Study Guide for Ovid: The Art of Love


Using this Guide

List of other study guides

Notes for the translation by Rolfe Humphries of selections from the Amores and the Ars Amatoria.

Publius Ovidus Naso (Ovid):The Loves (25-16 BCE?)

Read the introduction to this translation. Some of the references to modern culture have dated since 1957, but it is still interesting and useful. What Humphries does not make clear is that these originally rather frivolous poems had a momentous influence on later European civilization. It was not only Chaucer who read Ovid's love poetry; every educated person with the slightest interest in the subject did so. Unfortunately much of his humor was lost on Medieval interpreters, and they often discussed his ideas over-seriously in the context which came to be known as "courtly love"--a concept which would have been alien--and ridiculous--to Ovid. His beloved was typically a pretty but ordinary courtesan, not a noble lady in a tower. He makes it clear repeatedly that for him love (read "sex") is a game much like poker, demanding great powers of strategy and deception, but not the very foundation of life itself. The continuing fame of these poems was owed partly to his authorship of a much greater work, the Metamorphoses, by far the most important source for Greco-Roman mythology for later Europeans. His Tristia recount his lonely banishment away from Rome at the end of his life. It is sometimes suggested that the puritanical Emperor Augustus exiled him because he was offended by Ovid's love poetry, but this is uncertain.

If his voice seems amazingly contemporary it is because of his "modern" cynicism and frank pleasure in sex for its own sake. Some readers find him offensive, but in a familiar way: there are plenty of men around today who think just like him. What can take the edge of the offense is his self-deprecating humor. Note the many passages in which he is clearly making fun of himself. What is definitely not contemporary about Ovid is his love for mythological allusion. The modern reader may feel frustrated by these "interruptions" which were read fluently as decorative touches in his own time by an audience extremely familiar with the myths to which he alludes. Feel free to skim through these passages, but you may find that the following notes add a lot to your understanding of these writings by explaining the various allusions. He returns to some stories over and over again. Rather than constantly repeat the same explanations, I have created links so that you may look up figures discussed earlier. Remember that after following a link you need to click the "back" button to return to the spot where you were reading. In these notes the Roman names are generally used, i.e. "Ulysses" rather than "Odysseus," "Jupiter" rather than "Zeus."

Book I:

Elegy I

Ovid's contemporary Virgil had begun his most famous poem, the Aeneid, with the line "Arms and the man I sing." These elegies are written in lines shorter by one foot than the hexameters that are used for more solemn epic works like the Aeneid.

Minerva (Greek Athena) is the goddess of wisdom, not normally mixed up with the love-goddess Venus. Ceres is the grain-goddess, Diana the huntress of the forests. Apollo is the god of peaceful arts like poetry and music, Mars the god of war. Orpheus was also a demigod of music. In other words: "Don't mix things up: stick to what you're good at."

Helicon was the home of the Muses, inspirers of the arts; so Cupid is rebuking Ovid for thinking that he is the center of the creative universe when he's only a participant on the fringes. Note how even Ovid, always heterosexual, casually offers homosexuality as an alternative.

How does Cupid answer his claim that he cannot write love poetry because he is not in love with anyone?

Myrtle is associated with Venus.

Elegy II

The stereotype of the sleepless lovesick youth was long established by the time Ovid expressed it, but he conveys a particularly vivid impression of it. Remember that such love-longing was diagnosed as a clinical illness in ancient times, usually treatable only by lovemaking.

Note his ingenious examples of self-defeating struggle. He gladly surrenders to Cupid, telling him that he can celebrate a triumphal procession of the kind allotted to military leaders who succeeded in adding territory to the Roman Empire, but decorated with objects associated with Venus, such as a myrtle wreath substituted for the usual laurel. Captured prisoners were a feature of such processions.

"Hosannahs" is of course biblical Hebrew, and only a loose translation for a word meaning "cheers."

What sort of companions does he say Love has?

Bacchus was thought of as an "eastern" god, and said to have invaded and conquered India.

The final lines are an obsequious compliment to the mercy of Augustus, the same ruler who--nevertheless--was to banish the poet from Rome.

Elegy IV

Most of these poems are addressed to single young women, mostly courtesans. This particularly outrageous example of Ovid's humor may well be a cynical fiction. Obviously if he was trying to keep an affair such as this secret, he would not have published the poem. (Publishing consisted in the hand-copying of works for sale, and Ovid was a best-selling author.) The humor of the poem lies in the poet's frantic jealousy of his mistresses' husband. His elaborate system of symbolic gestures is meant more to be amusing than serious, as the conclusion reveals. To understand this poem one needs to understand that dining was normally done reclining on couches, leaning on one elbow, two to a couch.

The Lapith king Peirithoüs tried to make peace with the savage Centaurs, half-man, half horse, by inviting them to his wedding. However, the drunken Centaurs tried to carry off the Lapith women and restarted the war they had been fighting earlier. The scene was often depicted in sculpture, notably on the pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.

The ancient Greeks and Romans mixed their water with wine to prevent its being too intoxicating, unless they were single-mindedly bent on getting drunk.

Why is the poet especially anxious about the acts that may be hidden under the couples' robes?

Note the traditional reference to the "cruel door."

Note the assumption that men's pleasure in lovemaking is strongly dependent on that of women.

What effect do the last two lines have on your impression of his relationship to this woman?

Elegy V

This one is pure sex. If you are liable to be offended by the subject matter, you may skip it. The time is the mid-day break, when almost all Italians still take an after-lunch nap. Here we meet Corinna, the main subject of these poems.

Semiramis was a mighty Assyrian Queen whose original name was Sammuramat (r. 810-805 BCE), and who was responsible for huge construction projects during her reign. However, legends developed around her, first transforming her into a goddess and later into a highly romantic figure. One of these legends is retold in Rossini's opera Semiramide.

Lais was a Corinthian courtesan legendary for her extraordinary beauty.

Pro forma means something like "for appearances' sake."

