FEBRUARY 16TH A VACANT DAY SAYS OVID

OVID 19TH CENTURY ENGRAVING BY j w cOK
OVID 19TH CENTURY ENGRAVING BY J W COOK

Yesterday, I wrote about the Lupercal and Parentalia festivals in Ancient Rome. Today, I listened to an old ‘In Their Time’ Radio 4 Podcast on Ovid which reminded me that the poet wrote more than the ‘Art of Love’ and the ‘Metamorphoses’. And so I explored his ‘Fasti’ which is a sadly unfinished set of verses on the Roman year. I’m looking forward to dipping into it as I explore the coming year.

It is a major source for the Lupercal and Parentalia, and does a better job than I did yesterday explaining how the name of the month February came from purification

I hoped to begin mining ‘Fasti’ today but this is what Ovid says about the 16th February ‘Next day is vacant.’ This is surprisingly encouraging to me because I have found it hard work finding something to say about some days. You can fill in with generalities, but the specific feels so much better, and if Ovid can just say nought happened. Then its good enough for me. If you want to read ‘Fasti’ for yourself this is the translation I am using.

I said ‘sadly unfinished’ because Pūblius Ovidius Nāsō was exiled by the Emperor Augustus when he was half way through the Fasti. So the last entry is for 30th June where he says: ‘put the last touches to my undertaking’ suggesting he knew he was ending it here. He was exiled until his death ten years later in Tomis, on the Black Sea. Its not clear exactly why he was exiled ostensibly for the immorality in ‘The Art of Love’, but as that was published almost a decade earlier it seems strange. Was he involved with a plot against Augustus that saw the Emperor’s own daughter exiled? Her lover was Lullus Antonius, son of Mark Antony. Unlike Julia’s other lover’s he was forced to commit suicide. But this also happened years before Ovid’s exile, so neither does it make any great sense of the great man’s punishing exile. However, Julia’s daughter was herself exiled closer to the time of Ovid’s exile and her husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, was executed for treason. Ovid said the reason for his exile was a ‘poem and a mistake’. The nature of that mistake is not recorded but he said the crime was worse than murder and more harmful than poetry.

Here is one of my favourite Ovid quotations. I quote from my own book which you can buy at the link at the bottom of the page.

‘Ovid, writing in Augustus’ reign, provides our guide to the flesh-pots of a Roman town. Here he recommends how the aspiring male should dress for a night out on the town:

Don’t torture your hair, though, with curling-iron: don’t pumice

Your legs into smoothness. Leave that

To Mother Cybele’s votaries, ululating in chorus

With their Phrygian modes. Real men

Shouldn’t primp their good looks …

… Keep pleasantly clean, take exercise, work up an outdoor

Tan; make quite sure that your toga fits

And doesn’t show spots; don’t lace your shoes too tightly,

Or ignore any rusty buckles, or slop

Around in too large a fitting. Don’t let some incompetent barber

Ruin you looks: both hair and beard demand

Expert attention. Keep your nails pared, and dirt-free;

Don’t let those long hairs sprout

In your nostrils, make sure your breath is never offensive.

Avoid the rank male stench

That wrinkles noses. Beyond this is for wanton women –

Or any half-man who wants to attract men.

Ovid, The Art of Love i

Mother Cybele’s votaries were castrati, hence their high pitched voices. Cybele fell in love with Attys, who made her jealous, so Cybele turned him mad, whereupon he castrated himself and bled to death. The Mother Goddess had him resurrected body and soul and he enjoyed divine bliss ever after. A Cybelian castration device, dredged out of the Thames, can be seen in the Roman Gallery of the British Museum.’ The translation is from Green, Peter (Trans) ‘Ovid The Erotic Poems’ Penguin Classics, London 1982‘

Its quoted in In Their Own Words – A Literary Companion To The Origins Of London‘ D A Horizons, 2009.  Kevin Flude

To buy Kindle version click here.  To buy paperback (for £5.99)  email kpflude AT anddidthosefeet.org.uk

One Reply to “FEBRUARY 16TH A VACANT DAY SAYS OVID”

  1. Thanks for refreshing memories of a great poet studied in Latin class a long time ago!

    Ovid’s Metamorphoses later provided marvellous legends to share with my pupils.

Please leave me a comment - its great to hear what you think.

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