Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Praying Against Abortion

Here, enshrined in a poem by Ovid, is an eloquent anti-abortion pagan prayer.

According to notes that follow this source "the frequent occurrence of abortion in imperial Rome can be inferred. Legislative opposition to abortion (which came later) was based on the father's right to heirs and complemented by philosophical arguments based on "nature." It is this assumption of the male prerogative which motivates these poems and which characterizes their speaker. In another body of legislation, Augustus attempted to revive old Roman religious practices. These efforts entailed the suppression of eastern religions, specifically including the Egyptian worship of Isis and Sarapis. In this regard too, when the speaker prays to Isis and Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth, that Corinna survive the ordeal of her recent abortion, he appears relatively indifferent to Augustus's moral project." In other words, the objection to abortion here is based mainly upon a male's right to an an heir, not any kind of moral objection.

For trying to unseat the burden crouched in her swelling womb,
for her audacity, Corinna lies near death.
I should be furious: to take such a risk! And without telling me!
But anger fails me -- I'm so afraid.

You see, I'm the one who got her that way, or so I believe;
I might as well be, since I could have been.

Isis! Great queen of Paraetonium, of Canopus' joyful plains,
of Memphis, and of Pharos, rich in palm-trees,
of the broad delta where the swift Nile spreads, and pours
his waters to the sea through seven mouths,

I pray, by your sacred rattles, by the venerated face of Anubis --
may faithful Osiris forever love your rites!
may the unhurried snake glide always amid your offerings,
and horned Apis travel at your side! --
come here, look kindly upon her, and save two lives in one:
for you'll give life to her, and she to me.

She's been devout: performed each service on your festival days,
observed the Gallic laurel ritual.

And you, who comfort laboring women in their time of distress,
when the lurking burden strains their bodies hard,
come gently now, and smile upon my prayers, Ilithyia --
she's worthy of your intervention -- please!

I myself, in white robes, will bring incense to your smoking altar
I myself will offer votive gifts
and lay them at your feet with the inscription, 'For Corinna's Life.'
Goddess, give occasion for those words!

Corinna, listen, if you're out of danger:
please don't ever go through this again

It is worth repeating that Ovid's objections do not derive from moral beliefs. As Christians we stand upon moral ground. But when we speak to a non-Christian world, as did Paul in Athens, it is wise to remember that Christian objections carry little weight to the unconverted. Even pagans suspected there was something objectionable about abortion.

I am not any scholar of ancient literature. But I do a lot of reading.Here is a bit of background to Ovid:
Ovid was born into a well-to-do equestrian family on March 20, 43 B.C.E. in Sulmo, a town in the Apennines, about eighty miles from Rome. This was the year after Julius Caesar was assassinated; almost a year before Cicero was murdered; and twelve years before the battle of Actium brought an end to the civil war between Antony and Octavian. At about the time of Actium, Ovid, like others from his class, was sent to Rome for an education in rhetoric and law....His poetry is generally noted for its ease and wit; sometimes faulted for its rhetorical self-indulgence. He has less interest in politics per se than any other poet in this volume which is not to say that his urban sophistication, irreverence, and even mockery of old-fashioned Roman values did not have political consequences...he writes in the first person of his love for a woman, called Corinna...

This is the first half of a post I put together in December, 2004.
There is more, including another poem, if the reader is interested.

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