Epistula ex Ponto

I always feel like an exile these days. And that’s probably because I actually am an exile. I’ve been an exile ever since I was ‘exiled to the outdoors‘ on 1 July 2007. I’ve remained an outsider ever since, no longer part of the society to which I once belonged.

Today I’ve been reading about exile in ancient Rome. And in particular the exile of the poet Ovid by the emperor Augustus to the town of Tomis (now Constanta) on the shores of the Black Sea. It was the subject of a painting by J.M.W.Turner:



That will be the Capitoline Hill on the left, and the river Tiber reflecting the setting sun (or is it rising?), and the Isola Tiberina on the right.

Ovid continued to write poetry while in exile. Ovid in Exile p. 16:

By turning his punishment into a poetic motif in the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto Ovid offers an explicit challenge to the emperor’s display of political power: what is an end for Augustus (out of sight, out of mind) becomes a means for Ovid (poetic presence through physical absence). Put another way, rather than silencing him at Rome, the punishment of exile furnishes Ovid with an exceptional kind of disembodied presence made more powerful by virtue of the poet’s conspicuous absence from the city.

Ovid’s disembodied, exilic voice on the lips of his readers – both ancient and modern – is a purely poetic presence. Indeed, it comes from an imagined place of intellectual refuge beyond the control of the emperor, where the poet can reflect out loud how and why his own art has been legally banished and left for dead on the margins of empire. As the last of the Augustan poets, Ovid is in a unique position to take stock of his own standing and the place of poetry itself in a Rome deeply restructured during the lengthy rule of the city’s first emperor.

Nobody seems to know quite why Ovid was exiled by Augustus. But Ovid appears to have felt he deserved his exile, and was resigned to it.

I suppose my blog might be modern Epistulae ex Ponto (Letters from Pontus). I hope it’s not Tristia (Lamentations), because I’m neither sad nor depressed. I am instead angry. Neither do I think I deserved my exile, nor am I resigned to it. For I am only one of some 150 million similar exiles in Europe alone, with ten times more all over the world. I don’t believe that so many people can be demonised and excluded without terrible consequences ensuing. I am not writing for myself, but instead for them.

My carmen et error, along with theirs, was simply to smoke cigarettes. It could equally have been drinking beer or being too fat in the early years of our new, totalitarian, EU empire. For much as in our times, the era of Augustus was one of attempted moral reform, and Ovid was a Roman erotic poet, and according to some “an intellectual proto-resister against totalitarian authoritarianism”.

And mine also is a disembodied, exilic voice. Nobody ever gets to actually meet me in my version of Pontus, which is to be found in the county of Herefordshire in England. Like Ovid, I spend my time scribbling letters to distant readers I will never meet. And I now have perhaps something of an exceptional disembodied presence: I am far better known now than I was when I was writing the Idle Theory which first made me a small name.

Much like I’m sure Ovid did, I wake up every day thinking about my exile. I am always exploring its dimensions, like some wound that never heals. And I am always finding new depths to it, and new bits of shrapnel within.

Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim.
“Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.”
― Ovid

About Frank Davis

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18 Responses to Epistula ex Ponto

    • Frank Davis says:

      Of course, it’s an article of faith now:

      Leaders of the Catholic Church in America have taken their “marching orders” from the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, and are already lobbying politicians in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as instructing their parishioners to do more. The release of the encyclical has also fired the starting gun for a wave of events designed to promote action on climate change.

  1. John Watson says:

    I like this Frank, a lot of thought has gone into it, Set as it is in the early days of the Roman Empire they like all other great Empires would have believed that Rome was permanent, they had yet to learn that no Empire, no regime lasts forever, just as those who followed Rome after her fall had to learn and as those who preceded her had already learned. It is as if mankind is imprinted with the idea that this time it will work and so never learn from their predecessors.

    Smokers as a society are all exiles from the mainstream society, some feel it more than others, some just go along hoping it will fade away in the same way that the Jews have historically done accepting all that their host societies threw at them from the Egyptian Empire to the present day particularly present anti-smoking legislation from their own government. Others try to fight it as best they can with little cohesion and no planning, looking back smokers cannot even agree who or what the real enemy is, until we can accept that there is not just one enemy and not just one way to beat them, until we as a society can identify them and take the best of the various lines of attack welding them into a plan with a cohesive strategy we never will beat them.

