Philomela in Ovid's Metamorphosesresource page originally created for Ancient Sites Community
online discussions on Greek and Roman mythology
copyright 2000 by Tracy Marks
PHILOMELA: The Wounded Artist
Philomela is a woman who has been wounded and violated, who instead of giving up, resourcefully uses her remaining talents to redeem herself. Her tongue cut out, she lacks a voice – so instead she speaks visually through her art. Ovid's Philomela says: "I'll cast aside my shame, proclaim your crime. If that be possible for me, I'll tell my tale where many people crowd."
Many artists and wounded healers who may be unable to directly heal their own wounds are indeed healing and empowering themselves through art. Creating art which expresses their pain and publicly sharing it, in spite of public discomfort and exposure, they release their pain, and in the process feel heard and appreciated. Sometimes this process may involve seeking justice, and making meaningful contributions not only artistically but through publicly calling attention to crimes of social injustice.
Philomela, from Ovid's Metamorphoses
(trans. Rolfe Humphries,1955, pp. 146-48)
"And now the voyage ended, and the vessel
Was worn from travel, and they came stepping down
To their own shores, and Tereus dragged her with him
To the deep woods, to some ramshackle building
Dark in that darkness, and he shut her in there,
Pale, trembling, fearing everything, and asking
"Where was her sister?" And he told her then
What he was going to do, and straightway did it,
Raped her, a virgin all alone, and calling
For her father, for her sister, but most often
For the great gods. In vain. . . .
But Tereus did not kill her; he seized her tongue
With pincers, though it cried against the outrage,
Babbled and made a sound something like "Father,"
Till the sword cut if off. The mangled root
Quivered, the severed tongue along the ground
Lay quivering, making a little murmur,
Jerking and twitching, the way a serpent does
Run over by a wheel, and with its dying movement
Came to its mistress' feet. . . .
And a year went by
And what of Philomela? Guarded against flight,
Stone blocks around her cottage, no power of speech
To help her tell her wrongs, her grief has taught her
Sharpness of wit, and cunning comes in trouble.
She had a loom to work with, and with purple
On a white background, wove her story in,
Her story in and out, and when it was finished,
Gave it to one old woman, with signs and gestures
To take it to the queen, so it was taken,
Unrolled and understood. Procne said nothing--
What could she say?--grief choked her utterance,
Passion her sense of outrage. . . .
Philomela The Myth and Poem
The Philomela Metaphor
Matthew Arnold: Philomela (poem)
Philomela at Perseus
Philomela in Metamorphoses (More)
Medieval Legend of Philomela
Study Guide (site may be down)