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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2014

Ioannis Ziogas*
Australian National University


Ovid's disclaimers in the Ars Amatoria need to be read in this context. My main argument is that, in his disclaimers, Ovid is rendering his female readership socially unrecognizable, rather than excluding respectable virgins and matronae from his audience. Ars 1.31–4, Ovid's programmatic statement about his work's target audience, is a case in point. A closer look at the passage shows that he does not necessarily warn off Roman wives and marriageable girls:

      este procul, uittae tenues, insigne pudoris,
      quaeque tegis medios instita longa pedes:
      nos Venerem tutam concessaque furta canemus
      inque meo nullum carmine crimen erit.   Ov. Ars Am. 1.31–4
      Stay away, slender fillets, symbol of modesty,
      and you, long hem, who cover half the feet:
      we shall sing of safe sex and permitted cheating
      and there will be no wrong in my song.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2014 

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The main idea of this article was conceived when I taught an Advanced Latin class on Ovid's Ars Amatoria 1 at the Australian National University in 2012 and I would like to thank the students of this class for a fantastic semester. I am also very grateful to the editor of Classical Quarterly, Bruce Gibson, and the anonymous reader of this journal. Erica Bexley, as always, kept a critical eye on my scholarly engagement with the Ars Amatoria.


1 Gibson, R., Ovid: Ars Amatoria Book 3. Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge, 2003), 32–5Google Scholar, 149–50, 162–3.

2 See ibid.; Gibson, R., ‘Ovid, Augustus, and the politics of moderation in Ars Amatoria 3’, in Gibson, R., Green, S., and Sharrock, A. (edd.), The Art of Love: Bimillennial Essays on Ovid's Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris (Oxford, 2006), 121–42.Google Scholar On the lex Iulia de adulteriis, see Treggiari, S., Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford, 1991), 277–98Google Scholar, 454–7.

3 See Gibson (nn. 1 and 2); Gibson, R., Excess and Restraint: Propertius, Horace, and Ovid's Ars Amatoria (London, 2007), 71114.Google Scholar See also McGinn, T., Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome (Oxford, 1998), 141–71Google Scholar, 208–9, who argues that the polarity of meretrix and mater familias sought to restore a sense of order and clarity to women's status. This hierarchy of status for women was sealed through the manipulation of clothing and symbols as unmistakable badges of honour and shame. For McGinn, the Augustan legislation enforced a traditional social and moral division. On the symbolism of women's clothes in Rome, see Sebesta, J.L., ‘Symbolism in the costume of the Roman woman’, in Sebesta, J.L. and Bonfante, L. (edd.), The World of Roman Costume (Madison, WI, 1994), 4653.Google Scholar

4 Hollis, A., Ovid: Ars Amatoria Book 1. Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford, 1977), 37.Google Scholar

5 Sharrock, A., ‘Ovid and the politics of reading’, in Knox, P. (ed.), Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Ovid (Oxford, 2006), 238–61Google Scholar, at 251 (= MD 33 [1994], 97–122, at 110).

6 More recently, Dimundo, R., Ovidio: Lezioni d' amore. Saggio di commento al I Libro dell' Ars amatoria (Bari, 2003)Google Scholar, 46, has followed a similar line. See also Pianezzola, E., Baldo, G., and Cristante, L., Ovidio: l'Arte di amare (Milan, 1991)Google Scholar, 191; Janka, M., Ovid: Ars Amatoria Buch 2. Kommentar (Heidelberg, 1997), 423–4;Google Scholar Gibson (n. 1), 25–6, 31.

7 Ingleheart, J., A Commentary on Ovid, Tristia, Book 2 (Oxford, 2010)Google Scholar, 230; see also Gibson (n. 1), 31: ‘The matrona is unmistakably identified by her characteristic symbols (uittae, instita) …’.