    Epistula ex Ponto is so very close to the truth, exiled you may be but you are not alone, your ‘letters’ provide a basis for discussion from North America through Germany to Denmark and probably beyond. If we can get past the occasional heated exchange of views we could indeed ‘cherry pick’ the best points and move forward from the many points of view expressed, after all the Anti-smokers sing from the same international hymn sheet so why can’t we write our own hymn sheet and do the same?

    • Frank Davis says:

      the Anti-smokers sing from the same international hymn sheet

      Which was written 50 years ago, and memorised as dogma. We have really only just started thinking.

      They are inflexible. We are open to all possibilities.

      • Rose says:

        Not only are we open to all possibilities, but I think some of us may have developed talents that we never even knew we had.

        I’ll bet Harley never thought he turn into living, breathing human encyclopedia on all matters tobacco.

      • John Watson says:

        It is good to be flexible and open to all possibilities, so here is one such possibility. Why don’t we take the fight to them, Frank estimates that there are 150 million smokers in Europe alone, some of them must be feeling as exiled as he does, there are millions perhaps billions of smokers worldwide some of whom feel the same way, Why not start pulling them in, give them a plan that fights the anti-smoking lobby along scientific/sociological/political and economical lines?

        We all know people all over the world, people who know how to interpret scientific papers, who know sociology, know how to deal with politicians and economics. There are people who can write articles that make sense to the man in the street even a few published authors among us. Some of them must be willing to employ their talents to end this war against smokers which is rapidly becoming a war against anyone who does not live up to a set of prescribed norms.

        Abraham Lincoln during his first inaugural speech told America that ‘a house divided cannot stand’ (I’m sure one of the Americans will correct me if the occasion is wrong lol) his words are as valid today as they were in 1860 (?) The house of the Anti-smoker is dividing and a concerted stand against them by smokers will divide it further. We need a team that can put together a plan and a case that smokers can get behind at an international level, a case that politicians will find compelling and very hard to ignore backed by those who pay them, those who elect them, those who hold the real power.

        As a final thought George Washington, James Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, were not politicians yet they took on the super power de jour and beat them, If they can do it, then so can we.

        • Rose says:

          “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

          Benjamin Franklin

          : )

  2. Rose says:

    I wake up every day thinking about my exile. I am always exploring its dimensions, like some wound that never heals

    It’s the nightmares that get me, I’ve had them in glorious technicolour virtually every night since 2007, always seeking a means to escape the situation, the labyrinths are worst.
    I fully realise that in those nightmares I am dreaming possible solutions to the problem and they do sometimes lead to new avenues of research.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Exile and all the PTSD scare tactics they can use on you………….All of them are Nazis and rabid. I couldn’t believe the lies I heard and I finally started calling their bluffs………I left many speechless.

  3. Frank Davis says:

    I don’t seem to have nightmares. But the fact that I always wake up thinking about the smoking ban does suggest that I may in fact have been dreaming about it.

    • Rose says:

      A nice selection of dreams that actually led to something useful.

      Sleep on a Problem… It works like a dream

      Including –

      “Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of relativity was apparently inspired by a dream in which he was sledding down a mountainside, watching the appearance of the stars change relative to his own speed (Mendlam, 2003).

      Einstein’s contemporary Niels Bohr (1885–1962) reputedly gained insight into how electrons remain in their orbits from a dream of horses running around a race track.
      Based on this image Bohr was able to formulate his quantum theory, a scientific breakthrough for which he was eventually awarded a Nobel Prize.”

      • junican says:

        I haven’t heard that story about Einstein even though I have read loads and loads of books about him and relativity theory. The story that I have read was that he wondered what would happen to the apparent time which the townhall clock was indicating if he was travelling away from it at great speed. He surmised that, the faster he travelled away from the clock the slower the fingers of the clock would seem to move. In other words, as far as he was concerned, the clock would appear to be running slow. If he was travelling away from the clock at the speed of light, then the clock would appear to be stopped. His enormous leap of imagination was that, as far as he was concerned, THE CLOCK WOULD ACTUALLY REALLY BE STOPPED! This thought led him to imagine what would happen to physical object if they were moving at the speed of light. His theory was, essentially, that all internal movements within those objects (such as your body) would have to stop. Further, an object (imagine a spaceship) would shrink in its length until, if it managed to reach the speed of light, it would have to be flat. That is, it would have no length at all. Of course, he was not saying that such a thing would actually happen. What he was saying that such speeds are impossible for physical things.

