In Graeco-Roman tradition, the defixio was a curse tablet buried into graves or tombs, or sometimes nailed to the walls of temples, wishing harm and destruction
onto another. Ovid’s Ibis, one of his final works written during his exile in Tomis (current-day Constanta, Romania,) does indeed qualify as a curse of this kind,
but what if it is more?
The Ibis is directed at another poet. Ovid writes,
And like him I’ve involved my poem with hidden matters:
I’ve followed him, though I’m unused to this sort of thing.
Its convolutions are uttered in imitation of those
in Ibis, forgetful of my own custom and taste.
And since, when asked, I’m not saying who you are, as yet,
you too, in the meantime, can take the name of Ibis:
and as my verse will reflect something of my nights,
so may the sequence of your days be wholly dark.
What if this “new” Ibis is really Ovid himself, that poet whom he curses? What if Ovid’s Ibis is really sibi (in Latin, meaning to/for oneself,) and this curse tablet
is of such a kind that it may be buried in one’s own grave, nailed on one’s own temple?
defixio explores this paradox in tandem with a musical one. If the text is truly reflexive, defixio captures the energy of the space of reflexivity. In between oneself
and sibi (to oneself,) there is still a gap, one in which there is far more tension and energy than outside of it, for here are all of Ovid’s mental processes
manifested! In defixio, this idea comes about in numerous ways: on a macro scale, it is in the unsolved bitonality between the stable voice and the unstable
instruments. The gap is breached multiple times, but as is true in the source text, there is no simple conclusion: the nature of Ovid’s appeal, its recipient is still a
mystery, as is unresolved the physical torment Ovid wishes to inflict on his enemy. Is it a reflection itself of the mental torment he has gone through?
Much like the repelling magnetic force between two positive sides, there is no stasis, nor conclusion, to defixio.
8 September 2010/revised 16 January 2011 – Tallinn, Estonia
Instrumentation: Dramatic voice, Flute, Kannel, Violoncello
Duration: Approximately 5 minutes