La Vie d'Adèle), the tale still features as an appropriate topic for banquet chitchat, but it delivers consistent ideological meaning. The episode that hosts Tiresias’ quick cameo arrives almost at the centre of a film that will be remembered especially for its long and intense scenes of lesbian sex. After becoming more than acquainted with the variously depicted expressions of lust between the two protagonists, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux), we finally manage to see the couple in a social situation, when a party is given in Emma's house. It is here that Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), one of the very few male guests at the party and an otherwise relatively marginal character, is granted the honour of spelling out the real subject of Kechiche's research, when he shares his thoughts on the mystery of women's sexual pleasure. From the height of his bisexual experience, Joachim defines women's orgasm as a sacred and ‘mystical’ event,Footnote 2 which has nothing to do with the prosaic banality of masculine coitus (‘insofar as I'm a man, everything I glimpse is frustrated by the limits of male sexuality’), and we are invited to remember Emma's and Adèle's facial expressions as he goes on to argue with remarkable confidence that women definitely enter into a different universe while they are experiencing sexual pleasure. In this apparently frivolous modern sympotic vignette, Joachim exploits Tiresias as an example from an authoritative past to sustain a certain line of reasoning: as proved by the myth of the man who had experienced both sexes,Footnote 3 even the Greeks knew perfectly well that women enjoy much more sexual pleasure than men.
Now, as the female audience of this speech seems to enjoy and partially agree with these apparently profound reflections, Joachim avoids mentioning the one section of the story that is neither applicable to his argument nor to the film's scenario, namely the story of Juno's anger in hearing Tiresias’ verdict, and Tiresias’ subsequent punishment. Clearly, this part of the story would have profited no one in the film. Surprisingly, not one of these purportedly lesbian charactersFootnote 4 ventures to suggest that Joachim is either implying that he must be unbelievably skilled, or that he has just seen, with us, Adèle and Emma in Kechiche's film, so turning Tiresias’ verdict into an indirect praise of the director himself. Albeit arguably a parody of the intellectual chitchat of the French bourgeoisie,Footnote 5 Joachim's speech, at the very centre of the film, perfectly encapsulates the problematic and controversial messages of Blue is the Warmest Colour.
The ideological scandals of this speech, and indeed of the whole film, have not gone unnoticed.Footnote 6 Kechiche may well be satirising the French bourgeoisie more generally in the scene, but Joachim's speech is in any case made authoritative by its freight of self-referentiality and metacinematicity. When he claims that ‘ever since women have been shown in paintings, their ecstasy is shown more than men's, whose is shown via women’, he is in fact mediating Kechiche's unsolicited apology for his own use of the ‘male gaze’ throughout the film.Footnote 7 In this speech, Joachim and the artist fuse into one character, at the expense of all the female characters on the screen, protagonists included. A similar fusion, I shall argue, is activated between the Tiresias of Ovid's Metamorphoses and Ovid as the praeceptor amoris of the Ars Amatoria in terms of their approach to women's sexual pleasure. One of the troubles with Joachim's speech, as indeed with Tiresias’ judgement, is that in a film which has lesbian love, or at least female sexuality, as its main focus, the superiority of female orgasm must be expressed not just visually by the male director, but verbally by one of the very few male characters in a clear intellectual liaison with the director. Kechiche and Joachim, like their counterpart Tiresias long before them, not only prove that heterosexual sex is still centre-stage, but more importantly hide an indirect compliment to masculine skills behind the pretence of giving voice—finally—to unbridled female sexuality, since the corollary of Tiresias’ argument reads that men are better at providing the pleasure that women are more likely to enjoy.Footnote 8
2. Gender Conversions: Tiresias/Ovid as Praeceptor Amoris
Different interpretations have been proposed to solve what has been considered the mystery of this version of Tiresias’ myth,Footnote 9 namely the cause of Juno's anger. As regards the Greek sources, the most likely explanation is the rivalry between Hera and Aphrodite as the goddesses of matrimonial and sexual love respectively. Tiresias’ reminder of women's enjoyment of sexual pleasure would constitute a recognition of Aphrodite's power and consequently an outrage for the goddess of marriage and monogamy.Footnote 10 When applied to the Metamorphoses, this interpretation also turns Tiresias’ verdict into an indirect approval of Jupiter's extramarital affairs, whose cause was after all always Venus qua sexual libido, and Tiresias’ judgement must then sound to Juno's ears like an unwelcome confirmation of the pleasure experienced by other women in sexual intercourse with her husband.Footnote 11 In the episode immediately preceding that of Tiresias (Met. 3.253–315), Juno had just punished Semele with a kind of ‘contrapasso through analogy’Footnote 12 based on Semele's desire to experience sexual pleasure with Jupiter at its highest possible power: thanks to Juno's advice, the Theban woman gets what she deserves and asked for, an orgasm at full blast, elicited by the joint power of Juno and her rival Venus.Footnote 13 And yet, Juno may also be read as a feminist ante litteram in a recognisably chauvinistic world which, according to Kechiche's film, would seem to have remained quite unchanged in more than two thousand years. The reason for Juno's anger is in my view grounded in the misogynistic nature of Tiresias’ statement, which also reflects Ovid's own take on women's sexual pleasure in the Ars Amatoria and thus ties poet to prophet in an inextricable bond. I propose that Ovid's Tiresias (who is first of all not as bisexual as he appears at first glance), far from embodying a sort of Prometheus figure for women with his blindness, harshly punished for attempting to reveal and establish the authenticity of female sexual pleasure in and against a society that strives to relegate women to a mere role of passivity,Footnote 14 ends up reinforcing, almost paradoxically, the reality of Irigaray's ‘phallocentric dialectic’ by confirming the supremacy of the male point of view in assuming control over female sexual pleasure and desire.