Ovid belongs to the old school of thought which does not take women's reluctance to engage in sex seriously. Although this pattern of thought has caused a lot of damage over the centuries, and continues to do so, it is important to remember that in the past both men and women accepted the notion that courtship usually involved the overcoming of resistance, the latter necessary to prove that the woman was not utterly debauched. This poem would not have conveyed any notion of rape to ancient readers. This is the most explicit poem about lovemaking in all of Classical Latin literature.

Elegy VI

The door poem (Greek paraklausithyron) was a highly stereotyped form. It is enough for the poet to mention a door, and the entire situation is brought to mind: the lover shut out, complaining, from the woman locked within. This one, however, is original in that it is addressed to the doorkeeper, chained to his post. The refrain printed in italics suggests a ritual hymn, for it is not the sort of thing normally used in secular poems like this.

This poem introduces another traditional symptom of lovesickness: loss of appetite. Under what condition would the poet be willing to be a slave like the doorkeeper?

Boreas, the north wind, fell in love with Oreithiya, daughter of Erectheus, king of Athens. Since the north wind blew to Greece from the direction of Thrace, Boreas was thought of as a Thracian, a people hated by the Athenians. Rejected by her father, he swooped down on Oreithiya and carried her off to Thrace.

A "chaplet" is a decorative garland worn to parties. It was traditional for lovers to hang their garlands on the beloveds' doors as an offering, but he flings his on the doorstep as a symbol of his wasted night. Note although the poem recounts his utter failure, by retelling the story in a poem he clearly hopes to influence the woman who has instructed her slave to keep the door locked.

Elegy VII

For most of its length, this poem seems a sincere attempt at repenting his violence against Corinna. He realizes he has brutalized her and is trying to make up with her by accusing himself. However, the final impish line is ambiguous. It could mean that he isn't truly repentant: he is more embarrassed than contrite. Or it could be a satire on his own superficiality.

At first, trying to justify his use of violence, he cites other wild madmen from the past, including Ajax, the great Trojan War hero, who in a crazed fit of spite at having not been awarded the dead Achilles' arms, ran amuck among the herds under the delusion that the cows were his Greek enemies.

Orestes was famous for avenging the murder of his father Agamemnon by killing his faithless mother Clytemnestra. He was punished for this deed by madness.

Note how he quickly rejects his own argument.

The beautiful princess Atalanta was abandoned as a baby, but suckled by a bear and raised by hunters. She swore to remain unmarried so she could continue to pursue her favorite but unfeminine pastime of hunting. Her father Iasus was king of Maenalus

Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete who helped Theseus slay the Minotaur and for her pains was abandoned by him on the island of Naxos.

Cassandra was a Trojan princess who resisted Apollo's attempts to seduce her. According to one story, he granted her the gift of true prophecy, but when she continued to resist, he cursed her: no one would ever believe her prophecies. At the fall of Troy, Ajax raped her at the foot of the altar of Athena. In the original all three of these are loosely linked by references to their hair.

The Greek Diomedes was said to have wounded Venus (who sided with the Trojans) in battle.

Ovid goes on sarcastically to urge himself to celebrate his "triumph" over Corinna with a procession like that described above in the notes to Elegy II.

Jove is another name for Jupiter, the mighty sky god of thunder and lightning.

What are the two alternatives he says he wished had happened instead of his brutal assault on her?

Paros was renowned for its white marble.

Whatever you think of his behavior, the final lines reveal considerable insight into the nature of guilt. What two alternatives does he offer to make himself feel better?

Elegy XIII

"The bright one" is Aurora, the dawn, who leaves the bed of her aged lover Tithonus each morning, her rosy fingers turning the sky pink. Because she gets no pleasure from him any longer, she is jealous of other lovers. Memnon was her son, an Ethiopian king, the smoke from whose funeral pyre was transformed into starlings which returned annually to his grave to sprinkle it with water.

This is one of many poems calling upon the dawn to hold back its coming so that the delights of nighttime may be prolonged. The line "Run slowly, slowly, horses of the night" is frequently quoted. What other kinds of people besides lovers does he say would like the nights to be longer?

Spinning and weaving were enormously time-consuming tasks that almost all women engaged in whenever they were not doing other work.

The sun was imagined to ride across the sky in a chariot, so Ovid wishes its axle would break.

Aurora asked the gods to give her Tithonus immortal life, but she forgot to ask them to keep him young. Tragically, he aged indefinitely and grew ugly and repulsive to her.

When the virginal moon goddess Luna fell in love with the beautiful youth Endymion he was punished by Jupiter by being put permanently, eternally to sleep.

Jupiter, desiring Amphitryon's wife Alcmene, disguised himself as her husband and miraculously prolonged the night in order to prolong his pleasure with her. As a result, she bore the hero Hercules.

Note the humor in the final lines. Ovid often portrays himself as a loser.

Book II

Elegy II

This is one of Ovid's cynical celebrations of adultery as a harmless game. In the Middle Ages adultery was to become transformed into a quasi-religious ritual, very different from this, but often involving the same complications.

Bagoas is the slave employed by Ovid's mistress' husband to guard over her. Ovid threatens and cajoles him in an attempt to have some "harmless" fun with the wife. This list of instructions may be compared with those to the wife in Book I, Elegy 4. The Palatine Hill overlooking the Forum was the site of the homes of rulers of Rome.

The rites of Isis were supposed to be attended only by women, so the guard would have to stay outside.

"Gaol" is the English spelling for "jail."

Tantalus was punished in Hades by being confined in a pool with a fruit tree bending over it. When he stooped to drink the water, it flowed away; when he reached for the fruit, it sprang out of his reach, tantalizing him.

"Argo" seems here to be simply a synonym for Argus , the hundred-eyed guard set to guard Io.

Flagrante dilecto is a legal term meaning "in the act" (literally "flagrantly committing the crime").

Elegy VI

Ovid's elegy to a pet bird is much longer and more complex than Catullus', a fact which does not necessarily make it better. The main difference is that Ovid plunges into the realm of myth, as he so often does, to develop his thought. One can see why this poet went on to write the Metamorphoses.

