The first two poems have made it abundantly clear that the poet has fallen head over heels in love, and we also assume that things are not going well: lovers whose affections are reciprocated might speak of their passion (uror, 1.1.26), but they do not exclaim me miserum! and complain about Cupid’s arrows (1.1.25), or talk about being wounded (factum modo vulnus habebo, 1.2.29).
Thus as Amores 1.3 opens we are not surprised to find the poet speaking of himself as the stereotypical unrequited lover, in ways that strongly remind us of Catullus and Propertius in their more abject modes. The poem begins with a cry of unrequited love: the poet prays first that the girl will love him or at least not reject him outright, but then even that second hope seems too presumptuous, and he is reduced to hoping that she will at least allow him to love her (lines 1–4).
This diffidence does not keep him from making his case: he’s looking for a long-term relationship (line 5), and his love is the real thing (line 6). He may not be rich and he may not be an aristocrat (lines 7–10), but he has other qualities which should work in his favor: he’s a poet (line 11), and, as he’s already said, he’s in it for the long haul (lines 12–18). He doesn’t flit from girl to girl (line 15, non sum desultor amoris) and, looking far down the road, he wants her there when he dies (lines 17–18). Readers may find him sincere and persuasive, but they may also wonder whether he does not protest too much.
And there is a more immediate problem. The speaker’s status as a poet is offered as the first argument in his favor (line 11), but then it seems to get dropped, as he turns instead to the long-term relationship argument. And although the two arguments are not obviously related, he writes as if they are, listing his “supporters” without any suggestion that they are in different categories: Apollo, the Muses, and Dionysus (line 11); Amor, fides, mores, simplicitas and pudor (lines 12–14). It is poetry that in fact turns out be the crucial argument. After claims to fidelity, culminating with his dramatic “till death do us part” argument, the poet suddenly returns to poetry. The logic seems to be that the relationship, and especially the girl’s part in it, will be the kind of thing that inspires poetry (lines 19–20).
Ovid, ever the rhetorician, drives this point home with three exempla, all heroines made famous by poets (lines 21–24). But the poet’s choices are spectacularly inappropriate, given the case he is trying to make. A girl interested in declarations of fidelity and commitment will not want to be compared to three (no less!) of Jupiter’s one-night stands. And the poet’s language makes it hard to take this mythology seriously: Io is afraid of her new horns (line 21), Leda is deceived by her “riverine adulterer” (line 22), and Europa holds on with her “maiden hand” (line 24). The poet’s persuasive skills, which at first seemed so powerful, seem now to have deserted him.
The final couplet offers us useful guidance on how to read this poem. After offering his poetry as an inducement to the girl, as it is she who will be immortalized, the poet ends up focused on himself: “we” (nos) not she, will be sung throughout the world, and it is his name, now, that will always be linked to hers (lines 25–26). A person, of course, can be passionately in love with someone else and completely self-involved at the same time. But if what other people see is the self-absorption they’re not going to be very sympathetic.
Moreover, once we see that our poet is more interested in himself than in the girl he offers to write about, his claims to sexual fidelity look even more suspicious. The poet knows what to say to women: they love all that talk about sincerity and commitment, perhaps even more than they want poetic immortality. But, we learn, the arguments are just that: the rhetoric of persuasion rather than the language of love.
Curran, Leo. “Desultores Amoris: Ovid Amores 1.3,” Classical Philology 61 (1966): 41–49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/365081
Holleman, A. W. J. “Notes on Ovid Amores 1.3, Horace Carm. 1.14, and Propertius 2.26,” Classical Philology 65 (1970): 177–180, at 177–179. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/365624
Iusta precor: quae mē nūper praedāta puella est,
aut amet aut faciat, cūr ego semper amem.
ā, nimium voluī: tantum patiātur amārī;
audierit nostrās tot Cytherēa precēs.
accipe, per longōs tibi quī dēserviat annōs; 5
accipe, quī pūrā nōrit amāre fidē.
sī mē nōn veterum commendant magna parentum
nōmina, sī nostrī sanguinis auctor eques,
nec meus innumerīs renovātur campus arātrīs,
temperat et sumptūs parcus uterque parens: 10
at Phoebus comitēsque novem vītisque repertor
hāc faciunt, et mē quī tibi dōnat, Amor
et nullī cessūra fidēs, sine crīmine mōrēs,
nūdaque simplicitās, purpureusque pudor.
nōn mihi mille placent, nōn sum dēsultor amōris: 15
tū mihi, sī qua fidēs, cūra perennis eris;
tēcum, quōs dederint annōs mihi fīla sorōrum,
vīvere contingat tēque dolente morī!
tē mihi māteriem fēlīcem in carmina praebē:
prōvenient causā carmina digna suā. 20
carmine nōmen habent exterrita cornibus Īō
et quam flūmineā lūsit adulter ave,
quaeque super pontum simulātō vecta iuvencō
virgineā tenuit cornua vāra manū.
nōs quoque per tōtum pariter cantābimur orbem 25
iunctaque semper erunt nōmina nostra tuīs.
