According to Greek mythology, Theseus was the son of either King Aegeus or Poseidon. His most famous exploit was against the Minotaur of King Minos of Crete. Theseus insisted on being one of the seven youths and seven maidens of Athens to be sacrificed to the monster as an annual tribute. He promised King Aegeus that if he was successful in killing the Minotaur he would on his return voyage replace his ship’s black sails with white ones.
Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a magic ball of thread to be dropped at the entrance of the labyrinth; it led Theseus to the Minotaur, which he killed, and he then followed the unwound thread back to the entrance. He left Crete with Ariadne but abandoned her at Naxos.
When Theseus reached home he forgot to raise white sails. Aegeus saw black sails, and, thinking his son dead, the grief-stricken father threw himself into the sea, thereafter called the Aegean. Although Theseus is generally thought of as legendary, the Athenians believed he had been one of their early kings.
Eugène Delacroix - Ovide chez les Scythes (Ovid among the Scythians)
Ovid was truly a man of letters. Sophisticated and technically
brilliant, he wrote poetry effortlessly. Although not wealthy, he was
sufficiently well-to-do to dispense with a patron and he remained
outside the circles of Maecenas and Messalla.He began as an elegiac
poet of love. His collection known as the Amores
(Love Affairs) follows the examples of Tibullus and Propertius, for
they tell of romantic encounters, but whereas the loves of those two
writers probably existed, Ovid’s lover, Corinna, probably did not exist
While he was writing the Amores he was working on a more ambitious work, the Heroides
(Heroines), letters in verse by women of mythology addressed to their
husbands or lovers. Among others, he imagines Dido writing to Aeneas,
Ariadne writing Theseus from Naxos where he had abandoned her, and Medea
writing Jason after she has learned of his plans to jilt her and marry
the king of Corinth’s daughter.
Ovid then turned to didactic poetry, but
his subject was not a respectable one like agriculture. Ovid wrote the Art of Love
in three books, the first two instructing men in the art of seduction
and the third showing women who planned to be courtesans how to make the
most profit from their husbands. He followed this up with a fourth
book, the Remedium Amoris, on how to fall out of love. Ovid’s greatest work is undoubtedly his Metamorphoses (Changes of Shape). No one believed in the ancient legends
anymore, but they were still subject matter for literature, and Ovid
decided to string them together on the common theme of changes of shape.
He retells myths that told how heroes and heroines changed their
shapes, like Actaeon who was
changed into a stag, or Alkyone who was changed into the halcyon bird.
The resulting epic is a tapestry of myth, told with wit and all the
tricks that an author versed in rhetoric could muster.
Then came his
exile. Augustus relegated him to Tomis, modern Costanza in Rumania, for
reasons unknown. He burned his Metamorphoses,
but fortunately copies were already in circulation and so it survived,
though unfinished. Exile did not break Ovid, though he never saw his
beloved Rome again. He wrote five books of Tristia (Poems of Sorrow)—the first book was complete before he reached Tomis. He continued these with his Letters from Pontus; “Pontus” was the name for the Black Sea. He wrote Ibis,
an attack on an imaginary figure which was probably written as a
psychological release, and a poem on the fish in the Black Sea. The
major work of his exile was the Fasti, a
versified Roman calendar of religious festivals. Ovid finished the first
six months of the year and may have hoped that his interest in Roman
religion would soften Augustus’ heart. If that was his intent, he must
have been disappointed in the result. Ovid died in exile.