Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid 9780674059047, 0674059042

Widely praised for his recent translations of Boethius and Ariosto, David R. Slavitt returns to Ovid, once again bringin

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Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid
 9780674059047, 0674059042

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Table of contents :
Contents
Translator’s Preface
Introduction - Michael Dirda
Love Poems (Amores)
Book I
Book II
Book III
Letters (Heroides)
I. Penelope to Ulysses
II. Phyllis to Demophoön
III. Briseis to Achilles
IV. Phaedra to Hyppolytus
V. Oenone to Paris
VI. Hipsipyle to Jason
VII. Dido to Aeneas
VIII. Hermione to Orestes
IX. Deianira to Hercules
X. Ariadne to Theseus
XI. Canace to Macareus
XII. Medea to Jason
XIII. Laodamia to Protesilaus
XIV. Hypermestra to Lynceus
XV. Sappho to Phaon
XVI. Paris to Helen
XVII. Helen to Paris
XVIII. Leander to Hero
XIX. Hero to Leander
XX. Acontius to Cydippe
XXI. Cydippe to Acontius
Remedies (Remedia Amoris)

Citation preview

Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of

OV ID

Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of

OV ID Translated by David R. Slavitt

h a rva r d u n i v e r sit y pr e s s Cambridge, Massachusetts • London, England 2011

Copyright © 2011 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Ovid, 43 b.c.–17 or 18 a.d. [Selections. English. 2011] Love poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid / translated by David R. Slavitt. p. cm. ISBN 978-0-674-05904-7 (alk. paper) 1. Ovid, 43 b.c.–17 or 18 a.d.—Translations into English. 2. Love poetry, Latin—Translations into English. 3. Epistolary poetry, Latin— Translations into English. I. Slavitt, David R., 1935– II. Ovid, 43 b.c.–17 or 18 a.d. Amores. English. III. Ovid, 43 b.c.–17 or 18 a.d. Heroides. English. IV. Ovid, 43 b.c.–17 or 18 a.d. Remedia amoris. English. V. Title. PA6522.A2 2011 871 .01—dc22 ' 2010045004

For Janet amo, amas, &c.

C ON T EN TS

Translator’s Preface • ix Introduction by Michael Dirda • xi Love Poems (Amores) 1 Letters (Heroides) 135 Remedies (Remedia Amoris) 317

T R A NSL ATOR ’ S PR EFACE

These poems of Ovid’s speak eloquently and engagingly for themselves. Still, it may be useful to point out that he and Sextus Propertius “invented” love—which can be a happy harmony of two compatible souls but can also be the ambivalent obsession and fascination with a woman the speaker knows to be an absolutely deplorable person. Tom Stoppard’s splendid play, The Invention of Love—about A. E. Houseman and also, not incidentally, Propertius—makes this clear. Everyone has always known about lust, and about friendship and companionability, of course. But the desperate and ruinous amour fou may have existed but still needed to be formulated and described, and these two are the poets who in Augustan Rome did that. It was in the air, of course, and they did not make it up out of whole cloth. Gallus and Tibullus were also fascinated by this condition approaching madness that they collectively described in a way that is perfectly recognizable two millennia later. The Amores are Ovid’s testimony about what it can be like for men. His Heroides, an innovative series of dramatic monologues from the female point of view, explore what the experience of women can be like, especially women who have been betrayed, abandoned, and badly used. The two books go together, in part because they were written more or less at the same time, but also because it is Ovid’s experience with women (in the Amores) that allows him to see what the world may look like to their eyes. The Remedia Amoris, a

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x • t r a nsl ator ’s pr e fac e

collection of strategies by which the reader may extricate himself from an unhappy or even agonizing connection, assumes that the experience can be like a sickness and has a mordant fun in recommending cures. Ovid gets shortchanged in educational institutions, I think, perversely because he is so enjoyable. Vergil is serious and, therefore, good for us. Good old boys in the Carolina hills wearing bib overalls are sometimes named Vergil or Horace, but rarely Ovid, who is—or can seem to be—frivolous and entertaining. To the puritan mind, these qualities are not impressive or admirable. But Ovid’s frivolity (a) is excellent, and excellence is always interesting; and (b) has social and cultural implications that can be, in our time particularly, troublesome. Feminism, for instance, appeals to enlightenment values, in its reasonable demands for social justice and gender equality. It would be hard for anyone to argue with such aims, except that enlightenment values deny a great part of human experience, much of which is irrational. Love, in particular, is never quite comfortable with reason. One neither approves nor disapproves of this disjunction. Ovid seems to have found it regrettable that the craziness of Venus and Cupid could be so threatening to social order and the lives of individuals. But there it is, and one way or another, we contrive to live with it. How do we manage? How do we bear it? These are difficult questions to which these poems provide insight if not answers.

