Roman poet best known for his collection of tales
Publius Ovidius Naso was born
in Sulmo (now Sulmona), Italy, in 43 B.C. Born
into an equestrian family, Ovid was expected to
become a lawyer and an official, so he was given
an excellent education. He studied in Athens,
toured the Near East, and spent about a year in
Sicily before returning to Rome, where he held
some minor government positions before turning to
In A.D. 8, the emperor Augustus
banished Ovid to Tomis, an isolated city on the
Black Sea in what is now Romania. The specific
reasons for the exile are unknown, but it is
believed that Ovid was witness to, if not part
of, some kind of indiscretion within Augustus'
family. The journey to Tomis took almost a year,
and upon his arrival Ovid found a village of
people who spoke no Latin and who lived under
almost constant fear of attack from barbarians.
Although he initially detested the place, he came
to be beloved by the citizenry. He learned the
native language, and earned an exemption from all
local taxes. Little else of Ovid's personal life
is known, except that he was married three times.
One of his wives, probably his second, bore him a
daughter, who in turn made him a grandfather. His
last wife remained loyal even after Ovid was
exiled. He died in Tomis in A.D. 17 or 18.
Amores was probably
Ovid's first major work. Written about 2 B.C., it
consists of three volumes of love poems.
Epistles of the Heroides (Letters of Heroic Women) consists of 21 fictional letters written
by famous women in mythology to their husbands or
Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) was a kind of manual in verse
on how to fall in love. It is believed by some
scholars that it was this work which somehow led
to Ovid's exile.
In contrast to the previous
work, Remedies for Love focused on how
to get over an unsuccessful love affair.
Ovid considered Metamorphoses (Transformations) to
be his greatest work. It is a narrative poem that
includes more than 200 tales taken from the
favorite legends and myths of the ancient world,
arranged in chronological order from the creation
of the world to Julius Caesar. The stories tell
of the adventures and love affairs of gods and
heroes, and many involve some kind of
metamorphosis (hence the name).
Lesser known works by Ovid
include: The Art of Beauty; Fasti
(Calendar), was intended to be a Roman
religious calendar in verse, one book for each
month, but Ovid only completed six before his
death; and, Medea, a rhetorical drama of
which only a few lines remain.
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