"Barbarus hic ego sum": Pushkin and Ovid on the Pontic Shore

Katya Hokanson


The dilemma of the literary exile is the writer’s awareness of the need both to point out his distance from home and yet also continue a literary presence there. How does Pushkin’s attempt to make readers aware of his absence and yet create a powerful literary presence compare to Ovid’s, and what does it tell us about exile and readership? The poet must always reckon with a virtual self, as Ovid writes to his Roman audience in Tristia:

And treasure the name of your Naso, thus far his sole unexiled portion,
And love it; the Scythian Pontus holds all the rest of him.[1]

Ovid, exiled to Tomis on the shores of the Black Sea, was both inspiration and cautionary tale to Pushkin. Exiled personally by his autocrat, Augus­tus, just as Pushkin was, but at the peak of his career, famous in Rome and the Roman Empire, Ovid was sent to the edge of the known world. Fated never to leave Tomis, although he begged continuously all through his exile for some softening of his punishment, Ovid felt himself to be amongst complete barbarians in frigid, uncivilized, and militarily con­tested territory, and he labored to keep his name and situation fresh to his many friends and allies in the capital. Pushkin, exiled almost two millen­nia later to approximately the same place, but as a young man, finds Bessarabia—not exactly Tomis but in close proximity to it—to be quite a different place than Ovid complained of: warm compared to Russia, south rather than north, near the center of the Greek uprising rather than on the edge of the known world. Nonetheless he felt a keen kinship to Ovid, employing Ovidian imagery to describe his sojourn, complaining of such things as the lack of booksellers in Kishinev and using the terminology of desert and wasteland.[2] Boris Gasparov draws attention to these same tropes as a Dantean motif rather than Ovidian: the motif of a contempo­rary poet/exile in the “gloomy desert” (mrachnaia pustynia) who meets the “shade of the antique poet.” This occurs in Pushkin’s poems on Ovid, as well as The Gypsies (Tsygany), Eugene Onegin, and others.[3]

Pushkin faced the same dilemma as Ovid without such well-established renown: how to keep his name and reputation active in the capital. And in evoking Ovid, who described with disdain the barbarian Sarmatians and Getae whose hirsute and filthy bodies did not please the effete Roman poet, Pushkin had to deal with two opposing problems: how to prove that he, a barbarian northerner, could also be a masterful poet, and at the same time to cast Petersburg and its autocrat in the roles of Rome and Augustus in a convincing way. In essence, in order to solve his problem of maintaining a literary presence, Pushkin plays the role both of Ovid and of the barbarous Sarmatians and Getae.

At a moment of great interest in the Greek struggle for independence, which elicited the concern of young people throughout Europe, Pushkin had been exiled to the south, itself a hotbed of Russian anti-autocratic feeling and, in a sense, an “alternative power base to St. Petersburg.”[4] The late 1810s and early 1820s was a key period for Russian political unrest. It was set off by dissatisfaction with the lack of government reform fol­lowing the defeat of Napoleon and the awareness of revolutionary upris­ings in Spain, Naples, and Piedmont, as well as the growing Greek independence movement. This, combined with Russian military operations in the Caucasus and against Ottoman Turkey, brought together a volatile mix of politically active young noblemen who were creating a plan to defy the tsar. In Kishinev, activists such as M. F. Orlov and Pestel´ were meet­ing with Aleksandros Ypsilantis, the man who spearheaded the beginning of the Greek war of independence, a project that interested all of Europe. This realignment of vision took contemporaries by storm. The importance of the Greek cause, Maria Todorova notes, cannot be underestimated in evaluating the romantic passion of Byron and Pushkin.[5] Pushkin, allying himself with Ovid, contemplates distant St. Petersburg as Ovid did Rome, yet unlike Ovid, Pushkin saw in the local “barbarians” people who, though they would and should be made to submit to the Russian Empire, were nonetheless examples of people who wanted to determine their own fate.[6]

