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Publius Ovidius Naso

(43BC - 18AD)

Short Biography

Ovid was born in Sulmo, a town about 80 miles East of Rome, in the year after the assassination of Julius Caesar, and 12 years before the Battle of Actium brought an end to the civil war, when a period of relative peace and prosperity began. 

Around 31BC (12) he was sent to Rome for his education. He then continued his studies in Athens, toured Asia Minor, and spent a year in Sicily. 

Decides to write poetry
In around 18BC (25) he prepared to stand for the office of quaestor, the first position of the ‘cursus honorum’ (course of offices) which led eventually to the Consulship. He decided, however, to write poetry instead, and joined the circle of poets associated with Messalla

First poetry published
The Amores, which was probably his first work, first appeared in five volumes, but was subsequently reduced to three, concerning which he wrote : 'We who once were five books by Naso now are three. The author himself has trimmed us. Now even if you don't like what you read, at least you're spared the punishment of two more books.' 

Further works
This was followed by the Heroïdes, a series of letters from women of myth to their husbands and lovers, the Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), the Remedia Amatoria (The Remedies of Love) and a tragedy, Medea, which has not survived, but which Quintilian thought one of the greatest Roman tragedies (Institutio Oratoria X.i.98). 

Nicholas Poussin : Metamorphoses

He was at work on the Fasti, an elegiac poem in twelve books on Roman festivals and cults, and his best known work, the mythological and historical epic The Metamorphoses, when he was abruptly banished by the Emperor Augustus in 8AD (51). His sentence was decided and pronounced personally by the emperor, the two causes of offence being a poem, the Ars Amatoria, and an unspecified error. He was sent to Tomis (now Constanta in Romania) on the Black Sea, where he composed his Tristia or Poems of Sadness, his Epistulae ex Ponto (Letters from the Black Sea), which pleaded his case for return, and the Ibis, probably the longest recorded curse in history invoking a range of horrible fates from Greek mythology on an (unspecified) enemy (the Emperor Augustus?). 

Ovid's curse
'Up to this time, when I have already completed fifty years, all the song of my Muse has been harmless; and not a letter of Naso, who wrote so many thousands, exists to be read that is stained with blood: nor have my writings hurt anyone save me, when his own Art proved the artist's bane. One man (and this is itself a mighty wrong) suffers not my title to innocence to endure.... I shall be thy devoted foe. Sooner shall moisture cease to be opposed to fire, and the sun's light be joined to the moon; the same part of heaven shall send forth western winds and eastern, and the warm south blow from the cold sky; spring shall mingle with autumn, summer with midwinter, and the same region be both evening and sunrise; sooner shall a strange concord unite the brothers' smoke, which ancient anger separates on the kindled pyre then the arms that we took up be laid aside, and between thee and me, shameless wretch, there be that friendship which thy crime sundered. That peace shall we enjoy, while life remains to me, which wolves are wont to keep with the defenceless flock. First will I join battle in the measure I have begun, although wars are not wont to be waged in this strain; and as the spear of the soldier who is not yet fired to battle first attacks the yellow, sandy soil, so will I not yet shoot at thee with sharpened steel, nor shall my javelin seek forthwith thy hateful life; and no name nor deeds shall I mention in this work, and I will suffer thee a short while to dissemble who thou are. Afterwards, if thou dost continue, my satire unrestrained shall hurl at thee missiles tinged by Lycambean blood.... So many (woe upon thee!) And such destructions shall come on thee, that I ween I too could be compelled to weep. Those tears will make me happy without end; that weeping will be sweeter to me than laughter.' This is merely the preamble. 

He died at Tomis.

Links to poems

Amores Book I, No V

Amores Book III, No XIV 


The true Midas is the poet, the true golden touch his transforming art. Ovid's achievement in the Metamorphoses is to transmute what ought to be a profoundly depressing vision of existence into a cosmic comedy of manners.
A.D.Melville, Introduction to Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Life of Ovid together with Ovid Defended, reproduced from George Sandys' translation of the Metamorphoses (1628).

