BMCR 2007.10.07

The Art of Love: Bimillennial Essays on Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris

, , , The art of love : bimillennial essays on Ovid's Ars amatoria and Remedia amoris. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 1 online resource (xii, 375 pages). ISBN 9780191515446. £60.00.

Table of Contents (also at the end of the review).

This collection of essays, the first in English devoted exclusively to the Ars and Remedia, emerged from a 2002 conference celebrating the bimillenium of Ovid’s erotodidactic cycle. Since the 1990’s commentaries and extended treatments of Ars 2-3 have appeared, and contributors to the volume have taken advantage of these recent arrivals.1 The editors have included German and especially Italian scholarship in translation, in the hopes of better integrating Anglophone traditions of scholarship on the poems with continental approaches. Steven Green’s overview introduces the specific arguments advanced in the volume and places them within an appropriate scholarly context. These arguments confront matters of intertextuality, narratology, and reception, as well as Augustus and the early imperial social context. Also included are attempts to pin down the nature of love in the poems and to reconcile the praeceptor’s mythological excursuses with a broader concept of Ovidian ars and humanitas. Divisions in the volume organize these topics into major areas of scholarship on the poems: poetics, erotics, politics, reception, though there is enough overlap within the collection to render such categories somewhat superficial.

Alison Sharrock’s narratological approach to Ovidian erotodidaxis joins other recent efforts at discovering manifestations of narrative in traditionally non-narrative poetry.2 She is concerned with how the narrative of a love story implicit from the instructional parts of the text interacts with the poem’s mythological excursuses. Thus she asks, if the love story begins with a young man’s journey to the hot spots of Rome, how does the mythological digression on the Sabine women move the story along? S. follows the lover’s progress and the narrative possibilities he confronts through Ars 2 (with somewhat less supporting evidence from mythological digressions, though this lack may invite further scholarship). Most interestingly, the author’s points about the comparative lack of narrative progress in Ars 3 reflect as clearly on the construction of gender in the poem as they do on the structure of the narrative: for S., there is little narrative progress in book 3 because Ovid’s female pupil has little to do but adorn herself and wait (p. 37).

Niklas Holzberg focuses on two passages, the post-sphragis advertisement to women at the end of Ars 2, where the praeceptor introduces book 3, and Ovid’s defense at Rem. 361-396 against critics of the Ars. H. argues on the model of (especially) Catullus 16 that the poet’s staged responses of readers allow him to explain the rules of the genre, and to tout his authority as the elegiac poet par excellence. Thus H. denies that the defense of poetry in the Remedia is aimed at specific detractors and critics of the lascivious nature of the Ars. It is worth noting that Sergio Casali will argue in the same volume that in fact Ovid has Augustus in mind in the passage, though this may also be understood as a staged contrivance, and as a result the two essays are not ultimately at odds.

Duncan Kennedy unravels the less obvious lessons learned by Ovid’s female pupils in the Remedia through intertextuality, and in particular through the praeceptor’s allusions to the figures of Ariadne in Cat. 64 and Phyllis of Her. 2. K. notes that mimesis and role-playing are foregrounded in the Remedia, and that the learning process occurs largely through imitation of words. Emphasizing the praeceptor’s reading list at Ars 3.339-46, K. argues that, since love is a discursive construct, the best place to look for love (as a practice) is in erotic texts, to be read with composita voce. For K., to read with a practiced or disguised voice is to respect the distance between a convincing outward imitation and an inner self that can reflect upon, and learn from, the part being played. A pupil may learn from Phyllis’ mistakes in Her. 2: the heroine played the role of Ariadne too well, simply replicating her behavior; Ovid’s pupil, in contrast, does not simply mimic behavior, but learns those “‘transferable skills’ that are the essence of a progressive ars…”(p. 72).

In his characteristically provocative prose, John Henderson asks broadly how the four books ( Ars 1-3 plus Remedia) relate to each other, and argues more specifically that readers are prepared for the announcement of instructions for women at the end of Ars 2 by the praeceptor’s earlier assertions of the need for equality between the sexes; for the male pupil, victory is only gained through defeat. H. focuses on the timing of the lover’s progress in books 1-2 and rightly emphasizes book 2’s preoccupation with endurance, and delay, all of which prepares us for the mutual climax at the end of book 2.

