Ovid, a man about town and a poet with no political motivations, loved Rome for Rome. Famed for erotic poetry, he ran up against moral reforms enacted by Augustus.
Publius Ovidius Naso was born in 43 BCE, in Sulmo (modern Sulmona), up in the mountains of the Abruzzi.
His family held equestrian rank and Ovid was a conspicuous success as a student of rhetoric at Rome. He went on a tour of Greece, and held at least one minor magistracy in Rome, before turning to poetry as a full-time occupation. In CE 8 he was banished to the remote Greek city of Tomis (modern Constantsa), on the Black Sea coast in what is now Romania.
Ovid’s greatest work is the Metamorphoses, an epic poem on mythological transformations. He also wrote the Fasti, concerned with the religious calendar, and the Ibis, an invective against an unnamed enemy.
Technically, Ovid was not fully exiled, just “relegated,” still able to keep his property. He left his wife in Rome to manage their estate and he addressed poetry to Augustus asking to be forgiven. Augustus was unmoved by his verse.
During his years of exile he wrote the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto. Two lost works are a drama, the Medea, and a translation of Aratus’ astronomical poem, the Phaenomena. All his surviving works except the Metamorphoses are in elegiac couplets.
His early work was stripped from public libraries and his exile poetry was circulated privately. His most famous poem completed in exile, the Metamorphoses, ends, “wherever Roman might extends … in my fame forever I will live.”