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Apollo and Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo, one tale of transformation in Ovid's Metamorphoses—he lusts after her and she escapes him by turning into a bay laurel.
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Apollo and Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo, one tale of transformation in Ovid's Metamorphoses—he lusts after her and she escapes him by turning into a bay laurel.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BCE – 17 or 18 CE), known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria. He is also well known for the Metamorphoses, a mythological hexameter poem, the Fasti, about the Roman calendar, and the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, two collections of poems written in exile on the Black Sea. Ovid was also the author of several smaller pieces, the Remedia Amoris, the Medicamina Faciei Femineae, and the long curse-poem Ibis. He also authored a lost tragedy, Medea. His poetry, much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, decisively influenced European art and literature and remains as one of the most important sources of classical mythology.

Contents

Exile to Tomis

Ovid's banishment from Rome

In 8 CE, Ovid was banished to Tomis, on the Black Sea, by the exclusive intervention of the Emperor Augustus, without any participation of the Senate or of any Roman judge, an event which would shape all of his following poetry.

Works

Heroides ("The Heroines")

Heroides, Double Heroides

The Heroides ("Heroines") or Epistulae Heroidum are a collection of 21 poems in elegiac couplets. The Heroides take the form of letters addressed by famous mythological characters to their partners expressing their emotions at being separated from them, pleas for their return, and allusions to their future actions within their own mythology. The authenticity of the collection, partially or as a whole, has been questioned, although most scholars would consider the letters mentioned specifically in Ovid's description of the work at Am. 2.18.19–26 as safe from objection. The collection comprises a new type of generic composition without parallel in earlier literature. The first 14 letters are thought to comprise the first published collection and are written by the heroines Penelope, Phyllis, Briseis, Phaedra, Oenone, Hypsipyle, Dido, Hermione, Deianeira, Ariadne, Canace, Medea, Laodamia, and Hypermestra to their absent male lovers. Letter 15, from the historical Sappho to Phaon, seems spurious (although referred to in Am. 2.18) because of its length, its lack of integration in the mythological theme, and its absence from Medieval manuscripts. The final letters (16–21) are paired compositions comprising a letter to a lover and a reply. Paris and Helen, Hero and Leander, and Acontius and Cydippe are the addressees of the paired letters. These are considered a later addition to the corpus because they are never mentioned by Ovid and may or may not be spurious. The Heroides markedly reveal the influence of rhetorical declamation and may derive from Ovid's interest in rhetorical suasoriae, persuasive speeches, and ethopoeia, the practice of speaking in another character. They also play with generic conventions; most of the letters seem to refer to works in which these characters were significant, such as the Aeneid in the case of Dido and Catullus 64 for Ariadne and transfer characters from the genres of epic and tragedy to the elegiac genre of the Heroides. The letters have been admired for their deep psychological portrayals of mythical characters, their rhetoric, and their unique attitude to the classical tradition of mythology.

Amores ("The Loves")

Amores (Ovid)

