Adrianna E. Frick
San Francisco State University
For Augustan Rome and the Libertines of the British Restoration, sexuality and politics were intricately connected. Ovid's "Amores 3.7", written at the turn of the Common Era, and the Earl of Rochester's seventeenth-century "Imperfect Enjoyment" are bawdy poems of impotence that were extremely popular in their own societies but were censored by other generations. Each poem deeply analyzes the sexual relationship on both a physical and psychological level, revealing sophisticated views of underlying power structures and negotiations. Each text was uncensored and popular among the upper classes and each writer enjoyed a relatively high social position. Ovid's text was equally popular in Rochester's age, although censored before and after. What is it about these works that resonated with readers in particular times but threatened others? Why are seemingly dirty little ditties so controversial? In fact, these poems are not merely risqué rhymes to amuse schoolboys and annoy headmasters they are sensitive narratives of vulnerability and reformations of conceptions of power. The popular theme of sexual impotence is a reflection of political impotence; the genre is a representation of emotional frustration and powerlessness and an attempt to re-evaluate obsolete conceptions of power destabilized by severe political turmoil.
The genre of impotence poetry has enjoyed particular moments of resurgence, usually in epochs noted for extreme political unrest and civil turmoil. For example, Petronius now generally accepted to be Gaius Petronius, a director of entertainment for Nero wrote a fairly well known impotence scene in his Satyricon, written sometime before the fickle emperor ordered him to commit suicide in 66 CE. A study by Richard Quaintance, while crediting Ovid and Petronius as classical sources, examined the connections between the British Restoration surge in the genre, which he referred to as "Imperfect Enjoyment" poems, and earlier French writers in the genre. Being more concerned with thematic contrasts of love versus reason, Quaintance limited himself to ten poems of particular interest; but even this limited range of French and British poets spanned over one hundred years.
While the 1670s are the most commonly cited era in the genre due to John Wilmot, George Etheredge, William Wycherly and female writer Aphra Behn's contributions, Remy Belleau's "Jean qui ne peult" was dated 1577, shortly before his death. Belleau, like the Restoration poets, Ovid, and Petronius, was no stranger to split loyalties and traumatic political circumstance. Only five years before Belleau wrote the poem, loosely translated as "John Who Can't", his country saw the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, where thousands of Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots) were slain (Kuin et al. 2). Roger Kuin and Anne Lake Prescott touch on the fall of chivalry and political turmoil, and note:
Belleau was to see many more such tragedies, for his life coincided with the earlier wars of religion that pitted Huguenot against Catholic and royalist Catholic against the more radical followers of the Guise family. Belleau had a post as secretary to the king's chamber under Henri III (who reigned 1574-1588), but he had also served the Guise as a tutor and after 1563 had lived for a while in their chateau. (Kuin et al. 2)
The genre itself is surrounded by civil war and political upheaval. This paper will closely examine the seminal text, Ovid's "Amores 3.7," and the most prominent, Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment," with an eye to how power and control are represented both sexually and as a reflection of the instability and uncertainty of the political times.
Ovid's "Amores 3.7" and the Earl of Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" are narratives of conquest and vulnerability, power and failure, bawdy sex and sophisticated gender relations, inspired by historical circumstance namely, stability after drastic political turmoil. Ovid and John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, each lived through several completely different governmental systems, ranging from democratic to tyrannical, by their adolescence. Each was born into a world of significant political uprisings: the assassination of Julius Caesar and beheading of Charles I respectively. Each writer developed into adulthood while their respective countries floundered through triumvirates, protectorates, civil war and surreptitious coups. Order was eventually restored by the beginning of Augustus' empire and Charles II's restoration of the monarchy, respectively governments that would ultimately prove extremely productive, fruitful and stable. These strikingly peaceful times, in drastic contrast to the earlier political chaos, occurred during each poet's adolescence and the sexual awakenings of puberty. As such, the symbolic connection between politics and sexuality are most explicit in these works.
Ovid was born a year after the assassination of Julius Caesar and a year before the execution of Cicero. The assassination of Caesar plunged the already-shredded Republic into a series of civil wars between several different factions and resulted in the deaths of numerous war heroes, consuls and senators. When Octavian, later Augustus Caesar, defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BCE and took control of Roman government, Ovid was a twelve-year-old, wealthy, provincial boy newly arrived in Rome to begin his education and grooming for the Senate (Mack 13; Green 16-8). Over the next decade this Senate and other symbols of the Golden Age of the Republic would become a veneer of power while the Caesar, Augustus, began to take complete control.
