Was the exile that fueled part of Ovid’s poetry real or was it only a poetic fiction with which the creative poet has deceived us two thousand years?
The question may seem a modern exaggeration, characteristic of scholars who seek notoriety at any price. But it is not so and it is worthwhile to devote some time to this topic that was already raised at the beginning of the 20th century, and to which since then serious reflections and studies have been dedicated.
In the eighth year after Ch. Ovid was banished, fulminantly, by Augustus to Tomis, the present Constance, in Romania, on the coasts of the Euxine Pontus, the Black Sea. He wrote three works from exile: his famous Tristia, Epistulae ex Ponto (Letters from Pontus or Pontics) and Ibis, an invective against an enemy of his who harms him in Rome. In them they are some of the poet's most famous poems. See previous articles dedicated to the poet in this blog.
The mere possibility that the exile that motivates these works is a fiction produces at least a certain restlessness and sentimental shock in which young people feel the emotional charge of some of the poems that the poet wrote in exile.
At the beginning of twentieth century, in 1923, J.J. Hartman questioned the reality of Ovid's exile and asserted that all his references to exile in Tomis were but an exercise in imaginative humorous fiction; That the "I" of the poem has nothing to do with the real "I" of the poet.
The issue was debated in the following decades with some insistence, until in 1985 Fitton Brown published an article in the Liverpool Classical Monthly, 10.2 (1985), 18-22 entitled " The unreality of Ovid's Tomitan exile", which gained the consideration and attention of numerous scholars. Periodically there are studies and articles positioned in one direction or another.
In Spain, recently, in 2008, Professor E. Berchez Castro made his doctoral thesis at the University of Barcelona on the topic: Realidad y ficción del destierro de Ovidio en Tomis (Reality and fiction of Ovid's exile in Tomis). Based on it, he has published the book ”Ovid’s exile in Tomis: reality and fiction”.
The arguments that Fitton Brown and later Berchez in a more detailed and exhaustive way wield to deny or at least seriously doubt the reality of the poet's exile we can basically group them into six or seven groups:
1. The information we have about Ovid's exile is basically what the poet himself gives us in his poems and it is full of gaps, inaccuracies and contradictions. See his autobiography in the article http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/ovid-bimillenary-of-death-of-ovid and his description of the exile in http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/ovid-bimillenary-exile-euxine-pontus
Until the fourth century no mention of this exile appears, except for one of Pliny the Elder, which is doubtful, and another of Statius (lived in 45-96).
From Pliny's quotation, the only thing that can be safely deduced is that he knew the work of Ovid and that he had been in Pontus for the last few years, but he does not make any further comment about it.
Naturalis Historia XXXII 152 (LIV):
To the above enumeration we will add some names given in the poem of Ovid, which are not to be found in any other writer: species, howevr, whicn are probably peculiar to the Euxine, on the shores of which he commenced that work towards the close of his life. The fishes thus mentioned by him are the sea-ox, the cercyrus, that dwells among the rocks… (Translated by John Bostock and H.T. Riley. 1857)
his adiciemus ab Ovidio posita animalia, quae apud neminem alium reperiuntur, sed fortassis in Ponto nascentia, ubi id volumen supremis suis temporibus inchoavit : bovem, cercyrum in scopulis vivente
Statius for his part wrote in Silvae I 2, 254-255
Bring songs that are worthy of the marriage feast. Philetas himself with Cos to applaud him and old Callimachus and Propertius in his Umbrian grot Would fain have praised this day, and Naso too right gladly e'en in Tomi, And Tibullus by the glowing hearth that was his wealth. (Translated by J.H.MOZLEY,M.A. London. 1928. THE LOEB CLASSICAL LIBRARY)
… date carmina festis
digna toris, hunc ipse Coo plaudente Philetas
Callimachusque senex Umbroque Propertius antro
ambissent laudare diem, nec tristis in ipsis
Naso Tomis divesque foco lucente Tibullus.
But it can not be inferred from this that he had been exiled to Tomis.
Especially striking is that neither Suetonius, who so many things and gossip tells us about Augustus, nor Tacitus refer to the matter, when they report in detail the punishments of other writers at the same time.
In the fourth century, Aurelius Victor (c.320 – c.390) and Jerome (340-420) in his “Chronicon 2033” informed us of the year of his death, as we saw in the previous article in this series on the Bimillennial of Ovid’s death:
Ovid the poet died in exile, and is interred near the town of Tomi.
Ovidius poeta in exilio diem obiit et iuxta oppidum Tomos sepelitur
And also briefly in Epitome of Caesaribus, I, 24:
So (Augustus) punished with exile the poet Ovid, also known as Naso, because he wrote three books on the "art of loving".
"Nam [Augustus] poetam Ovidium, qui et Naso, pro eo, quod tres libellos amatoriae artis conscripsit, exilio damnavit").
These appointments are obviously very late already.
2. The causes of his exile are unknown to us, in spite of the numerous references to them that the poet himself makes and the infinite efforts by the numerous students since then. I mentioned something about it in the previous article http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/ovid-bimillenary-exile-euxine-pontus.
