Ovid And The Fasti Essay Research Paper

Ovid And The Fasti Essay, Research Paper


Publius Ovidius Naso was born in Sulmo Italy on March 20th 43 BC. He belonged to a prominent family in the equestrian or middle class society of Italy. When he was old enough, Ovid and his brother were sent to Rome to be educated. In Rome, Ovid received an education from men considered the best in their time. Some of his teachers include Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro. These men taught Ovid the art of rhetoric in the hopes that he would become a great orator and successful politician. His father had hoped that his son would embark on a successful career in politics, but Ovid had other ideas. Despite his father’s admonitions, Ovid followed his heart and took up a career in poetry.

Early Literary Works

Ovid had a fascination with love poetry and many of his poems contained central themes of love. His first major poem the Amores (The Loves) was an instant success and brought him much esteem as a writer. He wrote this poem and many others in verse form called elegiac couplet. His style of writing became very popular in Rome and has since been imitated. Some of his later works include Epistolae Heroidum (Epistles of the Heroines), the Medicamnina faciei (The Art of Beauty), the Ars amatoria (The Art of Love), and the Remedia amoris (Remedies for Love). Each of these poems reflected the sophisticated and passionate society in which he lived. These early works won him much acclaim and praise as a writer. With these literary works behind him Ovid turned to his more ambitious projects The Metamorphoses and the Fasti.

The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses is considered to be Ovid’s greatest work. It is often compared to Homer’s works because of its artistic and cultural value. Metamorphoses is a narrative poem that is based on Greek myths of transformation. The poem is very structured, and it is organized to reflect the beginning of time until his present day. Unlike his previous poetry Metamorphoses was written in dactylic hexameters. Much of what is known about the chronology of Greek mythology comes from this piece of literature. While working on the Metamorphoses Ovid began to work simultaneously on the Fasti. Before his work was finished Ovid’s life was shattered by a sudden decision of Emperor Augustus to exile him in AD 8. The reasons for his exile are not complete. His reason is briefly described in his letter to the Emperor titled Tristia 2. This brief explanation has given scholars two popular ideas concerning the underlying reason. In this letter to the Emperor he blames his exile on a poem titled “Carmen et Error.” This phrase can be translated roughly to mean a poem and a mistake. It is generally believed that the poem he is referring to his Ars Amatoria. In this poem Ovid refers to something that he saw–the mistake.

The Emperor had previously campaigned for a more sexually moral society in Rome, during which time, many scandals arose, about his daughters and granddaughters adulteries. Many scholars believe that Ovid knew more about these affairs than he should have, and for cautions sake Augustus banished him to Tomis on the Black Sea. This was around the same time that Augustus banished his own granddaughter Julia. Although this punishment was not the harshest that Ovid could have received, it did have detrimental effects on his wellbeing. Tomis was a port on the Black Sea and the outskirts of the Roman Empire. The society consisted of a half Greek, half-barbarian culture. While in Tomis, Ovid kept up a steady stream of letters pleading to Augustus for a pardon. His exile to Tomis marked the interruption of his work on the Fasti. Although he made some revisions to the existing volumes, he would never finish this enterprise.

The Fasti

One of Ovid’s other great works, the Fasti, is a poetic calendar of religious festivals, historical anniversaries, and astronomical lore. The verse is written in elegiac couplets. The book consists of volumes, each corresponding to a month. While working on the Fasti, Ovid was exiled from Rome.

His reason for this is briefly described in his letter to the Emperor titled Tristia 2. This brief explanation has given scholars two popular ideas concerning the underlying reason. In his letter to the Emperor he blames his exile on a poem titled “Carmen et Error.” This phrase can be translated to mean a poem and a mistake. It is generally believed that the poem he is referring to is Ars Amatoria. This poem refers to something that he saw, the mistake. The Emperor had previously campaigned for a more sexually moral society in Rome, during which time, many scandals arose, about his daughters and granddaughters adulteries.

Fasti Book IV

Book four of Ovid’s Fasti covers the month of April. The poem starts off with a conversation with Venus signifying the book’s dedication to her. The prose begins with a request from Ovid, followed by is praise of Venus. “Kindly mother of love, requited or slighted, indulge me?Venus you know that both the poet and the month are yours” (Nagle). To show her approval Venus proceeds to tap Ovid’s “temples with her myrtle” (15). This gesture enlightens Ovid, and he is now ready to advance with the month of April. The name for the month of April came from Venus’ Greek name Aphrodite.

Although Venus was originally a Greek goddess, she also had a primary role in Roman culture. Ovid refereed to her as a consort of Mars, the god of war, and also an ancestor of Romulus, the founder of Rome. Venus’ son Aeneas had the descendant Ilia, who was later impregnated by Mars. Ilia had two sons Romulus and Remus. Romulus was the mythological founder and first king of Rome. The opening of Book four of the Fasti shows Ovid’s intense patriotism for Rome. The first few pages are used to dedicate the book to Venus and give a little history as to why.

After this brief poetic beginning, dedicating the poem and paying his respects, Ovid continues his book with a precise chronological calendar. Each day is given a heading and depending on its importance a long, short, or no commentary on the festivals. Intertwined within this calendar Ovid includes pertinent mythology, and astrology.