At Met. 3.316–38, after the description of the twofold birth of Bacchus (bis geniti…Bacchi, ‘Bacchus…born twice’, Met. 3.317), Ovid narrates the story of another Theban character who was similarly ‘born twice’,Footnote 15 if not three times:
Now while these things were happening on the earth by the decrees of fate, when the cradle of Bacchus, twice born, was safe, it chanced that Jove (as the story goes), relaxed by wine, put his weighty cares aside and bandied good-humoured jests with Juno, who shared his leisure. ‘I maintain’, said he, ‘that your pleasure in love is clearly greater than that which men enjoy.’ She denied that this was true. And so they decided to ask the judgement of wise Tiresias: he knew both sides of love. For once, with a blow of his staff he had injured two huge serpents mating in the green forest; and, wonderful to relate, from man he was changed into a woman, and in that form spent seven years. In the eighth year he saw the same serpents again and said: ‘Since in striking you there is such magic power as to change the nature of the giver of the blow, now I will strike you once again.’ So saying, he struck the serpents and his former state was restored and he became as he had been born. He therefore, being appointed to arbitrate the playful dispute of the gods, confirmed Jupiter's sentence. Saturnia, they say, grieved more deeply than she had right to, and more than the issue warranted, and condemned the eyes of her arbitrator to perpetual blindness. But the omnipotent father (for no god may undo what another god has done) in return for his loss of sight gave Tiresias the power to know the future, lightening the penalty by this honour.(tr. Miller and Goold with minor changes)
This version of the story has allowed many to speak of Tiresias’ bisexuality,Footnote 17 but whether one takes bisexuality, in relation to antiquity, as indicating an individual's possession of both sexes/genders or, in the modern sense of the word, as referring to their sexual attraction towards both males and females, neither of these definitions is an entirely accurate label for Ovid's Theban seer. To start with the modern definition, it is necessary to emphasise that, although Tiresias has experienced, as an individual, sexual intercourse with both sexes, he ‘does not love male and female with one body, but loves both sequentially—and heterosexually—with a sequentially sexed body’.Footnote 18 In other words, since sex change for Tiresias is the condicio sine qua non for experiencing bisexuality, he risks becoming a symbol of the all-encompassing hierarchical predominance of heterosexual sex and a mythical detractor of bisexuality at the same time.Footnote 19 On the other hand, if we consider bisexuality in the ancient sense, Brisson felt the need to point out that there exists a fundamental difference between what he calls ‘simultaneous bisexuality’ (bisexualité simultanée) and ‘successive bisexuality’ (bisexualité successive): the former characterises primordial beings, like the Androgyni and the Phoenix, who possess two sexes simultaneously, and can be considered to work as ‘archetypes’, the separation of whose constituent opposites will give rise to the Greek binary system of reality; the latter category, into which Tiresias falls, includes beings whose experience of both opposites has rendered them mediators (médiateurs) between various poles of reality's dualism such as, in Tiresias’ case, male/female, divine/human, future/past, Jupiter/Juno, active/passive and so on.Footnote 20 There is, in fact, a huge difference between Tiresias and properly bisexual figures like Hermaphroditus, or Lucretius’ androgyne, whose possession of both sexes becomes equal to possessing no sex at all, as in Brisson's archetypes:Footnote 21 androgynum, interutrasque nec utrum, utrimque remotum (‘the androgyne, between the two sexes, yet not either, remote from both’, Lucr. 5.839); nec duo sunt sed forma duplex, nec femina dici / nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque uidenturFootnote 22 (‘they are not two, but a double form, so that it can neither be called woman nor man: it seems to be neither and both’, Ov. Met. 4.378f.). Ovid's Tiresias is not a truly bisexual character: indeed, one may interpret his sex change as the punishment for tearing apart with his staff precisely that archetypal androgynous figure created by the mating of the two serpents.Footnote 23 Tiresias’ encounter with the serpents implies not only, as Brisson and others have noticed, his always already active connection to prophecy,Footnote 24 but more significantly casts him as a sort of demiurgic figure, a contributor to the development of Greek dualism from (Shamanic)Footnote 25 nondualism, to which bisexuality belongs. Thus, he gets to experience what he took part in creating: the clear-cut distinction between two distinguished and opposite sexes—precisely the opposite of bisexuality.Footnote 26
Yet Ovid's text seems to sustain this line of reasoning up to a point. Not only does it let Tiresias spell out the actual dichotomy of the sexes (note the emphasis on in contraria, 3.329),Footnote 27 but it also never lingers on a transsexual—or even transgender—portrait of the seer. Instead, Ovid describes his peculiarity as pertaining to the realm of experience rather than to his constituent features: if Hermaphroditus’ characteristic is based on something that ‘seems’ or could be seen (uidentur, Met. 4.379), Tiresias’ strength lies in his knowledge, since he ‘knew both Venuses’ (Venus huic erat utraque nota, 3.323). The expression utraque Venus is nevertheless ambiguous,Footnote 28 pushing Tiresias closer to either bisexuality or homosexuality. In Tiresias’ case, it clearly refers to his sexual experience both as a man and as a woman, and as such it implies a clear distinction between men's and women's sexual pleasure. But there is no reason why the expression could not also mean ‘sexual pleasure with men and women’,Footnote 29 with the implication that even a male character who has had bisexual experiences could have given the same answer. Moreover, the iunctura only appears again twice, in both cases originally in Greek, to indicate the experience of both active and passive roles in sexual intercourses, either heterosexual or homosexual (both male and female).Footnote 30 In all three cases, it is clear that the dichotomy at stake here is not male/female, but rather active/passive, and Tiresias therefore confirms the ancient view that those who take a passive role indulge more in pleasure, and can thus be considered weaker, more ‘feminine’ or ‘effeminate’, as it were, whatever their biological sex. This is relevant to the point that Tiresias is after all just another male voice that confirms the supremacy of both male sex and male gender: as has already been noted by Liveley,Footnote 31 Tiresias, like all the other characters who undergo transformation in the Metamorphoses, remains himself in a female body, and although we know that he played a passive role in sex during those seven years in which he was a woman, he never really departs from the performative acts of his original gender, and can be seen to continue playing an active role in the second encounter with the serpentsFootnote 32 as well as to continue embodying a privileged male point of view in his exchange with Jupiter and Juno.