The pitfalls confronted by those who have attempted to define the puella of the Ars as either meretrix or matrona prompt Alessandro Barchiesi to focus on two less rigidly defined representations of women evident in Ovidian erotodidaxis and characteristic of the early empire: the empowered woman and the woman of pleasure. B. demonstrates the conspicuous presence of the Augustan imperial family, and of Livia in particular, in a poem that otherwise elides the family as a social unit (though I would argue that this elision is equally apparent in preceding love elegy). On the one hand, the Ars highlights Livia’s status as a public figure empowered in her own right (i.e., not in relation to male family members); on the other hand, the poem exploits the traditionally malleable status of the heroine Andromache (as mother, princess, slave, concubine), who exemplifies the woman of pleasure in the Ars, and who reflects a contemporary market for the private consumption of pornographic images of women. B. draws especially from T. McGinn in stressing the difficult polarization of women that the leges Iuliae attempted to enforce, and views Ovid’s poem as problematizing the issue of representing women during a time of drastic socio-cultural change.3

Roy Gibson’s contribution complements Barchiesi’s in so far as it demonstrates how Ovid’s poem attempts to mediate between two extremes of female representation promoted in Augustan law and visual arts. G. suggests that the moderate posture Ovid’s praeceptor adopts is in some respects a response to the extremes that defined Octavian’s/Augustus’ life and regime. In naming Ovid a poet of moderation, G. refreshingly counters tendencies to characterize Ovid as a poet of excess. He stresses that we must read the praeceptor’s recommendations in Ars 3 for hairstyles, makeup, and clothing against the background of an anti-cosmetic tradition that polarized unadorned nature and extreme artifice (e.g. Prop. 1.2). By encouraging women to make choices of appearance based on individual decorum, Ovid disturbs larger categories by which women of vice and virtue were identified. At the same time, G.’s positive spin on the praeceptor’s moderation regarding the puella’s appearance overlooks the sinister implications of restrictive prohibitions for women brought to light by E. Downing.4 While the anti-cosmetic tradition does shine a moderate light on the praeceptor’s attitude towards his female pupils, it does not fully account for his disgust upon imagining the rude opus that is unadorned woman ( Ars 3.228).

Like other contributions in the volume, Gianpiero Rosati’s article questions the relationship of the Remedia to the Ars. R. stresses that the Remedia do not constitute a reversal of (or palinode to) the Ars, but concedes with other scholars that the Remedia complete the development of the Ars and conclude the erotic cycle.5 He refines the argument by pointing to the ambiguity of love as both a technique of courting and a destructive emotional experience: the Remedia further develop the former, while thwarting the latter. R. also remarks on how the Remedia employ a “semiotic of space” (p. 159) to measure the patient-lover’s progress toward curbing love in its more destructive form. A threat to convalescence is posed by proximity to, e.g., the beloved, her domus, or Amor himself. On this point, I’m surprised not to find reference to Ovid’s elegiac predecessors, especially Propertius, who undoubtedly shaped Ovid’s attitudes to the tropes associated with ending love via time and space (Prop. 1.17, 1.18, 3.21; cf. 3.24).

Like Kennedy, Philip Hardie asks how reader-pupils learn to escape love through the Remedia‘s intertextual engagement. For H., who stresses reminiscence of Catullus, Propertius, and Vergil, the poem’s recall of other texts frees the doctus lector from love’s oppression by evoking passages that confirm a triumph over love; recall of the same texts, however, can also remind the pupil of love’s power, since such triumphs are hardly sustained. H. offers the impossible figure of Lethaeus Amor (forgetful love), who appears ( Rem. 555-56) to the praeceptor in a vision ( Rem. 555-56), as an embodiment of the crux confronting a student of the poem: to forget about love means forgetting how to be a mindful intertextual reader.

Mario Labate focuses on the rape of the Sabine women recounted at Ars 1.101-132. Instead of stressing (as other critics have) the socio-political, and specifically Augustan, climate of the poem, Labate seeks to explain the excursus based on its poetic context and on the ideology of culture offered by Ovidian erotodidaxis. L. points to variations Ovid has made in his account of the myth (e.g., changing the setting from circus to theatre) that necessitate artistic contrivance and he concludes that the episode functions as an anti-exemplum: the embodiment of the ideal Ovidian lover is not Romulus, but rather the hyper-civilized Achilles.6 The praeceptor‘s account of the rape thus, by contrast, capitalizes on Ovidian humanitas, the poet’s vision of a world removed as far as possible from its rather unartistic origins.

In a playfully understated polemic with Labate, Sergio Casali develops the notion that Ovid has staged Augustus as the first anti-Augustan reader of the Ars. C. bases his argument on the poet’s references to Augustus’ hostile reception of his poetry. He also explains how an account of Gaius Caesar’s planned Parthian expedition ( Ars 1. 222ff), undertaken to restore a legitimate heir to the throne, might sit poorly with a Princeps who tried to maintain a republican faade while worrying himself over matters of dynastic succession. C.’s “anti-Augustan” interpretation of Gaius’ campaign is situated within the larger context of the passage, which highlights the Naumachia held in honor of the dedication of the temple of Mars Ultor. The Naumachia, as a mock battle against Eastern foes, encourages us to see the Parthian expedition as another staged campaign. Readers of the Ars have almost unanimously found the Gaius passage incongruous or worse, and C.’s effort is one of the more successful at explaining its relevance and implications for the relationship between Ovid and Augustus.

