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38. The wealth of material left us in the works of Ovid makes it possible to write his biography and estimate the value of his literary product with more ease and greater completeness than is the case with either of the other elegiac writers, his Tristia in particular furnishing us detailed information about his life.
Publius Ovidius Naso was born at Sulmo (Solmona) on March 20, 43 B.c.,' the second son of a noble equestrian father. He repeatedly refers to his native place and evidently appreciated the natural beauties and advantages of the well-watered valley. As his family was in comfortable circumstances, all the educational advantages of the day were given him, including extensive privileges of travel, according to the growing tendency under the empire. With various embellishments we have essentially in Ovid a repetition of the early years of the other elegiac poets, so far as we know them, only with more detailed knowledge. He enjoyed the companionship and tutelage of the best rhetoricians of his day, especially Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro. He studied in Athens and extended his travels to the East and to Sicily. He, too, was intended for a lawyer and the public career open to an equestrian. He, too, was of an easygoing disposition and preferred poetry to official humdrum. He, too, liked gay society and knew the town as other young men with well-lined purses knew it. He filled one or two minor offices, and cared little for such duties. But his native poetic ability was even more remarkable than that of any of his predecessors. He must indeed have “ lisped in numbers.” We cannot imagine that Ovid ever had to labor to write poetry. Such genius could not fail of recognition ; and even as a young man he began to know and associate with Propertius, Horace, Ponticus, Bassus, Macer, and other less known poets, and was even in a fair way to have an intimate acquaintance with Vergil and Tibullus, had not too early death removed them from the brilliant literary set that graced the court of Augustus.
1 Trist. 4, 10, 5-6. 2 Cf. Am. 2, 16, 1 sqq.; Trist. 4, 10, 3; Martinengo, p. 163.
Welcomed thus in young manhood as a brilliant and companionable acquisition to the best society of Rome, he lived till past fifty as its idol, and produced a large body of verse especially adapted to the temper of the writer and to the time and manners of which he was so prominent a part. Twice married and divorced in young manhood, he was happily married later to a lady of the Fabian family, and had a daughter. Suddenly and without warning, probably in the year 8 A.D., while Ovid was away from Rome at Elba, an imperial decree of relegatio required him to take up his residence at Tomi on the Black Sea. Speculation has never been able to arrive at a certain solution of the riddle of this banishment. Ovid himself mentions carmen et erroras explanations. We are certain that the Ars Amatoria was the poem '; but that alone, and years after its composition, could hardly have been a sufficient reason. What 'mistake’ Ovid made we shall never know. He was not a political intriguer, nor, at this time in his life at least, can we believe him to have been a party of the first part in any scandal. His family acquaintance with the two Julias, the daughter and the granddaughter of the emperor, has led to various guesses, one of the least unlikely of which is that Ovid knew about the younger Julia's adulterous relation with Silanus.? What it meant for this favorite ornament of metropolitan society to be compelled thus to hurry home, take leave of his devoted family, and hasten to the provincial and bleak northwestern frontier of the empire can hardly be imagined. No wonder that he spent most of his time during the next ten years in writing mournful elegies to persuade Augustus to take pity on him by a recall, and that he died a broken-hearted man in the year 18.
39. The literary activity of Ovid began probably with the Amores, mostly erotic elegies dealing with the love relations 1 Trist. 2, 207.
2 Cf. Schanz, § 291.
between Ovid and Corinna (probably a type rather than a real person), which were published in an edition of five books but later pruned to three books. Meanwhile some of the Epistles (Heroides) of fair heroines of the mythical world to the corresponding heroes had been produced, and a group of them was probably published before the second edition of the Amores appeared. To whatever the original idea of the Heroides is to be traced, they at least are modeled to a considerable degree on the only parallel that preceded them in Roman literature, viz. the elegy of Propertius (4, 3) written in the form of a love letter of Arethusa to Lycotas. Much controversy has raged over the genuineness of some of the twenty-one extant epistles, and the question is hardly yet settled.
In the Ars Amatoria, in three books, published 2, or 1, B.C., Ovid still keeps the elegiac verse, but assumes a didactic tone, though often plainly ironical, as he gives advice to lovers how to win and retain affection. This advice is addressed to men in Books 1-2, to women in Book 3. The Remedia Amoris, in one book, counsels those who would rid themselves of love. The Medicamina Faciei, addressed to the ladies who would possess the fairest complexions, is incomplete, and was apparently written before the publication of the Ars Amatoria.
