Overture
Forms would become manifest insofar as they underwent metamorpho-
sis. Each form had its own perfect sharpness, so long as it retained that
form, but everybody knows that a moment later it might become some-
thing else.—r o b e rt o c a l a s s o
Ovid’s stories about personal identity are very suggestive for the philoso
pher of art. Arachne, an arrogant weaver who challenges a rival to a weav
ing contest, learns too late that this old woman is the goddess Pallas in
disguise. Defeated Arachne attempts to hang herself but survives, meta
morphosized into a spider: ‘‘She yet spins her thread, and as a spider i
busy with her web as of
old.’’1
Philosophical theories of personal identit
explain how a child becomes an adult and, finally, an old man, remaining
the same person as his body ages. Ovid’s Metamorphoses discusses mor
extreme physical transformations. Philosophers are concerned with th
identities of actual persons, things, and institutions. Creative writers hav
broader concerns. Presenting magical radical alterations of persons o
things, Ovid shows what is fictionally
plausible.2
All figurative visual ar
involves metamorphosis because an image transforms physical material
into a representation. As Leonard Barkin puts it, ‘‘The art of metamor
phosis is the art of the
image.’’3
Then the materials of art illusionistically
become what they depict. ‘‘If metamorphosis produces an apprehensibl
trace of distant or incredible events in the real world of the readers, so too
does a statue, a painting,’’ writes Andrew Feldherr. ‘‘Thus metamorphosi
becomes a way of dramatizing the act of representation
itself.’’4
Representing metamorphosis is a special challenge for the visual artis
—rival of the poet—who must show change, presenting past and futur
in one image. The poet can describe the entire process, but the visual art
ist is only able to show the transition in progress. Consider, for example
the story of Apollo and Daphne: ‘‘A deep languor took hold on her limbs
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