Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ovid, Please Come Home!

On December 14, 2017 the City Council of Rome revoked the order of exile issued to Publius Ovidius Naso, better known as Ovid.  What is unusual is that the order was issued 2,009 years ago in 8 AD by the Emperor Augustus.  Questions have been raised regarding the legal authority of the Council to revoke an order of Augustus and reporters have been unable to reach Ovid for a response to this stunning development.

Ovid was the youngest of a triumvirate of Roman poets who rose to prominence during the reign of Augustus (31 BC - 14AD), the others being Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC), author of the Aenied regarded as the national epic of ancient Rome, and Horace (65 BC - 8 BC).

Born in 43 BC, Ovid is best known for the Metamorphoses and Ars Armatoria (The Art of Love).  Much of his work had erotic themes and it is this which may have led him afoul of Augustus.  Throughout his reign, Augustus promoted laws designed to increase the Roman birthrate among its leading citizens and enforcing a strict moral code.

Unfortunately, Augustus' only child, Julia, flouted her father's code, engaging in promiscuous and adulterous behavior that eventually drove her appalled husband, Tiberius (stepson of Augustus) into voluntary exile in 6 BC.  Augustus refused to believe rumors of his daughter's behavior until a series of events forced him to take action in 2 BC.  Julia was exiled to an island off the coast of Italy and several of the men associated with her were executed or forced to commit suicide.  Several years later Ovid, who had also been a member of Julia's circle, was ordered exiled to Tomis, a remote town on the Black Sea coast of what is now Romania where the poet remained until his death in 17 or 18 AD.  Augustus died in 14 AD at the age of 77.  Tiberius, his successor, reportedly ordered Julia be starved to death.
Rome revokes ancient poet Ovid's exile – 2,000 years on(Statue of Ovid in Tomis (now Constanta, Romania))

There is an alternative theory of these events which holds that while Julia and her male companions misbehaved sexually it was not those actions that led to exile and executions.  Rather Julia, knowingly or unknowingly became enmeshed in a plot to depose her father.  One of her lovers was Iullus Antonius, son of Marc Antony, Augustus' great rival from 43 to 31.  Iullus was known to have ambitions of his own and it is speculated may have been at the center of the plot against Augustus.  With Julia's downfall, Iullus committed suicide.

The specific reasons for Ovid's exile remain unknown.  He wrote two books of poetry in exile and all he would say of the matter was that the cause was "carmen et error", a poem and a mistake, which he bitterly regretted.  His poems portray Tomis as a barbarous town, cold and gray, whose inhabitants did not speak Latin, and knew nothing of his accomplishments; "here I'm the barbarian, understood by nobody".

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