Is the #MeToo Era too Proper for Ovid?

I would buy a ticket if Ovid gave a reading on Zoom. If he is resurrected from the dead let me know. I might even be persuaded to attend “Ovid in Conversation with a Modern Poet.”

Ovid is the wittiest, most elegant of Roman poets, but here is what translators conceal: he is extremely bawdy, positively filthy at times.

You would think Amores II.15, an elegy addressed to the ring he plans to give his mistress, would be simple and sweet. That would be too facile for Ovid, who glories in eroticism and jokes. I have translated a few lines to unveil the double entendres.

O ring, about to encircle my mistress’ finger…
May she put it on joyfully and rub it on her knuckles.
May you fit together as my cock fits her vagina,
and may you rub her finger – perfectly sized.

Did you know that Shakespeare used the word “ring” for “vagina” in The Merchant of Venice, V.1.307? Ovid was hugely influential.

Translators tone down the Amores, while scholars explicate the double entendres and argue over problems in the text. The sexual puns are Roman, understood by Roman readers.

Brilliant Ovid had his detractors. Augustus tried to legislate morality. He banished Ovid to an island for carmen et error, “a poem and an error,” and perhaps his poetry would raise hackles in the #MeToo era, too.

You know what I say: love the writing, but don’t bother about the writers’ personal lives. You don’t need to approve them as your best friends. You just need their words.

8 thoughts on “Is the #MeToo Era too Proper for Ovid?”

  1. “Did you know that Shakespeare used the word “ring” for “vagina” in The Merchant of Venice, V.1.307? ”
    It’s also used by Rabelais in the story of Hans Carvel’s Ring.
    There’s an interesting sequel to The Merchant of Venice by the Irish dramatist St.John Ervine, The Lady of Belmont. Let’s just say the characters of The Merchant do not live happily ever after.

    1. The “ring” would suit Rabelais, and THERE’S a writer whose entertaining work may or may not survive in the universities today. I hope he gets credit for humor!

      Never heard of The Lady of Belmont, but if I can find it… Probably at Project Gutenberg.

      1. Not there, but on archive,org
        It’s no masterpiece, but it has interesting and entertaining sidelights on the characters.

  2. Although I’ve only read the Metamorphosis, Ovid is also a favorite of mine. I suspect it was all those naughty “ring” double entendres (or their equivalent) that got him the one way ticket to Tomis! Hasn’t there been wide speculation that his “error” may have involved the emperor’s granddaughter Julia?

    1. Poor man, it may have been something with Julia. That is the hypothesis. Sometimes scholars make it up, sometimes an ancient mentioned it. Julia did have a lot of men: supposedly somebody gave her an aphrodisiac.

  3. Ovid is great, have you read Medicamina Faciei Femineae? It’s presumed to be parody of ‘serious’ didactic poetry because it’s just five recipes for facial treatments, but knowing Ovid, maybe he just liked putting barley and honey on his face and wanted everyone to know about it 🙂 He’s good fun.

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