Amores – Ovid – Ancient Rome – Classical Literature
(Elegiac Poem, Latin/Roman, c. 16 BCE, 2,490 lines)
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“Amores” (“Loves” or “Amours”) is a collection of 49 elegies by the Roman lyric poet Ovid. It was his first completed book of poetry, published in five volumes (later reduced to three) in 16 BCE or earlier. The poems, some of them quite graphic, portray the evolution of an affair with a married woman named Corinna.
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There are too many poems to treat in any detail, but the general subjects of the poems making up the three books of the “Amores” are as follows:
Elegy I: Cupid turns the poet’s verses from epic hexameter into the elgiac couplets of love poetry (20 lines).
Elegy II: The poet abjures war in favour of love (52 lines).
Elegy III: The poet vows unchanging fidelity to his mistress (26 lines).
Elegy IV: The poet’s mistress and her husband are invited to a feast with him, and he instructs her how to behave herself in his company (70 lines).
Elegy V: The poet rhapsodizes on his mistress’ naked body in the twilight (26 lines).
Elegy VI: The poet asks his mistress’s porter to open the gate to him (74 lines).
Elegy VII: The poet regrets beating his mistress (68 lines).
Elegy VIII: The poet curses an old woman for teaching his mistress to be a courtesan (114 lines).
Elegy IX: The poet compares love and war (46 lines).
Elegy X: The poet complains that his mistress has asked him for money and tries to dissuade her from becoming a courtesan (64 lines).
Elegy XI: The poet asks his mistress’ servant Nape to deliver his letter to her (28 lines).
Elegy XII: The poet curses his letter because it was not answered (30 lines).
Elegy XIII: The poet calls on the dawn not to come too soon (92 lines).
Elegy XIV: The poet comforts his mistress for the loss of her hair after she tried to beautify it (56 lines).
Elegy XV: The poet hopes to live through his work like other famous poets (42 lines).
Elegy I: The poet introduces his second book and explains why he is constrained to sing of love not war (38 lines).
Elegy II: The poet begs the eunuch Bagoas for access to his mistress (66 lines).
Elegy III: The poet appeals again to the eunuch Bagoas (18 lines).
Elegy IV: The poet confesses that he loves all sorts of women (48 lines).
Elegy V: The poet accuses his mistress of acting falsely towards him (62 lines).
Elegy VI: The poet laments the death of a parrot he had given to his mistress (62 lines).
Elegy VII: The poet protests that he never had anything to do with his mistress’ chambermaid (28 lines).
Elegy VIII: The poet asks his mistress’ chambermaid how his mistress found out about them (28 lines).
Elegy IX: The poet asks Cupid not to use up all his arrows on him (54 lines).
Elegy X: The poet tells Graecinus that he is in love with two women at once (38 lines).
Elegy XI: The poet tries to dissuade his mistress from going to Baiae (56 lines).
Elegy XII: The poet rejoices at having at last won the favours of his mistress (28 lines).
Elegy XIII: The poet prays to the goddess Isis to assist Corinna in her pregnancy and to prevent her from miscarrying (28 lines).
Elegy XIV: The poet chastises his mistress, who has tried to make herself miscarry (44 lines).
Elegy XV: The poet addresses a ring which he is sending as a present to his mistress (28 lines).
Elegy XVI: The poet invites his mistress to visit him at his country home (52 lines).
Elegy XVII: The poet complains that his mistress is too vain, but that he will always be her slave anyway (34 lines).
Elegy XVIII: The poet excuses himself to Macer for giving himself wholly over to erotic verse (40 lines).
Elegy XIX: The poet writes to a man whose wife he was in love with (60 lines).
Elegy I: The poet deliberates whether he should continue writing elegies or attempt tragedy (70 lines).
Elegy II: The poet writes to his mistress at the horse races (84 lines).
Elegy III: The poet finds out that his mistress has lied to him (48 lines).
Elegy IV: The poet urges a man not to keep such a strict watch on his wife (48 lines).
