BORN: 43 bce, Sulmo (now Sulmona), Italy
DIED: c. 18 ce, Tomis (now Constanta), Romania
NATIONALITY: Italian, Roman
The Art of Love (1 bce)
Metamorphoses (8 ce)
Known for his elegiac couplets and a narrative poem called Metamorphoses that mythologizes the creation of the world, Ovid is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets of classical Rome. His works are among some of the most influential in European literature and have inspired centuries of imitation. He is considered a master Latin stylist whose technical accomplishments permanently enriched the language. His verse is distinguished by clarity of expression and exactness.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Life and Early Years at the Twilight of theRoman Republic Ovid was born in 43 bce, the year in which the ancient Roman republican system of government
finally came to an end when both heads of government fell in battle against the would-be usurper Mark Antony. The bloody series of civil wars that followed until 31 bce coincides with the years of Ovid's childhood and adolescence: The chilling events that accompanied this—after his defeat by Octavian, his one-time ally, Mark Antony committed suicide, as did his lover Cleopatra—cannot have failed to leave their mark, but they do not haunt Ovid's early imagination as they do those of other Roman writers such as Vergil or Propertius.
Ovid was born in Sulmo (modern Sulmona, Italy), ninety miles and a world apart from Rome, into a prosperous family of the equestrian order. The equites, or knights, were the second class of Roman society and supported the status quo of the ruling senatorial elite. Sent to Rome to study rhetoric under the leading rhetoricians of the time in preparation for a legal career, Ovid distinguished himself as a student, but ultimately chose the vocation of a poet. His poetic genius gained him admission to the circle around statesman and literary patron Messalla, and Ovid quickly became a favorite of the Roman elite. Here, he met the other leading poets of the day, including Propertius and Horace.
Love Poetry Ovid's first work, Loves, appeared originally in five volumes around 20 bce and by 1 ce was rereleased in a shorter three-book edition, which is the only version extant today. The Heroines is generally regarded as Ovid's second endeavor, although some evidence suggests the work was published later in his career. Here Ovid highlights his profound knowledge of mythology and creates clever, rhetorical dramatic soliloquies of unhappy love that breathed new life into an almost exhausted Greek genre.
The Art of Love was published around 1 bce and instantly caused a sensation. The poem consists of three books, a light and irreverent series of loosely connected instructions on how to find and win one's love in contemporary Rome. As this poem implicitly ridiculed the conservative moralism of the Augustan regime, Ovid quickly wrote a recantation, The Remedies of Love, but critics have found that work rather biting as well.
Banishment and Metamorphoses In 8 ce, Emperor Augustus banished Ovid, then Rome's most popular poet, to Tomis on the Black Sea (now Constanta, Romania) under somewhat peculiar and still unexplained circumstances. The poet was tried for high treason in the emperor's private court, and his sentence was pronounced directly by Augustus. Ovid's books were subsequently removed from public libraries, but he lost neither his citizenship nor property, nor was he forbidden to communicate with his friends or wife, as was normal in such cases. Ovid claimed that a poem, most likely The Art of Love, and an indiscretion, perhaps with Augustus's granddaughter, had caused his exile. On the eve of his exile Ovid was composing the Calendar, a description of the Roman religious year, and the Metamorphoses. The epic Metamorphoses (8 ce), long recognized as his masterpiece, describes the loves and transformations of characters from classical mythology, providing masterly and accessible renditions of ancient tales.
Exile came as a great shock to Ovid; his reaction to the blow provided some of the most remarkable poetry of personal expression from antiquity. He responded to his changed circumstances by investing his emotions in elegy, the genre in which he had written as a poet-lover in his youth. Ovid's exile poetry in the Lamentations and the Letters from the Black Sea is not in the confessional style a modern reader might expect. While he frequently describes the misery of his surroundings, he focuses his defense upon his art. His pleas were in vain, however; he died in Tomis, still banished. Ovid, over the course of his life, would marry three times and divorce twice, with one daughter.
