Ovid can well be considered one of the most important poets of all time, along with Shakespeare for whom Ovidius was his favourite classical writer. An entire line in romance, courtly love and even typical western portrayal of love as a battle of the sexes, is hugely indebted to an Ovidian legacy.
The bard of Stratford owed rather more to the bard of Sulmo than is acknowledged and not simply because of references to myths preserved in Ovid’s celebrated Metamorphoses which for Shakespeare as for many poets (and musicians, painters and sculptors, supremely Bernini) has been a treasure house to plunder. One thinks rather of the influence of such as Heroides in which women soliloquize about their fate and experiences with men (mostly in modification or contradiction of the existing accounts of their stories from Homer and others). This anticipates the role of females in Shakespeare’s plays (or even just the poetry of confession in the likes of Richard 11 meditating on his life). Ovid’s work is, scintillating, witty, critical, dramatic and unusually psychological for his era. He wrote drama as well as poetry – we know of his Medea which is lost to posterity.
Ovid (March 20th 43 BC Julian/-42 Greg – 17/18 AD) was prolific and his memory for the myths, ancient sources and customs he refers to was prodigious too. He claimed, as was surely necessarily the case, that he wrote in poetry almost as naturally as prose. His natural facility must have given him the confidence from his only middle class origins to leave the legal career expected of him by his father and social background for a purely literary career which seems to have been launched as early as eighteen.
Despite the obvious delight in myth as in the Metamorphoses and in traditions as in the Fasti, Ovid can sometimes be sceptical and cynical about both and in a way that adds to our impression almost nobody in the ancient world was quite so modern as Ovid. He is the Italian artist and cinematographer before the time. He is very much the western individualist in preparation on the cusp of the new age (of Pisces), the age which would propel western humanity to the forefront in historical/cultural terms. All the ancient writers and poets, no matter how insightful and enduringly relevant can still seem somehow archaic in comparison. Arguably Thucydides is rather modern, but on the whole, especially the Greeks, almost plod in comparison with Ovid whose only possible rival for a contemporary feel among the Latins is Catullus.
Ovid has been so influential it can well be asked whatever does anyone have to do to become a famous, prolific writer of major verse like Ovid and Shakespeare who dashed off the work that almost all other poets worldwide have had to labour over because poetry is an art of excellence and often compression akin to the work of sculpture or mosaics?
Here the astrologer can affirm something others can’t. Both Ovid and Shakespeare have their writer’s Mercury at 16 of cardinal, (action orientated) Aries. Things just flow out of them, the energy is boundless and it’s likely most of the time that, like Shakespeare according to Ben Jonson, Ovid never blotted a line…albeit he is on record as wishing to have polished the Metamorphoses except that exile and disgrace got in his way. (The astrological effect may extend to a degree or two either side. A lesser but still major prolific poet for all occasions, Wordsworth, had his sun at 18 Aries).
But if we can observe this, are there other things the birth pattern can help us perceive? I believe that crucially we can do so but I shall say a little more about the poet and his life first.
There are all sorts of mysteries around Ovid, his motivation, his themes, his exile but they might be said to begin and end with an overwhelming conviction that his fame would endure for ever, or at least, as he declared at the end of the Metamorphoses, foras long as anyone uttered the name of Rome.Metamorphoses is not however the only place he forecasts a uniquely privileged future. Where did this obsessive, insistent conviction and its self-confidence derive from? I will come to this presently.
Particular mystery attaches to the poets banishment from Rome in 8 BC to the miserable outpost of Tomis (modern Constantia) on the Black Sea on the order of the Emperor Augustus.
Two reasons are given for this most celebrated of literary experiences of exile. The first was that the poet was a corrupter of Roman morals (through his Amores and Ars Amoris, the Loves and the Art of Love) which Ovid would later claim represented fantasies and follies not reflective of his personal life. He will also protest that there was little cause for blame given the already well-established “wanton verse” of such as Catullus, Propertius and Tibullus in the generation before him. And it is undeniably strange given that legacy, that any strongly felt charges of corruption weren’t brought earlier. On the love theme Ovid had been published and known for years before perhaps jealous rivals of the successful poet influenced the Emperor whose reform of the marriage laws in 18 BC was challenged by Ovid’s permissive oeuvre. (It is of course a popular myth that Roman society was engaged in almost continuous orgy before Christianity came along – one has for example only to read the atheist poet Lucretius’ negative account of sex and love to recognize Ovid was far from expressing or catering to some unquestioned norm. Ovid himself describes concern with adultery as “provincial” which is to affirm it existed). Even if we allow that Augustus in seeking to reform morals could begin with punishing a living writer rather than just speaking against dead ones, the emperor may have had more private reasons.
