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Ovid's Exilic Poetry: Worlds Apart

Ovid's Exilic Poetry: Worlds Apart

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Ovid a remote and culturally barren wasteland from which he was

never to return and where he died, probably in A.D. 17.6

The last four decades have witnessed a resurgence of scholarly

interest in Ovid's two collections of exilic elegies—five books of the

Tristia (A.D. 8-12; fifty poems in all) and four of the Epistulae ex

Ponto (1-3 published together in A.D. 12-13, Book 4 perhaps posthumously; forty-six poems in all)7—as well as in the elegiac Ibis (not

later than A.D. 12),8 in which he elaborately curses an unnamed

enemy at Rome who is pseudonymously called Ibis. In reaction to

the harsh opinion of earlier times, when few scholars saw much reason to dispute Ovid's own assessment of his exilic works as the

monotonous and artistically deficient outpourings of a poet broken

by his banishment from Rome,9 the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto (to

say nothing as yet of the Ibis) have been rehabilitated as typically

innovative Ovidian productions, elusive and dissimulating, in which

he returns elegy to its alleged origins as a song of lament10 in fitting

penance for the Ars amatoria, and gives new direction to the epistolary experiment already conducted in the Heroides]u so that in launching his "myth of exile"12 he (again) creates "an invention without

parallel," albeit with "some extant 'earlier traditions' as points of


If in his letters from exile in 58-57 B.C. Cicero was "the unconscious creator of the autobiographical genre 'complaints from exile',"14

Ovid's exilic poetry is without parallel in classical Roman literature

as a meditation on the state of exile itself, and of the psychological

pressures which divide the self between 'here' and 'there' with little

or no mediation between them. Cicero's letters lack this introspec-


So Jerome Chron. 171 g Helm; relegatio as opposed to exilium, which would have

deprived him of his Roman citizenship and property (cf., e.g., Tr. 2.137-38, 5.2.55-62,

5.11.21-22; Evans (1983) 4, 27).


For the chronology see Syme (1978) 37-47.


For the date see Williams (1996) 132 n. 52.


Wilkinson (1955) 347, 359-61 is representative.


See Harvey (1955) 170-72 with Brink (1971) 165 on Hor. Ars 75-78, and cf.

Ov. Am. 3.9.3-4; hence the correlation between form and content at Tr. 3.1.9-10,

5.l.5—6,flebilis ut noster status est, ita flebile carmen,/rwteriae scripto conveniente suae.


See further Rahn (1958) and now Rosenmeyer (1997).


Claassen (1999) 10, announcing a major emphasis in her treatment of the exilic



Claassen (1999) 32.


Claassen (1999) 27 (cf. again 108).



tive depth, not least because of the relative brevity of his exile;15 the

gradual evolution of Ovid's estrangement from Rome and of his secondary exile among his new cohabitants in Tomis is pictured on a

broader canvas spanning eight and more years of self-observation.

True, Ovid's declared motives for persevering with poetry in Tomis are

practical enough: destroyed by the Muses (via the Ars amatoria), he

nevertheless turns to them as a source of distraction from his exilic

grief (cf, e.g., Tr. 4.1.19-52, 4.10.115-22); by communicating with

his friends at Rome he performs an act of utilitas officiumque (Pont.

3.9.56), of duty according to the code of amicitia and of utilitarian

appeal for help in securing his removal from Tomis;16 and while he

doubtless communicated in prose as well, his commitment to verse

allows him to reward his loyal friends through poetic celebration of

them in Tomis (cf. Tr. 5.9.1-6, Pont. 3.6.51-54, 4.1.1-22; named celebration at least in the Epistulae ex Ponto, as Ovid preserves the

anonymity of his addressees in the less certain times of the Tristid).11

But these utilitarian motives are only one aspect of the greater emotional drama which Ovid's persona plays out in the exilic poetry,

and which is dominated by his uncertain sense of Roman identity

and 'belonging' in Tomis. This vulnerability also distinguishes Ovid's

exilic writings from Seneca's response to his Corsican exile (A.D.

