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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 five Tristia 5.2 and 5.7


Tristia book 5 includes two poems generally viewed as single entities, Tr. 5.2 and 5.7. Tr. 5.2 concerns Ovid’s keen desire that the site of his sentence be commuted. Tr. 5.7 deals with his life among the barbarians and the consequences of his cultural and linguistic isolation. The structural analyses that demonstrate Tr. 5.2 and 5.7 each constitute two distinct poems will have significance beyond the interpretation of these poems. The autonomy of Tr. 5.2a, 5.2b, 5.7a, and 5.7b will contribute to identifying Ovid’s arrangement of the book.1 The discussion to follow will begin with Tr. 5.7.

Tristia 5.7 appears as a single poem of 68 verses in all the manuscripts with one exception—Berolinensis lat. oct. 67 (B2) indicates the start of a new poem at line 25. Heinsius is the first editor to follow this manuscript in dividing Tr. 5.7 into two poems (1–24, 25–68). His division was later accepted by Luck and Hall.2 The separation of Tr. 5.7 into 5.7a and 5.7b, however, has met with resistance from most scholars presumably because the two parts appear to be directed to the same individual (referred to as carissime in line 5 and amice in lines 22 and 26) and to be concerned with the same theme of Ovid’s life in Tomis. For example, Green comments that “the tradition (fostered by Heinsius on the basis of one MS) of starting a second elegy, 7B, at line 25 can confidently be rejected,”3 while Williams opines...

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