Tereus, Procne, and Philomela: speech, silence, and the voice of gender
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This dissertation investigates speech, silence, and power in the Tereus, Procne, and Philomela myth in four sources: Sophocles’ Tereus, Aristophanes’ Birds, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the Pervigilium Veneris. I pose three questions about each work: 1. Whom does the author allow to speak, and whom does he silence? 2. How do speech and silence influence characterization, authority, and power? 3. How does the author’s socio-cultural environment influence the construction of those power hierarchies? Each author constructs a hierarchy of agency determined by communicative and silent roles. Sophocles’ Procne, Aristophanes’ Tereus, Ovid’s Philomela and Procne, and the Pervigilium’s Venus and swallow possess a heightened level of narrative agency that cannot be taken away, even if the ability to speak disappears; on the other hand, conspicuous silencing by the author reduces the narrative agency of characters like Aristophanes’ Procne, Ovid’s Tereus, or the Pervigilium’s narrator. These authorial decisions regarding speech and silence evince shifting engagements with each author’s socio-cultural environment and opportunities for artistic output. Moreover, these four authors also engage in an escalating series of mythic reversals and re-appropriations as they mold the details of the Tereus, Procne, and Philomela story into their narratives. First, Aristophanes reverses Sophocles’ empowerment of Procne and Philomela by effacing the violence of Sophocles’ tragedy; he mutes and objectifies Procne, erases Philomela entirely, and elevates Tereus into the bird-man-ruler paradigm that Peisetaerus hopes to emulate, thereby presenting a normative relationship of vocal man with silent woman in service of the movement of his plot. Then, in Augustan Rome, Ovid comments on the princeps’ increasing control over artistic output by acting as an arbiter of speech and silence, as he affords Philomela and Procne eloquent voices while conspicuously silencing Tereus; he “corrects” the Aristophanic “correction” of Sophocles. Finally, in Late Antiquity, the narrator of the Pervigilium laments his silence caused by constraints within panegyric, a genre that lacks a personal voice, such as that possessed by the swallow. He “corrects” Ovid’s presentation of the swallow’s song as the result of Philomela’s brutalization by casting it as a positive exemplum for his own poetry.