Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Love for sale: Ovid's love doctor

Aeacidae Chironego sum praeceptor Amoris 
As Chiron to that son of Aeacus, I am the tutor of Love* (AA 1.17)

From the start, the Tutor of the Ars Amatoria has used car salesman written all over him. This praeceptor - not to be confused with Ovid -- declares his mastery, promises the reader success in the ways of love, then proceeds to deliver "wisdom" so tenuous, trivial, inconsistent and derelict that even the dullest of pupils would have second thoughts about further lessons.

Book 1 ends with the praeceptor pulling into port:
Pars superat coeptipars est exhausta laboris.     Hic teneat nostras ancora iacta rates. 
Part of the task I've undertaken is done, part remains;
here let the anchor be cast and hold my ship.
Our Chiron wannabe, who began by claiming expertise in the arts of Love on a par with Tithys' command of the Argo, here drops anchor. While translators tend to translate rates as "boat" or "ship," it might be closer to "raft." The Tutor's epic persona, and all his appointments, are looking a bit shopworn and degraded at this point.

Part of the joy of reading Ovid is in getting a feeling for what he's up to. In the Ars, his persona proudly vaunts his ability to dare verba. 
Pauperibus vates ego sumquia pauper amavi;     Cum dare non possem muneraverba dabam. 
I'm a prophet for paupers, because I loved as a pauper;     since I wasn't able to give gifts, I gave words.
As translator Julia Dyson Hejduk notes, dare verba was an idiom signifying "to trick." In the service of Love, all is fair, and all moves from the magical dazzle of empty words, signifiers, promises, cheap talk.

What is Ovid on about here, dabbling in the nature of love and language, faith and folly, myth and streetsmarts mingling in the Tutor's endless gab? Indeed one work that seems most like the Ars is Erasmus's Praise of Folly. In both, the inspiring divinity is both all powerful and all silly, all the time.

There's also the roaming eye of the flaneur, prowling and probing the high and hidden places of the city; there's the gaze of the social order, the ploys of the hunter, the threadbare experience -- usus -- of the one who spills the secrets of Amor and Roma with a saucy air.

There's nothing for it but to dive into the Tutor's wordstream -- to play the reader -- and target -- of his ploys.

*Translations are from The Offense of Love, Julia Dyson Hejduk, whose fidelity to the texts of the Ars, the Remedia Amoris, and Tristia is virtually line by line, and whose notes are invaluable for us grateful modern clods.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Models of Ancient Rome

When Ovid was writing the Ars Amatoria, the empire was in its infancy. The city grew in magnificence commensurate with its stature. This site offers views of the model of Rome built by the archaeologist and architect Italo Gismondi. Known as Il Plastico, the model is housed in the Museo della Civilta Romana, and offers views from the time of Constantine.

Circus Maximus, Palatine

Here's a virtual tour of the city at its height by Bernard Frischer

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A few versions of Ars Amatoria online and in print

Update: Thanks to Jean, we now have an addition to our list of translations of the Ars: J.D. Hejduk's The Offense of Love - see below among the print selections.

Ars Amatoria is sure to be a distinct pivot away from Dante's Paradiso, where the Sarasota classics group has been lingering, or loitering, for the past two and a half years.

Ovid's poem, completed around 2 A.D., was a sort of instructional manual to the realm of relations between the sexes.
the word ars in the title is not to be translated coldly as 'technique', or as 'art' in the sense of civilized refinement, but as "textbook", the literal and antique definition of the word. (Ars Amatoria)
The text is available in various formats online and in print -- see below. If anyone knows of another that should be added to the list, please let me know, or leave the info in a comment.

Ars Amatoria Online

A.S. Kline

Sacred Texts

J. Lewis May (Wikisource)

Riley - prose translation with notes (Gutenberg)

Perseus - Dual Language
Hyperlinked Latin, English, and notes


Applebaum - Dover edition, English only, no notes

J.D. Hejduk's The Offense of Love looks to be a smart translation of the Ars, the Remedia Amoris, and Tristia. Amazon offers no access to the Ars translations, but offers the texts in print and Kindle formats. However, Google Books presents English text and well done notes:

James Mitchie Dual language, no notes

Rolfe Humphries - English prose, notes

Saturday, April 7, 2018


Crewman of Odysseus turning into a beast

A new tale of Circe, told from the point of view of the daughter of Helios, is just out. It's by Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles.

