- Who was Ovid?
- Where can I read about Ovid?
- Ovid on the Web
- What Did Ovid Write?
- Why Was Ovid Exiled?
Who was Ovid?
A Roman Poet
- Full Name: Publius Ovidius Naso
- Born: 20th March, 43 B.C., Sulmo (modern Sulmona), Italy
- Education: Law School. Taught by the best rhetoric teachers in Rome, Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro.
- Marital Status: Married three times
- Accomplishments: See What Did Ovid Write?
Died: 17 or 18 A.D.,
Tomi (modern Constanta, Romania)
Ovid was either the last of the Golden Age poets, such as Vergil and Horace, or first of the Silver Age poets, such as Lucan and Statius [see Karl Galinsky (1989). “Was Ovid a Silver Latin Poet?” Illinois Classical Studies 14(1-2): 69-88]. Unlike Vergil and Horace who lived through the civil wars that marked the violent end of the Roman Republic, Ovid was the first major Roman Poet to come of age wholly in the Augustan Age—the beginning of the Roman Empire.
Ovid was born March 20, 43 BC in Sulmo, the second of two sons. These details, as well as many others about Ovid’s life, we know from an autobiographical poem Tristia 4.10. There he tells us:
Sulmo mihi patria est, gelidis uberrimus undismilia qui novis distat ab urbe decemeditus hic ego sum, nec non, ut tempora noris,cum cecidit fato consul uterqui pariTristia 4.10.3–6
Sulmo is my fatherland, so rich in icy rivers, 90 miles rom the city. There I was born, and if you would know the date, it was when both consuls fell to the same fate
The year that “both consuls fell to the same fate” was 43 BC, when the consuls Hirtius and Pansa were both killed in the battle of Mutina. One of the outcomes of this event was that Octavian, who would go on to become the emperor Augustus and exiler of Ovid, was made consul though he was only nineteen at the time. Ovid’s wording here is very similar to what Augustus says in his autobiography, the Res Gestae, on being made consul Populus… me consulem cum cos. uterque in bello cecidisset… creavit, “The people made me consul because both consuls had fallen in battle.”
Ovid goes on to give us a little information about his brother and the exact date of his birth:
Nec stirps prima fui: genito sum fratre creatus,qui tribus ante quater mensibus ortus erat.Lucifer amborum natalibus affuit idem:una celebrata est per duo liba dies.haec est armiferae festis de quinque Minervae.quae fieri pugna prima cruenta solet.Tristia 4.10.9–14
I was not the first offspring but was conceived after the birth of a brother who was born 12 months before. The same day-star was present on the birthday of both—one day was celebrated with two cakes, that is, the day among the five sacred the arms-bearing Minerva which the first to be stained by combat
So he had a brother exactly one year older than him. Looking to the Fasti, Ovid’s account of all the holidays in the Roman calendar, we find that the festival Quinquatrus occurs on March 19–23:
fiunt sacra Minerva,nomina quae iunctis quinque diebus habent.Sanguine prima vacat, nec fas occurrere ferro:causa, quod est illa nata Minerva die.altera tresque super strata celebrantur harenaensibus exsertis bellica laeta dea est.Fasti 3.809–814
Rites are performed for Minerva, which take their name from the five days in a row. The first day is free of blood becuase that is Minerva’s birthday. The second and third are celebrated by the spreading of sand, for the war-like goddess delights in drawn swords
So, since no gladiatorial combats occur on March 19, Minerva’s birthday, “the day among the five… which the first to be stained by combat” is the 20th—giving us March 20, 43 BC as the exact date of Ovid’s birth (and March 20, 44 BC as the date of his brother’s birth)
Coming from Sulmo (modern Sulmona), Ovid was not Roman but Paelignian. The Paeligni had a long association with Rome and the Ovidii were a locally prominent family–we know of another, earlier member of the family, Lucius Ovidius Ventrio, who held office [see Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1939. p. 289]. The death of his elder brother made Ovid the focus of his family’s hopes and so he went to Rome, studied rhetoric with the famous teachers Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro, and embarked on a career in government. He became either one of the tresuiri monetales (administrators of the mint) or of the tresuiri capitales (administrators of prisons and executions), then one of the decemuiri stlitibus iudicandis, a kind of judge [see Kenney, E. J. “Ovid and the Law.” Yale Classical Studies 21 (1969): 241-263]. However, though he was on track to become the first Roman senator from Sulmona [see Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939 p. 383], he threw it all away for a life of poetry.
Ovid began by writing love poetry, and he wrote at least one play in the earlier part of his career. His
greatest work, the Metamorphoses, is an epic but of an unusual sort. In 8 A.D., probably while he was still working on the Metamorphoses and the Fasti, he was exiled to Tomi, where he continued to write poems on his sad predicament. See What Did Ovid Write? and Why Was Ovid Exiled?
During his life and even after his exile, Ovid enjoyed great literary success, and later poets imitate him often. Even in in the middle ages and the Renaissance the popularity of the Metamorphoses cannot be overstated. Allegorical versions of his poetry were widely circulated and many of the stories of Greek and Roman mythology are best known in the versions told by Ovid. To give just one example, his tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (Metamorphoses, book 4)—two star-crossed youths whose parents forbid their relationship and who accidentally and tragically kill themselves — is the source of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. For more information on Ovid’s influence you can search Recent Ovidian Bibliography for articles on Ovid and Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton
Where can I read about Ovid?
These two books are always a good place to start for any Roman author:
- Gian Biagio Conte, Latin Literature: A History. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
- Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, Eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.
The following books are introductions to Ovid’s life and works:
- John A. Barsby, Ovid. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1978.
- J. W. Binns, Ed. Ovid. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
- Hermann Fränkel, Ovid: A Poet between Two Worlds. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1945.
- Sara Mack, Ovid. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1988.
- L. P. Wilkinson, Ovid Recalled. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1955.
An excellent introduction to the Augustan period, in which Ovid lived, is Karl Galinsky, Augustan Culture : An Interpretive Introduction. Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.
An older but important book on the same subject is Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1939. By the same author is Ronald Syme, History in Ovid. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979. Two more recent views on Ovid and has times are Alessandro Barchiesi, The Poet and the Prince : Ovid and Augustan Discourse. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997 and Geraldine Herbert-Brown, Ovid and the Fasti : An Historical Study. Oxford University Press, 1994
Ovid on the Web
- Recent Ovidian Bibliography
- Searchable bibliography on Ovid (1990-present)
- Ovid im WWW
- A very comprehensive Ovid Homepage (mostly in German)
- The Ovid Project: Metamorphosing the Metamorphoses
- Pictures from illustrated editions of Ovid
- Who’s Who in the Metamorphoses of Ovid: the Analytical Onomasticon Project
- An exciting electronic publishing project