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Resonances of Tiberius’ Exile in Ovidian Literature

Sanjaya Thakur

In the exile epistles Ovid draws almost constant attention to his relegation to the city of Tomis and his exile from Rome. He repeatedly attributes the responsibility for his exile to Augustus himself and much has been written on the poet’s relationship with Augustus as presented in these letters (e.g. Nagle 1980, Evans 1983, Williams 1994, Claasen 2008, McGowan 2009). But few scholars have considered Ovid’s representation of his own exile in poems composed during the reign of Tiberius, and even less has been written on the subject of Tiberius’ time in Rhodes and its impact on the poems Ovid composed during Tiberius’ reign. Even Syme’s (1978) seminal historiographical study does little to quantify Tiberius’ role in these poems and their relation to his principate, in particular. Suetonius and Tacitus characterize Tiberius’ time in Rhodes as a period of exile and, much like Ovid’s exile, the impetus for the decision came (to some degree) from Augustus himself. Thus, it is fruitful to consider how Tiberius’ own exile and the knowledge of it by Ovid’s Roman readership would resonate with the mention of exile in the poems. Furthermore, one can consider how perceptions of exile itself might have changed even from the latter years of Augustus’ reign to the beginning of Tiberius’.

This paper will examine how the mention of exile in Ovid’s poems might have been differently received in the reign of Rome’s second princeps, a former exile himself. The first part of the paper will consider Ovid’s self-representation as an exile in the Tiberian age, both in relation to the literary tradition of his own prior poetry but also in light of the new historical circumstances brought on by Tiberius’ assumption of the principate. Ovid mentions his own exile in each of the poems composed after Augustus’ death; I will discuss how, if at all, Ovid changes or adapts his presentation as an exile. I then look at how the widespread knowledge of Tiberius’ time in Rhodes might allow us to imagine Ovid’s exile in a different light, and I argue that Ovid tailored his appeals in consideration of the fact that he believed Tiberius might have had a more sympathetic ear to his plight, due to Tiberius’ prior experiences and, thus, greater appreciation of Ovid’s circumstances and situation. In the second portion of the paper I will consider how Ovid’s Roman readership might have interpreted exile in Ovid poems as an allusion to Tiberius’ own de facto exile on Rhodes. I will also trace how Ovid’s ongoing exile in Tiberius’ reign affected an evolution in the way the poet thought of Tiberius and consequently directed the destinations of his appeals.

I close with a discussion about Ovid’s attempts to characterize exile/exiles, beyond his own situation, in his works composed during the period. One example is Ovid’s presentation of Evander’s exile in his account of the Carmentalia in Fasti I. And again, though the subject of Ovid and Augustus in the Fasti has been investigated (e.g. by Newlands 1995 and Barchiesi 1997) few have attempted to quantify Tiberius’ relationship to the text (Hebert-Brown 1994 being a notable exception).

Session/Panel Title

Roman Exile: Poetry, Prose, and Politics

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