Monday, April 07, 2014


Fundamentally Bizarre

Ovid, The Poems of Exile: Tristia and the Black Sea Letters. Translated with an Introduction, Notes and Glossary by Peter Green, with a New Foreword (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. x (from the translator's Foreword):
The notion that Ovid was never relegated to Tomis at all, but—in a very real sense an exul ludens—spent his latter years in Rome toying with ever more elaborate exilic topoi (presumably as an excuse for not finishing the Fasti and not revising the Metamorphoses, unless we take Ovid's cessation of work on these cherished projects as part of the fantasy), remains fundamentally bizarre. Just how bizarre can be appreciated when we try to envisage the Realien of such a project and the reaction to it of friends and critics. Ovid's real exile may not have provoked (surviving) contemporary comment, but so ludicrous a piece of monotonous and obsessional playacting (not to mention the abandonment of the two great works on which the poet had set his heart) most certainly would have done so. In the Black Sea Letters (4.3.51-54) Ovid wrote:
If anyone had told me, 'You'll end up by the Euxine
scared of being hit with a shaft from some native's bow,'
my reply would have been,'Take a purge, your brain needs clearing:
try hellebore, you're in a really bad way.'
Just so. I suspect that, confronted by the exile-in-Rome theory, his rejoinder would have been even more scathing, not least to Bingham's recent suggestion that because Ovid's place of relegation was significantly harsher than any other such location known from the first century CE, therefore it must have been fictional. This flight from reality may be, in essence, a recourse for those scholars of this age who, having systematically removed literature further and further from contact with the real world, found the poet's Black Sea banishment, with his agonized reaction to it, an intrusive and ongoing embarrassment, best relegated to the safe toyshop of fantasy.

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