Other Literary Forms

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Ovid survives in his poetry (his tragedy Medea is lost), the most important of which, in probable order of composition, are: Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.; English translation, 1597); Heroides (before 8 c.e.; English translation, 1567), a collection of fifteen imaginary letters from heroic women to their lovers, a form Ovid claimed to have invented; Ars amatoria (c. 2 b.c.e.; Art of Love, 1612), a tongue-in-cheek manual for philanderers; Remedia amoris (before 8 c.e.; Cure for Love, 1600), the companion poem to Ars amatoria, with “cures” for excessive passions; Metamorphoses, Fasti (c. 8 c.e.; English translation, 1859), which deals with the origins of and the legends associated with the first six months of the calendar of Roman festivals; and two collections of verse letters from exile, Tristia (after 8 c.e.; Sorrows, 1859) and Epistulae ex Ponto (after 8 c.e.; Letters from the Black Sea, 1639). All Ovid’s poetry except the Metamorphoses are in elegiac meter.


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The most classical of Latin poets, Ovid has had an influence “almost coterminous with the history of education” in the West. While the earlier “Middle Ages” reflected a greater predominance to Vergil, Charles Martindale observed that “from the twelfth century onwards Ovid has had a more wide-ranging impact on the art and culture of the West than any other classical poet.” This significance, however, was minimized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as classical scholarship rediscovered many other authors. At the same time, Puritan and Anglican sentiments turned against not only “paganism” in general but also the apparent “laxity in sexual matters” thought to be apparent in Ovid’s works in particular.

In the twentieth century, however, there was renewed interest in Ovid’s work. The International Congress of Ovidian Studies was held at his birthplace on May 20-24, 1958, and it celebrated the bimillenary with a spate of scholarly articles by “fifty-two scholars from ten countries in five languages.” To these articles can be added numerous other writings that were published in Romania that same year, also in commemoration of Ovid. This renewed impetus stemming therefrom, while not exclusively focused on the Metamorphoses, has allowed this “most difficult major poem” of the Greco-Roman world to gain for its 11,995 lines renewed attention. Such intensive investigation not only brings Ovid back to the center of classical studies but also makes him significant to the study, for example, of women, or of rape and related pathologies of human sexuality. As Leo C. Curran has remarked, Ovid “exhibits a sympathy for women and an effort to understand, as well as a man can, women’s intellectual and emotional life rivaled by no male author of antiquity other than Euripides.” This may well be the Metamorphoses’ greatest achievement.

Discussion Topics

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Show how Ovid, in Heroides and in his works on love, achieves a mastery of literary point of view that was rare in his time.

How seriously is the reader expected to take Ovid’s Art of Love?

Was Ovid’s message to classical poets “Make love, not war”?

Establish the relationship of Ovid’s Amores to Latin love poetry as it then existed.

By what techniques was Ovid able to absorb so many myths into the unified Metamorphoses?

What qualities make Ovid’s Metamorphoses much more than a handbook on mythology?

How does Ovid’s influence on Renaissance writers differ generally from his influence on medieval writers?


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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 influence of “Ovidianism” on poets from Geoffrey Chaucer to Hughes as well as musicians and painters.

Calabrese, Michael A. Chaucer’s Ovidian Arts of Love. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. Love, particularly sexual love, is a central theme in Ovid, and its influence is rife in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. One of the fullest studies of Ovid’s influence on the English poet and his Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde.

Dalzell, Alexander. The Criticism of Didactic Poetry: Essays on Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Five essays on didactic poetry by the well-known classics professor at the University of Toronto, one of which focus on Ovid’s Art of Love. Bibliography.

Davis, P. J. Ovid and Augustus: A Political Reading of Ovid’s Erotic Poems. London: Duckworth Publishers, 2007. In this volume, Davis discusses how the sexual nature of Ovid’s poetry caused Roman emperor Augustus to send him into exile. To do this, Davis examines all of Ovid’s poems, particularly Art of Love, to show how they express Ovid’s views of erotic love, and how they conflict with Augustus’ definition of morality. Each chapter is devoted to a single one of Ovid’s works and contains clear and convincing arguments to support Davis’s view of the two men and their philosophies.