Ovid's Tiresias is therefore a mortal male uates Footnote 33 whose knowledge of sex from both sides makes him a suitable judge to pronounce sententiae about the asymmetry of pleasure in sex between men and women. From this point of view specifically, Tiresias shares important traits with the poet of the Amores, who claims me legat in sponsi facie non frigida uirgo / et rudis ignoto tactus amore puer (‘let me be read by a girl who is not cool in the presence of her promised lover, and by an inexperienced boy, touched by unknown love’, Am. 2.1.2), and especially with the praeceptor of the Ars Amatoria, whose status of love poet already implies in a certain sense a mixture of virility and effeminacyFootnote 34 and who is thus able to give important advice on love and sex to both men and women—although the asymmetry between the two parties is implied by the very structure of the three books of the Ars (two books addressed to men, one to women), an asymmetry in no way rectified by the addition of the Remedia.Footnote 35 In the end, for both Tiresias and Ovid, this ability to speak on behalf of both sexes will retrospectively prove to be a downright inauspicious gift: carmina fecerunt ut me cognoscere uellet / omine non fausto femina uirque meo (‘it was my poems that made women and men want to know me, but it was no good omen for me’, Tr. 2.5f.).Footnote 36
It is precisely in Tiresias’ verdict that the similarities with the praeceptor come to the fore. Ovid starts the Tiresias episode with intertextual reminiscences of Lucretius that set the stage for an anti-Lucretian polemic. Indeed, Jupiter's and Juno's separation from human matters is emphasised in this passage by the strikingly Lucretian compound seposuisse (3.319), which joins the se- compounds used by Lucretius when describing the ἀταραξία of the gods in the intermundia and their total indifference to human affairs (my emphasis):Footnote 37
For any divine nature must necessarily enjoy immortal life in the deepest peace, far removed and separated from our affairs; for without any pain, without danger, itself mighty by its own resources, needing us not at all, it is neither propitiated with services nor touched by anger.(tr. Rouse with minor changes)
In Tiresias’ episode, Jupiter and Juno are introduced to us as if they were two Lucretian divine natures far removed from human troubles. Yet the ending of Tiresias’ story, in line with the message of the whole Metamorphoses,Footnote 39 inevitably subverts this model by showing that these gods are not at all unperturbed by human matters, and least of all are they ‘untouched by anger’.Footnote 40
This Lucretian intertext anticipates Tiresias’ specifically anti-Lucretian view on sexual pleasure,Footnote 41 which matches the same anti-Lucretian stances expressed by the praeceptor in the Ars Amatoria. In the finale of DRN 4 (1030–287), Lucretius famously expresses his views on sex and (the dangers of) love in what seems like an explicit anti-neoteric stance.Footnote 42 In his so-called ‘attack on love’, Lucretius also espouses the anti-Tiresian theory that sexual pleasure is mutual and symmetrical, and he takes care to emphasise his view by constant repetition of the adjectives mutuus and communis as applied to the sexual act (see communia…gaudia, 4.1195f.; mutua…uoluptas, 1201; mutua gaudia, 1205; communi’ uoluptas, 1207; mutuus ardor, 1216; cf. mutua…gaudia, 5.854; mutua…cupido, 5.963).Footnote 43 It is true that by stressing the existence of a mutual physical pleasure Lucretius aims at undermining by contrast the romantic idea of mutual love,Footnote 44 but the fact that he holds an opposing opinion to that found in both Metamorphoses and Ars Amatoria is telling in view of Ovid's conscious shaping of his didactic work, the Ars, as a decidedly anti-Lucretian construction.Footnote 45 In fact, if Lucretius says, in DRN 5, that it is actually the man who holds an ‘immoderate’ libido, uiolenta uiri uis atque impensa libido (‘man's violent force and immoderate libido’, 964), the praeceptor will instead stress more than once how women's libido is more ‘furious’ and certainly ‘harsher’ than men's:Footnote 46
In us desire is weaker and not so frantic: the manly flame knows a lawful bound.(tr. Mozley and Goold)
All those [crimes] were prompted by women's lust; which is harsher than ours, and has more madness.(tr. Mozley and Goold with minor changes)
In sharing these explicitly chauvinist views, both the praeceptor and Tiresias align themselves with Jupiter and provide a learned excuse for the brutality of rape—the rape that women tacitly desire, as famously argued in the final section of Ars 1 (663–80).Footnote 47 Ted Hughes’ Juno, when still waiting for and wrongly confiding in Tiresias’ response, makes this point rather explicit when addressing Jupiter thus:
In Hughes’ rendition, Tiresias is actually given the chance to redeem the chauvinist stances of the praeceptor. And yet, he does nothing but reinforce them.
We have thus seen how Tiresias’ verdict explicitly reflects the views on women's furious libido and on their tacit desire for rape that had been expressed by the praeceptor of the Ars. However, it is hard to deny that such views are also placed under scrutiny or perhaps even undermined by the psychological insights into the plight of rape victims displayed throughout the Metamorphoses, in which, very differently from the Ars, the only indirect statement about women's implicit consent to rape is precisely Tiresias’ verdict—a statement which unavoidably leads to its deserved punishment.Footnote 48 This observation may seem at first sight to invalidate the analogy between Tiresias and Ovid proposed so far, but on closer inspection it should become clear that it serves instead to back it up. In fact, just like Ovid, Tiresias is a character who undergoes different phases, which coincide with one or more changes of literary genre. Thus, the punishment he receives after the playful elegiac episode that we have just witnessed will turn him into the first real uates of the Metamorphoses, standing in opposition, as we will see, to the god/uates Apollo and the poet/uates Lucretius:Footnote 49 he is the one who will be in charge of introducing Ovid's masterpiece within Book 3, the pastoral/elegiac/tragic episode of Narcissus, and who will finally play his properly dramatic role in the tragedy of Pentheus at the end of the book. The punishment that Tiresias receives for his verdict on women in what has been explicitly labelled as no more than a ‘playful dispute’Footnote 50 (lite iocosa, 3.332) is a watershed analogous to that which marks Ovid's different scopes and approaches between the elegiac corpus and the Metamorphoses. Only after recognising the limits and flaws of their elegiac attitudes can both Tiresias and Ovid finally become the uates of an epic poem in which sexual matters deserve an undoubtedly more insightful treatment than that offered by the problematically chauvinistic stance of the Ars.
