Christopher Marlowe's Poems

Christopher Marlowe's Poems Summary and Analysis of Ovid's Elegies Book Two


Book II contains nineteen elegies, and does less to advance the story of Corinna and her lover than to address various people about aspects of their relationship. The level of ridiculousness has increased, with laughable satire interspersed with the realistic emotions of people having an adulterous love affair. Ovid makes an implied comment on the human condition by giving his reader an unblinking look at the folly of adulterous love, while at the same time he puts into verse believable actions and words of the often, but not always, anguished couple.

Elegia I is another of Ovid's self-deprecating poems, addressing the familiar theme that he is not going to write about the heroic and historical deeds told of in epic poems. It was a standard poetic conceit of Ovid's time that love-poems like Ovid's were not as worthy of being recorded as the deeds of the gods, such as the primordial battle of giants in Greek mythology, or other heroic stories from the past. Specifically, Ovid refers to the Giants "piling Pelion upon Ossa", a metaphor for doing an impossible task. This episode was from the mythic battle between the Giants and what would become Greece's Olympian gods, when the Giants tried to attack the gods in heaven by piling one high mountain on top of another. The phrase "piling Pelion upon Ossa" is still used today, with roughly the same meaning as in Ovid's time. The phrase is also used as part of Ovid's subtle mocking of long, grand, epic poems, implying that epic poetry is truly "epic", in that it is a huge task to great an epic poem (and perhaps epic poets have delusions of grandeur such as the Giants did), joined with a denigration of Ovid's own love-poetry efforts.

Elegia II is addressed to Bagous, applying another oft-used poetic conceit to chide the mistress's servants for not keeping better watch over her. The lover describes how he has seen Corinna walking at Apollo's temple (a god of light and reason, and the jibe is not lost on Bagous) and that the lover was able to woo her with a love letter in this public place. The lover also criticizes Corinna's husband for not keeping a strict enough watch on her. All of this is full of poetic irony, for a lax watch over his mistress is definitely in the lover's best interest. This poem then descends even further into an ugly combination of class snobbery and emotional perversity. Ovid complains that Bagous should not ever tell on his mistress or expose her shame, for "no one likes a tattle-tale". Ovid vividly describes the fate that awaits an indiscreet servant: punishment and imprisonment. The irony – a cold one, here – is that if the lover and Corinna were not involved in an adulterous affair then the servant would not be in jeopardy in the first place. The absurdity of these threats to an underling is further social commentary on wrongs of adultery.

The next two elegia are more and more patently absurd. The third elegia is a short mocking of the eunuch (possibly Bagous) who guards Corinna, telling him that whoever made him a eunuch should be made the same. The poet reminds the eunuch that Corinna will, indeed, deceive him, and it is right that she does so. Elegia IV is a bawdy verse about the poet's indiscriminate sexual appetites. "Here I display my lewd and loose behaviour" (ln 4) he says, and asserts that he likes all women, no matter their age, skill, learning, class, or looks. This poem contains several explicit sexual references, which Marlowe treats with some delicacy but retains the meaning. In this, and throughout the elegiae the words "do" and "doing" stand for the sexual act, as they do in modern slang in many English-speaking countries.

Elegia V finds the lover writing again to his "unfaithful mistress". The sexual slang is softer here, but "die" is used by Marlowe as an analogy for sexual pleasure. The poet is railing against Corinna, saying that she has kissed someone else at a dinner party. In lines 14-20 there are some obscure references to spilt wine. The Romans played a party game, half in jest by Ovid's time, of reading people's fortunes by the shape that wine made when spilled onto a surface. This is a reference not only to the decadent lifestyle that Corinna lives (for in the Roman Republic, before Ovid's time, it was considered indecent for women to drink wine at a dinner party) but also a play on "divining" their future together. The entire poem keeps returning the imagery of a kiss, with tongues playing the obvious metaphor. The shapes of spilt wine (called tongues) and the references to the lover's and Corinna's tongues form a similar sensual image.

A playful parody of a funeral poem is made in the sixth elegy. Corinna's pet bird, a parrot, has died. The poet calls all birds, mythical and historical, to its funeral. Ovid again mocks epic poems (such as the Iliad) in which, upon the death of a hero, all women are called to wail and tear their faces in grief. Ovid then uses two mythological references to add to the ridiculousness of this poem. Because the parrot was a talking bird, Philomel and Tereus are mentioned. Philomel was raped by Tereus, who then cut out her tongue to prevent her from telling of the crime. The tongue imagery from the previous poem is now not only made silly because of the talking parrot, but horrible because of the tragic myth. Another horrific story from the myth is then mentioned, also related to the mouth. Tereus's son with Philomel's sister Procne is killed by his own mother (Procne) and served to his father (Tereus) at dinner. This is Procne's revenge for her sister's rape and her husband's infidelity. Procne is then turned into a sparrow. This stomach-turning story is a example of (what one might call Ovid's at times twisted) sense of humor, and is also another reflection of the complete folly of the poet's and Corinna's affair.

