Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Rape, Revenge and Resurrection in Correr’s Progne


When Gregorio Correr selected the myth of Procne and Philomela for his c. 1427 adaptation of Seneca’s Thyestes, he was altering what is sometimes termed ‘a tragedy with no women’ into one which largely focuses on female protagonists. Yet he chose to omit the scene where Philomela (or Philomena) weaves a tapestry depicting her rape and mutilation by her sister’s husband Tereus. This scene, which is a key feature of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and also appears in all other medieval and Renaissance adaptations of the myth, has been interpreted by scholars as Philomena’s successful attempt to find an alternative voice for her outrage after Tereus has cut out her tongue. This paper addresses the implications of Correr’s omission of this important feature of the myth, analysing its effect on the portrayal of Philomena and the dynamics of her relationship with her avenger Procne. It shows how the agency in this relationship is shifted almost entirely to Procne and how Philomena is transformed into a type of ghost who is brought back by her sister’s rage and dreadful act of retribution on her husband. Within this analysis attention will be given to the Christian elements of Correr’s reception of the myth, in particular the motif of resurrection which permeates the play and the final scene which culminates in a distortion of the rites of the eucharist.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Aristotle, Poetics 1454b35, classifies Sophocles’s recognition device among those ‘contrived by the poet’. There is an apparent summary of this play on a papyrus fragment which mentions both the glossectomy and the weaving; see L. Coo, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters: Studies in Sophocles’s Tereus’, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 143, 2013, pp. 349–84 (352). G. Dobrov, Figures of Play: Greek Drama and Metafictional Poetics. Oxford, 2000, p. 113, argues that ‘the glossectomy was an auxiliary feature introduced [by Sophocles] to set up the recognition by means of a written message’. Sophocles’s play is so fragmentary it is unclear how the tapestry is used, but D. Fitzpatrick, ‘Sophocles’s Tereus’ The Classical Quarterly, 51, 2001, pp. 90–101 (97–8), suggests that the cloth was embroidered with text which the barbarian Thracians could not read.

  2. 2.

    Ovid, Metamorphoses VI.576; Apollodorus III.14.8; Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon V.5.

  3. 3.

    Ovide moralisé 3330–48; Boccaccio Genealogie deorum gentilium IX.8.2.

  4. 4.

    Geoffrey Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women VII.131–3; John Gower, Confessio Amatis 5770–1.

  5. 5.

    P. Klindienst, ‘The Voice of the Shuttle is Ours’, in Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World: Readings and Sources, ed. L. McClure, Oxford, 2002, pp. 257–92 (276): ‘As an instrument that binds and connects, the loom, or its part, the shuttle, re-members or mends what violence tears apart: the bond between the sisters, the woman’s power to speak, a form of community and communication.’ N. A. Jones, ‘The Daughter’s Text and the Thread of Lineage in the Old French Philomena’, in Representing Rape in Medieval and Early Modern Literature, ed. E. Robertson and C. M. Rose, New York, 2001, pp. 161–87 (161): ‘Perhaps more than any other Western myth, Philomela’s story articulates the link between sexual violence, the silencing of women’s voices, and the alternative discourse women fashion in weaving and embroidery.’ See also A. Sharrock, ‘Gender and Sexuality’, in The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, ed. P. Hardie, Cambridge, 2002, pp. 95–107 (100). It is true that the importance that is placed on this element of the myth may, in part, be a reflection of modern preoccupations with female power; according to H. E Joyce, ‘Picturing Rape and Revenge in Ovid’s Myth of Philomela’, in Receptions of Antiquity, Constructions of Gender in European Art 1300–1600, ed. M. Rose and A. C. Poe, Leiden and Boston, 2015, pp. 305–49 (327, 335–8), the fact that the weaving scene was not represented in the visual arts until quite late (c. 1600) suggests that this episode was less important or less interesting than Philomena’s violation and rape. On the other hand, the tapestry is mentioned in every one of the medieval literary versions, and there is an illustration (c. 1325–50) of Philomena giving the tapestry to the messenger in the Ovide moralisé: ibid., p. 319.

  6. 6.

    Scholars date the composition of the play somewhere between 1427 and 1430, according to G. R. Grund, ed. and transl., Humanist Tragedies, Cambridge MA and London, 2011, p. viii. For the purposes of this article, determining a precise year of composition is not important.

  7. 7.

