Ovidius Naso, Publius in Harpers Dictionary
A very popular Roman poet, born March 21, B.C. 43, at Sulmo (now Solmona), in the country of the Paeligni, son of a wealthy
Roman of an old equestrian family. He came at an early age to Rome, to be educated as a pleader, and enjoyed the tuition of
the most famous rhetoricians of the time-Porcius Latro and Arellius Fuscus. It was not long before the instinct for poetry
awoke in him with such power that it needed all his father's resolution to keep him to his legal studies; his oratorical
exercises were simply poems in prose, as is testified by one of his fellow-students-the elder Seneca (Controv. ii. 10, 8).
After he had visited Greece and Asia to complete his education, he entered into political life at his father's desire, and
filled several subordinate offices. But he soon withdrew again from public business, partly from an inclination to idleness,
and lived only for poetry, in the society of the poets of his day, among whom he was especially intimate with Propertius. He
came into note as a poet by a tragedy called the Medea, which is now lost, but is much praised by ancient literary critics;
and about the same time he produced a series of amatory, and in some parts extremely licentious, poems.
When little more than a mere boy, as he says himself (Tristia, iv. 10, 69), he had a wife given him by his father; but this
marriage, like a second one, ended in a divorce. He derived more satisfaction, as well as the advantage of contact with the
court and with men of the highest distinction, from a third marriage, with a widow of noble family and high connections. To
her influence, perhaps, should be referred the fact that he turned his attention to more important and more serious works.
He had almost completed his best known work, the Metamorphoses, when suddenly, in A.D. 8, he was banished for life by
Augustus to Tomi (Kustindje), on the Black Sea, near the mouths of the Danube. The cause for this severity on the part of
the emperor is unknown; Ovid himself admits that there was a fault on his side, but only an error, not a crime (Tristia, i.
3, 37). At all events, the matter directly affected Augustus; and as Ovid describes his eyes as the cause of his misfortune,
it is conjectured that he had been an unintentional eye-witness of some offence on the part of the frivolous granddaughter
of the prince, the younger Iulia, and had neglected to inform the emperor of the matter. His indecent amatory poems, to
which he also points as the source of the emperor's displeasure, can at most only have been used as a plausible excuse in
the eyes of the public, as they had been published more than ten years before. See Deville, Sur l'Exil d'Ovide (Paris,
1859); Appal, Quibus de Causis Ovidius Relegatus Sit (Leipzig, 1872); Körber, De Ovidii Relegationis Causis (St. Petersburg,
1883); and Thomas in the Revue de Philologie, xiii. 47.
After a perilous voyage Ovid reached the place of his exile in the winter of A.D. 10-11; and there, far from his beloved
wife and his daughter Perilla, who had inherited the poetic talent of her father, far from his friends and all intercourse
with men of genius, he had to pass the last years of his life in desolation among the barbarous Getae. Even in his exile his
poetic talent did not fail him. It was then that he composed his poems of lamentation, entitled the Tristia, and his letters
from Pontus, which afford touching proofs of his grief, though also of his failing powers. His ceaseless prayers and
complaints had succeeded in softening Augustus, when the latter died. All his efforts to gain forgiveness or some
alleviation of his condition met with no response from Tiberius, and he was compelled to close his life, broken-hearted and
in exile, A.D. 17 or 18.
His extant works are:
Erotic poems (Amores), published about B.C. 14, in five books, and again about B.C. 2, in three books. The latter edition is
the one we possess; some of its forty-nine elegies depict, in a very sensual way, the poet's life, the centre of which is
the unknown Corinna, who by later writers was identified with Iulia, the daughter of Augustus (Sid. Apoll. xxiii. 159), but
with no probability.
Letters (Epistulae), also called Heroïdes, rhetorical declamations in the form of love-letters sent by heroines to their
husbands or lovers, twentyone in number; the last six of these, however, and the fourteenth, are considered spurious.
Methods for beautifying the face (Medicamina Faciei), advice to women respecting the art of the toilette; this poem has come
down to us in an incomplete form.
The Art of Love (Ars Amandi or Amatoria), in three books, published about B.C. 2, advice to men (books i. and ii.) and women
(book iii.) as to the methods of contracting a love-affair and insuring its continuance-a work as licentious as it is
original and elaborate.
Cures for Love (Remedia Amoris), the pendant to the previous work, and no less offensive in substance and tone.
The fifteen books of the Transformations (Metamorphoses), his most important work. It is composed in hexameter verse; the
material is borrowed from Greek and (to a less extent) from Roman sources, being a collection of legends of transformations,
very skilfully combining jest and earnest in rapid alternations, and extending from chaos to the apotheosis of Caesar. When
it was completed and had received the last touches, the work was cast into the flames by Ovid in his first despair at
banishment, but was afterwards rewritten from other copies.
