OVID, FASTI BOOK III

Edited by S.J. Heyworth

CUP (2019) p/b 288pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781107602465)

Fasti 3 covers March and, of course, the Ides of 44 BC. The assassination of Julius Caesar, however is overshadowed by the well known description of the festival of Anna Perenna, also on March 15th. Ovid with his usual teasing wit tells us in line 697 that he was going to skip the murder of JC (praeteriturus eram gladios in principe fixos) until Vesta spoke up. After all Caesar was pontifex maximus and she stakes her claim (meus fuit ille sacerdos), then reveals that she snatched him away (ipsa virum rapui) to heaven. Even so, a grim revenge was exacted at Philippi where the ground is white with scattered bones. 

H. is alive to Ovid’s wit and not beyond indulging in some wry humour himself: on the Golden Ram he remarks, ‘As a vehicle for escape over land and sea, a sheep does not seem an obvious choice.’ There follows some discussion of clouds and sheep. On line 70 where the walls of Rome are as yet small, Remus’ leap across them is described non tamen expediit transiluisse Remo. In the introduction this is ‘a laughable understatement’ but in the commentary it is ‘a shocking understatement’—though it seems entirely Ovidian to provoke such different reactions. In what might be described as a satyr playlet (741-760), Silenus attempts to get honey only to be attacked by thousands of hornets who sting his bald head and flattened nose, then as he falls, his ass steps on him, making him limp off stage. The reactions are in chiastic order satyri rident, ridet et ipse deus with the verbs beginning consecutive lines, emphatically conditioning the audience’s response. But that response is enhanced by H.’s notes which draw attention to such features as plotting, verbal echoes (e.g. mella and milia, from honey to hornets!) and effects of word order. 

Due attention is paid to the astronomical phenomena, as in the progress of Pegasus across the sky. Next day (8th) the Crown of Cnossos appears in the night sky, and that serves to bring Ariadne back to the shore where she had been abandoned by Theseus, to renew her laments, this time because of Dionysus’ perceived preference for a girl from the East. So rich are the allusions to other versions (including those by Ovid himself and especially Catullus in poem 64) that H. remarks, ‘The text is ‘almost a cento.’ 

The introduction ranges from biography, Fasti and Metamorphoses, exile, calendars, to genre, style and metre with a long section devoted to aspects of Book 3 entitled: Synopsis, Beginning and Continuing, Religion and Theology, History and Myth, Allegory, Rome and Other Places, Women. The notes also have a wide-ranging and detailed coverage, making this a full commentary suited to the complexity of the content of the Fasti. The strong focus on the literary qualities of Ovid’s verse will encourage students to enjoy their engagement with the text. There is also some help with vocabulary and syntax. For example arbiter armorum (74) is rendered ‘governor of warfare’ with a reference to OLD3 for the meaning ‘governor’. Testes estote ‘bear witness’ (707) is identified as a ‘future imperative’ but the tone it produces, so important in the address to Philippi and its scattered white bones, is ‘grand’ or ‘potentially jocular’.

 

The Introduction concludes with a brief discussion of the textual tradition and H.’s selection of manuscripts. Perhaps surprisingly, even in a Green and Yellow, there is no apparatus criticus, but, as H. explains, it is because this text is work in progress and ‘a full account’ is to appear in an Oxford Classical Text. Meanwhile H. provides a table of variant readings between his text and the Teubner, with discussion in the notes ad loc. Occasional reference is made to other textual issues, as when H. lauds Heinsius for his ‘brilliant conjecture’ at 500 (me tua; at hic laudi est) and shows how it relates to the rest of lines 499-500.

This is a welcome addition to the series, a richly rewarding commentary, especially for more advanced students and one that should encourage more attention to be given to Ovid’s great poem.

Alan Beale

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