In the Caucasus, then partly in Bessarabia, Pushkin with his own eyes saw and was convinced that there were people who possessed in their own way high culture and thoughts, and civic morality, bravely battling for their homeland and freedom in the Caucasus, having their own ancient customs, their norms of beauty and so on, but not suspecting the existence either of Molière, Voltaire, or Lomonosov. The influence of literature and life coincided.[7]

An important section of The Gypsies, written mostly in Odessa in conjunction with chapter 3 of Eugene Onegin, retells the story of Ovid in the words of Zemfira’s father. The story is told from the point of view of the gypsies, to whom Ovid’s distress at being cut off from a particular place was not comprehensible. To the gypsies, the poem makes clear, there could be no “center” except for their own people, wherever they might be; to be parted from a particular place as punishment, to acknowledge one part of the world as completely indispensable, another part as wholly inadequate, was not part of their world view. The gypsies cannot under­stand why Ovid could not come to terms with the landscape in which he was located; this is, of course, mirrored in the poem by Aleko’s inability to cast off the shackles of society’s rules, much as he wants and believes in liberty.

That Ovid and Pushkin/Aleko share the same treatment by the empire/emperor is made clear by Aleko’s speech:

Так вот судьба твоих сынов,
О Рим, о громкая держава!
Певец любви, певец богов,
Скажи мне, что такое слава?
Могильный гул, хвалебный глас,
Из рода в роды звук бегущий?
Или под сенью дымной кущи
Цыгана дикого рассказа?[8]

This, then, is the fate of your sons,
Oh Rome, oh celebrated power!
Singer of love, singer of the gods,
Tell me, what is glory?
A hollow rumbling from the grave, a praising voice,
A sound speeding from generation to generation?
Or under the shade of a smoky shelter
The tale of a wild gypsy?

“Rome” here clearly stands for both Ovid’s Rome and for St. Petersburg, each a “gromkaia derzhava.” But the two poets are inversely related: Ovid’s north is Pushkin’s south, Ovid’s famous old age contrasts with Pushkin’s status as up-and-coming youthful poet. Both are in thrall to “Rome,” but whereas Aleko, both fugitive (beglets) and exile (izgnannik),[9] critiques the society whose values he ultimately cannot leave behind, Ovid merely (in this version of the story) mourns his lost city, maintaining his Roman values primarily by insisting on being helpless and childlike in what is to him a wilderness. Firmly caught up in a Roman view of the world, Ovid cannot re-center himself in Tomis. Ovid upholds empire in the way that poets do: by affirming the importance and power of the center, the way in which its hold cannot be escaped, continuing to tell his tales even in the wilderness.

Aleko, on the other hand, embraces his departure from civilized society and tries to adopt the gypsies’ viewpoint of seeing the center of things in the place where he is. Is it more meaningful, he asks, addressing Ovid himself, to be remembered as a canonized writer, whom bookish readers automatically praise but whose poetry sounds like a “mogil´nyi gul,” a rumbling from the grave, or is it better to be remembered by a wild gypsy who tells the poet’s story motivated only by his interest in it, to listeners presumably equally enthralled?

Of course, the question is itself embedded in literature. Pushkin is one of those who learned about Ovid in school, and his “tale of a wild gypsy” is an image created in poetry. In fact, as both A. I. Malein and D. P. Iakubovich point out, the trope of an old man telling a folk version of known history may well be taken from Ovid’s Epistulae ex Ponto 3.2, in which Ovid writes to his friend Maximus Cotta about an old man who tells the story of Orestes and Pylades.[10] The letter reaffirms friendship, as well as Ovid’s stature, in multiple ways. Orestes and Pylades were famed for their devotion to each other, a hint that Ovid is reaffirming his relation­ship with his friend Cotta, in fact perhaps even goading Cotta to be more active as a friend, since even the Sarmatians and Getae understand friendship.[11] And Ovid insists that Cotta’s fame will continue into the future, since

