In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ovid’s Love Poetry

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections and Companions
  • Bibliographies
  • Translations
  • Chronological Order, Transmission, and Book History
  • Textual Criticism and Questions of Authenticity
  • Augustan Culture and Ideology

Classics Ovid’s Love Poetry
Thea S. Thorsen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0279


Always brilliantly marshaling the rich resources of the art of literature, the love poetry of the great and prolific poet Ovid (43 BCE–17/18 CE) displays a vigorous engagement with Rome and the human condition. Love permeates Ovid’s entire output. His epic masterpiece the Metamorphoses and his etiological Fasti are strongly marked by stories of love. And even in the exile to which Augustus condemned Ovid toward the end of his life, he insists, in his imaginary epitaph in Tristia 3.3.73 and his autobiography Tristia 4.10.1, that he is tenerorum lusor amorum, “the playful bard of tender loves.” Love is most conspicuously present in the earlier phase of Ovid’s career. Thus, in this poetry we find titles in which amor (love) features in various forms, such as the collection of elegies called Amores (Loves), which many think we now possess in the form of a second edition; the didactic manuals in elegiac couplets, the Ars amatoria (The art of love) 1–3; and the Remedia amoris (Cures for love). To these works belong also the fragments of the didactic Medicamina faciei femineae (Cosmetics for female beauty). Furthermore, the epistolary elegies known as the Heroides may be considered as a part of Ovid’s love poetry, since love is the common denominator of all the letters included. This work is commonly divided into two parts, the single Heroides 1–15 and the double Heroides 16–21, now frequently considered to have been composed at different times. In addition to the difficulties of establishing the chronological order of all the works of Ovid’s love poetry, the authenticity of a number of the Heroides has been questioned. Ovid’s love poetry, understood as these most conspicuously amorous works, displays a number of striking characteristics, such as sophisticated metapoetics and an innovative approach to established genres, especially that of Latin love elegy; a rich interplay with the preceding literature of both Greece and Rome and a striking interconnection of the various works by means of internal references (Ovidian loci similes, “similar passages”); a humorously playful and politically poignant engagement in the world of Augustus’s Rome and a particularly eager interest in human psychology. Finally, Ovid’s love poetry is strikingly crowded with female figures of great and varied significance.

General Overviews

The theme of love looms large in Newlands 2015, which covers all of Ovid’s output. Ovid’s love poems—more strictly understood as the Amores, Medicamina faciei femineae, Ars amatoria, Remedia amoris, and the Heroides—are seen as “love songs” within the larger framework of Ovid’s Fasti, Tristia, and Epistulae ex Ponto in Liveley 2005. Similarly Armstrong 2005 outlines the whole output of Ovid departing from central themes in the Amores, Ars amatoria, and Remedia amoris. Rimell 2006 offers important insights into the deeper interconnections between the various works of Ovid’s love poetry, including a chapter on the Metamorphoses. Focusing exclusively on all the works that belong to Ovid’s love poetry in the stricter sense, Sabot 1976 is rich and still indispensable. Similarly, Scivoletto 1976, though excluding the Medicamina faciei femineae, provides valuable insights into the more profound significance of the poetic project of Ovid’s love poetry. Since the publication of the monographs of Sabot and Scivoletto, the amatory works and the single Heroides (1–15) have tended to be treated separately in scholarship. However, Thorsen 2014 represents a recent and inclusive approach to the way in which all of these works relate to each other by means of loci similes.

  • Armstrong, Rebecca. 2005. Ovid and his love poetry. London: Duckworth.

    Focuses on central themes in the Amores, Ars amatoria, and Remedia amoris and shows how these influence Ovid’s later works.

  • Newlands, Carole. 2015. Ovid. London: I. B. Tauris.

    All-inclusive, yet brief and sophisticated introduction to Ovid, focusing throughout on love and politics as the two major Ovidian topics.

  • Liveley, Genevieve. 2005. Ovid: Love songs. London: Bristol Classical Press.

    Accessible low-threshold introduction to many love-themed works of Ovid, with frequent and engaging references to present-day culture.

  • Rimell, Victoria. 2006. Ovid’s lovers: Desire, difference and the poetic imagination. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511719981

    Study of crucial moments in Ovid’s love poetry, to a large extent focusing on intersections between similarities and differences in the didactic works, the Medicamina included, and various aspects of the Heroides.

  • Sabot, A. -F. 1976. Ovide, poète de l’amour, dans ses œuvres de jeunesse: Amores, Héroïdes, Ars amatoria, Remedia amoris, De Medicamine faciei femineae. Paris: Ophrys.

    Comprehensive study, clearly presenting a wide variety of aspects relevant to Ovid’s love poetry and containing insights that are still valuable.

  • Scivoletto, N. 1976. Musa Iocosa: Studio sulla poesia giovanile di Ovidio. Rome: Elia.

    This study captures the playful quality of Ovid’s early poetry, while gauging the fundamental seriousness of his poetic undertakings. Treats the Amores, Ars amatoria, Remedia amoris, and the Heroides.

  • Thorsen, Thea S. 2014. Ovid’s early poetry: From his single Heroides to the Remedia amoris. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139628952

    Arguing in favor of the much disputed authenticity of Heroides 15, from Sappho to Phaon, this study shows how loci similes in this poem and the rest of Ovid’s early poetry offer fundamental insights into Ovidian poetics.

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