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Ovid at the Circus

This line is from Ars Amatoria (I.135), which provides some details about the Circus that otherwise would be unknown: the use of a cushion and footstool, the knees of a spectator poking one's back, and the close seating, which, for Ovid, compels the intimacy that made the Circus so ideal for flirtatious encounters. Indeed, it only was at the Circus that women and men could sit together.

The same opportunities are elaborated upon in his Amores (III), where Ovid speaks of a racing program and reveals that a race sometimes had to be recalled (remissus) and run again if there were any irregularities.

"The circus is clear now for the greatest part of the shows, and the praetor has started the four-horse cars from the equal barrier. I see the one you are eager for. He will win if he has your favour, whoever he be. What you desire the very horses seem to know! Ah, miserable me, he has circled the post in a wide curve! What are you doing? The next hugs close with his axle and gains on you. What are you doing, wretch? You will lose my love the prayer of her heart. Pull, I entreat, the left rein with all your might! We are favouring a good-for-nought--but call them back, Quirites, and toss your togas in signal from every side! See, they call them back!"

In AD 8, the poet was banished to Tomis in Dacia (Romania) on the Black Sea, in part, he felt, because of the Ars Amatoria, which had been banned from Rome's three public libraries. By then, however, the poem had been in circulation for a decade or more, and the real reason for Ovid's exile may have had to do with some indiscretion involving Augustus' profligate granddaughter, Julia (the Younger), who also was banished that year.

The next year, Augustus legislated moral reforms (the Papian-Poppaean Laws), and Ovid, far from Rome, languished in miserable, inconsolable exile until his death in AD 17.


Ovid wrote two books of poems while in exile: Tristia (Sorrows) and Epistulae ex Ponto (Epistles from Pontus). The first was a series of elegies written between AD 9 and AD 12 addressed to his wife and other unnamed persons in Rome. In them, Ovid complains of his relegation and seeks reconsideration of his sentence. He also speaks of the victorious racehorse put out to grass in honorable retirement.

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