Akrasia and agency in Ovid's Tristia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In the Tristia Ovid adapts to the exilic scenario elegy’s long-running engagement with philosophical questions concerning the degree to which we are in charge of our emotions, active in our decision-making, and, ultimately, in control of our destiny. Central to the predicament of both lover and exile is a conundrum of personal agency known as akrasia, a “weakness of will” in which the individual acts against his or her better judgement. This chapter highlights some of the ways in which the Tristia invokes Stoic and Epicurean treatments of these issues: Ovid weighs up his own agency in his downfall, for example, in distinguishing between crimen, culpa, and error; he seeks to come to terms with his diminished self-determination in the fact of his relegation and, despite this, in his continued vocation to poetry; he explores the modus or “limit” both of his sorrow and of the emperor’s anger; and, albeit to no avail, he recommends clementia as a philosophically enlightened way forward. In the end, philosophy seems to offer Ovid slight mitigation of his psychological anguish, but it does enable him to take a view of the emperor as one who ultimately is possessed of no higher self-control than the poet he has sought to disempower. Affinities with the exilic writings of Seneca retrospectively confirm the philosophical potential of Ovid’s elegies from the Black Sea: the Ovidian in Seneca thus brings to light the Senecan in Ovid.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy in Ovid, Ovid as Philosopher
EditorsGareth Williams, Katharina Volk
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780197610367
ISBN (Print)9780197610336
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • elegy
  • exile
  • akrasia
  • self-control
  • culpability
  • anger
  • clemency
  • Stoicism
  • Epicureanism
  • Seneca


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