The Via Appia
Silex is the Latin word for a fieldstone, an annoying rock that a farmer would overturn in his field and curse for damaging his plow. Although the name may make you think of “silicates” like quartz or feldspar, the word referred to any large rock–the usual limestone and granite found in the foothills of the Appenines (silex is probably related to solidus , which also has an short first vowel).
In book 3, the reality of exile was starting to sink in. In an earlier post I noted the immediacy of the poetry in book 1, written while the wound was still fresh:
Dum tamen et terris dubius iactabar et undis,
fallebat curas aegraque corda labor. (III.2.15-6)
Dubius is the key word here; Ovid was uncertain and anxious about the future, a denial common in the opening stages of grief. So fallebat is probably closer to “beguiled” than “deceived".
Once Ovid arrived at Tomis he penned a more sober reflection de causa relegationis, which resulted in the long, lawyerly defense outlined in book 2. Now at book 3, Ovid has started living with the sentence…
Ut via finita est et opus requievit eundi,
et poenae tellus est mihi tacta meae, (ibid. 17-8)
…and the reality of his circumstances has changed his attitude:
nil nisi flere libet, nec nostro parcior imber
lumine, de verna quam nive manat aqua. (ibid. 19-20)
[Lumine is poetic for the eye. Quam - “than", despite its unusual position splitting the prepositional phrase de verna nive, follows the comparative parcior - “scarcer". Note also the classical “rule of three” in ll. 17-8: Three phrases, each larger than the last, all essentially saying the same thing.]
The 578 lines of Tristia II is Ovid’s formal defense against Caesar’s ira. The book is a natural segue from the raw and immediate poetry of book I–written (in) mediis…aquis and inter fera murmura ponti (I.4…7). The initial shock has worn off; time on the Pontic shore has lifted the fog of emotion, and the cause of exile can be reviewed more critically.
For anyone interpreting the first book of the Tristia, Ovid himself offers the best advice:
Subeat tibi dicere forsan
"Quam procul a nobis Naso sodalis abest!”
Grata tua est pietas, sed carmina maior imago
sunt mea, quae mando qualiacumque legas. (Tr. I.7.9-12)
And who better to wish the best to our 2,053-year-old poet than Ovid himself:
Optime natalis! Quamvis procul absumus, opto
candidus huc venias dissimilisque meo. (Tristia V.5.13-4)
The full poem describes Ovid’s absentee rituals in honor of his wife’s birthday–she is still back in Rome, hence absumus (poetic plural). But Ovid isn’t speaking directly to his wife but to the spirit of her natalis - “birthday” (hence the vocative optime; earlier parts of this poem have Ovid preparing pia sacra for his ceremony). He then slips back into singular with opto; note that in Ovid this verb often takes a plain subjunctive clause (rather than the usual acc. w. inf.) to complete its meaning.
Ovid hoped that this spirit would pay him a visit candidus and dissimilis meo–a small ray of sunshine amid gloomy Tomis. In turning his words back on him, I’m share a similar hope that this brief review of the poets later work from a much-inferior blogger amuses his spirit enough to grant a similar blessing.
One of the things that surprised me about the Tristia is how often Ovid references his earlier Ars Amatoria, a thn-decade old work that he thinks factored heavily in Augustus’ sentence against him. Yes, I knew about the famous carmen et error explanation for his banishment, but I still wasn’t prepared for his constant apologizing:
Siquis erit, qui te–quia sis meus–esse legendum
Non putet, e gremio reiciatque suo,
‘Inspice’ dic ‘titulum: non sum praeceptor amoris;
Quas meruit, poenas iam dedit illud opus.’ (I.1.65-68)
(te refers to the book of poetry itself; e gremio…suo - lit. “from his lap", since a reader would often place an open scroll in his/her lap.)
Neve reformida, ne sim tibi forte pudori:
Nullus in hac charta versus amare docet. (III.3-4)
(tibi and pudori are part of a double dative construction)
These examples also illustrate Ovid’s reuse of a familiar device: Addressing and personifying his own book of poetry. It’s a trick he’s used before–the epigram at the head of the Amores for a typical example–and IMO it gets a little tiresome here. Then again, perhaps he had no one else to talk to in Tomis…
While reading Ovid’s Tristia for the series I’m planning, I came to this couplet that highlights a peculiarity of Latin vowel quantity:
Omnia iam fient, fieri quae posse negabam,
et nihil est, de quo non sit habenda fides. (I.7.7-8)
“Everything will happen now, which I denied could happen,
and there is nothing which cannot be believed.”
This is part of a long section where Ovid remarks how even the natural world has gone topsy-turvy since Augustus handed down his sentence of exile. What I want to highlight is the scansion of fient and fieri.
In fîent the i is long, as it is in all present-stem, finite forms of this verb. This is one of the principal exceptions to the general rule that a vowel before another vowel is short in Latin (the other exception is the long e in the 5th declension gen./dat. form diçi). However, the first i in the infinitve form fieri is short. It’s a quirk of the language that seems to fit with Ovid’s overall theme in this passage–and he does yank this infinitive out of its natural place in the relative clause to highlight this pun.
Incidentally, note the translation of fides in the second line. Many Latinists who learned the language in Catholic school will immediately think “faith” when they see this word, but that seems wrong here: “about which faith might not be had.” The idea here is belief in particular things, not a general trust, so non sit habenda fides is IMO a metrical periphrasis for non credantur. Just a friendly reminder that even the most “basic” words have shades of meaning that depend on context and author.
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