Unlike other Roman poets, Ovid included more information about his life in his poetry, providing a better insight in his life. Especially interesting details can be found in the elegiac collection of letters in the verse Tristia (Sorrows), book 4 of the 10th elegy, where he speaks autobiographically about his life. Other sources include Seneca the Elder and Quintilian.
Early Life and Education
Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid, was born in the town of Sulmona in 43 BC in a rich knightly family. He studied rhetoric in Rome together with his brother, who excelled in public speaking. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Ovid was not overly interested in legal work, for from his youth he was inclined to poetry, to which he devoted himself with great and rapid success.
According to Seneca, Ovid was inclined to the emotional, not the argumentative side of oratory. After the death of his brother at the age of 20, Ovid renounced his rights at the position and began traveling to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. He worked in less important public positions as one of the tresviri capitales (magistrates) and as one of the decemviri stlitibus iudicandis (ten-member dispute resolution body), but also left them to devote himself to poetry around 29 - 25 BC, which his father did not approve of.
His first works are mentioned around 25 BC when he was eighteen. As a 20-year-old, he began to gain recognition by visiting the poetic circle around Messala Corvinus, where he met Tibulus, whom he celebrated with a touching episode, a mourning song for the deceased. He soon became famous for his erotic elegies in the gallant Roman society to which Ovid was able to become a poetic interpreter.
Around the 3rd year, after Messala's death, Ovid changed the theme of his works. He abandoned frivolous topics and dedicated himself to writing a great poem in 15 books entitled Metamorphoses. This set of myths gained great popularity and spread widely in the Middle Ages. In addition, Fasti, a poetic review of the Roman calendar, began. Just as he was working on the last work, which remained unfinished, Ovid was taken aback by the imperial order condemning him to exile.
In the eight year, by the order of Augustus, he was moved to Toma (today Constanţa), a small town on the Black Sea coast, in the land of Geta. The reason for this punishment is darkly and vaguely described in the 10th elegy of the 4th book of Tristia. Here, he provided many details about his life. In the elegies from exile he mentions only the wrath of Augustus (laesus) caused by the duo crimina. In general, the motivation for his expulsion lay in the charge of immorality for his youthful work Ars amatoria, but the coincidence of time with the simultaneous exile of the emperor's granddaughter Julia prompted some to think he was involved in one of the court scandals surrounding her debauched life. After the death of Augustus, Ovid again hoped to be able to return to Rome, but the new princeps of Tiberius remained relentless and Ovid died in exile in 17 or 18 AD.
Ovid married three times and he had only one daughter who bore him grandchildren. His last wife was in some way connected with the influential patrician family of Fabians (lat. Gens Fabia) and helped him during his exile in Thomas.
Ovid's poetic work can be divided into three parts that continue chronologically:
- Love elegies,
- Etiological poetry
- Mournful and polemical elegies from exile
Love elegies were created in the time span of yr. 25 BC to the 2 AD.
This cycle begins with three books. The first one was Amores (Love) in which the poet "sings" to Corina, a fictional female person composed of the characteristics of several women he knew. The poems were written according to the conventions of elegy developed by Tibulus and Sextus Propertius. The first book contains 15 poems, the second book has 19, and the third has 15 poems.
With his Heroides (Heroide) or Epistolae heroidum (Epistles to the Heroines), a collection of twenty-one poems in an elegiac couplet, Ovid moves from autobiographical to mythological elegy but also innovates in it compared to the previous tradition, insofar as which gives it an epistolary form - letters, all with erotic-love themes. In these letters, famous characters from myths mourn because they are separated from their lovers or left and rejected by their lovers, and where Ovid shows a deep knowledge of female sensibility through love and passion.
The first fourteen letters believed to be the first to be published in the collection are the letters of Penelope, Philida, Briseis, Phaedra, Enona, Hipsipila, Dido, Hermione, Dejaneire, Ariadne, Kanake, Medea, Laodamia, and Hypermnestra to their absent lovers. The fifteenth letter is a letter of the historical Sappho to the boatman Faon, that seems false because of its length, the lack of integration into mythological themes and the lack of medieval manuscript.
The last letters (16-21) consist of a letter to the lover and his reply. Paris and Helena, Hero and Leander, and Acontius and Kidipa are the addresses of the letters. These letters are considered a later addition to the collection because Ovid does not mention them, and they may be false.
The work Ars amatoria (The Art of Love) consists of three books. In the first two books, Ovid gives instructions to men on how to find, win and keep a loved one, and in the third book the same instructions He’s giving to women.
Ovid's second, unfinished work, Medicamina faciei, has a didactic nature, providing valuable guidance to women on how to preserve the beauty and seductiveness of appearance or slow its aging. About a hundred elegiac verses have been preserved from the work.
The third work of this type by Ovid was Remedia amortized (The Cure of Love), in which he gives advice to those who have been made unhappy in love.
In 15 books, 250 stories, and 11,995 hexameters, Metamorphoses tells about Greek and Roman legends and transformations from the first metamorphosis of Chaos to the transformation of Caesar into a Star as well as the apotheosis of Augustus. Ovid tried to create his opus perpetuum with Metamorphoses, a long-breathing song built on the world of ancient myth. Characters who have undergone a transformation are either demigods or heroes or people of mediocre status, and what happens to them in Ovid is portrayed in a highly charged fantastic way.
After Metamorphoses, Ovid began writing another work in elegy dissertations, Fasti. He completed the first six books (probably the initial project envisioned twelve books, i.e. one for each month of the Roman calendar) due to a violent break-in creativity caused by the poet’s exile. Fasti is a poetic review of the Roman calendar: for each month, festivals and rituals are listed, accompanied by a search for their sources in the ancient legendary heritage.
In 8 CE, the concluding cycle of Ovid's literary work begins. Here, among other things, Ibis, a fiercely polemical mockery of an enemy based on Kalimah's lost poem of a similar character, did not succeed very well due to the excessive ballast of mythological erudition. But the main works of that period are the five books of Tristia (Lamentations) and four books of the Epistulae ex Ponto (Epistles of Pontus).
"Lamentations" is a collection of elegiac poetry he wrote during his exile in Thomas. The first book contains 11 poems, the second book consists of a long poem in which Ovid defends himself and his poetry, and begs the emperor for forgiveness. The third book contains 14 poems, the fourth book 10 poems mostly titled to his friends, while the last book contains 14 poems about his wife and friends.
Epistles of Pontus is intended for various friends in which he tries to secure a return from exile. In the poems, he begs his friends to speak on his behalf with members of the imperial family, discusses writing, and describes life in exile.
There is also mention of a lost poem on fishing, Halieutica, and an equally unpreserved poem in the Gothic language. Ovid's only tragedy Medea was also lost, of which only a few verses have been preserved. Quintilian appreciated this great work and considered it an example of Ovid's poetic talent.
Among the three most famous poets of the time of Augustus, besides Horace and Virgil, is Ovid. He considered himself a cosmopolitan, a member of the Roman Empire.
His most famous work remains Metamorphoses.
Ovid died in exile at Tomis, a port initially colonized by Greeks on the outer confines of the Roman Empire in 17 or 18 AD.
Summaries, Analyses & Books