Francis Cairns Publications

ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs ISSN 0309-5541

Ovid: Amores. Text, Prolegomena and Commentary, in four volumes

J.C. McKeown

Volume I. Text and Prolegomena
ARCA 20. ISBN 9780905205694. x+220pp. 1987. Rpr. 2016
Volume II. A Commentary on Book One
ARCA 22. ISBN 9780905205717. xxvi+421pp. 1989. Rpr. 2016
Volume III. A Commentary on Book Two.
ARCA 36. ISBN 9780905205922. xxiii+433pp. 1998.
Volume IV.i. A Commentary on Book Three, Elegies 1 to 8.
with R.J. Littlewood
ARCA 57. ISBN 9780995461239. xxviii+334pp. Publication Spring, 2023
Volume IV.ii. A Commentary on Book Three, Elegies 9 to 15.
Currently in preparation. Comprehensive indexes to all four volumes will be included.

(ISBN 9780905205687: four-volume set)

The first volume of this major commentary begins appropriately with Prolegomena, before offering a text of Ovid's Amores. The Prolegomena has eight chapters: Tenerorum Lusor Amorum; Doctrina; Recitation; Chronology; The Arrangement of the Poems; The Title; Metre; The Text. Succinct, clear and learned, these chapters alone form an excellent all-round introduction to Ovid as a love-poet, and touch on many aspects of more general relevance to Augustan and Hellenistic poetry.

Even in its incomplete form (the final volume is still in preparation), the Commentary on the Amores of Ovid has become a scholarly standard. The introductions to each elegy are succinct, readable and original, and take careful account of relevant modern discussions. The commentary is full of meticulous detail. McKeown's Ovid retains his lightness of touch, however, and poet and commentator share an interest in the wit arising from situation and word-play.

JAMES McKEOWN is a professor in the Department of Classics, University of Wisconsin at Madison.
R. JOY LITTLEWOOD is a private scholar whose recent publications include Commentaries on the Fasti of Ovid and on the Punica of Silius Italicus.


(From Introduction to Commentary on 2.4, p.64-5).

In 2.22A, Propertius declares sorrowfully that he has become promiscuous because of an irrational flaw in his nature. Ovid likewise professes that he is attracted to all kinds of women, denouncing his helpless promiscuity in much the same terms as does Propertius (2 uitiis … meis, Prop. 17 uitium). Propertius views his plight as painful (2 multa … mala) and disastrous (4 exitio … meo), no more rational than the self-inflicted wounds of the devotees of the Magna Mater (15f.). In sharp contrast, Ovid’s tone is light. It is difficult to view seriously sufferings declared with such panache as in 5f.: odi, nec possum, cupiens, non esse quod odi:/ heu quam, quae studeas ponere, ferre graue est! Moreover, uror (12) is the only other reference to the pain which love inflicts, the emphasis being otherwise largely on pleasure; note, for example, the frequency of placere (17, 18, 20, 29, 43, 46), also grata … uenus (40). Perhaps, however, it is most especially the sheer length and comprehensiveness of the catalogue which ensures that we do not mistake Ovid for a soul in torment. Propertius devotes only a few lines (5-10; the length and content of the lacuna after 10 is, however, indeterminable) to illustrating the point that he is mollis in omnis (13): Ovid specifies no fewer than twenty-three types of attractive girls.


I and II

Les Etudes classiques 59 (1991) pp.87-8 (Br. Rochette).

Joint Association of Classical Teachers Review 2nd ser. 7 (1990) p.26 (Joan Booth). "Here is the Ovidian Nisbet and Hubbard …; here is the Bömer … of the Amores. For M. combines the Oxford scholars’ generic approach and distinctive layout (i.e., for each poem, select bibliography, synopsis, introduction and line-by-line commentary) with the German editor’s gargantuan scale, austere manner, and formidably unleavened philological antiquarian learning. M. is arguably better value than either in that he includes a text, and a text, moreover, which can truly claim to be a new and independent recension."

