Publius Ovidius Naso
, 43 BC – 17 AD) was a Roman
poet known to the English
-speaking world as Ovid
who wrote on many topics, including love (he is the medieval magister amoris
, "master of love"), abandoned women, and mythological
transformations. Traditionally ranked alongside Virgil
as one of the three canonical
poets of Latin literature
, Ovid was generally considered a great master of the elegiac couplet
. His poetry, much imitated during Late Antiquity
and the Middle Ages
, had a decisive influence on European art
Elegiac couplets are the meter of most of Ovid's works: the Amores, his two long erotodidactic poems (the Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris), his poem on the Roman calendar (the Fasti), the minor work Medicamina Faciei Femineae (on makeup), his fictional letters from mythological heroines (the Heroides or Epistulae Heroidum), and all the works written in his exile (five books of the Tristia, four of the Epistulae ex Ponto, and the long curse-poem Ibis). The two fragments of the lost tragedy Medea are in iambic trimeter and anapests, respectively; the Metamorphoses was written in dactylic hexameter. (Dactylic hexameter is the meter of Virgil's Aeneid and of Homer's epics.)
Life and work
Ovid was born in Sulmo
(modern Sulmona), which lies in a valley within the Apennines
, east of Rome. He was born into an equestrian
ranked family and was educated in Rome. His father wished him to study rhetoric
with the ultimate goal of practicing law. According to Seneca the Elder
, Ovid leaned toward the emotional side of rhetoric as opposed to the argumentative. After the death of his father, Ovid renounced law and began his travels. He traveled to Athens
, Asia Minor
. He also held some minor public posts, but quickly gave them up to pursue his poetry. He was part of the circle centered around the patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus
. He was married three times and divorced
twice by the age of 30. From one marriage, he had a daughter.
The Amores were originally published as a five-book collection, probably some time in the 20s BC. The version which has survived, reduced to three books, includes poems written as late as 1 AD. Book 1 of this collection of love elegy contains 15 poems, which look at the different areas of love poetry. Much of the Amores is tongue-in-cheek, and while Ovid initially appears to adhere to the standard content of his elegiac predecessors — such as the exclusus amator (locked-out lover) lamenting in a paraklausithyron (in front of a locked door) - he actually portrays himself as more than capable at love, and not particularly emotionally struck by it (unlike, for example, Propertius, who in his poems portrays himself as crushed under love's foot). He writes about adultery, which had been made illegal in Augustus's marriage reforms of 18 BC.
Ovid's next poem, the Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, was a parody of didactic poetry and focused on the arts of seduction and intrigue. It contains the first reference to the board game ludus duodecim scriptorum, a relative of modern backgammon. Ovid identifies this work in his exile poetry as the carmen, or song, that was one of the causes of his banishment.
By 8 AD, Ovid had completed his most famous work: Metamorphoses, an epic poem drawing on Greek mythology. The poem's subject, as the author indicates at the outset, is "forms changed into new bodies". From the emergence of the cosmos from formless mass into the organized material world to the deification of Julius Caesar many chapters later, the poem weaves tales of transformation. The stories are woven one after the other by the telling of humans transformed into new bodies — trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations and so forth. Many famous myths are recounted such as Apollo and Daphne, Orpheus and Eurydice and Pygmalion. It offers an explanation to many alluded myths in other works. It is also a valuable source for those attempting to piece together Roman religion, as many of the characters in the book are Olympian gods or their offspring.
Augustus banished Ovid in 8 AD to Tomis on the Black Sea for reasons that remain mysterious. Ovid himself wrote of his crime that it was carmen et error — "a poem and a mistake. He claimed that this crime was worse than murder and caused more harm than poetry. The error Ovid made is believed to have been political in nature — possibly he had knowledge of a plot against Augustus, or stumbled into some sensitive state secret. Augustus' grandchildren, Agrippa Postumus and Julia the Younger, had been banished around the same time as Ovid and Julia's husband, Lucius Aenilius Paullus, was executed after a conspiracy against Augustus. Ovid may have had knowledge about this conspiracy. Because Julia the Younger and Ovid were exiled in the same year, some suspect that he was somehow involved in her alleged affair with Decimus Silanus. Still, Ovid only moved on the perimeter of Julia's circle, suggesting that reports that he seduced Julia or facilitated her affairs is likely romantic hearsay. The Julian Marriage Laws of 18 BC were still fresh in the minds of Romans; these laws promoted monogamous, marital sexual relations in Rome to increase the population, but Ovid's works concerned adultery, which was punishable by severe penalties, including banishment.