Note that Corinna's parrot came from India, a distant land on the borders of the empire which was reputed to harbor all manner of wonders.

All birds are summoned to perform the funeral rites: scratching one's cheeks and breast was a standard form of ritual grieving.

Philomela is the nightingale. Itys was killed, cut up, and cooked by his mother Procne and fed to her husband Tereus in vengeance for his rape of her sister Philomela.

Damon and Pythias were friends in Syracuse whose loyalty to each other became legendary.

It seems odd that quails were reputed to be especially long-lived, since it is in fact parrots which have been known to live quite long lives.

"Water, perfectly pure" implies that no wine was mixed with it: pure water was the preferred drink of advocates of the simple life as a means to health.

Pursued by Triton, a Phocian princess prayed to Minerva to be rescued, and was turned into a raven which became the goddess' companion. However, later Minerva rejected the bird for tale-telling in favor of the owl.

Protesilaus was an eager hero, the first to land (and die) at the Trojan War whereas Thersites was an ugly, deformed coward who jeered at his own leaders. Similarly, Homer depicts Hector (who killed Protesilaus) as the courageous leader of the Trojan forces, disdainful of his younger brother Paris, who had caused the war by carrying off Agamemnon's wife Helen.

Hector's father Priam opposed the war from the beginning, had to plead with the Greeks for his son's body, and was ignominiously slain at the end of the war.

The thread of life was spun out, measured, and cut by the three women known as Fates.

Elysium (or "the Elysian Fields") was a paradise mortals who had been made immortal lived. Some writers like Ovid portray it as a reward for virtue: in others it is simply the abode of those who have pleased the gods, not always by good behavior.

There was only one phoenix which periodically set itself on fire and was reborn. It is not usually associated with Elysium, but Ovid is reaching for relevant mythological birds.

Juno, the wife of Jupiter, had as her companion a peacock.

Which of the parrot's qualities attracts most of Ovid's attention (unsurprisingly, given his vocation as a writer)?

Elegies VII & VIII

This pair of elegies inspires indignation in some readers: What an outrageous liar and cheat! The mean-spirited attempt at blackmail at the conclusion of Elegy VIII is especially revolting. Other readers find the poet's impish antics highly amusing. But it is important to remember that it is Ovid the poet who has created these two works and set them side by side to create the portrait of an unscrupulous philanderer that results. This is no pair of private letters, but a satirical set piece, carefully conceived to portray a probably fictional lover who thinks he can get away with anything, but who is in fact in deep trouble--rejected both by Corinna and Cypassis. The narrator in these, as in all the poems, is a persona created by the author but not necessarily to be identified with him on every point.

Both Agamemnon and Achilles were great warriors infatuated by slaves.

Elegy XIII

Abortion, though disapproved of in Rome, was not uncommon; but the means used were highly dangerous to the woman. On what grounds does the poet object to Corinna's abortion attempt?

Posse ="could be;" esse= "is." The poet prays to the Egyptian goddess Isis, the special guardian of women. Osiris is her brother/husband.

The passage about the Gallic horsemen evidently refers to sculptures near the temple of Isis. Note how Ovid observes his own tactlessness in the final lines.

Elegy IX

Corinna's husband (unmentioned previously) seems to be making her affair with the poet insufficiently difficult. The poet argues that obstacles created by his rival stimulate his passion. This sort of sophisticated perversity is far removed from the direct passion of a Sappho. Clearly the poem is not to be read literally. He would not have sent this poem to the betrayed husband; he is merely satirizing what he sees as his foolish tolerance. Cuckolds (men whose wives commit adultery) are the object of much satirical humor from ancient times through the 18th century. He also tries to arouse jealous fears in the husband, taunting him.

Danae's father Acrisius, learning from an oracle that his grandson would kill him, imprisoned her in a bronze cell but Jupiter (Jove) impregnated her in the form of a shower of gold. Juno's jealous attempt to prevent Jove from making love with Io by turning her into a cow failed when he continued to pursue her.

The tablets brought by the maid would have been letters which were inscribed on wax-covered tablets.

Book III

Elegy II

This is a wonderfully lively portrait of a day at the races by a man who would rather look at women than horses. This translation is particularly colloquial, with many modern touches not strictly faithful to the original; but the spirit is captured vividly.

Pelops won the hand of the Princess Hippodameia by cheating in a chariot race, sabotaging his rival's vehicle. He thinks his girlfriend may have prettier legs than even the beautiful Atalanta who raced against and won many suitors for her hand, only to be overtaken by Milanion when he distracted her with three golden apples given him by Venus.

Diana the huntress was also reputedly a swift runner. Thus does the poet combine his themes: beautiful women and racing.

The victory the poet prays for is of course over the woman's resistance.

Neptune was god of the sea, which Ovid hated.

A common sort of miracle in ancient Rome was the reported nodding of the head of a god's statue, signifying approval of a prayer.

The poet says he will worship the woman more than Venus herself.

Ovid reworked this poem in a passage of Book I of The Art of Love.

Elegy IV

This is a variation of the address to the cuckolded husband, but this time the argument is that possessiveness only makes a wife restive and more likely to betray her spouse. Sentiments like these were repeated in countless tales and poems in the late Middle Ages. Jealousy, it was insisted, destroys love. This is of course a convenient philosophy for a would-be seducer of wives.

Her "person" is her body.

Argus is usually said to have been killed by Hermes, but Ovid says he was blinded by love.

See the notes to Book II, Elegy XIX for Danae.

Penelope was Ulysses' (Odysseus') wife, who waited faithfully for his return from the Trojan War for twenty years, despite being besieged by numerous suitors.

The poet even goes so far as to argue impudently that adultery (strictly outlawed in Augustine's Rome, though the law was frequently broken) is not only a trivial matter, but can be highly respectable, citing instances from mythology, which indeed abounds with illicit unions--one of the reasons that the Greeks and Romans did not base their ethics on their religion.