IN T RODUC T ION Michael Dirda

In George Eliot’s great novel Middlemarch the dryasdust husband of Dorothea Brooke is an antiquarian scholar hard at work on a book called The Key to All Mythologies. He never fi nishes it, though the modern reader is left to suppose that it would have resembled one of those immense works of late nineteenth-century scholarship, perhaps a little like J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, but doubtless far less fanciful or fun. Ovid’s masterpiece, the Metamorphoses—the “Bible of poets,” as one early French translation retitled it—actually resembles such a “key,” being the source and inspiration for half the mythological stories that have attracted writers, painters, and composers over the past 2,000 years. Sensuous and dreamlike, its tales of mortals transformed into all manner of flora and fauna haunt our cultural history: Narcissus, Perseus, Medea, Orpheus, Andromeda, Pygmalion, Arachne, Europa, Prosperpina, Pasiphae, Philomela, Ariadne . . . Where would our museums and concert halls be without them, let alone the drawing rooms of ducal palaces and the bedrooms of courtesans? As a poet of “transformations,” Ovid’s distinctive mastery lies in his flowing style, which hurries one famous story into the next without pause. “Nihil est quod perstet in orbe”—“there is nothing in the world that does not change.” Though abundant with scenes of violence (often rape), this poetic repository of myth nonetheless maintains a quicksilver lightness, a teasing wit (which has been called

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Nabokovian), and an air of light comedy reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Yet Ovid is more than just the author of the Metamorphoses—or of his second-most-famous poem, the notorious Ars Amatoria, that is, “The Art of Love,” or perhaps more accurately “The Techniques of Seduction.” That verse treatise, in three sections, is at once a didactic work—a kind of urban alternative to Virgil’s Georgics, which supposedly instructs one in how to be a farmer—and a portrait of Roman society at the very turn from b.c. to a.d. It is fl ippant, sophisticated, and playful, as Ovid presents himself as a “praceptor amoris” or love guru. Because of its louche reputation, the Ars was long a mainstay of certain private presses, which issued “special editions,” invariably accompanied by teasingly naughty illustrations. Like the works of Rabelais or Casanova’s memoirs, this delicious book even now suffers from being regarded as the sort of volume best kept hidden away in a gentleman’s private locked case. The Ars Amatoria has consequently tended to overshadow Ovid’s other, equally wonderful poems dealing with love’s promise and pain: Amores (“Loves”), Heroides (“Heroines”), and Remedia Amoris (“Remedies for Love”). This volume brings the trio together, in an exuberant, touching, and immensely readable translation by David R. Slavit. Here, with an eighteenth-century suavity and neatness, Ovid presents three faces of eros: The ups and downs of a passionate affair, the anguish of heartache and betrayal, and the surefi re methods for recovering from a breakup when love goes wrong.

Publius Ovidius Naso (43 b.c.–a.d. 17) was born in the provincial town of Sulmo (now Sulmona, Italy). Julius Caesar had been assassinated the year before the poet’s birth, with resulting civic turmoil, but by the time Ovid came to man’s estate, Augustus was fi rmly in power as

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dictator and would remain so until his death in a.d. 14. During Ovid’s lifetime, Rome was transformed into a dazzling and cosmopolitan city, albeit one frequently racked by scandal and political intrigue. More and more, its citizens began to abandon the stern ideals of selfless Horatius and patriotic Cincinnatus, even as upper-class wives were no longer content to sit at home, spinning wool and having babies. As Gilbert Highet observed of the women: “Once they had been faithful to their husbands. Now they were disloyal to their lovers.” But the arts flourished, especially that of poetry. As a young man, Ovid knew Virgil, Horace, and Tibullus, while Propertius was a close friend. Ovid’s father had initially sent him to Rome to be trained in the lawyerly arts of rhetoric and declamation, with the ultimate goal of gaining a seat in the Roman Senate. But Ovid could muster no serious interest in politics and public ser vice, being content with a leisured “vita umbratilis”—life in the shade—and the composition of poetry. Even as a student, though, it was said—by the elder Seneca (whose son would become the philosopher and playwright Seneca)—that the future poet “could never leave well enough alone, and . . . could not bring himself to correct what really needed correction, if the original expression happened to strike his fancy.” From the beginning, then, Ovid was repeatedly derogated as being too playful, too flashy, too slick for work of the highest order. In other words, he would never be another Virgil, whose poems, especially The Aeneid, tended to be sources of creative anxiety for later, younger writers seeking to fi nd a voice of their own. When read closely, though, Ovid can sometimes be viewed as the “anti-Virgil,” eschewing the earlier poet’s sober piety for an ironic zest, celebrating the decadent pleasures of the big city instead of the rustic joys of country life, and generally preferring warm human flesh to the demands of stern and remorseless duty. As Ovid was to say in his Fasti, (a series of civic-minded poems based on the Roman calendar): “We praise the olden days, we

