BMCR 2011.08.04

Ovid’s Amores, Book One: A Commentary. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture 41

, , Ovid's Amores, Book One: A Commentary. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture 41. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011. xi, 186. ISBN 9780806141442. $24.95 (pb).

Ryan and Perkins have created a valuable aid in their commentary on Ovid’s Amores Book One, which adds to the growing series of commentaries for intermediate and advanced Latin students published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Their contribution is timely, as the popularity of Ovid’s elegiac poems continues to rise among scholars and in the classroom. Daniel Garrison’s The Student’s Catullus and his Horace Epodes and Odes have become standard textbooks for intermediate and advanced Latin poetry courses, and Ryan and Perkins have contributed a helpful and informative commentary aimed at the same level of student. Like other volumes in the Oklahoma series, such as Garrison’s Catullus and Luschnig and Roisman’s Euripides’ Alcestis, Ryan and Perkins’s commentary offers a glossary at the back. This commentary provides a welcome improvement over Barsby’s small Oxford commentary with facing English translations,1 and offers a good mixture of grammatical assistance, interpretive issues, and appropriate comparanda for the intermediate level Latin student. This textbook offers a stand-alone reading for intermediate level students not yet ready for Miller’s Latin Erotic Elegy: an Anthology and Reader, and it pairs well with Booth’s Amores II commentary.2

Before the commentary proper comes an introduction, introduction to meter, and glossary of rhetorical terms preceding the commentary. Each poem is introduced by a short essay outlining the topic and hinting at major interpretive issues, the text of the poem, commentary, and one to three items for further reading. The final sections of the book include a glossary, a fuller English-language bibliography, and index.

Scholars may turn to Ryan and Perkins for their strong grasp of formal issues such as sound patterns, rhetorical phrases, and figures of speech. Their commentary also excels at explaining the complex mythological and literary references to students encountering obscure Greek and Roman names for the first time. For each poem, Ryan and Perkins explain briefly the chief interpretive problems, but place greatest importance on aspects of performance and comprehension of Latin grammar and syntax. This choice seems appropriate for a commentary aimed at students who have completed an elementary study of Latin grammar and have been introduced to continuous passages of Latin poetry, their intended readership (ix). Their choices seem doubly apt since their book appears after McKeown’s masterly scholarly commentaries on Amores I and II in Cairns’s ARCA series.3 Their introduction to meter is one of the clearest and most straightforward that I have seen in a commentary. It offers a mixture of useful examples along with simple definitions of metrical units, and is admirably concise and functional.

Students at the intermediate level will find sufficient grammatical assistance from the notes. The commentary is intended for use in courses reading Amores I in sequence, and so offers extensive grammatical and syntactic advice in the beginning poems of the collection, and tapers off rapidly as students build reading ability in Ovid. This choice results in clear and explicit advice on how to understand Ovid’s free word order in the first three poems, and allows further interpretive questions to be broached in the later poems. This selective approach to grammatical explanation does, however, make the commentary less ideal for teaching a selection of Amores I in a course on all three of the elegists. The commentary is strongest on these later poems, particularly on 1.11 and 1.12, the diptych poems, and on 1.15. The commentators update McKeown’s discussion of Amores 1.11 and 1.12 with recent bibliography, call attention to Ovidian personification of the accursed writing tablets, and alert students to some of the poetic parallels while continuing to explain the trickiest grammatical constructions. For Amores 1.15, Ryan and Perkins succinctly explain the Greek and Roman poetic contexts for Ovid’s claims to poetic immortality such as his engagement with Horace Odes 3.30, the declared importance of Callimachus, and Ovid’s elevation of love elegy alongside epic, didactic, and lyric poetry.

The least satisfying part of the commentary is the introduction, which offers a functional overview of Ovid’s life, literary career, and prior Roman elegy, but contains some significant omissions. The authors at times subscribe to a Romantic view of the poet as creator of poetry based on love and passion, such as when we read that Ovid wrote the Amores “to share his passion and quest for a perfect union with poetry (3).” This broad statement undervalues Ovid’s distinctly parodic and highly-referential poetry that routinely places the craft of poetry before the expression of any genuine emotion, especially love. Ovid is not a poet of passion as much as a lover of his own words, nimium amator ingenii sui, as Quintilian states it ( Inst. 10.1.88). Nor does the introduction offer any sense of the scholarly controversies over Ovid’s love elegy. While the introduction to earlier elegy provides an overview of the Monobiblos, it does not acknowledge the profound influence of Tibullus or Propertius’ later books on the Amores. Propertius’ self-proclaimed Roman Callimacheanism (4.1.64) and his literary obsessions predict Ovidian ludics, but are not mentioned. Yet the highly referential Amores I reacts strongly to topics that Propertius first introduces in later books, such as the Roman triumph, Cynthia’s hair dye incident at 2.18, and the procuress Acanthis at 4.5; Tibullus 1.6, the inspiration for Amores 1.4, does not appear in the appendix. There is ample recent scholarship on these intertextual connections that can be found elsewhere.4

Ryan and Perkins’s commentary takes an intermediate position between offering students an exhaustive bibliography of treatments of a given poem such as those found in Cairns’s ARCA commentaries on Tibullus and Ovid, and providing no references at all to scholarship. The one to three secondary readings for each poem focus on journal articles published before the year 2000, and seldom mention treatments of the poems in monographs. Many important English-language treatments of Ovid’s Amores are listed in the final bibliography, but instructors will have to direct students towards these works.

Ryan and Perkins have created a helpful commentary that fills a distinct need in the intermediate Latin curriculum. The limitations of the introduction and the bibliography prevent the book from working as a stand-alone supplement to McKeown’s commentaries for scholars, but this is not really the book’s goal. I found only a few errors and omissions. Quintilian is referred to as a poet on p. 8, and the authors do not state which text of Ovid they are using or mention textual problems. The quality and usefulness of this commentary far outweigh any idiosyncrasies I may have found in Ryan and Perkins’s choices, and their commentary provides a welcome expansion of options for teaching Latin poetry at the intermediate level.


1. Barsby, John. 1973. Ovid: Amores Book 1. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

2. Miller, P. A. 2002. Latin Erotic Elegy: An Anthology and Reader. London, Routledge, and J. Booth. 1991. Ovid: Amores II. Warminster, Aris & Phillips.

3. McKeown, J. 1987 -1998. Ovid: Amores. Text, Prolegomena and Commentary in four volumes. Volumes I, II, III. ARCA 20, 22, 36. Liverpool, Leeds, Francis Cairns.

4. See discussions in Miller (2002, 29-36, 241-255), or S. L. James 2003. Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy. Berkeley, University of California Press.