41-49) in the Consolatio ad Helviam., where he takes comfort in the Stoic

doctrine of 'citizenship of the universe' and in the familiar consolatory

topos that the exile makes his home in any land (cf. Helv. 8.5-6).18


For his letters surveyed see Edwards (1996) 114 and Claassen (1999) 27-28,

105—10 with Hutchinson (1998) 25-48 for a more positive assessment. For suggestive thematic coincidences between Cicero's and Ovid's exilic writings see Nagle

(1980) 33-35, but cf. Kenney in Melville (1992) xvii n. 5 (that Ovid had read

Cicero's letters "is on balance unlikely, but the possibility that they were accessible

in Ovid's lifetime cannot be entirely ruled out").

"' For definition and discussion of qfficium and utilitas see Evans (1983) 149-50

with Nagle (1980) 71-82. Cf. Millar (1993) 10 on the Epistulae ex Ponto in particular as "remarkably vivid representations of the central role which the arrival of

monarchic power had conferred on petitioning" and on appealing through influential

intermediaries to "the real holders of power."

" Tristia 2 (to Augustus) and 3.7 (to Perilla) are exceptions to the rule, as are Ex

Ponto 3.6 and 4.3 (unnamed addressees). But for the veil of anonymity in the Tristia

as strategic for reasons other than protecting Ovid's friends from named association

with him see Evans (1983) 58 (his elegies "gain a generality of appeal which they

would lack if addressed to particular individuals") and below, sections 4 and 5.


See further Claassen (1999) 92~94 with Davisson (1983) 174. But Seneca offers

a very different account of his exilic hardships at Pol. 18.9, Ovidian in color (see

Griffin (1976) 62 and Degl' Innocenti Pierini (1980) 114-22) and clearly strategic;

see also Dewar's discussion below, pp. 388-93.



Ovid's lack of philosophical fortification in Tomis19 lends greater

human interest to the exilic poetry as a study of raw psychological

struggle—of melancholic struggle in the Tristia and the Epistulae ex

Ponto counterbalanced (as we shall see) by a contrived display of

manic rage in the Ibis. Our journey into exile begins with Ovid's

exaggerated portrayal of his Tomitan landscape; the inner turmoil

which he projects on to his physical environment will in turn be

connected with his disorientation on so many other fronts in Tomis,

chief among them his complex relationships with his fellow but foreign Tomitans, with his familiar but alien Roman past, with his wife

and close but so distant friends, and of course with Augustus himself.

1. Peoples and Places

Despite Ovid's insistence on the sincerity of his exilic persona (cf.

Tr. 3.1.5-10, 5.1.5-6, Pont. 3.9.49-50), the Tomis he describes bears

little or no relation to its historical counterpart. Originally a Milesian

foundation, Tomis appears to have retained its Greek language and

culture down to and beyond the spread of Roman influence in

Moesia, its surrounding region which was finally brought under firm

Roman control only late in the first century B.C.20 Ovid's Tomis is

populated by the crude and unlettered Getae, but "Tomitan archaeological finds show a fine indigenous culture, use of Roman artefacts, even coins, also locally made fine Thracian metalwork, and

inscriptions in Greek and Latin;"21 one would indeed "never imagine from Ovid's account that Tomis boasted a gymnasium and richly

decorated civic buildings, that its epitaphs give evidence of its inhabitants' familiarity with Euripides, Theocritus, and other Greek authors,

or that it served as religious and civic center of the five Greek citystates in the immediate Danube delta."22 Inscriptional evidence supports Ovid's claims that the town is vulnerable to outside attack, not

least because of the poor state of its defensive wall (cf. Tr. 5.10.17—18).23

But it defies geographical logic to suppose that peoples as diverse as






Green (1994) xlvi-xlvii.

Williams (1994) 5-7 with further bibliography.

Claassen (1999) 196.

Habinek (1998) 158 (with 219 n. 15 for further bibliography).