The bloodless body is destined for the mournful tomb; name and honour escape the high-built pyre. Death befell even Theseus and him [Pylades] who accompanied Orestes, but yet each still lives to his own renown. You too shall oft be praised by late-born des­cendants and bright shall be your fame by reason of my writings. Even here the Sauromatians and the Getae already know you; such a spirit as yours finds favour with the barbarian throng. (ll. 31-9)[12]

In a similar vein, Pushkin creates a gypsy folk status for Ovid, and creates as well a situation in which the Russian poet can be compared to Ovid, brought into the same sphere as the great Roman poet. Pokrovskii calls Ovid’s appearance in The Gypsies an apotheosis of Ovid—his legend having transcended his exile even among the illiterate—while Malein claims that Pushkin really heard local legends about Ovid while in Bessa­rabia.[13] Bessarabia is the place where Ovid’s and Pushkin’s exiles meet, as is explicitly stated in Pushkin’s earlier “To Ovid” (“K Ovidiiu,” 1821), where Pushkin mentions the Greek uprising and notes that while Ovid had described the landscape as freezing and cold (a typical trope of Scythia in classical poetry), in fact it was warm, golden, and pleasant—it is actually Russia that is the land of eternal snow, not Bessarabia. Hence Russia stands in for Ovid’s Scythia, his Tomis becoming Pushkin’s Italy. Bessarabia creates for Pushkin a place of identification, a way to compare himself to Ovid and to reevaluate the place of exile. Just as the presence of Ovid puts Bessarabia on the map, cannot Pushkin’s presence do the same for his readers? Pushkin wishes to emulate Ovid’s skill and fame, but hopes to evade his fate as eternal exile.

The epilogue of The Gypsies, much like Pushkin’s epilogue to The Pris­oner of the Caucasus (Kavkazskii plennik), pulls back like a wide camera shot to reveal that the gypsies have been living amidst a Russian military presence all along, overseen by the double-headed eagle. This situation is alluded to when Zemfira’s father mentions that he loved her mother, Mariula, before the “Moskal” threatened these lands, hence long ago, but not until the epilogue is the Russian empire felt as a palpable presence. Gypsy freedom, Aleko’s freedom/exile, is therefore bounded by Russian military control, much as later Pushkin will try to cross the river Arpachai in “Journey to Arzrum” and realize that the far bank is already under Russian control. The main part of the epilogue is as follows:

Волшебной силой песнопенья
В туманной памяти моей
Так оживляются виденья
То светлых, то печальных дней.

В стране, где долго, долго брани
Ужасный гул не умолкал,
Где повелительные грани
Стамбулу русский указал,
Где старый наш орел двуглавый
Еще шумит минувшей славой,
Встречал я посреди степей
Над рубежами древних станов
Телеги мирные цыганов,
Смиренной вольности детей.
За их ленивыми толпами
В пустынях часто я бродил,
Простую пищу их делил
И засыпал пред их огнями.
В походах медленных любил
Их песен радостные гулы –
И долго милой Мариулы
Я имя нежное твердил.[14]

By the magic power of song
In my foggy memory
Visions revive
Of sunny or of mournful days.

In the land where for a long, long time
The terrible rumbling of arms never fell silent,
Where the Russian showed Stambul
His imperious borders,
Where our old double-headed eagle
Still rustles with bygone glory,
I would meet amid the steppes
On the boundaries of ancient forts
The peaceful wagons of the gypsies,
The children of humble freedom.
In the wake of their lazy crowds
I would often wander in the deserts
Shared their simple food
And fell asleep before their fires.
On slow treks I loved
The joyous ring of their songs—
And for a long time sweet Mariula’s
Tender name I spoke over and over.

There is an anachronism here, as the gypsies travel in and amongst boundaries, forts, and battlegrounds which they prefer not to recognize, but which circumscribe their world. By the same token, it is clear that the long reach of the empire extends even into exile.