The Amores is a collection in three books of love poetry in elegiac meter, following the conventions of the elegiac genre developed by Tibullus and Propertius. The books describe the many aspects of love and focus on the poet's relationship with a mistress called Corinna. Within the various poems are several which describe events in the relationship, thus presenting the reader with some vignettes and a loose narrative. Book 1 contains 15 poems; the first poem tells of Ovid's intention to write epic poetry which is thwarted when Cupid steals a metrical foot from him, changing his work into love elegy. Poem 4 is didactic and describes principles which Ovid would develop in the Ars Amatoria. The fifth poem, describing a noon tryst, introduces Corinna by name. Poems 8 and 9 deal with Corinna selling her love for gifts, while 11 and 12 describe the poet's failed attempt to arrange a meeting. 14 discusses Corinna's disastrous experiment in dying her hair and 15 stresses the immortality of Ovid and love poets. The second book has 19 pieces; the opening poem tells of Ovid's abandonment of a Gigantomachy in favor of elegy. 2 and 3 are entreaties to a guardian to let the poet see Corinna, poem 6 is a lament for Corinna's dead parrot, 7 and 8 deal with Ovid's affair with Corinna's servant and her discovery of it,and 11 and 12 try to prevent Corinna from going on vacation. 13 a prayer to Isis for Corinna's illness, 14 a poem against abortion, and 19 a warning to unwary husbands. Book 3 has 15 poems. The opening piece depicts personified Tragedy and Elegy fighting over Ovid. 2 describes a visit to the races, 3 and 8 focus on Corinna's interest in other men, 10 is a complaint to Ceres because of her festival that requires abstinence, 13 is a poem on a festival of Juno, and 9 a lament for Tibullus. In poem 11 Ovid decides not to love Corinna any longer and regrets the poems he has written about her. The final poem is Ovid's farewell to the erotic muse. Critics have seen the poems a highly self conscious and extremely playful specimens of the elegiac genre.

Medicamina Faciei Femineae ("Women's Facial Cosmetics")

Medicamina Faciei Femineae

About a hundred elegiac lines survive from this poem on beauty treatments for women's faces, which seems to parody serious didactic poetry. The poem says that women should concern themselves first with manners and then prescribes several compounds for facial treatments before breaking off. The style is not unlike the shorter Hellenistic didactic works of Nicander and Aratus.

Ars Amatoria ("The Art of Love")

Ars Amatoria

The Ars Amatoria is a didactic elegiac poem in three books which sets out to teach the arts of seduction and love. The first book is addressed to men and teaches them how to seduce women, the second, also to men, teaches one how to keep a lover. The third is addressed to women and teaches seduction techniques. The first book opens with a invocation to Venus in which Ovid establishes himself as a praeceptor amoris (1.17) a teacher of love. Ovid describes the places one can go to find a lover, like the theater, a triumph, which is thoroughly described, or arena, and ways to get the girl to take notice, including seducing her covertly at a banquet. Choosing the right time is significant as are getting into her associates' confidence. Ovid emphasizes care of the body for the lover. Mythological digressions include a piece on the Rape of the Sabine women, Pasiphae, and Ariadne. Book 2 invokes Apollo and begins with a telling of the story of Icarus. Ovid advises lovers to avoid giving too many gifts, keep up their appearance, hide affairs, complement her, and ingratiate themselves with slaves to stay on their lover's good side. The care of Venus for procreation is described as is Apollo's aid in keeping a lover; Ovid then digresses on the story of Vulcan's trap for Venus and Mars. The book ends with Ovid asking his "students" to spread his fame. Book 3, opens with a vindication of women's abilities and Ovid's resolution to arm women against his teaching in the first two books. Ovid gives women detailed instructions on appearance telling them to avoid too many adornments. He advises women to read elegiac poetry, learn to play games, sleep with people of different ages, flirt, and dissemble. Throughout the book, Ovid playfully interjects, criticizing himself for undoing all his didactic work to men and mythologically digresses on the story of Procis and Cephalus. The book ends with his wish that women will follow his advice and spread his fame saying Naso magister erat, Ovid was our teacher.

Remedia Amoris ("The Cure for Love")

Remedia Amoris

This elegiac poem proposes a cure for the love which Ovid teaches in the Ars Amatoria and is primarily addressed to men. The poem criticizes suicide as a means for escaping love and, invoking Apollo, goes on to tell lovers not to procrastinate and be lazy in dealing with love. Lovers are taught to avoid their partners, not perform magic, see their lover unprepared, take other lovers, and never be jealous. Old letters should be burned and the lover's family avoided. The poem throughout presents Ovid as a doctor and utilizes medical imagery. Some have interpreted this poem as the close of Ovid's didactic cycle of love poetry and the end of his erotic elegiac project.

