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Issues of Unity in Ovid’s Tristia

Helena Dettmer

In his 1995 Teubner edition, J. B. Hall separates Tristia 1.5, 1.9, 3.4, 4.4, 5.2, and 5.7 into two poems. One reviewer of Hall’s edition is highly critical of the editor for not justifying the separation of these poems despite the fact the divisions have manuscript support. Because of the sorry state of the textual transmission of Ovid's Tristia, it is sometimes difficult to determine the beginning and end of an individual poem if that poem resumes thematically and verbally where the previous poem concludes. The aim of this study is to show that definitive evidence can be offered to justify division of these six elegies into two poems. Structure combined with theme serves as an analytical tool that defines the beginning and end of the twelve literary pieces under consideration and highlights their artistry. Resolution of the issue of unity enhances our interpretation of the independent poems and our understanding of the complex interplay among poems within each poetry-book. The careful and often brilliant craftsmanship of the poems and of the books in which they appear reaffirms that Ovid’s repeated deprecation of the quality of his literary work composed during his period of exile in the Black Sea region is simply a pose to attract sympathy and support from his Roman audience.
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chapter four Tristia 4.4

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Tristia 4.4 is viewed as a coherent whole despite the fact the poem consists of two distinct parts, 1–54, 55–88. The first part is directed almost certainly to Marcus Valerius Messalla Messalinus,1 a leading politician of the day and the elder son of Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus. Tr. 4.4 is the first poem in the Ovidian corpus to reveal that the poet had a close personal relationship with Messalla. A friend and strong supporter of Augustus, Messalla was an eloquent orator and a prominent political figure from “one of the oldest and most distinguished patrician families in Rome”;2 he was also a dilettante in the poetic arts and a literary patron. The clue to Messalinus’s identity resides in lines 5–6, where Ovid describes the addressee’s father as the foremost orator of his day. The first fifty-four lines appear to culminate in Ovid’s request to Messalinus to petition Augustus on his behalf. The second part of Tr. 4.4, lines 55–88, gives an account of the myth of Iphigenia among the Taurians, based on Euripides’s play by the same name.3 Hall appears to be the only modern editor to separate Tr. 4.4 into two poems (4a; 4b), guided by the division found in several manuscripts.4 The close association of Tomis with Tauric Chersonese and the mythological content of Tr. 4.4b set the last third of the poem apart from 4.4a. I suspect the reason scholars have not questioned the unity of Tr. 4.4 is that they...

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