The second cause of banishment was involved with the fact the poet had witnessed or been involved in something of which we aren’t clearly told by either Augustus or the poet. Ovid’s poems of exile admit only to some folly, (perhaps witnessing or speaking of something he shouldn’t have), but he insists there was nothing criminal or of criminal intent behind it. Since however the order occurred the same year as the Emperor’s daughter, Julia, was also sent into banishment for (persistent) adultery, it is not inconceivable that the well-connected Ovid had been some witness to, or an influence behind events which ran counter to Augustus’ new moral laws aimed to reform the ultra-permissive lifestyles of the Rome’s wealthy new upper classes. They certainly didn’t serve the militaristic values of the Roman empire. Ovid effectively turns away from this offering not an expansionist epic but a comedy of the wars of the sexes.
OVID AND MORALITY
Before looking further into this I will say something about Ovid and morals.
Endearing, charming, amusing and often kindly though Ovid can be – he abhorred mistresses being cruel to servants, he was appalled at easy abortion – and though his 26 year long sufferings till death in the wilds of Tomis are heartbreaking, I think one is bound to agree that few have argued more blatantly and strongly for adultery. He tells his readers how to go about it and to treat it all as a love game, chiefly but not wholly to a man’s advantage. Ovid is not obscene, but he is frankly, boastfully immoral and in a way that argues against his own comparison with the Latin poets before him.
Love poets of the previous generation like Catullus, Propertius and Tibullus represent a unique experiment and moment in history. Comparable in some respects to the medieval troubadours, they were born to be upper class men of leisure in a way Ovid wasn’t. They had sought love and an exploration of female character in a very individual, independent way against the strictures of the old Republican and very patriarchal world. There weren’t many places for adventuring poets to go except prostitutes or other men’s wives – Catullus famously pursued “Lesbia”, the wife of the absent Metellus Celer and Propertius pursued the high class prostitute Cynthia. Quite whom dreaming Tibullus and his Delia and other women represent is less clear. But in the case of Catullus and Propertius not only was there some genuine and memorable even painfully memorable love involved, but when it didn’t work out there was frank recognition of the fact. Moreover some of Catullus’ poems celebrate marriage and more traditional values. Propertius too admires the faithful traditional wife. One may be left with the sense of some lessons learned, an evolution of ideas and character.
Though Heroides does sympathize with abandoned lovers and ill treated wives and is almost feminist, nothing like this attaches to Ovid’s erotic verse which is full of glittering, throw away cynicism. Its tricks to further seduction, chiefly of the wives of other men whom one is delighted to deceive, would leave a legacy in the rituals of elegant but decadent courtly and aristocratic lifestyles across the centuries. Augustus surely had a point about writing that corrupts, though we might need to consider if the emperor didn’t have motives apart from the moral ones and associated rather with his developing religious policies that he didn’t openly declare in this particular case.
But in turn did Ovid have a point in protesting that his erotic verse did not represent the facts of his life and experience? There could have been some truth in that claim even if it was made with some exaggeration in order to plead the case for release from exile.
The Heroides does in fact suggest an author with as strong a feeling for virtue and loyalty as anything opposite. It is therefore possible – just – that the love poetry could be thought of as largely a satire of nouveau riche Roman morals but voiced through the mask of a Casanova. The claim to private innocence amid public folly would even be consistent with Ovid’s birth sign, Pisces, which imagines much.
One need only read the adultery filled fiction of the devout, church going John Updike to see the Piscean comparison and ( because people are rarely too honest about sex and love and whatever his precise birth date) the poetry of the cavalier clergyman Robert Herrick. Herrick even writes as though he had a variety of mistresses he never had. He even uses the name of Ovid’s supposed chief mistress, Corinna. But just who was the original Corinna whose name Herrick borrows? For fame, influence and scandal in some respects an even closer comparison to Ovid, though a non poetic one, would be with Piscean Erika Leonard/ E.L.James (7.3.1963) author of Fifty Shades of Grey. Again like Ovid we have a Piscean with a moon in Leo, and though apparently long term happily married, Mrs Leonard takes the world by storm with her unbridled sexual fantasies.
