Ovid's Votive Inscriptions

Teresa R. Ramsby

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ovid's works include seventeen instances where verses take the form of inscriptions, five of which are votive inscriptions, meaning that they are dedicated to a god as (or accompanying) an offering.  As we know, the use of inscriptions in elegiac poetry has its roots in the epigraphic nature of elegy from the earliest periods of Latin literature and its literary inheritance from Greek epigram ("elegie" in Der neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike; Gutzwiller, 1998; Lefkowitz and Fant, 1992; see also studies on the reverse borrowing of poetic verse by composers of epitaphs: Lissberger, 1934 and Lattimore, 1962).  However Ovid's insertion of funerary inscriptions among his verses serves several significant authorizing functions, and his practice reveals that more is at work than mere generic stylistics (e.g. Conte, 1994; Tissol 1997; Wheeler 1999).

This paper analyzes specifically two inscriptions within the corpus: the lover's inscription to Ilithyia in the Amores (by way of comparison to an entirely different use of the votive inscription in the Amores) and Iphis's inscription to Isis in the Metamorphoses (by way of comparison with other examples of women leaving memorials in Ovid).  This paper will show how the votive inscription within Ovid's text creates dramatic realism by linking fictional action to the quasi-realistic physicality of the inscription.  The inscription contextualizes the author's characters within the Roman system of signs whereby human-divine interaction is permanently memorialized, and within a moral universe that governs otherwise amoral action.  The purpose and placement of each inscription reveal how Ovid occasionally locates his characters and their actions in the familiar context of Roman monumenta, and therefore in a different place in the reader's imagination.  In addition, inscriptions left to gods may bring the reader to re-examine the deeds described in the story and, having done so, validate them in the same way as the inscription claims the gods have done.

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