When Did Ovid Die?

For Ovid’s 2059th birthday, here’s a note on his death-year. It could use some footnotes, but this should do for a funeral offering.

We’re all celebrating commemorating the 2000th anniversary of the death of Ovid this year, but the date of a poet’s last datable poem is not always a reliable guide to his date of death – not even for the most compulsively productive poet in Latin literature, whose attempts to write prose came out as verse against his will (so he says: Tristia 4.10.25-26).

Others have noted that Tacitus gives him no obituary in the Annales, which cover A.D. 17 and show an interest in writers oppressed by tyrants. (Could that chapter have fallen out? Perhaps Tacitus scholars can tell us whether there are likely lacunae in Annales I-VI beyond the huge one that has swallowed up most of Book V and part of Book VI.)

The purpose of this note is to point out that there are a number of things that might have ended his writing career some years before he died:

1. Catatonic depression. Ovid must have been fairly confident that he would outlive Augustus, who was nearly twenty years older, though in the end it took longer than he must have hoped. Once he had done so, and his attempts to convince the new emperor (a year and a half younger than Ovid), and his influential nephew Germanicus, had failed, it must have been clear that he would never return from exile, but would die in Tomis. Depression or even despair at that point would have been likely enough. Did he throw away his pen and ink and papyrus and stare out at the Black Sea for some years until he died? Perhaps not: people that depressed tend to lose their appetite for eating and drinking (drinking in moderation, at least) as well as for writing, and do not usually hang on for years, but there are exceptions.

A variation on depression is writer’s block: the two are not incompatible. If five books of Tristia and four of Epistulae ex Ponto were not good enough to persuade Tiberius or Germanicus to allow his return, he might have felt incapable of writing anything that would. Sibelius more or less gave up composing at 61, though he lived for another 30 years. Rossini and Congreve did much the same, though apparently in a more positive way, enjoying their well-earned retirements. (I will not compare Rimbaud, who abandoned poetry much younger. Perhaps someone should write a novel in which Ovid quits poetry at age fifty-nine in favor of a new career supplying the local tribal chiefs with civilized military technology.)

2. Medical Disability. Some writers of words and of music have had their careers, but not their lives, ended by serious medical problems. Ravel’s career as a composer ended five years before his death, when a blow on the head left him unable to compose, though scholars are still arguing the precise diagnosis. H. L. Mencken’s astonishingly productive writing career ended seven years before his death, when a stroke left him unable to read or write. Ovid might well have suffered a similar stroke. Blindness is another possibility: a competent Miltonic amanuensis might have been hard to find in Tomi. Even gout or severe arthritis would have made verse composition very difficult in Tomi, where Ovid would have had difficulty finding a proficient scribe.

Of course, even a less-than-completely-debilitating physical condition would have reinforced a tendency to despair, so a combination of the first two reasons is possible.

3. Communication Problems. I don’t believe Ovid gives us any hints as to how his verses were sent to Rome. Did the local military commander (there must have been one in a port on the border) send them along with military dispatches? That would be a courtesy a poet could not demand, and might well change with a new commander or governor – or emperor, for that matter, though he was not immediately cut off when Tiberius succeeded. Or did Ovid have enough money and friends to pay a local ship-captain who made regular voyages to Byzantium or Athens or Rhodes to deliver his manuscripts to a friend there, who would take care of further travel? If he ran out of money, or his friends in Greece died, then what? Although relegation meant he kept nominal control over his property, I doubt he could exercise much actual control. Did his wife die before him? Did a son-in-law or nephew get hold of his estate? Or was the estate simply too small to support regular communications with one so far away? It seems to me (in my relative ignorance of ancient communications methods) that there would have been a lot of different ways communications could have been cut off before his death.

My conclusion is simple. We can and should commemorate the presumed death of Ovid this year, but it would be going too far to say that his death in A.D. 17 is a fact.

There is a PDF of this note at here. Comments welcome.

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Bad Temperament: Seneca, E.M. 2.3

Just posted: a note on Senecan prose, titled as above. The PDF is here. Comments welcome.

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A is for Accidence: Juvenal 14.214

Just posted: a note on Juvenal, titled as above. The PDF is here. Comments welcome.

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There’s More than One Kind of Filthy Lefty: Catullus 12.1-3

Just posted: a note on Catullus, titled as above. The PDF is here. Help with the final question would be much appreciated: perhaps pictorial representations of convivia will answer it.

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Peripatetic Conjectures

I try to walk an hour a day, and find that memorizing verse is an excellent way to pass the time: usually Latin verse, most often Horace or Catullus. I can’t keep more than a dozen or so texts in memory at one time, but they’re much easier to relearn than to learn the first time. At one time or another I’ve memorized most of Catullus 1-60, all of Horace’s Epodes and Book I of the Odes, half of Book II, and more than half of Book III, and about a third of Book I of the Epistles.

