Maiestas Laesa: Augustus and Ovid

Poets didn’t fare so well under the reign of Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome (63 BCE to 14 AD). One of them was Ovid, whose Metamorphosis remains pivotal to our understanding of Greek mythology. In the same way that Shakespeare mimetically reworked myths, fables, and history to create new works of literature, Ovid built on the power of Greek storytelling, and produced something magical. For his trouble, he was exiled.

Maiestas Laesa (I’ll come back to this in a bit).

Now, to go a little off topic…

I taught college for over a decade, and watched intellectual censorship subtly, but surely, creep into the classroom. The thought police weren’t actively beating down our doors, but they were listening: there were things you couldn’t say without fear of reproach, reprimand, or in some cases, termination.

I’ve watched science teachers being told to avoid evolution. I’ve known history teachers who couldn’t talk honestly about religion. I’ve seen people fired for giving dissenting information, and if you can’t do that in a college setting…well maybe that’s why we are where we are.

Maiestas Laesa.

We’ve already fired our poets. Our news reporters stopped reporting a long time ago. Our comedians are the only ones left in the building who dare speak truth to power. The question is, for how much longer?

So, back to the topic, the poet Ovid committed a banishable crime. The official term is that he Offended the Majesty.

Maiestas Laesa, if you speak Latin (which I don’t, but I dig the phrase); an offense to the majesty.

It’s already in the classroom; is it unwise to fear that it could become normative in political discourse as well?

We all know our new Emperor wears no clothes.

I just hope there are still some Fools left around to tell him…

…and that they fare better than the poet Ovid.

Maiestas Laesa.







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