It is also unknown and unexplained why this destination was chosen: Tomis in the Euxine Pontus.
In various passages he attributes his sentence to "error" and an "indiscretion". For example very clearly in Tristia II, 207 et seq .:
Though two crimes, a poem and a blunder, have brought me ruin, of my fault in the one I must keep silent, for my worth is not such that I may reopen thy wounds, O Caesar ; 'tis more than enough that thou shouldst have been pained once. The other remains : the charge that by an obscene poem I have taught foul adultery. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
perdiderint cum me duo crimina, carmen et error,
alterius facti culpa silenda mihi :
nam non sum tanti, renovem ut tua vulnera, Caesar,
quem nimio plus est indoluisse semel.
altera pars superest, qua turpi carmine factus
arguor obsceni doctor adulterii.
Thus in his time, as Ovid himself reports, he is known as "teacher of impudent adultery," and this was directly in line with the program of morality of Augustus and the Leges Iuliae of 18 BC. To 9 d.C. which sought to defend the family and the ancient traditions, punishing adultery with exile and fineing those who had no children. These are in particular the lex Iulia de adulteriis coercendis, the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus and the lex Papia Poppaea.
It is clear that his mistake was to write the "Art of loving" (Ars amandi), as already he makes clear in the poem that serves as a presentation to his Tristia: I, 1, 67-68 and then on multiple occasions:
Examine the title. I am not the teacher of love; that work has already paid its deserved penalty. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
'inspice' dic 'titulum. non sum praeceptor amoris;
quas meruit, poenas iam dedit illud opus'.
But he defends himself by affirming the difference between literature and life, that it is one thing to write and another to maintain certain behavior. In the elegy addressed to a friend orator, he says in Tristia I, 9,55 et seq:
It had been best that light had failed my pursuit. And just as you are aided, my eloquent friend, by serious arts, so arts unlike them have injured me. Yet my life is well known to you ; you know that with those arts their author's character had no connexion ; you know that this poem I was written long ago, an amusement of my youth, and that those jests, though not deserving praise, were still mere jests. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
at nostrum tenebris utinam latuisset in imis !
expediit studio lumen abesse meo.
utque tibi prosunt artes, facunde, severae,
dissimiles illis sic nocuere mihi.
vita tamen tibi nota mea est. scis artibus illis
auctoris mores abstinuisse sui :
scis vetus hoc iuveni lusum mihi carmen, et istos
ut non laudandos, sic tamen esse iocos.
He repeats this idea that it was an error and not a crime, the fault he committed, at least six or seven times in addition to that quoted: Tristia I, 1,51-52; II, 109; III 1,7-8; III, 14,5-6; III, 7,29-30; IV, 1,24; IV, 10, 99 et seq .; In Pontics II, 2,15-16; II, 3,91-94; III, 3,71-72
As Catullus had to defend himself as forced to defend himself with his poems before, and then Martial with some of his epigrams, and so many other writers since then, Ovid sets the record straight in Tristia, on Book II, 345 ff. :
This wantonness has caused thee to hate me on account of the arts which thou didst think disturbed unions that all were forbidden to attack. But no brides have learned deceptions through my teaching ; nobody can teach that of which he knows too little. I have composed songs of pleasure and love but in such fashion that no scandal has ever touched my name. No husband exists even amid the common people who doubts his fatherhood through sin of mine. I assure you, my character differs from my verse (my life is moral, my muse is gay), and most of my work, unreal and fictitious, has allowed itself more licence than its author has had. A book is not an evidence of one's soul, but an honourable impulse that presents very many things suited to charm the ear. Else would Accius be cruel, Terence a reveller, or those would be quarrelsome who sing of fierce war. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
haec tibi me invisum lascivia fecit, ob artes,
quis ratus es vetitos sollicitare toros.
sed neque me nuptae didicerunt furta magistro,
quodque parum novit, nemo docere potest.
sic ego delicias et mollia carmina feci,
strinxerit ut nomen fabula nulla meum.
nec quisquam est adeo media de plebe maritus,
ut dubius vitio sit pater ille meo.
crede mihi, distant mores a carmine nostro
-vita verecunda est, Musa iocosa mea-
magnaque pars mendax operum est et ficta meorum :
plus sibi permisit compositore suo.
nec liber indicium est animi, sed honesta voluntas
plurima mulcendis auribus apta ferens.
Accius esset atrox, conviva Terentius esset,
essent pugnaces qui fera bella canunt.
In this book Tristia II, 237 et seq. he tells Emperor Augustus, engaged in the important tasks of governing such a great empire, that he is not responsible for the misuse of his poems:
Can I wonder, then, that under this weight of great affairs thou hast never unrolled the volume of my jests ? Yet if, as I could wish, thou hadst chanced to have the leisure, thou wouldst have read no crimes in my " Art." That poem, I admit, has no serious mien, it is not worthy to be read by so great a prince ; but not for that reason is it opposed to the commandments of the law, nor does it offer teaching to the daughters of Rome. And that thou may'st not doubt for whom I write, one of the three books contains these four verses* : " Far from me ! ye narrow fillets, badge of modesty ! and thou, long ruffle covering half the feet** ! I shall sing of naught but what is lawful, of loves which men allow. There shall be in my song no sin." Have I not strictly excluded from this " Art " all women whom the assumption of the robe and fillet of wedlock protect ?
