Ovid’s exile from Rome revoked, 2,000 years later

The poet was banished to a remote part of Romania by emperor Augustus in 8AD

 Venice Square in central Rome, Italy. Ovid’s exile from Rome has been revoked, 2,000 years later. Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA

Venice Square in central Rome, Italy. Ovid’s exile from Rome has been revoked, 2,000 years later. Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA

 

More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated.

Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, who is thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature, along with Virgil and Horace.

Best known for his 15-book epic narrative poem Metamorphoses and the elegy Ars Amatoria, Publius Ovidius Naso was exiled in 8AD to Tomis, the ancient Black Sea settlement now known as the Romanian port city of Constanta.

He remained there until his death a decade later. Scholars have long speculated over the motive for Ovid’s exile, which was ordered directly by the emperor. The poet himself attributed it to “carmen et error” – a poem and a mistake.

Experts believe the cause was probably a combination of three factors: that Ovid’s erotic poetry was considered offensive, his attitude to Augustus was too disrespectful, and that he may have been involved in an unspecified plot or scandal.

La Repubblica reported that M5S, which holds a majority of the seats on the council, demanded that “necessary measures” be adopted to revoke the order, in what the capital’s deputy mayor, Luca Bergamo, described as an important symbol.

“It is about the fundamental right of artists to express themselves freely in societies in which, around the world, the freedom of artistic expression is increasingly constrained,” Bergamo told councillors.

Ovid was indisputably “one of the greatest poets in the history of humanity”, the deputy mayor said, adding that the real reasons for his mysterious banishment by the emperor “were never placed on the historical record”.

Ovid’s many poems and letters in exile, collected in Tristia and The Black Sea Letters, have been described by critics as a “clinical presentation” of the condition of exile, “demonstrating its debilitating effect upon a man’s morale, his talents and perhaps his psychology”.

– Guardian service