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Ovid

Ovid

Ovid (43 B.C.-ca. A.D. 18) was a Roman elegiac and epic poet. His verse is distinguished by its easy elegance and sophistication.

Ovid whose full name was Publius Ovidius Naso, was born on March 20, 43 B.C., at Sulmo (modern Sulmona) about 90 miles from Rome. His father, a member of the equestrian order, intended for him to become a lawyer and an official and gave him an excellent education, including study under the great rhetoricians Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro. According to Seneca Rhetor, he preferred the suasoriae, exercises in giving advice in various historical or imaginary circumstances, to the prescribed debates of the controversiae, and his orations seemed nothing but poems without meter. His facility in composition, the content of some of his poems, and the rhetorical nature of much of his work in general all reflect his training with the rhetoricians.

Ovid also studied in Athens, toured the Near East with his friend Macer the poet, and lived for almost a year in Sicily. His father, who frequently pointed out to him that not even Homer had made any money, then apparently prevailed upon him to return to Rome, where he served in various minor offices of a judicial nature; but he disliked the work and lacked further ambition, so he soon surrendered to a life of ease and poetry.

Early Works

Ovid's life in the years after his liberation was that of a poet and man-about-town. He moved in the best literary circles, although never forming part of either of the major coteries of the time, those around Messalla and Maecenas. He had attracted notice as a poet while still in school and in time came to be surrounded by a group of admirers of his own. Ovid's early work was almost all on the theme of love; the residue of this early production, after he had destroyed many poems which he considered faulty, formed three short books of verses known as the Amores (Loves): the earliest poem of this collection seems to be a lament for Tibullus, who died in 19 B.C., and the latest assignable date for any of these poems is about 2 B.C. Most of these poems concern Ovid's love for a certain Corinna, who is generally considered an imaginary figure: the poems addressed to her form an almost complete cycle of the emotions and situations which a lover might expect to undergo in a love affair. This interest in the psychology of love is also exemplified in his Heroides, which dates from roughly the same period and is a series of letters from mythical heroines to their absent husbands or lovers.

This period of Ovid's life seems to have been relatively tranquil as well as productive. Of his private life we know little. In addition to "other company in youth," he was married three times; the last marriage, apparently a very happy one, was to a relative of his patron Paullus Fabius Maximus, a man of great influence. By one of these wives he had a daughter who made him a grandfather. His parents died only shortly before he was suddenly relegated (a form of banishment without the loss of property or civil rights) in A.D. 9 or 8 to Tomi on the Black Sea (the modern Constantsa in Romania).

His Exile

The reasons behind Ovid's exile have been the subject of much speculation. He himself tells us that the reason was "a poem and a mistake." The poem was clearly his Art of Love. With this work, its companion piece, The Remedies for Love, on how to get over an unsuccessful love affair, and its predecessor, On Cosmetics, Ovid had invented a new kind of poetry, didactic and amatory. The Art of Love consists of three books which parody conventional love poetry and didactic verse while offering vivid portrayals of contemporary Roman society.

The witty sophistication of this work made it an immediate and overwhelming success in fashionable society and infuriated the emperor Augustus, who was attempting to force a moral reformation on this same society. To the Emperor, this work must have seemed, in the strictest sense, subversive, and he excluded it, along with Ovid's other works, from the public libraries of Rome. What the "mistake" may have been, we do not know. It was, Ovid says, the result of his having eyes, and the most widely accepted suggestion is that he had somehow become aware of the licentious behavior of the Emperor's daughter Julia (who was banished in the same year as he) without his informing Augustus about her.

Upon receiving word of his exile, Ovid dramatically burned the manuscript of his masterpiece, the Metamorphoses. The unreality of this gesture can be seen from the fact that his friends already had copies and that he took the unfinished manuscript of his Fasti along with him into exile. The journey to Tomi lasted nearly a year, and when he arrived, he found it a frontier post, where books and educated people were not to be found and Latin was practically unknown. Tomi was subject to attack by hostile barbarians and to bitterly cold winters. The production of the last 10 years of his life consists largely of tedious and interminable complaints mingled with appeals for recall, in the Sorrows and Letters from the Black Sea, but Augustus was too bitterly offended to relent, and the accession of Tiberius in A.D. 14 brought an even more unyielding emperor to the throne.

