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Ovid's Amores: Pulling down the curtain

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Sharon Marshall

on 20 November 2018

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Transcript of Ovid's Amores: Pulling down the curtain

Erotodidactic poetry not new (e.g. Tibullus 1.4)
Genre Ovid inherits incredibly well-formed and tropes well established, but makes them his own
3.11A and B = cry of pain at Corinna's hardness of heart
Echoes of Catullus 8: 'Keep it up, stand firm' (3.11A.7); 'I'm not the fool I was.' (3.11A.32)
Catullus 85: 'My capricious heart's a cockpit for conflicting emotions, Love versus hate - but Love, I think, will win.' (3.11B.1-2)
Propertius 1.1: 'By those eyes which captivated mine, Spare me! (3.11B.16-17)
Is sincerity possible?
Playful self-consciousness
Signalled from beginning, with idea of elegy losing a foot:
'Arms, warfare, violence - I was winding up to produce a
Regular epic, with verse-form to match -
Hexameters, naturally. But Cupid (they say) with a snicker
Lopped off one foot from each alternate line.'
Elegiac couplet = one line of hexameter (6 feet), followed by one line of pentameter (5 feet)
Idea cheekily reprised in personification of elegy in 3.1 (where Ovid supposedly gives up on elegy)
Denial of knowledge
Strand running through = knowledge and denial
Teases reader into wanting to know but refuses to disclose
1.4 and the dinner party - ‘truth’ hidden from beloved’s true partner:
‘When he pats the couch, put on your Respectable Wife expression,
And take your place beside him – but nudge my foot
As you’re passing by. Watch out for my nods and eye talk,
Pick up my stealthy messages, send replies.’ (15-18)
Ovidian sting = denial of knowledge:
‘But whatever the outcome tonight, when you see me tomorrow
Just swear, through thick and thin, that you told him No.’ (69-70)
Struggle between poetry and love the whole way through:
Each book opens with programmatic poem:
1.1 Cupid steals a metrical foot
2.1 An attempt to write epic undermined
3.1 Competition between Tragedy and Elegy for poet’s allegiance
Second poem of each book responds with narrative:
1.2 The poet find himself in love
2.2 Communication with a new beloved via an intermediary
3.2 Chatting-up a girl at the races
Personal politics
Explicit political references less common in
- why?
Political resonance is there if we look hard enough
Circus Maximus in
Space for imperial interaction with public
Public behaviour on display
Circus as miniature of Roman society
Social order reflected in seating arrangements (19-24)
: Pulling back the curtain

