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Did Ovid know of Mt. Ararat?

Latin Language Asked by TKR on November 10, 2021

Here is a passage from Ovid’s description of the flood in Metamorphoses 1, 293–4:

occupat hic collem, cumba sedet alter adunca
et ducit remos illic ubi nuper ararat.

“This man occupies a hill, another sits in a curved boat and plies oars where he
had recently plowed.”

Now, ararat is a perfectly regular syncopated pluperfect verb form, “he had plowed”. But it also happens to look exactly like the name of Mt. Ararat, which is an odd coincidence in the context of a deluge story (especially as the next hundred or so lines tell the story of Deucalion). Is it possible that Ovid knew the Biblical version of the flood story, or some other version that involved Mt. Ararat, and was making a learned pun? Or is it sheer coincidence?

3 Answers

This story was ambient and Genesis is not the only source. We see it written in the Epic of Gilgamesh just as much as in the story of Noah’s Flood. Those few written occurrences, including Ovid, are just solid bits of mountain poking up through (you might say) the floodwaters of oblivion.

Whether the story is the preservation in the oral tradition of the waters of the Black Sea rising and drowning the whole world in c.6000 BC is of course another matter and not easily verified. But oral traditions do encode historical facts in an optimally transmissible form — just as there was a city of Troy and wars over it, as Hittite diplomatic archives confirm. The facts may end up fictional (like the surface of a virus they are there for transmissibility) but the Fact they transmit is preserved.

Answered by Martin Kochanski on November 10, 2021

" I do not see that there is any evidence that the Septuagint, or any other version of the Hebrew scripture, was known to or read by anyone outside the Jewish community until the time when Christianity emerged as a separate community"

Actually, I can supply a few pieces of evidences to gainsay this comment:

  1. The work On the Sublime by Longinus or Pseudo-Longinus quotes from the first verses of Genesis (Let there be Light etc) as an example of high literary style.
  2. the scholar Moses Hadas notes similarities to Scripture in Horace and Vergil (to Isaiah and Jeremiah).
  3. a mosaic or wall painting was discovered in recent years in southern Italy, probably Pompei, in which the Judgement of Solomon is depicted. That is, where the king is asked to decide which of two prostitutes is the true mother of a baby.You know the rest.

Answered by Eliyahu Ben Abraham on November 10, 2021

Of course, this is a very interesting question. From a purely chronological point of view one could imagine that Ovid might have run across a copy of the Septuagint and read there of how Noah’s ark came to rest on ὄρη τὰ ᾿Αραράτ. Having said this, I do not see that there is any evidence that the Septuagint, or any other version of the Hebrew scripture, was known to or read by anyone outside the Jewish community until the time when Christianity emerged as a separate community, that is: towards the end of the first century. So I think we need to accept that this is a coincidence.

Answered by fdb on November 10, 2021

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