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Ovid, Amores (Book 1)

William Turpin

8. Amores 1.2: Conquered by Cupid

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1It is not clear whether we are to read each poem in Amores 1 as building directly on the poem that precedes it. There can be little doubt that Roman poets constructed their poetry books with care, and probably assumed that the poems would be read, often, one after the other. But it does not follow from this that the book as a whole was supposed to provide a consistent storyline, with the poet telling us more and more about his (no doubt fictional) private life.

Fig. 5. “Cupid and Pan,” detail. Attributed to Federico Zuccaro (around 1600).

Fig. 5. “Cupid and Pan,” detail. Attributed to Federico Zuccaro (around 1600).​wiki/​File:Cupid_and_Pan.JPG

2Nonetheless it seems natural at least to try to read the poems as providing a more or less coherent story, and in the discussions that follow I will assume that we are supposed to read each poem in order, with each one adding something to our picture of the poet and his love life. Amores 1.2 certainly picks up and develops one aspect of the poem that precedes it—the idea of the lover as Cupid’s victim. We may have ended Amores 1.1 with the introduction of the poet’s new love interest as muse, but we learn no more about her now. Instead, the poet offers us a display of the self-absorption that sometimes seems all too typical of young lovers, especially perhaps if they are also poets.

3Once he realizes the truth, he has to decide whether or not to resist. He concludes, quickly enough, that resistance is generally a mistake (line 9–10), and supports this proposition with another rhetorician’s list of exempla (compare Amores 1.1.5–16): fire, cattle, and horses, all have easier lives if they take what comes to them (lines 11–16). And the poet, too, has to submit to the domination of a master, in this case Cupid: it will be easier for him if he accepts his new position as a slave (servitium) to Amor (lines 17–18).

4The first eight lines of the poem connect it more or less directly with Amores 1.1. The poet has been unable to sleep, and at first does not know why; it might be love, but, he says, surely he would have noticed (lines 5–6). This suggests to some readers that the poem is not connected directly to Amores 1.1, in which we were told of Cupid’s arrow and its consequence; Ovid, we might think, shouldn’t be so confused. But we need not be so literal, and indeed it makes little sense to take Cupid’s arrow literally. People who can’t sleep do not necessarily think all that clearly, and we can forgive our poet a little confusion about what his problem is. At any rate he figures it out, or perhaps remembers (sic erit, line 7): it’s the arrow(s), it’s Cupid/Amor, and it’s the poet’s captive heart (lines 7–8).

5Slavery for the Romans was always associated with conquest, and the poet’s slavery is quickly recast as military surrender to Cupid (lines 19–22). This sets up the astonishing image that occupies about half the poem: the triumphal procession of Cupid (lines 23–49), leading as his captives young men and women in love (line 27), not least the poet himself (29–30).

6At the risk of stating the obvious, it is worth noting how wonderfully funny this is. The Romans took their triumphs very seriously; the triumph was the peak of any politician’s career, and it enacted the ruthless militarism of Rome for all the city to see; the captives, after all, were led up the Capitoline to be executed. And this most serious of Roman institutions is invoked by the poet to express the potentially happy, and certainly private, thought that Cupid has won the day: the poet has fallen in love. The centerpiece of his image is both charming and silly: the triumphator, in this poem, is no battle-hardened Roman general, but a beautiful, and naked, boy-god of love (lines 38–42). But we should not forget the extraordinary juxtaposition of a potentially difficult love-affair, on the one hand, and, on the other, the abject physical subjugation at the heart of a Roman triumph.

Fig. 6. The triumph of Vespasian and Titus (71 CE).

Fig. 6. The triumph of Vespasian and Titus (71 CE).

Relief from Arch of Titus, Rome, showing the spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem.


7The last four lines contain the poet’s plea for mercy: although he could appropriately be part of Cupid’s triumph, he’s not really worth the effort (49–50); Cupid should emulate his relative Augustus (the Julii were supposedly descended from Venus), and should protect his victim, not punish him.

