Ibis is a curse poem by the Roman poet Ovid, written during his years in exile across the Black Sea for an offense against Augustus. It is "a stream of violent but extremely learned abuse," modeled on a lost poem of the same title by the Greek Alexandrian poet Callimachus.
Identity of Ibis
The object of the poet's curses is left unnamed except for the pseudonym "Ibis", and no scholarly consensus has been reached as to whom this pseudonym might refer to. Hyginus, Cassius Severus, Titus Labienus, Thrasyllus of Mendes, Caninius Rebilus, Ovid's erstwhile friend Sabinus, and the emperor Augustus have all been proposed, as well as the possibility that "Ibis" might refer to more than one person,:185 to nobody at all, or even to Ovid's own poetry.
Structure and Themes
The 644-line poem, like all Ovid's extant work except the Metamorphoses, is written in elegiac couplets. It is thus an unusual, though not unique, example of invective poetry in antiquity written in elegiac form rather than the more common iambics or hendecasyllabics.:184 The incantatory nature of the curses in the Ibis has sometimes led to comparisons with curse tablets (defixiones), though Ovid's are elaborately literary in expression; the poem has also been seen as a type of devotio.
Drawing on the encyclopedic store of knowledge he demonstrated in the Metamorphoses and his other work — presumably from memory, as he purportedly had few books with him in exile — Ovid threatens his enemy in the second section of the poem (lines 251–638) with a veritable catalogue of "gruesome and mutually incompatible fates" that befell various figures from myth and history, ranging from laming and blinding to cannibalism to death by pine cone. Ovid also declares in the poem's opening salvo that even if he dies in exile, his ghost will rise and rend Ibis's flesh.:129
The basic structure of the poem is as follows:
- I. Introduction
- 1–66: Proem which lays out Ibis' crime and declares war
- 67–126: Prayers to the gods to inflict on Ibis poverty, hunger, and exile
- 127–208: The eternity of Ibis' torment, which will outlast both Ovid's death and Ibis' own
- 209–250: A biography of Ibis' infancy and a divine mandate given to Ovid to curse him
- II. Catalogue
- 251–638: Catalogue of mythological and historical torments which Ibis should suffer
- III. Coda
- 639–644: Promise of an iambic followup should Ibis not cease and desist
The Ibis attracted a large number of scholia and was widely disseminated and referenced in Renaissance literature. In his annotated translation (1577), Thomas Underdowne found in Ibis a reference guide to "all manner of vices punished, all offenses corrected, and all misdeeds revenged.":131 An English translator noted that "a full reference to each of the allusions to be found in this poem would suffice to fill a small volume."
Online texts and translations
The editio princeps of Ovid's complete works, including the Ibis, was published in Italy in 1471. Full-text versions of the following Latin editions and English translations of the Ibis are available online.
- R. Ellis, P. Ovidii Nasonis Ibis, Oxford Classical Text, 1881.
- A. Riese, P. Ovidii Nasonis Carmina, vol. 3, 1899.
- Henry Thomas Riley, "The Invective Against the Ibis," prose, 1885.
- A. S. Kline, "Ovid - Ibis," Poetry in Translation, 2003
- Libel as a genre of invective poetry
- Hermann Fränkel, Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds (University of California Press, 1956), p. 152.
- Oliver Taplin, Literature in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A New Perspective (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 437 online.
- The Athenaeum, No. 2840, April 1, 1882 
- A. Schiesaro, "Ibis Redibis," Materiali e Discussioni 67 (2011): 79–150.
- Martin Helzle, "Ibis," in A Companion to Ovid, edited by Peter E. Knox (Blackwell, 2009) online.
- A. E. Housman, "The Ibis of Ovid," Journal of Philology 35 (1920): 287–318
- G. D. Williams, The Curse of Exile: A Study of Ovid's Ibis (1996).
- D. Krasne, "The Pedant's Curse: Obscurity and Identity in Ovid's Ibis," Dictynna 9 online
- The Metamorphoses is written in dactylic hexameter; the first line of a Latin elegiac couplet is dactylic hexameter, however, so the Metamorphoses itself is not a metrical exception in Ovid's extant work. His lost tragedy Medea presumably used other measures.
- Gareth D. Williams, "On Ovid's Ibis: A Poem in Context," in Oxford Readings in Ovid (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 447, note 12 online.
- Andreas Dorschel, "Entwurf einer Theorie des Fluchens", Variations 23 (2015), § 24, pp. 167-175, p. 173.
- Ov. Tr. 3.14.37–38
- E.J. Kenney, Latin Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1982, reprinted 1996), p. 454 online.
- John Kerrigan, Revenge Tragedy: Aeschyus to Armageddon (Oxford University Press, 1996) online.
- For extended work on the poem's structure, see D. Krasne, "Crippling Nostalgia: Nostos, Poetics, and the Structure of the Ibis," TAPA 146: 149–189 (2016).
- R. Ellis, "On the Ibis of Ovid," Journal of Philology 7 (1877) 244–255, full text online.
- Henry T. Riley, "The Invective Against the Ibis," in The Fasti, Tristia, Pontic Epistles, Ibis, and Halieuticon of Ovid, Literally Translated into English Prose (London 1885), pp. 475ff.