Grigore Tănăsescu (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: Tănăsescu, Grigore. “Ovid and Mihai Eminescu—Two Points of Confluence of Two Poetics.” Romanian Review 26, no. 2 (1972): 50-4.
[In the following essay, Tănăsescu establishes Ovid as a source of erotic themes in Eminescu's poetry.]
Mihai Eminescu's first acquaintance with Ovid might have been occasioned by G. Reinbeck's book Mythologie für Nichtstudierende, which he thoroughly studied in his school days at Cernăuţi. Such mythological names as Atlas, Hercules, Nessus, Venus and Adonis, Diana, Aurora, Narcissus, Echo, Phaëthon, a.s.o. found in Ovid's work and quite frequently referred to by the author of the above-mentioned mythology penetrated into Eminescu's symbolism as early as his first poems. Later on, the mythological temptation was to develop, reaching fabulous proportions in the representations of the Romanian poet. For Eminescu, Ovid meant not only the creator of The Metamorphoses, of mythological fabulation, but also the poet of love, with which these very Metamorphoses are imbued. In a manuscript note dating from the period when he was elaborating the poem “The Love of a Marble” (1868) the Romanian poet—“one of the great martyrs of Eros” (Perpessicius)—mentioned the Latin bard among those “mad out of love: Şincai—Horia—Ovid” and then in the posthumous poem “The Icon in its Frame” he characterized himself, after Ovid's fashion, “What am I? A weak soul joined to a weak mind.” (See Ovid Molle Cupidineis nec inexpugnabile telis / Cot mihi … fuit. The Tristia, IV, 10, v. 65-66.)
Eminescu's interest in the work and personality of the poet relegated at Tomi can also be seen in another note in which, concerned—since the epoch before his student years, therefore before Vasile Alescandri—with introducing the classical tragedy into Romanian culture, in the spirit of Corneille and Racine, the Romanian poet postulated: “The so-called classical tragedy could be introduced by such plays as Ovid (in Dacia), character and ideas in his works (G. Călinescu, Mihai Eminescu's Work, Literature Publishing House, Bucharest, 1969, p. 70, see p. 329). This note referring to Ovid's ideas as well as to his character shows that Eminescu had read the latter's work (at least partially).
In Eminescu's artistic evolution the myths he might have come across in Ovid's poetry go beyond the usual significance, marking a transition to symbolic meanings. The echo—present both with Ovid and Virgil—assumes artistic shape with our poet as a “light” murmur, “thirsty of love” (“Undine”). In the poem “The Ghosts” Arald is embodied as a romantic Orpheus in search of his lost beloved. Orpheus' mythic image, is alongside Apollo's, one of Eminescu's most meaningful symbols of mythological type. We come across the same image as a sublimated image of the “song,” of poetry, in the Greek episode of “Memento Mori” as well as in “The Morning Star”: “And will you have me sing that song / Whose tuneful melody / Will move the wooded mountains and / The islands of the sea?”
Orpheus' image overlapping that of Apollo—whence Hyperion's representation derives—symbolizes, both with Eminescu very much as with the ancients, the royalty of poetry, the bard being invested with the attributes of poeta vates, urged on by the choir of the muses, the “sweet sisters” who give “wings to his thoughts” and fill his inspired song with “pride.” Both the “fair” Phoebus Apollo (flavus Apollo with Ovid) embodying the sun's brightness—that is the “serenity” of poetic inspiration—and his godlike sister, Diana, with her selenic attribute, her “silvery” shade (Ovid also calls her Phoebe—that is the feminine “pale,” selenic reflection of the solar principle of Phoebus; she also appears as the infernal Hecate) are to be found quite often in the verses of the classicizing romanticist Eminescu.
In the poems “First Epistle,” “The Dacian's Prayer” and in the posthumous poem “The Twins,” the cosmogonic vision, made up especially of elements of Indian philosophy, also renders something of the texture of the exordium of the Latin poet's Metamorphoses—in its ample rhythm as well as in some of its moments.
Because of the Alexandrine nature of his creation, Ovid used and abused of the term ars in its multiple meanings. Eminescu grasped the Ovidian meaning of “craftsmanship,” using it in the verses of the “Gloss”: “If they cry and if they quarrel / You, alone, keep by yourself / And can gather from their moral / What is wrong and what is right /,” or in the dramatic fresco “Mureşanu”: “And should your hand be holding the book of history / Arts...
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