In 8 A.D. the Emperor Augustus condemned the poet Ovid to live in Tomis in Moesia.
Tomis was at the edge of the Roman Empire on the Black Sea, near the mouths of the Danube, a mere 450 miles or so from a bend in the Volga where Stalingrad would later be sited.
Ovid’s trial was held in camera before the Emperor. His ostensible offence was the writing of the Ars Amatoria. Eight years had passed since its publication: the Emperor’s real motivation lay in the discovery of the wanton life of his daughter Julia and he was in search of a scapegoat.
Ovid was that scapegoat.
This truth, or context, deprived Ovid of the chance to address the Emperor’s motivation in condemning him to exile, as he wrote from Tomis to his friends and public in Rome.
In the face of power, formally judicial or otherwise, it is necessary to be circumspect.
As Ovid discovered, and told his Roman readers, the Danube and even the Black Sea would freeze over in winter. He expressed his anguish in the recollection of his last moments in Rome;
Iamque quiescebant voces hominumque canumque,
Lunaque nocturnos alta regebat equos.
At last all noise of men and dogs was still,
The moon was driving high o’er heaven’s hill.”
His life in Tomis is recalled and examined in “An Imaginary Life” by David Malouf. Malouf’s book, a sustained work of imagination, is a reflection on what it is to be human. Ovid’s humanity, in the loneliness of his exile, is counterpointed by the strange example of a feral boy found by the inhabitants of Tomis and brought in from the barbarous wastes of the steppe.