    Correr states in his introduction to the play that it imitates Seneca’s Thyestes (Argumentum 29–30). The fact that he chooses to substitute the myth of Philomela and Procne for that of Tereus and Atreus is scarcely surprising, given the importance of the Philomela myth in the Middle Ages: F. T. Coulson, ‘Procne and Philomela in the Latin Commentary Tradition of the Middle Ages and Renaissance’, Euphrosyne, 36, 2008, pp. 181–96 (181), and the fact that the Thyestes itself heavily references Ovid’s version of the myth: D. Curley, Tragedy in Ovid: Theater, Metatheater, and the Transformation of a Genre, Cambridge, 2013, p. 229. And Ovid’s narration of this and other myths in the Metamorphoses was strongly influenced by drama; his depiction of Tereus’s ‘innata libido’ at Metamorphoses VI.455–60, e.g., recalls lines from Accius’s tragedy of the same name according to Curley (ibid., p. 29), while A. Richlin, Arguments with Silence, Ann Arbor, 2014, p. 158, argues that the prevalence of the Philomela myth in Roman pantomime also influenced the way in which Ovid told the story.

  8. 8.

    There is a version of the myth, narrated by Hyginus (XLV) in which Tereus after raping Philomela gives her to King Lynceaus whose wife, a friend of Procne, sends Philomela back to her sister. But this version of the myth doesn’t have the glossectomy either, so there is no need for the tapestry. And this was certainly not the most common or influential version of the myth.

  9. 9.

    G. Guastella, L’ira e l’onore: forme della vendetta nel teatro senecano e nella sua tradizione, Palermo, 2001, p. 211, mentions the 1548 Progne composed by Girolamo Parabosco, where the messenger recounts the mutilation of Philomena and a cloth depicts her rape; and M. Tempera, ‘Worse than Procne: The Sister as Avenger in the English Renaissance’, in The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality, ed. M. Marrapodi and A. J. Hoenselaars, Newark DE, 1998, pp. 71–88 (78), discusses the 1566 production which was staged in Christ Church in Oxford; this seems to have been adapted from Correr’s play by James Calfhill, a canon of Christ Church, but included a ‘tapestry scene’ which demonstrates its importance.

  10. 10.

    U. De Vries, Die Progne des Gregorio Corraro und ihr Verhältnis zur Antike, Heidelberg, 1987, p. 182. Grund, Tragedies (n. 6 above), p. xxx, indeed, argues that the action of the play is reduced to a single day. Yet when Philomena emerges from her cave, she is depicted as so filthy and emaciated that her sister can scarcely recognize her (575–8). Either the action of the play covers more than a few days or Correr is using dramatic license at this point in the play.

  11. 11.

    De Vries ‘Die Progne’ (n. 10 above), p. 182. Most scholars are certain that this play, like other humanist tragedies, was composed to be read or recited rather than performed on stage by actors: W. Cloetta, Beiträge zur Litteraturgeschichte des Mittelalters und der Renaissance, I, Halle, 1892, p. 156; J.-F. Chevalier, ed. and transl., Trois tragédies latines humanistes, Paris, 2010, p. 25. Correr, however, still shows strong awareness of the dramatic potential of a scene and at points in the play seems to include ‘stage-directions’, e.g., 563–4, 991–2. Such directions may indicate Correr’s interest in manipulating audience reactions, particularly considering the fact that no other humanist tragedies from the Quattrocento seem to include them.

  12. 12.

    Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 123.

  13. 13.

    Ibid. A. Onorato, in his edition of Gregorio Correr, Opera, 2 vols, Messina, 1991–4, I, p. 176, is perhaps following this line when he suggests that Correr inserts the character of Pistus into the narrative to load it with suspense and tension.

  14. 14.

    Guastella ‘L’ira’ (n. 9 above), p. 223.

  15. 15.

    Ibid; see also p. 231. Chevalier and Casarsa to some extent follow this line, implying that one of the reasons that Correr substituted a messenger narrative for the tapestry was to give priority to Procne’s vengeance: Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 125, and to provide more incentive for it: L. Casara, ‘Gregorio Correr, Progne’, in Il Teatro umanistico veneto: la tragedia, Ravenna, 1981, pp. 97–236, (106).

  16. 16.

    Correr’s interest in Procne as an avenging mother is, of course, reflected in the fact that he chose to name his play after her rather than the victim of the vengeance, as Seneca did with his Thyestes. The vengeance of Procne was already intertwined with that of Medea in the classical world; it was part of the literary tradition and was particularly emphasized by Ovid. On this see D. Larmour, ‘Tragic “Contaminatio” in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”’, Illinois Classical Studies, 15, 1990, pp. 131–41 (133), and Guastella, ‘L’ira’ (n. 9 above), p. 215, who cites Ovid, Tristia II.387–92.

