Friday, April 10, 2009

Ovid (or why men never change)

Have I gone soft in the head ? Why on Earth did I organize a public reading with poems from a 2000 year dead poet ? Surely his literary drivel must be just as dusty as what's left from the man's bones! And he wrote Latin! The language of mouldering old tomes filled with religious rants about the number of angels on a pinhead. I'm sure they grew people in cauliflower beds in those days, so what on earth is a Roman poet doing at a house of ill repute ?
Well, probably because the man himself was of ill repute. Augustus banished him because the man's lifestyle and poetry rubbed the wrong way, given the emperor's campain for improved public morals. Well, rumours have it that Ovid in fact had a passionate fling with the emperor's daughter, which -if true- would explain why Augustus never called him back from exile. A discussion about that would get us too far, but you get the point: Ovid was past the cauliflower stage.
Publius Ovidius Naso is a name that sooner or later appeared on the menu of many a classical student. His most famous work, the Metamorphoses is usually the dish of choice and possibly caused his dusty reputation among the easily distracted and bored youths that had to wrestle through its pages. Ovid wrote this later in life, however. He earned his first fame as a young man with poems about his dealings with his mistress Corinna. Later on, he even wrote a love manual, cynically instructing the male reader in the arts of seduction and adultery (to the great annoyance of Augustus, who had made adultery a punishable offense)
But enough of history. Allow yourself to discover why those present at the reading soon had the chains that held them to their chairs cut. The man was timelessly witty and his naughtyness still inspires. let me introduce you to him and his Corinna :

It was hot, and the noon hour had gone by:
I was relaxed, limbs spread in the midst of the bed.
One half of the window was open, the other closed:
the light was just as it often is in the woods,
it glimmered like Phoebus dying at twilight,
or when night goes, but day has still not risen.
Such a light as is offered to modest girls,
whose timid shyness hopes for a refuge.
Behold Corinna comes, hidden by her loose slip,
scattered hair covering her white throat –
like the famous Semiramis going to her bed,
one might say, or Lais loved by many men.
I pulled her slip away –not harming its thinness much;
yet she still struggled to be covered by that slip.
While she would struggle so, it was as if she could not win,
yielding, she was effortlessly conquered.
When she stood before my eyes, the clothing set aside,
there was never a flaw in all her body.
What shoulders, what arms, I saw and touched!
Breasts formed as if they were made for pressing!
How flat the belly beneath the slender waist!
What flanks, what form! What young thighs!
Why recall each aspect? I saw nothing lacking praise
and I hugged her naked body against mine.
Who doesn’t know the story? Weary we both rested.
May such afternoons often come for me!

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