Introduction to Using Ovid’s “Fasti” as a Roman Reconstructionist Reading

By | June 28, 2015

Publius Ovidius Naso wrote a number of texts in Latin poetry, some of which may pertain to a Roman Reconstructionist interpretation of NeoPaganism.

A suggested text for all students is Ovid’s Fasti:

These books of Latin poetry describe many Roman festivals, how they were celebrated and their history up until the time of Caesar Augustus in the very early years of the Common Era in Rome. The Fasti is an unfinished work, in that all the months of the year were either never written by Ovid, or a copy of the missing months have not yet been found. Regardless, the months which are available for study are written in an entertaining, candid style of poetry which earned Ovid popularity for all but the final years of his life. Some parts are beautiful, descriptive, funny, shocking and a little racy at times. However; the poetry is entertaining and informative.

The passages of the Fasti I have referred to, in the worship services, are translated into English by A.S. Klein, whose translations may browsed online for free and/or purchased as books.

Caution! NOT all poetry by Ovid are suggested study.

Despite my appreciation for Ovid’s work, and despite its popularity, The Metamorphoses by Ovid is NOT suggested as a study; particularly for people in their first or second year or under the age of 21. Nor, in my opinion, is the book for people who have not yet earned at least a baccaleureate level degree in accredited university studies. However; it is one of Ovid’s most famous works, and is sometimes studied in college level mythology coursework outside of spiritual studies, and it does contain passages of exceptional beauty. Until a highly edited form of this text is available (or until we are made aware of its existence) we advise to proceed with this text only with extreme caution, if at all.

Why?

Some of Ovid’s work contains very non-poetic writing topics, for example extremely graphic violence and vulgar, x-rated parts, which detract from its beauty and appropriateness for telling the myths in a spiritual setting. 

The Metamorphoses, by Ovid, is an epic that combines history and mythology as a series of short stories. It was after writing this book Ovid was exiled, for unknown reasons. In my opinion, Ovid provided graphic violence in this work as a political ploy, to wake up the Roman populace and create change; to become a peaceful people. At one time, it was my opinion that the individual stories in this work may be shared as part of a regularly scheduled worship service, in the style of a bible reading; either in the original Latin or translated. However; this exercise of editing proved to be so time-consuming and voluminous, that I eventually abandoned the project before completion.

The edition I used was an inexpensive paperback edition by Signet Classics, as translated by Horace Gregory. Similar edits were suggested with other translations, such as translated by A.S. Klein. Since it is, by Ovid’s own admission, a sacred and immortal work, I did not feel to add or modify any of the text; I merely omitted words and passages that I found lacking in sacred inspirational quality.This resulted in some stories making very little sense which, at the time, I felt was a trade off for keeping the more beautiful writing.

Someone with greater expertise in Latin than I, and more time to handle the poetic meter might be empowered to create a complete edited edition, appropriate for weekly worship, at some point in the future if this is actually possible. The following series of posts include the edits I made to the text, prior to reading it aloud, up to the point where I abandoned the project:

Examples of edits suggested in Ovid’s The Metamorphoses:

Book I Book II These two books do not contain all the edits suggested. Additional volumes of this multi-volume epic work would actually require similar edits as suggested in Book I and Book II.

Exception: One sole exception, easily found within the periphery of The Metamorphoses, which may be used in a spiritual setting:

As an invocation and release, Ovid’s own words at the very beginning and very end of The Metamorphoses, have been used with some success within parts of a spiritual service; to introduce a suggested reading (particularly a peaceful and spiritually uplifting reading that has withstood the test of time), to give thanks for knowledge learned from history, and for the actual metamorphosis which really occurred during the Augustan Era, known as an era of peace or PAX ROMANA; a wish that is indeed eternal, and a wish that I like to believe Ovid held for his final years.

Book I Invocation (English translation by Horace Gregory, as invocation):

Now I shall tell you of things that change, new being
Old out of old; since you, O Gods, created
Mutable arts and gifts, give me the voice
To tell the shifting story of the world
From its beginning to the present hour.

Book XV:871-879 Ovid’s Envoi (English translation by A.S. Klein, as a release):

And now the work is done,
which Jupiter’s anger, fire or sword cannot erase,
nor the gnawing tooth of time.
***
Let that day, which has power only over my body,
end when it will my uncertain span of years;
yet the best part of me will be borne,
immortal, beyond the distant stars.
***
Wherever Rome’s influence extends
over the lands it has civilized, I will be on people’s lips;
and, famous throughout the ages,
if there is truth in poets’ prophecies, I shall live.

So be it!