A Calendar of Roman Festivals (Fasti), begun in the last years before his banishment, and originally in twelve books,
corresponding to the number of the months. Of these only six are preserved, probably because Ovid had not quite completed
them at Rome, and had not the means to do so at Tomi. It was originally intended for dedication to Augustus. After
Augustus's death the poet began to revise it, with a view to its dedication to Germanicus; he did not, however, proceed with
his revision beyond the first book. It contains, in elegiac metre, the most important celestial phenomena and the festivals
of each month, with a description of their celebration and an account of their origin according to the Italian legends.
Poems of Lament (Tristia), to his family, to his friends, and to Augustus, belonging to the years A.D. 9-13, in five books;
the first of these was written while he was still on his journey to Tomi.
Letters from Pontus (Epistulae ex Ponto), in four books, only distinguished from the previous poems by their epistolary
Ibis, an imitation of the poem of the same name by Callimachus, who had attacked, under this name, Apollonius of Rhodes,
consisting of imprecations on a faithless friend at Rome, written in the learned and obscure style of the Alexandrian poets.
A short fragment of a didactic poem on the fish in the Black Sea (Halieutica), written in hexameters. Besides these Ovid
wrote, during his exile, numerous poems which have been lost, among them a eulogy of the deceased Augustus in the Getic
tongue-a sufficient proof of the strength of his irrepressible love for poetry. In fact, in this respect he is distinguished
above all other Roman poets. Perhaps no one ever composed with less exertion; yet at the same time no one ever used so
important a faculty for so trivial a purpose. His poetry is for the most part simply entertaining; in this kind of writing
he proves his mastery by his readiness in language and metre, by his unwearied powers of invention, by his ever-ready wit,
elegance, and charm, though, on the other hand, he is completely wanting in deep feeling and moral earnestness. By his
talent, Ovid as well as Vergil has had great influence on the further development of Roman poetry, especially with regard to
metre. Many imitated his style so closely that their poems were actually attributed to himself. Among these, besides a
number of Heroïdes (see above), we have the Nux, the nut-tree's complaint of the ill-treatment it met with, a poem in
elegiac verse, which was at all events written about the time of Ovid; a poem on cosmetics, De Medicamine Faciei, the
Consolatio ad Liviam on the death of Drusus; and a number of jointed skits such as the De Pulice, De Vetula, various
Bibliography.-Of the MSS. of Ovid the best are the Codex Petavianus of the eighth century (Vatican); the Codex B
(Arundelianus) of the ninth century (British Museum); two at Munich (D and E) and one (G) at Göttingen of the twelfth
century; the Codex Puteaneus of the tenth century (Paris), which is said to be one of the best classical MSS. in existence;
the Codex Marcianus of the eleventh century (Florence). For an elaborate account of the MSS. and a vast collection of
variant readings, see the edition of N. Heinsius cited below.
Editions of the whole of Ovid are those by D. Heinsius, 3 vols. (Leipzig, Leyden, 1629); N. Heinsius, 3 vols. (Amsterdam,
1652; revised 1661); Burmann, 4 vols. (Amsterdam, 1727); Merkel and Ehwald (Leipzig, 1888 foll.); Reise, last ed. 3 vols.
(Leipzig, 1889 foll.); and by Zingerle and others (Prague, 1883 foll.). Separate editions of the different works, with
notes, are as follows: of the Amores by L. Müller (Leipzig, 1867); of the Heroïdes by Palmer (London, 1874) and Shuckburgh
(London, 1879); of the Ars Amatoria by Herzberg (with translation, Stuttgart, 1854) and Williams (London, 1884); of the
Metamorphoses by Zingerle (Prague, 1885); of the Fasti by Merkel (Berlin, 1841), Peter (Leipzig, 1879), Keightley (London,
1848), and Paley, 3d ed. (London, 1888); of the Tristia by Owen (London, 1889); of the Epistolae ex Ponto by Korn, critical
notes (Leipzig, 1868), and bk. i. by Keene (London, 1887); of the Halieutica by Haupt (Leipzig, 1838); of the Ibis by R.
Ellis (Oxford, 1881); of the Nux by Lindemann (Zittau, 1844). The spurious Ovidiana were collected and printed in Goldast's
Catalecta Ovidii (Frankfort, 1610), some of them being of mediæval origin. On Ovid's life see Nageotte, Ovide (Dijon, 1872),
and especially Leutsch in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie (1836). No authentic portraits of the poet are known to exist. On
Ovid's verse see L. Müller, De Re Metrica, xci. 408; and Schmidt, De Ovidii Hexametris (Cleves, 1856).