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Arethusa 35.3 (2002) 435-446

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Ovid and the Exilic Journey of Rutilius Namatianus

Garth Tissol

Rutilius Namatianus's elegy de Reditu Suo or Itinerarium, in which the author describes his journey home from Rome to Gaul in 417 C.E., is full of references not only to his contemporaries and recent predecessors, especially Ausonius and Claudian, but also to poets who were "classical" authors for him no less than they are for us, especially Vergil and Ovid, poets of a remote past. (Ovid had died in exile almost exactly four centuries before Rutilius wrote.) 1 Learnedly allusive as it is, Rutilius's work is no cento but a highly original, indeed unique composition that draws on several traditions of Roman poetry. It is at once an elegy, an encomium of Rome and Italy, and a poetic itinerary with satiric invective along the lines of Horace's Journey to Brundisium (Serm. 1.5) and Lucilius's Iter Siculum. References to Ovid's exilic elegies, though conspicuously numerous among commentators' annotations, are rarely called upon to contribute to the understanding of Rutilius's poem; yet they have much to offer. To be sure, Ovid's works are among the stock resources of late-antique classicism; yet for Rutilius, the exilic elegies in particular provide an allusive context against which to set his own paradoxical understanding of Rome's fate. Writing a few years after the sack of Rome by Alaric (410 C.E.), Rutilius regards the city, on the one hand, as ruined and, on the other, as ideally perfect, eternal, and indeed divine—the [End Page 435] only deserving object of desire and longing on the part of those separated from it. 2

For Rutilius, the reception of Ovid, poeta exulans, is a mode of defining the author's own imaginative vision. To see how Ovid's exilic poetry functions creatively in this fashion, we can consider some features of Rutilius's art of allusion, for the poet quickly establishes Ovid's presence in his work. No sooner do we begin the poem than we come upon a conspicuous allusion to Ovid's Tristia in a significant context—Rutilius's expression of an anticipatory longing or nostalgia for Rome before he has even left it. He opens not with the beginning of his journey but with praises of Rome, identifying as supremely happy those who have been born there and granting a secondary level of happiness to those whom fate has allotted residence in the city, though they presumably were born elsewhere. He introduces the first and happiest group with this couplet (1.5-6):

o quantum et quotiens possum numerare beatos,
        nasci felici qui meruere solo.
How greatly, how many times blest can I count those who have deserved to be born on that happy ground! 3

Rutilius calls to mind this couplet of Ovid's (Tr. 3.12.25-26):

o quantum et quotiens non est numerare beatum
        non interdicta cui licet urbe frui. 4
It is impossible to reckon how greatly, how many times blest is he who is allowed enjoyment of the city unforbidden.

In his elegy on the return of spring, Ovid first celebrates the renewal of nature and civic life back in Rome and then proceeds to the far less agreeable return of spring in Tomis. This couplet separates the two halves of [End Page 436] the elegy, concluding the nostalgic evocation of the city's springtime delights in emphatic contrast to the desolate landscape of exile. By inviting our recollection of this context in Ovid's Tristia, Rutilius establishes an allusive parallel between himself and Ovid, his journey and Ovid's, which remains a constant feature of the poem—always present to be brought to notice by some specific allusion.

This allusion is the starting point for Alessandro Fo's important article on Rutilius, a discussion rich in insight on the reception of Ovid in antiquity (1989.51): "That is how the poem begins: Ovid appears at once, through the sophisticated contrivance of a precise allusion. With it Rutilius seems to mean, 'here I am writing...


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