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Ovid's blurred lines

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Sharon Marshall

on 10 February 2015

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Transcript of Ovid's blurred lines

Ovid's blurred lines and scandalous art
The ban
Socio-historical context
The pressure to censor
The artist's defence
Robin Thicke
(BBC Radio 1 25th September):

"For me it’s about blurring the lines between men and women and how much we’re the same."

"I can’t even dignify that with a response, that’s ridiculous."


"Why did I see anything? Why make my eyes guilty?
Why was a mischief, unwittingly, known to me?
Actaeon, unaware, saw Diana unclothed:
none the less he became his own hounds’ prey.
Even fate must be atoned for, among the powers that be,
to a wounded god chance is no excuse."
The result
Ban and Condemn – 286
No Change – 263
Condemn but not ban – 202

The similarities
In both cases the 'song' itself is almost a secondary issue; there are broader socio-historical anxieties at work
Both 'artists' use lack of control over interpretation of their work in their defence
Arts which clash most fiercely with taste and mores provoke huge questions about the relationship between art and society
(43 BC – AD 17/18)
Begins with
around same time - letters from mythical heroines abandoned by lovers
Didactic works –
Medicamina Faciei Femineae
Cosmetics for Ladies
Ars Amatoria
The Art of Love
– first two books teach a man how to catch and keep a girl, third does same for women),
Remedia Amoris
The Cures for Love
– purports to teach how to get out the mess the
has landed you in)
– Roman calendar of festivals

Exiled in AD 8 for
carmen et error
(a poem and a mistake)
The subversiveness of love elegy
Focus on love outside of marriage
Questioning of basic power relations at heart of Roman moral, social and political order
Love traditionally seen as ‘extravagance' or childish pursuit
Men expected to settle down to traditional marriage and career in law, the military or politics
Opposes epic presentation of love as dangerous threat to state (e.g. Dido and Aeneas)
Moral reform a major part of Augustus’ political programme (esp. legislation against adultery)

Hannah Barton, Guild President 2013

“I believe anything we can do to reduce sexism and sexual violence is paramount especially if concerns are raised by students. We are a student-led organisation here to represent student views.”

, 25 September 2013

Three options:
Ban and Condemn
Condemn but not ban
No action

"Augustus gave all possible encouragement to the intellectuals of his time. He politely and patiently attended readings not only of their poems and historical works, but of their speeches and dialogues; yet he objected to being made the theme of any work unless the author were known as a serious and reputable writer."

. 89.5
Tiberius on accusation that Aemilius Aelianus had slandered Augustus:

"When Tiberius mentioned the matter in a letter, with more violent expostulations against Aelianus, Augustus wrote back: 'My dear Tiberius, you must not give way to emotion in this matter, or take it too much to heart if anyone speaks ill of me; let us be satisfied if no one can
ill to us'."

. 51.2-3
On the potential to corrupt women (
'But,' you may say, 'the wife can use others' art,
have what she takes from it, without being taught.’
Let a wife read nothing then, since she can learn
about how to do wrong from every poem.
If she’s partial to what’s perverse, then she’ll equip
her character for sin, whatever she touches.
The fault of the reader (
What’s more useful than fire? Yet whoever sets out
to commit arson, arms his bold hands with fire.
Medicine sometimes grants health, sometimes destroy it,
showing which plants are helpful, which do harm.
The robber and cautious traveller both wear a sword:
one for ambush, the other for defence.
Eloquence is learnt to plead just causes:
it protects the guilty, crushes the innocent.
So with verse, read with a virtuous mind
it’ll be established nothing of mine will harm.
But I ''corrupt some'? Whoever thinks so, errs,
and claims too much for my writings.
What is the appropriate relationship between arts and society?
What effect does art have on individuals and communities?
Should artists have a sense of social responsibility?
Does scandalous art push our ideological limits?
Who decides which criteria we apply in deciding whether art is socially 'acceptable' or if it has positive value for society?
Do the people have any more right to impose limitations on artistic freedom than an individual?
If so, in the name of what?
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