Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Exile and Relegation in Dante and Ovid *

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Exile and Relegation in Dante and Ovid *

Article excerpt

Robert Wilson, in "Exile and Relegation in Dante and Ovid," contrasts Dante's exile with Ovid's confinement to a faraway place. Although Dante and Ovid are often grouped together as poets of exile, a fundamental difference marks the nature of the two poets' exile. Ovid is relegated rather than exiled, so that he is confined to Tomis, whilst Dante is excluded from Florence. This basic difference of orientation resides at the basis of differences in Dante's and Ovid's treatment of their places of exile in particular, and may also explain the reasons Dante does not refer much to Ovid's exile in relation to his own (in addition, obviously, to the culpa to which Ovid admitted, while Dante could not and did not).

Any list of exiled authors almost invariably includes Dante and Ovid, probably the two most famous exiled poets of all. (1) Indeed Ovidius exsul became virtually an exemplum of literary exile in the Middle Ages, and has been a point of reference for exiled writers since. (2) Despite the fact that both are categorised as exiles Dante cannot be included among those who consciously position themselves in a line of descent from Ovid.

There is no need to repeat here the numerous Ovidian references, echoes and allusions present in Dante's work, however we can still partly agree with Edward Moore's observation: "It does not appear, however, that Dante's familiarity with Ovid extended much beyond the Metamorphoses [...]" (Moore 206). (3) There are no references to Ovid's exile poetry in Moore's list of quotations, and his conclusion requires some clarification. (4) The paucity of Ovidian references outside of the Metamorphoses does not necessarily mean that Dante was unfamiliar with the rest of Ovid's work; it may rather indicate a choice not to refer to it. (5) There are also suggestions that Dante did know and refer to Ovid's exile poetry. (6) Most obvious of all, however, is the simple fact that Ovid is never mentioned by Dante with reference to his exile. Horace is "Orazio satiro" (Inf. IV. 89), but Ovid is simply "'l terzo" (Inf. IV. 90). We might even be tempted to force out of this a concealed reference to the "terzo" Ovidio, i.e. the Ovid of the Tristia and Ex Ponto, coming after the first (Amores) and second (Metamorphoses) Ovids. (7) Wouldn't it have been simple enough to make some reference to Ovid the exile, and what better figure than Ovid to start the series of predictions in the Commedia relating to Dante's own exile? Instead the presence of Ovid's exile poetry in Dante's work is at best slight, especially when compared to that of the Metamorphoses.

It may be, as Moore suggested, that Dante did not know these works, although their notable presence in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries would have made them difficult to avoid. (8) In view of the considerable non-exilic Ovidian presence in Dante's work, it is more likely that Dante did know these works as well. If this assumption were true, it would mean that he chose not to associate his exile with that of Ovid.

In fact, there is a fundamental difference in the exile experiences of these two poets. Dante is exiled from Florence whilst Ovid is exiled to Tomis. My intention, in this brief consideration of the matter, is to draw attention to this basic difference in orientation and suggest that it determines certain features in the literary treatment of his exile by each poet. (9) Other fundamental differences are to be borne in mind from the outset. Ovid's "exile poetry" is just that. The Tristia and Ex Ponto are written in and about exile, and their purpose is to effect their author's return to Rome or mitigation of his punishment through transfer to a more amenable location. For Dante, exile is a constant theme which appears not only throughout the Commedia, but in his letters, lyric poetry, Convivio and De vulgari eloquentia. (10) However no work by Dante is solely devoted to this question, there is no "exile poetry" as such, and his aims are different to those of Ovid. …

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