Ovid, also known as Publius Ovidius Naso, was a Roman poet. He was best known for his erotic poems such as Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria. His most important work is “Metamorphoses”, a mythological hexameter poem. His other important works included the “Fasti”, the “Tristia” and “Epistulae ex Ponto”. While “Fasti” was based on Roman calendar, the “Tristia” and “Epistulae ex Ponto” were particularly emotive and personal exile poetry. He also wrote smaller pieces like the “Remedia Amoris” and “Medicamina Faciei Femineae”. Ovid is considered as a master of the elegiac couplet and is ranked among the canonic poets of Latin literature, alongside Virgil and Horace. His poetry influenced European art and literature and remains as one of the most important sources of classical mythology.
Ovid Childhood and Early Life
Ovid was born on March 20, 43 BC in Sulmo, Roman Republic, which is now in Italy. He belonged to an equestrian family and was educated in Rome in rhetoric under the teachers Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro. His father wanted him to become a lawyer and an official. It was believed that Ovid was of emotional nature, unlike the argumentative type needed for rhetoric towards the practice of law. When his brother died, he renounced law and began traveling to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. He worked in different posts such as tresviri capitales and decemviri stlitibus iudicandis before finally settling to poetry around 29-25 BC. He gave his first recitation at the age of eighteen around 25 BC. Ovid was known to have friendship with Macer, Propertius, Horace, and Bassus.
In the early phase of his literary career, Ovid primarily wrote poetry in elegiac meter with erotic themes. His earliest surviving work is “Heroides” which may have been published in 19 BC. This work included letters of mythological heroines to their absent lovers. Even though the authenticity of these poems was questioned, this first edition probably contained the first 14 poems of the collection. It was believed that he published the five-book collection of the “Amores”, a series of erotic poems addressed to a lover, Corinna in 16-15 BC and a surviving, extant three book edited version of Amores was said to be published around 8-3 BC. Between these two versions of “Amores”, he wrote his tragedy “Medea” which went popular but is no longer extant. His next poetry, the “Medicamina Faciei” was a fragmentary work on women's beauty treatments. This was followed by “Ars Amatoria”, the art of love, a parody of didactic poetry and a three-book manual about seduction and intrigue, said to be published in 2 AD.
In 2 AD, Ovid published the “Remedia Amoris”. This collection of elegiac, erotic poetry earned Ovid a place among the chief Roman elegists Gallus, Tibullus and Propertius. By 8 AD, Ovid had finished his most ambitious work, the “Metamorphoses”, a 15-books hexameter epic poem which encyclopedically catalogues transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar. In this masterpiece, stories followed each other in the telling of human beings transformed to new bodies - trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations and others. Meanwhile, he was also working on the “Fasti”, a six-book poem in elegiac couplets based on Roman festivals calendar and astronomy. The writing of this poem was interrupted due to his exile to Tomis where he was believed to abandon working on it.
In 8 AD, Ovid had to escape to Tomis, on the Black Sea following the direct intervention of the Emperor Augustus. Ovid cited the reason for his exile was a poem and a mistake. Emperor Augustus’s grandchildren, Agrippa Postumus and Julia the Younger were banished simultaneously with his banishment. Julia’s husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus was sentenced to death for conspiracy against Augustus. Ovid was also named in the conspiracy. The actual reason of his exile was perhaps the Julian Marriage Laws of 18 BC, which promoted monogamous marriage to increase the population's birth rate and Ovid’s writing in “Ars Amatoria” was considered offensive to the emperor's moral legislation. During his exile in Tomis, he wrote two poetry collections titled “Tristia” and “Epistulae ex Ponto”, which depicted his sadness and desolation. Since Ovid was far away from Rome and had no access to libraries, it led to his abandonment of his poetry, “Fasti” which was about Roman calendar.
From the time period 9-12 AD, he published five books of the elegiac “Tristia”, a series of poems expressing his despair in exile and advocating his return to Rome. The same period, he wrote “Ibis”, an elegiac curse poem attacking an opponent at home. In 13 AD, he published “Epistulae ex Ponto”, which included a series of letters to friends in Rome asking them to help him to return. The first three books were published in 13 AD, whereas the fourth book appeared between 14 AD and 16 AD. This work was considered his last composition. In “Epistulae”, he described his friendship with the native of Tomis but still expressed his longing for Rome and his third wife. Some of the poems were intended towards Emperor Augustus whereas others were written for the friends at Rome. In some of the poems, he expressed loneliness and the hope to return from exile. Emperor Augustus died in 14 AD, while Ovid was in exile. Unfortunately the successor of Augustus, the Emperor Tiberius didn’t recall Ovid to Rome. For Ovid, Rome was the glittering pulse of the world and the separation from his beloved city caused despair in the poet. He died three years after the death of Emperor Augustus in 17 AD. His poetry, “Fasti” was published posthumously
Ovid married three times and was divorced twice before he turned thirty. He had only one daughter.
Ovid died in 17 AD at Tomis and was buried allegedly few kilometers away in a nearby town.
Ovid had influenced writers and painters with his influential poetry. His stories particularly from “Metamorphoses” provided a major source of illustrations for artists. In middle ages, his works like “Metamorphoses”, “Loves” and “Heroides” gained widespread attention. During the Renaissance period, Ovid emerged as the most influential Latin poet. His works were the recurrent themes for the painters and sculptors. All the writers and artists were seen getting influenced by his works. In English literature, Edmund Spenser, John Milton and William Shakespeare showed great influence from his works. After Renaissance, he was indirectly used by artists and painters. Some authors and artists used him directly in their works; the prominent examples were John Dryden and Pablo Picasso.