An argument ensues between Corinna and her lover in Elegy VII. Apparently Corinna has accused the poet of lusting after her maid. He vehemently denies it, displaying the typical Roman snobbery of class. He says he is not attracted to a "base wench" and is angry that Corinna would accuse him. But the next elegy is addressed to Cypassis, the very maid Corinna has accused the lover of desiring. The lover writes that he enjoys their secret trysts, and that he is not unlike other historical heroes (he refers to Achilles in the Iliad, another epic poem) in having a relationship with a servant. The class arrogance and blatant deception makes this the hypocritical nadir of Amores.

Taken on its own, Elegia IX is a nice piece poetry addressed to Cupid, the god of love. That it is placed directly after the ugly fight between Corinna and the lover, and the revelation that the lover is indeed being unfaithful to Corinna with her own maid, adds another layer of irony. The message of the poem is that the poet has been too often shot with the arrows of Cupid. The poet would like to take a break from love, he says, and he reminds the god that there are "so many other men and maidens without love!" ( ln 15). The plea is, like so much of Amores, tongue-in-cheek, for later in the poem the poet says "so sweet ill is a maid" (ln 26). The lover is complaining that he is exhausted by his fickle loves, but it is better to live like this than to sleep peacefully alone every night. The discussion of love continues in Elegia X, as the poet addresses Graecinus. He chides his friend, who had told him once that it was impossible to love two women at once. Ovid claims that he does, and that they are equal in their charms. The poet admits that this is a dangerous, tiring way to live, but he says he'd rather "drop with doing" (ln 35) than to live a life of abstinence.

Corinna is going on a sea journey in the eleventh Elegia. The lover has resumed an earnest tone in this poem. He prays to the gods that Corinna will have a safe journey, and come back to him. He warns Corinna of the dangers and discomforts of the sea. Even after the tumult between Corinna and the lover, these worries and pleas seem heartfelt. She returns in Elegia XII, and the poet is triumphant. He uses the imagery (wreaths of bay, a conquered city) of war to express his delight in her return. Heroic women of history and myth are recalled (who in no way resemble Corinna except their shared sex) and Ovid, who is not a soldier, nevertheless enjoys the victory of Cupid.

Some months later, in Elegia XIII Corinna is pregnant and has tried to abort the fetus. "She secretly with me such harm attempted" (ln 3) does not mean that they attempted it together, but that she has done it without telling him. Corinna's life is now in danger, and this poem is a prayer to the goddess Isis to help her give birth. He pleads with the goddess, saying this fight for her life is enough of a sacrifice to the goddess of childbirth (Isis was an Egyptian goddess recently imported to Rome and worshipped there.) The absence of sarcasm begun in Elegia XI extends through this poem to the next.

Corinna has managed to procure an abortion somehow, and the lover expresses his shock and grief. He uses moving imagery "why dost green apples pull" (ln 24) and shows the reader how horrified and disillusioned he is by his mistress's action. It is a powerful poem, and leaves no doubt that Ovid is not only a maker of spiteful and satirical verses, but is able to address the deepest and most serious human emotions.

The tone, though still earnest, changes in the fifteenth elegy. It is a poem addressed to an inanimate object (which is called an apostrophe), namely a ring that the poet has given to his mistress. The lover misses Corinna so much that he envies his own gift to her, and he urges the ring to "Fit her so well, as she is fit for me" (ln 5), with the attendant sexual metaphor. The sixteenth elegia takes the form of a letter to Corinna, asking her to come and visit the lover at his country house. The place is Sulmo, the birthplace of Ovid, so this makes this elegy the most directly personal in the poem thus far. This elegy contains a reference to the Hero and Leander myth, which Marlowe would later write about in his own original poem of that name. The theme of this elegy is lovers separated by distance and obstacles, which is a theme of Marlowe's later poem.

