Alfred John Church.

Ovid online

. (page 3 of 21)
Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 3 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


And scant the means a frugal home allows.
Now Phoebus aid me, and the Muses nine —
Bacchus, and Love, sweet Lord, who makes me thine,
Faith unsurpassed, and life exempt from blame,
And simple Modesty, and blushing Shame ;
No trifier I ; my heart no rivals share :
Thee will I make, be sure, my lifelong care ;
With thee will spend what years the Fates shall give.
And when thou first shalt suffer, cease to live."

Another little poem has been elegantly paraphrased and
adapted to modern manners by Mr A. A. Brodribb.*

* Lays from Latin Lyrics. By F. W. Hummel and A. A.
Brodribb. Lonfrmans: 1876.



32 VI D.

It will remind the reader of a pretty passage in Mr
Tennyson's " ]\Iiller's Daughter : " —

The Ring.

" Sign of my too presumptuous flame,
To fairest Celia haste, nor linger,
And may she gladly breathe my name,
And gaily put thee on her finger !

Suit her as I myself, that she

May fondle thee ^dtli murmured blessing ;
Caressed by Celia ! Who could be

Unenvious of such sweet caressing ?

Had I Medea's magic art.

Or Proteus' power of transformation,

Then would I blithely play thy part,
The happiest trinket in creation !

Oh ! on her bosom I would fall.

Her finger guiding all too lightly ;
Or else be magically small,

Fearing to be discarded nightly.

And I her ruby lips would kiss

(What mortal's fortune could be better ?)

As oft allowed to seal my bliss
As she desires to seal a letter.

Now go, these are delusions bright

Of idle Fancy's idlest scheming ;
Tell her to read the token right —

Tell her how sweet is true love's dreaming."

But the chief ornaments of the book are two elegies.



THE LOVE-POEMS. 33

properly so called, — one of a sportive, the other of
a serious character. Catullus, a predecessor in the
poetic art, of whom Ovid speaks with respect, had
lamented, in an exquisite little jioem which must
always remain a model for such compositions, the
death of the sparrow which Lesbia, his lady-love,
" loved more than her own eyes." In a poem which,
though not so graceful as that of the older writer, and
scarcely even pretending to pathos, has many merits,
Ovid commemorates the death of his own Corinna's
parrot : —

" Our parrot, sent from India's farthest shore.
Our parrot, prince of mimics, is no more.
Throng to his burial, pious tribes of air.
With rigid claw your tender faces tear !
Your ruffled plumes, like mourners' tresses, rend,
And all your notes, like funeral trumpets, blend !
Mourn all that cleave the liquid skies, but chief
Beloved turtle, lead the general grief,
Through long harmonious days the parrot's friend.
In mutual faith still loyal to the end !
What boots that faith ? those splendid hues and strange ?
That voice so skilled its various notes to change ?
What to have won my gentle lady's grace ?
Thou diest, hapless glory of thy race.
Red joined with saffron in thy beak was seen,
And green thy wings beyond the emerald's sheen ;
Nor ever lived on earth a wiser bird,
With Usping voice to answer all he heard.
'Twas envy slew thee ; all averse to strife.
One love of chatter tilled thy peaceful Ufe :
For ever satisfied with scantiest fare.
Small time for food that busy tongue could spare.
A.C.S.S., vol. ii. c



34 OVID.

Walnuts and sleep-producing poppies gave
Thy simple diet, and thy drink the wave.
Long lives the hovering vulture, long the kite
Pursues through air the circles of his flight ;
Many the years the noisy jackdaws know,
Prophets of rainfall ; and the boding crow
Waits, still unscathed by armed Minerva's hate,
Three ages three times told, a tardy fate.
But he, our prattler from earth's farthest shore,
Our human tongue's sweet image, is no more.
Thus still the ravening fates our best devour.
And spare the mean till life's extremest hour.
Why tell the prayers my lady prayed in vain,
Borne by the stormy south wind o'er the main I
The seventh dawn had come, the last for thee,
With empty distaff stood the fatal Three.
Yet still from failing throat thy accents rung.
Farewell, Corinna ! cried thy dying tongue.
There stands a grove with dark-green ilex crowned \
Beneath the Elysian hill, and all around /

With turf undying shines the verdant ground. '

There dwells, if true the tale, the pious race —
All evil birds are banished from the place ;
There harmhiss swans unbounded pasture find :
There dwells tlie phoenix, single of his kind ;
The peacock spreads his splendid plumes in air,
The kissing doves sit close, an amorous pair ;
There in their woodland home a guest allowed,
Our parrot charms the pious listening crowd.
Beneath a mound, of justly measured size,
Small tombstone, briefest epitaph, he lies,
' His mistress' darling ' — that this stone may show —
The prince of feathered speakers lies below."

