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Real and Imaginary Travels 16th-18th centuries

Anne Bandry-Scubbi
Rémi Vuillemin

The Other Ovid

Seventeenth-century Itineraries of Make-Believe

Monica Matei-Chesnoiu


« L’autre Ovide » met en lumière la manière dont les références et allusions aux œuvres classiques d’Ovide dans les textes de voyage anglais du xviie siècle peuvent prendre des significations différentes selon qui les lit. Dans les écoles de la Renaissance, Ovide était enseigné pour transmettre les valeurs et aspirations de toute une succession de sociétés postclassiques, mais entre 1590 et 1620 certains lecteurs très réceptifs ont répondu aux signaux du texte qui remettent en question ce que le poète latin semblait représenter pour les érudits. Cette analyse montre comment les textes de voyage écrits par ces lecteurs ont eu recours aux textes ovidiens pour sonder et mettre en cause les valeurs de leur société, exactement comme l’avait fait Ovide en son temps. En lisant leurs propres préoccupations dans les allusions érudites concernant le poète latin, les voyageurs du début des temps modernes ont utilisé le mythe classique d’Ovide pour formuler leurs conceptions de la mutabilité, de la métamorphose et des zones climatiques terrestres mais, surtout, pour faire référence à un espace géographique liminal où le poète latin fut exilé au temps de l’empereur Auguste. Les textes de voyage du début de la modernité prennent une nouvelle résonnance lorsqu’est mise en évidence leur relation avec l’autre Ovide – le voyageur exilé.

Texte intégral

1From tension springs creativity. Arthur Koestler proposed three domains of creativity: artistic inspiration, scientific discovery, and comic inventiveness. The common pattern underlying creativity is the shaking together of already existent but previously separate areas of knowledge, frames of perception, or universes of discourse. Koestler graphically expresses the continuum from artistic inspiration to scientific discovery to comic inventiveness by the reaction induced, respectively the Ahh! reaction of art, the Aha! reaction of science, and the Ha! Ha! reaction of the comic. (Koestler, 1964: 96) I will show how these three expressions of creativity converge in a number of early modern English travel texts through appropriations of the other Ovid. As Colin Burrow has noted in a study on Ovidian echoes in Shakespeare, “if Ovid had not existed, then Renaissance Europe would have had to invent him” (Burrow, 2013: 95). Indeed, great capacity of abstraction is necessary to select the examples that would demonstrate just how rich a resource this poet might be and how “modern” he might sound to sixteenth-century English minds. Ovid could appeal to different types of readers in different ways, but his most peculiar attraction is related to the fact that he was both a poet and a life story. No travelogue could equal in intensity and expanse of geographic imagination the reflection of the distant space of the Pontus Euxinus that Ovid created in his exile poetry, Tristia and Ex Ponto. Late sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century European travel-writers—whether English, French, or Spanish—responded to the challenge of Ovid’s myth in a variety of ways. Their engagement with Ovid—in a competitive literary environment—was based on the highly theatrical awareness that the force of words was changed by the nature of the speaker and by an audience’s attitude to that speaker. No wonder that Ovid was read obliquely, as he became an authority on alienation, banishment, and travel for writers who sought to attune their readers’ expectations to the classical pursuit.

2The influence of Ovid on early modern English literature is overwhelming. The poet of love and mutability appealed to English poets’ imagination and his stories were an inexhaustible resource for Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists. They were attracted by the pagan myth of metamorphosis, the rhetoric of the body, love and intimacy, betrayal and desertion, friendship, and exile. Ovid influenced the Elizabethan theories of imitation. The fashion for use of classical allusions in poetry and drama made Ovid, next to Virgil and Horace, one of the most quoted or alluded to classical poets in early modern English literature. In addition, Ovid’s laments and his elegiac descriptions of the harsh climate and people from his place of exile in Tristia and Ex Ponto transformed him into an authority on banishment, alienation, and ethnic barbarism of nations at the margins of the known Roman world. The carbon copy that Ovid created in the English imaginary about the cold and inhospitable place of his exile became transmogrified in curious images of liminality. However, as I will argue here, not only fictional texts affected by Ovid’s influence elicited such reflections in the minds of early modern readers. Travel writers used Ovid to confer their narratives the legitimation derived from the authority of classical sources and the testimonial authenticity of a real-time traveller to the Pontus Euxinus parts. In this way, Ovid’s fictions were used as touchstones of geographic science, shaping early modern English understanding of the Black Sea space. Not heeding the fictional quality of Ovid’s works, many travel writers considered his stories as reliable as those by Strabo, Pliny, Herodotus, or Pomponius Mela; probably even more so because Ovid was known to have travelled to those parts, while ancient geographers relied merely on reports.

