letter poem, epistle: A kind of letter in poetry. The verse epistle, as it was once called, is a poem specifically addressed to a friend, a lover, or a patron. In his Epistles (20–14 B.C.E.), Horace established the type of epistle poem that reflects on moral and philosophical subjects. In his Heroides (ca. 25–16 BCE), Ovid established the type of epistle poem that reflects on romantic subjects. They are fictional letters from the legendary women of antiquity (Helen, Medea, Dido) to their lovers. Horace’s letters on the art of poetry, known since Quintilian as the Ars Poetica(ca. 18–19 BCE), are also verse epistles, and so are Ovid’s poignant poems of exile, Tristia (9–12 C.E.).
Ovid’s Heroides particularly influenced the troubadours and their poems of courtly love, which are shaped as love songs from a distance. The Horatian epistle had a lasting influence throughout the Renaissance and the eighteenth century. There are Petrarch’s Epistulae metricae (1331–1361) in Latin,