Both Ovid and Aleko (a clear cognate of Aleksandr)[15] are on the impe­rial frontier. Ovid even bears arms as he endures barbarian raids on his Roman outpost. Aleko, too, is a representative (as the captive had been in The Prisoner of the Caucasus) of the encroaching power of the Russian em­pire. Aleko’s gypsies, unlike the Sarmatians and the Getae, are passive, intruded upon by the Russian empire. In their telling of the story of Ovid, he is also passive. While Ovid viewed himself self-importantly, as Pushkin knew, in The Gypsies the Roman poet is shown to be weak and helpless, hoping for deliverance.

In Tristia, Ovid saw himself as the civilized man fighting off the bar­barians, and constructed an image of himself as a man of refinement whose qualities were illegible to those around him. In particular, his nuanced command of the Latin language falls on deaf ears, his status as premier Roman poet of no use to him. Ovid writes in Tristia,

They carry on their relations by means of their common language
While I am reduced to communication by making signs.
Here I am the barbarian, and I’m understood by no one,
And the stupid Getae make fun of the Latin words which I speak;
And openly often they speak ill of me and with perfect freedom,
Perhaps even holding against me the fact that I’m exiled from Rome.
And as it happens, they think I am crazy when to their jabber
I nod my head to say “yes” and shake it to signify “no.”[16]

“Here I am the barbarian” reads in the original “barbarus hic ego sum”—the barbarian here I am.[17] In Tristia, Ovid constantly disavows any power and status he has as a Roman (though in so doing he subtly affirms his superior status), emphasizing instead the backwardness of the Tomitans, the cold weather, the distance from civilization, and his complete helpless­ness. While he emphasizes his own civility, his knowledge of the Latin language, of literature, of dancing, of cultivating a lovely garden, he com­plains that this is all of no use to him in his exile. Ovid’s addressees are always in Rome; he continually reconfirms and reminds them of his status. To be thought the barbarian is perhaps the ultimate punishment for Ovid, for whom Rome is the unshakeable center; a speaker of the most refined Latin, he cannot be understood by those around him. Nonetheless, as exile and as citizen of a vast empire, he understands that there is a world outside of Rome, much as he would prefer not to be outside the cap­ital. Pushkin’s “natives,” on the other hand, as figured both in The Pris­oner of the Caucasus and The Gypsies, are created in a different cultural register; they are figured as noble savages, as are the Tomitans in Ovid’s story as told in The Gypsies. While gypsy freedom is found to be ultimately illusory, imperial civilization is nevertheless not the only repository of so­cial values, and communication is always possible. Hence Pushkin’s south can never be the wasteland that Ovid’s Tomis is.

Both Ovid and Pushkin construct the local people via established liter­ary conventions. Ovid draws upon a very long tradition of painting the “Scythians” (as he called the Tomitans, with poetic license) as living in a frozen, hellish north, relying specifically on Virgil’s descriptions of Scyth­ians and inhabitants of the underworld in Georgics 3 and the Aeneid.[18] Virgil writes in Georgics 3:

It is not so, where Scythian nations dwell,
Near the Mæotic waves, and in the tract
Where turbid Ister rolls his yellow sands,
Nor yet where Rhodope’s long winding hills
Tow’rds the north pole return. There herds they keep
In stalls enclos’d. Nor herbage on the plain
Nor leaf on tree appears. But far and wide
The region deeply frozen is deform’d
With the mounts of snow, seven cubits in their height.
There Winter always reigns; cold northern winds
There always breathe. The Sun dispels not there
The pallid shades, nor when he climbs on steeds
The lofty heav’n, nor when with downward course
He laves his chariot in the redden’d sea.
A sudden crust of ice the running flood
Congeals; the water on its back sustains
The iron wheels, and service now can lend
To waggons, as before to sailing barks.
Brass often bursts asunder; clothes become
Stiff on the wearer: men with axes cut
The liquid wine. Whole pools are turn’d at once
Into a solid mass; and icicles
From uncomb’d beards in rigid hardness hang.
Such is th’indomitable race of men
Who dwell beneath the Hyperborean wain,
And by Riphæan Eurus buffeted
With skins of tawny beasts the body clothe.[19]

Ovid writes, by comparison, in Tristia 3.10:

