Ovid’s relationship to ancient and late antique schools and scholarship is still largely uncharted territory in spite of the great quantity of evidence in the form of late antique scholia. This lack of interest is at least partly due to the fact that no substantial mass of genuine late antique scholia exists for any of Ovid’s works (Cameron). It is therefore necessary to study the citations of Ovid in the ancient scholia accompanying the works of other poets. Studies of such scholia in their own right are quite rare; of these, most either eschew the topic of Ovid altogether or simply state that little is known about the use of Ovid in late antique scholia (Diederich, Pellizzari, Hexter).
My paper considers the role Ovid's poems played in schools and scholarship by examining the handful of references to Ovid in Servius’ commentary on the Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid. Besides reflecting Ovid’s role in late antique schools, Servius’ commentary, itself largely gleaned from earlier variorum commentaries, offers clues as to Ovid’s place in the whole tradition of Virgilian exegesis. Indeed, I will argue that Ovid, especially through his Metamorphoses, became attached to the Virgilian scholarly tradition at quite an early date – certainly well before the time of Servius and quite possibly as early as the first or second century CE. Recently, scholars have begun to view Ovid as one of Virgil’s earliest surviving commentators (Casali); I hope to show that Ovid was also treated as such in antiquity.
Servius seems not to have consulted Ovid's works firsthand in the composition of his commentary. The high percentage of errors and the vagueness of many citations point to this conclusion. Servius only mentions Ovid by name a total of twenty times in his commentary on Virgil’s works (eighteen refer to the Metamorphoses and one each to the Amores and Fasti). Of these, one fifth (four) contain egregious errors which someone who was familiar with the narrative of Ovid’s poems could not have made. Servius’ indirect knowledge of Ovid can be further established through his recycling of citations and relatively rare use of quotations. These duplications not only reduce the actual number of unique citations of Ovid in Servius from twenty to seventeen, but they also suggest that Servius was working within a tightly restricted knowledge of Ovid’s poems. Moreover, Servius quotes Ovid directly only nine times. Of the six quotations that are longer than one word (all six drawn from the Metamorphoses), half are rejected by Richard Tarrant as incorrect readings (Tarrant). Rather than implying that he was a careless teacher, Servius’ errors almost certainly point at once to his unfamiliarity with Ovid and then necessarily to his blind reliance on the citations of Ovid occurring in his sources.
There is compelling evidence that Servius was drawing on a much more ancient tradition of Ovid quotation in Virgilian commentary. By comparing Servius’ quotations from Ovid with those found in the augmented Servius (Servius Danielis), as well as other Virgilian scholia of great antiquity such as the Berne scholia and Pseudo-Probus, I will show that what lies behind Servius’ sometimes bizarre use of Ovid is in fact a commentary tradition which has accumulated many errors – probably over centuries. Servius’ commentary provides not only a snapshot of Ovid’s place in early fifth-century Roman education but also a faint trail back to a time when citations from Ovid played a greater role in Virgilian exegesis.
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