PVBLIVS OVIDIVS NASO, descended of the ancient Family of the Nasones, who had preserued the dignitie of Roman Knights from the first originall of that Order, was borne at Sulmo, a Citie of the Peligni, on the XIIII of the Calends of April, in the Consul-ships of Hircius and Pansa both slaine at the battle of Mutina against Marcus Antonius. While yet a boy, his quick wit and readie apprehension gaue his parents an assurance of a future excellencie: in so much as his father Lucius sent him to Rome (together with his brother, a yeere elder than he, and borne on the same day) to be instructed by Plotius Grippus, that Art might perfect the accomplishments of Nature. In his first of youth he was much addicted vnto Poetrie, wherein hee had an excellent grace and naturall facilitie. But continually reproued by his father for following so vnprofitable a studie, with an ill will he forsooke the pleasant walkes of the Muses to trauell in the rugged paths of the Law, vnder Aurelius Fuscus and Porcius Latro; of whose eloquence and learning he was a great Admirer. Neither attained he therein to a vulgar commendation, being numbred by Marcus Annaeus Seneca among the principall Orators of those times. His prose was no other then dissolued verse: his speech wittie, briefe, and powerfull in perswasion. Hauing past through diuers offices of iudicature, and now readie to assume the habit of a Senator; his elder brother and father being dead, impatient of toyle, and the clamours of litigious Assemblies, he retired himselfe from all publike affaires to affected vacancie and his former abandoned studies. Yet such was the mutuall affection betweene him and Varro that hee accepted of Command, and serued vnder him in the warres of Asia, from whence hee returned by Athens, where hee made his aboad, vntill hee had attained to the perfection of that language. A man of a meane stature, slender of bodie, spare of diet; and, if not too amorous, euery way temperate. Hee drunke no wine but what was much alayed with water: An Abhorrer of vnnaturall Lusts, from which it should seeme that age was not innocent: neat in apparell; of a free, affable, and courtly behauiour; whereby he acquired the friendship of many, such as were great in learning and nobilitie; among whom not a few of Consular dignitie; and so honoured by diuers, that they wore his picture in rings cut in precious stones. One haue I scene in a Cornelian, of exquisite workmanship, with his name ingrauen on the one side and certaine obscure characters on the other, supposed as ancient as those times: I haue also an old Medall of Siluer stamped with his image: both which are presented vnder his Figure, with the Reuerse of the latter. A great Admirer, and as much admired, of the excellent Poets of those times, with whom hee was most familiar and intimate. Being perswaded by some of them to leaue out three verses of those many which he had written, he gaue his consent, so that of all he might except three onely: whereupon they priuately writ those which they would haue him abolish, and hee on the other side those which he excepted; when both their papers being showne, presented the same verses: the first and second recorded by Pedo Albinovanus, who was one of the Arbiters,

    Semi-bouemque virum, semi-uirumque bouem.
    Sed gelidum Borean, egelidumque Notum.

