Femina Princeps: Livia in Ovid’s Poetry

DOI : 10.54563/eugesta.881


This paper offers a reassessment of the character of Livia in Ovid’s poetry, in particular with regard to her repeated appearances over the course of the exile epistles. Whereas a majority of previous scholars have identified Ovid’s Livia as being excessively prominent and treated with an unwarranted level of panegyric, this paper uses other primary sources of information from the period to demonstrate that Ovid’s Livia is grounded in the discourse of the period and Ovid’s Livia is an appropriate reflection of her evolving status in the late Augustan and early Tiberian periods.



I. Introduction

When one mentions the name Livia, a certain image, influenced by Roman historians Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, comes to mind. It is of an over-protective and domineering mother, whom they accuse of attempting to eliminate Augustan heirs, and even her own husband, through a variety of insidious machinations, with the goal of promoting her son and increasing her own influence1. This impression of Livia’s animosity even extends to her relationship with her son, Tiberius. Modern scholars have also used this image of Livia to evaluate Ovid’s inclusion of Livia in his texts as ‘a mistake’. Ronald Syme repeatedly dismisses Ovid’s treatment of Livia with such phrases as, “the frequent obtrusion of Livia cannot have been to the liking of the Princeps [Augustus] (or of her son)”2. Even in a recent and generally balanced biography of Livia, Anthony Barrett states, “by contrast [to the absence of Livia in the corpus of other authors] Ovid throws restraint to the winds, and his special circumstances and desperate need for her intercession must surely lie behind the difference”3. Rather than appearing as an unnecessary intrusion, I argue that Ovid’s depiction of Livia is a reflection of her status both in Rome and the empire, one which is framed in the Hellenistic and Latin tradition of encomiastic and panegyric poetry, and, most important, it was a status Augustan and Tiberian ideology acknowledged and promoted4. To (re)situate Ovid’s literary Livia, I begin by examining Livia’s appearances in other primary forms of evidence dating prior to Ovid’s composition. These provide background to the historical situation in which Ovid composed and show his inclusion and characterization in line with her public persona and presentation. I then consider Livia’s place within Ovid’s poetry, closely examining the language with which Ovid presents her, while placing Ovid’s characterization beside her on-going appearances in inscriptions, art and coinage.

In the sections that follow I will demonstrate that, prior to his exile and Tiberius’ adoption, Ovid exclusively presents Livia as the wife of Augustus and as his equivalent in the female sphere. In Ovid’s early exile epistles Livia continues to be depicted in such a role, but with the innovation that she is a source worthy of patronage in her own right. Only upon the announcement of Tiberius’ victories in Pannonia and publication of Augustus’ heir on imperial coinage does Ovid respond by focusing on Livia’s role as Tiberius’ mother. Such a shift in presentation was not at the expense of her former image in his poetry; rather Ovid positions Livia as the binding figure between Augustus and Tiberius. In fact, I will illustrate that Ovid was a little late in acknowledging Tiberius (and so Livia’s position as his mother), perhaps to ensure his poems got their characterization “correct”. Near the end of Augustus’ life Ovid begins to treat Livia as a divinity, something which I will demonstrate imperial iconography did as well. Finally, in Tiberius’ reign, I show how Ovid’s Livia is a reflection of her continued public presence during the period, and that the poet’s characterization was not an affront to Tiberius, as critics have charged.

II. Early images of Livia

The history of Livia’s iconography is extremely complex, but its inclusion in this paper is crucial to understanding how Ovid imagined the imperial family5. Early in her relationship with Augustus (35 B.C.), Livia received special privilege, being made sacrosanct in response to attacks by Marc Antony6. She gained further honor through the successes of her sons, Tiberius and Drusus. In addition to possessing special status, Livia became one of the few women to receive a public statue in Rome, becoming part of a select visual tradition7. She received the honor after the death of her son Drusus and, though its type is not known, its dedicatory inscription would have identified Livia as Drusus’ mother, and it may have included mother and son8. Livia amassed sizeable personal wealth and held a considerable amount of power and prestige, as demonstrated by her presentation of foreign embassies to Augustus9. Amidst the political developments regarding succession and the turmoil caused by the indiscretions of the Julias, Livia served as a, even the, role-model for proper female behavior10. When Tiberius (re)emerged as Augustus’ heir in the early first century A.D., Livia took on even more importance in the ideology of succession, for she embodied the link between the first and second princeps.

A few select and representative artistic examples, depicting Livia as wife and mother and as a leading figure in the domus, dating well prior to Ovid’s exile, attest to her longstanding presence in imperial imagery. One of the most famous images of Livia occurs on the Ara Pacis11. The senate ordered the erection of the Ara Pacis to celebrate Augustus’ return from Spain and Gaul in 13 B.C.; its panels display some of the most important scenes of official public art from the middle of Augustus’ reign12. The procession presented on the north and south exterior frieze courses illustrates the imperial household during a civic ritual. It was no doubt influential on the public’s perception of the imperial domus and served as a model for other artistic representations. Scholars are divided as to which specific event the frieze procession commemorates, but the date of the altar’s dedication, January 30th, immediately draws attention to Livia, as it was her birthday13. Her role on the monument is prominent – she is identifiable, stands taller than the other female figures, and leads the domus on the south panel14. The frontal position of her feet singles her out as an object of attention for viewers, and only Livia and Augustus wear laurel wreathes on the frieze. Livia carries herself with the reserved elegance of a Roman matron; she “exists in a spatial ‘pocket’ defined by low-relief figures”15. The significance of the monument, in relation to the present discussion, lies in the fact that the entire family is publicly portrayed, with Livia at its head16. The presence of women and children in a supplicatio was not unusual; however the prominence that is given to Livia attests to her singular position17. Livia’s place before many male members of the domus, including Tiberius and Drusus, shows her relative status and importance, and how Augustan ideology presented her position to the Roman public.

In addition to her role in the procession, Livia’s image shares traits with the female goddess on the east panel, who is depicted as a nursing mother; this is an early example of Livia’s association with the divine18. Though the depictions are not identical, visual similarities (such as hairstyle and facial features) would allow observers to read Livia into the goddess figure, and vice-versa. Attesting to the significance of the monument, Ovid himself mentions the Ara Pacis twice in the Fasti, its dedication on January 30th (I.709-722) and a sacrifice conducted there on March 30th (III.879-882). The altar served as a locus for attention on the domus, and its continued use would publicize Livia, either through her actual participation in events there or merely through her presence on the monument.

Dating to the period shortly after the Ara Pacis, the Boscoreale cups also display early associations between Livia and the divine19. On the Augustus cup, the figure identified as Venus appears to have been crafted with the facial features of Livia20. The cup demonstrates that Livia was publicly displayed in art far beyond the Ara Pacis, as does another artistic production, a plaque now in Bonn, which depicts Livia between her sons Drusus and Tiberius. The plaque was found in Germany and has been dated to the period of their early campaigns21. It provides additional testimony for the public display of Livia’s relationship with her children and her assimilation to divinities. The image of the close-knit trio on the plaque also recalls Livia’s placement on the Ara Pacis, where she immediately precedes her two sons. Ann Kuttner associates the Bonn Livia with Venus, stating that the image shares facial features with the goddess22.

While other domus members were in line to be Augustus’ successors, Livia continued to appear as part of imperial statue groups, though our evidence is predominantly from the Greek east. There, two groups associate her with Agrippa’s children23. Livia remains a central figure in these pieces; she acts as the materfamilias of the Augustan household24. Her presence beside Augustus became the accepted norm. And as imperial cult activity grew, she too received cult worship following the tradition set in the Hellenistic period25.

These examples demonstrate Livia’s involvement in state cult and indicate her presence in the public sphere, dating well before Ovid’s exile and Augustus’ adoption of Tiberius. Livia was cast as the female equivalent of her husband (a phenomenon reinforced by her association with numerous monumental building projects, discussed below), a model for all women, and materfamilias to the Roman state. In addition, the process of assimilation with the divine was well underway. Livia’s presence in Ovid’s poems, then, should not come as a surprise; in fact, we should look for echoes of her characterization in imperial discourse in his poems. These will be noted in the sections that follow, along with innovations Ovid made in presenting Livia in his poems.

III. Livia in Ovid’s pre-exilic poetry

Livia also played a role in various building projects, and it is in relation to these monuments that Ovid first includes her in his poetry26. The porticus Liviae was located on the north slope of the Oppian hill on the clivus suburbanus. Livia is associated with the two building projects at the same site; the porticus Liviae and aedes Concordiae were both dedicated in her name27. The portico was dedicated in 7 B.C. as part of Tiberius’ triumph, and the aedes Concordiae, located in its center, is generally assumed to have been dedicated in the same year28.

In book I of the Ars Amatoria, amongst a list of locations where one could find women in Rome, Ovid includes the portico of Livia:

nec tibi vitetur quae priscis sparsa tabellis
   porticus auctoris Livia nomen habet

nor should you avoid the portico which, interspersed
with old paintings, holds the name of its author, Livia29   (Ars Amatoria I.71-72).

Ovid’s first innovation was to mention Livia by name in his poems30. The nonchalant manner of her first appearance in Ovid’s texts demonstrates that naming her at this point, while it may have been a major poetic innovation (no other Augustan authors name her), was not shocking to his audience31. Ovid credits Livia for the portico’s construction and states that it held a notable art collection. Even though the portico’s ideological purpose might have been far from that which Ovid depicts in this couplet, he treats this “Livian” space with an irreverence similar to that with which he portrays “Augustan” spaces such as the temple of Apollo Palatinus (which is presented in the couplet that immediately follows). Ovid does not need to define who Livia is; the brevity and simplicity of his reference, in fact, reveal how well-known and well-publicized a figure she must have been. Ovid also refers to the portico in book III of the Ars Amatoria, while listing locations in which women should spend their free time: quaeque soror coniunxque ducis monimenta pararunt / navalique gener cinctus honore caput “Monuments which the sister [Octavia] and wife [Livia] of the leader have built, and that of his son-in-law [Agrippa], crowned with naval honors” (A.A.III.391-392). In the couplet Ovid refers to none of the porticoes by the proper name of their dedicator, but only through their relationship to Augustus. Mention of these porticoes follows that of Pompey the Great and precedes the Temple of Apollo Palatinus, as in the Ars I passage. People knew who Livia was; her inclusion in Ovid’s poems is merely reflective of the prominence she had attained in Augustan society and the public position she held as a member of the domus and in Rome itself.

In the Fasti, in an entry celebrating the Matralia (VI.473-648), Ovid commemorates the anniversary of Livia’s dedication of the aedes Concordiae, located in the portico of Livia just discussed32. The festival of the Matralia celebrates Mater Matuta, a goddess with ancient Italic roots, but one who is identified by Ovid with Ino and subsequently associated with Leucothea33:

te quoque magnifica, Concordia, dedicat aede
   Livia, quam caro praestitit ipsa viro.
disce tamen, veniens aetas: ubi Livia nunc est
   porticus, immensae tecta fuere domus;
urbis opus domus una fuit spatiumque tenebat
   quo brevius muris oppida multa tenent.

Also to you, Concordia, Livia dedicated a magnificent shrine,
which she presented to her dear husband.
Yet learn, coming age, where there is now the porticus of Livia,
There were the roofs of the huge home;
one house was the size of a city, and occupied a space
no less than many towns occupy with their walls    (Fasti VI.637-642).