The notion that all women beautiful enough to attract lovers will have them is repeatedly endlessly in late Medieval and Renaissance satires. An entire book of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel is based on this theme. Obviously those who thought of themselves as potential lovers hoped this was so. From ancient times to the 19th century, the stereotype of the uncontrollable sexuality of women dominated much thinking about them. The rise of Victorianism, which viewed men as more sexual than women, marked a revolutionary change in European thinking, and one which did not go unchallenged.

According to Ovid, what are the advantages of being a cuckold?

Elegy XIA & B

Ovid tries to bid farewell to the fickle Corinna, but finds he cannot.

There is a saying that "Jove laughs as the oaths of lovers." Ovid accuses the gods of corruption in supporting such laxity. Even if she rejects him, he will continue to love her.

The Art of Love (2-1 BCE)

The Art of Love uses the same impudent, witty tone that pervades much of the Loves, but without their anguish. It had enormous influence in the Middle Ages, when it was studied seriously as a source on the true nature of love, but was also often considered scandalous.

Book I

"Car" in this translation means "chariot." The word "car" existed in English for horse-drawn vehicles long before the invention of automobiles.

Automedon was Achilles' charioteer in the Trojan War.

Tiphys steered the Argo through many hazards under the leadership of Jason.

Achilles was educated as a boy by the aged centaur Chiron.

Achilles kills Hector in one of the climactic scenes of the Iliad. Apollo inspired lofty lyric verse, Clio was sometimes considered the muse of epic poetry. Why does Ovid say he doesn't need divine inspiration to write this work?

Perseus' wife Andromeda came from Ethiopia, not India; but ancient writers often confused the two countries as equally distant and exotic.

The Grecian girl Paris took was of course Helen, wife of Agamemnon.

The sheltered spots convenient for meeting women include Pompey's portico built to shelter people at the theater in case of rain, the Portico of Octavia, the sister of Augustus (born Octavian), and the Portico of Livia. The Temple of Palatine Apollo was built during Augustus' reign and was surrounded by porch decorated with statues of the fifty daughters of Danaus who murdered their husbands. All were popular shady gathering spots near places of entertainment. The other spots mentioned are places of worship in Rome where Ovid says willing women can be encountered.

Many Jews lived in Rome, and a considerable number of Romans converted to the religion.

The section on the lawcourts involves an elaborate series of puns in Latin comparing legal battles to courtship.

In the section on the theater he depicts the abduction of the Sabine women , which took place at an outdoor festival they had been invited to (see the note for the "Vigil of Venus.") Then follows the racetrack passage which reworks Book III, Elegy II. Most scholars prefer the first version; can you see why?

No aspect of Roman life, despite the violence of our popular entertainments, is more alien to us than the pleasure the Romans took in watching human beings be killed in gladiatorial shows. How does Ovid say the spectator can become the victim at one of these shows?

Our translation here skips ahead to a passage about looking for women at a military triumph. He uses it as an excuse to flatter shamelessly the political accomplishments of Augustus Caesar and his grandson Gaius Caesar who failed to succeed him as emperor, despite Ovid's prophecies of a brilliant career. He imagines that their campaign against the Parthians will result in a brilliant triumphal march, thus justifying this lengthy digression.

In the section on parties, he warns against falling at love while under the influence of wine. Paris was asked by Venus, Juno, and Minerva to judge which of them was the most beautiful (the scene, called "The Judgment of Paris," has been often depicted in paintings).

What does he say is the other disadvantage to falling for a woman at a party?

Baiae was a resort near Naples. Women frequently attended processions in honor of Diana Nemorensis at Aricia, about ten miles south of Rome. Propertius writes about Cynthia's participation.

Having established where women are to be found, Ovid now begins to describe how to seduce them. Summarize his views on feminine psychology in the section beginning "First: be a confident soul."

There follows a list of monstrous feminine passions from mythology whose point is that if women have been known to go to such lengths for passion's sake, surely they will be willing to engage in a more normal love affair.

For Byblis, see the Metamorphoses, ix:, ll. 447-665. Myrrha, like Byblis, repented of her incestuous passion and hanged herself.

Queen Pasiphae's affair with the great bull of Crete resulted in the birth of the minotaur. As he often does, Ovid proceeds to group together myths with a similar theme, in this case humans and cattle. Europa was carried off by Jupiter in the form of a bull, a scene often depicted in art. After mentioning Io and Europa, Ovid returns to Pasiphae and the wooden cow she had built to enable her to mate with the bull.

Aerope, wife of Atreus, had an affair with her brother-in-law Thyestes which led to a deadly feud, leading ultimately the infamous banquet at which Thyestes was deceived into eating the dead bodies of his own children. In horror, day turned to night, described here as Phoebus Apollo, charioteer of the sun, turning his vehicle around to abort its rising.

Scylla's magic lock of hair protected him until his daughter betrayed him out of love for Minos. This Scylla is here identified with the sea-monster described in the Odyssey.

Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces at Troy, returned home to be slain by his faithless wife Clytemnestra.

Creusa was the princess that Jason married after he rejected Medea. Medea took vengeance by killing her with a poisoned robe and then murdering her own children (see Euripides' Medea).

The next three examples of monstrous female passion involve women who, frustrated in their attempts to seduce men, falsely accuse them of rape. The most famous is Phaedra, who tried to seduce her stepson Hippolytus (and is the subject of another tragedy by Euripides, the Hippolytus). Why do you suppose that such stories are so popular in many cultures?

The passage recommending securing the cooperation of the maid recalls Book II, Elegies VII & VIII, although he here warns against actually seducing her--at least until her mistress has been safely bedded.

After ten years of fruitless siege at Troy, the Greeks pretended to depart, leaving behind an enormous wooden horse, secretly filled with soldiers. After the celebrating Trojans had hauled the horse inside the city, the soldiers sneaked out under cover of darkness and threw open the gates of Troy to the waiting Greek troops.

How does Ovid recommend lovers take advantage of a woman's anger with another man?

Why does he say it is an advantage to have succeeded in seducing the maid?