Williams (1994) 6.



the Bastarnae, Bessi, Bistonii, Sarmatae, and Sauromatae were all

simultaneously present as menacing threats in the Tomitan region;

if "the exotic names of remote peoples conquered by Rome caught

the imagination of Augustan poets,"24 Ovid aims to impress (and disconcert) his audience with the exotic names of peoples not yet fully

subdued by Rome. The list of Ovid's distortions extends much further, leading some scholars to speculate that he never in fact set foot

in Tomis and may even have invented his exile;25 an intriguing possibility, but (i) while it is striking that Tacitus, say, or Cassius Dio

makes no allusion to his exile, the meager external evidence that

does exist cannot be ignored;26 and (ii) if entirely fictional, his nine

books of exilic elegy, supplemented by the Ibis, would surely carry

any such venture to very improbable lengths. Ovid's distortions are

better viewed as tactical in a different way, and not simply designed

to elicit the sympathies of his distant Roman readers, few of whom

presumably had direct experience of Moesia and whose ignorance

he might therefore seek to exploit for strategic advantage.

Ovid's distortions can also be viewed as the 'sincere' outpourings

of a persona whose inner crisis, lacking all proportion and balance,

is inevitably expressed in terms of hyperbolical excess. Already in

Tristia 1 his descriptions in 1.2, 1.4, and 1.11 of his turbulent voyage into exile symbolize his inner trauma (cf. 1.11.9-10, tantis animique marisque/ fluctibus}?1 the epic dimension of the raging storms en

route (1.2.13-40, 1.4.5-28, and 1.11.13-24) conveying through their

generic resonances the 'epic' scale of his disaster and its aftershocks.28

The lingering effects of this inner disturbance continue to be felt

throughout the exilic poetry without respite as the years pass. In the

relatively late Ex Ponto 2.7 (to Atticus), for example, the restlessness


Gransden (1976) 183 on Virg. Am. 8.722-25.

See especially Fitton Brown (1985) with Claassen (1999) 34 on the history of

the theory, which she rejects (Little (1990) and Green (1994) xvii still more firmly); but

cf. Habinek (1998) 218 n. 9: "the ideological force of his depiction of the Tomitans

and of himself would not be categorically different if the whole project were fictitious."


Stat. Silu. 1.2.254-55 (cf. Plin. HNat. 32.152); then silence until Jerome (n. 6

above), [Aur. Vic.] Epit. 1.24 and Sidon. Cam. 23.158-61. The elaborations of at

least Sidonius warrant much suspicion (cf. Syme (1978) 215-16). Hollis (1996) 26

draws attention to the interesting case of a graffito from Herculaneum which includes

the words MORIERIS TOMI—a suggestive allusion to Ovid's fate.


Cf. Dickinson (1973) 162-63, 167-68.


See Videau-Delibes (1991) 73-82, relating 1.2 and 1.4 to Met. 11.479-572 and

Am. 1.81-156.




of "the scarcely pacified Getae" (2, male pacatis. . . Getis) is suggestively paralleled by the disquiet within Ovid's persona, leading to

the kind of insecurity glimpsed in lines 5-7:

me timor ipse malorum

saepe superuacuos cogit habere metus.

da ueniam, quaeso, nimioque ignosce timori.

My very dread of misfortunes often drives me to feel unnecessary fears.

Pardon me, I beg you, and forgive this excessive fear.

The paranoid excesses of superuacuos. . . metus and nimio . . . timori are

precipitated by the same loss of balanced perspective which resurfaces when Ovid pictures himself as persecuted simultaneously by

fate and the gods as well as by fortune (17-20), the latter's proverbial fickleness now giving way in his over-dramatized, victim-like

imaginings to a fixed determination to harm him (21-22, 41-42).

