Ovid, formally Publius Ovidius Naso, (43 BC-17 AD) was a Roman poet and playwright. He wrote verse on various topics, though much of it was about love, especially erotic love. Among his works were Women’s Facial Cosmetics; The Cure for Love; Metamorphoses;The Festivals; and The Ibis. His erotic poetry included The Loves and The Art of Love. He was enormously popular in his lifetime and was a major influence on Shakespeare, Marlowe and Cervantes. He is now considered one of the foremost Latin poets.
The Loves is about the poet’s relationship with his mistress Corinna. It consists of 49 poems, in three books, in elegiac couplets. Some of the verse is sexual. In the piece love triumphs over people, a first use of this plot. The Art of Love is about seduction. It consists of 57 poems, in three books, in elegiac couplets. In turn, it teaches how to seduce women; how to keep women; and how to seduce men. Much of the poetry is sexual. The erotica depicted ranges from deep love to wild desire.
Ovid’s poetry is a delight. It is knowing and witty. An excerpt from The Loves:
I snatched her gown, being thin the harm was small, Yet strived she to be covered therewithal, And, striving thus as one that would be chaste, Betrayed herself, and yielded at the last. Stark naked as she stood before my eye, Not one flaw on her body could I spy. What arms and shoulders did I touch and see? How likely her breasts were to be pressed by me? How smooth a belly under her waist saw I? How lovely a calf, and what a lusty thigh? To leave the rest, all liked me passing well; I clung to her naked body and down she fell. Judge you the rest. Being tired, she bade me kiss.
Please note: no authentic portrait of Ovid exists. The picture at right is from a fresco by Luca Signorelli.