8Is this a satisfying way to end? Augustus did pride himself on his clemency, and even if we ignore the fact that his enemies told stories about his ruthlessness it is surprising, and perhaps even jarring, for reality to intrude so suddenly after the long fantasy of Cupid’s triumph.

9But the reference to Augustus perhaps makes more sense if we see it as something we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of Amores 1.1. The poet had started out trying to write patriotic poetry—poetry reminiscent of Vergil’s great epic—but was ambushed by Cupid and sidetracked to love and elegy. Amores 1.2 offers a kind of substitute for that patriotic poetry: we get an account of a triumph, but its outrageousness only raises more questions about the poet’s patriotism, or loyalty to the regime. Those questions, in turn, prepare us for the final couplet: Augustus, it turns out, matters after all.

Fig. 7. Statue of Augustus from Prima Porta.

Fig. 7. Statue of Augustus from Prima Porta.

Marble copy of a bronze original, c. 20 BCE. Note Cupid riding on a dolphin (dolpins were associated with Venus).


Suggested reading

10Athanassaki, Lucia. “The Triumph of Love and Elegy in Ovid’s Amores 1.2,” Materiali e discussioni per l’analisi dei testi classici 28 (1992): 125–141.​10.2307/​40236002

11Moles, J. “The Dramatic Coherence of Ovid, Amores 1.1 and 1.2,” Classical Quarterly 41 (1991): 551–554.​10.1017/​s0009838800004766

Amores 1.2

Esse quid hoc dīcam, quod tam mihi dūra videntur
     strāta, neque in lectō pallia nostra sedent,
et vacuus somnō noctem, quam longa, perēgī,
     lassaque versātī corporis ossa dolent?
nam, puto, sentīrem, sī quō temptārer amōre—
an subit et tectā callidus arte nocet?
sīc erit: haesērunt tenuēs in corde sagittae,
     et possessa ferus pectora versat Amor.
cēdimus, an subitum luctandō accendimus ignem?
     cēdāmus: leve fit, quod bene fertur, onus. [10]
vīdī ego iactātās mōtā face crescere flammās
     et vīdī nullō concutiente morī.
verbera plūra ferunt, quam quōs iuvat ūsus arātrī,
     dētractant prensī dum iuga prīma bovēs.
asper equus dūrīs contunditur ōra lupātīs:
frēna minus sentit, quisquis ad arma facit.
ācrius invītōs multōque ferōcius urget,
     quam quī servitium ferre fatentur, Amor.
ēn ego, confiteor, tua sum nova praeda, Cupīdō;
     porrigimus victās ad tua iūra manūs. [20]
nīl opus est bellō: pācem veniamque rogāmus;
     nec tibi laus armīs victus inermis erō.
necte comam myrtō, māternās iunge columbās;
     quī deceat, currum vītricus ipse dabit;
inque datō currū, populō clāmante triumphum,
stābis et adiunctās arte movēbis avēs.
dūcentur captī iuvenēs captaeque puellae:
     haec tibi magnificus pompa triumphus erit.
ipse ego, praeda recens, factum modo vulnus habēbō
     et nova captīvā vincula mente feram. [30]
Mens Bona dūcētur manibus post terga retortīs,
     et Pudor, et castrīs quicquid Amōris obest.
omnia tē metuent, ad tē sua bracchia tendens
     vulgus “iō” magnā vōce “triumphe” canet.
Blanditiae comitēs tibi erunt Errorque Furorque, [35]
     assiduē partēs turba secūta tuās.
hīs tū mīlitibus superās hominēsque deōsque;
     haec tibi sī dēmās commoda, nūdus eris.
laeta triumphantī dē summō māter Olympō
     plaudet et appositās sparget in ōra rosās. [40]
tū pinnās gemmā, gemmā variante capillōs
     ībis in aurātīs aureus ipse rotīs.
tum quoque nōn paucōs, sī tē bene nōvimus, ūrēs;
     tum quoque praeteriens vulnera multa dabis.
nōn possunt, licet ipse velīs, cessāre sagittae; [45]
     fervida vīcīnō flamma vapōre nocet.
tālis erat domitā Bacchus Gangētide terrā:
     tū gravis ālitibus, tigribus ille fuit.
ergō cum possim sacrī pars esse triumphī,
     parce tuās in mē perdere, victor, opēs! [50]
aspice cognātī fēlīcia Caesaris arma:
     quā vīcit, victōs prōtegit ille manū.