Ovid's exile was not so unbearable as his letters indicate. He learned the native languages, and his unconquerable geniality and amiability made him a beloved and revered figure to the local citizens, who exempted him from taxes and treated him as well, he said, as he could have expected even in his native Sulmo. He wrote a panegyric to Augustus in the Getic language, the loss of which is a source of regret for philologists; a bitter attack on an unnamed and perhaps imaginary enemy, the Ibis; and a work on the fish of the Black Sea, the Halieutica; he resumed work on the Fasti before his death, which is given by St. Jerome as occurring in A.D. 17, but probably occurred early in the next year.

Ovid's earliest work, in the Loves and Heroides, already exhibits his fully developed talent. His verse is facile, smoothly flowing, and rhetorical and artificial without ever being obscure or even very often giving the impression of being other than natural and inevitable. His mastery of Greek literature, from which he draws most of his themes and to which he is continually alluding by direct or indirect quotation, was very great. His faults are those of overfacility and an occasional excessive verbal cleverness.

His Masterpiece

Ovid's masterpiece is generally considered to be his Metamorphoses. It is an epic in form, 15 books in length, and devoted to the theme of changes in shape, although some stories not strictly limited to this theme are included. It is arranged in chronological order from the creation of the world to the apotheosis of Julius Caesar, the first 12 books being derived from Greek mythology, and books 13-15 devoted to Roman legends and history, beginning with the story of Aeneas. The transitions between the various stories are managed with great skill.

The metamorphoses are of form only: the character, interests, and activities of the persons transformed remain invariable under transformation. Lycus, for example, in the first metamorphosis in book I, retains his savage cruelty when he is transformed into a wolf; Arachne, changed into a spider for daring to challenge Minerva to a contest in weaving, retains her skill and shows it in her webs; and Baucis and Philemon, transformed into trees, remain inseparable as they were in life and continue to offer hospitality with their shade as they did to Jupiter while they were still in human form. Above all, however, the Metamorphoses owes its preservation to the incomparable narrative skill with which Ovid takes the old tales of a mythology which by his time was already hackneyed, and as little an object of belief then as now, and imbues them with sensuous charm and freshness.

The Fasti was intended to be a Roman religious calendar in verse, one book for each month. Ovid completed only six books. It is of interest because it contains much antiquarian lore otherwise unknown (probably derived from the works of Marcus Verrius Flaccus, the greatest of Augustan scholars), chosen with Ovid's usual eye for the picturesque and versified with his usual elegance.

Several lost works of Ovid's are recorded, the most important being his tragedy Medea, a rhetorical closet drama like the tragedies of Seneca, which is highly praised by Quintilian and Tacitus. Some epigrams are ascribed to him, perhaps correctly.

Later Influence

In antiquity itself the influence of Ovid on all subsequent writers of elegiac and hexameter verse was inescapable, even for those writers who were consciously attempting to return to earlier, Virgilian standards; and his stories, particularly from the Metamorphoses, were a major source for the illustrations of artists.

In the Middle Ages, especially the High Middle Ages, when interest in Ovid's works was primarily centered on the Metamorphoses, Art of Love, and Heroides, Ovid helped to fill the overpowering medieval hunger for storytelling, as exemplified in Chaucer and others, all in greater or lesser degree dependent on Ovid. His frequently exaggerated and romantic tales greatly appealed to the taste of the time; his sensuousness and fantasy fed an age starved for just these elements. The 12th century has been named the aetas Ovidiana (the Ovidian age) because of the number of poets writing imitations of Ovidian hexameters on frequently Ovidian themes. In the student songs of the medieval universities and later into the Renaissance, Ovid acts almost as a patron saint for the sensual antinomianism of intellectuals, even if it extended no further than a preference for secular verses over religious literature.