Metamorphoses ("Transformations")

Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses, Ovid's most ambitious and popular work, consists of a 15-book catalogue written in dactylic hexameter about the transformations in Greek and Roman mythology set within a loose mytho-historical framework. Each myth is set outdoors where the mortals are often vulnerable to external influences. Almost 250 different myths are mentioned. The poem stands in the tradition of mythological and aetiological catalogue poetry such as Hesiod's Catalogue of Women, Callimachus' Aetia, Nicander's Heteroeumena, and Parthenius' Metamorphoses. The first book describes the formation of the world, the ages of man, the flood, the story of Daphne's rape by Apollo and Io's by Jupiter. The second book opens with Phaethon and continues describing the love of Jupiter with Callisto and Europa. The third book focuses on the mythology of Thebes with the stories of Cadmus, Actaeon, and Pentheus. The fourth book focuses on three lovers: Pyramus and Thisbe, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, and Perseus and Andromeda. The fifth book focuses on the song of the Muses, which describes the rape of Proserpina. The sixth book is a collection of stories about the rivalry between gods and mortals, beginning with Arachne and ending with Philomela. The seventh book focuses on Medea, as well as Cephalus and Procris. The eighth book focuses on Daedalus' flight, the Calydonian boar hunt, and the contrast between pious Baucis and Philemon and the wicked Erysichthon. The ninth book focuses on Heracles and the incestuous Byblis. The tenth book focuses on stories of doomed love, such as Orpheus, who sings about Hyacinthus, as well as Pygmalion, Myrrha, and Adonis. The eleventh book compares the marriage of Peleus and Thetis with the love of Ceyx and Alcyone. The twelfth book moves from myth to history describing the exploits of Achilles, the battle of the centaurs, and Iphigeneia. The thirteenth book discusses the contest over Achilles' arms, and Polyphemus. The fourteenth moves to Italy, describing the journey of Aeneas, Pomona and Vertumnus, and Romulus. The final book opens with a philosophical lecture by Pythagoras and the deification of Caesar. The end of the poem praises Augustus and expresses Ovid's belief that his poem has earned him immortality.

In analyzing the Metamorphoses, scholars have focused on Ovid's organization of his vast body of material. The ways that stories are linked by geography, themes, or contrasts creates interesting effects and constantly forces the reader to evaluate the connections. Ovid also varies his tone and material from different literary genres; G. B. Conte has called the poem a "a sort of gallery of these various literary genres." In this spirit, Ovid engages creatively with his predecessors, alluding creatively to the full spectrum of classical poetry.Ovid's use of Alexandrian epic, or elegiac couplets, shows his fusion of erotic and psychological style with traditional forms of epic.

Fasti ("The Festivals")

Fasti (poem)

Six books in elegiacs survive of this second ambitious poem on which Ovid was working at the time he was exiled. The six books cover the first semester of the year, with each book dedicated to a different month of the Roman calendar (January to June). The project seems unprecedented in Roman literature. It seems that Ovid planned to cover the whole year, but was unable to finish because of his exile, although he did revise sections of the work at Tomis, and he claims at Trist. 2.549–52 that all twelve books were finished. Like the Metamorphoses, the Fasti was to be a long poem and emulated aetiological poetry by writers like Callimachus and, more recently, Propertius and his fourth book. The poem goes through the Roman calendar, explaining the origins and customs of important Roman festivals, digressing on mythical stories, and giving astronomical and agricultural information appropriate to the season. The poem was probably dedicated to Augustus intitially, but perhaps the death of the emperor prompted Ovid to change the dedication to honor Germanicus. Ovid uses direct inquiry of gods and scholarly research to talk about the calendar and regularly calls himself a vates, a priest. He also seems to emphasize unsavory, popular traditions of the festivals, imbuing the poem with a popular, plebian flavor, which some have interpreted as subversive to the Augustuan moral legislation. While this poem has always been invaluable to students of Roman religion and culture for the wealth of antiquarian material it preserves, it recently has been seen as one of Ovid's finest literary works and a unique contribution to Roman elegiac poetry.