John Wilmot was the second Earl of Rochester, inheriting a title created for his father, Henry Wilmot, earned through military service for the Royalists. John was born less than two years before Cromwell marched Britain's monarch, Charles I, through Westminster to be beheaded (Johnson 12). After two civil wars, the death of Charles I was to bring an era of peace to Britain, but instead created a confused chain of governments from Commonwealth to virtual tyranny under Cromwell. The historical idea of the Divine Right of Kings died with Charles I, and suddenly all of the old political and spiritual beliefs were insufficient, insubstantial and overturned. John's father, the first Earl, died on the continent still working on behalf of Charles II in 1658, two years before Charles II would be restored to the throne (Johnson 13-4). Like Ovid, Rochester's England was restored from near-anarchy and bloodshed when he was a twelve-year-old boy and freshly arrived in Oxford to begin his education as a nobleman (Johnson 29).
The poems are highly reflective of the instability and eventual calm of their time periods, and the lighthearted, digestible expressions of deep insecurity and uncertainty resonated with the masses. Bawdy works can often find an audience in the lower classes, but Ovid and Wilmot and their contemporaries were far from groundlings. These men were of higher classes and enjoyed positions of high rank. However, for each of them, the offices they were training for (as senator and aristocracy) were dying out and becoming mere shells of what they had been. In fact, each poet only earned a higher rank and amount of wealth when their respective older brothers suddenly died at a young age (Green 25; Johnson 15). Each poet, like others in the genre, was in a world where the old power structures no longer applied, and their social position was far from guaranteed or secure. How did these well-educated men become so popular writing what could be misconstrued as mere dirty doggerel? What need did these works fill that the public embraced the texts so openly?
While later eras would question their value, ignore them, or attempt to excise them from collected works, the Augustan and Restoration eras unabashedly published and circulated impotence poetry. The genre was a needed reflection of the residual inner turmoil of the people, a serious and intimate portrayal of the confusion and helplessness caused by bloody civil wars, enveloped by humorous phrasing. The eventual time of peace and stability allowed for this kind of contemplation, and the strength of the administration allowed for both the expression and the circulation of these feelings of impotence and doubts in the constructs of power. A degree of stability and security are vital to the circulation and acceptance of the work it is worth noting that while Belleau wrote his impotence poem during the tumultuous Wars of Religion, it was not published and circulated for another forty years (Kuin et al. 15). The enormous bloodshed and fear marking the prior decades, in contrast with the vast success and peace of the respective "presents," set the stage for the oppositions which each poet would explore and the public would begin to reconsider pleasure/frustration, power/weakness, control/helplessness, man/woman, war/love.
This is not to say that Ovid and Rochester were each inspired solely by political circumstances and independently of each other. Neither the Earl nor the other British and French writers in the genre wrote their work in a time-stream vacuum. An even greater complication is that Rochester's work is not merely a far-distant cousin of Ovid's work, but a purposeful homage to "Amores 3.7," a fact many scholars have overlooked. Many analyses credit Wilmot for "inventing" characteristics found in the original Ovid, rather than rediscovering and renewing interest in them.
The key evidence of the homage is in Rochester's use of the allusion to Corinna, the female "wronged" in both poems. While Early Modern poets alluded to two different classical Corinnas, Ovid's was the more commonly known of the two. This is evidenced by a letter John Dryden, contemporary of John Wilmot, wrote to the poet Elizabeth Thomas in which he named her "Corinna" specifically after the second classical Corinna, a female poet. Dryden, responding to her inquiry regarding her poetry, wrote "I mean not the Lady with whom Ovid was in Love, but the famous Theban Poetess, who overcame Pindar five Times, as Historians tell us" (McWhir 106). Despite the fact he was writing in response to a request for a review of a female poet's work and a female poet is the most obvious reference, he felt obligated to specify which Corinna he meant. As a woman Thomas did not have a formal classical education, and so may not have been familiar with the poet, but the placement of the Ovidian denial first implies that Dryden expects Ovid's Corinna to be Thomas's immediate assumption. This illustrates that among the less formally educated, despite an obvious "female poet" logical connection, Ovid's Corinna is the first to come to mind and more commonly associated with the name. If the less formally educated are assumed to reach that conclusion, the association would be pervasive in the more educated poet class of the Earl of Rochester's contemporaries. Dryden's own presumptuous correction, as a contemporary of Rochester, reveals the strength and immediacy of recognizing "Corinna" as an allusion to Ovid in the time period.
