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“In Wolf’s Clothing: a Psychoanalytic Reading of the Lycaon episode in Ovid, Metamorphoses 1,” Ricardo Apostol

tl;dr version:   a Lacanian/Freudian analysis of the Lycaon episode in the Metamorphoses, arguing that the text may be read to indicate that it was actually Lycaon who killed Jupiter and then took his place, and that the anxieties behind the text are connected to the fraught issue of succession to Augustus late in his reign.

undergrad-the kind of undergrad who is excited by theory will enjoy this, if only to argue with it, but it’s not for beginners. While Apostol is pretty good about explaining the theoretical background, he is also clearly addressing an audience of the already-initiated.

stakes: connecting the episode to the issue of succession is interesting, and illuminates (if we buy the argument) the text’s reception by its first audience

This is a challenging but very interesting analysis of the Lycaon episode. Apostol frames his psychoanalytic reading of the passage as a detective story, identifying and then following out the implications of two sections of the text he claims contain “inconsistencies” — first, the oddly doubly-determined outrage perpetrated by Lycaon, and second, his transformation into a wolf.

In the first case, Apostol points out the temporal strangeness of Lycaon’s feast coming after his (attempted) murder of Jupiter (Met. 1.224-227). His analysis of this moment takes him from an account of Jupiter as Lykaon’s “Other” in Lacanian terms through an excursus on Freud’s Totem and Taboo. For those of us uncomfortable with retrojecting the work of 19th century Vienna back to late Augustan Rome, Apostol points out that similar stories of murder and cannibalism were associated with Arcadia in the ancient world as well.

The second textual passage he focuses on is Lykaon’s transformation into a wolf (1.232-239). Here he not only points out the (reasonably common in the Metamorphoses) way in which the transformation happens without an agent, but also, again, the temporal oddness of ipse, and then os, the subjects of the first four lines, only becoming “wolf” after the slaughter of flocks.

At this point Apostol is deep in Lacanian subject-formation, and the world of Fantasy, associated with pre-verbal organic drive, as it underlies the structure of Symbolic, Imaginary and Real. Your response to the article will be dependent upon your views on Lacan or your openness to this sort of analysis. Personally I have a hard time with the notion of “the text” being so anxious as to “hysterically” attempt to “cover up” something, but on the other hand the insights Apostol reaches are highly suggestive. Rather than simply remaining with the much-discussed question of whether or how the text might be “anti-Augustan,” Apostol makes an interesting link to contemporary concerns with succession. This itself must have been a problematic concept given Augustus’ unprecedented (and therefore questionably replicable) position of princeps and the degree to which this position was firmly tied to his personal qualities. As soon as someone else takes the position, “princeps” becomes a role (Symbolic, in Lacanian terms) rather than a personal characteristic:

“How could the identity of the Father, supposedly the paramount element in securing both his own authority and the safety and prosperity of the citizens, now suddenly be recast as subject to change in the person of another ruler? Did not such a move render the Father’s identity as shifting, arbitrary, and perhaps even largely irrelevant? These questions, and the anxiety they generate, form an essential element in the text’s depiction of the primordial crime on which the destruction or salvation of humanity depends” (62).

This is longer than I’d like these summaries to be in general, but it’s a very dense argument — fascinating, and for the most part clear if you’re willing to exert yourself.

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