Works in Literary Context
Metamorphoses as Classical Sourcebook Out of the remnants of classical literature, Ovid's Metamorphoses survived as a sourcebook for artists, writers, and readers seeking access to the world of Greek and Roman mythology. Many of the most seemingly familiar myths of antiquity owe their main outlines, and often their survival, to the form Ovid gives them in his poem. For modern readers, Ovid is the sole source for many tales, but his contemporaries had access to a wealth of literature, written in both Latin and Greek, in which they might have found similar versions of these narratives to hold up in comparison. While epic in scope, the work's meter, tone, and subject are quite unlike Rome's imperial epic, Vergil's Aeneid. Drawn from Greek mythology, Roman folklore, and Mesopotamian sources, the stories constituting the Metamorphoses are all linked by a common motif—transformation.
Ovid's Lasting Literary Influence Ovid's banishment and the removal of his works from public access did nothing to diminish his popularity, as illustrated by the appearance of quotes from The Art of Love in graffiti around the city of Pompeii. While some contemporaries criticized Ovid for his lack of control and irreverent tone in his verse, other writers freely mimicked Ovidian poetic technique. In medieval times, commentators and translators revised his poems into allegories by purging their erotic content in accordance with Christian doctrine. However, the stories and concepts in the Metamorphoses, Loves, and Heroines, as interpreted by the medieval traveling poets, or minstrels, helped form the concept of courtly love, which played an important role in the creation of Arthurian literature.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Ovid's famous contemporaries include:
Caesar Augustus (63 bce–14 ce): The first emperor of the Roman Empire, from 27 bce until his death, Augustus's strong rule ushered in the Pax Romana, or time of peace and stability in the empire.
Herod the Great (73 bce–4 bce): A Roman king of Judea who, according to the New Testament, was responsible for the Massacre of the Innocents, the deaths of all firstborn male children in Bethlehem, in an attempt to prevent the coming of the “king of the Jews.”
Horace (65 bce–8 bce): A Roman lyric poet, Horace is best known for his Odes.
Livy (59 bce–17 ce): A Roman historian, Livy wrote a comprehensive, seven-hundred-year history of Rome.
Vergil (70 bce–19 bce): Vergil, a classical Roman poet, wrote The Aeneid, an epic poem telling of Rome's origins.
Ovid's influence upon English literature began with Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower. William Shakespeare drew heavily on Ovid in his earliest tragedy, Titus Andronicus, and Ovid's influence can be traced throughout Shakespeare's career. For the poets of the Enlightenment, the intellectual play, which represents the hallmark of Ovid's style, evoked a deep similarity to their own approach to poetry. John Dryden and Alexander Pope not only translated much of Ovid's verse, but their original work also shows his influence. In the twentieth century, readers of Ezra Pound's Cantos and Ted Hughes's Tales from Ovid encounter the poet of the Metamorphoses in revived form.
Ovid's Influence on the Visual Arts In the visual arts, Ovid's myths have always provided a rich source of inspiration. The list of painters and sculptors who have treated Ovidian themes is long and includes such artists as Italian Renaissance painter Titian, French painter Nicolas Poussin, Dutch painter Pieter Brueghel, Flemish Baroque painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck, French Romantic painter and lithographer Eugene Delacroix, and Belarusian-French modernist painter Marc Chagall.
Works in Critical Context
Ovid has always appealed more to artists than to scholars. His works never formed part of the school curriculum in antiquity, and the Metamorphoses were sanitized during the fourteenth century. At various times during this period, Ovid's poetry was also banned or heavily censored. However, Ovid's works were frequently translated into English in the mid-sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and his critical reputation was enhanced. Opinions varied: For instance, Arthur Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses in 1567 became immensely popular, going through six printings during Shakespeare's lifetime, while Christopher Marlowe's adaptation of Loves, published in 1597 as The Elegies, was publicly burned in 1599. In general, though some critics regard Ovid as a frivolous and superficial poet, others praise his complex mastery of poetic form and narrative skill, and extraordinary grasp of the human, particularly feminine, psyche.