But, thou mayst say, the matron can use arts intended for others and draw therefrom instruction, though she be not herself the pupil. Let the matron read nothing then, for from every song she can gain wisdom for sin. From whatever she touches, be she inclined to wrongdoing, she will equip her character for vice. Let her take up the Annals -naught is ruder than they- she will surely read by whom Ilia*** became a mother. So soon as she takes up the " Aeneadum genetrix," she will ask by whom fostering Venus became the mother of the Aeneadae****. I will show later, if only I may present it in order, that it is possible for the soul to be injured by every kind of poem. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
* The verses are in Ars Amandi, I 31-34, Art of loving, Remedia amoris 285-86
** The ribbons are the ties with which the free Roman women are tied and the purple steering wheel is worn by the matrons in the stole, which is their characteristic dress. The poet is telling us that his work is not for free Roman girls or midwives, but for slaves and professionals of love.
*** Ilia or Rea Silvia was a vestal priestess, therefore with a vow of chastity, who became pregnant with the god Mars and gave birth to the most famous Roman twins, Romulus and Remus.
**** The goddess Venus or Aphrodite, the wife of Hephaistos or Vulcan, fell in love with the mortal Anchises, she was presented to him like the daughter of Otreus, king of Phrygia and Aeneas was born from him.
mirer in hoc igitur tantarum pondere rerum
te numquam nostros evoluisse iocos ?
at si, quod mallem, vacuum tibi forte fuisset,
nullum legisses crimen in Arte mea.
illa quidem fateor frontis non esse severae
scripta, nec a tanto principe digna legi :
non tamen idcirco legum contraria iussis
sunt ea Romanas erudiuntque nurus.
neve, quibus scribam, possis dubitare, libellos,
quattuor hos versus e tribus unus habet :
" este procul, vittae tenues, insigne pudoris,
quaeque tegis medios instita longa pedes !
nil nisi legitimum concessaque furta canemus,
inque meo nullum carmine crimen erit."
ecquid ab hac omnes rigide summovimus Arte,
quas stola contingi vittaque sumpta vetat ?
" at matrona potest alienis artibus uti,
quodque trahat, quamvis non doceatur, habet."
nil igitur matrona legat, quia carmine ab omni
ad delinquendum doctior esse potest.
quodcumque attigerit, siqua est studiosa sinistri,
ad vitium mores instruet inde suos.
sumpserit Annales -nihil est hirsutius illis-
facta sit unde parens Ilia, nempe leget.
sumpserit Aeneadum genetrix ubi prima, requiret,
Aeneadum genetrix unde sit alma Venus,
persequar inferius, modo si licet ordine ferri,
posse nocere animis carminis omne genus.
And he does itso extensively, reviewing in many verses the most scurrilous episodes of Greco-Latin mythology, before which the advice of his “Art of love” may pale.
It is the idea that he also reiterates in Pontics III, 3, 49 et seq. speaking imaginatively with Eros who has appeared to him in dreams:
Yet thou knowest, and thou couldst swear it with a clear conscience, that I have not disturbed lawful wedlock. This I wrote for those who have no modest locks to be touched with the fillet nor a long stole descending to their feet. 3 Speak, I beg thee hast thou at any time learned to deceive brides, rendering descent uncertain by my precepts ? Or has not every wo nan been strictly excluded from these books whom the law protects from stealthy paramours ? Yet of what avail is this if men believe that I have composed directions for that adultery which is forbidden by stern laws ? (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
scis tamen, et liquido iuratus dicere possis,
non me legitimos sollicitasse toros.
scripsimus haec illis, quarum nee vitta pudicos
contingit crines nee stola longa pedes.
die, precor, ecquando didicisti fallere nuptas,
et facere incertum per mea iussa genus ?
an sit ab his omnis rigide summota libellis,
quam lex furtivos arcet habere viros ?
quid tamen hoc prodest, vetiti si lege severa
credor adulterii composuisse notas ?
He insists on the same idea soon after, Tristia II, 303 ff.
Far from the " Art," written for courtesans alone, its first page warns the hands of upright women. Any woman who breaks away to a place forbidden by a priest, forthwith removes from him the sin and becomes herself guilty. Nevertheless it is no crime to read tender verse ; the chaste may read much that they should not do. Often matrons of serious brow behold women nude, ready for every kind of lust. The eyes of Vestals behold the bodies of courtesans* nor has that been the cause of punishment to their owner. Yet why is my muse so wanton ? Why does my book advise anybody to love ? There is naught for me but confession of my error and my obvious fault : I repent of my talent and my tastes. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
* Because they attended the Floralia festivities between April 28 and May 3, when prostitutes were exhibited naked according to the work of Ovid Fasti V, 159-378.
et procul a scripta solis meretricibus Arte
summovet ingenuas pagina prima manus.
quaecumque erupit, qua non sinit ire sacerdos,
protinus huic dempti criminis ipsa rea est.
nec tamen est facinus versus evolvere mollis ;
multa licet castae non facienda legant.
saepe supercilii nudas matrona severi
et veneris stantis ad genus omne videt.
corpora Vestales oculi meretricia cernunt,
nec domino poenae res ea causa fuit.
at cur in nostra nimia est lascivia Musa,
curve meus cuiquam suadet amare liber ?
nil nisi peccatum manifestaque culpa fatenda est :
paenitet ingenii iudiciique mei.
