Amores 1.13 essay

"Oh how I hate to get up in the morning."

This poem is appealing in a number of ways, though marred by a momentary brush with Roman racism. The poet’s situation is one that is easy to sympathize with: dawn is coming, he is in bed, and he has company. He hates the thought of getting up, so he complains to Aurora, goddess of the dawn, and becomes increasingly personal and vicious. In the final couplet we find out whether he has made an impact.

The poet begins by trying to persuade. Things are very nice the way they are, so there’s no need for Aurora to hurry (lines 1–10). Ever the rhetorician, the poet then produces a series of arguments: people from very different walks of life, discussed in some detail, all have to get up at dawn, and they hate it (lines 11–24). Normally a poem (or prayer) to a goddess would give a list of the good things for which she is responsible; here we get the exact opposite, because all this early rising is Aurora’s fault.

All these arguments merely support the point that is important to the poet: the person harmed most by Aurora is the man who’s got a girl in bed with him (lines 25–26). The poet, it turns out, has been in this situation often, and he has often wished that something would keep Aurora away. He has fantasized (absurdly) about changes in the cosmos, and about a heavenly chariot accident (lines 28–30). 

At this point things turn nasty, with the poet getting more pointedly personal: Aurora, he says, does what she does out of sheer spite. She is as black-hearted as her son is black-skinned (Memnon was an Aethiopian prince). If the poet were to tell her husband what’s going on, her reputation would be destroyed. Tithonus, her husband, was incredibly old (he had asked for immortality but forgot to ask for eternal youth), and so Aurora can’t wait to get away from him; a young man would make her want to slow night down, just like the poet himself. (Aurora supposedly had a fair number of lovers; the suggestion here may be that she leaves Tithonus to go out looking for them). But none of that is the poet’s fault (lines 31–42).

At this point we get another one of those leaps of logic best explained as a rhetorician’s refutatio (see Elliott, 130). There is an imaginary objection: “But nobody can change the natural order of things.” And mythology offers two responses: Luna put Endymion to sleep forever, and (a much better example) Jupiter doubled the length of the night he spent with Alcumena (lines 43–46). The basic proposition remains: Aurora is bringing in the day out of spite, because her own love life is a mess.

The final couplet brings the poem to an amusing and satisfying conclusion. There is no reason to spoil the joke by explaining it. But it is important to be aware that the Romans saw blushing as the expected response to insults, as well as to embarrassment.

Suggested reading

Elliott, Alison G. “Amores 1.13: Ovid’s art,” Classical Journal 69 (1973–74): 127–132.


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