Retracing the Old Steps of the New Naso: Authorship, Transmission and Reception

Jaspreet Singh Boparai


Attribution of the Giggleswick Fragment, or the “New Naso”, to Ovid is all but unanimous.[1] For the dissenting opinion, readers will be able to consult Quentin L. Ashby de la Zouch, ‘The Giggleswick “Ovid” Fragment: A Dissenting Opinion.’[2] Controversially, Ashby de la Zouch argues for authorship by pseudo-Horace, purported author of the Carmen Saeculare.[3] But this seems preposterous.

In terms of vocabulary, grammar, rhetoric and imagery, as well as metre, the New Naso seems to exhibit many of the same peculiarities as Ovid’s now-lost Medea.[4] Yet the fragment so closely parallels the style and rhythm of Ovid’s translation of Aratus’ Phaenomena[5] that no reasonable inquiry can come to any other conclusion but that Ovid composed these verses at Sulmo (now Sulmona), and later performed them privately in Rome at one of the homes of Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (64 BC – AD 12), most likely in the ‘odeon’ of the Gardens of Lucullus, probably on the thirty-eighth birthday of the Emperor Augustus (23 September 25 BC), and so presumably not later than 9:15 PM (new system) but no earlier than the twelfth hour (old system). Astrological evidence makes this irrefutable,[6] the truth of which even the dissenting opinion concedes.[7]

A keen reader of Ovid: Messala Corvinus

The precise length of the entire poem from which the New Naso comes remains the subject of heated controversy.[8] Although the current scholarly consensus appears to be that this is from the introductory section to Ovid’s elegiac retelling of the myth of Pinocchius, an Etruscan folk legend (Pinocle) that Ovid would later draw upon extensively for his version of the Pygmalion myth.[9] It is to be noted that Pygmalion’s sculpture that comes to life, like Pinocchius/Pinocle, has no strings. The innovative genius of Ovid is unmistakeable.


The New Naso is nowhere mentioned by Ovid himself, not even in the Tristia or Epistulae ex Ponto; nor is it quoted directly or paraphrased by Probus, Quintilian, Suetonius, Aulus Gellius, Arnobius of Carthage, St Cyprian of Carthage, St Augustine of Hippo, St Isidore of Seville, pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite or Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius. Nor is the fragment quoted in anthologies or florilegia.

Next section, please.


Nevertheless, despite the relative lack of available texts, the New Naso fragment, and indeed the entire Pinocchius/Pinocle legend, is extensively and copiously explored in the famous fourteenth-century L’Ovide Moralisé.[10]

L’Ovide Moralisé was produced between 1317 and 1328, and consists of over seventy-two thousand lines of rhyming octosyllabic verse; much of the content is of a didactic, highly improving nature. The author of the text chose to remain anonymous.

Woodcut and text of one of many possible pages of the Ovide Moralisé (1484, Bruges Public Library, Belgium)

According to Pierre de Nolhac (1859–1936), nobody has ever read L’Ovide Moralisé since it was first presented to the Queen of France in a heavily illustrated manuscript.[11] Most pages bear no indication of having ever been examined, even by the scribes and illuminators who produced the book. The literary and thematic reception of the New Naso as it appears in L’Ovide Moralisée remains so far unexamined by scholars, and await further study.

Neo-Latin poets appear to been all but obsessed with the New Naso, certainly at the court of King Ferdinand I of Naples (1423–94), where the most learned imitated this work frequently, albeit in grotesque, often obscene form that bears little resemblance to the original text.[12]

No comment.

A retelling of the Pinocchius/Pinocle legend by Giovanni Pontano (1426–1503) in elegiac verse goes far beyond any and all Ovidian models in its explicit descriptions, and cannot be printed even today. The copies preserved in the Vatican Library are currently unavailable for study, and were last systematically examined by Angelo, Cardinal Mai (1782–1854), who subsequently went blind.[13]

Ovid’s earliest verses enjoyed a considerable vogue in Russia in the early nineteenth century. Aristocratic refugees fleeing the French Revolution often brought their personal libraries with them to St Petersburg and Moscow. As a result, Russian literary society was flooded with copies of L’Ovide Moralisé for decades; these volumes were usually left behind when their owners returned to France.[14] Russian writers appear to have tried to read these books, as far as was possible.

The most famous instance of indirect reception of the New Naso is The Nose (1835/36) by Nikolai Gogol (1809–52), the greatest of Russian prose writers before Tolstoy. The Nose does not directly refer to the fragment; nor does Gogol explicitly refer to this, or any other work by Ovid; though clearly Gogol had studied Ovid carefully.[15] He may have read Ovid’s work entirely in French; this is certainly true in the case of the New Naso. Gogol is known to have seen a copy of L’Ovide Moralisé before deciding to abandon studies altogether.[16]

What the future used to look like.

Only one other translation of Ovid’s New Naso fragment has appeared hitherto. The Modernist poet Ezra Pound (1885–1972) managed to render the entire now-lost Pinocchius/Pinocle cycle of Ovid into irregular unrhymed verse, despite his having never read the original text, or any of L’Ovide Moralisé, of which he is known to have possessed several copies.[17]

Pound’s GOURD is GOD/NASO’s BEAK cycle was composed in a prison cell near Pisa where he was detained by American soldiers at the end of the Second World War. This translation is one of the more outstanding achievements of modern literature, and won Pound the Robert Lowell Prize in Poetry from St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington DC, where he lived as a patient between 1945 and 1958. Its enigmatic final line is often quoted:

            I knows: I SMELLS.

Jaspreet Singh Boparai is a recovering neo-Latinist.


