University of Tasmania
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Littera pro uerbis: Epistolarity, Ethnography and the Author's Persona in Ovid's Epistulae ex Ponto

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posted on 2023-05-26, 08:25 authored by Alexis, F
The aim of my thesis is to extend the current discussions of ethnography, epistolarity and the ancient persona, to the text of Ovid's Epistulae ex Ponto. It is a particularly appropriate text to extend the ideas of literary and cultural identity and epistolarity as the poems are written as letters by an urban Roman poet who is exiled to the end of the known world. His poems reveal, in the medium he knows best, the varied responses of a sophisticated city-dwelling poet to life in the wilderness on the frontiers of the Roman Empire. \ \ I argue that the poet describes his unfamiliar situation by using terms and traditions 'known' or familiar to his readers to illustrate his 'unknown' place of exile. In this thesis, I look at how the poet uses well known ethnographical stereotypes and the letter form, both to illustrate his unfamiliar location in exile in an understandable way, and to blur the distinction between the author as an historical person in a specific geographical location and one who is a literary persona constructed along with poetic geographical and anthropological detail.\ \ Although many scholars have written on the subject of Ovid's exile poetry, few have looked at the epistolarity or the letter form of these last poems from exile. I show in this thesis that the Epistulae ex Ponto is a text that repays scrutiny in this light because the poet draws comparisons and writes about his situation in exile using the recognisable literary form of letters. I also show how the poet's increased use of his name, Naso, affects our perception of the persona in the Epistulae ex Ponto. I argue that in these last poems from exile the persona is indistinct as the poet can now only identify himself using letters instead of the spoken word. I show how the poet blends the personal and private sphere of the epistolary genre with the public nature of published elegiac verse, using the names of well known Roman citizens in an attempt to strengthen his appeal for help and support from specific individuals. \ \ I conclude that the poems in the Epistulae ex Ponto should be read with the poet's exile firmly in mind. Exile necessitates the use of letters in place of spoken words, so an awareness of literary devices, such as ethnographic stereotypes, epistolarity and emphasis on the author and recipient of these letters rather than on constructed personae, enhances our pleasure and understanding of these poems sent from exile.


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