Ovid – The Art of Love

Cupid

Amor stringing his bow, Roman copy after Greek original by Lysippos. Musei Capitolini, Rome. Photo: Ricardo André Frantz

Love is a boy.

Ovid begins his treatise, The Art of Love with Cupid, a wild boy.

By this we know that we are dealing with Eros, desire, Cupid’s Greek equivalent, from whom we get the words erotic and erogenous zones. There are of course other loves.

C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves gives us not only Eros but also Storge (affection, as a parent for a child or a child for a pet), Philia (friendship) and Agape (in the sense used in 1 Corinthians 13 – divine love).

The happiest marriages and sexual partnerships include all four loves. The case for friendship is easy to make, and of the others I shall perhaps treat another time.

Back to our ancient Roman guide through the difficulties of love. Ovid says that he is well-qualified to write on this subject because he is old enough to have learned Cupid’s ways. Cupid is notoriously mischievous. If you are anything like me, you will have fallen in love many times and had no idea how even to get a kiss. But Ovid says his poem springs from experience.

Just as the fierce warrior Achilles was taught and tamed as a boy by his teacher, the old Centaur Chiron, so Ovid says he will tame the wild boy Cupid, ‘though his arrows riddle me.’

Over the coming weeks it is my intention to look at what Ovid says and see how much of it still applies today.

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How not to be a creep

Here’s one young woman’s guide to not being a creep.

It boils down to this: (1) don’t be in imagination; (2) do things in the right order.

Don’t make a lunge when you’ve had no signals whatever that it is the right time to do this. Be aware of signals that are actually coming from her. And not signals you’ve merely convinced yourself are coming from her.

The more we are thinking about what we want, the more detached from reality we become. We have a hope in our heads, “she likes me/ she wants me to kiss her,” and then we look for signs that fit with what we want to believe (I referred previously to the classic portrayal of this in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night). We become victims of imagination.

The antidote to this is always to be considerate and to concern yourself with what she wants. That doesn’t mean being a wimp but it does entail keeping a clear head.

Combatting our own imagination is very difficult. When in doubt, don’t make the pass. Wait for her to make it obvious that she wants you to. You still have to be the one to lead, in most cases, because that’s what men do and that’s what most women want you to do. But make haste slowly. In any case, anticipation works in your favour.

Practical example: if you think she wants physical contact, start by touching her forearm or wrist very lightly (but not so quickly that it looks like an accident). Make eye-contact. See how she reacts. Then withdraw. This builds anticipation if she is ready, and does no harm if she isn’t.

If she sits so close to you that the side of her bottom is firmly pressed against yours it is probably safe to give her waist a little squeeze. Done correctly, this simply comes across as an affectionate gesture rather than a pass, so if more is not wanted (and you’ll know by whether she relaxes towards you or pulls away a little) no embarrassment is caused to either party. If this is received without recoil it is a sign that you can leave your arm round her waist for longer.

Key points: Do lead, but at the same time she must feel in control. Do not rush. Be sensitive to signals, not what you want to believe but what is. Do it in small stages: anticipation works in your favour. It is better to quit while you are ahead than to push it too far.