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Introduction

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INTRODUCTION: TOWARD A LITERARY HISTORY


OF OVIDS RECEPTION IN ANTIQUITY
STEPHEN WHEELER

The great interest in Ovid evidenced by scholarly and literary publications


during the past several decades shows no signs of abating. Dozens of books
and hundreds of articles have appeared, making objective bibliographical
pronouncements increasingly difficult. But certain publishing events stand
out as landmarks. A decade ago, Arethusa devoted a special issue (25.1) to
the topic Reconsidering Ovids Fasti, whose papers helped form the basis
for a new literary understanding of the Fasti, a poem that had previously
suffered from neglect or low critical estimation. Ten years later, there is
scarcely a work of Ovid that has not undergone a similar process of reconsideration. Given the current state of affairs, the question inevitably arises:
what remains to be done in Ovidian studies?
One promising area for further research is Ovids reception in
antiquity, especially in Latin literature. It has long been a truism of classical
scholarship that the influence of Ovid is second only to that of Vergil in Latin
literary culture.1 Traditionally, however, classical scholars have been more
preoccupied with the primary interpretation of Ovids poetry and have
devoted less attention to the role that Ovid plays in later Latin literature. Not
only does the subject tend to be a backwater in the many collections of
papers devoted to Ovid, but it often consists of little more than the setting

1 For Ovids literary legacy in antiquity, see the testimonia collected in Manitius 1899.725
29 and Stroh 1969.514; for surveys, see Rand 1925.10812, Schanz-Hosius 1935.260
62, Stroh 1969.12, Ronconi 1984, Klopsch 1993.159293, Anderson 1995b.xiixviii,
Dewar 2002.

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Arethusa 35 (2002) 341347 2002 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Stephen Wheeler

out of parallels traced in subsequent authors.2 What one frequently misses is


an interpretive or historical understanding of the value and meaning of Ovid
for later writers in antiquity. This is mildly surprising because the study of
Ovidian reception in the history of European arts and letters, from the
Middle Ages to the present, has been a well-established and fast-growing
subfield for decades.3 It would stand to reason, then, that the story of Ovids
legacy from the Augustan age to late antiquity would be of interest not only
in itself but also for understanding the later history of Ovidianism. In recent
years, the question of how ancient authors read Ovid has indeed begun to
attract more attention and interpretation.4 Now that critics possess a highly
developed and supple understanding of Ovidian poetry, as well as a theoretically informed understanding of the dynamics of literary reception, they are
in a better position to explore and evaluate what becomes of Ovid in the
course of Roman literature from Manilius to Venantius Fortunatus or
Maximianus.
We use the term reception in a broad sense to cover the various
creative, hermeneutic, and historical processes by which later writers (as
well as artists and composers) reuse, interpret, misread, correct, allegorize,
update, or otherwise plot Ovids poetry in their own works.5 In conventional
literary histories, the evidence for reception falls under headings such as
influence, presence, and Nach- or Fortleben. The study of influence
tends to lay emphasis on the continuing effect of an authors personal
intention, vision, or style on later literature, streaming, as it were, from a
single source. The study of reception, by contrast, focuses less on the origins
of an authors work than on the open-ended process by which contemporary
or subsequent audiences react to and understand that work (which does not

2 Bibliographies to Ovids ancient reception can be found in Lenz 1939.11015, Stroh


1969.13436, 160, and Hofmann 1981.221721, 2254 (Metamorphoses only).
3 For testimonia and bibliography to Ovids post-antique reception, see Stroh 1969.15162
and Hofmann 1981.222144 (Metamorphoses only). Surveys in Manitius 1899, Rand
1925, Wilkinson 1955.366438, Munari 1960, Viarre 1966, Drrie 1968, Moss 1982,
Hexter 1986, Klopsch 1993, Sauer 1993, Brown 1999, Hexter 2002. Exemplary studies of
reception can be found in the following collections or books: Binns 1973, Chevallier 1982,
Martindale 1988a, Picone and Zimmermann 1994, Anderson 1995a, Gallo and Nicastri
1995, Hardie et al. 1999, Schubert 1999, Hardie 2002a, 2002c.
4 Cf. Jakobi 1988, DeglInnocenti Pierini 1990.105210, Rosati 1994, Anderson 1995c,
essays in Gallo and Nicastri 1995, Hinds 1998.12944, Rosati 1999, essays in Schubert
1999, Colton 2000.13679, Mller-Reineke 2000, Rosati forthcoming 2003.
5 For discussions of reception theory, see Suleiman 1980, Holub 1984, Martindale
1993.210; also thoughtful, though not yet theoretical, is Martindale 1988b.

