Ulysses Who? The Strategic Suppression of Names in Tristia 1.5

Samuel J. Huskey

University of Oklahoma

In Tristia 1.5, the first of the epistolary poems in the collection, Ovid initiates a theme that will become characteristic of the Tristia: the concealment of his addressees' names. Ostensibly, he conceals his friends' names to avoid bringing them to the attention of the emperor who recently relegated him to Tomis. That does not explain, however, why he also takes pains to conceal the name of Ulysses throughout the second half of the poem. I shall argue that the omission of the Homeric hero's name reveals a rhetorical strategy that lies behind Ovid's treatment of names in general in the Tristia. By concealing the names of others, even the names of mythical characters, he keeps the focus on the name that really matters: his own.

Ovid devotes the entire second half of Tristia 1.5 to an extended comparison between the toils of Ulysses and his own experience of exile. However, Ovid never mentions Ulysses' name directly. It becomes clear that the "Neritian leader," "that man" who comes from "Dulichium" is really Ulysses of Ithaca, but these clever uses of periphrasis, learned reference, and various other tricks of rhetoric allow Ovid to avoid referring to the Homeric hero by name. This has the effect of relegating Ulysses to anonymity and diminishing his claim to the Homeric ideal of undying glory. Ovid can then appropriate from Ulysses his role of the long-suffering epic hero.

By concealing the name of Ulysses, Ovid keeps the focus on his ordeal in exile and suggests that he is worthier of remembrance than even a great Homeric hero. The same strategy lies behind the concealment of his real-life addressees' names. If he reveals their names, the focus shifts away from his own plight in exile and he ceases to be the main character in the epic of exile that he has written for himself.

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