In the entry, Ovid seems more concerned with contrasting the razing of the private estate (the site was previously occupied by the home of Vedius Pollio) with its conversion into a public monument34, but he does mention Livia twice by name in consecutive lines. Ovid depicts the shrine as a symbol of marital concord, as caro viro (638) stresses. The shrine pairs Livia with Augustus, reflecting the virtues they espoused35. Marleen Flory contextualizes the monument within the religious festival of the Matralia, stating that “Concordia was a traditional ideal and aspect of marriage in Roman society”36. Ovid repeatedly emphasizes Livia’s status as Augustus’ spouse in his poems, drawing on propaganda that advertised Livia and Augustus as a model couple37.

Earlier in the Fasti Ovid also prominently presents Livia as Augustus’ wife and dedicator of monuments. In the entry for May 1st Ovid discusses the cult of Bona Dea; the section focuses not on the goddess or her origins (which were disputed) but on her temple, and culminates with its restoration by Livia38. As it the prior citation, Ovid emphasizes Livia’s marital relationship to Augustus, here in the entry’s final couplet:

Livia restituit, ne non imitata maritum
   esset et ex omni parte secuta virum.

Livia restored it, so that she might imitate her husband
and follow her spouse in every way   (Fasti V.157-158).

As in Ars Amatoria I and the prior Fasti entry cited, Ovid names Livia, but lines 157-158 help to create an image of Livia as the female equivalent to Augustus. Livia’s activity here calls to mind the image of Augustus refurbishing the city, and indeed foreshadows Augustus’ own statements about his restoration of temples (R.G. 20, lines that were doubtless old news to the citizens of Rome even before Augustus’ death). The brevity of the reference to the temple (restituit) implies that Ovid’s focus is on the relationship between Augustus and Livia. Livia is the subject of the active verbs restituit and dedicat; thus Ovid grants her agency in these projects. Yet she is still subordinate; Ovid states that Livia imitates and follows her husband (imitata, secuta). The repeated references to Augustus as husband (maritum, virum) occupy the emphatic final position in both lines of the couplet. The litotes of ne non strengthens Ovid’s claims that Livia models her actions upon those of Augustus. Ex omni parte extends Livia’s characterization beyond the restoration theme, setting the stage for her to be the femina princeps in all spheres39. Though the image in lines 157-158 centers on the marital theme, the temple and goddess it housed add another aspect to Livia’s characterization40. The cult of Bona Dea was associated with fertility, specifically procuring and nourishing children41. Thus the image of Livia evoked here is more than solely of her as Augustus’ spouse. Though Ovid chooses not to emphasize as much directly, the image of Livia the mother underlies a reading of the entry and thus the passage recalls her public presentation as wife and mother.

In both the May and June entries Ovid edits his accounts of the holidays, I believe to stress more wholesome versions of the tales to coincide with Livia’s characterization in imperial discourse42. Though it is certainly valid to take the opposite perspective, namely that Ovid was undercutting Livia’s official image, there is nothing overt to validate such a reading and thus I believe there is no evidence to jump to the conclusion that Ovid was attempting a negative portrayal. The alterations he made to each of the Fasti stories lead one to the opposite conclusion- that his versions of the stories make them more palatable and congruous to imperial themes of his day43. Ovid treats Livia in the Ars Amatoria as he does her husband; in the Fasti she is Augustus’ faithful wife, and there is an acknowledgement of her role as dedicator of monuments, of her presence in public sphere, and supporter of her husband’s initiatives and values. Her appearances in both texts cannot straightforwardly be classified as excessive or an affront to Augustus44.

IV. Livia in the epistles composed prior to Augustus’ death

In the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto Ovid moves away from associating Livia with her public monuments and focuses on her relationship with her husband and son. She initially appears beside Augustus as a model for proper female behavior and a female figure to be emulated, and eventually a source for female patronage. Then, coinciding with Augustan advertisement of Tiberius’ status as heir, Ovid uses Livia to forge a bond between Augustus and Tiberius45.

IV. A Livia as Augustus’ spouse and partner

In a letter praising his wife (Tristia I.6), Ovid attributes his wife’s piety and devotion to the fact that she follows Livia’s model conduct46. Dating to a period after the expulsion of the Julias and the passage of Augustus’ marital legislation, such a characterization of Livia no doubt falls in line with her public persona47:

femina seu princeps omnes tibi culta per annos
   te docet exemplum coniugis esse bonae,
adsimilemque sui longa adsuetudine fecit,
   grandia si parvis adsimilare licet

or the female princeps worshiped by you through all these years
teaches you to be the example of a good wife
and has made you similar to her by long admiration,
if it is fitting to liken great things to small    (Tristia I.6.25-28).

As Augustus was a model for all Roman males, Ovid explicitly defines Livia as the role-model for Ovid’s wife and all women. Ovid claims that Augustus is bettered by his marriage to Livia, and similarly Ovid’s lot will be improved if his wife emulates Livia. Ovid does not refer to Livia by name, but presents her as the female equivalent to Augustus; she is the femina princeps48. The term is eye-catching, as there is no evidence Livia was ever referred to as such elsewhere. It is a usage that brings Livia into the male sphere, for prior to Ovid, princeps exclusively refers to male figures49. So Livia, as Ovid presents her, is a contradictory character. On the one hand, by making her the female version of Augustus, he grants her an equality of status. But Ovid restricts her power in this scene to the female sphere, and elsewhere he casts her acting in deference to Augustus. Ovid breaks from public practice, as we have evidence that she had contact with senators and foreign leaders50. Though there are inherent dangers in casting a woman as Ovid does (in that he grants Livia a special status), his choice reflects the great care he gave to his characterization, and his desire to define Livia in relation to other female figures, while distinguishing her from them and defining her in relation to her husband51. When read in the broader context of her public persona, Ovid’s depiction actually appears restricted, and is one supported by the historical record; Livia’s prominence here is not risqué52.

The Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre serves as an important document for our understanding of political language and relationships, and illustrates a senatorial acknowledgement of Livia’s power as intercessor, restricting her role to the female sphere, as in Ovid53. This official decree of the senate dates to the 10th of December A.D. 20 and reflects the results of the senate’s investigation of Cn. Piso following the death of Tiberius’ (adopted) son Germanicus. Even though the inscription dates from Tiberius’ reign, we can assume that a similar avenue for appeal would have existed in Augustus’ reign. Plancina’s success illustrates that Ovid’s desire for his wife to patronize Livia was not an empty one. The document contains a subscriptio by Tiberius, acknowledging his approval of the decree. This signature and the subsequent publication of the decree confirm that the sentiments contained therein exemplify the discourse and ideology of the new regime; its message was propagated by its publication throughout the empire. The document allows for a reappraisal of Ovid’s texts, especially in his construction of the domus and relationships within it:

               ...et pro Plancina rogatu matris suae deprecatus sit et, quam ob rem ea mater sua inpetrari vellet, iustissumas ab ea causas sibi expositas acceperit, senatum arbitrari et Iulia Aug(ustae), optume de r(e) p(ublica) meritae non partu tantum modo principis nostri, sed etiam multis magnisq(ue) erga cuiusq(ue) ordinis homines beneficis, quae, cum iure meritoq(ue) plurumum posse in eo, quod a senatu peteret, deberet, paucissume uteretur eo, et principis nostri summae erga matrem suam pietati suffragandum indulgendumq(ue) esse remittiq(ue) poenam Plancinae placere...

And [Tiberius] interceded on behalf of Plancina at the request of his mother, and received very just reasons, made to him by her, as to why his mother wanted to obtain these concessions; the senate deemed that both Julia Augusta, who was most deserving of the republic not only because she gave birth to our princeps, but also because of her many and great kindnesses to men of every order – although she rightly and deservedly should have the greatest influence in what she requested from the senate, she used it most sparingly – and the very great devotion of our princeps to his mother should be supported and indulged; and it was the pleasure [of the senate] that the punishment of Plancina be remitted...   (Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre lines 113-120).

The SCPP provides stunning evidence for the extent of Livia’s involvement in Tiberian politics, and its recent discovery sheds new light on Ovid’s characterization. Initially the decree refers to Livia anonymously as mater (113), illustrating that she could be recognized merely by her relationship to Tiberius, and as we see in Ovid’s poetry54. Instead of moving on from the issue of her involvement at that point, the decree goes into an extended section honoring Livia (115-119)55. Livia is praised first for giving birth to Tiberius, and then for her many acts of kindness to others of all orders. The decree also openly states that she wielded great influence over the senate. In addition, the section emphatically ends with the summa pietas Tiberius holds for his mother, which should be supported by the senate acceding to his wishes. Then, in the briefest of wordings, the senate acquits Plancina. The emphasis on Tiberius’ positive relationship with his mother should not be overlooked when we consider Ovid’s Livia, nor how both the SCPP and Ovid’s poems (especially Tr. I.6 and Pont. III.1) cast Livia as an intercessor on behalf of Ovid’s wife. Plancina’s success attests to the realistic role Ovid has Livia play, and again, that her presence in his poems was more the norm and reflection of her public persona than an anomaly.

As in the Tristia I passage, in Tristia II Ovid’s diction stresses Livia’s marriage to Augustus. In a prayer for the health of Augustus and his family, Ovid mentions Livia immediately after Augustus and she is the only family member named56:

Livia sic tecum sociales compleat annos,
   quae, nisi te, nullo coniuge digna fuit,
quae si non esset, caelebs te vita deceret,
   nullaque cui posses esse maritus erat.

So may Livia fill her years in union with you,
she who was worthy of no husband except you,
if she did not live, a celibate life would fit you,
and there was no one else whom you could marry.   (Tristia II.161-164)

Coniugis, maritus, sociales and caelebs introduce the idea of companionship. The treatment from the perspective of both individuals further serves to bind the couple together; Ovid begins with Augustus in the accusative, te...te...te (161-163), and switches subjects to Augustus with posses in line 164. Ovid draws attention to the circumstances of Livia’s marriage; line 162, in particular, praises her relationship with Augustus, but also one might recall her prior marriage to Ti. Claudius Nero, though Horace’s reference to Livia’s marriage to Augustus (in Carm. III.14, discussed below) shows us the subject was not taboo. Horace’s treatment indicates the delicacy of the situation, but also the tradition of the sentiments Ovid provides. And though the Tristia II passage may be interpreted as an ironic tribute, little in the Tristia I passage supports this conclusion57.

IV. B Livia, positioned between Augustus and Tiberius

Livia does not appear in Tristia III, but does in Tristia IV where Ovid moves from stressing Livia’s marital relationship to Augustus to her role linking Tiberius to Augustus58. Tiberius’ appearance in Ovid’s poems follows coin issues, the publication of his victory in Pannonia, and the announcement of his command in Germany after the Varian disaster59. Although Augustus adopted Tiberius in A.D. 4, Tiberius spent the vast majority of the time in the years that followed campaigning on the northern frontier and received little attention in official propaganda until the events mentioned just above. Soon after, Tiberius did appear and Ovid included him in his poems (beginning at Tr. II.165). Whether Ovid needed to associate Tiberius with Livia is worth consideration. Previous potential heirs were related to Augustus by blood. Tiberius differed in that Livia was his link to Augustus. Livia’s place in characterizing Tiberius as the singular choice to succeed Augustus is important; she was the only constant besides Augustus to survive through this period. As plans for succession evolved and political changes transpired, Ovid tailored his language appropriately, using Livia to integrate Tiberius into the existing imagery and discourse alongside familiar individuals. Since Tiberius’ wife Julia had been exiled, no female figure except Livia could associate him with Augustus. During this period Augustus’ health was declining and the succession was looming; Ovid (like Augustan propaganda) uses Livia to support Tiberius’ authority and claim to the principate60.

