Publius Ovidius Naso
Sulmona is known worldwide for a small number of significant facts – one if which is as the birthplace of the Roman poet Ovid. Latin scholars and all Italian schoolchildren are introduced to his work at some stage during their education but he is less well known in Anglophone countries and in Northern Europe.
Of Ovid’s life little is known, and the only evidence comes directly from the poet himself who wrote an autobiographical elegy entitled Tristia IV.
He was born on March 20, 43 BC in Sulmona into a wealthy family of equestrian rank.
At 12 years old he went to Rome with his brother to complete his studies in grammar and rhetoric and he attended the lectures of the most eminent masters of the capital. He later travelled to Athens, as had been the custom for boys of his class for over a century, visiting the cities of Asia Minor during the return trip.
His career destiny should have been in law and politics however Ovid felt immediately inclined towards poetry. It was said that anything he tried to say was already in verse (“temptabam et quod dicere versus erat“) and against the will of his father, he devoted himself to literary studies.
The success of his work allowed him to enter the circle of Messala Corvinus and make friends with other famous poets including Propertius, Emilio Macro, Horace, Propertius and Gallus; although it’s unlikely that he ever met Vigil. His first two marriages ended unhappily however he had a daughter and then later married well into the noble Roman Gens Fabia family.
Despite his marital status, he enjoyed a luxurious Roman life to the full not in keeping with the strict moral Augustan codes of the time. Ovid’s literary work faithfully reflected the patterns of behaviour of this society and was an instant success.
In 8 AD, Ovid was suddenly banished by Augustus to Tomis – now called Constanta in modern Romania – on the Black Sea. His ‘relegation’, rather than an exile per se, did not include the loss of his rights as a Roman citizen and the confiscation of his property. However, despite his own entreaties, and those too of his wife and friends, he remained there until his death in 17 BC.
The real reasons for his exile are not known and the story of Ovid is still a mystery with only hypotheses: it is considered most likely that Ovid was unwittingly complicit, or at least witnessed, some big scandal involving the Imperial family.
During the year 2017 we will celebrate the anniversary of Ovid’s death in Sulmona so stay tuned for news on special events and exhibitions.
Adapted and translated from www.spaziovidio.it
Here is a selection of well-known Ovidian quotes:
We take no pleasure in permitted joys. But what’s forbidden is more keenly sought. (Amores, II, xix, 30)
So I can’t live either without you or with you. (Amores, III, xi, 39)
The result justifies the deed. (Heroides, II, 850)
It is annoying to be honest to no purpose. (Epistulae ex Ponto – Letters From the Black Sea, II, iii, 14)