Sad Ovid’s Sad Poem is Really Sad

Ovid, Tristia 3, 1-20

“I come to this city fearfully, sent as an exile’s book.
Reader, my friend, give a calming hand to the weary
and don’t worry that I might shame you in some way.
No line in this manuscript teaches about love.

My master’s fate is such that the miserable man
should not hide it in any jokes
That work which amused him once in his green age
He now condemns—alas, too late—and hates.
Look what I carry: you will find nothing but sorrow here,
a song which matches its own days.

If the lame song breaks off in alternating lines,
then it comes from the meter’s form or the journey’s length.
If I am not bright with cedar nor smooth from pumice,
it is because I turned red at looking better than my master.
If the letters are shapeless, if they are marred by erasure,
it is because the poet wounded the work with his own tears.
If any words seem by chance not to be Latin,
it is because he wrote them in a barbarous land.

Tell me, readers—if it is not too much—where should I go,
What home should I, a foreign book, seek in this city?

Missus in hanc uenio timide liber exulis urbem
da placidam fesso, lector amice, manum;
neue reformida, ne sim tibi forte pudori:
nullus in hac charta uersus amare docet.
Haec domini fortuna mei est, ut debeat illam
infelix nullis dissimulare iocis.
Id quoque, quod uiridi quondam male lusit in aeuo,
heu nimium sero damnat et odit opus.
Inspice quid portem: nihil hic nisi triste uidebis,
carmine temporibus conueniente suis.
Clauda quod alterno subsidunt carmina uersu,
uel pedis hoc ratio, uel uia longa facit;
quod neque sum cedro flauus nec pumice leuis,
erubui domino cultior esse meo;
littera suffusas quod habet maculosa lituras,
laesit opus lacrimis ipse poeta suum
Siqua uidebuntur casu non dicta Latine,
in qua scribebat, barbara terra fuit.
Dicite, lectores, si non graue, qua sit eundum,
quasque petam sedes hospes in urbe liber.

 

3 responses

  1. Ovid is my favorite poet (or is it Propertius?), but I have never read all the way through his exile poetry.

    My favorite modern theory about Ovid contends that he was never exiled – all of this is just stagecraft. Unlikely, perhaps, but it reminds me of your contention that everything Kanye West does might be part of a years-long, elaborate piece of performance art.

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