The other elegy has for its subject the death of the
poet Tibullus :—



THE LOVE-POEMS. 35

" If bright Aurora mourned for Memnon's fate,
Or the fair Thetis wept Achilles slain,
And the sad sorrows that on mortals wait
Can ever move celestial hearts ■with pain —

Come, doleful Elegy ! too just a name !

Unbind thy tresses fair, in loose attire.
For he, thy bard, the herald of thy fame,

TiBULLUS, burns on the funereal pyre.

Ah, lifeless corse ! Lo ! Venus' boy draws near
With upturned quiver and with shattered bow,

His torch extinguished, see him toward the bier
With drooping ^\^ngs disconsolately go.

He smites his heaving breast with cruel blow,

Those straggling locks, his neck all streaming round,

Receive the tears that fastly trickling flow,
While sobs conxiilsive from Ms lips resound.

In guise like this, lulus, when of yore
His dear ^neas died, he sorrowing went ;

Now Venus wails as when the raging boar
The tender thigh of her Adonis rent.

We bards are named the gods' peculiar care ;

Nay, some declare that poets are divine ;
Yet forward death no holy thing can spare,

'Roiind all his dismal arms he dares entwine.

Did Orpheus' mother aid, or Linus' sire ?

That one subdued fierce lions by his song
Availed not ; and, they say, with plaintive lyre

The god mourned Linus, woods and glades among.

Maeonides, from whose perennial lay
Flow the rich fonts of the Pierian wave



36 VI D.

To wet the lips of bards, one dismal day

Sent down to Orcus and the gloomy grave —

Him, too, Avernus holds in drear employ ;

Only his songs escape the greedy pile ;
His work remains — the mighty wars of Troy,

And the slow web, unwove by nightly guile.

Live a pure life ; — yet death remains thy doom :
Be pious ; — ere from sacred shrines you rise,

Death di'ags you heedless to the hollow tomb !
Confide in song — lo ! there Tibullus lies.

Scarce of so great a soul, thus lowly laid,
Enough remains to fill this little urn ;

O holy bard ! were not the flames afraid
That hallowed corse thus ruthlessly to burn ?

These might devour the heavenly halls that shine
"With gold — they dare a villany so deep :

She turned who holds the Erycinian shrine,

And there are some who say she turned to weep.

Yet did the base soil of a stranger land
Not hold liim nameless ; as the spirit fled

His mother closed his eyes with gentle hand,
And paid the last sad tribute to the dead.

Here, with thy wretched mother's woe to wait.
Thy sister came with loose dishevelled hair ;

Nemesis kisses thee, and thy earlier mate —

They watched the pyre when all had left it bare.

Departing, Delia faltered, ' Thou wert true,

The Fates were cheerful then, when I was thine :

The other, ' Say, what hast thou here to do 1 '
Dying, he clasped his failing hand in mine.



THE LOVE-POEMS. 37

Ah, yet, if any part of us remains

But name and shadow, Albius is not dead ;

And thou, Catullus, in Elysian plains,
"With Calvus see the ivy crown his head.

Thou, Gallus, prodigal of life and blood,
If false the charge of airdty betrayed,

And aught remains across the Stygian flood,
Shalt meet him yonder with thy happy shade.

Kefined Tibullus ! thou art joined to those
Li^dng in calm communion with the blest ;

In jjeaceful urn thy quiet bones repose —
May earth lie lightly where thy ashes rest ! "

Of the ' Ai't of Love ' the less, perhaps, that is said
the better. The poet himself warns respectable per-
sons to have nothing to do wnth his pages, and the
Avarning is amply justified by their contents. It has,
however, some of the brilliant episodes which Ovid
introduces with such effect. His own taste, and the
taste, we may hope, of his readers, demanded that the
base level of sensuality should sometimes be left for a
higher flight of fancy. The description of Ariadne in
Kaxos is as brilliant as Titian's picture ; equally vivid
is the story of the flight of Da3dalus and his son Icarus
on the wnngs which the matchless craftsman had made,
and of the fate which followed the over-daring flight of
the youth through regions too near to the sun. Then,
again, we find ever and anon pictures of Eoman man-
ners which may amuse without offence. Among such
are Ovid's instructions to his fair readers how they
may most becomingly take their part in the games of



