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Exegi monumentum: exile, death, immortality, and monumentality in Ovid, Tristia 3.3.

Ingleheart, Jennifer (2015) 'Exegi monumentum: exile, death, immortality, and monumentality in Ovid, Tristia 3.3.', Classical quarterly., 65 (1). pp. 286-300.


Tristia 3.3 purports to be a ‘death-bed’ letter addressed by the sick poet to his wife in Rome (3.3.1–4), in which Ovid, banished from Rome on Augustus' orders, foresees his burial in Tomi as the ultimate form of exilic displacement (3.3.29–32). In order to avoid such a permanent form of exclusion from his homeland, Ovid issues instructions for his burial in the suburbs of Rome (3.3.65–76), dictating a four-line epitaph to be inscribed upon his tomb (3.3.73–6). However, despite the careful instructions he outlines for his burial and physical memorial, Ovid asserts: maiora libelli | et diuturna magis sunt monumenta mihi (‘my little books are a greater and more long-lasting monument for me’, 3.3.77–8), expressing his belief in his continued poetic afterlife. Scholars have seen this poem's concerns as above all literary, concentrating on Ovid's exploitation and development of elegiac and Augustan models which also treat the themes of death and poetic immortality. However, although Ovid's portrayal of what purports to be personal experience draws extensively upon earlier poetry, and, as we shall see, the poem gains much of its power from its engagement with the tradition that poetry alone can memorialize, previous studies have failed to analyse how Ovid consistently plays up the element that marks him out from the predecessors who had imagined their own deaths and poetic afterlives: that is, his status as an exile. Ovid's insistence on burial in his native land – from which he had been excluded in life – and his assertion of his poetic immortality in a poem which repeatedly stresses his exilic status, thus take on a markedly political angle, which had been absent or more muted in the models he exploits.

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Publisher statement:© Copyright The Classical Association 2015. This paper has been published in a revised form, subsequent to editorial input by Cambridge University Press, in 'Classical quarterly' (65: 01 (2015) 286-300)
Date accepted:20 February 2014
Date deposited:11 December 2015
Date of first online publication:02 April 2015
Date first made open access:No date available

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