P. Ovi'dius Nasowas born at Sulmo, a town about ninety miles from Rome, in the country of the Peligni. He marks the exact date of his birth in his Tristia (4.10. 5, &c.); from which it appears that the year was that in which the two colnsuls, Hirtius and Pansa, fell in the campaign of Mutina, and the day, the first of the festival of the Quinquatria, on which gladiatorial combats were exhibited. This means that he was born on the 13th Kal. April, A. U. C. 711, or the 20th March, B. C. 43. He was descended from a ancient equestrian family (Trist. 5.10. 7), but possessing only moderate wealth. He, as well as his brother Lucius, who was exactly a year older than himself, was destined to be a pleader, and received a careful education to qualify him for that calling. After acquiring the usual rudiments of knowledge, he studied rhetoric under Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro, and attained to considerable proficiency in the art of declamation. But the bent of his genius showed itself very early. The hours which should have been spent in the study of jurisprudence were employed in cultivating his poetical talent; and when he sat down to write a speech he produced a poem instead. (Trist. 4.10. 24.) The elder Seneca, too, who had heard him declaim, and who has preserved a portion of one of his rhetorical compositions, tells us that his oratory resembled a solutum carmen, and that any thing in the way of argument was irksome to him. (Controv. 2.10.) His father, an economical. painstakiing man, denounced his favourite pursuit as leading to inevitable poverty; but, though Ovid listened to this advice, all his attempts to master the ruling passion proved fruitless. The death of his brother, at the early age of twenty, probably served in some degree to mitigate his father's opposition, for the patrimony which would have been scanty for two might amply suffice for one. Ovid's education was completed at Athens, where he made himself thoroughly master of the Greek language. Afterwards he travelled with the poet Macer, in Asia and Sicily; in which latter country he appears to have spent the greater part of a year. It is a disputed point whether He ever actually practised as an advocate after his return to Rome. Bayle asserts the affirmative from Tristia, 2.93. But that verse seems rather to refer to the functions of a judge than of a counsel. The picture Ovid himself draws of his weak constitution and indolent temper prevents us from thinking that he ever followed his profession with ardour and perseverance, if indeed at all; and the latter conclusion seems justified by a passage in the Amores, 1.15. 6. The same causes deterred him from entering the senate, though he had put on the latus clavus when he assumed the toga virilis, as being by birth entitled to aspire to the senatorial dignity. (Trist. 4.10. 29.) He became, however, one of the Triumviri Capitales, a sort of magistrates somewhat akin to our sheriffs, whose office it was to decide petty causes between slaves and persons of inferior rank, and to superintend the prisons, and the execution of criminals. Subsequently He was made one of the Centumviri, or judges who tried testamentary and even criminal causes. In due time he was promoted to be one of the Decemviri, who assembled and presided over the court of the Centumviri; an office which entitled him to a seat in the theatre distinguished above that of the other Equites (Fasti, 4.383). Such is all the account that can be given of Ovid's business life. As in the case of other writers, however, we are more interested to know the circumstances which fostered and developed his poetical genius, than whether he was a sound lawyer and able judge. Ovid appears to have shown at an early age a marked inclination towards gallantry. It was probably some symptoms of this temperament that induced his parents to provide him with a wife when he was yet a mere boy. The choice, however, was a bad one. She was quite unsuitable to him, and apparently not unimpeachable in character; so that the union was but of short duration. The facility of divorce which then prevailed at Rome rendered the nature of such engagements very different from the solemn one which they possess in modern days. A second wife was soon wedded, and as speedily dismissed, though Ovid himself bears witness to her purity. The secret of this matrimonial fickleness is explained by the fact that Ovid had a mistress. Filial duty dictated his marriages; inclination threw him into the arms of Corinna. This cause may even have been divided with another. Ovid was a poet, and to a poet in those days a mistress was indispensable. What Roman of the Augustan age would have ventured to inscribe an elegy to his wife! The thing was utterly impossible. But elegiac poetry was then all the vogue at Rome, from its comparative novelty. Catullus, who introduced it from the Greek, had left a few rude specimeans ; but Gallus and Tibullus were the first who brought it to any perfection, and appropriated it more exclusively to the theme of licentious love Gallus was followed by Tibullus, and he by Propertius ; so that Ovid claimed to be the fourth who succeeded to the elegiac lyre. In this enumeration Catullus is entirely omitted. In Propertius, who was some years older than himself, Ovid not only found a μουσαγέτης, but also a hierophant very capable of initiating him in all the mysteries of Roman dissipation. (Saepe suos solitus recitare Propertius ignes, Trist. 4.10.) Ovid was an apt scholar; but his views were more ambitious than his master's, whom he was destined to surpass in the quality, not only of the Muse, but of the mistress, that he courted. The Cynthia of Propertius seems to have been merely one of that higher class of accomplished courtezans with which Rome then abounded. If we may believe the testimony of Sidonius Apollinaris, in the following lines, Corinna was no less a personage than Julia, the clever and accomplished, but abandoned daughter of Augustus: --
