BMCR 2003.01.12

Culpa Silenda: Le Elegie dell’Error Ovidiano. Quaderni di “Invigilata Lucernis” 17

, , , Culpa silenda : le elegie dell'"error" ovidiano. Quaderni di "Invigilata lucernis" ; 17. Bari: Edipuglia, 2002. 244 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8872283450. EUR 17.00.

Luisi has written the first part of this book, an attempt to discern what was the ‘error’ which caused Ovid’s exile. This is a subject he has treated already, most recently in his “Il perdono negato. Ovidio e il corrente filoantoniana” (Bari 2001), a work which I have not read. With most scholars he maintains that the ‘carmen’ mentioned by Ovid was at most only a minor contributory cause. He believes that first the Elder Julia, later the Younger Julia, and ultimately Germanicus (all personally popular) were the centres of a political movement that envisaged a principate more openly oriental in type and was prepared to treat the “princeps” as a divinity. He infers that this movement had popular support. Finally he argues that Ovid was a principal ‘leader’ (using the English term) of the faction proposing to ‘destabilise’ Augustus, and that the “princeps” acted reasonably in exiling him to Tomis. The second part, also contributed by Luisi, is designed to illustrate his argument, and presents (with an Italian translation) a Latin text of fifteen elegies1 written by the exiled Ovid. Berrino contributes the third part of the volume: a commentary on these elegies and a bibliography.

It is not indicated for what audience the book is intended, but the level of the commentary suggests readers other than specialists are envisaged. The merits of the book are its attractive layout and copious references to modern scholarship. However, the historical introduction is uncritical in arguing its case, the text presented (that of S. G. Owen, Oxford 1915) is out-dated, the translation has inaccuracies, and the commentary lacks critical power.2 Furthermore, the selection does not include all the incidental mentions Ovid makes of the causes of his exile, e.g., Pont. 2.2.9-18, 2.9.67-76, but does present Trist. 1.11 on the tenuous grounds that Ovid’s boast that he has continued to write poetry, despite the worst that storms at sea could do, may allude to the failure of Augustus to silence him. The inclusion of Trist. 1.10 is even more surprising. I do not recommend this book to readers unfamiliar with Ovid’s work or with the problems surrounding his exile.

The first part of the book is ingeniously argued, but the evidence is scanty and ambiguous and has been the material for a host of the most varied interpretations since the Revival of Learning. That there was some political aspect to the successive exiles of the two Julias is very probable. That their popularity among the people at large involved well-founded hopes among their supporters that the principate could be made to take a course more favourable to the poorer classes seems very speculative. That there was also in those circles a further current of feeling in favour an orientalising principate that would divinise the “princeps” has a very shaky foundation in the Alexandrian edict of Germanicus in which he commands that the divine honours offered to him should be reserved to Tiberius and Livia.3 To claim (p. 28, cf. p. 31) that Ovid’s wish expressed in Pont. 2.5.75-76 that Germanicus should succeed to imperial rule is ‘a crushing proof of his [Ovid’s] anti-Tiberian politics and of his inclination to a concept of a divinisation of the living emperor’ appears unjustified, but this is not the place to debate the point. Finally, the idea that Ovid was active in politics and had a practical political policy seems to be at odds with the little we know of his life.4

The authors give thanks for technical assistance in transcribing the elegies: presumably an electronic scan was involved. I have noted no divergence from Owen’s text.5 There are many places where there are strong arguments for adopting a different reading. This is especially the case where the translation presupposes one: Pont. 1.2.30 ‘perse la sensibilità del dolore’ = “posuit sensum … malis” [leg. “mali”]; Pont. 1.2. 90 ‘ha fatto dono’ = “dabit ipse” [leg. “dedit”] Pont. 3.2.63 ‘per aria’ = “per aethera” [leg. “aera”]. Other passages also should be altered: Pont. 1.2. 99 “terra [semper]”, Pont. 1.2.111 “aliquis [aliquid]”, Pont. 2.5.11 “breui solui [breuem salui]”. In general there is very little attention paid to textual problems. Symptomatic is the reference in the commentary at Trist. 1.3.75-76, where the reader is given the impression that F. W. Lenz in 1962 was the first to suspect interpolation. A glance at Luck’s apparatus would have shown that Heinsius and Schrader had already objected to the couplet.6

