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Gordon Braden

"Translating the Rest of Ovid: The Exile Poems"

Gordon Braden, University of Virginia


Ovid’s large oeuvre is the most diverse gathering of poetry by a single author to survive from antiquity, and almost all of it is translated into English during the period loosely known as the Renaissance—some of it (including Ibis, now almost totally ignored) more than once. Study of these translations and related kinds of literary assimilation has for perfectly good reasons focused above all on the Metamorphoses, with some attention to the Amores and the Heroides; such study has helped underwrite in contemporary criticism a casual use of the term “Ovidian” (gamesome, erotic, subversive, anti-essentialist) that doesn=t necessarily suit the ethos of the rest of his work. This paper will focus specifically on the presence of Ovid=s exile poems, especially the Tristia, in English Renaissance literature. These are Ovid=s most unguardedly autobiographical poems, in effect elegies for himself, and contain some especially pained thoughts about the role of poetry in his life; the poems addressed to women—his wife and his daughter, the latter herself a poet—are unlike anything else in Ovid’s work. The first three books of the Tristia were translated (by Thomas Churchyard) in 1572, and there were two complete translations in the 17th century; individual poems from that sequence and the Epistulae ex Ponto were also translated by others, notably Henry Vaughan. The paper will discuss these translations on their own merits and in the context of the English Renaissance encounter with Ovid and his poetry, and consider the usefulness of “Ovidian” as a term encompassing the whole of his literary production.


Gordon Braden is Linden Kent Memorial Professor of English at the University of Virginia. His books include Renaissance Tragedy and the Senecan Tradition (1985), The Idea of the Renaissance (1989; with William Kerrigan), and Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance (1999). He is co-editor, with Robert Cummings and Stuart Gillespie, of The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, vol. 2 (2010), and, with Jackson Boswell, of the forthcoming Petrarch's English Laurels: Printed References and Allusions 1475-1700.

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