Ovid Biography

Poet (43–17)
Roman poet of erotica, Orvid wrote Ars amatoria and Metamorphoses. He was banished in 8 B.C. to Tomis, in present-day Romania, where died in 17 A.D.


Ovid was born on March 20, 43 B.C. After holding brief judicial posts as a young man, Ovid turned to writing poetry. Works such as Ars amatoria and Metamorphoseswere very popular, but for reasons that remain mysterious today, Emperor Augustus banished him to the island of Tomis in 8 B.C. Ovid wrote Tristia andEpistulae ex Ponto in exile. He died in Constanta, Romania, in 17 A.D.

Early Life

Born Publius Ovidius Naso on March 20, 43 B.C., Ovid would become one of the best known poets in the Roman Empire. Coming from the small town of Sulmo, near Rome, his well-established family set him on a life course of public service. With his elder brother, Ovid went to Rome to study rhetoric and law. His father had hopes of him entering politics and becoming a great orator. However, Ovid neglected his studies to follow his passion for poetry.

Most of what is known about Ovid's private life comes from his writings. Married three times and divorced twice before the age of 30, he had one daughter. In his youth, he traveled to Athens and Asia Minor. For a time, his father was able to convince him to return home for a time, where he held minor judicial posts. Ovid finally abandoned a political career altogether and directed his attention to poetry and writing full-time.

Amorous Poetry

Ovid's first major work, written in approximately 16 B.C., was Amores (The Loves), a collection of erotic poems based on an imaginary woman, Corinna. The work was an immediate success, as it was quite descriptive of his passion and acts of love. It was followed by Epistolae Heroidum or Heroides (Epistles of Heroines), a series of letters from mythical heroines to their absent husbands or lovers. The common theme of his early works was love and intrigue, reflecting in the sophisticated and pleasure-seeking society in which he inhabited.

Probably Ovid's most ambitious and popular work was Metamorphoses, a long poem totaling nearly 12,000 lines written in dactylic hexameter. It is a collection of mythological and legendary stories in which metamorphosis (transformation) plays some part. The stories chronicle time from the creation of the universe through major events in Roman mythology, to the death and veneration of Julius Caesar.

Conspiracy and Exile

For reasons not totally clear to historians, Ovid was exiled from Rome around 8 A.D. by Emperor Augustus. In his poem Epistulae ex Ponto, he states the reason was "a poem and a mistake." Historians speculate that the poem might have been Amores, and that Ovid was banished for making fun of respectable love and revealing lurid portrayals of contemporary Roman society. Others believe that Ovid was indirectly involved in a conspiracy against Augustus.

Ovid was sent to Tomis, on the Black Sea, in what is now Romania, and his works were banished from Roman libraries. During this time, he wrote the poems Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, which reflected his sadness and desire to return to Rome, though he never did. Ovid died in Tomis in 17 A.D. His works are known to have influenced Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goethe and Ezra Pound.

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