Just what was Ovid’s crime? What offense did he commit that prompted Augustus, in 8 A.D., to banish him, for the rest of his life, to Tomis on the Black Sea? Ovid himself alludes to the cause, remarking that it was due to carmen et error, “a song and a mistake.” Scholars have puzzled over the song, or poem, in question, as well as the error, for centuries. No doubt we’ll never know precisely. But the formulation is striking. Ovid pairs song and error—a dubious couple—in the same manner in which he links the mythical characters in his Metamorphoses: Jove and Europa or Mars and Venus or Daedalus and Icarus. Could his phrase be merely his clever, if poignant, way of hinting, not at any one poem or misdeed, but at everything that made him Publius Ovidius Naso, the toast of Rome: successful and popular poet, bon vivant, and recklessly candid lover?


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