A Funny Thing Happens On The Way Through
Ovid’s Forum (Tristia 3.1)

Samuel J. Huskey

In Tristia 3.1, Ovid’s personified book of poetry receives a guided tour through the city of Rome. Many scholars have outlined and discussed the book’s itinerary; some have even drawn maps to illustrate the tour. Indeed, it is important to pay attention to the landmarks that Ovid includes in his poem, because they have significance in Augustan Rome. However, it is also important to note what is absent from the tour, which is what I intend to do in my paper, paying special attention to two monuments in the Roman Forum in particular.

Having begun its tour in the Fora of Caesar and Augustus, Ovid’s book enters the Roman Forum, where it proceeds directly to the Temple of Vesta and the Regia. I will argue that the route specified in the poem would have passed in front of the Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar and through the Arch of Augustus. Omitting these two monuments from the poetic itinerary would appear to be a slight against Augustus and his predecessor. However, all of the landmarks in the Roman Forum that the guide points out (the Temple of Vesta, the Regia, the Porta Mugonia, the Temple of Jupiter Stator) have one thing in common: their great antiquity. Because of the age of these monuments, it is as though the book and its guide have entered into the regal period when they step into the Roman Forum. Since the guide does not use the word forum after he departs with his charge from the Forum of Caesar, he implies that the contemporary center of the Roman world has shifted with the establishment of the new fora of Julius Caesar and Augustus. Therefore, to include the monuments of Julius Caesar and Augustus in the walk through the Roman Forum would be anachronistic. They are nevertheless spectrally present in that they influence the path that the book and its guide must take. It is as though the book and its guide must walk around Ovid’s omission.

Omission, however, does not mean insult. Both the Regia and the Temple of Vesta have significance in the Augustan renewal of Roman religious traditions. Moreover, because Augustus’ own home on the Palatine had supplanted the function of both of these monuments, they foreshadow the high point of the tour: the Domus Augusti. If Ovid had mentioned the Temple of the Deified Julius Caesar and the Arch of Augustus during the tour of the Roman Forum, he would have diminished the effect of the contrast between the religious traditions of the past and their renewal on the Palatine hill.

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