Ovid’s Callisto and Feminist Translation of the Metamorphoses

DOI : 10.54563/eugesta.1269


This article lays out several feminist strategies for translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses, arguing that these enable translators to clear away the patriarchal bias that has influenced previous translations of this epic. Using the Callisto episode as a case study, I show how major English translations obscure sexual assault, mitigate the criminality of those who perpetrate rape, and assign modern gender expectations and stereotypes to the past. Through careful close reading, feminist translators can question longstanding assumptions about the text that have been inherited from one translator and scholar to the next. Feminist translation, moreover, illuminates how our own contemporary assumptions were not necessarily shared by Ovid and his culture.



Though Greco-Roman studies has benefitted immeasurably in recent decades from the work of feminist scholars, feminist translation is still relatively new to the field1. It is a practice that, on the one hand, sits perhaps uncomfortably in a corpus of mostly male-authored, patriarchal ancient texts, but it offers the translator tools through which she can more critically interrogate those texts and shed new light on them2. Feminist modes of interpretation can give the translator fresh eyes that enable her to resist making simple one-to-one correspondences between the present and the past. Some may argue that feminist translation risks imposing modern values onto antiquity, yet I would counter that the opposite is in fact true. A feminist lens allows the translator to examine the cultural forces that have shaped previous translations so that she herself can resist retrojecting anachronistic assumptions and stereotypes onto her source text – and in doing so she can better communicate its complexities and nuances. To quote Emily Wilson, “a more ideologically conscious translator may impose less, not more”3. As critic Anna North suggests in a review of Wilson’s own translation of the Odyssey, “Wilson’s translation…is not a feminist version of the Odyssey. It is a version of the Odyssey that lays bare the morals of its time and place, and invites us to consider how different they are from our own, and how similar”. A feminist translator of Greco-Roman works, therefore, need not strip away the original’s sexist or misogynistic content, but rather ensure that the translation accurately and clearly reflects its cultural politics in order to enable critical reading of it. Just as feminist scholarship has revolutionized our understanding of ancient literature and history, so too can feminist translation revolutionize how we communicate the complexities of that past to new generations.

In this paper I lay out several feminist strategies for translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses, applying them specifically to the story of Callisto. I choose this episode because it nicely illustrates a challenge that translators of Greco-Roman poetry face, particularly epic poetry. We must contend not only with the cultural politics of the original source text but also with the cultural politics of hundreds of years of translation that color how we read, teach and rewrite the original. As Rebecca Hanssens-Reed has argued:

Translating the so-called “classics” of antiquity presents an especially rich possibility precisely because of the fact that they have been read and interpreted for centuries, and often have been prolifically translated. The act of retranslation then can become an opportunity for understanding the ancient texts anew, in the context of the preexisting translations and in our current cultural values and polemics. Each retranslation offers another angle from which to look, another insight into how we as readers engage with a text whose source we may not be familiar with4.

Because the practice of translation within Classics has been so heavily skewed in favor of male translators, such critical reassessment must sit at the heart of feminist approaches to the text. In some ways what the feminist translator must do is clear away the patriarchal bias that has informed how these texts have been read and translated for so long. The feminist translator must give herself the authority to critically assess her predecessors and the readings she has inherited from them5. Such translation takes on special importance for the Metamorphoses, a work that features story-after-story of sexual violence, disempowerment, and silencing. It is by no means a feminist text, though reading it can be empowering for feminists6. On the one hand, reading ancient works like the Metamorphoses helps us see the roots of our own systems of oppression so that we can better eradicate them. On the other hand, for all the similarities between the present and the past, there are crucial differences, and recognizing these illuminates how our own biases, stereotypes, and cultural constructions are by no means inevitable, but products of our own time and place7.

Translation has historically been a literary pursuit open to women, largely because it was considered an acceptably “feminine” activity, with the translator a passive, objective mouthpiece for an active, subjective (and usually male) author8. Yet epic, particularly the major epics from Greece and Rome (in which category I would place the Metamorphoses, despite its frequent flaunting of epic conventions), were once largely off-limits to women translators, and most translators of Ovid’s Metamorphoses have indeed been men9. The only complete English translation of the epic by a woman is Mary Innes’ 1955 edition, which was released the same year as Rolfe Humphries’ version and was much too readily dismissed by reviewers for being written in prose (which was standard practice during E. V. Rieu’s tenure at the helm of Penguin Classics)10. In 2014, Jane Alison published Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid, which included free verse translations of 26 tales, far short of the 250 or so that make up the epic. There also has recently been an important translation of the epic into French verse by Marie Cosnay, published in 2017. Significantly, two new English translations by women are underway, my own, which will be published by Penguin Classics this year, and another by Jhumpa Lahiri and Yelena Baraz for Modern Library. Of course, a text is not “feminist” simply because a woman has translated it, and many women replicate translation practices I recommend avoiding here. Translators of all genders, moreover, can employ feminist translation.

I’d like now to outline four feminist strategies for translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses, then I will use the Callisto episode to show these strategies at work, arguing that they open up new ways of interpreting and understanding the text:

  1. Avoid misogynistic/sexist/gendered language not explicit in the original.

  2. Take special care when translating the body, not introducing gendered or racialized language not in the original.

  3. Translate rape as rape, not introducing language that romanticizes, euphemizes, and titillates, or that erases the perpetrator.

  4. Avoid basing understanding of characters’ motives on gender stereotypes that are not explicit in the text, and question previous translations that have done so.

These strategies can help translators avoid substantial pitfalls of earlier renderings of this episode: the sexualization of Callisto and the misgendering of her as feminine, the downplaying of her rape and the obscuring of Jupiter’s clear crime, the assumption that this is a crime for which she feels guilty, and the assumption that Juno operates primarily as a jealous wife who fails to understand Callisto’s victimization. The feminist translator can thereby present a clearer picture of the violence Callisto suffers, better communicate how that violence is gradually revealed to those around her, and offer a more nuanced characterization of both Callisto and Juno, one that more closely ties them to the epic’s major themes of power, agency, and the loss of bodily autonomy.

Calling Rape “Rape”11

Although individual episode titles are not included in Ovid’s original Latin, most translators include these to introduce the episode’s main characters and to give a general idea of the events that will unfold. Yet for the story of Callisto, the only translator whose section heading clearly communicates the sexual violence to come is the open-access translation of Tony Kline. His heading, “Jupiter Rapes Callisto”, rightly frames the tale explicitly as one about rape, while also clearly communicating who the perpetrator and the victim of the rape are. This title, however, does not appear in his table of contents, which offers only a list of characters for each book. Other major English versions now widely read and taught similarly leave out the sexual violence of the tale in their tables of contents12:

  • Callisto (Jane Alison)

  • Jove and the Arcadian Nymph (Horace Gregory)

  • Jove in Arcady (Rolfe Humphries)

  • Callisto (Stanley Lombardo)

  • Callisto (Allen Mandelbaum)

  • Jove, Callisto, and Arcas (Charles Martin)

  • Callisto (A. D. Melville)

  • Callisto (David Raeburn)

  • The Story of Callisto (A. E. Watts)

Most translators take Jove out of the title entirely, and none of these explicitly uses the word “rape”. Yet the story at every level is one about rape and its aftermath. The avoidance of the word “rape” in the titles of episodes is indeed the norm across the epic. Books 5 and 6 perhaps feature rape most prominently, but many tables of contents leave that unspoken. In Allen Mandelbaum’s table of contents for Book 5, for instance, he entitles Pluto’s rape of Persephone as “Ceres & Proserpina”, taking the rapist out entirely; Charles’ Martin does something similar with Tereus’ rape of Philomela, simply listing the three main characters – Tereus, Procne, and Philomela. Some translators do include the word “rape” in titles, but elide the rapist. So, Stanley Lombardo has the “Rape of Philomela”; and Raeburn, the “Rape of Proserpina”13. Yet the way we title these stories matters, and the omission of perpetrators’ names mirrors tendencies in journalism that have received sharp criticism from feminists and queer activists. Such language, researchers have shown, has real consequences for how audiences interpret sexual violence, especially making them more likely to ascribe blame to victims14. I propose maintaining active language throughout the titles of tales involving sexual violence: “The Sun Rapes Leucothoe”, “Salmacis Rapes Hermaphroditus”, “Pyreneus Tries to Rape the Muses”, “Pluto Kidnaps and Rapes Proserpina”, “Alpheus Tries to Rape Arethusa”, “Tereus Rapes Philomela”, “Boreas Rapes Orithyia” and so on. Anybody even perusing the table of contents can thereby get a clear indication of the presence of rape in the epic, as well as who its perpetrators and victims are, identifications that are key to working out the power dynamics of Ovid’s tales about sexual violence.