It was during this period of exile that Ovid wrote two more collections of poems, called Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, which illustrate his sadness and desolation. Being far away from Rome, Ovid had no chance to research in libraries and thus may have been forced to abandon his work Fasti (a poem on the Roman calendar, with one book dedicated to each month; however, only the first six books -- January through June -- exist. Whether the other six have been lost, or for some reason were never written, is unknown). Though in the Epistulae ex Ponto he claims to have become friendly with the natives of Tomis (in the Tristia they are merely frightening barbarians) and to have written a poem in their language (Ex P. 4.13.19-20), he still pined for Rome and his beloved third wife. Many of the poems are addressed to her, as well as to Augustus, whom he calls Caesar and sometimes God, to himself, to various friends left behind in Rome, and even sometimes to the poems themselves, expressing his heart-felt loneliness and hoping for a recall or a relocation in exile. The famous first two lines of the Tristia demonstrate the poet's misery from the start:
- Parve – nec invideo – sine me, liber, ibis in urbem:
- ei mihi, quod domino non licet ire tuo!
- Little book – and I won't hinder you – go on to the city without me:
- Alas for me, because your master is not allowed to go!
Ovid died at Tomis after nearly 10 years of banishment. He is commemorated today by a statue in the Romanian city of Tomis (modern day Constanţa) and the 1930 renaming of the nearby town of Ovidiu, alleged location of his tomb. The Latin text on the statue says (Tr. 3.3.73-76):
- Hic ego qui iaceo tenerorum lusor amorum
- Ingenio perii, Naso poeta, meo.
- At tibi qui transis, ne sit grave, quisquis amasti,
- Dicere: Nasonis molliter ossa cubent.
- Here I lie, who played with tender loves,
- Naso the poet, killed by my own talent.
- O passerby, if you've ever been in love, let it not be too much for you
- to say: May the bones of Naso lie gently.
(Ovid's nickname was Nasus, "The Nose" — a pun on his cognomen, Naso.)
R. J. Tarrant offers the following assessment for the importance of Ovid:
From his own time until the end of Antiquity Ovid was among the most widely read and imitated of Latin poets; his greatest work, the Metamorphoses, also seems to have enjoyed the largest popularity. What place Ovid may have had in the curriculum of ancient schools is hard to determine: no body of antique scholia survives for any of his works, but it seems likely that the elegance of his style and his command of rhetorical technique would have commended him as a school author, perhaps at the elementary level.
Extant works generally considered authentic (with approximate dates of publication)
- Amores ("The Loves"), five books, published 10 BC and revised into three books ca. 1 AD.
- Metamorphoses, ("Transformations"), 15 books. Published ca. AD 8.
- Medicamina Faciei Feminae ("Women's Facial Cosmetics"), also known as The Art of Beauty, 100 lines surviving. Published ca. 5 BC.
- Remedia Amoris ("The Cure for Love"), 1 book. Published 5 BC.
- Heroides ("The Heroines"), also known as Epistulae Heroidum ("Letters of Heroines"), 21 letters. Letters 1–5 published 5 BC; letters 16–21 were composed ca. AD 4–8.
- Ars Amatoria ("The Art of Love"), three books. First two books published 2 BC, the third somewhat later.
- Fasti ("The Festivals"), 6 books extant which cover the first 6 months of the year, providing unique information on the Roman calendar. Finished by AD 8, possibly published in AD 15.
- Ibis, a single poem. Written ca. 9 AD.
