Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Francesca K. A. Martelli, Ovid's Revisions: The Editor as Author. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 260. ISBN 9781107037717. $95.00.

Reviewed by Peter E. Knox, University of Colorado (

Version at BMCR home site


Imagine a scenario in which a substantial fragment of P. Ovidi Nasonis Amorum liber V turns up in renewed excavations at Herculaneum: how disappointing would that be? The elaborate precautions taken by Ovid to obscure the chronological relationships among his elegiac works would begin to unravel. We might begin learn more about the technical and compositional aspects of the revision of the original five-book edition of elegies, of which we know only from the four lines prefixed to the surviving three-book edition. Of course, this fantasy can only be indulged in if you believe that there truly was an earlier edition, something that is denied (implausibly) by a number of critics. The process of Ovid's revisions is opaque to us, but his assertion that the Amores was revised opens the possibility of reading the surviving collection against the backdrop of the absent presence of the earlier edition, as the poet implicitly invites us to do. This is the subject of Martelli's sophisticated reading of the Amores and substantial parts of Ovid's other works. The book is marked by an intelligent sensibility and an acute awareness of hidden possibilities, well worth the time invested in reading and absorbing it. There are flaws—unsurprisingly in a debut monograph—but this is a work that serious (and not so serious) readers of Ovid will want to know.

Martelli takes a very broad view of the term "revision", applying it not only to the reworked edition of the Amores, but also to the addition of Book 3 and the Remedia to the first two books of the Ars Amatoria; the six-book edition of the Fasti, which so far as we know never appeared in any earlier form; and the refashioning of the poet's persona in the exile poetry. In the first chapter Martelli outlines some of the parameters that she applies to her study and addresses the problem of revised editions in a historical context. This is the least satisfactory section of the book, as Martelli seems not to take very seriously the need to review the literary questions within the context of the material world of ancient books in so far as we know it. Her discussion of Callimachus' Prologue to the Aetia (pp. 16-23) looms large here, but it is for the most part an unsuccessful engagement with the arguments advanced by Alan Cameron that the Prologue belongs to the first edition of the Aetia, unsuccessful primarily because Martelli simply sweeps aside issues related to "the physical book-roll." For example, Martelli rejects Cameron's point that before the development of the codex, an edition of collected works would of necessity be unsequenced, and asserts that if this were true it would also "apply to the different books that make up the Aetia", apparently oblivious of the role played by the sillybos in carrying book titles. None of this was necessary. The material history of second editions is a subject for codicologists, historians, and papyrologists; Martelli is interested in a different practical matter: how does one now read the various works of Ovid that advertise or otherwise make known that they had a prior existence?

Fortunately this is the line that Martelli pursues in subsequent chapters, beginning with the second chapter on the Amores. Martelli accepts the argument that the second edition announced by Ovid in the prefatory epigram includes new poems, or at least new or refashioned passages, composed specifically for the second edition. One might quibble with this (I do), on the grounds that it disregards the implications of the phrase "with two books removed" (4, demptis … duobus) in the preface and the apparent reference to the second edition at Trist. 4.10.61- 2: multa quidem scripsi, sed, quae uitiosa putaui, / emendaturis ignibus ipse dedi. It is not an argument from silence that in his only references to the process of revision, Ovid writes only of excision, not addition. This is not a significant impediment, however, in Martelli's reading of the collection as it stands, although there are some who might see greater opportunities in a more straightforward approach. If, for example, Am. 2.18.19 artes teneri profitemur Amoris is not a reference to the Ars amatoria, it opens the question of how the poet might have thought it would be read after he did publish the Ars. But never mind. There are very good observations in this chapter on how Ovid teasingly conjures up an earlier edition of the poems against which the second edition should be read. For example, Martelli teases out the possibilities of reading the opening poem against the backdrop of the first edition evoked by the apparent reference to the earlier text in dicitur (line 4), developing a suggestion I once made in an oral presentation (pp. 41-3). This is a productive vein, which leads to intriguing readings, which seem obvious now that Martelli has made them, of other such references, as for example in Am. 1.5.25 cetera quis nescit (p. 46).

