Human metamorphoses into plants, stars, and animals
were the Roman poet’s most famous writings.
He was exiled. We don’t know why.
Was it his erotic poems instructing us
on the arts of seduction and lovemaking?
I first learned of Ovid in a course on Shakespeare who often used Ovid’s writing for his own poetry and plays. That would be his Metamorphoses (8 A.D.), for which he is best remembered today. I didn’t know he also wrote erotic poems.
Ovid was born Publius Ovidius Naso in what is now Sulmo, Italy (43 B.C.). He became a famous, beloved poet in Rome and was part of the inner circle of the court. But in the year of Metamorphoses, he was exiled, and even today nobody knows why. He did write about Emperor Augustus being angry with him for having seen something he shouldn’t have seen, but he didn’t give details. He was sent to Tomi (now Romania) where he longed for his home, but even the next emperor, Tiberius, did not allow Ovid back. His erotic poems, such as Ars Amatoria, were written in exile. They were banned in Rome on the charge of immorality. It is a rare example of the Roman government censoring a Roman author’s writing. He died in Tomi after about 10 exiled years.