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.
You may well know his epic poem, Metamorphoses, a collection of myths linked by the theme of change, and undoubtedly the most renowned Latin poem after Virgil’s Aeneid. Ovid wrote many delightful poems, including the silly didactic Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), and his eclectic Amores (Loves).
One of the Amores (Loves) is of particular interest, a prayer for his girlfriend Corinna, who has an abortion and lies between life and death. It is, as far as I know, one of only two Latin poems to treat this controversial subject in detail, the second also being by Ovid. Ovidians say the word onus (burden) is used of the fetus for the first time in Latin here; and gravidus venter (swollen belly) the first time for “pregnant womb.” Fascinated by the odd juxtaposition of Ovid’s examination of his love and anger and the formal prayer to Isis, I decided to translate this. You can find the Latin poem below my translation.
My translation of Amores, II.13
When she rashly shook the burden from her womb, Corinna lay weakened, in doubt of her life. Having borne such peril without my knowledge She deserved my anger, but anger died from fear. She had conceived by me, or so I trust: But that could be my theory, not fact. I pray to you, Isis, dweller of Paraetoneum and the fertile plains of Canopus, Memphis and palm-bearing Pharon, And where the swift Nile, having fallen In a wide bed, travels through seven mouths Into the waters of the sea; I pray by your Isis-rattles, by the revered head of Anubis, may pious Osiris love your sacred rites, May the slow serpent slink around the altar And may horn-bearing Apis, sacred bull, accompany you in procession. Turn your face hither and spare two in one: You will give my mistress life, she to me. Having honored you often, she sits on certain days when the crowd of priests waters your laurel. And you, Ilithyia, having pitied the pregnant girls Whose hidden burden distends their bodies, Be gentle here and well-disposed to my prayers. She is worthy whom you command to your service. I myself, in white robes, will burn incense on your smoky altars. I myself will bear gifts to your feet and prayers. Let me add the title, “Ovid for your saving Corinna”: Just make a place for the inscription and gifts. and if it is lawful to have given warning in such fear, let it be enough for you to have fought on this side in the battle.
Ovid’s poem in Latin
Dum labefactat onus gravidi temeraria ventris, in dubio vitae lassa Corinna iacet. illa quidem clam me tantum molita pericli ira digna mea; sed cadit ira metu. sed tamen aut ex me conceperat—aut ego credo; est mihi pro facto saepe, quod esse potest. Isi, Paraetonium genialiaque arva Canopi quae colis et Memphin palmiferamque Pharon, quaque celer Nilus lato delapsus in alveo per septem portus in maris exit aquas, per tua sistra precor, per Anubidis ora verendi— sic tua sacra pius semper Osiris amet, pigraque labatur circa donaria serpens, et comes in pompa corniger Apis eat! huc adhibe vultus, et in una parce duobus! nam vitam dominae tu dabis, illa mihi. saepe tibi sedit certis operata diebus, qua cingit laurus Gallica turma tuas. Tuque laborantes utero miserata puellas, quarum tarda latens corpora tendit onus, lenis ades precibusque meis fave, Ilithyia! digna est, quam iubeas muneris esse tui. ipse ego tura dabo fumosis candidus aris, ipse feram ante tuos munera vota pedes. adiciam titulum: ‘servata Naso Corinna!’ tu modo fac titulo muneribusque locum. Si tamen in tanto fas est monuisse timore, hac tibi sit pugna dimicuisse satis!