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enjoy our own.” He himself would become the apologist of modern-day “cultus”—comfort, refi nement, sophistication. With the exception of the Metamorphoses,, which is written in hexameters, virtually all of Ovid’s poetry is composed in elegiac couplets. Whereas epic called for the noble march of regular hexameters—six feet to a line—the elegiac couplet alternated a line of six feet with one of five (a pentameter), thus creating a more casual and hiply contemporary syncopation. This form became the template for the great erotic sequences by Ovid’s esteemed predecessors, Gallus, Tibullus, and Propertius. The work of Gallus is now lost, but his poems celebrated “Lycoris,” his poetic name for the actress Cytheris, who included Marc Antony among her besotted lovers. Tibullus’s “Delia” poems are marked by a delicately pleasing melancholy, as their author suffers and pines. Propertius’s involvement with “Cynthia” swings betweens furious angst and rapture, ranting outrage and submission. All three poets display anguished devotion to their lady, no matter how badly she treats them. Together they initiated a sexual revolution, remaking love from “le repos du guerrier”— the warrior’s refreshment—into a whole new manner of being in the world. “You alone, Cynthia, are my house, you alone my parents, you are for me every moment of joy.” Ovid is the fourth and greatest of these elegiac poets. As he said later in his career, “Elegy owes me/ As much as Epic owes to master Virgil.” But rather than passion and suffering and melancholy, he emphasizes charm and pleasure, the game of love. He tells us that he began to recite his poems in public during his late adolescence, and these—likely the earliest form of the Amores—were well received. At the beginning of the sequence as we now have it, Ovid remarks that what we’re reading is, in essence, a second edition of the Amores. He has reduced the five-book original to three books, no doubt leaving out weaker work and improving that which he chose to republish.

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The precise chronology of Ovid’s literary career is difficult to establish, for it would seem that he was something of an artistic multitasker. The second, and only surviving, edition of the Amores is usually dated around 1 or 2 b.c. and the Heroides just a few years later. Yet Amores 2.18 already refers to his writing verse “letters” in which Penelope, Dido, Sappho, Phaedra, and other bereft women of mythology and ancient history lament their fates—obviously the Heroides. The Ars Amatoria and its slightly later pendant, Remedia Amoris, are also crowded into these same few years around the turn of the millennium, along with a nowlost tragedy, Medea, and a poem about cosmetics, of all things, “On Facial Treatment for Ladies,” of which we still have a fragment. What we are sure of is that Ovid—the most prolific of the major Latin poets—somehow managed to produce all this work before a.d. 8. Like Mozart in music, he possessed what the historian Macaulay called “the art of doing difficult things in expression and versification as if they were the easiest in the world.” Indeed, following the death of Horace in 8 b.c., he had been for fi fteen years the leading poet in Rome. He was also happy. In his youth he’d been married twice, his fi rst marriage ending in divorce (and likely providing the partial inspiration for Amores), and his second producing a daughter. But now after some years as a bachelor about town, he had married again in his mid-forties, far more contentedly, his new wife being distantly related to the imperial family. Life was good, with a place in the city and a weekend retreat in the countryside near Rome, as well as the old family homestead back in Sulmo. Yes, Ovid could feel pretty satisfied with his career. As it happened, he was just fi nishing up his masterpiece, the Metamorphoses, when the blow fell. Despite his own domestic irregularities, Augustus had decided that Rome was growing not only soft but also immoral and needed to revert to the austere, ethical standards of days gone by. Why, his own daughter

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Julia had become so promiscuous that she would actually solicit strangers in the Forum. And his granddaughter Julia II was little better, an adulteress as well as a conspirator against the imperial throne. The world was clearly going to hell in a handbasket, and something needed to be done. As the historian Tacitus observed, the society of the time was given to both corrupting and being corrupted (“corrumpere et corrumpi”). Augustus consequently promulgated edicts against adultery and for moral reform as early as 18 b.c. and again in a.d. 9, and through them exiled fi rst Julia and later Julia II. At all events, given the tenor of the times, it was dangerous as well as scandalous to be Rome’s “praceptor amoris,” the guy who wrote the book on how to pick up women and then added an even more shocking supplement on how women could make themselves sexily attractive to men. At all events, Augustus suddenly called Ovid back from holiday, raked him over, and told the poet to pack his things and get out of town. Ovid, just past fi fty, was “relegated” to the distant and barbaric imperial outpost of Tomis on the Black Sea. He wasn’t deprived of his citizenship or his property, let alone his life, so the unhappy exile lived for nearly a decade in the vain hope of clemency. He left his wife in Rome to pull strings on his behalf, while he composed a series of poems bewailing his sad fate and piteously, even sycophantically, pleading for pardon. Through those poems, the Tristia (“Sorrows,” written between a.d. 8 and a.d. 12) and, a few years later, the Epistulae ex Ponto (“Epistles from the Black Sea”), we learn that Ovid had been judged guilty because of a “carmen,” that is, a poem, almost certainly the Ars Amatoria, and an unnamed “error” or “mistake.” He also mentions that he saw something he shouldn’t have. No one knows for sure what all this means, but since the Ars had been out for ten years, the “mistake” must have been the immediate cause of all his problems. Most scholars believe that Ovid