The Complexity of Metamorphoses In the Spring 1972 issue of the journal Arethusa, Leo Curran questioned the rhetorical intention and meaning of Metamorphoses. He addressed the “numerous possibilities” of the work and asked the reader whether Metamorphoses could be considered epic or entertainment, neutral or profound, poetic or philosophical. Eight years after Curran's article, Catherine Rhorer also wrote in Arethusa that “Ovid has moved beyond the stable and architectonic structures of classical art.” In translating Metamorphoses in Tales from Ovid (1997), poet Ted Hughes chose to simplify Ovid's varied and often complicated metonymic references; Ovid used so many different words for a person or object that sometimes the actual identity may not be obvious. Hughes also streamlined Ovid's excessive use of detail, as scholar Christian Hogel noted, and tried to centralize certain themes. Hogel offered Hughes's work almost as a critique of Ovid: Hughes pared down Ovid's classic layering to focus on the “stories told by Ovid” and reveal their “symbolic value.”
The Meaning of Loves As suggested by scholar Sara Mack, the title of Ovid's work Amores, or Loves, can hold a number of meanings: in Latin, “The plural amores can …refer to girlfriends, love affairs, or love poems.” The fifty poems in the volume follow a style called a “love elegy” and express a hopeless passion; they are playful in tone, indicating that the narrator will not truly die of his love. With Amores, Ovid is said to have invented the “posing poet-lover” and inspired John Donne.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Ovid turned myth from the realm of the religious to the aesthetic and imaginative. The stories in his Metamorphoses have influenced much literature and popular culture, including the following works.
The Labors of Hercules (1947), a collection by Agatha Christie. This short-story collection takes the twelve labors of the classical strongman Hercules and turns each into a related mystery that Hercule Poirot, Belgian detective, must solve.
The Mask of Apollo (1966), a novel by Mary Renault. An actor in ancient Greece reluctantly gets involved with the volatile political situation; his moral guide is a mask of Apollo, god of music, representing harmony and order, to whom there was a famous shrine in Delphi.
Orpheus (1950), a film directed by Jean Cocteau. This movie, set in Paris, retells the story of Orpheus, a gifted musician, who goes to the Underworld to reclaim his beloved wife after her death.
Tales from Ovid (1997), poetry by Ted Hughes. The former poet laureate of England translates twenty-four stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses in this prize-winning collection.
Responses to Literature
- Ovid's banishment arguably might have been the defining moment of his life. Write an informal essay addressing this question: If you were forced to live in a different country from your family and friends, do you think you would adjust, or would you always be affected by it?
- Ovid was an immensely popular writer in Roman times, but some people today consider him “frivolous.” Think of a contemporary writer or other artist who is very popular but whom critics don't always take seriously. Write an essay describing his or her work, what critics object to in it, and whether you think the author is being criticized fairly.
- The theme in The Art of Love, how to find and keep your love, is still popular. Think of tips you could give someone today—for example, “don't text message the person you like more than three times a day.” In a small group of your classmates, write out three to five tips, and read them aloud.
- In his poems from exile, Ovid writes about the place of art in his life, not only as the cause of his personal disaster, but also as the source of his salvation. Write a personal statement in which you describe how the arts might help you deal with your problems when things go wrong. Be sure to give specific examples.
Fraenkel, Hermann. Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956.
Galinksy, G. Karl. Ovid's Metamorphoses: An Introduction to the Basic Aspects. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.
Otis, Brooks. Ovid as an Epic Poet. London: Cambridge University Press, 1966.
Simpson, Michael. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.
Solodow, Joseph B. The World of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
Thibault, John C. The Mystery of Ovid's Exile. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.
Ziolkowski, Theodore. Ovid and the Moderns. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.
Greenberg, Hope. The Ovid Project. Retrieved May 15, 2008, from http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/ovid/. Last updated on November 7, 1997.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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). □
Born: 43 b.c.e.
Died: c. 18 c.e.
Tomis (now Constanta, Romania)
Ovid was a Roman poet. His verse is distinguished by its easy elegance and sophistication (subtle complexity).
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.
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.
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 emperorTiberius (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.
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.
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 (1552–1599), John Milton (1608–1674), and William Shakespeare (1564–1616) 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 (1631–1700), who translated Metamorphoses, and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), 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.
Thibault, John C. The Mystery of Ovid's Exile. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.
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
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 rhetoric—oratory—in 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