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The Tristia (Eng .: sad or lamentation ) are poetic letters in elegiac form, handed down in five books , which the poet Ovid addressed to various addressees from his place of exile in Tomis on the Black Sea around the years 8 to 12 AD. They are continued in four books Epistulae ex Ponto ( Letters from the Black Sea ), which he wrote in the years 12-17.


The Tristia tell the story of a poet banished to the end of the world, his journey there, the dangers of the sea with its storms, the stay on the Black Sea with the barbaric geten , the life in the distant city of Tomis, which is constantly threatened by the wild Hordes on the other side of the Danube , in a land that, adstricto perusta gelu , has been burned by the hardest frost. These and other details of the trip to and stay in exile are e.g. Typically usual literary topoi : hardly an epic without a storm at sea and a ship disaster, hardly a mention of the distant Scythians , Sarmatians or Geten without reference to their inhospitable country. These topoi experience their poetic elaboration by the poet. One would not seriously assume that Ovid wrote poetry with a trembling hand during the sea storm, while waves, high as mountains , nearly drowned the ship that was supposed to bring him to Tomis. Other motifs that recur in the exile's letters are more likely an expression of Ovid's own experience and thus direct experience of his exile. These include those poems that the disgraced man addressed to his wife and the few remaining friends, barely two or three . This also includes the letters of appeal to Emperor Augustus , whom he addresses as the most meek ruler, mitissime Caesar , in the hope that he will pardon him or at least grant him a place of exile closer to the city of Rome. Another motif that runs through the Tristia is borrowed from Greek myth: the role of the emperor and the fate of the poet are repeatedly mirrored through examples from the world of gods and heroes. Here the emperor, like Jupiter, controls the fate of the world and of people. Far from home, the poet suffers like a second Odysseus . The place of exile, the Black Sea coast, is Ovid occasion from which Colchis originating Medea and Jason to talk.

Reason for banishment

The work itself is the ultimate source for the question why Ovid was banished to the Black Sea. The poet himself reveals little, he only laconically cites carmen et error as reasons . A poem, the Ars amatoria , written in spite of the strict moral laws of Augustus, was his doom and an offense - also not mentioned in the following - happened by mistake and completely without intention, but to the emperor's annoyance. The 2nd book of Tristien, a single great poem in 578 verses, is structured like a defense speech in court. In it the poet admits his guilt, defends himself extensively against the accusations regarding his poetry, but completely leaves aside the offense owed to the error . Elsewhere, the poet points out that his crime is not a bloody act. The history of reception of the Tristia also includes speculations about the reasons for the banishment, which are serious and rather curious. Today it is standard of research that this question about the current situation of the sources must remain unsolved.


The Tristia stand at the beginning of a tradition of works of world literature that have only become possible through the experience of exile. And Ovid's exile situation is undoubtedly different from that of others, especially those authors who had to leave their homes in the wake of the crimes of the last century. Ovid was, strictly speaking, only relegated, that is, he kept his fortune, and his books - the art of love, of course not - were still tolerated in Rome, and even the poems written in Tomi were read. Tu tamen i pro me et aspice Romam , he sends the new book on its way, which, since he is not allowed to do so, is supposed to return home on his behalf . Whether relegation or exile, many of Ovid's experiences and observations regarding life abroad must also have caught the attention of the exiled authors of the last century. The ego in the Tristia, for example, and the Paris-based composer Trautwein in Lion Feuchtwanger's novel "Exil", just to name one example of many, suffer from the same disease, from the longing for home.

The exile literature of the 20th century really prepared the ground for the Tristia. Before that, philologists and readers had little understanding for the plaintive, so “unmanly” looking Ovid. Ossip Mandelstam is different : with his collection of poems of the same name, he referred to the Roman poet, and as a result of the exile experience of many others, the work received a new, positive evaluation after the Second World War . Ovid himself had contributed significantly to the view that his late work did not, in terms of language, come close to the books written in Rome. Some philologists can be blamed for not having recognized the meaning of modesty formulas like the following: ipse mihi videor iam DEDIDIKIsse Latine: nam DIDIKI GetiKE SarmatiKEQUE loQUI (it seems to me that I have already forgotten Latin and learned to speak socially and sarmatically ). Such statements naturally belong in the realm of topos when Ovid claims that he no longer speaks his mother tongue, but at the same time brilliantly lets the harsh throaty sounds of the new languages ​​resound in the old one. Or with Niklas Holzberg , the philologist: "So that's how it sounds when you're at the end of your Latin."


  1. 3, 4b, 4: adstricto terra perusta gelu ( a land burned by the hardest frost )
  2. 1,11,17 f .: trementi / carmina ducebam qualiacumque manu ( with a trembling hand performed some poems )
  3. 1,2,19 quanti montes aquarum ( what mountains of water )
  4. 1,5,33: vix duo tresve mihi de tot superestis amici ( of so many you are hardly two or three of my friends )
  5. Cf. 3,1,78: Caesar, ades voto, maxime dive, meo! ( Emperor, greatest and more divine, hear my supplication! )
  6. Cf. 1,5,66: a patria fugi victus et exul ( far from home I am defeated and banished on the way )
  7. 2.207: … perdiderint cum me duo crimina, carmen et error ( … because two offenses, a poem and an aberration, destroyed me )
  8. 3,5,44: cum poenae non sit causa cruenta meae ( since no act of blood is the cause of my punishment )


  • John B. Hall (Ed.): P. Ovidi Nasonis Tristia , Stuttgart / Leipzig: Teubner, 1995. ISBN 3-8154-1567-5 .
  • SG Owen (Ed.): P. Ovidi Nasonis Tristium libri quinque, Ibis, Ex ponto libri quattuor, Halieutica, Fragmenta , Oxford: Clarendon, 1915. Reprints 1951 and 1963.
  • P. Ovidius Naso: Tristia , ed., Trans. and explain by Georg Luck . 2 vol., Heidelberg: Winter, 1967–1977.
  • P. Ovidius Naso: Letters from Exile . Latin and German, translated by Wilhelm Willige. Munich: Artemis, 1990. ISBN 3-7608-1659-2 .


  • Martin Amann: Komik in den Tristien Ovids , Basel 2006.
  • Gerlinde Bretzigheimer : Exul ludens. On the role of "relegans" and "relegatus" in Ovid's Tristien , in: Gymnasium 98 (1991), pp. 39-76.
  • Ernst Doblhofer : Exile and Emigration. On the experience of being far from home in Roman literature , Darmstadt 1987.
  • Wilfried Stroh : Consoling Muses. On the literary historical position and meaning of Ovid's exile poems , in: ANRW II 31,4 (1981), pp. 2638–2684.

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