Elegia I begins with a traditional call to the muses to make the poet eloquent. The poet is saying farewell to poetry of war and battles, and asking the "Elegian muse" (line 33) to help him write his "amorous" lays. This self-consciousness not only of form and subject, but of the attention of the Muse (the Muses were deities in Ovid's time, but the argument can be made that Muse is only a euphemism for poetic talent in this instance) is common in Roman poetry. It may also be another self-deprecating aside by Ovid, for the muse of epic poetry was considered the chief muse, and the other eight muses, including the muse for love poetry, were her inferiors.
Elegia II introduces the poet as a lover. He is complaining that he has fallen into love, and is miserable because of it. To continue the motif of contrast with epic poetry, the poet refers to Cupid as conquering him, and leading him "off in triumph" (translation of the Latin heading.) He has been felled by first love, and is lead off by the conqueror, Love, to he knows not what fate. The imagery is of a Roman military triumph lead by the general in his chariot through the streets of Rome. The lover, conquered, begs mercy.
Elegia III is written to the poet's mistress, asking that she only let him love her. He bewails his low estate, with which he may not win her. He swears eternal love, and hopes to write poetry to be worthy. But in Elegia IV, the mood changes noticeably from wooing to conspiracy. This is written instructing his mistress how to avoid her husband's attentions (for the lady is married to someone other than the poet) at a dinner party to which they are all invited. The poet continues, rather cold-bloodedly, to say that if she cannot fend off his embraces she must get no pleasure from it, and endeavor to ruin her husband's pleasure, too.
Elegia V is the consummation of Corinna and the poet's love. The poem is short and quite explicit, ending with the memorable "Jove send me more such afternoons as this" (line 26). Elegia VI consists of the desperate plea of the lover to the porter of Corinna's house to open the door to him. The form is stylized, such that the double entendre is evident. This is a "door poem" (the Romans used the Greek name, paraklausithyon. This is a typical form of love-poems, and one that would have been a well-known situation tohis readers. The lover paints himself as the aggrieved one because his mistress is shutting him out. It's clear that the lovers have had some kind of disagreement, and Corinna has locked him out. This is the first of many instances in which the completely ridiculous nature of this adulterous relationship is made clear. Ovid, perversely, addresses his song, complete with a refrain, to Corinna's doorkeeper. It is this slave's job to keep the door shut and prevent anyone from coming in -- it is not in the power of the slave to admit him to Corinna, and so his song is wasted.
Elegia VII gives us the result of the quarrel, for it is a placatory poem to the mistress after the lover has beaten her. He is aghast at his action, and prostrates himself to Corinna repeatedly. Corinna takes some revenge, however, for the next Elegia shows the poet's anger at the old bawd (a woman of doubtful virtue, perhaps a former prostitute or madam) instructing Corinna in how to wheedle money out of him. The poet curses the old woman with the spectacularly cruel phrase "The gods send thee no house, a poor old age/ Perpetual thirst, and winter's lasting rage." (I.8. 113-4)
The ninth poem in Book I has the poet addressing a friend, Atticus, abjuring him to be not lazy in love. He continues his pedagogical tone to his mistress, telling her in Elegia X not to ask reward from him. He uses references to the gods and myths to prove his point. Both of these poems are stock poems in this kind of Roman elegia, and are more important for their stylistic elements and their virtuosity of language than as parts of a narrative.
The poet and Corinna have almost made up by Elegia XI, and the lover addresses his free-born servant, Nape, to take a love letter to Corinna. In Elegia XII Corinna refuses the lover, but some future night accepts him, because Elegia XIII is addressed to the goddess of the dawn, Aurora, that she come not too quickly, for the lover is relishing his night spent in Corinna's bed.
Ridiculously, in Elegia XIV Corinna is once again debased. In her vanity, Corinna has been coloring and curling her hair. All this attention has caused to fall out. The poet comforts her, tells her to wear a wig, and scolds her for spending energy on vanities. The tone then shifts dramatically in Elegia XV to a generalized glorification of the everlasting fame of poets and poetry.
