Ovidian Delight VI

You will certainly have realised by now that I am a big fan of Ovid. You will also have spotted that Ovid is very good at cleverly mocking more serious forms of poetry in a humorous way. Tonight we have another example from his Ars Amatoria (the Art of Love), where he sends up lines from Homer and Virgil. The wit of the allusion presumes his audience's knowledge of both.


In book I, line 419-420, Ovid states:


'A woman knows how to pluck the wealth of her desirous lover.'


Cheeky! He goes on to highlight a number of ways the wily lass can achieve this. She might convince her beloved she needs something a pedlar has tempted her with. She might pretend to have lost something, convincing him to replace it, or she might need to borrow something which she will never return.


He then moans as follows:


'non mihi, sacrilegas meretricium ut persequar artes,

cum totidem linguis sint satis ora decem.'


'Not even were I to have ten mouths with as many tongues,

would I be able to rattle off the sacrilegious arts of tarts.'



This is taking on the following lines from Homer and Virgil.


Homer, Iliad, 2.486-492 (Catalogue of Ships):


'And I would be not be able to tell or name the entire crowd, not even I had ten tongues, ten mouths, and an unbreakable voice, and the heart within me was of iron, unless the Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus were to mention all those who came.'


Virgil, Aeneid, 6.625-627 (Passing by Tartarus):


'Not even if I possessed a hundred tongues and a hundred mouths, an iron voice could I capture all the different forms of crime nor run through the name of every punishment.'


Homer conveys the size of the Greek force at Troy, Virgil the grim depths and horrors of Tartarus, the Underworld's punishment centre. Virgil transfers the adjective 'of iron' to the 'voice', and raises Homer's ten to one-hundred. Tartarus is full of evil and misery. Don't go there.


But, says Ovid, I would need not only ten tongues, but also ten months to get through all the wiles employed by women to get what they want from their lovers. Don't go there, gentlemen, is his message!! The ladies are even worse than Tartarus.

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