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became aware of some sexual scandal touching Julia II or was privy to some dark political business involving her. Whatever the case, neither Augustus nor his successor, Tiberius, seems to have paid Ovid’s desperate and fawning verse epistles any notice. The poet died in Tomis in a.d. 17, around the age of sixty. In the centuries that followed his death, Ovid’s reputation suffered the usual posthumous eclipse. The fi rst-century Roman rhetorician Quintilian dismissively complained that the poet was “too infatuated with his own talent.” During the early Middle Ages, the more acceptable poems survived as Latin teaching tools. Later on, the Metamorphoses was actually allegorized, in fact, Christianized. In Ovide Moralisee, for instance, Perseus’s rescue of the naked Andromeda from a sea monster was interpreted as a symbolic representation of poor, forked humanity saved from sin by Christ. Matters began to change, however, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries when the troubadours rediscovered Ovid’s erotic verse, especially the Amores and the Ars Amatoria. The poems’ familiar situations—pining lover, the myriad problems involved in concealing adultery, trouble in reaching the beloved (the “exclusus amator”), and even the lover’s paleness and thinness—all these reemerged as troubadour tropes, eventually cata logued in Andreas Capellanus’s stylized Art of Courtly Love. In particular, Ovid’s “dawn song” in Amores 1.13 gave rise to an entire European genre, the aubade, alba, or Tageslied, in which the morning light informs lovers that it is time to part. Scholars still sometimes refer to the twelfth century as the “aetas Ovidiana,” the age of Ovid. While Dante honored Ovid, Petrarch revered him (“I think there is no poet who can be compared with the poet Ovid”), and Boccaccio brought his playful spirit into the Decameron and Filostrato. This latter poem inspired Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, just as the Heroides provided the model for The Legend of Good Women. Much of Chaucer’s work—not

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just The Canterbury Tales—is Ovidian in character or theme. In The House of Fame, for instance, he famously dubs the poet “Venus’s clerk Ovyde.” Two centuries later, Ariosto’s sixteenth-century epic, Orlando Furioso, displayed a similar light-hearted Ovidian gaiety and swagger, actually copying its most famous episode—Ruggiero’s rescue of the naked Angelica from a sea serpent—from the similar one in the Metamorphoses. But instead of more Christianizing, Ariosto sexualizes: Ruggiero, dazzled by Angelica’s gorgeous body, tries to rape her. (She is able to escape because he has trouble getting out of his armor.) Ovid proved one of the master spirits of Renaissance England. The young Christopher Marlowe translated the Amores while still a university student—his version was later burnt for indecency—and his epyllion Hero and Leander draws on Ovid’s treatment of these tragic lovers in the Heroides. In 1598 Francis Meres proclaimed that “the sweet, witty soul of Ovid lies in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness ‘Venus and Adonis,’ his ‘Lucrece,’ his sugared sonnets.” Ovid was clearly Shakespeare’s favorite poet, with several references to his work in the plays. Most famously, one of Prospero’s soliloquies in The Tempest mirrors the language of Arthur Golding’s translation of the Metamorphoses. Ezra Pound later claimed that Golding’s work was the most beautiful book in the language. John Dryden superbly translated a number of Ovid’s poems, while Alexander Pope revealed the influence of the Heroides style in his heartbreaking Eloisa to Abelard. Many critics have pointed out that The Rape of the Lock possesses a distinctively Ovidian urbanity and friskiness. (As the author of a poem on facial treatments, the Roman poet would have particularly relished Pope’s reference to “the cosmetic powers.”) In general, the Romantics deemed Ovid both superficial and insincere, a judgment also directed against a book the author of the Amores might have written: Byron’s Don Juan. While most of the nineteenth century

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preferred the Greeks to the Romans—it was, in Matthew Arnold’s coinage, the age of Hellas and Hebraism—the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard updated the principles of the Ars Amatoria in his notorious Diary of the Seducer. The modernists truly rediscovered Ovid. Pound championed him, Eliot quoted him in The Waste Land, and Picasso seems the most joyfully Ovidian of painters. Twentieth-century poets like Osip Mandelstam (Tristia), Geoffrey Hill (“Ovid in the Third Reich”) and Ted Hughes (Tales from Ovid) have been energized by his work, as have innovative novelists, including David Malouf (An Imaginary Life), Cees Nooteboom (The Following Day), Laurence Norfok (Lempriere’s Dictionary) and Christoph Ransmayr (The Last World ). Italy’s great fabulist, Italo Calvino, found in Ovid a teacher of narrative speed and lightness, while the learned classicist E. J. Kenney actually likened the randy old poet to P. G. Wodehouse. While today Virgil sometimes seems stodgy and Horace a bit smug, Ovid strikes us as highly modern—a cocky hotshot when young, an unfaithful husband, a self-pitying egocentric, an artistic innovator, and a political exile. Moreover, with his deep understanding of human psychology, he exhibits love in all its guises—tender, humorous, grotesque, savage, and utterly central to human life.

