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Abstract from

Orpheus and the Law: The Story of Myrrha in Ovidís Metamorphoses

Ioannis Ziogas is Lecturer in Classics at Durham University, United Kingdom.

According to Horace, Orpheus and Amphion were the first legislators. They forbade casual sex, gave rights to spouses, and inscribed laws on wood (Ars Poetica 396-401). Orpheus, who is both the model of the devoted husband and the founding father of pederasty, simultaneously establishes and challenges the institution of marriage. His myth acquires a deeply political dimension at Rome after the emperor Augustus introduced laws that encouraged marriage and criminalised adultery. In the Metamorphoses, Orpheus attempts to regulate desire and is subsequently executed by married or marriageable women. He is a figure of Ovid, the poet who spelled out the constitution of the rules of conduct within the domains of sexual attraction in his Art of Love and was punished for subverting the institution of marriage. This article focuses on Orpheus’ story of Myrrha in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and reads the tale against the background of Augustus’ marriage and adultery laws. The myth of Myrrha is rife with legal language and courtroom rhetoric that provocatively conflate incest with marriage.

(2016) 34(1) Law in Context p24

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