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EMILY A. McDERMOTT University of Massachusetts Boston Ovid, Christians, and Celts in the Epilogue of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain CHARLES FRAZIER HAS CAREFULLY SITUATED HIS NOVEL ABOUT AN American Civil War deserter within Greek and Latin classical literary traditions. Since its publication, Cold Mountain has all but universally been hailed as an “odyssey” by readers, critics, and scholars, in recognition of its structure as an adventure-laden homeward journey, with the end goal of reuniting two lovers; it is rich with Homeric allusions (even to the point of quotation) and typologies of both character and scene (Chitwood; McDermott, “Frazier Polymêtis.”; Vandiver). In the first chapter, the author further introduces two fragments of the pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus (18), a thinker whose “challenge to mankind is to learn to understand . . . the discourse of nature” (“Heraclitus” 501); in the course of the novel, reflection back on these fragments will contribute substantially to a thematic assertion that war’s devastations may be healed by return to a life attuned to nature (Chitwood; McDermott, “Frazier Polymêtis” 102-03, 122-23). A recent study (McDermott, “Metal Face”) also demonstrates the author’s indebtedness, in the same thematic context, to the Golden-Age motif originated by Hesiod in his Works and Days and featured as well in Virgil’s Georgics and fourth Eclogue. The novel further abounds with explicit references to books important to its characters. Inman soothes his grueling journey by analectic consultations of Bartram’s Travels, and the pages devoted to Ada, Inman’s “well read” Penelope (22), bear a certain resemblance to a St. John’s reading list: she reads to her unlettered companion Ruby from the Odyssey (“Books and their contents were a great novelty to Ruby, and so Ada had reckoned that the place to begin was near the beginning” [81]) and regales her with “the entire thrilling plot of Little Dorrit ” (79). She dips into Lawrence’s Sword and Gown, The Mill on the Floss, The Scarlet Letter (26), Bleak House (200), and Adam Bede (271), reflects on “Endymion” (272), and ponders the calming effects on man and beast of recitation from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (322). 180 Emily A. McDermott On both these accounts (the author’s penchant for classical allusion and his characters’ proclivity to literature), it is unsurprising to find a direct reference to an oral reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the novel’s penultimate paragraph. Nor is it odd that this reference will prove neither casual nor arbitrary, but thematically significant. In the novel’s three-page Epilogue, the surviving protagonist and her makeshift family engage in quasi-celebration of the harvest by feasting, fiddling, singing, and dancing. Just before they retire to bed, “the children begged for a story” and “Ada took a book from her apron and tipped it toward the firelight and read.” Her choice of story is explicit: she reads to them of Baucis and Philemon (356), an elderly husband-and-wife pair made famous by the Roman poet Ovid in the eighth book of his epic poem, Metamorphoses. When a thousand other houses in town shut their doors in the faces of two wayfaring strangers, Jupiter and Mercury in disguise, Baucis and Philemonreceivethemhospitably,sharingwiththegodsamodestrepast of “olives, black or green, and cherries / Preserved in dregs of wine, endive and radish, / And cottage cheese, and eggs, turned over lightly / In the warm ash, with shells unbroken” (8.664-68), all served in earthenware crockery and beech-wood drinking cups. “And all around the table / Shone kindly faces, nothing mean or poor / Or skimpy in good will” (8.677-78).1 The husband and wife are a joint typology for marital fidelity, piety to the gods and other men, and finding Plenty in rustic poverty. In their kindliness, humility, and tranquil symbiosis, they offer an apt paradigm for the harmonious family of Frazier’s Epilogue. In the generosity of their hospitality, they align themselves both with the benevolent poor who recurrently offer Inman hospitality in his wanderings and with the legendary hosts of Cherokee legend whose hospitality almost wins them entry into a paradise inside Cold Mountain (196-98);2 they also emblematize simplicity, reverence, and freedom 1...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 179-197
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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