I probably shouldn't let you know
If I...if I let this go
You can't tell nobody
I'm talkin' bout nobody"
I hate writing essays. I absolutely loathe it. I spent so long on this freaking thing, and now that I am finally done, I’m not even happy about it. I’m super pissed off that I had to waste so much time on this piece of crap. Not even knowing that I’ll get an A on it makes me happy. (And I will get an A. Not because I’m such a magnificent writer, but because the standards aren’t that high. He’s just anal about grammar and punctuation, and I reign in that field. Unless I’m tired and bitchy. But I think that only shows towards the end of this essay, because I could tell it was getting all divergent and I was too irritated to care.) ARGH! I actually used to enjoy writing essays, because I am pretty good at them, but now they're like bullshite tests that goad me and remind me how bad I am at concentrating and being motivated. "Hey Kim...you gonna work on me? What, one paragraph? That's all you got? Stop watching The Office and come do me! Yeah, I knew you didn't have it in you. I knew you'd think working on me for an hour was justification for watching three episodes of Heroes. You make me sick."
Anyway, I'm posting it here for me. Because I have written some damn good essays throughout my school years, and I have nothing to remember them by since every single computer of mine has failed or disappeared on me (and I don't back up). I wish I had done this sooner. I wrote a really good one on Black No More years ago. I hated that one too.
In Ovid's witty and wily manual The Art of Love, the pursuit and plucking of a paramour is an enterprise not to be taken lightly. Rather, strict standards and crafty counsel are inscribed to be heeded and implemented for ensnaring the ideal soulmate. Most of Ovid's instructions linger on an extremely shallow side of romance, and the sexual misogyny of antiquated Roman civilization runs rampant in this work. However, more often than expected, Ovid's fervent and almost farcical suggestions are thrust upon the reader with a resounding ring of realism. The art of love, then, is one that retains both its modus operandi and its magnetism, so that even a reference book written over two thousand years ago in a completely different culture preserves rivetingly relevant material.
"My poem will deal in truth," vows Ovid, an almost severe statement for a blithe bard who obviously revels in dispensing his love teachings (167). Despite the comical tone and lighthearted subject matter of the piece, Ovid makes it clear that his words are substantial, that his advice is necessary. “Try me - read my book, and results are guaranteed!” he proclaims (166). If this is truly the case, and the contemporary reader is to form impressions of 'cruising and catching' in pagan Roman culture from Ovid's text, then the methods to acquire love seem strikingly superficial, and the game itself is offensive in its carnality towards women.
For men, the art of adoration is a frivolous romp, equivalent to a hunt for pleasure in which the hapless prey must be pegged, pursued, ravished, and retained. Ovid encourages fellow men by reminding them that "even bulls can be broken to plough" (166). He emphasizes that "every girl can be caught," but warns men to "go easy with lion or tigers if you aim to tame them" (174, 196). Such direct analogies to hunting are numerous throughout the two books for male readers, and serve as alarming comparisons that reduce women to being mere conquests.
For the ladies, the art of amour is simply a hardcore beauty regiment, one they must engage in to upkeep their appearance at all times. After all, "a woman's charms will vanish away," according to Ovid, and “flesh goes slack and wrinkled, the clear complexion is lost” (216). Not once does the poet ever mention cultivating a personality, instead filling the text with "tips for restoring faded beauty" (220). The portion written expressly for women lacks as much depth of intellect as the lady who must focus solely on her looks in order to participate in the game and lure a mate.
Ovid’s sexual brazenness should render a modern day reader speechless in stunned amusement, if not seething in spasmodic rage. He advocates adultery, offering adages such as, “The harvest’s always richer in another man’s fields” (176). After all, a man should never be expected to be held “(God forbid!) to one girl alone,” to “that degree of devotion” (202). For the ladies who must please their lovers but have less than perfect bodies from childbirth: “Offer a rear engagement, Parthian style” (238). For the women who cannot climax: “Moan as though you were coming, put on an act” (238)! He even goes so far as to preach to men that “it’s all right to use force” since “the audacity of near-rape is a compliment” to the ladies (187). Ovid actually insists that a woman who does not get forcefully fulfilled “feels sadly let down” (187). Every single one of these tidbits are devised with solely the man’s enjoyment in mind, without any consideration for women.
Still, one must surely marvel when finding how accordant some of the classical poet's advice is in this day and age. Ovid’s suggestions can be practical and pertinent even now, such as how “night and drink can impair your eye for beauty,” so one must always determine “a face or a figure, by day” (173). Countless jokes are made in present culture about waking up in horror to find the alluring lover from the night before turned into roadkill by sunlight. Ovid touts that one of the best times for a man to win over his object of affection is "when she's been miffed by a rival. Make it your job to ensure she gets revenge" (177). These days, it goes both ways, with both men and women being more vulnerable when 'on the rebound' and seeking comfort. The poet cautions men against "gold-digging tarts" who will consume without cease, and women against "smart young beaux" who will dismiss a mistress in a heartbeat (179). These types of people are to this day considered bad news for any person seeking a significant other. Ovid's wisest and weightiest words are aimed to the men: "to be loved, you must show yourself lovable - something good looks alone can never achieve. Build an enduring mind, add that to your beauty" (194).
Of course, with all hits, misses must exist, and Ovid has plenty of rules that seem absurd when dealing with contemporary love. Swearing to men that "a male proposition is something [women] all enjoy," Ovid says to keep kissing an unresponsive woman since "she wants to be overcome" (176, 186). Today, that push for persistence would undoubtedly multiply the number of restraining orders against unrelenting Lotharios. He tells men, "Look lean and haggard as a proof of your passion," for love has to "reduce young men to a thin nothing" (189). This tactic of intentionally appearing wasted over infatuation is both unnecessary and unhealthy (and rather melodramatic). If a cheater should ever be caught, he should “make love to the girl while she’s crying - that’s the only way to melt her angry mood” (205). The chances of sex being the immediate solution in this situation is ludicrous. He advises both men and women that "it's best to know nothing, let guilty secrets be hidden," thus promoting a lifestyle of lies, deception, and adultery.
Ovid’s pleas for women who “choose to cuckold their man” to “at least cuckold him with a man,” referencing to the myth of Pasiphae and her sexual desires for a bull, seem preposterous now (175). His warning to avoid the smooth-talking, good looking Don Juan who “probably has more men on the side as well” is too outrageously humorous to be taken seriously (227). Yet the hundreds of lines he spends dictating how a woman should prepare her appearance are even now applicable. A woman’s looks are still as obsessed over as they apparently were ages ago, now with plastic surgery and other radical treatments intended to prolong youth and beauty. A double standard is still in effect, as promiscuous women are frowned upon while men are ‘naturally’ inclined to sow their wild oats. It is astonishing to analyze what has changed and what remains true. Two thousand years were enough for Christianity to ‘purify’ sexual debauchery and homosexuality, but were not sufficient in bringing equality for women in the dating world.
However petty most of Ovid’s recommendations may be, from innumerable lines devoted to the proper hair care and makeup, to technique after technique on how to mislead a woman, most of it holds valid in the current dating system. Certain typecasts are still in place, as men are expected to be the aggressors and pursuers while women are counted on to stay demure and desirable. Even though the sexual openness of ancient Roman society has been drastically censored, the art of love is a subject that remains fascinating and absorbing to everyone. From those in stable relationships, those still searching for that special someone, and especially to those who wish to ‘maximize their potential,’ anyone can find something valuable in the strategies offered by Ovid in The Art of Love.