The Battle of the River Allia in 390 BCE was remembered bitterly as a disastrous defeat for the Roman (Latian) forces at the hands of the Gauls.

Jews in Rome popularized the idea of a Sabbath day of rest and the seven-day week.

Why does he recommend against courting on a woman's birthday?

The scene with the peddler is a delightful little vignette which one could easily imagine being acted on the stage. The language is here somewhat modernized: the "check" is actually a promise to pay; but birthday cakes were genuinely Roman.

After Achilles killed Prince Hector at Troy and treated the body savagely, he was nevertheless persuaded to return it to King Priam for burial.

Cydippe was tricked into marrying her lover Acontius when he rolled in front of her an apple on which he had inscribed "I swear by Artemis to marry Acontius." She picked it up, read it aloud, and realized she was now bound by the oath.

The next section recommends the study of rhetoric as it was studied by lawyers. Clever oratory was much admired in Rome. "Periods" are phrases.

Penelope's suitors tried to get her to marry for many years, but she resisted them until her husband Ulysses returned home, twenty years after he had left. It took ten years to conquer Troy. What do you think of his advice on persistence?

The lover has to turn around to see the woman he loves in the theater audience because females were confined by law to the last few rows.

Rome did have actresses, but males also commonly played female parts.

Some men did curl their hair, but were not considered very manly for doing so.

The priests of the cult of Cybele shaved their legs as well as castrating themselves.

Adonis was a handsome youth with whom Venus fell in love.

Bacchus is the god of wine: he is suggesting that wine may help seduce a woman. This is the excuse for the story which follows. When Ariadne had been abandoned on Naxos by Theseus, she uttered long, bitter laments which became a stereotype in poetry; but Ovid rejects the version of the story which has her committing suicide and has her rescued promptly by Bacchus.

Hymenaeus is the god of marriage. Note the assumption that the woman may well be married, though this is not suggested elsewhere. Severe penalties against adultery were enacted about the time this was written, and it has sometimes been supposed that Ovid's repeated celebration of the seducing of other men's wives may have been one of the causes of his exile.

This section is developed out of materials originally used in The Loves Book I, Elegy IV. Eurytion was one of the centaurs killed in the battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs when the latter got drunk at the marriage feast of Pirithous.

What does Ovid say are the advantages of pretending to be drunk? His toast "to the fellow she sleeps with" is ambiguous, of course: the listeners think he is speaking of her husband, she knows he is speaking of the lover.

Juno and Pallas lost the beauty contest to Venus when judged by Paris. It was claimed that when Jupiter was carrying on his affair with Io, he swore falsely to Juno that he was not. From that time on he ordained that lovers should not be punished for their false oaths.

Styx, the river of death, was the only entity by which the gods swore.

What is his excuse for saying it is all right to cheat women?

The myth of King Busiris of Egypt may reflect a distant memory of human sacrifices carried out in Egypt.

Since it never rains in Egypt, the rains referred to may be those far upstream which cause the Nile to swell.

Phalaris was a historical figure, the cruel tyrant of Acragas in Sicily c. 570-554 BCE. He had a hollow bronze bull designed in which to roast human sacrifices; but the first victim was its designer.

Note the repeated insistence that women's resistance is not to be taken seriously. The Romans tended sometimes to romanticize rape, as in the rape of the Sabine women, although it could also be considered a terrible crime, as in the rape of Lucretia, who was praised for committing suicide when raped by Sextus Tarquinius after making her husband swear to kill the rapist.

Phoebe and Hilaira were sisters abducted by the Dioscuri, considered sons of Jupiter: Castor and Pollux.

Achilles' mother Thetis tried to thwart the prophecy that he would die at Troy by isolating him on the island of Scyros and having him raised as a girl. However, he fell in love with the princess Deidamia, revealing his gender when he raped her.

The triumph of Venus on Mount Ida was her winning of the beauty contest judged by Paris. She won by bribing Paris with Helen, an act which triggered the Trojan War.

Pallas Athena, though female, was also awar goddess, and is usually portrayed with helmet, spear, and shield.

Achilles killed Hector with a spear, of course, and not a skein of wool

What evidence is there toward the end of this section that although Ovid has few scruples about using force, he isn't really enthusiastic about it?

Here is introduced another element in the description of love-longing which was to become standardized for centuries: pallor.

The legends of Orion and Daphnis ("the shepherd-boy") referred to here are lost, but the point is clear.

Thinness is another classic symptom of love-longing.

Patroclus and Achilles were such close friends that the latter was persuaded to rejoin the battle against Troy after quitting because he felt cheated of his proper battle spoils only when Patroclus was killed by Hector, and Achilles felt bound to avenge his friend. This is the central action of Homer's Iliad. Part of those spoils was the maiden Briseis, whose relationship to Achilles Patroclus respected.

Achates is the loyal companion of Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid, and his name became synonymous with friendship.

Proteus was famous for his ability to transform himself into myriad shapes.

Book II

The first two parts of the book have explained how to find and capture a woman. This part tells how to keep her.

Homer and Hesiod were the early writers who recorded the classic myths, serving almost as a Bible to the Greeks.

Pelops won Hippodamia in a chariot race. The story of Daedalus has been often retold, including by Ovid himself, in the Metamorphoses. One can see him edging toward that work in such passages as these where he allows himself to get carried away with recounting a myth.

To say one is willing to swim the Styx is to say that one is willing to face death itself, since Styx is the river separating Hades from the land of the living.

The heat of the sun melted the wax holding Icarus' feathers together. His story was often told to illustrate the consequences of reckless and immoderate behavior. The conclusion is simply that love cannot be controlled.

It was believed that foals were born with a growth on their foreheads which was immediately bitten off by its mother. However, if one could be secured intact it would be a wonderful love potion.

Medea was a powerful sorceress but she could not keep Jason from leaving her for Creüsa, whom she killed with a poisoned cloak. Ulysses' men were transformed into animals by the sorceress Circe, but he managed to save himself and his men despite her magical powers.

What does he recommend instead of magic potions?