The scope of the tale as told by Miller reckons with the reality of status as an immortal. Odysseus's visit to her isle, while memorable, is but a blip:
"In Ms. Miller’s version, Circe’s encounter with Odysseus is only a slice of her story, which unfolds over thousands of years and begins in the palace of her father, the sun god Helios. Her family members, who treat her with cruelty or indifference, become infamous in their own right: Her sister Pasiphae marries King Minos and gives birth to the Minotaur, a bullheaded, man-eating monster; while her brother Aeetes grows up to rule Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece, and fathers Medea, who later murders her children." NYT
Myths as the ancients told them were galaxies filled with tales, stretching through generations, with cities and kings rising and falling. Miller seems alive  to that scale of things. Her blog, enriched by her Greek and Latin, is titled "Myths."

And, as noted in reading the Metamorphoses, Ovid's wit is urbane and literary. In his telling, the myths are changed, at points with parodic effect. Understandably, Miller doesn't draw upon his version of the enchantress.
deliberately omitting a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses where Circe punishes a king who spurns her advances by turning him into a woodpecker. 

Madeline Miller

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ovid's exile to the remotest margins of the Roman empire revoked

Rome city council overturns banishment of ‘one of the greatest poets’ more than 2,000 years after Augustus forced him to leave
More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated. 
Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature along with Virgil and Horace. 
Ovid Banished from Rome - Turner
Best known for his 15-book epic narrative poem Metamorphoses and the elegy Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, Publius Ovidius Naso was exiled in 8 AD to Tomis, the ancient but remote Black Sea settlement now known as the Romanian port city of Constanța. 
He remained there until his death a decade later. Although ordered directly by the emperor, scholars have long speculated over the motive for Ovid’s exile; the poet himself attributed it to “carmen et error”, a poem and a mistake. 
Experts believe the cause was probably a combination of three factors: that Ovid’s erotic poetry was considered offensive, his attitude to Augustus was too disrespectful, and that he may have been involved in an unspecified plot or scandal. 
La Republicca reported that M5S, which holds a majority of the seats on the council, demanded that “necessary measures” be adopted to revoke the order in what the capital’s deputy mayor, Luca Bergamo, described as an important symbol.

“It is about the fundamental right of artists to express themselves freely in societies in which, around the world, the freedom of artistic expression is increasingly constrained,” Bergamo told councillors.
Ovid was indisputably “one of the greatest poets in the history of humanity,” the deputy mayor said, and moreover the real reasons for his mysterious banishment by the emperor “were never placed on the historical record”. 
Sulmona, the Abruzzo town where the poet was born (then Sulmo), formally acquitted him of any wrongdoing. Dante, the great Renaissance poet, was similarly pardoned in 2008 by Florence – from where he was exiled on pain of death in 1302. 
Ovid’s many poems and letters in exile, collected in Tristia and The Black Sea Letters, have been described by critics as a “clinical presentation” of the condition of exile, “demonstrating its debilitating effect upon a man’s morale, his talents and perhaps his psychology”.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Coally prattling birds

The appearance of the gaggle of pole -- jackdaws, or grey crows (cornacchie grige) - in Paradiso 21 is a strangely unsolemn moment in an otherwise almost forbiddingly sober canto. Jackaws are usually not associated with contemplation - and the variously active groups of birds described in the simile seem busy, but not intent upon higher things:
And as accordant with their natural custom
  The rooks together at the break of day
  Bestir themselves to warm their feathers cold;

Then some of them fly off without return,
  Others come back to where they started from,
  And others, wheeling round, still keep at home; 
Such fashion it appeared to me was there
  Within the sparkling that together came,  (21:34-41)
Robert Hollander notes that these birds have "black wings, silver eyes, and large red beaks encircled by yellow," and adds that according to Benvenuto, they love solitude and choose the desert for their habitation.

Thanks to Dren, we now know our black birds have a holiday tie-in, via Ovid, no less. He shared this piece from the Washington Post that offers a bit of philological archaeology. It turns out that while we all sing "four calling birds," during the Twelve Days of Christmas, the original line involved "coally birds," an adjective derived from, and sounding like, "coal."