  4. junican says:

    Ha! Rose may have solved a little problem for me. I too have labyrinthine dreams. In one recurring dream, I have parked my car somewhere in a street in a strange town and I wonder around and around the streets in the semi-darkness looking for the car, but I never find it. In another, I am trying to find my way to some place which I do not know, and I wonder the streets looking for that place. In another, I am trying to cross a wasteland. I keep finding paths through the mud and rocks but I never actually arrive anywhere.
    So it has all to do with thinking about the smoking bans and the propaganda, has it? That would not surprise me. I think that most of us have an instinctive feeling that we do no harm to others by smoking in the same place as them. Any harm we do to ourselves (if there is any harm) is our business. We know that having a cig in the car, when going on a journey with the kids in the back seat, will do the kids no harm whatsoever.
    The answer might come in due course when the statistics reveal no significant change in the occurrence of ‘smoking related diseases’ when the improvement in modern day treatments is taken into account. It is quite possible that such information might lead proper scientists to search for and find the real causes of these diseases. In that case, the enjoyment of smoking tobacco will once more take its place alongside all the other pleasant things that we do, to which there may be a risk factor attached. It isn’t difficult to see that the general smoking ban will be relaxed in ‘pleasure places’ such as pubs, clubs, cafes, restaurants, at the discretion of the owners. It will take some time though. It is not unlikely that the first places to relax the ban will be holiday resorts abroad (again, going with the pleasure theme). We shall see.

  5. Thank you, Frank Davis.
    I have this particular understanding of the phrase of Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.
    And in this patriotism, I hate being turned into a false and unscientific and sick and minority class.
    Accept my brazilian hug, or rather, embrace “paulistano”.

  6. Joe L. says:

    Add meat to the ever-growing list containing tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt and fat. Sure, it’s been touted before that “studies” show red meat is bad for your health – that’s not new. What is new, though, is that here in the U.S., there’s apparently an attempt underway to update the national dietary guidelines, and this time, it’s not even under the guise of “health,” but rather because meat is bad for the environment:

    House and Senate spending bills approved by subcommittees in each chamber say the guidelines must focus only on nutrition and diet. That’s a clear effort to thwart a recommendation by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that eating a diet higher in vegetables and other plant-based foods is better for the environment than eating a diet based on foods from animals.


    At least this one has encountered serious resistance. What’s next?

    • nisakiman says:

      Joe, they won’t stop until they hit a brick wall of resistance. And they avoid that problem by adopting the ‘salami slice’ approach, backed up with baseless propaganda. In this particular instance, they have lost this particular skirmish, but you can be sure that the environmental loonies behind it are already devising machiavellian plans to undermine that ruling.

      We have a way to go yet before people wake up to the fact that they are being enslaved by a bunch of lunatic fringe groups who have shouted and lied their way into positions of power.

    • beobrigitte says:

      At least this one has encountered serious resistance. What’s next?

      It will come up again, don’t worry. The “environment” is a gravy train…… Health is an even bigger gravy train!!!
      No-one asks the question: Why do people think we “need” dietary guide lines in the first place? We humans eat what is available. It is that simple.
      One english guy is taking food stuff to the extreme:

      Perhaps we, the adults and voters (aren’t the people I vote for supposed to stand for MY interests rather than that of lobby groups?) need to put our foot down. Enough of this idiotic scaremongering about food, tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt, the environment etc. etc. etc.

      As it happens, I resent too much meat in MY diet, so I eat accordingly. It is that simple. I am an adult, perfectly capable to decide what I like.
      Sure, I do not like the way the animals that feed me are kept, slaughtered and then, when the plan just did not work out, thrown into a landfill site. This practice doesn’t make sense to me.
      We mass produce food stuff and then get some people to issue “guide lines” to tell us that we can’t eat what we produce? And it never stops with “guide lines” – the next step is another law that produces rather unusual side effects…

      Talking about plants; I, personally, would like to use my plant based enjoyment INSIDE a pub again – just like I used to….

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