Gertz, Sun Hee Kim. “Echoes and Reflections of Enigmatic Beauty in Ovid and Marie de France.” Speculum 73 (April, 1998): 372-396. Examines Ovid’s and Marie de France’s fascination with the subject of beauty and its relation to love; compares Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo in the Metamorphoses with Marie’s Lai Guigemar.

Hardie, Philip, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ovid. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Chapters by well-known scholars discuss Ovid, his backgrounds and contexts, the individual works, and its influence on later literature and art. Includes bibliography and index.

Hoffman, Richard L. Ovid and “The Canterbury Tales.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966. Since John Dryden first compared Ovid and Chaucer in 1700, many Chaucerians have remarked that the great English poet studied, imitated, and relied on Ovid above all other authors. This study treats the Metamorphoses as a predecessor of The Canterbury Tales.

Holzberg, Niklas. Ovid: The Poet and His Work. Cornell University, 2002. A fine and readable examination of Ovid and his oeuvre.

Hughes, Ted. “On Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses.’” The New York Review of Books 44 (July 17, 1997): 18. Suggests that it is a mystery why Ovid’s versions of Romanized Greek myths and legends in Metamorphoses have been so influential; argues that Ovid is of little use as a guide to the historic and original forms of the myths he adapts in that he takes up only those tales that catch his fancy.

Kenney, E. J. Introduction to Metamorphoses. Translated by A. D. Melville. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Kenney, the principal contemporary editor of the Latin text, provides an introduction and notes to the Metamorphoses. Kenney has teamed up with Melville, who is noted for his capacity to render Ovid into English by using blank verse that captures the fluent style, to provide a translation for modern times.

Ovid. After Ovid: New Metamorphoses. Edited by Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. Compiled by two young poets who asked forty-two of their seniors—including such writers and poets as Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, and Charles Tomlinson—to contribute adaptations or translations of the stories. The result is a unique rendition of Ovid’s work. Commentaries, index of translators, biographical notes.

Rand, Edward Kennard. Ovid and His Influence. 1925. Reprint. New York: Cooper Square, 1963. A professor of Latin poses the question: What does our age owe to a professed roué, a writer so subtle and rhetorical as to strike some as thoroughly insincere? His 184 pages answer that question.

Reeson, James E. Ovid, “Heroides” 11, 13, and 14: A Commentary. Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2001. Close interpretation of these three verse epistles, introduced by an examination of Ovid’s use of his sources and the epistle form.

Solodow, Joseph B. The World of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. While the Metamorphoses is based on the transmission of a vast repertoire of “mythological material,” the significance and unity lie not in that material itself but in Ovid as transmitter. Solodow covers successively the “structures” of the poetry, the narrator, the “mythology,” a comparison of narratives with the Aeneid of Vergil, before coming to the work as literature “without morality” and as art.

Spencer, Richard A. Contrast as Narrative Technique in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. A good discussion of Ovid’s style and use of narrative. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Stapleton, M. L. Harmful Eloquence: Ovid’s “Amores” from Antiquity to Shakespeare. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Looks at Ovid’s early elegiac poetry and how it influenced literature from approximately 500 c.e. to 1600, seeing Amores as the model for love poetry of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Chief among poets examined are the troubadours, Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare. Bibliography, index.

Syme, Ronald. History in Ovid. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Concentrating on Ovid’s latest poems, the author develops a kind of manual designed to cover life and letters in the last decade of Caesar Augustus. Valuable because of the relative obscurity of that period.

Thibault, John C. The Mystery of Ovid’s Exile. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964. The author examines various hypotheses about Ovid’s exile, describes their content, and evaluates the evidence and the cogency of the arguments.

Tissol, Garth. The Face of Nature: Wit, Narrative, and Cosmic Origins in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. The three themes of the subtitle are examined in-depth in this volume.

Wheeler, Stephen Michael. A Discourse of Wonders: Audience and Performance in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. A thoughtful book of criticism and interpretation of Metamorphoses.

Williams, Gareth D. Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid’s Exile Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Examines the exile poetry in close readings that reveal the irony and hidden meanings of these poems, particularly the rift between Ovid’s overt despair over his declining talents and the reality of the artistry of the poems. Bibliography, indexes of authors, passages cited, and words and themes.

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