Greek Influences in Ovid’s Fasti
Keywords:Roman literature, Roman poetry, didactic poetry, Ovid
AbstractThe paper examines the aspects in which Ovid’s long didactic poem on the Roman calendar, Fasti, draws on the Greek traditions of aetiological calendar poetry and astronomy, in contrast to other, more original features. The latter include the large scale of the project, which sets to verse most days from January to June in chronological order, and the author’s evident ambition to compose a text which would function as a new type of national epic. Rather than emulate Virgil’s Aeneid in treating heroic (military) themes, traditionally associated with hexameter poetry, it would focus on the institutions which had come to the fore during Augustus’ peace and helped to shape the Roman sense of national identity. The result would be a national poem blurring genre boundaries: an elegiac epic.
It is generally agreed that Ovid’s two most important Greek sources were the Aetia by Callimachus (for the aetiology of customs and festivals) and the Phaenomena by Aratus (for astronomy), but there are significant differences between the poets’ approaches. The comparison between Ovid and Callimachus raises a particularly interesting issue – that of the first-person narrator, who is present in the Fasti as well as in the Aetia. Of the two, Ovid’s narrator turns out to be more naive, less confident, and frequently bewildered by the possibilities of different explanations, which were in fact a typical feature of antiquarian Roman handbooks. The Greek model of a long poem on the causes of things – festivals, customs, constellations – is thus filled with Roman content, which is, moreover, accessed by a Roman (rather than Greek) approach. However, this Roman content is again interwoven with many Greek reminiscences – either at the level of tiny details or of whole plots and stories, as in the case of catasterisms. The Hellenic and the Roman elements thus merge into a single compact whole.
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