The Art of Making Love in Roman Culture, Part 4, Search for Love at Theatre

Ovid’s trilogy “Ars Amatoria,” or The Art of Love, is well-known among love scholars for depicting the hedonistic and refined lifestyle of the aristocracy in the ancient Roman Empire at the time.

The poetic words of the author offer smart love advice to men and women in their loving affairs. Some of his suggestions, I believe, are still relevant today and would be interesting for you to learn.

In 1885, the English translation of Ovid’s books included a literal prose translation rather than the original poetry. Their most recent translation and publication, in 2001, made their poetic translation available.

Ovid Suggested “Search while you’re at the Theatre”

“But hunt for them, especially, at the tiered theatre:

that place is the most fruitful for your needs.

There you’ll find one to love, or one you can play with,

one to be with just once, or one you might wish to keep.

As ants return home often in long processions,

carrying their favourite food in their mouths,

or as the bees buzz through the flowers and thyme,

among their pastures and fragrant chosen meadows,

so our fashionable ladies crowd to the famous shows:

my choice is often constrained by such richness.

They come to see, they come to be seen as well:

the place is fatal to chaste modesty.

These shows were first made troublesome by Romulus,

when the raped Sabines delighted unmarried men.

Then no awnings hung from the marble theatre,

the stage wasn’t stained with saffron perfumes:

Then what the shady Palatine provided, leaves

simply placed, was all the artless scene:

The audience sat on tiers made from turf,

and covered their shaggy hair, as best they could, with leaves.

They watched, and each with his eye observed the girl

he wanted, and trembled greatly in his silent heart.

While, to the measure of the homely Etruscan flute,

the dancer, with triple beat, struck the levelled earth,

amongst the applause (applause that was never artful then)

the king gave the watched-for signal for the rape.

They sprang up straightaway, showing their intent by shouting,

and eagerly took possession of the women.

As doves flee the eagle, in a frightened crowd,

as the new-born lamb runs from the hostile wolf:

so they fled in panic from the lawless men,

and not one showed the colour she had before.

Now they all fear as one, but not with one face of fear:

Some tear their hair: some sit there, all will lost:

one mourns silently, another cries for her mother in vain:

one moans, one faints: one stays, while that one runs:

the captive girls were led away, a joyful prize,

and many made even fear itself look fitting.

Whoever showed too much fight, and denied her lover,

he held her clasped high to his loving heart,

and said to her: ‘Why mar your tender cheeks with tears?

as your father to your mother, I’ll be to you.’

Romulus, alone, knew what was fitting for soldiers:

I’ll be a soldier, if you give me what suits me.

From that I suppose came the theatres’ usual customs:

now too they remain a snare for the beautiful.”

Kline, A. S. (2001). Translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria: The Art of Love.

In other posts, I quoted some excerpts from the first, second, and the third parts of the book.