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THE LIFE OF OVID.
PUBLIUS OVIDIUS NASO was a fashionable poet at Rome in the reign of the Emperor Augustus, perhaps the most fashionable after the death of Virgil (B. C. 19) and Horace (B. C. 8).
All that is worth knowing about his life is told by himself in a pleasing poem (Trist. iv. 10), which is given the last in the present collection. Like most of the literary men of Rome, he was not a native of that city,* being born at Sulmo, in the country of the Peligni, about 90 miles from Romé. The year of his birth, B. C. 43, was that of Cicero's death. His father, a man of respectable fortune, removed to Rome to give his two boys a city education. Here the young poet was trained in the usual course of rhetoric and oratory, which he practised with fair success, going so far as to hold some subordinate political offices. His father was quite earnest to check his desire for a literary career. But the death of his elder brother left him with fortune enough for independence, and following his own strong bent Ovid became soon one of the favorite court poets of the brilliant era of Augustus. After a career of great prosperity, he was suddenly, at the age of
51, banished to Tomi, a town on the shore of the Black Sea, in the present Bulgaria. The cause of his banishment can only be guessed from his allusions to the anger of
* Virgil was a native of Mantua, Horace of Venusia, Catullus of Verona, Propertius of Umbria, Ovid of Sulmo, Cicero of Arpinum, Sallust of Amiternum, Livy of Patavium. Of eminent writers of this age, only Cæsar, Lucretius, and Tibullus were born in Rome. But then Rome, socially as well as politically, comprised the whole of Italy,
the emperor at some weakness, folly, or fault, which he says he is not free to tell. Some have thought he was indiscreet enough to make love to Julia, the brilliant, witty, and erratic daughter of the emperor, wife of the grave Agrippa ; others that he unfortunately knew too much of some court scandal, probably connected with Julia or her ill-famed and ill-fated daughter; others that Augustus, as public patron of morals, took offence at the somewhat cynical indecorum of certain of his poems.
At any rate, the emperor was hardened against all his flatteries and prayers, and after an exile of about ten years he died at Tomi, A. D. 18.
Besides the poems represented in this volume, Ovid was the author of the Ars Amatoria and the Remedium Amoris (to which reference has just been made), and of numerous "Elegies," including four books of letters written in exile (Ex Ponto Libri iv.). As a poet, his fame is far below that of Virgil and Horace, - deservedly, since his loose and easy verse bears no comparison with the elaborate finish of theirs. For fancy and fine poetic feeling, however, many of the Elegies – both in the Tristia and the Amores show a vein of as good quality as either of his rivals ; while in absolute ease of handling the artificial structure of Latin verse it may be doubted whether he has ever had an equal. His chief merit, however, is as an excellent story-teller,--smooth,
facile, fluent, sometimes, it must be confessed, inordinately diffuse. As the most celebrated existing collection of the most famous fables of the ancient world, the Metamorphoses, in particular, makes the best of introductions to the nobler and more difficult verse of Virgil.
Writings of Ovid.
WRITINGS OF OVID.
1. HEROIDES : a collection of twenty-one elegies, * being letters chiefly from leading “ heroines” of the Homeric age.
2. AMORES : forty-nine elegies, in three books ; miscellaneous, but chiefly amatory or personal in their topics.
3. ARS AMATORIA : three books, on the means of winning and retaining the affections of a mistress ; and
4. REMEDIUM AMORIS : a poem prescribing the means by which a foolish passion may be subdued. These two poems contain the passages supposed to have excited the anger of Augustus.
5. METAMORPHOSEON Libri xv. The Metamorphoses was still unfinished when Ovid went into exile, and he committed it to the flames, apparently, with his own hand (Trist. i. 7. 11, seq.); but copies had been preserved by his friends.
6. FASTORUM Libri vi.: a poetic Calendar of the Roman months, from January to June, designed to be continued to the end of the year; a storehouse of Roman custom and Italian legend.
7. TRISTIUM Libri v.; and
8. EPISTOLARUM EX Ponto Libri iv.: elegies written in exile. Many of the letters implore the intercession of friends at Rome, to obtain favor from Augustus.
9. IBIS, a poem of 646 verses written in exile : a bitter invective against some personal enemy.
10. HALIEUTICON LIBER: 132 hexameter verses, a fragmentary natural history of Fishes.
11. MEDICAMINA FACIEI: a fragment of 100 elegiac verses, on the use of Cosmetics.
The following are included in some collections of Ovid's poems, but are probably not genuine :
CONSOLATIO ad Liviam Augustam : an elegy of 474 verses addressed to the Emperor's wife on the death of her son Drusus.
Nux (“the Nut-Tree"): lamentation of a Walnut-tree by the roadside, at the cruelties inflicted by wayfarers, and the vices of the age in general.
The word Elegies, in this connection, describes not the topic or style of treatment, but only the versification, - hexameter verse alternating with pentameter making the “elegiac stanza."