Translator's notes

Versions of Ovid's Tristia

By Ovid

About Tristia and the writing of these versions:

In A.D. 8, Augustus Caesar relegated Publius Ovidius Naso to Tomis (now Constantza in Romania). The official reason was the licentiousness of Ovid's Ars Amatoria, but as these poems were published ten years earlier, this is unlikely to have been the genuine reason. 'Relegation' (rather than 'exile') meant that Ovid retained his citizenship - a legal technicality with two major consequences: Ovid's wife would remain in Rome to look after his affairs, and a pardon from Augustus remained a tantalising possibility. So Ovid spent his time in Tomis writing Tristia: poems of love to his wife, and poems of petition (aimed indirectly at Augustus) to be circulated around the capital. 

Having abandoned an earlier attempt at translating these poems, I recently spent a month at an artist's colony: the Blue Mountain Centre in the Adirondacks. It was early Fall, and my host told me that within a few months the lake outside my cabin would freeze. When food was scarce, the deer would venture out onto the lake, to nibble the lower branches of trees: good news for the coyotes, who had ‘better traction on the ice’. The image recalled Ovid's description of the Black Sea, frozen solid, and I began to work on the translations again, this time from memory. In consequence, these versions are loose: I was obliged to fill in the gaps. Realising how much the Ovid of Tristia was a persona made me less inhibited about trying on the mask myself. These are the first poems from an ongoing sequence.

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