Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Art of Love by Ovid.

Venus and Cupid, the Honey Thief by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1527).
The Art of Love (Ars Amatoria) is a collection of 57 poems divided into three books on the subject of love and sex. It was written in around 2 A.D. and would be followed by Cures for Love (Remedia Amoris).

It begins with a poem introducing Ovid's intentions:
Should anyone here in Rome lack finesse at love-making, let him
Try me - read my book, and results are guaranteed!
Technique is the secret. Charioteer, sailor, oarsman,
All need it. Technique can control
Love himself. As Automedon was charioteer to Achilles,
And Tiphys Jason's sterrman, so I,
By Venus' appointment, am made Love's artificer, shall be known as
The Tiphys, the very Automedon of Love.
He's a wild handful, will often rebel against me,
But still just a child -
Malleable, easily disciplined. Chiron made young Achilles
A fine musician, hammered that fierce heart
On the anvil of peaceful artistry. So this future terror
To friend and foe alike went in awe, it's said,
Of his elderly teacher, at whose bidding the hand that in after -
Time bore down Hector was held out for the tawse.
As Chiron taught Achilles, so I am Love's preceptor:
Wild boys both, both goddess-born - and yet
Even bulls can be broken to plough, or spirited horses
Subdued with bridle and bit.
So Love shall likewise own my mastery, though his bowshots
Skewer my breast, through his torch
Flicker and scar me. The worse the wounds, the deeper the branding,
That much keener I to avenge
Such outrage. Nor shall I falsely ascribe my arts to Apollo:
No airy bird comes twittering advice
Into my ear, I never had a vision of the Muses
Herding sheep in Ascra's valleys. This work is based
On experience: what I write, believe me, I have practised.
My poem will deal in truth.
He goes on to offer a wealth of advice, from where to find a lover (he recommends the theatre), how to keep a woman's interest (winning over lady's maids, being attentive and not forgetful, being presentable), and a great many other little details on how to be a great lover, emotionally, intellectually, and sexually. In Book III he then offers advice to women, much in the same vein and even including, in the final verse, a few notes on sex positions. It is thorough, in depth, and very explicit, however, at least in my mind, not all wildly good advice (there's some 'game playing' advised in it, which is never good). Still it's a fun read, and as one would expect very bawdy. Unsurprisingly, it was also very controversial, many loving it but many strenuously objecting to it: it's even thought that Ars Amatoria led to Ovid's banishment. It is also of no surprise that it was banned in various countries throughout the ages! But it's a great glimpse into the relationships of the ancients and, though it dragged slightly from time to time, it was on the whole enjoyable and a worthy read.

And that was my 9th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. I need to catch up so there'll be one more later this week, and it will be Don Juan by Moliére.

2 comments:

  1. This was the first text I ever taught (for an undergraduate course in mythology), and the essays were hilarious. I don't remember any of the students really "getting it," but some of their attempts were amusing.

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    Replies
    1. I can imagine, and I could imagine my attempt wouldn't fare too well either! Still, I enjoyed it and that's the main thing!

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