About Publius Ovidius Naso, "Ovid"
Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BC – AD 17/18), 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. He 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, decisively influenced European art and literature and remains as one of the most important sources of classical mythology.
Ovid talks more about his own life than most other Roman poets. Information about his biography is drawn primarily from his poetry, especially Tristia 4.10, which gives a long autobiographical account of his life. Other sources include Seneca and Quintilian.
Birth, early life and marriage
Ovid was born in Sulmo (Sulmona), in an Apennine valley east of Rome, to an important equestrian family, on March 20, 43 BC. That was a significant year in Roman politics.[a] He was educated in Rome in rhetoric under the teachers Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro with his brother who excelled at oratory. His father wished him to study rhetoric toward the practice of law. According to Seneca the Elder, Ovid tended to the emotional, not the argumentative pole of rhetoric. After the death of his brother at 20 years of age, Ovid renounced law and began travelling to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. He held minor public posts, as one of the tresviri capitales and as one of the decemviri stlitibus iudicandis, but resigned to pursue poetry probably around 29–25 BC, a decision of which his father apparently disapproved. His first recitation has been dated to around 25 BC, when Ovid was eighteen. He was part of the circle centered upon the patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, but seems to have been friends with poets in the circle of Maecenas. In Trist. 4.10.41–54, Ovid mentions friendships with Macer, Propertius, Horace, and Bassus (he only barely met Virgil and Tibullus, a fellow member of Messalla's circle whose elegies he admired greatly). Ovid was very popular at the time of his early works, but was later exiled by Augustus in AD 8. He married three times and divorced twice by the time he was thirty years old. However, he only had one daughter who eventually bore him grandchildren. His last wife was connected in some way to the influential gens Fabia and would help him during his exile in Tomis.
The first 25 years of Ovid's literary career were spent primarily writing poetry in elegiac meter with erotic themes. The chronology of these early works is not secure; tentative dates, however, have been established by scholars. His earliest extant work is thought to be the Heroides, letters of mythological heroines to their absent lovers, which may have been published in 19 BC, although the date is uncertain as it depends on a notice in Am.2.18.19–26, which seems to describe the collection as an early published work. The authenticity of various of these poems has been challenged but this first edition probably contained the first 14 poems of the collection. The first five-book collection of the Amores, a series of erotic poems addressed to a lover, Corinna, is thought to have been published in 16–15 BC; the surviving, extant version, redacted to three books according to an epigram prefixed to the first book, is thought to have been published c. 8–3 BC. Between the publications of the two editions of the Amores can be dated the premiere of his tragedy Medea which was admired in antiquity but is now no longer extant. Ovid's next poem, the Medicamina Faciei, a fragmentary work on women's beauty treatments preceded the Ars Amatoria, the Art of Love, a parody of didactic poetry and a three-book manual about seduction and intrigue, which has been dated to 2 AD. Ovid may identify this work in his exile poetry as the carmen, or song, which was one cause of his banishment. The Ars Amatoria was followed by the Remedia Amoris in the same year. This corpus of elegiac, erotic poetry earned Ovid a place among the chief Roman elegists Gallus, Tibullus, and Propertius, of which he saw himself as the fourth member.
By 8 AD, he had completed his most ambitious work, the Metamorphoses, a hexameter epic poem in 15 books which encyclopedically catalogues transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar. The stories follow each other in the telling of human beings transformed to new bodies — trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations et cetera. At the same time, he was working on the Fasti, a six-book poem in elegiac couplets which took the Roman festivals calendar and astronomy as its theme. The composition of this poem was interrupted by Ovid's exile,[b] and it is thought that Ovid abandoned work on the piece in Tomis. It is likely in this period, if they are indeed by Ovid, that the double letters (16–21) in the Heroides were composed.
Exile to Tomis
In 8 AD, 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. Ovid wrote that the reason for his exile was carmen et error — "a poem and a mistake", claiming that his crime was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry. The Emperor's grandchildren, Agrippa Postumus and Julia the Younger, were banished around the time of his banishment; Julia's husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, was put to death for conspiracy against Augustus, a conspiracy about which Ovid might have known. The Julian Marriage Laws of 18 BC, which promoted monogamous marriage to increase the population's birth rate, were fresh in the Roman mind. Ovid's writing in the Ars Amatoria concerned the serious crime of adultery, and he may have been banished for these works which appeared subversive to the emperor's moral legislation. However, because of the long distance of time between the publication of this work (1 BC) and the exile (8 AD), some authors suggest that Augustus used the poem as a mere justification for something more personal.
In exile, Ovid wrote two poetry collections titled Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, illustrating his sadness and desolation. Being far from Rome, he had no access to libraries, and thus might have been forced to abandon the Fasti poem about the Roman calendar, of which only the first six books exist — January through June. The five books of the elegiac Tristia, a series of poems expressing the poet's despair in exile and advocating his return to Rome, are dated to 9–12 AD. The Ibis, an elegiac curse poem attacking an adversary at home may also be dated to this period. The Epistulae ex Ponto, a series of letters to friends in Rome asking them to effect his return, are thought to be his last compositions, with the first three books published in 13 AD and the fourth book between 14 and 16 AD. The exile poetry is particularly emotive and personal. In the Epistulae he claims friendship with the natives of Tomis (in the Tristia they are frightening barbarians) and to have written a poem in their language (Ex P. 4.13.19–20). And yet he pined for Rome and for his third wife, as many of the poems are to her. Some are also to the Emperor Augustus, yet others are to himself, to friends in Rome, and sometimes to the poems themselves, expressing loneliness and hope of recall from banishment or exile.
The obscure causes of Ovid's exile have given rise to endless explanations from scholars studying antiquity. In fact, the medieval texts that mention the exile offer no credible explanations as their statements seem incorrect interpretations drawn from the works of Ovid. Ovid himself wrote many references to his offense giving obscure or contradictory clues. In 1923, scholar J. J. Hartmann proposed a theory that is little considered among scholars of Latin civilization today — that Ovid never left Rome to the exile and that all of his exile works are the result of his fertile imagination. This theory was supported and rejected in the 1930s, especially by Dutch authors. In 1985 a new research paper by Fitton Brown advanced new arguments in support of the theory; the article was followed by a series of supports and refutations in the short space of five years. Among the reasons argued by Brown is: that Ovid's exile is only informed by his own work, except in "dubious" passages by Pliny the Elder, Statius, but no other author until the 4th century; that the author of Heroides was able to separate the poetic "I" of his own and real life; that information on the geography of Tomis were already known by Virgil, Herodotus and by Ovid himself in his Metamorphoses.[c] Orthodox scholars, however, are opposed to these hypotheses. One of the main arguments of these scholars is that Ovid wouldn't let his Fasti remain unfinished, mainly because this poem meant his consecration as imperial poet.
Ovid died at Tomis in AD 17. It is thought that the Fasti, which he spent time revising, were published posthumously. He was allegedly buried a few kilometers away in a nearby town. In 1930 that town was renamed Ovidiu in his honor. As Ovid spent the last years of his life and literary work in what is now Romania, Romanian nationalists have adopted him as "The First Romanian Poet" and placed him in the pantheon of Romanian national heroes. Ovidiu is a common male first name in Romania. Also, a statue commemorates him in the Romanian city of Tomis (contemporary Constanța).