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The Art of Love by Ovid

The Art of Love

by Ovid

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Ovid, along with Herodotus, is one of those authorial voices that brings a new friend into your world. Both are startlingly modern to our ears: cheeky, warmly humorous and humane; a person you would like to have met and talked with. Someone on Wikipedia put it well: "Readers can follow the allusive chatter of the poet with a smile, without ever being able to be quite certain how seriously he means any of it. The tension implicit in this uncommitted tone is reminiscent of a flirt, and in fact, the semi-serious, semi-ironic form is ideally suited to Ovid's subject matter." The Humphries translation is long out of print, but it is possible to run into copies in good used book stores. It's my favourite, but each to his own in such matters. A 2001 translation is available for free. You can read it online or download it here: http://goo.gl/vHNuV ( )
  Ron_Peters | Oct 23, 2014 |
If it were published today, I would probably think of this collection of works as silly fluff. But as it’s Ovid, writing from the time of Augustus Caesar, I found it quite interesting. I don’t believe a whole lot in the advice he doles out for the heartsick, which spans beauty cream recipes, advice for adulterers (and cuckolds), how to make the most out of one’s physical attributes, where to find partners, and, once found, how to keep the flame of their desires on ‘high’.

If it were someone today bragging about their sexual exploits, I would probably roll my eyes, but I can’t help but smile when Ovid boasts that “my record was set, if I remember correctly, with Corinna – nine times, all in a short summer night.” On the other hand, there are some cringe-inducing passages, like “Force is all right to employ, and women like you to use; what they enjoy they pretend they were unwilling to give”, though this sort of thing is certainly honest to the prevailing mindset, and explain the culture of violence against women that’s existed for thousands and thousands of years.

In general, though, Ovid is not violent, and just stands for screwing around for all one’s worth while one is still alive, and feels it’s his mission to tell others how to go about doing that. It’s not really love that he’s after, at least in the sense of romantic love, so the title is a misnomer.

However with all that said, his is a voice that is at once speaking to us out of the distant past, but also of the timeless struggle between the sexes. A day out at the horse races, where he admits “You watch the races, and I watch you”, silently imploring her that “That can’t be any fun, with your legs hanging over and dangling; why don’t you stick your toes into the railing in front?” is interesting aside from the fantasy we can all imagine in the present day, but also as the horse race with its procession of Roman Gods takes us back to a scene from everyday life from two thousand years ago.

Is he a profligate? Yes. Lecherous? Yes. Silly? Yes. Interesting? Yes.

On adultery:
“In the fields of our neighbor the grass forever is greener;
Always the other man’s herd offers the richer reward.”

On alcohol, when trying to forget love, from “The Remedies for Love”:
“Either get thoroughly drunk, or be a teetotal abstainer:
Anything in between causes the passions to rise.”

On the beauty of all women (or just Ovid’s desire to bounce around), from “The Loves”:
“There is no definite One whose beauty drives me to frenzy;
No: there are hundreds, almost, keeping me always in love.
If there’s a modest one, whose eyes are always cast downward,
I am on fire, in a snare, set by her innocent ways.
If one is forward and brash, I rejoice that she’s not country-simple;
I foresee quite a romp, bouncing around in her bed.
If she seems cold and austere, behaving like one of the Sabines,
I suspect that she craves more than she’s willing to show.
If she had read any books, I am overwhelmed by her culture;
Never read one in her life? – that makes her sweet and unspoiled.”

On dogs, from “The Remedies for Love”, interesting to me as it seems to predate other recognized sources:
“Man’s best friend is his dog.”

On rest, and ‘carpe diem’, from “The Loves”:
“For, stupid, what is sleep but old death’s twin?
The fates will give us ample time for rest.”

On sex advice for women, from “The Art of Love”:
“Let the woman feel the act of love to her marrow,
Let the performance bring equal delight to the two.
Coax and flatter and tease, with inarticulate murmurs,
Even with sexual words, in the excitement of play,
And if nature, alas! denies you the final sensation
Cry out as if you had come, do your best to pretend.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Aug 16, 2014 |
Bizarre to my 2011 sensibilities, more than a bit misogynist...hilarious. ( )
  newskepticx | Dec 18, 2013 |

Do I need to say anything more??

Now, only if I could figure out a way to play the James Brown track.

( )
  Praj05 | Apr 5, 2013 |
Tired of being lonely?
Still searching for that certain special somebody?
Looking to hook it up with foxy ladies, Roman-style?