Katharina Volk considers amor in the Ars as a specifically Roman and Augustan cultural construct. The romanitas of love in the Ars is unusual since most didactic poetry assumes the universality of its precepts. V. distinguishes between sex as a natural process and love as a social practice in the poem, at least as far as they are presented by the praeceptor’s rhetoric. Mythological exempla, which are usually located in a timeless past, thus offer a foil for what Roman, Augustan love is not like. Such negative examples also remind readers of the need for the poet’s Ars — since love (not sex) is culturally specific, it requires a very specialized body of knowledge.

Molly Myerowitz Levine takes a position ostensibly opposed to Volk’s, since she is interested in the universal aspects of the praeceptor’s teachings. But while Volk is especially attuned to the praeceptor’s rhetoric, i.e., how the instructor advertises his advice as specifically Roman practice, M. looks rather at the content of his teachings and tries to identify culturally transcendent aspects of the art of love. M. identifies parallels between the work of modern evolutionary science in the area of human mating strategies and the instructions of Ovid’s praeceptor.7 Clearly there are parallels between the instructions in the poem and those demonstrated in modern research (e.g., women prefer rich males in both, displays of love are one way of attracting a female in both), and M. is right to identify some universal precepts as a source of the poem’s humor: O’s praeceptor teaches what everybody knows. At the same time, I’m not sure that the praeceptor’s attitude toward vis (force) can be described as universal, or that it is as benign as M. describes it (p. 267). I would not charge Ovid with advocating rape, though his overtly cavalier attitude toward it might be viewed as a commentary on a dangerous imbalance of power within the elegiac relationship.8

Markus Janka examines Martial’s intertextual dialogue with Ovidian erotodidaxis, especially as is evident in poems 2.41 and 11.104. J. criticizes earlier approaches by which Martial is reduced to a student of the more famous Ovid, and suggests instead that Martial is engaged in a productive dialogue with his predecessor. This approach allows us not only to understand Martial’s active response to Ovid, but may enrich our understanding of the Ovidian source. In Martial 2.41, the speaker’s reproach to a female interlocutor for laughing draws on Ars 3 (cf. Ars 3.279-92, 509-18) and articulates an important difference between the puella of the elegiac Ars and the older, less attractive women of epigram. Allusions to the Ars in 11.104 characterize the speaker, who complains about his frigid wife, as a wholly failing amatory artist and a poor pupil of Ovid. Martial’s self-interested speaker may also uncover the naivety (and disingenuousness) with which Ovid prescribes mutual voluptas for his male and female pupils.

Ralph Hexter surveys the use of Ovid’s Ars in medieval classrooms, and asserts on the basis of vocabulary and grammar glosses, as well as the explanation of Roman customs in, e.g., Heinsius’ Oxiensis (“St. Dunstan’s Classbook”), that the Ars was used for instruction in the Latin language and had very little to do with teaching Ovidian erotics. More generally, H. contends that Ovid’s Ars could be used in the classroom because its very status as other, enforced through the frequent use of distancing devices (e.g., mos erat romanorum…), made its instruction largely irrelevant. H. briefly discusses the rise of vernacular translations, and suggests that such translations challenged the romanitas (and hence “otherness”) of the poem in a world that increasingly looked to the ancients for social and behavioral models.

Genevieve Liveley focuses on a single instance of 20th c. reception of the Ars, but suggests a framework that might be profitably used with further studies of Ovidian reception. For L. , A. Sharrock’s model of the contentious relationship between the Ars poet and his reader clarifies Robert Graves’ aggressive appropriation of the praeceptor’s instructions in his poem “Ovid in Defeat.” 9 L. does not highlight simply Graves’ Ovidian moments, and she (like Janka) is interested in how a later author challenges and re-interprets the teachings of the Ars praeceptor’s (e.g., Graves ignores disclaimers about adultery in the poem and casts the praeceptor as an obsceni doctor adulterii). At the end of “Ovid in Defeat,” we find the reader Graves usurping the position of didactic poet and correcting Ovid’s vision of amorous relations between the sexes, though L. leaves us with the reminder— Ovid in his “barbarian breeches,” still preaching (p. 337)—that the struggle between poet and reader is (thankfully!) undecided.