38 VI D.

chance and skill which Avere popular in the polite
circles of Eome. Among these games he mentions
the cubical dice, called tessenv, resembling our own
in shape, and similarly marked. Three of these were
used together ; and it was customary to tlirow them
from cups of a conical shape. The luckiest throw was
"treble sixes," and was honoured by the name of
Aphrodite or Venus. The worst was " treble aces : "
this was stigmatised as " the dog." There were other
dice made out of the knuckle-bones of animals. They
were called tall. (Our own popular name for them is
" dibs.") These were used either in the same way as
the cubical dice, though they were not numbered in
the same way, or in a game of manual skill which still
survives among us, where the player throws them
and catches them again, or performs other feats of
dexterity with them. Besides these there Avas the
game of the " Eobbers " (Licdus Latrunculorum),
played with pieces made of glass or ivory, which has
been compared with chess, but was probably not so
complicated, and more nearly resembling our games
of " Fox and Geese " and " Military Tactics." The
game of the " Fifteen Lines " must have been very
like our " Backgammon," as the moves of the men were
determined by previous throws of dice. Ovid, after
recommending his readers to practise a graceful play-
ing at the games, Avisely warns them that it is still
more important that they should learn to keep their
temper. The suitor he advises to allow his fair an-
tagonist to win, a counsel doubtless often followed by
those who have never had the advantage — or, we should



THE LOVE- POEMS. 39

rather say, the disadvantage — of studying Ovid's pre-
cepts. Equally familiar will be the device of a present
of fruit brought by a slave -boy in a rustic basket,
which the lover will declare has been conveyed from
a country garden, though he will probably have bought
it in the neighbouring street. A certain sagacity must
be allowed to the counsel that the lover, when his lady
is sick, must not take upon himself the odious office of
forbidding her a favourite dish ; and will, if possible,
hand over to a rival the office, equally odious, of ad-
ministering a nauseous medicine. The recommenda-
tion not to be too particular in inquiring about age is
equally sagacious. It is curious to observe that Lord
Byron's expressed aversion to seeing women eat was
not unknown to the Eoman youth. Ovid, who, to do
him justice, never praises wine, hints that drinking
was not equally distasteful.

The ' Eemedies of Love ' may be dismissed with
a still briefer notice. Like the ' Art of Love,' it
is relieved by some beautiful digressions. When it
keeps close to its subject, it is, to say the least, not
edifying. The " Eemedies," indeed, are for the most
part as bad as the disease, though we must except that
most respectable maxim that " idleness is the parent
of love," Avith the poet's practical application of it.
One specimen of these two books shall suffice. It is
of the episodical kind, — a brilliant panegyric on
the young Csesar, Gains, son of Augustus's daughter
Julia, who was then preparing to take the command
of an expedition against the Parthians. Gross as is
the flattery, it is perhaps less offensive than usual.



40 0V2D.

The young Caius died before his abilities could be
proved ; but the precocious genius of the family was
a fact. Caius was then of the very same age at which
his grandfather had first commanded an army.

" Once more our Prince prepares to make us glad,
And the remaining East to Rome will add.
Rejoice, ye Roman soldiers, in your urn ; "\

Your ensigns from the Partliians shall return ; >
And the slain Crassi shall no longer mourn ! )

A youth is sent those trophies to demand,
And bears his father's thunder in his hand :
Doubt not th' imperial boy in wars unseen ;
In childhood all of Ceesar's race are men.
Celestial seeds shoot out before their day,
Prevent their years, and brook no dull delay.
Thus infant Hercules the snakes did press,
And in his cradle did his sire confess.
Bacchus, a boy, yet like a hero fought,
And early spoils from conquered India brought.
Thus you your father's troops shall lead to fight,
And thus sliall vanquish in your father's sight.
These rudiments you to your lineage owe ;
Born to increase your titles as you grow.
Brethren you lead, avenge your bretliren slain ;
You have a father, and his right maintain.
Armed by your country's parent and your own.
Redeem your country and restore his throne." — D.

The date of the poem is fixed by this passage for the
year B.C. 1, as that of the ' Eemedies of Love' is
settled for a.d. 1 by an allusion to the actual war in
Parthia, which was at its height in that year, and was
finished by a peace in the year following.



CHAPTEE III.

DOMESTIC LIFE — BANISHMENT.