The whole book II is really a defense of his poetry, which in no way pretends to be a stimulus for the immorality of the Roman matrons, because it is not addressed to them. On the other hand, their alleged immoralities do not clash in the Greco-Roman cultural, religious and social context, in the context of their mythology, plagued by scabrous episodes, and their way of life.
Already at the beginning of this book II, verse 1 and ss. tells us:
What have I to do with you, ye books, illstarred object of my toil, -I, ruined and wretched through my own talent ? Why do I seek once again the Muses so recently condemned, the causes of my guilt ? Or is one well-earned penalty not enough ? Verse gave men and women a desire to know me, but 'twas no good omen for me ; verse caused Caesar to brand me and my ways by commanding that my " Art” be forthwith taken away. Take away from me my pursuit and you will take away from my life also the charges against it. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
Quid mihi vobiscum est, infelix cura, libelli,
ingenio perii qui miser ipse meo ?
cur modo damnatas repeto, mea crimina, Musas ?
an semel est poenam commeruisse parum ?
carmina fecerunt, ut me cognoscere vellet
omine non fausto femina virque meo :
carmina fecerunt, ut me moresque notaret
iam demi iussa Caesar ab Arte mea.
deme mihi studium, vitae quoque crimina demes ;
But despite the problems that his poems have caused him, the poetry is a passion that he can not renounce. That passion is what made him no listening the advice of his father. See the article in this blog where I quote the famous verse what ever I tried to write was verse." "quod temptabam dicere versus erat” http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/poetry-is-a-godsend-horace-ovid-virgil
In an expressive and heartfelt way he explains why he resorts to poetry in his exile. He says in Tristia, IV, 1, 19 and ss.:
Me also the Muse comforted while on my way to the appointed lands of Pontus ; she only was the steadfast companion of my flight the -only one who fears neither treachery, nor the brand of the Sintian soldier, nor sea nor winds nor the world of the barbarians.
Well could I wish, since they were destined to work me harm, that I had ne'er set hand to the holy service of the Pierian ones. But now, what am I to do ? The very power of that holy service grips me ; madman that I am, though song has injured me, 'tis still song that I love. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
me quoque Musa levat Ponti loca iussa petentem :
sola comes nostrae perstitit ilia fugae ;
sola nee insidias, Sinti nec militis ensem,
nec mare nec ventos barbariamque timet.
non equidem vellem, quoniam nocitura fuerunt,
Pieridum sacris inposuisse manum.
sed nunc quid faciam ? vis me tenet ipsa sacrorum,
et carmen demens carmine laesus amo.
Could be the cause of exile this book, Ars Amandi, Ars amatoria, which had been circulating in Rome for more than eight years? The poet himself is surprised that the punishment has come so late. He tells us in Tristia. II, 539-546:
I too sinned in that style of composition thus a fault not new is suffering a new penalty and I had published verse when thou wert censuring our sins and I passed thee so many times, a knight uncriticized. Thus the writings which in my youth all thoughtless I supposed would harm me not, have harmed me now that I am old. Late and overfull is the vengeance for that early book, distant is the penalty from the time of the sin. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
nos quoque iam pridem scripto peccavimus isto:
supplicium patitur non nova culpa novum;
carminaque edideram, cum te delicta notantem
praeteriit totiens inreprehensus eques.
ergo quae iuvenis mihi non nocitura putavi
scripta parum prudens, nunc nocuere seni.
sera redundavit veteris vindicta libelli,
distat et a meriti tempore poena sui.
The truth is that the poet was not so young: he was 42 years old.
It does not seem, therefore, that the real cause was to have written the Ars Amandi (Ars Amatoria), but another one of more substance and gravity, as the poet himself reflects when he makes Eros himself, whom he recurs to justify his poetry, to say in Epistulae ex Ponto , III, 3, 65 et seq.
Thus methought I spoke to the winged boy, in these words methought he answered me, " By my weapons, the torch and arrows, by my mother I swear, and by Caesar's head, that I have learned naught but what is lawful from thy mastership, that there resides no crime in thine ‘ Art.' As I defend thee on this score, would I could on the rest! Thou knowest there is another thing that has injured thee more. Whatever this is (for neither should the painful tale itself be repeated nor canst thou say that thou art free from guilt), though thou dost veil thy crime under the guise of ' error ' the wrath of the judge was not too severe. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
haec ego visus eram puero dixisse volucri,
hos visus nobis ille dedisse sonos :
" per mea tela, faces, et per mea tela, sagittas,
per inatrem iuro Caesareumque caput,
nil nisi concessum nos te didicisse magistro,
Artibus et nullum crimen inesse tuis.
utque hoc, sic utinam defendere cetera possem !
scis aliud, quod te laeserit, esse, magis.
quicquid id est (neque enim debet dolor ipse referri,
nee potes a culpa dicere abesse tua)
tu licet erroris sub imagine crimen obumbres,
non gravior merito iudicis ira fuit.