In Tristia IV.2 Ovid anticipates Tiberius’ triumph over Germany. At the outset of the poem, Ovid imagines a future victory sacrifice by the male members of the imperial house and follows with Livia and other female members of the household involved in the preparations for Tiberius’ triumphant arrival:

cumque bonis nuribus pro sospite Livia nato
   munera det meritis, saepe datura, deis;
et pariter matres et quae sine crimine castos
   perpetua servant virginitate focos61.

with her good daughters-in-law for her son’s safety may Livia
give gifts to the deserving gods, as she often will give them;
and likewise the mothers and those who, without stain on their character,
guard the chaste hearths in perpetual virginity   (Tristia IV.2.11-14).

Of all the family members Ovid includes, he refers only to Livia by name. This passage makes explicit Livia’s role as mother and connection between Augustus and Tiberius. Nuribus and nato (11) immediately contextualize Livia’s maternal role, but Ovid does not simply complete the image there. The second line of the couplet describes Livia’s behavior in worshiping the gods for Tiberius’ health. In calling for fellow mothers of Rome to follow this behavior, these lines recast Livia’s role as exemplum differently from how she is portrayed in the Tristia I passage62. Livia becomes a model for maternal behavior, in addition to marital behavior, even as she reprises a role she played previously in state affairs. In looking forward, Ovid looks back to Tiberius’ earlier triumph of 7 B.C., recycling images, but updating the characters involved63. Ovid’s imagined scene also calls to mind Livia’s place at the forefront of the domus on the Ara Pacis. Most importantly, the language and images used to describe Livia here are not new per se; they are a reintroduction of themes, images and language that were used when Livia’s sons Drusus and Tiberius were prominent generals in the teens B.C.

The language Ovid uses in describing Livia and her actions in Tristia IV.2 recalls Horace Carm. III.14 (Herculis ritu), written in 24 BC on Augustus’ return from Spain64. The intertext illustrates how Ovid adapted language and previous presentations of the imperial family to developments which transpired during the latter part of Augustus’ reign. Ovid carefully selected his model, for the contexts of the two poems are similar, in that in both a victorious general is returning from the field65. Horace’s proximity to Augustus lets one assume that his portrayal and characterization of Livia therein were well-received and, thus, objections to Ovid’s similar presentation of Livia should be dismissed. Ovid depicts almost the same action in Tristia IV.2 as in Horace’s poem, and the echoes are clear, despite slight differences in vocabulary. In Horace, Livia rejoices in her husband’s deeds, while in Ovid she rejoices in Tiberius’:

unico gaudens mulier marito
prodeat iustis operata divis,
et soror cari ducis et decorae
           supplice vitta
virginum matres iuvenumque nuper
sospitum. vos, o pueri et puellae
non virum expertae, male nominatis
           parcite verbis.

Let the wife rejoicing in her incomparable husband
advance performing due ritual to the just gods,
and the sister of the dear leader, and, adorned
with a suppliant fillet,
the mothers of young women and young men recently
saved. You, o boys and girls
who have not had a husband, spare using words
of ill omen.   (Hor. Carm. III.14.5-12)

Livia performs a ritual in Horace, as she does for Tiberius in Tristia IV.2. Iustis operata divis (6) parallels munera meritis deis (Tr. IV.2.12). Ovid transfers sospitum (10) solely to Tiberius in Tristia IV.2 (line 11), whereas Horace uses it to refer to all Roman soldiers. The poems illustrate the changing dynamics of the imperial family; Octavia appears in Horace (line 4) and neither she nor Livia are named. Ovid’s poem extends the domus to the younger generation – Drusus and Germanicus and their wives Livilla and Agrippina (bonis nuribus) – but he only directly names Livia.

Most importantly, the passage provides insight into how another poet handled Augustus’ and Livia’s marital history; Livia was pregnant with Ti. Claudius Nero’s child at the time of her divorce, and gave birth just three days before her marriage to Augustus. Many have critiqued Ovid’s repeated emphasis on their marriage, and his description of Livia as Augustus’ one true partner, but Horace refers to their marriage in line 5 of his Ode. Nisbet and Rudd do not interpret unico (line 5) as a synonym of univira, but it does conjure up the image of a singular relationship which Ovid repeatedly mentions66. Horace’s poem and his proximity to the imperial family indicate that such terms could be used without apparent offense67. Thus, Ovid’s repeated presentation of Livia as an exemplary wife and perfect partner for Augustus is not, in fact, anomalous to, but in line with, his poetic predecessor’s approach.

In Epistulae ex Ponto I.4 Ovid describes how he is growing old in exile and imagines a reunion with his wife68. The poet promises celebratory sacrifices in Augustus’ name and those of his immediate family, if Augustus relents in his punishment:

turaque Caesaribus cum coniuge Caesare digna,
   dis veris, memori debita ferre manu

and that I can offer with a thankful hand incense owed
to the Caesars along with the wife worthy of Caesar, true gods   (Epistulae ex Ponto I.4.55-56).

The offering of incense to the Caesars recalls Tristia I.2.103-104; now the individuals are defined and have been elevated to the status of gods69. Coniuge introduces a marital image, but Livia’s name here is suppressed and the image of the family is as a unit. Ovid recrafts Livia’s prior image from the family sculpture of the Bonn plaque to one which focuses on the relationship between Augustus and Tiberius. The same period saw a proliferation of statue groups associating the trio70.

In Epistulae ex Ponto II.2 Ovid presents Livia as Augustus’ wife and, as in the previous poem, she occupies a position between Augustus and Tiberius71. Ovid deems her safety important to the empire’s survival, for without her the line of succession breaks. Immediately after he stresses the health of Augustus (67-68) and before he mentions Tiberius (70), Livia appears: incolumnis coniunx sua pulvinaria servat (“and safe his wife guards their couch”, Pont. II.2.69). The stress on health in the poem makes one wonder about the condition of Augustus at this time (e.g. valet, 67, repeating a theme seen in Tr.IV.2, discussed above). Augustus had welcomed Tiberius during his triumph on October 23rd, A.D. 12, but thereafter Tiberius took on a greater role in civic affairs and assumes a de facto status as Augustus’ co-regent, facts reflected in Ovid’s poems. The vocabulary of the passage also appears to calm fears about the future; incolumnis implies safety from bodily injury and by extension for the Roman state72.

IV. C. The influence of hellenistic literature and imagery

It should go without saying that third century B.C. Hellenistic court poets, such as Theocritus and Callimachus, who composed in the court of the Ptolemies in Alexandria, Egypt, not only exerted great influence on Augustan poets in terms of style and poetics, but also provided a political vocabulary describing kingship and succession, a subject generally foreign to earlier Roman literature. Catullus, writing a generation before Ovid, translated Callimachus’ Lock of Berenice – for Catullus a mark of aesthetic loyalty. Propertius refers to himself as the “Roman Callimachus”, and the 4th book of his poems is modeled on Callimachus’ Aetia. For Horace, Virgil and Ovid, Hellenistic poets influenced their literary conceptions of the principate. The influence of Hellenistic poets upon Ovid has been noted, but surprisingly little has been written in relation to the exile poems73. In his exile poems the language and images of kingship are particularly clear – a reflection of the evolution of Augustan ideology. Because of the Roman aversion to monarchy, Augustus never referred to himself as king, nor openly portrayed himself in such terms as the Ptolemies had in Egypt, overtly exploiting Pharaonic royal traditions. But as Augustus’ principate evolved, and especially after the incorporation of Egypt as a province following the defeat of Cleopatra, images from the Hellenistic world proliferated in Rome. In addition, with projects such as the horologium and the importation of Egyptian obelisks, Augustus co-opted Hellenistic culture and traditions to assert Rome’s place as the cultural and political capital of the world.

With respect to Livia, Ovid draws images seen, for example, in Theocritus’ 17th Idyll, which commemorates Ptolemy the second, who became co-regent of Egypt alongside his father Ptolemy the first, in 285 B.C. The poem praises Ptolemy the first, Ptolemy the second, and Berenice, the wife of Ptolemy the first and mother of Ptolemy the second74. Ovid’s poems present a similar situation to Theocritus’ work, which describes a king, his queen and their son, now rising to hold power beside his father. In lines 34-57 Theocritus praises Berenice and in describing her, Theocritus refers to her as an outstanding exemplar for all women (οἵα δἐν πινυταῖσι περικλειτὰ Βερενίκα / ἔπρεπε θηλυτέρηις “how outstanding among women of sense was renowned Berenice”, 34-35)75. Theocritus stresses the love between husband and wife (38-41), and in lines 36-37 and 45-46 emphasizes the relationship between Berenice and Aphrodite, the Greek equivalent to the Roman goddess Venus, to whom (as I have demonstrated) Livia had been assimilated visually in art. We have seen Livia presented as the perfect partner for Augustus (cf. Tr.II.162-164); likewise Berenike is presented as such (128-129). In poems like Pont. II.8 and III.1, Ovid co-opts vocabulary and images from Theocritus, such as the royal marriage bed (e.g. Pont. II.8.29), and stresses the likeness between the queen and the divine (e.g. Pont. III.1.17). In addition, naming the king and queen directly was an accepted part of the Hellenistic encomiastic tradition, and no doubt influenced the directness of Ovid’s own appeals.

There is also no doubt that Hellenistic iconography influenced Augustan portraiture and iconography, and by extension Ovid’s image of the imperial family. Augustan bust and statue groups were patterned on Hellenistic norms and are repeatedly mentioned in Ovid’s exile poems (see discussions above and below). One additional example must suffice here: coins from Alexandria show Ptolemy I and Arsinoe and Ptolemy II and Berenike in profile; an almost identical image appears on an Augustan cameo76. Add to that discussion the fact that Ptolemaic queens (Arsinoe II in particular) were likened to Hera and Aphrodite, to the former through the queens’ relationship to their partners, to the latter through the amalgamation of Venus Genetrix with Arisone-Aphrodite77. Livia appears in profile under the guise of various goddesses on Tiberian coinage (which I will discuss below), which recall coins depicting Arsinoe II and Berenice II78.

In Epistulae ex Ponto II.8, Ovid claims to have received a statue group of the imperial family79. Addressed to Cotta Maximus, Pont. II.8 is a work of panegyric imagining the imperial family in an idealized form, with Ovid mimicking the language and iconography they themselves propagated. He begins with the image of a statue group:

redditus est nobis Caesar cum Caesare nuper,
   quos mihi misisti, Maxime Cotta, dei;
utque tuum munus numerum, quem debet, haberet,
   est ibi Caesaribus Livia iuncta suis.

A Caesar with a Caesar was recently received by me,
gods whom you sent to me, Cotta Maximus,
and that your gift has the number it ought,
Livia is there next to her Caesars   (Epistulae ex Ponto II.8.1-4).

