In Memory of Tibullus: A Double Allusion in Ovid’s Tristia 3.3

Samuel J. Huskey
University of Oklahoma

In the third line of Tristia 3.3 Ovid alludes to Tibullus’ poem 1.3: just as Tibullus once lay ill in an unknown land (me tenet ignotis aegrum Phaeacia terris, Tib. 1.3.3), Ovid now lies ill “at the extreme boundaries of the unknown world” (aeger in extremis ignoti partibus orbis, Tr. 3.3.3). A few lines later, the allusive connection between the two poems grows stronger, as Ovid’s lament about not receiving proper burial rites echoes Tibullus’ earlier complaints (cf. Tib. 1.3.5–10, Tr. 3.3.7–12). Both poets go on to compose their own epitaphs (Tib. 1.3.55–56, Tr. 3.3.73–76), and both imagine what the afterlife holds in store for them (Tib. 1.57–88, Tr. 3.3.59–64). The commentators have observed most of these connections between the two poems, but there is a third poem that has not been explored in this context: Ovid’s own poem about Tibullus’ funeral, Amores 3.9. A striking example of a double allusion emerges when all three poems are considered together.

Amores 3.9 may be seen as a correction of the funeral that Tibullus envisions for himself in his poem 1.3. Alluding to the opening lines of Tibullus’ poem, Ovid remarks that Tibullus’ funeral in Rome is “better than if the Phaeacian land had buried you, unknown, in its cheap soil” (sed tamen hoc melius, quam si Phaeacia tellus / ignotum vili supposuisset humo, Am. 3.9.47–48). Whereas Tibullus had lamented the absence of his mother, sister, and Delia (Tib. 1.3.5–10), Ovid depicts them performing the very acts that Tibullus had feared would be omitted (Am. 3.9.49–56). Despite Tibullus’ fears that there would be no one to mourn his death, Ovid shows Elegy herself, joined by no less than Cupid and Venus, mourning the death of her beloved poet (Am. 3.9.1–16). Instead of the generic underworld that Tibullus imagines that he will visit, Ovid places Tibullus in a kind of poet’s paradise, where he will join Calvus, Catullus, and Gallus (Am. 3.9.61–64).

It is upon this last detail that the double allusion turns. Having corrected Tibullus’ vision of his death and funeral in the Amores, Ovid appropriates Tibullus’ original vision in the Tristia. Without a proper burial, Ovid will not be able to join the poet’s paradise that he describes in Am. 3.9, but will forever be a Roman walking among Sarmatian shades (inter Sarmaticas Romana vagabitur umbras, Tr. 3.3.63). 

Ovid’s allusions to Tibullus in the Tristia initially seem to compare similar situations. Once Tibullus 1.3 enters into the picture, however, it brings with it Ovid’s own vision of Tibullus’ death and funeral from Amores 3.9. Consequently, the double allusion turns Amores 3.9 into an intertextual commentary on Ovid’s allusions to Tibullus. Since Amores 3.9 has corrected Tibullus’ vision of his funeral, Ovid’s allusion to Tibullus 1.3 in the Tristia in fact contrasts, rather than compares, the funerals of the two poets. The effect of the double allusion is to turn Tibullus’ imagined funeral into a horrifying reality for Ovid.

Back to the Meeting Program

[Home] [ About] [Awards and Scholarships] [Classical Journal] [Committees & Officers]
[Contacts & Email Directory
] [Links] [Meetings] [Membership] [News]