First Questions about the New Naso

answered by Team Antigone

Here we offer six answers to the six questions that are likely to be prominent in readers’ minds:

I) What is the “New Naso”?

It is a piece of ancient verse, written in Latin, in a special metrical structure used by ancient poets called ‘elegiac couplets’. It is expected soon to be recognised as the most important papyrus find in the history of the language.

II) Where did it come from?

More information will be forthcoming soon. But for the time being we may say that it was found in serendipitous circumstances by a shopper in a Yorkshire multimart.

There is no reason to suspect foulplay.

III) Who is this Ovid?

‘Ovid’ is vulgar shorthand for Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC – AD 18), a swell figure in the literary crowd of Ancient Rome. Although he fell out of favour and had to go on permanent vacation to the Black Sea (where he rebranded his poetry as “#SADs”), his Muse kept tapping her feet: his poetry was very influential throughout the Roman Empire, and had a major effect on the course that Medieval and Modern Europe took. The appearance of this “New Naso” thus reshapes our understanding of the history of European literature, culture, art and cuisine, very probably for ever.

IV) But was Ovid actually an important poet?

Yes. Almost all classical scholars would agree that he was the fourth best poet across the full gamut of the 2% of surviving Roman literature.

V) Right. So can you say anything more about this man?

At the moment, no: we have other things going on. But if it is helpful we can cite some recent digests of Ovidian scholarship for illustrative purposes:

As a raconteur Ovid was surpassed by none of the ancients, and is equalled by few modern writers. The simplicity and brilliant lucidity of his narrative have caused him often to be disparaged by critics who think a writer shows no depth, if not crabbed, artificial and obscure. In human pathos he is most nearly akin to Euripides among Greek writers, but surpassed him in the kindred gift of humour.[1]H.F. Morland Simpson, Ovid: Selections from the Tristia (Cambridge, 1899).

What is more, he was

apt to be so intoxicated with his own exuberance that he actually liked his own faults (non ignoravit vitia sua, sed amavit, Seneca), and that he was too fond of his own cleverness (nimium amator ingenii sui, Quintilian); but when all the critics had their say we may still call him a brilliant poet and a delightful companion… Ovid may not have written the greatest kind of poetry, but his poetry is the greatest of its kind.[2]J.E. Dunlop, Ovid’s Metamorphoses; An Anthology (London, 1961).

And yet further:

His garrulity, his vanity, his egoism, his infirmity of purpose, his want of principle, not to speak of the graver faults of this sturdy sinner, are all exposed to the public gaze… An author of so distinguished a name, who thus insists on being known to us with all his weaknesses, is sure to conciliate some pardon and some interest.[3][J.K. Stephens,] ‘Ovid, an Apologia’, Temple Bar, 1882.

 

VI) That’s reassuring to hear. So is the newly discovered poem any good?

Opinions differ strongly on this point, and the team here at Antigone have sought so far as is humanly possible to avoid making value judgements about the “quality” of the “poem” on offer. Still, reading literature is a personal experience, and we are comfortable with your either savouring or expectorating any given elegiac cutlet. Let us know!


Notes

Notes
1 H.F. Morland Simpson, Ovid: Selections from the Tristia (Cambridge, 1899).
2 J.E. Dunlop, Ovid’s Metamorphoses; An Anthology (London, 1961).
3 [J.K. Stephens,] ‘Ovid, an Apologia’, Temple Bar, 1882.