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Ovid, Amores (Book 1)

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William Turpin

15. Amores 1.9: Love and war

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This is an easy poem to like. Part of the appeal is that, for once, we can place it within a specific literary tradition without the aid of commentaries. We all know that “all is fair in love and war,” and poets have understood that young men in war and young men in love have much in common (see above all Henry Reed’s Lessons of the War). Part of the appeal, too, is that the poem is so self-consciously rhetorical. But the poem also presents problems of coherence. I will argue that this, too, is part of the appeal: we have a ponderous rhetorical discussion of something that turns out to be very physical and basic.

Greek and Latin poets often compared lovers and soldiers. Often, too, the two professions are regarded as polar opposites: on the comic stage the hapless young lover is regularly confronted with the miles gloriosus, and a life of love is stereotypically one of laziness, contrasted with the exertions of a military career. The paradoxical claim that lovers are like soldiers is...

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