What are the most important qualities in a man, according to Ovid?

Ulysses lived with Circe on the island of Aeaea for a whole year and with the nymph Calypso on Ogygia even longer. In both cases he had difficulty convincing the women to let him go.

Rhesus was an ally of the Trojans, betrayed by a Trojan prisoner (Dolon) to the Greeks. How does Calypso use the telling of this story to argue against his departure?

Ovid makes it clear that his ideas of courtship do not aim at marriage. As in most ancient cultures, Roman marriages were arranged.

He alludes back to the incident depicted in the Loves, Book I, Elegy VII. He takes for granted that his earlier poems are well known to his readers. How is his advice in this section different from that at the end of Book I?

Atalanta was the athletic virgin who outran all her suitors although they ran naked, she in armor. Melanion finally caught her, however, with the trick described in the notes to the Loves, Book III, Elegy II.

Women used to be routinely advised to lose at games in order to please men; what is Ovid's advice to men?

"Mules" are slippers.

According to some Roman writers, after the mighty Hercules defiled the temple of the oracle at Delphi, he was condemned to slavery and sold to Queen Omphale of Lydia, who, among other more heroic tasks, required him to dress as a woman, sing, and spin. The image of the hyper-masculine Hercules forced to behave in such an effeminate manner has amused many writers and artists. After many sufferings, Hercules was finally allowed to become an immortal and live among the gods.

Ovid compares love to war, but he does not emphasize aggression. What aspects of war does he use as metaphors for love?

When Apollo dared to restore a dead man to life, Jupiter punished him severely, and his continued defiance led to a sentence of working as a slave for a mortal for a year. It was at Admetus' court that he labored.

The Greek Leander swam across the Hellespont to be with his beloved Hero. Noblesse oblige is a French phrase for the sort of politeness that social superiors owe to their inferiors.

On July 7th of each year the Romans celebrated the feast of Juno Caprotina ("under the fig tree") in memory of an incident in which the Gauls had demanded the Romans hand over to them certain matrons and virgins. Their maidservants were substituted, and when they were to be collected, signalled to the Roman troops to fall on the Gauls and destroy them.

Amaryllis is a typical Arcadian figure whose fondness for chestnuts was mentioned in Virgil's Eclogue 2, line 52.

What does Ovid have to say about the value of poetry?

Medusa was a ferocious monster with snakes for hair whose fierce looks literally froze those who looked upon her.

What limit does Ovid place on the would-be lover's attentions to his beloved when she is ill?

When Demophoon deserted his bride Phyllis, she committed suicide, and his own death ultimately resulted.

Laodamia grieved so for the husband she had lost at Troy that Hermes brought him back from the dead for three hours, but when he returned to Hades at the end of that time, she killed herself. These stories are all extreme examples of the saying "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

The counter-example, of course, is Menelaus. Most ancient authors were prone to blame Helen for her desertion of Menelaus, but Ovid, ever sympathetic to adulterous wives, is an exception.

Female worshippers of Bacchus, when filled with Dionysian frenzy, were supposed to be capable of ripping apart animals and even men with their bare hands.

Notice that the warning against jealousy is directed especially at husbands.

Clytemnestra hated her husband for many reasons, notably having sacrificed their daughter Iphigeneia to secure fair winds for Troy. His claiming of Briseis was a minor issue. He brought Cassandra, daughter of Priam, back from Troy as his prize. Clytemnestra's lover Aegisthus, according to some versions, helped her murder Agamemnon upon his return home. The adulterous pair were subsequently murdered by her son Orestes. Ovid claims she was mainly motivated by jealousy in order to make her example suit his purpose.

Note how subtle is Ovid's advice about effective lying.

Ovid's list of aphrodisiacs is translated somewhat loosely here.

Ovid's flip defense of his own inconsistency sows how unserious much of this advice is.

Fortuna was a very important goddess; those she smiled on were said to be fortunate.

Roucoulade is a French word referring to the cooing of doves.

According to some ancient thinkers, the universe was created out of a chaotic void. The world was not so much created as organized. Ovid's creation story concentrates on how creatures learned to mate. The lesson is: doing it is nature's way.

Machaon, son of Asclepius, was a physician from the Greek side at Troy.

On the temple of Apollo at Delphi was inscribed the famous motto, "Know thyself."

In what way is Ovid's advice of showing yourself off to best advantage self-deprecating?

The honey of Mount Hybla (and consequently its bees) was especially prized.

Ovid recommends the conventional gesture of hanging a garland on the woman's door, referred to earlier.

The Oracle of Dodona was where Aeneas went for advice. Note how Ovid admits that he doesn't always take his own advice.

When Venus was committing adultery with Mars, her husband Vulcan trapped them in a net and called the other gods to witness the crime; but they were amused instead and the result was shame for Vulcan rather than Venus. The lame Vulcan was the armorer of the gods, and worked at his forge inside the volcanic Mt. Aetna.

The sun-god is Apollo.

Paphos was an island sacred to Venus.

The famous Eleusinian mysteries of Ceres swore their participants to the utmost secrecy.

One version of the story of Tantalus says that he stole the sacred nectar and ambrosia of the gods and shared their secret with humanity. His punishment is discussed above, in the notes to the Loves, Book II, Elegy II. Venus was almost always portrayed nude, but often attempting to conceal her breasts and groin (see the Cnidian Aphrodite of Praxiteles or the Venus de Medici).

Easily-shocked readers are warned that the following section gets graphic. Again, "person" is archaic English for "body."

Andromeda was an Ethiopian, but was generally considered beautiful. The prejudice against dark skin was mild, but pervasive. Perseus rescued her from a sea monster.

Andromache was wife of Hector, prince of Troy.

What a Young Girl Ought to Know was first published in 1895 by Mary Wood-Allen, National Superintendent of the Purity Department of Woman's Christian Temperance Union and remained the standard (very restrained) book on sex for young women for decades. This is one of our translator's little jokes.

