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OVID'S EPISTLES. '
THE Life of Ovid being already written in our language, before the translation of his
1 This translation, which was made by several persons, was first published in 8vo. in 1680. Our author translated two epistles; Canace to Macareus, and Dido to Æneas. Helen to Paris was translated by him and the Earl of Mulgrave. Another translation of the Epiftle of Dido was subjoined to our author's, which was the production of Mr. Somers, then a young man; afterwards the celebrated Lord Somers.
"In 1680, the epistles of Ovid being translated by the poets of the time, it was necessary (says Dr. Johnson) to introduce them by a preface; and Dryden, who on such occasions was regularly summoned, prefixed a discourse upon translation, which was then struggling for the liberty it now enjoys. Why it should find any difficulty in breaking the shackles of verbal interpretation, which must for ever debar it from elegance, it would be difficult to conjecture, were not the power of prejudice every day observed. The authority of Jonson, Sandys, and
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 Cæsar; 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
Holiday, had fixed the judgment of the nation; and it was not easily believed that a better way could be found than they had taken, though Fanshaw, Denham, Waller, and Cowley, had tried to give examples of a different practice."
2 By George Sandys; first published in folio, in 1626. 3 The place of Ovid's banishment was Tomos, (now Tomeswar) a maritime town in Lower Mosia, on the coast of the Euxine or black-sea; about thirty-six miles from the most southern mouth of the Danube.
love with so much delicacy of thought, and of expression, 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
4 Vide Martial. lib. xi. epigr. 21.
5 This notion, as Bayle has observed, is very ancient, being suggested by Sidonius Apollinaris, who lived in the fifth century. But that this conjecture is unfounded, is proved, (as Aldus Manutius has shewn,) by Ovid's saying that his exile was owing to two causes, his writing amorous verses,
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 safe 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 and his having been an undesigned spectator of the guilt of others; by his banishment not having taken place till he was fifty years old, though his acquaintance with Corinna commenced when he was about twenty; and by his avowed attachment to Corinna, even in those verses in which he deplores his misfortune and disgrace; circumstances utterly inconsistent with the suggestion, that he had a criminal intercourfe with Julia, and that Julia was shadowed under the name of Corinna.
" Perdiderint cum me duo crimina, carmen et error, "Alterius facti culpa silenda mihi est:
* Nam non sum tanti, ut renovem tua vulnera, Cæsar, Quem nimio plus est indoluisse semel.”
It may be added, that Julia had incurred the displeasure of Augustus A. U. C. 752, nine years before Ovid's banishment, which took place in the year of Rome, 761. From her daughter indeed, the younger Julia, who was banished in the fame year with Ovid, and died twenty years afterwards, (Tacit. Annal. iv. 71.) he might have received favours; but she could not be shadowed under the name of Corinna, being not born, when Corinna was first celebrated by Ovid, A. U. C. 731.
if it were before her marriage, he would surely 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 durst not have owned; and beside, 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?
Prada fuit canibus non minus ille suis.6
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
6 TRIST. lib. ii. el. 1.
* That Ovid had detected Augustus committing incest with his daughter, was long since suggested by the Jesuit Brièt, and the Abbé Marolles; and Bayle informs us, that this circumstance is mentioned in a Latin fragment of Cecilius Minutianus Apuleius, quoted by Rhodiginus, professor at Milan, who was born in 1450: "pulsum quoque in exilium, quod Augusti incestum vidisset." The silence of Suetonius, however, with respect to any such charge against Augustus, (for the opprobrious invective of Caligula, recorded by him, does not amount to a charge,) and Ovid's frequent allusions to the fact, of which he had been an eye-witness, whatever it was, (particularly the