Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is a collection of three poems devoted to how to win a woman. Due to its sometimes explicit descriptions, it has been controversial since its publication. Notwithstanding that, it was used as a school text during the Middle Ages. In this extract Ovid gives advice how to court a girl at the races. His tips are still useful.
Ovidius, Ars Amatoria 1,135-62
Nec te nobilium fugiat certamen equorum; 135
multa capax populi commoda Circus habet.
Nil opus est digitis, per quos arcana loquaris,
Nec tibi per nutus accipienda nota est:
proximus a domina, nullo prohibente, sedeto,
iunge tuum lateri qua potes usque latus; 140
et bene, quod cogit, si nolis, linea iungi,
quod tibi tangenda est lege puella loci.
Hic tibi quaeratur socii sermonis origo,
Et moveant primos publica verba sonos.
Cuius equi veniant, facito, studiose, requiras: 145
Nec mora, quisquis erit, cui favet illa, fave.
At cum pompa frequens caelestibus ibit eburnis,
tu Veneri dominae plaude favente manu;
utque fit, in gremium pulvis si forte puellae
Deciderit, digitis excutiendus erit: 150
Etsi nullus erit pulvis, tamen excute nullum:
quaelibet officio causa sit apta tuo.
Pallia si terra nimium demissa iacebunt,
collige, et inmunda sedulus effer humo;
protinus, officii pretium, patiente puella 155
contingent oculis crura videnda tuis.
Respice praeterea, post vos quicumque sedebit,
Ne premat opposito mollia terga genu.
Parva leves capiunt animos: fuit utile multis
pulvinum facili composuisse manu. 160
profuit et tenui ventos movisse tabella,
et cava sub tenerum scamna dedisse pedem.
Nec te fugiat certamen: let not the contest escape you
capax commoda: easily containing (+ gen.)
Nil opus est digitis: i.e. for making secret (arcana) signs
nutus, nutus (m.): nod, hint
proximus a: next to
sedeto: -to is the 2nd and 3rd imp. of the futurum
iunge tuum lateri qua potes usque latus = iunge tuum latus lateri usque qua potes: join your side to her side right on as far as you can
et bene, quod cogit, si nolis, linea iungi = et bene (est vos) linea (abl !) iungi, si nolis
linea: line (marked on the benches for separating the seats)
si nolis: even if you don’t want it
lege loci: by law of the place she sits (we all experiencethis when we are sitting in an overcrowded train or bus: we are touched by others and touche others by lege loci)
socii sermonis origo: the beginning of an informal chat
publica verba: common talk (i.e. don’t go at once into private matters!)
facito requiras: make that you ask
studiose: eagerly, studiously
faveo favi fauturus (+ dat.): to favour
pompa frequens: a crowded procession (befor beginning of a race a festive procession was held at which ivory images of gods (caelestibus eburnis) were carried, amongst these also one of Venus)
pulvis pulveris (m.): dust
decido decidi: to fall down
excutio excussi excussum: to remove
pallia si (in) terra nimium demissa iacebunt: when the mantle to much hanging down is lying on the ground (the plural is either used for the singular or it denotes a frequent occurrence – with various girls of course. Likewise tergum `back’ in line 158 and scamna in 162. The description is like a scene from some movie.)
immundus: dirty (immunda pallia)
sedulus: careful, sedulous
effer humo: lift from the ground
patiente puella: if the girl permits
contigo contigi contactum (+ dat.): to touch, fall upon
crura videnda: her visible legs (litt. `her legs to be seen’)
opposite genu: with his opposing knee
mollis mollis: soft, gentle
parva leves: small things, small gestures
pulvinum compono: to arrange a cushion
tenuis: small, elegant
cava scamna: a scamnun is a stool and here probably a small foot-bench, hollow (cavus) for the comfort of the feet.
Translation by A.S. Klyne.
Don’t forget the races, those noble stallions:
the Circus holds room for a vast obliging crowd.
No need here for fingers to give secret messages,
nor a nod of the head to tell you she accepts:
You can sit by your lady: nothing’s forbidden,
press your thigh to hers, as you can do, all the time:
and it’s good the rows force you close, even if you don’t like it,
since the girl is touched through the rules of the place.
Now find your reason for friendly conversation,
and first of all engage in casual talk.
Make earnest enquiry whose those horses are:
and rush to back her favourite, whatever it is.
When the crowded procession of ivory gods goes by,
you clap fervently for Lady Venus:
if by chance a speck of dust falls in the girl’s lap,
as it may, let it be flicked away by your fingers:
and if there’s nothing, flick away the nothing:
let anything be a reason for you to serve her.
If her skirt is trailing too near the ground,
lift it, and raise it carefully from the dusty earth:
Straightaway, the prize for service, if she allows it,
is that your eyes catch a glimpse of her legs.
Don’t forget to look at who’s sitting behind you,
that he doesn’t press her sweet back with his knee.
Small things please light minds: it’s very helpful
to puff up her cushion with a dextrous touch.
And it’s good to raise a breeze with a light fan,
and set a hollow stool beneath her tender feet.