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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 six Conclusion

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Prior to his relegation, Ovid was a celebrity; he was, after all, the greatest living Latin poet of his day. The comparison of his fall to that of Icarus seems apt (Tr. 1.1.90; 3.4a.22); Ovid’s shocking statement in Tr. 5.10 that in Tomis he is the barbarian (37) illustrates the depths of his degradation. As an exile, he has become a persona non grata. Despite repeated requests for assistance, it seems clear that none of his influential friends will intercede on his behalf and that his wife appears too timid to be a strong advocate. Ovid is doomed to spend the remainder of his life separated from family, friends, and his beloved Rome. Despite his emotional trauma and his resentment toward Augustus for his lack of clemency, Ovid manages to maintain a high level of artistry in his Tristia. The poetry is original: Ovid adapts themes from his pre-exilic love poetry and repurposes them to his exilic circumstances. The poetry is imaginative: Ovid skillfully varies recurring themes throughout this series of independent books. The poetry is carefully crafted: Ovid integrates his poems through circular structures that often are complex and intricate.←143 | 144→

Structural analysis supports Hall’s separation of Tr. 1.5, 1.9, 3.4, 4.4, 5.2, and 5.7 into two poems. Ring patterns define the beginning and end of these twelve literary pieces. In addition, Ovid appears to be experimenting with the intersection of theme and form in Tr. 3.4b and 5.7b. The consecutive-ring structure of Tr. 3.4b elegantly...

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