Gareth D. Williams, Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid's exile poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. ix + 234. ISBN 0-521-45136-1. UKú35.00.
University of Natal, Durban
It has been some years since writers on Ovid have felt the need to defend their choice of a `second-rate' poet, at least in the sphere of the amatory poetry and the Metamorphoses. Recognition of the poetic worth of the Fasti and the exile poetry has taken rather longer (indeed is still proceeding), but allegations of waning inspiration, failing powers and a sense of desolation in the face of uncongenial material no longer go unchallenged. Moreover, the revival of the debate on the `reality' of Ovid's exile has resulted in new and perceptive insights into his poetic persona, inspiration and technique. Gareth Williams' Banished Voices both profits from and contributes to this new direction in Ovidian studies.
W. does not deny the strength of Ovid's sense of exile, both physical and cultural, but he puts the question: `... to what extent is he a secretive, dissimulating outcast when he invites his Roman audience to believe that he is an exiled poet in terminal decline?' (p. 1). If Ovid seeks to gain sympathy by the claim that the circumstances of his exile are destroying him as a poet and as a man, why does he undermine this claim by continuing to write verse of quality? By a series of close readings W. demonstrates that it is verse of quality; in the process he probes constantly for the intention underlying the dissimulation.
Chapter 1 is titled `The "Unreality" of Ovid's Exile Poetry'. The exile is `the one inescapable fact which transforms the nature and direction of Ovid's creative life' (p. 3). W. is concerned not with the historicity of the exile, although he acknowledges the existing debate (p. 3), but with its poetic reality. The exile for the persona is not the same as for the historical Ovid, and there is little external evidence for the latter. Similarly the poems cannot be used for geographical evidence, although the attempt to do so can teach the reader something about Ovid's ingenium. `Ovid's portrayal of the Pontic environment is primarily literary, by which I mean that the material at his disposal was freely manipulated to serve his literary intentions' and `... it was to the literary experience of his readers that Ovid primarily appealed, adapting an alien environment and culture for his special purposes' (p. 7).
Beginning with `Tomis and the Tomitans' (pp. 8-25), W. shows how apparently genuine physical details are intended to convey, not an accurate reconstruction of the Tomitan environment, but rather a set of literary associations which recall, inter alia, Virgil's Georgics, and thereby construct this world of extreme remoteness and harsh climate as the antithesis of Virgil's Italy and of `the idealized Golden or Saturnian Age' (p. 14). Ovid's depiction of the barbaric nature of the inhabitants similarly draws on literary associations, and reverberations from epic contribute to the picture of war-like savagery with which Ovid is surrounded. W. draws attention to echoes in Tr.. 5.10 of both Virgil and the Ars Amatoria, and points to a resulting ambivalence, even dissonance, in the poem, which casts doubt on the truth and the sincerity, of Ovid's protestations of dwindling powers. `Sensitivity to the tone and nuance of poetic diction, combined with a subtle, allusive technique, emerges as a continuing feature of Ovidian poetics, and the creative involvement with the Aeneid is pursued with the same emphasis on supplying a new context for the Virgilian text which had characterized Ovid's method in the Metamorphoses' (p. 23).
The section entitled `Ovidian "facts"' (pp. 25-49) offers readings of three elegies (P. 1.8, 2.10 and 4.7) to establish the `unreality' of the physical details, the people and even the personal relationships which Ovid purports to describe,(1) and to show how `... Ovid makes objective factual reporting subordinate to his controlling artistic designs' (p. 26). Generic affiliations, with echoes not only of the Georgics and the Aeneid but also of Tibullus, create an opposition between an idyllic pastoral world and a violent and dangerous military one. W. does not deny that at one level Ovid requires the reader's belief as he seeks his sympathy, but he demonstrates that it is insufficient to read the poems only on this level: `The complex patterns of meaning which emerge from these readings of P. 1.8, 2.10 and 4.7 illustrate what is lost if Ovid's exilic "facts" are allowed to pass unquestioned' (p. 48).
