The ancient Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE and 17 CE) is well-known among love scholars for his “Ars Amatoria,” a three-volume instructional series of poems describing what love is and how to love using the arts of seduction and intrigue.
In the first two books of “The Art of Love”, Ovid addresses his poems to men. He advises men on “letting her miss you, but not for too long,” “remembering her birthday,” and “not asking her age.”
In previous blog posts, I presented poetic excerpts of Ovid’s advice to men. Those lovely verses are about “How to Find Her“, “Search for Love While Walking“, “Search for Love while at the Theatre“, “Search for Love at the Races or Circus“, “Triumphs that Are Good to Attract a Woman“, “Search for Love around the Dinner-Table and on the Beach“, “How to Win Her“, “How to Know the Maid“, “How to Be Attentive to Her“, “How to Make Promises of Love to Her“, “How to Woo and Seduce a Woman” , “How to Captivate a Woman at Dinner”, “How to Make Promises and Deceive”, and “How Tears, Kisses, Taking the Lead Can Help in Love Affairs”.
His poems are full of clever love advice for both men and women. I think that some of his advice is still useful and would be interesting to read.
Here I am starting to post the poetic excerpts from Book III of Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria” (The Art of Love) addressed to women. In Part 1 of this book, Ovid teaches girls the lessons of love.
“It’s Time to Teach You Girls”
“I’ve given the Greeks arms, against Amazons: arms remain,
to give to you Penthesilea, and your Amazon troop.
Go equal to the fight: let them win, those who are favoured
by Venus, and her Boy, who flies through all the world.
It’s not fair for armed men to battle with naked girls:
that would be shameful, men, even if you win.
Someone will say: ‘Why add venom to the snake,
and betray the sheepfold to the rabid she-wolf?’
Beware of burdening the many with the crime of the few:
let the merits of each separate girl be seen.
Though Menelaus has Helen, and Agamemnon
has Clytemnestra, her sister, to charge with crime,
though Amphiarus, and his horses too, came living to the Styx,
through the wickedness of Eriphyle,
Penelope was faithful to her husband for all ten years
of his waging war, and his ten years wandering.
Think of Protesilaus, and Laodameia who they say
followed her marriage partner, died before her time.
Alcestis , his wife, redeemed Admetus’s life with her own:
the wife, for the man, was borne to the husband’s funeral.
‘Capaneus, receive me! Let us mingle our ashes,’
Evadne cried, and leapt into the flames.Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.
Then Ovid Continues Teaching the Art of Love for Girls
Virtue herself is named and worshipped as a woman too:
it’s no wonder that she delights her followers.
Yet their aims are not required for my art,
smaller sails are suited to my boat,
Only playful passions will be learnt from me:
I’ll teach girls the ways of being loved.
Women don’t brandish flames or cruel bows:
I rarely see men harmed by their weapons.
Men often cheat: it’s seldom tender girls,
and, if you check, they’re rarely accused of fraud.
Falsely, Jason left Medea, already a mother:
he took another bride to himself.
As far as you knew, Theseus, the sea birds fed on Ariadne,
left all by herself on an unknown island!
Ask why one road’s called Nine-Times and hear
how the woods, weeping, shed their leaves for Phyllis.
Though he might be famed for piety, Aeneas, your guest,
supplied the sword, Dido, and the reason for your death.
What destroyed you all, I ask? Not knowing how to love:
your art was lacking: love lasts long through art. You still might lack it now: but, before my eyes,
stood Venus herself, and ordered me to teach you.
She said to me. then: ‘What have the poor girls done,
an unarmed crowd betrayed to well-armed men?
Two books of their tricks have been composed:
let this lot too be instructed by your warnings.
Stesichorus who spoke against Helen’s un-chastity,
soon sang her praises in a happier key.
If I know you well (don’t harm the cultured girls now!)
this favour will always be asked of you while you live.’
She spoke, and she gave me a leaf, and a few myrtle
berries (since her hair was crowned with myrtle):
I felt received power too: purer air
glowed, and a whole weight lifted from my spirit.
While wit works, seek your orders here girls,
those that modesty, principles and your rules allow.
Be mindful first that old age will come to you:
so don’t be timid and waste any of your time.
Have fun while it’s allowed, while your years are in their prime:
the years go by like flowing waters:
The wave that’s past can’t be recalled again,
the hour that’s past never can return.
Life’s to be used: life slips by on swift feet,
what was good at first, nothing as good will follow.
Those stalks that wither I saw as violets:
from that thorn-bush to me a dear garland was given.Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.
And Finally, Ovid Advises Girls…
There’ll be a time when you, who now shut out your lover,
will lie alone, and aged, in the cold of night,
nor find your entrance damaged by some nocturnal quarrel, nor your threshold sprinkled with roses at dawn.
How quickly (ah me!) the sagging flesh wrinkles,
and the colour, there, is lost from the bright cheek.
And hairs that you’ll swear were grey from your girlhood
will spring up all over your head overnight.
Snakes shed their old age with their fragile skin,
antlers that are cast make the stag seem young:
un-aided our beauties flee: pluck the flower,
which, if not plucked, will of itself, shamefully, fall.
Add that the time of youth is shortened by childbirth:
the field’s exhausted by continual harvest.
Endymion causes you no blushes, on Latmos, Moon,
nor is Cephalus the rosy goddess of Dawn’s shameful prize.
Though Adonis was given to Venus, whom she mourns to this day,
where did she get Aeneas, and Harmonia, from?
O mortal girls go to the goddesses for your examples,
and don’t deny your delights to loving men.
Even if you’re deceived, what do you lose? It’s all intact:
though a thousand use it, nothing’s destroyed that way.
Iron crumbles, stone’s worn away with use:
that part’s sufficient, and escapes all fear of harm.
Who objects to taking light from a light nearby?
Who hoards the vast waters of the hollow deep?
So why should any woman say: ‘Not now’? Tell me,
why waste the water if you’re not going to use it?
Nor does my voice say sell it, just don’t be afraid of casual loss: your gifts are freed from loss.”Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.