Body Language

Feminist translators also must take care with how they depict rape, and this starts with the language describing the victim, particularly the victim’s body. Callisto’s body stays in our focus throughout her tale as she is transformed again and again: she has the body first of a virgin, then of a pregnant woman, then of a bear, and finally of a constellation. Ovid’s presentation of her body is highly purposeful and reveals much about her as a character – not only does her body make her vulnerable, it also offers the chief piece of evidence for Jove’s assault. Her body is a corpus that, like Ovid’s own literary corpus, must be interpreted and translated by others, but it is also dangerously subject to misreading. When we first meet her, Ovid describes Callisto thus (2.411-13):

non erat huius opus lanam mollire trahendo
nec positu variare comas; ubi fibula vestem,
vitta coercuerat neglectos alba capillos;

She did not care to spin soft wool
or style her locks. A clasp secured her clothes,
and a white headband bound her messy hair15.

This is the only time we see Callisto’s body under her own agency. She importantly has no desire to code herself as feminine or to dress up to court the heterosexual male gaze. The way she lives in her body is a reflection of her desire to remain a virgin devoted to the goddess Diana. Her lack of interest in woolwork further signifies her breaking of gender norms, since spinning and weaving in ancient literature are hallmarks of a good wife.

Even the most subtle translation choices can hugely impact Callisto’s careful gender presentation. In my own translation above, for instance, I tried not to overly “gender” Callisto’s neglectos capillos, so I rendered this as “messy hair”, which to me does not feel excessively “feminine” or gender-specific. “Locks” may feel more feminine, but that indicates something she rejects. Compare this to Stanley Lombardo’s “loose curls” here, which leans far too heavily toward femininity16. Similar is Horace Gregory, who gives Callisto “long hair looped and held / in a white twist of cloth”. This suggests something decidedly more styled than Ovid’s word neglectos suggests. Rolfe Humphries repeatedly chooses words that have strong feminine connotations in English:

                                     She had no need
To spin the wool to softness, nor to vary
The way she wore her hair: a brooch for her dress,
A ribbon for her hair.

Both “dress” and “brooch” would likely evoke feminine dress for the modern Anglophone reader, yet Ovid’s own words (vestis and fibula, respectively) are by no means gender-specific. The vitta, “fillet” or “band”, Callisto wears in her hair could easily be translated in a number of ways, but “ribbon” carries strong nuances of feminine adornment. While it’s true that vittae are associated with Roman women, particularly matrons, men also could wear them, especially priests17. A “headband”, as in my translation, could evoke an adult male tennis player as much as an adolescent girl. Callisto’s own vitta is likely a nod to Diana, whose surviving portraits from Greece and Rome present her wearing a similar diadem, fillet, or band to hold back her loose hair (figs. 1 and 2)18. Callisto thereby models her physical appearance on the androgynous looks of the virgin goddess she follows, much like Syrinx at 1.695-98, who, Ovid tells us, could herself easily pass for the goddess. If Callisto’s vitta does have a particular gender association, it most likely symbolizes that she is a respectable virgin and marks her female body as off-limits to male penetration outside of the marital bedroom – as such, it is an ornament of devoted chastity rather than feminine beauty. Ovid himself describes vittae at Ars Amatoria 1.31 as a “mark of chastity”, insigne pudoris. According to Elaine Fantham, “the vittae seem to have functioned as a kind of moral protection, similar to a young boy’s bulla19. As such, the band points not to Callisto’s feminine ornamentation but directly to the seriousness of the violation against her that Jupiter is about to perpetrate. The vitta thus marks her body as off-limits, indeed as the opposite of sexual20.

Even more mischaracterizing are the additions translators make that have no basis in Ovid’s Latin. David Slavitt, for instance, takes huge liberties here, writing:

                                                            He encounters
quite by chance a certain nymph and, as it happens,
is in an instant struck to his very marrow, her beauty
impossible to behold and not to have
. She was
Callisto, lovely indeed, but hardly a flirt or coquette,
not at all a girl who devoted whatever attention
she had to her coiffure. Her severe gown was held
by a plain pin, and her hair tied back with a simple hank
of utilitarian ribbon.

While Slavitt’s version of the Metamorphoses is, according to the cover, “translated freely”, it still bills itself as a “translation” rather than an “adaptation” and warrants being considered as such. The addition I have typed in bold has the narrator openly opine on Callisto’s beauty, suggesting that it makes Jupiter so powerless that he simply has to possess not her, but it – not to is simply impossible. He thereby justifies Jupiter’s behavior in a way that Ovid himself does not do. In fact, Ovid here lays no emphasis on Callisto’s beauty; he is more interested in exploring Callisto’s physical autonomy rather than Jupiter’s visual response to her body, and unlike Slavitt he does not offer up her beauty as a mitigating factor in Jupiter’s sexual violence.

Ovid continues to highlight Callisto’s body when she reclines in the grass prior to the rape (pictam posita pharetram cervice premebat, “she reclined her neck atop her painted quiver”, 2.421), then again after the rape when Juno transforms her into a bear (laudataque quondam / ora Iovi lato fieri deformia rictu, “The mouth that Jove / once praised contorted as the jaw gaped wide”, 2.480-81). Ovid significantly uses no adjectives to describe her body parts here, focusing us on what they are doing rather than how they look. Yet David Raeburn in his translation adds feminizing adjectives. In the first passage, for instance, she reclines her “pure, white neck on her painted quiver”. Raeburn’s use of terms indicating “whiteness” in describing the hue of mythical women is quite typical of his practice. Compare, for instance, the pull quote on the back cover of his translation (“her soft white bosom was ringed in a layer of bark”), taken from his translation of the story of Daphne, where again “whiteness” has no corollary in the Latin21. It is true that Ovid frequently describes skin as “pale” or “bloodless”, but the word “white” in English has been heavily racialized, and its use here and elsewhere inserts a false impression of whiteness into the text22. The Greeks and Romans themselves had no concept of racialized whiteness, and instead a pale skin hue was often used as a mark of gender, as in the use of light and dark complexions to designate women and men going back to Greek black-figure vase paintings, a practice retained in Roman wall painting23. When Ovid uses words such as “pale”, he similarly evokes femininity, even when describing ostensibly “male” characters, such as Narcissus, who clearly blurs the gender binary24. Yet such a hue has no place in Callisto’s story – a feminizing complexion does not suit this gender-nonconforming huntress.

Raeburn similarly inserts the word “beautiful” to describe not Callisto’s “mouth” but her “lips”, again altering how we envision her body: “and the beautiful lips which Jove had so lately / admired were broadened out and transformed to the ugliest jaws” (italics mine). The switch from “mouth” to “lips” – repeated by Horace Gregory, Rolfe Humphries, A. D. Melville, and David Slavitt (the last of whom inserts that they are “dainty” lips) – is reminiscent of a popular tweet by Emily Wilson on the Sirens25. As in the Callisto passage, translators of the Odyssey render the Sirens’ “mouths” (στομάτων, 12.187) as “lips”, changing their seductive qualities from intellectual and aural to visual and sexual. As Wilson writes, “There’s no reason I can think of to turn a mouth into lips, UNLESS you want to make sure the Sirens sound sexy”. In Callisto’s story, translators similarly place their focus on Callisto’s seductive beauty, thus centering her transformation upon its loss. But by changing her “mouth” (ora) to “lips”, they fundamentally distort Ovid’s key idea. The loss of Callisto’s mouth prepares us not for the loss of her beauty but for the loss of her ability to speak. Without a human mouth, she loses human speech, and with it her power to sway26. Callisto’s psychological torment does not arise from the loss of her visual appeal but from the loss of her human capacities.

Translators’ insistence on “modifying” Callisto’s body speaks to our own cultural tendency to view, describe, and assess women’s bodies through the heterosexual male gaze. Yet these changes lead us to miss out on important facets of Ovid’s text and key ways in which they inform the story of sexual violence he recounts. In Ovid, Callisto’s deliberate rejection of this gaze and her gender nonconformity offer “proof” for her rape, since Ovid makes a clear connection in the epic between women’s hypersexuality and their desire to be the object of the male gaze. Salmacis, for instance, is in many ways an anti-Callisto: she is unknown to the goddess Diana (non nota Dianae, 4.304), she rejects hunting and thus virginity, and she spends her days styling her hair and adorning herself (4.308-14):

nec iaculum sumit nec pictas illa pharetras,
nec sua cum duris venatibus otia miscet,
sed modo fonte suo formosos perluit artus,
saepe Cytoriaco deducit pectine crines
et, quid se deceat, spectatas consulit undas;
nunc perlucenti circumdata corpus amictu
mollibus aut foliis aut mollibus incubat herbis.