  17. 17.

    Guastella, ‘L’ira’ (n. 9 above), p. 223, argues that because Correr was concentrating on Procne’s vengeance he minimized the space assigned to the first part of the myth; see also p. 229. As we shall see, however, Correr does devote a great deal of space to Tereus’s tale about Philomena’s death at sea; if he isn’t interested in Philomena, it is hard to understand why he would do this, and the explanation of de Vries, ‘Die Progne’ (n. 10 above), p. 136, that this scene mainly functions as a foil for Progne’s emotions does not seem entirely adequate.

  18. 18.

    E.g., Grund, Tragedies (n. 6 above), p. 314, refers to Philomena as ‘a passive agent, here as elsewhere in contrast with Ovid’s presentation of her as an avid accomplice’, and de Vries ‘Die Progne’ (n. 10 above), p. 182, expresses a similar view, while Casara, ‘Progne’ (n. 15 above), p. 106, comments on the portrayal of Philomena in this play: ‘Il ritratto dell’ eroina perde i suoi tratti più incisivi.’

  19. 19.

    Tempera ‘Worse than Procne’ (n. 9 above), p. 79.

  20. 20.


  21. 21.

    ‘Ghost’ is perhaps a not entirely accurate term to describe the state in which Philomena appears in this play, as it implies a spirit without a body while Philomena seems to become a body whose soul or spirit is lacking.

  22. 22.

    See in particular n. 41 below.

  23. 23.

    Grund, Tragedies (n. 6 above), p. xxvii.

  24. 24.

    According to P. Allen, The Concept of Women, II: The Early Humanist Reformation 1250–1500, Grand Rapids MI and Cambridge, 2002, p. 679, Vittorino’s school programme included reading aloud, memorization and recitation in Latin and Greek. W. H. Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, Toronto and Buffalo NY, 1996, p. 40, states that: ‘Whole orations of Cicero or Demosthenes, books of Livy and Sallust, besides large portions of Vergil and Homer were recited with accuracy and taste by boys or girls of less than fourteen years of age.’ Vittorino also developed a large library of sources, including Plato’s dialogues, the writings of Aristotle and of the Stoics: Allen, Concept of Women, p. 679; Chevalier, ‘Trois tragédies’ (n. 11 above), pp. 106–7.

  25. 25.

    J. R. Berrigan and G. Tournoy. ‘Gregorii Corrarii Veneti Tragoedia, cui titulus Progne: A Critical Edition and Translation’, Humanistica Lovaniensia 29, 1980, pp. 13–99 (16), citing passages from Correr’s writings.

  26. 26.

    Cloetta, ‘Litteraturgeschichte’ (n. 11 above), p. 155.

  27. 27.

    Allen, ‘The Concept of Women’ (n. 24 above), pp. 678 and 681; see also pp. 681–2, where Allen cautions that it is important to note that Correr is not advising her against reading secular literature because she is a woman but because she is about to enter a monastery and this is the key to pursuing a serious Christian life.

  28. 28.

    Tempera ‘Worse than Procne’ (n. 9 above), p. 79.

  29. 29.

    Tempera agrees; see ibid., p. 80: ‘one loses sight of the novelty in characterization that represents the play’s greatest virtue’.

  30. 30.

    See Casara, ‘Progne’ (n. 15 above), p. 106, for a summary of the unflattering judgements on the play and the dismissal of it as the product of a school room.

  31. 31.

    All quotations from the play are taken from Chevalier’s 2010 edition: see n. 11 above. All translations are my own although they draw at times on Grund, Tragedies (n. 6 above), and Berrigan and Tournoy, Progne (n. 25 above).

  32. 32.

    It is interesting that he uses the very same phrase (‘germana venit’, 64) that is later employed when Philomena makes her appearance at v. 561, although this later use of the phrase may possibly be a stage direction: see De Vries, ‘Die Progne’ (n. 10 above), p. 156 s.v. Thus the ‘actual’ ghost Diomedes, uses language that foreshadows Philomena’s appearance on stage as a ‘virtual’ ghost. Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. xxx, also comments on the correspondence between the two apparitions.

  33. 33.

    Boccaccio, Genealogie IX.8.1: ‘Philomenam maris nausea mortuam dixit’ (‘He said that Philomena died of sea-sickness’). For the other embellishments and changes to the myth that Correr has taken from Boccaccio, see Guastella, ‘L’ira’ (n. 9 above) p. 226.

  34. 34.