  • 1 The Emperor Augustus exiled Ovid to Tomis, now the city of Constanţa in Romania, in AD 8. One reaso (...)

3The exoticism of Ovid’s descriptions in Tristia and Ex Ponto, exemplified by storms, cold seas and frozen Danube, or savage inhabitants on whom the poet’s Latin verses seemed to be lost, surrounded the Pontus Euxinus places with a romantic aura in the English imagination. Travel writers exploited this metaphoric order derived from the specific perception of Ovid’s verses to such an extent that the Latin poet’s name was assimilated to the distant location on the Black Sea shore where he was banished. The romanticized and often inflated view of the Pontic area in early seventeenth-century travel narratives was greatly enhanced by Ovid’s testimony, despite its incongruity. Considering the extensive ramifications of the Ovidian tradition, I believe it is precisely the obscurity of the classical transmission that confers attraction and—paradoxically—authenticity to travel accounts of the Pontic space. Ovid’s recognized authority on the Eastern European city of Tomis,1 where he was banished, as well as on the entire western area of Pontus Euxinus, is based on the fact that he is the only classical writer who travelled to those parts. In the elegiac poems Tristia and Ex Ponto, Ovid laments the misery of exile on the bleak edge of the Euxine and holds out his hopes for alleviation of this punishment. Many historians consider Ovid’s reports as especially important for our knowledge of Scythia Minor at the time, but fewer stop to consider the highly charged fictional quality of these narratives and the biased interpretation of space, filtered through the banished poet’s exacerbated suffering.

  • 2 The Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland and English Books Prin (...)
  • 3 Discussing Shakespeare’s myths derived out of Ovid, Charles and Michelle Martindale observe the Lat (...)
  • 4 A. B. Taylor states that The Metamorphoses, the Heroides, Fasti, and Tristia “all featured on sylla (...)
  • 5 Liz Oakley-Brown argues that English versions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in particular the anonymous (...)
  • 6 Gordon Braden devotes an entire chapter (1–54) to William Golding’s translation of Ovid, concluding (...)
  • 7 There were several Latin editions of Ovid’s complete works (1570; 1602). There was only one Latin e (...)

4Ovid’s popularity in early modern England is a non-disputed fact. The translations from Ovid are numerous,2 as are his influences on Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights.3 Ovid had been used in grammar schools for the study of Latin ever since the early sixteenth century.4 However, the popularity of Ovid in England starts after 15605 and is manifested in a proliferation of translations and imitations, such as the popular translation by William Golding,6 as well as many Latin editions.7 Allusions to Ovid in early modern English travel narratives, however, are marked by many incongruities. In speaking of Thracia, Moesia, or Scythia, or about the Getae, English authors draw not only on Tristia and Ex Ponto, which are supposed to have been written while Ovid actually lived in those places, but on the Metamorphoses, which are sheer mythology. The attractiveness of Ovid’s stories and the fact that many readers had the necessary background knowledge to recognize the mythological allusions made this popular book a frequent source of quotation in early modern English travel literature. Moreover, the familiar Ovidian allusions incited the reader’s curiosity and even the wish to visit those places. Paradoxically, these references conferred a note of authenticity to the travel report. Ovid’s fictions were expected to render the relation more real than the actual travels to those locations. In this way, Renaissance writers responded to an Ovidian autobiographic persona and the imaginary geography he created. Through geographic engagement with Ovid, readers could perceive the Pontus Euxinus area as a collapsible space where any number of unpredictable things may happen. As in the abbreviated and symbolic visualization on a map, readers were able to configure a measurable and objective cartographic world drawn with the power of poetic imagination.

