Jo-Marie Claassen, Displaced Persons. The Literature of Exile form Cicero to Boethius. London: Duckworth, 1999, Pp. viii + 352. ISBN 0-7156- 2919-0. UK£16.95
Department of Classics, Case Western Reserve University
In the present volume, Claassen has put together her accumulated expertise on Latin exile-literature in a monograph, covering such diverse authors as Cicero, Ovid, Seneca, Dio Cassius, Plutarch, Dio Chrysostom, and Boethius. This is a tall order indeed, but Claassen manages to convey a wealth of information as well as outline some common techniques and themes.
Rather than proceeding by author or by theme, Claassen has chosen to present her findings in sections dealing with third, second, or first person narrative. She presents her material in easily digestible, short sub-chapters of two to ten pages, starting with a summary of the argument to come, followed by a brief outline of the consolatory aspects of Cicero's letters, Plutarch Mor. 102a-121f, 608b-612b, Ovid, Seneca, Dio Chrysostom, and Boethius. Chapter 1, 'Exiled Persons' (pp. 9-35), ends with a sketch of how Ovid, on the basis of Cicero, creates what she calls 'the myth of exile' (p. 34). A very interesting chapter follows on 'The Third Person: Exilic Narrative' (pp. 36-72), in which she surveys third person narratives about exiles, such as the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the story of Medea in a whole range of versions, and the Eclogues, before providing an extremely useful list of historical exiles in the Greek and in the Roman world. Within this scheme she pays special attention to Cicero, Ovid (Pont. 13), and Boethius.
Three chapters on the exile's second person outreach follow with extensive analysis of Cicero's 'primary epistles' which, when dealing with the writer's own banishment, turn out to be 'a complete palinode of the normal consolatio (p. 84 à propos Att. 3.15). She briefly compares Dio Cassius' imaginary dialogue between Cicero and Philiscus (28.18-29) with Plutarch Mor. 599a-607f, before taking a close look at Seneca's Ad Marciam, Ad Polybium, and Ad Helviam matrem. Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae provides final proof that the second person address in the consolatio offers a 'double focus, on both the writer as first person and on the second person as object of the exchange' (p. 102). Another detailed look at Cicero and Ovid in Chapter 4, 'From You to Me: Exilic Appeal' (pp. 103-31), yields the result that the second person address of friends is ultimately designed to draw attention to the speaker, his emotions as a 'uniquely lonely self' (p. 122), or the persona of the exile that he creates. In the course of this, she finds that Ovid engages in 'subtle polemic' (p. 153) and is 'deconstructing the Augustan programme of literary propaganda' (p. 152).
The focus finally shifts to the first person narrative on p. 155. Cicero after his return is seen as re-writing history in almost epic terms (p. 163), romanticising through selective memory (p. 161) and dramatically overdrawing (p. 162). Dio Chrysostom is similarly found to mythicise himself as Nestor (Or. 7.2), Odysseus, or Orestes (Or. 13.4, 5). Boethius does something analogous in casting himself as both Boethius, the exile, and Dame philosophy (p. 172). Ovid falls into a pattern similar to Cicero's, re-shaping the past to express his present mood (p. 178). However, 'in exile the fusion of the poet's life and art is complete. The autobiographical letter form graphically fuses life and art, portraying what the exiled poet has set out to deny. The poet's exile is his final metamorphosis, equating past art with present life, illustrating the factual reality of '"impossible", literary changes' (p. 181). The following chapter, 'The Horror of Isolation' (pp. 182-204), also deals mostly with Ovid. His reaching out is one-dimensional, he lives in the perpetual present characterised by 'a baffling silence of non-communication' (p. 186). His depiction of Tomis depends to a large extent on literary sources and is 'verifiably fantastic' (p. 203). In Chapter 8, 'Generic Range in the Poetry of Exile' (pp. 207-28), exilic elegy is compared to love-elegy in many respects. Recusationes are analysed: Ovid rejects the 'unprecedented intrusion of the state into private morality' (p. 223). His triumph- poems (Pont. 2.1, 3.4) and his use of imperial cult are scrutinised (pp. 225-27). All this is pulled together in Chapter 9, 'Exile Universalised: Ovid's Contribution to the Exilic Genre' (pp. 229-51), by means of the mechanism of humour and self-irony which bridge the gap between the creative poet and the persona of the exile (p. 236). Ovid managed to universalise exilic conventions. Consequently, a consideration of Senecan epigrams and a Boethian elegy shows the continued use of Ovidian vocabulary and themes. This survey of 'Nachleben' is continued in the epilogue which pays homage to Vintila Horia's Dieu est né en exil, David Malouf's An Imaginary Life, Christoph Ransmayr's Die letzte Welt, as well as the South Africans N.P. Van Wyk Louw and Breyten Breytenbach.
Claassen has managed to pack an enormous amount of information into these 258 pages of argument. I have been made aware of exilic literature that formed a black hole in my reading; I have also been motivated to re-read Boethius whom I last read as an undergraduate. The fact that all passages are translated well and no Greek is quoted in the original will appeal to undergraduates who are 'linguistically challenged' as will the explanation of technical terms such as prooemium in brackets. One might have gone a step further and explain other technical terms, such as 'Botenbericht' (p. 174), 'epistemology' (p. 173), 'solipsism' (p. 155), 'apothegm' (p. 167), and many more.
