Recently I have been reading the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-17 AD). He has become a great favorite of mine. Vergil (70-19 BC) used to be my favorite Latin poet, but Ovid writes about things that are, right now, more intriguing to me. Vergil is the more serious of the two, often considered the greater. His main work, the Aeneid, deals with the mythical foundation of Rome by the Trojan exile Aeneas, following the Trojan War. As an intended rival to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Aeneid is a celebration of Rome’s greatness, especially under the first Roman Emperor, and Vergil’s overall patron, Augustus. So beloved was Vergil thereafter that the great Italian poet Dante (1265-1321) uses him as an example of pagan pietas to guide him through the Inferno in his Divine Comedy. Vergil is perhaps the most spiritual, and even proto-Christian, of all Roman poets. For that reason he is also highly appealing to me.
Ovid, however, writes about more titillating subjects. He wrote many things, the most important of which are his Amores (“Loves”) a series of elegiac love poems, his Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love”), which is a poem on how to pick up women; and his Metamorphoses, which is long poem on mythological transformations. The Metamorphoses is the classic work of Greek and Roman mythology. Its influence on subsequent Western art, literature and overall culture has been immense. Urbane, witty, sophisticated, Ovid appears through his poetry as a man who loved life, enjoyed pleasures, pursued erotic adventures, and wrote about it all quite brilliantly.
To illustrate the difference between Vergil and Ovid: while the Emperor Augustus loved Vergil, the shy, reclusive, almost rustic bard of Roman greatness, he disliked Ovid, the poet of wit, scandal, eroticism and sensuousness so much so that he even sent him into exile for the rest of his life in a far off corner of the Roman Empire, Tomis, a small town on the Black Sea in what would be today modern Romania. It was basically like being exiled to Alaska. Although an overall mystery as to why he was sent into exile, ancient evidence from Ovid’s own writing refers (in Latin) to a “carmen et error” as the reasons, which mean, “a song and error”. The song most likely was the Ars Amatoria, which did not appeal to Augustus’s prudish nature, as well as his desire to reestablish old time Roman values, and the error may have referred to an affair Ovid may have had with Augustus’s granddaughter, the notorious nymphomaniac, Julia. But we will never know for sure.
I bring in Ovid here because I want to write more about how eroticism is often expressed through literature, especially poetry. I have been focusing a lot on the visual arts, and trying to define what is and what is not porn therein, but the written word also has a long and celebrated history of eroticism. Erotica is often considered not simply visual, but written as well. Although we could find examples of this throughout all of literary history, such as with Shakespeare or Donne, or D.H. Lawrence, or with Joyce’s Ulysses being banned in Boston for its perceived sexual improprieties, certainly the most common and popular example of this today would be the Romance Novel, often referred to as “Chick Porn”. Indeed, some of the more recent Romance novels published over the last decade or so display an even more graphic depiction of sex than their predecessors, although the Romance Novel has always pushed the boundaries of female sexual desire. Modern prudes will often put the Romance Novel on their “to be avoided or eliminated” list of sinful items. The explosion of erotic writing on blogs is also another good sign of this fundamental human desire for some type of erotic expression and entertainment.
Poets like Ovid show how erotic writing has been around for milennia. His exile shows that it always comes with controversy. Yet, despite the best attempts of the sexually repressed and prudish types to eliminate eroticism from art and literature, human nature has not changed since Ovid’s day, despite our vastly differently cultures of today. Most or many people simply enjoy reading, writing or viewing erotica. It is a form of entertainment. What makes Ovid so delightful is that he understood this, and his own love poetry is really a facade of irreverence and pure entertainment. For instance, his supposed mistress that he writes about in his Amores, Corinna, was most likely a fiction, something made up so Ovid could have fun with the genre. In his real life he did enjoy women, marrying three time, and finding true happiness in his final marriage. As someone once described him to me, “He was fascinated with women”. Yet he channeled this fascination, this love of women, into some of the finest literary art the world has seen. Ovid is a classic, firmly placed within the pantheon of historically great poets, in part because he wrote so well on such randy topics. Even today he is still a bit controversial in some settings.
I can understand and admire all Ovid was doing. In many ways my own blog is nothing more than a testimony to my own fascination with women, especially their hidden sexual natures which are so alluring, enchanting, and intoxicating. For there are few things I enjoy more in life than sharing eroticism with a woman, especially if I can give her the greatest pleasure she has ever experienced. I also enjoy immensely the artistic expression of eroticism, in art or music or literature, especially when done with charm and beauty. I enjoy writing erotica myself, or writing about it, or posting erotic images, much to the consternation of some former readers of mine, especially the more religious ones (some of whom, despite their misgivings, still secretly visit my blogging den of iniquity–and they are most welcome to come here, always!). I think Ovid, who was a master of expressing eroticism in ways that were charming and beautiful, would have understood these things.
So I have much more to write on Ovid, and I intend to provide some examples of his poetry, as well as the importance of eroticism in art and literature as well. It is really an inexhaustible topic…and any good suggestion out there on good erotic writers and poets would be most appreciate