Archaeology Odyssey 2:5, November/December 1999

A Great Empire’s Beating Heart

The Roman Forum was not just the center of a town, it was the center of a culture

By Larry F. Ball

Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is a “how to” manual, in verse, for amorous young men. The poet spends some 200 lines (1.67–262) naming the best places in Rome to contrive supposedly chance encounters with women. Most of the sites are recognizable, and many are in or near the Roman Forum, but Ovid rarely names the Forum itself. For a citizen of ancient Rome, however, the Forum was the core of the city for all human activity. It was the single most obvious place to go looking for people, whether or not one had loftier business in mind than Ovid. It was as unnecessary for Ovid to mention the Forum as it is for us to specify that we are going to a theater to watch a movie—by naming the activity one implies the location. So, even though the Forum is commonly the venue for Ovid’s assignations, he uses the word itself only when he needs it to fill out a line of verse.

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