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  • Writer's pictureAnnemie Reyntjens


Ovidio: ‘Sulmo mihi patria est’

The Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (commonly known as ‘Ovid’) was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature. The imperial scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the Latin love elegists. Ovid’s works have been interpreted in various ways over the centuries, with attitudes that depended on the social, religious and literary contexts of different times. He became one of the best known and most loved Roman poets during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Some of the famous writers who were inspired by Ovid: Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare and Gabriele D’Annunzio. The city of Sulmona, where Ovid was born, has been twinned for years with the city of Constanta in Romania, where Ovid died in exile.

Ovid was a court poet, loved and revered by Augustus and the Roman people for a long time, until the day when he suddenly lost the favours of the emperor who issued an edict with which he was ordered to leave Italy for Tomi. The reasons are still uncertain (the same Ovid mentions in an elegy that perhaps it was for a work not appreciated by the emperor or an ‘error’, an episode of which he was imprudently protagonist). The most important work of Ovid is ‘Metamorfosi’, composed of 15 books, which collects most of the myths of Greco-Roman tradition through a succession of intertwined stories. It is a work that has influenced much of Italian literature, from Dante to D'Annunzio. He was the poet preferred by young people and elegant Roman environments thanks to his youthful work made of stories and love poems, the ‘Amores’. The book that gave him most fame however was the rumoured and scandalous, for the time, ‘Ars Amatoria’, an erotic book with which he dispenses advice on courtship to men and women. While he was at Tomi he composed the ‘Tristia’, a melancholic work of exile from which the famous four words ‘Sulmo mihi patria est’, which have been on Sulmona’s civic coat of arms since the Middle Ages, were taken.

The twin statue of Ovid present in Sulmona was erected In Constance and the Romanian city loves the poet so much as to dedicate to him the annual ‘International Festival of Art and Culture’. Also, the name ‘Ovidiu’ is the most common among Romanian males. The outrage of the centuries has left no tangible remains of Ovid at Sulmona, but the places so loved and praised in his choruses still retain the same names and ancient suggestion: the ‘Fonte d'Amore’, dear to the god Amores, where he visited his beloved Corinna, a sensual vestal, is still there, even if it no longer dispenses the aphrodisiac water of falling in love. The Temple of Ercole Curino, believed for centuries as his dwelling, is still known today as ‘La Villa di Ovidio’.


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