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Augustus. Ambition had no longer a worthy goal set before it: to rise by individual talent, as Cicero, Caesar, and so many others had done, had now become impossible. Political virtue consisted in being content to occupy a subordinate position, and to carry out the will of the ruler. No wonder, therefore, that many Romans abandoned the stage of public life, and found their satisfaction in the enjoyments which private independence offered. Life in Rome was now a life of pleasure and gaiety; exertion for the good of the state was at an end, and every one sought his own private advantage. Under these influences Ovid grew up. The calamitous times of the civil wars had already passed by, and at Rome all was again tranquil, and moved on in settled course. Only the wish of his father urged him forward in the direction of public life; and he had already in reality held several offices-had been Triumvir Capitalis, Centumvir, and Judex. The death of his brother, at the early age of twenty, seems to have made the father more indulgent to his younger son, so that he was now enabled to surrender himself more fully to his natural and almost irresistible inclination for poetry. In accordance with the custom of the day he undertook a journey to Sicily, Greece, and Asia Minor, which occasioned his absence from Rome for several years. He had already come forward as an author, and his poems had attracted attention, and introduced him into the circle of the most distinguished poets then living, by whom he was encouraged and excited to farther exertions. Among these he mentions Aemilius Macer, Licinius Macer, Ponticus, Bassus, Horace, Tibullus, and Propertius. Virgil he had only seen, but not enjoyed his friendship; Tibullus also died too early for the establishment of any deeper connection between them. The first poems which Ovid published are 'Amorum libri iii.'-elegies in which, as a very young man, he describes his experiences and observations in the province of love. They are written in the spirit of the time, when the intercourse of cultivated men with beautiful and accomplished courtesans had become so prevalent, that regular marriages were to an alarming extent on the decrease. Hence we find that in most other poets of that age similar connections form the theme of song; each of them had a lover to whom, with all the fire of passion and enthusiasm, he dedicated his muse. This is the case with Horace, Tibullus, and Propertius, and it is recorded of many others, whose works have not come down to us. Attempts have been made even at the present day to determine how much truth and how much fiction these delineations contain; and many have unwarrantably imputed more blame to Ovid, on the score of his poems, than to any of his contemporaries. Our poet calls his mistress Corinna -a feigned name, as he himself informs us: besides her, he
addresses himself to others; and in these love-songs, which are all written in elegiac verse, he paints all the situations of successful as well as unsuccessful love which can occur in such a connection. The fact that so many writers of that age coincide both in the general tone and in the special objects of their poetry, makes it plain that we have here to deal with the poet rather than with the biographer; and Ovid himself tells us, in one of his later works, in allusion to the charges brought against his earlier poems, that his life had been spent without any heinous transgressions. At the same time, we are far from looking upon him as a model of virtue; the whole era was dissolute and corrupt, and all the poets of whom we have any exact knowledge would be exposed to serious censure if tried by the standard of the present day. Ovid had already had two wives, and been separated from both; he had a daughter, probably by the second. All that we contend for is, that he was no worse than his contemporaries, and that we are not justified in taking all his poetical and fanciful descriptions for biographical realities. The truer to nature these pictures are, and the more lifelike their colouring, the more must we be on our guard against drawing unwarrantable conclusions from them. It is the excellence of the poems which has chiefly occasioned the misrepresentations of the author- and the misrepresentations are a proof of the excellence.
The approval which Ovid met with in the career on which he had entered, induced him to persevere in it, and to attempt a greater poem on the same subject. True poetic fame then, as now, resulted chiefly from lengthened and continuous works: Virgil in particular had thus gained imperishable glory, and was looked up to by the younger poets as a model. Ovid therefore also attempted in his province to produce a more comprehensive work, the 'Ars Amandi,' which he completed in three books, likewise in the elegiac measure. This poem is in its way one of the most perfect that have come down to us from Roman antiquity. The poet brings together, and reduces, as it were, to a system all the arts with which the one sex gain and preserve the attachment of the other, and illustrates his instructions by mythological examples and comparisons, of which his extensive acquaintance with the Greek poets furnished him an abundant supply. The opposite side of the subject also occupied his attention, and he wrote the 'Remedia Amoris,' in one book in the same measure. There is still extant a considerable fragment of a poem (Medicamina Faciei') in which he describes the arts of the toilet then in use to preserve and improve the complexion. The Heroides,' letters from heroines to their absent husbands, form the last work in this class of poems in
which Ovid had no predecessor, and with which he may be truly said to have enriched the literature of Rome.
Our poet was in the meantime advancing in years, and he may have felt that such frivolous subjects as had hitherto exclusively occupied his muse were no longer suitable for him. His friends also were now advanced in life, and had turned their attention to more serious studies: their influence on Ovid, who always easily suffered himself to be determined from without, was great, and he resolved to occupy himself with some worthier task. The result of this resolution was a tragedy, 'Medea,' which received great applause from his contemporaries as well as from later critics, but which is now lost. Whether he followed the Medea of Euripides, or cut out a new path for himself, it is now impossible to decide. In either case it remained the only dramatic attempt of our poet. We next find him occupied with two great poetical works, at which he appears to have laboured simultaneously-the Metamorphoses' and the 'Fasti.' In the former he treats of those parts of the ancient mythology in which transformations occur, and draws mainly from Greek sources; the latter, in which he describes the Roman festivals and their occasions, in the order in which they occur in the calendar, is a thoroughly native production. In the former, therefore, he entered the lists with many contemporaries and predecessors; in the latter, he pursued a path entirely his own.