Ovid names Livia and she acts as the agent who links Augustus and Tiberius – they are defined by suis. The parallelism between Augustus and Tiberius is the focus of the initial couplet, but Livia is revealed to be placed between the pair. Line 3 (especially numerum quem debet) validates her prominent status. The fact that, without her, the family and triad would be incomplete testifies to a status that Ovid cannot be inventing, and again recalls sculptural groups80. Later in the poem Ovid refers again to Livia in the midst of a prayer for Augustus:

perque tori sociam, quae par tibi sola reperta est,
   et cui maiestas non onerosa tua est,

and by the companion of your bed, who alone has been found equal to you,
and to whom your majesty is not a burden.   (Epistulae ex Ponto II.8.29-30)

The second half of line 29 repeats the idea that Augustus and Livia were a perfect match. Par returns to the familiar theme of their equality, previously acknowledged by the title femina princeps. The litotes in the second line of the couplet stresses that Livia is a suitable consort for such a great leader, but note that the perspective is Augustus’ – the second person pronouns in this section reinforce the implication that the traits and characteristics of these individuals are tributes to him.

In the midst of this panegyric on the imperial family, Ovid devotes a section exclusively to Livia:

tu quoque, conveniens ingenti nupta marito,
   accipe non dura supplicis aure preces.
sic tibi vir sospes, sic sint cum prole nepotes,
   cumque bonis nuribus quod peperere nurus.
sic, quem dira tibi rapuit Germania Drusum,
   pars fuerit partus sola caduca tui.
sic tibi mature fraterni funeris ultor
   purpureus niveis filius instet equis

You also, spouse fitting a great husband,
accept suppliant prayers with a gentle ear.
So may your husband be safe, so may your grandsons along with their children,
and with your good daughters-in-law the granddaughters they produce;
so may Drusus, whom fierce Germany took from you,
be the only one of your children to fall;
so may your son, avenger of his brother’s death
clad in purple soon drive the snow-white horses   (Epistulae ex Ponto II.8.43-50).

The passage represents the perfect combination of Livia’s roles: she is wife, mother and materfamilias to the entire Augustan domus. The tribute to Drusus, whose close relationship to Tiberius is well-attested, is appropriate. Germany once again is a foe, but now Drusus’ brother and son have become Rome’s leaders. The anaphora of sic divides the passage into three wishes – the safety of Augustus (here also unnamed like Tiberius), Drusus, and Tiberius, now appearing in the ultimate position. Nupta, marito (43) and vir (45) immediately present a marital image. Conveniens (43) recalls digna, seen in Pont. I.4.55, II.1.118 and Fasti I.650 (cf. par in line 29 as well). Sospes recalls Tristia IV.2.11 (cf. Pont. II.2.69) and is now expanded to the next generation. Supplicis (44) represents Livia once again as a conduit to Augustus. The emphatic repetition of the second person pronoun directs the audience’s attention to Livia and makes her the binding force among all these relatives. The passage mentions the children of Drusus and Germanicus for the only time in Ovid’s poems, presenting the domus at its greatest extent. Livia is the central figure of this family tree, not Augustus.

In Epistulae ex Ponto III.1 Ovid treats Livia in more explicitly divine terms; he requests his wife seek an audience with Livia, and once again she is a patron for his wife (cf. Tr. I.6)81.

   Caesaris est coniunx ore precanda tuo,
quae praestat virtute sua, ne prisca vetustas
   laude pudicitiae saecula nostra premat:
quae Veneris formam, mores Iunonis habendo
   sola est caelesti digna reperta toro...
femina sed princeps, in qua Fortuna videre
   se probat et caecae crimina falsa tulit:
qua nihil in terris ad finem solis ab ortu
   clarius excepto Caesare mundus habet.


With your lips you must pray to the wife of Caesar,
she who is outstanding in her virtue, lest venerable old age
crush our age in praise of chastity:
who, having the beauty of Venus, the character of Juno
alone has been found worthy of the divine couch...
but the female princeps, who proves that Fortune has the
power of sight and has borne the false charge of blindness
than whom the world has nothing on earth more famed
from the sun’s rising to its setting except Caesar.   (Epistulae ex Ponto III.1.114-118,125-128)


Ovid returns to the language of Tristia I.6 (cf. culta, 25), and once again she is femina princeps82. But now Livia must be prayed to (precanda, 114) and is worthy (digna, 118) of a divine (caelesti, 118) couch83. Livia remains an exemplum; Ovid praises her virtue, chastity and beauty (virtute, 115; pudicitiae, 116; formam, 117)84.

As the poem progresses Ovid continues to liken Livia to Venus and assimilate her with Juno85. Ovid instructs his wife to approach Juno (vultum Iunonis adire, 145), and to prostrate herself before her immortal feet (ad non mortalis pedes, 150). Ovid states that Livia will be well aware of her own power before a cowering Mrs. Naso (sentiet illa / te maiestatem pertimuisse suam, 155-156).

As the poem closes Ovid instructs his wife to pray (cf. precanda, 114) to the Augustum numen, and that of Tiberius and Livia86:

e quibus ante omnis Augustum numen adora
   progeniemque piam participemque tori

From them, and above all, worship the spirit of Augustus,
his pious son and she who shares his bed.   (Epistulae ex Ponto III.1.163-164)

Livia’s position next to her son alludes to her place as his mother, but Ovid describes her in vocabulary which emphasizes her status as wife. In one line he has elegantly included both images. Livia’s place at the end of the couplet reinforces the bond between her and her son, her and her husband, and between her son and Augustus. The group forms a triad, united and indivisible. Ovid has taken the image of a simple statue group, which inspired Pont. II.8, and fleshed it out in poetry.

IV. D. Reflections of Livia’s role in the triumph of A.D. 12

Tiberius’ Pannonian triumph in A.D. 12 was a major event for the entire Augustan household. After years of military setbacks and campaigns Tiberius was finally recognized for his efforts along the northern frontier and, though not officially, for stabilizing the German frontier in particular. The event, which marked him publically in Rome as Augustus’ heir, was probably Augustus’ last major public appearance, and Ovid’s multiple poems marking the event are a sign of this significance. But they also provide evidence that Livia must have played some role in the triumph itself, even if only to receive her son officially at its end87.

The majority of Epistulae ex Ponto III.3 recalls Ovid’s dream encounter with Eros and Eros’ reply, absolving Ovid of fault in his Ars Amatoria88. Ovid concludes the poem by surmising that the wrath of the princeps will subside (mitescet Caesaris ira, 83) and refers to a future Tiberian triumph at which Augustus, Livia, the domus and the entire Roman populace will rejoice. Tiberius is the focal point for Ovid, but he mentions Livia by name between the younger generation and Augustus:

dum domus et nati, dum mater Livia gaudet,
   dum gaudes, patriae magne ducisque pater

While the domus and his sons rejoice, while his mother Livia rejoices,
while you rejoice, great father of our country and leader.   (Epistulae ex Ponto III.3.87-88)

Ovid casts Livia in her maternal role and places her before her husband Augustus, alluding to their marriage. In addition to connecting Augustus and Tiberius, Ovid situates Livia between Tiberius’ heirs and Augustus; once again Livia links all members of the domus, as she did in Epistulae ex Ponto II.8.

Likewise, in the following poem, Pont III.4, which Ovid addresses to Rufinus, he inquires on the status of his ‘triumph’ poem89. Near the end of the poem Ovid predicts that another triumph over the Rhine awaits (88); in presenting the upcoming triumph Ovid depicts events from Livia’s point of view:

quid cessas currum pompamque parare triumphis,
   Livia? dant nullas iam tibi bella moras.
perfida damnatas Germania proicit hastas.
   iam pondus dices omen habere meum.
crede, brevique fides aderit. geminabit honorem
   filius, et iunctis, ut prius, ibit equis.

Why do you hesitate to prepare a chariot and procession for a triumph,
Livia? Already the wars grant you no delay.
Treacherous Germany casts down its accursed spears.
Some day soon you will say that my omen has weight.
Believe it, and in a little while its fulfillment will be near at hand. Your son
will double his honor and will proceed, as before, with yoked horses   (Epistulae ex Ponto III.4.95-100).

Ovid addresses Livia directly. The scene again takes us back to Livia’s earlier public appearance in Tiberius’ triumph of 7 B.C. and is another illustration of Ovid updating a past image90. Ut prius confirms this reference.

Time and again Ovid reaches back to the past and attempts to superimpose prior events over current affairs. This practice results in generic descriptions of imagined triumphs, but also provides evidence that Ovid relied on updates gathered through personal correspondence to confirm his characterization of Livia and the imperial family.

V. Livia in the reign of Tiberius

As I stated at the beginning of this paper, the general tendency among scholars has been to criticize Ovid’s inclusion and characterization of Livia. I have shown that Ovid’s Livia reflects her presence and importance in Augustus’ reign. In this section I argue that the same is true for poems written during the reign of Tiberius. Scholars have based their negative interpretations of Ovid’s Livia in Tiberian-era texts on the supposed animosity between Tiberius and Livia. Ancient historians do stress Tiberius’ rejection of the honors decreed to Livia following Augustus’ death, but Tiberius’ actions must be placed in context91. He turned down honors for himself, such as the title pater patriae and the re-naming of his birth month, November. His behavior with regard to Livia must be viewed as part of his policy to maintain Augustan precedent92. Tiberius did not remove Livia from the public sphere. In fact, Livia remained a public figure in Rome, now as the widow of a divinity and the mother of the princeps. I have previously discussed her presence in the SCPP. Augustus’ will granted Livia the title Julia Augusta and one-third of Augustus’ property93. The new nomenclature elevated Livia, associating her with everything that bore the Augustan cognomen. She also became the priestess of the cult of the divine Augustus. Tiberius did not obstruct these privileges or honors, such as the marking of her marriage anniversary as a public holiday.

Livia’s image continued to be promoted well into Tiberius’ reign. The Tiberian Grand Camée, which depicts the imperial domus after A.D. 16, places Livia beside Tiberius in much the same position she held on the Gemma Augustea94. Tiberius is enthroned, depicted semi-nude and holds a scepter. Beside him sits his mother Livia, the central figure in this family scene. The now-divine Augustus hovers overhead. The work is a statement that the family’s power is multi-generational and operates in multiple spheres, both human and divine. On Tiberian coinage of A.D. 22/23 the goddesses Salus Augusta, Pietas and Iustitia all bear the image of Livia95. She even received a coin bearing her name during the same period96. One must acknowledge that Tiberian propaganda continued to present Livia as the link the current princeps and the former.

Livia’s appearances in the first book of the Fasti (revised during Tiberius’ reign) offer a starting point to challenge the assertion that Tiberius would have found Ovid’s Livia “unpleasing”97. In these passages (January 11th and 16th) Ovid refers to Livia only by her new title and stresses her status as a mother. We also must consider Livia’s inclusion in the Fasti in light of the fact that Germanicus is the dedicatee of the revised poem. Though Livia was Germanicus’ grandmother, Ovid does not present her as such, as the following citations make clear. Ovid only mentions Livia in association with Tiberius and never independently. Ovid prominently names Livia (as he did in relation to Augustus and Tiberius in Augustan-era poems), but uses only her new nomenclature and appears to tread carefully in not giving her too much independence. Ovid’s characterization should be acknowledged as his attempt to reflect current discourse rather than to antagonize Tiberius.