I get a lot of ideas reading and rereading verse very slowly, some of which I have published here. Are these good ideas? Not always.

One of the most interesting things about memorizing verse is seeing which lines are hard to remember right. Perhaps I should say hard to remember in the transmitted form, since I suspect that many of the passages that are most difficult to remember are in fact corrupt. For some, it is very hard to tell. For instance, the received text of Epodes 2.4 is solutus omni faenore. I tend to remember it as omni solutus faenore. Separating the adjective from the noun and putting the emphatic omni up front does seem Horatian, but I hesitate to emend the text, not wishing to asssume that even Horace went for the maximum level of Horatianity at all times. A similar case is Epodes 4.14, et Appiam mannis terit, which I tend to remember as mannis et Appiam terit, postponing the conjunction and emphasizing the luxury possession. Can my Stilgefühl can be trusted in these cases? It is certainly defective in other instances. I always remember Odes 3.9.4, Persarum vigui rege beatior, with rigui for vigui: that is no doubt partly a sign of a dirty mind, partly anticipation of the consonants in the next word. Worse, I always remember Odes 2.14.17, visendus ater flumine languido, with lumine flanguido as the last two words, or rather I always recite to myself “visendus ater lumine flang — wait, that’s not right, flumine languido”.

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It Takes an O to Make a Ring: Catullus 50.21

Just uploaded: a textual note on Catullus, titled as above: PDF. Comments, anyone?

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Proleptic Mountains? (Horace, I. 16.28)

Just uploaded: an exegetical note on ‘Proleptic Mountains’ in Horace, Iambi (Epodi) 16: PDF.

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Catullus 16.14: Ring Composition with a Twist?

Just uploaded: another conjecture, this one in Catullus: PDF. I suspect it will amuse more than it persuades.

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Blame the Author, or the Scribe? (Pliny, Ep. 10.4.3)

Just uploaded: another conjecture, this one in the letters of the Younger Pliny: PDF. Comments?

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An Inadvertent Conjecture: Horace, C. 3.1.5

Just uploaded: another conjecture, this one of arguable authorship: PDF. Comments are even more welcome than usual. I’m hoping someone can answer the question just before the post scriptum.

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Two Kinds of Textual Conjecture in One: Horace, I. 12.12

I have just written another textual note (a page and a half – 585 words), this one a really obvious, but apparently original, emendation of one of Horace’s dirtiest poems. Here is the link to the PDF. As always, comments are welcome, and may be left here.

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Martial 8.6.8

I have just written a textual note (half a page – 185 words) on a word in Martial 8.6 – one of his catalogue poems. Here is the link to the PDF. As always, comments will be very much appreciated, and may be left here.

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Catullus 33: Helping Out in the Family Business?

I have just written an exegetical note (2 pages – 476 words) on Catullus 33 – one of the “few poems which for good reason are rarely read” left out of Fordyce’s edition. Rather than pasting in the whole note here, which takes a great deal of reformatting, I will just link to the PDF. Comments will be very much appreciated, and may be left here. I will be making a sortable database of Catullus comments, along the lines of my Persius comments (here), and eventually turning it into a database that can be sorted by author, type of comment (textual, exegetical, Realien, prosopography), date of comment, and so on. I hope to add comments to the sortable database, too, so they won’t have to be left here.

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Statius, Thebaid 1.250: Conjecturing an Intertext

    Juno’s first words in the Thebaid (1.248-51) come in reply to Jupiter’s announcement (214-47) of his plan to punish both Argives and Thebans for their various sins:

    Sic pater omnipotens. ast illi saucia dictis
flammato uersans inopinum corde dolorem
talia Iuno refert: ‘mene, o iustissime diuum,    250
me bello certare iubes? . . .’

Her first adjective is surprisingly conciliatory and complimentary (and superlative) compared to the rest of her speech. I suspect that Statius in fact wrote mene, iniustissime diuum. Once the negative prefix was lost through reduction of minims (from 6 to 3) or Christian rewriting (a pious monk might well have thought that even a pagan divine ruler of the universe deserved more respect), o would have been the obvious metrical stopgap.