- Tristia ("Sorrows"), five books. Published 10 AD.
- Epistulae ex Ponto ("Letters from the Black Sea"), four books. Published 10 AD.
Lost works, or works generally considered spurious
- Consolatio ad Liviam ("Consolation to Livia")
- Halieutica ("On Fishing") — generally considered spurious, a poem that some have identified with the otherwise lost poem of the same name written by Ovid.
- Medea, a lost tragedy about Medea
- Nux ("The Walnut Tree")
- A volume of poems in Getic, the language of Dacia where Ovid lived in exile, not extant (and possibly fictional).
Works and artists inspired by Ovid
See the website "Ovid illustrated: the Renaissance reception of Ovid in image and Text"
for many more Renaissance examples.
- (1100s) The troubadours and the medieval courtoise literature
- (1200s) The Roman de la Rose
- (1300s) Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer, Juan Ruiz
- (1400s) Sandro Botticelli
- (1500s-1600s) Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, John Marston, Cephalus and Procris; Narcissus
- (1600s) John Milton,Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Luis de Góngora's La Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea, 1613, Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe by Nicolas Poussin, 1651, Stormy Landscape with Philemon and Baucis by Peter Paul Rubens, c.1620
- (1820s) During the days of his Odessa exile, Alexander Pushkin liked to compare himself with Ovid, whose place of exile seems to have been nearby. This feeling is most memorably expressed in the large verse epistle To Ovid (1821). The exiled Ovid also makes appearance in Pushkin's long poem Gypsies, set in Moldavia (1824).
- (1916) James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man uses a quote from Book 8 of Metamorphoses and introduces the character of Stephen Dedalus. The Ovidian reference to "Daedalus" had already been included in Stephen Hero but was then metamorphosed into "Dedalus" in both A Portrait and in Ulysses.
- (1920s) The title of the second collection of poems by Osip Mandelstam, Tristia (Berlin, 1922), refers to Ovid's book. Mandelstam's collection is rooted in his experiences during the hungry and violent years immediately following the October Revolution.
- (1951) Six Metamorphoses After Ovid by Benjamin Britten, written for solo oboe, was written to envoke images of Ovid's characters from Metamorphoses.
- (1978) Australian author David Malouf's novel An Imaginary Life is published. It is a powerful novella that provides a fictional account of Ovid's exile in Tomis.
- (1998) In Pandora, by Anne Rice, Pandora cites Ovid as one of her favorite poets and authors of the time, and quotes him vividly in front of her lover Marius.
- (2006) American musician Bob Dylan's album Modern Times contained several songs that "borrowed" lines from Ovid's Poems of Exile, specifically Peter Green's translation of the text. Dylan failed to give the poet credit in the liner notes of the record. The tracks that contain lyrics which stem from Ovid's writings are "Workingman's Blues #2", "Ain't Talkin'", "The Levee's Gonna Break" and "Spirit on the Water".
- (2007) Russian author Alexander Zorich's novel Roman Star is published in Moscow. This novel takes a special view on last years of Ovid's life.
Dante mentions him twice:
Retellings, adaptations and translations of his actual works
- Ovid Renewed: Ovidian Influences on Literature and Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Ed. Charles Martindale. Cambridge, 1988.
- Richard A. Dwyer "Ovid in the Middle Ages" in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 1989, Pp. 312-14
- Federica Bessone. P. Ovidii Nasonis Heroidum Epistula XII: Medea Iasoni. Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1997. Pp. 324.
- Theodor Heinze. P. Ovidius Naso. Der XII. Heroidenbrief: Medea an Jason. Mit einer Beilage: Die Fragmente der Tragodie Medea. Einleitung, Text & Kommentar. Mnemosyne Supplement 170 Leiden: Brill, 1997. Pp. xi + 288.
- R. A. Smith. Poetic Allusion and Poetic Embrace in Ovid and Virgil. Ann Arbor; The University of Michigan Press, 1997. Pp.ix+ 226.
- Michael Simpson, The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. Pp. 498.
- Philip Hardie (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ovid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xvi, 408.