Ibis ("The Ibis")

Ibis (Ovid)

The Ibis is an elegiac poem in 644 lines, in which Ovid uses a dazzling array of mythic stories to curse and attack an enemy who is harming him in exile. At the beginning of the poem, Ovid claims that his poetry up to that point had been harmless, but now he is going to use his abilities to hurt his enemy. He cites Callimachus' Ibis as his inspiration and calls all the gods to make his curse effective. Ovid uses mythical exempla to condemn his enemy in the afterlife, cites evil prodigies that attended his birth, and then in the next 300 lines wishes that the torments of mythological characters happen to his enemy. The poem ends with a prayer that the gods make his curse effective.

Tristia ("Sorrows")

Tristia

The Tristia consist of five books of elegiac poetry composed by Ovid in exile in Tomis. Book 1 contains 11 poems; the first piece is an address by Ovid to his book about how it should act when it arrives in Rome. 3 describes his final night in Rome, 2 and 10 Ovid's voyage to Tomis, 8 the betrayal of a friend, and 5 and 6 the loyalty of his friends and wife. In the final poem Ovid apologizes for the quality and tone of his book, a sentiment echoed throughout the collection. Book 2 consists of one long poem in which Ovid defends himself and his poetry, uses precedents to justify his work, and begs the emperor for forgiveness. Book 3 in 14 poems focuses on Ovid's life in Tomis. The opening poem describes his book's arrival in Rome to find Ovid's works banned. Poems 10, 12, and 13 focus on the seasons spent in Tomis, 9 on the origins of the place, 2,3, and 11 his emotional distress and longing for home. The final poem is again an apology for his work. The fourth book has ten poems addressed mostly to friends. Poem 1 expresses his love of poetry and the solace it brings; 2 describes a triumph of Tiberius. Poems 3–5 are to friends, 7 a request for correspondence, and 10 an autobiography. The final book of the Tristia with 14 poems focuses on his wife and friends. Poems 4, 5, 11, and 14 are addressed to his wife, 2 and 3 are prayers to Augustus and Bacchus, 4 and 6 are to friends, 8 to an enemy. Poem 13 asks for letters, while 1 and 12 are apologies to his readers for the quality of his poetry.


Epistulae ex Ponto ("Letters from the Black Sea")

Epistulae ex Ponto

The Epistulae ex Ponto is a collection in four books of further poetry from exile. The Epistulae are each addressed to a different friend and focus more desperately than the Tristia on securing his recall from exile. The poems mainly deal with requests for friends to speak on his behalf to members of the imperial family, discussions of writing with friends, and descriptions of life in exile. The first book has ten pieces in which Ovid describes the state of his health (10), his hopes, memories, and yearning for Rome (3,6,8), and his needs in exile (3). Book 2 contains impassioned requests to Germanicus (1 and 5) and various friends to speak on his behalf at Rome while he describes his despair and life in exile. Book 3 has nine poems in which Ovid addresses his wife (1) and various friends. It includes a telling of the story of Iphigenia in Tauris (2), a poem against criticism (9), and a dream of Cupid (3). Book 4, the final work of Ovid, in 16 poems talks to friends and describes his life as an exile further. Poems 10 and 13 describe Winter and Spring at Tomis, poem 14 is praise for Tomis, 7 describes its geography and climate, and 4 and 9 are congratulations on friends for their consulships and requests for help. Poem 12 is addressed to a Tuticanus, whose name, Ovid complains, does not fit into meter. The final poem is addressed to an enemy whom Ovid implores to leave him alone. The last elegiac couplet is translated: "Where’s the joy in stabbing your steel into my dead flesh?/ There’s no place left where I can be dealt fresh wounds."