I have not checked the translation systematically, but among oddities I have noted are: Trist. 1.2.33 “Scilicet” omitted in translation; Trist. 1.2.81 ‘se’ = “quod”; Trist. 1.2.109-110 ‘ma voi vocati non senza una ragione’ = “uos [di] sed sub condicione uocati”; Trist. 1.3.17 ‘L’adorata sposa’ = “Uxor amans”; Trist. 1.11.31 ‘A sinistra una parte è barbara’ = “Barbara pars laeua est”; Trist. 2.125 ‘nel momento’ = “in euentu”; Trist. 2.549 ‘sei Fasti e altrettanti libri’ = “sex … Fastorum … totidemque libellos” [utterly misleading]; Pont. 1.2.1 “mensuram nominis” alludes not to the metrical length of the name “Maximus,” but to its meaning — cf. “Carus” Pont. 4.13.2; Pont. 1.2.145-147 ‘vostra … te … tuo’ = “uestra … uos, uestras …”;7 Pont. 3.2.8 ‘girarono le spalle all’esilio’ = “terga dedere fugae”;8 Pont. 4.6.1 ‘giunge’ = “uenit” (perfect tense); and Pont. 4.6.45 ‘il Danubio, che prima era qui troppo vicino a me’ = “prius hic nimium nobis conterminus Hister” [where “prius” has been taken with “conterminus” (but actually modifies “quam” in v. 49), and “hic” understood as the adverb of place instead of the demonstrative pronomial adjective qualifying “Hister”]. I do not venture to criticize the Italian style, save to note that the straitjacket of the Latin couplets often results in a jerky prose translation.9

The commentary contains much of interest, but suffers from defects. Generally, there is an excess of elementary information,10 and of irrelevant fact.11 A reluctance to discuss difficulties of language and text is manifest. A reviewer is bound to remark on a fondness for detecting significance in features of style that are merely the result of writing in elegiac couplets.12 Those who simply see in Trist 5.11.25-7 a typical piece of Ovidian flattery of Augustus will be surprised to read ‘ancora una volta il poeta sottolinea [!] la sua adesione alla factio dei populares che sosteneva un principato meno tradizionale e più improntato a un modello orientaleggiante’. There are also some surprising errors. The city of Cyzicus is mentioned at Trist. 1.10.29 (and correctly identified in the notes), but when the Ciziges occur in the list of Trans-Danubian tribes at Trist. 2.191,13 the note indicates that they are inhabitants of the prosperous city of Cyzicus and claims it is obvious that they are depicted by Ovid ‘in maniera totalmente negativa’ to convince the “princeps” to mitigate his punishment. At Trist. 1.11.15 it is stated that Ἀρκτόφυλαξ is the Greek equivalent of “Arcturus” a statement both true and quite misleading. I am baffled by ‘ Caesar, titolo tradizionalmente usato per celebrare il valore bellico di un imperatore’ (p.149).

In regard to the format I must say that the generally pleasing effect is spoiled in detail. Verse couplets are frequently divided by page-end, and the prose translation is broken into paragraphs that often do not correspond with the line-groups indicated in the notes. (Presumably this was done to harmonize page-endings in the text and translation.) Misprints are abundant.14 There is no index to the topics discussed in the commentary.

In the present reviewer’s opinion very considerable improvement is needed before this book can be recommended as satisfactory.


1. Trist. 1.2, 3, 8, 10, 11; 2.1-264, 531-578; 3.2, 5; 5.11; Pont 1.2, 5; 2.3, 5; 3.2; 4.6.

2. The clarity of Luck’s note on Trist 1.10.22 (“dominum … suum”) may be contrasted with Berrino’s remarks.

3. The ‘Acclamation Edict’, a Berlin papyrus published by Wilamowitz and Zucker (SBA 1911, 794-821). It must be borne in mind that in Egypt the divinisation of rulers had a very long history, and, in general, the Romans took an attitude to the practice in the Greek world less hostile than was customary in Rome. One must be cautious in inferring what Germanicus would have thought appropriate for home politics.

4. This point was made by J. C. Thibault, “The Mystery of Ovid’s Exile” (Berkeley 1964), pp. 79-80; cf. more generally pp. 75-86. If Ovid was a prominent anti-Tiberian, is it likely that Velleius Paterculus (2.36.3), writing so soon after Ovid’s death, would have named him as one of the literary glories of his age?

