Playing with Time

Playing with Time: Ovid and the "Fasti"

Carole E. Newlands
Volume: 55
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    Playing with Time
    Book Description:

    Ovid's Fasti, unlike his Metamorphoses, is anchored in Rome: religion, history and legend, monuments, and character. This poem, based on the Roman calendar, interprets the Augustan period not as a golden age of peace and prosperity, Carole E. Newlands asserts, but as an age of experimentation, negotiation, compromise, and unresolved tensions.

    Newlands maintains that, despite the Fasti's basic adherence to the format of the calendar, the text is carefully constructed to reflect the tensions within its subject: the new Roman year. Ovid plays with the calendar. Through the alteration or omission of significant dates, through skilled juxtapositions, through multiple narrators and the development of an increasingly unreliable authorial persona, Ovid opens to a critical and often humorous scrutiny the political ideology of the calendar. By adding astronomical observations and aetiological explanations for certain constellations, Newlands says, Ovid introduced the richly allusive world of Greek mythology to the calendar.

    Newlands restores the poem to a position of importance, one displaying Ovid's wit and intellect at its best. The incompleteness of the Fasti, she adds, is a comment on the discord that characterized Augustus' later years and led to enforced silences.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6695-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    C. E. N.
  4. Abbreviations of Frequently Cited Works
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Problem of Ovid’s Fasti
    (pp. 1-26)

    Ovid’s Fasti is centrally about Roman religion, Roman history and legend, Roman monuments, and Roman character. In this regard it can be sharply distinguished from Ovid’s better known-poem, the Metamorphoses, which introduces specifically Roman material only in its last three books. In its acute observation of the process by which Republican myths and institutions were appropriated to serve a new dynastic system of government, Ovid’s Fasti gives sophisticated, contemporary voice to the anxieties of a society in a period of experiment, negotiation, and unresolved tensions. It is an important poem of the late Augustan period.

    Nonetheless, Ovid’s poem on the...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Stellar Connections
    (pp. 27-50)

    The Fasti is as diverse in topic as it is in mood. The poem is often treated as a work on Roman relgion, but religion cannot be separated from the politics and history of Rome. Nor is the Fasti simply a poem on Roman themes. Astronomical observations and aetiological explanations for the constellations broaden the poem’s field of reference to include the Greek world, with its scientific and mythic accounts of the physical universe. These explanations draw on the considerable body of Greek myth that described the constellations as representations of people or animals or even objects exalted on account...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Narrator and Interlocutors in Ovid’s Fasti
    (pp. 51-86)

    Ovid’s two major didactic works, the Ars Amatoria and the Fasti, openly demonstrate Wolfgang Iser’s assumption that “the convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence,” for they are poems that consistently evoke the presence of their narrator and inscribed readership.¹ The Fasti is far from being a drily descriptive almanac. By the frequent use of the second-person address, Ovid bridges the gap between narrator and readers and invites his readers’ complicity in the complex process of decoding his text.² In writing of “the narrator,” I do not mean the elusive poet whose personal identity and beliefs...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Temple of Mars Ultor
    (pp. 87-123)

    Despite his opening claim to sing of Caesaris aras (F. 1.13), Ovid does not usually describe in any detail the temples of Rome or the other monuments erected or restored by Augustus and his family. The temple of Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) is the one exception, and indeed Ovid’s description (5.552–98) is the most extensive account we have of it from antiquity.¹ One of the most important of “Caesar’s altars,” this key monument of the Augustan regime was the sole and dominating temple of Augustus’ new forum, the Forum Augustum, and it enshrined in the heart of Rome...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Priapus Revisited
    (pp. 124-145)

    As in Book 5, a major Augustan deity assumes a prominent place in Book 6 of the Fasti. Like Mars Ultor, Vesta poses a special problem for the elegiac poet. This goddess is associated not only with uncompromising chastity but also with revenge for Julius Caesar’s murder. The tensions in Ovid’s Fasti between between amor and Roma, popular and Augustan cults and values, are here concentrated in the figure of Vesta, an ancient Roman goddess co-opted by Augustus. Left unresolved, these competing interests will contribute to the discordia that is a central theme of Book 6, and will render problematic...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Silence of Lucretia
    (pp. 146-174)

    Although the narrator’s aporia becomes marked toward the end of the extant Fasti, the major issues in the last two books—the authority of the poet and of history—are also raised earlier in the poem, if in a less systematic and consistent way. In the story of Lucretia (2.685–852) Ovid first deals extensively with the ways in which individual suffering and individual speech become absorbed and altered by a political ideology committed to an exemplary view of the past.

    The rape of Lucretia, followed by her suicide, was one of Rome’s most important foundation legends, for it ignited...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Portraits of the Artist
    (pp. 175-208)

    Our English translation of fasti by the word “calendar” does not bring out the full range of the Latin term’s meaning. Dies fasti were technically days on which civic and legal business could be lawfully conducted.¹ Varro connects the term dies fasti with the verb fari (to speak); days that are fas, according to his etymology, are days on which speech, in the law courts particularly, can be free (L. 6.29). In his prefatory remarks to the Fasti, Ovid expresses interest in the legal and religious constraints placed upon speech in Roman society. He defines, for instance, the meaning of...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Ending of Ovid’s Fasti
    (pp. 209-236)

    Ovid’s statement that each book of the Fasti has an ending that corresponds with the end of its month (cumque suo finem mense volumen habet, Tr. 2.550) reveals his awareness that literary and calendrical purposes may coincide. Endings of books of the Fasti are as important as their beginnings. They are not hermetically sealed but are a conscious part of the poem’s overall design. Typically, as he does with his carefully crafted prefaces, Ovid uses different strategies to achieve various forms of what Smith calls structural and nonstructural closure.¹

    Chief among the structural strategies in the Fasti are temporal references...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 237-246)
  14. Index locorum operumque
    (pp. 247-250)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 251-254)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-256)