Couplet after couplet sustains this hyperbolical pitch, so that even

the Getae, allegedly the most fierce race on earth (31), are apparently moved to pity by his plight (32); for his epic hardships to be

properly memorialized in literature, nothing less that "a long Iliad

of his fate" (cf. 34) would have to be attempted; and so countless

are they that their number defies description by all but adynata:

Cinyphiae segetis citius numerabis aristas,

altaque quam multis floreat Hybla thymis,

et quot aues motis nitantur in acre pinnis,

quotque natent pisces aequore, certus eris,

quam tibi nostrorum statuatur summa laborum,

quos ego sum terra, quos ego passus aqua. (25—30)

You'll sooner count the ears in a Libyan cornfield and the sprigs of

thyme which lofty Hybla brings to blossom, and you'll sooner know

the number of birds winging their way in the air, the number of fish

swimming in the sea, than reckon the true amount of my sufferings

which I've undergone on land and at sea.

Ovid's familiar exempla of countlessness here29 also reinforce the desolation of Tomis by alluding to a very different natural and literary

environment which, through the Libyan associations of the river

Cinyps (25), stands at a southern global extreme in contrast to Ovid's

Scythia (cf. Tr. 1.3.61, Scythia est quo mittimur). In contrast to the fer29

Discussed with Tr. 4.1.55-60, 5.1.31-34, and 5.2.23-28 by Bernhardt (1986)




tile corn-producing region by the Cinyps (cf. Herod. 4.175, 198),

and in contrast to Sicilian Hybla (26), famous for its honey and here

evoking its idyllic Virgilian character in the Eclogues (cf. 1.54, 7.37),

Ovid's Tomis is a frozen wasteland (Pont. 2.7.72) in which the soil,

even if not infertile, is left uncultivated because of the constant threat

of war (69—70; cf. Tr. 3.10.67—70). The number of birds in the sky

and fish in the sea (27—28) also serves to illustrate Ovid's countless

sufferings at Tr. 5.2.25-27; but a closer analogy for lines 25-28 as

a whole is supplied by AA 1.57-59:

Gargara quot segetes, quot habet Methymna racemos,

aequore quot pisces, fronde teguntur aues,

quot caelum Stellas, tot habet tua Roma puellas.

The number of Gargara's cornfields, of Methymna's grape-clusters, of

fish concealed in the sea and birds in the trees, of stars in the sky; so

many girls your own Rome contains.

The striking parallels between the two passages raise the specter of

the Ars amatoria in a suitably chastened exilic form: Ovid's emphasis on Rome as an exciting social playground in the Ars is gently

evoked and disowned when he steers his similar exempla of countlessness in a very different direction in drab Tomis. A similar effect

is achieved in 2.7.43-45:

nee magis assiduo uomer tenuatur ab usu,

nee magis est curuis Appia trita rotis,

pectora quam mea sunt serie calcata malorum . . .

The ploughshare is no more worn from constant use, the Appian Way

worn down by curved wheels, than my heart has been trampled by a

succession of misfortunes.

The triteness of the topoi in lines 43-4430 is offset first by the contrast between the agricultural world evoked in 43 and Ovid's own

Tomitan 'reality' (cf. 70, non patitur uerti barbarus hostis humum), and

then by his remoteness from Italy, reinforced by his familiar but distant vision of the Appian Way in 44. These contrasts between the

irreconcilable worlds of 'here' and 'there' are symptomatic of the

polarizing mentality which, as often in the exilic corpus, Ovid's persona reveals in lines 47—74, where each pentameter exacerbates the

excesses of his unique exilic plight (e.g., 66, ultima me tellus, ultimus

See Galasso (1995) 330 on 39-44.



orbis habet) by overthrowing the more ordinary and measured experience of life/exile portrayed in each hexameter (e.g., 65, est aliquid

patriis uicinum finibus esse}.^

This technique of constructing a hyperbolical picture of exile which

is believable only at an emotional level, and hence a 'realistic' representation of the loss of balanced focus in his traumatized persona,

is predicated on Ovid's portrayal of Rome as the stabilizing center

of his entire existence. Excluded from Rome, he suddenly loses the

familiar balance of life amid his family, his friends, and the city's

cherished landmarks and involvements (cf. Pont. 1.8.35-38), a loss

symbolized when he loses the delicate balance of his health through

constant illness in Tomis (cf. Tr. 3.3.3-14, 3.8.23-34, 4.6.39-44,

Pont. 1.10.3-14). At the environmental level Ovid's Scythia is itself

'unbalanced' in relation to Italy. In Virgil's third Georgic Italy represents the temperate center between the climatic extremes of Libya