Ovid had three wives. He was married off to the first very young and he described her as “useless” and divorced from her as from a second wife divorced before he was thirty for reasons unknown. His third well connected wife was left in Rome guarding the family home when he went into exile. (By imperial favour the poet’s home and goods weren’t taken from him. Perhaps Augustus realized the Tomis would be prison and purgatory enough as proved to be the case). Ovid declared he had been faithful to his (third) wife. He may have exaggerated or lied, yet he had a case to make for his release and he had been well known in sometimes critical Roman circles. Could he have professed the innocence he maintained and not had it all easily denied if it was all manifestly untrue?
Some critics detecting that Ovid must be describing his own home in the Amores, have suspected that Corinna was not the mistress but a record of the ultimately detested first wife. It is my own suspicion that it was from this rather extravagant, free living Lady Gaga style character that Ovid discovered what the tricks of seduction were (in addition to what he would have easily enough learned from earlier poets). I suggest a way to read The Art of Love is a virtual satire on existing Roman mores while the tricks of seduction constitute a revenge upon the first wife. Why? Because at one level there is an Ovid who is genuinely sympathetic and romantic towards women – he could never have written whole tracts of his work and the Heroides if that were not the case – but there is another Ovid who wants to be revenged upon women. He despises them and offers the love game and seduction as the way to be revenged. 1: 646 et seq of Ars Amoris might well be the key to the whole work and its author’s psychology when he declares against women:
They’re cheats, so cheat them; most are dumb and
Unscrupulous: let them
Fall into the traps they’ve set themselves…
So let perjuries gull the perjured
Let woman smart from the wounds she first dealt out! (tr Peter Green)
I suggest a long suffering cuckold is talking, one saving face by pretending to strings of conquests he never had. After all, he does declare in the Corinna centred Amores, “your morals turn me off, your body on” and he pleads she will at least pretend to be faithful so he won’t be too hurt.
If true this of course still can’t automatically and fully exonerate Ovid. His sins may not be of commission but they could be of the imagination. To the extent he is blasé about rape (by the gods in Metamorphoses) and teaches heartless cynical infidelity in a big way that will influence society for generations to come, he can’t be deemed only an innocent and thus only the victim his nightmare banishment made him. One could even argue that here is the culture hero who acts as one of Satan’s little helpers. Whether he was or not we must surely see something remarkably symbolic in the moment of cultural and ethical conflict that marks his life.
OVID AND THE NEW AGE
I said that Ovid was born under Pisces, the age that was dawning in his lifetime. Christ was born in 7 BC the year following Ovid’s banishment and (as maintained on various blog article on this site) Christ was born, as we know the Emperor Augustus was, under the sign of Virgo – in late Virgo with his sun opposing Ovid’s late Pisces sun and exactly so: 27 Virgo to 27 Pisces which didn’t help Ovid.
Everything Virgo as being both opposition and complement of Pisces would represent the ideal or better half of the new age; and while that “feminine” era would advance such themes as romance, compassion, tolerance and the status of women to some degree, it would necessarily do so through the filter and mode of its Virgoan ideal. That would mean it would oppose any mere confusion and permissiveness, just as the end of that same era (now) things would tend to sink back into permissiveness and the confusion of values that in its negative expression Pisces too often represents. The parables of Jesus are almost built on a Pisces/Virgo axis of imagery, his hearers are even counseled not to be drunk with the servants (Pisces is a servant sign, a sign of inebriation and addiction). Something in Ovid even adumbrates the Christian feeling of the coming era. Hypermestra to Lynceus in the Heroides is already giving us the martyr’s sacrifice, the suffering, the higher love, the forgiveness, attachment to the ideals of virtue, even a virtue that will be its own reward.
Ironically it may have been the more spiritual side of Ovid which contributed as much as anything else to his mystery-ridden downfall. In harmony of sorts with the incoming era the Virgo born Augustus Caesar, himself in power when Jesus was born, sought to direct his own and Roman authority towards a new imperial cult. The emperor would be increasingly viewed as divi filius, son of God. Arguably Ovid could be seen as undermining the trend. He had always been rather sceptical about the gods but in his incomplete Fasti, a record of the various cults and festivals of Rome he is at once independent doubter and believer through the way in which he has interviews with or visions of deities to sort out mythic/theological issues with them. There are vague intimations here of a Protestant independence, reliance upon the personal belief or revelations.
This individualistic approach could end as unhelpful to Augustus as the Ars Amoris to his reformist marriage laws and perhaps more so. I am even inclined to think those critics who emphasize this point are on the right track. There is a strong hint from the birth pattern that Ovid was a victim to religious policy.
