The Art of Seduction
By Chris Wurster

Modernizing a passage can be used to examine the circumstances surrounding the original author’s world, as well as to provide insights into the world of today. The accompanying passage from The Art of Love by Ovid consists of Ovid’s advice to men on how they should appear to attract women. By updating this passage, several interesting comparisons can be made between the respective societies.

This passage from Ovid’s Art of Love is an appropriate one to earmark for modernization. First of all, it concerns physical appearance and thus typifies the superficiality of much of Ovid’s entire work. In a book whose title obviously suggests a discussion of love, readers may be surprised to find that Ovid spends a long time writing about the art – or more appropriately, technique – of seduction. The Art of Love at times reads like an instruction manual on obtaining the object of one’s desire. At the beginning of his work, Ovid confirms this by writing, “When you see what you like your problem will be how to win her” (I, 1. 91). Furthermore, “Women can always be caught; that’s the first rule of the game” (I, l. 68). Later, after comparing seduction to hunting, Ovid elaborates on “where to go hunting” (I, l. 63) and delves into endless detail concerning the many strategies of winning over a female mate. For example, he lists the abundance of places to meet women, chief among them the theater, “a very good place for your hunting,/ More opportunity here, maybe, than anywhere else” (I, l. 89-90). Besides encouraging the use of love letters, Ovid goes so far as to condone fake tears because “they move the most adamant natures…get your hands wet, and apply” (I, l. 659-662). Clearly, Ovid’s game is not really about an emotional bond of love, but a superficial, physical connection. Because of this, the chosen passage is a perfect excerpt to be modernized because it is blatantly superficial and concerned with the contributions appearance can make to securing a mate.

Besides being exemplary of Ovid’s rampant superficiality, this passage also elucidates Ovid’s view of gender, which appears in other instances in the book. It is clear that Ovid associates certain characteristics with men. Anything different from these qualities is considered feminine in Ovid’s opinion. Further, Ovid apparently does not look highly on men who exhibit such feminine qualities, as he discourages “overdoing it,” as “a man isn’t a fairy or a tart” (I, l. 522). He sees a clear line between male and female, describing too much concern for appearance in feminine terms. “Don’t be crimping your locks,” he writes, “with the use of the curling iron,/ Don’t scrape the hair off your legs, using the coarse pumice stone;/ Leave such matters as those to members of Cybele’s chorus” (I, 1. 505-7). Too much attention to one’s looks on a man’s part is obviously a negative thing that becomes a hindrance to attracting females. Besides this, Ovid only addresses his work to heterosexual men and women. Clearly, strict limitations have been places on gender in The Art of Love, limitations that could be lifted for an updated version of Ovid’s passage on appearance.

This passage, therefore, is a perfect candidate for modernization for several reasons. It is most definitely a superficial passage, concerned only with physical appearance, a fact that typifies much of Ovid’s work. From this, we can conclude that Ovid viewed his world in a superficial, material light, a point that suggests that his universe may have been overly concerned with qualities that only went skin-deep. At least to some degree, Ovid’s world was based on appearance, as evidence by this passage and the work as a whole. This is an interesting point to consider from a modern perspective. No doubt, the world of today is a superficial, materialistic one. One needs only to look at the entertainment industry, for example, to see the power beautiful faces have. Like Madonna’s hit “Material Girl,” modern society seems to be based in large part on looks and possessions – whoever looks the best and has the most toys wins. While most people say that it is someone’s personality that counts in a relationship, it is inevitable, for better or for worse, that appearance is the first aspect of a person that is noticed. While this is true today, it clearly also applies to Ovid’s time. This is precisely why Ovid gave such a detailed account of how men should look when trying to attract women; they must look good if they want to get a woman’s attention. Thus, a modernization of this short passage from Ovid is appropriate and should yield many telling comparisons between the degree and nature of superficiality in today’s world and Ovid’s time.

In addition, sexuality is a different issue today. While Ovid addressed his book primarily to men seducing woman and, to a lesser extent, women attracting men, other possibilities should be considered. Men can be attractive to both women and men at the same time and may be aiming towards one, the other, or both sexes. The clear line that Ovid drew between male and female no longer exists so rigidly today, as men and women now mix in terms of their jobs, roles in the house, and their appearance. What was once considered “feminine” clothing may now be found on a man, and suits worn by women are now more commonplace than unusual. Thus, while Ovid did not consider homosexuality in his Art of Love, a modern interpretation should.