to the south (339-48) and Scythia to the north (349-83); the Scythian

section in particular reveals extensive and explicit contrasts with the

laudes Italiae at G. 2.136-76.32 Virgil's picture of Scythia, itself traditional and "virtually a paradigm for the wintry north,"33 is in turn

the dominant model for Ovid's account of the Tomitan winter in

Tristia 3.10.34 But whereas the Virgilian contrast arguably "does not

work entirely to the credit of Italy, nor to the total detriment of the

Scythian landscape,"35 Ovid's contrast is simpler: whereas Virgil views

the Libyan and Scythian extremes from the balanced Roman center, Ovid views Scythia from his own dislocated perspective on the

margins of empire; and by 'confirming' through direct experience of

the region the accuracy of Virgil's account, he also creates the illusion that his own version commands special trust. From this remote

vantage-point the extremity of Ovid's sufferings in exile (Tr. 3.2.11,

ultima nunc patior) is in direct proportion to his distance from Rome

(cf. Tr. 3.4b.51, ulterius nihil est nisi non habitabile frigus, 3.13.27, 4.4.83),

the medial center by which the remoteness of that ultimas orbis is

always defined in the exilic poetry.


Cf. Davisson (1983) 173: "Many of the advantages which Ovid methodically

eliminates [in his own case in 47—74] resemble the consolations traditionally used

of exile" (illustration follows).


See Thomas G. on 3.349-83.


Thomas (1982) 51.


See Evans (1975).


Thomas (1982) 52.



That Tomis was located in Moesia is irrelevant to Ovid's creative

vision of the region as a reincarnation of the literary Scythia which

extends back at least to Herodotus.36 In winter this Scythia is Stygian

in its frozen sterility (e.g., Tr. 3.10.71-76, Pont. 1.3.51-52; cf. of the

underworld Tib. 1.10.35, non seges est infra, non uinea culta}, long inviting the comparison drawn explicitly at Pont. 4.14.11—12:

Styx quoque, si quid ea est, bene commutabitur Histro,

si quid et inferius quam Styga mundus habet.

Even the Styx, if such a thing exists, will be a good exchange for the

Hister; and anything that the world has even lower than the Styx.

In the deathly stillness evoked in Tristia 3.10 the seemingly endless

winter (cf. 13-16) holds the landscape in the grip of a frozen present (e.g., 25, uincti concrescant jrigore riui, 29-30, Hister/congelat)?1 The

timeless 'now' held in suspension by Ovid's use of the present tense

in 11-46 stretches into the indefinite future in 47, inclusaeque gelu

stabunt in38 marmore puppes, where the familiar poetic use of marmor of

the whitened sea in churning motion39 gives way to marmor denoting the whiteness of the frozen (even tomb-like) waters; the sea thus

becomes indistinguishible from the land (29-34; cf. 10, terra . . . marmoreo est Candida facia gelu), Ovid's environment as monotonous and

unremitting as his inner mood. The lifeless environment suitably

reflects (and is a projection of) his frequent equation of exile with

death (e.g., Tr. 5.9.19, Pont. 1.8.27, 4.9.74);40 in describing himself

as Nasonis adempti (1), his apparently novel use of adimo in the sense

of "remove by exile" (OLD s.v. 8b; cf. Tr. 1.1.27, Pont. 4.6.49) barely

disguises the verb's more familiar nuance, here foreshadowing the

funeral atmosphere of Tristia 3.10 generally, of "remove by death"

(OLD s.v. 8a; cf. Tr. 4.10.79, Pont. 1.9.41).41

Ovid's Tomis is not only Stygian in its lifeless sterility; war-torn

and abundant only in the dismal growth of wormwood (absinthium',

cf. Tr. 5.13.21, Pont. 3.1.23, 3.8.15), the region also reverses the

familiar characteristics of the idealized literary Golden/Saturnian


See Williams (1994) 9-10.