The OED finds the word in Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses - the tale of Coronis and the raven who told Apollo of her infidelity.
As thou thou prating Raven white by nature being bred,
Hadst on thy fethers justly late a coly colour spred.
Indeed, we might have Ovid to thank for Golding's bringing the word into print, and giving it the opportunity to be mistaken for "calling birds," thus helping perpetuate the derangement of language which happens to be a prominent theme in the second book of the Metamorphoses. (See, for example, here.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The moment of reading

From the Washington Post:

“Not far from the walls of Enna, there is a deep pool,” begins Ovid’s version of the rape of Persephone. “While [Persephone] was playing in this glade, and gathering violets or radiant lilies, while with girlish fondness she filled the folds of her gown, and her basket, trying to outdo her companions in her picking, [Pluto], almost in a moment, saw her, prized her, took her: so swift as this, is love.” [Metamorphoses 5]
The Greek myth has been recounted for thousands of years in hundreds of languages, scores of countries and countless works of art. It’s considered a cultural touchstone for Western civilization: a parable about power, lust and grief. 
Now, however, it could be getting a treatment it’s never had before: a trigger warning. 
In an op-ed in the student newspaper, four Columbia University undergrads have called on the school to implement trigger warnings — alerts about potentially distressing material — even for classics like Greek mythology or Roman poetry.  More...

Regardless of cultural shifts and chance mutations of public sensibility, it remains necessary to read the text with attention, thought, and contextual awareness. Without this moment, the joys and discomforts of any work of literature might be matters of pleasure or pain, but do they offer human or historical truth or ethical imperatives? Without a reading, can there be "a treatment"?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Greek warriors as Roman lovers

When a love poet invokes the great epic heroes, the substance and rhetoric of eros is always in play. In a very Ovidian manner, Propertius begins his bit of amorous braggadocio with Zeus's fathering of Heracles:

“Jupiter slept with Alcmene two nights, and for two nights the heavens missed their king. He did not on that account languidly resume his thunderbolt: no lovemaking defrauded him of his virility. When Achilles left the embrace of Briseis, did the Phrygians then flee his missiles less? Did the Mycenaean ships fear the war less because Hector had just come from Andromache’s bed? Hector could have burnt those ships, Achilles could have leveled those walls: in this I am Achilles, in this am I Hector.”

Iuppiter Alcmenae geminas requieverat Arctos,
et caelum noctu bis sine rege fuit;
nec tamen idcirco languens ad fulmina venit:
nullus amor vires eripit ipse suas.
quid? cum e complexu Briseidos iret Achilles,
num fugere minus Thessala tela Phryges?
quid? ferus Andromachae lecto cum surgeret Hector
bella Mycenaeae non timuere rates?
ille vel hic classis poterant vel perdere muros:
hic ego Pelides, hic ferus Hector ego.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Deianeira to Heracles

Update: a follow-up post on the letter is here.

Next time, we'll have a look at Deianira's letter to Heracles from Ovid's Heroides. A few sources:

Grant Showerman's translation (used in the Loeb edition).

The Perseus site: English and hyperlinked Latin, as well as notes.

The Latin Library has the Latin text on one page.

Tony Kline's translation.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ovid and Postmodernism

A conference on Ovid and Postmodernism at Oxford.
It is by now a critical commonplace to demonstrate the affinity between Ovidian and postmodern concerns: a playful insistence on the rhetorical nature of ‘reality’; on the instability of meaning; on the permeability of borders and on the arbitrariness of time. Our project takes as its starting point the appeal of Ovid’s preoccupations with desire, transition, transgression, power, violence, subversion and alienation to the cultures of the late twentieth / early twenty-first century world. It seeks to discover what recent engagements with both the poet’s biography and his rich and varied corpus have contributed to our still-evolving conceptualizations of postmodernism.

  • How has Ovid changed the politics of classical scholarship in the last forty years?
  • What can a reception history of the postmodern Ovid tell us about the history of postmodernism itself?
  • Is Ovid just ‘play’ or does he speak seriously to politically aware (feminist, ‘minority’ and/or postcolonial) concerns about postmodern relativism and its denial of agency?