In the Amores Ovid begins by explaining that he never wanted to be a love poet. He was settling down to compose a proper epic in hexameters— at Amores II.1 he refers to the war between the giants and the gods as his probable theme—when Cupid rather spitefully shot him with love’s arrow. So much for epic. Nonetheless, Ovid is haunted by the idea of martial poetry throughout his work, regularly likening seduction techniques to battle tactics and maintaining that “Every lover is a soldier” (Amores 1.9) What’s more, he argues to the girl he pines for that his

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Amores will bring both of them the kind of immortal fame associated with epic verse. By his fourth poem in the sequence, Ovid has really caught fire, presenting a scene of almost Petronius-like vividness. It opens: “Your husband will be there?” That is distressing news./ What a dismal banquet this will be!” The oaf will be able to paw Ovid’s mistress to his heart’s content, while the sensitive poet can do nothing but bite his lips in silence. But maybe there’s a surreptitious way for them to communicate after all: She can play footsies with him, for instance, or casually touch her fi nger to her cheek when she looks at him and remembers their love-making. Still, at the end of the evening, the beloved will have to go home with her tipsy and doubtless amorous husband. And just imagine what will happen next! In his fi nal verses, Ovid pleads that his lover tell him, whether it’s true or not, that she failed to respond to her husband’s ardent embraces. (In a later poem, Ovid imagines that his mistress might call out his name during her ecstasy, to the consternation of a husband or any other lover.) No doubt by artful design, Ovid’s very next poem— Amores I.5—sets down either the memory or possibly the fantasy of a midday visit from his “Corinna,” “draped in a loose tunic, and her hair flowing down both sides of her neck.” The poet tells us that he quickly “tore the tunic off her, fl imsy stuff/ that hadn’t covered much, but she resisted/ as if she were unwilling.” Soon she stands there naked: “I stared and touched and held her body against my own.” At which point Ovid breaks off, coyly saying only “Cetera quis nescit?” or, as David Slavitt translates it: “But you know the rest.” The poem ends with a plea that the gods send him more such afternoons. And so it goes through the poems of the Amores, as Ovid—or his persona—chronicles his love affair, from nights spent unsuccessfully attempting to bribe a night watchman to mornings on which Corinna

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dispatches a note: “Can’t make it today.” He brilliantly elegizes the death of Corinna’s parrot and records, in dramatic detail, her periodic suspicions and jealousy. At one point, she accuses the poet of having seduced her maid Cypassis. Ovid is shocked, positively shocked. He speaks with the most heartfelt sincerity: Am I accused again? Does this go on forever? . . . Did I glance at someone in the theatre, or turn my head while you picked out which face I might have been looking at? Do we pass a pretty woman in the street, who says not a word? You still accuse me of having received silent signals. . . . Who wouldn’t believe him? In the very next poem, though, Ovid has taken the maid aside and demands: “But who has seen us and tattled? . . . How could Corinna ever have gotten wind/ of our affair?” He ends by crudely putting the moves on Cypassis right then and there, reminding her not to refuse him because otherwise he’ll tell her mistress everything including “where and when and how often and how.” In later poems, the Amores takes us to the horse races, where Ovid tries to chat up the woman seated next to him. We visit the streets, colonnades, and theaters of Rome, listen as Ovid confesses that he’s mad about two girls at once, and eventually we discover that Corinna has been replaced. Along the way, Ovid reveals some surprising intimacies. He claims to have enjoyed nine orgasms in a single night. He graphically describes a bout of utter impotence despite the zealous attentions of a gracious partner (Amores 3.7). He surprises an old bawd trying to pimp his own sweetie to a rich man. One of his girlfriends goes overboard with her beauty treatments and loses all her hair, thus being forced to