If the unreality of the exilic world is accepted, the credibility of Ovid's claims that his poetic powers are diminished and impaired by his exile must come under scrutiny, and this is the burden of Chapter 2, `Ovid's pose of poetic decline' (pp. 50-99). W. begins by cataloguing the many assertions in the Tristia and the Epistulae ex Ponto of loss of ingenium and touches on the evolution of views in contemporary scholarship which reject the traditional assumption that the poet was right and the work was poor. Affirming that Ovid's complaints about his failing powers `are implicitly self-refuting' by reason of their poetic quality, he considers `Ovid's self-depreciation' in the light of `the topos of poetic self-depreciation' as exemplified by recusatio and by Neoteric nugae, both of which confidently demonstrate poetic ability in the very act of denying it, concluding that `Ovid manipulates the literary convention in the same way as he manipulates his literary sources through creative reminiscence (pp. 52-59). Here Tr.. 5.12 (with resonances of Catullus 65 and 68) comes under discussion. The inference of manipulative, dissimulating irony is reinforced by W.'s reading of Tr.. 4.1 (pp. 61-70) and P. 4.2 with its enmeshed themes of the friend who is an epic poet, and Callimachean poetics (pp.70-79). Ovid's assertions in Tr.. 1.7, P. 1.5 and P. 3.9 that the work is rude and unpolished are likewise given the lie by his exploitation of Horatian models to frame them (pp. 79-91); W.'s delineation of Ovid's responses to and reactions against Horatian poetics adds yet another dimension to his analysis of Ovidian creativity. Finally W. considers the credibility of Ovid's claim to have written a poem in Getic (P. 4.13), demonstrating the novelty of this vehicle for eulogy and the irrelevance of the question of the actual existence of such a poem (pp.91-99).
In Chapter 3, `Friendship and the theme of artistic motivation' (pp. 100-153), W. turns his investigation of Ovidian dissimulation in the direction of the sincerity of friendship, examining the ironic contrast between Ovid's condemnation of insincerity and disloyalty in relationships and his poetic ambivalence and disguise. Analysis of Tr.. 1.5, 4.7, 5.13 and 3.4 provides further illustration of the extent to which the elegies convey meaning through inter-textual associations, resonances, responses and inversions. In P. 2.9 the addressee, Cotys, possesses the sensibilities of Ovid's ideal reader, and the poem raises questions about Ovid's culpa and Augustus' literary perceptiveness. Finally W. draws a link between Ovid's approach to friendship and enmity and his complex love-hate relationship with his Muse to underline that the theme of friendship is intimately connected with Ovid's exploration of his function as vates and his ironic assertions of declining talent.
If dissimulation, irony and ambivalence inform the poems, how are passages relating to Augustus to be read? Issues raised in Chapters 3 and 4 adumbrate questions about Ovid's attitude to Augustus which are explored in Chapter 4, `Ovid's treatment of Augustus in the Tristia 2' (pp. 154-209). As with the earlier analyses, so here W. is sensitive to different levels of authorial intention and reader response. In W.'s case, that response is that the allusive irony of Tr.. 2, and Ovid's deliberate undermining of apparently disingenuous arguments, are intended to convey, to the reader who is sufficiently attuned to Ovidian style, criticism of Augustus. He is right, however, to utter a preliminary caution against `the presumption that a consistent attitude to Augustan ideology is detectable within the poetry' (p. 154) and to remind us, first, that irreverence on the poet's part need not necessarily imply opposition to Augustus and, second, that even if Ovid intended irreverence to be understood as harmless amusement, Augustus could have misread his subtlety and taken offence where none was intended (p. 156). He warns, too, that the tyrannical emperor and the lone protesting voice of the poet are caricatures, constructs of the poem itself (p. 162).