8 See Green, P., Ovid: The Erotic Poems (London, 1982)Google Scholar, 167.

9 Discussing Ovid's disclaimers in the Ars, Gibson (n. 1), 26, notes: ‘the disclaimers not only contain ambiguities of phrasing, but also are often playfully expressed, appear in contexts which provoke scepticism about their seriousness, and frequently draw attention to, rather than resolve, issues of social and marital status’. On the ways in which Ovid illustrates the open-ended nature of reception and meaning by offering tendentious readings of a wide range of texts in Tristia 2, see Gibson, B., ‘Ovid on reading: reading Ovid. Reception in Ovid Tristia II’, JRS 89 (1999), 1937.Google Scholar

10 On Ovid's approval of men who procure lovers for their wives (cf. Am. 2.5; Ars 2.545–54) – men, that is, who would be liable to a charge of lenocinium (‘pandering’) – see Davis, P., Ovid and Augustus: A Political Reading of Ovid's Erotic Poems (London, 2006)Google Scholar, 34, 82, 106–7. On lenocinium under the Augustan adultery law, see Treggiari (n. 2), 288–90; McGinn (n. 3), 171–94, 216–47.

11 Similar disclaimers can be read along these lines. Cf. Rem. 385–6; Pont. 3.3.51–2: Scripsimus haec illis quarum nec uitta pudicos | contingit crines nec stola longa pedes (‘We wrote these for women whose chaste hair no fillet touches nor does a long gown touch their feet’). Does Ovid mean that he wrote only for women who were not allowed to wear the uitta and the stola (i.e. prostitutes) or does his statement also include women who were expected to wear this attire, but chose not to (i.e. certain matrons)? It is up to the reader to decide.

12 See Met. 10.300: dira canam; procul hinc, natae, procul este, parentes! (‘I sing of dreadful things; stay away, daughters, stay away, parents!’), Orpheus' ritual cry before the infamous story of Johnson, Myrrha. P., Ovid before Exile: Art and Punishment in the Metamorphoses (Madison, WI, 2008)Google Scholar, 104, 109, argues that Orpheus nearly quotes Ars 1.30–4 here, but we should not overlook the markedly different context of the statements. Orpheus has recently turned to pederasty and is about to tell a shocking story of an incestuous passion. His dismissal of daughters and parents is hardly surprising. By contrast, the praeceptor's song in the Ars has nothing to do with either homosexuality or dreadful heterosexual perversion. His aim is to instruct about safe sex, and thus women without the badges of matronly chastity are more than welcome. The praeceptor's instructions on permissible love affairs (concessaque furta, Ars 1.33) contrast with Orpheus' tales of forbidden passions that deserve punishment (Met. 10.152–4: canamus … | inconcessisque puellas | ignibus attonitas meruisse libidine poenam, ‘let us sing … of girls stricken by forbidden fires, who deserved punishment for their lust’).

13 Kenney, E.J., ‘Chassez la femme’, CQ 42 (1992), 551–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar, reads non proba instead of femina; Mayer, R.G., ‘La femme retrouvée?’, CQ 43 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 504, reads Thais. Gibson (n. 1), prints †femina† and suggests that femina has possibly intruded from the line below. He is also puzzled (97–8) by the passive voice (sit amanda) in a passage promising to instruct women who take an active part in lovemaking, but I think he is right to suggest that Ovid has preserved the usual active (male)/passive (female) divisions in sex. In my view, quo sit amanda modo foreshadows the final section of the Ars, Ovid's instructions about the sexual positions (modi) that are appropriate for different types of women (see Ars 3.769–808).

14 Gibson (n. 1), 30–1.

15 Ibid., ad 3.57–8.

16 Ars 2.599–600 (discussed above) also has religious overtones since it appears within a section advocating the preservation of ritual secrets.