In the Renaissance, Ovid was easily the most influential of the Latin poets. Painters and sculptors used him for themes; writers of all ranks translated, adapted, and plundered him freely. In English literature alone Edmund Spenser and John Milton show a deep knowledge and use of Ovid. William Shakespeare's knowledge of him is also great, for example, his use of the Pyramus and Thisbe legend in the play within the play of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

After the Renaissance, Ovid's influence was most often indirect, but among many authors and artists who used him directly, one must mention John Dryden, who translated (with assistance) the Metamorphoses, and Pablo Picasso, who illustrated this work.

Further Reading

Two comprehensive recent books on Ovid in English have done much to revive Ovid's reputation as a poet: Hermann Ferdinand Fraenkel, Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds (1945), and L. P. Wilkinson, Ovid Recalled (1955; condensed and published as Ovid Surveyed, 1962). Also important is Brooks Otis, Ovid as an Epic Poet (1966). The bimillenary celebration for the birth of Ovid produced a volume of essays, Ovidiana, edited by Niculae I. Herescu, some of them of considerable importance and many of them in English.

The long-disputed question of the cause of Ovid's exile was reopened by John C. Thibault in The Mystery of Ovid's Exile (1964). A noteworthy earlier work is the great edition of and commentary on the Fasti by Sir James George Frazer (1929; repr. 1951). Ovid's place in literary history was extensively studied by Edward Kennard Rand, Ovid and His Influence (1925); Mary Marjorie Crump, The Epyllion from Theocritus to Ovid (1931); and Wilmon Brewer, Ovid's Metamorphoses in European Culture (3 vols., 1933-1957). □

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Ovid

Ovid

Born: 43 b.c.e.
Sulmo, Italy

Died: c. 18 c.e.
Tomis (now Constanta, Romania)

Roman poet

Ovid was a Roman poet. His verse is distinguished by its easy elegance and sophistication (subtle complexity).

Early life

Ovid was born Publius Ovidius Naso on March 20, 43 b.c.e., at Sulmo (modern Sulmona), Italy, about ninety miles from Rome. His father was wealthy and intended for him to become a lawyer and an official. He gave Ovid an excellent education, including study under great rhetoricians (masters of language and speech).

Ovid preferred exercises that dealt with historical or imaginary circumstances. His orations (formal speeches) seemed like poems without meter. His ease in composition, the content of some of his poems, and the rhetorical (having to do with language skills) nature of much of his work in general all reflect his training with the rhetoricians.

Ovid also studied in Athens, Greece, toured the Near East, and lived for almost a year in Sicily. His father convinced him to return to Rome, where he served in various minor legal positions, but he disliked the work and lacked political ambitions.

Early works

After leaving legal work, Ovid moved in the best literary circles. He had attracted notice as a poet while still in school and in time came to be surrounded by a group of admirers. This period of Ovid's life seems to have been relatively peaceful as well as productive. Of his private life we know little except that he was married three times.

Ovid's early work was almost always on the theme of love. He wrote three short books of verses known as the Amores (Loves ). Most of these poems concern Ovid's love for a woman who is generally considered to be imaginary. During this time he also wrote his Heroides, a series of letters from mythical heroines to their absent husbands or lovers.

His exile

In 8 or 9 c.e. Ovid was banished to Tomi, a city on the Black Sea in what is now modern Romania. The reasons behind Ovid's exile have been the subject of much guessing. He himself tells us that the reason was "a poem and a mistake." The poem was clearly his Loves. The poem made fun of conventional (socially accepted) love poetry and offered vivid portrayals of contemporary Roman society.

This work was an immediate and overwhelming success in fashionable society, but apparently infuriated the emperor Augustus (63 b.c.e.14 C. E.). The emperor excluded it from the public libraries of Rome along with Ovid's other works. The journey to his exile in Tomi lasted nearly a year. When he arrived, he found it a frontier post, where books and educated people were not to be found and Latin was practically unknown. Tomi was subject to attack by hostile barbarians and to bitterly cold winters.

The production of the last ten years of his life consists largely of appeals to be allowed to return to Rome, but Augustus was too bitterly offended to forgive him. The next emperor Tiberius (42 b.c.e.37 C. E.) was even more unyielding. Ovid's exile was not so unbearable as his letters indicate. He learned the native languages, and his pleasantness and friendliness made him a beloved and revered figure to the local citizens. They exempted him from taxes and treated him well.

