Friday, February 14, 2014


Another Book in a Tomb

J.B. Trapp, "Ovid's Tomb: The Growth of a Legend from Eusebius to Laurence Sterne, Chateaubriand and George Richmond," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 36 (1973) 35-76 (at 41-42):
In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, at least two and perhaps three accounts of the tomb, some including an epitaph, were current. The first occurs in the life prefixed to the short pseudo-Ovidian poem De Vetula.19 The manuscripts containing this life are all fourteenth-century. 'Recently,' says the anonymous author, 'there was discovered in a suburb of the city of Dioscori, capital of the kingdom of Colchis, when certain ancient pagan tombs were being removed from the public cemetery which is beside Tomis, one tomb among the rest, with an epitaph engraved on it in Armenian characters, of which the interpretation goes like this: "Hic iacet Ovidius ingeniosissimus poetarum". At the head of this tomb an ivory casket was found. In it, unconsumed by the ages, was a book. The local inhabitants, unable to read what was in it, sent it to Constantinople, where there were many "Latins". This happened in the time of Prince Vathasius, by whose command the book was handed over to Leo, Protonotary of the Sacred Palace and he, when he had read it over, published and distributed it in many countries.' The preface of 'Leo the Protonotary' adds that Ovid wrote this book when he was convinced that he would not be pardoned, and ordered that it should be hidden in his grave, so that, if only his bones were carried back to Rome, his book would return with them and his name live for ever.


The story of the book found in the far-off tomb, marvellously well preserved and written in a language which requires metropolitan scholarship for its interpretation, is a topos of medieval literature.23

19 Ed. P. Klopsch, Leiden-Cologne 1967 (Mittellateinische Studien und Texte, ii), p. 193; and ed. D. M. Robathan, The Ps.-Ovidian De vetula, Amsterdam 1968; and cf. Ghisalberti, p. 51.


23 P. Lehmann, Pseudo-antike Literatur des Mittelalters, Leipzig-Berlin 1927 (Studien der Bibliothek Warburg, xiii), pp. 13ff., De vetula, ed. Klopsch, 1967, pp. 22-35, 'Das Buch im Grab'; W. Speyer, Bücherfunde in der Glaubenswerbung der Antike, mit einem Ausblick auf Mittelalter und Neuzeit, Göttingen 1970 (Hypomnemata, xxiv), esp. pp. 102-3, with the literature there cited.
Needless to say, this story from the "Life of Ovid" is fiction, not fact.

Related post: Buried with Books.

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