3. Genre Conversions: Tiresias/Ovid as Vates
It is telling that it is only after the punishment has occurred that Tiresias can become a real, truth-telling uates, as we shall see when examining the passage from a post-exilic perspective. And yet, even if one is not ready to accept the connections between Tiresias and the praeceptor of the Ars, or to imagine that this episode was revised after Ovid's exile, the fact that Tiresias is presented as the first non-divine uates of the Metamorphoses may already suggest that we should interpret this character as a double for the poet. In which case we should notice that Tiresias’ first prophecy as uates appears to stand in direct opposition to the authority of the first, divine, uates of the poem, namely Apollo, the prophet of Metamorphoses 1.Footnote 51 Indeed, it has long been noticed that Tiresias’ prophecy about NarcissusFootnote 52 is a patent contradiction of the Delphic maxim, γνῶθι σεαυτόν, to which the praeceptor himself had yielded in the second book of the Ars. As I will show, the obvious similarities between these two passages trigger a further chain of reflections on the metapoetic status of Ovid's Tiresias and on the generic transformations (this time it is genre rather than gender) in which both Tiresias and Ovid are involved:
He, most renowned by fame throughout the Boeotian towns, gave answers that none could censure to those who sought his help. The first to make trial of his truth and assured utterances was the nymph Liriope, whom once the river-god, Cephisus, embraced in his winding stream and ravished, while imprisoned in his waters. When her time came the beautiful nymph brought forth a child, who could be loved even as a child, and called him Narcissus. When asked whether this child would live to reach well-ripened age, the prophetic bard replied: ‘if he never know himself.’(tr. Miller and Goold with minor changes)
As I was singing thus, Apollo suddenly appeared and struck with his thumb the strings of his golden lyre. In his hand was laurel, with laurel his sacred locks were adorned; he comes closer, a seer to behold. And he says to me: ‘Praeceptor of wanton love, come, lead your pupils to my shrine, where there is a saying renowned in fame throughout the whole world, which bids each to be known by himself. Only he who knows himself will love with wisdom, and will perform all his task according to his strength.’(tr. based on Mozley and Goold)
As noted in passing by Gildenhard and Zissos, with a telling slippage between Ovid and Tiresias, ‘Ovid[/Tiresias] here rewrites his earlier poetry and dogma’Footnote 53 as it had been presented in Ars 2. The connection between the two passages is anticipated by the relationship between Tiresias and the Ars discussed earlier, marking a progression between the themes treated at the end of Ars 1 and the programmatic poetic statement inserted in Ars 2.Footnote 54 The opening phrase fama celeberrimus urbes (Met. 3.339) seems to echo fama celebrata per orbem / littera (Ars 2.499) and the use of the technical term uates (Met. 3.348, being the first instance of the word in the Metamorphoses) singles out Tiresias and Apollo not just as prophets, but more specifically as (Augustan) poets.Footnote 55 In striking contrast to the praeceptor’s obedience to the γνῶθι σεαυτόν, this oracular poet, as famous as the Delphic oracle in the Boeotian towns, relates a truthful prophecy about Narcissus which is an explicit subversion of Apollo's maxim.
Before addressing the question of what this subversion of Apollo's dictum may imply for a post-Ars Amatoria Ovid, it is worth remembering that Tiresias is, or becomes, a prophet in all our extant sources, and as such he is already in direct competition with Apollo. The beginning of the so-called Sostratus version of the mythFootnote 56 tells us directly of Apollo's involvement in Tiresias’ punishment, where Tiresias is presented as a second Cassandra or Daphne,Footnote 57 punished for rejecting further sexual intercourse with Apollo in exchange for the god's teaching of music or, as O'Hara more plausibly suggests, ‘prophecy’:Footnote 58
Σώστρατος δὲ ἐν Τειρεσίᾳ, ποίημα δέ ἐστιν ἐλεγειακόν, ϕησὶ τὸν Τειρεσίαν θήλειαν τὴν ἀρχὴν γεννηθῆναι καὶ ἐκτραϕῆναι ὑπὸ Χαρικλοῦς, καὶ ἑπτὰ ἐτῶν γενομένην ὀρειϕοιτεῖν. ἐρασθῆναι δὲ αὐτῆς τὸν Ἀπόλλωνα. καὶ ἐπὶ μισθῷ συνουσίας διδάξαι τὴν μουσικήν (O'Hara: fortasse μαντικήν). τὴν δὲ μετὰ τὸ μαθεῖν μηκέτι ἑαυτὴν ἐπιδιδόναι τῷ Ἀπόλλωνι κἀκεῖνον ἀνδρῶσαι αὐτὴν, ἵνα πειρῷτο Ἔρωτος.(Eust. ad Od. 10.494, 1665.48–52 Stallbaum)
Sostratus in the Tiresias, an elegiac poem, says that Tiresias was originally born female, and was raised by Chariclo. At the age of seven she was wandering in the mountains, and Apollo fell in love with her, and taught her music (O'Hara: perhaps prophecy) as payment for sexual intercourse. But after being taught the girl no longer gave herself to Apollo, and he changed her into a man, so that she would have experience of Eros.(tr. O'Hara)
Tiresias’ connection to Apollo in this version of the myth may speak to the fact that Ovid presents the bard here as in direct opposition to the god that we have seen chasing Daphne in the first book of the Metamorphoses, as if the truth of the anti-Apollonian prophecy of Narcissus were a revengeful payback to Apollo for this less known version of the myth.Footnote 59 Indeed, while Tiresias emerges from both the Narcissus and the Pentheus episodes as a more than reliable uates, Apollo in Book 1 is embarrassingly presented as a prophet ‘deceived by his own oracles’ (suaque illum oracula fallunt, Met. 1.491), utterly defeated by the more certain precision of the arrows struck by Cupid: certa quidem nostra est, nostra tamen una sagitta / certior (‘my arrow is precise, but there is one arrow that is more precise than mine’, Met. 1.519f.). Indeed, the god's long list to Daphne of all his powers and attributes (1.512–24), even his choice of a victim who is, after all, appropriate to his strengths, only serves to demonstrate the further fallibility of his own maxim, as haughtily presented in Ars 2: knowing yourself may serve to ‘love wisely’ (sapienter amabit, Ars 2.501), but to love wisely, as Sharrock points out, ‘is not to love at all’.Footnote 60 In becoming prey to the same furious passion of love to which he had condemned Sostratus’ Tiresias, Apollo is presented in Book 1 of the Metamorphoses as thoroughly conquered by Cupid. But since Cupid, as specified in Ars 1, yields to the praeceptor (et mihi cedet Amor, ‘Amor will yield to me’, Ars 1.21), it is unsurprising that Tiresias, as an ex-praeceptor Amoris, should emerge from this prophetic competition as the real winner—a victory that the Theban seer will soon share precisely with Apollo's opposing deity, when Bacchus is recognised as the truthful god of Thebes and of Ovid's Metamorphoses 3.Footnote 61