There was something more serious, an indiscretion that had to do directly with Augustus, to which he refers clearly in Book II, 103 et seq .:
why did I see anything ? Why did I make my eyes guilty ? Why was I so thoughtless as to
harbour the knowledge of a fault ? Unwitting was Actaeon when he beheld Diana unclothed ; none the less he became the prey of his own hounds. Clearly, among the gods, even ill-fortune must be atoned for, nor is mischance an excuse when a deity is wronged. On that day when my ruinous mistake ravished me away, my house, humble but stainless, was destroyed humble indeed. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
Cur aliquid uidi? cur noxia lumina feci?
Cur imprudenti cognita culpa mihi?
Inscius Actaeon uidit sine ueste Dianam:
Praeda fuit canibus non minus ille suis.
Scilicet in superis etiam fortuna luenda est,
Nec ueniam laeso numine casus habet.
Illa nostra die, qua me malus abstulit error,
Parua quidem periit, sed sine labe domus:
The allusion to the myth of Acteon, who saw naked Diana or Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and was transformed into deer devoured by their own dogs, unleashed the speculations and made several think that Ovid saw something that offended to the emperor, such as Livia, his wife; Or perhaps he saw some ceremony of the Goddess or Isis cults, forbidden to men.
He insists on the guilty fact of having seen something that was not due in Tristia, III, 5, 45 et seq .:
I never sought to wreck everything by assailing the life of Caesar, which is the life of the world. I have said nothing, divulged nothing in speech, let slip no impious words by reason of too much wine : because my unwitting eyes beheld a crime, I am punished, and 'tis my sin that I possessed eyes. I cannot indeed exculpate my fault entirely, but part of it consists in error. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
Non mihi quaerenti pessumdare cuncta petitum
Caesareum caput est, quod caput orbis erat:
Non aliquid dixiue, elataue lingua loquendo est,
Lapsaque sunt nimio uerba profana mero:
Inscia quod crimen uiderunt lumina, plector,
Peccatumque oculos est habuisse meum.
Non equidem totam possum defendere culpam:
Sed partem nostri criminis error habet.
And again in Tristia III, 6, 27 ff.
Tis not a brief tale or safe to say what chance made my eyes witness a baleful evil. My mind shrinks in dread from that time, as 'twere from its own wounds, and the very thought of it
renews my shame ; whatever can bring such sense of shame should be covered and hidden in the darkness of night. Nothing then will I say except that I have sinned, but by that sin sought no reward ; folly is the proper name for my crime, if you wish to give the true title to the deed. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
Nec breue nec tutum, quo sint mea, dicere, casu
Lumina funesti conscia facta mali:
Mensque reformidat, ueluti sua uulnera, tempus
Illud, et admonitu fit nouus ipse pudor:
Sed quaecumque adeo possunt afferre pudorem,
Illa tegi caeca condita nocte decet.
Nil igitur referam nisi me peccasse, sed illo
Praemia peccato nulla petita mihi,
Stultitiamque meum crimen debere uocari,
Nomina si facto reddere uera uelis.
Seen and read this whole story, apparently so detailed and so often repeated, it seems only an attempt to leave everything in the most absolute nebula and ambiguity, and consequently we are not really aware of the lack.
As I mentioned in the previous article quoted, several explanations or solutions have been proposed to the enigma of what Ovidio saw, what was his indiscretion, which evidently had to do directly with Augustus. It has been thought that perhaps Ovid was a connoisseur or participant in some scabrous episode of the imperial family, in particular of his daughter Iulia, who had been from Scribonia, or her granddaughter, Iulia also daughter of the same Scribonia and Agrippa, or even that the own Augustus had committed incest with them (remember that in the same year that the poet the Young Iulia was banished to a remote island probably by adultery); Or at some point saw the wife of Augustus naked, perhaps in the bathroom; Or saw something forbidden to men at festivals in honor of Isis or the Good Goddess; Or that he even had some love affair with the emperor's daughter; Or was a connoisseur and participant in some meeting of some group that was not a supporter of Augustus, or participated in the conspiracy of Fabius Maximus in favor of the succession of Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Augustus, and supporters of Germanicus and not of Tiberius in succession in the context of the rivalries between the "Iulii" and the "Claudii". This last hypothesis has been raised by numerous and recognized scholars. All these are unsupported hypotheses, which in any case have not been confirmed.
There is even a somewhat absurd assumption that would not deserve to be quoted unless it was the work of an expert and famous person in the study of Roman History, Jerome Carcopino (1881-1970), member of the French Academy among many other titles.
According to the imaginative proposal of this author, Ovid would actively belong to a kind of secret Neopythagorean sect that celebrates meetings where using the magic power of the numbers they conspire or they try to harm Augustus; It should be noted that Augustus had also prohibited certain divinatory practices.