5. Not even the misleading punctuation at Trist. 1.8.24, Pont. 2.3.13 and Pont. 3.2.45 has been altered. I must take the opportunity to apologise for the misprint “tangunt” for “tangant” at Pont. 3.2.102 in my edition (Leipzig 1990) — perhaps I subconsciously followed the construction in Verg. Ecl. 3.16.

6. There is a similar reticence on other matters, too, in the commentary, as in the ascription of a view on the anaphora of “ter” (Trist. 1.3.55) to a vague ‘alcuni’.

7. One doubtful case of “uester = tuus,” is found in Ovid (Am. 2.16.23, where see McKeown’s note), but there is no reason so to take it here, as the first case is given a plural sense.

8. There are enough parallels to this phrase to make anyone venturing a new translation pause: Prop. 4.2.54, Ov. Met. 5.322, 12.313, 13.879, Fast. 6.522, Trist. 1.9.20.

9. “sed eodem tempore, quaeso,/ ipse modum statuam carminis, illa sui” (Trist. 1.11.43-44) is an example of a challenge to render something of the Ovidian ‘snappiness’. L.’s ‘ma nello stesso tempo, ti prego, in cui termino il carme, essa si calma’ may be compared with ‘Doch möge zugleich ich / meinem Liede das Ziel setzen, sich selber der Sturm!’ (Willige), ‘Doch möge er, ich bitte, zugleich meinem Dichtem und seinem Wüten ein Ende setzen’ (Luck), ‘… but at the same time that I end my verse, let him, I pray, reach his own end.’ (Wheeler) , ‘ … mais, je l’en pris, en même temps que j’arrêterai mes vers, qu’elle mette un terme à sa fureur!’ (André) .

10. Brief summaries are given of short passages of straightforward text, e.g., 1.2.13-26 on p. 120. It is explained what a “Lararium” was (Trist. 1.3.30), and the difference between “hostis” and “inimicus” is indicated (Trist. 2.50). Elementary remarks on the “Res Gestae” are furnished on p. 212. However, the use of “gustata” (Pont. 2.5.67) gets no note — though Galasso provides the necessary information.

11. Do we really need to be told (on Pont. 4.6.5) that Nero had the Olympic games held out of sequence in A.D. 67, or to get nearly half a page on dice because of the casual mention in Pont. 1.5.46? A page-reference should suffice for interesting but irrelevant information that is easily available in standard works of reference. (No reference is given for the postponement of the Olympic games [v. Eusebius Chron. I 216, 14 Schöne]).

12. E. g., the use of “natus” at Trist. 2.165 rather than “filius,” which would not scan, and of “Nasonem” as Ovid’s name at Pont. 4.6.2, although this is the name he invariably used for metrical reasons; allegedly significant word position at Trist. 5.11.18, etc. A particularly far-fetched idea is to be found in the comment on Trist. 2.21.

13. One may remark that in the same line the text has Ellis’s conjecture “Tereteaque,” but the translation gives ‘Màtari,’ translating “Matareaque.” The notes refer to “Meterei,” but, as Luck explains, “Materi” is the best form.

14. On both p. 145 and p. 155 “praefactiones” appears for “praefationes” (unless perhaps this is a new term of literary criticism, or a Hendersonian word-play.) At p. 127 ‘Rem. Palaem. Hier. chron. a Abr. 2060′ should read ‘Remmius Palaemon in Hier. chron. a. Abr. 2064′, and I should not like the task of finding ‘Papin. 355.28’ cited at p. 135; on p. 137 Homer Iliad 2.49 is a wrong reference that I cannot plausibly correct. The diacritics on Greek words cause trouble, and I add a few sample miscellaneous errors: p. 17 n. 59 “se” for “sed”; p. 19 “opus” for “opes”; p. 158 “si quid [id]”; p. 174 ‘Ausfürliche’; p. 198 ‘Pieridi’ for ‘Pleiadi’. It is hard to believe that the frustratingly incomplete quotations of Trist 2.140 (p.19 n. 76) and Pont. 2.3.5 (p. 135, last par.) were intended. On p. 32 there is a Latin mis-quotation ascribed to Josephus Ant. Iud. 18.54: the correct reference is Tac. Ann. 2.43.1. However charitably inclined, one will find it hard to ascribe to the printer (1) ‘L’ablativo Urbe mei‘ (Trist. 3.2.22), and (2) ‘Il periodo del anno … è il mese di dicembre (cfr. v. 3 cum mense Decembri)’ (Trist. 1.11.3).