Rochester was also extremely aware of Ovid's work. The Amores and Ars Amatoria in particular exhibited many of the principles of "rakish" courtly love that appealed to the Libertines. While the Marlowe translation of the Amores was still fairly popular, Wilmot's breeding would require literacy in Latin, a language often taught using Ovid's Metamorphoses as a text (James 343). Additionally, Dryden and his associates edited and translated several of the Amores, in a book entitled "Miscellany Poems (or Dryden's Miscellany), published as a series by Jacob Tonson from 1684", and the Earl of Rochester himself translated at least one of the elegies, possibly even 3.7 (Mahoney 2). Many of the Restoration poets in that time would have spent time not only translating, but also discussing the work in company. The Earl, given his translation experience, would have associated the name "Corinna" at least in part with the beloved of the Amores, and his use in his own poem would be a conscious reference.
However, that the bloody Cromwell years did not single-handedly beget Wilmot's work does not negate the influence and importance of the political circumstances. Rochester was able to read the Amores, was particularly inspired by "Amores 3.7," was moved to write an homage and able to do so without losing social standing, and the result, "The Imperfect Enjoyment," was widely circulated. All of these are factors of the political time period in which the work was created.
The audiences of both Ovid and Rochester wanted trivial humor to distract them from the remembered horror of continual bloodshed and rudderless nations. Haunted by the memories of ever-changing governments and new leaders and laws every two or three years, the people craved titillation and scandal to breathe harmless excitement and self-centered pleasure into their newly calm, stabilizing lives. Whether they wanted it or not, the respective societies also needed a way to examine and explain the major upheaval of established beliefs and political dogma of the prior dozen or so years. The "Imperfect Enjoyment" genre encapsulated this deep consideration and restructuring of power relations into a superficially harmless, bawdy, frivolous, scandalous verse. The poets wrote to understand their place in their world, and the equally confused audiences embraced and circulated their work.
The structure of the two works already places death and love in opposition. Ovid's poem is in elegiac couplets, a classical form originating with mourning and dirges that became more commonly used for love poetry and is closely related to the Epic meter associated with war poetry. Ovid consciously formed the connection between elegiac couplets, made up of one line of dactylic hexameter and one of dactylic pentameter, and epic, entirely dactylic hexameter, in the beginning of his book Amores. In "Amores 1.1" Ovid jokes that he intended to write a work of epic, comparable to Vergil's Aeneid, even beginning his work with nearly the same line, but claims that Cupid came along and stole every other foot, referring to the difference between epic and elegy. Ovid's work is grounded in deep understanding of forms and skillfully manipulating their associations in ironic ways. Thus, the poem has intertwined death and warfare with sex and love in its meter alone. In his ironic invocation of "Arma", his desire to 'sing of arms and battles', Ovid's work as a whole is dedicated to warfare of sorts. His commander, however, is Cupid, his conquest is Corinna (usually), his opponents are Corinna's other lovers, and his spear is... fallible.
Rochester continues this depiction of sexual characteristics and exploits in military terms, such as "this dart of love, oft tried, with virgin blood," referring to sexual conquests as invasions, and referring to "thy brutal valour", which recalls the thematic elements of Amores as a whole (lines 37-43, 59). Rochester's statement, "But when great Love the onset does command, Base recreant to thy prince, thou dar'st not stand" recalls Ovid's repeated references to serving in Cupid's army (Rochester lines 60-1). War is connected with masculine power at its peak, celebrated in epic because of man's control and command of his environment, his nation's domination over enemies, and clear-cut strategies and battles. However, war is also connected with the ultimate vulnerability of death, the doubts of ambush and failure, and the subjugation of man by at worst his enemy but at best his commander in battle. By using battle, armory and soldier imagery, both Ovid and Rochester begin to suggest the fallibility in the nature of power, both in war and in sex, and the fallacies in the presumptions of authority.
In addition to the controlled/uncontrolled concepts of war, the poets compare sex to the natural world. The Earl of Rochester's lines recall a natural image of omnipotent male gods like Jehovah and Jove, fathers of storms and throwers of lightning:
Her nimble tongue, Love's lesser lightening, played
But Rochester's deity-like uber-male ambitions will prove beyond his capacity. Power, potency and potential all come from possum, potui, posse; John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester overestimates them all.
