According to Seneca the Elder, Ovid tended to the emotional, not the argumentative pole of rhetoric. After the death of his brother, Ovid renounced law and began travelling — to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. He held minor public posts, but resigned to pursue poetry. He was part of the circle centered upon the patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus. He was thrice-married and twice-divorced by the time he was thirty years old; yet only one marriage yielded offspring — a daughter.
Originally, the Amores were a five-book collection, circa 20 BC; the surviving, extant version, reduced to three books, includes poems written as late as AD 1. Book 1 contains 15 elegiac love poems about aspects of love. Most of the Amores is tongue-in-cheek, and, while Ovid adhered to standard elegiac themes — such as the exclusus amator (locked-out lover) lamenting before a paraklausithyron (a locked door) — he portrays himself as romantically capable, not emotionally struck by it, (unlike Propertius, whose poetry portrays him under love's foot). He writes about adultery, rendered illegal in Augustus's marriage law reforms of 18 BC.
Ovid's next poem, the Ars Amatoria, the Art of Love, parodies didactic poetry whilst being a manual about seduction and intrigue. He identifies this work in his exile poetry as the carmen, or song, which was one cause of his banishment. By AD 8, he had completed Metamorphoses, an epic poem derived from Greek mythology. The subject is "forms changed into new bodies". From the emergence of the cosmos from formless mass to the organized, material world, to the deification of Julius Caesar, the poem tells of transformation.
The stories follow each other in the telling of human beings transformed to new bodies — trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations et cetera. Famous myths, such as Apollo and Daphne, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Pygmalion are contained. It explains many myths alluded to in other works, and is a valuable source about Roman religion, because many characters are gods or offspring of Olympian gods. In AD 8, Emperor Augustus banished Ovid to Tomis, on the Black Sea, for political reasons. Ovid wrote that his crime was carmen et error — "a poem and a mistake", claiming that his crime was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry.
] The Emperor's grandchildren, Agrippa Postumus and Julia the Younger, were banished around the time of his banishment; Julia's husband, Lucius Aenilius Paullus, was put to death for conspiracy against Augustus; Ovid might have known of that. The Julian Marriage Laws of 18 BC were fresh in the Roman mind. These promoted monogamous marriage to increase the population's birth rate. Ovid's writing concerned the serious crime of adultery, which was punishable by banishment. In exile, he wrote two poetry collections titled Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, illustrating his sadness and desolation.
Being far from Rome, he had no access to libraries, thus might have been forced to abandon the Fasti poem about the Roman calendar, of which exist only the first six books — January through June. In the Epistulae ex Ponto he claims friendship with the natives of Tomis (in the Tristia they are frightening barbarians) and to have written a poem in their language And yet he pined for Rome and for his third wife, as many of the poems are to her. Some are also to the Emperor Augustus, whom he calls Caesar and God. Yet others are to himself, to friends in Rome, and sometimes to the poems themselves, expressing loneliness and hope of recall from banishment or exile. Ovid died at Tomis after some ten years; a statue commemorates him in the Romanian city of Tomis (contemporary Constanţa), and, in the 1930 renaming of the town of Ovidiu, where he is allegedly buried.
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