whereby it appeareth that his admirable wit did not want an answerable iudgement in suppressing the libertie of his verse, had he not affected it. An ample patrimonie he had in the territories of Sulmo; with a house and a Temple in the Citie, where now stands the Church of Sancta Maria de Tumba: and where now stands the Church of Sancta Maria de Consolatione; he had another in Rome, not farre from the Capitoll; with pleasant Hort-yards betweene the wayes of Flaminia and Claudia, wherein he was accustomed to recreate himselfe with his Muses. Hee had three wiues: whereof the first being giuen him in his youth, as neither worthie nor profitable, soone after (according to the custome of the Romans) he diuorced: nor liu'd he long with the second, although nobly borne, and of behauiour inculpable. The chastitie and beauty of the third he often extolleth; whom he instructed in poetrie, and to his death entirely affected. Neither was her affection inferior to his; liuing all the time of his banishment like a sorrowfull widdow, and continuing to the end exemplarie faithfull. But in this eueryway happy condition, when his age required ease, and now about to imploy his beloued vacancie in the reuiew and polishing of his former labours, he was banished, or rather confined to Tomos (a citie of Sarmatia bordering on the Euxine Sea) by Augustus Caesar, on the fourth of the Ides of December, and in the one and fiftieth yeere of his age, to the generall griefe of his friends and acquaintance: who sayled into Thrace in a ship of his owne, and by land performed the rest of his voyage. The cause of this his so cruell and deplored exile, is rather coniectured then certainely knowne. Most agree that it was far his too much familiarity with Julia the daughter of Augustus, masked vnder the name of Corinna. Others that hee had vnfortunately seene the incest of Caesar: which may be insinuated, in that he complaines of his error, and compares himselfe to Actaeon. But the pretended occasion was for his composing of the Art of Loue, as intollerably lasciuious and corrupting good manners. A pretence I may call it, since vnlikely it is, that hee should banish him in his age for what hee writ when hardly a man, and after so long a conniuance. Yet Augustus, either to conceale his owne crime or his daughters, would haue it so thought: neither would Ovid reueale the true cause, least hee should further exasperate his displeasure. After he had long in vaine solicited his repeale by the mediation of Germanicus Caesar, and others that were neere vnto the Emperour; or at least to be remoued to a more temperate Clime; his hopes (as he writes) forsaking the earth with Augustus, he died at Tomos in the fifth yeare of the raigne of Tiberius; hauing liued seuen yeares in banishment. As Tibullus and hee were borne in one day, so hee and Livie died on an other; that his birth and death might be nobly accompanied. He had so wonne the barbarous Get's with his humanitie and generous actions (hauing also written a booke in their language) that they honoured him in his life with triumphant garlands, and celebrated his funerals with vniuersall sorrow; erecting his tombe before the gates of their citie, hard by a lake which retaineth his name to this day. His sepulcher was found in the yeere, MDVIII, with a magnificent couerture presenting this Epitaph.


Here lies that liuing Poet, by the rage
Of great Augustus banished from Rome:
Who in his countrie sought t'interre his Age;

But vainly, Fate bath lodg'd him in this tombe:

    Isabella Queene of Hungarie in the yeare MDXL shewed to Bargaeus a pen of siluer, found not long before vnder certaine ruines, with this inscription; OVIDII NASONIS CALAMVS: which she highly esteemed, and preserued as a sacred relique. Of the bookes which hee writ, since most of them are extant among vs, I will onely recite these following verses of Angelus Politianius.

1 From times first birth he chants the change of things,   Metamorphosis.
2 The flames of Loue in Elegiacks sings,   De Arte, & Amorum.
3 With curses doubtfull Ibis he insnares,   In Ibin.
4 Epistles dictates fraught with Louers cares,   Epist. Heroidum.
5 In Swan-like tunes deplores his sad exile,   Trist. & de Ponto.
6 His verse the Roman Festiuals compile,   Fasti.
7 Of fishes sings vnknowne to Latin eares,   Halieutica.
8 Computes the stars that glide in heauenly spheres,   Phaenomena.
9 His paper fils with Epigrammick rimes,   Epigrammata.
10 The tragick stage on high cothurnals climes,   Medeae trag.
11 Whips Poetasters that abuse the times.   In malos Poetas.

Yet leaues he out the Remedie of Loue, a legitimate Poem (except hee make it an appendix to the Art) and his Consolation to Livia for the death of Drusus: which Seneca hath excerped and sprinkled among his seuerall Consolations. Among such a multiplicitie of arguments our gentle Poet did neuer write a virulent verse, but onely against Cornificus; (maskt vnder the name of Ibis) who solicited his wife in his absence, and laboured against the repeale of his banishment. Concerning his Metamorphosis, it should seeme that he therein imitated Parthenius of Chios, who writ on the same argument: as the Latin Poets euen generally borrowed their inuentions from the Graecian Magazins. I will conclude with what himselfe hath written of this Poem, wherein I haue imployed my vacant houres: with what successe, I leaue to the censure of others, which perhaps may proue lesse rigid then my owne.

I thanke your loue: my verse farre liuelier then
My picture shew me; wherefore those peruse:
My verse, which sing the changed shapes of men;
Though left vnperfect by my banisht Muse.
Departing, these I sadly with my hand

Into the fire, with other riches, threw.
Her sonne
Althea burning in his brand,
A better sister then a mother grew:
So I, what should not perish with me, cast

Those bookes, my issue, in the funerall flame:
In that I did my Muse my crime distast;

Or that as yet vnpolished and lame.
But since I could not so destroy them quite;
For sundry copies it should seeme there be:
Now may they liue, nor lazily delight

The generous Reader; put in minde of me.
Yet they with patience can by none be read,
That know not how they vncorrected stand:
Snatcht from the forge, ere throughly anuiled;
Depriued of my last life-giuing hand.

