Ovid Biography

(Poet)
Ovid
3

Birthday: March 20, 43 BC (Pisces)

Born In: Sulmo, Italy, Roman Republic

Considered to be one of the most influential poets of the Western literary tradition, Ovid lived in the Roman Republic during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Destined for a career in law, he was trained in oratory and rhetoric; but left his job as a minor judicial official to concentrate on writing. He spent the rest of his life creating a vast body of works, most of which survives till date. While there is confusion about the chronology of his early works, most scholars believe Amores to be his first published work, while his best known work is Metamorphoses, published almost a quarter of a century later. His other extant work of this period were Epistolae Heroidum, Medicamina faciei, the Ars amatoria, and the Remedia amoris, all of which reflected the pleasure-seeking society in which he moved, assuring him a place in the literary circle. However, these works might have also earned the wrath of Emperor Augustus, who wanted to establish a more moral society. Subsequently, Ovid was banished to the edge of the Roman Empire, where he lived and wrote until his death.

Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In March

Also Known As: Publius Ovidius Naso

Died At Age: 59

Born Country: Italy

Quotes By Ovid Poets

Died on: 17

place of death: Constanța

Childhood & Early Life

Ovid was born as Pūblius Ovidius Nāsō on 20 March 43 BCE in Sulmo, a small town located in the Valle Peligna of the Roman Republic, about 90 miles east of Rome. Later renamed as Sulmona, the town currently falls under Province of L'Aquila of the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy.

From an autobiographical poem in the Tristia, we know that he was born into an old and respectable family. His father, whose name is not known, was an esteemed member of the equestrian order. He had at least one elder brother called Lucius Ovidius, who died at the age of twenty.

Both Ovid and his elder brother were educated in Rome under renowned teachers like orator Arellius Fuscus and rhetoricians Marcus Porcius Latro, destined for a career in politics and law. However, he was by nature emotional and writing poems came naturally to him, which he continued to do despite his father’s disapproval.

Around 25 BCE, when he was eighteen years old, he gave his first recital. Believed to be a part of the Messalla circle, he later expressed his gratitude to Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus for being the first person to notice and encourage his works.

Around 26-25 BCE, he is believed to have started working on his first collection, Amores. Concurrently, he continued to study rhetoric, preferring Suasoriae, a form of declamation in which the student makes a soliloquy, to controversiae, in which he speaks for one side in a notional legal case.

After completing his education in Rome, he moved to Athens, at that time a favorite destination for upper class children, to study philosophy. From, Greece, he traveled to Asia Minor with his friend Pompeius Macer and lived in Sicily for one year before returning home on the insistence of his father.

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Official Career

On returning to Rome, Ovid held a series of judicial posts at his father’s behest, possibly beginning his career as one of the tresviri capitals, a job that required him to oversee prisoners and executions. A mixture of police superintendents and justices of peace, it was the first step for an aspirant.

He next became a member of the Centumviral court, dealing with private law, now known as a civil law. He also served as one of the decemviri litibus iudicandis, which was a ten-member commission formed for adjudging litigations. However, he disliked his job and lacked the political will to succeed.

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Poet

It is not known when, but Ovid finally left his job to concentrate on writing. He made Rome his home, where he moved around in the literary circle, making friends with many poets, including Propertius, Horace, Ponticus and Bassus etc.

His first work, the Amores (The Loves), was published at intervals, beginning from 20 BCE to 16 BCE, in five books. Written in elegiac couplets, it was later edited into the surviving three-book edition, contributing greatly to the Latin love elegy.

His next work, Epistolae Heroidum, or Heroides (Epistles of the Heroines), is a collection of fictional letters, written by mythical heroines to their absent lovers. However, scholars are of two minds about the chronology of these two works and many believe Heroidum to be his first extant work, published in 18 BCE.

Medicamina Faciei Femineae (Cosmetics for the Female Face or The Art of Beauty) is possibly his third published work. It is a didactic poem written in elegiac couplets, in which he defended the use of cosmetics by Roman women, an act generally condemned by other contemporary writers.

His next work was the Ars amatoria (The Art of Love). Published in a series of three books, the first two tells a man how to find a woman and keep her, while the third gives women advice on how to win and keep the love of a man.

Completed in 2 CE, Ars amatoria became so popular that he wrote Remedia Amoris (Love's Remedy or The Cure for Love) in the same year.  Completed in 814 lines, the poem tells its readers how to avoid being hurt in love, or to escape from unhappy love affairs, with a stoic overtone.

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After completing Ars amatoria, Ovid took up his magnum opus, Metamorphōsēs (Metamorphoses). Possibly written between 2 CE and 8 CE, it is a long poem, written in a loose mythico-historical framework, chronicling the history of the world since its creation.

Around 8 CE, he also started working on Fasti an account of the Roman year and its religious festivals. Although it consisted of 12 books, one to each month, the last six books are believed to be lost. It is also possible that he could never finish it due to his banishment.

In Exile

In 8 CE, Ovid was banished by Emperor Augustine to Tomis, located on the bank of the Black Sea, almost at the farthest edge of the empire. Currently known as Constanța, it falls under present-day Romania. Personally tried by Emperor Augustine, his actual crime remains a mystery to this day.

In his autobiographical poem, Tristia (Sorrow), Ovid himself gave “carmen et error“ as the reasons for his exile, declaring that “Two offenses, a poem and a mistake…, have destroyed me”. Many believe that he became an involuntary accomplice in the adultery of Augustus’s granddaughter, Julia, the Younger.

In the spring of 9 CE, Ovid arrived in Tomis. Although banished from Rome, he was allowed to retain his citizenship as well as his properties, which made his life easier. Nonetheless, lack of high society and severe climatic condition made him depressed and to escape that he once again turned to poetry.

The Tristia (Sorrows or Lamentations) was probably the first work he produced in exile, with the first volume being written while on his way to Tomis, describing the arduous journey to the edge of the empire. He also mentions his wife, friends and his previous works.

In the second volume, he pleads unsuccessfully with the Emperor to end his exile. As his pleadings fell to deaf years, his mood became grimmer and grimmer, as is evident from the last three volume of the book. In the last part, he also praises his wife who remained loyal to him despite his exile.

Epistulae ex Ponto (Letters from the Black Sea), published in four books, is another of his important work of this period. It is a collection of letters written in elegiac couplets, describing his life in exile. According to scholars, the first three books were written in 12-13 CE, while the last one was published posthumously.

Another important work of this period is Ibis. It is a curse poem, possibly modeled on a lost poem of the same name by the Greek poet Callimachus. However, the exact time of its writing is not known; neither is it clear who the object of the abuse was.

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Major Works

Ovid is best remembered for his 8 CE magnums opus, Metamorphōsēs (Metamorphoses). Complete in 11,995 lines and 15 books, the work comprises of more than 250 myths and chronicles the history of the world, inspiring numerous authors like Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare.

Family & Personal Life

Ovid had married three times, divorcing his first two wives by the time he was thirty. It is not known when he married his third wife; but it is believed that she was related to one of his patrons, an influential man called Paullus Fabius Maximus.

From one of his three wives, he had a daughter who would later bear him grandchildren.

Although they remained married until his death, his wife did not accompany him to his exile. Instead, she remained behind to look after his interest, trying to secure pardon for him. Many of his letters and poems written during his exile have either been addressed to her or refer to her with love and gratitude.

In spite of pleading relentlessly for Imperial pardon, Ovid failed to get any respite. His later poems seem to suggest that over the time he learned to accept his fate and died in Tomis sometime in 17 or 18 CE.

See the events in life of Ovid in Chronological Order

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