She does not lift a spear or painted quiver
or balance leisure with some rugged hunting,
but bathes her lovely limbs in her own waters
and smooths her tresses with a boxwood comb
while gazing at the streams to see what suits her.
She drapes her body in translucent robes
and lounges in soft leaves or on soft grass.

Salmacis’ adornment here is a sign not only that she is sexual but that she is aggressively sexual, and this foreshadows her own role as a female rapist27. Of course, the assumption that women who cultivate their appearance are seeking sexual attention from men is a dangerous stereotype, and it is one still felt today, as can attest any rape victim whose appearance and clothing have been parsed28. Ovid’s characterization of Callisto ultimately reinforces such modes of victim-blaming while also insisting that Callisto herself is not responsible or blameworthy – she is not the one who has perpetrated a sexual wrongdoing29. To Ovid’s Roman audience, her body offers important proof that she did not consent, and throughout her tale, Callisto’s body again and again bears witness – even when she herself does not – to her violent rape.

Baring the Crimen

Not only do translators play up Callisto’s sexualized femininity, they also play down the rape itself, making the assault less a rape by Jupiter, whose criminal actions they deemphasize, than a sexual encounter for which the victim does primarily blame herself. A feminist lens better enables the translator to question the premises of such a reading, based as it is upon gendered assumptions, and to emphasize instead that what happens to Callisto is a crime (crimen) perpetrated by Jupiter, for which he alone is responsible. The word crimen is in fact repeated at key points in Callisto’s story, and the translator’s rendering of this word will inevitably affect how readers interpret the actions and motivations of the people within it. Though we can easily take the repetition to emphasize Jupiter’s criminality, translators instead have applied crimen to Callisto’s feelings of self-blame, thereby once again mitigating Jupiter’s wrongdoing and hiding the active role of the perpetrator30.

The first appearance of crimen comes as the rape itself is underway (2.429-33):

                                                          ridet et audit
et sibi praeferri se gaudet et oscula iungit,
nec moderata satis nec sic a virgine danda.
qua venata foret silva, narrare parantem
inpedit amplexu nec se sine crimine prodit.

                                                          He hears and laughs,
pleased to be liked more than himself, then kisses
her neither modestly nor like a virgin.
As she begins to tell him of her hunt,
he captures her in his embrace, revealing
himself to her as he commits his crime”. (literally, “not without crime”)

The word crimen has several connotations. It might be a “charge/accusation” (OLD s.v. 1), or a matter for “blame/reproach” (OLD s.v. 2), or simply a “misdeed/crime” (OLD s.v. 4). In Ovid, it often designates sexual misdeeds, as for example when Arachne adorns her tapestry with violent rapes perpetrated by the gods, designated as caelestia crimina (“heavenly crimes”, 6.131)31. I take this to be Ovid’s primary meaning of crimen throughout the Callisto story.

Yet more often than not, Jove’s crimen is lost in translation. Horace Gregory, for instance, translates these same lines as follows:

Jove laughed at being preferred above himself,
And gave the girl, not as a virgin kisses,
But tongue to tongue, a most immoderate kiss;
And as she told him which forest she had travelled
He broke her narrative with an embrace
Which by betraying her revealed himself.

Not only does Gregory sexualize the encounter with a vivid tongue-to-tongue kiss (turning the volume way up on what Johnson already describes as a “lesbian moment for the masculine gaze”32), he also translates crimen ambiguously as an act of “betrayal” rather than “crime”. This idea of “betrayal” is echoed by several translators, though usually as a rendering not of crimen, but of prodit, “to reveal oneself”, and this is coupled with highly euphemistic translations of crimen. In Stanley Lombardo, Jove “betrays” himself with a “less than innocent act”. In A. D. Melville, Jove is again betrayed, this time by the “outrage” of seizing her: he “seized her and by this outrage stood betrayed”. Ovid’s Latin, however, suggests not that Jove “betrays” who he is by means of a crimen (as if it is only the crimen that gives him away), but that he reveals himself simultaneously with his crime, i.e. he removes his disguise and appears as Jove in the act of raping her33. Translators often downplay the unequivocal horror of this moment. Further examples of euphemizing are from Rolfe Humphries (“he gave himself away with his embracing”); Allen Mandelbaum (“he – quite carnally – broke in, embracing her; and in that act the god revealed himself”); and David Slavitt (he interrupted [her] and copped an abrupt and unambiguous feel, which betrayed his imposture”). In these translations, crimen is watered down, omitted, or even made titillating. Jove is not a criminal – he is simply overeager.

Whenever crimen appears in the tale, it is always alongside words suggesting “revealing” or “disclosing” (crimine prodit, 2.433; crimen... prodere, 2.447; patuit... crimen, 2.462), making this a story not only about a rape, but also about how that rape is gradually made known. Just after the rape, Callisto nearly reveals the crimen on her face after she rejoins Diana’s followers: quam difficile est crimen non prodere vultu (2.447). I translate, “It’s hard not to reveal a crime with one’s expression”. In other words, when one has been victimized by a crime, one finds it hard to hide that fact, since (as so often in the text) trauma becomes visible upon the body, transforming it even before the ultimate metamorphosis. The evidence for Callisto’s rape is once again borne by her body, which now risks revealing what she desperately wants to keep secret.

Many scholars, however, understand crimen here not as a reference to Jupiter’s “crime” but to Callisto’s “guilt”34. In this interpretation, Callisto internalizes a feeling of self-blame, or Ovid himself is even guilty of blaming her for her own rape. According to Robert Kaster, for instance, this word gives us the nymph’s own view; it is “focalized through Callisto”35. Katherine Cullen King similarly suggests that “Callisto’s response to the rape provides an excellent example of how the narrator adopts the point of view of characters even when he is theoretically telling the story objectively”36. Melissa Marturano suggests that, while Ovid is ostensibly focalizing these words through Callisto, they nevertheless influence where readers lay the blame:

Does Ovid subscribe to the belief that Callisto is responsible? Although these words of guilt, blame, and shame are primarily used in this story to attribute more responsibility to Callisto from her own focalizations and those of other characters, and although Ovid’s use of crimen to describe Jupiter’s violence in 433 condemns the god, the frequency of the words crimen and also culpa in this narrative to describe Callisto’s rape are suspect to me. They create a framework that biases the audience and leads it to blame the nymph for what she suffered37.

Patricia Salzman-Mitchell similarly suggests that “the text accuses [Callisto] with the ideological weight of words like culpa... and crimen38. Translators echo such interpretations. Jane Alison writes, “it’s so hard to keep guilt from your face”; Horace Gregory, “how hard... not to show signs of guilt”; Stanley Lombardo, “how hard not to betray her guilt”; A. D. Melville, “how hard it is for a face to hide its guilt”; Allen Mandelbaum, “it is hard indeed / to show one’s face without appearing guilty”; David Raeburn, “how difficult not to betray our guilt in our facial expression”. Rolfe Humphries and Charles Martin both give Callisto a “guilty conscience”.

Although crimen can indicate a “grounds for reproach”, it does not readily mean internalized guilt or a feeling of self-blame in this way. Given Ovid’s clear repetitions that braid these instances of crimen together, we would do better to understand the words as consistently pointing to the same crime throughout, i.e. that of Jove. The Latin here lacks a possessive pronoun such as “his” or “hers”, leaving the interpreter or translator to decide whose crimen this is. My feminist perspective leads me to question the decisions of my predecessors, who assume that Callisto has so adopted patriarchal expectations of women’s chastity that she imagines the crime as her own. These translations all (once again) absolve Jupiter of his clear crime, the ramifications of which are at the forefront of Ovid’s text. It is this crimen, not Callisto’s own guilt, that reverberates through every aspect of her life, transforming her completely.

If Callisto does not feel responsible, why does she try to hide the rape? The language of guilt used by translators and scholars would imply that her sense of the sexual modesty (pudicitia) expected of women is so strong that she is shamed into silence by her loss of virginity. Yet Callisto does not seem overly concerned with other ideals of femininity, such as beauty, marriage, and motherhood, and loss of pudicitia does not keep others, such as Philomela, from speaking out, even though the stakes are just as high39. In ancient gender ideology, a raped woman would indeed have been expected to prove her pudicitia through a daring act of speech, as Graziana Brescia has shown40. It is more likely that Callisto simply wants to continue in the life she has chosen, a life predicated on virginity, a life that gave her sexual, bodily, and gender autonomy. Keeping the rape silent is one way she can try to reassert the agency she has lost and thereby continue to live on her own terms.