Within my mouth, and to my thoughts conveyed
Swift orders that I should prepare to throw
The all-dissolving thunderbolt below. (7-10)
Ovid's lover is also compared to a natural, and intimidating, wilderness:
Illa quidem nostro subiecit eburnea collo
Ovid connects Sithonian snow from the tall, harsh, mountains of distant Thrace with his lover. Similarly, the Restoration translation of Ovid's lines suggests natural images, inserting a great deal into Ovid's text quoted above: "Now lov'd to dart her humid tongue to mine,/ Now would her pliant limbs around me twine" (11-12). Dryden, et al's translation of Ovid is taking a bit of license in its humidity and pliant entwining, but the seventeenth century reading of Ovid also has natural imagery, as does Rochester's original work. Dryden's Ovidian lovers suggest intertwining vines of limbs and tongues in a humid environment, perhaps like the foreign and unknown tropics of the new colonized world. Ovid, whose warm and humid Roman climate resembled the tropics more than Dryden's Britain, chooses the image of distant, harsh snowy mountain caps, while Rochester envisions sex to be connected to uncontrollable lightning and storms. Each connects sex and the woman with a wild, frantic, ungovernable Nature.
Bracchia Sithonia candidiora nive,
Osculaque inseruit cupida luctantia lingua
Lascivum femori supposuitque femur (7-10)
[Indeed, under my neck she threw forearms of ivory,
whiter than Sithonian snow,
(Her) desiring, wrestling tongue thrusted kisses,
(her) wanton thigh flung over (my) thigh]
Rochester and Ovid also use less volatile natural imagery that is usually considered more controllable. Wilmot's narrator is "Shrunk up and sapless like a withered flower" (45). Ovid's speaker says despite all efforts, "Nostra tamen iacuere velut praemortua membra/ Turpiter hesterna languidiora rosa" [Nevertheless, my prematurely-dead member shamelessly lay more languid than yesterday's rose] (65-6). Roses are easily dominated by men, are planted, pruned and plucked on the gardener's schedule, but the poems use this harmless dominated object as an image of lost vitality, unexpected loss and uncontrollable death. Nature is often associated with the feminine, where female passions are described as stormy and their beauty is compared to flowers. In later passages the poems suggest the women have power over the natural world. These natural images of wild storms and frontiers and failed floral domestication, which are sometimes associated with femininity, coupled with the traditionally masculine images of war, power and control gone awry, begin to destabilize gender relations and general power structures. Commanders might not be in as much control as assumed, weapons might fail, strategies might be foiled, storms are unpredictable and overpowering and death has many forms. Even the aspects of nature supposedly conquered are untrustworthy.
Power structures concerning the role of women in the poems are equally problematic. Despite being a first-person chastising of the self, the poems begin and end focused not on the speaker, but on their respective Corinnas. Rochester's beginning lines, "Naked she lay, clasped in my longing arms,/ I filled with love, and she all over with charms," could be construed as an objectification of Corinna in their focus on her outer conditions in contrast with his inner condition; her nudity in his "longing" arms; her "all over with charms" versus his being "filled" with love (1-2). However, these conditions are carefully balanced and equal, the descriptions interplaying and implying a give and take between the two characters. The continuation, "Both equally inspir'd with eager fire,/ Melting through kindness, flameing in desire" completes the circle of give and take, in effect equalizing them and melting them into one. While it is easy to initially perceive this beginning as an objectification of Corinna, this interpretation oversimplifies the wordplay and obscures the dynamics of the relationship.
Similarly, Ovid superficially begins his work by demeaning and insulting Corinna: "At non formosa est, at non bene culta puella,/ At, puto, non votis saepe petita meis!" [Either she was not pretty, or was not a well-cultured girl, or, I think, was not frequently striving for my devotions] (1-2) Ovid begins with a strong, immediate, almost rushed list of excuses for his behavior, as yet unidentified, but all of them lay the blame on Corinna. But this rashness, the rush to excuse an unknown malady, suggests a purposeful humor, a conscious 'protesting too much'. In fact, immediately after this Ovid notes, "Hanc tamen in nullos tenui male languidus usus,/ Sed iacui pigro crimen onusque toro" [Nevertheless, languid, I badly held this one to no employments,/ But, a reproach and a burden, I laid with unwilling flesh] (3-4). Ovid's earlier excuses regarding Corinna's desirability immediately result in him referring to himself as a "crimen", a word with heavy criminal connotations such as indictment, cause for arraignment and crime as defined by the Oxford Latin Dictionary hardly something a man trying to transfer blame would call himself.