About Ovid's private life between his twentieth and
fiftieth years there is little to be recorded. Two mar-
riages have already been spoken of. He had pro-
bably reached middle life when he married for the
third time. The probability, indeed, consists in the
difficulty we have in believing that the husband of a
wife whom he really respected and loved should have
published so disreputable a book as the ' Art of Love,'
for even to the lax judgment of Eoman society it
seemed disreputable. A feeling, perhaps a hint from
high quarters, that he had gone too far — a con-
sciousness, we may hope, that he was capable of better
things — had made him turn to work of a more elevated
kind. A good marriage may have been part of his
plan for restoring himself to a reputable place in
society. It is even possible to imagine that a genuine
and worthy aflfection may have been one of the causes
that operated in bringing about a change. A much
earlier date, indeed, must be fixed, if we suppose that
the daughter of whom Ovid speaks in the brief sketch
of his life was a child of this marriage. This daughter



42 X'ID.

had been twice married at the time of his banishment,
•when he was in his fifty-second year, and had borne a
child to each husband. Eoman women married early,
and changed their husbands quickly ; but, in any case,
it is not likely that the young lady could have been
less than twenty. It seems, however, more probable
that she was the offspring of the second marriage. In
the many affectionate letters which Ovid addressed to
his wife after his banishment, no mention is made of
a chUd and grandchildren in whom both had a com-
mon interest. It is impossible to suppose that a
husband who anxiously appeals to every motive in a
•wife which could help to keep their mutual affection
unimpaired by absence, should have neglected to make
use of what Avas obviously the most powerful of all.
There is, it is true, a letter addressed to one Perilla,
written by Ovid in exile. Dr Dyer, the learned
author of the article "■ Ovidius " in the ' Dictionary of
Biography and ^Mythology,' takes it for granted that
this Perilla was Ovid's daughter by his third wife.
The letter does not bear out the supposition. It will
be found described in its place. Meanwhile it is
sufficient to say, that while the ■writer enlarges on the
fact that he had instructed Perilla in the art of poetry,
he does not say a word •which indicates a closer rela-
tionship than that of master and pupil. Had the
poetess been his daughter, we may say •with confidence
that Ovid would have expressed in at least a dozen
■ways that he •was the source at once of her life and of
her song. The poet's wife was a lady of good position
at Eome. In early years she had been what may be



DOMESTIC LlFE—BAXISllMENT. 43

called a lady-in-waiting to the aunt of Augustus, and
at the same time an intimate friend of Marcia, a
lady belonging to that branch of the Marcian house
which bore the surname of Philippus. On Marcia's
marriage with Fabius Maximus, representative of the
great patrician family of the Fabii, one of the few
ancient houses which had survived to the days of the
empire, this friend accompanied her to her new home.
From there Ovid married her. The union lasted till
his death, with much mutual affection. When it has
been added that Ovid's town mansion was close to the
Capitol, and that he had a suburban residence, where
he amused himself with the pleasures of gardening,
nothing remains to be told about this portion of his
life.

Some time after his third marriage, and not long
before the great catastrophe which Ave are about to
relate, Ovid's father died. He had completed his
ninetieth year. His mother died shortly afterwards.

" Ah ! happy they and timely passed away
Ere on their offspring came that fatal day !
Ah ! happy I amidst my grief to know
That they are all unconscious of my woe ! "

It is the catastrophe which he here mentions that has
now to be discussed. The cause of the banishment
of Ovid, like the personality of the Man in the Iron
!Mask and the authorship of ' Junius,' is one of the
unsolved problems of history. The facts absolutely
known are very soon related. Ovid was in his fifty-
second year. His fame as a poet was at its height.



44 viD.

Any scandal that may have arisen from some of his
publications had gradually passed away. Suddenly
there fell on him " a bolt from the blue." A rescript
in the emperor's hand was delivered to him, ordering
liim to leave Rome within a certain time, and to
repair to Tomi, a desolate settlement on the western
shore of the Black Sea, near the very outskirts of
the empire. No decree of the senate had been passed
to authorise the infliction of the banishment. It was
simply an act of arbitrary power on the part of the
emperor. The cause alleged was the publication of
works corrupting to public morals, and the ' Art of
Love ' was specified. The punishment was not of the
severest kind. The place of exile, hateful as it was
to the banished man, was at least preferable to that
Avhich many offenders had to endure — some desolate
rock in the ^gean, where the victim was kept from
starvation only by the charity of his friends. Ovid
was also permitted to retain and enjoy his property.

