Albright, Christine Loren
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Ekphrasis in epic poetry functions as a uterine body inside the larger masculine epic body; its extreme vividness and feminine form offer a pageant of alluring sexual power, seducing the audience into the universe of the poem. The rhetorical technique begins with the description of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad, where it helps the oral poet accomplish the act of persuasion which occurs between poet and audience. The spiralling form of the ekphrasis offers its audience the irresistible possiblity of pre-natal wholeness and divine communion: the scenes of the ekphrasis represent the cosmic whole of Minoan religious ritual, which generally focused on regeneration through the fertile feminine body and which specifically involved the Labyrinth dance. Hesiod, recognizing how ekphrasis functions in oral epic, uses the figure of Pandora as an illustration of ekphrasis in the Theogony, which is both a cosmogony about the physical universe and also a commentary on the epic body itself. As each successive epic poet uses ekphrasis more extensively in order to establish himself as an author, ekphrasis evolves until the boundary between it and the rest of the poem is eroded. Ovid’s Metamorphoses serves as an example of ekphrasis in an evolved state; he applies the characteristics of ekphrasis to the whole of the poem. Ovid follows both Homer and Hesiod in presenting ekphrasis as a pathway to divine truth, and he manipulates this aspect of ekphrasis in order to conceal the politically subversive statement which the Metamorphoses offers.