Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.22

Ulrich Schmitzer, Ovid. Studienbücher Antike, Band 7.   Hildesheim:  Georg Olms Verlag, 2001.  Pp. 242.  ISBN 3-487-11366-X.  Eur 17.80.  

Reviewed by J. A. Richmond, Department of Classics, University College, Dublin
Word count: 1809 words

This book is one of a new series consisting mostly of general introductions to classical authors for students. Though translations are given for the many passages quoted, a reader is expected to know what terms like "Penthemimeres," "versus spondiacus" (in hexameters) and untranslated πρῶτος εὑρετής mean. However, the general reader should have little difficulty in profiting from the text, as it is written in a straightforward and agreeable style. There is an emphasis on the latest research and on Ovid's "Nachleben". The arrangement is on traditional and natural lines: first an account is given of what we know of Ovid's life, and then his works are discussed in chronological order. For each work there is a general description followed by Latin extracts from chosen poems or episodes, with translation and both particular and general comments. This makes for a book that is agreeable to read through, and gives a quick taste of what Ovid is like. For reference, however, the arrangement may be less convenient, and the index could be much more helpful for a reader trying to search for scattered discussions of a topic.

Such is the amount of publication devoted to Ovid in recent years that there is an undoubted demand for works of general orientation. The convenience for readers of German of E. Martini's short Einleitung zu Ovid (Brünn 1933) led to an unchanged reprint at Darmstadt in 1970, when much new work had already appeared. In the same place and year H. Fränkel's Ovid: A poet between two worlds (Berkeley 1945) appeared in a German version. And in 1968 W. Kraus's article on Ovid in RE 18,2 (1942) 1910-1986 was revised and reissued in M. von Albrecht and E. Zinn, Ovid (Darmstadt 1968). Since then the flood of publications on Ovid has made the provision of a new introduction essential, and N. Holzberg's successful Ovid: Dichter und Werk (Munich 1997) is intended for the widest possible audience. For the serious student there has just appeared in English the larger scale Brill's Companion to Ovid (Leiden 2002), and The Cambridge Companion to Ovid is announced for March 2002. S.'s book will suit students beginning to discover Ovid: as they progress in their studies, they will find it in general informative and reliable. They may discover, however, that the author's view of certain important problems like Ovid's political messages or the authenticity of the Epistula Sapphus does not carry conviction.

Approximately 67 pages are given to the Amatory works, 50 to the Metamorphoses, 34 to the Fasti, 4 to lost, doubtful, and spurious works, and 30 to the Tristia and Ex Ponto. There is a bibliography of 18 pages (very up-to-date and including work "im Erscheinen"), a rather cryptic and selective index of names and topics (entries for "Cheek", "Haase", "Hughes," "Tawada"), and an index of passages discussed.

Of the Amores 1.1, 1.5, 2.4 are treated at length. Discussions are given of the poetic conventions presupposed by 1.1 of Ovid's attitude to women and of how the Amores is rather an exploration of love than a depiction of Ovid's experiences.

In the next section Heroides 6 (Hypsipyle), 20 (Acontius), and 21 (Cydippe) are analysed in detail. Attention is given to the adroit alterations of Apollonius' account of Jason and Hypsipyle to suit the epistolary form used by Ovid and to the use Ovid makes of the literary knowledge of Medea's revenge on Jason that his readers derived from tragedy. Similarly, in the letters of Acontius and Cydippe S(chmitzer) shows how Ovid re-shapes the version that Callimachus had given in his Aitia by removing the original aetiological significance and concentrating on the arguments appropriate to the correspondents.

In the discussion of the Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris much attention is given to assessing Ovid's attitude to the policies of Augustus, especially the marriage laws. S. sees Ovid as critical of some aspects but not as an opponent of the regime. He believes that Ovid was a political supporter of Gaius Caesar, who was expected to succeed Augustus.

The Metamorphoses is introduced with a very brief treatment of its subject, structure, and relation to Augustus. Detailed discussion concentrates on the stories of Callisto (2.401-530), of Scylla (8.6-151), of Hyacinthus (10.162-219), and of Pomona and Vertumnus (14.622-771). In commenting on the Callisto story S. rightly objects to efforts to see the narrative as showing modern sensibilities and moral attitudes and to the view that the depiction of Jupiter is a covert attack on Augustus. In commenting on Scylla by comparisons with the Ciris, S. highlights the artistry with which Ovid handles the story and subtly fits the epyllion form into the narrative framework of his long poem. The episode of Hyacinthus affords opportunity for intertextual observation and (as one of the songs sung by Orpheus) for speculation on an implication that Ovid excels Orpheus in artistry. The tale of Vertumnus is studied with special attention both to its significance as the last related amour of the gods and to its retrospective reference to the first book. The account of Book 15 discusses its political implications and the prayer for Augustus at its end. S. wisely believes that for all Ovid's independent stance there can be no question of opposition to the regime of the principate. But in my view his thesis about Ovid's political messages, which is fully developed in his elaborate Zeitgeschichte in Ovids Metamorphosen: Mythologische Dichtung unter politischem Anspruch (Stuttgart 1990), is overstated (cf. criticism of D. E. Hill CR n.s. 42 [1992] 303-304).

