Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.09.31
Beatrice Larosa, P. Ovidii Nasonis Epistula Ex Ponto III 1: testo, traduzione e commento. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Bd 308. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. viii, 153. ISBN 9783110298499. $112.00.
Reviewed by Emlen Smith, University of Pittsburgh (email@example.com)
In the introduction to this volume, the author notes that the most recent scholarly commentary on Pont. 3.1 is that of Staffhorst, published in 1965. This understates, if anything, the gap in scholarship on the Epistulae Ex Ponto. Staffhorst’s commentary covered the first three poems of Book 3; this is the first time any of them has been revisited. For poems 4 through 9, meanwhile, the reader must rely on Némethy’s Latin commentary of 1915; the same applies to poems 8-15 of Book 4 (poems 1-7 and 16 are covered by Helzle’s 1989 commentary). Against this background, it is worth questioning the choice to publish a book-length commentary on a single poem, especially at the high price of the one under review. Larosa sees Pont. 3.1 as a “sintesi esemplare dei Leitmotiven della poesia ovidiana dell’esilio” (p. 1), and the commentary under review is consistently and appropriately aware of the poem’s place in the larger corpus; but a commentary on one poem is necessarily limited in scope.
Indeed, the most valuable aspect of this commentary is the way it maps what Larosa calls “[l]a fitta rete di collegamenti intertestuali, esistenti tra Pont. III 1, gli altri componimenti dell’esilio e il resto dell’opera ovidiana” (p. vii). Ovid’s language and thought in this poem are connected throughout with his other works. Thus, on Ovid’s description of himself as aeger at line 69, Larosa not only lists the other appearances of the adjective in the exile poetry, but briefly and accurately describes the use of the concept of sickness, everywhere it appears in the exile poetry, noting, inter alia, where it is the poet himself who is aeger and where it is his wife; the different references to sickness of the mind and of the body; and mentions of the uselessness of medicine. Anyone wishing to trace some particular image or idea throughout the exile poetry will find this commentary a useful starting place (provided that the image or idea in question appears at least once in Pont. 3.1). Especially worthy of note are comments on the fifteen mythological characters who appear in lines 51-54, 106-112, and 119-124; the concise discussions of these figures’ treatment throughout the exile poetry will be a valuable resource for anyone seeking a fuller understanding of the exiled poet’s use of myth.
Larosa generally accepts the historical validity of Ovid’s description of his exile: Ovid “non è molto preciso nelle descrizioni etnografiche,” but his work has a “sostanziale veridicità storica” (p. 25), and his mention, for example, of the color of wormwood-leaves at line 23 is a “probabile indizio di un’esperienza diretta del poeta” (p. 50). Accordingly, Ovid’s wife is consistently referred to in the notes and introduction as “Fabia”; the name is drawn from the relationship with Fabius Maximus implied at Pont. 1.2.145, but Ovid himself, in his poetry, never names her.1 Larosa is also unconvinced by subversive or anti-Augustan readings of the exile poetry, though she discusses such readings fairly and thoroughly where they are relevant (as at line 117, where the comparison of Livia to Juno and Venus has been read ironically).2 At least once, the attempt to neutralize subversive readings becomes strained; the note to line 35 identifies a parallel usage of the phrase velle parum est (previously mentioned, but not discussed, by Staffhorst) at Met. 8.69, where Scylla spurs herself on to the murder of Nisus. The connection is a surprising one; but Larosa argues that, because Scylla was eventually punished, it provides “un’ulteriore conferma di quella cautela e di quel rispetto che Fabia, pur agendo a favore di Ovidio, dovrà mostrare al cospetto della corte imperiale” (p. 60). This is an excessively elaborate route to a forced conclusion; but it is a rare exception in a generally cautious and well-argued work of scholarship.
In analyzing the poem as a whole and its larger sections, Larosa focuses on the employment of ancient rhetorical techniques, emphasizing the poem’s explicit purpose: to instruct Ovid’s wife to plead with Livia for a less dangerous place of relegation. But in this focus, there is a risk of treating the poem as if it was actually a piece of oratory, and intended only for an audience of one. In her general note on the opening thirty lines of the poem, Larosa contrasts Ovid’s practices to those found in “orazioni vere e proprie” (p. 22); discussing the following section, however, she claims that “Ovidio tesse una vera e propria suasoria nei confronti della moglie, cercando di convincerla ad intercedere per lui presso l’imperatrice” (p. 55). More could have been said about the work’s purpose within a collection of poems, intended for a wider audience.
Regardless, the strength of this commentary is to be found less in its characterization of the poem as a whole than in its analysis of individual words, phrases and lines. Larosa’s treatments of subtle, small-scale effects within the poem — e.g., Ovid’s use of hyperbaton in lines 19-20 to emphasize the image of a solitary tree in Tomi’s barren fields, or the panegyrical tone effected by the alliteration and homoioteleuton in the words progeniemque piam participemque tori at line 164 — are clear and insightful. Such readings are frequent throughout the commentary, and consistently enrich the reader’s appreciation of the poem (here Larosa improves greatly on Staffhorst’s relatively spare notes).
In addition to the commentary, the volume under review contains a preface; an introduction divided into four parts (“L’epistula ex Ponto III 1 e la poesia ovidiana dell’esilio: motivi ricorrenti e prospettive critiche,” “Cronologia e destinataria,” “Struttura e temi,” and “Nota al commento”); the text of the poem facing an accurate prose Italian translation; a bibliography; and a general index. Typographical errors were rare and generally did not interfere with the reader’s understanding of the text.3
Overall, this is an excellent commentary on an important poem from a collection that is (still) under-examined. It will improve readers’ experience of the particular poem treated as well as scholarly work on the exile poetry as a whole. A single-poem commentary may not be the most useful way for study of the exile poetry to move forward, but within that framework’s limitations, Larosa has produced a valuable piece of scholarship.
1. The evidence for “Fabia” is discussed on p. 57; to the scholarship cited there, I would add Oliensis’ comments on the importance of Ovid’s wife’s anonymity: Oliensis, E. “Return to Sender: The Rhetoric of Nomina in Ovid’s Tristia.” Ramus 26.2 (1997): 172-193, esp. 183-185.
2. Johnson, P.J. “Ovid’s Livia in Exile.” CW 90.6 (1996-1997): 403-420; Luisi, A. “Livia Augusta e l’ironia di Ovidio.” InvLuc 22 (2000): 81-87.
3. One strange apparent error: On page 86, there is mention of “Pont. I, 9, rivolta a Massimo (probabilmente Cotta).” It is possible that that poem could be addressed, rather, to Fabius Maximus; but the reference to the addressee’s brother at line 29 makes it extremely unlikely. On the other hand, there is considerably more doubt about the Maximus of Pont. 3.8, who on page 87 is identified without qualification as Fabius. The only misprint of any significance that I noted was the reference to Pont. “III, 2, 3” for “III, 2, 103” on page 51. On the same page, two separate lists of passages list them slightly out of order (“Pont. II, 9, 12 e 39; II, 8, 43”; “[Pont.] III, 2, 3; II, 11, 23”). Even more trivial are the minor misspellings of scholars’ names on pp. 10, 24, and 36 and “una una” and “afffrontano” on p. 75.