Echos du monde classique n.s. 11 (1992) 83–4 (J. Butrica). "The commentary itself defies reviewing; suffice it to say that the situations and language of Ovid’s poetry are illustrated with a completeness that inspires awe, and future scholars will be hard pressed to detect nuance or devise interpretations not anticipated here."

Classical Philology 86 (1991) 239–48 (Peter Knox): "This edition has lasting value as a repository of information on a wide variety of topics lexical, literary, and mythological. M.'s own views are forcefully presented and modestly equipped with an impressive array of supporting arguments and evidence. If he provokes frequent disagreement, it is because he does not shrink from taking on the most difficult questions."

I only

Greece & Rome (1988) 211 (Don Fowler)

Gnomon 61 (1989) 388-94 (Antonio Ramírez de Verger). "This volume by M. provides both a good introduction to the Amores of Ovid and a good revised text ..."

L’Antiquité classique 88 (1989) 337-8 (Simone Viarre). "J.C. McKeown nous offre d’ores et déjà un instrument de travail essentiel, qui à l’intérêt d’une mise au point sur les principales questions soulevées par les Amours ajoute celui d’une contribution très suggestive à l’étude de l’art savant, d’inspiration alexandrine, qui caractérise la poésie latine à la fin du premier siècle avant J.-C."

Latomus 49 (1990) 484-5 (Raoul Verdière).

CR (1990) 269-71 (W.S.M. Nicoll).

II only

Gnomon 63 (1991) pp.592-5 (Antonio Ramírez de Verger). "I must now state from the outset that what we have here is the best of all the commentaries that have gone to the length of analysing this work in detail." "We have at our disposal a most practical and valuable tool with which to understand better the First Book of Ovid’s Amores."

Classical Review 42.2 (1992) 300-02 (W.S.M. Nicoll). "… an indispensable tool for the study of the language and motifs of Latin love poetry …".

Latomus 51 (1992) 425-6 (Raoul Verdière).

Journal of Roman Studies 81 (1991) 205-6 (Pat Watson).

Revue des Etudes Latines 67 (1989) 281-2 (Jacqueline Fabre). "L’ensemble est dans la ligne du premier volume: riche, précis, documenté, et constitue donc un instrument de travail indispensable pour tous ceux qui s’interessent aux Amores, à Ovide et à la poésie augustéenne."

Greece and Rome (1989) 237-8. "I can paradoxically be brief about volume 2 of J.C. McKeown’s monumental Ovid: Amores because it is so good."

L’Antiquité Classique 59 (1990) 363-4 (Simone Viarre). "Cet excellent commentaire manifeste rigueur et finesse à la fois."

III only

Gnomon 74 (2002) pp.12-15 (Antonio Ramírez de Verger). “If the purpose of a philological commentary is essentially to help the reader understand the work in question, and above all to shed light on any passage that may present difficulty, M. more than satisfies his readers’ expectations with the present publication.”

Classical Journal 1999, 395-400 (Barbara Weiden Boyd). "It is clear that M has been thinking about the Amores for a long time; he has also paid a good deal of attention to the poetry Ovid was reading and admired. While some of my comments below will indicate that I do not always agree with M's interpretations of Ovid's relationship to the literary milieu in which he worked, M's commentary should be praised at the outset for its judiciousness. Its combination of open-mindedness and sound scholarly reasoning is admirable."

The Classical Review 49 (1999), 392-5 (Peter E. Knox). "In the preface to his first volume, M. remarks upon the contrast between his 'dull pedantry and the delightfully subtle artistry of the poems themselves'. Readers of Ovid and students of Latin poetry can be grateful that in this latest installment M. has remained true to his vow of pedantry. When M. is wrong, he more often than not supplies the information needed to confute himself. Such honesty is a commentator's first obligation. The product is a work of reference of lasting value to Latinists of all persuasions. The final volume (with an index?) will be worth the wait."