Lost Works

One loss which Ovid himself informs us of is the first five-book edition of the Amores from which nothing has come down to us. The greatest loss is Ovid's only tragedy, Medea, from which only a few lines are preserved. Quintilian admired the work a great deal and considered it a prime example of Ovid's poetic talent. Lactantius quotes from a lost translation by Ovid of Aratus' Phaenomena, although the poem's ascription to Ovid is insecure because it is never mentioned in Ovid's other works. Even though it is unlikely, if the last six books of the Fasti ever existed, they constitute a great loss. Ovid also mentions some occasional poetry which does not survive. Also lost is the final portion of the Medicamina.

Legacy

Aetas Ovidiana, Ovid illustrated

Ovid is considered a master of the elegiac couplet, and is traditionally ranked alongside Virgil and Horace as one of the three canonic poets of Latin literature. The scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the canonical Latin love elegists. His poetry, much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, had a decisive influence on European art and literature for centuries.

Criticism

Ovid's works have been interpreted in various ways over the centuries with attitudes that depended on the social, religious and literary contexts of different times. It is known that since his own lifetime, he was already famous and criticized. In the Remedia Amoris, Ovid reports criticism from people who considered his books insolent. Ovid responded to this criticism by writing the following: "Gluttonous Envy, burst: my name’s well known already:/it will be more so, if only my feet travel the road they’ve started./But you’re in too much of a hurry: if I live you’ll be more than sorry:/many poems, in fact, are forming in my mind." After such criticism subsided, Ovid became one of the best known and most loved Roman poets during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The authors of the Middle Ages used his work as a way to read and write about sex and violence without orthodox "scrutiny routinely given to commentaries on the Bible". In the Middle Ages the voluminous Ovide Moralisé, a French work that moralizes 15 books of the Metamorphoses was composed. This work then influenced Chaucer. Ovid's poetry provided insipration for the Renaissance idea of humanism, and more specifically, for many Renaissance painters and writers. Montaigne, for example, alluded to Ovid several times in his Essais, specifically in his comments on Education of Children when he says:

"The first taste I had for books came to me from my pleasure in the fables of the Metamorphoses of Ovid. For at about seven or eight years of age I would steal away from any other pleasure to read them, inasmuch as this language was my mother tongue, and it was the easiest book I knew and the best suited by its content to my tender age."

In the 16th century, some Jesuit schools of Portugal cut several passages from Ovid's Metamorphoses. While the Jesuits saw his poems as elegant compositions worthy of being presented to students for educational purposes, they also felt his works as a whole might corrupt students. Jesuits took much of their knowledge of Ovid to the Portuguese colonies. According to Serafim Leite (1949), the ratio studiorum was in effect in Colonial Brazil during the early seventeenth century, and in this period Brazilian students read works like the Epistulae ex Ponto to learn Latin grammar. In the 16th century, Ovid's works were criticized in England. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London ordered that a contemporary translation of Ovid's love poems be publicly burned in 1599. The Puritans of the following century viewed Ovid as pagan, thus as an immoral influence. John Dryden composed a famous translation of the Metamorphoses into stopped rhyming couples during the eighteenth century, when Ovid was "refashioned [...] in its own image, one kind of Augustanism making over another." Romantics might have preferred his poetry of exile. The picture Ovid among the Scythians, painted by Delacroix, portrays the last years of the poet in exile in Scythia, and was seen by Baudelaire, Gautier and Edgar Degas. Baudelaire took the opportunity to write a long essay about the life of an exiled poet like Ovid.

Ovid's Influence

Literary and Artistic

See the website "Ovid illustrated: the Renaissance reception of Ovid in image and Text" for many more Renaissance examples.

Dante twice mentions him in:

Retellings, adaptations, and translations of Ovidian works

Further reading

  • 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 Tragödie 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.
  • Montuschi, Claudia, Il tempo in Ovidio. Funzioni, meccanismi, strutture. Accademia la colombaria studi, 226. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2005. Pp. 463.
  • 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 Beiträge 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.
  • 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.

See also




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