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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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Appendix A: Catullus 8


A consecutive-ring structure makes its earliest appearance in Latin poetry in Catullus 8.1 Catullus opens his collection with a series of poems that briefly chronicle the various stages of his love affair with Lesbia from its beginning to end. Poem 8 is the penultimate piece in the series. This literary masterpiece takes the form of a soliloquy in which a strong Catullus (the poet) exhorts a weak Catullus (the lover) to face the fact that his relationship with Lesbia is over or nearly over.2

Poem 8 features a proliferation of the same or similar language, the purpose of which is to convey the intense emotion of a broken-hearted lover. The verbal repetition also defines its structure. The extensive nature of the repeated language, however, has resulted in a lack of agreement regarding the organization of the poem.3 The solution lies in recognizing that Catullus organized poem 8 in two structural patterns, a consecutive ring and a ring composition.4

As Figure A.1 illustrates, the consecutive-ring arrangement consists of two distinct parts of nearly equal proportions, 10 and 9 lines apiece. Each section is clearly delineated by striking verbal reminiscences.

Figure A.1:Consecutive-Ring Structure of Catullus 8

In the first part (1–10), nearly identical lines frame the past happiness of Catullus the lover: fulsere vere candidi tibi soles in line 8 repeats fulsere quondam candidi tibi soles from line 3. Referring to Catullus’s Lesbia, puella occupies the same metrical position at the end...

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