Both poets also give their women an active presence. Rochester's lines "With arms, legs, lips close clinging to embrace,/ she clips me to her breast, and sucks me to her face" recall Ovid's previously quoted lines of thrusting tongues, ivory arms and wanton thighs (Rochester 5-8). This is not merely a Petrarchan catalog of parts, itemizing an object of desire, but a passionate, interactive intertwining. Both poets give their women an active presence. In fact, each woman has a voice as well as a body. Rochester's Corinna smilingly chides his 'eagerness' and cries, "'is there no more? ... All this to love and raptures due, must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?'" (19-24). His lover is sweetly disappointed, but not harsh or demanding. Rochester's ensuing verbal self-flagellation is based in his own emotional and psychological expectations, not in response to her. This suggests a genuine consideration for her and a sincere desire to please her.
The earlier questioning of the female's value is resolved when each describes his partner's worthiness. Ovid emphasizes that Corinna is capable of revitalizing Homer's Nestor and mythological, ancient Tithon, but this failure makes Ovid question his own manhood, stating that she was holding him, but "vir non contigit illi", [a man did not hold her] (41-3). Ovid's narrator is lacking vitality (from vita, life) and virility (from vir, for man) in spite of her handiwork:
Huge okes, hard Adamantes might she have moved,
As Ovid's protestations become more reasoned and less defensive, Ovid's Corinna transitions from a demeaned puella, the derided 'girl' and cause for his failure, and becomes the domina of his other poems about Corinna, a queen of his affections capable of controlling and reforming the natural world and even altering gods and mythological heroes. Here it is desirable to be subservient to the domina's wishes, but the body overpowers the desire for servility. The extremes Corinna is capable of overcoming are comparable to Rochester's Corinna:
And with sweete words cause deafe rockes to have loved,
Worthy she was to move both Gods and men,
But neither was I man, nor lived then.
Ev'n her fair hand which might bid heat return
Throughout the work, the Earl's references to "wished obedience" to the "wronged Corinna" are evocative of Ovid's distinction of domina, that the woman is viewed as a ruler to be served (Rochester 26, 72).
To frozen age, and make cold hermits burn,
Applied to my dead cinder, warms no more. (31-4)
Both men attempt to understand their present situation by putting it in light of prior exploits, suggesting their present partners are replaceable or disposable. However, while each persona has multiple sexual partners, it is clear that Corinna is their preference. Ovid may have had Childe twice, and Pitho and Libas three times each, but previously he was 'sustained' nine times with Corinna and spent all night into the dawn (23-25). While modern readers might see the mention of multiple lovers as disrespectful, Ovid has made it clear that Corinna is hardly monogamous herself: several of her lovers appear throughout the Amores.
Rochester views his earlier exploits with shame in comparison to his current failure. His skillful penis was not just a weapon for sexual pleasure, but carelessly inspired love in others, regardless of gender: "Which nature still directed with such art/ That it through every cunt reached every heart -/... 'twould carelessly invade ...Woman or man" (39-42). His perspective towards sexual relations previously was solely for his pleasure, and he pierced the hearts of the disposable others. Wilmot's psychological analysis gains the most depth in his description of his frustration and surprise that a biological function can fail the one time there is an emotional connection. His penis, a "treacherous" deserter, is a cause of shame because it proves "true to lewdness, so untrue to love" (48-9). Recalling the previously mentioned martial imagery and exaggeration of the "dart of love" stained with the blood of ten thousand virgins suggest a masculine dominance and potency, but reoccurs poignantly in Rochester's closing chastising of his penis: "And may ten thousand abler pricks agree/ To do the wronged Corinna right for thee" (71-2). The exaggerated number is not, as some scholars have suggested, a misogynistic demand for violence against Corinna, but the same number of supposedly vanquished maidenheads, a bragging akin to a fish "this big". Rochester cannot satisfy Corinna, despite his vast experience, and suggests that she would be better served with an equally vast experience, in fact by nearly anyone but himself. He is begging to be cuckolded and the extremity of this statement reveals the depth of Rochester's frustration.
