Monday, March 7, 2011

The Poems of Exile - Ovid

Why was Ovid banished to Tomis? No one really knows for sure. Augustus’ daughter Julia had already been banished for her over-the-top promiscuous lifestyle, and we know that Ovid’s poetry definitely promoted that sort of thing. He was even asked by the emperor to clean it up. Of course, he refused. Was his refusal perceived as treason? Did Augustus ultimately blame him for his daughter’s behavior? Or did it come out that he had been one of her paramours? Who knows.

Some have said that banishment from Rome during its flowering age was worse than being executed. At least when you’re dead, all of your trials and hardships are dead with you. But they are only intensified when you ponder that all of your friends and family are still in the bosom of Rome, enjoying all it has to offer, and you’re stuck in some faraway hell hole. It would seem Ovid was of this mind.

Tomis, modern day Constanţa, Romania, on the Black Sea coast, is now a resort. Look it up. It’s gorgeous! Nice beach, great weather, what’s not to like? But did Ovid see it like that? No, he hated it. And he despised the yokels he was now forced to live amongst. To him, they were little more than animals.

But to them, he was a celebrity. They felt honored that he was now living with them, practically worshipped him, and wanted nothing more than to cater to his every whim. Yet he barely tolerated them and ran them down every chance he could in his letters. They weren’t aware of his true feelings about them until someone happened to read one of his outgoing letters to his wife, where, as usual, he is running them down. Word quickly gets around about how he really feels about them, and from then on they want nothing to do with him. He then finds out what it really means to be banished.

The stereotypical Roman was supposed to be stoical, practical, tough, etc.. These letters reveal Ovid to be anything but. Instead of accepting his fate, and trying to make the best of his situation, Ovid whines and complains to no end. He begs his wife, who remained in Rome, to plead with Augustus for forgiveness. Did she? I doubt it. She was probably glad to be rid of him.

Although I did enjoy reading it (the dude could write, you know), I sometimes found myself shouting at him to just shut up and stop whining already. Just accept your fate and deal with it! You call yourself a roman?! You’re worthless and weak! It’s a pity that someone who possessed such poetic talent was ultimately reduced to being a pathetic, miserable little man.

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