An (anti-)Augustan reading of Tiresias/Ovid's poetic and prophetic competition with Apollo as the patron deity of the emperor is at this point easy to come by, especially since the relevance of Palatine Apollo is explictly stated in the Metamorphoses (1.562f.).Footnote 62 However, just as in Tiresias’ previous episode, the message conveyed here is as poetic as it is political. To start with, Ovid's programmatic, yet not unambiguous,Footnote 63 allegiance to Apollo could arguably work in a poem like the Ars, which may at least assume a front of refined Callimacheanism, but the Apollonian spring may have to be rejected when dealing with epic and, especially, tragedy—the explicit genre of the closing Pentheus episode and the implicit one of Narcissus as a recognised substitute for Oedipus.Footnote 64 Furthermore, Apollo's injunction to ‘know yourself’ and ‘perform your task according to your strengths’ metapoetically implies a programmatic recusatio of higher literary genres that suits the praeceptor of Ars 2 in a way that it cannot suit the uates of the Metamorphoses. More specifically, from a post-exilic perspective, the obedience to this maxim also caused Ovid to remain, as it were, stuck in the Ars, precisely the carmen that would cause his exile. To press this line of interpretation still further, the γνῶθι σεαυτόν helped in developing that Narcissistic obsession with elegy, and particularly love elegy, that can be recognised as Ovid's autobiographical complex that lies behind the myth presented by wiser, anti-Apollonian Tiresias.Footnote 65 The Narcissus myth not only warns poets about the dangers of self-referentiality and self-obsession but also presents someone who, just like the poet of the Ars, can never tell the Other from the Self, be that Other the literary persona of the praeceptor or the carmina themselves. Indeed, Narcissus’ tragic recognition (iste ego sum, ‘I am he’, Met. 3.463) dramatically reprises the confessed identity between Ovid, the Ars and the praeceptor (ego sum praeceptor Amoris, ‘I am the praeceptor of Love’, Ars 1.17), while his interchangeability with Oedipus looks forward to the explicit comparison between Oedipus and the books of the Ars, ‘these latter day parricides in elegiac feet’,Footnote 66 professed at the beginning of the Tristia (Oedipodas, Tr. 1.1.114).Footnote 67 From this point of view, Narcissus’ and the praeceptor’s following of the Apollonian maxim stands in stark contrast to the anti-Delphic model of Tiresias: Ovid's obedience to Tiresias’ new injunction ‘never to know yourself’ will bring about a conversion of both persona and literary genre that will take him through tragedy and epic, only to land him again—eventually—in a kind of elegyFootnote 68 that will be explicitly different from the genre of the Ars, namely the carmina of the exile: ‘inspice’, dic, ‘titulum: non sum praeceptor Amoris’ (‘say to him: “examine the title: I am not the praceptor of Love”’, Tr. 1.1.67).
4. From Tiresias to Tristia
The idea that various sections of the Metamorphoses have been revisited—or even (re)written—after he went into exile is recurrent in Ovidian scholarship but is rarely spelt out. Apart from the now commonly recognised post-exilic status of sphragis and proem,Footnote 69 scholarly caution tends to focus either on how exilic poetry activates the post-exilic meanings of the Metamorphoses by a revision of the poem's episodes within the exile elegies themselves,Footnote 70 or on how the Metamorphoses’ historical hindsights into the biography of the poet can deepen our understanding of the precarious career of late Augustan authors.Footnote 71 Unlike the generally accepted revised status of the Fasti and Heroides, the Metamorphoses are somehow considered more slippery ground, and a thorough analysis of their author's variants and of their possible exilic revisions is, to this day, still lacking.Footnote 72 One of the Metamorphoses passages often suspected of post-exilic revision is, as we shall soon see, the pendant myth of Actaeon which immediately precedes the episode of Tiresias and which is explicitly singled out by the poet himself in Tristia 2.103–8 as the mythical allegory of the error that caused his exile. In contrast to this exilic emphasis on Actaeon, the character of Tiresias is never mentioned in the poems from exile, and yet it was the Callimachean version of Tiresias’ myth that inspired Ovid's episode of Actaeon in the first place.Footnote 73 Moreover, the episode of Tiresias appears so dense in exilic language that one is almost naturally encouraged to consider Tiresias and Actaeon in conjunction as forming the perfect mythical allegory of the carmen and error that caused Ovid's exile.
Before discussing the impact of Actaeon on Tiresias, let us first turn back to Metamorphoses 3.316–38 and establish the exilic flavour of the passage. This staging of a mythical trial makes abundant use of technical legal terminology which Ovid knew from his legal training,Footnote 74 and the lines have been analysed for their use of judicial language first by Kathleen Coleman and more recently by Kathryn Balsley.Footnote 75 To sum up Coleman's arguments first, the legal setting begins to emerge in these lines: placuit quae sit sententia docti / quaerere Tiresiae (‘they decided to ask the judgement of wise Tiresias’, Met. 3.322f.), with the application to Tiresias of the epithet doctus, ‘the uox propria of the learned and experienced juriconsult’,Footnote 76 the technical use of sententia to indicate the jury's verdictFootnote 77 and the use of placuit to underline an authoritative decree.Footnote 78 After the brief digression on Tiresias’ sex changes, the trial continues with even more technical language: arbiter hic…sumptus de lite iocosa / dicta Iouis firmat (‘He, being…appointed to arbitrate this playful dispute, confirms Jupiter's sentence’, Met. 3.332f.), where arbitrum…sumere is ‘a standard phrase…for the appointment of an adjudicator’, firmare can be compared to adfirmare as indicating technical corroboration and lis is the technical term for a controversy.Footnote 79 When the verdict has been delivered, Tiresias undergoes a further metamorphosis from arbiter into iudex (3.335) which seems to underline Ovid's precise use of technical terminology in the passage, since—while the arbiter ‘assessed the validity of competing claims’—the iudex ‘decided which party in a dispute was right’.Footnote 80 After Tiresias has been condemned (damnauit, 3.335), this time with no trial, two further technical phrases seal the legal tone of the passage: while inritum facere (3.336f.) is ‘a set phrase for reducing penalties’,Footnote 81 poenam leuare (3.338) is ‘the technical phrase for an act of annulment’.Footnote 82
