Two thousand years after he was banished to the outer edges of the empire, the city of Rome has formally revoked the exile of the poet Ovid.
A prolific writer famous for his Metamorphoses and The Art of Love, Ovid was exiled by the Emperor Augustus to a remote town on the coast of the Black Sea, in what is today Romania, in 8 AD.
He remained there until his death, never seeing Italy again. He found life there uncouth and uncomfortable, sending endless pleas to the emperor asking to be allowed to return to Rome.
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The reasons for his banishment are one of the great mysteries of ancient literature – the poet himself attributed it to carmen et error, or “a poem and a mistake”.
No one has ever quite worked out exactly what he meant, but scholars have speculated that his indiscretion was linked to the adultery of the emperor’s grand-daughter, who was banished at the same time.
A motion to officially revoke the exile order was approved by Rome city council, the distant successor to the imperial authority of Augustus, on Thursday.
It was put forward to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the poet’s death, in 17AD, by politicians from the Five Star Movement, the anti-establishment party that has shaken up Italy’s political landscape in the last five years.
They said they wanted to “repair the serious wrong suffered by Ovid by revoking the order with which the emperor sent him into exile in Tomis (modern-day Constanta).”
It is not the first time that contemporary Italians have issued a pardon or apology for a famous historical figure.
Last year the hilltop town of Gubbio in Umbria asked forgiveness for playing a part in the persecution and exile of Dante, Italy’s most celebrated poet and the author of The Divine Comedy.
Born in Florence in 1265, Dante found himself on the wrong side of the bitter feud between the rival Guelphs and Ghibellines.
He was accused of crimes that included fraud and taking bribes, and when he failed to turn up to face the charges, was sentenced to be burnt at the stake.
Dante fled into exile in 1302 and never saw Florence again.
The death warrant was signed by Cante Gabrielli, a magistrate who originally came from Gubbio, and the town’s council asked to be belatedly pardoned, albeit seven centuries after the event.
Gubbio’s apology followed a similar gesture by Florence, which in 2008 declared it was sorry for exiling the poet.