Ovid: We care about this long dead poet, Publius Ovidius Naso, because so much of what he wrote found its way into the Western cannon of literature and imagery. Almost any work of Western art or literature drawing on classical mythological themes is merely an elaboration of Ovid. Great artists worked to Ovid's themes of changes (Bernini, of course, did it best -- see below), and authors like Spencer, Shakespeare, Milton and many others elaborated on Ovid's stories. Whenever you think of a "Golden Age" (of government, of art, of technological development, of rock-and-roll, of anything) remember that Ovid invented that concept.

Ovid, with Vergil, his fellow poet in the court of Octavian (Caesar Augustus), made a coherent whole of the diverse mythologies that the Romans inherited. Vergil, primarily in his Aeneid, melded the Hercules, the Aeneas, and the Romulus and Remus legend cycles into a singular mythology for the founding of Rome.

Ovid, working on a grander scale in his Metamorphoses, brought Italian Peninsular creation mythology and primitive animistic beliefs into the classical Greek pantheon. After recounting the Creation of the world and man, after defining the Golden, Silver, Brazen, and Iron Ages, and after telling how the gods secured their place by defeating the Giants, Ovid launches into his grand catalogue of the changes (=metamorphoses) that explained how sacred plants, animals, and objects came to be revered. They were almost invariably brought about by amatory encounters, or by thwarted ones, between gods and mortals. There are strong currents of such love (or lust) and of didacticism throughout much of Ovid's poetry -- he is not only telling stories, but also teaching the dangers of attracting the attention of the Gods.

Since Ovid's time, his Metamorphoses has come to be his most famous poem, but it was the Amores (Loves) and the Ars Amatoria (Art of Loving) that were most popular in his own day. The latter two works were kept on locked library shelves for centuries and still today are hard to find in unexpurgated translations.

Ovid entered the Augustan literary scene in about 23 BC when he was twenty. Within ten years he was Rome's most famous poet. But at age 50 (7 AD), he did something to anger Augustus -- no one knows what, because both Augustus and Ovid hid the facts -- and was dispatched to a primitive town called Tomis (modern Costanza in Romania) on the Black Sea. Scholars continue to speculate on what Ovid might have done to merit such a dreary exile. Some say that Ovid's mixed sexual appetites finally got to be too much for the "family values" Emperor, but other experts point out that Octavian had put up with the more exalted vices of Maecenas until Maecenas died, and had even given Maecenas honors and offices. Perhaps there was a political angle, or perhaps Ovid had written something that had insulted Livia, Octavian's beloved wife. Ovid himself linked his exile to "a poem" and "a mistake". Whatever the cause, Ovid's exilic poetry chronicled his dismay at being away from Rome and his eventual depression. Ovid died in Tomis around 17AD.

Ovid recently hit the newsstands again with the purported discovery of his home in a municipal construction site in the Tor di Quinto neighborhood near the bank of the Tiber River. The ruins are said to be quite extensive and include a large portrait mosaic perhaps of the poet himself. City authorities have pledged to incorporate the find in the building and to open it to the public.

There are many good Ovid sites on the Internet and here is a sample:

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/latin/ovid/index.html Text of the Metamorphoses in English and Latin, with Renaissance illustrations.

http://patriot.net/~lillard/cp/ovid.html Ovid's extant works in Latin.

http://www.ipl.org/cgi-bin/ref/litcrit/litcrit.out.pl?au=ovi-299 Literary criticism and biography links.

http://www.times-archive.co.uk/news/pages/tim/2000/09/21/timfgneur01003.html Ovid's Villa discovered.

http://www.jiffycomp.com/smr/rob/faq/ovid_faq.php3 Info on Ovid and his works.

http://www.huygens.org/~hanssen/ovidius.html More Ovid Internet links.

http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edafne.htm Bernini's Apollo and Daphne -- the first of Ovid's Metamorphoses