5To English travel writers, Ovid’s familiar stories from the Metamorphoses may become everything the author of the Ovidian allusion wants them to be. Ovid’s relevance is used to persuade readers and patrons that the possibility of knowledge expansion opened by travels of exploration is comparable to the ancient Greeks’ technological revolution symbolized by the Daedalus myth and the cosmographic vision initiated by Icarus’s flight. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Daedalus and Icarus myth is connected with an episode about Daedalus’s nephew, Perdix. Because of the spectacular images of Icarus’s fall, replayed in art and literature, the transformation of Perdix into a bird was often overlooked. André Thévet mentions this episode in his book The New Found Worlde, or Antarctike. This is a 1568 translation by Thomas Hacket of Thévet’s Singularitez de la France antarctique, autrement nommée Amérique (1557). The French Franciscan priest and explorer travelled to Brazil in mid-sixteenth century and described the country, its aboriginal inhabitants, and the historical episodes involved in the France Antarctique, a French settlement in Rio de Janeiro. Writing of the iron found in America, Thévet embarks on the customary biblical and classical digressions; he starts from Noah and then mentions Pliny, who said that Dedalus was the first inventor of the forge. As Thévet notes, “Ouid in the eight booke of his Metamorphosis, saith, that one named Pedris, of the kindred of Dedalus, inuented a saw like to the finne of a fishe” (Thévet, 1568: 83r). Thévet illustrates the richness in iron of the newly discovered country of Brazil and how Europeans taught the natives the iron-forging skills. Ovid provides the means to explain applied technology and competitive invention in a new world. The implication is that the new geographic discoveries are just as revolutionary as the ancient Greek myths of invention.

6The other Ovid becomes a synecdoche for European domination and the Roman Empire in the context of translatio imperii in the French exploratory narrative. In order to justify the submission of the native populations of the Americas by the Europeans, but also to minimize the cruelty of the great enterprise, André Thévet gives the example of the Romans, who were compelled to shed blood (both of themselves and their enemies) in order to achieve their higher imperial goal. In their turn, however, the Romans were defeated by the Goths, Huns, and Vandals, which testifies to the ephemerality of colonial annexation. In this context suggesting unavoidable change of fortune, Thévet quotes Ovid about the evanescent nature of empires: “We see how things doe chaunge and come to passe,/ And now a people raigne that nothing was./ And he, the which had might and poure,/ Dothe them homage, obey, and eke honoure” (Thévet, 1568: 105v). Empires are ephemeral, regardless of their wealth or political grandeur. Ovid’s poetic persona surpasses the boundaries of Europe—where he came to be used as an icon of Roman imperial power—and reaches across the Atlantic, in allusions to the new world of Brazil, to remind conquerors of the inconsistence of their ambitions. The fact that Ovid wrote in times when the Roman Empire had reached its largest expansion was of little importance to the Franciscan priest—who travelled to Brazil but based his reports mostly on the accounts of French sailors. Ovid could not foresee the fall of the empire that banished him; even less so could he predict the attempts of the Spanish, French, and Portuguese—and later the British—to “conquer” the New World. However, Ovid’s authority is used in arguments that legitimize territorial annexation, but also in order to subvert all conquerors’ expectations of eternal absolutist rule.

7Ovid’s cosmographic vision is quoted in practical books of navigation used by English sailors and merchants to find their way about the seas of the world. Thus, Ovid’s expertise transcends the realm of fiction and becomes a specific marker used to adorn and explain contemporary science. The Arte of Navigation by Martín Cortés (1589) was a popular treatise in early modern England and ran through nine editions from 1561 to 1615. The book is the translation by Richard Eden of Breve compendio de la esfera y del arte de navegar (Seville, 1551) by the Spanish cosmographer Martín Cortés de Albacar, who taught cosmography and the art of navigation to pilots in Cádiz. The Arte of Navigation became the first English manual of navigation and a primary text for European travel throughout the early seventeenth century, used by Martin Frobisher and Francis Drake. The treatise contains practical demonstrations of making nautical instruments and finding out the latitude and longitude of a location. In chapter 6, Cortés explains how ancient astronomers divided the sphere into five zones. Of these, the ancients claimed that two of the poles were uninhabitable because of extreme cold, and also the “Torrida Zona” should be uninhabitable for extreme heat. Our zone, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle is inhabited. Cortés quotes Ovid, in Latin and in English, ascertaining that the earth is divided into five regions, “as sayth the Poet Ouid in his Verse” (Cortés, 1589: 16v). Ovid’s Metamorphoses is quoted next to Aristotle, Pliny, Ptolemy, and John de Sacrobosco. Then, we read of explorers’ reports about the East Indies being inhabited and there follow more quotations from Ovid about the Zona Torrida” (Cortés, 1589: 17r). Although the ancients’ information was radically outdated in the context of the new geography and cartography, the vogue of classical citation had a dramatic effect and encoded ancient science within the coordinates of an emerging early modern paradigm.

