De Arte Amandi

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by Ovid

De Arte Amandi
George Wythe bookplate.jpg
Title not held by The Wolf Law Library
at the College of William & Mary.
Author Ovid
Published ?: ?
Date ?
Edition Precise edition unknown.
Volumes volume set
Desc. 12mo

Ovid (43 B.C.E. – 17/18 C.E.), a famous poet in his own time, remains well-known today. Born in Sulmo (east of Rome), he was the son of an established equestrian family. Ovid was sent to study oratory and rhetoric in Rome at a young age, as his father hoped he would become a lawyer.

After travels to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily, Ovid decided to pursue a poetic career. Ovid's most famous work is undoubtedly Metamorphoses, written c. 8 B.C.E. That same year, the Emperor Augustus exiled Ovid to Tomis (modern-day Constanta, Romania), at the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire. The reason for Ovid's exile has been referred to as a "Mount Everest" of historical inquiry.[1] Some scholars suggest that the Ars Amatoria (frequently published as De Arte Amandi) contravened conservative Augustan morality, particularly, the lex Julia (Julian laws),[2] that promoted monogamous marriage and criminalized adultery. Ovid’s casual approach to relationships in Ars Amatoria would certainly have conflicted with these values. Other scholars have suggested that any moral distaste Augustus might have had for Ovid's poetry is mere subterfuge, and likely Ovid was caught up in some sort of political scandal which posed a threat to Augustus.[3]

Ovid published Ars Amatoria around 1 B.C.E. A didactic poem divided into three books, it explores the arts of courtship and erotic intrigue. The first two books instruct men on how to court women, and the third book instructs women on how to court men. It was composed in elegiac couplets — two poetic sentences that had meaning standing alone, but which formed part of a larger whole. Ovid's advice includes such proverbial wisdom as how to search out an appropriate lover — with one's eyes.[4] Scholars have had difficulty determining the work’s tone, as Ars Amatoria is at the crossroads of two genres: "its basic strategy draws the serious associations of didactic poetry into a clash with the situations of erotic elegy, evoking humor at the expense of both."[5]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Ovid de arte amandi. 12mo." and given by Thomas Jefferson to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The Brown Bibliography[6] suggests the 1701 edition published in London while George Wythe's Library[7] on LibraryThing states merely "Precise edition unknown."

As yet, the Wolf Law Library has been unable to procure a copy of Ovid's De Arte Amandi.

See also


  1. John C. Tibault, The Mystery of Ovid's Exile (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 1.
  2. G.P. Goold, "The Cause of Ovid’s Exile," Illinois Classical Studies 8 (1983): 95-100.
  3. Ibid., 102.
  4. Ars Amatoria, I:48-55.
  5. Richard Tarrant, "Ovid and Ancient Literary History,” in The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, ed. Philip Hardie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 19.
  6. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012, rev. May, 2014.) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  7. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on February 3, 2015.