Metamorphosis

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Metamorphosis occurs when an individual passes from one state of being into another state of being, as when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or when, in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pygmalion's ivory statue becomes a living woman (book 10). Here we are concerned with the metamorphosis of humans into animals and animals into humans: a fictional event, strictly speaking.

Ovid's Metamorphoses, written around the time of the birth of Christ, is the main source of tales about the transformation from human to animal. Ovid drew upon folktales and the works of other writers to weave stories of metamorphosis into a broad worldview. In Metamorphoses, we find the tale of Lycaon, a man who practices cannibalism transformed by Jupiter into a wolf (book 1); and of Actaeon, who sees the goddess Diana naked, is changed by her into a deer, and is torn to pieces by his own hounds (book 3). P. M. C. Forbes Irving argues that in Greek myths, ''the transformation into an animal is part of a wider disruption of order'' (62): trespass on sacred territory or sexual misconduct, for example. The violation of social law is followed by the offender's ''taking to the wilds'' (Forbes Irving, 63) in animal form.

Some tales of metamorphosis are etiological; that is, they explain the origins of specific animals or animal features. The tale of Philomela (Ovid, book 6) is an example. Philomela is raped and has her tongue cut out by her brother-in-law Tereus. She and her sister Procne get revenge by killing his and Procne's children and serving them to Tereus for dinner. Discovering what he has eaten, Tereus flies into a rage and pursues the sisters. All three are transformed into birds: Philomela into a swallow, Procne into a nightingale whose mournful song and red feathers signify both her grief and her crime, and Tereus into a hoopoe who appears ever ready for battle and whose typically wide-open beak might symbolize the horror of his cannibalism.

The best-known metamorphosis from human to animal is the werewolf. Originating in preclassical European folklore and popularized in the American film industry, the werewolf is an example of what is involved in the transformation from human to animal in Western culture. In the case of the werewolf, metamorphosis into an animal means the loss of human constraints and regression into pure evil. In the Middle Ages, and even later, the werewolf was seen as the result of the human being's willing submission to Satan, ''the Beast.'' Until the 18th century, ''werewolves'' were burned at the stake. This practice was in keeping with the medieval belief that humans who were morally degraded took on animal characteristics: the ''treachery'' of foxes, the ''laziness'' of the ass. The werewolf served as a warning to Christians to hold onto the rationality and faith that alone elevated humans above animals.

In modern times the person who becomes a werewolf is often pictured as the innocent victim of supernatural forces. Relations between humans and animals have changed so significantly that Ursula Le Guin can give the werewolf tale a twist: in ''A Wife's Story'' (Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences), the wife-narrator describes the terrifying vision of her husband metamorphosing from a familiar and sociable wolf into monstrous human form.

In Native North American tradition (see NATIVE PEOPLES AND ANIMALS), metamorphoses from human to animal and vice versa are usually more benign. Often tales from the oral tradition show animals becoming

''people'' when they return to their own world. In the Haida tale ''Salmon Boy,'' as retold by Joseph Bruchac (Native American Animal Stories), a boy who has been disrespectful to salmon learns respect when he is transformed into one of them and goes with them to their home. In a Blackfoot tale, ''The Piqued Buffalo-Wife'' (in The Storytelling Stone, edited by Susan Feld-man), a human male has sexual relations with a buffalo and must pass through several trials, including death and resurrection, before his buffalo-wife and offspring can be changed permanently into human beings. Boundaries between human and animal are flexible in Native North American tradition. The boundary is flexible in Latin American traditions as well. Modern writers like Julio Cortazar and Carlos Fuentes draw upon myth and legend to make their modern heroes and antiheroes pass through animal phases. Nancy Gray Diaz emphasizes the mutability of the narrative world that permits these writers to take ''an extraordinary leap into otherness'' (The Radical Self, 102).

Metamorphoses from animal to human are rare in modern literature and in Western literature in general, except where the animal was a human being to begin with. Franz Kafka wrote the most famous modern story about metamorphosis, The Metamorphosis, which describes the fortunes of Gregor Samsa after he is "transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.'' Kafka also wrote ''A Report to an Academy'' (1917), in which an ape describes to a group of scientists how he ''became'' human by learning a few simple tricks such as drinking schnapps, smoking cigars, and speaking human language. In John Collier's His Monkey Wife (1930), a chimpanzee* receives affirmation of her ''humanity'' after she has cunningly supplanted a man's fianceie and at last won his love.

In the West, the idea of the great chain of being made it easier to imagine human beings falling through sin into animal form than to imagine animals rising to human level. It has been easier to imagine human consciousness trapped inside an animal body than to disregard the physical shape of the animal so that animals can actually metamorphose into humans. Often, once a human being transformed into an animal has learned a lesson in true humanity, as in Apuleius's The Golden Ass (2nd century A.D.), he or she is restored to human shape. In this respect, the metamorphosis can be interpreted as a rite of passage. As modern theorists have concluded, metamorphoses are used in Western literature primarily to explore what it means to be human.

Selected Bibliography. Barkan, Leonard, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986); Diaz, Nancy Gray, The Radical Self: Metamorphosis to Animal Form in Modern Latin American Narrative (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988); Forbes Irving, P.M.C., Metamorphosis in Greek Myths (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books,

1955); Skulsky, Harold, Metamorphosis: The Mind in Exile (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).

MARIAN SCHOLTMEIJER ANIMAL RESEARCH. See LABORATORY ANIMAL USE.

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