…Well now you can! This handy little volume puts Rome’s first-century love guru in your back pocket! Listen up and take notes, as the Ovalman divulges all his secrets about the pleasures of the flesh (the most fun pleasures of all!) In three compact chapters, he lays down the how-to’s of love for both genders:
Book 1- Finding Love (for men)
Book 2- Keeping Love (for men)
Book 3- Keeping Love (for women)

That said, I should caution readers: if you expect this book to be a Roman Kama Sutra, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The Art of Love isn’t porno; it’s more like the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia. Is it good advice? Well, frankly, not all of it. In fact, some of it is actually pretty bad, but it’s a fun look at sex and dating in antiquity, and at least it’s stated in elegant and beautiful language. Fun fact: Ovid has more identifiable phrases and quotations in William Shakespeare’s writing than any other influence.- not too shabby! This, according to the book’s preface by Walter S. Keating… and who’s gonna argue with him?

Book 1- Finding Love (for men)

1) To find a woman, go to places that people like to go.
(a) The theater
“But especially at the curving Theatres do you hunt for prey… they come to see, they come that they themselves may be seen; to modest chastity these spots are detrimental. ” just ask Alanis Morisette.

(b) Banquets
“Banquets, too, with the tables arranged, afford an introduction: there is something there besides wine for you to look for. ” Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge…

2) A little grooming wouldn’t hurt, Gentlemen.
“Let your robe be well-fitting, and without a spot. Let your tongue, too, not be clammy; your teeth free from yellowness; and let not your foot wallop about, losing itself in the shoe down at heel. Let not the cutting shockingly disfigure your hair bolt upright; let your locks, let your beard be trimmed by a skillful hand. Let your nails, too, not be jagged, and let them be without dirt; and let no hairs project from the cavities of your nostrils.I personally wonder how many hotties I would have had a shot with, if not for my walloping foot getting all down-at-heel.

3) Watch out for chicks who only want to be seen in dark places; they’re probably trying to pass themselves off as hotter than they really are.
“Here do not you trust too much to the deceiving lamp; both night and wine are unsuited to a judgment upon beauty. In daylight, and under a clear sky, did Paris view the Goddesses, when he said to Venus: ‘Thou, Venus, dost excel them both‘.”and we all know how great things worked out for Paris.

4) Be confident!
“…let a confidence enter your mind, that all women maybe won; you will win them…”Because I’m good enough… I’m smart enough… and doggone it, people like me!

“Come then, and doubt not that you can conquer all the fair…”See? Ovid just told you twice! Listen up, bitches; this one’s important! Women can smell desperation, and it’s a date-killer.

5) Under no circumstances should you give presents. Never.
“Great must be your dread of the birthday of your mistress, and unlucky be that day on which any present must be made. Though you should cleverly avoid her, still she will spoil you: a woman finds contrivances, by means of which to plunder the riches of the eager lover.”I prefer to go with “Happy Birthday. I didn’t get you a present, but how about we just do it? That’s free.”

6) Make lots of promises!
“Take care to make promises: for what harm is there in promising? Any person whatever can be rich in promises. “Good point. What harm, indeed! Promise away! (are you getting all this, guys?)

7) Is it a married woman who catches your fancy? Ovid doesn’t feel this should be a problem. (I never said Ovid wasn’t a jerk.) Here’s his advice on husbands:

“Let it also be your object to please the husband of the fair; once made a friend, he will be more serviceable for your designs.”Wha-? How’s that supposed to work?
“You’re trying to seduce my wife?! If we weren’t friends, I’d be quite angry… but since we’re buds, let me hook you up.”

Not this husband, Ovid.
By the way, do any historians out there know how Ovid died? Just wondering.

“…express all good wishes for your mistress; all good wishes for him who shares her couch; but in our silent thoughts pray for curses on her husband.”Yeah… that’s kind of sleazy, O. I wish you didn’t write this part; your stock just took a hit with me.

8) Bad to worse: “No” means “Yes“?
“What she entreats you to do, she dreads; what she does not entreat you to do, namely, to persist, she wishes you to do. Press on; and soon you will be the gainer of your desires.”Oh, Ovid! You are so not ready for the 21st century.


(a) the old “Side Twitch and Foot Touch” combo:
“…when the tables are removed and the guests shall be going, mix in the throng: and quietly stealing up to her as she walks, twitch her side with your fingers; and touch her foot with your foot.”Ohhhhhh yeeaaaaaahhh. Works every time.

(b) the “accidental” hand touch:
“And whatever food she have touched with her fingers, do you reach for it also; and while you are reaching, her hand may be touched by you.”"subtle" I would love to see Ovid demonstrating this one! Hahaha

(c) the mantle-lift --> ankle ogle conversion:
“If her mantle, hanging too low, shall be trailing on the earth, gather it up, and carefully raise it from the dirty ground. At once, as the reward of your attention, the fair permitting it, her ankles will chance be seen by your eyes.”You know, Ovid’s right about this. I used to think ankles were just a handy place to handcuff wrists, but they can actually be quite sensual. Here’s the lovely Penelope Cruz showing off her ankles:

Not to your liking? Perhaps this image of Brigitte Bardot as a barefoot beauty does it for you.