Listen to the Amores 1.2​10.11647/​OBP.0067.24

Notes on Amores 1.2

121–2: Esse quid hoc dīcam: dīcam is deliberative subjunctive (AG §444), governing an indirect statement, the subject of which is hoc: “I should say that this is what?” i.e., “What should I say this is?” “What’s going on?” quod: “that”; for quid quod?, “what of the fact that?” nostra = mea.

133–4: vacuus somnō: vacuus can govern an ablative of separation to mean “free from a thing” (AG §400). quam longa: perhaps = tam longa quam fuit, but more likely a parenthetical exclamation, with nox understood as its subject; = et vacuus somnō noctem—quam longa!—perēgī. versātī verso -āre “to turn round, to spin,” used of tossing and turning one’s body.

145–6: puto: the o of first person singular endings is long by nature, but is often regarded as short by the poets. sentīrem, sī quō temptārer amōre: a present contrary to fact condition; quō = aliquō (AG §310a), with amōre. an: as in Amores 1.1.15, an introduces a rather surprised question (AG §335b). subit subeō, -īre, -iī, -itum can mean “steal in on”; the subject is amor/Amor.

157–8: erit: sometimes called the future of surprised realization: “That’ll be it!” versat versō -āre, here “push something this way and that,” i.e., “control.”

169–10: cēdimus, an … accendimus: both verbs are interrogative; an can introduce a second question asked as an alternative to the first one. Take accendō as “intensify, aggravate.” leve fit, quod bene fertur, onus: a “sententia” or proverb. bene: “with fortitude.”

1711–12: vīdī ego: remember that ego is intensive: “I myself have seen.” nullō concutiente: “when no one shakes them.” morī: the subject is flammās. Ovid has seen the flames of love extinguished on their own.

1813–14: verbera verber, verberis, n. “whip” or “the blow of a whip” (rare in the singular); ferre verbera means “endure beatings.” quōs = eī bovēs quōs. ūsus arātrī: ūsus, usūs, m. “employment, use.” dētractant prensī dum iuga prīma bovēs: “while cattle when they have been rounded up (prēnsī) refuse to submit themselves to their first yokes.” The point is that oxen who don’t cause difficulties when they are first yoked up, and who actually enjoy the ūsus arātrī, suffer far less than oxen who resist.

1915–16: ōra: the Greek accusative (accusative of specification), AG §397b. quisquis: i.e., quisquis equus. ad arma facit: “adapts itself to its harness”; faciō here means “be effective in dealing with”; arma here means “equipment.”

2017–18: multōque: ablative of degree of difference (AG §414); multō is to be taken with both ācrius and ferōcius. quī = eōs quī; antecedent pronouns are often omitted in poetry when they can be understood from the context. fatentur: “agree to.”

2119–20: ēn: “look!” porrigimus: manūs porrigere more typically means “stretch out the hands to take something,” but here, with ad tua iura, the gesture is apparently one of submission.

2221–22: nīl opus est bellō: “there is no need for war”; opus est is impersonal (+ ablative, AG §411). nīl is accusative with adverbial force (AG §390 n.2). nec tibi … erō = nec (tibi) erō laus armīs, victus inermis. tibi is probably an ethical dative (AG §380); translate as something vague, such as “you see, you know” or as if Ovid had written armīs tuīs. laus laus, laudis, f. “praise” but also “cause of praise, glory”; predicate nominative.

