The rape of Callisto by Jove with the rape of Philomela by Tereus

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Ovid’s Metamorphoses never shy away from talking about societal evils such as rape in the mythical narratives. The story of Callisto’s rape by Jove and Philomela’s rape by Tereus seem similar from the fact that they show oppression of women in the narrative and Greek society as a whole. However, Ovid presents two different perspectives in the rape of Callisto and Philomela where freedom of speech, forms of rape, family role in rape, revenge, the language of presentation, immortality, and mortality all impact the two narratives different. In this paper, I will contrast the rape of Callisto and rape of Philomela in a manner that cover distinct issues that make relevant for modern societies. Philomela’s rape by Tereus primarily centers on the concept of Greek being patriarchal society and the censorship of the rape victims’ freedom of speech while Callisto’s rape case portrays the culture of bisexualism, rape as a seduction, and emotional struggle of the rape victim to absolve themselves.

First, it would be prudent to know the background of Callisto’s and Philomela’s rape cases as Ovid presents them in Metamorphoses. The story of Callisto’s rape by Jove begins when Phaeton’s mission to seek the truth about his father from the Sun turns tragic. While riding his father’s (Sun) chariot, Phaeton posed a potential risk to the universe that Jove could not condone. Jove saves the universe by striking Phaeton with a thunderbolt, which kills Phaeton and destroys parts of the world. While evaluating the damage of Phaeton’s adverse actions, Jove pays unique attention to Arcadia – his favorite spot. Out of the blues, Jove sees beautiful Callisto and lust strikes him immediately. Despite Callisto being a member of Diana’s chaste group, Jove manages to rape her by transforming into the form of Diana. Callisto seems to enjoy the act and does spill the beans to anyone about her ordeal. However, Diana notices her crime she could not hide pregnancy anymore. Diana banishes Calisto from the group as Juno – Jove’s wife – gain rage and anger towards Callisto and turns her into a bear. Jove later comes to defend Callisto from her son’s (Arcas) hand of death by transforming both of them into constellations (Ovid, Met. II. 150-405).

On the other hand, the story of Philomela’s rape by Tereus starts when Procne (Tereus’ wife) felt that she needed the company of her sister (Philomela) at their home Thrace. Procne manages to convince her husband to travel to Athens to bring Philomela. Unfortunately, Tereus feels intense lust for Philomela upon seeing her. While on their way to Thrace, Tereus lustful desire suppressed his control and he rapes Philomela in the woods. A disgusted Philomela threatens to tell the world about Tereus’ crime, but that got her tongue cut out to censor her and imprisonment in the woods. However, the unrelenting Philomela manages to send a message to her sister through weaved tapestry. Full of revenge, Procne kills her son and serve Teres with the dismembered parts as food. Eventually, Philomela and Procne flee from Tereus anger, but the entire saga ends with Procne turned into a swallow, Philomela transformed into a nightingale, and Tereus turned into hoope (Met. VI. 438-674).

Notably, Ovid uses a language of pain and rage to describe Philomela’s case compared to the sympathetic language he uses to narrate Callisto’s story. Without a doubt, Philomela is aggrieved because of Tereus crime and Ovid portrays the violent rape act with the imagery it deserves. In Met. VI. 515-543, Ovid describe how Tereus male violent character play out from the time he sees Philomela and contemplates the crime in his mind to the time he forces her way into her in the cabin. The audience can relate to the horrific feeling Philomela felt:

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 straightaway did it,

Raped her, a virgin, all alone, and calling

From the extract above, it is clear that Philomela felt anger, pain, and range for the violation. She was not safe anymore; she was completely helpless. When she got the chance to speak, she said, “’O wicked deed! O cruel monster, Barbarian, Savage!” (146). She threatened to tell the world about Tereus act. The choice of words such as monster, barbaric, wicked and others communicates and illustrate the anger in Philomela during the act.

On the contrary, Calisto rape scene is described as something she was tricked into, and she had limited options of refusing after the perpetrator took the form of Diana – the head of the chaste group of ladies. Ovid appears to be sympathetic towards Callisto give that she was attacked by immortal Jove and her victimization seems portrays misuse of power by the higher powers. Ovid categorically puts it, “She really struggled against him, but girls are frail, and anyway, who could conquer The might of Jove?” (41). It communicates the charm with and prowess that Jove mounted on Callisto. She could not escape even if she wished for it.