The first book of the Ancient Roman poet Ovid is made up of fifteen elegia, or elegies. An elegy is a poem written to or about a specific person. Ovid's elegies are often called Amores, the Latin for The Loves, or sometimes referred to as Ovid's Love Poems. This is to distinguish these poems from Ovid's later work Ars Amatoria – The Art of Love.
Marlowe translated the three books of Amores (which were originally five, as referred to in the first line of Elegia I "We which were Ovid's five books now are three." The original edition of Ovid's work of five books has been lost to history [Howatson 32] – the only version available during Marlowe's time, and now, is the second and reduced version of three books) from Ovid's elegiac-couplet Latin lines – hexameter followed by pentameter -- into English iambic pentameter rhymed couplets. The poet Ovid makes a joke in the first lines of Book One, contrasting the hexameter lines in which classical epic poetry was written, and the elegiac form of Amores of alternating hexameter and pentameter verses. Ovid specifically refers to Virgil's (another famous Ancient Roman poet) poem the Aeneid, written in hexameter, which begins "I sing of arms and the man", by stating in line 5 "With Muse prepared I meant to sing of arms". Ovid is poking fun at himself further, saying that he is not going to sing of war and epic battles, but rather of love, and therefore the god of Love (Cupid, referred to here as "Love") took away one poetic foot of verse from lines of his poem. Since this poem will have nothing to do with the heroic or historical subjects usually treated by epic poetry, Ovid is saying, his elegies will be a different kind of poetry, and therefore will be couched in a different form of verse.
Latin poetry was not constructed to rhyme at the end of lines (thought it often did, as Italian verse does, because of the repetition of common word endings) so when Marlowe made Ovid's poetry into rhyming couplets he was significantly changing the form. Rhyming couplets lend themselves to relatively short thoughts, and wittily or pithily ended sayings, such as "Jove send me more such afternoons as this" (I.V.26) In the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe's contemporary, end-rhymed pentameter lines are a signal of the ending of a speech or conversation. Marlowe's plays also contain this pattern. Though Amores is a verse translation rather than a play, it creates a similar pattern of meaning. When read aloud, the rhyming couplet form encourages a pause at the end of the second line. Over the course of a long poem, rhyming couplets can, depending upon the subject of the poem, lend a feeling of flippancy to the lines. Since much of Ovid's Amores is tongue-in-cheek, and parts of it are downright ridiculous, this couplet form – on the surface so choppy and disjointed – begins to make more sense.
Corinna was probably not a person, or even a composite of real people Ovid knew. She is a standard stock "mistress" character in Roman poetry of the time. If the poem sometimes seems particularly misogynist (even for an age in which there was no equality for women) it was perhaps not meant to be as mean-spirited as it appears. The motif of the lovesick young man (the lover in Amores) desperately desiring an unavailable (in this case, married) woman was not anything Ovid invented. Many Roman elegies were written about the same subject. That the mistress should be at turns cruel, stupid, and ridiculous were also elements of this type of poem, and again nothing new with Ovid's Amores. The stylistic elements, and the clever use of dense puns (something untranslatable from classical Latin into Elizabethan English, though Marlowe adds several of his own) were what were valued in this type of poetry during Ovid's time, rather than original storylines or compelling characters. These were primarily literary, poetic efforts in a loosely narrative verse, rather than attempts to tell a new or compelling story.
This first book is mainly an introduction to the stock characters, and an establishment of the lover as alternately cruel and pathetically needy (such as his beating of Corinna, and his subsequent desperate apology), and the mistress, though beautiful, as full of human folly as can be imagined.
It is important to note here that, though the word "I" is used, the lover of Corinna is not necessarily Ovid. Though certain times it seems clear that Ovid is talking about himself (such as when he discusses his poetry) the lover in the poem is a separate person. The lover is a stock character, created as a sort of stand-in for the poet without actually representing him. By no means should any of the adventures of the lover and Corinna be interpreted as biographical.