17 The only difference is that Ovid writes nil nisi legitimum (Tr. 2.249) instead of nos Venerem tutam (Ars 1.33).

18 Williams, G., Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid's Exile Poetry (Cambridge, 1994), 206–7.Google Scholar

19 Cf. Callim. Hymn 2.2: ἑκάς, ἑκὰς ὅστις ἀλιτρός; Verg. Aen. 6.258: procul, o procul este, profani. It is true that this formula commonly refers to people rather than objects or abstract nouns, which may be part of the reason why scholars interpret Ovid's ritual cry as referring to women. Yet Ovid elsewhere uses este procul without addressing persons: see Ars 2.151: este procul, lites et amarae proelia linguae (‘Stay away, quarrels and fights of a bitter tongue’).

20 Williams (n. 18), 207. This interpretation is interesting, but it is a stretch to assume that all the readers who are not respectable Roman women are ritually unclean (profani).

21 A modern equivalent would be Ovid encouraging married women to take off their wedding rings.

22 See Fantham, E., Ovid: Fasti Book IV (Cambridge, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ad loc.

23 The translation of this passage is not easy. Pasco-Pranger, M., Ovid's Fasti and the Poetics of the Roman Calendar (Leiden and Boston, MA, 2006), 145–6Google Scholar, discusses the difficulties. I take utique in the meaning of certe, following Floratos, C., ‘Veneralia’, Hermes 88 (1960), 197216Google Scholar, at 203.

24 T. Mommsen, CIL I.12, 390. Degrassi, A., Inscriptiones Italiae XIII 2: Fasti et Elogia (Rome, 1963), 126–7Google Scholar, adopts Mommsen's emendation.

25 On criticism of Mommsen's emendation, see Fantham (n. 22), 116; see also Pasco-Pranger (n. 23), 146–7.

26 Floratos (n. 23), 198, for instance, notes: ‘Aber damit kann nicht bewiesen werden, daß alle Frauen Roms, die matronae und die nurus und die meretrices, sich an dem Festakt, an der Ausführung des Ritualbades des Venus-Bildes beteiligten. Das würde ja im Bereich des Unmöglichen liegen.’

27 Pasco-Pranger (n. 23), 150.

28 Ibid., 144–51.

29 Ibid., 154.

30 Ibid., 149. Cf. Floratos (n. 23), 198–9; Fantham (n. 22), 116; Fantham, E., ‘The Fasti as source of women's participation in Roman cult’, in Herbert-Brown, G. (ed.), Ovid's Fasti: Historical Readings at its Bimillennium (Oxford, 2002), 2346CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 35–7.

31 On the epithalamial language of the passage, see Fantham (n. 22), ad loc.

32 von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U., Der Glaube der Hellenen (Berlin, 1931)Google Scholar, 1.97, noted that ‘mit der Ehe hat Aphrodite sonst nie etwas zu schaffen’.

33 See Bömer, F., P. Ovidius Naso: Die Fasten. Band II (Heidelberg, 1958), 217–18.Google Scholar

34 Ibid., 218: ‘deducta est marito: sc. Marti’.

35 See Pasco-Pranger (n. 23), 158. She notes that the ritual lauatio of the cult statue that the two passages share may mark Ovid's interpretation of a concern shared by the two cults with the social and sexual status of women, a frustrated desire to map out distinct social roles.

36 For Ovid's new and subversive ‘middle way’, see Gibson (n. 2); Gibson (n. 3), 71–114. For Gibson, the puellae of Ars 3 are effectively invited to pursue a middle path between the stereotypes of the revealingly and luxuriously dressed meretrix and the modestly dressed matrona.

37 Wyke, M., ‘Reading female flesh: Amores 3.1’, in Knox, P. (ed.), Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Ovid (Oxford, 2006), 169204Google Scholar (= Cameron, A. [ed.], History as Text: The Writing of Ancient History [London, 1989], 113–43)Google Scholar. See also Wyke, M., The Roman Mistress (Oxford, 2002), 132–3Google Scholar.

38 Wyke (n. 37 [2006]), 192.