1 The fragment’s authenticity has never seriously been questioned by accredited experts; David Butterfield’s interview in the Lausitzer Rundschau (30 March 2021, ‘Kunst und Kätzchen’ section; subscription required) demonstrates Butterfield’s lack of competence with respect to these materials. A legally authenticated account of the fragment’s provenance is said to be forthcoming in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology; in the meantime, interested readers may consult pp. 79–0 and Appendix VI of the latest issue of the quarterly ‘Ancient Art and Antiquities’ catalogue from the auction house that was recently compelled to withdraw the fragment from sale due to allegations of its unavailability. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Gigglewick Fragment will feature again in a future ‘Ancient Art and Antiquities’ sale, very probably at a significantly reduced estimated. Some of the logistical and ethical issues raised by the case will be explored by Laetitia Ashcombe, ‘Rescue Archaeology: the Search for Wet Papyrus,’ scheduled to appear in this week’s Sunday Times Magazine (subscription required).
2 In Quentin L. Ashby de la Zouch (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Giggleswick ‘Ovid’ Fragment, forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell, 473–542.
3 For pseudo-Horace generally, see Quentin L. Ashby de la Zouch (ed)., The Basildon Companion to Pseudo-Horace, privately printed (suggested donation £5).
4 See George Steiner, ‘The Music of the Missing: Unheard Melodies,’ in Vapours and Pontifications: Collected Essays from the New York Review of Books, Cambridge UP, 2006, 66–71.
5 For the three lines that survive see Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones II.5.24; for two further, likely spurious or misattributed lines, see Probus, In Vergilii Bucolica et Georgica Commentarius at Georgics I.138.
6 See Dame Frances Yates, The Spell of Thrasyllus: Readers of the Stars on the Seven Hills of Rome from the Seven Sages to the Twelve Caesars, Oxford-Warburg Studies 13, Oxford UP, 1969, 37–38, 38–39, 39–40.
7 See Ashby de la Zouch passim.
8 Ashby de la Zouch’s Blackwell Companion to the Giggleswick ‘Ovid’ Fragment (in press/available online) contains the most exhaustive and comprehensive overview of available scholarship, as well as a copiously annotated bibliography; for a selective summary, the proceedings of the Ribble Valley Philological Society’s upcoming Michaelmas Conference (29–30 September 2021 [Covid permitting], George Formby Memorial Theatre, Blackpool; registration £75/£60 students, seniors and the unwaged) will be published as a special supplement of the (honorifically renamed) Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society as a Festschrift for the late Marquess of Telford, Honorary President of the Lancashire Conference of Philological and Literary Associations, and quondam patron of the Cambridge University chapter of the George Formby Appreciation Society.
9 In some section of Metamorphoses X.
10 ‘Ovid Embellished With Moralising.’ Despite frequent studies of various aspects of this text inBelgian and Romansh as well as French monographs, there remains no satisfactory modern edition of this text; under current circumstances an English translation would be commercially unviable.
11 See Nolhac, Études pétrarquiennes: de Laure de Sade au divin marquis, Éditions Pierre Champion, Paris, 1905, xxi.
12 Arnaldo Momigliano’s unpublished essay on this phenomenon can no longer be found; for more on this essay, as well as the phenomenon it discusses, see Eugenio Garin, ‘The Afterlife of the Reception of the Ovide Moralisé Among the Neapolitan Epigrammatists,’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 35 (1972) 145–190. 
13 Garin 1972, 188–190; Garin’s correspondence with Sebastiano Timpanaro on the lost Momigliano essay appears not to be extant, though is discussed in some detail throughout Garin’s surviving correspondence with Paul Oskar Kristeller (Fonds Garin-Kristeller, Garin-Kristeller Archive, Ribble Valley Philological Society Collections, Blackpool Central Library: closed because of Covid-19 but scholars are allowed to inspect material from the balconyof the adjacent Grundy Art Gallery).
14 See Sir Isaiah Berlin’s moving account of his private collection of abandoned versions of L’Ovide Moralisé in Henry Hardy (ed.), Autumnal Pontifications: Interviews in Lieu of a Memoir (Princeton UP, 1988) 476–507.
15 See the chapter on Gogol and classical literature in Harold Bloom’s The Angst of the Latinless (Yale UP, 197) 25 – 59.
16 Ibid., 26–28 and Berlin (1988) 499–500. Bloom’s account appears to be based on Berlin’s, even though it was published a dozen years earlier; either Bloom learnt of this in a private conversation, or heard an early recording of the interview transcribed in the later volume. Illuminating discussion of this will be found in Berlin (1988) Appendix IV (788 ff.).
17 For the text of Pound’s translation, see Basil Bunting (ed.), Ezra Pound’s Textless Translations vol. II (1933 – 1951), with a foreword by Sir William Empson; introduction and notes by C. H. Sisson (New Directions, NY, 1975). Sisson’s introduction makes clear that Pound purchased multiple volumes of L’Ovide Moralisé in Paris in 1924, then immediately attempted to return or exchange them, but was unable even to donate them to municipal libraries, whereupon he refused to read them – but could not bring himself to destroy them. As a result of the Russian Revolution, the Parisian book market was flooded with confiscated copies of L’Ovide Moralisée that the new Soviet Government attempted repeatedly to sell all over continental Europe, often at a heavy loss; as a result, throughout the 1920s L’Ovide Moralisée remained at an even lower value than it had enjoyed during the French Revolution. Prices have only occasionally recovered to pre-Revolutionary levels since. Sir Isaiah Berlin’s letters to Anna Akhmatova feature numerous references to these unusual circumstances: Berlin repeatedly attempted to send his collection of abandoned copies of L’Ovid Moralisé to Akhmatova throughout the 1950s, before the relationship ended permanently. See Henry Hardy (ed.), A Sexless Flirtation: the Love Letters of Sir Isaiah Berlin to Anna Akhmatova (Ball State UP, 2004) spaffim.