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Ovid before Exile

Art and Punishment in the Metamorphoses

Patricia J. Johnson

Publication Year: 2008

The epic Metamorphoses, Ovid’s most renowned work, has regained its stature among the masterpieces of great poets such as Vergil, Horace, and Tibullus. Yet its irreverent tone and bold defiance of generic boundaries set the Metamorphoses apart from its contemporaries. Ovid before Exile provides a compelling new reading of the epic, examining the text in light of circumstances surrounding the final years of Augustus’ reign, a time when a culture of poets and patrons was in sharp decline, discouraging and even endangering artistic freedom of expression.
    Patricia J. Johnson demonstrates how the production of art—specifically poetry—changed dramatically during the reign of Augustus. By Ovid’s final decade in Rome, the atmosphere for artistic work had transformed, leading to a drop in poetic production of quality. Johnson shows how Ovid, in the episodes of artistic creation that anchor his Metamorphoses, responded to his audience and commented on artistic circumstances in Rome.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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pp. ix-x

A first book is something of a tenth-month child, and its author as a result benefits from the prenatal care of a long list of midwives, both individual and institutional. I can acknowledge by name only a handful of those who have helped me along the way. The Boston University Department of Classical Studies has provided a stimulating and support-...

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pp. 3-21

It is one of the fascinating coincidences of ancient literary history that two of the greatest poets of the Augustan era, Ovid and Horace, each composed a long verse letter to the emperor Augustus toward the end of their respective careers on the subject of poetry, filling the entirety (Ovid) or more than half (Horace) of the second volume of a substantial...

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1. Ovid’s Artists

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pp. 22-40

Artists and their artworks have always been the colorful fellow travelers of Greek and Roman epic and epyllion.¹ Well before Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Daedalus, Hephaestus, and other craftsmen, named and anonymous, delighted the epic heroes in their company with sculptures, paintings, and shields and cups of metal,² while Demodocus, the...

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2. The Poetic Contest: Metamorphoses 5

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pp. 41-73

The songs of the book 5 poetic contest are performed within a narrative of unusual complexity, even by Metamorphoses standards.

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3. The Weaving Contest: Metamorphoses 6

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pp. 74-95

If a reader of the Metamorphoses were to begin with book 6 of the poem, the undertaking would be stalled by the first word on the page: praebuerat. With the pluperfect tense Ovid unmistakably directs us back to an earlier moment in the epic; followed by dictis Tritonia talibus aures, ‘Minerva (Tritonia) (had lent) her ears to words [a story] of this kind,’ we...

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4. Songs from Hell: Metamorphoses 10

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pp. 96-116

The last strictly mythological episode of Ovid’s Metamorphoses begins in book 10 with Orpheus, the legendary musician and poet of Thrace, and concludes in book 11 with his demise, followed by a brief account of the fortunes and misfortunes of his pupil, King Midas (of golden touch fame). Thereafter, Ovid directs his poem for the remainder of its...

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5. Ovid Anticipates Exile

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pp. 117-124

Encountering Ovid’s stories in the Metamorphoses about artists, art, and creativity can be a disheartening experience, issuing as they do from the stylus of one of the most free-spirited and innovative poets of the Augustan age. The dreadful fate of the weaver Philomela, the flaying of the flute-player Marsyas, the demise of Icarus on his father...


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pp. 125-153


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pp. 155-166


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pp. 167-175

Index Locorum

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pp. 177-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780299224035
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299224004

Publication Year: 2008