Ovid concludes his entry for the Carmentalia (January 11th) with Carmentis, the mother of Evander, prophesying Livia’s divinization98:

utque ego perpetuis olim sacrabor in aris,
   sic Augusta novum Iulia numen erit.

and as I one day will be sacrificed to at eternal altars,
so Julia Augusta will be a new divinity.   (Fasti I. 535-536)

The story of Evander had a long tradition, but the prominence of Carmentis and the elevation of her status are unparalled elsewhere99. Geraldine Herbert-Brown and others have recognized that the mother-son relationship created by Ovid is a thinly veiled parallel to Livia and Tiberius100. Some scholars find the explicit suggestion of Livia’s divinity remarkable101, but this concept was not new; as I have shown, Augustan art had likened Livia’s image to divinities. Ovid equates Livia with divinities in his earlier exile epistles, and more importantly, it was a concept Tiberius himself alludes to in his coinage102. The issue of veneration does seem to touch on discussions of honors set forth at Augustus’ death, but Ovid carefully refers to Livia only using her new nomenclature. Thus, he offers a faithful reflection of the ideology propounded during Tiberius’ regime. The passage may also acknowledge what must have been well known to many – that Livia was already being worshipped in many cities in the east103.

The second reference to Livia in January occurs on the 16th (I. 647-650)104. The date marks the dedication of the Temple of Concord in the Forum Romanum105. The passage is one of the most direct in its praise of, and address to, Tiberius, but concludes with reference to Livia:

hanc tua constituit genetrix et rebus et ara,
   sola toro magni digna reperta Iovis.

This goddess your mother established with her conduct and an altar,
she who alone was found worthy of the bed of great Jove.   (Fasti I. 649-650)

Steven Green sees the insertion of Livia as Ovid’s attempt to stress familial concord106. Genetrix ties Livia to Venus, genetrix of the Julian clan, and brings Tiberius (and Livia) into the Julian line107. Ovid ties Tiberius’ project in the forum to the shrine which stood in the portico of Livia, an unnecessary addition unless he thought such a connection to be advantageous in some way (see discussion of the portico in section three above). In the second line of the couplet Ovid casts Livia as Jove’s wife, Juno. The couplet combines images seen Epistulae ex Ponto III.1 where Ovid associates Livia with the same pair of goddesses and uses similar language to refer to her marriage108. For a second time Ovid places Livia after Tiberius in an entry, though in this case an explanation presents itself, for January 17th was the anniversary of the marriage of Livia and Augustus109. Line 650 alludes to that event. But Ovid subtly refers to the marriage anniversary; the characterization of Livia as alone (sola) worthy of Augustus’ betrothal reintroduces the recurring issue of the circumstances surrounding their marriage (perhaps a clue as to why Ovid did not devote more detail to the following anniversary)110. Also, the marriage anniversary itself was now solely a Livian anniversary, so the subtle allusion is an apt tribute111.

Livia’s place in the revised book I is selective, but not excessive. Ovid presents Livia in this book only when associated with Tiberius. It is significant that Ovid does not mark the two purely “Livian” anniversaries in the month; Livia receives no acknowledgement on her birthday (January 30th, the anniversary of the dedication of the Ara Pacis) nor on January 17th (her marriage to Augustus). If one acknowledges Tiberius’ presence in the entry for the 27th, it is he, not Livia nor Germanicus, who receives the ultimate position in the book.

Livia’s characterization in the exile epistles following Tiberius’ assumption of the principate builds on the characterization that Ovid had established during the latter stages of Augustus’ reign and is comparable to that found in Fasti I. She appears in two poems in Pont. IV, composed after Augustus’ death. In a poem dating prior to Graecinus’ assumption of the suffect consulship in A.D. 16, Livia makes a brief appearance (Pont. IV.9.10ff.). In the initial portion of the poem Ovid imagines the scene of Graecinus’ assumption of the consulship, but at the poem’s mid-point he switches the scene to Tomis. Ovid states that he has a shrine in his home to members of the imperial house (106) and that his piety merits Graecinus’ aid. Amongst the domus group is Livia. Ovid has supplemented the language used to describe her, reflecting what we know was contained in Augustus’ will, that Livia has now become the priestess of his cult. In addition, he refers to both Tiberius and Livia as numina112:

stant partier natusque pius coniunxque sacerdos
   numina iam facto non leviora deo

Both the pious son and the priestess wife stand side by side
divinities no less than he who has now been made a god    (Epistulae ex Ponto IV.9.107-108).

Tiberius and Livia are now side by side (pariter), reflecting Livia’s continued, eminent status and Tiberius’ rise to princeps. All three of Livia’s roles – mother, wife, and now priestess – are encapsulated in one line; she has been transformed from femina princeps to coniunx sacerdos.

Livia’s final appearance in the exile epistles is in Epistulae ex Ponto IV.13, where Ovid discusses his creation of a (fictional) poem in the Getic language honoring Augustus’ apotheosis113. As in other poems following Augustus’ apotheosis and Tiberius’ assumption of the principate, Ovid casts Livia as mother and wife, and the figure who binds the imperial family together. Her appearance in the poem precedes Tiberius’ heirs Germanicus and Drusus (as in Pont. III.3). Livia is prominent, but she is not Tiberius’ equal, nor does she supersede him114:

esse pudicarum te Vestam, Livia, matrum,
   ambiguum nato dignior anne viro:

that you, Livia were the Vesta among upstanding mothers,
it being uncertain whetehr you are more worthy of your son or your husband:    (Epistulae ex Ponto IV.13.29-30).

Line 30 epitomizes Livia’s status as wife of the former, and mother of the current, princeps. In addition to being honorific, Ovid’s representation of Livia as Vesta reflects certain realities. By A.D. 23 Livia was given the right to sit with the priestesses of Vesta in the theatre115, and she is associated with the shrine to Vesta relocated by Augustus to the Palatine116.

VI. Conclusion

As the hierarchy of the imperial family was extended to become that of the state, Livia’s role within the Augustan domus expanded beyond the limes of the actual home. Augustus was pater patriae and princeps of the state and Livia was its mater patriae (a title we are informed the senate attempted to grant her), and in Ovid’s poems she is femina princeps. Livia played a prominent role in family depictions and in the narrative of succession, becoming the symbol for proper, dignified female behavior, especially following the affairs of the Julias117. With Tiberius’ adoption and subsequent succession to the principate, she became mater in another, more literal, sense. She also gained more power as the other Augustan women ceased to be viable options for patronage. Though she does not appear in Augustus’ Res Gestae, the honors granted her in his will illustrate that Augustus envisioned a continued role for Livia in the public sphere. During the reign of Tiberius Livia personified the bond between Augustus and Tiberius and associated the latter with a popular and venerable figure118. As a result of her status and Tiberius’ need to emphasize his legitimacy, Livia remained a significant presence in the public sphere, and in Ovid’s poems she is eventually portrayed as a coniunx sacerdos.

Ovid balances innovation with traditional female stereotypes in his characterization of Livia. He refers to Livia by name, breaking from a poetic tradition which had never previously named her119. But he restricts Livia’s power to the female sphere, having only his wife directly appeal to her, and portraying Livia as a conduit to Augustus. We must acknowledge and consider the novelty of Livia’s position in state ideology. Livia had only received limited poetic treatment prior to Ovid, and in the majority of Augustan poetry females had been elegiac mistresses or enemies of the state. Ovid, then, had to present a female possessing power in a positive light. In including and characterizing Livia in his poems, Ovid was able to rely on imperial discourse for direction, as well as on Rome’s long tradition of idealizing certain feminine traits and women’s role within the household. This paper has demonstrated that theories espousing Ovid’s overemphasis of Livia are misguided. If these theories were correct, we would expect there to be a declining presence of Livia’s image in public discourse and over the course of Ovid’s poems. Tiberius’ actions, such as the dedication of objects with his mother and her appearances on Tiberian coinage, demonstrate that, were there any animosity between the pair, Tiberius went to great lengths officially to disguise it. A far more likely scenario not only acknowledges her influence and public position, but also Tiberius’ maintenance of her presence to firmly establish continuity and authority in his principate.


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1 For example: Tac. Ann. 1.5, 10; Suet. Tib. 50-51; Dio 57.12.5-6. Suet. Cal 23.2 famously refers to Livia as Ulixes stolatus. Robert Graves’ Livia, in his I, Claudius (1934), is based on these sources and has only served to perpetuate this image. Recently Koster 2012 has offered a cursory study of Livia in Ovid’s poetry; Luisi and Berrino 2010: 11-43 cover many passages discussed in this paper, though the focus is on “ironia” in Ovid’s characterization of Livia. Return to text

The textual editions used are as follows: Ars Amatoria, Kenney 1961; Tristia, Luck 1967; Epistulae ex Ponto, Richmond 1990; Fasti, Alton, Wormell and Courtney, 1997. The translations are my own.

2 Syme 1978: 44; cf. 148 for a similar opinion, with regard to Livia’s appearance in Pont. III.1. Other negative interpretations include Kenney 1965: 41-49 (with regard to Tr. I.6); Johnson 1997 (on exile poems); Luisi and Berrino 2010. Also compare Herbert-Brown’s (1994: 131) statement (regarding Livia in book I of the Fasti) that Tiberius “would have every good reason not to be pleased” with Ovid’s handling of Livia. Millar (1993) offers an important reassessment of the value of Ovid’s exile poems but merely identifies that “real prominence is give[n] to Livia” (1993: 15) therein, but he does not pursue the matter further or provide analysis of her characterization in the poems in which she appears. Return to text

3 Barrett 2002: 194. Other recent biographies of note are Perkounig 1995 and Kunst 2008. Return to text

4 Modern biases too have superimposed limits on the status women could hold in ancient Rome, restricting their influence to the bedroom and backroom plots, perpetuating the belief that a female could not exist as a prominent public figure in Roman society. Such biases, whether voiced or simply accepted unchecked, have influenced evaluations of the lack of “success” of Ovid’s exilic corpus. Return to text

5 For a survey of iconography see Bartman 1999, also Hahn 1994: 34-105. I follow Schoonhoven’s (1992: esp. 22-39) non-Augustan/Tiberian dating of the Consolatio ad Liviam; thus it cannot be used to support my argument here. Return to text

6 Dio 49.38.1: ­καὶ ­μετὰ ­ταῦτα ­ἐκεῖ ­μὲν ­Φούφιον ­Γέμινον ­σὺν ­δυνάμει ­τινὶ ­κατέλιπεν, ­αὐτὸς ­δὲ ­ἐς ­τὴν ­Ῥώμην ­ἀνεκομίσθη, ­καὶ ­τὰ ­μὲν ­ἐπινίκα ­ψηφισθέντα ­οἱ ­ἀνεβάλετο, ­τῇ ­δὈκταουίᾳ ­τῇ ­τε ­Λιουίᾳ ­καὶ ­εἰκόνας ­καὶ ­τὸ ­τὰ σφέτερα ­ἄνευ κυρίου τινὸς διοικεῖν, τό τε ἀδεὲς καὶ τὸ ἀνύβριστον ἐκ τοῦ ὁμοίου τοῖς δημάρχοις ἔχειν ἔδωκεν. And after this, he left Fufius Geminus there with a small force and himself returned to Rome; the triumph which had been voted to him he deferred, but granted to Octavia and Livia statues, the right of administering their own affairs without a guardian, and the same security and inviolability as the tribunes had. Cf. Purcell 1986: 85-86 who emphasizes that, “Livia was allowed, encouraged, impelled to step out into the public world” (86). Return to text

7 The portico Octaviae also held statues of women (Viscogliosi 1999: 141-145), and there is evidence for a female figure among the summi viri of the forum Augustum (inv. 2578, Ungaro and Milella 1995: 80-81). Return to text

