NASO MAGISTER ERAT: Teaching "She-males" in Ars Amatoria 3

Teresa Ramsby

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

When Ovid uses the triumphal titulus "Naso magister erat" in the final verses of the second and third books of the Ars Amatoria, he brings to their ends two separate lessons on seduction, one for men (consisting of Books 1-2), and one supposedly for women (consisting of Book 3).  This paper argues that the triumphal titulus at the end of Book 3 is a punch-line that may have embarrassed the Roman reader: the author knows that the reader is still a he, that he has now read an entire poem "meant" for women, and that in doing so he has actually participated in literary transvestitism—taking on a female persona in order to peruse the various types of advice that Ovid has for a "female" audience, or more accurately for his she-male audience.

Alison Sharrock (1994) has demonstrated the ways in which the Ars plays with seduction not only by way of its didactic narrative on seduction, but on a meta-literary level as well, seducing the reader to make connections between the Ars and other didactic works, thereby granting it an ironic, seductive authority.  In addition, Roy Gibson (1998 & 2003) and John F. Miller (1993) have pointed out that there are aspects of Books 2 and 3 that make the "intended" female audience of Book 3 rather suspect.  Ovid's clever manipulation of the audience's expectations becomes clear in the correspondence between the two triumphal endings.  It is understandable that a man would be expected to imagine himself, as Ovid encourages at the end of Ars 2, in triumphal garb, riding his chariot through the streets of Rome, and dedicating at Jupiter's temple his spolia that bear the following inscription, "Naso was my teacher."  But it is quite absurd for a woman to do the same, since nowhere in Roman history had a woman ever been granted the right of triumphal procession.  Indeed dedications of any sort were difficult for women to achieve, given their low status in society.  Yet, Ovid has his "female" pupils dedicating spolia just like the men.  Ovid even uses the words, "as I once instructed the men" (3.811).  His own emphasis on the correspondence between the endings of the two lessons points us to the clever joke that Ovid has played on his curious, 'cross-dressed,' and vicariously titillated male audience.


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