Who was Ovid?

Ovid (43 BC-17 AD)

The Roman poet Ovid was born in 43 BC at Sulmo, near Rome. At the age of 50 he was exiled to Tomis on the Black Sea where he died in the year 17 AD. Delacroix imagines what Ovid's exile was like in his painting Ovid among the Scythians.

He is chiefly famed for the 'Metamorphoses', a long verse narrative which retells ancient Greek and Roman legends, unifying them as a sequence and through the theme of the title. The poem, originally written in Latin, was translated and much admired in the Middle Ages; it subsequently provided a rich source of subject matter for artists as diverse as the Pollaiuolo brothers, Titian and Poussin.

Other well-known poems by him include the 'Fasti', which describes the rites of the pagan Roman calendar, and the 'Ars Amatoria' (the 'Art of Love').

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Metamorphoses

'Metamorphoses' is Ovid's epic poem, almost 900 lines long. A collection of mythical tales based on the theme of 'change', 'Metamorphoses' means 'transformations' in Greek.

The tales of the 'Metamorphoses' were as well known as Bible stories in Titian's day and were a popular source of inspiration for many artists during the Renaissance.

Made up of 15 sections or 'books', each section of 'Metamorphoses' has around six stories. In book two we find the story of Callisto and Arcas which inspired Titian's Diana and Callisto. A favourite nymph of the goddess Diana, Callisto is tricked by Jupiter into betraying Diana, and suffers the consequences.

Titian drew inspiration for two other paintings, Diana and Actaeon and the later The Death of Actaeon, from the story of Actaeon found in the third book. The hunter Actaeon sees something he shouldn't – and like Callisto is also punished.

Read extracts from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', translated by Ted Hughes

 
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