8 Dio 54.2; Flory 1993; Bartman 1999: 81-82. Return to text

9 Regarding embassies see Dio 49.38.1, 54.7.2; Josephus 17.10. Livia’s patronage of allied cities and their causes is mentioned by Grether 1946: 231 and detailed in Reynolds 1982: 104-106 (also cf. Barrett 2002: 188-207). Livia also offered financial support for women in need: Dio 58.2.3. For Livia’s connections in Rome and throughout the empire, see Suet. Aug. 40, Galba 5, Otho 1; Tac. Ann. 3.24, 4.21, 5.1-2. Purcell (1986) has offered an overview of Livia’s status and place in Roman society. He stresses her uniqueness, but demonstrates that she follows in a tradition of women who wielded greater and greater influence in the public sphere, cf. Welch 2011 (esp. 312-314). Surveys of these developments are found in MacMullen 1980, 1986; Bauman 1992; Hillard 1992; Richlin 1992; Wyke 1992. Return to text

10 On the fates of the Julias see Pettinger 2012: 47-48, 123-134. On Livia’s prominence resulting from the absence of Tiberius’ wife see Winkes 2000: 38. Return to text

11 On the monument see Richardson 1992: 287-289; Torelli 1999: 70-74. On the sculptures themselves see Kleiner 1978; Torelli 1982: 27-55. Return to text

12 R.G. 12.2: cum ex Hispania Galliaque, rebus in iis provincis prospere gestis, Romam redi, Ti Nerone P. Quintilio consulibus, aram Pacem Augustae senatus pro reditu meo consecrandam censuit ad campum Martium. Return to text

13 The following summarizes the major theories which are espoused, but is by no means exhaustive: supplicatio of 13 B.C.: Polacco 1960/1, Simon 1967, Koeppel 1988, Billows 1993, Bartman 1999; a sacrifice at the altar’s consecration: Ryberg 1955, Hanell 1960 (contra Simon 1967: 16-17; Pollini 1978: 75-112; La Rocca 1983: 38; Billows 1993: 80-81); Augustus’ inauguration of the site: Pollini 1978, Torelli 1982, La Rocca 1983 (contra Billows 1993: 81-84); Augustus’ ascension to become Pontifex Maximus: Bowersock 1990. All are evaluated in Billows 1993. For Jan. 30th anniversary, cf. Acta Frat. Arv. and Scheid 1990 ad loc. Return to text

14 There is debate as to the identity of this female figure on the frieze, with some scholars identifying the figure as Julia. I follow the identifications of Pollini 1978: 99-100, Syme 1984, Koeppel 1988: 123, Rose 1990 and Bartman 1999: 88. Return to text

15 Bartman 1999: 88. The only other figures carved in such a way are Agrippa and Augustus. Though Livia’s hair style and raiment differ from expected conventions, these differences have been explained by Bartman (1999: 88) as traditional fashion for the ceremony. Return to text

16 The inclusion of Agrippa in the procession and the ages of the various members of the imperial house support the theory that the scene represents individuals, and the organization of the domus, dating to the mid-teens B.C., predating the monument’s dedication in 9 B.C. The procession reflects Agrippa’s status as Augustus’ second in command, and demonstrates Livia’s prominence in a period where Agrippa was seen as Augustus’ heir. Return to text

17 Livy (reflecting Augustan practice) confirms the presence of women and children in these ceremonies; cf. 3.7.7, 27.51.9. Return to text

18 Livia’s hair tresses are not bound in a nodus, another sign of an association with the divine. Return to text

19 Louvre, Paris. The date of the cups is debated and opinions are summarized in Kuttner 1995, who dates the cups prior to 6 B.C. Return to text

20 Kuttner 1995: 31. Though the figure is now damaged beyond identification, earlier sketches of the cups record the figure. Return to text

21 Bonn Rheinisches Landesmuseum 4320. I follow the majority of scholars who identify the group as Livia, Tiberius and Drusus; see Kuttner 1995: 173-174; Rose 1997: pl. 20; Bartman 1999: 82-83; Severy 2003: 86. Zanker 1988: 218 identifies the group as Julia between Gaius and Lucius. Return to text

22 Kuttner 1995: 31. Kuttner 1995: 31-32 also cites the Augustan gem portrait of Livia and Tiberius (MFA, Boston 99.109) that grants attributes of Venus to Livia. Return to text

23 IGRR 1.835b from Thasos, dated 16-13 B.C., Rose 1997: 158-159 Cat. 95; Bartman 1999: 202 no. 23. AE 1928 no. 50 from Thespiae, dated 16-13 B.C., Rose 1997: 149-151 Cat. 82; Bartman 1999: 202 no. 24. Return to text

24 Another example comes from Pisaurum; Livia, Augustus and Gaius were represented (Museo Oliveriano, Pesaro). Whether this was a statue group or not is debated; see Bartman 1999: 22 n. 28. Return to text

25 Kornemann 1901; Grether 1946: 224; also see Smith 1987 and 2013: 132-133 on the Sebasteion and Temple of Julia Sebaste Nea Demeter from Aphrodisias. Return to text

26 Prior scholarly efforts, especially with regard to the Fasti, have primarily focused on Livia’s associations with topography and religion; see Flory 1984; Newlands 1995: 44, 76-78; Barchiesi 1997: 32, 91,107. Return to text

27 Suet. Aug. 29.4; Dio 54.23.6, 55.8.2; Richardson 1992: 99-100 and 314; Panella 1999: 127-129. There is general agreement that the aedes Concordiae is the structure on the marble plan located in the center of the porticus Liviae (see Rodríguez-Almeida 1981: pls. 7-9, 18). Some, though, have argued that the structure in the center was a fountain and that the temple must be in another location. Coarelli 1974: 206 parallels the structure in the portico with the Ara Pacis, and so identifies it as the aedes. For a summary of arguments see Flory 1984. The imagery and decoration of the aedes are unknown, as are any particular rituals associated with the site. Return to text

28 Scholars tend to merge the two projects, perhaps because a passage in Dio (54.23.6) reports that both projects were actually built by Augustus and merely dedicated in Livia’s name. Since the property was willed to Augustus, Dio might be correct. Return to text

29 The textual editions used are as follows: Ars Amatoria, Kenney 1961; Tristia, Luck 1967; Epistulae ex Ponto, Richmond 1990; Fasti, Alton, Wormell and Courtney, 1997. The translations are my own. Return to text

30 For a similar observation see Barchiesi 2006: 104, who also notes how Ovid repeatedly refers to Livia through family relationships in the Ars (101-3). He states that the portico was the first monument to bear the name of a female donor (106), though he appears to overlook the portico of Octavia. Return to text

31 A reviewer suggests, on the other hand, that Ovid’s off-hand reference dissembles – it might be intended to shock his audience. I remain unconvinced, as the porticus Liviae was the name Romans would have used to refer to the location; for Ovid to avoid the name would have been more shocking, I think. Return to text

32 It is now generally agreed that Ovid significantly revised the first book of the Fasti while in exile, having written the remaining books well prior to his departure to Tomis. The Fasti’s dates of composition are debated, but it is my belief that the primary phase of composition occurred after the year AD 1 and prior to Tiberius’ adoption in A.D. 4, and the secondary phase occurred contemporaneously with, or shortly after, book IV of the Epistulae ex Ponto and was completed by the year A.D. 17; see Syme 1978: 32-34 and Green 2004: 15-25 for discussions. For further commentary on the passage see Newlands 1995: 226-229, 2002; Barchiesi 1997: 91-92; Littlewood 2002: 209-211, 2006: 186-189. Dio (55.8.2) reports that Tiberius and Livia co-dedicated the portico, but Ovid does not mention Tiberius. Herbert-Brown (1994: 145) and others (e.g. Newlands 1995: 77-78) have argued that the suppression of Tiberius’ name indicates the period in which Ovid composed this section of the Fasti- that prior to his adoption by Augustus. On the other hand, the portico is always referred to as the porticus Liviae, not the porticus Liviae et Tiberii, so Ovid may merely be reflecting Augustan practice and convention. Flory 1984: 309 notes that ipsa emphasizes that Livia and argues she alone dedicated the temple. Return to text

33 On the Matralia see Warde Fowler 1899: 154-157; Scullard 1981: 150-151; Littlewood 2006: 147-148. In associating Mater Matuta with Leucothea Ovid follows Cicero (Tusc. 1.28, N.D. 3.48, cf. Hyginus Fab. 2, 223). The goddess has a maternal connection and Ovid says from the outset that this is a festival for bonae matres (VI. 475); mothers prayed to the goddess specifically on behalf of nieces and nephews, “not for their own offspring” (non pro stirpe sua, 559). In this light we can see Ovid acknowledging the realities of succession during the period which saw the rise of Gaius and Lucius. In addition, the festival was celebrated by univirae, but this fact does not appear to hinder Livia’s sponsorship and association with the project, and likewise I assume that it did not hinder its place in Ovid’s poem (cf. Littlewood 2006: 153). In Fasti VI Ovid changes details of the Mater Matuta/Palemon (Portunus) story from that presented in the Metamorphoses (IV. 512-542), I believe to hint at the flight of Livia and Tiberius, and Augustus’ subsequent marriage to Livia. See Flory 1984: 313-314 on the differences between the two versions. Return to text

34 In particular F. VI. 637-648; cf. Dio 54.23.1-5 and Littlewood 2006: 189 with bibliography. Herbert-Brown 1994: 149-156 proposes that the temple and portico were built on the site of king Servius Tullius’ palace. On Vedius Pollio see Newlands 2002: 231-243; Herbert Brown 1994: 151-153 and Syme 1961. Return to text

35 However, Livia is a secondary figure in this comparison, and can be seen as the upstanding Augustan counterpart to the wicked Tullia who appears elsewhere in Ovid’s description of the holiday (VI. 587). The main focus of the passage contrasts Augustan public benefaction with the private wealth of Pollio, and at another level, those preserving Augustan values are contrasted with those who do not display them. Thus Ovid casts Livia in opposition to his Tullia whose brazen, scurrilous and criminal behavior lead to her father’s murder, a tempting parallel to the infidelities of Augustus’ daughter Julia. Return to text

36 Flory 1984: 317. Regarding familial concord see Weinstock 1971: 26 and Wissowa 1912: 328; for a summary of other opinions on the reference to Concordia see Flory 1984: 311. Since Livia dedicated the portico jointly with Tiberius at his triumph in 7 B.C., some have subsequently assumed that the aedes was originally intended to represent familial concord. Flory (1984: 312, 324) stresses that there is no evidence of a connection between Tiberius and the shrine and that any dynastic motivations are secondary. But perhaps at a later date, especially after the dedication of the Temple of Concord in the forum (January 16th, A.D. 10), the shrine in the portico of Livia may have been reinterpreted to coincide with ideology better representative of the current political situation. For further discussion on the aedes see Welch 2011: 321-324. Return to text

37 The lines also recall Augustan marriage laws: see Corbett 1930: 31-39, 133-135; Frank 1976; Galinsky 1981. Return to text

38 Fasti V. 148-158. On the Bona Dea cult see Herbert-Brown 1994: 132-134; Scullard 1981: 116-117; Bömer 1957: II. 302-303; Wissowa 1912: 216-219; Warde Fowler 1899: 100-106. No remains of the temple survive today, but it was located on the eastern part of the Aventine: see Richardson 1992: 59-60, Chioffi 1993: 200-201. Men were banned from her precinct (oculos exosa viriles, 153), so Livia was an appropriate individual to associate with the temple. Return to text