For praise I craue thy pardon: highly grac'd,
If, Reader, they be not despisd by thee:
Yet in the front be these sixe verses plac'd,
If with thy liking it at least agree.

Who meets this Orphan-uolume, poore in worth,
Within your Citie harborage afford.

To winne more fauour, not by him set forth;
But rauisht from the funerall of his Lord.
He, all the faults, which these rude lines deface,
Would haue reform'd, had his mishaps giu'n space.



Since diuers, onely wittie in reprouing, haue profaned our Poet with their fastidious censures we, to vindicate his worth from detraction, and preuent preiudicacie, haue here reuiued a few of those infinite testimonies, which the cleerest iudgements of all Ages haue giuen him. I will begin with the censure of that accurate Orator
One of his frequent and admiring Auditors. NASO had a constant, becomming, and amiable wit. His Prose appeared no other then dissolued Verses. And a little after. Of his wordes no Prodigall, except in his Verse: wherein, he was not ignorant of the fault, but affected it: and often would say, that a Mole misse-became not a beautifull face, but made it more louely. Amongst the excellent of his time, wee may esteeme
Who writeth thus in his historie. It is almost a folly, to number the wits that are euer in our eyes. Amongst these, of our Age the most eminent are, Virgil the Prince of Verse, Rabirius, Liuie imitating Salust, Tibullus, and NASO in the forme of his absolute Poem. Nor doth
degenerate from his Fathers opinion: who to that Verse, by him thus dissolued, The Rocks appeare like Ilands, and augment the dispersed Cyclades, annexeth this, as saith the wittiest of all Poets.. A constant Imitator of his, through all his Philosophie; but especially in his Tragedies. Whereupon some haue coniectured that Seneca's Medea belongeth to OVID. Whereof
thus censures. OVID'S Medea seemeth to me to expresse how much that man could haue performd, would he rather haue restrained then cherished his inuention. And
Neither is there any composition of Asinius, or Messala so illustrious, as OVID' s Medea. The wittie
for the most part linkes him to incomparable Virgil: as in this Epigram;

Th' art more then mad! those, whom thou see'st so bare,
With OVID's selfe, or Virgil may compare.

And in that to Instantius.

Would'st thou adde spirit to my fainting Muse,
And read immortall Verses? loue infuse.

Me, Mantua; SVLMO mee should stile diuine;
Were but Alexis, or

Recorded by
amongst the best Poets.

That honoured Day, the old Callimachus,
Philetas, Vmbrian Propertius,
Prepare to celebrate with one consent;
And NASO, chearefull though in banishment,
With rich

Nor is he onely approued by prophane Authors. Thus learned
OVID, in the beginning of his excellent Poem, confesseth that God (not disguizing his Name) ordayned the world; who cals him the Creator thereof, and Maker of all things. In the following booke. Which that ingenious Poet hath admirably described. And
Semiramis, of whom they report many wonders, erected the walls of Babylon; as testifies that renowned Poet in the 4. book of his Metamorphosis. Nor is he forgot by
And NASO, that excellent Poet. Now descend wee to those, whom later times haue preferred for learning and iudgement. Thus sings the high prais'd
Tis doubtfull, whether He, whom SVLMO bore,
The World-commanding Tyber honour'd more,
Then his foule exile thee defam'd, O
Whom Getick sands (alas!) but halfe intombe,
Perhaps obserued by
Augustus Spyes
To looke on IVLIA with too friendly eyes.

crownes him with the perfection of Eloquence. And the Censurer of all Poets,
thus writes, when he comes to censure our Author. But now we arriue where the height of wit, and sharpnesse of iudgement, are both to be exerciz'd. For, who can commend OVID sufficiently? much lesse, who dares reprehend him? Notwithstanding, I will say something; not in way of detraction, but that we also may be able to grow with his greatnesse. Then speaking of his Metamorphosis. Bookes deseruing a more fortunate Author; that from his last hand they might haue had their perfection: which he himselfe bewaileth in luculent Verses. Yet are there, in these well-nigh an infinite number, which the wit of another, I beleeue, could neuer haue equall'd. And thus exclaimes against Caesar in the person of OVID.

