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An Examination of the Relationship Between Pandion and Philomela

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  • Pages: 4
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  • Category: Relations

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             The father daughter relationship in Ovid’s Metamorphoses between Pandion and Philomela is complex and central to the events that take place.   Pandion is the great Kind of Athens, a man who should have strong moral character does not.  Through out the text he is a disappointment as a father, husband, and a man.  Ovid in his parody of values which Athens was based on created a character devoid of any emotion let alone exhibiting fatherly love.  His downfall begins when he married his Aunt, which even in ancient times was not consider proper.  They are blessed with two beautiful daughters, Procne and Philomela.  However, Pandion, constantly consumed with power and wealth, fails as a father.  He views his children as commodities which can easily be traded for whatever he needs at the moment.  It becomes clear to Pandion that Athens must enter into War he does what any ‘respectable’ man does he calls someone for help.  He decides he needs the help Tereus who lives next door in Thrace.  He is the ruler of a relatively insignificant country called Dauis.  However, Tereus real allure was that he was the son of Ares.  Tereus does help Athens and helps Pandion win the war.  In return and in hopes of keeping Tereus loyalty, Pandion gives away his oldest daughter, Procne, to a man he barely knew.

            Tereus and Procne marry and have a child, Itys.  However, Tereus is not satisfied with Procne and travels back to Athens to seek out Pandion’s younger daughter, Philomela.  Tereus tells Pandion that Ponce died and needed to be replaced.  Pandion, even though Tereus had let his first daughter die, allows Tereus to marry his second daughter.  Pandion once again, defying his fatherly and moral role of protecting his daughter, uses his child as payment. Tereus whisks Philomela away raping her.  After the rape she threatens to go and tell her father, and Tereus cuts out her tongue.  Philomela is stored about in a tower, a simple toy for Tereus pleasure.  However, Philomela is a resourceful woman and decides since she cannot speak she will weave her story into a robe.  Oddly enough she does not send the robe to her father for she feels he would not understand the message in the weaving.  She sends the robe off to Procne in hopes that she is really still alive.  The transformation of the experience of rape into a tangible, real item is the first metamorphosis that takes place in the text.  Philomela states “‘You’ll pay my score one day. I’ll shed my shame / And shout what you have done. If I’ve the chance, / I’ll walk among the crowds: or, if I’m held / Locked in the woods, my voice shall fill the woods / And move the rocks to pity.'(46-50).

            Once Procne receives the gift she realizes immediately what has occurred.  She screams “Hark! ah, the nightingale– The tawny-throated! Hark from that moonlit cedar what a burst! What triumph! hark!–what pain! . . . . Again–thou hearest? Eternal passion! Eternal pain!” (77-78).  She knows that her father will do nothing to help either of his daughters and decides to take matter into her own hands.  Procne sets out to seek revenge, bringing with her, her son Itys.  Procne plays along with Tereus and agrees to make a big feast for the four of them.  However, the dinner consists of her son, cooked and boiled, served to Tereus to eat.  This is the second transformation that takes place in the text.  The utilization of Itys as means of “food” is really revenge.  Once, Tereus finds out that he has eaten his own son for dinner and goes after the fleeing Philomela and Procne.  Philomela sings, “We are silent. When will my spring come? When shall I be as the swallow that I may cease to be silent?” (55).

            The two sisters, in return, beg the Gods to turn them into birds and the Gods agree. Birds symbolize freedom from the human experience and pain.  Tereus is changed into a hoopoe who sings  “pou, pou” which means “where, where” in Greek.  As if he were still trying to find the sisters.  And Philomela is turned into a swallow, doomed for eternity to say nothing at all.  Procne is turned into a nightingale who cries out “tereu, tereu” the name of her son again and again.

              In life Philomela was silenced by men.  First her father gives her away without even asking her what she would like to do.  Her new “husband” cuts out her tongue, silencing her again.  However, Philomela like many women, are able to communicate in other ways – first in her weaving and lastly in her song.  Various minor and unimportant modifications occur in the story as told by Hyginus, Ovid, and others, but the main outlines are constant — the marriage of the one sister, the ruin of the other, the web, the joint revenge, the transformation.

            The pattern of the myth retold by Ovid is clear and forewarn women.  There is an universal cycle of the violation, revenge, violence structure, which has plagued women from the beginning of time.  The objectification of women (Philomela being given away by her father, Pandion) creates a situation were sexual violence can occur (rape by Tereus) which inspires Philomela to seek out other means of communication.  This, in turn, causes the death and cannibalism of Itys and the transformation of all humans involved.  If it had not been for the lack of relationship between Philomela and Pandion, father and daughter,the tragic events would have never occurred.  Perhaps Procne was correct when reflecting on men, she asserts”author of our evils.” men…. The sacrifice of the innocent victim, Itys, continues, without altering it, the motion of reciprocal violence” (48-49).

Works Cited

Ovid: Metamorphoses, trans. M. Innes, Penguin 1955 (in prose).

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