Ancient Roman poet Ovid, a Marxist?


This 2017 video is about Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Some time ago, this blog asked the question whether ancient Greek poet Homer was a Marxist.

My short answer was no. However, did ancient Homer at least have one idea in common with modern socialists?

Yes. In Homer’s Odyssey, book XVII, King Odysseus is disguised as a beggar. He tells his companion, the swineherd Eumaios, that he can stand lots of trouble. However, now he is hungry. Odysseus then says (lines 285-289; my translation),

“But one thing no one can deny is ravening hunger, a cursed plague bringing people much trouble. That is why people launch oared ships for faraway expeditions across the harvestless sea, to bring evil and death to enemies.”

Here Odysseus, and Homer, in fact say wars are about economic resources. They sound like Bertolt Brecht on eating and morality. Homer did have at least one idea, the idea about the origins of wars, in common with modern Marxists and other socialists.

Now, to Ovid. Like Homer, not really a Marxist. However, like Homer, he had a ´socialist´ idea about the origin of wars.

In Metamorphoses, lines 141 to 143, he writes, translated by Brookes More:

they penetrated to the bowels of earth
and dug up wealth, bad cause of all our ills,
rich ores which long ago the earth had hid
and deep removed to gloomy Stygian caves:
and soon destructive iron and harmful gold
were brought to light; and War, which uses both,
came forth and shook with sanguinary grip
his clashing arms.

These lines are about the ‘iron age’ of human history according to Ovid.

That brings us to, to some extent, another parallel between Ovid and Marxists. Ovid in lines 89-150 of Metamorphoses describes the, according to him, four ages of human (pre-)history.

The age of the first human beings is the ‘golden age’. A time when there was equality and no private property yet. A classless and stateless society. So, no need for repressive governments and wars. There is a parallel with what Karl Marx called ‘primitive communism‘; and what other social scientists call ‘hunter-gatherer societies’. There are differences: Ovid adds mythological elements, like golden age spring lasting all year and rivers of milk and nectar flowing.

According to Ovid, after the golden age come the silver, bronze and iron age. This is a variation on the five ages of mankind of ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Progressively, these ages get worse and more violent. While human beings get more and more depraved.

According to Marx and other social scientists, after primitive communism come various types of class societies. With a rise of repressive governments and wars. Contrary to Hesiod and Ovid, Marx and similar scientists don´t claim that human beings as a whole get more and more depraved.

Though Ovid was no Marxist, extreme right people might call him a ‘cultural Marxist‘. A term of abuse among ‘alt-right’ neonazis for everyone opposing their support of inequality, their misogyny, their wars, etc.

5 thoughts on “Ancient Roman poet Ovid, a Marxist?

  1. Pingback: Roman poet Ovid, owls, superstition and love | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Young Rembrandt exhibition in his birthplace | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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