Yet Callisto’s silence makes her vulnerable, since silence is open to the interpretation of others. In the absence of Callisto’s verbal testimony, characters must interpret the evidence offered by her body: the look on her face, her pregnant belly, and finally her act of giving birth. The story thereby speaks to the challenges of interpreting, or “translating”, the signifiers offered by the corpus of another. Callisto’s blush is one such piece of nonverbal evidence for her rape (2.450-52):

sed silet et laesi dat signa rubore pudoris.
et, nisi quod virgo est, poterat sentire Diana
mille notis culpam: nymphae sessisse feruntur.

Instead, she’s silent, and her blush provides
proof for her wounded chastity. Diana,
if not a virgin, could have perceived the wrong
by countless signs – they say the nymphs perceived it.

The phrase laesi pudoris, “wounded chastity”, clearly refers to the rape itself, since pudor – in addition to meaning general “shame” (OLD s.v. 1) – can also more specifically mean “chastity” (OLD s.v. 2b). The phrase aligns her with other victims of rape whose pudor has been harmed or stolen by another against their will, such as Io (whose chastity Jupiter steals, rapuitque pudorem, 1.600) and Philomela (whose chastity is robbed, in the words of Procne, by Tereus’ phallus, membra pudorem abstulerunt, 6.616-17). Such formulations, like vim passa est, belong to Ovid’s vocabulary of sexual violence. The red hue of Callisto’s blush, moreover, is not merely an outward manifestation of her inner shame but more saliently here is the color that signifies sexual violence across the epic, such as in the blush that prefigures Daphne’s violation at 1.484 or the one that marks Hermaphroditus’ face ahead of his rape at 4.229, or as in the purple hue of the violets plucked by Proserpina before her rape (5.392). The red-tinged notae produced by Callisto’s face find their chief parallel in the purpurae notae, “red markings” (6.577), that Philomela weaves into her tapestry to give her sister evidence for her assault. Yet Diana, as a virgin, cannot correctly interpret the clue on Callisto’s face; the nymphs can since they themselves are frequent victims of rape41.

Many translators, however, omit once again the clear language of rape. In Jane Alison, Callisto “is quiet, her blush telling her hurt and shame. / If Diana weren’t a virgin she would have seen / the signs of guilt”. Here laesi pudoris becomes internalized “hurt” and “shame”, no longer a reference to Jupiter’s act of violence. In Rolfe Humphries, “her silence spoke, / Her blushes told her story; if Diana/ Were not, herself, a virgin, she could have noticed / A thousand signs of guilt”. Laesi pudoris has here simply disappeared, and Jupiter’s rape has been replaced with “her story”. In David Raeburn, the phrase laesi pudoris becomes “lost virtue”, making her a kind of ruined (though not specifically raped) woman: “Her silence and blushes were telling signs that she’d lost her virtue. / Diana, but for being a virgin, could well have detected / her guilt by a thousand tokens”. Similar is Charles Martin’s version: “she is silent now – / that and her blushing show her loss of honor. / The countless indications of her guilt / went by Diana”.

As we see in these examples, translators repeatedly make not only the crimen but also the culpa Callisto’s own, as again designating her own internalized feeling of guilt (OLD s.v. 2). Yet it is perfectly possible to understand the culpa as belonging to Jove; like crimen, it indicates his sexual wrongdoing (OLD s.v. 3b). This word elsewhere has clear connections to Jupiter’s sexual misdeeds, as in Catullus 68.138-140:

      saepe etiam Iuno, maxima caelicolum,
coniugis in culpa flagrantem contudit iram,
      noscens omnivoli plurima furta Iovis.

       Often even Juno, queen of the gods,
repressed her anger burning at her husband’s culpa,
       knowing all-willing Jove’s conquests were legion.

Propertius at 2.30.27-30 similarly defends himself for his own sexual misbehavior, crimen and culpa, by citing the precedent of Jupiter:

illic aspicies scopulis haerere Sorores
     et canere antiqui dulcia furta Iovis,
ut Semela est combustus, ut est deperditus Io,
     denique ut ad Troiae tecta volarit avis.

There you will see the sisters clinging to the cliffs
     singing of ancient Jupiter’s sweet conquests,
how Semele was burned, how Io was destroyed,
     how, as a bird, he flew to Trojan homes.

Jove’s rapes, clearly alluded to here in the figures of Io and Ganymede, come under the larger umbrella designation of sexual culpa, and, as in Ovid’s Callisto tale, such culpa is aligned with Jove’s crimina and furta42. If we assign the culpa to Callisto, Jove yet again eludes clear blame.

The final proof that Callisto’s body offers for the rape is her pregnancy, revealed when Diana and her retinue undress to bathe, and again we see translators focus us not on Jupiter’s actual guilt but Callisto’s sense of her own guilt. Ovid here repeats the word crimen, in a passage that involves yet another blush, and yet another exposure of what Callisto tries to hide (2.460-62):

Parrhasis erubuit; cunctae velamina ponunt;
una moras quaerit: dubitanti vestis adempta est,
qua posita nudo patuit cum corpore crimen.

Callisto blushed. They all disrobe – but one
delays. She stalls, yet they strip off her clothes,
baring her naked body and the crime.

Her now exposed body is the final revelation of Jupiter’s crime, yet translators continue to assign the crimen to Callisto in a misreading that mirrors Diana’s own. In Jane Alison, the nymphs reveal “her body and crime”. And in Charles Martin, they bare “her body – and her crime as well”. In Stanley Lombardo, “the tunic was removed and her shame revealed / along with her body”. In David Raeburn, “her naked body exposed her shame”, and in Allen Mandelbaum, “she’s naked now, her shame / is plain to see”. Jupiter would no doubt be delighted by such translations that insist on burying the evidence for his crime beneath the sexual shame society expects of women. The gradual revelation of Jupiter’s crimen becomes clearer when we do not base our translations on the cultural expectation that a raped women will feel shame. Translating the crimen as Jupiter’s keeps the perpetrator firmly in readers’ minds, reminding them throughout that these female characters are responding to the actions not of a disempowered nymph but of a supreme male god.

Discerning Juno

One character who does correctly “perceive” (senserat, a word Ovid carefully repeats at 2.451, 452, and 466) the signs of Jupiter’s assault is Juno. Though she is by no means a feminist, she more than anyone understands the patriarchy that confines her, and knows her husband’s capacity for sexual violence. Yet her recognition of this rape has not been reflected by translators, who present Juno instead as a stereotypically jealous wife eager to heap misogynistic scorn on any woman who dares to tempt her husband. Juno’s actions against Callisto, however, are better understood as being motivated by her own power, made precarious by Jupiter’s repeated sexual abuse of women. Her language shows that she clearly recognizes his behavior as rape, yet her dependent position will not let her challenge him directly. This is not to suggest that she treats Callisto sympathetically – indeed, Juno is as cruel to Callisto as Jupiter is. Yet the competition Juno feels with Callisto is a product not of stereotypical feminine jealousy, but of patriarchy, wherein power is granted to women only by proximity to and at the discretion of the patriarch. In patriarchy, to quote feminist Laurie Penny (2017), “feminine power is a restricted commodity – a scarce resource that we’re forced to compete for”. A translation will better convey her complex motivations if, firstly, it communicates her knowledge that Jupiter has raped Callisto and, secondly, it employs language that highlights power rather than misogynistic jealousy.

To Juno, Callisto is an adultera (“adulteress”), and especially a paelex (“rival”) (2.468-75):

                          puer Arcas (id ipsum
indoluit Iuno) fuerat de paelice natus.
quo simul obvertit saevam cum lumine mentem,
‘scilicet hoc etiam restabat, adultera’ dixit,
‘ut fecunda fores, fieretque iniuria partu
nota, Iovisque mei testatum dedecus esset.
haud inpune feres: adimam tibi namque figuram,
qua tibi, quaque places nostro, inportuna, marito’.

                           Her rival now had borne
a son named Arcas, bringing Juno grief.
She turned her eye and ruthless mind on him
and said, “The final straw, adulteress –
to bear a child whose birth airs this abuse
and testifies to my Jove’s shamefulness!
You’ll pay, you nuisance! I will take from you
that form you and my husband so enjoy”.

