The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 960

Book 1. The speaker, prepared to sing of heroic deeds, arms, and war, is struck by Cupid’s arrow. He turns to the poetry of love. The speaker tosses sleepless at night, enthralled by love and suffering. He prays that the lady will favor him; he in return will immortalize her in verse. A monologue addressed to the lady explains how at a party she can dupe her husband and send signals to the speaker.

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The first assignation of the lovers, on a sultry summer afternoon, takes place. There follows a sorrowful complaint as the speaker spends a long solitary night outside the locked door of Corinna’s house. Next he feels guilt and remorse for a moment of anger in which he dishevels her hair. He overhears a conversation between Corinna and Dipsas, a bawdy old hag who gives the lady cynical advice on milking her lovers of gold and gifts. The speaker scolds his lady for her cupidity and tries to persuade her that love can only be given, never sold. He sends a letter to her, in hopes of a meeting, and feels despair when it is returned with a refusal.

Next, the lovers spend a night together, and the speaker complains of the inexorable coming of day, when they will have to part. A crisis happens: From too-frequent applications of the curling iron, Corinna’s hair falls out. The poet chides and commiserates with her.

Book 2. Opening with a stout denial that he will be a better poet if he tries more serious subjects, the speaker harangues Corinna’s guard about how easy and profitable he might find it to smuggle the speaker past the door and into her house. A similar plea is made to her eunuch. The speaker boasts about his ability to love any woman in town; but as if for punishment, the next poem relates his agonies when he suspects a rival.

Accused of dallying with Corinna’s slave girl, the speaker denies the charge vehemently, with injured dignity, and in the next poem chides the slave for having blushed at the accusation, proving it true. A general complaint to Cupid comes next, on the theme that love is hell but heaven too. The lover boasts to a friend of his great capacity for lovemaking; he hopes he might die in bed.

When Corinna goes on a voyage, the lover bemoans their separation, charges the seas to be calm, the winds favorable, the trip safe and short. The lover then experiences another successful meeting with his love. Immediately following, the lover discovers Corinna performed an abortion on herself and endangered her life, and the poet is shocked and worried. She recovers and he gives her a ring as a love token.

Another separation occurs. The lover, visiting his native village, Sulmo, misses Corinna deeply. The poet explains how hard it is to write seriously when Cupid laughs and the ladies distract him. In poetry, he predicts, love will triumph over war. The last poem of book 2 advises Corinna’s husband during an imagined meeting. Since forbidden fruits are sweetest, the poet will have the husband be jealous and watchful of his wife, to make the cuckolding more satisfying.

Book 3. The affair is on the wane. The muse of tragedy calls to the poet for a great work, but he asks for a short delay while he finishes his Amores. The poet discovers that Corinna’s vows of love are broken. He is bitter and blames himself for ever having believed her protestations. At last he decides to let her lie if she must, but let her not swear false vows by his eyes.

Addressing the husband, the poet points out how silly it is to set guards on his wife: The faithful wife does not need them and the unfaithful wife will always find ways to get around them. Next is an account of a dream the poet has of a bull deserted by a heifer. A seer interprets this as a forecast that Corinna will leave the poet. The speaker, however, is still eager for her. On his way to visit her, he is blocked by a flood-swollen stream, which he curses and rages at in his thwarted desire.

Matters continue to go wrong: Once with her, he finds, ironically, that he is impotent, and he rages even more mightily at himself. The lady is furious, thinking he wore himself out with other women. She smiles on a new lover, and the poet, neglected, is left to wonder how she can prefer a parvenu and a soldier to him, a great poet.

The following poem is in a more serious tone. It is a funeral elegy on the death of a poet and friend, Tibullus. Next comes a poem in autumnal mood in praise of Ceres, goddess of the harvest, and of lament for his unhappy love affair. The poet tries unsuccessfully to renounce his love for the false Corinna. She is too beautiful, and he has to love her. Wryly he realizes that it is his celebration of Corinna in poetry that spreads her fame and attracts other men to her. He says they should have known he exaggerates, and that she cannot be perfect, as he paints her.

In a last confrontation with his cruel lady, the poet begs her at least to pretend she still loves him, even though he knows she is deceiving him. Let her deny that she strayed, he argues, so that he can continue to persuade himself that she loves him. In the last poem the poet announces that he gave up writing love poetry. He is ready to turn to a grave and serious subject. He hopes that all his writing will immortalize him.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

DuQuesnay, I. M. le M. “The Amores.” In Ovid, edited by J. W. Binns. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. Conjectures on Corinna and comments on style and technique. Sees the speaker as parody not really directed at Propertius but at Ovid and notes that Ovid takes playful jabs at Augustan society.

Lyne, R. O. A. M. The Latin Love Poets. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1980. The chapter on Ovid’s Amores reflects on the kind of society that reads the poems, on the character of Corinna, and on connections with poems by Propertius and Tibullus. Notes Ovid’s antiromantic wit, playful cynicism, and opposition to “the moral earnestness of Augustan Rome,” arguing that what Ovid believed in was fun and poetry.

Mack, Sue. Ovid. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Notes the conventionality of the lover, the mistress, and the situations in the poems. Finds that Ovid distinguishes between poet and persona and creates a “constantly changing interaction between himself and the audience.”

Morgan, Kathleen. Ovid’s Art of Imitation. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1977. Examines Ovid’s “creative imitation” and parody of Propertius in the Amores. Useful bibliography of works on the Amores.

Wilkinson, L. P. Ovid Recalled. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1955. The chapter on the Amores emphasizes the “pleasing shocks of blasphemy” in the poems, several of which are translated by the author. More appreciation than analysis.

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