[In Our Time] Ovid


29/04/2021 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/122437441

Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p09g1mhh.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43BC-17/18AD) who, as he described it, was destroyed by ‘carmen et error’, a poem and a mistake. His works have been preserved in greater number than any of the poets of his age, even Virgil, and have been among the most influential. The versions of many of the Greek and Roman myths we know today were his work, as told in his epic Metamorphoses and, together with his works on Love and the Art of Love, have inspired and disturbed readers from the time they were created. Despite being the most prominent poet in Augustan Rome at the time, he was exiled from Rome to Tomis on the Black Sea Coast where he remained until he died. It is thought that the ‘carmen’ that led to his exile was the Art of Love, Ars Amatoria, supposedly scandalising Augustus, but the ‘error’ was not disclosed.


Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London

Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford


Dunstan Lowe Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 14 June 2021 to 15 June 2021


  • Does In Our Time pick one Latin poet per year? Catullus last year, Horace the year before that.
  • I had been rereading Bullfinch’s Mythology earlier this year and noticed that the Metamorphoses was referenced a lot, but I hadn’t realised that almost everything we know as Greek and Roman myth is the Metamorphoses version.
  • On hearing that Ovid was exiled to the Romanian coast – wait, Romania has a coast? Ah, the Black Sea.
  • The most interesting thing in the program for me was the discussion about Ovid’s misogyny or not. One of the panelists mentioned that Ovid was extremely cruel and dismissive of women, but also that somehow he could see a woman’s point of view and put it across in a poem. Which in a way makes his sound like those terrible psychopaths who can see what someone else feels, but use it to just be even more effective in their viciousness because they know what will hurt most. To be clear, that was the connection I drew, not one the panel made.
  • This came up in the context of how so many of the Metamorphoses involve a god trying to rape a nymph, the nymph running away, the god going ‘the running away just makes this nymph even more attractive” and so forth.
  • But also in the more casual sexism of Ars Amatoria being a three book sequence of “Boys, here’s how you get girls,” “Boys, here’s how you keep girls,” and “Girls, here’s how you get boys to want you”
  • Coming back to the Metamorphoses, there’s a fairly long discussion of Apollo chasing the nymph Daphne, who transforms into a laurel tree, and then Apollo says “I may not have you the nymph, but you will still be my tree.” And that while this is ridiculous, it’s also disturbing in its possessiveness and monomania.
  • Also: the post-credits discussion of how Ovid knew exactly what he was doing when he was breaking poetic conventions and how he was super smug and clever about it.
  • Interesting from earlier in the episode: Ovid was rich enough to be a poet all the time, while earlier poets (Horace?) had struggled out of slavery and needed patronage.
  • Also interesting: that this episode also talked about Ovid as responding to Augustus Caesar becoming a full-on dictator who was even making laws about who could marry (and criminalising adultery).
  • A brief discussion about a poem from the Heroinides in which Ovid is writing from Penelope’s point of view, and how it’s fanfic-ish in that the alert reader can figure out that it’s set in that point of the Odyssey where Odysseus has shown up to his palace in Ithaca but in disguise – had me realising that I need to read the Odyssey.

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