39 Language we see directly used in Tr. I.6.25 and Pont. III.1.125 (both discussed below). Return to text

40 A fact overlooked by Herbert-Brown (1994: 130-172), who has drawn attention to the differences she sees in Ovid’s treatment of Livia in the primary and revised sections of the text. Herbert-Brown claims that in May and June Ovid casts Livia solely as Augustus’ wife, whereas her January appearances emphasize her maternal role and detail her future divinization- a degree of praise and independence unseen in her appearances in the latter books of the Fasti. Herbert-Brown (1994: 130) states that, “her pre-exilic image is that of ‘Livia’, model Roman wife and paragon of female Roman virtue. Her post-exilic image is that of Julia Augusta, mother of the new ruler, consort of Jove and herself a goddess-in-the-making”. She argues that Livia’s changing depiction within the Fasti is representative of the evolution of her role in Augustan/Tiberian discourse. Return to text

41 Wissowa 1912: 216-219. On the role of women in this cult activity see Fantham 2002. Return to text

42 For example, Herbert-Brown (1994: 138, 141) identifies the Vestal who originally dedicated the temple of the Bona Dea as Licinia, the daughter of C. Licinius Crassus (tribune of 145 B.C.) and executed in 114/3. Ovid omits this part of the story. Licinia was prosecuted for being an unfaithful vestal, cf. Dio 26.87.3. Herbert-Brown 1994:145 convincingly argues that Ovid distances Clodius’ (in)famous involvement with the Bona Dea cult, “and the uncomplimentary traditions handed down by first century mythographers. He presents Licinia as a paragon of castitas and pietas, the virtues he highlights to provide a thematic thread of association to link Bona Dea with Livia, to link the revered past with the Augustan present”. Herbert-Brown 1994: 145 incorrectly states that this is Livia’s first appearance in the official state cult; she ignores Livia’s prior association with the Ara Pacis. A reviewer suggests Ovid’s version of the myth highlights the imperial family’s ability to adapt their own narrative and personae in official discourse. Return to text

43 One might also consider the selection of the cult and its temple by Augustus for refurbishment; by associating Bona Dea with his family, he can be imagined to be cleaning up its somewhat troubled past. Return to text

44 Livia also appears, anonymously, at Metamorphoses XV.836, as the mother of Tiberius (Met.XV.836-7: prospiciens prolem sancta de coniuge natam / ferre simul nomenque suum curasque iubebit). Written after Tiberius’ adoption and before Ovid’s exile, her role as wife of the first princeps and mother of the second is made explicit. The majority of exile poems remain constant, simply depicting Tiberius as Livia’s son (e.g. natus Pont.IV.2.11, progenies Pont.III.1.164, filius Pont.II.8.50). It should be noted that Tiberius’ name does not fit within dactylic meter and so inclusion of him simply as Livia’s or Augustus’ son (as he does appear in numerous later poems) is a natural solution, one which further reinforces the family bonds in the imperial house. References to Tiberius as Livia’s son also might have alleviated some confusion with Augustus’ other adopted son, Agrippa Postumus. Agrippa’s position was clearly subordinate to Tiberius in practice, but in name he remained Augustus’ adopted son and a possible successor. Return to text

45 Augustus had adopted Tiberius in A.D. 4, and after Agrippa Postumus’ relegation (A.D. 7) and Julia’s banishment (A.D. 8) his position seemed secure. Tiberius spent the years A.D. 4-9 fighting on the northern frontier; it was only after the announcement of his successes in Dalmatia and Pannonia that Augustus advertises Tiberius’ status on his coinage (A.D. 10/11), at which time Ovid too acknowledges Augustus’ heir in his poems. Return to text

46 Tristia I dates to the first year of Ovid’s exile A.D. 9: Syme 1978: 38, cf. Hinds 1985. See Kenney 1965: 41 and Hinds 1999: 139-141 on Livia’s role in the poem. Return to text

47 Regarding Augustus’ marital legislation of 18 B.C. and A.D. 9 see note 37. In addition, if one believes that Ovid’s exile was in some way related to the younger Julia (for theories see Pettinger 2012: 123-133), his emphasis on Livia’s upstanding morals is unsurprising. Return to text

48 Princeps being a term Ovid uses frequently of Augustus in the exile poems, cf. Tr. I.1.23, II.128, 123, 147, 219, 242, 464, IV.4.12, 10.98, V.8.35, 11.8; Pont. I.1.49, 2.23, 4.57, 6.44, II.2.50, 7.79, III.6.23, 6.39, IV.9.52, F. I.142, V.570. Return to text

49 In Ovid’s poems princeps is also used to refer to Germanicus (Pont. II.5.41) and Gaius (A.A. I.191); he never uses the term to refer to Tiberius. Return to text

50 On Livia as an intercessor see note 10 and Rose 1997: 8 (with bibliography). Two examples are her presentation of petitions by the Samians and Spartans, two communities who had close relationships with the Claudii. Kenney 1965 finds Ovid’s praise of Livia incongruous with the tone elsewhere in the poem and condemns the section as “disastrous” (41). Johnson 1997: 411-412 concurs, drawing attention to nullo pia facta magistro (23, a line indicating that Livia may not have been responsible for Ovid’s wife’s behavior) and arguing that Ovid’s prior depictions of probitas center around less than ideal figures, such as Helen. However, Ovid directly precedes this section with positive mythological exempla- Penelope, Laodamia and Andromache (cf. Hinds 1999: 125). I think Ovid is being rather practical and realistic- his wife is a special woman, and her attention to Livia has improved her all the more. Return to text

51 For powerful women in poetry are often potentially dangerous figures, e.g. elegiac mistresses, or historical figures like Cleopatra and Tullia. By including Livia, and depicting her in such a manner, Ovid is able to create role for his wife, both as a character and literary persona, whose plight could play on his audience’s sympathies. Return to text

52 Cf. ILS 118-123; Bartman 1999: 203-210 nos. 28-68. Return to text

53 The document records the senate’s decision on the punishments for Piso. The text is Potter and Damon, 1999. On the chronology and aftermath of the trial see Tac. Ann. 2.74.2-2.80.1; on the decree see Eck et al. 1996: 109-121; Griffin 1997; Potter 1998, 1999; Talbert 1999. Return to text

54 SCPP 113-114, cf. Pont. III.3.87. Return to text

55 Livia is referred to as Julia Augusta, a title she was granted after Augustus’ death, which will be discussed in relation to Ovid’s poems below. Return to text

56 Dated to A.D. 9, see Syme 1978: 38. For discussions of the poem see Nugent 1990, Williams 1994: 53-101 and commentary by Ingleheart 2010. Ovid’s tone in this passage and the poem has been debated. As concerns me here, the passage must play on official presentations of Livia to make its points, and the language Ovid uses must reflect public discourse. The marriage of Augustus and Livia was eventually commemorated in the calendar, but the passage in Tristia II draws as much attention to negative aspects of Augustus’ marriage to Livia as it does positive themes. For, despite Ovid’s claims that Livia was worthy of no other husband, she was previously married to Tiberius Claudius Nero and divorced him while pregnant with Drusus. In a poem designed to reveal the hypocrisy of Ovid’s relegation, Augustus is revealed as a serious offender of the moral and marital values he espoused. Return to text

57 I find it hard to read the passage as straight praise, but it must be stressed that there is nothing overtly negative about it. The passage does create a sense of unity and balance in Livia and Augustus’ relationship, but it is one that can be read to define Livia as the perfect partner for the defective and hypocritical Augustus. Johnson 1997: 418-419 lists negative contexts in which Ovid uses the adjective dignus (e.g. Helen in the Heroides 16 and Io in Metamorphoses I); however, in the exile literature the word comes to represent the worthiness of successors and appropriate relations between family members. If the poem is critical of Augustus, then it is not surprising this section would be as well. Return to text

58 Syme 1978: 39 dates the book to A.D. 11-12. Return to text

59 RIC (Aug) 235-241, 469-470, dated to A.D. 10/11. Return to text

60 On Augustus’ declining health in this period see Suet. Aug. 81-82; Pettinger 2012: 106-107, 135-136. Return to text

61 In line 13 et pariter Heinsius (followed by Hall) reads dent pariter; however this assimilates the other women to Livia in offering sacrifices on Tiberius’ behalf. Rather I believe (following Wheeler/Goold) that et is the proper reading as it distinguishes Livia from the activities of the other women, who thence become associated with the vestals. My interpretation of Livia’s role in the passage is unaffected by either reading. Return to text

62 Pariter matres (13) makes it abundantly clear what aspect of Livia is being emphasized. The explicit mention of mothers reinforces reading Livia in the role, symbolically placing her at the head of the mothers of Rome, and of motherhood in general. For Livia’s longstanding relationship with Vesta and the vestals see Pont. IV.13. Return to text

63 Livia had welcomed Tiberius on his return in 7 B.C. See Dio 55.2.4 for details on the triumph, and cf. Pont. III.4.95. Return to text

64 For background to Hor. Carm. III.14 see Nisbet and Rudd 2004: 179-181. Horace’s poem was also written in a time of crisis, as illness delayed Augustus’ return to Rome: see Syme 1939: 333 for further discussion. Return to text

65 Though Augustus declined a triumph at the time, cf. Flor. 2.33.53 and Dio 53.28.3. Return to text

66 Nisbet and Rudd 2004: 183-184; cf. Dutoit 1956 and Suet. Aug. 62. Return to text

67 Yet Ovid’s mention of Livia, and her role welcoming home Tiberius, do draw attention to the absence of Tiberius’ own wife. Return to text

68 Pont. I-III form a single collection, published before the end of A.D. 13 (Gaertner 2005: 2-4, 8 and Syme 1978: 42). Gaertner (2005: 302) sees an echo of the negative circumstances of Augustus’ and Livia’s marriage in this passage. I do not think that such an interpretation is warranted, especially because that argument would be counterproductive to a poem about Ovid’s own marital fidelity (cf. Helzle 2003: 154). Return to text

69 Tr. I.2.103--104: hoc duce si dixi Felicia saecula, proque / Caesare tura pius Caesaribusque dedi. Return to text

70 Examples of this group as a triad are well documented (such as those in the British Museum, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Copenhagen and Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln). Bartman 1999: 172 no. 61 cites busts of Livia and Tiberius that decorated a private home. On Livia’s cult worship see Bartman 1999: 95 n. 172. Return to text

71 For background on the poem see Galasso 1995: 129-131. Return to text

72 Also note that Ovid characterizes Augustus’ health as dependent upon Livia’s welfare. Return to text

73 For example, the exile poems are absent in Barchiesi 2011; Williams 1991 is an exception. Return to text

74 For images of the queen in Hellenistic poetry see Prioux 2011; also relevant is Barbantani 2011. Return to text

75 Text and translation is Hunter 2003; see commentary ad loc. Also of relevance are Theocritus 15 and Callimachus fr. 228, 388 and 392 (Pfeiffer). Return to text

76 Gold octodrachms of Ptolemy I/Berenice I (ANS 1977.158.112 and Ptolemy II/Arsinoe II ANS 1977.158.122). Return to text

77 On the iconographic relationship between Arsinoe-Aphrodite from Zephyrium and Venus Genetrix see Acosta-Hughes (forthcoming). Return to text

