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Making Livia Divine: Carmentis, Hersilia, and Ovid’s Poetic Power

Reina Callier

        This paper argues that, by aligning the Carmentis of the Fasti with his own poetic concerns, Ovid fashions her into his programmatic representative.  Furthermore, a comparison of Carmentis’ explicit praise of Livia in Fasti 1 to the implicit praise of Livia found in the Hersilia episode of Metamorphoses 14 suggests that Ovid uses Carmentis to deflect the offense potentially found in his ultimate statement of poetic power: the deification of Livia.   

            Carmentis, an ancient Roman goddess of childbirth who became Evander’s mother in Republican literature, is given unprecedented honor in Ovid’s Fasti.  While she was a nympha in Vergil and Livy, Ovid not only makes her explicitly a dea but also privileges her with several episodes in Books 1 and 6.  Scholars have noted that the Carmentalia episodes of Fasti Book 1(1.461-586; 617-636) explore generic and social issues in a typically Ovidian way (Barchiesi 1997, Pasco-Pranger 2006), but Ovid’s Carmentis is also a representative of his own elegiac voice as fashioned throughout his career.  For example, the first Carmentis episode opens by not only deriving her name from poetry (carmen) but also redefining her name in the context of his particular poetic project (deriget in medio quis mea vela freto?/ipsa mone, quae nomen habes a carmine ductum – 1.467-8).  The exilic lamentations of Carmentis’ consolatio to her son Evander echo Ovid’s own lamentations in the Tristia and Ex Ponto (Fantham 1992), and she oversees the abortive behavior of the matrons at Fasti 1.617-36, where language previously found only in Ovid’s Heroides and Amores appears.  Her prophecy regarding Rome’s future challenges the prophecies found in Vergil’s Aeneid and privileges “elegiac” subject matter such as the suffering of victims (Green 2004).  Finally, she seems to bring about Ino’s deification at Fasti 6.541-50, using language (nomina mutarunt) that is reminiscent of the changes celebrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Perhaps most significantly, Carmentis gives voice to a prophecy that, unlike most Roman literary “prophecies,” does not rely on historical hindsight: that is, Carmentis says that Livia will be a goddess in Rome (sic Augusta novum Iulia numen erit -1.536), which in Ovid’s time was not yet true.

            The audacity of this deification becomes clearer when we compare it to another instance where Ovid deifies Livia, if only implicitly.  At Metamorphoses 14.829-51, Ovid inserts Hersilia, Romulus’ wife, into the parade of historical apotheoses spanning Books 14 and 15; she becomes the goddess Hora immediately after her husband becomes Quirinus.  This apotheosis, which as far as we can tell is Ovid’s invention (Granobs 1997), is given pride of place at the culmination of Book 14.  Scholars have noted that, as Hersilia was married to Romulus, with whom Augustus was often identified as pater patriae, her elevation in the Metamorphoses might be an implied reference to Livia’s as-yet unattained divine honors, especially given the verbal parallels between the Hersilia of the Metamorphoses and the Livia of the exile poetry (Myers 2009).  Thus in the Metamorphoses, Livia’s apotheosis is effected by cloaking her in the guise of Romulus’ wife, while in the Fasti, her deification is explicitly predicted by another mortal who was made a goddess, Carmentis, Ovid’s poetic representative. 

            If Carmentis can be read as a representative of Ovid’s poetic voice – and the episodes in which she is involved strongly suggest that she can - then her creation of divinities (herself, Ino, and even Livia) speaks to poetry’s power to immortalize historical figures.  Ovid famously claims such power for himself elsewhere, too, such as the sphragis of the Metamorphoses where he states that his poetry will make him immortal and Ex Ponto 4.8.55, where he claims that “god are made through poetry, too” (di quoque carminibus, si fas est dicere, fiunt).  But Livia’s apotheosis, a controversial matter in the transition between Augustan and Tiberian regimes (Herbert-Brown 1994), was perhaps a touchier subject, and one better accomplished via a poetic “middlewoman.”

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Gender Trouble in Latin Narrative Poetry

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