Ovid Biography

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Ovid studied rhetoric in Rome, where his well established father wanted him to pursue politics. However, Ovid held only a few minor offices before abandoning public life for poetry. He impressed his cosmopolitan literary circle and the rest of Rome with his first publication, the witty Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.; English translation, 1597).

Next came the Ars amatoria (c. 2 b.c.e.; Art of Love, 1612), followed by the more original Heroides (before 8 c.e.; English translation, 1567) and Remedia amoris (before 8 c.e.; Cure for Love, 1600), both reprising the Amores’s erotic sophistication. In his forties, he started the Fasti (c. 8 c.e.; English translation, 1859), describing religious festivals, and masterfully wove 250 Greek and Roman myths together into the Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.; English translation, 1567).

Suddenly, in 8 c.e., Augustus exiled Ovid to Tomis, a Black Sea port (Constanţa, Romania), for what Ovid’s poem Tristia (after 8 c.e.; Sorrows, 1859) calls a “mistake.” Historians speculate that Ovid had unwittingly facilitated the adultery of Julia, the emperor’s daughter. Additionally, Ovid’s libertine persona defied Augustus’s agenda for moral reform. In Sorrow and Epistulae ex Ponto (after 8 c.e.; Letters from the Black Sea, 1639), Ovid implored Augustus and then Tiberius, Augustus’s successor, for a pardon—in vain.


Rome’s second most popular poet after Vergil, Ovid was Christianized in the Middle Ages but made his deepest mark as a secular—even profane—poet. His immense influence on the troubadours, Jean de Meung, Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and others shaped medieval romance, courtly love, and Renaissance literature and drama.

Further Reading:

Anderson, William S. Ovid: The Classical Heritage. New York: Garland, 1995. Examines Ovid’s influence on Western literature and arts chronologically, from the first century Romans through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Select bibliography.

Barchiesi, Alessandro. The Poet and the Prince: Ovide and Augustan Discourse. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. A scholarly assessment of Ovid’s Fasti that examines pro-Augustan and anti-Augustan readings of the poem. Bibliography, index, index locorum.

Bate, Jonathan. Shakespeare and Ovid. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Ovid is as important to students of Renaissance, Elizabethan, and Jacobean literature as he is in his own right, and the plays of William Shakespeare are rife with references to him. This work focuses on Shakespeare’s plays and sexual poetry as they refer to Ovid. Bibliography, index.

Boyd, Barbara Weiden. Ovid’s Literary Loves: Influence and Innovation in the “Amores.” Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. For the student of Ovid, analyzes influences on Amores in chapters titled “Reused Language: Genre and Influence in the Interpretation of Amores,” “Literary Means and Ends: Ovid’s Ludus Poeticus,” “Ovid’s Visual Memory: Extended Similes in the Amores,” “From Authenticity to Irony: Programmatic Poetry and Narrative Reversal in the Amores,” “Ovid’s Narrative of Poetic Immortality,” and “Legisse Voluptas: Some Thoughts on the Future of Ovid’s Amores.” Bibliography, index locorum, general index.

Brewer, Wilmon. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” in European Culture. Boston: Cornhill, 1933. A three-volume companion work to an English translation in blank verse. Begins with a long introductory survey that includes much biographical detail. Very valuable, because every story in the poem is discussed in the light of its cultural and literary antecedents, then of later works for which it served as antecedent.

Brown, Sarah Annes. The “Metamorphoses” of Ovid: From Chaucer to Ted Hughes. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. The principal source for much of what we know of Greco-Roman myth, the Metamorphoses has perhaps been Ovid’s most important work down the ages. This work examines the...

(The entire section is 1,923 words.)