8Ovid’s frequent presence in navigational treatises and travel narratives cannot be explained only through the fashionable habit of inserting classical allusions. By transference, the Latin poet was assigned the symbolic authority of the emblematic exiled wanderer in many travel narratives about the Black Sea. These stories replayed Ovid’s comments on tempests, foreign seas, or barbarians. William Biddulph’s The Trauels of Certaine Englishmen into Africa, Asia, Troy, Bythinia, Thracia, and to the Blacke Sea (1609) is an account of two brothers’ sea voyage and their journey. In this context, Ovid becomes the epitome of all explorers. Biddulph’s Travels, edited by Teophilus Lavender without the author’s consent, was sufficiently popular to require two editions within four years. Lavender merged the letters (originally written by William and Biddulph to their brother Beliazel) so as to make them appear to recount the events of a continuous trip, describing chiefly the Greek Islands, Constantinople, and some Levantine cities, with one letter devoted to Jerusalem. In the Preface to the Reader, the editor Lavender contrasts the travellers, who travel some for profit, some for pleasure, some to improve their manners, some to learn language, some to gain experience, to those who stay at home because they fear to expose themselves to dangers by sea or land. Of the latter, Lavender says that they cannot abide “to bee tossed and tumbled like tennis-bals on the turbulent and tempestuous seas” (Lavender in Biddulph, 1609: not paginated) and he quotes Ovid’s Elegy 2, in Latin and English, relating the poet’s experience during a storm at the Pontus Euxinus. In this way, Lavender dramatizes the perils to which travellers are exposed when sailing to dangerous seas.

  • 8 Lisa Jardine notes that, thanks to the inventories of books owned by students in the four-year arts (...)

9William Biddulph himself also quotes abundantly from Ovid and Virgil in his account. In a letter written from Aleppo, which describes the religion, government, and manners of the Turks, Moors, Arabians, and Greeks, Biddulph mentions nostalgically how much he misses England, and how weary he is of this “uncomfortable” country. From the position of the outcast from his native land, which he desired to see as much as Ulysses wanted to see the smoke of his native Ithaca, Biddulph quotes Ovid, another exile, in Latin and in English: “Sedibus in patriis det mihi posse mori / God grant I may die in my owne Country” (Biddulph, 1609: 32). As emerges from Biddulph’s letters, it seems that the traveller had two favourite classical books with him, from which he quoted frequently—Ovid and Virgil.8 Maybe he carried copies of Ovid in his backpack. In a passage describing “the sea called Pontus,” Pontus Euxinus or the Black Sea, Biddulph quotes Ovid in Latin and in English: “Omnia Pontus errant, deerant quoque littora Ponto: That is, All was sea on every side,/ And no firme land could be espied. And againe, Nil nisi Pontus & aer;/ I see nothing but the aire above, and the sea beneath” (Biddulph, 1609: 34). The reference is to Elegy 2 in Tristia. This metaphor has become emblematic for the imaginative description of a distant and inhospitable land at the margins of an unknown world, whose boundaries are drawn only in the readers’imagination. The English voyager Biddulph could easily identify with the image he created of an Ovid as the nostalgic epitome of unfortunate travellers. Moreover, allusions to Ovid in these texts speaking of Thracia and the Black Sea worked as powerful image-makers, helping readers visualize other lands and peoples, foreign but also familiar through the association with the Poet.

