The Art of Making Love in Roman Culture, Part 2, How to Find Her

The Roman poet Ovid is well-known for his trilogy “Ars Amatoria,” which English-speaking scholars are familiar with as “The Art of Love.” The poems in these books of ancient Rome gave men and women practical advice on how to make love.

The hedonistic, sophisticated life of the Roman aristocracy was depicted in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. I believe Ovid’s advice is still relevant today despite its context, being old-fashioned, and ironical style. Men still learn something about how to find and keep a woman. On the other hand, the books help women win and keep a man’s love.

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

In the other post, I quoted some excerpts from the first book. Let us look further into Ovid’s advice. You should keep in mind the specific context of the ancient Roman Empire.

What Ovid Told about How to Find Her

While you’re still free, and can roam on a loose rein,

pick one to whom you could say: ‘You alone please me.’

She won’t come falling for you out of thin air:

the right girl has to be searched for: use your eyes.

The hunter knows where to spread nets for the stag,

he knows what valleys hide the angry boar:

the wild-fowler knows the woods: the fisherman

knows the waters where the most fish spawn:

You too, who search for the essence of lasting love,

must be taught the places that the girls frequent.

I don’t demand you set your sails, and search,

or wear out some long road to discover them.

Perseus brought Andromeda from darkest India,

and Trojan Paris snatched his girl from Greece,

Rome will grant you lots of such lovely girls,

you’ll say: ‘Here’s everything the world has had.’

Your Rome’s as many girls as Gargara’s sheaves,

as Methymna’s grapes, as fishes in the sea,

as birds in the hidden branches, stars in the sky:

Venus, Aeneas’s mother, haunts his city.

If you’d catch them very young and not yet grown,

real child-brides will come before your eyes:

if it’s young girls you want, thousands will please you.

You’ll be forced to be unsure of your desires:

if you delight greatly in older wiser years, here too, believe me, there’s an even greater crowd.

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