Ovid’s banned book

To catch the woman who will be our heart’s desire we need a plan.

But first, at the beginning of any new activity it is necessary to call upon the appropriate god. Be patient – I’ll explain.

Let us not be put off by our modern ideas. Some of us will be atheists, and yet others subscribe to one of the religions that recognise only one God. I’ll address the latter first.

If you’re a Roman Catholic you’ll understand the idea of praying to the appropriate saint, so you need only think of the matter in this way. If you’re a follower of a more austere faith then you can think of it as praying that your actions will accord with God’s will. And if you are an unbeliever, simply consider that your intention at the outset will determine your success or otherwise, and that an unclear intention cannot result in a clear result. We all have gods – the petty gods that are our obsessions and the larger gods that inspire our nobler aims – it’s just that atheists don’t call them by that name.

(By the way, if your god is a devil then I can assure you that the results will turn out unpleasant in due course. Perhaps I’ll expand on this another time. This is one of those obvious things that nevertheless people don’t get.)

The point is to know what it is we want clearly enough that we can state it, so that we can be sure that it is good, and so that we shall not be deviated from our aim or settle for less.

So, who is the god that Ovid invokes at the beginning of his book, ‘The Art of Love‘?

It is not Apollo. This should be for us a warning: there is a mischievous twinkle in Ovid’s eye. He is writing poetry, yet he tells us his inspiration is not from Apollo or one of the Muses, the goddesses of all the arts. For a poem that has lasted two thousand years this is an odd claim. Personally, I think the Muses smiled on him anyway. And perhaps his failure to give the Muses their due was why he was banished to Tomis (now Constanta) on the Black Sea coast – “a town located in a war-stricken cultural wasteland on the remotest margins of the empire,” according to Wikipedia.

No, Ovid claims not to be inspired by the Muses, nor to have had the arts of love sung by birds into his ear.

“Experience is my guide,” he says.

As you know, I say the same, although I also acknowledge some fate or invisible power that brought to me the woman of my dreams – but of this perhaps another time. But for grace to occur, work is necessary.

Ovid does ask a goddess to smile on his undertaking – Venus, goddess of love, mother of wild boy Cupid. Ovid also says he will “sing of love where danger is not; I sing permitted pilferings; free of all offence my verses are.” Unfortunately the Emperor Augustus did take offence, and the ‘Art of Love’ was banned and Ovid banished.

So, take care. For this undertaking you have dedicated yourself to Venus, not Apollo. As for “permitted pilferings” – hmm. And you know that Cupid is notorious for shooting arrows of love without regard for age, social propriety or your convenience.

Nevertheless, I commend this study to you, for the same reason Ovid gives right at the beginning. As he says, “I, too, will bring Love to heel, even though his arrows pierce my breast and he brandish over my head his flaming torch. The keener his arrows, the fiercer his fires, the more they stir me to avenge my wounds.”

If you would conquer, know your enemy.

Next: Ovid’s plan of action.

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