Art of Love is among Ovid’s most skillfully composed elegiac poems, and the novelty of its topic renders the poem a masterpiece of poetic invention. Belonging to the early part of Ovid’s career, this poem would become at once a foundation of Ovid’s fame and a cause of his life’s greatest tragedy.
Ovid was born into an equestrian family in Sulmo (modern Sulmona) in 43 b.c.e. His family financed his education in Rome, where he excelled in rhetoric. After his studies were complete, Ovid remained in Rome and practiced law, but he found most pleasure and success in the composition of poetry. Ovid’s poems were well received, so in his late twenties he abandoned other pursuits to dedicate himself to his art.
Ovid’s first known work is Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.; English translation, c. 1597), a first-person description of the poet’s love life written in elegiac couplets; it was published in about 16 b.c.e. and subsequently revised. He followed Amores with Art of Love. With this poem, his reputation as a leading poet at Rome was firmly established.
During the next few years, the volume of Ovid’s literary output was phenomenal. Scholars debate the particulars of the sequence in which he composed and revised his works, but the main outline is clear. In addition to Art of Love and Amores, many of Ovid’s other well-known works were composed in the period from about 12 b.c.e. to 8 c.e. These works include Heroides (English translation, 1567), a series of letters from, and in the latter books to, famous female characters from literature; Remedia amoris (Cure for Love, 1600), which provides advice on how a lover might end a love affair; and Medicamina faciei (Cosmetics, 1859).
In the early years of the first century c.e., Ovid became engrossed in his longest work, Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.; English translation, 1567). Metamorphoses comprises fifteen books of dactylic hexameters detailing famous stories of miraculous changes brought on by love in ancient myths. At the same time, Ovid also began work on Fasti (English translation, 1859), a description of the meanings of the significant dates in the Roman calendar, a work that he was destined never to complete.
Perhaps it was partly as a consequence of the fame that Ovid achieved as a love poet that he fell into disfavor with Emperor Augustus and was exiled from Rome in 8 c.e. Mystery still surrounds the reasons for Ovid’s exile, but scholars have generally agreed that the poet was implicated in a scandal affecting the...
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