Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics
Frayed Around the Edges: Ovid’s Book and Ovid’s Identity in Tristia 1.1 and 3.1
- Author(s): Cawley, Lydia
- et al.
In Tristia 1.1 and 3.1, Ovid grapples with his sadness at being exiled from Rome to the empire’s periphery. Scholars typically interpret these poems, in which Ovid imagines his book journeying to Rome on his behalf, as exhibiting either Ovid’s total longing for Rome, or his total withdrawal in exile. Ovid’s identity, however, is more nuanced. Applying the theoretical lens of center/periphery to Tristia 1.1 and 3.1, I conclude that when Ovid wrote Tristia, his identity was actually in flux. Reading Ovid’s poems through the lens of center/periphery, we see how he engages with themes of exclusion and alterity. Thus, we can better appreciate Ovid’s shifting self-conception: no longer of the Roman elite, but a marginalized figure. Reflecting this change, Ovid draws on the contemporary poetic tradition of aestheticizing books, but he turns it on its head. Instead of emphasizing the color and refine of ideal Roman books, Ovid emphasizes the “other” nature of his book, which is color-less and un-refined. Ovid also uses such othering descriptions for the Getae, residents of Tomis, and for Briseis, the Trojan concubine. As Ovid shifts focus towards these peripheral figures, his identity shifts as he becomes a more peripheral figure. Therefore, in Tristia 1.1 and 3.1, Ovid grapples with his identity, more than with his sorrow; as his attitude adjusts, he begins to come to terms with his own status as a peripheral other.