Mmmmmm, not bad! Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Ovid!

(d) my personal favorite: ….the bosom duster!
“…if perchance a little dust should fall on the bosom of the fair, it must be brushed off with your fingers; and if there should be no dust, still brush off that none; let any excuse be a prelude to your attentions. “Anybody out there with a dusty bosom? I’m giving out free finger-dustings!

Hahahaaaa, awesome!
Okay, Gentlemen: once you’ve utilized Ovid’s can’t-fail system for aquiring a woman, you’ll need to move on to Phase II: keeping her!

Book 2- Keeping Love (for men)

1) Gentle. Gentle…
“…with sweet words must gentle love be cherished…. Bring soft caresses, and words that delight the ear, that she may ever be joyous at your approach”
2) Watch the hair, buddy!
“I remember that once, when in a rage, I disarranged the hair of my mistress; of how many a day did that anger deprive me!”
3) Just do whatever she does.
“What she blames, do you blame; whatever she approved, do you approve; what she says, do you say; what she denies, do you deny. Does she smile, do you smile; if she weeps, do you remember to weep.”write it down, if you have to, but Remember. To. Weep.

4) When playing dice games, be sure to roll lower numbers than your beloved.
“If she plays, and throws the ivory cubes with her hand, do you throw unsuccessfully, do you make bad moves to the throws; or if you are throwing the dice, let not the penalty attend upon her losing; take care that losing throws often befall yourself.”That's why, as a single man, I never left the house without a pair of loaded die.
Ovid takes a long digression in this chapter to retell the story of Icarus. I’m not sure what the point of that was.

Last chapter:

Book 3- Keeping Love (for women)
This one is just for the ladies. Ovid may be a man, but as an expert in ways of love, he is uniquely qualified to instruct the fairer sex in the grand dance of courtship! Take note, young women, and hear his wisdom!

1) You aren’t getting any younger.
“The time will be, when you, who are now shutting out a lover, will by lying, an old woman, chilled in the lonely night. No door of yours will be broken open in the broils of the night; nor will you find in the morning your threshold bestrewed with roses. How soon, ah me! Are your bodies pursed with wrinkles, and that coulour which existed in the beauteous face, fades away! The gray hairs…”This part goes on for a long time. It isn’t really advice; Ovid just wants you to know.

2) Sleep around with as many people as possible; promiscuity never hurt anybody, and besides: sex is a renewable resource!
“…refuse not your endearments to the eager men. Even should they deceive you, what do you lose? All remains the same. Were a thousand to partake thereof, nothing is wasted thereby. Iron is worn away, stones are consumed by use; your persons are proof against all apprehension of detrement.”

“…who, on the deep sea, would hoard up the expanse of waters? ‘But tis not right’ you say, ‘for any woman to grant favours to a man.’ Tell me, what are you losing but the water, which you may take up again? Nor are my words urging you to prostitution; but they are forbidding you to fear evils that do not exist: your favours are exempt from loss to yourselves.”

3) A long portion of this chapter is cosmetic advice, including:
-dark women should wear light clothes
-light women should wear dark clothes
-short women should stay seated, so people don’t see how short they are when they stand up
-women with ugly feet should wear white boots (Ovid is quite specific that they should be white as snow)
-“How nearly was I recommending you that there be no shocking goat in the armpits, and that your legs should not be rough with harsh hair.”
-“She, whose breath is strong smelling, should never talk with an empty stomach; and she should always stand at a distance from her lover’s face.” (500 ft, or as a court deems reasonable)

4) If your are wealthy, be nice to your female attendants.
“I detest her who tears the face of her attendant with her nails, and who, seizing the hair-pin, pierces her arms.”I have to say, Ovid is 100% correct here. I find it very off-putting when I'm out with a woman, and she rips the face off of one of her servants. It doesn't matter how beautful she it, I probably won't ask her out on a second date.

5) Beware of them Dandies!
“…avoid those men who make dress and good looks their study; and who arange their locks, each in its own position. What they say to you, they have repeated to a thousand damsels. Their love is roving, and remains firm in no one spot. What is the woman to do, when the man, himself, is still more effeminate, and himself perchance may have still more male admirers?”Yes, what indeed is a woman then to do?

I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of good points here, but this was just a taste of the Art of Love. Read it, and with Ovid as your wingman, you’ll be scoring chicks (or dudes) left and right, like the old Patrician horndog, in no time! ( )
  BirdBrian | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ovidprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gleichen-Rußwurm, Alexander vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lammers, F.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meihuizen, J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If there be anyone among you who is ignorant of the art of loving, let him read this poem and, having read it and acquired the knowledge it contains, let him address himself to Love.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"... Humphries has rendered (Ovid’s) love poetry with conspicuous success into English which is neither obtrusively colloquial nor awkwardly antique." —Virginia Quarterly Review

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:23 -0400)

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