Sidor som bilder




The life of Ovid being already written in our language before the translation of his Metamorphoses, I will not presume so far upon myself, to think I can add any thing to Mr. Sandys his undertaking. The English reader may there be satisfied, that he flourished in the reign of Augustus Cæfar; that he was extracted from an ancient family of Roman Knights; that he was born to the inheritance of a splendid fortune; that he was designed to the study of the law, and had made considerable progress in it, before he quitted that profession, for this of Poetry, to which he was more naturally formed. The cause of his banishment is unknown; because he was himself unwilling further to provoke the emperor, by ascribing it to any other reason, than what was pretended by Augustus, which was, the lasciviousness of his Elegies, and his Art of Love. It is true, they are not to be excused in the severity of manners, as being able to corrupt a larger empire, if there were any, than

that of Rome: yet this may be said in behalf of Ovid, that no man has ever treated the passion of love with so much delicacy of thought, and of expreffion, or searched into the nature of it more philosophically than he. And the emperor, who condemned him, had as little reason as another man to punish that fault with so much severity, if at least he were the author of a certain Epigram, which is ascribed to him, relating to the cause of the first civil war betwixt himself and Mark Antony the triumvir, which is more fulsome than any passage I have met with in our Poet. To pass by the naked familiarity of his expressions to Horace, which are cited in that author's life, I need only mention one notorious act of his, in taking Livia to his bed, when she was not only married, but with child by her husband then living. But deeds, it seems, may be justified by arbitrary power, when words are questioned in a Poet. There is another guess of the grammarians, as far from truth as the first from reason: they will have him banished for some favours, which, they say, he received from Julia, the daughter of Augustus, whom they think he celebrates under the name of Corinna in his Elegies: but he, who will observe the verses, which are made to that mistress, may gather from the whole contexture of them, that Corinna was not a woman of the highest quality. If Julia were then married to Agrippa, why should our Poet make his petition to Isis, for her fafe delivery, and afterwards condole her miscarriage ; which, for ought he knew, might be by her own husband? Or, indeed,

how durst he be so bold to make the least discovery of such a crime, which was no less than capital, especially committed against a person of Agrippa's rank. Or, if it were before her marriage, he would sure have been more discreet, than to have published an accident which must have been fatal to them both. But what most confirms me against this opinion is, that Ovid himself complains, that the true person of Corinna was found out by the fame of his verses to her : which if it had been Julia, he durft not have owned; and, besides, an immediate punishment must have followed. He seems himself more truly to have touched at the cause of his exile in those obscure verses ;

Cur aliquid vidi, cur noxia lumina feci ? &c. Namely, that he had either seen, or was conscious to somewhat, which had procured him his disgrace. But neither am I satisfied, that this was the incest of the emperor with his own daughter: for Auguftus was of a nature too vindicative, to have contented himself with so small a revenge, or so unsafe to himself, as that of fimple banishment; but would certainly have secured his crimes from public notice, by the death of him who was witness to them. Neither have historians given us any sight into such an action of this emperor: nor would he (the greatest politician of his time) in all probability, have managed his crimes with so little secrecy, as not to thun the observation of any man. It seems more probable, that Ovid was either the confident of some other passion,

or that he had stumbled by some inadvertency upon the privacies of Livia, and seen her in a bath: for the words

Sine veste Dianam

agree better with Livia, who had the fame of chastity, than with either of the Julia's, who were both noted of incontinency. The first verses, which were made by him in his youth, and recited publicly, according to the custom, were, as he himself aflures us, to Corinna: his banishment happened not till the age of fifty: from which it may be deduced, with probability enough, that the love of Corinna did not occafion it; nay, he tells us plainly, that his offence was that of error only, not of wickedness; and in the same

paper of verses also, that the cause was notoriously known at Rome, though it be left so obscure to afterages.

But to leave conjectures on a subject so uncertain, and to write somewhat more authentic of this Poet: that he frequented the court of Augustus, and was well received in it, is most undoubted: all his Poems bear the character of a court, and appear to be written, as the French call it, Cavalierement : add to this, that the titles of many of his Elegies, and more of his letters in his banishment, are addressed to perfons well known to us, even at this distance, to have been considerable in that court.

Nor was his acquaintance less with the famous Poets of his age, than with the noblemen and ladies, He tells you himself, in a particular account of his

« FöregåendeFortsätt »