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Ovid

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Ovid, Latin poet, was born in 43 B.C. and died in A.D. 17. His birthplace was Sulmo (Sulmona) in the territory of Paeligni, east of Rome, where he came of a family of knightly (equestrian) rank. He learned rhetoric at Rome from Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro, the foremost rhetoricians of the time. He also studied at Athens and visited Asia Minor and Sicily. The, for a time, he held minor judicial posts at Rome. Subsequently he abandoned the legal career for poetry, becoming a member of the circle of the statesman and literary patron Messalla, like his fellow poet Tibullus. Ovid's literary activity gained him a considerable reputation among the fashionable Roman upper class. He married three times; it was probably his second wife who bore him a daughter (unless the girl was a stepdaughter); his third was related to Paullus Fabius Maximus, a close friend of the emperor Augustus.

In A.D. 8, however, when Ovid was the leading poet of the capital, Augustus suddenly banished him to Tomis on the Black Sea (now Constanta in Rumania). The reasons for the imperial decision are not fully known, but Ovid himself described his offenses as a "poem" (perhaps the Art of Love) and an "indiscretion" (error): possibly he was an accomplice in the adultery of the emperor's granddaughter Julia, who was exiled at the same time, for adultery. At Tomis, a small superficially Hellenized place on the extreme fringe of the empire, perilously subject to barbarian attacks, Ovid remained: neither Augustus (d. A.D. 14) nor his successor Tiberius (14-37) ever recalled him.

Ovid is the poet of the middle and later years of Augustus. He was younger than the other leading elegists. (Propertius and Tibullus) and long outlived them. Much of his work belongs to a different era from theirs and displays a different character as well, for he was born too late to feel emotional commitment to the Augustian regime. He belonged to a new, smart, sophisticated society, less serious in its interests, that now flourished in the capital. His verse reflects his elaborate rhetorical education. It moves lightly and speedily, exploiting to perfection the elegiac meter the Ovid employed for all his major works (except the Metamorphoses) and transformed into the scintillating instrument of a novel refinement. The elegy was traditionally "tearful": but he calls it "festive" instead.

     
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