Engraved frontispiece of George Sandys's 1632 London edition of Ovids Metamorphoses Englished.
Publius Ovidius Naso (Sulmona, March 20, 43 BC – Tomis, now Constanţa AD 17), a Roman poet known to the English-speaking world as Ovid, wrote on topics of love, abandoned women and mythological transformations. Ranked alongside Virgil and Horace as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature, Ovid was generally considered the greatest master of the elegiac couplet. His poetry, much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, had a decisive influence on European art and literature for centuries.
Life and work
Ovid wrote in elegiac couplets, with two exceptions: his lost Medea, whose two fragments are in iambic trimeter and anapests, respectively, and his great Metamorphoses, which he wrote in dactylic hexameter, the meter of Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's epics. Ovid offers an epic unlike those of his predecessors, a chronological account of the cosmos from creation to his own day, incorporating many myths and legends about supernatural transformations from the Greek and Roman traditions.
Ovid was born March 20th in Sulmo, which lies in a valley within the Appenines, east of Rome. He was born into an equestrian ranked family and was educated at Rome. His father wished for him to study rhetoric with the ultimate goal of practising law. As stated by Pliny the Elder, Ovid leaned toward the emotional side of rhetoric as opposed to the argumentative. After the death of his brother, Ovid renounced law and began his travels. He travelled to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. 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 Mesalla. He was married three times, and, from these marriages, had one daughter.
In 10 BC, the Amores were published. Book 1 of this collection of love elegy contains 15 poems, which look at the different areas of love poetry. Perhaps the most notable poem of this collection is Poem 6, written in the genre of paraclausithyron, in which Ovid plays the role of exclusus amator asking the door-keeper to let him enter the house of his beloved.
Augustus banished Ovid in C.E. 8 to Tomis on the Black Sea for reasons that remain mysterious. Ovid himself wrote that it was because of carmen et error – "a poem and a mistake" (Tr. 2.207). The error itself is uncertain, but it is believed that Ovid may have had an affair with a female relative of Augustus, or withheld knowledge of such an affair (perhaps even the granddaughter of Augustus, Julia). The carmen is probably his Ars Amatoria, a didactic poem offering amatory advice to Roman men and women.
It was during this period of exile – more properly known as a relegation – 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 was forced to abandon his work Fasti. Even though he was friendly with the natives of Tomis and even wrote poems in their language, he still pined for Rome and his beloved third wife. Many of the poems are addressed to her, but also to Augustus, whom he calls Caesar and sometimes God, to himself, and even sometimes to the poems themselves, which expresses his heart-felt solitude. 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 ten years of banishment.
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.
Existing and generally considered authentic, with approximate dates of publication
- (10 BC) Amores ('The Loves'), 5 books (revised into 3 books ca. AD 1)
- (5 BC) Heroides ('The Heroines') or Epistulae Heroidum ('Letters of Heroines'), 21 letters (letters 16–21 were composed around AD 4 - 8)
- (5 BC) Remedia Amoris ('The Cure for Love'), 1 book
- (5 BC) Medicamina Faciei Feminae ('Women's Facial Cosmetics' or 'The Art of Beauty'), 100 lines surviving
- (2 BC) Ars Amatoria ('The Art of Love'), 3 books (the third written somewhat later)
- (finished by AD 8) Fasti ('Festivals'), 6 books surviving which cover the first 6 months of the year and provide unique information on the Roman calendar
- (AD 8) Metamorphoses ('Transformations'), 15 books
- (9) Ibis, a single poem
- (10) Tristia ('Sorrows'), 5 books
- (10) Epistulae ex Ponto ('Letters from the Black Sea'), 4 books
- (12) Fasti ('Festivals'), 6 books surviving which cover the first 6 months of the year and provide unique information on the Roman calendar
Lost or generally considered spurious
- Medea, a lost tragedy about Medea
- a poem in Getic, the language of Dacia where Ovid was exiled, not extant (and possibly fictional)
- Nux ('The Walnut Tree')
- 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.
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
- (1400s) Sandro Botticelli
- (1500s-1600s) Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare
- (1600s) Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- (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).
- (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.
Dante mentions him twice:
- in De vulgari eloquentia mentions him, along with Lucan, Virgil and Statius as one of the four regulati poetae (ii, vi, 7)
Retellings, adaptations and translations of his actual works
- (1900s) 6 Metaphorphoses After Ovid for oboe by Benjamin Britten.
- (1949) Orphée A film by Jean Cocteau, a retelling of the Orpheus myth from the Metamorphoses
- (1978) An Imaginary Life by David Malouf, the story of Ovid's exile, and his relationship with a wild boy he encounters.
- (1991) The Last World by Christoph Ransmayr
- (1997) "Polaroid Stories" by Naomi Iizuka, a retelling of Metamorphoses casting street kids and junkies in the roles of gods.
- (1994) After Ovid: New Metamorphoses edited by Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun is an anthology of contemporary poetry re-envisioning Ovid's Metamorphoses
- (1997) Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes is a modern poetic translation of twenty four passages from Metamorphoses
- (2000) Ovid Metamorphosed edited by Phil Terry is a collection of short stories by various writers that re-tell several of Ovid's fables.
- (2002) An adaptation of Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman appeared on Broadway's Circle on the Square Theater, which featured an onstage pool 
- Ovid's Ars Amatoria contains the first reference to the board game ludus duodecim scriptorum, a relative of modern backgammon.
- Ovid's nickname was "The Nose" - indeed, his cognomen, Naso, means "nose" in Latin.
- Metamorphoses (poem) for external links specific to that work.
- Latin literature
- ^ R. J. Tarrant, "Ovid" in Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983), p. 257.
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