Chance and Venus help the daring

Antique face

Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish. – Ovid, Ars Amatoria III:ix

Chance and Venus help the daring. – Ovid, Ars Amatoria I:xv

So, two points here from our Ancient Roman dating guru.

First of all keep up your attraction skills wherever you happen to be. Be pleasant to everyone, not just to beautiful women, because it’s pleasant, because you need to keep practicing light-hearted chat, and because women can smell a false-hearted creep a mile away.

Practicing light-hearted chat with everyone, not just beautiful women, enables you to practice your skills in situations in which your fear of failure is not evoked. You will begin to experience success and get smiles. Those skills are transferable, so that next time you really do want to start a conversation with a woman you fancy, you’ll be able to do it without becoming tongue-tied.

Which brings us to the second point Ovid is making – chance and Venus help the daring. There are few things so attractive for a woman in a man as confidence. Not brashness but quiet confidence. And one way to develop this is to keep practicing light and pleasant repartee with everyone you meet!

Is it me that I don’t get dates?

First of all, be quite sure that there isn’t a woman who cannot be won, and make up your mind that you will win her.

Thus says Ovid, our Ancient Roman dating guru.

Sooner would the birds cease their song in the springtime, or the grasshopper be silent in the summer, or the hare turn and give chase to a hound of Maenalus, than a woman resist the wooing of a youthful lover.

Maybe so, although it is my experience that if you master the secrets of attraction you don’t need to be youthful either.

Once upon a time I was love-lorn and kept falling in love without the slightest idea of how to attract and keep a woman. I would meet beautiful women or see them at a distance and have no clue how to approach them. I believed from a very young age that I was not attractive to women – and that turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then, through advice from friends and reading all kinds of hints, tips and strategies and actually trying them out, I began to have success, leading in the end to finding and keeping the love of my life. I started this blog and wrote Dating – the missing manual because I see too many of my male friends fail in this area – men who have good qualities any sensible woman would admire. I now know what these men are doing wrong and how they could fix it.

Think it’s because you’re too old? Wrong. Because you’re not handsome? Wrong. Because you’re not rich? Wrong again. The young, rich and handsome can and do get these things wrong. Behaviour is key. Be yourself and at the same time learn to be confident in who you are. Then learn the arts of attraction.

Ovid says:

Perhaps you think she doesn’t want to yield. You’re wrong.

Well, there will be quite a number who aren’t interested for perfectly good reasons. But if so, move on – it’s nothing to do with you and there is no shortage of attractive women out there.

Ovid’s plan of action

Mars and Venus

“You, who for the first time are taking up arms beneath the standard of Venus, find out, in the first place, the woman you are to love.”

Ovid, in his two-thousand-year-old dating guide ‘The Art of Love,’ lays out his plan  in three stages: (1) find your woman, (2) “bend her to your will,” (3) do what you need to do to make your love endure.

We shall talk about all these stages in due course, but in passing I’d like to say that we often neglect the third. Once you’ve made a conquest, don’t slack off. You need to keep the flame alive. Don’t start being a typical bloke and fart and belch in her company (sorry, but it needed to be said). Don’t neglect oral hygiene if you still want deep kisses and more. Don’t stop the behaviours that she found attractive and exciting in the beginning. Especially when married, tend the fire.

Back to the matter in hand.

Ovid goes on, “Now that you are still fancy-free, now is the time for you to choose a woman and say to her: ‘You are the only woman that I care for.’ She’s not going to be wafted down to you from heaven on the wings of the wind. You must use your own eyes to discover the girl that suits you.”

I definitely don’t agree that you should go up to a woman and straightaway say, ‘You are the only woman that I care for.’ She’ll run a mile unless already desperately in love with you, and that you cannot count on. You have to work on attraction – a process explained in my own book. One important principle of attraction is, let her come to you. Paradoxical. For now let’s just say, never appear desperate. But Ovid is right that your soulmate is not going simply to turn up and ring your doorbell.

Ovid goes on, “The hunter knows where to spread his nets… .” This should be part of your strategy. You need to think about where the woman of your dreams is likely to hang out. If you’re a wild party animal, don’t look for her in the library. And if you hate parties and prefer intelligent conversation, don’t torment yourself by going somewhere where the music is so loud you end up deaf. Your soulmate won’t be there anyway. However you do have to go out looking. And wherever you go, you need to keep practicing the arts of attraction until your babe magnetism is fully charged and under your control.

What makes you think you need to go to Russia?

“You who seek out the object of a lasting love, learn the places which the fair ones most haunt,” writes the poet Ovid in his 2,000-year-old poem, The Art of Love.

I have given a few tips about where to find your soulmate before.

If spam emails are anything to go by, there must be a fair number of men out there who fall for Russian woman who are very romantic and are looking for an honest man in the West for love and marriage. Now there is of course nothing at all wrong with Russian women. But if you can’t attract a woman in your own home town, why do you imagine you’ll have more luck with a woman from hundreds or thousands of miles away?

If the relationship is based on money (which it may be) then is that what you really want? Wouldn’t you rather learn the arts of attraction and find a woman much nearer home and who wants you because of what you really are? (Ok, you really like Russian women. There are probably thousands in London. You still don’t need to find the air fare.)

Ovid says, “You won’t have to put to sea or undertake any distant journeys … Rome alone will give you a choice of such lovely women, and so many of them, that you will be forced to confess that she gathers within her own bosom all the treasures that the world can show. As numerous as the ears of corn on Gargarus, grapes in Methymna, fish in the ocean, birds in the thickets, stars in the heavens, so numerous are the beautiful girls you’ll find in Rome. Venus has made her seat of empire the city of her beloved Aeneas.”

And for the benefit of us in England, note that our own Henry Purcell made a song called ‘Fairest Isle’ from John Dryden’s words, in which the poet explains that Venus has made her dwelling here, too.

Here are the words:
Fairest isle, all isles excelling,
Seat of pleasure and of love
Venus here will choose her dwelling,
And forsake her Cyprian grove.
Cupid from his fav’rite nation
Care and envy will remove;
Jealousy, that poisons passion,
And despair, that dies for love.

Gentle murmurs, sweet complaining,
Sighs that blow the fire of love
Soft repulses, kind disdaining,
Shall be all the pains you prove.
Ev’ry swain shall pay his duty,
Grateful ev’ry nymph shall prove;
And as these excel in beauty,
Those shall be renown’d for love.

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.

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.