The Art of Love is three books of advice on lovemaking : two directed at men and the third to women. Cures for Love provides advice on those trying to break free from their love obsession.
Both were included in The Erotic Poems by Ovid, published by Penguin and translated by Peter Green (ISBN 9780140443608)
For me, the humour inherent in much of The Amores is entirely absent from The Art of Love. Turning from describing his own romantic escapades to doling out advice to naïve men and women comes across as crass and insulting at best. The first book advising young men on where and how to meet women around Rome ends with such offensive comments stating how sexual aggression by men is justified because women are just playing coy or don’t know what they really want.
“It’s all right to use force – force of that sort goes down well with the girls … Rough seduction delights them, the audacity of near-rape is a compliment” Book 1, lines 673-677
I know these lines were written 2000 years ago, and modern sensibilities cannot be expected but surely they would have been difficult to defend such beliefs even in Ancient Roman society.
The second book tells men how to keep their conquests : that they must continuously fawn over their mistresses, no matter how insincere. While not criminal, it is still demeaning and belittling loving relationships. If this was all meant to be amusing or even satirical, I’m afraid I missed the boat.
Paradoxically, Ovid is quite the proto-feminist in book 3, with his advice to women is that the best result is when both partners reach climax together; and women should choose a lovemaking position based on their body size and shape is also refreshingly modern. He also comments that women will make efforts to appear to their best advantage for their own sake as much as to catch a man’s attention (this from a fragment of another of his poems On Facial Treatments for Ladies )
Ovid makes constant use of mythological parallels to justify his advice and scenarios; so many in fact that they pile up and threaten to obscure his message, although his description of Icarus flying too close to the sun in Book 1, while perhaps not so logically included, was well depicted. Bodes well for his Metamorphoses, the next book on my list.
There has been a long standing belief that this work may have been partly to blame for Ovid’s exile from Rome (he died in Tomis, a remote town on the other side of the Danube in what is now Romania) away from wife and family.
As for the partner book Cures for Love, Ovid is back on course with a myriad of ideas on how to escape from overwhelming passion – those “held in bondage with cruel Love’s foot set hard” on their neck. Some diversion (litigation, farm work, fighting in the war, hunting, or travelling) will make one forget their obsession with a lover – too much leisure time encourages Cupid. If this fails, dwelling on and magnfiying the loved one’s imperfections may help. Taking a second lover may lessen the impact of the first. Ignoring him altogether or breaking dates, or contrarily, glutting oneself so much in her company and lovemaking that it becomes tedious, and so on. Ovid doesn’t want the patient to hate his or her ex, just to be indifferent until completely cured. Perhaps a collection of cowardly strategies but at least they raised a smile after the previous read.
“The man who protests to the world “I’m not in love”, is.” (Cures for love, lines 648-649)
I have now moved into the third millennium of literature, in time for the third anniversary celebration of Chronolit next week. Yay me!!
Personal rating: Art of Love 3/10, Cures for Love 6/10
Kimmy’s rating: Kimmy bestowed a ‘kiss’ (read ‘lick’) on my cheek as I typed this. That’s real love!
Also in these years: In the last quarter century (25 BC to 1 AD):
- The Roman Republic is replaced by the Roman Empire, with Octavius becoming Emperor Augustus (27 BC), and campaigning against German tribes (16-15 BC)
- Astronomy develops significantly during China’s Han Dynasty
and a baby is born in Bethlehem.
Next : More Ovid with one of the heavyweight titles of ancient literature, his Metamorphoses.