His masterpiece

Ovid's masterpiece is generally considered to be his Metamorphoses. It is an epic (a long poem centered around legendary heroes), fifteen books in length, and devoted mainly to the theme of changes in shape. The first twelve books were derived from Greek mythology, and books thirteen to fifteen devoted to Roman legends and history. The transitions between the various stories are managed with great skill. Metamorphoses owes its preservation to the incomparable narrative skill with which Ovid takes the old tales of a mythology and gives spirit to them with charm and freshness.

Later influence

In ancient culture the influence of Ovid on all writers who followed him was inescapable for those who were consciously attempting to return to earlier standards. His stories, particularly from Metamorphoses, were a major source for the illustrations of artists.

In the Middle Ages (500 through 1450), especially the High Middle Ages (1000 through 1200), when interest in Ovid's works was primarily centered on Metamorphoses, Loves, and Heroides, Ovid helped to fill the overpowering medieval hunger for storytelling.

During the Renaissance period (the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries), Ovid was easily the most influential of the Latin poets. Painters and sculptors used his work for themes. Writers of all ranks translated, adapted, and borrowed from him freely. In English literature alone Edmund Spenser (15521599), John Milton (16081674), and William Shakespeare (15641616) show a deep knowledge and use of Ovid.

After the Renaissance, Ovid's influence was most often indirect. However, many authors and artists used him directly from then until modern times, ranging from John Dryden (16311700), who translated Metamorphoses, and Pablo Picasso (18811973), who illustrated Dryden's work.

For More Information

Fraenkel, Hermann F. Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1945.

Holzberg, Niklas. Ovid: The Poet and His Work. Edited by G. M. Goshgarian. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Otis, Brooks. Ovid as an Epic Poet. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Thibault, John C. The Mystery of Ovid's Exile. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.

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Ovid

Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) (ŏv´Ĭd), 43 BC–AD 18, Latin poet, b. Sulmo (present-day Sulmona), in the Apennines. Although trained for the law, he preferred the company of the literary coterie at Rome. He enjoyed early and widespread fame as a poet and was known to the emperor Augustus. In AD 8, for no known reason, he was abruptly exiled to Tomis, a Black Sea outpost, S of the Danube, where he later died. The poems of Ovid fall into three groups—erotic poems, mythological poems, and poems of exile. His verse, with the exception of the Metamorphoses and a fragment (Halieutica), is in elegiacs, which are of unmatched perfection. The love poems include Amores [loves], 49 short poems, many of which extol the charms of the poet's mistress Corinna, probably a synthesis of several women; Epistulae heroidum [letters from heroines], an imaginary series written by ancient heroines to their absent lovers; Ars amatoria [art of love], didactic, in three books, with complete instructions on how to acquire and keep a lover. In the mythological category is the Metamorphoses, a masterpiece and perhaps Ovid's greatest work. Written in hexameters, it is a collection of myths concerned with miraculous transformations linked together with such consummate skill that the whole is artistically harmonious. The Fasti, also a mythological poem, contains six books on the days of the year from January to June, giving the myths, legends, and notable events called to mind on each day. As a source for religious antiquities, it is especially valuable. The poems of exile include Tristia [sorrows], five books of short poems, conveying the poet's despair in his first five years of exile and his supplications for mercy, and the Epistulae ex Ponto [letters from the Black Sea], in four books, addressed to friends in Rome, showing somewhat abated poetic power. Ovid wrote poetry to give pleasure; no other Latin poet wrote so naturally in verse or with such sustained wit. Unsurpassed as a storyteller, he also related the complexities of romantic involvements with verve and deft characterization. A major influence in European literature, Ovid was also a primary source of inspiration for the artists of the Renaissance and the baroque. The Metamorphoses was translated during this period by A. Golding (1567), George Sandys (1632), and John Dryden (1700).

See modern verse translations by R. Humphries (1955, 1958), L. R. Lind (1975), and A. D. Melville (1989); studies by L. P. Wilkinson (1955, 1962), H. F. Fränkel (1945, repr. 1969), B. Otis (1966, repr. 1971), J. W. Binns, ed. (1973), R. Syme (1978), D. R. Slavitt (1990).

