"The best epic saga of the prewar period"
Czesław Miłosz: History of Polish Literature
Nights And Days
Naso the Poet
by Jacek Bocheński
For reasons obscured by a conspiracy of silence, Rome’s greatest poet was sent into exile for life and his works were consigned to damnatio memoriae: eternal forgetting. But they weren’t forgotten. Readers touched by its lyricism preserved their precious volumes and copied them by hand so that the literature which had offended the government may yet live on forever. It has.
But... who was Ovid? And what crime did he commit to bring upon himself his punishment?
Any conventional treatment of Ovid's biography would require its author to come down on one hypothesis as to what led to Ovid's exile--and indeed, this is how most authors write; but Bocheński rises above this limiting treatment by... presenting his book as a cabaret show. As the show's Emcee, he does not have to come to any conclusions, he only has to entertain. And entertain he does!
In its first act, comes Ovid's love poetry--all beauty and sex--with stunning girls doing their number--an opportunity for some virtuoso prose writing; then, in act two, Ovid's greatest work, The Transformations, with a juxtaposition: on the one hand the narrative of the epic poem--humans challenging gods--and on the other, the contemporary political events, commented upon by Emperor Augustus himself (a god by law, challenged by mortals); and finally, in act three, "The Inquiry": a kind of crime police procedural with a difference: we know the culprit (Ovid), but we don't know the crime. Hypotheses bloom.
“It would be difficult to find a more brilliant fictional treatment of Ovid’s life than this hilariously serious entertainment.” -- Theodore Ziolkowski, Ovid and the Moderns
Jacek Bocheński (b. 1926) is a polish novelist and essayist and former president of the Polish section of the PEN club. A noted dissident figure during the communist rule in Poland, he was barred from publishing and interned during the Martial Law (1981-1983).