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Amores is Ovid's first completed book of poetry, written in elegiac couplets. It was first published in 16 BC in five books, but Ovid, by his own account, later edited it down into the three-book edition that survives today. The book follows the popular model of the erotic elegy, as made famous by figures such as Tibullus or Propertius, but is often subversive and humorous with these tropes, exaggerating common motifs and devices to the point of absurdity.
While several literary scholars have called the Amores a major contribution to Latin love elegy, they are not generally considered among Ovid's finest works and "are most often dealt with summarily in a prologue to a fuller discussion of one of the other works".
Speculations as to Corinna's real identity are many, if indeed she lived at all. It has been argued that she is a poetic construct copying the puella-archetype from other works in the love elegy genre. The name Corinna may have been a typically Ovidian pun based on the Greek word for "maiden", "kore".
Though most of this book is rather tongue-in-cheek, some people didn't take it that way and this could be the reason or part of the reason why Ovid was banished from Rome. However, his banishment probably has more to do with the Ars Amatoria, written later, which offended Augustus. There is also a connection between Ovid and Augustus' daughter, Julia, who was also exiled.
The Amores is a poetic first person account of the poetic persona's love affair with an unattainable higher class girl, Corinna. The plot is linear, with a few artistic digressions such as an elegy on the death of Tibullus.
- 1.1 - The poet announces that love will be his theme.
- 1.2 - He admits defeat to Cupid.
- 1.3 - He addresses his lover for the first time and lists his good qualities,
- 1.4 - He attends a dinner party; the poem is mostly a list of secret instructions to his lover, who is also attending the party along with her husband.
- 1.5 - He describes a visit Corinna, here named for the first time, makes to his rooms.
- 1.6 - He begs the doorkeeper to let him into the house to see his love.
- 1.7 - He hits his lover and is remorseful.
- 1.8 - Mostly a monologue from Dipsas, a tipsy procurer, to a young lady about how to deceive rich men. This is the longest poem in the book.
- 1.9 - The poet compares lovers with soldiers.
- 1.10 - He complains that his mistress is demanding material gifts, instead of the gift of poetry.
- 1.11 - He asks Corinna's maid to take a message to her.
- 1.12 - The poet responds angrily when Corinna cannot visit.
- 1.13 - He addresses the dawn and asks it to wait, so he can stay longer with his mistress.
- 1.14 - He mocks Corinna for ruining her hair by dyeing it.
- 1.15 - The book ends with Ovid writing of the famous poets of the past, and claiming his name will be among them.
The book has a ring arrangement, with the first and last poems concerning poetry itself, and 1.2 and 1.9 both contain developed military metaphors.
- 2.1: The poet describes the sort of audience that he desires.
- 2.2: The poet asks Bagoas, a woman's servant, to help him gain access to his mistress.
- 2.3: The poet addresses a eunuch (probably Bagoas from 2.2) who is preventing him from seeing a woman.
- 2.4: The poet describes his love for women of all sorts.
- 2.5: The poet addresses his lover, whom he has seen being unfaithful at a dinner party.
- 2.6: The poet mourns the death of Corinna's parrot.
- 2.7: The poet defends himself to his mistress, who is accusing him of sleeping with her handmaiden Cypassis.
- 2.8: The poet addresses Cypassis, asking her to keep their affair a secret from her mistress.
- 2.9a: The poet rebukes Cupid for causing him so much pain in love.
- 2.9b: The poet professes his addiction to love.
- 2.10: The poet relates how he loves two girls at once, in spite of Graecinus' assertion that it was impossible.
- 2.13: The poet prays to the gods about Corinna's abortion.
- 2.14: The poet condemns the act of abortion.
3.1 - Ovid imagines being confronted by the personified 'Elegy' and 'Tragedy', who start to argue since Tragedy believes Ovid never stops writing elegies. Elegy responds by arguing her case, responding sarcastically to Tragedy that she should "take a lighter tone" and points out she is even using her (elegiac) metre to lament. Elegy seems to be victorious.
3.2 - Ovid woos a girl at the races, despite perhaps only just having met her. Ovid seems to be very desperate - as shown by quickly making his move. The reader is left unsure whether his advances were truly accepted or whether Ovid (chooses to?) misinterpret the girl's rejections.
3.3 - Ovid laments that his lover has not been punished for lying. He blames the gods for allowing beautiful women "excessive liberties" and for punishing and fighting against men. However, he then states that men need to "show more spirit" and if he was a god, he would do the same as them, with respect to beautiful women.
3.4 - Ovid warns a man about trying to guard his lover from adultery. He justifies this through a commentary on forbidden love and its allure.
3.5 - Ovid has a dream about a white cow that has a black mark. The dream symbolises an adulterous woman who now has been forever stained by the mark of adultery.
3.6 - Ovid describes a river preventing him from seeing his lover. He compares then compares it to other rivers in Graeco-Roman mythology, and their associated myths such as the Inachos and the Asopus.
3.7 - Ovid complains of erectile dysfunction.
3.8 - Ovid laments over his lover's avarice, complaining that poetry and the arts are now worth less than gold.
3.9 - An elegy for the dead Tibullus.
3.10 - The Festival of Ceres prevents Ovid from making love to his mistress. Characteristically of Ovid, he complains he should not be held responsible for the gods' mistakes.