2323–24: māternās iunge columbās: iungō, iungere, iunxī, iunctum “harness, yoke” (to a chariot, etc.); doves were sacred to Venus, Cupid’s mother. quī deceat: subjunctive in a relative clause of purpose (AG §531) or characteristic (AG §534); the antecedent of quī is currum; understand as the direct object. vītricus: “step-father,” probably Vulcan, who was married to Venus. Cupid’s father was Jupiter. dabit: Vulcan, as the Gods’ craftsman, will build a chariot for Cupid.

2425–26: triumphum: object of clamante; the people shout that Cupid is a victorious general marching in his triumph. arte: construe with movēbis as an ablative of manner (cum understood), AG §412; best translated adverbially, “skillfully.” movēbis: i.e., Cupid will drive the team of birds harnessed to the chariot; moveō is not a normal word for “drive,” and seems intentionally awkward, i.e., “you’ll get those birds moving.”

2527–28: haec … trumphus erit = haec pompa magnificus triumphus erit tibi. pompa: pompa, ae, f. “procession.”

2629–30: factum modo: “only just made/inflicted”; reinforces praeda recens. captīvā: notice the scansion, which reveals that captīvā modifies mente, ablative of manner (AG §412).

2731–32: Mens Bona: Mens was the personification of good counsel, and had a temple on the Capitoline Hill in the center of Rome. post terga: plural for singular. Pudor: unlike Mens Bona, Pudor is personified only by the poets; there was no actual cult of Pudor in Rome, though there was a cult of Pudicitia (more explicitly female chastity). castrīs quidquid Amōris obest = quidquid obest castrīs Amōris, i.e., “any enemy of Amor”; castrīs means not only “camp” but also, by metonymy, “army”; ablative of place where, with the preposition omitted, as often in poetry (AG §429.4). The theme of “Love’s War” will be taken up more extensively in Amores 1.9.

2833–34: omnia: the neuter makes this a more sweeping claim than omnēs would have done: every thing will be afraid of Cupid. ‘iō triumphe’: the ritual cry shouted at a triumphal procession.

2935–36: Blanditiae: “flattery, charm” (the plural is regularly translated by the singular); here personified. partēs tuās: “your side”; partēs is the normal word for a political faction, or for one side in any dispute. turba: “crowd,” especially in a procession; in apposition to Blanditiae, Error and Furor of the preceding line. The point is that without Blanditiae, Error, and Furor Cupid would be powerless (nūdus); the joke is that Cupid is usually nūdus anyway.

3037–38: hīs … mīlitibus: we would expect a preposition (ablative of agent), but here the soldiers are apparently treated as an instrument (AG §409). tibi: dative of separation (AG §381). dēmās: indefinite subjunctive, with a generalizing second person subject: “if you should remove,” i.e., “should anyone remove.” commoda: commodum in the plural often means “assets,” including military ones; Blanditiae, Error and Furor are thus no longer personifications (attendants in Cupid’s triumph), but abstractions (his weapons). eris: the apodosis of a future less vivid condition can be in the present or future indicative; the shift indicates that the speaker becomes more certain that the event will take place (AG §516b).

3139–40: triumphantī: sc. tibi; dative with plaudet. plaudet < plaudō, plaudere, plausī, plausum “applaud for, show one’s approval for,” here with dative. appositās sparget in ōra rosās: Venus will shower Cupid’s head with roses. The roses are “laid out” (appositās) because they have been laid out at a banquet of the gods (Barsby), or perhaps have been placed on Venus’s altars by her worshippers. in ōra: plural for singular, and metonymy: ōs often means “face” or “head.”

