CHWP B.3 McCarty, "Implicit Patterns in Ovid's Metamorphoses"

4. Character studies

Once names are tagged as above, characters may be studied in several different ways. Some of these are suggested by figure 4, figure 5 and figure 6.

4.1. Variant names and attributes

In figure 4 is a selected list of name tags, taken directly from a TACT word list, with the frequency of occurrence shown beside each form. Studying this list one can ask, for example, what attributes constitute a major as opposed to a minor character: not merely frequency of occurrence, although that is a factor, but also relationship to things and to people, especially parents and offspring; possession of variant names and titles; and appearance in a type or role, such as deus, rex, heros, vir, monstrum ('god', 'king', 'hero', 'man', 'monster'). Note that Medusa is particularly interesting in this regard: although minor as a hapless young woman (who in Ovid's version is raped, then punished for her sexual offense by being transformed), she becomes major by these criteria in her death.

Such a name list, used in TACT, can allow us to ask which attributes and variant names appear in which contexts. To pick a simple example, is Jupiter's obsessively watchful consort portrayed differently when she appears as Saturnia, formidable daughter of Saturn, instead of Iuno or coniunx Iuppiter? This remains to be seen, and can be easily with TACT.

One can also examine the use of personal pronouns, asking for example who is empowered to say ego, who to address a god or goddess as tu.

In sum, from the perspective of these tagged names, the stories are radically simplified to the characters who appear in them. Certain aspects of the stories can be more quickly, if not more clearly, seen that way. Looking at Cadmus in figure 4, for example, we notice immediately his dynastic and domestic character -- well attested throughout classical literature, but not so obvious from the Metamorphoses directly, perhaps.

For some kinds of questions, we need to simplify the name list by reducing the variants of one or more names to a few major groups or even to one. We might, for example, want to see how occurrences of Diana are distributed across the poem, however she is named, or (recalling the example just given) how Juno as Saturnia compares with her when she is called by another name. TACT allows any combination of variants to be selected, but by creating a TACT "category" such combinations and simplifications of the name list are preserved.

In the same way related figures can be combined and studied together, e.g. all those who are said to be audacious or contemptuous of the gods, like Pentheus.

4.2. Frequency

In figure 5 the variety of names has been radically simplified so that we can observe how often various characters appear. Such a list is exceedingly sensitive to consistency of markup, which in my initial experiments is not reliable, so again the results here cannot be trusted. The reader should nevertheless be able to see the usefulness of the tool. If in fact Procne, Philomela, and Tereus are named with anything close to the relative frequency shown in figure 5, then the interpreter has a very interesting phenomenon to account for.

4.3. Distribution

With important exceptions, the influence or importance of a being in the Metamorphoses is proportional to distribution: minor mortals tend to be confined to single tales, major ones to sequences or cycles, and gods to larger segments. The TACT Distribution Display, then, allows us a convenient representation of influence in this sense.

An interpretively significant example begins with the observation that by about book 6 in the Metamorphoses the major gods have all but disappeared from the action. How accurate is this observation, however? Thorough tagging of names allows us not only to answer the question, but also to see if our observation conceals different rates or patterns of disappearance. Figure 6 shows distributions for a few combinations of major gods.

In the third graph of figure 6, combined occurrences of Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, and Diana are shown across the first four and into the fifth of the 'thematic divisions' (those alternative units designated by the "div" tag).[12] Apart from the first division, which is short and is concerned with primeval times, the pattern of disappearance seems clear, confirming the initial impression. When the distributions of individual gods are examined, however, hidden complexities come to light. These complexities raise questions about the nature of the gods in question. Furthermore, other gods show very different patterns in harmony with their natures. Note how in the fourth and fifth graphs of figure 6, for example, first Venus & Cupid, then Minerva are shown to be increasing in influence. This is no surprise: in the former instance, the gods of love represent an upsetting, if not revolutionary, force, as the poet repeatedly notes (see e.g. Met. 2.846 ff.); in the latter, Minerva is viri fautrix, 'the helper of man', and even when she isn't exactly helpful, she is involved far more with humans than with gods -- and isn't clearly superior to humans except in power.

So, investigation by TACT confirms the reader's impression overall, but illuminates exceptions to the rule that are in accord with what we know otherwise.

Once the entire poem is available for analysis, results from such a question will be more comprehensive -- and perhaps also more surprising. What is already surprising is that the first six books of the Metamorphoses, a relatively large chunk of highly complex poetry, seems such a limiting amount when viewed with TACT. Granted that overview is gained at the cost of detail, but detail can always be quickly recovered. Maps are no substitute for the actual terrain, but they put that terrain into perspective.

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[12] At the time of these experiments, the database included only books 1-6, whereas the fifth division runs from 6.146 to 7.403. Thus, again, caveat utor.