The Art of Love, in which he sets forth the rules of amatory intrigue, is divided into three parts. Of these, the first deals with choosing the woman to whom you intend to lay siege. "First catch your hare." The hunter knows where to spread his nets to enmesh the stag; the fowler where to smear his bird-lime; the fisherman what waters most abound in fish. As for the lover, he has no need to journey far. Here in Rome, beneath his very eyes, he'll find every type of beauty; ’tis a very embarras de richesses. Let him take a stroll through the porticoes of Pompey or of Livia, he'll discover plenty of pretty women to choose from. And the theatre! There they abound as thick as the bees that hover among the flowers and the thyme. The Circus, too, is another place most favourable to love, for there you have to sit close, you cannot help it, and it's so easy to begin a conversation. Then, you arrange a cushion for her and find a place for her to rest her feet; a speck of dust lights on her bosom: you flick it off. And if it isn't there, you flick it off just the same. Boldness is the essence of success. It's no use waiting for the woman to make the first advance. Enter the fray with a stout heart. Not one woman in a thousand will offer any serious resistance. She may put up a fight, but she'll be sorry if she wins, however pleased. She may try to look. Pay plenty of compliments, unlimited compliments, but don't start giving costly presents. That's an error, and you'll find there'll be no end to it. She'll have a birthday every time she wants you to buy her something. Study the fine arts. Adorn your mind so that you may interest her with your conversation. In whatever you say or write to her, avoid
the highbrow style. Don't talk to her like a professor, or as if you were addressing a meeting. That's fatal. Keep on the best of terms with her husband. If, when the dice are thrown, chance crowns you monarch of the feast, take off your wreath and place it on his brow. Drink moderately, never overdo it. Simulate drunkenness, if you like, because that will afford you an excuse for saying things you would not dare to say when sober.
If she treats you with hauteur, cool off a little. Don't let her think you too importunate. Above all suit the treatment to the case. Different women require different methods.
The first part of the Art of Love, then, instructs the lover how to win his mistress. In the second part, the poet sets out to teach his pupil what is certainly no less important, and that is, how to retain her. Good looks are something, but charm of manner is a great deal more. Pleasant words--like music--are the food of love. Never squabble. Quarrels are the dowry which married folk bring one another. A mistress should only hear agreeable things. This, and all his counsels, are intended for lovers of small or moderate incomes. If a man has got money, there's no need for him to learn the Art of Love. Money is the sure passport to a woman's favours. If you are not endowed with wealth, you must make up for it in other ways. Pander to her when she's well; pet her and coddle her when she's sick. Don't make her take nasty medicine, or put her on a lowering diet. Leave that sort of thing to your rival. And don't try to rush things. Gradually make yourself indispensable to her; and when you are sure that she will long for you, leave her alone for a bit, so that your absence may give her some anxiety. But don't stay away too long. Out of sight may eventually be out of mind. If you've had a little dalliance elsewhere (and no man can be expected to stick wholly to one woman), don't, when you come back to your mistress, be sheepish
or gushing. To be either is a sure sign of a guilty conscience and is bound to give you away. Satisfy her, if she isn't pleased with you, in the only way a woman can be satisfied. Never spy on a woman. Even if they tell you your mistress is out, when you know very well she's in don't make a fuss. Make believe she is out and that your eyes have deceived you.
In these clays when women of forty, like the little girl in Punch, have often still got "a past before them," it will gladden many hearts to hear that Ovid considered a woman only really interesting when she had passed the age of thirty-five. "No new wine for me!" he cries. "Let me have a rich and mellow vintage."
The third part of his treatise he reserves for advice to women. "Never fear," he says to those who would have it he was arming the enemy, "women are not as black as they're painted. We must not condemn the whole sex for the crimes of a few. Helen, Clytemnestra, Eriphyle--these were certainly not shining examples; but look at Penelope, look at Laodamia, look at Alcestis. No; Virtue is a woman both in vesture and in name."