This authority has been rejected on the ground that it ascribes Ovid's banishment to this intrigue, which, for chronological and other reasons, could not have been the case. But, strictly taken, the verses assert no such thing. They merely tell us that he was sent to Tomi "carmina per libidinosa," which was, indeed, the cause set forth in the edict of Augustus; and the connection with Julia is mentioned incidentally as an old affair. but not by any means as having occasioned his banishment. Such hints of antiquity are not to be lightly disregarded; and there are several passages in Ovid's Amores which render the testimony of Sidonius highly probable. Thus it appears that his mistress was a married woman, of high rank, but profligate morals; all which particulars will suit Julia. There are, besides, two or three passages which seem more especially to point her out as belonging to the family of the Caesars; and it is remarkable that in the fourteenth elegy of the first book Ovid alludes to the baldness of his mistress, which agrees with an anecdote of Julia preserved by Macrobius. (Saturn. 2.5.) Nor can the practice of the Roman poets of making the metrical quantity of their mistress's feigned name answer precisely to that of the real one be alleged as an insuperable objection. We have already seen that Sidonius Apollinaris did not so consider it. In Ovid's case the great disparity of rank would have made it dangerous to adopt too close an imitation not to mention that the title of Corinna would convey a compliment to Julia, as comparing her for wit and beauty to the Theban poetess. Be this as it may, it cannot be doubted that Ovid's mistress was a woman of high rank; and as this circumstance dispensed with those vulgar means of seduction which may be supplied by money, and which the poet's moderate fortune would have prevented him from adopting, even had he been so inclined (Ars Am. 2.165), so it compelled him to study those arts of insinuation which are most agreeable to the fair sex, and to put in practice his own maxim, ut amseris aitabilis esto. It was thus he acquired that intimate knowledge of the female heart, and of all the shades of the amatory passion, which appears in so many parts of his writings, and which he afterwards embodied in his Art of Love, for the benefit of his contemporaries and of posterity. His first attempts in verse seem to have been in the heroic metre, and on the subject of the Gigantomachia, but from this he was soon diverted by his passion for Corinna, to which we owe the greater part of the elegies in his Amores. How much of these is to be set down to poetic invention? How much is to be taken literally ? These are questions which cannot be accurately answered. In his later poems he would have us believe that his life is not to be judged by his writings, and that he did not practise the precepts which he inculcated. (Trist. 1.8. 59, 2.354, &c.) But some of his effusions are addressed to other mistresses besides Corinna; and the warmth, nay the grossness of mere airimal passion, which breathes in several of them, prevents us from believing that his life was so pure as it answered his purpose to affirm in his exile; though we may readily concede that he conducted his amours with sufficient discretion to avoid any open and flagrant scandal (Nomine sub nostro fabula nulla fuit, Trist. 4.10. 68). On the other hand, something may doubtless be ascribed to youthful vanity, to the fashion of the age, and above all to his determination to become a poet. His love for his art was boundless. He sought the acquaintance of the most eminent poets of the day, and when they were assembled together he regarded them as so many divinities. Among his more intimate poetical friends, besides Macer and Propertius, were Ponticus and Bassus. Horace was considerably his senior, yet he had frequently heard him recite his lyric compositions. Virgil, who died when Ovid was twenty-four, he had only once seen ; nor was the life of Tibullus sufficiently prolonged to allow him to cultivate his friendship. It is remarkable that he does not once mention the name of Maecenas. It is possible, however, that that minister, whose literary patronage was in some degree political, and with a view to the interests of his master, had retired from public affairs before Ovid had acquired any considerable reputation. How long Ovid's connection with Corinna lasted there are no means of deciding. Some of the elegies in the Amores are doubtless his earliest remaining compositions; and He tells us that he began to write when the razor had passed but once or twice over his chin (Trist. 4.10. 58). That work, however, as we now possess it, is a second edition, and evidently extends over a considerable number of years. But some of the elegies may have been mere reminiscences, for we can hardly think that Ovid continned the intrigues after He had married his third wife. His former marriages were matters of duty; this seems to have been one of choice. The lady was one of the Fabian family, and appear to have been every way worthy of the sincere affection which Ovid entertained for her to the day of his death. She had a daughter by a former union, who married Suillius. At what time the poet entered on this third marriage cannot be as certained; but we can hardly place it later than his thirtieth year, since a daughter, Perilla, was the fruit of it (Trist. 