Ovid was born on March 20th, 43 B.C., and exiled to Tomis (now Constanza, on the coast of Romania) in A.D. 8. There he wrote five books of Tristia and four of Epistulae ex Ponto, lamenting his fate at great and sometimes tedious length. Tristia 3.13 is a gloomy non-celebration of his birthday, and the third book of Tristia can be dated to 10 A.D. (So says Sir Ronald Syme, History in Ovid, 38.) Assuming that it was in fact written on his birthday, anyone who reads it in the next 18 minutes is reading it on the 2000th anniversary of its composition. Anyone in the eastern U.S., that is - it’s already March 21st in Ovid’s hemisphere.
Saturday: March 20, 2010
Monday: September 21, 2009
Ovid and Lucretius are almost as licentious in their style as Lord Rochester, though the former were fine gentlemen and delicate writers, and the latter, from the corruptions of that court in which he lived, seems to have thrown off all regard to shame and decency. Juvenal inculcates modesty with great zeal; but sets a very bad example of it, if we consider the impudence of his expressions.
(David Hume, “Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences”)
Thursday: March 20, 2008
Publius Ovidius Naso is 2050 today. The vernal equinox seems a suitably Ovidian date.
Though the specific date is (so far as I know) unknown, this year is also the 2000th anniversary of his banishment to Tomis: I wonder if there are any scholarly conferences scheduled to commemorate the fact. The Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto and even the Ibis have gotten far more scholarly attention in the last decade or two than in the previous century, so it would be a propitious time. I suppose a Younger Julia conference would also be in order, if enough can be said about her and her banishment to justify one.
Sunday: July 16, 2006
- Misreading two lines in a Chicagoboyz post, a review of a book on the fall of the Roman Empire. They give the table of contents, which includes these lines:
1. Romans 3
2. Barbarians 46
I couldn’t help reading that as a football score — Romans 3, Barbarians 46 — which is not a bad summary of the worst part of the fifth century.
- Finding Opera Quae Fuperfunt as a title in the ABE Books data base.
- While still half-asleep at 6:40 am yesterday, I thought of a good title for a novel about a decadent esthete with an NRA membership: Molon La-Bàs.
Monday: July 18, 2005
Since David Meadows is on vacation, I suppose it falls to me to point out that today is the Dies Alliensis, and therefore the birthday of Ovid’s fictional enemy Ibis. Here are the more amusing bits from Part IV of A. E. Housman’s paper “The Ibis of Ovid” (JPh 35 , 297-318, reprinted in Classical Papers, 3.1028-42):
Who was Ibis? Nobody. He is much too good to be true. If one’s enemies are of flesh and blood, they do not carry complaisance so far as to choose the dies Alliensis for their birthday and the most ineligible spot in Africa for their birthplace. Such order and harmony exist only in worlds of our own creation, not in the jerry-built edifice of the demiurge. Nor does man assail a real enemy, the object of his sincere and lively hatred, with an interminable and inconsistent series of execrations which can neither be read nor written seriously. To be starved to death and killed by lightning, to be brayed in a mortar as you plunge into a gulf on horseback, to be devoured by dogs, serpents, a lioness, and your own father in the brazen bull of Phalaris, are calamities too awful to be probable and too improbable to be awful.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The 91st poem of Catullus and the 5th and 17th epodes of Horace, however little accordant with modern fashions, are masterpieces without which no anthology of Latin poetry is complete or representative. And the first 250 lines of the Ibis are another masterpiece: Ovid has written no passage of equal length which has equal merit.
From that point onward the poem is merely a display of erudition. Ovid, at the date of his exile, was bursting with information rather recently acquired. In his young days he had been by no means a learned poet; and Propertius, in the season of their sodality, must often have exhorted him to lay in a larger stock of those examples from mythology with which his own elegies are so much embellished or encumbered. But by the time he was fifty he had at his disposal more examples from mythology than he knew what to do with. His studies for the metamorphoses and some of his studies for the fasti (notably in the aetia of Callimachus) had furnished him with a far greater number of stories and histories than could be crowded into those two poems; and he felt the craving of the opsimathés to let everyone know how learned he had become. Here was his chance: history and mythology alike are largely composed of misfortunes as bad as one could wish for one’s worst enemy; and he could discharge a great part of his load of knowledge through the channel of imprecation.
Some desultory comments:
- Why did the Journal of Philology use neither italics nor capitals for ‘metamorphoses’, ‘fasti’, and ‘aetia’?
- Is Housman’s admiration for the Ibis perhaps a bit influenced by his own taste for invective?
- If the poem is “little accordant with modern fashions”, is it more accordant with today’s postmodern fashions? If so, why do so few read it? Too difficult? Perhaps I should say that I have read it, and found it much more diverting than the Medicamina and for that matter the Tristia. Then again, I’m rather fond of invective.
- The Ibis’ reputation for obscurity is exaggerated. I recognized most of the myths without consulting the notes in Ellis’ edition, though the gruesome deaths of various Hellenistic tyrants such as Apollodorus of Cassandreia were new to me.