Let them make haste, and not be niggard of their favours while they are yet young. Old age and wrinkles and white hair will come all too soon. Such is the burden of his counsel. Good looks are a fine thing, but they're rare. But a careful toilet will make a woman attractive, and without it the loveliest faces lose their charm.
"Let who will praise the ancient days when Tatius was king and all the women housewives. I am a child of the age. I find it better suited to my tastes not because we've got a lot of gold and wear expensive clothes, but because we know how to enjoy the amenities of life and have discarded the boorish ways of our forefathers. Dress well, but do not over-dress; smell sweet; attend to your teeth; see that your legs are not hairy; learn the art of cosmetics, but don't powder and paint before your lover--these are some of his excellent injunctions.
[paragraph continues] Learn how to walk, how to laugh, and even how to weep, for there's a right and a wrong way of doing everything. Above all, if you want to keep your good looks, keep your temper. A woman is never so ugly as when she's in a rage. If your lover's getting lukewarm, let him scent a rival. Don't let him think he's the only pebble on the beach. Don't gourmandize, and don't drink to excess. There is no sight so beastly as a drunken woman." Then, with some further advice, some intimate instructions, which formed the pretext for his exile, he concludes.
As one turns these pages, one cannot but reflect how little, in essentials, the world of society, the beau monde has changed since Ovid's day. Take away the accidental circumstances, change the mise-en-scène from Augustan Rome to Paris or London, and the poem might have been written yesterday. No; woman has not changed, nor man, nor the way of a man with a woman, or of a woman with a man. It is true that the loves Ovid sings have little in common with the grande passion. The love that ends in ruin, despair and death is not for him. Such passions are enemies to wit and gaiety, and would be terribly out of place in this careless, frivolous, pleasure-loving, elegant and highly sophisticated society, a society in which the revelation of any depth of feeling would have been considered somewhat ridiculous and condemned as "bad form," even as it would be in our own. No vows of eternal fidelity for Ovid! He knew well enough that à la fin on se lasse de tout. "If Tereus had had recourse to my remedies, if I had been there to prescribe for him, he would never have gone off his head about Philomel and never have been changed into a bird for his sins." Pasiphaë would have given up her bull, Phædra would have seen the error of her ways; Paris would have pulled up in time, and there would have been no Trojan wars; Dido would never have slain herself for Æneas. Those myrtle groves, whereof Virgil
sings, and within whose shade wander the ghosts of those whom hopeless love consumes, would, if Ovid could have had his way, have been eternally untenanted.
This Art of Love is indeed a miracle of a poem. There had been nothing like it in the Roman world before. Gallantry was a new cult to the Romans and Ovid was its high priest. The Comedy of Love! Here we have all the charming and familiar ingredients--the promenades, the whispered confidences, the secret assignations, the fops and the dandies, the billets-doux, the presents, the dainty dresses, the lover's pleadings, the mistress's disdain, the kissings and the quarrellings, the cuckold husband and the obliging--the very obliging--maid, the perfume, the powder, the courtliness, the wit, the raillery, the naughtiness, the rippling laughter--all the familiar stock-in-trade of the perennial comedy whose setting is now Rome, now Paris, now Versailles, or Bath or Vauxhall or the Mall. Here, in this Art of Love, we assist, as it were, at the birth of the World of Gallantry. Here is the world in which later on the de Grammonts, the de Lauzuns, the Rochesters, the Buckinghams, Beau Nash and Beau Brummell et hoc genus omne, were to find themselves so thoroughly at home.
And what a man of taste he is, this Ovid; with the true exquisite's abhorrence of vulgar display. Elegance is his watchword, but it is elegance based on the most scrupulous cleanliness. It's no good wearing fine clothes if your nails are in mourning; and--this he is never weary of reiterating--it is not only the body but the mind we must adorn. Music, poetry, dancing, there's none so fair--whether man or woman--who can afford to disdain these accomplishments. And these charming, but not very difficult, ladies, how beautiful they were, and what a wealth of care and artifice and what a troop of artists it needed to dress them, to do their hair, to emphasise their beauty or repair the ravages of time!
