Evan Leach's Reviews > Fasti

Fasti by Ovid
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's review
May 22, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: 0-999, poetry, roman-literature
Read from May 16 to 21, 2012

The Fasti is an exploration of the ancient roman calendar. Written by Ovid in the early first century, only six books of the poem are extant today (one for each month from January through June). Whether the other books were lost over the years or never written at all is unknown. But believe me, six is enough.

I don’t want to trash this poem. The Fasti is considered a “classic” only in the broadest possible use of the term, so I knew what I was getting into. I read this because I was reading everything else by Ovid anyway and it was sitting in the library shelf staring at me, so what the hell. The poem is an important source of information on Roman religion and ritual, so there’s that. Every once in a while there is an interesting fact or two. For example, while I knew that Rome symbolically opened the Gates of Mars when the city was at war, I didn’t realize until the Fasti that this was to signify that the road for Rome’s soldiers return was open for them. And Ovid has a great line when discussing why Rome used to have a ten month calendar: “To be sure, Romulus, thou wert better versed in swords than stars.”

But this poem is a real slog. I have gushed shamelessly over Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and less shamelessly over the Heroides, so I am a fan of his work. This is not his best effort. For the most part, the poem marches grimly through the calendar year in chronological order explaining the significance of each and every notable date. And there are a lot of notable dates. Many of these explanations resort to a particularly tiresome kind of language-based aetiology. This type of aetiology, which obsessed many Greeks and Romans for some mysterious reason, is a process where the origins of something are traced by examining the sound and spelling of its name. So, applying this to a modern holiday, Easter sounds like “east” so this day must celebrate when the first pilgrims landed on the eastern seaboard. Or something. Other than graduate students focusing on Roman History, I can’t think of anyone I would recommend this to. Aesthetically there’s just not much to enjoy here; even fans of Ovid’s other work should steer clear.

I read the translation by James Frazer (more famous for The Golden Bough). This translation is now around 83 years old, but it’s still considered one of the top (if not the top) English translations available. That’s partly because over the last eight decades, few others have gone to the trouble to translate this poem. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them. 1.5 stars.
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message 1: by Ryan (new)

Ryan oh no's

message 2: by Evan (new) - rated it 1 star

Evan Leach Ryan wrote: "oh no's"

I kind of knew what I was in for with this one but curiosity got the better of me...

message 3: by Ryan (new)

Ryan Can't always knock them out of the park.

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