Notes on Ovid’s Fasti 1.1-288

These are some notes I made for a class I taught over two decades ago at Boston College on Ovid’s Fasti, his epic poem on the Roman calendar,  At that time, there wasn’t a good commentary on Book 1, although Brill has now brought out one by Steven J. Green. Anyway, I thought I’d put this up in case anybody’s looking for some basic grammatical help.


1. digesta (from digero, “set in order”), agrees with tempora.

2. signa: here “constellations,” but what are the several meanings of this word?

3. pacato (from paco, “to settle, resolve”), agrees with voltu.

5. officio: dative, because adsum takes a dative object.

aversatus (from aversor, “shun,” lit. a/versor, “turn from”), modifies the subject of the verb ades, as does dexter.

numine: numen, “godhood, divinity.”  An ablative of specification, I believe.  “Be here, propitious, specifically in your godhood.”

6. tibi: indirect object, implied by devoto (which agrees with officio)

7. eruta: from eruo, “dig out, root out.”

8. quo … merito, “with what value, mark, merit”:  introduces an indirect question, which explains why notata sit is subjunctive. The verb recognosces, as do many other verbs of knowing, will be followed by an indirect question (cf. lines 1.21 & 24).  The indirect question, as a subordinate clause, has its own subject and predicate.  Hence, “you will recognize with what value each day is marked.”  It sometimes helps to ask yourself what the direct question must have been.  The direct question here would be, With what value is each day marked?

9. festa domestica vobis: “ritual celebrations specific to your household.”

10. tibi: dative of agent.  Why?

11: quaeque (here neuter accusative plural, modified by signantia) is the object of both ferunt and feres. Praemia in the next line is in apposition, “as rewards.”

pictos … fastos: “red-letter days.”

12. Druso: Germanicus’ elder brother, both sons of Tiberius (the pater of 1.10)

13. And who was it that sang of arma? Savor the word-play, since Ovid’s programmatic statement here is meant to be memorable.  It will be of particular interest to us at 1.21-22, 75-78, 83-84, & 317ff.

14. addidit: you add an accusative to a dative in Latin.

15. adnue conanti:  adnuo (sometimes annuo: lit., “nod in assent to,” or “bless,” or perhaps better, “give blessing to”) takes a dative object.  Note the inscription hovering over the pyramid with the eye on top on the back of the $1 bill, “annuit coeptis,” he has blessed the beginnings.”  Grammatically consistent with this passage, though culturally mysterious.

conanti (present participle, dative singular, from the deponent verb conor, “try”): refers to the poet, “bless me as I try to go …”

17. dederis: 2d sg. future perfect indicative of do, dare.  This would appear to be a submerged future more vivid condition.

19. subitura: future active participle, “about to undergo critical assessment [iudicium]”

docti .. principis: Germanicus was himself a poet, having translated Aratus.

movetur: “is moved,” and hence, “shivers.”

20: legenda: where have we seen this before? And what can we infer from its repetition?

21. quae sit: indirect question, cf. 1.8.

21-22: tulit:  arma fero is an idiom, “to take up arms.”  But what is the subject of tulit?  How should this be read, in light of line 1.13?

24. currant … quanta: indirect question, cf. 1.8.

25. fas: what does this word mean literally, as well as more figuratively?  Consider this line more closely with lines 1.47-52.

26. auspice te: ablative absolute, “with you being favorable, in your good graces.”

eat: present subjunctive of eo in a purpose clause.

29: noras: a syncopation of noveras.  You will find that in poetry, syllables involving the letter V often drop out.  Not just Latin poetry either:  note how in the National Anthem we sing  “o’er the ramparts we saw” and “o’er the land of the free.”

noveras is pluperfect technically, but here functions imperfectly (and so parallel with erat), since the present of nosco is “learn.” Once you’ve learned something (in Latin anyhow), you know it, hence novi is “know” (in the present tense.)

31-32. quae moverit illum & quo tueatur:  both are relative clauses of characteristic, which require the subjunctive.

32: “and he has [something] by which he might defend his mistake.’

tueatur: from the deponent verb tueor, “to watch over, protect, defend.” (hence the nglish word “tutor”).

33-34: This is a knotty little sentence.  The skeleton of it is this: “He decided that [what follows must be an indirect statement] this [hoc, the accusative subject of the indirect statement] … was [esse, the infinitive verb] enough time [satis, the predicate nominative/accusative, which, thank God, doesn’t decline].”  The relative clause quod … infans, modifies hoc.

36. tristia signa: direct object of sustinet.

37. trabeati: the trabea was a white garment with a purple stripe, believed to have been worn by the kings of Rome.

39-40. Note the chiastic structure.  Is there any significance to the fact that the elegaic line reverses the order of the epic line? Perhaps I over-read.

42. quae sequitur: modifies turba.

43. praeterit: perfect.

45. Ne … ignores: purpose clause.

46. Lucifer: = dies.

idem: accusative.