On the basis of Coleman's contribution, Balsley argues that such a shift in the passage towards legal terminology ‘represents a move in this scene from a playful mock trial [lite iocosa, 3.332] to a very real judgement and permanent punishment’,Footnote 83 and the episode takes us ‘from a performance of injustice to a practice of injustice’.Footnote 84 The scene, she posits, must be read in the context of Augustus’ intervention in judicial matters, when he attempted to control the jurists through the introduction of the very mysterious ius respondendi, which possibly gave Augustus’ appointed jurists the right to render responsa that were legally binding for judges.Footnote 85 Finally, Balsley draws attention to the double meaning of the word arbiter (both judge and witness) and to the peculiarity of the fact that blinding is both the punishment reserved for those who have wrongly witnessed something forbidden, and what will make it impossible for this arbiter/judge to be an arbiter/witness ever again. This paradox, she argues, can be seen to allude to the reality of Augustus’ autocratic control over legal matters, in so far as the episode ‘reverses the standard Roman procedure for the morality laws, punishing witnesses before they can punish those who have been witnessed’.Footnote 86
And yet there is a final shift that Balsley never ventures to make, perhaps because it would necessarily imply an interpretation of the whole passage as a post-exilic revision: I refer, of course, to the evident similarity between Tiresias’ and Ovid's cases, which is further underlined by specific echoes between Metamorphoses 3.316–38 and Ovid's plea to Augustus in Tristia 2. Indeed, Ovid himself, as he claims explicitly in Tristia 2, acted in the past—like Tiresias—as ‘a judge with no crime’ (sine crimine iudex, Tr. 2.95), and he takes care to emphasise how his conduct as a judge had been blameless and unworthy of the punishment he received (Tr. 2.93–6). One of the main points of the passage is to contrast his strict obedience to the customary legal procedures of Roman trials with the unexpected absence of those same procedures when it was instead his turn to be punished with relegatio (Tr. 2.131–4). If we accept Balsley's reading of the punishment of Tiresias as a covert allusion to Augustus’ subversion of the Roman legal system, it is hard not to recall that Ovid himself had been a victim of this very subversion: like Tiresias, Ovid was not condemned by a senatorial decree (nec mea decreto damnasti facta senatus, Tr. 2.131), nor was his relegatio decided by an appointed judge (nec mea selecto iudice iussa fuga est, Tr. 2.132), but the verdict was rather dictated by the revengeful anger of a (semi-divine) monarch: tristibus inuectus uerbis—ut principe dignum Footnote 87—/ ultus es offensas, ut decet, ipse tuas (‘with words of stern invective—worthy of a prince—you avenged your injuries, as is fitting’, Tr. 2.133f.). As Ingleheart puts it, ‘Ovid's role as one member of a long-standing judicial body may be implicitly contrasted with Augustus, the sole judge with extra-ordinary powers’.Footnote 88 In Tristia 1.1, we read that the punishment came, like that of Tiresias, from the height of the Lucretian seats of numina which are mitissima, but only as long as one does not interfere with their will: esse quidem memini mitissima sedibus illis / numina, sed timeo qui nocuere deos (‘there are, I remember, in those shrines deities of exceeding mercy, but I fear the gods who have wrought [me] harm’, Tr. 1.1.73f.).Footnote 89
Furthermore, the previously discussed similarities between Tiresias’ verdict and the opinions expressed by the praeceptor of the Ars can now be coupled with the recognition that Ovid's crime in writing the Ars was also, like Tiresias’, a crime of ‘talent’ and ‘judgement’: paenitet ingenii iudiciique mei (‘I repent of my talent and my judgement’, Tr. 2.316). This crime was prevalently caused by his ‘knowledge’: cf. arguor obsceni doctor adulterii (‘I am accused of having taught obscene adultery’, Tr. 2.212), ei mihi, quod didici! Footnote 90 cur me docuere parentes? (‘Alas that I have acquired learning! Why did my parents teach me?’, Tr. 2.343) and docti / …Tiresiae; Venus huic erat utraque nota (‘wise Tiresias: he knew both sides of love’, Met. 3.322f.).Footnote 91 Like Tiresias, Ovid was parum prudens (‘too little cautious’, Tr. 2.544 and Pont. 2.10.15), perhaps with a hint that he was also a ‘too little cautious judge’ (OLD prudens 2), especially in relating the secrets of the praeceptor: ergo quae iuueni mihi non nocitura putaui / scripta parum prudens, nunc nocuere seni (‘thus the writings that as a young man, too little cautious, I supposed would harm me not, have harmed me now that I am old’, Tr. 2.543f.). For this reason, both Ovid and Tiresias ‘received the harsh reward of [their] teaching’: Naso parum prudens, artem dum tradit amandi, / doctrinae pretium triste magister habet (‘Naso was too little cautious when he imparted the art of love, and the teacher received the harsh reward of his teaching’, Pont. 2.10.15f.).
Yet the most interesting similarity between the two events is to be found in the observation that Juno ‘grieves more deeply than it was just’, and ‘more than the issue warranted’ (grauius Saturnia iusto / nec pro materia fertur doluisse, Met. 3.333f.). In commenting on these lines, Balsley notes that the term materia (‘issue’, ‘matter’) continues to fit the legal terminology of the passage, since the term is used to describe the topic of controuersiae: by specifying that Tiresias had been an arbiter in a controuersia, she argues, Ovid singles out the inappropriateness of Juno's irascible behaviour.Footnote 92 I would add that the term materia also fits the topic of a carmen perfectly. Still in Tristia 2 Ovid claims explicitly that the punishment should have been equal to the materia of the Ars (materiae minor est debita poena meae, ‘my subject matter deserves a lesser penalty’, Tr. 2.516), since what he wrote, although certainly not deserving of praise, were still mere ioci,Footnote 93 just like the iocosa lis (‘playful dispute’, Met. 3.332) that Tiresias naïvely thinks he has been called to arbitrate. Ovid further reinforces this point when, in the last lines of his plea to Augustus, he stresses again that the exile at Tomis is too harsh a punishment for his wrongdoings, and asks for a more peaceful place, which may match his crime more fairly: tutius exilium pauloque quietius oro, / ut par delicto sit mea poena suo (‘I only beg a safer, a slightly more peaceful place of exile, so that the punishment may match my crime’, Tr. 2.577f.).