The final three elegies of this book return to familiar themes. Ovid is self-deprecating again in the seventeenth poem. He will be Corinna's lover alone (he says) and will be true to her. Her looks are such that he cannot part with her. He makes a joke about her looks being superior to his own: "Small things with greater may be copulate" (ln 14). He give examples from history and myth (especially those in which a god has a mortal as his or her lover) of the superior and the inferior being mated. This leads to analogy of this inequality to his unequal meters (hexameter and pentameter alternating), which again leads to the comparison with the longer (and ostensibly more worthy) lines of epics. In the next elegia Ovid writes to his Macer, telling him that he is writing about love and not "tragic verse" (ln 1). Ovid refers to his own Ars Amatoria, and Macer himself appears to be a poet of tragedy. The last poem in this book is addressed directly to Corinna's husband, again chiding him for not guarding or valuing his wife. Ovid gets extremely personally insulting, calling the man a bawd (pimp) and warning him, perversely, that unless he guards his wife more closely the poet will no longer value Corinna and their love affair will end.


In this middle book, the explicit sexual references have become common, and this is the turning of the love affair between the poet and Corinna from infatuation to the restless middle of a relationship. Sex was as important in the beginning as it is now, the poet is telling us, but now he feels free to use cruder images and scold his mistress for her imperfections more often than before. The ridiculing tone (such as Elegia VI, which is a parody of a funeral poem) is not always to be interpreted quite as personally as it might seem; much of this poem was written to satirize or parody poetic forms (such as a lovesick lover's poems, funeral poems, mock scolding poems, etc.) current in Ovid's day. As personal and realistic as these poems may seem, they were probably not a chronicle of a real relationship. While the misogyny and sexism of the age is apparent in much of Ovid's poem, most of the sentiments are truly general and not specific. The creation of poem of a certain type, and not necessarily the expression of a personal sentiment, was the motivation behind the creation of much of Amores.

This is not to say that Ovid may not have experienced similar emotions in his life. He was married three times, and may have had tumultuous romances such as described in this poem. This level of detail about his life is not clearly known. However, the narrative was not the most important thing in this poem; the language and poetic effects were at least as important as the outline of the story, if not more important. Ovid's audience was a highly literate, sophisticated one, and the refinement of language and cleverness of images and metaphors were considered the most important goals of poetry, rather than the communication of raw emotion.

Ovid spends a great deal of time referring to epic poetry of the past, and some of the more shockingly horrific Greek tragic myths. Veiled references to cannibalism will make an appearance more than once in this Amores – a subject not usually associated with love poems. The oldest, and in Ovid's time the "highest" Greek tragedy often contained references to cannibalism. Greek drama was so early, and the veneer of the civilization that produced it so new and thin, that the tragic stories of that culture contained much of the barbaric practices of earlier times: infanticide, cannibalism, human sacrifice and the like. For Ovid to use references to these myths and dramas was a way to show his audience his erudition, but it also showed how mocking he was of love poetry in general. The metaphors of the bloody Greek myths do not translate well to any idealized form of romanticism. Ovid's ideas about sexual love were a great deal more cynical.

Most of the time, however, the mythic references are used by Ovid to make a sort of sophisticated fun of his choice to write love poetry rather than epics. Ovid would later write the monumental epic poem Metamorphoses, but at this stage of his career he might have been slightly ashamed of his elegiae. This kind self-deprecating humor was much in vogue in the Roman literary world of Ovid's time. This is Ovid's urbane way of making a joke of himself, while at the same time drawing the reader's attention to his mastery of irony and vast classical knowledge.

It is tempting to delve into the psychology of the lover in this book. So many of the baser emotions are directly addressed and frankly owned in a way that seems thoroughly modern. Much of this, of course, was the Roman way. Jealousy, lust, and illicit love are natural and predictable human activities, and since this was before the gloss of Christianity came over the empire much of the pagan frankness about sex, the body, desires, negative emotions, and things that would come to be thought sins was more freely discussed than in later centuries. The poet admits not only to desiring and having an affair with another man's wife, but then to beating her, lying to her on more than one occasion, being unfaithful to her with her own maidservant, and then conceiving a child with her that she then aborted. Interspersed within this somewhat sordid tale are bouts of extreme self-deprecation (mostly about poetry); ugly misogyny, class snobbery, and self-aggrandizement; and shockingly real and beautifully expressed human emotions. Ovid is able to make the reader believe that the same man who could beat his mistress could also love her so dearly as to be envious of jewelry she wears, and be devastated by the death of his child by her. It is at the same time a deeply shocking and deeply moving poem. Marlowe does not mar Ovid's sentiments by putting them in English rhymed couplets, and retains the spirit of the original admirably.