Some readers will find that this volume does not engage enough with the elegy of Tibullus and Propertius, both of whom frequently pose as love’s teacher or contemplate recovery from love’s sickness (Prop. 1.1, 2.1.58-64; Tib. 1.4, 1.8, 2.5.107-110). I would not want to reduce the Ars and Remedia to commentary on preceding elegy, but Ovid’s elegiac forerunners are undeniably an impetus for his erotodidaxis, a force that nonetheless remains largely unaccounted for here. On the whole, however, the collection offers a range of perspectives on the issues that most inspire critics and readers of Ovid’s Ars and Remedia (and, to some extent, his other works as well). As the product of a colloquium, the book also reflects an awareness on the part of each contributor of that range of defensible, though contradictory, readings that characterize Ovidian scholarship. It demonstrates more than once the joyful paradox of interpreting, misinterpreting, and reinterpreting a poet who more than any other Augustan writer attempts to control the reception of his poetry—and of these poems in particular.


1. Lessons in Love: Fifty Years of Scholarship on the Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris, Steven J. Green

I. Poetics

2. Love in Parentheses: Digression and Narrative Hierarchy in Ovid’s Erotodidactic Poems, Alison Sharrock

3. Staging the Reader Response: Ovid and his ‘Contemporary Audience’ in Ars and Remedia, Niklas Holzberg

4. Vixisset Phyllis, si me foret usa magistro: Erotodidaxis and Intertextuality, Duncan F. Kennedy

II. Erotics

5. In Ovid with Bed (Ars 2 and 3), John Henderson

6. Women on Top: Livia and Andromache, Alessandro Barchiesi

7. Ovid, Augustus, and the Politics of Moderation in Ars Amatoria 3, Roy K. Gibson

8. The Art of Remedia Amoris: Unlearning to Love, Gianpiero Rosati

9. Lethaeus Amor: The Art of Forgetting, Philip Hardie

III. Politics

10. Erotic Aetiology: Romulus, Augustus, and the Rape of the Sabine Women, Mario Labate

11. The Art of Making Onself Hated: Rethinking (Anti-)Augustanism in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, Sergio Casali

12. Ara Amatoria Romana: Ovid on Love as a Cultural Construct, Katharina Volk

13. Ovid’s Evolution, M. Myerowitz Levine

IV. Reception

14. Paelignus, puto, dixerat poeta (Mart.2.41.2): Martial’s Intertexual Dialogue with Ovid’s Erotodidactic Poems, Markus Janka

15. Sex Education: Ovidian Erotodidactic in the Classroom, Ralph Hexter

16. Ovid in Defeat? On the Reception of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris, Genevieve Liveley.


1. See A. Sharrock’s monograph on Ars 2, Seduction and Repetition in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria II, Oxford, 1994, as well as M. Janka’s commentary on the same book, Ovid: Ars Amatoria. Buch 2: Kommentar, Heidelberg, 1997. Though Roy Gibson’s Ovid Ars Amatoria Book 3, Cambridge, 2003, appeared after the conference, it has clearly influenced much of the scholarship in this volume.

2. Cf. B. McHale, “Weak Narrativity: The Case of Avant-Garde Narrative Poetry,” Narrative 9, 2001, 161-7.

3. T.A.J. McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome, New York and Oxford, 1998.

4. E. Downing, “Anti-Pygmalion: The praeceptor in Ars Amatoria, Book 3,” Helios 17, 1990, 237-49; the article is discussed by Green in the introductory essay (p. 12).

5. The cyclical relationship between the Ars and the Remedia is made particularly clear in L. Fulkerson,”Omnia vincit amor: why the Remedia fail,” CQ 54, 2004, 211-23.

6. For the anti-exemplum, L. draws on Heldmann, K., Dichtkunst oder Liebeskunst? Die mythologischen Erzählungen in Ovid Ars Amatoria, Göttingen, 2001.

7. She relies especially on the works of D.M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating, New York, 1994, and S. Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, New York, 2002.

8. Cf. the insouciance with which “Ovid” describes his own use of force in Am. 1.7; the praeceptor, moreover, suggests that he wouldn’t mind receiving the very reward that Romulus’ soldiers did, Ars 1. 131-32. For a more critical attitude toward rape in Ovidian elegy, see A. Richlin, “Reading Ovid’s Rapes,” in Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome, Oxford, 1992, 166-69. S. James, Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy, Berkeley, 2003, discusses Ovidian vis and its relationship to violence in preceding elegy, 184-97.

9. See A. Sharrock, Seduction and Repetition in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria II, Oxford, 1994, esp. 293.