3. Their participation in a plot against the emperor and the characteristics of the sentence is not well agreed. As Ovid himself tells us on several occasions, he was not exiled but relegated or confined (relegatus) without confiscation of property or loss of other rights.
Although his works were removed from the libraries and his reading was forbidden, Ovid did not suffer a "damnatio memoriae" or elimination of any reference that kept his memory, because his works have almost reached us in their totality; And all this is also somewhat contradictory to the stubbornness of Augustus and then Tiberius not to grant him forgiveness, not even to bring his destiny closer to Italy or Rome:
Tristia, II, 121 and ff.
Fallen then is my house, though pleasing to the Muses, beneath one charge albeit no small one -yet so fallen that it can rise again, if only time shall mellow the wrath of injured Caesar whose leniency in the penalty that has befallen is such that the penalty is milder than I feared. Life was granted me ; thy wrath halted ere it achieved my death : O sire, with what restraint hast thou used thy power ! Then too there is added for thou takest it not away my inherited wealth, as if life were too small a gift. Thou didst not condemn my deeds through a decree of the senate nor was my exile ordered by a special court. With words of stern invective -worthy of a prince- thou didst thyself, as is fitting, avenge thine own injury. And thy command, though severe and threatening, was yet mild in naming my punishment, for it calls me relegatus, not exile, and thou dost use therein language especially adapted to my fate. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
Corruit haec igitur Musis accepta, sub uno
Sed non exiguo crimine lapsa domus:
Atque ea sic lapsa est, ut surgere, si modo laesi
Ematuruerit Caesaris ira, queat.
Cuius in euentu poenae clementia tanta est,
Venerit ut nostro lenior illa metu.
Vita data est, citraque necem tua constitit ira,
O princeps parce uiribus use tuis!
Insuper accedunt, te non adimente, paternae,
Tamquam uita parum muneris esset, opes.
Nec mea decreto damnasti facta senatus,
Nec mea selecto iudice iussa fuga est.
Tristibus inuectus uerbis (ita principe dignum)
Vltus es offensas, ut decet, ipse tuas.
Adde quod edictum, quamuis immite minaxque,
Attamen in poenae nomine lene fuit:
Quippe relegatus, non exul, dicor in illo,
Priuaque fortunae sunt ibi uerba meae.
He reiterates the same idea that he was not declared exul, ie "exiled" with loss of rights, but relegatus (relegated, expelled from the country maintaining fundamental rights) and almost in the same terms in Book V, 2bis, 11 et seq .; I avoid what would be a mere redundancy.
Recall how at the beginning of Tristia II, in verse 8, cited above he tells us that his works have been taken off:
; verse caused Caesar to brand me and my ways by commanding that my " Art” be forthwith taken away.
carmina fecerunt, ut me moresque notaret
iam demi iussa Caesar ab Arte mea.
In Tristia III, 1, 65 ff. he exposes the very fact of the exclusion of his books from public libraries in Rome. It is the book itself, that goes to Rome and has arrived at the temple of Apollo in which the books are exposed, the one who speaks and tells us:
I was seeking my brothers, save those indeed whom their father would he had never begot, and as I sought to no purpose, from that abode the guard who presides over the holy place commanded me to depart. A second temple I approached, one close to a theatre : this too might not be visited by my feet. Nor did Liberty allow me to touch her halls, the first that were opened to learned books.
The fate of our unfortunate sire overflows upon his offspring, and we suffer at our birth the exile which he has borne. Perhaps sometime both to us and to him Caesar conquered by long years will be less severe. O gods, or rather (for it is not meet that I should pray to a throng), Caesar, mightiest of gods, hearken to my prayer ! . (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
quaerebam fratres, exceptis scilicet illis,
quos suus optaret non genuisse pater,
quaerentem frustra custos e sedibus illis
praepositus sancto iussit abire loco,
altera templa peto, vicino iuncta theatro :
haec quoque erant pedibus non adeunda meis.
nec me, quae doctis patuerunt prima libellis,
atria Libertas tangere passa sua est.
in genus auctoris miseri fortuna redundat,
et patimur nati, quam tulit ipse, fugam.
forsitan et nobis olim minus asper et illi
evictus longo tempore Caesar erit.
di, precor, atque adeo neque enim mihi turba roganda est-
Caesar, ades voto, maxime dive, meo !
And something similar in Epistulae ex Ponto, I, 1,1 and ss .:
Naso, no recent dweller now in the land of Tomis, sends to you this work from the Getic shore. If you have leisure, entertain and harbour, Brutus, these poems from a foreign land ; hide them away where you will, yet somewhere. They venture not to enter a public memorial for fear their master has closed for them this way. Ah, how often have I said, " Surely you give no base instruction ! Go ! Clean verse may freely enter that place ! " Yet these verses go not thither, but as you see they deem it safer to lie in the seclusion of a private household. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
Naso Tomitanae iam non novus incola terrae
hoc tibi de Getico litore mittit opus,
si vacat, hospitio peregrinos, Brute, libellos
excipe, dumque aliquo, quolibet abde loco.
publica non audent intra monimenta venire,
ne suus hoc illis clauserit auctor iter.
a ! quotiens dixi " certe nil turpe docetis :
ite, patet castis versibus ille locus ! "
non tamen accedunt, sed, ut aspicis ipse, latere
sub Lare privato tutius esse putant.