3.7. 3), who was grown up and married at the time of his banishment. Perilla was twice married, and had a child by each husband ; one of whom seems to have been Cornelius Fidus. Ovd wat s :3 v :snludfathcr before he lost his father at the age of ninety; soon after whose decease his mother also died. This is all the account that can be given of Ovid's life, from his birth to the age of fifty; and it has been for the most part drawn from his own writings. It is chiefly misfortune that swells the page of human history. The very dearth of events justifies the inference that his days glided away smoothly and happily, with just enough of employment to give a zest to the pursuits of his leisure, and in sufficient affluence to secure to him all the pleasures of life, without exposing him to its storms and dangers. His residence at Rome, where he had a house near the Capitol, was diversified by an occasional trip to his Pelignan farm, and by the recreation which he derived from his garden, situated between the Flaminian and Clodian ways. His devotion to love and to Corinna had not so wholly engrossed him as to prevent his achieving great reputation in the higher walks of poetry. Besides his love Elegies, his Heroical Epistles, which breathe purer sentiments in language and versification still more refined, and his Art of Love, in which he had embodied the experience of twenty years, he had written his Medea, the finest tragedy that had appeared in the Latin tongue. The Metamorphoses were finished, with the exception of the last corrections; on which account they had been seen only by his private friends. But they were in the state in which we now possess them, and were sufficient of themselves to establish a great poetic fame. He not only enjoyed the friendship of a large circle of distinguished men, but the regard and favour of Augustus and the imperial family. Nothing, in short, seemed wanting, either to his domestic happiness or to his public reputation. But a cloud now rose upon the horizon which was destined to throw a gloom over the evening of his days. Towards the close of the year of Rome, 761 (A. D. 8), Ovid was suddenly commanded by an imperial edict to transport himself to Tomi, or, as he himself calls it, Tomis (sing. fem.), a town on the Euxine, near the mouths of the Danube, on the very border of the empire, and where the Roman dominion was but imperfectly assured. Ovid underwent no trial, and the sole reason for his banishment stated in the edict was his having published his poem on the Art of Love. It was not, however, an exsilium, but a relegatio ; that is, he was not utterly cut off from all hope of return, nor did he lose his citizenship. What was the real cause of his banishment ? This is a question that has long exercised the ingenuity of scholars, and various are the solutions that have been proposed. The publication of the Ars Amatoria was certainly a mere pretext; and for Augustus, the author of one of the filthiest, but funniest, epigrams in the language, and a systematic adulterer, for reasons of state policy (Suet. Aug. 69), not a very becoming one. The Ars had been published nearly ten years previously; and moreover, whenever Ovid alludes to that, the ostensible cause, he invariably couples with it another which he mysteriously conceals. According to some writers, the latter was his intrigue with Julia. But this, besides that it does not agree with the poet's expressions, is sufficiently refuted by the fact that Julia had been an exile since B. C. 2. (D. C. 55.10; Vell. 2.100.) The same chronological objection may be urged against those who think that Ovid had accidentally discovered an incestuous commerce between Augustus and his daughter. To obviate these objections on the score of chronology, other authors have transferred both these surmises to the younger Julia, the daughter of the eldei one. But with respect to any intrigue with her having been the cause of Ovid's banishment, the expressions alluded to in the former case, and which show that his fault was an involuntary one, are here equally conclusive, and are, too, strengthened by the great disparity of years between the parties, the poet being old enough to be the father of the younger Julia. As regards the other point -- the imputed incest of the emperor with his granddaughter --arguments in refutation can be drawn only from probability, for there is nothing in Ovid's poems that can be said directly to contradict it. But in the first place, it is totally unsupported by any historical authority, though the same imputation on Augustus with regard to his daughter might derive some slight colouring from a passage in Suetonius's life of Caligula (100.23). Again, it is the height of improbability that Ovid, when suing for pardon, would have alluded so frequently to the cause of his offence had it been of a kind so disgracefully to compromise the emperor's character. Nay, Bayle (art. Ovide) has pushed this argument so far as to think that the poet's life would not have been safe had he been in possession of so dangerous a secret, and that silence would have been secured by his assassination. The conjecture that Ovid's offence was his having accidentally seen