The Fasti, a poetic elaboration of the Roman calendar, especially of the festivals, was to have contained twelve books, one for every month. Of them six had been written at the time of his relegatio and the work had been dedicated to Augustus. The other six were never written. After the death of Augustus the poet re-dedicated the work to Germanicus and began a revision of it which affected little except the first book. The Fasti are a systematic treatment based on a similar idea to that of the aetiological elegies of the fourth book of Propertius, for which, of course, there were interesting Alexandrian models. Ovid also had the important calendar of Verrius Flaccus as a model, which he seems to have followed quite closely in places.
2 Cf. Rohde, Der Griechische Roman, p. 112, n. 4.
1 Cf. $ 35.
An even more fascinating field for Ovid's story-telling art was afforded by his master work, the Metamorphoses, written in hexameters, in fifteen books, in which with consummate skill he weaves together in continuous narrative a large part of the tales of classical mythology, emphasizing particularly the marvelous transformations which were so common in that mythology. Although on the eve of his departure for Tomi he consigned his copy of this work to the flames, it was already known in other copies and thus spared to posterity.
The five books of Tristia and the four following (Epistulae) Ex Ponto, written during his exile, were addressed to his wife, to Augustus, to various friends, and in many cases to nobody in particular, uttering his complaints upon his sad lot, his petitions for its alleviation, his flattery of the emperor. Naturally the variations on this theme grow increasingly feeble towards the end of the long series. These are written in elegiac verse, as is the Ibis, an attack upon some enemy, modeled after the similar poem of Callimachus addressed to Apollonius. There is also a fragment in hexameter called Halieutica, dealing with the fishes of the Euxine. Besides this large amount of the extant literary product of Ovid's genius, he wrote a tragedy under the title Medea, an epithalamium for Fabius Maximus, an elegy on the death of Messalla, an astronomical work called Phaenomena, certain epigrams, a cento on bad poets, and some other occasional poems. Still other poems were falsely attributed to him, particularly an elegy entitled Nux and a Consolatio ad Liviam.
40. We see already in Ovid traces of a tendency in Roman elegy to recur from the subjective-erotic to the objective-erotic elegy. The poet is too facile to be sincere. The Amores have, to be sure, the form of personal experience, and undoubtedly they represent a composite of many personal experiences, as well as the knowledge and imagination of many others such as Ovid's world could furnish. Corinna, too, is apparently but a composite photograph of many brilliant and fascinating Roman girls. A theory that Corinna was only another name for the
imperial Julia was long since exploded. In the Heroides and the Ars Amatoria the feeling becomes, of course, quite objective, although Ovid betrays constantly his intimate and discerning knowledge of the feminine nature. The Fasti are the elaboration of the aetiological elegy. The fatal facility of Ovid is a sign of a rather shallow nature, or at any rate of one whose genuine qualities were polished off in the easy society of the capital into monotonous smoothness. Nowhere does this appear more conclusively than in relation to the ethical significance of his work. It is not probable that his personal character was any more degraded than that of the other poets of this brilliant group of elegiac writers. But his lack of sincerity leads him to deal with questionable themes in so cold-blooded and intimate a way as to shock even those who would not be accused of prudish sentiments. The Ars Amatoria has been bluntly described as a manual of seduction, and estimated as the most immoral book ever written; and even if we grant that it is not so unfair a mirror of the society that called it forth and that read it with avidity, we cannot pardon its author for the lightness with which he could project such a weapon for evil into a world of unknown dimensions. Occasionally we get what seem to be touches of genuine feeling, and such elegies as that on the death of Tibullus are among the world's treasures. It is form, however, rather than substance that is ever before Ovid's mind. He dresses up his thought in immaculate Latin, and writes without apparent effort a perfected form of the elegiac distich which is faulty only in exhibiting too obviously an unusual refinement. student in the rhetorical schools he had been fond of the Suasoriae ; in his poetry he elaborates these in impeccable metrical form. A rare gift of imagination and a love for everything beautiful made it possible for him to describe the beautiful in nature in the most telling way, and to people the natural world with all sorts of fairy and mythical beings in fascinating pictures in a perfect setting. Not only are all the arts of the