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OVIDIUS NASO
Form: Publius.
A Roman poet, born March 21st, 43 B.C., at Sulmo (now Solmona) in the country of the P'ligni, son of a wealthy Roman of an old equestrian family. He came at an early age to Rome, to be educated as a pleader, and enjoyed the tuition of the most famous rhetoricians of the time, Porcius Latro and Arellius Fuscus. It was not long before the instinct for poetry awoke in him with such power that it needed all his father's resolution to keep him to his legal studies; his oratorical exercises were simply poems in prose, as is testified by one of his fellow students, the elder Seneca [Controv. ii 10, 8]. After he had visited Greece and Asia to complete his education, he entered into political life at his father's desire, and filled several subordinate offices. But he soon withdrew again from public business, partly on the ground of his health and partly from an inclination to idleness, and lived only for poetry, in the society of the poets of his day, among whom he was especially intimate with Propertius. He came into note as a poet by a tragedy called the Medea, which is now lost, but is much praised by ancient literary critics, and about the same time he produced a series of amatory, and in parts extremely licentious, poems. When little more than a mere boy, as he says himself [Tristia, iv 10, 69], he was given a wife by his father; but this marriage, like a second one, ended in a divorce. He derived more satisfaction, as well as the advantage of contact with the court and with men of the highest distinction, from a third marriage, with a widow of noble family and high connexions. To her influence, perhaps, should be referred the fact that he turned his attention to more important and more serious works. He had almost completed his best known work, the Metamorphoses, when suddenly, in 9 A.D., he was banished for life by Augustus to Tomi on the Black Sea, near the mouths of the Danube. The cause for this severity on the part of the emperor is unknown; Ovid himself admits that there was a fault on his side, but only an error, not a crime [Tristia i 3, 37]. At all events, the matter directly affected Augustus; and as Ovid describes his eyes as the cause of his misfortune, it is conjectured that he had been an unintentional eyewitness of some offence on the part of the frivolous granddaughter of the prince, the younger Julia, and had neglected to inform the emperor of the matter. His indecent amatory poems, to which he also points as the source of the emperor's displeasure, can at most only have been used as a plausible excuse in the eyes of the public, as they had been published more than ten years before. After a perilous voyage Ovid reached the place of his exile in the winter of 10-11 A.D.; and there, far from his wife and from his only daughter, who had inherited the poetic talent of her father, far from his friends and all intercourse with men of genius, he had to pass the last years of his life in desolation among the barbarous Get'. Even in his exile his poetic talent did not fail him. It was then that he composed his poems of lamentation, entitled the Tristia, and his letters from Pontus, touching proofs of his grief, though also of his failing powers. His ceaseless prayers and complaints had succeeded in softening Augustus, when the latter died. All his efforts to gain forgiveness or alleviation of his condition met with no response from Tiberius, and he was compelled to close his life, broken-hearted and in exile, 17 A.D. His extant works are (1) Love poems (Amores), published about 14 B.C., in five books, and again about 2 B.C. in three books. The latter edition is the one we possess; some of its forty-nine elegies depict in a very sensual way the poet's life, the centre of which is the unknown Corinna. (2) Letters (Epistutloe), also called Heroides, rhetorical declamations in the form of loveletters sent by heroines to their husbands or lovers, twenty-one in number; the last six of these, however, and the fourteenth, are considered spurious. (3) Methods for beautifying the face (Medicamina Faciei), advice to women respecting the art of the toilette; this piece has come down to us in an incomplete form. (4) The Art of Love (Ars Amandi orAmatoria), in three books, published about 2 B.C., advice to men (books 1 and 2) and women (book 3) as to the methods of contracting a love-affair and insuring its continuance, a work as frivolous as it is original and elaborate. (5) Cures for Love (Remedia Amoris), the pendant to the previous work, and no less offensive in substance and tone. (6) The fifteen books of the Transformations (Metamorphoses), his only considerable work. It is composed in hexameter verse; the material is borrowed from Greek and (to a less extent) from Roman sources, being a collection of legends of transformations, very skilfully combining jest and earnest in motley alternations, and extending from chaos to the apotheosis of C'sar. When it was completed and had received the last touches, the work was cast into the flames by Ovid in his first despair at banishment, but was afterwards rewritten from other copies. (7) A Calendar of Roman Festivals (Fasti), begun in the last years before his banishment, and originally in twelve books, corresponding to the number of the months. Of these only six are preserved, probably because Ovid had not quite completed them at Rome, and had not the means to do so at Tomi. It was originally intended for dedication to Augustus. After Augustus' death the poet began to revise it, with a view to its dedication to Germanicus; he did not, however, proceed with his revision beyond the first book. It contains in elegiac metre the most important celestial phenomena and the festivals of each month, with a description of their celebration and an account of their origin according to the Italian legends. (8) Poems of Lamentation (Tristia), to his family, to his friends, and to Augustus, belonging to the years 9-13 A.D., in five books; the first of these was written while he was still on his journey to Tomi. (9) Letters from Pontus (Epistuloe ex Ponto), in four books, only distinguished from the previous poems by their epistolary form. (10) Ibis, an imitation of the poem of the same name by Callimachus, who had attacked under this name Apollonius of Rhodes, consisting of imprecations on a faithless friend at Rome, written in the learned and obscure style of the Alexandrian poets. (11) A short fragment of a didactic poem on the fish in the Black Sea (Halieutica), written in hexameters. Besides these Ovid wrote during his exile numerous poems which have been lost, among them a eulogy of the deceased Augustus in the Getic tongue, a sufficient proof of the strength of his bent and talent for poetry. In both of these respects he is distinguished above all other Roman poets. Perhaps no one ever composed with less exertion; at the same time no one ever used so important a faculty for so trivial a purpose. His poetry is for the most part simply entertaining; in this kind of writing he proves his mastery by his readiness in language and metre, by his unwearied powers of invention, by his ever-ready wit, elegance, and charm, though, on the other hand, he is completely wanting in deep feeling and moral earnestness. By his talent Ovid (as well as Vergil) has had great influence on the further development of Roman poetry, especially with regard to metre. Many imitated his style so closely, that their poems were actually attributed to himself. Among these, besides a number of Heroides (see above), we have the Nux, the nut tree's complaint of the ill-treatment it met with, a poem in elegiac verse, which was at all events written in the time of Ovid.
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