Tyrant, with me I would thou hadst begun:
Nor thy black slaughters had my Fate fore-run.
If my licentious Youth incenst thee so;

Thy owne condemnes thee: into exile goe.
Thy Cabinets are stayn'd with horrid deedes:
And thy foule guilt all monstrous names exceeds.
Diuine wit, innocence, nor yet my tongue,

Next to Apollo's, could preuent my wrong.
I smooth'd th' old Poets with my fluent vaine;
And taught the New a farre more numerous straine.
When thee 1 prais'd, then from the truth I sweru'd;
And banishment for that alone deseru'd.

Now heare we the much-knowing
NASO, in his Metamorphosis, may well be called the Poet of Painters; in that those witty descriptions afford such liuely patternes for their pencils to imitate. And
This diuine worke is necessary, and to be desired of all, that are addicted to Poetrie, both for the gracefulnesse of speech, the admirable art of the Poet and delightfull varietie of the Subiect. Neither was there euer any, that diligently collected, or learnedly, elegantly and orderly expressed the fables, but OVID; who composed out of Orpheus, Hesiod, Homer, and other the most ancient Poets, so excellent and noble a Worke, that therein the learning of the Latines may worthily glorie. Add wee that of
I conceiue the Poet of SVLMO did follow the industrie and aduice of Zeuxes, in the composure of that admirable worke of his Metamorphosis. For as that excellent Painter, about to draw the Picture of Helena, had assembled together the most rare and beautifull Virgins of Greece; that by examining their seuerall perfections and graces he might expresse all in one with his curious pencill: so he out of the innumerable volumes of the Graecian Poets, first gathered these multiplicities of fables, composing the diffused and variously dispersed into one bodie: and then diligently noting what in euery author was elegant and beautifull, transferd the same to his owne, that nothing might be wanting to the enriching and adorning of his so diuine a Poem. I must not omit this testimonie of the learned
The Metamorphosis, a diuine Poem; shining through-out, with all the lustres of conceit and eloquence. Nor this of
in that a Citizen of SVLMO. A wittie worke, repleat with solid manifold learning. Who peruse it diligently, shall find such admirable fluencie, such fulnesse, so great a grauitie of words and sentences; that few or none amongst the Latine Poets can be said to transcend him. What should I say of that singular, and well-nigh diuine contexture of Fable with Fable? so surpassing that nothing can be spoken or done, more artificially, more excellently, or, indeed, more gracefully. Who handling such diuersity of matter, so cunningly weaues them together, that all appeare but one Series. Planudes, well knowing that Greece had not a Poem so abounding with delight and beauty, translated it into that language. What should I say more? All Arts, which antiquitie knew, are here so fully delineated, that a number, expert in both tongues, of Prime vnderstanding and iudgements, admire it beyond all expression. The first that writ a Commentarie on this booke (whereof fiftie thousand were vented, and that in his life time) was
who thus in his Preface. There is nothing appertaining to the knowledge and glorrie of warre, whereof we haue not famous examples in the Metamorphosis of OVID; (not to speake of stratagems, nor the Orations of Commanders) described with such efficacie and eloquence, that often in reading, you will imagine your selfe imbroiled in their conflicts. Neither shall you finde any Author, from whom, a ciuill life may gather better instructions . Conclude we with
Hardly shall you find a Poem, which flowes with greater facilitie. For what should I speake of Learning? Herein, so great, so various and abstruse; that many places haue neither beene explained, nor yet vnderstood; no, not by the most knowing: requiring rather a resolution from the Delian Oracle, &c.
    Let the ingenuous that affect not error, now rectifie their owne by the iudgements of these. But incurable Criticks, who warre about words, and gall the sound to feed on their sores, as not desiring their sanitie, I forbeare to disswade and deliuer them vp to the censure of AGRIPPA.

Ovid Biography : Links

Translation from Ovid's Amores by David Drake :

Translation from the Ibis from Michael Jarrett's web pages :

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