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  • In Wolf’s Clothing: A Psychoanalytic Reading of the Lycaon Episode in Ovid, Metamorphoses 1
  • Ricardo Apostol (bio)

Scholars of Ovid’s Lycaon episode in Metamorphoses 1 have long been aware of the text’s focus on Augustan power, even as they remain divided on the issue of the text’s or poet’s allegiance.1 In particular, much has been made of Jupiter’s key role as narrator of the episode,2 and rightfully so, since surely the position of speaker represents a significant locus of power; yet power is not omnipotence, even in the case of Jupiter (and perhaps especially not in his case, since this is after all Ovid’s Jupiter).3 The assumption that Jupiter is the master of his discourse, whether he uses it to reveal or to conceal, is challenged by a new wave of Ovidian scholarship that concentrates on the essentially split nature of the (speaking) subject as delineated in the work of Freud, Lacan, and their disciples.4 The divided psychoanalytic subject’s discourse cannot help but betray its ambivalence, its schizoid nature, and its desire, however many lies he or she may decide to spin out (an insight shared by deconstructionist and poststructural criticism in general). One might here recall the stereotypical figure of the analyst dealing with a resistant patient, and her confidence that she need only sit back and let the ‘false’ story unravel into truth.

This is not to deny the importance of interpretive approaches based on such considerations as narrative voice or focalization; a great deal of very good work on the epistemologically troubling Lycaon episode begins with questions about speakers, witnesses, and their motivations.5 Nor is it a plea to discard the hermeneutics of suspicion. Rather, this paper attempts to demonstrate, first, that the locus of suspicion can be shifted to good effect—from suspicion over individual events within the narrative (that is, accepting some as ‘real’ and rejecting others as ‘false’ or ‘biased’) to suspicion at the level of the narrative discourse itself (and thus acceptance of all narrative episodes, not because they are ‘real’ but because they all contribute to characterizing that discourse); and second, that such a shift represents a methodologically rigorous alternative that does not sacrifice a careful regard for context. My method here will in orientation be basically Lacanian, since that psychoanalytic approach is [End Page 109] the most engaged with language. But it bears remembering that Lacan insisted that he himself was no Lacanian, but a Freudian, and that his own method was developed through an uncompromising return to the Freudian text. I shall follow suit in having recourse to Freud’s Totem and Taboo in a later section, though in the Lacanian reinterpretation of that text as a myth of the origins of personality, rather than as any kind of genuine memory of the beginnings of civilization. Furthermore, in the spirit of suspicion and Lacan’s work on psychoanalysis and detective fiction in his “Seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter,’ ” it seems best to start with a Lacanian analyst’s remarks on crime fiction, not least because of the obvious fact that if the text is taken at face value, somebody was murdered (the hostage, at first, and slightly later the bulk of humankind). But first one final clarification: the days of psychoanalyzing literary characters, on the one hand, and authors based on their works, on the other, have long been over. I am concerned here with drawing out the anxieties of the text as a document written at a crucial moment in Roman history; Jupiter is a fiction the text gives us, and I begin by taking up that fiction. But in the end this can be neither about Jupiter, who does not exist, nor about Ovid, whom we cannot reach.

Turning, then, to the crime at hand: Those who would, through their suspicion, outwit a wily character like Ovid’s Jupiter run a risk, one summed up admirably well in Slavoj Žižek’s discussion of psychoanalytic method in terms of detective fiction.6 Žižek (1991, 53) describes how “the scene of the crime with which the detective is confronted is also, as a rule, a...


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