So great is the strength of the north wind let loose upon us that it pushes
High towers down, makes them level with earth, and rips away roofs.
The people wear skins and stitched trousers to ward off the evil chill winter
And from fully covered bodies expose only faces to view.
Often their frozen hair rattles, when shaken, with hanging icicles
And their white beards gleam in the sunshine with the hoarfrost   that covers it.
The wine stands frozen, denuded, preserving the shape of its wine jar
And nobody takes a drink of it but sucks on its fragments of ice.
I’ve seen the broad ocean lie stiffly, its surface turned into sheer ice,
While a slippery shell was pressing the motionless waves of the sea.
It’s not enough to have seen it: I walked out on the hard icy surface
And the top of the wave lay beneath my foot, and my foot was not wet.[20]

The idea that the landscape molded its inhabitants, while reinvigorated by Herder, de Stael, and others, had very ancient roots that long pre-existed Ovid.[21] Hence Ovid places much focus on showing the Tomitans as rugged, unlettered, and hairy, molded by their rough landscape much as the Romans were made cultured and reasonable by their temperate, agricul­turalized surroundings. The motif of bodies of water frozen solid so that they can be walked on is one that Ovid takes from the canonized tropes of Scythia, and it is one that Pushkin uses in “To Ovid” and The Gypsies. In “To Ovid” the narrator imagines Ovid walking over the frozen water. Pushkin also refers light-heartedly to a goose sliding on the ice in Eugene Onegin 4: 42.

Gareth Williams points out that for Ovid, the epistolary form of the letters from exile keep alive the sense of his distance from Rome; unlike typical contemporaneous figurations of Rome as a temperate middle be­tween cold Scythia and hot Libya, there are only two points on the map for Ovid—Rome and Tomis. Their point of convergence, Williams notes, is in Ovid’s awareness of his Roman past and Pontic present, his former liter­ary fame and now “declining” muse.[22]

For Pushkin’s southern works, the imagined point of convergence is also in the texts themselves, expressing the tension between writing at the periphery and reading at the center (the process of reading itself bringing to the fore the distant writer), as well as the unhappily “civilized” figure attempting to join with or observe the free and unfettered natives, whose only link with them again occurs at the level of text where this encounter is played out. The text, meaningless to the unlettered savages—noble or otherwise—hence can unite the two sides only for the metropolitan audi­ence, binding the writer to that audience. Whether one wishes to become one with the locals or assert one’s difference from them, that action can take place only in the reading of the metropolitan audience.

The relationship between Ovid and Pushkin, of course, has a similar character. Only Pushkin can construct and make relevant their conver­gence on the Pontic shore, separated by many centuries, by culture, by language, by age and reputation, and the only audience available is his own, educated readership, to whom the history and circumstances are well-known, who can make meaning of the linkages between the two poets. Ovid is as unaware of Pushkin as his savages are of his poetic gifts. Only Pushkin’s readers can put the two together, participating as well in the doubled significance of “Ovid” and “Augustus,” reading Ovid’s strug­gles through the lens of Russian autocracy.[23]

Pushkin cements the link between himself and Ovid with Eugene Onegin. Just as Ovid sends his “little book” to Rome, wishing he could take its place, and imagines that book visiting different parts of the city, Pushkin sends his hero Onegin to Petersburg. Onegin exists because Pushkin was far from the capital, needing to place there his foil, his dou­ble, the character who would carry his “little book” to the center and plead its case. The Pushkinian narrator is absent from the metropolis, a fact he underscores by alluding to Ovid’s banishment from Rome.