[paragraph continues] There was the slave who removed grey and superfluous hair, a slave to comb and brush my lady's unbraided tresses; a slave for her pomades, another for her perfumes. It was the duty of one to apply the rouge and of another to paint her eyebrows and eyelashes and to shade her eyelids; another had to see to her hands, another to polish and adorn her feet. There were the wardrobe-maids and the tire-women, the ornatrices, who put on her necklaces and saw to her jewellery. One slave was skilled at holding the mirror, another at holding the torch-and when at length my lady is sufficiently bedecked, adorned, tricked out, bathed and aired, powdered and scented; when, in a word, she looks as if she has just stepped out of a bandbox, the door is flung open to admit the women-critics, the experts, who give just one last look to see that everything is just perfection.
It has been said that with the mere names of the things that composed Corinna's trousseau Ovid could have made a poem. First came the little flimsy garment woven of silk or linen, and artfully embroidered. Then the castula, which reached up to the throat, and the indusiata, which went on over it. There were the brassières to hold in a too voluminous bosom; the scarf which fell about her white shoulders from her lofty head dress; veils of every hue. As to the different dresses that a Lesbia, a Corinna or a Neaera might wear, one would have a train like the dress worn to-day by a great lady at Court. There was a wonderful diaphanous thing called the "laconic." There was the crocula, a short saffron-coloured dress; there was the impluvia, a dress worn on days of mourning, or when it was raining. As for tunics and cloaks, they were as divers as the dresses. There was the long tunic with a fringe, the short one just reaching to the knee and flounced with fur; the calthula, a sort of yellow mantilla; tunics closely woven, tunics loosely woven. There was a
marvellous thing called the man-killer, because it was caught up high at the bottom and liberally displayed the wearer's person.
There was a bewildering assortment of implements and instruments in Corinna's dressing-room and on Corinna's dressing-table: scissors, razors, files, various brushes for the teeth, the nails, the hair, combs of every shape, a preparation of burnt cork for darkening the eyelashes; soaps, pastes, cosmetics, phials of scent; "strigils," that is, little ivory currycombs for rubbing and cleansing the skin after the bath; hair-nets, wigs, false teeth; oiled pumice-stone for giving a polish to the arms, neck and shoulders; paint red and white; pomades both emollient and astringent; necklaces and earrings; hair-pins in infinite variety, gold chains, brooches, bracelets, rings, cameos, artificial flowers, chaplets enriched with pearls and precious stones, butterflies, grasshoppers, flies made out of gems, cloaks embroidered and fringed, scarves inwrought with silver and gold, girdles sparkling with precious stones, frontlets, ribands, veils, shoes and so on ad infinitum.
The Remedia Amoris contains a variety of precepts too sound to admit of any other conclusion than that the physician had himself suffered from the disease in its most acute form. "If you can take it in time," he says, "before it has got a hold on you, cut it out. If you can't, wait a little until the attack has spent its force. Then drink deep of the cup of love. Drink to satiety. Drink till you're sick. And find work to occupy your mind: love thrives on idleness. Take up farming, gardening, shooting, fishing. Above all, go away. There's nothing like a long journey and change of scene to remove 'this something-settled matter in the heart.' If you've got to stay on in town willy-nilly, don't go near the places where you used to meet her; cut her friends, burn her letters, destroy her portrait and--get another mistress. And remember, if you can go on long enough
pretending you're cured, you'll be cured indeed." Thus spoke Ovid in the first century, and thus speaks Dr. Coué in the twentieth. Verily, there's nothing new under the sun.
The Art of Beauty is a fragment of one hundred lines. He begins by telling his fair pupils what he had already impressed upon them in the Art of Love, namely, the importance of cultivating charm of manner. Beauty fades, but charm endures. Then he gives them a recipe or two for their complexions. What these are we leave the reader to discover.