Elegy V: The poet recounts a dream (46 lines).
Elegy VI: The poet chastises a flooded river for stopping him from visiting his mistress (106 lines).
Elegy VII: The poet reproaches himself for having failed in his duty towards his mistress (84 lines).
Elegy VIII: The poet complains that his mistress did not give him a favourable reception, preferring a wealthier rival (66 lines).
Elegy IX: An elegy on the death of Tibullus (68 lines).
Elegy X: The poet complains that he is not allowed to share his mistress’ couch during the festival of Ceres (48 lines).
Elegy XI: The poet wearies of his mistress’ infidelities, but admits that he cannot help loving her (52 lines).
Elegy XII: The poet complains that his poems have made his mistress too famous and thereby occasioned him too many rivals (44 lines).
Elegy XIII: The poet writes about the festival of Juno at Falasci (36 lines).
Elegy XIV: The poet asks his mistress not to let him know if she cuckolds him (50 lines).
Elegy XV: The poet bids farewell to Venus and vows that he is done writing elegies (20 lines).
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Originally, the “Amores” was a five-book collection of love poetry, first published in 16 BCE. Ovid later revised this layout, reducing it to the surviving, extant collection of three books, including some additional poems written as late as 1 CE. Book 1 contains 15 elegiac love poems about various aspects of love and erotiocism, Book 2 contains 19 elegies and Book 3 a further 15.
Most of the “Amores” are distinctly tongue-in-cheek, and, while Ovid largely adheres to standard elegiac themes as previously treated by the likes of the poets Tibullus and Propertius (such as the “exclusus amator” or locked-out lover, for example), he often approaches them in a subversive and humorous way, with common motifs and devices being exaggerated to the point of absurdity. He also portrays himself as romantically capable, rather than emotionally struck down by love like Propertius, whose poetry often portrays the lover as under the foot of his love. Ovid also takes some risks such as openly writing about adultery, which was rendered illegal by Augustus’ marriage law reforms of 18 BCE.
Some have even suggested that the “Amores” could be considered a kind of mock epic. The very first poem in the collection begins with the word “arma” (“arms”), as does Vergil’s “Aeneid”, an intentional comparison to the epic genre, which Ovid later mocks. He goes on to describes in this first poem his original intention to write an epic poem in dactylic hexameter about a suitable subject such as war, but Cupid stole one (metrical) foot turning his lines into elegiac couplets, the metre of love poetry. He returns to the theme of war several times throughout the “Amores”.
The “Amores”, then, are written in elegiac distich, or elegiac couplets, a poetic form frequently used in Roman love poetry, consisting of alternating lines of dactylic hexameter and dactylic pentameter: two dactyls followed by a long syllable, a caesura, then two more dactyls followed by a long syllable. Some critics have noted that the collection of poems develops as a sort of “novel”, breaking style only a few times, most famously with the elegy on Tibellus’ death in Elegy IX of Book 3.
Like many other poets before him, Ovid’s poems in the “Amores” often centre on a romantic affair between the poet and his “girl”, in his case named Corinna. This Corinna is unlikely to have really lived, (especially as her character seems to change with great regularity), but is merely Ovid‘s poetical creation, a generalized motif of Roman mistresses, loosely based on a Greek poet of the same name (the name Corinna may also have been a typically Ovidian pun on the Greek word for maiden, “kore”).
It has been conjectured that the “Amores” were part of the reason why Ovid was later banished from Rome, as some readers perhaps did not appreciate or understand their tongue-in-cheek nature. However, his banishment was likely to have been more to do with his later “Ars Amatoria”, which offended the Emperor Augustus, or possibly due to his rumoured connection with Augustus’ niece, Julia, who was also exiled at around the same time.
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- English translation by John Conington (Perseus Project): http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text.jsp?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0069:text=Am.:book=1:poem=1
- Latin version with word-by-word translation (Perseus Project): http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text.jsp?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0068:text=Am.