In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ovid in Renaissance Thought

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Handbooks and Companions
  • Reference Resources
  • Transmission
  • Commentaries
  • Exile Poetry (Tristia, Ex Ponto, Ibis)
  • England
  • Marlowe
  • Milton
  • Shakespeare
  • Spenser
  • Epyllions
  • Translations
  • Spain
  • Art
  • Book Illustration

Renaissance and Reformation Ovid in Renaissance Thought
Philip Hardie
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0500


The influence of Ovid, one of the key canonical authors in Latin literature, on post-classical literature, art, and culture is perhaps even more extensive than that of Virgil. Central to the importance of his reception is his long hexameter poem the Metamorphoses, an encyclopedia of mythological narratives, and which has been described as “the painters’ bible” for the Renaissance. The wide variety of Ovid’s other works fed other streams of Renaissance literature. His amatory works invigorate the tradition of Petrarchan love poetry, including the Shakespearean sonnet. The Heroides, fictional letters from mythological characters, are the starting point for a Renaissance tradition of fictional epistles, both secular and sacred. The exilic poetry informs Renaissance inflections of the idea and experience of exile. The poem on the Roman religious calendar, the Fasti, resonates with the Renaissance interest in antiquarianism, and prompts poetry on the Christian calendar. The explosion of literary-critical interest in Ovid in classical studies since the mid-twentieth century has led to a fresh interest in the post-antique reception of Ovid, increasing awareness of his centrality for Renaissance cultural and artistic awareness.

General Overviews

Wilkinson 1955 is an engaging older overview. Essays on a variety of authors and aspects of the reception of Ovid are offered in Bury 2003; Hardie, et al. 1999; Keith and Rupp 2007; and Mack and North 2015. Casanova-Robin 2009 explores Ovidian reception under the headings of hybridity and metamorphosis. Lanham 1976 relates Ovidianism to a key aspect of Renaissance self-fashioning. Heyworth 2009 theorizes the reception of the Ovidian body.

  • Bury, Emmanuel, ed. Lectures d’Ovide: Publiées à la mémoire de Jean-Pierre Néraudau. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2003.

    A memorial volume including chapters on a wide variety of authors and texts, including the Bible des poëtes, Jean-Antoine de Baïf, Ronsard, Agrippa d’Aubigné, Pontus de Tyard, Poliziano, Conrad Celtis, Michelle de Marolles, German and French imitations of the Heroides, and also painting in 17th-century France.

  • Casanova-Robin, Hélène, ed. Ovide: Figures de l’hybride; Illustrations littéraires et figures de l’esthétique ovidienne à travers les âges. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009.

    Includes a range of essays on Ovidian hybridity and metamorphosis in the Renaissance, in literature and art, with chapters on Janus Secundus, George Buchanan, Barthélémy Aneau, and 16th-century Italian translations of the Metamorphoses.

  • Hardie, Philip, Alessandro Barchiesi, and Stephen Hinds, eds. Ovidian Transformations: Essays on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Its Reception. Proceedings of the conference on Perspectives on Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Modern Critical Approaches and Earlier Reception, held in Cambridge, UK, 2–5 July 1997. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Philological Society, 1999.

    Includes essays on Petrarch’s Rime Sparse, Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, and Edmund Spenser’s and Samuel Garth’s imitation of Ovid’s self-conscious language of imitation.

  • Heyworth, Gregory. Desiring Bodies: Ovidian Romance and the Cult of Form. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009.

    A theoretically ambitious discussion of the physical body and its relationship to poetic and corporate bodies in the medieval and Renaissance reception of Ovid, including chapters on Petrarch’s Rime Sparse, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Milton’s Paradise Lost.

  • Keith, Alison, and Stephen Rupp, eds. Metamorphosis: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2007.

    Includes chapters on the uses of the myths of Narcissus and Actaeon by Petrarch and Maurice Scève; on the alchemist Michael Maier’s readings of Ovid; the presence of Ovidian witches in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft; on the influence of Ovidian tales of incest on Michelangelo’s Venus and Cupid; on the Phaethon myth in Cervante’s Don Quixote; and Ovidian bird-imagery in Góngora’s Soledades.

  • Lanham, Richard A. The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1976.

    An influential study of early modern subjectivity that places Ovidianism at the center of the playful and decentered homo rhetoricus of Renaissance literary culture, as the opposite pole to a Platonic-Christian homo seriosus.

  • Mack, Peter, and John North, eds. The Afterlife of Ovid. London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2015.

    Includes chapters on Giovanni Pontano; Renaissance Fasti sacri; Neo-Latin Heroides; 15th- and 16th-century book illustrations of the Metamorphoses; Ovidian Renaissance epyllia; Milton’s Paradise Lost; Abraham Cowley’s Plantarum libri sex.

  • Wilkinson, Lancelot P. “The Renaissance—Sweet Witty Soul.” In Ovid Recalled. By Lancelot P. Wilkinson, 399–438. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1955.

    A readable overview of the influence of Ovid in the Renaissance, expanding on English authors from Chaucer to Milton.

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