Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study

Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study

Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study

Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study

Synopsis

Ovid's Fasti has remained curiously neglected as an historical source for the period in which it was written. This new study reveals that the poem of some five thousand lines on the Roman calendar, written and revised in the years between A.D. 4-16, provides students of the Augustan age with a wealth of information, both about the author himself, and about his cultural and political environment. In addition to revelations about the way in which Augustus and his family were incorporated into the ancient religion of the city of Rome, and details of the last decade of Augustus' life and the first years of Tiberius' rule, Herbert-Brown finds in the poem new evidence of the processes which marked the transition from the Republic to Empire.

Excerpt

Ovid's Fasti is, after the Aeneid, the longest extant poem to reflect a contemporary's view of the ideology of the Augustan regime. it is the only work to reveal a living witness's interpretation of the mature Augustus' own view of his place in Roman history, and of the mythology created in the late Augustan Principate. It is the only political poem in the period to bridge two regimes, and to disclose its author's understanding of events when Tiberius succeeded Augustus. It is the only poem to mirror the attitudes to the Principate of two personae in the one author: on the one hand Ovid is an interested witness of his times, a financially independent, socially confident, popular Roman poet outside the political mainstream; on the other, a plaintive victim of political vagaries, stripped of dignitas, banished to the far-flung reaches of the empire, forced to plead with friends and questionable friends alike, in order to secure his recall.

It is remarkable, therefore, that Ovid's versification of the Roman calendar has not attracted greater attention and more substantial study from historians of the Augustan Age. the attention it has attracted has done little to expose the wealth of historical insights the work has to offer. Literary critics have been content to use it as a source for parallel passages of elegiac motifs, or to distil every possible word of the text into just another 'stilkritische' allusion to Callimachean literary criticism.Barsby (1978, 25) confidently asserted that it was 'on the literary side of the Fasti that the most interesting work is to be done'. Others, such as Warde Fowler (1899), Wissowa (1912), Frazer (1929), and Latte (1960), exploited it solely as an antiquarian curiosity. They saw it as a repository of facts for Roman religion isolated from contemporary politics and dissociated from the author, who, as a product of a specific cultural environment, was writing the poem for a particular reason and from a particular standpoint. the same approach was essentially adopted by Bömer (1957-8), even though he concentrated on language as well as on content. Others such as Allen (1922) and Scott (1930) saw in the work merely exaggerated . . .

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