Всего, что знал еще Евгений,
Пересказать мне недосуг;
Но в чем он истинный был гений,
Что знал он тверже всех наук,
Что было для него измлада
И труд, и мука, и отрада,
Что занимало целый день
Его тоскующую лень, –
Была наука страсти нежной,
Которую воспел Назон,
За что страдальцем кончил он
Свой век блестящий и мятежный
В Молдавии, в глуши степей,
Вдали Италии своей. (1: 8)

I have no leisure for retailing
The sum of all our hero’s parts,
But where his genius proved unfailing,
The thing he’d learned above all arts,
What from his prime had been his pleasure,
His only torment, toil, and treasure,
What occupied, the livelong day,
His languid spirit’s fretful play
Was love itself, the art of ardour,
Which Ovid sang in ages past,
And for which song he paid at last
By ending his proud days a martyr –
In dim Moldavia’s vacant waste,
Far from the Rome his heart embraced.[24]

Although the reference is made by comparing Onegin’s skills in the art of love with Ovid’s banishment for having written the Ars amatoria, the reader knows that Pushkin, too, is a poet languishing in Bessarabian exile after angering the emperor. The reader will be allowed a certain intimacy with Onegin, but will always remain Pushkin’s reader. This doubled struc­ture, which gives Onegin so much of its life and vitality, is made all the more compelling by the Pushkinian narrator’s position of exile, and allows the character Onegin to be read as both a past Pushkinian self (Pushkin, too, was famed for his conquests) and a contemporaneous metropolitan counterpart who is almost inevitably less wise and knowing, not under­standing the exile’s acute appreciation of the most mundane details of the homeland.

The final lines of chapter 1 are based on Ovid’s exhortation to his own Tristia:

Иди же к невским берегам,
Новорожденное творенье,
И заслужи мне славы дань
Кривые толки, шум и брань! (I:60)

Fly to the Neva’s water then,
My spirit’s own newborn creation!
And earn me tribute paid to fame:
Distorted readings, noise, and blame![25]

Ovid’s opening lines to Tristia read:

Parve (nec invideo) sine me, liber, ibis in urbem:
ei mihi, quod domino non licet ire tuo!
vade, sed incultus, qualem decet exulis esse:
infelix habitum temporis huius habe.

Little book, you go to Rome without me (I
don’t begrudge you that). But alas, your master
cannot go too! Make your way, but shabbily,
as befits the book of an exile, keeping the sad
appearance of my situation.[26]

Commentators on Ovid point out that much of this section of Tristia, although alluding to the difficulties of Ovid’s exile, is nevertheless also playful and that Ovid expects his “little book” to do well and join his “brothers” on the bookcase. The lines also occasion the book’s tour through Rome. The Roman poet Horace provided the main model for Ovid (though this tradition of addressing one’s book long predates even Horace), addres­sing his own “liber” in Epistle 1.20.[27] Horace’s example compares his book to a slave who receives his freedom, and who will be “thumbed” and “soiled” (the sexual overtones were clear to contemporaries) after his first gloss has worn off:

You seem, my book, to be looking wistfully toward Vertumnus and Janus [booksellers], in order, forsooth, that you may go on sale, neatly polished with the pumice of the Sosii. You hate the keys and seals, so dear to the modest; you grieve at being shown to few, and praise a life in public, though I did not rear you thus. Off with you, down to where you itch to go. “What, alas! Have I done? What did I want?” you will say, when someone hurts you and you find yourself packed into a corner, whenever your sated lover grows languid.

But unless hatred of your error makes the prophet lose his cun­ning, you will be loved in Rome till your youth leave you; when you’ve been well thumbed by vulgar hands and begin to grow soiled, you will either in silence be food for vandal moths, or will run away to Utica, or be sent in bonds to Ilerda…[28]

Ovid’s poem, on the other hand, makes the book his representative, who must plead his cause (his desire to return to Rome) in lawyerly fash­ion; Horace’s trope points more to the author’s inability to control his creation once it has been liberated to the prostitution of the marketplace. Horace’s caution that the book will wind up worse for wear after being handled by so many becomes, in Ovid’s version, a book made shabby by exile, whose author has left blots on it caused by his tears. Pushkin’s ex­hortation to his Onegin seems to combine the two, with the book being both a representative of its author and an independent offspring about to weather the whims of the audience.