Of course, iustissime can be understood as sarcastic irony,(1) which would arguably suit Juno’s rhetoric just as well as open insults, and the reader may well wonder what difference my conjecture makes. The answer is that it would restore (I hope) or introduce (I fear) an interesting intertext. In a tiny note in Liverpool Classical Monthly in 1993, William Levitan suggested that the first words of the first speech in the Aeneid contain a bilingual pun: Juno’s mene incepto echo and allude to the first word of the Iliad, μῆνιν.(2) If I am right, Statius noticed Vergil’s pun and reproduced it in the first words of the first speech of Juno (the fourth in the epic) in his own Vergilian and wrath-soaked epic – a ‘window allusion’. He certainly repeated the initial mene. He also closely modeled his preceding line, in which Statius introduces Juno’s speech (flammato uersans inopinum corde dolorem, Th. 1.249) on the first line after Juno’s speech in Vergil (talia flammato secum de corde uolutans, A. 1.50).(3) It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to believe that he also reproduced both μῆνιν and mene in- by writing mene, iniustissime diuum.

PDF version

(1) It might be unfair to adduce the remarks of Eduard Fraenkel (Horace, 46n2) on “that last expedient of a despairing commentator, the assumption of ‘sarcastic irony’”: it works tolerably well here.

(2) “Give up the beginning?: Juno’s mindful wrath (Aeneid 1.37)”, LCM 18.1 (Jan. 1993), 14. The whole thing is one longish sentence – is that a record?

(3) So Randall T. Ganiban, Statius and Virgil: The ‘Thebaid’ and the Reinterpretation of the ‘Aeneid’, Cambridge, 2007, 53, with further elaboration.

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Books for Sale

I have somehow ended up with two copies each of five different Classics books, and am offering the spares for sale at competitive prices (a few dollars less than the lowest price for the same title in comparable condition on ABE or Amazon Marketplace). All are in Near Fine, or Fine condition, depending on how picky you are, except the last, which is only Very Good – a bit dingy, with a penciled price ($3.50) and some specks next to it on the title page, but the text is totally clean and unmarked. Here are the details:

  1. Patrick Kragelund, Roman Historical Drama: The ‘Octavia’ in Antiquity and Beyond, Oxford University Press, 2016 (cloth in dustjacket), $60.
  2. S. J. Harrison, Generic Enrichment in Vergil & Horace, Oxford University Press, 2007 (cloth in dustjacket), $40.
  3. M. L. West (ed.) Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocrypha, Lives of Homer, Loeb Classical Library 496, 2003 (cloth in dustjacket), $12. SOLD!
  4. Eleanor Dickey, Ancient Greek Scholarship: A Guide to Finding, Reading, and Understanding Scholia, Commentaries, Lexica, and Grammatical Treatises, from Their Beginnings to the Byzantine Period, Oxford University Press/American Philological Association, 2007 (paperback), $15. SOLD!
  5. Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Early Principate: Augustus to Trajan, Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics No. 15, Oxford University Press, 1928 (paperback), $10.

To claim a book, e-mail me at curculio + at-sign + curculio + dot + org, or write a comment if you want the whole world to know your bibliographical wants and needs.

Don’t like my prices? Make me an offer, but prepare to be disappointed if someone offers more. Postage will depend on the destination: I try to break even on that, and it would be $3.00 or less in the U.S. for book-rate. Here is a picture of all five:

I also have a couple of duplicate Plato books, but a college friend has ‘first dibs’ on those. I will add them here if he turns them down.

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New for 2017: Cedo Alteram ePrompter

I have just uploaded a tool – a website – for memorizing passages of Latin literature, the Cedo Alteram ePrompter. The test module may be seen here, using Horace, Carmina 2.7 as a sample text. The site works in Firefox, but I haven’t tested it yet in other browsers.

It needs a front end for selecting passages of Latin (and other) literature, and a much larger database of passages, but the concept should be clear with a little practice. I am also working on a version (Prithee) that will allow readers to upload their own texts.

The site has three uses I know of, but I only thought of the third when it was mostly done, so there may be more:

  1. Lovers of Latin (and other languages) may use it to memorize favorite passages. I find that I understand Horace and Catullus in particular much better if I memorize them on long walks. Long boring drives are also good for practicing texts I already have down, and thinking further about them. I get lots of ideas for textual and exegetical papers on these walks and drives. The software will allow me and others to do the same at our desks or (eventually) on cellphones or tablets.
  2. Actors will be able to use the Prithee software to memorize their lines.
  3. When teaching a passage of Latin literature, I have found it useful to show the class a word or two at a time, forcing students to guess where each sentence is headed, and to say what we can tell so far, and what remains to be learned in the unseen parts. Cedo Alteram allows a teacher with an overhead projector and a web connection to do that without wasting time, or chalk, or dry-erase ink. Or rather it will allow that once I have the front end put together, and a large corpus of literature in the database

Comments on any aspect of this project will be very much appreciated.

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A Martial Acronym in Ennius?