Listen to the Amores 1.3
Notes on Amores 1.3
1–2: quae … puella est = puella quae mē nūper praedāta est. Notice the return to the martial terminology in praedāta est; see Amores 1.2, where Ovid refers to himself as the spoils (praeda, 19) of Cupid. aut faciat cūr ego semper amem: i.e., if she will not love him outright, let her at least give him reasons to keep on hoping. Amet and faciat are both jussive subjunctive (AG §439). Amem is subjunctive in an indirect question (AG §574).
3–4: ā: “oh me!”; an interjection indicating powerful feeling, including misery. tantum: “only, just.” patiātur: jussive subjunctive; understand puella as the subject. amārī: understand sē as the subject of this infinitive. audierit: syncopated form of audīverit, probably future perfect (AG §181b); the clause functions almost as the apodosis of a condition: “if she would just allow herself to be loved, Venus will have heard my many prayers.” nostrās: plural for singular. Cytherēa = Venus; the Greek island of Cythera1 was sacred to Venus.
5–6: per longōs … annōs: for per + accusative as “throughout” a period of time, see OLD 7. quī dēserviat: the antecedent is an implied eum, i.e., accipe eum quī tibi dēserviat. The verb dēservīre, “to devote oneself,” can take a dative; it presumably retains some of its original meaning of “be enslaved to.” The relative clauses of characteristic here and in the next line put the emphasis on Ovid’s character. nōrit = nōverit, “knows how to.”
7–8: veterum … parentum: “of a long line of ancestors.” sī = etsī. eques: “equestrian,” a member of the ordo equester; take as a predicate nominative with est understood. A family founded by a member of the equestrian order was highly respectable, but it had distinctly less prestige than a senatorial family.
9–10: campus: normally refers to an open field as a site of sport or warfare, but here it clearly refers to land under cultivation, an estate. temperat et = et temperat; poets often postpone conjunctions for metrical or stylistic reasons. sumptūs: accusative plural, object of parcus uterque parens temperat.
11–12: at: the poet since line 7 has been listing possible reasons for rejecting him as a lover; at introduces his response (see OLD 3). comitēs … novem: the nine companions of Apollo are the Muses. vītisque repertor: the discoverer of the vine is Bacchus/Dionysus, god of wine and, here, a god of poetry. hāc faciunt: if this reading is right it means faciunt hāc ex parte, “act on this side,” i.e., “are on my side.” mē quī tibi dōnat Amor = Amor quī mē tibi dōnat, i.e., Amor is handing the poet over, as a slave; compare dēserviat (line 5).
13–14: fidēs … mōrēs … simplicitās … pudor: these four Roman virtues parallel the divinities of poetry mentioned above (Phoebus … comitēs novem … vītis repertor … Amor) and are also subjects of hāc faciunt (12). cessūra: “that will yield to,” “second to,” (+ dat.). sine crīmine: the basic meaning of crīmen, crīminis, n. is “charge, accusation.” purpureus pudor: note the repetition of the pu- sound, perhaps suggestive of an embarrassed stammer; pudor is purple because it is modestly blushing.
15–16: mille: supply puellae. dēsultor: “circus rider” (in the Circus Maximus, who would jump from horse to horse at full gallop). This imagery suggests the opposite of fidelity, jumping from bed to bed. sī qua fidēs: understand est, i.e., “if there exists any loyalty at all”; qua = aliqua.
17–18: quōs … annōs = annōs, quōs fīla sorōrum dederint mihi. annōs has been attracted into the relative clause, but functions with vīvere as an accusative of duration of time. dederint: possibly future perfect, but more likely perfect subjunctive in a conditional relative clause (AG §519). sorōrum: the three Parcae (the Fates), who spun and cut the threads of life (fīla). vivere contingat: “may it befall me to live,” “may I be allowed to live”; optative subjunctive (AG §441). morī: infinitive of morior, depending on contingat.
19–20: tē mihi māteriem: adversative asyndeton: the complete absence of connecting words indicates an abrupt change of topic. māteriem fēlīcem is a predicate accusative with tē: “Offer yourself as…” in carmina: “for songs”; in + acc. can mean “for the purpose of.” causā carmina digna suā: “songs worthy of their inspiration”; dignus regularly takes an ablative (AG §418b).
21–22: carmine: “in poetry” or “because of poetry”; Ovid proceeds to give examples of women whose names live on through poems. habent: plural because there are three subjects: Io; the suppressed antecedent of quam in line 22 (Leda); and the suppressed antecedent of quaeque in line 23 (Europa). Īō: the daughter of Inachus, from Argos. Zeus fell in love with her, raped her, then changed her into a cow in an attempt to conceal his actions from Juno. Ovid elsewhere describes Io’s shock at seeing her horns reflected in water (Metamorphoses 1.640–641). quam = ea quam; the reference is to Leda, raped by Zeus after he took the form of a swan (flūmineā … ave).
23–24: quaeque = et ea quae “and she who”; the reference is to Europa, whom Zeus, transformed into a bull, carried off to Crete.2 cornua vāra: vārus, a, um means “bent outwards”; the detail makes the scene more vivid.
25–26: nōs: apparently = ego et tu, though we might suspect that poet mostly means ego. pariter: “equally,” i.e., just as much as Zeus and his mistresses; the word may also suggest that Ovid and Corinna will be remembered together. nostra: here plural for singular.