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wear a wig (Ovid has a thing about hair, and it appears as a significant detail in several poems). Another—or the same?—fi nds herself pregnant (Amores 2.13) and later undergoes a dangerous abortion (Amores 2.14). Now and again, Ovid actually reminds us that he has a wife. The poems themselves are dotted with “sententiae”—aphorism-like observations worthy of La Rochefoucauld: “For all fair women, life is a party that never ends; only the homely have not had invitations.” But then, in the midst of his cynicism, he will write in Amores III.9 a touching elegy for Tibullus: “I pray that the earth lie lightly on your bones.” While the Amores are often vividly realistic, it’s unclear how much we should take them as actual reportage, even when the poet notes that his “nugae”—trifles—can be likened to “the gossip people exchange at dinner over a glass/ of wine.” More often than not, Ovid does seem to be winking at the reader. Could he be simply playing with the conventions of the “elegiac tradition”? Perhaps. Nonetheless, in the Ars Amatoria, he insists that “usus opus movet hoc”—experience drives this work. Was Corinna, then, a courtesan or a free-spirited Roman matron? Could she be made up? Might she be based on his own wife, as Peter Green speculates, from whom Ovid eventually divorced, possibly because of her adultery? Is the protagonist of the poems really the man Ovid or just a convenient poetic persona? Did that session of afternoon delight ever actually occur—or was it just a dreamy masturbatory fantasy? While it’s hard to determine the autobiographical reality and truthfulness of the Amores, there’s no question that the poems reflect the torment, joy, and heartache of romantic love. Nonetheless, the general viewpoint is defi nitely male. In the Heroides, though, Ovid shifts his attention to the psychology of women who have been separated from the men they love. The fi fteen “single” verse epistles—letters by Penelope, Briseis, Hermione, Phaedra, and so on—are further supplemented by the correspondence between three men and three women: Paris and

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Helen, Hero and Leander, Acontius and Cydippe. Nearly all of the poems are studies of women on the verge of a ner vous breakdown, as well as devastating accounts of male perfidy and betrayal. Of course, as modern feminist scholars would be quick to point out, these anguished soliloquies are actually works of ventriloquism, since the male Ovid merely imagines the thoughts and impulses of his various lost women. To some readers, though, these anguished outpourings redeem Ovid from the common charge of being just another heartless Roman misogynist and rake. Niels, the young protagonist of Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, for instance, “read the ‘Heroides’ over and over and felt that they were the most glowing love stories ever told.” At times Ovid even seems to be creating the letter-writer’s stream of consciousness—see Hero’s tormented mind as it obsesses about the absent Leander, darting from yearning to jealousy to fear. Ovid claims, with apparent legitimacy, to have invented this kind of verse-epistle. To an arguable degree, the Heroides reflect the influence of Ovid’s rhetorical training. In some exercises, such as ethopoeia, the student was asked to speak in the imagined voice of a historical character at a crisis point in his life. The poems themselves are packed with legalistic arguments, as the letter-writers present their grievances, attempt to convince an errant lover to return, or try to persuade themselves to follow a certain course of action. These letters not only address their supposed recipients but also, in some way, justify their authors’ subsequent actions. Above all, the Heroides counts on its readers—or more likely auditors— to recognize the women, the situations, and the earlier works from which Ovid derives his various monologues. Like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which tells the story of Hamlet from the viewpoint of his unfortunate school chums, each of these poems presents a familiar classic from an unfamiliar perspective. In Briseis’s

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letter, the captive princess writes to Achilles after having been roughly taken from his tent and given to Agamemnon. This is, in effect, the event that opens the Iliad. But now we see the slaughter from neither a heroic nor poetic perspective but simply through the eyes of a frightened young woman. Briseis’s chief emotion isn’t love for Achilles, though she claims that, but fear over what will happen to her once she’s outside his protective embrace. She wants to get back to the safety of Achilles’ arms, in every sense of the phrase. Throughout the Heroides, Ovid always times the writing of a letter to the moment of greatest dramatic and psychological tension. Penelope’s to Ulysses chronicles her loneliness, the nearly grown Telemachus’s need for a father, the intolerable situation with the carousing suitors. Almost parenthetically, Penelope notes that she intends to give this letter—one of many she has written—to a wandering beggar who has come to Ithaca. From the internal evidence of what we’ve just read, that beggar can only be Ulysses himself, returned at last to reclaim his wife and his throne. Such little touches—dependent on the reader’s knowing the full story whereas the writer doesn’t—pervade the Heroides. Each letter, in effect, has two authors—Ovid and the ostensible writer—and two audiences, one the intended recipient of the letter and the other the actual reader of the poem. Adding to these already rich possibilities for irony, the twenty-one verse epistles resound with intertexual allusions to wellknown legends and myths (especially those associated with Troy and the sexual entanglements of Jason and Theseus), as well as to Ovid’s own earlier work and to the usually sad destinies of other characters in the sequence. At times, it’s hard to tell if we should read the Heroides as tragedy or as complicated black humor. The six “double” letters allow Ovid an even larger field for artistic play and ingenuity. Take the exchange between Paris and Helen. In the initial letter, Paris reveals that, in that famous beauty contest, he chose