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exclude, of course, attempts at reconstructing the authors original intentions). As such, reception can be viewed as a form of dialogue in which the
meaning of a work of literature is historically contingent and continually
being modified or transformed through the political, religious, or intellectual needs of each new generation of readers.
The reception of Ovid from antiquity onwards has taken many
forms. One may begin with judgments about the poet passed by famous
critics or thinkers.6 A second field of inquiry is the rich tradition of commentary that has grown up around Ovids texts.7 Another important mode of
reception, which will be the focus of this volume of essays, consists of the
literary act by which an author or text quotes or imitates Ovida creative
process that may be variously termed borrowing, theft, allusion, reference,
intertextuality, or parody. A fourth type of reception (rarely treated as such)
is the production of pseudo-Ovidiana (including interpolations in genuine
texts, literary forgeries, or pseudoepigrapha) and works modeled on Ovid
that were later attributed to him.8 Finally, one may trace the reception of
Ovids poetry through its translation into other languages and literatures, as
well as through its transformation into other artistic media (painting, sculpture, music, dance, and various forms of theater or spectacle). An attempt to
survey the history and variety of responses to Ovids poetry outlined here
would, of course, demand a large team of scholars in the service of an
encyclopedia, which goes far beyond the limits of this slender issue of
Arethusa.
This collection of essays on the reception of Ovid in antiquity
grows out of a panel of papers organized by the co-editors of this volume
and presented at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the American Philological
Association held in Dallas. Four of the contributions published here (Roberts,

6 For analysis of such criticism, see Elliot 1985, Anderson 1995c, Todini 1995.
7 Although only the scholia to the Ibis have survived intact from antiquity, one can detect
traces of an ancient commentary to the Metamorphoses, on which see Schanz and Hosius
1935.261 and n. 5, Hollis 1996. For the reception of Ovid in the commentaries to other
authors (Servius on Vergil and the Commenta Bernensia to Lucan), cf. Leuschke 1895,
Esposito 1994. Also worth mention are the prose summaries of the Metamorphoses, the socalled Narrationes ascribed to a Lactantius, on which see most recently Tarrant 1995.
8 For interpolation as a form of reception, see Tarrant 1989a. On doubtful works attributed
to Ovid (Halieutica, Nux, and Consolatio ad Liviam), see Richmond 1981. For poetae
Ovidianae, cf. the tomb inscription found at Itri between Formiae and Fundi, Ovidianus
poeta hic quiescit (An Ovidian poet rests here, CIL 10.6127 [misprinted as 6271, p. 611],
ILS 1.2955).

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Tarrant, Tissol, and Wheeler) were part of the panel, and the remaining two
were solicited (Keith and Williams). Like other studies devoted to Ovidian
reception, ours cannot claim to be comprehensive, either in terms of Ovids
works, or in terms of the ancient authors who read and received Ovid. This
volume offers contributions to the reception of the Amores, Metamorphoses,
and the poetry of exile. Witnesses for Ovids ancient reception include four
classical authors (Seneca, Lucan, Statius, and Martial) and six late antique
authors (Rutilius Namatianus, Orientius, Prosper of Aquitaine, the author of
Metrum in Genesin, Claudius Marius Victorius, and Dracontius). The main
weight of the papers falls on the reception of Ovids Metamorphoses in
Seneca, Lucan, Statius, and the Christian poets. Two further contributions
cast light on the reception of Ovidian elegy (love and exilic) in Martial and
Rutilius Namatianus.
In the opening essay, Chaos in Ovids Metamorphoses and its
Neronian Influence, Richard Tarrant explores the influence of Ovids description of chaos in the Metamorphoses on Senecan tragedy (especially
Thyestes) and Lucans Bellum Civile. He maintains that Ovidian chaos is not
simply the confusion of physical boundaries or darkness that marks the
beginning of the world, but a pervasive phenomenon in the Metamorphoses
both on a physical and a metaphorical level. It recurs in scenes of cosmic
dissolution such as Jupiters flood and Phaethons disastrous chariot ride,
and turns out to be a permanent aspect of the world as expounded by
Pythagoras. Tarrant next argues that, in the middle of the Metamorphoses,
Ovid gives chaos a metaphorical dimension by depicting human behavior as
a confusion of moral categories and obligations. It is precisely Ovids
implicit link between natural disorder and human passions that Seneca and
Lucan imitate, develop, and foreground in their own works. In Senecas
Thyestes, the moral confusion wrought by Thyestes banquet threatens the
return of chaos and darkness, reversing Ovids movement from physical to
moral chaos. In similar fashion, Lucan alludes programmatically to Ovidian
chaos at the beginning of Bellum Civile to illustrate by analogy the breakdown of human institutions in civil war. In their dark readings of the
Metamorphoses, Tarrant concludes, Seneca and Lucan exhibit their own
Neronian preoccupations with boundary violation and instability at the
human and cosmic level.
Stephen Wheelers paper, Lucans Reception of Ovids Metamorphoses, continues and complements Tarrants discussion by arguing that
Lucans Bellum Civile offers a coherent and systematic understanding of
Ovids epic. Wheeler finds unsatisfactory the influential mode of describing

