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Ovid’s “Art of Love” Rings True in the Twentieth Century
It is a physical truth that the male and female sexes were made to fit together as counterparts. Animal corresponding parts come together to perform intercourse in order to regenerate a species. In nature there are hundreds of mating rituals and courting practices used when a male or female seeks a mate. Each pursuer looks for certain aspects of a potential mate. People analyze personal traits when looking for a mate, but the mating ritual is no longer simply based on instinct. Society’s materialism and commercialism have complicated the search for love and companionship, which are spurred by a social need for love and marriage. Ovid’s didactic work on “The Art of Love” is a comical and universal instruction guide on how to attract the opposite sex. In his instruction he stereotypes men and women in opposite ways and he makes generalizations that show how men and women are counterparts to each other. Ovid uses stereotypes to further the mocking tone of his criticism of the society that Augustus banished him from. The stereotypes seem to be ridiculous, but Ovid uses them because they are in actuality true. Ovid’s advice to men and women is essentially to be manipulative and to please the other with lies and false intentions. He mocks the society that he lives in, and he even mocks some potential readers of his book. The people who he mocks most often are women as a sex. The entire point of The Art of Love is to instruct men on how to catch women, and to instruct women on how to let men catch them. His stereotypes obviously benefit the men, because he is trying to help men with their love lives.
The first few lines of Book One are designed to manipulate the reader and gain credibility for Ovid. He calls himself “loves preceptor” (I.17) or love’s teacher to ensure the reader that he is the best source to go to when a man or woman seeks instruction in finding a companion. He then strays from the conventional calling of the muse to show the reader that he is teaching knowledge learned through his own experiences. Ovid’s failure to invoke the muse is also his way of expressing his dislike for the classical writings of Virgil. Because he knows that Virgil’s writings are highly respected and often copied in Augustus’ Roman society Ovid chooses not to use Virgil’s technique(I.270). Ovid’s arrogance is somewhat justified because he still manages to captivate his reader without the traditional method of beginning a literary work. Once he gains the reader’s confidence, Ovid can then spew all the stereotypes that he likes and they will have merit because he has already exhibited his credibility.
Once Ovid has the reader engrossed in his own greatness, he jumps into generalizing all women as one type of target for men. In Book One he likens women to “bees. . . flitting from flower to flower, [that] swarm to the games in such crowds” (I.98). His aim is to present females as fertile herds of available and ripe targets for men to prey on. The bee imagery presents women as all looking the same and acting the same without having minds of their own to decide on their actions. Ovid’s bold statement “every single girl can be caught” (I.269) says that all women are the same. Although he chooses to say to the men that all women are essentially the same he later on says, “The characters of women all differ, to capture a thousand hearts demands a thousand devices” (I.755). Even though he admits that different women will react to different temptations, Ovid continues to generalize women as a single entity for men to target. He also continues to support his statement that all women want to be caught. Ovid has the gall to state that “Rough seduction is a compliment – so the girl who could have been forced, yet somehow got away unscathed, may in fact feel sadly let down” (I.676). It is hard to believe that any woman would enjoy forced intercourse, but sadly the stereotype is true to some women. In book two Ovid stereotypes women to be materialistic and easy to please with wealth and false creativity in poems. He sarcastically states about the “dumb” women, that a poem does not have to be skillfully written, either way it will simply be a “cute little gift” (II.286). In his instruction to men, Ovid’s generalizations about women’s stupidity and vulnerability are blunt and offensive. Ovid’s method of instruction to men contradicts the tone he uses when he is instructing women. He uses a mocking tone to tell the women what to do and he adds sarcastic comments that add to his sarcasm. His advice to men is also mocking, but it is to show them how women stereotype them.
Ovid goes on to advise men to be macho, witty, and manipulative, and it is what many women stereotypically expect from them. He tells the men to “Endorse her endorsements, echo her every word” (II.197). This advice basically says that all women are stupid and they will be happy as long as their men agree with them. He says, “They’re [women] all cheats, so cheat them: most are dumb and unscrupulous” (I.644). He encourages men to “play the lover” (I.610). Ovid continues to exentuate female faults and weaknesses to help strengthen the male ego. He makes it seem easy for men to catch a companion. Ovid’s stereotypes of women in the second book continue to be offensively harsh and belittling. His sarcastic tone points out that it was how many men perceived women in his era.
Ovid’s stereotyping of men and women when talking to men is completely different when he is addressing women. In Book three he begins to write that men are manipulative instead of saying that women are the culprits. He encourages women to manipulate men, and not to trust other women.(III.81) He advises that a woman should hide her imperfections and to also “put on an act” (III.797).
Ovid’s advice to both men and women contrast and also complement each other. Some of his advice is productive for both sexes, but most of his advice creates conflict. When he tells both sexes to lie and be manipulative he is deliberately creating a mini war between them. It is a war because he advises males and females not to trust anyone when love is involved. He continuously writes to men that women are manipulative, and he also writes to women that men are cheats. Ovid also includes in his instruction that a man should not praise a girl to his friend because “He’ll [a friend] be in there himself” (I.743). He then writes that a woman should never “show herself trustful”, because “other women will reap her pleasures” (III.662). He says to women that “men are often deceivers, women hardly ever” (III.31). Ovid tells his men and women that they need to find a lover before they grow old, because no one will want them after they have become too old and too wise to play the game.
The idea of the aging process is still an issue in the twentieth century. The natural cycle of life makes it essential for humans to grow old and eventually die. Ovid uses the story of Ulysses to show how an older and less attractive man must use his wit to keep a companion. He also warns his women of “old age” (III.60). The pressures of aging are constantly brought up in Ovid’s didactic manual, because it is a universal and inevitable process that most men and women fear. He argues that men and women are most attractive when they are young. According to Ovid, youth is irresistible and enchanting, but it can not last forever. Ovid believes a person’s youth to be important in the game of love because love to him is mainly physical. A sexual encounter is a goal that many of his readers set. He advises his women not to “deny such pleasures to eager lovers” (III.88). His idea of a good time is for everyone to participate in lustful and passionate sex. Love in the emotional sense is no where to be found in Ovid’s text. He tells both sexes to feign love and then they may begin to believe it themselves. If they trick themselves into believing that they are in love, they may not feel as guilty when practicing the act of love.
Ovid’s stereotypes on the ideal methods of attracting men and women still apply to American society today. Women and men still enjoy playing the game of pursuit using manipulation. Women wear make-up to hide their facial imperfections, and they wear wonder bras and high heals. These are all ways that women today manipulate their appearances to please men. Women still “moan as though they were coming” (III.797) while faking orgasms to please their male companions. Men today still give off a macho and controlling attitude to impress women. Ovid’s pointers are now predominantly embossed in people’s minds as timeless guidelines to creating and maintaining a relationship.
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