This paper revisits Ovid’s Metamorphoses to look at the ‘House of Rumour’ described in Book XII of the epic poem. Built for the goddess Fama on top of an unnamed mountain, the House of Rumour exists entirely and uniquely within the realm of myth. It is, in a literal sense, a monument ‘made of words’, not unlike other structures conjured up in the literature of antiquity. Yet, as a work of architecture, the house that Ovid imagined has resisted interpretation, both in visual and verbal terms. This is because Ovid’s design has nothing in common with the classical tradition associated with Vitruvius, on which historical interpretations commonly rely. In its poetic absurdity, Ovid’s architecture has arguably more in common with the literary inventions of modern writers like Jorge Luis Borges. This paper argues, however, that Ovid’s poetic sensibility survives within the history of architecture through the (un-built) projects of eighteenth-century architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu and, more recently, the architecture (and poetry) of post-modern architects like John Hejduk and Aldo Rossi. In tracing this lineage, from poet-architect to architect-poets, this paper seeks to locate in Ovid the origins of a ‘mythical project’ that marks the birth of architectural design as a poetic practice.
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