His anger, directed at his penis as a symbol of masculine potency and power, questions the value of male sexual promiscuity and suggests that, if the cost of base, lewd sex is that the idea of loving and emotionally deep sex causes impotence, he would rather be diseased and unable to have sex again. Wilmot makes the difference between loving sex and physical sex prominent:
[his 'valour'] does each small whore invade,
Rochester's feeling of betrayal is not merely in his subservient penis disobeying its master, but in its betrayal of Love. Wilmot explicitly states that his "servant" member has been at the ready in lesser circumstances and by maintaining these erections while refusing service for a noble cause; it has debased and shamed him:
But when great Love the onset does command,
Base recreant to thy prince, thou dar'st not stand. (59-61)
Through all the town a common fucking-post,
Rochester decides that his penis, and thus himself, should be punished and debased itself by means of the pain, anguish and ultimate death of venereal disease:
On whom each whore relieves her tingling cunt
As hogs do rub themselves on gates and grunt,
May'st thou to ravenous chancres be a prey, (63-66)
Or in consuming weepings waste away;
Rochester also considers the emotional factors following the initial encounter that continue his condition: "Eager desires confound my first intent,/ Succeeding shame does more success prevent,/ And rage at last confirms me impotent" (28-30).
May strangury and stone thy days attend;
May'st thou ne'er piss, who did refuse to spend
When all my joys did on false thee depend. (67-70)
While Ovid does not invest as much time in inventing punishments for his traitorous phallus, the emphasis is on shame: "Huc pudor accessit: facti pudor ipse nocebat;/ Ille fuit vitii causa secunda mei" [At this time shame came: the dishonor of the deed itself kept harming (me), That of my defect was the second cause] (37-8). Pudor, per the Oxford Latin Dictionary, can be defined as humiliation, dishonor, or "a regard for the decencies in sexual behaviour ... modesty; (spec.) chastity". The word is closely associated with both the idea of honor and propriety and sexual appropriateness. The Restoration version however, states, "Most disappointed when the most propense,/ And shame was second cause of impotence"(Dryden 46-7). By more clearly differentiating between the shame of the incomplete deed and the shame of being seen as defective, this version pulls in the disappointment of Rochester's lines "forlorn, lost man alive,/ To show my wished obedience vainly strive" (25-6). Both Rochester and Ovid begin to view their respective members as the source of their shame, an object of derision, and a traitor. When it appears to be ready for duty too late, Ovid, like Rochester, directly addresses and chastises his member and asks, "Quin istic pudibunda iaces, pars pessima nostri [Why do you not lie there ashamed, Oh worst part of me!] (69). The epitome of their masculinity and the source of their potency has undermined their authority and betrayed their trust and faith. Like Rochester's accusations towards the "base recreant to thy prince," Ovid makes the betrayal of assumed power structures clear: "Tu dominum fallis; per te deprensus inermis/ Tristia cum magno damna pudore tuli" [YOU cheated (your) master; surprised and unarmed on account of you, I bore sorrowful injury with great shame] (70-1).
Both poetic personas begin to disturb and confuse the superficial concept of control. The people of a nation which just overthrew its beloved republic founded in five hundred years of history, or defied its belief in the divine right of kings, violated their most fundamental beliefs in exchange for being passed from ruler to ruler through battles and murders. Such a populace cannot blindly follow the old theories of power and rule. If the most powerful rulers can be overthrown, if those with God or gods on their side are fallible, than what other assumptions can be relied upon? Suddenly desire, sexual conquest, even one's own body are suspect. Thus, these works have confused, complicated and conflicted the notions of power.
Both elevated and denigrated their women. Ovid's narrator devotedly serves his powerful and worthy domina while appearing disappointed by his puella's lack of servile effort to please him. Rochester's speaker appears to be objectifying his mistress while emphasizing a deep emotional tie that differentiates this encounter from other flings. They both believe themselves to be soldiers under Cupid's command, but also the rightful masters of their body faced with insubordinate limbs. Both feel shame at an inability to please their partners and emphasize each Corinna's importance, but still continue to boast of their shallow promiscuity, a supposed source of shame, like Homeric warriors vying for the highest body count. Through these narratives, complicated power relations play out with little conclusion, and who is whose master changes by the line. Given the tumultuous times preceding these works, when a country's government and direction changed as frequently as Ovid comes up with a new place to direct blame, it is not surprising that this sexual form of expressing a lack of leadership seemed so appropriate and appealing to so many. Ultimately, recognizing the connection between political power and sexuality became dangerous and the poets paid a price for their freedom and insight.
