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The Erotic Poems Summary & Study Guide Description
The Erotic Poems Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
Ovid & his Personaappears in Throughout the works
This is the poet. There is a great deal of discussion during the introductory material about Ovid and the theory of the persona. The persona is a peculiar reality. It would be false to say that an individual's persona is not their real self, except that there can be times when this is the case. In general the persona is like an artifice but of one's true self. To use costumes as an example, one might make a mask or a caricature of someone. When the persona is used, one dresses up in a costume and mask or expresses through caricature oneself instead of someone else.
In literary, prosaic terms there is also the "narrative voice." In poetry, there is something like this. The persona or the narrative voice, which exists in many poetic forms, can be truthful, fictional or some blend thereof. The orientation of The Erotic Poems of Ovid is heterosexual. The scholars are fairly certain that the persona is actually autobiographical. In other words, if it were the stage, the poet is wearing a mask designed to look like who he really is. This is rather funny, by theater standards but makes perfect sense according to literary practices.
In this role, Ovid is a largely invisible main character. Many of his poems spring from different perspectives. The identity is not so much what changes, in these cases, but the perspective. The poet does toy with point of view during the works, and therefore is not always quite the same person. This seems puzzling but within the literary realm it is not difficult to accomplish.
There is one poem in which Ovid announces himself as "Naso, that naughty provincial poet," (p. 111). Here is one of the many moments within the body of poetry wherein he is self-referential, but seems to be indicating something more along the order of an objective third person perspective. This is a literary and psychological device.
Venusappears in multiple locations
Venus is the goddess of beauty. The poet calls out to her in diverse poems. Often he is simply thanking her, or asking for her divine presence to oversee his work. She comes up in the very first poem. The author is declaring that everyone has their role, based upon their identity, and that this is just as true of the goddesses as it is for the ordinary mortals.
Ovid warns, many times over, that assigning any goddess the wrong task is simply begging for trouble. It simply will not work nearly so well. In this case he refers to the mere idea of trying to have the goddess Venus performing the work of the goddess Minerva. Who would want to take away the expert and force someone who has no talent in the area to do the work? Perhaps a jester, or someone trying to teach humility and respect, but other than that, no one would do that without malicious intentions.
Later, during a poem about sending messages to potential lovers, the author writes of Venus again. Here he writes of hanging writing tablets at her shrine. Here we see religious practice: veneration and the use of offerings.
There are many more instances of Venus turning up in the books. The poet also namelessly refers to her as "the sexy mother of Cupid." Perhaps, he reports in another poem, Cupid's mother will help him. This oblique manner is the only way in which Ovid addresses the fact that Venus the goddess of beauty is a mother.
Corinnaappears in multiple poems, especially in The Amores
This is a main character in a number of poems. The scholar Peter Green explores who she really is. The final guess is that she is based largely on Ovid's first wife. The speculation is that she is a work of fiction, but that there is some real basis for her in the poet's life.
Ovid knew this and directly writes about it. This exemplifies the social nature of the poetry. He is in working dialogue with the public. He writes that he knows of at least one flesh and blood woman who believes that she is the inspiration for his character Corinna. This occurs in book 2 of The Amores.
Earlier and again later, Corinna occurs simply as a reference. She is a character. Early on, she is a hopeful "target" of his affections. Someone to have a go between send letters to. Later, she is a woman who is actually in his arms. Still further on, Corinna is with her rejoicing lover—and readers discover that this man is not her husband, but there is a man who is her husband.
This is an important recurring character in the entire set of poetic works, but she figures more prominently during The Amores.
Some would argue that her role in the poetry is far more significant than that of the goddess due to her being a genuine literary figure of the poet's creation. However true this is as an example of human creativity, the goddess represents another significant line of these poems, and that is the way Ovid is working with the state religion. The role of religion in society and of the gods in art and society is of great significance. When the city of Rome was founded, it was believed that gods were behind it, and as soon as the physical aspect of it was reasonably secure, religion was brought into to the city as the next most important feature of life. Rome was founded by a demi-god, son of a vestal virgin who was raped by the god of war. Her children thwarted efforts to eliminate an aristocratic lineage, and founded one of the most powerful cities and empires the world has ever known.
Corinna, much more demure, is a literary model for real live women in mortal love relations. She is of great importance within the realm of the poetry and tickled the fancies of many Roman people who read the works of Ovid. In this sense she is more like a means of promotion and marketing for Ovid: she is a lovable and attractive popular fictional character—well known, and known to not be real.
Cupidappears in many times in the book
This is the god of love. He is referred to at numerous locations about the book. He is not ever depicted entirely clearly.
There are certain attributes of the god Cupid that are provided during the poems. Readers must trust that the translator did his work correctly. First and foremost it is made clear that the Roman god is the god of love. Next, the author tells readers that he is armedwith a bow.
The poet Ovid cries out to this deity, both in gratitude and in supplication, seeking mercy. He is thankful that this god has made him fall in love, and to be able to love.