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Venus as the most beautiful of three goddesses in part because she offered him Helen as a bribe. So he has sailed over to claim his reward and why doesn’t Helen just sleep with him right now, then the two of them can run away to Troy? Like so many unreliable narrators, Paris reveals himself rather more than he knows, coming across as a lying cad and more than a little stupid. At one point, he addresses Helen with the phrase “O lovely nymph.” Now Ovid expects the reader to remember the earlier verse epistle in which Paris’s wife Oenone speaks of her anguish and heartbreak at his betrayal. Oenone actually is a nymph. Helen’s reply to Paris is something of a surprise, starting with its fi rst words: “I’ve read your disgusting letter.” She then goes on to assail Paris for his ingratitude as a guest, his attempt to besmirch her virtue, and his all-around smarminess. And yet Ovid shows us Helen gradually succumbing to her own fantasies, as she speaks of “temptation” and “my wavering heart” while hinting repeatedly that she likes a little roughness and that he should simply use force and take her. After all, Paris is good-looking, and Menelaus is away on business. How are we to understand Helen? Was her initial sense of outrage simply an erotic ploy, heightening the excitement? Most commentators view her as already decided on infidelity when she begins the letter, but it seems to me that Ovid actually traces the growth of her sexual desire for Paris: She starts off toying with the idea and likes it more and more. To quote Myrrha in Ovid’s Metamorphoses—who uses logic to persuade herself that incest with her father is okay—Helen might also say: “Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor”—“I see the better course and choose the worse.” To some readers, the Heroides might seem a little tiresome, the situations and desperate women much the same. In fact, Ovid makes each distinctive: Deianeira, for instance, begins by dryly observing of Hercules: “My husband is mostly absent, pursuing monsters/ and

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performing impressive tasks.” But by the end, she has passed into a kind of fugue state, half recalling, half imagining how she sent him Nessus’s poisoned shirt. Oenone is full of pathos and anger: “You take your pleasure now in whores who leave their husbands/ to come with you across the expanse of the sea.” She likens the faithless and shallow Paris to “leaves/dropped from the tree that the slightest wind can stir/ this way and that to flutter and then lie still for a while.” Sappho is full of yearning for everything she has lost because of her love for Phaon: “My songs will not come. My lyre and plectrum/ lie mute in my hands.” Dido fi nds it inexplicable that Aeneas would rather found Rome than spend his life with her. Ariadne, heartbroken and frightened after Theseus has abandoned her on a seemingly deserted island, likens her disheveled hair to a Bacchante’s—little knowing that in a moment Bacchus himself will appear and claim her for his own. Phaedra, overwhelmed by passion in middle age, tries to stay calm and coolly manipulate her stepson into bed (even though, as she writes, “you dislike females”). Hipsipyle is sure that the only reason Jason no longer loves her is because Medea, that barbarian witch, has used potions and spells on him. Her cri du coeur has echoed among betrayed women throughout the ages: “You left declaring you were mine forever. What happened?/ Why were you not still mine when you came back?” While the Amores is relatively well known, the Heroides is the work that most deserves rediscovery today. By contrast, the Remedia Amoris has long been viewed as simply a supplement to the Ars Amatoria. While that work gave rules for seduction—“I have taught my readers techniques of wooing women/ so that what was impulse is science now”— here, in their stead, are medicines for melancholy, tested recipes for those trying to soothe their broken hearts. Throughout antiquity, romantic or passionate love was seen as a disease, a form of madness, so Ovid now offers various ways back to a healthier, saner lifestyle. As

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before, the tone seems mock-serious, yet the advice offered reveals how little the human heart ever changes. Ovid addresses men, but recognizes that his counsel is just as useful to women. What does the doctor order? He recommends that the discarded lover get rid of all signs of the former beloved—letters, photographs, souvenirs. One should particularly avoid the old haunts, especially those where the couple kissed or made love: “They hold the seeds of sorrow: ‘Here she was,/ here we lay, in the room behind that upstairs window/ in a lovely frenzy that lasted all night long.’ ” Expert psychologist that he is, Ovid understands the Proustian power, and heartbreak, of recollected happiness. Work, especially overwork, is to be welcomed. Travel helps. Avoid solitude. Take up soldiering or farming—those old Roman occupations— and tire yourself out with plowing or marching so that you simply fall right to sleep at night. Find a new lover to drive out memory of the old. You might even dismiss sex as disgusting or trivial: Notice how, when you’ve fi nished, having achieved the goal, you are struck by the thought that you’d rather be somewhere else. Your body is utterly weary. You wonder why this rumpy-pumpy business ever seemed so important. Above all, Ovid stresses, stay away from love poetry: “Don’t read me, or Callimachus . . . Avoid Sappho . . . Anacreon, Tibullus, Propertius . . . Out!” In all matters involving the former beloved, try to aim for “a suave indifference.” One can’t, however, be suavely indifferent to David Slavitt’s versions of the Amores, Heroides, and Remedia Amoris. His English poems possess nothing of the stiffness and offputting, somewhat alien quality of many