I modernized this passage from Ovid following two major strategies. First, in terms of structure or format, I chose to do away with verse. This would be a ridiculous medium for today’s society, especially in the target audience of the passage is superficial readers. Modern society is fast-paced and people want things simple. They do not want to make a huge effort to learn things. Therefore, a list format would work much better today. This is shown by a look through any issue of Cosmopolitan, Details, or Seventeen magazines. Lists of every possible subject fill the pages of these appearance-based magazines. Large fonts, color, and photographs are meant to catch the reader’s attention and draw them into the article. If a passage of poetry were stuck blandly into one of the aforementioned magazines, few people would read it. Poetry is simply not a medium that is used often or effectively in pop culture. On the other hand, an eye-catching list with lots of photos would probably attract many readers. A change in format is clearly necessary if Ovid were to reach the same mass audience that he once did. A list is at once noticeable and transmits information quickly and clearly. Thus, a transformation of an Ovidean passage into a magazine feature is perfect for the superficial magazine-buying customers.

Besides these vital changes in format, Ovid’s Art of Love would have to be rewritten in modern language as I have done. However, it is not so much what Ovid says as exactly how he says it that is outdated. On the contrary, it is surprising to note that a large portion of what Ovid writes can be included with minor adaptations in a modern list. To that end, most of the points that Ovid makes in this passage show up in one way or another in the modern magazine version. Specifically, both versions encourage men to be tan, have clean teeth and nails, and smell nicely. Where Ovid warns that bodies should be “free from rank odors,” (I, l. 521), the modern version suggests the use of CKone as “definitely preferable.” In this case, Ovid has the right idea. For modern readers, however, a different wording would be entirely appropriate and utterly necessary. In addition, the inclusion of a pop culture allusion (in this case, to Calvin Klein cologne), identifies the target audience of the piece and echoes the allusions in Ovid’s passage.

In addition, some of Ovid’s ideas need simply to be adapted slightly content-wise to fit into a modern magazine. Ovid tells readers, “Let your toga fit well” (I, l. 514). Fit is certainly something that is of concern today, as fashion in the twentieth century has a prominent role and is especially evident in the 90s. What is considered “good fitting” changes over time. Thus, what Ovid meant by well fitting is surely different from a good fit my modern standards. In the fashion world today, form-fitting clothes are very popular. A modernization of Ovid, therefore, would not only replace the mention of a “toga” itself, but would incorporate the modern notion of “fit.” Thus for the “turtleneck sweater – tight is preferable.” The aforementioned sweater seems to be extremely popular and is inserted in lieu of the toga. In addition, the type of fit that is desired is specified in the modern translation. Once again, it is mostly how Ovid writes and not so much what he writes that needs to be changed.

Besides these changes, I have made one other significant change. I shifted the target audience from heterosexual to homosexual men. This was done for a few reasons. First, simply because Ovid did not consider gay men in his work, a modern interpretation which does so id both interesting and valid. Secondly, one of the stereotypes of gay culture is that it is very superficial and concerned with appearance. Another generalization claims that gay men are the best dressers. Especially in New York, much of being gay, or being anyone modern or cosmopolitan, is about being beautiful. Thus, a modern interpretation of this Ovid passage would be perfect from a homosexual perspective. The language and format must be changed, as already discussed, but the message remains similar. In the superficial game of seduction that goes on in many a bar and nightclub in this city, the ten steps provided are a good guide to the basic principles of attraction.

Clearly, both modern society and the society that existed in Ovid’s time are superficial to an extent. The message of the updated Ovid passage is largely the same as the original. The presentation is where most of the changes occurred. Rules of seduction now have to appear superficial themselves to be taken in by a mass audience of modern individuals. Where people may have bothered reading The Art of Love hundreds of years ago, the fast-paced nature of today’s society makes a magazine feature much more effective at attracting and reaching in terms of its catchy and succinct layout and bold language. This definitely shows that society has become even more superficial and materialistic over the years. Not only is it receptive to superficial advice, but it also receives such advice in a superficial manner. This is partly the media’s fault, but the media is only a reflection of a larger problem that seems to have existed for hundreds of years and show no sign of disappearing.