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Ovid (43 B.C.–178 A.D.)

Ovid (43 b.c.178 a.d.)

Roman poet whose works were revived and widely admired during the Renaissance. Born Publius Ovidius Nao in the town of Sulmo, he was trained as a lawyer and educated by leading rhetoricians, who taught the craft of making persuasive and eloquent speeches. Ovid traveled widely as a young man but returned to Rome at the urging of his father. Finding the life of a public official not to his taste, Ovid began writing poetry and soon attracted notice and a circle of admirers. He collected his first short love poems into a volume called Amores, in which he wrote of an unattainable love by the name of Corinna, and some fictional letters into Heroids.

Metamorphoses is an epic written in fifteen books of hexameters, the same poetic form used by Virgil in his epic The Aeneid. Considered Ovid's masterpiece, Metamorphoses describes myths that have the common theme of physical transformation. The stories come from the Greeks as well as the Romans, from the time of the Creation down to Julius Caesar, the Roman general and statesman who was assassinated in the year before Ovid's birth. The poet skillfully revives the nearly forgotten mythologies of Greece and finds in them an endless source of beauty, cleverness, and profound philosophical truths.

Ovid's work The Art of Love was a parody of conventional love poems and a witty and biting portrayal of Roman aristocrats. The poem was widely admired in Rome but also criticized as a work of loose morality. It also brought him trouble with the emperor Augustus, who may have been infuriated by Ovid's revelation of misbehavior on the part of the emperor's granddaughter Julia. Augustus censored all of the poet's works and banished him to permanent exile in a distant Roman colony on the Black Sea in about a.d.8 (Julia was banished from Rome in the same year). Ovid spent the rest of his life writing complaints of his lonely exile in a boring frontier town, and sending petitions for a recall to Rome that were never granted.

The poetry of Ovid was held in high regard throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. His elegant wit and sensuous writing, and his talent for storytelling, inspired writers as well as sculptors and painters, who illustrated many of his most famous themes and subjects. The leading writers of the Renaissance, including John Milton, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare, freely borrowed Ovid's plots and incorporated Ovidian legends into their works.

See Also: classical literature; Virgil

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Ovid

Ovid

Born in 43 b.c. to a respectable Roman family, Ovid was a poet best known for his collection of myths and legends titled the Metamorphoses. As expected of a young man of his station, he studied rhetoricoratoryin both Rome and Athens and served in several minor government posts. However, writing poetry was his first love, and he quickly gave up public life to pursue this art.

nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful

The Metamorphoses tells many of the ancient myths and legends of Greece, Rome, and the Near East. All the stories have a common theme: change, or metamorphosis. For example, when the nymph Daphne is pursued by Apollo*, she escapes by being turned into a tree. Other works by Ovid also present myths and legends. The Heroides is a collection of fictional letters from mythical women to the men they love, such as letters from Penelope to her long-absent husband, Ulysses (Odysseus*). The Fasti describes stories connected with ancient Roman religious festivals.

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

In a.d. 8, the Roman emperor Augustus exiled the poet to the city of Tomis on the Black Sea. Though never really explained, Ovid's exile appears to have been connected to a poem he wrote that was considered immoral and to a scandal in the imperial family. Ovid died nine years later in Tomis. Ovid's work with stories from Greek and Roman mythology influenced writers and artists centuries later.

See also Apollo; Metamorphoses, The.

imperial relating to an emperor or empire

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Ovid

Ovid (43 bc–ad 18) ( Publius Ovidius Naso) Roman poet. He was a great success in Rome until, aged 50, he was exiled by Augustus. His works include Amores, short love poems; Ars Amatoria, amusing instructions on how to seduce women; and Metamorphoses, a retelling of Greek myths.

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Ovid

Ovid (43 bc–c.17 ad), Roman poet. He is particularly known for his elegiac love poems (such as the Amores and the Ars Amatoria) and for the Metamorphoses, a hexametric epic which retells Greek and Roman myths.

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Ovid

Ovid •avid • unenvied • David •livid, vivid •ivied • Ovid • bovid •beloved, Dyfed •fervid, perfervid •languid • equid •illiquid, liquid •frenzied • palsied

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