Here is an interesting entry on Ovid, from the Catholic Encyclopedia, of all places.
Ovid’s treatment of love is the most significant single literary formulation of erotic experience in the Latin tradition. When Augustine (Conf. 3.1) says, “I was not set in love, but in love with loving” (nondum amabam sed amare amabam), he uses the world “love” (amare) with just that shade of meaning given it by Ovid. In the tradition before Ovid, love was usually treated as an aberration, madness or sickness (furor, vesania, morbus, etc.) affecting the individual lover. Ovid extended and deepened this conception to emphasize his view that love is essentially a mutual experience between two persons who are equally involved.
His Pyramus and Thisbe, Ceyx and Halcyone, Philemon and Baucis and many others become typical examples for the Latin tradition after him. One always thinks these lovers in pairs, whereas the typical lover of Greek epigram, the new comedy, or earlier Latin elegy is usually thought of by himself.
It is interesting that an officially Church approved organ such as the Catholic Encyclopedia would be so approving of an erotic poet of Ovid’s stature. It is true, as the article claims, that Ovid was the first poet to look at love not so much as some sort of dangerous madness, although he did so in his purely erotic poems, but rather as a mutual pleasure to be shared by two people. This is especially true of many of his depictions of love in the Metamorphoses, something Ovid wrote later in his life. He most likely had a higher appreciation of the nuances of love when he was 40 and writing the Metamorphoses, than when he was 20 and writing his more racy love poems, The Amores. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry emphasizes quite well how Ovid influenced the meaning of the world amare or “love” in Latin, a meaning that was later carried on after that. For instance, a great period of later love poetry, the 12th and 13th centuries, the age of the troubadours as well as the golden age of Medieval (and therefore Catholic) Christianity, is often referred to as the Aetas Ovidiana, “The Age of Ovid”, due to his literary influence at the time. This period in turn influenced all later love literature straight to our own time. It is an interesting and seemingly contradictory mixture of Christian and Ovidian notions of love and sex that has endured, at least in the literary and popular culture world. Our own notions of eroticism are in part due to Ovid’s influence.
Another interesting fact is that Ovid is the first writer we know of who advocates the importance of mutual pleasure sharing in love making, that it is important for the male lover to help his female partner achieve orgasms. He does so for instance in the Ars Amatoria, the Art of Love, (2. 683-88). Much of this work is written as humor and satire, but I think Ovid knew the pleasures and importance of providing sexual pleasure to a woman. A man who can do that well will be getting more women than he can imagine.
As far as Ovid’s influence on Shakespeare, here is a contemporary assessment of that, from Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia (1598): “The sweet and witty soul of Ovid lives in the mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugared sonnets among his private friends”.
Quite true. So the more I study Ovid, the more I find fascinating about his life, poetry and subsequent literary and cultural influence.