Ovid, know during his life as Publius Ovidius Naso, was a noted Roman poet who is often mentioned along with the likes of Virgil and Horace. He lived during a significant time of Roman politics and briefly tried his hand at public office while traveling across much of the early Roman empire including Athens and Asia minor. It is believed that he originally studied law as a young man, but instead decided to pursue poetry at the age of 18.
Ovid focused much of his efforts on perfecting the style of elegiac couplet style poetry, a popular technique used by the ancients to create short versed, lyrical poems. It is believed that his first significant work was Heroides, which was a collection of fictional letters that mythological heroines would write to their absent lovers. This piece was believed to have been published around 19 BCE, however several revisions were made and re published later, so it is difficult to pin down when this work was originally produced.
Ovid would produce several poems over the course of his life. He would write extensively about love and would publish several poems exploring the difficult topic of love. The Amores (The Loves), The Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), Remedia Amores (The Cure for Love) are all works by Ovid that focus on the topic of love, sex and seduction. Ovid, strangely enough, also wrote Medicamina Faciei Femineae (Women’s Facial Cosmetics). Only about 100 lines survive from this poem detailing the facial treatment for women and emphasizing that women should learn to refine their manners as well as their beauty.
Ovid’s most ambitious and popular work is Metamorphoses (Transformations). It is a 15-book catalogue that details the transformations involved in Greek and Roman mythology and explores the popular myths that many of us are familiar with today. Ovid covers all topics in his magnum opus, including the creation of the universe, the education of Achilles, even the deification of Caesar.
Despite Ovid’s extensive success as a poet, he would be exiled to Tomis on the Black Sea by the Emperor Augustus in 8 AD. There are several possible explanations for Ovid’s exile. Ovid himself writes that he was exiled because of “a poem and a mistake”. It is possible that Ovid was aware of, yet not directly involved with, a conspiracy against Augustus. Another hypothesis is that he used his writing to undermine the emperor’s moral legislation concerning monogamous marriages.
Whatever the reason, Ovid would die 9 years after his exile. His poem Fasti was published posthumously. He remains a significant poet of the Roman empire who left behind prolific work that helped shape our understanding of the mythology and culture of the ancient world.