The first day of April is a day for praising the goddess Venus. Her statues are to be maintained and worshiped on this day. After the sun rises people are supposed to “remove her ornaments” to prepare her for “she must be bathed” (135) After her statue is sufficiently bathed and dry, she is decorated with ornamental flowers. Ovid then goes on to explain the origin of the ritualistic cleaning underneath Venus’ myrtle.

“Naked on the shores she was drying er dripping hair” (141) when she was discovered by a group of satyrs. As a means of concealing her naked body, the goddess concealed herself with a screen of myrtle. This screen of myrtle kept her safe, so she demands that in her ceremonial cleaning that it be repeated. Ovid then concludes his commentary on the first day in April with an allusion to astronomy. As the first day of the month comes to an end and the sun sets “the Scorpion with the fearsome stinger in his uplifted tail plunges into the green waters” (164). The constellation of Scorpio made its first appearance in March, and “will be noted as again visible in the sky on 6 May.” (Kenny 123).

April 4

One of the reasons for Ovid’s success as a poet was his way of conveying simple things in an artistic and clever fashion. “Let the Heavens revolve three times on their eternal axis, let the Sun hitch and unhitch his horses three times” (180). The allusion to the “yoking of the horses at dawn and their unyoking when the reach the Ocean and end of their journey at dusk.” (165). Ovid often uses this description as an antonym for the Sun. The sounding of the berecyntian flute and the rising of the sun signify the beginning of the festival of the Mother of Ida (Venus). This festival is also called the Megalensia or Megalesia. As the festival begins people are awakened to loud noise and energy as “The eunuchs parade and strike their hollow tambourines, and cymbal clashing on cymbal will jingle” (185). This day was designated to the festival of Venus and all other work was set aside. People are drawn into the theatres and the courts and other places of business are abandoned. Venus is carried on soft shoulders amid the howling of people lining the streets.

Following his description of the festival of the Great Mother of Ida, Ovid describes more mythology this time concerning the god Saturn. Saturn received a prophecy from an oracle that one of his sons would knock him from his throne. Fearing his loss of power Saturn swallowed each of his offspring upon their birth, imprisoning them in the depths of his belly. Rhea could not stand the lives of her children being taken from her. When her next child, Jupiter, was born she handed Saturn a stone concealed with swadding. The baby was then taken to Mount Ida where jingling and pounding concealed the young boy’s cries. Imitations of the ancient deed survive in the pounding of cymbals and tambourines behind the procession of Venus.

April 5-9

Ovid often uses his poem to point out important dates to his readers. Following the festival of Venus, after “the stars have left the sky and the Moon has unhitched her snow-white horses, whoever says ‘Once on this date the temple of Public Fortune was consecrated on the Quirinal Hill,’ would be right” (373-376). This entry signifies that the temple of Public Fortune was consecrated on this date, but it leaves the dedicator and the year to speculation.

April 6th, “the third day of the shows” (377) marked the anniversary of Caesar’s victory over Juba’s forces in Thapsus North Africa. This entry once again shows Ovid’s patriotism and towards Caesar, and thus Rome.

Following the preceding entry Ovid once again describes the astronomy that is occurring in the Month of Venus. Following the third day of the festival of the Great Mother of Ida, the shows will be brought to an end and also “Orion with his sword will sink into the ocean” (388). This date marks “the apparent setting of [the constellation] Orion” (pg. 166).

April 10

April 10th marks the concluding day of the festival of the Great Mother of Ida, which began on the fourth of April. The statues of the gods were paraded around the Circus Maximus “before the praetor gave the signal for starting the chariot races” (Frazer 262). This procession included the parading of the gods Neptune, Mars, Apollo, Minerva, Ceres, Bacchus, Pollux and Castor, followed by Venus. It started from the Capitol and then proceeded through the Forum and the Velabrum before it reached the Circus Maximus. This day marked the end of the festival of Venus.

April 11-12

With the festival of Venus concluded the next festival honoring Ceres was ready to begin. The games of Ceres began on the twelfth and lasted until the nineteenth of April. The festival comprised of games that were only celebrated on the last day of her festival. They were not games in the normal sense of the word, but rather more theatrical performances and also some horse races.

Her festival had a Like Venus, Ceres also had an intimate relationship with the month of April, and the season of Spring in particular. Ovid pays a tribute to Ceres in his poem by describing her influence over crops and how she has helped mankind. Before Ceres gave us nutritious food, humans ate malnutritious things like acorns. She not only gave seeds for the harvest, but also advice on how to reap the benefits of a farmer’s field. It was Ceres “who compelled oxen to offer their necks to the yoke”(403). Her gift of the cow also indirectly lead to the discovery of metals that lie beneath the before unbroken earth. Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture and is based on the Greek goddess Demeter.

The festival of Ceres is unique in the respect that she does not allow the sacrifice of oxen. She gave mankind the gift of beasts of burden, and therefor the sacrifice of the “lazy pig” (414) would be more respectful. The sacrifice of the pig and sparing of the oxen’s neck, leaves it free to be yoked again. Also the pig is known as a destructive animal because it can often be found digging up newly sown crops with its menacing snout.