See further Videau-Delibes (1991) 117-19.


in with most modern editors, but ut Hall (both with MS support).


Cf. OLD s.v. 5a.


See for further examples and discussion Nagle (1980) 23-32 with Claassen

(1996) 576-85 and (1999) 239-40.


Cf. on the wordplay Helzle (1989) 155 on Pont. 4.6.49 and Dehon (1993) 212.




Age.42 Rugged Tomis has more in common with the Iron Age,43

when war first raged (Met. 1.141-43) and "men lived by plunder"

(144, uiuitur ex rapto; cf. Tr. 5.10.16, quae [sc. gentesj sibi non rapto uiuere

turpe putant}; the proverbial hardness of the Iron Age (cf. Hor. Epod.

16.65 aere, dehinc ferro durauit [sc. luppiter] saeculd) is perhaps implicated

in Ovid's portrayal of his ownferrea sors uitae (Tr. 5.3.28) and tempora

dura (Tr. 5.10.12) among the hard (duros) Getae (Pont. 1.5.12, 3.2.102).

Further traces of Ovid's durum exilium as an inversion of the Golden

Age may be detected in his (by now) standard description of the

Tomitan environment at the opening of Ex Ponto 3.1, to his wife:

Aequor lasonio pulsatum remige primum,

quaeque nee hoste fero nee niue terra cares,

ecquod erit tempus, quo uos ego Naso relinquam

in minus hostili iussus abesse loco? . . .

pace tua (si pax ulla est tua, Pontica tellus,

finitimus rapido quam terit hostis equo),

pace tua dixisse uelim: 'tu pessima duro

pars es in exilio, tu mala nostra grauas.'

tu neque uer sentis cinctum florente corona,

tu neque messorum corpora nuda uides,

nee tibi pampineas autumnus porrigit uuas,

cuncta sed immodicum tempora frigus habent. . .

non igitur mirum, finem quaerentibus horum

altera si nobis usque rogatur humus. (1-4, 7-14, 29—30)

Sea first struck by the oars of Jason, land never free of cruel enemies

and snow, will there ever be a time when I, Ovid, shall leave you,

ordered to exile in a less hostile place?

Without disturbing your peace (if you have any peace, land of Pontus,

ever trodden by the swift horses of your neighboring enemies), and

with your leave I would say: 'You are the worst element in my hard

exile; you increase the weight of my hardships.' You neither feel the

spring bedecked with wreaths of flowers, nor do you see the bare bodies of the harvesters; to you autumn extends no clusters of grapes, but

all the seasons possess the same extreme cold.

No wonder, then, if I seek an end to these hardships and plead constantly for a different place of exile.

Ovid's allusion to the Argo in line 1 revives the Pontic associations

of the Medea and Jason myth which have already been drawn earSee Williams (1994) 14-16.

Katz (1992) 127-32.



lier in the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, most obviously in Tristia 3.9,

where Ovid's "fanciful and aptly cruel etymology for Tomis"44 derives

the name from the Greek teuvco ("cut") and from Medea's murder

and dismemberment of Absyrtus, her brother; and also in Ex Ponto

1.4, where Ovid predictably defeats Jason in a point-by-point comparison (syncrisis) of their respective sufferings (23-46). But in Tomis

the peaceful bountifulness of the Golden Age in eternal spring (cf.

Met. 1.107, uer erat aetemum) gives way to the permanent winter (Pont.