3.11a - Ovid has freed himself from the shackles of his lover. He is ashamed of what he did for her and his embarrassment in standing outside her door. She exploited him, therefore he has ended it.
3.11b - The poet is conflicted. He loves and lusts after his lover but acknowledges her evil deeds and betrayals. He wishes she were less attractive so he can more easily escape her grasp.
3.12 - Ovid laments that his poetry has attracted others to his lover. He questions why his descriptions of Corinna were interpreted so literally, when poets sing of stories of fiction or, at least, embellished fact. He stresses the importance of this poetic licence.
3.13 - Ovid describes the Festival of Juno, which is taking place in the town of his wife's birth, Falsica (Falerii), and its origins. He finishes the poem hoping Juno will favour both him and the townspeople.
3.14 - Ovid instructs his partner to not tell him about her affairs. Instead, although he knows he cannot keep her to himself, he wants her to deceive him so that he can pretend not to notice.
3.15 - Ovid bids farewell to love elegy.
Style and themes
Ovid's Amores are firmly set in the genre of love elegy. The elegiac couplet was used first by the Greeks, originally for funeral epigrams, but it came to be associated with erotic poetry.
Familiar themes include:
- Poem featuring the poet locked out of his mistress's door.
- Comparisons between the poet's life of leisure and respectable Roman careers, such as farming, politics, or the military.
It has been regularly praised for adapting and improving on these older models with humour.
Use of allusions
The poems contain many allusions to other works of literature beyond love elegy.
The poet and his immortality
Poems 1.1 and 1.15 in particular both concern the way poetry makes the poet immortal, while one of his offers to a lover in 1.3 is that their names will be joined in poetry and famous forever.
Use of humour
Ovid's love elegies stand apart from others in the genre by his use of humour.
Love and war
Amores I.1 begins with the same word as the Aeneid, "Arma" (an intentional comparison to the epic genre, which Ovid later mocks), as the poet describes his original intention: to write an epic poem in dactylic hexameter, "with material suiting the meter" (line 2), that is, war. However, Cupid "steals one (metrical) foot" (unum suripuisse pedem, I.1 ln 4), turning it into elegiac couplets, the meter of love poetry.
Ovid returns to the theme of war several times throughout the Amores, especially in poem nine of Book I, an extended metaphor comparing soldiers and lovers (Militat omnis amans, "every lover is a soldier" I.9 ln 1).
Influence and reception
Ovid's popularity has remained strong to the present day. After his banishment in 8 AD, Augustus ordered Ovid's works removed from libraries and destroyed, but that seems to have had little effect on his popularity. He was always "among the most widely read and imitated of Latin poets. Examples of Roman authors who followed Ovide include Martial, Lucan, and Statius.
The majority of Latin works have been lost, with very few texts rediscovered after the Dark Ages and preserved to the present day. However in the case of Amores, there are so many manuscript copies from the 12th and 13th centuries that many are “textually worthless”, copying too closely from one another, and containing mistakes caused by familiarity. Theodulph of Orleans lists Ovid with Virgil among other favourite Christian writers, while Nigellus compared Ovid's exile to the banishment of St. John, and imprisonment of Saint Peter. Later in the 11th century, Ovid was the favourite poet of Abbot (and later Bishop) Baudry, who wrote imitation elegies to a nun - albeit about Platonic love. Others used his poems to demonstrate allegories or moral lessons, such as the 1340 Ovid Moralisé which was translated with extensive commentary on the supposed moral meaning of the Amores. Wilkinson also credits Ovid with directly contributing around 200 lines to the classic courtly love tale Roman de la Rose.
Christopher Marlowe wrote a famous verse translation in English.
- Jestin, Charbra Adams; Katz, Phyllis B., eds. (2000). Ovid: Amores, Metamorphoses Selections, 2nd Edition: Amores, Metamorphoses : Selections. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. p. xix. ISBN 1610410424.
- Inglehart, Jennifer; Radice, Katharine, eds. (2014). Ovid: Amores III, a Selection: 2, 4, 5, 14. A&C Black. p. 9. ISBN 1472502922.
- Amores. Translated by Bishop, Tom. Taylor & Francis. 2003. p. xiii. ISBN 0415967414.
Critics have repeatedly felt that the poems lack sincerity [...]
- Boyd, Barbara Weiden (1997). Ovid's Literary Loves: Influence and Innovation in the Amores. University of Michigan Press. p. 4. ISBN 0472107593.
- William Turpin, "The Amores". Dickinson College Commentaries
- Reynolds, L.D.; Wilson, N.G. Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics. 1984. p. 257
- Robathan, p. 191
- Propertius, T. Benediktson. Modernist Poet of Antiquity. 1989: SIU Press 1989. pp. 2-3
- Robathan, D. "Ovid in the Middle Ages", in Binns, J. W. (Ed.) Ovid. London, 1973: Routledge & K. Paul. ISBN 9780710076397 p. 192
- Wilkinson, L.P. Ovid Recalled. 1955: Duckworth. p. 377
- Wilkinson, p. 384
- Wilkinson, p. 392
- L.D. Reynolds; N.G.Wilson Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984)
- D. Robathan "Ovid in the Middle Ages" in Binns, Ovid (London 1973)
- L.P Wilkinson, Ovid Recalled (Duckworth 1955)
- William Turpin (2016). Ovid, Amores (Book 1). Open Book Publishers.