Ovid's Erotic Poems

Ovid's Erotic Poems
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The most sophisticated and daring poetic ironist of the early Roman Empire, Publius Ovidius Naso, is perhaps best known for his oft-imitated Metamorphoses . But the Roman poet also wrote lively and lewd verse on the subjects of love, sex, marriage, and adultery—a playful parody of the earnest erotic poetry traditions established by his literary ancestors. The Amores , Ovid's first completed book of poetry, explores the conventional mode of erotic elegy with some subversive and silly twists: the poetic narrator sets up a lyrical altar to an unattainable woman only to knock it down by poking fun at her imperfections. Ars Amatoria takes the form of didactic verse in which a purportedly mature and experienced narrator instructs men and women alike on how to best play their hands at the long con of love. Ovid's Erotic Poems offers a modern English translation of the Amores and Ars Amatoria that retains the irreverent wit and verve of the original. Award-winning poet Len Krisak captures the music of Ovid's richly textured Latin meters through rhyming couplets that render the verse as playful and agile as it was meant to be. Sophisticated, satirical, and wildly self-referential, Ovid's Erotic Poems is not just a wickedly funny send-up of romantic and sexual mores but also a sharp critique of literary technique and poetic convention.

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Ovid. Ovid's Erotic Poems

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Ovid’s Erotic Poems

Amores AND Ars Amatoria

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A special feature of love elegy was the concentration on a single woman and the evolution of her relationship with the narrator. As with Catullus’s Lesbia playing with a pet bird and then mourning its death (Poems 2 and 3), we get a sense of a living personality, and the poet’s infatuation is credible. Cynthia and Delia, it might be said, are more convincing than if we saw them only through a man’s lovesick mind. They don’t retreat quickly and irrevocably from idealization into the obscurity of resentment and estrangement; they come and go, and their moods and circumstances change realistically. They don’t disappear when their admirer isn’t there but have independent occupations such as religious observances and visits among women friends, and they display their own learning and tastes. Here, where the female protagonists are probably for the most part fictional, their roles cohere and convince. In Augustan Rome, with its army of courtesans who were both consumers and consumed, cultured and part of the culture in the first really well-established imperial society, a form of literature became popular that still rings true.

Elegiac meter is an excellent vehicle for this achievement. The meter consists of an indefinite series of couplets, the first line of each being the same as an epic hexameter, or six-foot unit. The basic schema of the hexameter is the following, with one long (—) and two short syllables making up each foot but the last:

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