3.1.11, tu neque uer sentis. . .) of Ovid's war-torn (7-8, 25-26) and

sterile (11-13, 19-20) landscape; in this context his opening allusion

also resurrects the Argo as a familiar literary symbol of decline from

the Golden Age40 and orientates the ensuing picture of his 'Iron Age'


By returning to such well-trodden ground in the first lines of this

new book, Ovid revisits exilic topoi which, by this stage in the corpus, are textually as inescapable and confining as the physical environment which he yearns to leave (cf. 3-4, 29-30); hence in part

the charge of monotony allegedly brought against the exilic poetry

(cf. Pont. 3.9.1-4). Directly addressing Pontica tellus (7), Ovid (^constructs her familiar exilic persona in lines 7-28 in order to impress

upon his wife the exilic hardships from which he seeks removal

through her help, in this case through her intercession before Livia

on his behalf (95-166). To be well intentioned is not enough, he

asserts; his wife must be passionate about attaining her goal (cf. 35).

The difference thus drawn between inclination and firmer will is

restated later:

magna tibi imposita est nostris persona libellis:

coniugis exemplum diceris esse bonae.

hanc caue degeneres . . . (43—45)

Great is the role that my writings have imposed on you: you are called

the model of a good wife. Take care not to fall short of that. . .

If by approaching Livia Ovid's wife lives up to the idealized persona envisaged in these lines, which Livia awaits to receive her? The

Livia who lives up to her own august image as femina. . . princeps


Claassen (1999) 192; cf. Oliensis (1997) 186-90 on the possible Augustan implications of 3.9 (Caesar as "the cutter").


See Smith (1913) 245-47 on Tib. 1.3.37-40.



(125)?46 Or one not so easily separated from the monstrous types

(e.g., Medea, Clytemnestra) from whom she is (all too) emphatically

distinguished in lines 119-24?47 When shades of Ovid's didacticism

in the Ars amatoria are detected in the advice which he gives to his

wife about how best to approach Livia (129-66),48 how to interpret

the reappearance of the Ars here in exilic guise? As a sign of penance

for the incriminating work, or as a defiant resurrection of it? Such

questions ultimately complicate Ovid's opening description of Pontica

tellus (7): how in retrospect to reconcile the 'truth' of her persona in

Ex Ponto 3.1 with (i) the real environmental picture which the extrapoetical evidence reveals about Pontus, and (ii) with Ovid's gentle

probing later in the poem into the potential differences between one's

projected persona and 'real' self? The further question left openended by this complex poem is whether Livia will be any more

receptive to the pleas of Ovid's wife than the cold and unresponsive aequor and terra (1—4) and the Pontica tellus addressed in 7-18.49

Beyond representing Italy as the global median point in contrast

to extreme Scythia, Ovid exploits in a conventional way the familiar ancient theory that a people's character is directly related to its

physical environment and climate.50 In keeping with this theory Ovid's

Getae are predictably dull (cf. Tr. 5.10.38, stolidi) and as hard (duri:

Pont. 1.5.12, 3.2.102), wild (feri: Pont. 3.9.32, 4.15.40), and savage

(saeui: Pont. 1.7.2, 4.8.84) as their surroundings. Their feritas is reflected

in their "harsh voices and grim countenances" (cf. Tr. 5.7.17, uox

fera, trux uultus), and partly also in their unkempt appearance. Unshorn

and unshaven (Tr. 5.7.18, non coma, non ulla barba resecta manu, Pont.

4.2.2), they represent the opposite of Roman neatness (cf. AA 1.518,

sit coma, sit trita barba resecta manu)', the foreign breeches they wear

(braca(e), itself a word of Celtic origin:51 cf. Tr. 3.10.19, 4.6.47, 5.7.49)

symbolize their general isolation from Greco-Roman culture and

mores (cf. Tr. 5.10.33-34); and in their rough hides (Tr. 3.10.19, pel46

See Johnson (1997b).

Cf. for the approach Davisson (1984) 331—32 (similar comparisons at Pont.

1.2.119-20, 2.2.113-14; cf. Pont. 3.6.41-42) and (1993) 231 (the catalogue in 119-24

"is unlikely to reassure").


Cf. Davisson (1984) 324-25 (with emphasis on "Livia characterized as resembling a capricious domino").


Cf. Davisson (1984) 325: "Even Pontus itself resembles certain amatory elegiac addressees in that it is indifferent to the poet's pleas."


See Williams (1994) 16-18.


See Palmer (1954) 53.


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