Ovid and Oenone

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Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BCE–17/18 CE)

Ovid was one of the three greatest poets of Latin literature, along with Virgil and Horace. Imperial scholar Quintillian considered him the last Latin love elegist. In spite of his popularity, though, Augustus Caesar exiled him to the remote province of Tomis (modern-day Constanța, Romania) by the Black Sea in 8 CE. Perhaps Dante felt a special bond with him because he was a fellow exile.

Ovid wrote mostly erotic poems in elegaic meter for the first 25 years of his career, though aside from his love poetry, his greatest literary achievement was Metamorphoses, a 15-volume book of over 250 myths. Indeed, Metamorphoses was the main source of Dante’s knowledge about mythology, along with The Aeneid.

Ovid appears in Canto IV of Inferno, among the great non-Christian poets stuck in Limbo, and mentioned again in Canto XXV of Inferno. Two of his stories from Metamorphoses are alluded to in Canto XXIX of Inferno and Canto XXII of Purgatorio.

The name Ovid is derived from the Roman family name Ovidius, which possibly comes from the Latin word ovis (sheep). It may also have Sabellic (Osco–Umbrian) origins.

Oenone, a mountain nymph, was the first wife of Prince Paris of Troy. She lived on Mount Ida in Phrygia, and her father was river god Cebren. Paris, the adoptive son of Agelaus, met her when he was working as a shepherd on Mount Ida. His parents, King Priam and Queen Hecuba, had exposed him on the mountain because of a prophecy claiming he’d bring about Troy’s downfall, but chief herdsman Agelaus didn’t have the heart to kill the newborn. When he returned nine days later, he found Paris still alive and being nursed by a bear. Agelaus then raised Paris as his own child.

Oenone and Paris married and had a son, Corythus, though other sources claim Corythus to have been Paris and Helen’s child. Paris later abandoned her to kidnap Queen Helen of Sparta, and Oenone predicted war would erupt. Out of revenge, she sent Corythus to guide the Greeks to Troy. Another version of the myth says Corythus was sent to split up Paris and Helen, and that Paris, not recognizing his own child, killed him.

Another myth tells of the mortally wounded Paris returning to Oenone and begging her to heal him with her herbal arts. Oenone refused and kicked him out, and Paris died on Mount Ida’s lower slopes. In one version of this myth, Oenone, overcome with remorse, threw herself onto Paris’s funeral pyre. Other versions say she hanged herself, threw herself off a cliff, or jumped head-down from the walls of Troy.

Oenone is the Latin form of the original Greek name Oinone, derived from the word oinos (wine).

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7 comments on “Ovid and Oenone

  1. I love this! I read Metamorphoses back in school, like most of us, but didn’t get into his poetry until much later (it was a Catholic school… what can you expect?) — and loved it. I must’ve read about Oenone in the Illiad, but somehow it seems to have escaped my brain… The name is fabulous, though. As is the character. I’m glad she didn’t forgive Paris; what a cad. In my alternate history, she dances on his funeral pyre and lives happily ever after 😀
    Guilie @ Life In Dogs

    • Oenone wasn’t mentioned in the Iliad, so it’s not that you forgot her. Being primarily involved in the story only before the war and after the archery duel between Paris and Philoctetes, she doesn’t come up during the Iliad. (Or the Odyssey, for that matter.) Her story was covered in the other poems of the Epic Cycle, all of which are now lost, so all we have are ancient summaries. 😦 She was also talked about by various other ancient authors, though. I think she was in the Metamorphoses, and I know she’s in Quintus of Smyrna’s (rather lackluster) epic about the fall of Troy, which was written even later than the Metamorphoses.

      When I did a (really bad) novel of the Trojan War, my Oenone felt no remorse for having sent the creep away to die. 🙂 The notion of her suicide never made any sense to me anyway: she’s a nymph, and therefore immortal, so how can she kill herself? And even if she could, why would she do it over a wretch like Paris?

  2. rxena77 says:

    Paris was, indeed, a selfish oaf. Oenone deserved better. Poor Ovid. I hope he was happy in exile.

  3. How typical of Greek thought at the time that the scorned and discarded wife couldn’t rejoice at his downfall (or at least feel no excessive sorrow), but had to feel remorse and kill herself.

  4. LillianC says:

    Wow! I will have to go back and read all of your A to Z posts. I love names, and I love history. What a treasure trove of information!

  5. I’m with Lillian, I’m eager to go back and read all of your posts. I also didn’t have an appreciation for this when I first read it in high school. It’s so much better this time around. I’m delighted to have found your blog during the challenge.
    Melissa Sugar @
    Melissa Sugar Writes

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