The words adultera and paelex (the latter of which will be twice repeated later) are not mere jealous name-calling; they instead emphasize the idea of competition43. Latin literature is full of adulterae and paelices whom wives fear will take over their role. At Heroides 9.131-32, for instance, Deianira writes to Hercules of her fears that Iole, despite being a captive, will usurp her own position: forsitan et pulsa Aetolide Deianira / nomine deposito paelicis uxor erit, “perhaps, with Aetolian Deianira expelled, [Iole] will lay aside the name of paelex and become your wife”. Juno’s language therefore suggests that she considers the nymph a threat to her own marriage, the institution from which she draws her status within Jupiter’s patriarchal domus.

Juno’s fears of displacement are complexly intertwined here with her awareness of Jupiter’s misbehavior. At issue is the disclosure of an iniuria, and neither the agent nor the victim of this “abuse” is specified. This word can suggest a personal insult of some sort (OLD s.v. 4b) or, more specifically, an act of sexual assault (OLD s.v. 4c). Iniuria was in fact a legal charge in Rome under which a victim could take a rapist to court44. Indeed, legal terminology runs through this passage, as seen also in testatum – i.e. Callisto’s childbirth has at long last provided the “testimony” that fully reveals Jupiter’s shameful behavior, dedecus. Though Juno no doubt finds this iniuria personally insulting, the word also points directly to Jupiter’s specific crime45. The two nuances of the word blend together here, with Jupiter’s iniuria becoming a source of personal iniuria to his wife46. In other words, the real threat to Juno comes from Jupiter, not Callisto.

My reading and translation diverge from those in which Juno jealously – and wrongly – blames Callisto as a willing temptress who has set out to personally insult her. Commentator William Anderson, for instance, writes, “Juno... seems to mean some injury committed by the girl” and “we hear the small-minded bigotry of the jealous wife”47. Translators echo this. Jane Alison, Stanley Lombardo, and Allen Mandelbaum all make Callisto the agent of iniuria: “you... harm[ed] me”, “your insult to me”, “the wrong you’ve done me”. They also underscore her jealousy by dialing up the misogynistic abuse she heaps upon Callisto48. She is not simply an “adulteress” but, in A. D. Melville, a “strumpet”; in David Raeburn, an “adulterous whore” and a “shameless hussy”; in Rolfe Humphries, a “little adulterous bitch”; and in Charles Martin, a “home wrecker”. These translations project contemporary gendered insults onto the past and portray Juno as almost comically jealous. Words like “bitch”, “whore” and “hussy” turn Juno into a caricature, taking the focus off Jove and once again mitigating his act of rape. Depicting Juno simply as a jealous wife places Callisto, rather than Jupiter, at the center of Juno’s impotent rage.

Translators use misogynistic language again at the end of the episode, when Juno asks Tethys and Ocean to keep her paelex, now a constellation, out of their waters (2.527-30):

at vos si laesae tangit contemptus alumnae,
gurgite caeruleo septem prohibete triones
sideraque in caelo stupri mercede recepta
pellite, ne puro tinguatur in aequore paelex!

If your scorned foster-daughter’s wounds upset you,
drive off the Bear from your blue waves – those stars
gained heaven as a prize for sexual
assault! Expel her! Do not let my rival
bathe in your pristine pools!

In Horace Gregory, Juno here calls Callisto not a “rival” but a “whore” who has gained heaven “at cost of sin” – a vague phrase. Charles Martin similarly refers to her as a “slut” transformed as “wages paid to sin”. In Stanley Lombardo, her path to heaven was “paved by prostitution”, and she is a “whore”. In A. D. Melville, she is a “prostitute” who gained heaven “at the price of shame”, another vague phrase. In Rolfe Humphries, she is a “little whore” who “sold herself”; in Allen Mandelbaum, a “slut” who gained heaven “through adultery”; and in David Raeburn, a “harlot” who won the sky as a “prize for the lewdest indulgence”. These translations either directly or indirectly have Juno accuse Callisto of being a willing prostitute – which indeed would be a horrible misreading of what happened on Juno’s part. While I concede that Juno’s language, particularly the word mercede, “pay”, may evoke prostitution, tipping the text too far in that direction again downplays Juno’s language that indicts Jupiter49.

The word translators render as “sin”, “shame”, “adultery”, and “lewd indulgence” is stuprum, a complex word that refers to acts of illicit sex, including those perpetrated through force. Amy Richlin translates the word as “sex crime”, and Romina Andrea Flores has shown that Ovid always uses this word in the context of sexual violation50. Craig Williams has examined stuprum extensively, arguing that it “defies translation” and is fundamentally a crime against pudicitia, chastity. He writes:

Stuprum and pudicitia stand in a complementary relationship: acts of stuprum violate the pudicitia of Roman citizens. Indeed, the Republican-period writer of mimes, Laberius, coined the verb depudicare (to remove the pudicitia of” that is glossed by Gellius as stuprare (“to commit stuprum on”, Gellius 16.7.2)”51.

In other words, stuprum is an act done to, not by, a young woman such as Callisto, an act that is analogous to the idea behind laesi pudoris in line 45052. Williams shows, moreover, that charges of stuprum were often hurled against prominent men to damage their reputation, often alongside allegations that their stuprum had compelled the freeborn into prostitution53. My translation of stuprum hopefully suggests not something Callisto has done, but Jupiter’s rape of her. In transforming Callisto into a star, Jupiter has essentially deified her, and Juno sees her “promotion” as a direct consequence of his violence, his “sexual assault”.

This passage bears comparison with another at Heroides 5.140-46, where Oenone describes her own rape, called stuprum, by Apollo in language that echoes the Callisto tale54:

      ille meae spolium virginitatis habet.
id quoque luctando; rupi tamen ungue capillos
      oraque sunt digitis aspera facta meis.
nec pretium stupri gemmas aurumque poposci;
      turpiter ingenuum munera corpus emunt.
Ipse ratus dignam medicas mihi tradidit artes
      admisitque meas ad sua dona manus.

     He has the spoils of my virginity –
I made him fight for them. My nails tore out his hair,
     and with my fingers I scratched up his face.
I sought no gems or gold as recompence for stuprum:
     it’s foul for gifts to buy a freeborn body.
He gave me healing arts himself, judging me worthy,
     and let my hands take up his very gifts.

Both Oenone and Callisto are victims of stuprum. Neither woman demands damages for what has happened to her, yet both receive them in the form of gifts normally reserved for the divine – catasterism in the case of Callisto; prophecy in the case of Oenone. Both Oenone and Juno, importantly, understand such gifts as a kind of restitution. It is this pattern of rape, followed by recompense, that so concerns Juno in Ovid’s Callisto episode.

Juno’s understanding of this situation is based not upon a jealous misreading of Callisto’s actions, but on an informed and correct reading of Jupiter’s55. Callisto is not the first victim of Jupiter’s stuprum in the epic – Io was, whose rape Ovid recounts in Book 1. This precedent is very much in Juno’s mind (2.522-26)56:

                          sic est mea magna potestas.
vindicet antiquam faciem vultusque ferinos
detrahat, Argolica quod in ante Phoronide fecit.
cur non et pulsa ducit Iunone meoque
conlocat in thalamo socerumque Lycona sumit?

Is this my dreadful might? Let him restore
her looks, stripping her beastly form, just as
he did for Argive Io! Why not banish
Juno to marry her? She’ll have my bed,
and he can be Lycaon’s son-in-law!

Jupiter had not only restored Io’s form after turning her into a cow, but also had transformed her into the Egyptian goddess Isis. Juno thus knows that Jove promotes those he rapes to the heavens. Her fear is that, as recompense for his own sexual violence, he might promote one of his victims not only from human to god but also from paelex to rightful wife. In order to clarify Juno’s motives, the translator has to make it clear that she recognizes Jupiter’s actions as rape and that she sees his rapes as jeopardizing her own standing in the cosmos. Thinking of Juno’s motivation as power rather than jealousy, moreover, makes her actions comprehensible in terms that are not themselves misogynistic or sexist. Self-interested power motivates her abuses of those below her, just is it does those of the male gods.


