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

6. Phrases

Known phrases appear in the thesaurus, as you can see from figure 8, where they are used to identify ideas that cannot be attached to a single word without causing many irrelevant occurrences to be selected (e.g. siege warfare). More importantly, however, TACT provides tools for discovering repetitions of phrases not already identified. These repetitions provide clues for interconnections between separate stories.

Repetitions can be of two kinds: exact and inexact.

6.1. Exact phrasal repetition

Because Latin is highly inflected, exact repetition is much less common than, say, for modern orthographic English.[16] The phrasal collocation tool CollGen (a separate program that works with the TACT database) therefore misses many repetitions because of inflectional variations and differences in word order. This means, however, that the phrasal collocations CollGen does find are, or may be, particularly significant.

Figure 15 shows fragments of a CollGen listing. I have marked for consideration four collocations. The text for these is shown in figure 16, where passages are grouped accordingly. The passage at the top of figure 16 is given particular emphasis to suggest how repetitions commonly work: Echo, unable to originate speech herself, merely repeats what others say, but in Ovid's story her repetitions are selectively partial and, in fact, reveal the erotic undercurrent in Narcissus' speech.

As an example of how Ovid uses repetitions to connect stories, consider the link made by me copia fecit ('abundance makes me...') between Narcissus in Met. 3.466 and Niobe in 6.194. Narcissus, looking at himself reflected in a clear pool, has an abundance of what he has always secretly wanted, a beautiful lover, but he cannot possess him because he is him; abundance therefore makes him poor. Niobe in contrast declares that her abundance (in the form of sons and daughters) makes her rich; she boasts inordinately about it, slandering the goddess Latona and so provoking her children, Apollo and Diana, to slaughter all Niobe's offspring. Both stories revolve around the paradox that having is not having, especially when the 'possessed' object is a sentient being. From the perspective of Niobe's story, we might say that Narcissus' reflection is his progeny; from Narcissus', that Niobe's children are to her only reflections of herself, therefore already shades in an underworld. Following this and other clues, we can begin to resolve two very distinct stories into a bridging meta-story.

The reader who knows the Metamorphoses is encouraged to work out the other examples in a similar way.

6.2. Inexact phrasal repetition

A very simple tool, the TACT Index display, can be quite effective for catching inexact repetitions and, in general, for becoming acquainted with the immediate verbal neighborhood of a given word. Again because of the nature of Latin, the span of context may have to be considerably greater than is usual for an English text.

In figure 17 two word groups are shown, rubor / rubeo / erubesco ('red, become red, flush, blush') and sanguis / exsanguis ('blood, bloodless'). In the former case, we can see at a glance three associations with redness and flushing of the skin: dazzling white (candor), beating of the breast (pectora...percussa), and ignorance (nescio). All three happen to be highly significant in context, as critics have noted.

Inspecting the contexts of sanguis alerts us, for example, to the range of meanings taken on by the idea of familial relation, which in Latin as in English uses the metaphor of common blood. Thus in the line marked as example 1, genitum...sanguine means simply 'related by blood' and refers to Apollo's paternity of Phaethon. In example 3, however, matris de sanguine natos, 'born from the blood of their mother' refers to the genesis of the supernatural horses Pegasus and Cryasor when Perseus decapitates Medusa. In example 4, Pyramus, about to commit suicide, invites the earth, accipe nunc...nostri...sanguinis haustus, 'accept now the drink of my blood', an ancient image of the blood-thirstiness of maternal nature. In example 5, after Actaeon has been transformed into a stag by Diana, whom he caught bathing, he is torn apart by his own dogs, who are satiatae sanguine erili, 'sated with the blood of their master'. Truly, as Pythagoras reminds us at the end of the poem, Iron-Age humans are e sanguine nati, 'sons of blood' (example 6) in all senses -- and thus we begin to see how the image of blood draws the poem together.

6.3. Recurrent verbal context

The "span" operator in TACT allows us to get a list of words commonly found within the vicinity of a given word. In figure 18 the word defining the context is again sanguis. I have lemmatized the results obtained from "span", then sorted them in reverse order of frequency. Many of the highest frequency words in proximity to sanguis are to be expected: os ('mouth, face'), corpus ('body'), mater ('mother'), caedes ('gore, slaughter'), and so forth. Some, however, are interesting, e.g. penna / pluma / volucer, ('feather', 'down', 'bird'), which point to the image of the bloodied bird fluttering anxiously at the feet of a predator -- commonly in Ovid a simile for rape. We wonder in this context about the collocations of 'Jupiter' with sanguis. The occurrences of the word lumen ('light, eyes') also raise an obvious question.

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[16] I have taken preliminary steps to lemmatize the Metamorphoses, but a significant amount of work must be done to resolve the multitude of ambiguities detected by the lemmatization software, kindly applied to the poem for me by Dr. Pieter Masereeuw (Amsterdam).