3241–42: pinnās … capillōs = gemmā variante pinnās, gemmā variante capillōs (ablative absolutes). Note the asyndeton, the chiasmus, and the anaphora (repetition). rotīs < rota-ae, f. “wheel”; in plural, by metonymy, “vehicle in motion,” here “chariot.”

3343–44: nōn paucōs: litotes: “not a few” means “some.”

3445–46: licet: “although, even if.” vīcīnō < vīcīnus, a, um “close at hand.” flamma: Cupid has a torch as well as a bow and arrow.

3547–48: domitā … Gangētide terrā: ablative absolute. Gangētide: “of the Ganges, Indian.” Bacchus/Dionysus was famous for his triumphant arrival, complete with tigers, from India. tū gravis ālitibus: ambiguous, since gravis can mean either physically heavy or emotionally burdensome, and since ālitibus can be either dative or ablative; either “you are a heavy load for the birds (drawing your chariot),” taking ālitibus as a dative of disadvantage; or “you are a heavy burden (for other people) because of your birds,” taking ālitibus as an ablative of cause; or “you oppress (i.e. gravis) with your birds …”(Barsby), taking ālitibus as an ablative of means. tigribus: note the chiasmus and the asyndeton. There is the same ambiguity about Bacchus as for Cupid: either “he was a heavy burden for the tigers (drawing his chariot),” or “he was a heavy burden because of his tigers,” i.e. ”he oppressed with his tigers.”

Fig. 8. The Triumph of Bacchus, by Jan Thomas, c. 1660.

Fig. 8. The Triumph of Bacchus, by Jan Thomas, c. 1660.

Buenos Aires, National Museum of Fine Arts.


3649–50: ergō: note the logic: the poet has been giving arguments for the plea he makes now. cum possim: concessive cum clause. parce: parcō can be used with the infinitive to mean “refrain from.” in mē: in + acc. can be used with a verb of spending (here, perdere, “waste”) to mean “on” or “upon.” perdere opēs: “waste your resources”; < ops, opis, f. “might, power” but often, in the plural, “resources.”

3751–52: cognātī … Caesaris: the Caesar referred to is the emperor Augustus (C. Julius Caesar Augustus), who was the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar the dictator. The gens Iūlia traced its ancestry to Iulus, the son of Aeneas, and Aeneas was the son of Anchises and Venus. quā: agrees with manū (prolepsis, i.e. a dramatic anticipation of a word that comes later in the sentence). victōs prōtegit: clementia was one of the virtues for which Augustus was celebrated.

Fig. 9. Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, first Roman Emperor, 27 BC–14 AD.

Fig. 9. Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, first Roman Emperor, 27 BC–14 AD.

Rome, Capitoline Museums.


List of illustrations

Title Fig. 5. “Cupid and Pan,” detail. Attributed to Federico Zuccaro (around 1600).
File image/jpeg, 68k
Title Fig. 6. The triumph of Vespasian and Titus (71 CE).
Caption Relief from Arch of Titus, Rome, showing the spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem.
Credits Wikimedia,​wiki/​File:Fra-titusbuen.jpg
File image/jpeg, 248k
Title Fig. 7. Statue of Augustus from Prima Porta.
Caption Marble copy of a bronze original, c. 20 BCE. Note Cupid riding on a dolphin (dolpins were associated with Venus).
Credits Wikimedia,​wiki/​File:Augustus_of_Prima_Porta_(2984423197).jpg
File image/jpeg, 92k
Title Fig. 8. The Triumph of Bacchus, by Jan Thomas, c. 1660.
Caption Buenos Aires, National Museum of Fine Arts.
Credits Wikimedia,​wiki/​File:Jan_Thomas_-_The_Triumph_of_Bacchus.jpg
File image/jpeg, 200k
Title Fig. 9. Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, first Roman Emperor, 27 BC–14 AD.
Caption Rome, Capitoline Museums.
Credits Wikimedia,​wiki/​File:Bust_of_augustus.jpg
File image/jpeg, 65k
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