At other times, the poet is resentful towards Cupid and asks, perhaps rhetorically, why has the god done this to Ovid, why has he caused him to love this way?
Cupid is seen as a son. His mother is highly attractive. He is youthful, perhaps even a boy rather than a man. His actions, his ability to cause love, is more inferred than directly stated. Here is a case where the better one knows the ancient religion the easier it would be to understand this poem. He is at times called Love.
Husbandappears in Various locations
This is not only a man, but it is only one man in each case. He appears in many poems as the man to whom the poet's narrative voice is speaking. Often they are directly broaching the subject of the wife's infidelity. Ovid gives the husband advice for handling this.
The husband is do to this in more than one way. The general recommendation is tolerance. The poet describes ways for coping and provides the husband with reassurance that there will even be gains for him by this rather than losses if he will only heed the advice.
In some cases, Ovid explains, the woman needs only to lie and to deny this, thereby practicing what is known as discretion. The poet is not opposed to this, and suggests that the husband's role is to indulge his own wish to believe any lies and denials that his wife gives so that her infidelity will not disrupt his false, but cheerful belief in her fidelity.
Further, Ovid explains that due to this toleration on his part, the wife will be able to endure his nights out with his friends. Otherwise, she would not be able to endure being left out to this extent. Some form of personal indulgence strongly associated with pleasure is called for.
The poet also tells the husband that his wife will be more popular and therefore he too will have greater social standing when his wife takes lovers. This will also enhance his social connections and he will be apt to receive at least some gifts, and be able to share presents that she receives from other men.
There are other poems in which the husband is the one practicing infidelity. A poem about him denying this to his wife, is followed by one in which he discusses the affair his wife was referring to with the maid, only in this poem he is guilty.
There are poems within this work, thankfully, where the husband's main concern is his actual wife in a mutual way.
The passion of a married couple amongst themselves is also valued. Lastly, the husband is shown "as rival" to some other man who is so interested in his wife. The other man is longing for kisses and hoping that the woman he desires will spurn her husband to his private satisfaction.
Icarusappears in The Art of Love, Book 2
This is the name of the son of a famous father-son pair. The father and son needed to escape Minos and did so through the use of flying devices the father made. The son was lost during the flight because he became carried away with the ecstasy of the flight itself and in his excitement failed to abide his father's warnings.
'Girl'appears in The Art of Love, Book 3
Here is a female character. The author is attempting to explain about the risks of distress in love. He refers to men who have developed bad reputations from dumping mistresses, and women who have suffered through them. He warns readers about falling into distress.
In this context, there is a young woman he calls a girl. Of her he has written, "That girl could snuff the undying Vestal fire, could loot Isis' temple of its sacred gear, or slip her lover a mixture of aconite and hemlock—who denies her favours after taking gifts!" (p. 228).
Muse, specifically Ovid's Museappears in multiple locations
This is a mysterious yet famous entity. It is a type of mystical being. The Muses are considered some type of presence that greatly inspires artists in their work.
Each artist has his or her own Muse. This is also true in the case of Ovid. He refers to his own Muse in a small number of special locations throughout the Erotic Poems.
Macerappears in The Amores, Book 2
This is a direct reference to one of the author's teachers. Macer was an experienced poet and teacher who traveled with Ovid when the latter was young and needing to learn more about how to be a high quality poet. He was an actual historical figure, rather than a fictional model.
Mistressappears in throughout
This is actually a reference to a number of women. Much like "husband," each is an individual and is addressed as such during the entire body of poetic works. Here mistress is almost another word for "lover'." This title is used irrespective of the marital status of the woman. Mistress is also used regardless of the relation between the man and the woman. This means that the woman is Mistress whether referring to her husband, or to servants, or to some lover who is not her husband, but is liable to have also been called this by other women, just as men often called superiors Master. It is important to note that this was term of respect and that it did not have the negative connotations associated with distrust or bitterness against Master and Mistress. It was used amongst free people, citizens, and slaves.
Loverappears in throughout
Here is another general but meaningful term referring to someone who is either sexually involved or people who are pursuing each other. That is, two who are passing letters and building up towards either disunion or to sexual involvement; two who may be said to be engaging in romance, may be called "lovers."
This is important since it can include those who use "proper decorum" and great restraint and refrain from sexual activity with others for reasons. Youths having a romance who never go further than to sigh and hold hands can still be called lovers, but in the context of this poetry, lovers are often sexually involved.
Vulcanappears in various locations
This is the god of metal working, especially the smithing rather than the mining and refining processes. He is the husband of Venus. He is reputed to be the father of Cupid, but there is some suspicion that Cupid may be the result of his wife's affair with the god of war, Mars. He is told of more under his wife's listing. He is Master of one of the most vital crafts known to humanity, and a symbol of technological advancement, skill and culture.
Juliaappears in Introductory material and notes at the end
Julia is Ovid's daughter. She was exiled due to her promiscuity. She was known to have five lovers.
This section contains 2,311 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)