Authors: Ovid

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Roman poet

March 20, 43 b.c.e.

Sulmo, Roman Empire (now Sulmona, Italy)

17 c.e.

Tomis on the Black Sea, Moesia (now Constanţa, Romania)

Biography

Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid, was born in the Italian Apennines, northeast of Rome, in the last year of the Republic. He was brought up under the absolute rule of Augustus. His works depict the life of rich and fashionable Romans during the second half of Augustus’s reign, and with Ovid’s death the Golden Age of Roman literature came to an end.

Ovid

Ovid’s father, of an equestrian family whose estates were never confiscated, sent the boy and his brother from Abruzzi to Rome, where they were educated by two famous rhetoricians, Arellius Fuscus and the Spanish-born friend of Seneca, Marcus Porcius Latro, who guided the formation of Ovid’s literary style. Horace read his own poems to Ovid, and Aemilius Macer, who traveled with him to Athens, Troy, and Sicily, introduced him to the writings of Vergil. On their return to Rome, Ovid was offered a political career in the Senate, but he chose to devote himself to literature.

He married four times. Personal experience undoubtedly inspired the creation of his imaginary Corinna, whom he celebrated in forty-four short poems and the five-volume Amores (which he later prudently reduced to three). His fourth marriage, to a girl of the Fabian family, brought him favor with the Empress Livia. Women were influential in Roman life, and women figure significantly in Ovid’s poetry, with a balance between romance, realism, and tongue-in-cheek humor. His Heroides (also known as Letters from Heroines) were imaginary epistles from the heroines of antiquity to their absent husbands and lovers.

His Art of Love caused the greatest furor. This guidebook for lovemaking, with two volumes for men and one for women, was once called the most immoral book ever written by a man of genius. Because it ran counter to Augustus’s attempts at moral reforms, Ovid tried to repair the damage by writing Cure for Love (sometimes called Love’s Remedies), telling how to end love affairs. He was banished in 8 c.e. to the half-barbaric town of Tomi at the mouth of the Danube—more probably for what he knew of scandals at court than for what he had disclosed in his writings.

Though he wrote scores of letters to influential Romans and five volumes of Sorrows to describe the wretchedness of his exile and to present pleas for forgiveness, even Tiberius upon his succession to the throne refused to pardon him, suggesting that the reason for Ovid’s banishment was something more than licentious writing or even meddling in the love intrigues of Augustus’s granddaughter Julia. Ovid remained in Tomis until his death in 17 c.e.

Ovid’s greatest work was the fifteen books of Metamorphoses. Written in hexameters, the work recounts miraculous transformations that range through classical mythology from the change of chaos to cosmos in the world to the tale of Julius Caesar’s metamorphosis into a star. The Alexandrian poets, as well as old legends, provided material for this cyclic work. At the time of his banishment, he burned his own manuscript, but the work survived because other copies had been made.