As the earlier discussion of Ovidian `facts' demonstrated the absurdity of attempts to construct authentic biography from the evidence of the elegies, so the interpretation here underlines the futility of attempting to recover the literal, historical error; and in both cases W. points the way to a more satisfying reading of the poems. Too many contemporary critics, experiencing 20th century unease about fulsome eulogy, have anachronistically imposed upon Augustan poetry the presumption of irony cloaking criticism of an authoritarian regime.(2) W. is on surer ground because he works towards his conclusions from within the poems and the literary tradition, only turning to Ovid's attitude to Augustus when he has securely established Ovid's poetic method. Combining philological discipline with literary sensibility, he has given us a perceptive reading of the last books of this illusive, allusive, elusive poetic lusor.
There is little to carp at in this well-written, lucidly argued and scholarly book (a revision of W.'s 1990 Cambridge thesis). The indexes of modern authors, of passages cited and of words and themes, and the printing of footnotes at the bottom of each page all contribute to ease of consultation. I found no typographical errors or other inaccuracies, and missed only a few references in the extensive bibliography. F. M. Ahl, Metaformations. Soundplay and wordplay in Ovid and other classical poets could have been mentioned, especially as his anagram technique is used by W. on p. 207.(3) To the dissertation and articles by J-M. Claassen listed should be added `Ovid's wavering identity: personification and depersonalisation in the exile poems'.(4) A curious omission, in view of its concern with the direction of emphases through subjective selection and arrangement of facts, is B. R. Fredericks, `Tristia 4.10: Poet's autobiography and poetic autobiography'.(5) S. Hinds, `Arma in Ovid's Fasti. Part 1: Genre and mannerism'; `Part 2: Genre, Romulean Rome and Augustan ideology' is also pertinent,(6) as is the recent work of Gian Bagio Conte, for example The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets.(7)
It is perhaps a pity that translations of the Greek and Latin passages were not included. We cannot escape the regrettable fact that many readers of classical authors today have minimal Latin and Greek, though they may have a finely- tuned and educated critical sense. While it is unimaginable that W. could have developed and supported his thesis of irony and dissimulation and Ovidian intertextuality without close attention to Ovid's language, it is not unimaginable that a reader of Ovid in translation could appreciate the broad outlines of his critical approach. Existing translations of the exile poetry are either literal and lumpish, or too free to allow the Latin-less reader access to Ovidian diction. Translations of passages cited would have made Banished Voices easier for such a reader to use. This minor quibble apart, this book has much to offer the reader, and the insights W. derives from close attention to the text and to Ovid's technique of re-interpretative echoing contribute to an understanding not only of the exile poetry but of the rest of Ovid's work, and indeed of much other Latin poetry.
(1) On 2.10 W. expands a previously-published discussion, `Conversing after sunset: a Callimachean echo in Ovid's exile poetry', CQ 41 (1991) 169-177.
(2) The debate over Propertius 4.6 is instructive, with W. R. Johnson (CSCA 6  151-180) claiming that Propertius deliberately wrote a bad poem by way of withholding the praises he was expected to sing, and H. E. Pillinger (HSPh 73  171-199) and Francis Cairns (in A. J. Woodman and D. A. West [edd.], Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus [Cambridge 1984] 129-257) supporting the serious intention of the poem on generic grounds.
(3) F.M. Ahl, Metaformations. Soundplay and wordplay in Ovid and other classical poets (Ithaca and New York 1985).
(4) J-M. Claassen, 'Ovid's wavering identity: personification and depersonalisation in the exile poems', Latomus 49 (1990) 102-116.
(5) B.R. Fredericks, 'Tristia4.10: Poet's autobiography and poetic autobiography', TAPhA 106 (1976) 139-154.
(6) S. Hinds, 'Arma in Ovid's Fasti. Part 1: Genre and mannerism'; 'Part 2: Genre, Romulean Rome and Augustan ideology', Arethusa 25, (1992) 81-112, 113- 153.
(7) G.B. Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation: genre and poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets(tr. from the Italian; edited and with a forward by Charles Segal.) (Ithaca and London 1986).