The Love Books
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 214
Publication Date: This translation by J. Lewis may, 1930
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Illustrated. Includes: The Amores (the Loves), Ars Amatoria (the Art of Love), Remedia Amoris (The Cure for Love) and the fragmentary Medicamina Faciei Feminae (Women's Facial Cosmetics). This version was published in 1930 in a 'limited' edition with sensual art deco illustrations by Jean de Bosschere. The Amores, originally published about 18 BCE, portrays the evolution of an affair with a married woman named Corinna. The Ars Amatoria, published about 1 BCE, is a guidebook for seduction; it includes many tips and tricks which would not be out of place in a modern dating manual. The first two books are written from a male point of view; the last book, which was probably written at a later date, is addressed to women. It is believed that this work, which celebrates extramarital sex, was one of the reasons that Ovid was banished by the Emperor Augustus, who was attempting to promote a more austere morality.
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PUBLIUS OVIDIUS NASO was born at Sulmo--the modern Sulmona--on March the 20th, 43 B.C. He was fortunate in his birthplace, and it may not perhaps be over fanciful to ascribe the airy charm, the delicate grace, which his Muse so plentifully displays, at least as much to his early environment as to heredity. Sulmo, indeed, lies amid a region of great natural beauty. Its pastures, as Ovid himself tells us, were cool and rich, it produced abundant crops of corn, and yet so light and fine was the soil that the vine and the olive flourished there in profusion. It was a land of streams, of streams that hurried down from the mountains so clear and cold that the place is called by the poets "gelidus Sulmo." Even in the hottest of Italian summers, when the canicular is at its height, its meadows are fresh and green and its atmosphere sparkling and salubrious.
Ovid's family was of hereditary equestrian rank and possessed a sufficiency if not an abundance of wealth. The poet was proud of his ancestry and his family traditions, and he is careful to impress upon us that he is no upstart, no parvenu, emphatically not one of the postwar rich, as we are wont to say nowadays. At an early age he and his only brother--his elder by exactly a year--brought up in their father's house with the care and attention that would naturally be bestowed on the sons of well-to-do and aristocratic parents, were sent to continue their education in Rome. It was their father's intention that they should both follow the profession of advocate, and with this purpose in view they were sent to study rhetoric under two of the most celebrated professors of that art--Porcius Latro and Arellius Fuscus. For in the Rome of Ovid's time, though the days of the great political orators were gone for ever, oratory, the lucrative and harmless oratory of the schools or the bar, was a highly popular pursuit. The elder brother, Lucius, appears to have devoted himself to his studies with a will. Ovid's tastes, however, lay in a very different direction.
He tried hard to follow the parental injunctions and to make himself an effective advocate, but he achieved only indifferent success. The elder Seneca tells us that he once heard Ovid delivering a speech before his master Fuscus, and he gives us to understand that the effort was more remarkable for the beauty of its phrasing than for its argumentative power. Indeed he describes the speech as nothing more or less than poetry without metre. Ovid himself confesses that, try as he would to declaim in prose, he constantly found himself gliding into poetry. He "lisped in numbers, for the numbers came." His heart was with the Muses. He wanted to be, not a barrister, but a poet. One can imagine the paternal chagrin when the boy made known his ambitions. A country gentleman with family traditions, and not too much money to throw away, could hardly be expected to look with favour on poetry. As a pastime, well enough perhaps, but rather effeminate. As a profession, mere starvation. Naso père seems to have entertained the typical country squire's contempt for "those writing fellows" and to have given expression to it in no ambiguous terms. So for a time, at least, our poet had to stick to his declamatory exercises and turn his back on the Muses.
It is clear that had his father remained obdurate, Ovid might well have achieved no more than mediocrity as a professional barrister, have filled with tolerable credit a few minor offices of State and, in course of time, have gone back to Sulmo to wear out the evening of his days in such innocent pursuits as usually fall to the lot of retired Civil servants with landed interests and a private income. The prudent and level-headed father would have had his way; the world would have lost one of its most delightful poets, and the literatures of Italy, France and England would have been immeasurably the poorer. But when Ovid had attained the age of nineteen or thereabouts, an event occurred which averted the threatened triumph of parental common-sense. That event was the death of Ovid's elder brother Lucius. His removal from the scene, though we have no reason to doubt that Ovid sincerely regretted it, went a long way to disarm the parental opposition, which had always been based on practical grounds of finance, for obviously what would have provided a bare sufficiency for two would furnish an easy if not abundant competence for one. Ovid doubtless returned to the charge and pressed his suit with the persuasive eloquence which his genius and his training would have placed at his command. His father, realising, like the good sensible man he was, that it is useless trying to drive a nail where it won't go, and wisely concluding that a willing poet is better than a reluctant advocate, "sealed his hard consent." Whether Ovid would have gone to Athens had he followed the forensic career designed for him by his father is perhaps doubtful, but, for the man of letters, and above all for the poet, such a crown to his education was in the highest degree desirable; so to Athens he went, much in the same way that a public school boy of to-day goes up to Oxford or Cambridge. What he did there we do not know. He himself, usually so communicative about his own affairs, contents himself with informing us that he went there for purposes of study. He would, at all events, have learned to read Homer, Euripides and Sophocles.
A knowledge of Greek was in those days a mark of a superior education, and Greek he certainly acquired; but whatever he learned or did not learn--and we can scarcely picture this child of the Muses as a fort-en-thème, a determined reading man--we may be quite sure that he was not insensible to the beauty of the incomparable city to which his good fortune had sent him, or to the charm of the region in which it was set, and Attica, with its delicate and brilliant atmosphere, with its soil so favourable to the vine and olive, may well have reminded him of his native Sulmo. His sojourn in Athens was followed by a tour which he made in company with Pompeius Macer, another youthful aspirant to poetic fame. In the course of these leisurely wanderings the two young men visited Sicily and the famous Greek cities of Western Asia Minor, bathing their spirits in the perennial springs from which Anacreon and Theocritus derived their inspiration. Altogether Ovid was away from Rome about three years.
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