17.12.06

Lost Books of the Fasti


Nicolas Poussin: The Death of Germanicus (1627)


… the last six books of the Fasti [Feasts] have disappeared without leaving a trace; for no ancient writer cites or refers to them, and the four doggerel verses which a few manuscripts insert at the end of the sixth book, … are clearly the interpolation of a clumsy scribe. ... We can only apparently conclude, either that the last six books … were lost, possibly in the post, which can hardly have been very regular or secure at Tomi, or that the poet left them in so rough and unfinished a state that his literary executors, in justice to the author’s reputation, deemed it prudent to suppress them.

Of the two alternative suppositions the latter is perhaps the more probable, since Ovid’s own words seem to imply that his exile interrupted his work on the poem and prevented him from putting the final touches to it. The same conclusion is reinforced by another consideration. In the poem addressed to Augustus, as we have just seen, our author expressly affirms that he had dedicated the Fasti to Augustus, but in that work, as we have it, the dedication is not to Augustus but to Germanicus. ...

Whatever the motive, the change of dedication suffices to prove that during the later years of his exile Ovid was engaged in the revision of the Fasti; but, so far as the substitution of Germanicus for Augustus in the place of honour is concerned, the revision appears not to have extended beyond the first book, for in the remaining five books it is the dead emperor and not the living prince at whom the poet aims the shafts of his flattery and praise. But other traces of revision may be seen in the veiled allusions to his exile which Ovid has let fall in some of the later books of the Fasti.

The poet was thus filing and polishing the Fasti down to the end of his life ...

[Sir James G. Frazer, ‘Introduction.’ Ovid’s Fasti, with an English Translation. Loeb Classical Library, 253. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP / London: Heinemann, 1931. xviii-xix.]

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