    In Latin literature deaths of mythical or legendary women are compared or associated with rape; as C. Edwards, Death in Ancient Rome, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 206, observes: ‘A number of the most symbolically resonant female deaths in Latin literature assimilate the act of killing to rape.’ In Metamorphoses VI.527–30, Philomela’s rape is also associated with death by means of two similes that describe animals being caught and mangled by beasts of prey.

  35. 35.

    E.g., Anthologia Palatina V.190; XII.157; XII.167; Horace, Carmina I.5.

  36. 36.

    The chorus unconsciously echo this language in the subsequent ode when they state ‘victa quae saevis pelagi procellis/ virgo defecit’ (‘she who was overcome by the savage storms of the sea died a virgin’, 318–19). This statement has an ironic edge to it, for to the audience it also suggests that Philomena’s virginity has departed, destroyed by the savagery of the rape.

  37. 37.

    E. Stigers, ‘Retreat from the Male: Catullus 62 and Sappho’s Erotic Flowers’, Ramus, 6, 1977, 83–102 (94): ‘[A] flowery meadow is a popular setting for a seduction or rape. The flowers in their brevity and beauty reflect the victim’s enticing virginity, but the meadow itself, with all its feminine associations, captures the possibility of the woman’s transformation.’ Correr’s choice of the violet as the flower which has been plucked may not be a coincidence here, for viola (‘violet’) was not uncommonly associated with violare ‘to violate sexually’ in Latin literature, and Isidore of Seville, Origines XVII.9.19, stated that viola was a derivative of vis, the cognate noun to violare. See further H. Jacobson, ‘Violets and Violence: Two Notes’, The Classical Quarterly, 48, 1998, pp. 314–15 (315).

  38. 38.

    A few lines earlier he described the fulgor fading from Philomena’s cheeks as she dies: ‘non is genarum fulgor ut olim decens’ (‘there was not that gleam in her cheeks which once was customary’, 220). Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 171, n. 9, states that this line imitates Claudian where Demeter, after her daughter Proserpine has been raped by Hades, asks ‘manet ille genarum/ fulgor’ (‘does that gleam of her cheeks remain?’, De raptu Proserpinae II.435–6); he argues that a parallel is established here between the disappearance of Philomena and that of Proserpine. The comparison between Philomena and a flower would tend to support this, for Proserpine in De raptu III.137–140 also gathers flowers from a meadow and crowns herself with them, acts which Claudian explicitly refers to as an ‘augurium fatale tori’ (‘fatal harbinger of the marriage couch’, 141).

  39. 39.

    There are also underworld allusions in Ovid’s version of myth, including the presence of the Furies, funereal torches and the bubo (‘screech-owl’) at the wedding of Tereus and Procne (Metamorphoses VI.430–2). These, however, come earlier in the narrative, and, according to I. Gildenhard and A. Zissos, ‘Barbarian Variations: Tereus, Procne and Philomela in Ovid (Met. 6.412–674) and Beyond’, Dictynna, 4, pp. 1–22 (4), such allusions invite us ‘to interpret the tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela as a figuring of hell on earth’.

  40. 40.

    This association was made in early Christian art with a fusion between the figures of Orpheus and Christ occurring from the late third or early fourth century: J. B. Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages, Cambridge MA, 1970, p. 40. For the strong Orphic tradition in Christian apologetic literature, see Chapter 4 of D. J. M. Herrero, Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity, Berlin and Boston, 2010. According to Friedman, Orpheus, pp. 125–6, in the Middle Ages, the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was interpreted in the Ovide moralisé as an allegory for Christ’s harrowing of hell. So, while the chorus, after Tereus’s announcement of Philomena’s death, lament that once souls descend to the underworld, even Orpheus cannot retrieve them (319–24), Correr’s Christian audience would know better.

  41. 41.

    As Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 120: states, ‘Quand Procné decide de libérer sa sœur de sa prison, elle doit, à son tour, traverser cet espace. Elle plonge dans l’univers infernal, comme Orphée pour délivrer Eurydice.’

  42. 42.

    Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 177, n. 3, points out that Pistus’s self-portrait at v. 372, which emphasizes his straggly unkempt hair and drawn cheeks, recalls Seneca’s description of Theseus’s appearance when he returns from hell in the Phaedra, for, in a somewhat similar fashion, Theseus’s cheeks are white with exhaustion and his hair is unkempt (832–3).

  43. 43.

