15.9.08

The Word: AETHER

Ovid uses the word, AETHER, repeatedly in his opening section referring to the creation of the Earth, specifically when discussing the skies. Ovid describes this AETHER as "fluid" (p.15, line 29), "fiery and weightless... leap[ing] to heaven's vault" (16, 34-35). The Oxford English Dictionary surprisingly redirects AETHER to "ether", defining the word as "The clear sky; the upper regions of space beyond the clouds; the medium filling the upper regions of space, as the air fills the lower regions". This is evident in Ovid's ensuing description of the distribution of elements, as "Air was suspended over all of this, / proportionately heavier than AETHER, as earth is heavier than water is" (17, 72-74, emphasis mine). This term serves as what we would now call scientific reasoning. Modernly, ether is known to be highly flammable, lending reason to Ovid's description as "fiery". In contrast, interestingly enough, the second definition the OED offers for "ether" is "As the element breathed by the gods; ‘diviner air’." Reading into both the ancient and modern definitions, the text suggests an aspect of fire to the gaseous element. Being that this element, in Ovid's text, exists only in the highest of the skies to be breathed by the gods, he suggests that humanity must succumb to beings of flame as higher... reminding us only that Iblis, from the Qur'an, was born himself of fire, complicating Ovid's reasoning.

1 comment:

Cardinal said...

Nice reference of Iblis; he feels more at home in Ovid's creation than in Genesis', don't you think? I wonder too about the connection of desire and fire in, say Echo's story. Does succumbing to desire make one more godlike, or more fallen?