78 Images are found in Stanwick 2003: 221- Arsinoe II appears on a silver decadrachm (American Numismatic Society, NY 14.26.801), Berenike on a silver pentadrachm (ANS 1967.152.626); the Hellenistic tradition dates back to a gold octodrachm of Cleopatra I (BM 1978-10-21-1). Return to text

79 For background on the poem see Helzle 2003: 359-360. Return to text

80 See fn. 70 for examples. Helzle 2003: 360-361 proposes that the trio forms a version of a Capitoline triad. This is attractive in that Augustus has elsewhere been identified with Jupiter (Boscoreale cup, Gemma Augustea) and Livia with Juno (ILS 120, Gemma Augustea), but difficulty arises when Tiberius is paralleled to Minerva who, though known for her military prowess and male characterization, is still female. Minerva’s lack of a mother presents another problem; a direct parallel appears too awkward to justify. Return to text

81 For background to the poem see Larosa 2013: 1-8. Return to text

82 Femina princeps: cf. Tr. I.6.25; the image of a divine bed: cf. F. I.650. Return to text

83 Digna cf. Pont. I.4.55, F. I.650. Return to text

84 On the beauty of Livia: Vell. 2.75.3. Pudicitia recalls Augustus’ moral and marital legislation, see Mueller 1998: 224 n. 10 for bibliography. Return to text

85 Davisson 1993: 331 and Johnson 1997: 415-416 rightly note that Ovid sets his characterization of Livia against a framework of negative paradigms. The list (including such figures as Scylla, Circe and Medusa) does further a parallel to Augustus, as he too inspires awe and fear in Ovid, just as Livia does, in some sense, for his wife. We might also think of Livia-Juno in the context of the Augustan literature, for example in the Aeneid, where the parallel would be quite ominous. However, Ovid’s direct comparisons to Juno and Vesta are far more reverential and reflect aspects of her character promoted by Augustan ideology (for further discussion see Larosa 2013 ad loc.). Colakis 1987 has argued that Livia comes across unfavorably as an elegiac mistress in the poem. Return to text

86 Note the symmetry with precanda, 114 and that Ovid instructs his wife only to pray to the numen of Augustus, not the numina of all three figures. He is drawing a distinction here between the status of Augustus and that of Livia and Tiberius. On prayer to Livia as part of local cult activity cf. CIL XI.3303. Return to text

87 Otherwise the poet’s repeated mention of her participation in future triumphs would make little sense. This acknowledgement of her role in the triumph in and of itself has never been noted. Return to text

88 Ovid still has Eros acknowledge his error at III.3.72-76; cf. Tr. II. 207. Return to text

89 Generally agreed to be Pont. II.1. See Syme 1978: 83-87 for background on Rufinus. Return to text

90 Livia arranged a reception for Tiberius’ triumph in 7 B.C which Ovid witnessed; cf. Dio 55.2.4, 55.8.2. It is the same triumph Ovid recalls in his imagined triumph in Tr. IV.2. Return to text

91 Tac. Ann. 1.14; Dio 57.12.4-5; cf. Suet. Tib. 50.2-3. Return to text

92 Suet. Tib. 26; Taylor 1929. Return to text

93 Suet. Aug. 101; Tac. Ann. 1.8 (title); Dio 56.43.1 (title); Dio 56.32 (property); Ritter 1972. Return to text

94 Grand Camée: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Médailles. The exact date of the cameo’s production is debated, but it is generally agreed to be Tiberian. See discussions in Megow 1987: 202-207 no. A85; Kleiner 1992: 149-152 (with bibliography); Bartman 1999: 112. Gemma Augustea: Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum IXa 79. General treatments (with bibliography): Pollini 1978: 173-225, 1993: 258-298; Megow 1987: 155-163; Zanker 1988: 232; Bartman 1999: 86. Scholars differ in the precise dating of the Gemma, but all concur that it falls between A.D. 9 and 12. Return to text

95 An undated series from the Lugdunum mint portrays an obverse with the head of Tiberius and a reverse with Livia as Pax (RIC Tib. 25-30); from the Rome mint, dated A.D. 15-16, an As with the head of Tiberius on the obverse and on the reverse a seated female figure identified as Livia (RIC Tib. 33-35); cf. also RIC Tib. 72-73. Three Dupondi, dating from A.D. 22-23, from the Rome mint liken Livia to a series of goddesses. All bear an obverse with S.C. RIC Tib. 46 depicts a bust of Livia as Iustitia on the reverse. RIC Tib. 47 depicts a bust of Livia as Salus Augusta on the reverse. RIC Tib. 43 depicts a bust of Livia as Pietas on the reverse. Bartman 1999 and Rawson 2005 associate the latter series with Livia’s recovery from serious illness; cf. Tac. Ann. 3.68. The images also recall Hellenistic coinage, such as an octodrachm of Arsinoe II (issued by Ptolemy II, Art Institute, Chicago 1922.4934). Return to text

96 RIC Tib. 50-51. Return to text

97 Herbert-Brown 1994: 131. Return to text

98 There is some disagreement whether the name of Evander’s mother was Carmenta or Carmentis; see Bömer 1957: II.52 for discussion. These lines follow Carmentis’ remarks on Tiberius, Fasti I.531-534. Return to text

99 Green 2004: 234 (with bibliography); cf. Virg. Aen. VIII.335-336. On the Carmentalia: Warde Fowler 1899: 290-293; Wissowa 1912: 219-221; Scullard 1981: 62-64. Return to text

100 Herbert-Brown 1994: 160-162; Fantham 1992: 155-172; Barchiesi 1997: 199; Green 2004: 235-237. Return to text

101 Herbert-Brown 1994: 159-162; Barchiesi 1997: 197-202. Green 2004: 237 defines the characterization as an Ovidian attempt to secure another intercessor for his cause. Return to text

102 See note 95 for examples. Return to text

103 This change in nomenclature is seen in inscriptions such as the fasti Verulani (January 17th) and ILS 119-122. Fasti Verulani (Degrassi 1963, 161) Augusta nupsit divo Aug[us]t(o); ILS 119 from Haluntium in Sicily directly refers to Livia as a goddess; ILS 120 from El-Lehs in Africa associates Livia with Juno; ILS 121 from Malta associates Livia with Ceres; ILS 122 from Pompeii simply refers to Livia as Augusta Julia. In general, inscriptions containing the name Julia Augusta predominantly come from the Greek east, where Ovid was writing, for example, EJ 88 (Athens). In A.D. 22/23 Tiberius and Livia jointly dedicated a statue of Augustus outside the theatre of Marcellus, further evidence for her continued presence in affairs of state (Tac. Ann. 3.64; Kuttner 1995: 40 claims the seated image seen on a Tiberian coin is this statue). Examples of other inscriptions including Livia and Tiberius: CIL 2028 (= EJ 123), a statue base from Anticaria to Julia Augusta proclaims her as wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius and Drusus; EJ 89, a statue base from Athens names Julia Augusta, as mother of Tiberius dated to Tiberius’ reign; IGRR 1.1150 from Athribis a dedication to Tiberius and Julia Augusta (identifying her as Tiberius’ mother and associating her with Isis), dated A.D. 23 (cf. IGRR 3.720 from Myra dated to Tiberius’ reign); Smith (2013: 132-133) cites a statue group and inscription from Aphrodisias in both of which Livia is Julia Sebaste. Return to text

104 The lines are hampered by a textual problem. The textual debate centers on reading hanc or haec at line 649, the implication being that if haec is the chosen reading Livia is somehow implicated in the construction of the aedes Concordiae in the forum, as templa in line 648 would be its antecedent. The opinion shared by a majority of commentators, with which I agree, is that hanc is the correct reading and thus Livia is unconnected to the temple in the forum. There is no consensus in the major textual editions. Alton, Wormell and Courtney 1997 and Green 2004: 297 read hanc, Bömer 1957 reads haec; see Herbert-Brown 1994:165 for further discussion. Simpson 1991 unconvincingly argues for a connection between Livia and the temple in the forum. There is no evidence for the connection beyond this disputed textual reading. Return to text

105 For information on the temple see Ferroni 1993: 316-320; Richardson 1992: 98-99. Return to text

106 Green 2004: 297-298. Return to text

107 Venus as genetrix recalls Lucr. I.1; Enn. Ann. 58 (Skutsch); Virg. Aen. I.590; Ovid Met. XV.762 (cf. Feeney 1991: 212-213); Taylor 1931: 63; Schilling 1954: 316; Weinstock 1971: 85. Return to text

108 Pont. III.1.117: quae Veneris formam, mores Junonis habendo; III.1.164: participemque tori (see discussion of the poem above). Return to text

109 The entry is commemorated in the fasti Verulani; cf. Degrassi 1963: 168. Return to text

110 For further commentary on these lines see Johnson 1997: 408-415; Newlands 1995: 44-47; Herbert-Brown 1994: 162-172. Return to text

111 Ovid does not mention the Ludi Palatini, held in honor of Augustus, which began on January 17th; though we do not know the date of their foundation. Return to text

112 Cf. Pont. I.4.56, II.8.38, III.1.162-163. On iconography of the imperial family in domestic settings see Hänlein-Schäfer 1996. Return to text

113 Regarding Ovid’s Getic poem as a fiction, see Williams 1994: 91-99. Return to text

114 Unlike Pont. IV.9, where Ovid presents Tiberius and Livia side by side, in IV.13 she follows Tiberius. Either Ovid’s changing tactics are a sign of uncertainty or they represent the shifting presentation of Livia in the domus. Many statue groups demonstrate that Ovid’s visual hierarchy is on point with Tiberius and Livia flanking Augustus, but in this passage he demonstrates that Tiberius is now the head of state and leader of the imperial family. Flory 1996: 300 notes an increase in Livia’s depiction in family scenes in the late Augustan and Tiberian age, though it should be noted that more family groups survive from these periods than earlier in Augustus’ reign (cf. Severy 2003: 234; Wood 1999: 108-124; Bartman 1999: 102-117; Flory 1996: 295-300). Examples in coinage: RPC 66-67, 73, 538, 986, 1779, 2126, 2345-46, 2368, 4049, cf. RIC (Tib.) 21-24. Return to text

115 Tac. Ann. 4.16.4. Return to text

116 One should also remember that the Vestals carried out annual rituals at the Ara Pacis, which was dedicated on Livia’s birthday. Vestals eventually oversaw Livia’s cult after her deification by Claudius. In Pont.III.1 Ovid first compared Livia to Vesta, and also referenced Livia’s pudicitia (116). Ovid stresses Livia’s motherhood and pudicitia here and in her other appearances (a characteristic Tiberius’ wife Julia did not possess); the repeated emphasis on Livia’s character draws attention to the female vacancy by Tiberius’ side and serves to fill that void with a figure who remained faithful to her husband, son and state. Return to text

117 Purcell 1986; Severy 2003: 232; Wood 1999: 27; Rose 1997: 21. Return to text

118 Cf. Corbier 1995; Severy 2003: 232 too hastily dismisses this role. Return to text

119 Propertius (IV.11) honors the dead Cornelia (daughter of Augustus and Scribonia and wife of Paullus Aemilius Lepidus), cf. Hutchinson 2006:230; Horace anonymously refers to Livia and Octavia in Carm. III.14. Return to text


Electronic reference

Sanjaya Thakur, « Femina Princeps: Livia in Ovid’s Poetry », Eugesta [Online], 4 | 2014, Online since 01 janvier 2014, connection on 25 juin 2024. URL : http://www.peren-revues.fr/eugesta/881


Sanjaya Thakur

Colorado College