Militia amoris
1.9 ‘Every lover’s on active service’ – military activity becomes euphemism for sexual prowess
‘In bed as in war, old men are out of place.’
‘Who but a soldier or lover would put up with freezing
Nights – rain, snow, sleet?’
Night-time activity
‘Night attacks are a great thing. Catch your opponents sleeping’.
Ability to slip guards
‘Night patrols and eluding sentries are games both soldiers
And lovers need to learn.’
Laziness, leisure and softness (41-2) become hallmarks of previous life, before love made him active (departure)
Servitium amoris
2.17 begins with pose of servitium:
‘Anyone who considers enslavement to girls disgraceful
Will undoubtedly write me off as a disgrace.’ (1-2)
reveals that supposed inferiority is mere seductive rhetoric:
‘We know how the nymph Calypso lost her heart to a mortal
And held him against his will;
A sea-nymph (the story goes) bedded down with Peleus, Egeria
Made it with Numa the Just.’ (14-18)
Examples used to persuade Corinna to similarly settle
Sting in tail = reminder of the poet's power:
‘I have capital assets,
Good poems – and many women aspire to fame.’ (27-8)
Some familiar examples (1.6, 3.8, 3.11)
Variation on theme in 3.6
Not a locked-door, but a river standing in the way:
‘Reed-choked and muddy river, would you please mind stopping
Your flow for a moment?’ (1-2)
Small river has become a raging torrent
‘I remember you as a shallow stream, easily fordable […] but look at you now all swollen.’ (5-7)
Swelling hints at length of poem (106 lines)
sexual potency
Militia amoris
not always about lover as soldier in active sense
Sometimes lover-soldier is victim of military alliance between Cupid and mistress (e.g. Prop. 1.1.1-4)
Ovid plays with idea in
1.2 where he seems all too quick and willing to surrender to Cupid
2.9 embodies tensions of trope:
Refers to himself as 'military walkover' (2.9.7)
Appears to take pride in 'sexual campaign ribbons' (2.9.23)
2.7 and 2.8 give us glimpse of darker side of poet's seductive rhetoric
2.7 = denial of infidelity, esp. with Corinna's hairdresser Cypassis
Harsh reminder of
slave punishments:
'What gentleman would fancy making love to a servant,
Embracing that
lash-scarred back
?' (21-2)
2.8 = threat to reveal affair to Corinna should Cypassis refuse Ovid more sex:
'Dusky Cypassis, I want to sleep with you.
Today. Don't shake your head and play
scared, you ungrateful creature.' (22-3)
Epicedion mourning Corinna's parrot (2.6) = arguably most self-conscious poem
Clear intertextuality with Lesbia's sparrow (Hinds, 1998)
Parrot a lot like elegist:
Sought to please mistress:
'Yet of no avail your devotion' (17)
'That talkative devotee of peace' (26)
Expert imitator:
'No bird on earth could copy a voice more closely' (23)
Admission of parrot into bird-filled Elysium = Ovid's aspiration for entry into elegiac canon?
1.5 teases us by cutting sex scene at the very moment of consummation (after long build-up):
‘And I clasped her naked body close to mine.
Fill in the rest for yourselves!' (24-5)
3.12 = double bluff on question of whether Corinna is real
Calls reader naïve who takes poetry for truth:
‘Yet poets’ statements aren’t normally taken as gospel – I never meant such light stuff to carry weight.’ (19-20)
only so he can keep her for himself (implying she
‘If my darling’s on the market, it’s all my fault –
I’ve pimped her charms.' (10-11)
3.7: impotence = writer’s block?
Reflection on nature of writing love elegy and inherent threat to masculinity? (Sharrock, 1995)
'There we lay, in bed, embracing, and all to no purpose: I was limp, disgusting, dead.' (3.7.3-4)
2.4 = Ovid's love of
All girls paired, but most interesting pair = tall and short
Cheeky nod to limping elegiac couplet?
2.10 = Love for two girls
Q. about whether Ovid is up to the task
But he's willing to die trying!
Ovid views gods as pawns in his game of love (43-57)
They will end up alongside emperor
Wilfully misinterprets Venus' nod of approval as directed at him
Venus = Augustus' favourite too (claims of divine descent)
Restart highlights power of poet who can rewrite race which is not going the way he wants (73-82)
Whole poem flouts imperial attempt to control and regulate public behaviour
on display and the poet is in charge
Publius Ovidius Naso, b. 43 BC in Sulmo
From equestrian family
4.10 = autobiography
12 years old in 31 BC when Actium brought end to Civil War
Too young to understand relief? Young enough to take Pax Augusta for granted?
Educated in rhetoric and law in Rome
Expected to take up seat in Senate but abandoned political life for poetry
Recited early drafts of
as a teenager
Majority of Ovidian corpus (except
) written in elegiac metre
Even the
. could be described as 'elegiac'
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);

Remedia Amoris
The Cures for Love
– purports to teach how to get out of the mess the
has landed you in)
– Roman calendar of festivals
Exiled to Tomis in 8AD by Augustus for
'carmen et error' (poem and mistake)

Further reading:
Barchiesi, A. (1997)
The Poet and the Prince: Ovid and Augustan Discourse
. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Barchiesi, A. (2001)
Speaking Volumes: Narrative and Intertext in Ovid and Other Latin Poets
. London: Duckworth.
Cahoon, L. (1988) ‘The Bed as Battlefield: Erotic Conquest and Military Metaphor in Ovid’s
Transactions of the American Philological Association
118: 293-307.
Henderson, J. (2002) ‘A Doo-Dah-Doo-Dah-Dey at the Races:
3.2 and the Personal Politics of the Circus Maximus’,
Classical Antiquity
21: 41-65.
Hinds, S. (1998)
Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry
. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Houghton, L. B. T. (2000) ‘Ovid’s Dead Parrot Sketch:
53: 718-721.
Miller, J. F. (1995) ‘Reading Cupid’s Triumph’,
Classical Journal
90.3: 287-94.
Sharrock, A. R. (1995) ‘The Drooping Rose: Elegiac Failure in
24: 152-80.
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