Others might quibble with the amount of space granted to Ovid, but, as a fellow-Ovidian, that's just fine by me. I particularly liked Claassen's comparison between love-elegy and exile-poetry (pp. 213, 223). I also see him as presenting an image of himself that is deliberately de-eroticised. Claassen furthermore shows very well, that Ovid creates something quite new (p. 229), although based on tendencies already present in Cicero. I am not sure that 'myth' is the perfect term for it. Essentially what he does is to present a stylised picture which includes literary traits already found in Herodotus, Vergil, and Cicero. It is also not certain that Ovid's picture of Tomis is 'verifiably fantastic' (p. 203). Podossinov showed that Ovid picks, chooses, and exaggerates as poets do.[] Using him as a source for Black Sea history would be as perilous as using the Georgics as a farming manual. This does not mean that the entire picture is pure fabrication: as Claassen points out, Ovid's picture expresses his mood (p. 233). Inconsistencies are therefore generated by different emotions which include nonchalant disrespect (p. 223) and self-therapy (p. 228) as well as an assertion of the resilience of the human spirit (p. 234).
What I found least attractive was having to flick back to the endnotes which also didn't help me write my commentary as I had hoped to. With the pervasive use of word-processing and photomechanical reproduction publishers should really consign endnotes to the dust-bin of history.
Another superficial point has to do with the format Claassen chose. While the convenient slices consisting of sub-headings may seem inviting to students with a short attention-span, the arrangement by grammatical person means that quite some cross- referencing is going on (cf., e.g., pp. 57, 59, 69), which leaves the reader dangling at times. I was also hoping for a more exhaustive analysis of the topics of exile as death (pp. 11, 239f.) and emperor-cult (p. 227).
Textual matters have been on my mind for two and a half years. Claassen unfortunately never says which edition(s) she uses, but I am quite certain that she is still quoting from Owen's 1915 Oxford Classical Text. Richmond's Teubner ex Ponto appeared in 1990 and Hall's Tristia in 1995, time enough to work them into a pre-existing manuscript. Even so, quotations needed to be checked again (cf., e.g., pp. 59, 128, 145, 145, 203), although I know from personal experience how hard it is to catch all errors.
My main objections, however, concern Claassen's more fanciful interpretations, some based on intertextuality, others on deconstruction. Three examples shall suffice. On p. 143, she compares Pont. 1.1,45f. en ego pro sistro Phrygiique foramine buxi/ gentis Iuleae nomina sancta fero with Ib. 453-56 (better: 451-56 in Owen's Oxford text) and concludes: 'This Ovidian self- reference turns an ostensibly innocent metaphor into an insinuation that the bearer of the Julian name politically emasculates his opponents.' The best book on 'intertextuality' to my mind is Boyd's.[] Using her standards, Pont. 1.1.45f. is not a reference to the Ibis passage, not even an echo. Ovid is not talking about self-castration, but about an ecstatic, oriental cult whose priests depended on begging (Pont. 1.1.39f.); these, to my mind, must have been contrasted with a Roman cult which was financially independent. Such a cult is not in our text, but I would strongly argue that a pentameter and a hexameter are missing after the textually vexed Dianae of verse 41. Obviously Augustus in imagine corresponds to Kybele and Ovid to her begging priest. But Ovid contrasts this 'wacky', foreign stuff with the cult of Diana who is as vengeful as Isis in 37f., but also placabilis and, best of all, Roman. Augustus is therefore not as bloody-minded as Isis, but ambiguous like Diana. The Kybele image, I think, was in the lost verses contrasted with another Roman cult which had financially independent priests who provide a perfect parallel for the relegated Ovid with his portfolio of high-flying tech-stocks! Ovid may be underlining his independence, but he also stresses that Augustus can be placated. As for severing private parts, there is no evidence anywhere.
Then there is deconstruction. On p. 124 Claassen claims: 'The poet's style often deconstructs apparent religious solemnity.' At Trist. 3.2.3f. t- alliteration (docta sacerdoti turba tulistis opem) is said to create a 'tension between words and message' (p. 125). I cannot follow the logic of this interpretation. If this were so, what do you make of a line like o Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti (Enn. Ann. 104 Skutsch)? It seems to me that Claassen is simply trying too hard in such cases to come up with an imaginative interpretation. The same is the case in reading sexual innuendo into Pont. 2.8.30 et cui maiestas non onerosa tua est (p. 127). My students will testify that I am happy to see sexual references wherever possible. However, this is a case of the 'familiar actress-bishop syndrome',[ in which the phrase 'as the actress said to the bishop' is added to any sentence, thereby rendering it sexually suggestive. To my mind, Ovid throughout his exile-poetry is at pains to show off his conformity (after all, continuing rebellion could lead to a worsening of conditions or death, compare the case of Cassius Severus in Tacitus (Ann. 4.21.3), which is why he omits any salacious details. As Claassen points out, there is a deliberate contrast between the tenerorum lusor amorum and Ovid the devoted husband of the exile-poems. Analogously, there is an ostensible antithesis between the naughty tease of the amatory poems and the exile, trying to demonstrate that his poetry eschews eroticism.
However, while I disagree with individual interpretations, I think Claassen's book provides a very important contribution to understanding Ovid as well as a very useful general introduction to ancient exile-literature.
[] A. Podossinov, Ovids Dichtung als Quelle für die Geschichte des Schwarzmeergebiets (Konstanz 1986).
[] Barbara Weiden Boyd, Ovid's Literary Loves (Ann Arbor 1996).
[] David West, Horace: Odes I. Carpe Diem (Oxford 1995) 161.