10When Biddulph arrives in Thracia, he quotes from Ovid because the Latin poet depicted those parts as he had seen them. In locating the city of Constantinople, Biddulph describes its position between two seas: the “Sea Pontike” has two mouths, one coming from Propontis and the other from the Sea Euxinum, (the Black Sea). This is why Ovid called the city the “Port of two Seas” (Biddulph, 1609: 17). A similar Ovidian reference is found in Nicolas de Nicolay’s The Nauigations, Peregrinations and Voyages, Made into Turkie (1585). This is the first edition of the English translation by T. Washington the Younger of the very popular description of Turkey entitled Les quatre premiers livres de navigations et péregrinations orientales (1568) by Nicolas de Nicolay, traveller and geographer of the French king Henry II. In Chapter 12, “Of the foundation of Bizance now called Constantinople,” Nicolay quotes several classical authors, such as Pliny and Justin, regarding the city, which is located between the seas Propontis and the Sea Euxinum. This is why, Nicolay adds, the poet Ovid calls this city “the port of 2 seas” (Nicolay, 1585: 47). The credibility of Ovid’s report about Thrace and the city of Byzantium is enhanced by the fact that the poet vividly illustrates how he arrived there after a violent storm at sea. Not only is Ovid the expert in climatic zones, tempests, and navigations, but he is also considered to be specialized in the western area of the Pontus Euxinus, or “Euxini pars,” as he testifies in Liber II of the Latin edition of Tristium (Ovidius Naso, 1583: 197). Ovid stands as the traditional epitome of the voyager to foreign seas, transmitting the light of classical learning to barbarians, such as the Getae and the Scythians, or the slightly more civilized Thracians. In Tristium, Ovid describes the Scythian parts as alien territory, which he considers the last land for him, “ultima terra mihi” (Ovidius Naso, 1583: 209). Through Ovid, this frontier is seen as the last land of European (vide Roman) sophistication and cultural refinement in the early modern English imagination, a misty country at the margins of the civilized world.

11George Sandys’s A Relation of a Journey begun an. Dom 1610 (1615) was one of the most popular travel books of the seventeenth century and it ran through four editions by 1637. Sandys was the translator of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1621). An unusually acute observer, Sandys’s travelogue contains much valuable information on the countries around the Eastern Mediterranean he visited. When he describes the Black Sea, Sandys necessarily makes the Ovidian references:

The Blacke sea is distant some fifteene miles from Constantinople, so named of his blacke effects, or for the thicke mist that usually hang ouer it, or as some say, of a princely Bride-groome and Bride that therein perished. First called Axenus, which signifieth unhospitall: by reason of the coldnesse thereof, and inhumanity of the bordering Nations, who accustomed to sacrifice their guests, to eate their flesh, and of their sculs to make drinking-bolles. But after the Ionians and Greeks had planted certain Colonies thereabout, and displanted the barbarous, it was called Euxinus which hath a contrary interpretation. Of this the exiled Ovid:

Me the cold coasts of Euxine Pontus hold,
More fitly tearmed Axenus of old.

The forme thereof is compared to a Scythian bow when extended. (Sandys, 1615: 38–39)

  • 9 In the Heroides, Ovid reproduces letters from Hero and her lover Leander, who swam across the Darda (...)

12The bridegroom and bride who drowned in the Hellespont near Constantinople represent a loose allusion to the story of Hero and Leander from Ovid’s Heroides.9 The next Ovidian allusion mentioned in Sandys is a pun between the two Greek names of the Black Sea: Pontos Euxeinos (“Hospitable Sea”) and Pontos Axenos (“Dark Sea” or “Inhospitable Sea”). Strabo, in his Geography, referred to the sea as inhospitable because of its wintry storms and the ferocity of the tribes that lived around it. Later, however, this label was changed to Euxeinos “hospitable” or “friendly to strangers” when Greek city-states began to spring up along its coastline. Sandys takes the information regarding the shape of the Black Sea compared to a bow from Herodotus’s Histories. An attentive reader would see that Sandys legitimizes the truthfulness of his account of the Pontus Euxinus by quoting Ovid, but he also conflates several texts from ancient geographers and historians. What appears to be a well-documented travelogue about the Black Sea is, in fact, a collection of allusions and quotations from classical authors.

  • 10 Discussing Ovid’s retelling of the ancient myth of Hero and Leander and early modern artistic and l (...)

13A reference to Ovid’s story of Hero and Leander10 in connection to the Black Sea appears in the travel book by William Lithgow, Peregrination in Europe, Asia, and Affricke, etc. (1614). This is the first edition of what was to become one of the most popular of seventeenth-century travel books, issued in five editions until 1640. When he arrives at the strait of Hellespont, Lithgow mentions the castles of Sestos and Abydos— one fortress in Europe and another in Asia—which “stand at the beginning of Hellesponte, and were also cognominate the castles of Hiero and Leander, which were erected in a commemoration of their admirable fidelity in loue” (Lithgow, 1614: sig. Hr). Here we see an accurate report about the two fortresses situated on each side of the Dardanelle strait, written in the factual style of sixteenth-century travelogues, with no poetic embellishments. However, the allusion to the familiar classical story is unavoidable. The Scottish writer (and probably spy) William Lithgow, who actually travelled to Palestine, Egypt, Tunis, and Fez, writes in an objective manner about the places he visited. However, he uses Ovidian allusions to depict the Hellespont area near Constantinople to achieve dramatic effect and to give credibility to his narrative. Lithgow’s allusion to the Hero and Leander story mirrors the change in travel prose style occurring in the seventeenth century, as compared to the Elizabethan period. William Lithgow writes in an objective manner about the places he visited, while earlier Elizabethan descriptions of these places were more markedly influenced by classical authors and displayed a romanticized tone. However, only Ovid’s allusions were thought fit to depict the Hellespont area near Constantinople, at the entrance to the Pontus Euxinus, because Ovid was reputed to have been the first writer who travelled there and provided reports about these places.