Onegin and Onegin, then, are the poet’s creations who both represent the author in his exile, reminding readers about his existence and impor­tance, while they must also endure a transition from being new and shiny to being soiled, mishandled, and shoved about. Perhaps, as Ovid also hoped for his book, they would make a good impression on the current “Caesar,” whom both Ovid and Pushkin had crossed; undoubtedly, the marketplace, the uncaring readers, will scar them.

Both absent writers describe the goings-on of the capital. Ovid de­scribed the activities in Rome that were going on as he endured the cold Pontic spring; the holidays, young people exercising, playing games and riding horses, the theater season:

The theater season is active, applause rings with partisan zeal,
And instead of three fora there echo the sounds from three theaters.
O four times blessed, as many times happy as no one can count up,
For whom it’s allowed to delight in a City that has not been banned![29]

Pushkin’s descriptions of the young rake’s life in St. Petersburg are among his most memorable lines in Eugene Onegin. But while Pushkin empha­sizes lightness and humor, Ovid, in a more bitter register, foregrounds his absence from the capital. Pushkin constructs a kind of virtual presence, while Ovid laments what he could be enjoying if only he were in Rome.

For Russians of Pushkin’s time, St. Petersburg was the capital, but it was on the periphery of Europe. Hence for Pushkin “the capital” was never unique, “the center” never a singular entity. Unlike both Horace’s and Ovid’s examples, in which Rome is the undisputed and singular center, there is in Eugene Onegin an evocation not just of one sophisticated metro­politan place, but two, as Odessa in Onegin’s Journey completes a chiastic relationship to Petersburg. Pushkin writes in Kishinev of the remembered urban delights of Petersburg in chapter 1, just as he describes Odessa’s opera, oysters, champagne and “Italianate” nights in Onegin’s Journey, now from the vantage point of provincial Mikhailovskoe. Lorgnettes, the ballet, the loge, a fine restaurant (Talon in Petersburg, Automne in Odessa): as published, these evocations form the bookends of Eugene Onegin, with the poet first exiled to the south, then to his estate, with the Italianate nights of Odessa in the Journey evoking the Italian nights men­tioned in 1: 49 and also, in a sense, replacing them. Odessa substitutes for Italy but also mirrors St. Petersburg, a warm-weather metropole on the periphery.[30]

What is the status of the southern metropole? On the one hand, it is equated with Petersburg, the very capital itself. On the other hand, it is a substitute for Petersburg, experienced only as a result of exile, and it is at the same time a substitute for Italy, for desired European travel that was ultimately thwarted. It is also potentially Pushkin’s answer to Byron, another exile, whose sojourn in Italy Pushkin could not replicate, but in response made of Odessa his own Italy. Odessa, of course, also figured prominently in the Greek uprising. In fact, having crossed paths with Ypsilantis, Pushkin came even closer to Byron, in a sense, than he would have had he gone to Italy. To Ovid’s “little book,” Pushkin responds with his own, Onegin; Ovid’s barren wasteland is discovered to be filled with gypsies; and Byron’s and Ovid’s Italy becomes only one south, one center.


University of Oregon



Hokanson, Katya. "'Barbarus hic ego sum': Pushkin and Ovid on the Pontic Shore." Pushkin Review 8-9 (2005-06): 61-75.

[1] Ovid Tristia 3.4, trans. L. R. Lind (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1975). All quotations from Tristia in English are from this edition.

[2] M. M. Pokrovskii, “Pushkin i antichnost´,” Pushkin: Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii 4–5 (1939): 27–56; 41. Pokrovskii cites “Prokliatyi gorod Kishinev” and a letter to Gnedich.

[3] Boris Gasparov, “Funktsii reministsentsii iz Dante v poezii Pushkina (Stat´ia pervaia),” Russian Literature 14 (1983): 317–50; esp. 329–33.

[4] Monika Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion (Stanford, CA: Stanford Uni­versity Press, 1994), 108.

[5] Maria Todorova, “The Trap of Backwardness: Modernity, Temporality, and the Study of Eastern European Nationalism,” Slavic Review 64: 1 (Spring 2005): 140–64; esp. 157.