Affairs with adolescent males were commonplace (though often disapproved of) in classical Rome, but the boys were not supposed to receive much pleasure from the sex involved. His objection to such affairs is not moral: he simply thinks the best sex delights both lovers. Much of Ovid's graphic advice on lovemaking seems very contemporary.

Helen's daughter Hermione was about nineteen when she was promised to both Orestes and Neoptolemus as a bride.

Hector was mostly famous as a warrior, but he did manage to wed Andromache.

Briseis was the captive Achilles won in the Trojan War.

Although experts on sex now advise against striving with undo anxiety for simultaneous orgasm, Ovid's endorsement of it is generous, not self-centered.

The palm branch is a symbolic award for victory in a contest.

Nestor was the wise older advisor of the Greeks at Troy. The rest were as described.

Automedon was Achilles ' charioteer.

The Amazons were female allies of the Trojans defeated by Achilles and the Greeks.

Spoils from a victory were dedicated to the gods.

Book III

Ovid now turns to advice for women.

Amphiaraus was one of the heroes of the disastrous battle of the Seven against Thebes, and was saved from the shame of being speared in the back only by being sent by Jupiter directly to Hades, where the chief river was the Styx (" Stygian " is the adjectival form). Eriphyle was bribed to betray her husband into death, which helped trigger the battle that ended the life of Amphiaraus, so like Menelaus and Agamemnon, he was a good man wronged by a wicked woman, though less directly.

When Admetus was told he could only be spared if someone else gave his or her life in his place, his wife Alcestis volunteered. Euripides' Alcestis is a moving depiction of this story. Evadne committed suicide on the pyre of her husband Capaneus after his death in the battle of the Seven against Thebes. Note how readily Ovid condemns men as compared to women.

When Demophoon abandoned Phyllis , she ran nine times to the sea in search of him. The woods were said to have shed their leaves out of pity for her.

Aeneas, after having seduced Queen Dido of Carthage, abandoned her to continue to Italy, and she committed suicide.

Stesichorus wrote a poem expressing the conventional view that Helen was to blame for the Trojan War, but Venus angrily blinded him and he wrote a second poem claiming that she never deserted her husband, that the entire episode with Paris was a divinely-caused illusion. This story is the basis for the remarkably comic "tragedy" Helen by Euripides.

Myrtle was associated with Venus.

Note how his first advice is no warning against love, but a conventional carpe diem warning, taken to grotesque lengths. He is not really giving women defenses against men, but urging them to give in. Diana was normally chaste, but she fell in love with Endymion, who came from the region of Kariae, near Mount Latmos. Aurora (the dawn) was so infatuated with Cephalus that she carried him off, but the pink sky each morning reflects her shameful blushes.

Handsome Adonis was killed by a boar before Venus could make love with him.

The son Venus had by Anchises was the famous hero Aeneas.

She bore several children to her lover Mars, including Harmonia (an allegory for love overcoming war, creating harmony).

The next section concentrates on how women should make themselves seductive, but Ovid takes time to develop another passage flattering Augustus for his construction projects, though he says the most important improvements have been in manners rather than architecture. His time is still considered the "golden age" of imperial Rome.

Gold threads were sometimes woven into extravagant clothing.

These "makeover" tips will sound familiar to readers of modern women's magazines.

Note how Ovid enthusiastically celebrates variety.

Hercules won Iole in an archery contest with her father.

According to some versions, abandoned Ariadne did not kill herself but was rescued and wed by Bacchus.

Purple Tyrian dye was rare and precious.

Neireids were sea-nymphs. The Romans and Greek made most of their garments from wool, though it was often very finely woven so as to be quite light, even translucent.

Andromeda was so beautiful that the jealous gods punished her island home of Seriphos.

Both Greeks and Romans generally practiced the removal of all body hair, at least when young.

A "Mysian mere" would be a lake where barbarians live.

The Art of Beauty, a treatise on make-up, is printed in this volume, but seems never to have been finished. What is his general attitude toward beauty aids?

The girl with the upside-down hair had of course snatched up her wig too hastily.

Parthian warriors were known for their trick of riding their horses backward in battle in order to shoot at those pursuing them; Ovid is joking that topsy-turvy hair is suitable only for barbaric Parthian women.

The women he says he is not trying to teach were all naturally famous beauties.

The stripes he mentions are decorative borders to clothing, permitted only to nobles.

Although his advice on hiding unattractive features may be exasperating, we've all heard advice like it by modern writers.

The Golden Mean--"nothing in excess"--was a solemnly-held ideal of the Greeks, here given a frivolous twist.

Ulysses had himself tied to the mast so that he could safely hear the alluring but dangerous song of the sirens while his men rowed safely on with their ears plugged.

Women were often depicted as musicians in Roman art.

Orpheus persuaded the spirits of the dead to restore his wife Eurydice to him through his skill on the lyre.

The Phoenician psaltery is a ten- or twelve-stringed instrument.

His list of love poets includes some we have read, and his contemporary and model Tibullus.

"Arms and the man" is the opening of Virgil's Aeneid.

Lethe is the stream of death that obliterates all memory; Ovid is claiming his works will live on after him, and doing a little advertising for his books at the same time.

"Rolling the bones" is casting the dice: he is speaking of gambling.

The Romans did not play chess, but our translator here cleverly updates Ovid's references to another board game.

One wonders what would have happened if a man, having read Ovid's advice in Book II to lose, were to play against a woman who had read his similar advice to women here. Such inconsistencies reveal his essential light and frivolous attitude.

His praise is once more directed to "our leader" Augustus, who in his youth had defeated the rebellious naval forces of Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. Agrippa was Augustus' son-in-law, who built a memorial to the battle.

The crimson on the sand and the games was blood from the gladiatorial combats.

In the section about over-elegant men Ovid finally offers some advice for women which can legitimately be called defensive.

[The meaning of the reference to Priam is disputed.]

Note the gifts-for-sex equation which is still popular among many men today.

Hemlock and aconite are powerful poisons.

It is audacious of Ovid to suggest that a woman's refusal to have sex is equivalent to violating the sanctity of the Temple of the Vestal Virgins.

