“The Art of Love” by Ovid

Twelve love tips from Roman gods and heroes

1. First and foremost, let a confidence enter your mind, that all women may be won.

Rape of the Sabines
Rape of the Sabines, Girolamo del Pacchia, J. Paul Getty Museum

As the numberless ants come and go in lengthened train, when they are carrying their wonted food in the mouth that bears the grains; so rush the best-dressed women to the thronged spectacles. They come to see, and be seen. The Sabine damsels were swept off their feet by Romulus and his men, and Rome was born.

Chance is powerful everywhere; let your hook be always hanging ready. In waters where you least think it, there will be a fish.

2. Come, see and conquer

Love is a kind of warfare; cowards, avaunt! These are not the standards to be defended by timid men. In this tender warfare, night, and wintry storms, and long journeys, and cruel pain, and every kind of toil, have their part.

Your beloved will be pleased when she knows that she has proved the cause of risk to you. This will be to her a pledge of your unvarying love. Leander could have done without her mistress Hero; but that she might know his passion, he swam across the Hellespont.

3. Be neat, not effete

Let your nails, too, not be jagged, and let them be without dirt; and let no hairs project from the cavities of your nostrils. And let not the breath of your ill-smelling mouth be offensive;

A neglect of beauty becomes men, but let neatness please you. Theseus bore off the daughter of Minos, though his temples were bedecked by no crisping-pin. Phædra loved Hippolytus, and he was not finely trimmed. Adonis, habituated to the woods, was the care of a Goddess.

The Race between Atalanta and Hippomenes
The Race between Atalanta and Hippomenes, Nicolas Colombel, Liechtenstein Museum

4. Be graceful

Rudeness and harsh language promote hatred. Haughtiness is repulsive.

Know how to eat, laugh, weep, walk, dance and play, with grace. Look at him who looks on you; smile sweetly in return to him who smiles. Many a time, while playing, is love commenced. While we are not thinking, and are revealed by our very intentness, and, through the game, our feelings, laid bare, are exposed; anger arises, a disgraceful failing, and the greed for gain; quarrels, too, and strife, and, then, bitter regrets.

5. Be forceful, not hurtful

Call it violence, if you like; such violence of passion is pleasing to the fair; they often wish, through compulsion, to grant what they are delighted to grant. Deidamia being united to Achilles, is a well-known story.

6. Be gracious, not obsequious

Hercules and Omphale
Hercules and Omphale, Peter Paul Rubens, Louvre Museum

Many desire that which flies from them, and hate that which is close at hand. By pressing on less eagerly, remove all weariness of yourself.

Take care that whatever you are about to do of your own accord and consider convenient, your mistress shall always first ask that of you. Let the advantage be your own; let the credit be given to your mistress, and let her act the part of the person in power.

Yield to her when opposing. By yielding, you will come off victorious. Only take care to perform the part which she shall bid you. What she blames, do you blame; whatever she approves, do you approve.

Hercules, who earned the heavens which he had before supported on his shoulders, is believed to have held the work-basket, amid the Ionian girls, and to have wrought the rough wool. He was obedient to the commands of his mistress, Omphale. Go then, and endure what he submitted to.

7. Praise, with and without words

Each woman seems to herself worthy to be loved, though she be ugly in the extreme. The praise of their beauty pleases even the chaste. For, why, even now, are Juno and Pallas ashamed at not having gained the decision in the beauty contest?

Cause her to believe that you are enchanted with her beauty. Only, take you care that you be not discovered to be a deceiver, and your looks do not contradict your words. Palliate faults by names; let her be called swarthy, whose blood is blacker than the pitch. If she has a cast in the eyes, she is like Venus: if yellow-haired, like Minerva. Let each fault lie concealed in its proximity to some good quality.

Look on her eyes with eyes that confess your flame; the silent features often have both words and expression; In discourse, you may say many a free word, which she may understand is addressed to her. Feign drunkenness, so that you may do or say with more freedom than usual. Tears, too, are of utility: by tears you will move adamant. Let every one that is in love be pale; that is the proper complexion for one in love.

8. Promise

For what harm is there in promising? Any person whatever can be rich in promises. Hope, if she is only once cherished, holds out for a long time; she is, indeed, a deceitful Goddess, but still a convenient one.

Deceive the deceivers; in a great measure they are all a guilty race; let them fall into the toils which they have spread.

9. Cover your disgrace

Forbear to detect your mistresses. Let them be guilty; and let them suppose that they have deceived you. When detected, the passion increases; what before they used to conceal, they now do more openly, since all modesty is gone. There is a story told, very well-known in all the heavens, how Mars and Venus were caught by the contrivance of Vulcan.

If you are caught, do you neither be subdued, nor more kind than usual. That bears the marks of a mind that has too deeply offended. Still, spare not any endearments on your side; peace is entirely centred in caresses alone; by these must the former intrigue be disavowed.

Leda and the Swan
Leda and the Swan

10. Know Thyself

He who shall be known to himself, will alone love with prudence, and will proportion every task to his strength. He to whom nature has given beauty, for that let him be admired; He who charms with his discourse, let him break the quietude of silence; he who sings with skill, let him sing; In place of beauty, her voice has proved the recommendation of many a woman.

The same soil does not produce everything; one suits the vine, another the olive. There are as many dispositions in the fair, as there are forms in the world; the man that is wise, will adapt himself to these. Jupiter has taken the form of a swan to Leda, bull to Europa, golden shower to Danae.

11. Cultivate your mind

Neither the violets nor the opening lilies bloom for ever; and, the roses lost, the thorny bush is prickly left behind. And, handsome man, soon shall come to you the hoary locks; soon shall come the wrinkles, to furrow your body over. Now form a disposition which may be lasting, and add it to your beauty; that alone endures. Cultivate the mind with the liberal arts, and to learn languages. Ulysses was not handsome, but he was fluent; and yet with love he racked goddesses.

12. Habituate to Love

While Love is wandering in his youth, let him gain strength by habit; if you nurse him well, in time he will be strong. The tree under which you are now reclining, was once a twig. A river at its rise is small, but it acquires strength in its course; and where it runs, it now receives many a stream. Make her become used to you; there is nothing more powerful than habit.

Give yourself some repose; the land that has lain fallow, gives back in abundance what has been entrusted to it; and the dry ground sucks up the water of the heavens. The crafty Ulysses, by his absence, tortured Penelope. But a short respite alone is safe; in time, cares become modified, and the absent love decays and a new one makes its entrance. While Menelaus was absent, Helen, that she might not lie alone, was received into the warm bosom of his guest.

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