This last point finally brings into play the connection between Tiresias and the myth of Actaeon, as presented in both Metamorphoses 3 and Tristia 2. The similarities drawn by Ovid between Actaeon and his own fate include the fact that the crime was a ‘mistake’ (error, Tr. 2.109 and Met. 3.142) caused by mere ill-fortune rather than evil intent (fortuna luenda est, ‘ill-fortune must be atoned for’, Tr. 2.107; fortunae crimen, ‘a crime of ill-fortune’, Met. 3.141), and that they were both guilty of having inadvertently seen (imprudenti…mihi, ‘thoughtless me’, Tr. 2.104; inscius Actaeon, ‘unwitting Actaeon’, Tr. 2.105) something that they should not have witnessed:Footnote 94
Why did I see anything? Why did I make my eyes guilty? Why was I so thoughtless as to harbour the knowledge of a crime? Unwitting was Actaeon when he beheld Diana unclothed; none the less he became the prey of his own hounds. Clearly, among the gods, even ill-fortune must be atoned for, nor is mischance an excuse when a deity is wronged. On that day when my ruinous error ravished me away…(tr. Wheeler with minor changes)
But if you seek the truth, you will find the cause of this in fortune's fault, not in any crime of his. For what crime had mere mischance?(tr. Miller and Goold with minor changes)
Ovid's clues about the claim that the error consisted of having inadvertedly witnessed something he should not have also fits the punishment reserved for Tiresias, a recognition that must be coupled with the connections established between blinding and exile in the exile corpus,Footnote 95 in addition to Ovid's promise to shroud the error in utter darkness: cf. illa tegi caeca condita nocte decet (‘it should be covered by the blindness of the night’, Tr. 3.6.32) and iudicis aeterna damnauit lumina nocte (‘he condemned the arbitrator's eyes to perpetual darkness’, Met. 3.335). Furthermore, another similarity between the fates of Ovid and Actaeon can be recognised, as in the case of Tiresias, in the discrepancy between the crime unwittingly committed and the harsh punishment inflicted—without trial—by an angered deity. However, the only explicit mention of this is found in the comments that follow the punishment of Actaeon in the Metamorphoses, which have been subtly compared by Ingleheart to Tacitus’ report of the divided views on Augustus’ principate after his death (Ann. 1.9f.).Footnote 96 Here, Ovid reports the divided opinion about the fairness of Actaeon's punishment, noting that some found that the goddess Diana behaved indeed ‘more cruelly than was just’:
Common talk wavered this way and that: to some the goddess seemed more cruel than was just; others called her act worthy of her austere virginity; both sides found good reasons for their judgement.(tr. Miller and Goold)
Tristia 2 peremptorily invites us to reread the Metamorphoses in the light of Ovid's exile. Indeed, the whole of the exile poetry, by recreating the myths of the Metamorphoses and applying them to the poet himself, makes us complicit in the search for parallels between the life of the poet and those of his characters, a search that Ovid openly inaugurates in Tristia 1.1, when he claims that the metamorphosis of his fortune should be added to the mutatae formae of the poem (Tr. 1.1.117–22), and one that he further invites us to join in Tristia 1.7, with the statement that the carmina of the Metamorphoses are indeed a ‘better image’ of himself (sed carmina maior imago / sunt mea, Tr. 1.7.11f.).Footnote 97 Ovid's subtle game of insinuating a post-exilic rereading of the Metamorphoses within the exile poetry is precisely what should make us cautious of entertaining the notion that he actually rewrote sections of the poem, if simply because the author is confessing that he is himself capable of finding prophetic hints about his future exile when rereading those very same sections. Actaeon is a prime example of this conundrum. Readers of the exile poetry, and of the Actaeon parallel in Tristia 2, would immediately think of Ovid's fate when reading Met. 3.141f., not least because of the explicit dichotomy between scelus and error that would become such a stock topic in his exile.Footnote 98 And yet this does not mean that we should rule out the possibility that, since the author of Tristia 2 was himself, after all, a reader of the Metamorphoses, he may have noticed the dramatic irony inherent in his own phrasings of Actaeon and decided to apply it explicitly to his own situation in the plea to Augustus—a hypothesis which can be further corroborated by the observation that the term error, in the sense of ‘wanderings’, fits Actaeon in the Metamorphoses in a way that it can only fit partially the poet of the exile.Footnote 99
If this interpretation is valid for Actaeon, the situation may change slightly in the case of Tiresias. Notwithstanding the obvious parallels between the Theban uates and the poet, Ovid never makes the equation explicit in the way that he does with Actaeon. The version of Tiresias’ myth inserted by Callimachus as a frame for Actaeon in his fifth Hymn On the Bath of Pallas is a double for the myth of Actaeon that differs mostly in the eventual outcome of the punishment.Footnote 100 Tiresias too inadvertently makes the mistake of seeing a goddess unclothed at the bath (Pallas), but rather than being torn apart by dogs, he is blinded and subsequently rewarded with prophecy, longevity and mental faculties in Hades (Hymn 5.121–30). Ovid's choice of Callimachus as his source for the myth of Actaeon while going back to the pseudo-Hesiodic version of the myth of Tiresias clearly fulfills the two aims of uariatio and metamorphosis needed in his epic poem. Yet the choice also allows him—consciously or not we could never tell for sure—to stage what reads retrospectively as a double version of the cause of his exile, with Actaeon falling into the error of witnessing something he should not have, and Tiresias being guilty of uttering the carmen that told of the different attitudes of men and women in the art of love. When Ovid invites us, in Tristia 2, to reread Metamorphoses 3, I suggest that he also invites us to consider the episode of Actaeon together with the subsequent episode of Tiresias, which remains instead unmentioned in the exilic corpus. This elision of Tiresias from the exilic elegies may be pointed: unlike with Actaeon, an explicit parallel with Tiresias in Tristia 2 would have arguably helped little in eliciting Augustus’ sympathies towards Ovid's cause. Indeed, if the error of Actaeon was unintentional, and therefore not a scelus, Tiresias’ verdict on women's sexual pleasure was, like the Ars, an intentional carmen—if arguably not a crimen.Footnote 101 Secondly, while the main parallel between Actaeon and Ovid consisted in the unintentionality of the error, the main parallel between the episode of Tiresias and Ovid's case focuses instead on the exaggerated cruelty, and illegal procedure, of the punishment received.Footnote 102 The possible allusions to Augustus’ subversion of Roman legal procedures, coupled with Tiresias/Ovid's payback in his following anti-Apollonian/anti-Augustan verdict, make the episode unsuitable, to say the least, to serve as Ovid's counterpart in his plea to Augustus. Unlike in the case of Actaeon, such an interpretation of the episode of Tiresias would be difficult to sustain without the assumption that the passage was at least revisited after Ovid had been sentenced to exile; however, Ovid's subtle game of providing a rewriting of the Metamorphoses in his exilic poetry, and of inviting his readers to read the Metamorphoses in the light of the exile, makes it virtually impossible to tell the difference between pre-exilic and post-exilic readings.
