Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ovid and his book

From "The Unbearable Lightness of Ovid": Tom Hendrickson offers a careful description of the "books" Ovid, exiled, wrote of in Tristia:
Like many of those who now open the pages of the Tristia, I was looking for something specific rather than reading at my leisure when I stumbled across it in Pisa. I was doing research on ancient books, and the very first poem of the Tristia is addressed to the book itself and provides a lush description of the ancient bookroll as an aesthetic object. Ovid instructs his book to look mournful and unkempt, in keeping with his situation (1.1.5–12):
Nec te purpureo uelent uaccinia fuco — 
non est conueniens luctibus ille color — 
nec titulus minio, nec cedro charta notetur,
candida nec nigra cornua fronte geras…
Nec fragili geminae poliantur pumice frontes,
hirsutus sparsis ut uideare comis.

Let no whortleberry veil you with crimson dye — 
That color is not fit for mourning — 
Let your title-slip be marked by no cinnabar, your papyrus with no cedar,
And may you not carry gleaming horns on your dark forehead…
Let your twin faces be smoothed by no delicate pumice,
So that you seem shaggy, with scraggly hair. (1.1.5–12)
Books in the Roman world were typically papyrus scrolls. They could be utilitarian tools, but they could also be luxury objects, works of art in their own right. The papyrus would be stained with cedar oil (cedro charta notetur), which kept it free from pests and rot, but which also gave it a heavenly color and scent. The edges of the scroll, which could become torn and ragged, would have to be frequently filed with pumice (fragili geminae poliantur pumice frontes), allowing book-owners to indulge in a kind of “care of the book” ritual. A center-rod, which might be made of precious materials, would be used to unroll the scroll. Here the center-rod sticking out of either end of the scroll must be ivory, since Ovid describes it as being like the gleaming horns on a cow’s dark forehead (candida … nigra cornua fronte). Each scroll would have a small title slip attached to the top and naming the author and work, here imagined to be written in scarlet ink (minio). The “crimson dye” (purpureo … fuco) refers to a slip-cover in which the book could be stored and transported in safety.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Some new essays on Ovid

In honor of Ovid's Bimillennium, a group of essays has been posted by In Medias Res, a magazine published by the Paideia Institute. They include readings of the Amores, the Heroides, the Medicamina faciei femineae (his work on make-up), and the Metamorphoses.

An intro with links to them by John Byron Kushner is here.

From Kusher's essay on Metamorphoses:
Ovid seems to be arguing against responsibility, and for sympathy. All of these desires — licit and illicit — come into our lives through our bodies, and it is not clear that we are to be held responsible for our bodies, or that we are our bodies, a theme Ovid plays with continually. Adonis coming into manhood is described as iam se formosior ipso est — more beautiful than himself (10.523). Marriage for Atalanta is described — quite powerfully, knowing how difficult marriage can be for us all — as teque ipsa viva carebis (“you will no longer have yourself, though you will be alive,” 10.566). 
In Latin our lives begin and end with passive verbs: nascimur and morimur (we are born, we die). And much of the in-between fits into the verb patimur, we suffer, which is the main material of the Metamorphoses, in its varied forms . . . 
After a helpful discussion of the long speech of Pythagoras, he notes:
For Ovid, to use E.J. Kenney’s phrase used by Feeney, “the Augustan settlement was not, as it had been for Vergil, the start of a new world, novus ordo saeclorum, but another sandbank in the shifting stream of eternity.”
Of course, Ovid being nothing if not Ovid, one thing will remain, through some unidentified agency, unchanged beyond that shifting stream -- his name:

parte tamen meliore mei super alta perennis
astra ferar, nomenque erit indelebile nostrum

Still in my better part far beyond the lofty stars
I shall be borne immortal; my name will be indelible.