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  • Roman Poet Ovid was born on March 20, 43 BC.

    Beatriz Camino

    Roman Poet Ovid was born on March 20, 43 BC.

    Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BC – 17/18 March 17 AD), commonly known as Ovid, was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. He is regarded as one of the most important poets in Latin literature, alongside Virgil and Horace.

    Early Life

    Ovid was born into a prestigious equestrian family on March 20, 43 BC, in Sulmo, a town nestled in the Abruzzo province east of Rome, during a period of political turmoil. The collapse of the Roman Republic ushered in a turbulent era, marked by Octavian’s (future Augustus) relentless pursuit of Julius Caesar’s assassins and the eruption of a civil war.

    Ovid soon harboured a profound passion for poetry. He was sent to Rome for education, where he studied under the guidance of orator Arellius Fuscus and rhetorician Porcius Latro. Demonstrating exceptional aptitude, particularly in rhetoric, Ovid toured the Greek islands as many young Roman students did to further their education.

    Despite his family’s disapproval, especially from his father, Ovid abandoned public life after a handful of minor judicial roles to pursue his literary ambitions. Encouraged by Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, an orator and patron of the arts, the poet soon gained recognition as a writer, becoming a prominent figure in Rome’s literary circles.

    His Works

    A contemporary of the Roman historian Livy, Ovid, along with poets Virgil and Horace, is often credited by historians with developing a poetic style comparable to the ancient Greek writers. However, unlike Virgil and Horace, he didn’t find himself among Emperor Augustus’ inner circle at the imperial court, perhaps due to the nature of his poetry, which might not have aligned with the emperor’s tastes.

    Ovid’s first poetry collection, the highly successful Amores or “The Book of Love”, was published in 22 BC and presented the misadventures of a young man’s romantic pursuits with an unattainable love interest. His subsequent literary works delved into an array of subjects: Heroides comprised a series of 15 epistles supposedly written by Greek and Roman mythological female figures, such as Penelope and Dido, addressed to their lovers who had either wronged or forsaken them. Remedia Amoris or “Remedies for Love” offered advice on how to end a relationship. Ars Amatoria or “The Art of Love”, consisting of three volumes and published in 2 AD, explored the nuances of courtship and erotic intrigue, dispensing guidance to both genders. This work has been suggested as a potential catalyst for Ovid’s exile.

    However, his most renowned work is Metamorphoses, a 15-book epic composed in dactylic hexameter. Drawing from classical and Near Eastern myths, it is a chronology from the creation of the world to the death of Caesar which also narrates humanity’s interaction with gods and heroes such as Perseus, Theseus, Hector, and Achilles.

    Exile & Death

    Ovid’s erotic poetry stood in stark contrast to Emperor Augustus’s moral reforms, which aimed to address what he perceived as a decline in morals contributing to the Republic’s downfall and the Empire’s dire state. In this sense, the emperor sought a return to stricter adherence to traditional Roman values, particularly in matters of religion and marital fidelity. However, Ovid perceived a double standard, especially within the imperial household, where the emperor himself and his daughter Julia were known for their extramarital affairs.

    Expressing his dissent through his poetry, Ovid criticised the emperor’s private life, pointing out the disparity between his stringent regulations for the populace and his own behaviour. He also wrote about the appearance and lifestyle of Augustus’ wife, Livia, suggesting hypocrisy in her neglect of personal appearance despite having ample resources at her disposal.

    Augustus’ displeasure with Ovid’s verses led to the poet’s banishment to Tomis, modern-day Constanta in Romania, in 8 AD.  Moreover, he publicly accused the poet of promoting female infidelity, leading to the prohibition of his works in Roman public libraries. Still, his works were able to survive thanks to his popularity among private collectors.

    Ovid’s banishment was upheld despite public and private pleas for clemency, resulting in his spending the rest of his life in exile. Still, he continued to write, producing works such as the four books of poems titled Epistulae ex Ponto or “Epistles from Pontus,” as well as “Tristia” or “Sorrows,” dedicated to his wife. He passed away in 17 AD while still in exile, having requested burial in Rome, although whether this wish was honoured remains uncertain.


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