Martelli's approach strikes me as less fruitful when she turns to other works, such as the Ars and Remedia in Chapter Three, which she treats as a developing narrative (68-9), drawing heavily on Freud and Peter Brooks in her analysis. Here, and elsewhere, Martelli also pursues the line that Ovid is practicing a form of "generic transgression" in his treatment of elegy. This proceeds from the assumption, which is unwarranted by the literary historical circumstances of the genre, that "elegy" is defined by the species of love poem associated with Gallus, Tibullus, and Propertius. While there are some persuasive interpretations offered in this chapter, this approach seems to miss out on the potential for setting Ovid's revisions in a more innovative light. The books of Tibullus and Propertius (and perhaps Gallus, if we actually knew anything about them) are considerably more diverse in content than this view of Latin elegy allows. It is Ovid's contribution to have narrowed the definition of "elegy" to the subject of love, and this is accomplished precisely in the second edition of the Amores, which has been reduced to a more concentrated treatment of the subject. Against this backdrop the Ars and the Remedia can be seen more as an extension of the generic norms established by Ovid, rather than as transgression.

Revision is not a particularly helpful way of thinking in approaching the Fasti as we have it, and Martelli elides some rather fundamental issues in the fourth chapter. Left unresolved is the question of whether "revision" is actually the appropriate term to apply to the poem, which as far as we know never was read by anyone (except the author) in any prior version. Martelli, however, treats the Fasti as if it is complete as the poet intended it (p. 105), "leaving a palpable six-month gap that stands as a rebuke to the autocrat who has both authorised Ovid's banishment and attempted to inscribe his ownership of the months that Ovid refuses to include." On this matter Martelli must then be privy to some information about Ovid's "decision to close the year at the end of June" not known to anyone else. What is clear is that the condition of the poem creates the possibility of this reading, but without access to any actual information about its formation, this would be more effectively treated as part of the poem's reception, not its composition.

In the final two chapters of the volume Martelli engages with what she calls Ovid's "revisory perspectives" (p. 146) in the exile poetry. This is fruitful ground to cultivate, even though it does not quite fit with the theme of "revision" as deployed in the first two chapters. From the vantage point of Tomi, Ovid's references to himself and to his earlier work recast the reader's initial apprehension of those earlier poems' meanings. Martelli applies this perspective with profit, for example, in her reading of the epilogue to the Metamorphoses (pp. 152-60). Ovid's reference there to Jupiter's fire seems so clearly to presume the multiple characterizations of Augustus' edict of relegation as a bolt from Jupiter that some critics have posited a revision of the Metamorphoses from exile. Martelli does not pursue that line, instead teasing out the many ways in which the exile poetry imposes alternative readings on the earlier text.

In spite of the slippage from one chapter to the next in Martelli's definition of the phenomenon she is exploring, the notion of "revision" is a helpful avenue of approach to Ovid's career. As Martelli notes, there is little place in this study for some of Ovid's works, most notably the Heroides, but that does not detract from the interpretative thrust that builds throughout the volume. Revision is thus, as Martelli defines it in her conclusion, "an integral and integrating feature of this author's oeuvre" (p. 230). There are many small points in this volume with which one may quibble. For example, Martelli is not at her best when invoking points of lexical detail to support her argument—the comments on praetulit (p. 40) are not lexicographically sound; the Oxford Latin Dictionary is not best source for Latin etymology, for example, and it doesn't address the question of whether this etymology of praeda would have been present to a contemporary of Ovid (p. 43, n. 24), since Varro Ling. 5.178 gives a different one; procul este is too common a phrase to signal an allusion in this context (pp. 58-9); and so forth. But there would be no profit in multiplying such examples, which would seem to detract from the value of the many insights that Martelli has brought to the interaction of these texts to produce "the functional principle that we call Ovid" (p. 230).

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