On March 20, 43 BC, Publius Ovidius Naso, better known to modern readers as Ovid, was born at Sulmo, 90 miles from Rome. Ovid’s father, who was a respected member of the equestrian order, expected Ovid to become a lawyer and official and had him schooled extensively for that purpose. After working in various judicial posts, Ovid made the decision to dedicate himself to a life of poetry instead. Ovid’s elegance, both in verse and comportment, made him a favorite among the moneyed class of Rome, and it was not long before Ovid was widely hailed as the most brilliant poet of his generation. His elegant verses on love appealed to a society being forced into a period of moral reformation by the emperor, Augustus. It may have been these same poems, namely those of his The Art of Love (3 BC), that caused Ovid to be exiled to the barren region of Tomi in 8 AD.
The reason for Ovid’s exile by Augustus is unknown. What is certain is that in 8 AD Ovid was sent to the bleak fishing-village of Tomi for what he describes as “a poem and a mistake,” Ovid attempted, on numerous occasions, to find his way back into the good graces of Augustus, writing poems to the emperor and other influential friends. The poems, which were far less polished and elegant than his previous works, had little effect on Augustus, and Ovid remained in exile until his death in 17 AD.
Ovid’s poetic influence continued long after his death. His most famous work, The Metamorphoses (8 AD), had a great influence upon writers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the twelfth century was named the Ovidian age for the numerous poets writing in Ovidian hexameter.