You are here

Rebuilding Rome: Reading Ovid’s Fasti as a Chronological History of the City of Rome

Samuel L. Kindick

University of Colorado Boulder

            It has long been argued that Ovid was writing the Fasti and the Metamorphoses simultaneously (Otis 1970; Hinds 1987; Fantham 1998) and numerous connections have been identified between the end of the Metamorphoses and the beginning of the Fasti – Aesculapius (Met. 14.622-744; Fasti 1.291-2), discussion of killing animals (Met. 15.75-142; Fasti 349-456), and the reading that ad mea tempora of Metamorphoses 1.4 culminates not only with the contemporary history at the end of the poem, but with the opening word of the Fasti (Barchiesi 1997; Feeney 1999; Green 2004). These connections suggest that the two poems were intended to be read together, or at least, one after the other.

            This paper argues that Ovid’s Fasti should be read chronologically as a history of the physical city of Rome and that the structure of the poem roughly parallels that of the Metamorphoses.  Although not the explicit focus of the poems, the city of Rome was featured in the two greatest epics of the Augustan age, Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 8) and Ovid’s own Metamorphoses (Books 15).  Ovid, wishing to control the poetic memory of the city, ‘unbuilds’ the physical city in Fasti Book 1, and through the course of the poem rebuilds the city to his day.

            The first part of the paper explores how the Rome featured at the beginning of Fasti 1 is intended to be read as the same city featured in Aeneid 8 and in Metamorphoses 15, tracking Ovid’s use of topographical descriptions, such as Tarpeias arces (Aeneid 8.653; Metamorphoses 15.866; Fasti 1.79).  This epic version of the city is then unbuilt by Janus (1.193-212), allowing Ovid to rebuild it over the course of the poem.

            In the second, longer, part of the paper, I look at three episodes from the Fasti which provide representative glimpses of the construction (or lack of construction) of the city of Rome.  I first return to Janus, who informs the poet that he was once called Chaos (Fasti 1.103).  He then goes on to describe the arrivals of the first inhabitants of the future site of Rome: Saturn (Fasti 1.233-240), Evander (Fasti 1.497-508), and himself (Fasti 1.241-248).

            I then look at the rape of the Vestal Virgin Silvia at the beginning of Fasti 3 (3.11-42).  Ovid has moved the episode from inside the palace, where Ilia recounts her dream of the rape in Ennius (Ann. 34-50 Sk.) to an idyllic riverbank.   While Ovid’s account contains traces of Roman institutions (Vestal Virgin, statues of Vesta), the rape occurs in topographical isolation.

            Finally, I look at the final day mentioned in the Fasti, June 30th, where the restoration of the temple of Hercules Musarum by L. Marcius Philippus is celebrated.  Now Rome has not only been completely built, but its monuments are being rebuilt (a recurring theme in Fasti 6) in the age of Augustus.  This ending also matches up Skutsch’s (1968) assertion that Ennius’ Annales ended with a mention of the temple of Hercules Musarum, built by his patron, M. Fulvius Nobilior.  Ultimately Ovid has built and then re-built the Rome as his poetic city.

            Ultimately, this paper argues that while Ovid’s Metamorphoses goes ab origine mundi…ad mea tempora (1.3-4), the Fasti follows the same narrative arc, though focused on the building of the city of Rome, that is, ab origine Romae ad mea tempora.

Session/Panel Title

Playing with Time

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy