Ovid's Love Nest Found By Banks of the Tiber
Wednesday, September 20, 2000
By Richard Owen
ROME The long-lost villa of Ovid has been discovered on the banks of the Tiber, together with what may be a portrait of the Roman poet not seen for 2,000 years.
Gaetano Messineo, superintendent of archaeology for the borough where the finds were made, said the discovery was "a miracle . . . one of the most important finds of our time".
He said that the villa, which dates to between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century AD, had been found by workmen clearing an area of small workshops to make way for a new council offices. They found the villa walls 15ft down, and a mosaic covered in clay that was in "mint condition."
Professor Messineo said that he had "no doubt" that the villa was the one described by Ovid in his letters. "The poet says he can see people streaming across the Milvian Bridge, and then dividing to go along the Via Flaminia, which ran along the river and still does or up the Via Cassia, which heads north at right angles to it. This is exactly what we see from this spot today." The old Milvian Bridge where the Emperor Constantine won a momentous victory in AD312, paving the way for the conversion of Rome to Christianity is still used by pedestrians.
Raffaella Tione, the archeologist in charge of the dig, said that additional evidence associating the villa with Ovid was provided by a five-meter-square mosaic of black and white geometric patterns forming the floor of what was once a porticoed riverside open-air summer dining room.
In the middle of the mosaic is a color picture of middle-aged man with a white-flecked beard wearing a crown of laurel leaves and carrying a flowering staff with bows tied to it. He appears to have a slight squint. Signora Tione said the picture faced the benches where Ovid's guests would have sat eating and drinking. "It could be Dionysus, the god of fertility and drunken revels, or a follower such as Silenus," she said. "It could be an ideal poet, perhaps Greek. But we prefer to think it is Ovid."
At the height of his fame Ovid was exiled by Augustus to the Black Sea, and was never allowed to return to his beloved villa. Ovid says he fell foul of the Emperor not only because of his irreverent poetry but also because of an unnamed "error". Some scholars believe this refers to Ovid's adulterous affairs, which may have included a liaison with Livia, the Emperor's wife.
Signora Tione said her team had discovered five further rooms originally decorated with colored plaster and columns, as well as a grotto. Much of the villa now lies under blocks of flats. Professor Messineo said the mosaic would be incorporated into the new council offices. Visitors would view it from a walkway.
Ovid's first love poems, Amores, brought him instant celebrity
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