I don’t know if you are still counting the days of my exile, but today it has been five years exactly since my slow death began. I miss you, every day. And I miss our city – the greatest on earth – our friends and conversations. I often dream I’m on my way to the Baths of Agrippa to meet Cassius Severus or Paulus Fabius Maximus, or the Temple of Caesar or the Theatre of Balbus. But I usually wake up before I get there.
I miss everything about our life together. Here, amidst barbarians whose lives are but an everlasting war, I know that everything that has made me into who I am is there with you. None of these barbarians speak our language, and I haven’t met a single Roman soldier since I have been here.
Here, in the land by the pontus, I curse the days when, back in Rome, I used to teach lessons in love. I’m no longer a praeceptor amoris, and here among the barbarians – wolves rather than men – I miss the pleasures of our city.
For five years, I’ve closed my eyes when the wind howls around the slated roofs. That’s when I see you in our second bath, the pink marble one with the red pillars, the one your first slave used to keep warm. I see how you – dressed in a cloud of lightweight garments – drop those garments on the rose-veined floor and pull the hairpins from your bun; you in all your finery, the perfect lines of it. I see your nipples, once such willing playthings in my hands! Your smooth stomach under your rigidly restrained breasts. I see you step slowly into the water and I no longer hear the wind howl. I hear your voice calling me, and I have you. I have you, my dear Calpurnia. I hear the joy in your voice and hear you whisper that we need to slow down, that I’m still too greedy. Dearest Calpurnia, I can no longer be greedy, and I cried today the way I did when I heard my books suffered the same fate as me, having been banished from public libraries.
Do you miss me too?
My blood rushes like the wind blows about the rooftops here when I think it wasn’t our Senate that banished me, as should have been the case, but Augustus himself. After all these years of exile, I still wonder whether our conversation could have taken a different turn, what else I could have said. You cannot cut out your eyes just because they have seen something, can you? Eyes are made for seeing, caressing and embracing – more so than arms, and hands. Every day I think of the fact that our law clearly states which islands the unfortunate are to be sent to, but this cold, godless land – which has no colour of its own but takes on that of the ever-angry sea – is not among them. I don’t want to think about it, dear Calpurnia, but I can’t help it. Have you heard from Augustus? Have our friends mentioned me in their conversations?
I’m tired of the sea, my Calpurnia, and time is such a glutton here. I’m worried that I’ll never see you or my beloved Rome again!
People do not fear the law here. They really do resemble frantic wolves and the landscape is just awful. I think there is nothing sadder in this whole world. I miss our Rome!
I don’t write love poems here. Amor is dead. Sometimes, I think this is all fiction, my exile a mere nightmare that will be over as soon as I open my eyes. But when I do, I don’t see our bridges, our libraries, anything. Instead, I hear those dreadful Getae bagpipes, the tibia utricularis, a wool-less sheepskin bag with two wooden flutes. The barbarians play it day and night, preventing a well-educated man from sleeping during the hours when he is supposed to be asleep.
Have you and Rome forgotten me, my Calpurnia? Does Rome still speak of my departure, after so many years? When I can’t sleep and cannot find peace, I think that Rome hasn’t forgiven me for being happy. Rome has punished me for my happiness with you. Why me, why us …? Since when has marital infidelity been a crime, not a private matter? Martialis boasted in public about his feelings for a slave girl of his he called Erotion in his verses. The child was six when she died, but Rome did not weep. Martialis was not banished. Cato the Younger lent his wife to his friend and married her again after his friend died and left the woman considerable wealth. Rome said nothing; Cato was not banished. Consuls marry stepsisters and stepmothers. I, Calpurnia dearest, told Roman women a secret: you can be more than someone who is penetrated. You may surrender yourself to the embrace, and you may both be exhausted after making love. Is that the reason Rome wants me to await my death among barbarians?
We both know the truth that Rome must not know. We two know that the reason for my death will not be political, but sexual. Carmen et error, Calpurnia, Carmen et error.
Morning has come again, my dear. The wind has stopped howling. Either that or I don’t hear it any more. The roof has stopped crying. My only consolation today is that you do not see this ugly land with the colour of the sea. That you do not see my ravaged body. Please keep asking Rome for forgiveness and, for the two of us, believe in the day when we will embrace each other once more.
Your beloved Ovid, the greatest poet of Rome (am I still?), banished to Tomis.