If you’ve had a rough time dating recently and are nursing a broken heart, look no further.
Around 2 CE, the ancient Roman poet Ovid wrote Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), instructing men and women on how to find and keep a romantic partner. But not long afterward Ovid also wrote Remedia Amoris (The Cure for Love), a Latin poetry manual for how to navigate a breakup. If you feel betrayed by love, as Ovid writes in Remedia Amoris, he can help: “Learn how to be cured, from him who taught you how to love: the one hand brings the wound and the relief.”
STAY BUSY—DON’T BE IDLE
Ovid’s first piece of advice to handle a breakup is to stay busy. So how should you keep yourself occupied? Ovid suggests that you hang out at court (you can defend any friends who might be on trial), engage in war, or study agriculture in the countryside. As he writes in Remedia Amoris:
“Give your vacant mind work to occupy it. There are the courts, the laws, the friends you might defend: make your way through the splendid camp of city togas. Or admire the youthful service of blood-drenched Mars … Country matters too delight the spirit, and the study of agriculture.”
TIRE YOURSELF OUT BY HUNTING AND TRAVELING
If you’ve already spent time at court, fought, and studied farming, you should also learn to hunt. Hunting hares, deer, and boars will tire you out, so you’ll sleep better at night without thinking of your ex. Travel, too, can help, since the change of scenery will give you solace and heal your heartbreak.
“Or you can cultivate the art of hunting … Sleep at night, not desire for girls, welcomes the weary man, and the limbs will be restored by calm rest … You only need to journey far, though strong chains hold you back, and start to travel distant ways: you’ll cry, and your lost girl’s name will oppose it, and your feet will often stop you on the road: but the less you wish to go, the more you should go … the long road, give you a hundred solaces for your cares.”
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
When you’re nursing a breakup, you may want to stay inside, cry, and not talk to anyone. It’s more important than ever, though, to surround yourself with other people. According to Ovid, if you spend time alone you’ll be sad as you reminisce about your ex—and nights will be the hardest to get through:
“You who love, beware lonely places, lonely places are harmful! Why flee? You can be safer in a crowd. You don’t need secrecy (secrecy nurtures passion): in future it’s the crowd that will assist you. If you’re alone, you’ll be sad, and the form of the girl you’ve left will be there before your eyes, so like herself. Because of that, night’s sadder than the daylight: your crowd of friends missing, who might ease the gloom. Don’t shun conversation, or let your door be closed, don’t hide your tearful face in the shadows.”
AVOID EATING ONIONS
Because onions are an aphrodisiac, according to Ovid, don’t eat them! All types of onions will do you harm, whether they’re from Italy, North Africa, or Greece. You should also avoid another aphrodisiac, arugula (a.k.a. “that lustful garden rocket”). From Remedia Amoris:
“Behold, there’s still your diet, to complete all the doctor’s duties, I’ll give you what to swallow and avoid. Italian onions, or the ones they send you, from the shores of Libya, or the ones that come from Megara, every one will do you harm. It’s no less fitting to avoid that lustful garden rocket, and whatever readies these bodies of ours for making love.”
THINK ABOUT ALL THE BAD QUALITIES OF YOUR EX
If you’re feeling down about not having your ex in your life anymore, don’t get stuck idealizing your former partner. Instead, think of all the things you didn’t like about him or her. Perhaps she was greedy, she liked other people, or she rejected your love. Even if your ex’s legs were beautiful, think about them as if they were ugly. If that doesn’t work, sneak over to her house to see her when she’s not wearing any makeup or jewelry (maybe don’t actually do this one). As Ovid explains:
“Tell yourself often what your wicked girl has done, and before your eyes place every hurt you’ve had … Let all this embitter your every feeling: recall it, look here for the seeds of your dislike … It helped to continually dwell on my friend’s faults, and it often was the thing that made me better. ‘How ugly,’ I’d say ‘my girl’s legs are!’ and yet they weren’t, if the truth be told … And appear suddenly, when she’s applied no make-up to herself, having hastened your steps to your lady in the dawn. We’re carried away by adornment: in gold and gems all’s hidden: the least part of it’s the girl herself.”
