An Imaginary Life

by David Malouf

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

For reasons which even Ovid seems not to know clearly, the poet, at the height of his career, is exiled from Rome to a small village in the wilds near the Black Sea. Although he is able to continue writing and to correspond with friends and relatives in Rome, he is faced with the possibility of spending the rest of his life in this primitive backwater where the natives, obviously ordered to take care of him, do not even speak Latin, and whose lives are spent working barely to survive. Eight months out of the year, the land is cold, and the village is threatened by packs of wolves or marauding barbarians. Ovid, unhappy and unused to taking care of himself, is a burden to the village. He is housed with the headman, Ryzak, and the headman’s family.

Slowly, reluctantly, Ovid shakes himself out of his self-pity, busies himself with his writing, and starts to take an interest in the community, to learn the language, and to help in the communal chores. He also makes some attempt to civilize his surroundings by growing a few flowers and by trying to teach the grandson of the headman’s family to speak Latin. He puts his life into some perspective, recognizing the appropriateness, in a sense, of his return to the country, for he was born in a rural part of Italy. He is less unhappy, realizing that these people, if ignorant and unimaginative, are not unkind. Ryzak, the old headman, becomes a close friend.

On the annual deer-hunting expedition, Ovid thinks that he sees something which looks like a child, and he is determined, if possible, to capture the animal. Over a period of a few years, the Child does in fact appear, becoming less and less timid and Ovid sets out food for him, and eventually, with the grudging permission of the community, Ovid does capture the Child. Bringing the boy into the village upsets Ovid’s relationship not only to Ryzak’s immediate family but also to the tribal group in general. Ovid particularly fears the influence of Ryzak’s mother, who has considerable power, and there is constant danger that the Child, who slowly responds to Ovid’s kindness and instruction, may be killed.

On the death of Ryzak, Ovid realizes that he and the boy are not safe. They escape the compound, working their way north into the depths of the wilderness. The boy now leads and cares for Ovid, who, on their journey into the natural, uncivilized world, dies happily.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access