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poetic imitation in terms of a primary code modelthe Aeneid in Lucans


caseto which other poetic predecessors are subordinate. Without denying
the importance of Vergil, Wheeler maintains that the Bellum Civile is an
important site for the reception of the Metamorphoses in the tradition of
imperial epic. Scholars have traced many allusions to Ovid in Lucan, but
these are often seen as only locally important or simply as attempts by
Lucan to outdo his predecessor. Read as a poem of courtship, rape, and the
ambiguities of gender and identity, the Metamorphoses may appear to have
little to do with the Bellum Civile; but Lucan reads Ovids work for its
cosmological framework (chaos, flood, Phaethon, and the speech of
Pythagoras), its battle scenes, and its spectacles of grotesque wounds and
bodily suffering. For Lucan, the Metamorphoses is a poem about physical,
human, and moral nature in extremis, a poem in which the bonds of
cosmological, political, social, and familial order dissolve. If that were not
enough, Lucan plots his epic as a supplement to Ovids universal history,
which offers an alternative ending more in keeping with the tragic history of
Thebes. By incorporating these Ovidian elements into his own work, Lucan
offers a significant reading that demonstrates how the Metamorphoses anticipates his own Bellum Civile.
Alison Keiths contribution, Ovidian Personae in Statiuss Thebaid, examines an array of characters in Statiuss Theban epic who either
appear in the Metamorphoses or owe their characterization to their Ovidian
ancestors. She approaches the topic of characterization through the lens of
ancient rhetorical theory, which defines a character according to various
categories such as lineage, country, fortune, past actions, disposition of
mind, and so on. In her analysis, she shows that Statius consistently characterizes the members of Oedipuss family with reference to the house of
Cadmus in the Theban cycle of Metamorphoses 3 and 4. A second finding is
that the Argive characters Tydeus, Atalanta, and Parthenopaeus owe their
characterization to Ovids narrative of the Calydonian boar hunt in Metamorphoses 8. In the final part of her paper, Keith looks at the characters in
the Thebaid who reappear from the Metamorphoses. Most prominent of
these is the Fury Tisiphone, characterized by her snakey locks, who not only
recalls her counterpart in Metamorphoses 4, but also thematizes the regression of Theban history to its violent serpentine origins. Also Ovidian are the
seers Tiresias and Manto, who make a comeback as a father-daughter duo in
the necromantic episode of Thebaid 4, when they conjure up the shades of
the house of Cadmusfrom the founder himself to Niobe. Through continuity of characterization, Keith argues, Statius grafts his Thebaid onto

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Ovids Theban history in the Metamorphoses and thereby illustrates the