  • 11 Thomas Coryate was something of a court jester whose odd appearance and ready wit provided amusemen (...)

14Ovid’s Ex Ponto is quoted in a most curious English travel account which can hardly have a parallel in originality and mock-heroic style. Thomas Coryate was England’s most unusual traveller who narrated his exploits in T. Coryate Travailer For the English wits, and the good of this Kingdom (1616).11 From Jerusalem, Coryate trailed in a caravan to Persia, crossing the river Euphrates. He spent four days in the city of Ur then he crossed the river Tigris and entered Armenia, spending six days in the city of Ecbatana, the former seat of the court of King Cyrus. He saw the ruins of the Persian city and complained that they bore “the doleful testimonies of Turkish deuastations” (Coryate, 1616: 12–13). The antiquities are a melancholic reminder of the evanescence of things human—Hic transit gloria mundi. In this context, Coryate quotes Ovid in Latin: “Ludit in humanis diuina potentia rebus” (Coryate, 1616: 13). He offers no translation, probably expecting his erudite readers to understand, or maybe because there was no English translation of Ex Ponto available at that time. The quotation is from Ovid’s Epistulae Ex Ponto (IV. 3.49) and the full text reads: “Ludit in humanis divina potentia rebus,/ Et certam praesens vix habet hora fidem” or, “Divine power plays with human affairs, and sure trust can scarce be placed in the present hour” (Ovidius Naso, 1939: 434–35). The Ovidian reference displays the author’s erudition but also highlights the Latin poet’s reputation as the epitome of the traveller into far lands. It was expected that any self-respecting English traveller should quote the ubiquitous Latin poet’s verses when facing the unforeseen perils of voyage. However, Coryate’s tone is tongue-in-cheek, as if he winked at his readers and apologized for inserting such serious matters in a story that is already too depressing.

15Ovid was a great fashioner of tales and his works have a specific dramatic quality. All the more so, when Ovid narrates his suffering during the exile at the Pontus Euxinus, his elegiac verses have a powerful rhetorical and dramatic note, which travel writers exploited to achieve verisimilitude. The more the text relies on cherished classical authors—and Ovid is chief among them—the less likely the stories are to be dismissed as unbelievable. This kind of accreditation of truth comes from quoting a Latin poet who is famed for having created the most unbelievable stories ever. Early modern English uses of the other Ovid tell us about the high reputation of the Latin poet among humanists, but also cast light on authors’ expectations that these allusions should have a high impact on their readers and probably boost their books’ sales. Ovid describes the shiftiness of things, how the world is constantly in flux, and he does it quite graphically. Because of Ovid’s popularity, early modern travellers did not doubt the legitimacy of his reports about the lands where he was exiled. However, the authenticity of Ovid’s reports in his Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto is not so certain. Unaware or probably unwilling to take this fact into account, early modern English travel writers tended to accredit Ovid with the authority of knowledge in climatology, geography, or foreign travel. They twisted Ovid in jest, to suit their purposes, and showed how the world inside their heads could reflect the realities of experience. Ovid was used as an enabling tool to fashion and dramatize discourses that emerged from entangled ramifications of texts. In this way, early modern travel writers generated the delightful fantasies of the rich Ovid jungle that we—sometimes—like to explore.



BIDDULPH W. (1609): The trauels of certaine Englishmen into Africa, Asia, Troy, Bythinia, Thracia, and to the Blacke Sea, London, Th. Haueland for W. Aspley, STC 3051.

BRADEN G. (1978): The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry: Three Case Studies, New Haven and London, Yale University Press.

BURROW C. (2013): Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

CORTÉS M. (1589): The arte of nauigation, London, Abell Jeffes for Richard Watkins, STC 5802.