    Later Procne alludes to the place in which Philomena is imprisoned as a huge cave (‘immani specu’, 745). In the Aeneid, the entrance to the underworld is described as a deep cave (‘spelunca alta fuit vastoque immanis hiatu’, ‘there was a cave deep and huge with gaping mouth’, VI.237). Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 172, n. 3, observes that Tereus has already described the place where he lands as infausta (‘accursed’) in v. 235 which is an adjective that links it with the underworld.

  44. 44.

    Correr, Progne 28–30: ‘… facinus agnosco meum/ stabulumque quo me victor Alcides feris/ obiecit ipse, pabulum armentis ducem’ (‘I recognize my evil deed and the stable where victorious Alcides himself threw me to the wild beasts, the leader as food for the herd’).

  45. 45.

    Ibid., 423–5: ‘Germana, te, te si parum soror movet, / contaminatis aude pro thalamis aliquid/ quod ipsa laudem…’ (‘Blood-sister, if the title “sister” moves you too little, dare some deed which I myself may praise for the contamination of your bed’). This change is also observed by several commentators, including Casara ‘Progne’ (n. 15 above), p. 170, and De Vries ‘Die Progne’ (n. 10 above), p. 152.

  46. 46.

    Chevalier, Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), pp. 118, 123, compares the removal of Philomena’s tongue with the tortures performed on martyrs and draws a parallel with Prudentius’s description of the martyr Romanus’s tongue being removed at the prefect Asclepiades’s orders in Peristephanon X.891–5: ibid. p. 340, n. 14. While the furor of these victims’ persecutors is similar, however, martyrs like Eulalia and Romanus manage to deliver lengthy speeches even after torture and, in Romanus’s case, after his tongue has been removed (Peristephanon III.136–40; X.928–1000, 1006–1100); but the removal of her tongue deprives Philomena of the power of speech altogether.

  47. 47.

    It may also be significant that the noun murmur is employed in classical Latin of the song of birds: Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. def. 1b; in particular, it is used to describe nightingales’ laments: e.g., it is used this way in the Octavia 915–23. Statius, Thebaid VIII.616–20, is especially interesting, for in these lines an extended simile on nightingales comments that their tearful murmur sounds not unlike words: ‘… it truncum et flebile murmur;/ verba putant, voxque illa tamen non dissona verbis’ (‘a broken and tearful murmur issues forth (which) they think is words and that utterance sounds not unlike words’, 619–20). Thus, the term murmur may also function as a subtle allusion to Philomena’s association with the nightingale, an aspect of the myth which Correr otherwise suppresses but one which was ubiquitous during the Middle Ages; see, e.g., W. F. Hodapp, ‘The Via Mystica in John Pecham’s Philomena: Affective Meditation and Songs of Love’, Mystics Quarterly, 21, 1995, pp. 80–90 (80–81 and 88, n. 2).

  48. 48.

    Ovid, Metamorphoses VI.596–600: ‘…venit ad stabula avia tandem/ exululatque euhoeque sonat portasque refringit/ germanamque rapit raptaeque insignia Bacchi/ induit et vultus hederarum frondibus abdit/ attonitamque trahens intra sua moenia ducit’ (‘She comes at last to the remote stable and ululates and cries “euhoe” and shatters the doors; snatching her sister, she places the accoutrements of Bacchus on her, conceals her countenance with leaves of ivy and leads her in amazement within her own walls’). Similarly, the rescue in Boccaccio, Genealogie IX.8.2, is described in a few phrases: ‘tyrsis et pellibus ornata intravit silvas et Phylomenam eque ornatam eduxit in regiam’ (‘she enters the woods adorned with thyrsus and animal skins and leads Philomena thus adorned back into the palace’).

  49. 49.

    The comparison to Furies is developed in vv. 605–6. This is also an aspect of Ovid’s version of the myth; see C. Segal, ‘Philomela’s Web and the Pleasures of the Text’, in Modern Critical Theory and Classical Literature, ed. I. J. F. de Jong and J. P. Sullivan, Leiden, 1994, pp. 257–80 (276).

  50. 50.

    In classical Latin poetry, shades who have died by violence often appear to those living as filthy with blood and grime and with their wounds unhealed: cf. Aeneid II.270–79; VI.494–7; Seneca, Oedipus 623–5. And people who dwell in or emerge from the underworld are often depicted with bodies that have deteriorated. Cf. Seneca, Phaedra 832–3 (already mentioned in n. 42 above) and compare Demeter’s dream of Proserpine’s fate in Claudian, De raptu III.80–96, in which she envisages her daughter in chains in a dark prison with dirty hair, dim eyes and pale cheeks. Indeed, as Chevalier Trois tragédies (n. 11 above), p. 185, n. 4, observes, Correr appears to be directly referencing Claudian’s lines here in his description of Philomena, for, Procne’s question to Philomena at 576 ‘unde haec macies?) (‘from where [comes] this thinness?’) seems to echo Demeter’s question to her daughter ‘unde haec informis macies?’ (‘from where [comes] this unsightly thinness?’, Claudian, De raptu III.93). Furthermore, Demeter in De raptu is so shocked by her daughter’s appearance that she asks ‘tu mea, tu proles? an vana fallimur umbra?’ (‘Are you indeed my daughter? Or am I deceived by an empty shade?’, 96).

