1 Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.898 – 14.74 (sections entitled ‘Glaucus and Scylla I’ and ‘Glaucus and Scylla II’, pp.541–5 and 548–51 of the set book). 2 Holkham Ms 324 f.137 v. Scylla rejects Glaucus, Circe's love potion deforms Scylla, from ‘Metamorphoses 14’ by Ovid, 1479 (vellum).
The illumination from the Holkham Hall manuscript (bridgemaneducation.com.) is a retelling of the myth of Glaucus and Scylla from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 13.898-967 and 14.1-74). The manuscript was commissioned Raphael de Marcatelis a bishop, in the 1490’s (DVD-ROM) fifteen hundred years after Ovid wrote his epic poem. In the illumination the artist seems to have fore-grounded the main narrative events of Ovid’s version of the myth. The narrative flows around the page in an unconventional order of sequence and appears to begin in the centre of the image with Glaucus, dressed in red and blue, arriving in a sailing boat. It then moves down to the left where Glaucus meets Scylla, the position of their hands suggest they are talking, although Scylla’s eyes are downcast implying her rejecting Glaucus. The narrative moves up to Glaucus sailing towards another land where he engages in conversation with a woman, probably Circe, wearing a lilac. It then jumps to the bottom where Scylla is standing in a pool after her transformation, next to the pool stand two figures, one wearing pink with an elaborate headdress which might be Circe. Behind Scylla is Glaucus with his hands raised upwards in a gesture indicating distress, he is then shown walking away possibly signifying his rejection of Circe.
However, it is how the artist has represented the characters and setting that provides an understanding of the social and cultural context to which this version of Glaucus and Scylla was received. In the fifteenth century the production of texts based on classical literature was widespread, however, the Christian church had a dominating influence on people’s lives and this resulted in a necessity for medieval artists to make pagan myths acceptable in a Christian society. (Block 3, p69).
Because of this it could be argued that the medieval artist has omitted most of the supernatural and pagan elements from Ovid’s version. For instance, Ovid’s description of Glaucus’s transformation from human to sea-god has not been represented despite it being a lengthy and significant part of Ovid’s tale (Ovid, 13.917-956). Also, rather than ‘skimming the waves’ (Ovid, 13.904), as he swims across the sea, Glaucus travels by boat in the illumination, and Circe’s journey, including walking on the ‘seething waves...with dry feet’ (Ovid, 14.49-50) might have been considered too close to Christian ideology. The only transformation which is illustrated is that of Scylla when she bathes in the pool polluted by Circe.
Ovid also describes Glaucus as having a ‘blue-green body (Ovid, 13.913 and 961) and ‘curving legs which vanish away to a fish with fins’ (Ovid, 13.961-962) and says Scylla ‘roamed unclothed’ (Ovid, 13.901). However, in the illustration Glaucus is decidedly human in appearance and both characters are wearing clothes contemporary with the medieval period. This along with the inclusion of medieval architecture in the setting makes the illumination both relevant to the medieval reader and distances the story from the paganism of the past. The Holkham illumination could be seen as a hybrid (Textual Sources, p192), a fusion of classical myth and medieval thinking, and an insight into the society and culture in which it was created. (Word Count, 521)
A330: TMA 04 Part two
Ovid uses myths of metamorphosis to address key themes such as: (iii) The transforming power of love and hate.
Mythical narratives have provided ‘a widely known language with which to talk about human experience and human relationships’ (Graf, p112) and many of the myths in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Ovid, 2004) deal with...