After giving his description of the festival Ovid describes the mythological history of Ceres, or rather the Greek goddess Demeter. Ceres lived in Sicily where three cliffs jut out into the sea in a formation known as the Trinacris. It was here that her daughter Proserpina fell into a terrible trap. While she was off picking flowers with her friends she was abducted by her father’s brother or Pluto. Although she screamed for help from her mother, her cries went unheard, and she was taken into the underworld to be a bride. Ceres looked everywhere for her daughter but it was useless. She found the hoof prints from Pluto’s horses and could have followed them to her daughter “if pigs hadn’t disturbed the trails” (466). This may be another reason that Ceres had a dislike for pigs and during her festival they made for a superior sacrifice.

Ceres searched all over Sicily for her daughter. Ovid described her journey through many of the places where she was presently worshipped. He was very precise and detailed in his description of her journey. He described all of the rivers that she crossed and the towns searched. One of these towns, Leontini, was one of the principle wheat growing areas for that time period. Ceres searched through all of Sicily for her daughter and eventually had “traversed Pelorias, and Lilybaeum, and Pachynum, the three horns of her land”(479). The three horses of her land symbolize the three capes, which comprised Sicily’s triangular shape.

Next Ceres traveled to Greece to search for her daughter there. While sitting upon a rock weeping for her lost daughter a man and his daughter passed by. Although this man is described as a king in other accounts of the myth, Ovid refers to him as a poor old man. The man, who Ovid refers to as Celeus, was also called Eleusius or Eleusinus, convinced the well-disguised goddess to take up his offer of shelter. From this myth came the Eleusinian Mysteries and her famous sanctuary which was excavated in 1882 and remains one of the chief places of pilgrimage in Greece today.

On the way back to the farmer’s shelter, the old man described to the disguised goddess how his son had become ill and was in constant pain. In light of this new information, Ceres picked up a sleep inducing poppy, and “in the act of picking?she absentmindedly tasted it and unintentionally broke her long fast”(531-531). Upon meeting the sickly child, Ceres proceeded to kiss him on the lips. After doing so “His pallor went away, and suddenly strength returned to the boy” (541).

That night she took the sleeping boy, nursed him, and said to him three spells. She then covered the boy’s body with live ashes, so the fire could essentially make him immortal. The boy’s mother, awoke worried about her son, and walked in on the ceremony confused and worried for her son’s safety. In an attempt to save her child she “snatched the boy from the fire” (556). As a result if this action the boy was destined to remain a mortal. Ceres could not condemn the mother for her actions, and thus left on her winged chariot to continue her search for Proserpina.

This pursuit of her daughter led her far and wide to no avail. She searched the heavens and the earth with no luck until she asked the Sun. Upon hearing her query “The Sun responded, ‘Don’t waste more effort; the one you seek is wed to Jupiter’s brother and reigns below’”(583). In retaliation to Pluto’s outrageous act, Ceres asked the father of her child and god of the heavens, to help bring their daughter back. Jupiter had equal power as his brother and could not resolve the situation. He agrees that if their daughter had abstained from eating, then the bonds of marriage could be broken and Proserpina could be returned to her mother. The messenger Mercury is sent to assess the situation and returns with the news that Proserpina had in fact eaten three seeds. Thus Jupiter decided that Proserpina was to spend six months with her mother in the heavens, and six months with her husband in the underworld. The seasons reflect this contract with abundant harvests when Proserpina is in the heavens and idle fields when she is in the underworld.

April 19

This day marks the festival and ceremonial turning loose of foxes with burning tails. The reasons for this ceremony is not completely known, however two ideas are widely accepted. The first explains why the fox was disliked, and the saying of its name a taboo. Sometimes in different cultures the mention of the name of dangerous creatures was forbidden because it was thought that mention of their names attracted them. It was through this superstition that the lions, tigers, wolves, and snakes names were tabooed. The other major idea is that having the fox run over the land with a burning tail is a way of purifying the earth for crops. The story stems from the use of a “she-goat with burning horns” (pg335) which was lead through the streets of Rome in 101BC to purify the city from the deeds of an exiled slave.

April 28th

Ovid concludes the month of April with worship of Flora, the Italian goddess of flowers and things flower related. This tradition originated around 230 BC, a year with a severe crop failure. In an attempt to appease the gods for next year, the Sibylline books were consulted and a remedy proposed. In honor of the goddess Flora, the 28th of April will be a day to praise Flora through games, and also have a temple built (Frazer 417 ). After his brief description and praise of Flora Ovid pays tribute to Augustus before concluding the month of April.


Ovid uses the Fasti as a source for the calendar of festivals and also to explain some relative mythology and to praise gods and men. The underlining theme in Ovid’s Fasti Book IV is spring and thus the beginning of the harvesting season. The major goddess’ worshiped in the festivals are Venus and Ceres. Venus related to spring because she is the goddess of beauty, and Ceres is related because she is the goddess of agriculture. Ovid also uses the Fasti to praise his emperor Augustus.


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