Etna is a volcano.

Medusa's glance turned men to stone.

Minerva was said to have invented the aulos, or double flute; but when she saw how playing it distorted her features by looking at her reflection in the water, she abandoned it.

Tecmessa was Ajax 's captive wife, melancholy at having been enslaved.

Andromache's role in myth as the wife, then widow of Hector, was a sad one. Ovid may be thinking of her image in Euripides' drama named after and in his Trojan Women. A herald precedes a notable person, announcing his or her name.

Cynthia was Propertius' beloved, Lesbia Catullus'. For the now more obscure Nemesis, Tibullus ' love, our translator has substituted Delia, one of Diana's names, but often used as a name for women generally.

Note how after having criticized his own art as useless, he here praises it. Clearly he is aware that his advice will be read skeptically; he is simply trying to charm by being amusing.

Ovid pretty consistently recommends mature men as lovers. What are his objections to young men in this section?

The advice about stimulating love through jealousy recalls the Loves, Book II, Elegy XIX, but less amusingly.

Thais was a famous Athenian courtesan; as a professional she could choose her lovers as she pleased.

The passage about women "set free, and not too long ago" is addressed to recently-freed slave women, called "libertinae."

For Danae, see the notes on the Loves, Book II, Elegy XIX.

Bona Dea (the " Good Goddess ") was worshipped only by women.

Note how Ovid characteristically interrupts himself, amazed at giving his secrets away.

The story of Procris is another of the long interpolations which anticipate the Metamorphoses, and differs substantially from more familiar accounts of her story.

He repeats his comments on drinking at parties, this time directed at women, for whom they may have more dire consequences.

Having earlier recommended attractive postures for repose, he now goes so far as to suggest which lovemaking positions are the most attractive in a passage which readily calls to mind the term "sex object."

Note that although he suggests faking an orgasm if necessary, he regrets having to do so. He is fairly consistently sympathetic with women's needs for pleasure.

The final recommendation against asking for gifts seems rather self-interested.

Which of Ovid's suggestions do you find most objectionable? Which do you most agree with?

The Remedies for Love (1 CE?)

Most of the mythological references have been explained above. Use your "find" menu if you cannot recall one.

Like the Loves, this book begins with a dialogue with Cupid in which Ovid defines the purpose of the book: not to take back what he has said in The Art of Love, but to help those who have experienced unhappiness in love.

Diomede wounded Venus at Troy, sending her fleeing the battlefield. Cupid's stepfather is Mars, the god of war.

Telephus' wound could only be healed by rust scraped from the spear which caused it.

Phyllis, Dido, and Medea are all familiar examples of abandoned women used in The Art of Love.

The stories of Medea, Tereus and Pasiphae all illustrate extreme actions undertaken for love.

Nisus was betrayed by his daughter

Scylla for the love of Minos.

Myrrha seduced her father and was turned into the tree which "weeps" myrrh.

Philoctetes' wound smelled so horribly that his fellow-Greeks abandoned him on the Island of Lemnos until they realized that his magical bow, inherited from Hercules, was necessary to end the Trojan War. Ovid omits to mention that Philoctetes' cure did not save his life: he was destined to die at Troy.

After beginning by recommending swift action, Ovid recommends a number of measures, most of which would not be out of place in modern articles on "women/men who love too much."

The reference to the Parthian defeat (actually a minor triumph of negotiation rather than a true victory) is another piece of flattery aimed at Augustus.

Whereas the pastoral poets imagined the countryside as the land of love, the urbane Ovid images it as a refuge. Diana the huntress is especially associated with the forests, and as a virgin goddess is an enemy of Venus. He must have recalled this advice ruefully when he was banished to the countryside himself.

The Tiber is the river that flows through Rome.

Note Ovid's characteristic self-mockery as he recounts his attempts to convince himself that Corinna wasn't really beautiful.

The Harpies were loathsome bird-like women sent by Zeus to punish King Phineas of Thrace by snatching away his food and leaving their droppings all over his table.

The Trojan prince Aeneas led his band of refugees from Troy to Italy to found Rome.

Buskins were the footwear worn by tragic actors, comic actors wore "socks."

Callimachus was a prolific Hellenistic poet, but no writer of epics.

See above, Book I, for Cydippe's ruse (strictly speaking, Acontius' ruse). Ovid is arguing that this story is so trivial that it hardly requires the talents of a great poet like Homer to tell it.

Andromache figured in tragedies, Thais in comedies.

Bucephalus was Alexander the Great's marvelous horse.

Ovid recommendations about associating the beloved with unpleasant feelings sounds remarkably like some modern psychiatric advice.

The asp, though tiny, was a deadly serpent, used famously by Cleopatra to commit suicide.

Minos betrayed his wife Pasiphae with Procris.

Agamemnon fell in love with the captive Briseis and insisted on Achilles exchanging Chryseis for her, which led to Achilles withdrawing temporarily from the Trojan War.

Thersites was the stereotype of the unworthy soldier.

Pylades was such a loyal friend to Orestes that he accompanied him throughout many horrible adventures.

Penthesilea was the leader of the Amazons, speared to death by Achilles at Troy, a scene often depicted in art.

The references to Ulysses concern his role in tricking Philoctetes into giving up his magic bow. Ovid makes the bow Cupid's instead. Althaea destroyed her son Meleager by burning a piece of wood which possessed the charm of keeping him alive.

The Clashing Rocks crushed every ship that passed through them except the Argo.

Scylla and Charybdis were two monsters (a monster on a rock and a whirlpool) between which ships had to sail.

Presumably if Phaedra had not been rich enough to marry Theseus, she would not have fallen under the curse of loving his son Hippolytus.

Many of Ulysses' men were almost lost to the pleasures of the addictive lotus on the Lybian coast.

Anaphrodisiacs are anti-aphrodisiacs.

What is your opinion of Ovid's advice?


Version of July 21, 1997

Back to index.

Paul Brians' Home Page

This page has been accessed times since June 6, 1997.