It will readily be seen that in these poems there is no hint of the lacrimæ rerum, the sense of tears in mortal things. All is bright, sunny, sensuous and superficial, incomparably elegant, irresistibly charming, and completely insincere. If the note of sadness steals in once or twice to mingle with the laughter and the lutes, it is but to warn some pretty woman who is niggard of her favours, to make the most of her time while she is still young; ere yet the vandal years have filched the roses from her cheeks and sprent her hair with grey. It is a poetry of the senses, not of the heart, a poetry that is whole worlds away from the grave and melancholy cadences that fell from the lips of Ovid's great compatriot Virgil, that anima naturaliter Christiana. But, like the hymn to Adonis of which Matthew Arnold speaks in his essay on Pagan and Mediæval Religious Sentiment, Ovid's poetry "adapts itself exactly to the tone and temper of a gay and pleasure-loving multitude of light-hearted people who seem never made to be serious, never made to be sick or sorry." Whether or not the world to which Ovid addressed himself was "made to be sick or sorry," it is certain that it did not want to be. It wanted to be amused, and to forget.
And so "all unmindful of his doom" Ovid went on gaily singing his careless lays and taking life very easily. He suffered the consequences born of too great a sense of security. Even if he, the amorous butineur of days now past, had more or less settled down to a life of conjugal fidelity--the temptation to err having forsaken him--he probably viewed with sympathy and, when he could, abetted, the moral delinquencies of others. Perhaps he failed to observe the clouds ominously gathering about the Imperial brow, or, if he observed them, cheated himself with the fond belief that their thunders would never discharge themselves upon him or upon his friends. He had ample leisure at Tomi to meditate on the foolishness of putting one's trust in princes.
It is a remarkable thing that, so far as we are aware, no complete translation of the Ars Amatoria, which Macaulay held to be Ovid's finest poem, has hitherto appeared in English. The poem, as Sir Edmund Gosse recently took occasion to remark in discussing the reason of Ovid's exile, contains "nothing so very terrible," and, as he justly proceeds to observe, "Catullus before him and Martial after him were far more indecent, to our modern ears at least, than Ovid, and nobody ever dreamed of banishing or even blaming them." The explanation of this unjust treatment of so delightful a poem is probably to be found in the fact that it was made the pretext for Ovid's banishment. It affords yet another example of the truth contained in the old adage about giving a dog a bad name. The result has been that Ovid, in so far as his Love Poems are concerned, has suffered a second exile that has endured down to the present day. It is no doubt true that the subject matter with which it deals affords inappropriate pabulum for the minds of schoolboys and schoolgirls, but that is a circumstance which, particularly in these days of free discussion, when matters of sex are the favourite theme of our novelists and playwrights, seems to offer no
sufficient reason why men and women should be debarred from reading in its entirety a work which is justly regarded as being one of the finest poetical achievements of the Augustan Age.
As for the plates and decorations which enrich this volume, M. Jean de Bosschère is too well known to need any introduction here. When I saw his illustrations to the Golden Asse of Apuleius, with their wonderful power of suggestion, they seemed to me to exhibit a degree of excellence which I thought could not be surpassed. And yet here in his interpretations, for such his drawings are, of these poems of Ovid, he seems to have achieved the impossible, and to have excelled himself. M. de Bosschère possesses in a marked degree the faculty of uniting in a single picture the spirit of the past and the spirit of the present, and that is a faculty particularly valuable in an illustrator of this most modern of the ancients. Where all are excellent it would be difficult to decide to which of these pictures one would award the palm. For my own part I think I should assign the pre-eminence to the picture portraying the "really inexperienced girl," and that not only on account of the beauty of the central figure, but equally, and perhaps chiefly, by reason of the delicate and subtly significant decorative work by which it is embellished.
To attempt to translate Ovid is, of course, to attempt the impossible. The best one can hope for, in such an undertaking, is to fail with honour. It will be apparent to my readers that I have not aimed at strict uniformity of style. I have indeed allowed myself considerable latitude in this respect. The greater part of the Art of Love, for example, seems to go naturally into modern English, and I have not hesitated to employ the most up-to-date language I could think of; but, when the narration of some myth or legend introduced by the poet as an illustration of his precepts seemed to demand a more formal rendering, a more traditional vocabulary, I have adopted a less familiar tone. Nor have I made any great attempt at verbal fidelity; nevertheless, I hope I shall nowhere be found seriously to have betrayed the spirit of the original and that I may even be credited with having preserved, here and there, some faint suggestion of its elegance and charm.
J. LEWIS MAY