Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Another Look at the Poetics of Exile: Pushkin's Reception of Ovid, 1821-24

Academic journal article Pushkin Review

Another Look at the Poetics of Exile: Pushkin's Reception of Ovid, 1821-24

Article excerpt

In 8 A.D., Publius Ovidius Naso was relegated to the far corner of the Roman Empire to a small city on the Black Sea, where he spent the last ten years of his life. Some 1800 years later, twenty-one-year-old Alexander Pushkin followed him there, again to the fringes of another empire. The two poets had little in common, and because both reconciled themselves to exile in such vastly different ways, any similarities between them seem at first glance coincidental. However, Pushkin's reading of Ovid's last collections of elegies--Tristia (12 A.D.) and Epistulae ex Ponto (13 A.D.)--and the legends he heard about Ovid in Moldavia not only find expression in various works spanning 1821-24, but also play an integral role in his larger poetic realization of exile.

N. Vulikh's bibliography of "Pushkin and Ovid" scholarship, listing nearly forty works, indicates the surprising amount of attention the topic has received. () Despite some inevitable duplication, secondary literature has yielded fascinating approaches to Pushkin's reception of Ovid, ranging from juxtapositions of Tristia and "To Ovid" to Senderovich's study on Ovid's enduring influence on Pushkin's "monumental elegies." (2) There have been numerous surveys of the "Pushkin and Antiquity" theme, (3) and Stephanie Sandler's chapter "Repeating Ovid's Exile" is one of the cornerstones of English-language scholarship in this area. (4) Yet little has been done to show how the complex overlap of the historical Ovid (that is, the poet whose self-descriptions we know from Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto) and the legendary exile of "Moldavia" (the Ovid of folklore and scholarly speculation) informs Pushkin's idiosyncratic vision of his poetic forebear and his own exilic representation. (5) And though the topic of voluntary exile (dobrovol'noe izgnanie) has been extensively studied by Iurii Lotman, S. A. Kibal'nik, and many others, (6) discussion inevitably tends to favor Pushkin's engagement with Byron over Ovid. In the present study, I revisit this instance of cross-cultural influence and Pushkin's conscious rewriting of the "Pushkin" and "Ovid" personae in "To Ovid" (1821), the introductory stanzas of Eugene Onegin (1823) and The Gypsies (1824). (7) The poetics

of exile is hardly new to Pushkin scholarship, but here I specifically have in mind Pushkin's gradually changing mode of representation with respect to Ovid and his concomitant projection of self. In the works mentioned above, Pushkin's Ovid becomes less historical and increasingly legendary over time, and Pushkin's myth of voluntary exile comes to mirror the realities of forced banishment.

It is possible to say that Pushkin drew from two very different "sources" for his portrait of Ovid. As already mentioned, the first--the historical Ovid--provided factual background and made possible the analogy between the biographies of the two exiled poets. (8) Moreover, what attracted Pushkin to this Ovid was the fact that the latter essentially created a new genre--the exilic elegy--without a literary model to speak of, save his own earlier poetry. (9) In a move revolutionary for Roman poetry, Ovid managed to write both autobiographically and hyperbolically about exile in Tomis; in other words, this was the first time in Roman literature when the poet's life in exile became the sole subject of his art. For Pushkin, well-aware of the contemporary (1820s) reader's propensity to associate the lyrical "I" with the poet, (10) the representation of Ovid and self became an experiment in redefining the art/life relationship.

The second source owes to Pushkin's three-year residence in Moldavia, where he heard numerous legends about Ovid's exile and grave. (11) This Ovid of "Moldavia," (12) the nameless holy man (sviatoi starik) mentioned in The Gypsies, reverses the implications of the first source in that it foregrounds the life (and afterlife) of the poet with minimal reference to the art. The conflation of these two sources results in the Ovid figures we find in "To Ovid," The Gypsies and Canto I of Eugene Onegin, and simultaneously a Pushkin persona, a foil of sorts to the image of the Roman poet. …

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