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Seventeenth Annual Graduate Student Colloquium, Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, March 23, 2011.

Light My Fire: And Overview, Typology, and Analysis of Erotic Roman Lamps | Dreaming of Amor: Ovid's Error in Epistulae ex Ponto 3.3 | Can you hear me now? Rome's Nocturnal Soundscape | Dueling Dreamers: Divine Dreams as Propaganda During the Second Punic War | A Light in the Dark: Redefining the Function of the Lighthouses in the Adriatic Sea During the Roman Age, in Light of the Archaeological Research | Counteracting Night's Song: Image, Sound, and Theology in Iliad 5 |

Dreaming of Amor: Ovid's Error in Epistulae ex Ponto 3.3

Rebecca A. Miller, Department of Classics, Harvard University

         This paper is an examination of Ovid's dream (or the actual visit) of Amor in Epistulae ex Ponto 3.3. The poem begins with Ovid asking Fabius Maximus for his attention dum tibi quae vidi refero (3), which brings into play Ovid's error (“by far the most important thing connected with sight for the reader of the exile poetry” (Ingleheart, 158)). The poet frustrates the reader's expectations, however, and instead relates his nighttime encounter with Amor. The nocturnal setting of the narrative throws into question Ovid's reliability in reporting what he sees, or thinks he sees. Furthermore, I argue that the poet's play with sight, a sense heavily colored by its rôle in Ovid's error, highlights the eye's inability always to know or understand what it is seeing (especially at night (nox erat 5).
        At the beginning of the poem, Ovid does not know what to call his vision (seu corporis umbra...seu fuit ille sopor 3-4), and his uncertainty remains at the end of his recollection (aut ille est tenues dilapsus in auras, / coeperunt sensus aut vigilare mei 93-4). The poet stresses his inability to be sure of what he saw, which serves as a part of his defense against his error - how can Ovid be held responsible for his vision when he is not even sure of what it was?
        This tension between reality and dream is complicated by Amor's response to Ovid. Although the poet is unable to distinguish between waking and dreaming, Amor knows what he sees - he understands what Ovid is doing (tu licet erroris sub imagine crimen obumbres 75). The god here reveals the poet's self-deception and forces him to engage with the seriousness of his error. By contrasting Ovid's confused vision and the decisive insight of Amor, we can see the poet negotiating the reason for his banishment and calling into question the certainty of sight.