- Ovid’s Women of the Year: Narratives of Roman Identity in the Fasti by Angeline Chiu
Chiu’s monograph aims to illuminate how Ovid’s Fasti interacts with exempla from Livy and Vergil, events from the reign of Augustus, and Ovid’s own previous poetry. Chiu offers a broadly intertextual reading of the Fasti that stresses how the concept of Romanitas can be viewed through the various women whose stories Ovid tells in the course of his poem. The individual readings are illuminating, but at times the material is not marshaled to support the thesis as emphatically as it could be.
The introduction provides a valuable overview of Ovid’s life and times; his literary output; the Augustan period; and, at its close, the critical literature that has helped Chiu to develop her thesis. The overview will be useful for students, but I would have appreciated more engagement with specifics of her argument, especially her conception of Romanitas and the role of women in defining that concept. Chiu equivocates at the conclusion of her introduction: “I am not arguing per se that Ovid is ‘gendering’ or ‘feminizing’ the Fasti as a whole, yet in the course of my research I find that I am also not refusing to say this. . . . Perhaps this is not so much an argument as a proposal sprung from research curiosity: let us read the Fasti with an eye for its literary feminine facets and see where the poem takes us” (18).
So, where do the poem and this book take us? The first chapter examines how Livy shaped Roman identity in his Ab Urbe Condita, especially through exempla. In the Fasti, Ovid exposes Livian examples of heroism as artificial constructs and points out how these models of behavior can be manipulated. With a sure hand, Chiu leads the reader through Ovid’s varying whimsical and critical responses to Livy in the cases of Anna Perenna, the Lacus Curtius, Claudia Quinta, and, crucially, Lucretia. In these examples, Chiu points out how Ovid’s elegiac sensibilities inform his depiction of Claudia Quinta and Lucretia, and how Callimachean allusions help to delineate Ovid’s self-conscious poetics. The dangers of Lucretia’s elegiac representation are highlighted in Chiu’s analysis, as the beauty and charm of Lucretia as puella seem to incite Sextus’ rape and lead to her suicide. [End Page 585]
The second chapter engages with Vergil’s Aeneid, discussing the way in which Ovid’s Fasti reimagines figures such as Evander, Carmentis, Lavinia, and Juturna. Ovid’s Evander displays none of the gravitas of Vergil’s figure, and Ovid instead highlights the role Carmentis plays in the early colonizing of Italy and her own vatic power. In similar ways, Aeneas and Jupiter are also made distinctly less powerful and authoritative in the Fasti, while Ovid teases out the stories of Lavinia and Juturna and fills gaps from the Aeneid. In these close readings, Chiu deftly pinpoints differences between the poets, but I was left wanting more analysis of how these alternative scenarios really complicate what it means to “become Roman” (90).
The following chapter, the strongest of the book, appears fundamentally different at first glance because it discusses the manner in which Ovid relates religious rites that were altered in some way by Augustus. Ovid places words in the mouth of Augustus explaining the new temple of Mars Ultor (Fast. 5.573– 577), but Chiu points out how the earlier depiction of a Mars amator in Fasti 3 undercuts the imperial propaganda. Ovid’s penchant for focusing on Hersilia instead of Romulus, and on Egeria rather than Numa, may be mapped onto Livia’s influence in the imperial household. Chiu spotlights appearances of Livia in the Fasti to point out her position as “exemplar of feminine virtue” (112) and “the one who embodies wedded Concordia” (113). Ovid’s intense engagement with Vesta transforms her into a veritable patroness of Augustus, and Chiu shows how she impinges on the narratives...