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Housman Lecture 2020: Ellen Oliensis

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"The Trials of Latona in Ovid’s Metamorphoses"

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No doubt about it, Latona is a hard-luck goddess. Though she is Jupiter’s first cousin and (by him) the mother of two Olympian divinities, Latona seems to be welcome nowhere; it is as if she were doomed to keep reliving the trauma inflicted on her by a jealous Juno, when she wandered the world in quest of a place to give birth. This paper takes a close look at an episode in which Latona suffers an especially egregious rebuff; this is the story of the Lycian farmers who deny Latona access to water and are ultimately punished by being transformed into frogs. The story is told by an awestruck mortal shortly after the downfall of Niobe, that most notorious of Latona-scorners, and it ostensibly illustrates the importance of paying Latona the homage that is her due. Yet despite this pious framing, the story itself exhibits the very disregard it warns against. What is it about Latona that generates this response? Why is Latona destined to be forgotten and excluded?

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