Author Works Poetry: Amores, c. 20 B.C.E. (English translation, 1597) Ars amatoria, c. 2 B.C.E. (Art of Love, 1612) Heroides, before 8 C.E. (English translation, 1567) Medicamina faciei, before 8 C.E. (Cosmetics, 1859) Remedia amoris, before 8 C.E. (Cure for Love, 1600) Fasti, c. 8 C.E. (English translation, 1859) Metamorphoses, c. 8 C.E. (English translation, 1567) Epistulae ex Ponto, after 8 C.E. (Letters from the Black Sea, 1639) Ibis, after 8 C.E. (English translation, 1859) Tristia, after 8 C.E. (Sorrows, 1859) Drama: Medea, pr. before 8 C.E. (fragment) Bibliography Anderson, William S. Ovid: The Classical Heritage. New York: Garland, 1995. Examines Ovid’s influence on Western literature and arts chronologically, from the first century Romans through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Select bibliography. Barchiesi, Alessandro. The Poet and the Prince: Ovide and Augustan Discourse. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. A scholarly assessment of Ovid’s Fasti that examines pro-Augustan and anti-Augustan readings of the poem. Bibliography, index, index locorum. Bate, Jonathan. Shakespeare and Ovid. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Ovid is as important to students of Renaissance, Elizabethan, and Jacobean literature as he is in his own right, and the plays of William Shakespeare are rife with references to him. This work focuses on Shakespeare’s plays and sexual poetry as they refer to Ovid. Bibliography, index. Boyd, Barbara Weiden. Ovid’s Literary Loves: Influence and Innovation in the “Amores.” Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. For the student of Ovid, analyzes influences on Amores in chapters titled “Reused Language: Genre and Influence in the Interpretation of Amores,” “Literary Means and Ends: Ovid’s Ludus Poeticus,” “Ovid’s Visual Memory: Extended Similes in the Amores,” “From Authenticity to Irony: Programmatic Poetry and Narrative Reversal in the Amores,” “Ovid’s Narrative of Poetic Immortality,” and “Legisse Voluptas: Some Thoughts on the Future of Ovid’s Amores.” Bibliography, index locorum, general index. Brewer, Wilmon. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” in European Culture. Boston: Cornhill, 1933. A three-volume companion work to an English translation in blank verse. Begins with a long introductory survey that includes much biographical detail. Very valuable, because every story in the poem is discussed in the light of its cultural and literary antecedents, then of later works for which it served as antecedent. Brown, Sarah Annes. The “Metamorphoses” of Ovid: From Chaucer to Ted Hughes. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. The principal source for much of what we know of Greco-Roman myth, the Metamorphoses has perhaps been Ovid’s most important work down the ages. This work examines the influence of “Ovidianism” on poets from Geoffrey Chaucer to Hughes as well as musicians and painters. Calabrese, Michael A. Chaucer’s Ovidian Arts of Love. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. Love, particularly sexual love, is a central theme in Ovid, and its influence is rife in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. One of the fullest studies of Ovid’s influence on the English poet and his Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde. Dalzell, Alexander. The Criticism of Didactic Poetry: Essays on Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Five essays on didactic poetry by the well-known classics professor at the University of Toronto, one of which focus on Ovid’s Art of Love. Bibliography. Davis, P. J. Ovid and Augustus: A Political Reading of Ovid’s Erotic Poems. London: Duckworth Publishers, 2007. In this volume, Davis discusses how the sexual nature of Ovid’s poetry caused Roman emperor Augustus to send him into exile. To do this, Davis examines all of Ovid’s poems, particularly Art of Love, to show how they express Ovid’s views of erotic love, and how they conflict with Augustus’ definition of morality. Each chapter is devoted to a single one of Ovid’s works and contains clear and convincing arguments to support Davis’s view of the two men and their philosophies. Gertz, Sun Hee Kim. “Echoes and Reflections of Enigmatic Beauty in Ovid and Marie de France.” Speculum 73 (April, 1998): 372-396. Examines Ovid’s and Marie de France’s fascination with the subject of beauty and its relation to love; compares Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo in the Metamorphoses with Marie’s Lai Guigemar. Hardie, Philip, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ovid. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Chapters by well-known scholars discuss Ovid, his backgrounds and contexts, the individual works, and its influence on later literature and art. Includes bibliography and index. Hoffman, Richard L. Ovid and “The Canterbury Tales.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966. Since John Dryden first compared Ovid and Chaucer in 1700, many Chaucerians have remarked that the great English poet studied, imitated, and relied on Ovid above all other authors. This study treats the Metamorphoses as a predecessor of The Canterbury Tales. Holzberg, Niklas. Ovid: The Poet and His Work. Cornell University, 2002. A fine and readable examination of Ovid and his oeuvre. Hughes, Ted. “On Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses.’” The New York Review of Books 44 (July 17, 1997): 18. Suggests that it is a mystery why Ovid’s versions of Romanized Greek myths and legends in Metamorphoses have been so influential; argues that Ovid is of little use as a guide to the historic and original forms of the myths he adapts in that he takes up only those tales that catch his fancy. Kenney, E. J. Introduction to Metamorphoses. Translated by A. D. Melville. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Kenney, the principal contemporary editor of the Latin text, provides an introduction and notes to the Metamorphoses. Kenney has teamed up with Melville, who is noted for his capacity to render Ovid into English by using blank verse that captures the fluent style, to provide a translation for modern times. Ovid. After Ovid: New Metamorphoses. Edited by Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. Compiled by two young poets who asked forty-two of their seniors—including such writers and poets as Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, and Charles Tomlinson—to contribute adaptations or translations of the stories. The result is a unique rendition of Ovid’s work. Commentaries, index of translators, biographical notes. Rand, Edward Kennard. Ovid and His Influence. 1925. Reprint. New York: Cooper Square, 1963. A professor of Latin poses the question: What does our age owe to a professed roué, a writer so subtle and rhetorical as to strike some as thoroughly insincere? His 184 pages answer that question. Reeson, James E. Ovid, “Heroides” 11, 13, and 14: A Commentary. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2001. Close interpretation of these three verse epistles, introduced by an examination of Ovid’s use of his sources and the epistle form. Solodow, Joseph B. The World of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. While the Metamorphoses is based on the transmission of a vast repertoire of “mythological material,” the significance and unity lie not in that material itself but in Ovid as transmitter. Solodow covers successively the “structures” of the poetry, the narrator, the “mythology,” a comparison of narratives with the Aeneid of Vergil, before coming to the work as literature “without morality” and as art. Spencer, Richard A. Contrast as Narrative Technique in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. A good discussion of Ovid’s style and use of narrative. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Stapleton, M. L. Harmful Eloquence: Ovid’s “Amores” from Antiquity to Shakespeare. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Looks at Ovid’s early elegiac poetry and how it influenced literature from approximately 500 c.e. to 1600, seeing Amores as the model for love poetry of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Chief among poets examined are the troubadours, Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare. Bibliography, index. Syme, Ronald. History in Ovid. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Concentrating on Ovid’s latest poems, the author develops a kind of manual designed to cover life and letters in the last decade of Caesar Augustus. Valuable because of the relative obscurity of that period. Thibault, John C. The Mystery of Ovid’s Exile. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964. The author examines various hypotheses about Ovid’s exile, describes their content, and evaluates the evidence and the cogency of the arguments. Tissol, Garth. The Face of Nature: Wit, Narrative, and Cosmic Origins in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. The three themes of the subtitle are examined in-depth in this volume. Wheeler, Stephen Michael. A Discourse of Wonders: Audience and Performance in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. A thoughtful book of criticism and interpretation of Metamorphoses. Williams, Gareth D. Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid’s Exile Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Examines the exile poetry in close readings that reveal the irony and hidden meanings of these poems, particularly the rift between Ovid’s overt despair over his declining talents and the reality of the artistry of the poems. Bibliography, indexes of authors, passages cited, and words and themes.

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