  51. 51.

    Lucan VI.758–60: ‘ … nondum facies viventis in illo,/ iam morientis erat; remanet pallorque rigorque,/ et stupet inlatus mundo …’ (‘… there was not yet the appearance of a living creature in that [body]; now he looked like one dying; the pallor and stiffness remained and he was dazed at being brought back to the world …’).

  52. 52.

    It is true that in Metamorphoses VI.601–2, 605–7 Ovid states that Philomela shakes from fear on entering Tereus’s home and cannot look at her sister for shame at what she has done to her, and Correr’s audience may well be reminded of these lines at this point in the play. But the fact that there is no omniscient narrator in Progne and that Procne at this point in the play asks her sister a series of questions that she cannot answer, casts a degree of uncertainty on Philomena’s emotions in this scene; the implication could be that Procne is projecting her own emotions onto her sister.

  53. 53.

    John 11.38–9, 43: ‘… venit ad monumentum erat autem spelunca et lapis superpositus erat ei ait Iesus tollite lapidem dicit … voce magna clamavit Lazare veni foras’ (‘ [Jesus] came to a tomb but it was a cave and a rock was placed on it; Jesus said “Raise the rock”… with a great voice he shouted “Lazarus come forth”’). The way in which Correr constructs this scene may also be influenced by biblical dramas about the raising of Lazarus which were performed in Italy and other parts of Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance; see further L. R. Muir, The Biblical Drama of Medieval Europe, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 120–21. The popularity of this miracle is also attested by the fact that it was probably the one which was most often portrayed in art, according to S. Zuffi, Gospel Figures in Art, transl. T. M. Hartmann, Los Angeles, 2003, p. 216.

  54. 54.

    Prudentius, Apotheosis 752–6: ‘ante fores tumuli, quas saxa inmania duro/ obice damnarant scopulis substructa cavatis,/ stat Dominus nomenque ciet frigentis amici,/ nec mora, funereus revolutis rupibus horror/ evomit exequias gradiente cadavere vivas’ (‘Before the doors of the tomb, which great stones blocking the chambered rock with an impenetrable barrier have closed, stands the Lord and calls the name of his cold friend; no delay, the terrible grave vomits up the living relics, a dead man walking’). Prudentius, however, then goes on to describe how Jesus revives Lazarus’s corpse-like body (760–62); this does not happen with Philomena, who, presumably, throughout the play keeps her corpse-like appearance.

  55. 55.

    See further Segal, ‘Philomela’s Web’ (n. 49 above), p. 275, who points out that Procne merely ‘simulates’ (simulat, 596) the rites of Bacchus and comments: ‘[T]he shading of maenadism into subterranean furor reduces the sacrality of Procne’s Dionysiac procession to pure violence.’

  56. 56.

    The ivy crown was sometimes conflated with the grape vine because of its tendrils and black berries; see D. C. Allen, Mysteriously Meant: The Rediscovery of Pagan Symbolism and Allegorical Interpretation in the Renaissance, Baltimore and London, 1970, p. 206. On the adaptation of the grape vine as a Christian symbol, see n. 57 below.

  57. 57.

    For the adaptation of the Dionysiac motif of the vine to Christian tombs, see C. Murray, Rebirth and Afterlife: A Study of the Transmutation of Some Pagan Imagery in Early Christian Funerary Art, British Archaeological Reports International Series, 100, Oxford, 1981, pp. 68–71 and 88–90. On the correspondences between the two divinities and the arguments between pagans and Christians as to who was imitating whom, see Allen Mysteriously Meant (n. 56 above), p. 3. On the way in which early Christian writers made use of Bacchus, see, e.g., Clement of Alexandria, who not only employs Dionysus/Bacchus as a foil for Christ but adopts and adapts the language of the Bacchae and Greek mystery cults to the Christian experience: e.g., Protrepticus II.15; XII.92–3. See further F. Jourdan, ‘Dionysos dans le “Protreptique” de Clément d’Alexandrie. Initiations dionysiaques et mystères chrétiens’, Revue de l’histoire des religions, 223, 2006, pp. 265–82 (78).

