Rome city council overturns banishment of ‘one of the greatest poets’ more than 2,000 years after Augustus forced him to leave
More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated.
Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature along with Virgil and Horace.
Best known for his 15-book epic narrative poem Metamorphoses and the elegy Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, Publius Ovidius Naso was exiled in 8 AD to Tomis, the ancient but remote Black Sea settlement now known as the Romanian port city of Constanța.
He remained there until his death a decade later. Although ordered directly by the emperor, scholars have long speculated over the motive for Ovid’s exile; the poet himself attributed it to “carmen et error”, a poem and a mistake.
Experts believe the cause was probably a combination of three factors: that Ovid’s erotic poetry was considered offensive, his attitude to Augustus was too disrespectful, and that he may have been involved in an unspecified plot or scandal.
La Repubblica reported that M5S, which holds a majority of the seats on the council, demanded that “necessary measures” be adopted to revoke the order in what the capital’s deputy mayor, Luca Bergamo, described as an important symbol.
“It is about the fundamental right of artists to express themselves freely in societies in which, around the world, the freedom of artistic expression is increasingly constrained,” Bergamo told councillors.
Ovid was indisputably “one of the greatest poets in the history of humanity,” the deputy mayor said, and moreover the real reasons for his mysterious banishment by the emperor “were never placed on the historical record”.
Sulmona, the Abruzzo town where the poet was born (then Sulmo), formally acquitted him of any wrongdoing. Dante, the great Renaissance poet, was similarly pardoned in 2008 by Florence – from where he was exiled on pain of death in 1302.
Ovid’s many poems and letters in exile, collected in Tristia and The Black Sea Letters, have been described by critics as a “clinical presentation” of the condition of exile, “demonstrating its debilitating effect upon a man’s morale, his talents and perhaps his psychology”.