Widely praised for his recent translations of Boethius and Ariosto, David R. Slavitt returns to Ovid, once again bringing to the contemporary ear the spirited, idiomatic, audacious charms of this master poet.
The love described here is the anguished, ruinous kind, for which Ovid was among the first to find expression. In the Amores, he testifies to the male experience, and in the companion Heroides—through a series of dramatic monologues addressed to absent lovers—he imagines how love goes for women. “You think she is ardent with you? So was she ardent with him,” cries Oenone to Paris. Sappho, revisiting the forest where she lay with Phaon, sighs, “The place / without your presence is just another place. / You were what made it magic.” The Remedia Amoris sees love as a sickness, and offers curative advice: “The beginning is your best chance to resist”; “Try to avoid onions, / imported or domestic. And arugula is bad. / Whatever may incline your body to Venus / keep away from.” The voices of men and women produce a volley of extravagant laments over love’s inconstancy and confusions, as though elegance and vigor of expression might compensate for heartache.
Though these love poems come to us across millennia, Slavitt’s translations, introduced by Pulitzer Prize–winner Michael Dirda, ensure that their sentiments have not faded with the passage of time. They delight us with their wit, even as we weep a little in recognition.