Ovid, cut off from the world in Tomis…

I write this at a pizza restaurant on Ovid Square, Constanta (ancient Tomis, where Ovid was exiled for many years by Augustus). I thought this was a good time and place to quote something from his Letters, about the difficulty of creativity when the environment is not right…

Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto, 4.2.15-34

nec tamen ingenium nobis respondet ut ante,

       sed siccum sterili vomere litus aro. 

scilicet ut limus venas excaecat in undis 

       laesaque subpresso fonte resistit aqua, 

pectora sic mea sunt limo vitiata malorum 

       et carmen vena pauperiore fluit.

si quis in hac ipsum terra posuisset Homerum, 

       esset, crede mihi, factus et ille Getes. 

da veniam fasso, studiis quoque frena remisi 

       ducitur et digitis littera rara meis. 

impetus ille sacer qui vatum pectora nutrit,

       qui prius in nobis esse solebat, abest. 

vix venit ad partes, vix sumptae Musa tabellae 

       inponit pigras paene coacta manus, 

parvaque, ne dicam scribendi nulla voluptas 

       est mihi nec numeris nectere verba iuvat,

sive quod hinc fructus adeo non cepimus ullos, 

       principium nostri res sit ut ista mali, 

sive quod in tenebris numerosos ponere gestus 

       quodque legas nulli scribere carmen idem est: 

A translation

Moreover my skill doesn’t respond as before,

I turn the arid shore with a barren blade.

As sure as mud chokes the waves in the canals,

and the troubled water builds in a choked spring,

so my mind’s been hurt by muddy misfortune,

and poetry flows in an impoverished vein.

If anyone had set Homer down in this place,

believe me, even he’d have turned into a Goth.

Forgive my confession, I’ve let slip the reins of study,

and my fingers are rarely drawn to letters.

That sacred impulse, that nourishes poet’s hearts,

that once used to be mine, has all vanished.

My Muse barely plays her part, when I’ve taken up my tablets,

she barely lays a hand there, almost has to be forced.

I’ve little or no pleasure, to speak of, in writing,

no joy in weaving words into metre,

whether it’s the fact I’ve reaped no profit from it,

that makes this thing the source of my misfortunes:

or that writing a poem you can’t read to anyone

is exactly like making gestures in the dark.

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11 thoughts on “Ovid, cut off from the world in Tomis…

  1. Very nice restaurant opposite the statue serving amazing fish stew! About two litres for £4.00! Brilliant Museum and mosaics in Roman Warehouses and lovely epigraphy in garden joining both. Enjoy! Do try to make Adamclisi!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah! I’m looking forward to the museum and mosaics tomorrow. I’ll look out for the epigraphy too. Off home on Friday so looks like I won’t have time for Adamclisi – next time! Andy

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      1. Alas the famous fish soup is only served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. My train doesn’t leave til 2pm tomorrow, however, so I think I might just pop back in for lunch before I go!!

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  2. Alas the famous fish soup is only served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. My train doesn’t leave til 2pm tomorrow, however, so I think I might just pop back in for lunch before I go!!

    Like

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