5. To Conclude, Not Without a Hint of Conspiracy
Since we have so far played along with one of Ovid's intended games in the exile poetry—to insinuate a post-exilic reading of the Metamorphoses within the exile elegies themselves—it seems apt to take up another favourite game of the Tristia and at least drop a hint of some reasoned conspiracy theory.Footnote 103 Indeed, if we accept that the Tiresias episode is an intended allegory of Ovid's punishment for writing the Ars, it would follow that the party offended by the carmen, and indeed the divine monarch who sentenced Tiresias/Ovid to blinding/exile, was not so much Jupiter/Augustus but rather his wife Juno/Livia, incidentally the same goddess who was also the only deity to rejoice at the punishment inflicted on Actaeon (sola Iouis coniunx…gaudet, Met. 3.256–9). This is all, clearly and exactly, unprovable speculation, but the suspicion that Livia had a not uninfluential role in Ovid's relegatio has often been suggested in the past—and I do not refer to the (in)famous suggestions that Ovid/Actaeon saw Livia naked in her bathFootnote 104 or at the Bona Dea rites,Footnote 105 or that the poet had an affair with the femina princeps,Footnote 106 but rather to the political analysis, inaugurated by Owen and more recently reproposed by Green, that Ovid's error was somewhow concerned with Augustus’ succession and his sympathies for the Julians and Germanicus rather than the Claudians and Tiberius.Footnote 107 The empress, explicitly equated by Ovid with Juno in Ex Ponto 3.1 (mores Iunonis habendo / sola est caelesti digna reperta toro, ‘having the character of Juno, she has been found alone worthy to share the divine couch’, Tr. 3.1.117f.),Footnote 108 in ‘a poem chock full of unsettling panegyric’,Footnote 109 is arguably the subject of tongue-in-cheek praise already in Ovid's plea to Augustus: quae, nisi te, nullo coniuge digna fuit, / quae si non esset, caelebs te uita deceret, / nullaque, cui posses esse maritus, erat (‘she who was worthy of no other husband but you, and but for whose existence an unwedded life would befit you, since there was no other woman who you could be married to’, Tr. 2.162–4).Footnote 110 Both passages set up an implicit contrast between the mores preached but not practised by the not-so-uniuira Livia and those lascivious customs that the praeceptor suggested adopting, among other places, precisely under the porticus that unexpectedly bore her name (Ars 1.72).Footnote 111 Livia is indeed the Ur-matrona who should not (have) read the poem (nil igitur matrona legat, Tr. 2.255) of which Augustus had apparently only heard selected passages recited aloud by evil enemies of Ovid (Tr. 2.77–80).Footnote 112 And the ideological problem of that poem was, as we have seen, Ovid/Tiresias’ verdict on the unrestrained sexual desire of all women, including Livia/Juno, whose double marriage, as Barchiesi points out, was not at all elided behind the claims to monogamy and the exhibition of priscae tabellae in her porticus (Ars 1.71f.) as a move to counteract the erotic pictures and lascivious customs of the time.Footnote 113
This interpretation of Juno is not necessarily in contradiction with the previously suggested interpretation of Juno as proto-feminist. It is the feminist perspective, in Ovid's discourse, that destabilises the more orthodox principles of the Ars Amatoria and of Tiresias’ verdict, which as such align directly and incontrovertibly with Augustus and Jupiter. Thus the episode of Tiresias appears to match Ovid's continuous assurances to Augustus that the Ars Amatoria is after all in line with his cultural and political programme, while Tiresias and Jupiter end up uniting in negative association against Juno. If we read Livia as Juno in the Tiresias episode, the subversive nature of feminist critique ends up superimposing itself on the subversive suggestion that it is a woman here, the principessa, who seems to hold the reins of political power. After the fall of the Republic and the establishment of an imperial dynasty, any treatment of gender—especially if it involves the divine monarchs—must necessarily become a politically charged issue.
In conclusion, the Tiresias episode can be read as a cluster of Ovid's poetic experiences and at the same time as a suggestive allegory of Ovid's own self-transformation into an exile poet. Such a reading cannot escape the assumption of a post-exilic revision of Tiresias in the Metamorphoses, not just with regard to the autobiographical interpretation of the passage, but also in terms of a poetic reading of Tiresias’ punishment as an aetiology of Ovid's exilic innovations in the elegiac genre. This does not mean that my reading of Tiresias has demonstrated the existence of a post-exilic revision of the passage, which we will in all likelihood never be able to ascertain: it has proved rather that reading the Metamorphoses in accordance with Ovid's invitation, in exile, to insert his own story among the mutatae formae of a poem which he claims to have left unfinished (Tr. 1.1.117–22) does not necessarily need to be thought of as a less fruitful experiment after we accept the strictly literary—post-Virgilian—nature of the suggestion that the Metamorphoses, like the Aeneid, lacked the last hand of their poet. If we agree with Rosati's statement that Ovid's poetry ‘asserts its right to submit to its own rules that reality from which it nourishes itself, and to turn that reality into literature’,Footnote 114 this also implies that the exile elegies may likewise have the opposite power of turning the previous literature into (autobiographical) reality. This suggestion applies to the Metamorphoses passim, with the promise of more insights yet to find, but in this essay it has prompted the realisation that the metamorphosis of Tiresias is not, or not just, the double sex change of the pseudo-Hesiodic version, which allows Ovid to distance himself from Callimachus and to justify Tiresias’ presence in the poem. The real metamorphosis is that of the author and his poetry, the one that we are enjoined to look for in the Metamorphoses from the beginning of the Tristia: Ovid's transformation from playful, self-obsessed elegiac praeceptor of the Ars Amatoria into blinded uates of both Metamorphoses and Tristia. This blind seer is no longer allowed to see and recognise himself as love elegist and praeceptor Amoris, he is no longer permitted to see Rome and witness its political, legal and poetic affairs; yet in his blindness, like the Tiresias of T.S. Eliot, he ‘sees the substance of the poem[s]’Footnote 115 and their late Augustan changes. In the light of his Tiresias, Ovid's exile poetry proves to be not just the point of arrival in a metamorphic poetic career, but also the last and most extreme effort to make innovations in the elegiac genre within the theme of ‘transformation’. Like the Metamorphoses’ Tiresias, this new poetry is permeated with the memory of the whole of Ovid's previous career and its generic transformations up to the final conversion, which is also envisaged in the famous sphragis of the Metamorphoses: the projected fusion of the immortal author and his eternal carmen.