Even without a birth time to help us (the above chart is set for midday) the day of Ovid’s birth is striking enough for his fate and character and because it is it isn’t too difficult to guess at an approximate birth time. (see below)
The obsession with and conviction about fame is strikingly staked out by the rare way in which five planets planets can be considered as being on world points (it is usual to allow 1.30 by way of conjunction). There is little to compare in other writers, not even in Shakespeare (who suitably for his pattern took his role as dramatist rather lightly and half despised it as not quite respectable).
Pluto at 0.43 Cancer
Mars at 1.03 Cancer
Saturn at 0.24 Capricorn
Uranus at 1.26 Libra (just within the 1.30 limit)
Neptune at 14.11 Leo (WP is 15 Leo)
The fact that shocking, revolutionary Uranus is in the marriage/unions sign, Libra, just by itself bespeaks the destabilizing of marriage ideals.
This is then backed up by Venus in separative and different Aquarius at 13 Aquarius opposed to romantic Neptune in the Leo sign of passion and big loves. The moon has to be somewhere in Leo that day presumably within conjunction of Neptune which is the poet’s romantic/mythic imagination directed upon the life of the gods in Metamorphoses. Albeit Leo is a fixed sign, the metamorphosis theme is linked to the mutability of the natal Pisces sign which Neptune rules. Also in Aquarius is Jupiter which reflects the modernity of Ovid’s outlook on and treatment of almost any theme. The fact that 15 Leo is deemed the most unfortunate of the six world points and Venus is basically opposed to it is an invitation for the things of Venus to be in trouble.
However, far and away the most distinctive feature is the world points involved in a tight, difficult, tension-giving T square of the malefic planets or even, if one includes the position of the sun which is not closely conjunct the Aries world point, that frustrating signature, the Grand Cross, thus:
Somewhere along the line Ovid was going to run into big trouble, even big political trouble because Saturn on a world point in the sign it rules points to such problems and they could be exacerbated by the in itself very difficult and frustrating close Mars/Pluto conjunction. (The latter conjunction incidentally renders it doubtful Ovid would be too easily successful in love and sex; and with the opposition from Saturn any embittered cuckold theory gains some weight). Shakespeare had Mars in Cancer (but not on the same degree) but for Ovid Mars placed here with Pluto and in the sign of homes and hearths, this has also to be the aspect of the long and frustrating exile from the home base.
Given Ovid’s various interests, his modes of seduction and a great loquaciousness to which he admitted, it is fairly clear he was probably born between 11 am and 12 pm with late Gemini or early Cancer rising this then making the difficult T square or Grand Cross central to the pattern and Saturn (political authority, the emperor), opposed to the rising from the house of open enemies.
But what is then interesting is that if we run the chart for Augustus (there is an asteroid Augusta which since asteroids were originally registered in feminine form is the appropriate asteroid for Augustus, we don’t find it conjunct Saturn…. or not closely. Instead at nearly 26 Sagittarius it is in difficulty square to Ovid’s identity-giving sun at 27 Pisces. Sagittarius is the sign of philosophy and (organized) religions. The hint is surely that Ovid offended the political authority of Augustus most nearly through what material like the Fasti represented for the emperor’s emerging state religion. The morals come into it, but not necessarily as the prime consideration.
PAUL JANKA AND PICK-UP ARTISTRY
At the end of the Piscean era which from its outset the Piscean Ovid was able after a fashion to haunt and dominate culturally, comes Paul Janka author of How to Get Laid in New York City (2004). He is not a poet and, on 1st June 1975, he was not born under Pisces but rather Gemini. However certain links with Ovid are interesting.
First of all, that sensitive degree again. Where is Janka’s Jupiter (his beliefs, his religion almost)? Sure enough it’s on that fatal 16 Aries from which Ovid was able to write so much (including about pick-ups and seduction in a big way) and again Uranus is destabilizing notions of unions but now at 28 degrees and thus the end rather than the beginning of marriage signs Libra as for Ovid.
Janka was propelled into his search for formulae by what he originally considered to be the great difficulty for him and for men, even good looking males, to attract women or to attract them in the way desired – especially for exciting quickies. (Ovid is more interested in landing a suitable mistress). This block is reflected in the exact square of restricting Saturn at 16 Cancer to that sensitive 16 Aries which carries Janka’s Jupiter. Even on top of his game Janka will speak Saturnian style of “the discipline” of working his technique.