From the Fasti S. selects the introductory remarks for May, the childhood of Jupiter, and the festival of Flora (5.1-378); the story of Mars and Silvia and the festival of the Matronalia (3.1-234); the festival of the Lemuria (5.419-492); and the dedication of the Temple of Mars Ultor (5.545-596). Among the aspects of the work that attract S. are the relation of Ovid to the antiquarian and etymological research of scholars like Verrius Flaccus, the political implications of the work, the revisions that Ovid made to his text after the death of Augustus, and the irreverent treatment of divinities that were especially important to Augustan propaganda.

Next "Lost, Doubtful and Spurious" works are dismissed in a few pages that might more naturally have been placed after the poems of exile, which follow them.

The Ibis is disposed of in a very brief footnote (p.181 n. 17) in the section on the Tristia and Ex Ponto. S. concentrates on themes seen throughout the poetry of exile and takes a variety of passages to illustrate his views. He rightly emphasises that in his poetry of exile Ovid has a case to make for his recall to Rome, and that we cannot accept all his statements at face value. Still, it is perhaps misleading to argue that at present "Tomi liegt in einer vom Klima eher begünstiger Region," and imply that Ovid was giving a completely false picture. Surely no Italian would apply such a description to an area where not only a great river like the Danube but even the sea froze over in winter? Remember too what Hesiod thought of his native Ascra (Op. 640 and West ad loc.), or Tacitus of the climate of Britain (Agr. 12.3). Could Ovid have safely appealed to Vestalis (Pont. 4.7.3-12) and Pomponius Flaccus (Pont. 4.9.81-86) to support statements that were patently false? (On excessive scepticism see the remarks by E. J. Kenney CR n.s. 48 [1998] 30.) Other topics include Ovid's experience with local languages, the friends who stood by him in Rome, and especially the part his wife was expected to play in trying to have him recalled.

The final few pages of the text, which deal with Ovid's influence on later ages, concentrate on tracing some of the legacies of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe in art and literature.

There are slight errors to be found or improvements that seem to be necessary, but nothing that I thought serious, and they can easily be altered in subsequent reprints. I may remark some: p. 32: "aetate [leg. aetatis] ... magnis [leg. magni]"; p. 39 n. 43: there may be readers who will not understand that Hor. carm. 3.30 was originally written to conclude the collection; p. 69: "für dein Bestreben mehr Erfolg" is a mistranslation; p. 87 refers to, but contradicts, p. 65 on Ovid's initial intentions when setting out to write the amatory didactic poems; p. 99: is the traditional "Drache" the best word to describe for modern readers Delphi's Python? p. 100: some believe that the "armorum iudicium" (12.620 - 13.383 = 392 verses) is just longer than the Phaethon episode (1.747 - 2.339 [I end here, where the stories of the Heliades and of Cycnus follow, rather than at 2.400 taken by S.] = 372 verses); p. 105 (third line of translation): if "Iouisque mei ... dedecus," is "und ... Iuppiters und meine Schande" then "Iuppiterque meus" must be "und ... Iuppiter und ich"; p. 137: the stress laid on the use of "natus" rather than "filius" is quite misplaced -- certainly the official prose terminology described Augustus as the "filius" of Julius; in the language of the higher poetry "natus" for metrical (and other) reasons predominated -- "filius" and "filia" are found in the Aeneid 18 times, "(g)natus/a" about 100 times; p. 146 last line of body text: "Appulei[o]"; p.238: "frg." and "fr." used to cite "Call. Aitia"; p. 203: Books 1-3 of the Ex Ponto "offenbar gesammelt von Brutus"; p. 225: the date of Helzle's paper is 1989.

This work will please many: it gives some direct experience of all the major works, and is linked to modern literature and art by very many references. I doubt, however, whether an epigraph with eight lines of the Russian text of a poem by Mandelstam in addition to the translation (p. 179) is quite in keeping with the readership envisaged. The technicalities of scholarship are kept in the background, but the references will send the reader to a good selection of the latest publications, from which he can have access to earlier scholarship. Despite the inclusion of 16 of his own titles in the bibliography, in my view S. maintains a fair balance of good sense in the book. A comparison with Holzberg's popular Ovid: Dichter und Werk (a corrected edition came out in 1998) is inevitable: Holzberg engages more closely with rather technical problems such as transmission and dating, but gives illustration of his argument usually with translated passages and no Latin. S. gives very many Latin extracts with translations, and has a special interest in very modern literary work that has drawn inspiration from Ovid. Each book in its own way should attract readers for Ovid: it is unfortunate that the conscientious reports of modern scholarly discussion may tend to distract them from the brilliance, charm and wit of the poetry.

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