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Imitation as reincarnation? Rutilius, Messalla, and ‘Ouidius rediuiuus’ at the Thermae Taurinae

Ian Fielding

In November 417, a day after departing from Rome on the voyage described in his fragmentary De reditu, Rutilius Namatianus and his fellow travellers arrived at the port of Centumcellae (mod. Civitavecchia), and traveled three miles inland to the Thermae Taurinae (mod. Terme Taurine). These hot springs, Rutilius says, are so called because tradition holds that a bull was first to unearth them. He then proposes a fantastic explanation, reminiscent of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for the waters’ origins: perhaps a god, ‘feigning the appearance and face of a bull’ (‘faciem mentitus et ora iuuenci’ De red. 1.259), like Jupiter during his rape of Europa (cf. Ov. Met. 2.850, 3.1), excavated the spring as a gift to humankind. These Italian thermae might thus have emerged from a similar source to the Hippocrene on Mount Helicon, where ‘the hoof of a horse dug out the streams of the Muses’ (‘Musarum... latices ungula fodit equi’ De red. 1.266). The aetion of the Hippocrene is a common motif in Ovid, and here Rutilius is imitating the key verses (cf. Met. 5.257, Fast. 3.456, Pont. 4.8.80) that Stephen Hinds (1987: 21-24) has identified as representative of Ovid’s poetics at different stages of his career. Ovid’s account of his exile from Rome in the first book of the Tristia has been highlighted as an important model for the elegiac De reditu (Fo 1989; Tissol 2002), and I will show that, as he takes the waters at the Thermae Taurinae, Rutilius makes a programmatic statement about his Ovidian influences.

It appears that, prior to Rutilius visiting the site, the connection with Helicon had already been made in a verse inscription composed by Valerius Messalla Avienus (De red. 1.268). The ancestors of Rutilius’ illustrious fellow poet include not only Valerius Publicola, the first consul of Rome (De red. 1.271-72), but also M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus, a former patron of Ovid (cf. Tr. 4.4.27-32, Pont. 1.7.27-30, 2.3.75-78), as well as Tibullus and others. This paper will suggest that the imitations of Ovid’s canonical works in the description of the Thermae Taurinae may together signal an allusion to another poem that Rutilius seems to have considered part of Ovid’s oeuvre: the Panegyricus Messallae, now included in the Corpus Tibullianum (Tib. 3.7). This anonymous panegyric, of 211 hexameters, was once attributed to Ovid (Tränkle 1990: 172-73), partly because of his connection to Messalla, and partly because of the emphasis on the theme of metamorphosis in its conclusion. There, the author declares that he will celebrate Messalla for the rest of his life, and even in his lives to come: if he were reincarnated ‘as a bull, the glory of the slow herd’ (‘tardi pecoris sim gloria taurus’ Pan. Mess. 209), he would sing Messalla’s praises again once he returned to a human body. It will be argued here that, in drinking from a spring he depicts as a bequest from a metamorphosed bull, and proceeding to laud a scion of the Messallae, Rutilius marks out his own distinct place in Ovid’s afterlife. 

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Imitation in Medieval Latin Literature

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