The Pragmatics of Literature: Ovid
In Tristia 2, Ovid makes a case to Augustus for his return from exile. The poem's pragmatic aim ostensibly failed and the poet was never recalled. But Ovid does more than try to change his fate. His systematic punning on lex and legere invites comparison between the powerlessness of his own written discourse to the power of Augustus' ability to determine the law. But we should not end with a picture of powerful orality versus impotent writing. The end of the Metamorphoses makes it clear that the poet wins out in the end. He is the one to control Augustus' representation in his poetry — even against the emperor's will — and a future readership will retain the freedom of interpretation. Ovid's strong claim about the power of reading and writing to resist the anger of the powerful despite its pragmatic force is a fitting conclusion to this book.
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