Poems, Imitations & Translations


Ovid in Otherworld (2006)

The Latin poet Ovid – famous for such bestsellers as How to Pick Up Girls, How to Get Rid of Girls Once You’ve Picked Them Up, Love-letters of Famous Celebrities, not to mention his twin epic poems Feasts and Changes – was sent into exile in the year AD 8. He spent the last decade of his life in a tiny settlement called Tomis in the barbarous wolf-haunted forests around the Black Sea. Nobody knows why. He wrote begging letters to everyone he knew, in power or out of it, but something he’d either done or said (he speaks in one of the letters of “a poem and an error”) had angered the Emperor Augustus. The next Emperor, Tiberius, did not reverse the decision.

Augustus’s decision to exile the tender, fun-loving poet to the most distant regions of his empire has been debated, speculated about, and imaginatively recreated ever since. Poems, novels, dramas and films about it abound. In the latest of these, my own novel EMO (Titus Books, 2008), I translate (or rather adapt) a number of Ovid’s own poems from the Black Sea – known collectively as the Tristia, or Sad Poems – and parallel them with more modern experiences of exile.

In the end, who was victorious in this ideological struggle between Power and Poetry? Ovid’s letters from exile have been seen by many commentators as cowardly – unworthy of his role as anointed successor to the Imperial apologist Virgil. Others read his work as more subversive, the honestly-reported experiences of a city sophisticate faced with a reality unthinkable to his blasé audience back home. For Ovid read Pablo Neruda or Osip Mandelstam, for Augustus Stalin or General Pinochet, and I imagine his case may start to come into better focus.


[Jack Ross: "Tower at Český Krumlov" (2004)]

1 comment:

Jojo P. said...

Love the story. Struggling about power and poetry.