In spite of the fact that Ancient Greece collapsed long ago and its ruins remain silent now, the art that the Greeks have created live together with us, stepping from one epoch into another. It is unbelievable how the ancient masters of poetry and fine prose managed to penetrate a human’s soul and steal all the secrets from it into a papyrus. Still, there are some questions from the ancient Greeks that need answering, and the poets are silently await for the readers to come up with the ideas of their own. Shall the great appreciate those tries?
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Ovid’s Art of love is a very special piece of prose – in fact, it is even doubtful whether one should treat Ars Amatoria as prose or poetry, such refined and elegant the language of the book is, and so inspired the author seems, – and a very sophisticated one. Ovid himself claimed the book that he wrote “a poem and an indiscretion” (Young 232) It is impossible to evaluate it from the modern point of view. Otherwise the ambiguities are inevitable.
Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that the criteria for the evaluation should be applied to the times when the book was created and the materials that do not fear the grip of time, the eternal questions of people’s spiritual qualities and character.
With such an approach, it is reasonable to start first with the concept of love that Ovid was interpreting according to his understanding of the subject.
The most evident thing about his idea of love is that it should know no boundaries indeed. This is incomparable to the ideas of the modern world since the Ancient Greek times suggested much more freedom in the questions concerning love than even the today liberal society does. In his understanding, love is something that should be shared in each and every way one feels to, and its essence is to give joy to people.
These include the advice for men on how to steal women from their rivals, and how to make a lot of women to fall in love with a man at once. The genre merging between a burlesque satire on didactic poetry and a number of witty things to be told in the company of men, it represents a perfect specimen of the ancient Greek sense of humor and their ability to find the sensual pleasures where they only could, indulging into the essence of life with all their nature.
It cannot be doubted that Ovid speaks not only the wits that he addresses to the literary attempts to dictate the false morals to the citizen. The didactic poetry of the times of Ovid could not hold any water, and its pathetic attempts to settle the things the way the government of those days wanted to impale on every person in the country.
The second criterion to evaluate Ovid’s piece of prose is, as you might have guessed, is the one of its importance as a rebellious book.
This criterion expands the previous topic. Understanding that the advice of the kind that Ovid suggested could not be taken as the actual ones, people could not help seeking the reasons that underlay the book, and they soon found them. The impact of the false morals that the empire was feeding people with was dusted away completely by the wits and the sarcastic comments of Ovid, with his power of words that could explode the state in its basis.
This was far more serious than simply exercising extraordinary views of love. The idea of people living their life completely free and without being peeped at by the all-seeing eye of the emperor and his guard and multiple false prophets was so scary to the dictator that he decided it was a threat to the whole state. Ovid was counted for a traitor and exiled for good.
However, if taking a contemporary look on Ovid’s attempts to make people freer, this will seem rather innocent writing, and, also, a talented one. The masterpiece of the humorous and a book with a lot of hints to catch and search a clue for, Ars Amatoria is the book that was bound to survive through the centuries.
As Singer put it, And so on, as Ovid fights fire with fire. Unlike Lucretius, he has no doctrinal bias against erotic images and would never think of blaming them for the ravages of love. By quickly portraying Venus in the mechanical transferal of seed, Lucretius destroys the amoral imagination. But Ovid, like any other theorist in the arts, finds it indispensable. In turning against a particular woman, he merely frees it to act more constructively with someone else. (143)
As it can be seen, Ovid does not change the idea of love with the idea of lust, but, on the contrary, expresses the spirituality that was rather unusual for the times he was living in. Claimed to be “a forerunner of Shakespeare and Milton” (DeMaria 415), he created the literature that astounded people with its refinement and subtlety.
However, these views are not shared by all critics, Sometimes Ars Amatoria is considered a novel to be very careful with, and be cautious about the ideas that it exposes, understanding that they might turn false, especially for those young and indecisive. Thus, Chaucer’s research of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria suggested that the meaning it conveyed was not to be taken into consideration as a complete guide to people’s souls and moods:
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Chaucer’s reevaluation of Ovid thus finally provides the real “remedial amoris”. Instead of looking for a temporary, fragile cure for an entangling passion, Chaucer repudiates carnal love. Ovid tells pupils that to remedy love, one must pretend his lover is fat even though she is not, or that he must go to her house unexpectedly and see how unattractive she is without makeup.
Further, he advises that when one is already exhausted and disgusted by the sexual frenzy, he should contemplate the blemishes and flaws of his lover’s body. Chaucer seems no remedy here, or in any, if the Ovidian techniques suggested by Pandarus or trampled by Troilus. (Calabrese 79)
Thus it can be easily seen that Ovid was closer to the modern views than Chaucer was, in spite of the fact that the former lived a thousand years earlier than Chaucer. This is something to think heavily upon. Is it that modern society has approached the Golden age or has it become entangled in their own misconceptions?
The thirds idea that the poet was trying to convey with such an unusual experiment of his, putting a poetic word in a piece of prose, was the concept of the beauty that the Greeks were so concerned about. The ideas of saturating oneself with love were the interpretation of the concept of making one filled with love and with the beauty of the world that surrounded people.
This was something that the Greeks were to begin and the rest of the civilizations to catch up with. The chase has been long and wearing, it is still going on, with people so inattentive to the beauty that is slipping through their fingers, but the Greeks were the first to start the chase.
To see and to be seen, in heaps they run, Some to undo, and some to be undone (Ovid 22).
In spite of the fact that the book was proclaimed a forbidden read and the author was exiled from the country once and for all, the story that he created still remains one of the most famous books about love is ever written. The approach to the subject and the shape that the story took was so unusual that people could not stop reading it even though it was forbidden. The wit and the live way of telling people about the true evaluation of love and feelings is something that will stay in people’s minds and hearts for good.
Calabrese, Michael A. Chaucer’s Ovidain Arts of Love. Tallahassee, FL: University Press of Florida. 1994.
DeMaria, Robert, Robert Duncan B. Classical Literature and Its Reception: an Anthology. Wiley-Blackwell: Hoboken, NJ. 2007.
Ovid, Heyford, Thomas, Stapleton, Michael L. Thomas Heyford’s Art of Love. The First Complete English Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Lansing, MI: The University of Michigan. 2000. Print.
Singer, Irvin. The Nature of Love: Plato to Luther. Cambridge: MA. 2009. Print.
Young, Robin V. Poetry Criticism: Experts from Criticism of the Works of the Most Significant and Widely Studied Poets of World Literature. Lansing,
MI: The University of Michigan. 1991. Print.