As Janka’s sun is at 9 Gemini and his Mercury at 23 Gemini, one wonders if either of those two degrees wouldn’t correspond to Ovid’s unknown birth time and ascendant. (In favour of a Gemini ascendant for style and appearance Ovid was, beside his loquaciousness, slim and reedy as is Janka who corresponds in many ways to the text book version of Gemini-in one of his interviews it is even admitted he is not too concerned with erotica, it is conversation turns him on. Ovid is more concerned with women’s appearance and advises them in some detail how to enhance beauty and present themselves to advantage). If he is telling the truth about his past he nonetheless seems to have begun much like Janka.
………I’m the poor man’s poet,
Was poor myself as a lover, couldn’t afford
Gifts so spun words. Poor suitors must woo with caution,
Watch their tongues, bear much that the rich
Would never put up with
I haven’t analyzed Ovid’s theory of seduction and I haven’t read up on Janka’s theories of same which are the subject of whole courses and seminars in especially New York. In both cases however there is an unwavering belief in the power and ability of simply “technique” (a Geminian theme – Janka has spreadsheets and detailed records) and technique has a lot to do with saying the right things on cue and time (another Geminian theme) and at the right place. Both have a sense of place, the proper sites of opportunity, though one wonders if it doesn’t betray elements of Ovidian fantasy when the poet suggests the ardent lover could hover around Rome’s Jewish synagogue. Did Ovid harbour desires for a Jewish mistress, indeed had he read Genesis, a point of scholarly debate given oddly biblical elements in the creation story with which the Metamorphoses opens?
Ovid insists upon agreeing with almost anything a woman says and thinks provided one has her attention. Likewise promise anything. Janka is also very verbal but concerned American style with a quick kill, the bang. In effect though, he agrees with Ovid in not wasting time pursuing uncertain, elusive cases. Grasping a woman’s interest and attention fast and insuring it’s strong enough to be worked upon later can be certified through the simple expedient of just obtaining her phone number. Janka wants as many numbers as possible as then one is always assured of a certain percentage however small. Ovid more interested in mistresses and affairs, is both the eternal Latin and natural Piscean (sign of service) in insisting on being at woman’s service. Promise a woman anything, flatter her, pick up whatever she drops, give her whatever she wants, solicitously follow her. “Don’t jib at a slavish task like holding/her mirror; slavish or not such attentions please…”
Both evidently believe that woman’s vanity and/or curiosity can carry things along if only once the foot is in the door. This incidentally allows at least Ovid to stray in non PC, Christian Grey directions which may have some kernel of truth, especially for the less verbal when he declares:
It’s all right to use force……
What in fact they love to yield…
They’d rather have stolen. Rough seduction
Delights them. The audacity of near rape
Is a compliment – so the girl who could have been forced, yet somehow
Got away unscathed, may feign delight, but in fact
Feels sadly let down. Hilairia and Phoebe, both ravished
Both fell for their ravishers
In the case of both Ovid and Janka all such statements rest upon a certain understanding of the sexes which, whether true or false and they do seem exaggerated (and they are fascinatingly different from anything one might say about authentic same sex relations), are nonetheless promoted to boost male confidence to go on the attack. Essentially both assume and assure their audiences that women want it badly if only the right note can be struck.
Like men, girls love stolen passion,
But are better at camouflaging their desires.
If masculine custom precluded courtship of women
You’d find each besotted girl
Taking the lead herself. A heifer amid lush pastures
Lows to the bull, a mare
Whinnies at stallions, but our male libido’s milder,
Really? To the extent the animal and human kingdoms can be compared and there is truth here, it is a half truth and linked to something Asia and the Bible better grasp as stressed in my Solomon’s Tantric Song (amzn.to/14aa5Qe). The woman leads sexually as at the beginning of the Song of Solomon once some kind of relation is established. (The mystery of just what has been established with whom in the case of the elusive Song is something I attempt to establish in the book).
Janka has had both a lot of praise and criticism for his techniques, but his most recent shock delivered to his followers has been settling into monogamy and even getting married to his latest girlfriend. I suppose this possibility was always present given the fact that not just Uranus but transformative Pluto is also in the unions sign Libra and opposite his sun. He would be challenged, even compelled, at some stage to rethink and change direction somewhat.
So, despite all critics and enemies calling him a creep and worse, the half Czech Janke has not gone into any exiles unless voluntary to Europe and he might even end up happily ever after. Since however he is not a poet and belongs most essentially to the ephemeral world of New York rather than the more eternal one of Rome and was born with no links to any world points, it is likely his eventual fate is to be disappear and be forgotten in a way it is unlikely Ovid who foresaw his destiny ever will be. And curiously readers might feel it is Ovid who is more alive and real. It is sometimes hard to think he isn’t with us still and that we didn’t meet him last week.