  58. 58.

    See Pseudo-Matthew xiv, where Mary relocates the baby from a cave to a stable a few days after the birth. This gospel which was probably composed in the later 7th century was very influential in the Middle Ages; see further Zuffi ‘Gospel Figures’ (n. 53 above), pp. 68, 72.

  59. 59.

    Medieval and Renaissance commentators made much of the fact that Procne did not avert her gaze while looking at her son, a detail that in their opinion demonstrated her impiety; see Coulson, ‘Procne and Philomela’ (n. 7 above), pp. 187 and 193. As scholars have observed, Correr’s lines are inspired by Ovid, Metamorphoses VI.630–31 (‘… ab hoc iterum est ad vultus versa sororis/ inque vicem spectans ambos …’, ‘… again from this [son] she [Procne] turned to the countenance of her sister and looking at both in turn …’), and Correr’s lines seem particularly designed to illustrate Procne’s conflicting roles as sister (soror) and mother (mater). That the term soror is used elsewhere of Philomena (as is the case at 679–80), however, lends Correr’s lines a certain ambiguity as to which sister is looking at which; this helps to emphasize the fusion between the two.

  60. 60.

    This alteration to the myth in which Procne alone commits the murder and Philomena assists her with the results seems to stem from the 12th-century Philomena attributed to Chrétien de Troys which is preserved in the Ovide moralisé. P. McCracken, ‘Engendering Sacrifice: Blood, Lineage, and Infanticide in Old French Literature’, Speculum, 77, 2002, pp. 55–75 (55), argues that this is because the author wished to shift both the crime and the vengeance to the nuclear family. This alteration is also present in Boccaccio and Gower and may be part of a general inclination to make Philomena more passive; as M. E. Gillespie, ‘My Voice Shall Fill the Woods: Lydgate, Poetic Authority, and the Canonization of Philomela’, MA diss., University of California San Diego, 2010, p. 18, observes, in medieval English writers, ‘Philomela becomes a martyr rather than an active force who sought her revenge.’ So, while this aspect of the plot is not Correr’s innovation, he does extend the possibilities of Philomena’s passivity to give her presence in these scenes a rather unnerving cast.

  61. 61.

    In Metamorphoses (VI.648), Ovid states that Procne pretends that the meal is sacer so that Tereus alone will attend but no reference is made to Tereus drinking his son’s blood in the wine, only eating his flesh. And although in Seneca’s Thyestes, Atreus makes reference several times to mixing the children’s blood in the wine and notes that its colour will disguise the blood (913–16), at no point is this wine actually given the epithet sacer, even though its ritual implications are alluded to at 984. On the other hand, there is an allusion to the ‘sacer Bacchi liquor’ (‘Bacchus’s holy juice’) at 687, which is the wine with which Atreus anoints his victims, and a few lines later at 700–701 the wine that Atreus pours on the fire turns to blood. Thus, Atreus in his role as high priest is, as A. Schiesaro, The Passions in Play: Thyestes and the Dynamics of Senecan Drama, Cambridge, 2003, pp. 85–91, argues, enacting a perversion of sacrificial rites in the way in which he slaughters the children. It could well be therefore that Correr is adopting this notion from Thyestes and transforming it into a perversion of Christian rather than pagan rites.

  62. 62.

    M. L. Price, Consuming Passions: The Uses of Cannibalism in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, London, 2004, p. 26: ‘[T]he eucharist did not take on such critical importance until the High Middle Ages, with the eleventh century onward being marked by such developments as the coining of the term “transubstantiation,” the declaration of the doctrinal status of transubstantiation at the Fourth Lateran Council, the establishment and rapid growth in popularity of a feast of Corpus Christi, and the trend toward identifying personal religiosity with the suffering humanity of Christ … . At some point during the twelfth century, the increased insistence on the real presence necessitated the use of the term “corpus verum” to refer to the host.’

  63. 63.

    Price, Consuming Passions (n. 62 above), p. 27, recounts a vision that the nun Colette of Corbie had in the early 15th century of ‘her Savior in the form of a serving dish filled with the body of a child, dismembered into fragments of bloody meat, while the voice of God the Father explained that the sin of the world was responsible for carving up His son’. According to Price, ibid., the contents of this vision ‘was far from unique, or even unusual, during the later Middle Ages’. This is confirmed by L. Sinanoglou, ‘The Christ Child as Sacrifice: A Medieval Tradition and the Corpus Christi Plays’, Speculum, 48, 1973, pp. 491–509 (491): ‘In one of the most bizarre, yet very common miracles of the Middle Ages, the bread of the Eucharist is transformed between the very hands of the priest at Mass into a small living child, then slain and dismembered before the eyes of the congregation. Commentators identified the child as the Infant Jesus and often cited such miracles as proof of the Mass as an actual re-sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ.’