47-54:  for these lines, cf. the discussion in handout of Geraldine Herbert-Brown, Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study (Oxford 1994) 17ff., or Sir James G. Frazer’s commentary ad loc.

49: putaris: = putaveris. see note on line 1.29. The future perfect often is used nearly as an imperative (cf. Gildersleeve & Lodge, no. 245)

52. praetor:  a high-ranking Roman magistrate, in charge of adminstering justice. (Am I crazy for wanting to see praetor here as a pun for poeta? Perhaps.)

53. populum … includere saepta: “to shut the people in an enclosed space,” is an idiom for bringing legislation to the populus for a vote.  Since people in their legislative function as a comitium had to be in a single place in order to vote, this place was called the saepta, “enclosure” (or as it used to be called, the ovile, “sheepfold”!  Such high regard for democracy.)  The Saepta Julia, “Julian Enclosure” was built to replace the old ovile, and was completed in 26 B.C.  Of course, since the Republic had been effectively destroyed by Augustus in his thinly-disguised dictatorship, there was no need for voting anymore, so the Saepta was used for gladiatorial games and staged sea-battles.  Bread and circuses indeed!  (What are we to make of Ovid’s use of the line?)

53-54. For both est quoque’s, sc. dies.

54. nono … orbe: “the ninth cycle,” refers to the nundinae, the market day.

55. Ausonias: Ausonia=Italia (which doesn’t scan, though that doesn’t stop Vergil from using it, notably in the second line of the Aeneid!)

57: deo, ablative of separation with careo.

58. fallare: = fallaris.  The -re for -ris alternative 2d sg. passive ending is often used in poetry metri causa.  Be on your guard for this (cave!).  Note that fallare is subjunctive, in a negative purpose clause.

61. dicta erunt go together.  Mihi is dative of agent (in poetry, sometimes in passive constructions other than the  periphrastic).

65. tacite: adverbial.

67. dexter ades: cf. 1.6 and notes thereon.

70. nutu, “at a nod,” cf. adnuo, 1.15.

73. lite: from lis, litis, f., lawsuit (hence English litigate). Ablative of separation with vacent.

74.  Note the textual variant lingua.

76. spica Cilissa:

78. tremulum … iubar, “the flickering flame” is the subject.

79. itur:  3rd sg. present active indicative of eo, “it is gone [to the Tarpeian citadels].”  This is an impersonal construction, which attempts to mimic a Greek middle voice construction (if this means nothing to you, don’t worry about it).  Perhaps we can translate it best as “the procession makes its way to …”

82.  ebur:  “ivory.”  Synecdoche for the sella curulis, “curule chair,” the chair the magistrates would occupy when performing their duties or, as here, being inaugurated into office.

83. rudes operum:  literally, “ignorant of work,” which means “never having been put to work.”  Modifies iuvenci, “bulls,” kept for no other purpose but sacrifice.

83-84.  What is the relationship between the dactylic line and the elegaic line?

86. revertere: present imperative form of revertor, a 3d conjugation deponent verb. (The form is like the alternate 2d sg. passive ending, discussed at 1.58)

88. digna, “worthy” modifies dies.

potente: potens takes a genitive of the thing under power (no, that’s not it’s technical name, and no, I don’t know what the technical name actually is!)

92. sitque:  the subjunctives are part of a relative clause of charactersitic.

93.  sumptis … tabellis:  ablative absolute, “with my tablet in hand.”

102. quod petis: direct object of disce.

103. Chaos: What poet speaks of Chaos? And at what point is Chaos spoken of?

  1. quam: construe as “how” with longi temporis, “doings of how long a time”


  1. quae: the word order is a littel inverted here- tria corpora is a subject along with aer; the relative clause defines it: “the three bodies which remain”


  1. ut: when

haec goes with massa soluta, which is the subject, “this mass, having been dissolved”;  there are two verbs, secessit and abiit.

lite:  from lis, ablative of cause, “through the contention of its parts.”  What should we make of the repetition of the word lite from line 73?

  1. locus: subject of cepit (a little unexpectedly)


  1. fretum = sea (synecdoche)


  1. globus, “mass” and moles, “mass” are predicate nominatives


  1. redii: from redeo, not reddo.


  1. quaesitae: “the asked-about form, the form you asked about” refers to line 91


  1. noris = noveris


  1. nostra … manu: which is why he has a key in his hand at line 99.


  1. penes: a preposition with the accusative, “in the power of [accusative, here, me unum] me alone.”


  1. libuit: perfect of libet, “it pleases.” The reference is to the doors of Janus’ temple which, when open, meant the Roman state was at war, when closed, at peace.  Ovid’s imagery is vivid, and perhaps confusing.


  1. teneant: present subjunctive, so a mixed future condition with miscebitur.


serae: from sera, -ae, f. bar for a door [from sero, “to join,” whence “series”]


  1. Ceriale …libum: “cake of wheat.” This sort of cake was offered only to Janus, though people did offer similar cakes to the gods on their birthdays (according to Juvenal 16.38), the origin of our custom of eating cakes.


farra: “spelt mizxed with salt”


  1. Patulcius, from pateo; Clusius, from claudo. “Opener” and “Shutter.”


  1. rudis illa vetustas, ” the uncultivated days of old”


  1. hanc, refers to figurae.


