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Ovid: Ars Amatoria

5. Is the Ars Amatoria sympathetic to women?

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we consider the question ‘Is the Ars Amatoria’ sympathetic to women?’, focusing in particular on: (i) the difficulty of pinning down the status of the women that appear in the poem, with some appearing to be sexually available non-elite women (i.e. prostitutes) and others respectable married women looking for tips on adultery; (ii) Eleanor Windsor Leach’s argument that the Ars Amatoria draws on Virgil’s Georgics in presenting women as wild and uncivilized, and men as cultivators of the natural environment; (iii) Eric Downing’s argument that Ovid ‘tames’ his women not through cultivation, but by transforming them into objects of art – paintings, statues, etc. – which are themselves ‘fixed’ into the line of his poetry; (iv) Sharon James’ argument that Ovid anticipates a female readership not only for Book 3, which is explicitly addressed to women, but also Books 1 and 2, and the nature of the ‘lessons’ that the female reader can find in these books; (v) the extent to which Ovid’s advice to men on how to cheat and deceive women is designed to help his female readership.

Reading list:
– E. Downing, Artificial I's: The Self as Artwork in Ovid, Kierkegaard, and Thomas Mann (2013)
– J. Henderson, ‘In Ovid with Bed (Ars 2 and 3)’ in S. Green (ed.) The Art of Love: Bimillennial Essays on Ovid's Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris (2006), pp. 77-95
– S. James, ‘Women Reading Men: The Female Audience of the Ars Amatoria’, The Cambridge Classical Journal 54 (2008), pp. 136-159
– E. W. Leach ‘Georgic Imagery in the Ars Amatoria’, Transactions of the American Philological Association 95 (1964), pp. 142–54


In this course, Dr Sharon Marshall (University of Exeter) explores Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. The course is structured around five critical questions, and in each case Dr Marshall provides a summary of recent scholarship pertaining to the question, as well as a few additional thoughts of her own. The questions are as follows: (1) How successful is the Ars Amatoria as a didactic poem?; (2) Is the Ars Amatoria a pro- or anti-Augustan poem?; (3) Should Book 3 of the Ars Amatoria come as a surprise?; (4) What is the purpose of the mythological exempla in the Ars Amatoria?; and (5) Is the Ars Amatoria sympathetic to women?. Each lecture comes with a short reading list for those that are interested in looking at the scholarship in more detail.


Dr Sharon Marshall is Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter, specialising in Roman epic, love elegy and the Roman novel.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Marshall, S. (2022, July 15). Ovid: Ars Amatoria - Is the Ars Amatoria sympathetic to women? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Marshall, S. "Ovid: Ars Amatoria – Is the Ars Amatoria sympathetic to women?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Jul 2022,

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