With “Desire, reborn, survive”, Xavier Darcos reiterates Ovid’s modernity

Ovid. Desire, be reborn, survive

by Xavier Darcos,

Fayard, 286 p., € 20.90

An existence shattered by a mysterious condemnation to exile, poems nourishing artistic creation over the centuries, but sometimes considered light and superficial: in his life and his work, Ovide – Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC. C. – 17 or 18 AD) – was the victim of misunderstandings. In a masterful study, Xavier Darcos follows his journey at the turn of a millennium and captures the depth and complexity of his universe which, in its concerns and anxieties, resembles ours.

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Born into a wealthy family in Abruzzo, Ovid received in Rome the teaching of the best teachers and very early on in the literary world. He was twelve years old (in 31) when the Republic was replaced by the principate of Augustus who wanted, to support his power, a literature celebrating the ancient Roman religion. Ovid prefers erotic elegy, while distancing himself from his codes.

Tips to please

If, in his first collections – The loves (verse 15 by J.-C.), The art of loving (verse 1 Apr J.-C.), The remedies for love (2 AD) -, he sings, like Catullus, Tibullus, Properce, a beloved woman, Corinne, real or fantasized, he also deals with other themes – desire, pleasure, seduction -, he gives advice to please, not to suffer, in a sort of modern Discourse on the passions of love.

And in 8 apr. AD, in full glory, he was condemned by Augustus to relegation to the desolate edges of Pont-Euxin, in Tomis, an exile that lasted until his death. He then writes The sad ones and The Pontics, elegies in which he grasps all the forms, all the abysses of melancholy.

On the causes of his conviction, the most likely hypothesis, says Xavier Darcos, is his participation in Pythagorean divination sessions, which Augustus did not appreciate. Ovid lived this period of which Flaubert said: “The gods no longer being and Christ not yet being, there was a unique moment when man alone was. “

The immense poem of Metamorphosis

Alone, really, the Romans? For them, Heaven did not remain empty for long. Faced with the hope of Salvation offered by underground cults, the poet, tempted by neopythagoreanism, wrote before exile his two major works in which the figures of the national religion remain: the Fastes, calendar of Roman festivals, linked to the places, monuments, divinities of the city, text undoubtedly interrupted by his departure, and especially Metamorphoses, immense poem, where the gods and demigods are present, but, on the borders of memory and imagination, in a transitory universe where everything is precarious and is transformed.

→ CRITICAL. “Metamorphoses”, Jupiter at the end of high school

Carried away by their amorous passions, they cannot reach the object of their love which escapes them by changing shape and nature: Adonis is transformed into an anemone, Io into a heifer, Aracne into a spider, Alcyone into a bird, Callisto into a Big Dipper, Arias in Ursa Minor, etc. To the anguish of the times, to the vertigo in the face of death that the old religion no longer conjures up, Ovid’s response is a poetic construction, animated by a faith in the breath of life, circulating through the cosmos where everything mingles .

Without really believing in the cycles of reincarnation of the Neopythagoreans, he enjoyed drawing a world where, in the absence of survival, rebirth is possible, where consolation comes from song, when the images radiate, carried by the melody of vowels, and the thousand rhythmic possibilities of Latin verse. He was rightly confident in the sustainability of his work: «In 2017, says Xavier Darcos, the banishment of Ovid is officially revoked by the municipality of Rome. “

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