It may be assumed with great probability that the Metamorphoses was composed on the model of one or more Greek poems extant in the age of Ovid. The literature of Greece abounded in works the plan of which was to unite into one whole a variety of subjects having no necessary internal connection with each other; the Theogonia, the Heroogonia, the Karáλoyos yuvain of Hesiod, may serve as examples from the earliest antiquity. This style of composition was carried to an extreme in the Alexandrian age, when the fire of original genius had gone out, and displays of erudition took the place of true poetic effort. In the last century before the Christian era, the literature of Greece exercised an undue influence over Roman genius. The poetry which had sprung up on the Italian soil, nourished with Italian conceptions, and striking out into Italian forms, was supplanted by a foreign growth, and the independent development of an original Roman poetry was thus seriously obstructed. But since this was the direction which Roman literature had taken, Ovid yielded to the general tendency, and he appears in the composition of the Metamorphoses to have followed one or more of the later Greek poets. It is impossible to speak decidedly on this subject, because we cannot bring our suppositions to the test of an actual comparison, all the Greek works of a similar character, from which we
might form a correct judgment, being lost. But from what we know of the richness and inventiveness of Ovid's genius, as well as from the occurrence of Italian and Sicilian fables in the Metamorphoses, we may safely infer that he did not adhere closely to his Greek models, but gave free play to his imagination, inserted materials of his own, and gave the general colouring to the whole. Another point to be borne in mind with regard to the Metamorphoses is, that it is an unfinished production. On the sudden turn of his fortune, Ovid burnt his own copy of the poem, and it is only from transcripts, which were already in the hands of others, that it has come down to us. Although abounding in beauties, we must not forget that it not only has not received the last touch of the master's hand, but that in many passages we have merely the first rude outline. Ovid says of himself: 'Quidquid tentabam scribere, versus erat;' and thus we see that even the first rough sketches which he threw off assumed a metrical form (as one example out of many, see Metam. vii. 350397). We find the same fable occurring also in different representations, which our poet would certainly not have allowed, had he given the work a final revision. In fine, while we recognise the beauties of the Metamorphoses, we must, in consideration of the circumstance just mentioned, be sparing in our censure of its defects.
The same is the case with the Fasti. This work also was interrupted-it is true afterwards taken up again, not, however, for the purpose of completing it, but for the purpose of improving what was already written, and of making insertions in particular parts; hence it happens that we have only before us the first six months of the calendar. Notwithstanding this, the work is invaluable to us, on account of the rich store of information which it contains with regard to the ancient Italian fables and religious usages, which would otherwise have remained quite unknown to us. Ovid had evidently, with a view to this work, undertaken a peculiar and very comprehensive course of study, in which he enjoyed the assistance and encouragement of his friend Hyginus. With regard to the execution of the Fasti, the same must be said as of the Metamorphoses: the whole is devoid of unity of plan, the particular parts are wanting in exactness of finish, but the work abounds in admirable passages, each forming a subject of itself. It consists of six books, each of which embraces one month of the calendar.
The catastrophe which forms the turning-point in the life of Ovid happened about the year 8 A.D., when he had already passed his fiftieth year. By a special decree of Augustus, he was banished to Tomi, a city of Thrace, on the Black Sea. The reasons of this decree are involved in obscurity: Ovid assigns two: first, the Ars
Amandi; and secondly, what he calls an error, about which we can at best only speculate. The Ars Amandi had indeed appeared in all probability ten years before; but even after the lapse of so long a period, Augustus still kept it in mind, and this may serve as an indication of the attention which this poem had excited at Rome. The efforts of Augustus, as is well known, were directed towards the improvement of the moral condition of the Romans, particularly in respect of marriage. The forms of society were in a state of decay, owing in a great measure to the multitudes of slaves and freedmen with which the city was inundated, and which threatened to supplant the original stock of Romans. Augustus strove to effect a reform, partly by penal enactments (lex Julia de adulteriis, lex Papia Poppaea), partly by civic rewards and official promotions. But such a
change can never be made on a sudden; the transition from licentiousness to order must always be one of gradual progress, and Augustus had the mortification to witness the fruitlessness of his regulative measures. Old age at the same time made him irritable and passionate, and his anger could not but break out against the man who had in effect done so much to counteract his efforts. To this was now added the second ground of resentment, probably some crime in the family of the emperor, in which perhaps Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Augustus, was concerned. How far Ovid was involved in the matter it is impossible to determine: he himself tells us that he had seen what he ought not to have seen. It is enough that he fell under the displeasure of Augustus, the old grudge on account of the Ars Amandi was revived, and he was banished from Rome. Ovid ended his days in Tomi, not without hopes, to the last moment, of a reversal of his sentence, or of a mitigation of it so far as to be allowed to exchange Tomi for an abode in some civilised country. He was sustained in his exile by this hope, and by the spiritual activity of the poet, who sought by his works to maintain a connection with the city, which he was forbidden to approach in person. The chief of these works are 'Tristium libri v.' and 'Epistolarum ex Ponto libri iv., both in elegiac verse.* He no longer attempted to carry out any great conception, but returned to lyric poetry. In both works he presents us with a series of touching pictures of his abandonment. The Epistolae are distinguished from the Tristia only by the fact, that in the former he no longer conceals the names of those to whom they are addressed-which he had done
*Besides the Tristia' and 'Epistolae,' we have a satirical poem by Ovid ('Ibis"), written against some one who had offended him. It was composed at Tomi after a similar work by Callimachus, which bore the same name. poem is full of difficulties for us, as it is almost entirely composed of allusions partly to the events of the day, and partly to fables which are no longer known.