AVOID CONTACT WITH YOUR EX
According to Ovid, recent heartbreak is like a fragile wound. Even if your scar has scabbed over, spending time with your ex will rip the scab right off and open the wound. To avoid running into your ex, don’t go for walks near where she lives, don’t stay friends with her family, and definitely don’t talk to her maid to fish for information about how she’s doing.
“If you love, but don’t wish to, avoid making contact … Another man was already cured: being near harmed him: he couldn’t bear any meeting with his mistress. The wound, poorly healed, reopened at the old scar … Don’t take your walks in the colonnade where she’s accustomed to: and don’t adorn the same functions … Say goodbye to mother, sister, and the nurse who’s in the know, and whoever plays any part in your girl’s life. Don’t let her slave come by, or her maid, with lying tears, humbly saying: ‘Greetings!’ in their mistress’s name. And if you want to know what she’s doing, still, don’t ask: endure! It will profit you to hold your tongue.”
DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH WITCHCRAFT AND SPELLS
Ovid doesn’t put much stock in herbs, magic arts, wicked spells, and charms. He strongly advises against using witchcraft to make your ex fall back in love with you. From Remedia Amoris:
“Harmful herbs, and magic arts … With me in charge no spirits will be ordered from their graves, no witch, with wicked spells, will split the ground … No pains will be charmed away to ease the heart, conquering love won’t be put to flight by burning sulphur … So whoever you are who call for help from my art, put no faith in witchcraft and incantations.”
LET YOUR EX KEEP THE GIFTS YOU GAVE HER
Although you should think about your ex’s negative qualities and avoid seeing her, don’t let yourself hate her. After all, as Ovid points out, you shouldn’t hate someone that you once loved. Instead, be indifferent towards her, and let her keep any gifts you gave her during your relationship.
“But it’s wrong to hate the girl you loved, in any way: that conclusion suits uncivilized natures. It’s enough not to care: who ends his love by hating, is either still in love, or finds it hard to leave off being sorry. Shame for a man and woman, once joined, now to be enemies … Tell her to keep the gifts you gave her, without any ruling: small losses are usually a major gain.”
IF YOU SEE YOUR EX, PRETEND THAT YOU’RE HAPPY
It’s bound to happen sooner or later—the inevitable run-in with your ex. Even if you’re deeply grieving and heartbroken, put on a happy face so your ex thinks that you’re doing fine. And definitely don’t cry in front of her. If you act as if you’re not hurting, eventually you’ll feel better for real.
“Make it seem to your girl that you’re chillier than ice: and if you’re grieving deeply, look happy, lest she see it, and laugh, when tears come to you … Pretend to what is not, and that the passion’s over, so you’ll become, in truth, what you are studying to be … he who can imagine he’s well, will be well … The new day will dawn: lose your words of grievance, and show no signs of suffering in your face.”
THROW OUT ALL REMINDERS OF HIM OR HER
If you reminisce about the good times you had with your ex, your heart will hurt even more because your passion will be reignited. Even though you won’t want to, Ovid suggests that you burn all the love letters from your ex. You also should avoid visiting places that will evoke strong memories of the times you spent together.
“Don’t re-read the letters you’ve kept from your sweet girl: re-reading letters shakes the steadfast heart. Put them all in the fierce flames (you’ll hate to do it), and say: ‘Let this be the funeral pyre for my passion.’… And often places hurt you: flee the places where you slept guiltily together: they’re a cause of grief … Remembering reopens love, the wound’s newly re-opened: trifling errors damage the weak-minded.”
DON’T GO TO THE THEATRE OR READ POETRY
Ovid reluctantly—he is a poet, after all—urges heartbroken people to temporarily avoid the arts. Theatre and poetry will soften your heart and remind you of your lost love. In short, the arts will do nothing for your recovery. As he writes in Remedia Amoris:
“But there’s value in not indulging in the theatre, till love’s truly vanished from your empty heart, The zithers, and lutes and lyres unman you, and the sound and waving limbs of the troupe. There lovers’ parts are danced, continually: the actor, with art shows, what delights: and what you must avoid. I speak unwillingly now: don’t touch the tender poets! Disloyally I banish even my own gifts.”