The House of Rumour
In his story of transformations from the earliest times to his present day, Ovid has reached the the run-up to the Trojan War. He is imagining a palace inhabited by Fama – Fame – which acts as a hub for the news and misinformation which are rife at such times of uncertainty. Fama can mean a lot of things in addition to rumour, news, fame, slander, gossip and personal reputation among them, and no doubt Ovid’s verse would have called this variety of meanings to his Roman readers’ and listeners’ minds. Fama’s palace exists as a virtual domain, outside the real world but completely interwoven with it, global in its reach, hearing everything and passing on sometimes truth, sometimes falsehood and often something somewhere in between. It all rings surprisingly topical bells in the social media age.
See the illustrated blog post here.
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Orbe locus medio est inter terrasque fretumque
caelestesque plagas, triplicis confinia mundi;
unde quod est usquam, quamvis regionibus absit,
inspicitur, penetratque cavas vox omnis ad aures:
Fama tenet summaque domum sibi legit in arce,
innumerosque aditus ac mille foramina tectis
addidit et nullis inclusit limina portis;
nocte dieque patet: tota est ex aere sonanti,
tota fremit vocesque refert iteratque quod audit;
nulla quies intus nullaque silentia parte,
nec tamen est clamor, sed parvae murmura vocis,
qualia de pelagi, siquis procul audiat, undis
esse solent, qualemve sonum, cum Iuppiter atras
increpuit nubes, extrema tonitrua reddunt.
atria turba tenet: veniunt, leve vulgus, euntque
mixtaque cum veris passim commenta vagantur
milia rumorum confusaque verba volutant,
e quibus hi vacuas inplent sermonibus aures,
hi narrata ferunt alio, mensuraque ficti
crescit, et auditis aliquid novus adicit auctor.
illic Credulitas, illic temerarius Error
vanaque Laetitia est consternatique Timores
Seditioque repens dubioque auctore Susurri;
ipsa, quid in caelo rerum pelagoque geratur
et tellure, videt totumque inquirit in orbem.
In the centre of the world is a place in between land, sea
and the heavens, where the edges of the triple world meet,
where everything everywhere, even far away, is visible,
and every sound reaches listening ears. Fama holds it,
making her home at the top of the citadel: she has built
uncountable entrances and a thousand openings into the house, closed none of its thresholds with doors: it stands
open day and night. It is built all of ringing bronze, it all
vibrates, reflects back sound and repeats whatever it hears. There is no peace inside, nothing is silent anywhere,
yet nor is there a din, but murmurings of a quiet voice, like the waves of the sea when heard afar, or the sound
the very end of thunder makes, after Jupiter has
finished crashing the dark rainclouds together.
The rooms are full of a fickle crowd that comes and goes,
false reports in thousands wander everywhere mixed up
with truths, and muddled words float about.
Some fill their idle ears with all this talk, some pass on
what they have heard to others; the element of fiction
keeps growing, and each new storyteller adds
something to what he has heard. Credulity is there,
rash error, misplaced happiness, panicky fears,
newly-roused dissension and anonymous whisperings.
Fama watches all that is done in the heavens, on the seas
and on the land, spying on the whole of creation.