Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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?


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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...

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