    I just reserved a room at a cheap motel in West Chester, PA so I can go to the Ennius conference at the University of Pennsylvania this Friday and Saturday. I hope I can find a parking place near campus: last I heard there was a transit strike going on, which may complicate things. As part of my preparation, I’ve uploaded a PDF of my only publication on Ennius, a note that few have read since it appeared twenty years ago in the last issue (I think) of Liverpool Classical Monthly, though the basic idea seems to have spread to many who have not read it. An HTML version has been up on this site for most of the last twenty years, but I got a little carried away with the background images, and screens are much wider now, so it’s not very readable. The PDF is here, the HTML here. Even after all these years, comments are welcome. Of course, the bibliography on ancient acrostichs and even acronyms has exploded since then, and I have not attempted to update the paper.

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A Tactful Cue (and Non-Q) in Horace (Ep. 1.13.17)

    The last four lines of the epistle to Vinnius, on his way to deliver a copy of Horace’s Carmina to Augustus, are clear enough, but one of the conjunctions seems dubious (16-19):

neu uolgo narres te sudauisse ferendo
carmina quae possint oculos auresque morari
Caesaris; oratus multa prece, nitere porro.
uade, uale, caue ne titubes mandataque frangas.

In line 17, oculos auresque would naturally imply that the emperor will read Horace’s works aloud to himself, experiencing them with eyes and ears (not to mention tongue) at the same time, in the usual ancient way. Could Horace presume that? A disjunctive conjunction, oculos auresue, might better suit the tact of the poem, which otherwise carefully avoids any hint of presumption. Horace can hope that Augustus will actually sit down and read the Carmina to himself, but knows that he is likely to be too busy for that, in which case the poet can still hope that the emperor will at least listen as they are read to him by an anagnostes while he dines or bathes or takes care of some other necessary and not-too-engrossing business.

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Vigils and Strigils: Juvenal 3.262

    The man crushed by a collapsing stone-wagon never comes home, and his household, though still unaware of his death, finally gives up waiting for him (260-63):

        obtritum uulgo perit omne cadauer
more animae. domus interea secura patellas
iam lauat et bucca foculum excitat et sonat unctis
striglibus et pleno componit lintea guto.

260 uulgo Eremita : uulgi Ω        262 unclis P1R ||


One of the epithets seems out of place. As Courtney puts it,(1) “unctis is a fixed epithet, as the strigils have not been used yet on this occasion” (and would hardly be put away oily if they had been used). Such a fixed or ornamental epithet seems awkward when the next clause states that the oil-bottle is still full. The inconcinnity is impossible to avoid.

    A less transitory epithet for striglibus is not hard to find: I suspect that Juvenal wrote uncis. If someone objects that uncus, ‘hooked’ like a fishhook, is not the same thing as ‘curved’ like a strigil, I would make two points: 1. Strigils are, like fishhooks, distinctly curved, though not usually 180°, and usually just at the blade end. 2. A Bing or Google image search on ‘strigil’ will summon dozens of examples, some much more curved than others, and a few approaching fish-hooks in hookiness. Finally, the meaningless variant unclis in P1R might imply a bit of damage or smudged ink in the archetype.

(1) E. Courtney, A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal (London, 1984), ad loc.

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Marring Marlowe: A Low Pun in Edward II?

    Contemporary humanists often seem to operate on the principle that any possible pun in Shakespeare and his contemporaries is real or intended (loaded word!) or somehow present to the alert reader, inevitably adding to the meaning of the passage. It seems to me that one can go too far with this principle. One example should suffice to prove it.(1)

    After the climactic regicide in Marlowe’s Edward II, the young king calls Mortimer “Villaine” and then delivers this accusation (V.vi 27-32):

Thinke not that I am frighted with thy words,
My father’s murdered through thy treacherie,
And thou shalt die, and on this mournefull hearse,
Thy hateful and accursed head shall lie,
To witness to the world, that by thy meanes,
His kingly body was too soone interrde.

In the previous scene, the king his father complained that he was imprisoned in a sewer (V.v 56-57):

This dungeon where they keepe me, is the sincke
Wherein the filthe of all the castell falles.

It would therefore be entirely appropriate, in one way, to take the last word of his son’s speech as a pun, and hear “interrde” as a disyllable and at the same time as two monosyllables. However, this would be so utterly inappropriate in every other way, that I cannot believe Marlowe intended any such pun. Sometimes meaningful word-play is purely coincidental – or at most subconscious and better suppressed. Apologies to my readers for bringing this one out into the no-longer-quite-so-fresh air.

(1) Text and line numbers are taken from Fredson Bowers (ed.), The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1973). The line numbers of the two quotations are 2595-2600 and 2504-05 in C. F. Tucker Brooke (ed.), The Works of Christopher Marlowe (Oxford, 1910).

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