Epistolary Persuasion: Ovid in Exile


This is my first blog post since beginning my summer research project on Ovid’s Epistulae ex Ponto 1.1.2, and I am beginning my fourth week of reading and writing. I began my study by obtaining a copy of the recent English commentary on the first book of the ex Ponto and read through the letter in Latin. It was fun to do this, as I had just finished an intensive intermediate level class at Georgetown in Latin and my reading ability skyrocketed during the three weeks of the class. After finishing reading the letter and taking initial notes on the work, I began a long process of going through the work line by line and making comments and analyses on my way through it. To this end, I referenced Gaertner’s commentary while concurrently reading Janet Altman’s book Epistularity: Approaches to a Form, which is the fundamental work on thinking about and analyzing epistolary works. Although Altman’s study is grounded in the 18th century epistolary novel, her methodologies are applicable to any letter writing. In addition to these two works, I read several articles on other letters in the exile poetry to see what features scholars have been focusing on recently in the ex Ponto. I’ve also been reading chapters here and there in books ranging in topic from epistolarity in roman and greek literature to Ovidian studies to thinking about death in ancient Rome.

I’ve gone through a whirlwind of information, so to keep it all together, I’ve nearly filled up a legal pad with the many notes I’ve taken along the way. This process has helped me stay organized through the initial stages of my work – helpful, since I am not the most organized person!

After finishing commenting and analyzing the letter one line at a time, it was time to start bringing ideas together. To this end, I spent time today culling together notes from my legal pad onto index cards. I’ve set them out on my desk so that I can arrange ideas that belong together. It’s been helpful today as I have officially started writing my paper – I can have quotes and short analyses at hand that help me write the paper. I am foreseeing this as a long process – I am glad I still have a month left to finish a good draft of this paper! Now begins the tough part – coming up with a coherent thesis linking together the several sub-arguments I foresee making. Today, I began writing on the introduction to the letter: Ovid frequently employs physical language (greatness, distance, etc.) and emphasizes the letter’s form qua letter – in one line, he writes, “videris: audebo tibi me scripsisse fateri” (“You shall have seen: I will dare to say that I have written to you”). The sentence, although in English seems superfluous and inconsequential, is quite ornate in the Latin. Ovid elegantly juxtaposes the verbs in the indicative, “videris” and “audebo,” and in the infinitive, “scripsisse” and “fateri.” In doing so, he allows the actions of speaking (fateri) and writing (scripsisse) to stand next to each other. Ovid will dare to speak that he has written; his word order heightens the contrast between writing and speaking, and draws attention again to the fact that he, Ovid, can only speak by writing. Finally, centering “tibi” and “me” between the four verbs of the line – seeing, daring, writing, speaking – envelops both himself and Maximus in the epistolary relationship that Ovid has begun. The two men are connected and at the center of the epistolary web that Ovid weaves.

I’ll speak more about my argument as it comes: stay tuned for mythological references and what I want to call the altered reflection construction of the letter. Thanks for reading, and hope everyone’s work is going well,