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A New Fragment of Ovid’s Medea

Pierluigi Leone Gatti

In 2011, I identified a new fragment of Ovid’s lost tragedy Medea in L. Caecilius Minutianus Apuleius’ de orthographia:

de orthographia fr. 18 Osann Vulcanus cum duplici .uu. Praecipitatus est a Iove de coelo, quia matri in se auxilium ferre voluerit, Homero in primo . . . et . . . Sed et Valerius in Argonauticis. At Ovidius in Medea a Iunone.

The fragment’s existence was not previously noted, but Markus Schauer (Universität Bamberg) will include it in his forthcoming volume of the Tragicorum Romanorum Fragmenta. In my paper, I will discuss the source of the fragment, as well as the reasons why it was previously overlooked. Specifically, I will adress the mythological background to the anecdote about Hera/Juno and Hephaestus/Vulcan, and what the fragment tells us about the content and focus of Ovid’s play.

L. Caecilius Minutianus Apuleius’ de orthographia is transmitted in a humanistic manuscript (Vallicellianus R 26, written by the Portuguese humanist Achilles Statius 1524–1581) and in some humanistic quotations (in particular in the antiquarum lectionum commentarii Caelius Rhodiginus).

After Angelo Mai discovered de orthographia and published the first edition (1823) - and quickly succeeding him Friedrich Osann’s edition (1826) -, Madvig, Merkel, Ellis and Crusius still suspected that the work was a humanist forgery. This judgment resulted in the de orthographia being catalogued in a number of libraries as the work of Caelius Rhodiginus. Recently, however, Braccesi and Hollis have shown that the question of de orthographia’s truthfulness must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I argue that the fragment of Ovid is derived from a lost commentary on the Metamorphoses, a contention that Hollis has already proved to be the source of Minutianus Apuleius’ de orthographia. The passage contains accurate information about the presence of Hephaestus/Vulcan in Homer (Il. 1.586–94; 15.18–24) and Valerius Flaccus (2.82–91). Hera/Juno, for her part, is present as Jason’s patron in all textual versions of Medea’s saga, so it stands to reason that the goddess was likely present in Ovid’s tragedy as well. Most important, the mythological variant, according to which Hera/Juno hurls her son down from Olympus, is attested in Homer (18.393–9). The more widely known variant of the story is that Zeus flings Hephaestus from Olympus because the latter wanted to help his mother against his father. But this mythological feature never appears in Latin literature - not even in learned para-literature such as commentaries, scholia or mythological handbooks. Only a medieval mythology handbook, the Mythographi Vaticani, tells us about this. The Mythographi Vaticani were written in a time when Greek was no longer known in Western Europe; their sources are Hyginus and identified and unidentified commentaries on Vergil, Ovid, and Statius. There can thus be no question of this detail having been borrowed from another ancient source; the detail must in fact go back to Ovid and to the lost commentary on Metamorphoses.

I will close by addressing what the role of this mythological feature in Ovid’s tragedy might have been. I argue that Ovid connected the detail with his representation of Medea, because Hera/Juno offers the only mythological example of a goddess who kills (or tries to kill) her own offspring.

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Reception, Transmission, and Translation in Later Antiquity

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