When we let our own cultural stereotypes guide our reading and translating, we risk losing sight of key details that make the source text so interesting, in this case Callisto’s careful gender presentation and the complexity of Juno’s motivations. And in scenes involving sexual violence, we risk obscuring criminality and victimization when we fall back on our own culture’s reticence about rape. What this paper is ultimately about is not feminist translation per se, but feminist interpretation and reading, and how this should be part of the translator’s toolbox57. Despite the lack of value the field of Classics places on literary translation, there really is no way to disentangle good translation and good scholarship. As Johanna Hanink (2019) has argued, “to produce a translation of a text is to produce classical scholarship”58. The meticulous, detail-oriented work that goes into translation is precisely the kind of analysis that accompanies research and interpretation, and through the creation of a new text, the translator both discovers and communicates new meanings. To quote Noémie Grunenwald, “Le processus de traduction est au cœur de ma comprehension intime”59. Rather than draw a stark line between “philology” and “translation”, the field stands to benefit from recognizing and supporting the strong connections between them. Translators’ choices, moreover, have the potential to radically sway how the reading population at large reacts to and in turn interprets a work of literature – a kind of cultural influence that a traditional scholarly monograph on its own is unlikely to have. This provides yet another reason why more Classicists who work on sexuality and gender need to turn their attention to literary translation, particularly since so many of those encountering Classics today do so via translations that are not informed by scholarship on race, sexuality, and gender. For Classicists who want to broaden the scope of the field and bring more diverse people and viewpoints into it, translation is a key task.


* * *


Fig. 1: Bust of Artemis, Ariccia type. Roman copy (c. 130-400 CE) after a Greek original (c. 450-400 BCE). Naples Archaeological Museum.

Fig. 1: Bust of Artemis, Ariccia type. Roman copy (c. 130-400 CE) after a Greek original (c. 450-400 BCE). Naples Archaeological Museum.

Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (Via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Artemis_Ariccia_MAN_Napoli_Inv6005.jpg)


Fig. 2: Marble head of girl, perhaps Diana, set into modern bust, 2nd c. CE (British Museum 1931,0413.1)

Fig. 2: Marble head of girl, perhaps Diana, set into modern bust, 2nd c. CE (British Museum 1931,0413.1)

©The Trustees of the British Museum


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Oliensis Ellen, (2009), Freud’s Rome: Psychoanalysis and Latin Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olson Kelly, (2008), Dress and the Roman Woman: Self-Presentation and Society, London: Routledge.

Packman Zola Marie, (1993), “Call it Rape: A Motif in Roman Comedy and its Suppression in English-Speaking Publications”, Helios 20: 42-55.

Parker Douglass, (1956), “Ovid Returned”, Review of The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. by A. E. Watts; Ovid: Metamorphoses, trans. by Rolfe Humphries; and The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. by Mary M. Innes, The Hudson Review 9: 66-74.

Penny Laurie, (2017), “Non-Compete Clause: On navigating away from the demands of neoliberal patriarchy”, The Baffler (https://thebaffler.com/war-of-nerves/non-compete) Accessed 11/4/2012.

Polizzotti Mark, (2018), “L’art de la traduction”, Aeon (https://aeon.co/essays/is-the-translator-a-servant-of-the-text-or-an-original-artist) Accessed 10/28/2021.

Porter Catherine, (2013), “Translation as Scholarship”, in In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means, edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, 58-66, New York: Columbia University Press.

Rabinowitz Nancy Sorkin and Fiona McHardy (eds.), (2014), From Abortion to Pederasty: Addressing Difficult Topics in the Classics Classroom, Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.

Raeburn David (tr.), (2004), Ovid: Metamorphoses, New York: Penguin Classics.

Richlin Amy, (1992a), The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

— (1992b), “Reading Ovid’s Rapes”, in Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome, edited by Amy Richlin, 158-179, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rhorer Catherine Campbell, (1980), “Red and White in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: The Mulberry Tree in the Tale of Pyramus and Thisbe”, Ramus 9: 79-88.

Ruden Sarah (tr.), (2008), Vergil: The Aeneid, Yale University Press.

Salzman-Mitchell Patricia B., (2005), A Web of Fantasies: Gaze, Image, and Gender in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.

Simon Sherry, (1996), Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission, London: Routledge.

Slavitt David R. (tr.), (1994), The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Stallings A. E., (2007), “Miss her, Catullus?”, Poetry Foundation (https://www.poetry­foundation.org/harriet-books/2007/09/miss-her-catullus) Accessed 10/28/2021.

Steiner Grundy, (1956), Review of The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. by Mary M. Innes, CJ 8: 410.

Stevenson Jane, (2005), Women Latin Poets: Gender and Authority from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thakur Sanjaya, (2014), “Challenges in Teaching Sexual Violence and Rape: A Male Perspective”, in Rabinowitz and McHardy (eds.), 152-70.

Tolentino Jia, (2018), “How a Woman Becomes a Lake”, The New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/how-a-woman-becomes-a-lake) Accessed 11/30/2021.

Waldman Katy, (2018), “Reading Ovid in the Age of #MeToo”, The New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/reading-ovid-in-the-age-of-metoo) Accessed 11/30/2021.

Watts A. E. (tr.), (1954), The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Berkeley: The University of California Press.

Wheeler Stephen Michael, (2000), Narrative Dynamics in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Wheelwright Philip, (1956), “Rediscovering Ovid”, Review of Ovid: Metamorphoses, trans. by Rolfe Humphries; The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. by A. E. Watts; and The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. by Mary M. Innes, The Sewanee Review 64: 283-96.

Whitmarsh Tim, (2018), “Black Achilles”, Aeon (https://aeon.co/essays/when-homer-envisioned-achilles-did-he-see-a-black-man) Accessed 5/27/2022.

Williams Craig A., (2010), Roman Homosexuality, Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson Emily (tr.), (2018), Homer: The Odyssey, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

— (2019), “Translating Homer as a Woman”, in Homer’s Daughters: Women’s Responses to Homer in the Twentieth Century and Beyond, edited by Fiona Cox and Elena Theodorakopoulos, 279-97, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wyles Rosie and Edith Hall (eds.), (2016), Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


1 There is an abundance of scholarly work on feminist translation, but much has yet to be done on this topic in relation to Classics. Haley (1993) 30-31 provides an excellent example of how a Black feminist approach can correct mistranslations of the female body based on later racist stereotypes. Packman (1993) looks at the way rape has been euphemized in translations of Roman comedy. McCarter (2018) considers euphemism in translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with a specific focus on the Leucothoe tale in Book 4. McCarter (2019) focuses on translation of the female body in Roman poetry, especially Ovid. Wilson (2019) 279 considers the “specific challenges for a feminist in translating the Odyssey – a text which inscribes and valorizes androcentric values” and nicely relates the translation of classical material to existing translation theory. For feminist translation in general, see (highly selectively) Simon (1996), Flotow (1991) and (1997), Bassnett (2014) 59-80, Grunenwald (2021), and the essays and bibliography in Castro and Ergun (2017) and Flotow and Kamal (2020). On queer theory and translation, see esp. the essays in Baer and Kaindl (2018). Return to text

2 Of course, there were women writers in Greco-Roman antiquity, for which see the collection edited by Natoli, Pitts, and Hallett (2022). On women Latin poets, see Stevenson (2005). One goal of feminist translation has indeed been to disseminate translations of women writers more broadly, and this should be a goal of feminist translators of Greco-Roman material as well. Yet it is important that feminists also translate canonical authors. As Wilson (2019) 282 writes, “[I]f no feminists translate classical texts, then students and general readers will have to rely on translations that inscribe uncritical modern assumptions about sex and gender”. Return to text

3 Wilson (2019) 286. She furthermore suggests that feminist translation involves not “hijacking” the text by imposing the translators’ own values but by using an interpretive framework that “make[s] the ethical problems in the original as visible as possible”. The idea of “hijacking” or “intervening” in the text has, however, been one strategy of feminist translation, for which see e.g. Flotow (1997) 24-30. See also Eshelman (2007) 17, who points out that “the main objection to feminist translation arises from an overly simplistic equation of feminist translation with translator intervention” and that “while some translators do intervene in translation, fears of this practice are grossly overblown”. Return to text

4 Hanssens-Reed (2021). Return to text

5 Pertinent here is the idea of “resisting” or “resistant” reading frequently employed by feminist critics, a mode of reading that, to quote Hallett (2003) 331, exercises “resistance to masculist and hierarchical textual interpretations” and that “enables feminists, other marginalized individuals and indeed all readers to revitalize these same texts”. In the context of retranslation, the feminist translator must expand this, resisting patriarchal interpretations made by previous translators as well. The idea of resistant reading was first formulated by Fetterley (1978). For the idea in relation to Latin poetry, see also, e.g., Larmour (1991), Richlin (1992b), Ancona (1994), and Salzman-Mitchell (2005) 19-21. Return to text