  1. Larem: each home had its own lar, household god, who presided over the house’s fortunes, and which was represented by a small statue in some small interior chapel.


137f.  Ianitores were doormen (I’m not sure what accounts for the drift in sense in the English use of the word).  Here vester ianitor, “your doorman” sits by the threshold primi tecti, “in the front part of the house.” Primus often means “foremost” rather than “first” strictly.


140: Eoas, “eastern”; Hesperias, “western.”


e in some small interior chapel, usually near the hearth.141ff.  Hecate is a Greek goddess associated with witchcraft (she even appears in Macbeth, chiding the Witches who have tempted Macbeth!).  She is particularly connected with crossroads, compita [compitum, -i, n.], where offerings are left to her.  She is thus sometime called Trivia, whe who presides over the area where three streets come together (the English word, trivia, refers to the fact that insignificant information is “streetcorner talk.”).  A fork in the road was thought to encompass three roads in antiquity.


Hecates: genitive sg., a Greek form.


  1. tempora perdam. Whenever tempora appear in this poem, we should take note.


  1. pactus erat: from paciscor, to agree, make a bargain.


145: What kind of condition have we got here?  Note that it is embedded within an indirect statement.

  1. grates, “thanks” with egi.


  1. spectans …humum. Moses also looks at the ground when he addresses divinity. If you should encounter a god, remember to do likewise.


  1. gemma: “bud.” Palmite, from palmes, -itis, m. vine-sprout.


  1. summum .. solum. Like primus above, summus often means uppermost. So here it is “the uppermost soil, surface of the ground.”


  1. aera, a Greek accusative, “air.” concentibus, “harmonious song” (this is the force of the prefix con-).


157f.  Hirundo, “swallow.”  Actually, the swallow build his nest on top of beams (trabis) not under.  Ovid is thinking here of the house martin, a similar bird.


  1. The pun on multis is hard to replicate in English exactly: “I quesioned him at length, but at length he did not delay …”


  1. bruma: the winter solstice.


novissima:  “most recent, hence, last.’


  1. idem agrees with principium.


165f.  Our New Year’s is, by contrast, a holiday.  Ab auspicio iners, indeed!  But, from what follows, it seems evident that the work done on this day is akin to the Friday after Thanksgiving, not too strenuous at all.


  1. delibat: Frazer translates it “handsel,” which is worth looking up.


What New Year’s customs do youknow of?173f.  ut …:  this is a purpose clause.  Habere is complementary infinitive with possis;  the direct object is aditum, “access to” [note how the ad- of aditum picks up the ad of ad quoscumque, which agrees with deos.]


176:  We still wish people happy new year.


  1. caducas: literally, “falling, hence, vain, ineffectual.”


dictaque pondus habent:  Do any of you know an old custom wherein you say “Rabbit” on the first day of a month?


  1. dulcis: often it is best to translate an adjective aggreeing with a nominative as an adverb– “the year goes sweetly along …”


  1. stipe … sumpta: ablative absolute, “cash in hand.”


Saturn (Kronos) came to Italy after be ing de-throned by Jupiter (Zeus).  The time of Saturn’s sojourn was supposed to have been a Golden Age.


  1. cuius non animo: relative clause, anteceded by quemquem.  “to his mind money didn’t seem sweet.”



  1. Pluris, genitive of value (not ablative: remember “e pluribus unum.”)


  1. ulva, -ae, f. “sedge.” People didn’t sleep in beds made of fine feathers, but in those lined with river grass. Some golden age!


  1. fictilis, -e, “eathenware, made of clay.”


  1. quae nunc: “what is now the Capitoline was [then] adorned …”


  1. fenum, -i, m. “hay.”


  1. Ovid refers in these lines to Cincinnatus.


in these lines to Cincinnatus, the dictator of 458 BC (a story found in Livy Book 3).


  1. lammina, or lamina, -ae, f. a thin sheet of metal (whence “laminate.”)


crimen, here a “grounds for accusation.”


  1. Fortuna is the subject.


  1. Carefully note the difference between plura anr plurima.213. quaerere: historical infinitive.




  1. sic quibus … venter: dative of possession. “Thus those whose stomach[s]”


suffusa … ab unda:  “from dropsy,” an accumulation of lymph [a yellowish liquid travelling through the lymphatic system picking up bacteria, etc., and aupplying white blood cells to the body] in bodily tissue.  The watery nature if lymph is implied in the Latin word, unda;  dropsy is an abbreviated form drawn from the Greek:  hydropisis.216.  aquae: subject of both verbs.


  1. utile: agrees with auspicium
  2. moneta= coin. The temple of Juno the Warner (Moneta) was the location of the Roman mint.
  3. aurea: agrees with templa.
  4. Remember that utor takes an ablative object.

What do you make of this line?


About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Italy, Poetry, Rome, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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