  64. 64.

    In this regard, it is interesting that the desecration of the eucharist and the killing and eating of children were acts with which witches of this period were often associated: see G. K. Waite, Heresy, Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, New York, 2003, pp. 35–7. It was also in the fifteenth century that the association of women with witchcraft started to become stronger. This was reflected in the publication of a work in c. 1437 (the Formicarius) by the Dominican theologian and religious reformer Johannes Nider which argued that women were more prone to become witches than men; see M. D. Bailey, ‘The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages’, Essays in Medieval Studies, 19, 2002, pp. 120–34 (120). It was not, however, until the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum in 1487 that the association between women and witchcraft became pronounced; so, while it may be possible that Procne’s desecration of eucharistic rites in Progne reflects an emerging anxiety about the rumoured practices of female witches during this period, there is not enough evidence to make any definitive claims about this.

  65. 65.

    In both Thyestes and Medea more than one son is slaughtered so the father/son equation is less clear cut. In Thyestes, although Thyestes has consumed his sons like Tereus, there is no allusion to him being their tomb. Both De Vries, ‘Die Progne’ (n. 10 above), p. 169, and Casara, ‘Progne’ (n. 15 above), p. 174, observe Correr’s emphasis on Itys’s innocence and suggest that Correr has the image of the Christian martyr in mind.

  66. 66.

    Cf. Thyestes 1112: ‘te puniendum liberis trado tuis’ (‘For your punishment I will hand you over to your sons’).

  67. 67.

    The notion that the eucharist is linked with both damnation and salvation is, of course, present in the Bible as the Latin Vulgate attests: ‘qui manducat meam carnem et bibit meum sanguinem habet vitam aeternam … qui manducat meam carnem et bibit meum sanguinem in me manet et ego in illo’ (‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him’, John 6.55, 57); ‘qui enim manducat et bibit indigne iudicium sibi manducat et bibit non diiudicans corpus’ (‘For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the body [of the Lord]’, I. Corinthians 11.29)

  68. 68.

    In this, of course, he is following Seneca rather than Ovid, for at the end of Thyestes, although Thyestes proclaims that the gods will appear to avenge Atreus’s crimes (1110), the gods never do. And in Progne, although Philomena is in a sense resurrected, the implication may be that she can never truly come back to herself and will continue to inhabit a kind of life-in-death. This is perhaps where the tragedy of the play lies and why Correr juxtaposes pagan and Christian notions of resurrection. According to J.-F. Chevalier, ‘Neo-Latin Theatre in Italy’, in Neo-Latin Drama in Early Modern Europe, ed. J. Bloemendal and H. Norland, transl. J. Bloemendal, Leiden and Boston, 2013, pp. 25–102 (31), the notion of a Christian tragedy is problematic because Christ’s death on the cross is transcended by the resurrection (but, although there are suggestions of a Christian form of resurrection in this play, by the end it becomes apparent that the resurrection is not a true one).

  69. 69.

    It is interesting that Casara, ‘Progne’ (n. 15 above), p. 106, does refer to Philomena in this play as a ‘succuba della sorella’ (‘a succubus of her sister’). She does not, however, appear to expand on this remark.

  70. 70.

    That medieval and Renaissance readers were sensitive to the moral contradictions and conflicts of this myth is shown by the Latin commentary tradition; see Coulson ‘Procne and Philomela’ (n. 7 above), pp. 184 and 185.

Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest

This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (project number CE110001011) for a travel grant in 2017.

Author information

Correspondence to Jacqueline Clarke.

Additional information

The research for this article was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (project number CE110001011). Versions of the article were delivered during 2017 at the Rape in Antiquity Conference at the University of Roehampton in June, the Pacific Rim Roman Literature Seminar at San Diego State University in July, and the Work in Progress Seminar Series at the Centre for the History of Emotions, University of Adelaide in October. I am very grateful for the many comments and suggestions I received on these occasions and would also like to extend my thanks for their constructive criticism to the two anonymous reviewers from IJCT.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Clarke, J. Rape, Revenge and Resurrection in Correr’s Progne. Int class trad 27, 23–39 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12138-018-0474-x

Download citation