4. There is also a whole series of data that the poet contributes that we can consider as incompatible with reality, such as the last night in Rome and his farewell, the description of the trip, the starting point, the storm at sea, the route followed. Everything seems riddled with rhetorical elements and literary topics (that of the storm especially significant and with long tradition in epic poetry), and consequently everything seems exaggerated, distorted, false, hardly credible to the reader.
We do not know all the data about the trip that we could consider objective: we do not know the exact point in which it embarked: Ostia, Brindisi, another port more on the north? The route does not seem adequate for a Roman merchant ship; The duration seems excessively long.
5. The supporters of the hypothesis of the non-reality of exile find many arguments that we can consider as objectives in the geographical description of Tomis and its location, its port, the arid landscape, its always wintry climate according to the poet in a locus horribilis and does not coincide with what the modern paleoclimatic studies of the Istria or Danube and its waters indicate, the wrong location of the Polar Star that he says it is on the head of its inhabitants and that would place much more to the north. The place on the other hand had been visited from many hundreds of years before by Greek merchants and then by Romans.
The description of such a horrible place is made especially in Tristia III, 10, a poem dedicated precisely to this description, which all critics consider exaggerated and topical. Even the poet himself must have noticed his exaggerations when in verses 35 et seq. he warns us:
I may scarce hope for credence, but since there is no reward for a falsehood, the witness ought to be believed. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
vix equidem credar, sed, cum sint praemia falsi
nulla, ratam debet testis habere fidem :
For the rest, scholars have pointed out how this description is absolutely indebted to Virgil's description of Scythia and its climate in Georgics, III, 349-366. I will avoid reproducing the texts so as not to lengthen an already excessive article.
Curiously Ovid himself also makes a quick reference to frozen Scythian at the beginning of his Metamorphosis I, 61 et seq.
At His command
to far Aurora, Eurus took his way,
to Nabath, Persia, and that mountain range
first gilded by the dawn; and Zephyr's flight
was towards the evening star and peaceful shores,
warm with the setting sun; and Boreas
invaded Scythia and the northern snows;
and Auster wafted to the distant south
where clouds and rain encompass his abode.
(Traslated by Brookes More, 1922)
Eurus ad Auroram Nabataeaque regna recessit
Persidaque et radiis iuga subdita matutinis;
vesper et occiduo quae litora sole tepescunt,
proxima sunt Zephyro: Scythiam septemque triones
horrifer invasit Boreas: contraria tellus
nubibus adsiduis pluviaque madescit ab Austro.
The Boreas is the frigid north wind and the Seven Trions (seven oxen) is the constellation of the Great Bear or the Wagon.
According to these authors, as Berchez, in the choice of destiny, so distant, so inhospitable, so inexplicable, the poet seeks to increase the feeling of mourning in the reader.
6. It also disconcerts the description of its inhabitants, exaggeratedly ferocious and semi-savage, the poor differentiation of the various ethnic groups, and above all the affirmation that there was no one to speak with in Latin or Greek and had to do so only in the languge of the Getae or in Sarmatian, languages in which he tells us that he got to compose poems. Certainly there would be some Greek merchant or some Roman official there
In any case, if we are to believe in the reality of the exile, Ovid was fully devoted to his poetic passion in this very adverse environment; There wrote his Tristia, Epistulae ex Ponto, Ibis, Nux, Halieutica and it is possible that he continued with the writing of the Fasti, which he had only completed for the first six months of the year. All these works were sent to Rome. Of course the poet presents his task as a way to forget and make bearable his misfortune. He tells us in several passages as Tristia IV 10, 111-132, or in Tristia V, 7, 39 et seq. which I reproduce:
I busy my mind with studies beguiling my grief, trying to cheat my cares. What else am I to do, all alone on this forsaken shore, what other resources for my sorrows should I try to seek? If I look upon the country, 'tis devoid of charm, nothing in the whole world can be more cheerless ; if I look upon the men, they are scarce men worthy the name ; they have more of cruel savagery than wolves. They fear not laws ; right gives way to force, and justice lies conquered beneath the aggressive sword. With skins and loose breeches they keep off the evils of the cold ; their shaggy faces are protected with long locks. A few retain traces of the Greek tongue, but even this is rendered barbarous by a Getic twang. There is not a single man among these people who perchance might express in Latin any common words
whatsoever. I, the Roman bard -pardon, ye Muses ! -am forced to utter most things in Sarmatian fashion. Lo ! I am ashamed to confess it ; now from long disuse Latin words with difficulty occur even to me ! And I doubt not there are even in this book not a few barbarisms, not the fault of the man but of the place. Yet for fear of losing the use of the Ausonian tongue and lest my own voice grow dumb in its native sound, I talk to myself, dealing again with disused words and seeking again the ill-omened currency of my art.
