The Tristia ("Sorrows" or "Lamentations") is a collection of letters written in elegiac couplets by the Augustan poet Ovid during his exile from Rome. Despite five books of his copious bewailing of his fate, the immediate cause of Augustus's banishment of the greatest living Latin poet to Pontus in AD 8 remains a mystery. In addition to the Tristia, Ovid wrote another collection of elegiac epistles on his exile, the Epistulae ex Ponto. He spent several years in the outpost of Tomis and died without ever returning to Rome.
The first volume was written during Ovid's journey into exile. It addresses his grieving wife, his friends — both the faithful and the false — and his past works, especially the Metamorphoses. Ovid describes his arduous travel to the furthest edge of the empire, giving him a chance to draw the obligatory parallels with the exiles of Aeneas and Odysseus (Ulysses) and excuse his work's failings. The introduction and dedication, which caution the departing volume against the dangers of its destination, were probably written last.
The second volume takes the form of a plea to Augustus to end the unhappy exile brought about by the famous carmen et error—the nature of the mistake is never made clear, although some speculate it may have had something to do with Ovid's overhearing (or rather discovery) of the adulterous nature of Augustus' daughter, Julia. He defends his work and his life with equal vigor, appealing to the many poets who had written on the same themes as he—among them Anacreon, Sappho, Catullus and even Homer.
The plea was unsuccessful; Ovid would live out the remainder of his years in exile among the Thracian Getae. The last three books of the Tristia grow grimmer as their author ages, heavy with the knowledge that he will never return to his home. At one point he even composes his epitaph:
- I who lie here, sweet Ovid, poet of tender passions,
- fell victim to my own sharp wit.
- Passer-by, if you've ever been in love, don't grudge me
- the traditional prayer: 'May Ovid's bones lie soft!'
The last part of the book addresses Ovid's wife, praising her loyalty throughout his years of exile and wishing that she be remembered for as long as his books are read.
- Tristia 3.3.73-76: hic ego qui iaceo tenerorum lusor amorum / ingenio perii Naso poeta meo; / at tibi qui transis ne sit graue quisquis amasti / dicere "Nasonis molliter ossa cubent"; translation by Peter Green, The Poems of Exile: Tristia and the Black Sea Letters (University of California Press, 2005), p. 46.
- Ovid and His Influence; Rand, Edward Kennard (Boston, Marshall Jones Company, 1925)