CORYATE, T. (1616): T. Coryate Travailer For the English Wits, and the Good of this Kingdom, London, W. Jaggard and Henry Fetherson, STC 5811.

JARDINE L. (1976): “Humanism and Dialectic in Sixteenth-Century Cambridge: A Preliminary Investigation”, in Classical Influences on European Culture: A. D. 1500–1700, ed. R. R. Bolgar, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 141–54.

KOESTLER A. (1964): The Act of Creation, London, Hutchinson & Co.

LITHGOW W. (1971 [1614]): A most delectable and true discourse of a peregrination in Europe, Asia, and Affrique, etc. London, N. Okes, for T. Archer, STC 15710.

MARTINDALE C. and M MARTINDALE (1994): Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity: An Introductory Essay, 2nd ed., London, Routledge.

NICOLAY N. (de) (1585): The nauigations, peregrinations and voyages, made into Turkie, London, Thomas Dawson, STC 18574.

OAKLEY-BROWN L. (2001): “Translating the Subject: Ovid’s Metamorphoses in England, 1560–67”, in Translation and Nation: Towards a Cultural Politics of Englishness, ed. Roger Ellis and Liz Oakley-Brown, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters Ltd., 48–84.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1560): The fable of Ouid treting of Narcissus, translated out of Latin into Englysh Mytre, London, J. Tisdale for Thomas Hackette, STC 18970.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1565): The fyrst fovver bookes of P. Ouidius Nasos worke, intitled Metamorphosis, translated by Arthur Golding, London, Willyam Seres, STC 18955.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1565): The pleasant fable of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, translated by Thomas Peend, London, Thomas Colwell, STC 18971.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1567): The xv bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis, translated by Willaim Golding, London, Willyam Seres, STC 18956.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1567): The heroycall epistles of the learned poet Publius Ouidius Naso, in English verse set out and translated by George Turberuile, London, Henry Denham, STC 18940.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1569): Ouid his inuectiue against Ibis, London, Thomas East & Henry Middleton, STC 18949.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1570): Opera, London, J. Kyngstonus, STC 18926.1.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1572): The thre first bookes of Ouids De tristibus, translated by Thomas Churchyard, London, Thomas Marshe, STC 18977a.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1583): P. Ovidii Nasonis. Fastorum lib. vi, Tristium lib. v, De ponto lib iiii, London, T. Vautrollerius, STC 18927.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1600): Ouidius Naso his remedie of love, London, T. Creede for Iohn Browne, STC 18974.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1618): Ovids Metamorphosis translated grammatically, translated by John Brinsley, London, H. Lownes for T. Man, STC 18963.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1621): The first five bookes of Ovids Metamorphosis, translated by George Sandys, London, Imprinted for W. B., STC 18963.3.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1639): Ovid de Ponto Containing foure books of elegies, translated by Wye Saltonstall, London, T. Cotes for Michael Sparke junior, STC 18938.

OVIDIUS NASO P. (1939): Tristia and Ex Ponto, translated by Arthur Leslie Wheeler, London, Heinemann.

POLLARD A. W. and G. R. REDGRAVE, ed. (1976): Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland and English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640, London, Bibliographical Society, 3 vols.

SANDYS G. (1615): A Relation of a Journey begun an, Dom 1610, London, W. Barrett, STC 21726.

TAYLOR A. B. (2000): Introduction to Shakespeare’s Ovid: The Metamorphoses in the Plays and Poems, ed. A. B. Taylor, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1–12.

THÉVET A. (1568): The new found vvorlde, or Antarctike, London, Henrie Bynneman, for Thomas Hacket, STC 23950.

VALLS-RUSSELL J (2013): “Erotic Perspectives: When Pyramus and Thysbe Meet Hero and Leander in Romeo and Juliet”, in Shakespeare’s Erotic Mythology and Ovidian Renaissance Culture, ed. Agnès Lafont, Farnham, Ashgate, 77–90.


1 The Emperor Augustus exiled Ovid to Tomis, now the city of Constanţa in Romania, in AD 8. One reason for the Emperor’s decision was the licentious character of Ovid’s Ars amatoria, another is some unspecified “error” which Ovid committed, the nature of which has never been established.

2 The Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland and English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640 (Pollard and Redgrave, 1976) lists fourteen Latin editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses from 1584 to 1636 (STC 18951–18954.5) and seven editions of Golding’s English translation of this work from 1567 to 1612 (STC 18956–18962).