6 For a powerful example, see Joshi et al. (2021), a piece written by a group of “college-going women students” (136) who offer a powerful demonstration of how reading Ovid has given them tools to understand rape culture in contemporary India. Other essays and articles relating Ovid to the #MeToo movement include Waldman (2018), Tolentino (2018), Franks (2019), McCarter and Tolentino (2019), and Libatique (2021). For discussions of how to approach the theme of sexual violence in the classroom, see esp. Hong (2013), Gloyn (2013), Thakur (2014), James (2014), and Barker (2018). Return to text

7 This pertains not only to modern cultural constructions of gender and sexuality but also to those of race and ethnicity. To quote Whitmarsh (2018): “Looking into the past and training ourselves to see with the eyes of other cultures, are powerful ways of denaturalising our inherited conceptual categories, and of recognising that they are not inevitable”. This task belongs not only to the scholar but the translator – roles that in the best-case scenario have much overlap. Mark Polizzotti (2018) has nicely suggested that a good translation “gets cultures talking to each other, while maintaining the vital distinctions that make those conversations worth having in the first place”. Return to text

8 On the “feminine” status of translation, see esp. Chamberlain (1988). As her analysis shows, this is not the only gendered metaphor for translation; others figure the translator not as a female but as a father-figure or even a male colonizer. On women as translators of the Classics, see, for example, Balmer (2013) 41-56 and the essays in Wyles and Hall (2016). Return to text

9 The first English translation of the Aeneid, for example, was Ruden (2008). Homer was not translated into English by a woman until Alexander (2015), followed by Wilson (2018). Return to text

10 Wheelright (1956), for instance, devotes nearly three pages of his review to outlining Rolfe Humphries’ poetic merits (e.g. “The Humphries version..., guided less by prosodic rules than by a poet’s sense of what is fit and effective, carries the reader along vigorously and easily through the inexhaustible inventiveness of Ovid’s story telling”, (284) before summing up the virtues of Innes’ version in a mere two sentences: “For those who prefer to read Ovid in prose Miss Innes’ Penguin paper-backed version can be recommended as more idiomatic although less literal than the older prose version of Frank Justus Miller. Penguin, which rarely fails to give the economical buyer his money’s worth, has likewise provided running heads telling the book and topic although not the lines” (288). Parker (1956) 467 concludes that “In [Innes’] hands, the poem becomes a succession of vignettes, written in perfectly acceptable, unexceptional, flattened prose”. Armstrong (1968) 448 declares her translation a “failure”, “disastrously dull”, and “mere decent prose”, before declaring that he was “unable to finish reading” it. Lee (1956) 308 offers a more positive – though generally backhanded – assessment: “It is pleasant to observe that the Metamorphoses have now been metamorphosed into a Penguin, and have survived their dissolution into prose without undue discomfort... Although Ovid robbed of his ‘numbers’ is sadly impoverished, his resources as a story-teller can still keep up appearances and afford agreeable entertainment to the reader”. This belittling praise is echoed also by Steiner (1956) 410: “This is a usable little book, if not always inspired”. Innes was one of only a small handful of women to publish English translations of Latin epic in the 20th century, and her translation remained the standard Penguin Classics version until 2004. Return to text

11 The bibliography on rape in Ovid has grown apace in recent years, beginning with the groundbreaking work of Curran (1978) and Richlin (1992b). An important recent consideration is James (2016). Return to text

12 In order to keep the scope of this paper manageable, I am focusing only on English translations. Return to text

13 Such inexact language is also called out by Curran (1978) 215: “When scholars can bring themselves to utter the word “rape”, it is employed as a noun and in a most imprecise sense, with connotations suggesting anything from a love affair to seduction to abduction; thus we find ‘the rape of Europa’, rather than ‘Europa’s rape by Jupiter’ or ‘Jupiter raped Europa’, wording which would carry some intimation that rape is a most intimate violation of a woman’s person”. Return to text

14 See Bohner (2001) and Henley et al. (1995). For a discussion on linguistic voice and power in relation to the teaching of classical languages, see Libatique (2020). Return to text

15 Unless otherwise noted, translations are my own. Return to text

16 One useful way to gauge the gender connotations of words and phrases is to run them through a Google Image search to see how we as a culture code them. For “messy hair”, Google offers a good mix of people presenting as masculine and feminine, though the phrase is perhaps more strongly coded as masculine. For “loose curls” the results are entirely of feminine-presenting women. Return to text

17 See, for example, Helenus at Aen. 3.370 and the priest Ampycus at Met. 5.109-10. As Fantham (2008) 164 points out, vittae are often conflated with infulae (“woolen bands”) in Roman poetry and are used more frequently since infulae in the plural does not scan. Return to text

18 On deceased unmarried girls being commemorated in portraiture in the guise of Diana, see D’Ambra (2008) 181, who highlights the gender ambiguity in such portraits: “Girls were depicted as Diana in Roman funerary sculpture not only because the goddess’s status as chaste maiden reflected the girls’ stage of life but also because the huntress could signify the heroic mode of representation or even virtus, the premier male virtue of courage and valor”. Dillon (2012) 265-66 points out that it can be difficult to distinguish between a portrait of a goddess and her followers, whose appearances were carefully modeled on the goddess herself. Return to text

19 Fantham (2008) 163. See also Olson (2008) 36-41. Both Fantham and Olson point out the scarcity of vittae in female portraiture, suggesting that the wearing of this item by women existed more in the realm of ideals than in actual practice. Return to text

20 Similar is Daphne’s headband at Met. 1.477, which both Melville and Martin likewise translate as “ribbon”. Return to text

21 Met. 1.549: mollia cinguntur tenui praecordia libro (“Her supple torso was surrounded by thin bark”). Cf. Horace Gregory’s translation, which gives Daphne “white thighs” here. See McCarter (2018) 590-94. Return to text

22 Given the frequent claim to Greco-Roman antiquity made by white supremacist groups, this is not an innocuous impression to make. See Whitmarsh (2018). On racial theory in antiquity see esp. McCoskey (2012) 23 who rightly emphasizes that “race in no way pivots around ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ in antiquity, despite the centrality of those categories to racial thought today”. Return to text

23 See Eaverly (2013). Return to text

24 See Met. 3.423, where Narcissus is said to have a “blush mixed into his snowy glow”, in niveo mixtum candore ruborem. Return to text

25 https://twitter.com/EmilyRCWilson/status/970406691375378432. Return to text

26 The os is frequently aligned with the power of speech, as in the final lines of the epic, where Ovid predicts that he will always be spoken of by posterity: ore legar populi, “I will be read through people’s mouths” (15.878). Return to text

27 On Salmacis’ sexuality, see esp. Fabre-Serris (2018), whose analysis shows that Salmacis too challenges gender expectations of women by behaving as many of the male figures do. While she exemplifies female mollitia, “softness”, her behavior also “resembles that of many mortals or gods…who immediately try to satisfy their desire” (131). Return to text

28 This tendency is powerfully illustrated by the traveling exhibit “What Were You Wearing?”, which combats cultural ideas that women somehow “invite” rape through their appearance. Return to text

29 There is a sense, however, in Callisto’s story, as well as Daphne’s, that sexuality is being forced upon her as a consequence of her rejection of it, though Ovid does not attach the vocabulary of blame or guilt to this per se. See Marturano (2017) 227-28: “[T]hese stories of rape in Ovid about how virginal nymphs are brought into sexuality speak to how female figures who have rejected civilization (or in other words, masculinity) and embraced the freedom of natura (of femininity) are forced into constraints men have traditionally imposed on female figures”. Marturano, however, ultimately detects more direct victim-blaming in the story than I do. Ovid of course also recounts Callisto’s rape in the Fasti, and there are key differences between the two episodes. At Fasti 2.161, for instance, Ovid says that Callisto could have remained a virgin si non formosa fuisset, “had she not been beautiful”, attributing to her a physical attractiveness he carefully elides in the Metamorphoses. Return to text

30 See Casali (1999), whose analysis of facta impia at Aeneid 4.596 makes a similar correction to the traditional interpretation. Return to text

31 See also 7.719, where Cephalus describes Aurora, who has just carried him off against his will (i.e. raped him), as a criminis exemplum, “an exemplar of sexual criminality”. Crimen is also repeated throughout the Tereus and Philomela story of Book 6. For instance, at 6.474, the crimen clearly belongs to Tereus, whose pious act brings him praise: laudemque a crimine sumit, “he derives praise from his crime”. At 6.541, after her rape, Philomela wishes aloud that Tereus had killed her before he raped her, declaring vacuas habuissem criminis umbras, “I could have had a ghost free of crime”, i.e. free of the crimen Tereus has just perpetrated. Here, however, translators similarly attribute to Philomela a sense of guilt, as they do to Callisto in Book 2: “My ghost / had then be free from guilt” (Melville); “I an innocent ghost” (Humphries); “an innocent shade” (Martin); “my ghost would be pure and innocent” (Raeburn). Return to text