[6] B. V. Tomashevskii, Pushkin: Kniga pervaia (Moscow-Leningrad, 1956), 408.

[7] G. A. Gukovskii, Pushkin i russkie romantiki (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1965), 282. All translations are my own, unless otherwise indicated.

[8] A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 17 vols. (Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1937–59), 4: 187.

[9] Tomashevskii, Pushkin: Kniga pervaia, 631.

[10] D. P. Iakubovich, “Antichnost´ v tvorchestve Pushkina,” Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia nauk, 1941), 6: 92–159; esp. 149. Harry Evans notes that the literary device of having a local retell a well-known story is also typical of Callimachus’ Aetia and Ovid’s own Fasti, written in Tomis. See Harry B. Evans, Publica Carmina: Ovid’s Books from Exile (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 118. This is also noted by A. I. Malein, “Pushkin i Ovidii: (Otryvochnye zamechaniia),” in Pushkin i ego sovremenniki (St. Petersburg, 1916), 23–24: 45–66; esp. 57.

[11] Evans, Publica Carmina, 118.

[12] Ovid, Ovid in Six Volumes. Vol. 6: Tristia, Ex Ponto, with an English translation by Arthur Leslie Wheeler, 2nd ed., rev. G. P. Goold (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1988), 387.

[13] Pokrovskii, “Pushkin i antichnost´,” 42; Malein, “Pushkin i Ovidii,” 57.

[14] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 4: 203.

[15] The extent to which Aleko stands for Pushkin is of course a matter of debate, but many readers have found the name suggestive. Tomashevskii believes that the name was chosen for its autobiographical overtones, which was both purposeful on Pushkin’s part and also a “necessary accoutrement of the Romantic hero.” See Tomashevskii, Pushkin: Kniga pervaia, 617.

[16] Ovid Tristia 5.10.35–42. Noted also by Pokrovskii, “Pushkin i antichnost´,” 41.

[17] P. Ovidi Nasonis, Tristium Libri Quinque Ex Ponto Libri Quattuor Halievtica Fragmenta, ed. S. G. Owen (Clarendon: Oxford Press, 1915), Tristia 5.35–42.

[18] Gareth Williams, Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid’s Exile Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 10–13.

[19] The Works of Virgil: Translated. The First Four Pastorals, the Georgics, and the First four Aeneids, by the Rev. Rann Kennedy. The Last Six Pastorals and the Last Eight Aeneids, by Charles Rann Kennedy, 2 vols. (London, 1849), 1: 135–36.

[20] Ovid Tristia 3.10.11–27; 37–40.

[21] Williams, Banished Voices, 8–16.

[22] Ibid., 11.

[23] The fact that the Decembrist-oriented youths tended to encode classical names, works and histories with contemporary political and social meaning has been dis­cussed in many places, but see for example Iakubovich, “Antichnost´ v tvorchestve Pushkina,” 150–54.

[24] Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, trans. James Falen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 8.

[25] Ibid., 31. The allusion to Ovid is also noted by V. V. Vinogradov, Stil´ Pushkina (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1941), 415.

[26] Evans, Publica Carmina, 33. Translation by Harry Evans of Tristia 1.1. Push­kin had quoted these very lines (in Latin) in 1821, in a letter to Gnedich, alluding in that instance to his Prisoner of the Caucasus. See Stephanie Sandler, Distant Pleasures: Alexander Pushkin and the Writing of Exile (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989), 45–46. The letter to Gnedich is also cited by Iakubovich, Malein, and others.

[27] Evans, Publica Carmina, 33–34. Nabokov finds the lines in 1: 60 to be a refer­ence to Horace. Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse by Aleksandr Pushkin, Translated from the Russian with a Commentary, 4 vols. (New York: Princeton University Press, 1964), 3: 215–16.

[28] Horace Epistle 1.20, in Satires, Epistles, Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fair­clough (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), 389.

[29] Ovid Tristia 3.12.83.

[30] See Nabokov, Eugene Onegin, 3: 293–300.