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World Languages and Literatures
Love, sex, and pleasure are all themes that surface frequently throughout Ovid’s corpus. But these are not exclusively Ovidian themes: they warranted great attention from the emperor Augustus as well, albeit for different reasons. While Ovid entertains these themes in ways that reflect prevailing attitudes of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, Augustus attempted to recover traditional, practical conceptions of love and sex in an effort to further strengthen his control over the burgeoning Empire. In many ways, each man’s treatment of love and sex is a reaction to the other’s conflicting attitudes. The enactment of Augustus’ marriage legislation (leges Iuliae) rendered love and sex as matters of the state, targeting the licentiousness of the Roman elite in particular. As a consequence, they breached the boundary separating legal and amorous affairs. Ovid weaponizes Augustus’ transgression of this boundary in select myths of his Metamorphoses to communicate his disapproval of the leges Iuliae and their prioritization of practicality over pleasure. In doing so, Ovid is able to articulate the tension between Ovidian and Augustan conceptions of love and sex, highlight Augustan hypocrisy, and ultimately fashion narratives that not only denounce Augustus’ antiquated and utilitarian marriage program, but also celebrate the inherent preeminence of pleasure.
Pryor, Nicholas, "Boundaries and Pleasure in Ovid's Metamorphoses: A Critique of Augustan Marriage Legislation" (2021). Honors Theses. 3427.
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