Livia in the bath is hardly worthy of serious notice. On the common principles of human action we cannot reconcile so severe a punishment with so trivial a fault; and the supposition is, besides, refuted by Ovid's telling us that what he had seen was some crime. One of the most elaborate theories on the subject is that of M. Villenave, in a life of Ovid published in 1809, and subsequently in the Biographie Universelle. He is of opinion that the poet was the victim of a coup d'etat, and that his offence was his having been the political partizan of Posthumus Agrippa; which prompted Livia and Tiberius, whose influence over the senile Augustus was then complete, to procure his banishment. This solution is founded on the assumed coincidence of time in the exiles of Agrippa and Ovid. But the fact is that the former was banished, at least a year before the latter, namely some time in A. D. 7 (D. C. 4.32; Vell. 2.112), whereas Ovid did not leave Rome till December A. D. 8. Nor can Ovid's expressions concerning the cause of his disgrace be at all reconciled with Villenave's supposition. The coincidence of his banishment, however, with that of the younger Julia, who, as we learn from Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 4.71) died in A. D. 28, after twenty years' exile, is a remarkable fact, and leads very strongly to the inference that his fate was in some way connected with hers. This opinion has been adopted by Tiraboschi in his Storia della Letteratura Italiana, and after him by Rosmini, in his Vita d' Ovidio, who, however, has not improved upon Tiraboschi, by making Ovid deliberately seduce Julia for one of his exalted friends. There is no evidence to fix on the poet the detestable character of a procurer. He may more probably have become acquainted with Julia's profligacy by accident, and by his subsequent conduct, perhaps, for instance, by concealing it, have given offence to Livia, or Augustus, or both. But we have not space here to pursue a subject which at best can only end in a plausible conjecture; and therefore the reader who is desirous of seeing it discussed at greater length, is referred to the Classical Museum, vol. iv. No. 13. Ovid has described in one of his most pathetic elegies ( Trist. 1.3), the last night spent in Rome, and the overwhelming sorrow with which he tore himself from his home and family. To add to his affliction, his daughter was absent with her husband in Africa, and he was thus unable to bid her a last farewell. Accompanied by Maximus, whom he had known from a child, and who was almost the only friend who remained faithful to him in his adversity, he departed for the shores of the Adriatic, which he crossed in the month of December. After experiencing some of the storms common at that season, and which had well nigh shipwrecked him, he at length landed safely on the Corinthian isthmus, and having crossed it, embarked in another vessel at Cenchreae, on the Saronic gulf. Hence his navigation through the Hellespont, and northwards up the Euxine to his destined port, seems to have been tedious, but safe. The greater part of a year was consumed in the voyage; but Ovid beguiled the time by the exercise of his poetical talent, several of his pieces having been written on shipboard. To one like Ovid, accustomed from his youth to all the luxury of Rome, and so ardent a lover of politeness and refinement ( Ars Am. 3.121), painful indeed must have been the contrast presented by his new abode, which offered him an inhospitable soil, a climate so severe as to freeze even the wine, and the society of a horde of semi-barbarians, to whose language he was a stranger. Life itself was hardly safe. When winter had covered the Danube with ice, the barbarous tribes that dwelt beyond, crossed it on their horses, plundering all around, and insulting the very walls of Tomi. Add to all this the want of convenient lodging, of the decent luxuries of the table, and of good medical advice, and we sha scarcely be surprised at the urgency with which the poet solicits, not so much for his recal as for a change in his place of banishment. He has often been reproached with the abjectness of his supplications, and the fulsome flattery towards Augustus by which he sought to render them successful : nor can these charges be denied, or altogether defended. But it seems very unreasonable to require the bearing of a Cato from the tender poet of love under such truly distressing circumstances. To a Roman, who looked upon the metropolis as the seat of all that was worth living for, banishment, even to an agreeable spot, was an evil of great magnitude. In Ovid's case it was aggravated tenfold fold by the remoteness and natural wretchedness of the place. If he deified Augustus it was no more than was done by Virgil, Horace, and the other poets of the age, without a tithe of his inducementss to offer in excuse. But in truth this was nothing more than a part of the manners of the age, for which neither Ovid nor any other writer is to be held individually responsible. Such deifications were public and national acts, formally recognised by the senat. But in the midst of his misfortunes, Ovid felt a noble confidence in his genius and fame; and it is refreshing to read a passage like the following, where he exults in the impotence of the imperial tyrant to hurt them :-- En ego, cum patria caream, vobisque, domoque,
Et te carmina per libidinosa
Notum, Naso tener, Tomosque missum:
Quondam Caesareae nimis puellae
Ficto nomine subditum Corinnae.Sidonius, Carm. 23.18.