tragic repetition of the past in the myth of the Seven against Thebes. In many
respects, Keiths conclusions show that Statiuss reading of the Metamorphoses follows along lines already traced by Lucan.
The essay of Michael Roberts, Creation in Ovids Metamorphoses and the Latin Poets of Late Antiquity, deals with the response of
Christian poets to the opening episode of the Metamorphoses in their
accounts of biblical creation. Some poets seek to correct Ovid exegetically,
such as Claudius Marius Victorius in his Alethia. In the anonymous Metrum
in Genesin, however, Ovid is not only Christianized, but the Bible undergoes
an interpretatio Ovidiana. Indeed, Claudius Marius Victorius and Dracontius
in his Laudes Dei recast the biblical creation of man as though it were an
Ovidian metamorphosis. In describing the formation of natural features,
Ovid provides a model for the taxonomic exhaustivity of the creation
accounts in Metrum in Genesin and Dracontius. Perhaps most intriguingly,
Orientiuss Commonitorium and Prospers de Providentia Dei correct Ovid
philosophically, by attributing the conditions of his chaos to the maintenance of a stable world order. Ovidian chaos consists of a tension of
opposites, which, in ancient philosophical terms, is a necessary condition
for the ordered state of the universe. Further, Ovids description of the
warring elements provides a model not only for cosmic order, but also for
late antique poetic composition. Because of a significant turn of history and
a change in the system of beliefs, then, Ovidian chaos undergoes a metamorphosis in late antiquity, taking a benign and creative form that is opposed to
the darker readings of chaos offered by Neronian and Flavian poets.
In the paper Ovid, Martial, and Poetic Immortality: Traces of
Amores 1.15 in the Epigrams, Craig Williams investigates how Ovids
meditations on his own poetry and immortality are reworked by Martial. The
study focuses on the role that Amores 1.15 plays in five different epigrams
(10.2, 8.61, 1.61, 8.73, and 5.10), while taking into account the broader
literary tradition within which Ovid and Martial position themselves. In the
case of epigram 10.2, Williams observes how Martial guarantees his own
literary immortality with reference to the examples of Ovid and Horace.
One of the features of Amores 1.15 that Martial picks up and varies is the
envy (livor) that criticizes a poet for wasting his time and the poets answer
that his poetry will bring him undying worldwide fame. In 8.61, Martial
archly observes that he has already achieved worldwide fame, and that now
his critics envy his wealth. Another feature of Ovids meditations on his
poetic immortality is the habit of listing poets who have won immortality
through their poetry. Martial continues Ovids practice in 1.61 by including

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Ovid in the list of immortal poets and then boldly adding himself to the end.
More irreverently, in 8.73, Martial lists lovers who have made their poets
famous, including Corinna and Ovid, and then wishes to be added to this list
so that he, too, might have an inspiring lover. If, on the other hand, poets like
Ovid were unknown during their lifetime and only enjoyed immortal fame
after death, then Martial is in no rush to die (5.10). Throughout his analysis,
Williams is careful to emphasize the originality, humor, and self-consciousness of Martials handling of Ovidian themes.
In his offering, Ovid and the Exilic Journey of Rutilius Namatianus, Garth Tissol reads Rutiliuss elegy de Reditu Suo or Itinerarium
within the matrix of its allusive engagement with the exilic elegies of Ovid.
Rutilius, who returns to his native Gaul from Rome, defines his paradoxical
understanding of Romes fate following the sack by Alaric in 410 c.e.
through the reception of Ovid, poeta exulans. He returns home as if an exile
from Rome, but, unlike Ovid, he is content to die away from Rome as long
as she remembers him. Conversely, barbarians have made Italy itself into a
land of exile, and to be a Roman is to be in exile. By inviting recollections of
Ovids Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, Rutilius not only establishes a parallel
between himself and Ovid, his journey and Ovids, but also an interpretive
framework through which to view and read other texts such as Homers
Odyssey and Ovids own Metamorphoses. When Rutilius attributes the
cause of Romes destruction to the burning of the Sibylline books by
Stilicho, he compares this act of betrayal to Altheas burning of the talismanic log that preserved the life of her son Meleager. This allusion to an
episode in Metamorphoses 8 is mediated through Tristia 1.7, in which Ovid
uses the analogy of Althea to characterize his own act of burning the
Metamorphoses. Rutiliuss reference to the Metamorphoses, mediated by
Ovids exilic poetry, contributes to his larger vision of his journey as that of
a latter-day Ovidian exile.
The papers presented here do not intend to be the last word on the
large subject of the reception of Ovids works in antiquity. Rather, they seek
to establish lines of inquiry that may enable others to continue the project of
following the dialogue that Ovids poetry generated with posterity. To this
end, a complete bibliography for all of the papers appears at the end of the
volume in the hope that it will serve as a resource for future research.9

9 The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has generously underwritten this authors
research on Ovidian reception, which was conducted at the Seminar fr Klassische
Philologie, Freie Universitt Berlin during 20002002. Thanks are also due to Professor
W. W. Ehlers and Dr. Fritz Felgentreu for their support and hospitality.

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