Thus do I drag out my life and my time, thus do I withdraw myself from the contemplation of my woes. Through song I seek oblivion from my wretchedness. If such be the rewards I win by my pursuit, 'tis enough. (Translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler. The Loeb Classical Library.)
detineo studiis animum falloque dolores,
experior curis et dare verba meis.
quid potius faciam desertis solus in oris,
quamve mails aliam quaerere coner opem ?
sive locum specto, locus est inamabilis, et quo
esse nihil toto tristius orbe potest,
sive homines, vix sunt homines hoc nomine digni,
quamque lupi, saevae plus feritatis habent.
non metuunt leges, sed cedit viribus aequum,
victaque pugnaci iura sub ense iacent.
pellibus et laxis arcent mala frigora bracis,
oraque sunt longis horrida tecta comis.
in paucis remanent Graecae vestigia linguae,
haec quoque iam Getico barbara facta sono.
unus in hoc nemo est populo, qui forte Latine
quaelibet e medio reddere verba queat.
ille ego Romanus vates ignoscite, Musae !
Sarmatico cogor plurima more loqui.
en pudet et fateor, iam desuetudine longa
vix subeunt ipsi verba Latina mihi.
nee dubito quin sint et in hoc non pauca libello
barbara : non hominis culpa, sed ista loci,
ne tamen Ausoniae perdam commercia linguae,
et fiat patrio vox mea muta sono,
ipse loquor mecum desuetaque verba retracto,
et studii repeto signa sinistra mei.
sic animum tempusque traho, sic meque reduco
a contemplatu summoveoque mali.
carminibus quaero miserarum oblivia rerum :
praemia si studio consequar ista, sat est.
It does not seem, therefore, that the place was as "horribilis" as the poet repeatedly draws it.
7. The authors who question the reality of the exile add other important ones that they deduce from the literary study of the texts themselves to all these reasons. Thus the information about the Pontus has been obtained from various literary sources. As I have commented, the influence of Virgil and the description of Scythia and its climate in Georgics III, 349 et seq. is evident.
Other purely literary reasons are the disposition and structure itself of the Tristia I, as if it were a piece of speech, the forms and reiterations used.
It is also argued that the amorous elegy had reached its exhaustion after the works of Catullus, Propertius, Tibulus, and Ovid himself, who now uses his capacity to create works of fiction, as he had done in his Heroids or imaginary letters of mythical heroines
In this creative work he also finds that there are many literary possibilities offered by the rhetorical resources he handles so well, such as the oppositions present / past, friends / loneliness, civilization and Roman security / barbarism, etc. With all this he creates a new poetry very attractive, the poetry of exile, which sometimes mixes and confuses fiction with reality and was inspired and served as a model later to the present day.
The scholars deduce from all this that there was no exile of Ovid or at least it is not proven to exist. But a study also critical of all these reasons would force us to conclude that they are neither definitive nor conclusive, and all can be denied from the perspective of the historical truth of exile. We can also ask ourselves why if the exile was not real, nobody made it see, no one denounced it, nobody noted that it was a fiction?
To be more exact, all except the argument that we can call “ex silentio”, that is, the really striking fact that neither the poets of his time and later until the fourth century nor the historians, especially Suetonius and Tacitus, make reference to this exile and punishment when instead they reflect the convictions of several other authors. This is probably the strongest argument in favor of the possible non-reality of exile.
In any case it is difficult to forget the sown doubt and a new reading of these poems from the perspective of their unreality is very suggestive and disturb. The wide selection of texts offered is certainly enough to leave open the question.
We can note as a curiosity that the exile of Ovid has ever been fictionalized in modern times. Sometimes this is a good way to get closer to the reality of the story. I will cite only three:
God was born in exile (1960) (Dieu est né en exil), by Vintila Horia, who received the Goncourt Prize in 1960 and also provoked the controversy and reaction of the cultural left captained by Sartre.
The Austrian Christoph Ransmayr wrote The Last World (1989)
The Spanish Pablo Montoy, wrote Far from Rome (2008, reissued in 2016) (Lejos de Roma)
In any case and to end this series on the two-thousandth anniversary of the death of Ovid I will reproduce what is considered to be the epitaph that the poet himself left written for himself and commissioned his wife in Tristia, III, 3, 73-76; It may be a joke more, the result of his powerful imagination, but this will not prevent us, travelers through his works two thousand years later, wherever he is, we want him to "rest peacefully in peace."
I, WHO LIE HERE, WITH TENDER LOVES ONCE PLAYED,
NASO, THE BARD, WHOSE LIFE HIS WIT BETRAYED.
GRUDGE NOT, O LOVER, AS THOU PASSEST BY,
A PRAYER I " SOFT MAY THE BONES OF NASO LIE !
HIC EGO QUI IACEO TENERORVM LVSOR AMORUM
INGENIO PERII NASO POETA MEO
AT TIBI QVI TRANSIS NE SIT GRAVE QVISQVIS AMASTI
DICERE NASONIS MOLLITER OSSA CVBENT