3 Discussing Shakespeare’s myths derived out of Ovid, Charles and Michelle Martindale observe the Latin poet’s popularity at the most prolific time of Shakespeare’s creation, noting that “in the 1590s there was a general vogue for Ovidian narrative, which waned thereafter” (Martindale and Martindale, 1994: 82).

4 A. B. Taylor states that The Metamorphoses, the Heroides, Fasti, and Tristia “all featured on syllabi” (Taylor, 2000: 2). There is no mention, however, of Epistulae ex Ponto, which may have been read only in its 1583 Latin edition.

5 Liz Oakley-Brown argues that English versions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in particular the anonymous fable of Narcissus (1560), Thomas Peend’s story of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis (1565), and Arthur Golding’s Metamorphosis (1567) are arenas for complex shifts in the construction of the English subject at this time; Golding’s translation depends on Calvinist policy and defines the English, Protestant, masculine subject (Oakley-Brown, 2001: 48–84).

6 Gordon Braden devotes an entire chapter (1–54) to William Golding’s translation of Ovid, concluding that Golding’s “diffuse obliquity before the text” is caused by the fact that he was facing the reputed Latin poet; confronted with Ovid’s text, the translator displayed “not sophisticated detachment but a deep, naïve intimidation before its content and prestige” (Braden, 1978: 54).

7 There were several Latin editions of Ovid’s complete works (1570; 1602). There was only one Latin edition of Ovid’s Epistulae ex Ponto available in 1583, in a volume that contained Fastorum (Book VI), Tristium (Book V), and De Ponto (Book IV). The first English translation in verse of Ex Ponto was as late as 1639, by Wye Saltonstall. On the one hand, this explains the high frequency of quotations and allusions to the Metamorphoses, Tristia, and other recurrently published Ovidian works and the scarcity of such allusions to Ex Ponto in English texts of the 1590s and early 1600s, including Shakespeare. On the other hand, infrequent quotations from Ovid’s Ex Ponto—caused by the lack of an English translation—explains the hazy knowledge the Elizabethans and Jacobeans had about the area at the Pontus Euxinus described in Ex Ponto. However, the transmigration of motifs and quotations is not a certain thing in that age of copious intertextuality and the lack of an English translation in late sixteenth-and early-seventeenth century did not prevent certain authors from quoting from Ex Ponto in Latin—providing the English translation or not.

8 Lisa Jardine notes that, thanks to the inventories of books owned by students in the four-year arts course in Cambridge, preserved in the probate records in the University Archives, one learns that most students owned Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Terence, Cicero’s Orationis, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Jardine, 1976: 153).

9 In the Heroides, Ovid reproduces letters from Hero and her lover Leander, who swam across the Dardanelle strait to meet her.

10 Discussing Ovid’s retelling of the ancient myth of Hero and Leander and early modern artistic and literary appropriations of the myth, Janice Valls-Russell observes that “Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet out-staged its Italian, French, and English narrative predecessors, which had themselves formalized earlier sources of the lovers’tale” (Valls-Russell, 2013: 77). Indeed, Valls-Russell rightfully notices the “spatial environment” (78) remodeled by the dramatic representation of the myth, which is transposed to Verona; I would suggest the additional meaning of division and dissension associated to the Hellespont space, taken over from Ovid’s story and assimilated to Romeo and Juliet, as well as in early modern English travel narratives.

11 Thomas Coryate was something of a court jester whose odd appearance and ready wit provided amusement among the aristocracy. In his Greetings he boasted of having walked all the way from Jerusalem to Asmere in India, “with divers paire of shoes.” His narrative was primarily one of personal experiences and observations during his travels, and it took the form of letters to his friends and his mother, not relating at all to England’s economic interests in India. In the title page of his Greetings he refers to the “Sireniecall” gentlemen who meet the first Friday of every month at the Mermaid Tavern, and the same title page addresses the greetings “To all his inferiour Countrymen”—the English; the author probably looked down on his fellow countrymen because they had not traveled so far and seen such amazing places as he did. The title page contains a large woodcut of Coryate seated on an elephant, which reappears on page 27. There are also woodcuts of the author on his walking tour, in the pose of a pilgrim, as well as of a unicorn and of another apocryphal beast, a crossbred between a goat and a wolf.


Ovidius University of Constanta, Romania

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