32 Johnson (1996) 11. I suspect, however, that Johnson’s reading of this passage is itself informed by the later practice of presenting lesbian sex in a way that caters to the heterosexual male viewer. This certainly became a mode of representing the encounter in later painting of the scene, in which Jupiter is almost always shown disguised as Diana in an intimate embrace with Callisto. See, for example, François Boucher’s Jupiter and Callisto (1744) or Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre’s Diana and Callisto (1745-1749). Return to text

33 The rapist’s removal of his disguise in the moment of assault is paralleled in the Sun’s rape of Leucothoe at 4.231. At the start of Book 3, Jupiter similarly reveals himself to Europa after kidnapping her. Return to text

34 Although my focus is on the tale as recounted in the Metamorphoses, it is worth noting that Ovid also uses the word crimen in the Fasti’s version of this story: de Iove crimen habet (2.162). Johnson (1996) 15 takes issue with how this phrase is translated in the Loeb version by James George Frazer (“it was with Jove she sinned”), which he rightly describes as a “superpatriarchal translation” of these words. He suggests instead that “the meaning is something more like: it is because of Jove that she suffers being slandered”. I would argue that here again we can take crimen simply as “crime”, with habere having the sense of “suffer” (OLD s.v. 16): “she suffered a crime because of Jove”. Return to text

35 Kaster (2005) 36. Return to text

36 King (2012) 178. Return to text

37 Marturano (2017) 231-32). Return to text

38 Salzman-Mitchell (2005) 27. Return to text

39 At 6.532, Philomela recognizes that the rape and her consequent loss of virginity has robbed her of her right to marry, coniugialia iura, a right that would have been of fundamental importance to the social capital of an elite young woman. Yet she vows to cast aside her shame and tell the crime: ipsa pudore / proiecto tua facta loquar, “I’ll cast off shame and tell your deeds” (6.544-45). Return to text

40 Brescia (2015). She concludes that rape was a circumstance “in which the ‘code of silence’ imposed by Roman culture on women as a requisite and a guarantee of pudicitia offers a necessary exemption. In these cases, it is a failure to speak that brings upon the violated woman the suspicion of complicity” (90). Return to text

41 On red and white imagery in the Metamorphoses as a mark of violent sexual maturation, see Rhorer (1980). For nota and sexual violence, cf. also Cyane’s silent display of Proserpina’s zona at Met. 5.468-70. Return to text

42 For furtum, see 2.423. This word can often suggest a “secret affair” or “tryst”, but it is also used at various points in the Met. to describe rape (e.g. 3.7). I prefer to translate it as “conquest” here to keep its sinister undertone. Return to text

43 Nor do these words suggest that Juno misreads Callisto as a consenting mistress – paelices certainly do not have to offer consent. Cf. Sen. Ag. 1002, where Clytemnestra refers to the enslaved Cassandra as a captiva coniunx, regii paelex tori, “captive wife, a rival for the royal bed”. An enslaved woman would have had very little say in whether she became a paelex. The words adultera and paelex, moreover, are closely related – a paelex is a type of adultera. See Sen. Contr. 6.262M: generi adultera, filiae paelex, “the adulteress of her son-in-law, the rival of her daughter”. For the view that Juno’s words are a misreading, see esp. Anderson (1997) ad loc., who says that “Juno’s choice of the term [adultera] shows her low level of understanding; neither the narrator nor we accept it as literally apt”. These words are apt, however, not because they reflect the reality of Callisto’s position but because they illustrate the fear of displacement motivating Juno’s actions. Return to text

44 On iniuria as a rape charge, see Nguyen (2006), esp. 91-94. Return to text

45 Oliensis (2009) 81 approaches my own interpretation, though she ultimately diverges from it: Juno “comes close to acknowledging that the ‘wrong’ was done to Callisto by Jupiter, but immediately suppresses this possibility by turning around and ascribing dedecus, most implausibly, to the rapist (‘dishonor’ is the lot of the raped woman, cf. Fast. 2.826)”. It is true that Lucretia in the Fasti passage she cites commits suicide so as to avoid dedecus, yet rapists too could be tainted by deducus. In [Quint.] Lesser Declamations 251.5, the author describes how a woman saved her own rapist from dedecus by agreeing to marry him: Beneficium te accepisse summum manifestum est: vitam tibi dedit laesa, dedit vitam iuste irata, dedit vitam perituro per supplicia, per dedecus, “You clearly received the highest kindness: assaulted, she gave you life; though rightly angered, she gave you life when you were set to perish through punishments, through shamefulness” (251.5). The possibility that a man might seek to marry his victim in order to avoid public dedecus is highly relevant to Ovid’s Callisto episode since Juno’s greatest worry (as discussed below) is that Jove might replace her with one of his rape victims. Note, too, that the word laesa here suggests “raped”, as at Met. 2.450 (laesi pudoris), discussed above. Return to text

46 Ovid uses the word in both ways in the Metamorphoses. For iniuria in the sense of “personal insult”, see, e.g., 3.267 and 9.150. For iniuria as “rape”, see esp. 5.525 (of Proserpina’s rape) and 12.201 (of Caenis’ rape). For other Ovidian examples of iniuria in contexts of rape, see Fasti 2.433 (of the rape of the Sabine women) and Fasti 4.589 (of Proserpina’s rape). Return to text

47 Anderson (1997). Return to text

48 On the use of such language when it is not clearly present in the original, see also Wilson (2019) 286-89. Return to text

49 The word merces, “payment”, has links with the word meretrix, “prostitute”. For the language of commerce and profit in Ovidian erotic contexts, see Gellar-Goad (2021). He does not, however, discuss the Callisto passage. Return to text

50 Richlin (1992a) 30 and Flores (2020), esp. 24. Return to text

51 Williams (2010) 104-6. Return to text

52 See Fantham (1991) 269: “The verb stuprare is transitive and requires a masculine subject, like the improper English verb fuck”. Return to text

53 Williams (2010) 110-16. Return to text

54 Casali (1997) 306 considers these lines spurious. Yet they still help illuminate Juno’s thinking in the Callisto story. Return to text

55 In this respect, we see how Juno’s understanding of this situation is based on her reading of the preceding narratives. Heath (1991) has similarly argued that Diana’s actions in the epic are informed by her reading of the tales. Return to text

56 Wheeler (2000) 74-81 rightly examines the Callisto story as the “narrative sequel” of Io’s: “The installation of Callisto and Arcas in the sky parallels the divine honors accorded Io and Epaphus in Egypt (1.747-50) – a point that does not escape Juno”. See also Ludwig (2019) 22. Return to text

57 Stallings (2007) has nicely likened translation to “a special kind of deep reading”. On “feminist translation as interpretation” see esp. Eshelman (2007) 24, who suggests that “feminist translation methods provide a way to understand the ‘interpreting’ component of translation”. Like me, Eshelman emphasizes the importance of paying special attention to gendered words. Return to text

58 See also Porter (2013) 58, who argues that “scholarly and literary translations should be accepted and evaluated on the same basis as scholarly monographs in decisions about hiring, promotion, and tenure”. I endorse this view and further point out that major awards for translation, such as the National Book Award for Translated Literature, often exclude translators of ancient material in favor of those who are working with living global authors. Translators of Greco-Roman literature therefore often fail to achieve recognition for their work on both ends of the spectrum. Return to text

59 Grunenwald (2021) 36. She later (37-38) describes her process of translation as being very akin to the process of scholarship: “La traduction n’est pas qu’une lecture, c’est une étude approfondie. C’est passer des heures à se perdre dans des livres, sur internet, dans le catalogue ou les étagères de la bibliothèque, en sautant de référence en référence pour choisir un mot parfois tout juste long d’une syllabe. C’est lire et se demander à chaque terme pourquoi celui-ci plutôt qu’un autre. C’est douter en permanence de ses choix et de ses compétences”. Return to text



Electronic reference

Stephanie McCarter, « Ovid’s Callisto and Feminist Translation of the Metamorphoses », Eugesta [Online], 12 | 2022, Online since 01 décembre 2022, connection on 21 juillet 2024. URL : http://www.peren-revues.fr/eugesta/1269


Stephanie McCarter

University of the South in Sewanee