Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ovid's Amores, I.9: A Few Informal Notes

Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.), unlike his much older contemporaries, Virgil and Horace, was unwilling to lace his brilliant poetry with government propaganda.  He was independent of  their patron, Maecenas, who tactfully required Virgil and Horace to encourage citizens to revive the religion and the morals of ancient Rome.  Ovid lived, alas, in interesting times. In the wake of civil war, while Augustus passed laws against adultery and attempted to reduce the rate of divorce, Ovid wrote humorous, irreverent poems. Famous for his wit, rhetorical language, and metrical genius (it was said that even his prose sounded like poetry), Ovid published his famous epic poem, Metamorphoses, a collection of myths linked by the theme of transformation and spiced with humorous representations of the amours of the gods and goddesses, in 8 A.D. His early poems, the Amores, consisted of three books of love elegies, which were probably started in 25 B.C., but not published till 16 A.D.  Eventually Ovid was banished to an island for carmen et error, "a poem and an error."  It is thought that the poem was Ars Amatoria, The Art of Love, and that the error was some scandal concerning the imperial family.

I have read most of Ovid in Latin:  all of Metamorphoses, Tristia, Heroides, and many poems from other collections. I am working my way through Amores, which honestly seem very lightweight, not surprising considering the time frame. They are, of course, his early work, and make for easy reading at night, if I may say so.   

Amores, I.9, a poem famous for its explication of the love-war dichotomy,  is very slight, very funny and clever, but the style is more obvious, more crude, and certainly less flowing than most of Ovid.  My hasty notes are below, and  below the notes is a translation of the poem by Christopher Marlowe.  

Here is the first couplet in Latin and then my own translation:

Militat omnis amans, et habet sua castra Cupido;
   Attice, crede mihi, militat omnis amans.

"Every lover is a soldier, and Cupid has his own camp;
    Atticus, believe me, every lover is a soldier."

The brilliant arrangement of words, militat omnis amans, at the beginning of the first line, repeated in same sequence at the end of the second line, emphasizes the closeness of the soldier to the lover--the soldier and the lover linked by the adjective, omnis (every, all)--and shows off the dexterity and flexibility of Ovid's style. The sound is important:  the m's and n's running together softly after the crisp "-tat" of militat and sounding like love:  om-ni-sa-mans."   We do not think of the lover as militat, i.e., one who is a soldier. This conceit, however, recurs throughout Greek and Roman poetry, though Ovid is, according to my sources, the first poet to write a whole poem on the subject, instead of mentioning the lover-soldier in passing.  He actually wrote three poems about it in the Amores.

The soldier and the lover both perform  "watch" duties; one guards the doors of his mistress (doors often standing for the labia of the vagina), the other his general's.  Later, one breaks the gates (the soldier), the lover breaks the doors.  The lover will face all kinds of obstacles to follow his girl, as the soldier will face them to follow the enemy:  adverse mountains, rivers doubled with rain, snow, swollen winds, etc.  

And Ovid interweaves Homeric myth into the poem. Achilles burned for for Briseis and ceased to fight the war for the Atrides, after Briseis was taken from him by Agamemnon,; Hector went from the embraces of Andromache to arms (a charming scene, smack in the middle of this triad of comparisons); and Agamemnon, "the highest of leaders, who incurred Achilles's wrath, was said to have been struck dumb by Cassandra's hair flowing like a Maenad's.  Love can be madness, or charming, dependent not on the soldier's relationship with the woman (Briseis and Cassandra were raped) but on the woman's willingness (Andromache).  The rapist-soldiers pay a price.

Here is Marlowe's translation.  I also recommend Peter Green's in the Penguin addition, but Marlowe's is beautiful (and available online):

All Lovers warre, and Cupid hath his tent, Atticke all lovers are to warre farre sent.
What age fits
Mars, with Venus doth agree,
Tis shame for eld in waive or love to be.
What yeares in souldiours Captaines do require,
Those in their lovers, pretty maydes desire.
Both of them watch: each on the hard earth sleepes:
His Mistris dores this; that his Captaines keepes.
Souldiers must travaile farre: the wench forth send,
Her valiant lover followes without end.
Mounts, and raine-doubled flouds he passeth over,
And treades the deserts snowy heapes do cover.
Going to sea,
East windes he doth not chide
Nor to hoist saile attends fit time and tyde.
Who but a souldiour or a lover is bould
To suffer storlne mixt snowes with nights sharpe cold?
One as a spy doth to his enemies goe,
The other eyes his rivall as his foe.
He Citties greate, this thresholds lies before:
This breakes Towne gates, but he his Mistris dore.
oft to invade the sleeping foe tis good
And arm'd to shed unarmed peoples bloud.
So the fierce troupes of
ThracianRhesus fell
And Captive horses bad their Lord fare-well.
Sooth Lovers watch till sleepe the hus-band charmes,
Who slumbring, they rise up in swelling armes.
The keepers hands and corps-dugard to passe
The souldiours, and poore lovers worke ere was.
Doubtfull is warre and love, the vanquisht rise
And who thou never think'st should fall downe lies.
Therefore who ere love sloathfiilnesse doth call,
Let him surcease: love tries wit best of all.
Achilles burnd Briseis being tane away: Trojanes destroy the Greeke wealth, while you may. Hector to armes went from his wives embraces,
And on
Andromache his helmet laces.
Agamemnon was, men say, amazed,
Priams loose-trest daughter when he gazed. Mars in the deed the black-smithes net did stable,
In heaven was never more notorious fable.
My selfe was dull, and faint, to sloth inclinde,
Pleasure, and ease had mollifide my minde.
A faire maides care expeld this sluggishnesse,
And to her tentes wild me my selfe addresse.
Since maist thou see me watch and night warres move:
He that will not growe slothfull let him love.

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