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Stephen Hinds

Born in 43 bce, Ovid first made his name at Rome as a playful and experimental love poet, in the Amores, the epistolary Heroides, and the didactic Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris; by about 2 ce, he was able to claim that “elegy owes as much to me as epic does to Virgil.” Concurrently with the epic Metamorphoses, he was at work (2–8 ce) on the elegiac Fasti, a poetical calendar of the Roman year, with one book devoted to each month; and he would spend his final decade further extending the range of elegy with the pleas and laments of the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, sent to Rome from afar, along with the curse-poetry of the Ibis. When Ovid turned in his forties to epic, he did not attempt direct competition with the already classic Aeneid. The 15-book Metamorphoses recounted dozens of tales from classical and Near Eastern myth and legend, with no central hero, but with characters and settings changing every few pages; every episode was in some way a story of supernatural transformation, and the whole took the ostensibly chronological form of a history of the universe. As the epic neared completion in 8 ce, the poet was suddenly banished by the emperor Augustus to the Black Sea frontier, (a) for the perceived immorality of the almost decade-old Ars Amatoria, and (b) for a still-mysterious error or indiscretion.