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By Dave Jones on May 12, 2020
Ralph J. Hexter mugshot
  • Appendix Ovidiana: Latin Poems Ascribed to Ovid in the Middle Ages
  • Edited and translated by Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor, and Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature; Laura Pfuntner, lecturer in ancient history, Queen’s University Belfast; and Justin Haynes, postdoctoral scholar in classics, UC Davis
  • Harvard University Press, May 12, 2020 (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library)

“The works of the “medieval Ovid” mirror the dazzling variety of their original. The Appendix Ovidiana includes narrative poetry that recounts the adventures of both real and imaginary creatures, erotic poetry that wrestles with powerful desires and sexual violence, and religious poetry that — despite the historical Ovid’s paganism — envisions the birth, death and resurrection of Christ.” — Harvard University Press

Ralph J. Hexter, who will soon leave Mrak Hall to refocus his energies on his teaching and research in classics and comparative literature, is already publishing again.

His newest book, Appendix Ovidiana, which came out today (May 12), comprises 33 Latin poems ascribed to Ovid in the Middle Ages but now believed to have been composed by later, largely anonymous, poets who lived in antiquity and the Middle Ages.

"Appendix Ovidiana" book coverHexter announced last September that he would step down as provost and executive vice chancellor at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, after 9½ years, including 15 months as acting and then interim chancellor.

He devoted many years to Appendix Ovidiana, fitting in his research, editing and translating while serving in major administrative posts at UC Berkeley, Hampshire College and UC Davis. 

He completed the book in collaboration with two UC Davis postdocs: Laura Pfuntner, a lecturer in ancient history at Queens University Belfast; and Justin Haynes, who will soon join Georgetown University as an assistant professor of classics.

According to the publisher, Appendix Ovidiana is the first comprehensive collection and English translation of these pseudonymous medieval poems.

“Today, the ancient Roman poet Ovid is most famous as a poet of love who described his own sexual exploits and offered advice to would-be lovers,” Hexter told Dateline UC Davis. “Some of the poems in the Appendix Ovidiana reflect this facet of Ovid’s work, but many others celebrate aspects of Ovid’s poetry less well known today, such as Ovid's interest in the natural world and the science of his time.”

Hexter explained, “It has often been the case that minor anonymous works have been attracted into the gravitational field of major authors and subsequently orbit under that person’s name. Since Ovid was one of the most famous poets in Europe during the Middle Ages — often simply referred to as ‘the poet’ — and read widely in schools, it is not surprising that so many anonymous poems were assigned to him at the time, whether or not their authors were trying to imitate his style.”

Verses expand Ovid’s legacy

From the publisher’s description: “When does imitation of an author morph into masquerade? Although the Roman writer Ovid died in the first century CE, many new Latin poems were ascribed to him from the sixth until the 15th century. Like the Appendix Vergiliana, these verses reflect different understandings of an admired Classical poet and expand his legacy throughout the Middle Ages.”

Haynes, a specialist in medieval Latin literature, received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 2014 and taught for three years at UCLA before coming to UC Davis. His first monograph, The Medieval Classic, will soon be published by Oxford University Press.

Pfuntner completed her Ph.D. in ancient history and Mediterranean archaeology at UC Berkeley in 2013. Her first book, Urbanism and Empire in Roman Sicily, was published by the University of Texas Press in 2019.

Hexter’s other works

Hexter received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Harvard College, a B.A. and Master of Arts in classics and modern languages from Oxford University, and a Master’s of Philosophy and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Yale University.

He is the author of Equivocal Oaths and Ordeals in Medieval Literature (1975), Ovid and Medieval Schooling: Studies in Medieval School Commentaries on Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, Epistulae ex Ponto and Epistulae Heroidum (1986); A Guide to the Odyssey: A Commentary on the English Translation of Robert Fitzgerald (1993) and numerous articles, including “What Was the Trojan Horse Made Of?: Inter­pre­ting Virgil’s Ae­ne­id” (1990) and “Masked Balls” (2002); and the co-editor of Innovations of Antiquity (1992), The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature (2012) and Reading the Past Across Space and Time: Receptions and World Literature (2017).

Today, Hexter is writing about two early 15th-century Latin plays connected with law students at the University of Pavia. “They owe much to the Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence but are quite interesting since the setting is contemporary and the plot of both involves the entrapment of a priest who seeks sexual pleasure with other men,” he said.