That the cause alleged was not the actual cause
of the banishment may be considered certain. It
is sufficient to say that the guilty work had been
published at least ten years before. The offence was
such as to afford a pretext of the barest kind to an
absolute ruler who felt the force of public opinion
just enough to make him shrink from a wholly arbi-
trary act, but was not careful to make any complete
justification. But it did not, we may be sure, wholly
sway his mind. We know, indeed, that there was
another cause. To such a cause Ovid frequently al-
ludes. And it is in this lies the mystery of the event.



DOMESTIC LIFE— BANISHMENT. 45

At the same time, we must not suppose that the
alleged motive had not some real influence on the
emperor's action. His own life had not been by any
means free from reproach. Even if we discredit much
of what that great scandalmonger, Suetonius, teUs us
about him, there remains enough to convict him of
shameful disregard of morality. But he was now an
old man. And he had had some of those tremendous
lessons which teach even the most profligate, if the
light of intelligence be not wholly quenched in them,
that moral laws cannot be disregarded with impunity.
Men in their own lives quite regardless of purity feel
a genuine shock of disgust and horror when they find
unchastity in the women of their own family. And
Augustus had felt the unutterable shame of discover-
ing that his own daughter was the most profligate
woman in Eome. Nor was he, ive may believe, with-
out some genuine feeling of concern for the future of
his country. The establishment of absolute power
may have been a necessity for the State, — all writers
seem to agree in saying so. It had certainly aggran-
dised himself. But he could not fail to perceive, and
to perceive more and more clearly as he came nearer
to the end of his long reign, that it was ruining the
old Roman character, the traditionary virtues of his
country. An aristocracy, whose vast wealth furnished
them with all the means of procuring enjoyment, but
who were shut out from anything like the career of
public life, would inevitably become corrupt. Augustus
was not a man who would deny himself In order to set
a practical example to others ; but he was a man cap-



46 viD.

able of doing everything, short of such self-denial, to
stop the evil of which, both from public and private
causes, he was so acutely conscious. He had recourse
to severe legislation against immorality. The more
he saw, as he must have seen, how ineffectual was this
method of reforming society, the greater must have
been his disgust with other agencies which he sup-
posed to be at work. Ovid's poems may well have
been a symptom rather than a cause of general immor-
ality ; but it was quite possible that Augustus, his own
habits and tastes changed by advancing years, may
have sincerely regarded them as the author of mischief,
and deserving, accordingly, of the severest punishment.
To arrive, however, at the truth, we must examine
closely another side of the emperor's life. His home
was divided between two conflicting interests — the
interest of his own descendants and the interest of the
step-children whom his wife Livia had brought into
his family. Livia, one of the ablest women of whom
liistory speaks, had steadfastly set her heart on secur-
ing for her son Tiberius the succession to the throne.
To gain this end she had to clear away from his path
the rivals who might be found among the blood- rela-
tions of her husband. How far the course of events
helped her in her undertaking, how far she assisted
the course of events by her own arts, will never be
known. The fate of Julia, the daughter of Augustus,
has been already related. She had borne to her second
husband Agrippa five children, three of them sons.
The eldest son Caius has been mentioned before.* He
* Page 39.



DOMESTIC LIFE— B A Nl SUM EXT. 47

was wounded, it Avas said Ijy treachery, before the
towTi of Artagera, in Armenia, and died, some months
afterwards, at Limyra, on the south-western coast of
Asia Minor, whither he had gone to recruit his health
in a climate less inclement than that of Armenia.
The second son Lucius had died eighteen months be-
fore at Marseilles. The third, Agrippa Postumus, was
a youth whose irreclaimably savage temper bordered on
insanity. He had been adopted by Augustus at the
same time with Tiberius, but as his character revealed
itself, the hopes that the emperor might once have
entertained of finding a successor in a descendant of
his own died away. Livia had no difficulty in per-
suading him that if Agrippa was not to sit on the
throne, it would be better that he should be removed
from its neighbourhood. Though guiltless of any
crime, he was banished to Planasia, on the coast of
Corsica, and the emperor obtained a decree from the
senate which made this banishment life-long. P)Ut
the contest was not yet decided. The family of Julia,
whose beauty, wit, and varied accomplishments were
not forgotten, was greatly popular at Eome ; whilst the
ambition of Livia, who was strongly suspected of hav-
ing hastened the death of the young Caesars, and the
craft and dissimulation of Tiberius, were objects of
dread. It was under these circumstances that she
discovered the younger Julia to be in her power. This
unhappy woman had inherited the vicious propensities


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 3 of 21)