Again, we see the difference in Philomela’s and Callisto’s rape in the sense that the perpetrators are of different caliber were involved – immortal and mortal beings. Jove is god, mighty, and possess abilities to manipulate or coerce Callisto. As a matter of fact, Ovid puts it clear, “and anyway, who could conjure The might of Jove,” (41). Callisto is not aware of her attacker from the initial point of the encounter because Jove took the form of Diana. To Callisto, she was interacting with Diana, which also communicates a sense of bisexualism. For instance, Ovid reveals that Jove – disguised as Diana – kissed Callisto in a manner a maiden should not kiss yet the with her innocence she never condemned her. It is clear that there is fear for person in higher authority as Diana – goddess. She never even tried to report Jove’s crime even after knowing his identity. For Philomela, the situation is different in that she knew her attacker as part of the family. The family linkage covered any thought of malice, and lust Tereus had on Philomela because even her father and sister Procne trusted the perpetrator (145). Ovid makes it clear that Tereus would not have succeeded had her wife not begged him to bring her sister Philomela over. It is conceivable that Tereus mortality is the cause of Philomela’s suffering through mutilation of her tongue. He wanted to censor her and to cut her tongue was the only way (146). In summary, Jove’s mortal status makes his rape of Callisto less violent compared to Tereus rape of Philomela.

Similarly, the significant others in both narratives play a significant role in fueling the conflict, but their involvement is in different capacities. In Philomela’s case, Procne wishes to reunite with her sister after five years of marriage in Thrace triggers a series of events that destroys her family.

And Procne asked a favor of her husband:

“My lord, if any ways of mine have been

A source of satisfaction to my husband,

Let me see my sister, or let her come

To visit us, with a promise to her father

Of quick return. The sight of my dear sister”

In as much as she did the request innocently, Procne finds herself in a tight spot to choose between her husband’s side or her sister’s side. As the story advances, Ovid reveals that Procne opted to side with her sister where she masterminds a sweet revenge for her husband. She killed her son, “But she…drove the knife home through breasts…enough to kill him,” (150). Procne served her husband his son and ran away with her sister. However, Jove’s significant other – Juno – gets the blame for the rape of Callisto because of her failure to show love or experience in seduction. Jove is aware that Juno would not approve his action, “Juno will never catch me here,” (41). Nevertheless, he risks it because it is worth it even if Juno finds out. Eventually, Juno got wind of Jove’s adulterous actions on Callisto, but she kept quiet for a while, “Juno, of course, had known it for a long time, but put her vengeance off, to have it better,” (42). Surprisingly, Juno blames Calisto as being, “little adulterous bitch,” (43). When she had the best chance for her revenge, Juno turned Callisto into a bear. From the Ovid’s account of the two rape stories, it reveals that sometimes rape victims get a listening ear of their fellow women (case of Philomela and Procne) while sometimes not even fellow women can come to their rescue (case of Juno and Callisto).

Ovid’s portrayal of the Philomela’s rape case teaches a social lesson that family members can be perpetrators of violence to the girl child. Procne’s father and their family fraternity know and trust Tereus with their virgin sister only for him to turn into a monster. Therefore, parents should be on the lookout and understand that even trusted family members are a source of danger to their girl children. Again, Philomela’s case confirms that perpetrators of rape cases will always want to silence their victims, just as Tereus cut out Philomela’s tongue to deny her freedom of speech – censorship. Therefore, society members willing to help should be keen on details to unearth issues the same way Procne paid attention to the woven messages of her sister to discover the truth. From the story of Callisto, the society can learn that people in a higher position of authority, especially men, can take advantage of those below them and violate their rights. Jove is a god who should not take advantage of his power to seduce or rather rape the gullible Callisto.

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Lastly, Ovid’s Metamorphoses myth stories happen in the context of Greek society, which makes their implications to the Greek society points on interest. Notably, Philomela’s story portrays Greek society as male-dominated, and women get the blame even when the people violating their rights are the ones with problems. For instance, Ovid describes the scene where Tereus lusts for Philomela in a way that the audience should blame her beauty and the society for the temptation. “He was a passionate man, and all the Thracians are all too quick at loving, a double fire burned in him,” (144). The expression blames society of Thrace for producing passionate men and Philomela’s beauty just fuels the lustful urge in Tereus’ imagination. Ovid’s usher the audience into the dark mind of Tereus where, “her visible charms, the way she moved, her gestures,” (145) are to blame for Tereus impeding violation of her virginity. Greek society reduces women to ornamental objects to satisfy sexual fantasies. However, Ovid’s presentation of Calisto’s story portrays Greek society as one where women are enemies of each other, and they plot their downfall. The first instance is when Jove takes the form of Diana because he knows Callisto who trusts Diana – fellow – woman fast. The symbolism of Jove taking the form of Diana is that women can turn as enemies of their fellow women. Jove views Callisto as, “little adulterous bitch,” (43) while Diana banishes Callisto from the chaste group while saying, “Be off! This pool is holy, do not pollute it!” (42). Juno keeps quite for a long time despite knowing Jove’s crime only to plan revenge against Callisto. In summary, women in Philomela’s case defended their own, which is possible because she was Procne family. The story of Callisto affirms that women outside family levels are an enemy of each other. It baffles the audience why Diana, Jove, and other women never asked Callisto her side of the story despite the fact that she was a victim of male dominated society mindset.

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  1. Ovid, and Rolfe Humphries. Metamorphoses. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955. Print.
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