The Sacred Grove As Memory in Ovid's Fasti

Robert B. Patrick, Jr.

Central Educational Center & University of Florida

Every book of Ovid's Fasti contains multiple references to sacred groves, those collection of trees that were once a part of a dense forest that covered much of Europe.  This study asks how it is that Ovid characterizes the grove and then, how the multiple references to the grove function in the Fasti. The writer has catalogued every reference to lucus, nemus, silva, and arbor  in the Fasti, terms that are often used in conjunction with one another in referring to the grove, and identifies four characterizations of the grove: the residence of the divine, a place of mystery and magic, a place of prayer, worship and sacrifice, and a place of sexual union.

Ovid did not write a book about groves, woods or trees.  He wrote an elegiac fasti.  His work was a calendar, but it was also poetry.  In this poetic calendar he continually invokes the imagery of the sacred grove.  The writer concludes that Ovid has called upon images of place in order to evoke Roman memory, which is a function of time.  The groves that Ovid refers to are either famous enough in their own right to evoke instant memory of any Roman living at the time, or he uses the recall of the grove in order to tell a story, thus creating memory.  These memories involve the four characterizations.  Therefore, by using the image of the grove, Ovid can with only a word in the style of elegy evoke what would otherwise be pages of ancient Roman stories, and hence, memory.  To visit the sacred groves in Ovid's Fasti is to link time and space and to evoke the memories associated with Roman religious experience.

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