- Silenced Voices: The Poetics of Speech in Ovid by Bartolo A. Natoli
Natoli’s Silenced Voices discusses speech loss in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and exile poetry, focusing on characters, including Ovid’s own poetic persona, who find themselves deprived of speech and develop alternative ways of communication to reestablish bonds with their communities and shape their communal and individual memories.
In the introduction, Natoli provides an overview of key themes, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks within exile studies in classics and with respect to Ovid’s exile. There are helpful remarks on the phrase fortunae vultum . . . meae (Tr. 1.1.120) implying Ovid’s construction of a poetic exilic persona. Tr.1.1 connects with certain characters in the Metamorphoses who are often dehumanized through speech loss, as other critics have remarked. Natoli states that he differs from those who take Ovid as offering a historical self-portrayal in the exile poetry (13). Yet the premise that Ovid creates an exilic poetic persona has been noted before.
Chapter 1, “Speech and Speech Loss in Ancient Rome,” gathers evidence from Roman authors about speech loss. Natoli turns to “the modern concept of schema theory, a method of conceptualizing how human beings conceive and make meaning of a situation, and one that has become a major part of the field of cognitive poetics” (17), to appreciate Roman thought on speech loss, an important context for Ovid. A useful survey of the Latin term mutus is illustrative.
Chapter 2, “Speech Loss in the Metamorphoses,” engages with the Roman schemata of speech loss (nonhuman state, emotion, and separation from community) and rightly notes that transformation is often only physical, or “incomplete,” as a given character’s essence remains (for example, Actaeon and Io). Transformed, speechless (contrast what was previously a heightened speech ability), now nonhuman, separated from society, deprived of identity, and filled with emotion, characters can still use reason and forge community links, especially through writing. Traditional patterns of Roman speech loss are found in Lycaon, Callisto, Actaeon, Dryope, and Echo, though Dryope, transformed in front of others, maintains her “identity within that community” (47), and Echo remains isolated in an “in between” state with partial speech loss. The cases of Io and Philomela innovate by introducing the written medium as an alternative to speech. Io, unusually, reverses her transformation and reintegrates into the human community through writing (compare Ovid’s own attempt in exile). Philomela has an uncommon speech ability and voices threats of public exposure and revenge; once raped and silenced, she is like the poet in communicating through weaving/text. There are excellent close readings of the poetry, but Natoli could engage more explicitly with the intersection of gender and speech, in Philomela’s case in particular.
Chapter 3, “Speech Loss in the Exile Literature,” shows how Ovid, now separated from the Latin-speaking world and expressing how he is losing his poetic skills, becomes like his silenced epic characters. Discussions include an in-depth analysis of Tristia 1, especially 1.3, connections with silenced characters in the Metamorphoses (mainly Callisto, Dryope, and Philomela), and Ovid’s attempts to reconnect with his Roman community through poetry. Noteworthy are considerations of vocabulary related to speech loss, a stimulating analysis [End Page 598] of Aeneas as exile in Tr. 1.3, and the use of gesture by Philomela and by Ovid himself when he tries to communicate with the Getans and Sarmatians. A letter, being a half-conversation, a symbol of the “physical presence of the author” (125) and a substitute for spoken words, is a key vehicle that enables someone with speech loss to reconnect with his poetic community.
Chapter 4, “Speech Loss and Memory in the Exile Literature,” approaches the “interplay between community, speech, and memory in the exile literature” (149) and the theme of how Ovid, concerned with not being forgotten, shapes the memory of his work at Rome and in the collective memory. Natoli explores the meanings of memoria...