- Ovid's Fasti: Historical Readings at its Bimillennium. Edited by Geraldine Herbert-Brown. Oxford, OUP, 2002, 327 pp.
- Susanne Gippert, Joseph Addison's Ovid: An Adaptation of the Metamorphoses in the Augustan Age of English Literature. Die Antike und ihr Weiterleben, Band 5. Remscheid: Gardez! Verlag, 2003. Pp. 304.
- Heather van Tress, Poetic Memory. Allusion in the Poetry of Callimachus and the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Mnemosyne, Supplementa 258. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Pp. ix, 215.
- Ziolkowski, Theodore, Ovid and the Moderns. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005. Pp. 262.
- Desmond, Marilynn, Ovid's Art and the Wife of Bath: The Ethics of Erotic Violence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. 232.
- Rimell, Victoria, Ovid's Lovers: Desire, Difference, and the Poetic Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. 235.
- Pugh, Syrithe, Spenser and Ovid. Burlington: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. 302.
- Pasco-Pranger, Molly, Founding the Year: Ovid's Fasti and the Poetics of the Roman Calendar. Mnemosyne Suppl., 276. Leiden: Brill, 2006. Pp. 326.
- Martin Amann, Komik in den Tristien Ovids. (Schweizerische Beitra+ge zur Altertumswissenschaft, 31). Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2006. Pp. 296.
- P. J. Davis, Ovid & Augustus: A political reading of Ovid's erotic poems. London: Duckworth, 2006. Pp. 183.
- Peter E. Knox (ed.), Oxford Readings in Ovid. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. 541.
- Andreas N. Michalopoulos, Ovid Heroides 16 and 17. Introduction, text and commentary. (ARCA: Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs, 47). Cambridge: Francis Cairns, 2006. Pp. x, 409.
- R. Gibson, S. Green, S. Sharrock, The Art of Love: Bimillennial Essays on Ovid's Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. 375.
- Desmond, Marilynn. Ovid's Art and the Wife of Bath: The Ethics of Erotic Violence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. xiii, 206.
- Montuschi, Claudia, Il tempo in Ovidio. Funzioni, meccanismi, strutture. Accademia la colombaria studi, 226. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2005. Pp. 463.
- Johnson, Patricia J. Ovid before Exile: Art and Punishment in the Metamorphoses. (Wisconsin Studies in Classics). Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Pp. x, 184.
- University of Virginia, "Ovid Illustrated: The Renaissance Reception of Ovid in Image and Text"
- Works by Ovid at Project Gutenberg
- Multilingual Translation
- Latin and English translation
- Perseus/Tufts: P. Ovidius Naso Amores, Ars Amatoria, Heroides (on this site called Epistulae), Metamorphoses, Remedia Amoris. Enhanced brower. Not downloadable.
- Sacred Texts Archive: Ovid Amores, Ars Amatoria, Medicamina Faciei Femineae, Metamorphoses, Remedia Amoris.
- The Metamorphoses of Publius Ovidius Naso; elucidated by an analysis and explanation of the fables, together with English notes, historical, mythological and critical, and illustrated by pictorial embellishments: with a dictionary, giving the meaning of all the words with critical exactness. By Nathan Covington Brooks. Publisher: New York, A. S. Barnes & co.; Cincinnati, H. W. Derby & co., 1857 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu & layered PDF format)
- Original Latin only
- English translation only
- New translations by A. S. Kline Amores, Ars Amatoria, Epistulae ex Ponto, Fasti, Heroides, Ibis, Medicamina Faciei Femineae, Metamorphoses, Remedia Amoris, Tristia with enhanced browsing facility, downloadable in HTML, PDF, or MS Word DOC formats. Site also includes wide selection of works by other authors.
- Two translations from Ovid's Amores by Jon Corelis.
- English translations of Ovid's Amores with introductory essay and notes by Jon Corelis
- Some English translations of Ovid by famous literary figures
- SORGLL: Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII, 183-235, (Daedalus & Icarus); read by Stephen Daitz