Augustus recognized the connection between sex and his personal ambition early in his career. The upper classes of Rome were spending more time in sexual dalliances than marrying and producing soldiers and taxable citizens. Augustus began legislating sex in order to increase the population and recreate the piety of the Republic, particularly in the upper class. The Lex Iulia laws of 18 BCE restricted the legacy rights of bachelors and small families in effect promoting large families and marriage and made adultery a crime punishable by exile, loss of half or a third of the person's property, and sometimes death (Green 71). The laws were extremely unpopular, and Augustus had difficulty passing them and enforcing them. Two years after the Lex Iulia laws were passed the first edition of the Amores was published (Green 71-2). A few years later, Ovid released an "edited" version, trimming his original five books down to three, and yet references to adultery and upper-class seduction continued. At around the same time as the edited extant version of the Amores, the Ars Amatoria, describing the art of love and courtship and Ovid's reputation as praeceptor amoris, the self-proclaimed teacher of sexual conquest, was pointedly satirizing Augustus' failure to legislate morals. Suddenly, having the upper-class readers begin to question the connection between sex and power and the flimsy support for "authority" was detrimental to Augustus' empire and legacy. Ovid was banished to Tomis, a Roman outpost on the Black Sea where few residents spoke Greek, let alone Latin. Ovid was banned due to a "carmen et error", a poem and indiscretion. While the indiscretion that caused his exile has never been determined, Ovid's Ars Amatoria is acknowledged as the poem and was banned from Rome's public libraries (Green 46).
Similarly, Rochester was briefly exiled from court after his poems went too far in linking sex and political power. Rochester's repertoire of 'dirty little poems' included "Satyr on Charles II", in which he disparaged Charles II's ability to rule. The poem called the king "A merry monarch, scandalous and poor" and suggested his "scepter and his prick are of a length;/ And she may sway the one who plays with the other" (Rochester 21, 11-2). As Samuel Pepys noted in his diary entries, the King tolerated Wilmot's antics, often as a detriment to his own reputation, on many occasions (Pepys 34, 42-3). But it was the suggestion that sexual attraction could be used as a weapon, that sex contained a power structure that could even control kings it was this work that finally went too far. By Rochester's epoch, no one had any illusions about the contractual nature of marriage and the accompanying political power the marital contract negotiated, but noting that power in gender roles and sexuality were not as simple, playful or inconsequential as the Libertines thought was a threat to the age.
Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment" and Ovid's "Amores 3.7" are far more than mere dirty rhymes. These works rattle the cages of traditional love poetry, challenge inherited technique, lampoon the failures of authority and question everything. All assumptions are undermined and reevaluated, from the role of women in courtship to the effects of psychology and emotional state on biology, complicating the image of masculinity as a powerful, deadly warrior and soldier with a frustrated, betrayed weakness. All of these complications and revisions, however, are roads to power they all lead to questioning who is really in control.
That Ovid used silly, irreverent, scandalous metaphors to disguise subversive political agendas was known to Rochester's era. In fact, political commentary drew heavily on the Metamorphoses and its view of unmitigated and corrupted power in the age of Charles I (James 349). Regrettably, the Amores has not received the same depth of study that Metamorphoses has. Even scholarship on military images in Wilmot's work has neglected to note the presence of the military images in the genre as a whole, initiated in Ovid. The power of Rochester's work to undermine notions of chivalric masculinity has been studied by both Quaintance and Leo Braudy, but attention to Ovid's comparable overthrow of Roman masculine war-lust has not been studied equally. This has led to conclusions regarding Rochester's 'innovation' as a sign of progress or response to a single historical event, rather than a recurring sign of response to cyclical political turmoil.
These writers Ovid, Rochester and others were in a position to question the constructs of power and control because of their political environment, and personalized the outer conflict in the form of the most inner turmoil possible the betrayal of a man by his own body. The assassinations of powerful rulers and the turmoil of civil war led to doubts about the nature of power; the ensuing peace led to the freedom to ask questions about earlier assumptions of control, masculinity, war and power, and write them down. The populace's need for answers to their own questions and doubts led to the popularity, circulation, and survival of the texts. Yet the institutions of later generations censor or ignore these and similar works because of concerns over sexual content. Why are the readers of other time periods indoctrinated to be so afraid of these explicitly sexual works? Perhaps because the poet's exiles proved how dangerous thinking about sex can be to the men in power.