Raptaque sint, adimi quæ potuere mihi ;
Ingenio tamen ipse meo comitorque fruorque :
Caesar in hoe potuit juris habere nihil. Trist. 3.7. 45. Nor were his mind and spirit so utterly prostrated as to prevent him from seeking some relief to his misfortunes by the exercise of his poetical talents. Not only did he finish his Fasti, in his exile, besides writing the Ibis, the Tristia, Ex Ponto, &c., but he likewise acquired the language of the Getae, in which he composed some poems in honour of Augustus. These he publicly recited, and they were received with tumultuous applause by the Tomitae. With his new fellow-eitizens, indeed, he had succeeded in rendering himself highly popular, insomuch that they honoured him with a decree, declaring him exempt from all public burthens. (Ex Ponto, 4.9. 101.) From the same passage (5.89, &c.) we learn that the secret of his popularity lay in his unaltered bearing; that he maintained the same tranquillity of mind, the same modesty of demeanour, for which he had been known and esteemed by his friends at Rome. Yet, under all this apparent fortitude, he was a prey to anxiety, which, combined with the effects of a rigorous climate, produced in a few years a declining state of health. He was not afflicted with any acute disorder; but indigestion, loss of appetite, and want of sleep, slowly, but surely, undermined a constitution originally not the most robust. (Ex Ponto,1.10, &c.) He died in the sixtieth year of his age and tenth of his exile, A. D. 18, a year also memorable by the death of the historian, Livy. Two or three pretended discoveries of his tomb have been made in modern times, but they are wholly undeserving of attention
1.Among the earliest of Ovid's works must be placed the Amorum Libri III., which however extends over a considerable number of years. According to the epigram prefixed, the work, as we now possess it, is a second edition, revised and abridged, the former one having consisted of five books. The authenticity of this epigram has been questioned by Jahn, but Ovid himself tells us in another place that he had destroyed many of the elegies dedicated to Corinna. (Multa quidem scripsi, sed quæ vitiosa putavi, Emendaturis ignibus ipse dedi, Trist. 4.10. 61.) Nor can we very well account for the allusion made to the Ars Amatoria in the Amores (2.18, 19), except on the assumption of a second and late edition of the latter, in which the piece containing the allusion was inserted. This second edition must, however, have been published before the third book of the Ars, since the Amores are there mentioned (5.343) as consisting of three books. The elegies of the Amores seem thrown together without any regard to chronological order. Thus from the first elegy of the third book it would seem that Ovid had not yet written tragedy ; whilst in the eighteenth elegy of the preceding book he not only alludes to his Medea (5.13), but, as we have seen, to his Ars Amatoria. This want of sequence is another proof of a later edition. Though the Amores is principally addressed to Corinna, it contains elegies to other mistresses. For instance, the ninth and tenth of the first book point evidently to one of a much inferior station to Corinna; and the seventh and eighth of the second book are addressed to Cypassis, Corinna's maid.
Amor. 2.18. 26), and the internal evidence is sufficient to vindicate it. From a passage in the Ars Amatoria (3.346--“Ignotum hoc allis ille novavit opus”) Ovid appears to claim the merit of originating this species of composition; in which case we must consider the epistle of Arethusa to Lycotas, in the fourth book of Propertius, as an imitation. P. Burmann, however, in a note on Properties, disallows this claim, and thinks that Ovid was the imitator. He explains nouavit in the preceding passage of the Ars as follows : -- “Ab aliis neglectum et omissum rursus in usum induxit.” But this seems very harsh, and is not consistent with Ovid's expression "ignotnm aliis." We do not know the date of Propertius's death but even placing it in B. C. 15, still Ovid was then eight and twenty, and might have composed several, if not all, of his heroical epistles. Answers to several of the Hleroiides were written by Aulus Sabinus, a contemporary poet and friend of Ovid's, viz. Ulysses to Penelope, Hippolytus to Phaedra, Aeneas to Dido, Demophoon to Phillis, Jason to Hypsipyle, and Phaon to Sappho (see Amores, 2.18, 29). Three of these are usually printed with Ovid's works; but their authenticity has been doubted, both on account of their style, and because there are no MSS. of them extant, though they appear in the Editio princeps. From the passage in the Ars Am. before referred to (3.345) it would seem as if the Heroides were intended for musical recitative. ( Vel tibi composita castetur epistola voce. Comp. Alex. ab Alex. Gen. Dies. 2.1.) A translation of these epistles into Greek by Maximus Planudes exists in MS., but has never been published.
Ars (then in two books) being mentioned in the Amores, and also the Amores, in its second edition of three books, in the third book of the Ars. At the time of Ovid's banishment this poem was ejected from the public libraries by command of Augustus