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classical translations. The verse is clear, smooth, and enticing: One enjoys the grace or snap of individual lines as much as the overall flow of argument, drama or story: “On the border of sleep and waking, where dreams begin to shred . . . You think she is ardent with you? So was she ardent with him. . . . As long as fi re burns,/ steel cuts, and the juice of poison kills,/ do not suppose that Medea shall be unavenged.” Of course, one expects such power and beauty from one of the master translators of our age, who has given us not only memorable renderings of Ovid (including the Metamorphoses and poems of exile), but also of Aeschylean and Sophoclean tragedy, Ariosto’s soap-operatic epic, Orlando Furioso., and much else. In keeping with the Ovidian spirit of risqué playfulness, it seems appropriate to end this introduction by paraphrasing a timeless graffito: For a good time, read Ovid; for a very good time, read Slavitt’s Ovid.

Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of

OV ID

4Love0Poems$ ( Amores )

epigr am There used to be five of these books by Naso, but now there are three. Why? Because I say so. The reader will prefer it this way, I’d guess— because five is a great many, and three is less.

Book I i, 1 Arms and the violent deeds of men fighting in battle . . . Those are the noble subjects I would address in the grave meters suited to grave matters, but no, Cupid appeared to trim my lines by a foot and turn my stately hexameters into these elegiacs. “Who gave you the right to meddle, mischievous boy? Who asked you to come and edit. Poets look to the Muses, not to you! Imagine what would happen if Venus showed up one day to supervise Minerva, or, contrariwise, if Minerva fanned into fl ame the torch of love? What kind of sense would it make if Ceres presided over the woodlands and let Diana take care of the tilled fields where farmers plant and harvest? Does Apollo long to wield a spear and shield?

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Would Mars trade in his weapons to strum the aeonian lyre? You have your domain and plenty of power (too much, I’d say). Why, then, would you want to extend yourself, ambitious boy? Do you think you ought to own anything you can see? The hillsides of Helicon? Would you lay claim to them? And Apollo’s songs? Would you take them from him? I start out well enough, I think, in a six-beat line that suits the grandest subjects, but then comes the shorter verse, rather more informal, playful, even—despite my serious aims. Young lovers are not at all what I thought of writing about!” Such was my complaint to Cupid, who reached into his quiver to choose an arrow for my undoing. He bent his sturdy bow into a half-moon and announced, “Singer, this will be our subject now.” He shot. And I was on fi re, entirely helpless. In my heart that had been my own, Love sits on his throne. So in six beats let my fi rst line rise and then in the second recede to a hirpling fi ve. To wars I will have to bid farewell. My Muse will don the myrtle that grows by the shore, as I retune my lyre and resign myself to the elegiac mode.

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i, 2 What could it mean? My bed has become a slab of rock and the coverlets, rebellious, will not stay put. The night extends itself and I cannot fall asleep. My weary bones toss and turn in search of a tolerable position in which I do not ache. I can’t believe that it’s love . . . I’d know if it were. Or would I? Has it somehow insinuated itself into my soul, cunning and surreptitious, and working its evils upon me? It must be something like that, with the cruel darts implanted in my heart so that Love can torment the breast in which he rules. Do I just give up and give in? Or try to resist, and by fighting it risk making the inward flame grow stronger? You wave a torch and through the air the flame flares up, or you stop and the light soon enough dies down again. Unbroken oxen resist the yoke. Their efforts only produce more blows. Animals that take pleasure or satisfaction, having learned to submit, have a much easier time. Horses, too, must learn to endure the snaffle bit so that their discomfort is very much diminished. It happens with Love as well, for those who are unwilling are treated more harshly and bitterly than those who are confess their servitude. Okay, then, I confess. I admit to Cupid

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that I am his prey, his victim, and stretch forth my hands to be bound, submissive as any slave. There is no point in fighting it, or him. What I prefer is peace. What glory will there be in vanquishing me, an unarmed man? But go on, deck your hair with myrtle, hitch up your mother’s doves, and to celebrate, your stepfather Mars will give you a chariot for your triumph in which you can stand and accept the cheers of the crowd while your reins control the team of birds you have yoked together. In your train you can display your captive youths and maidens who are the victims you picked out to subdue. I am a recent conquest and I shall be there with the fresh wound still vivid and shall walk behind you in chains, bearing them with an unresisting heart. Conscience will march along behind you, her hands bound fast, and Modesty too—all those who are foes of Love. All shall cower before you or cheer at the top of their lungs, “Hoorah! Hoorah!” Caresses will be at your side, as well as Delusion and Madness marching in your parade. With such soldiers as these, who can resist you, not only among mortals but among the Olympian gods? You need not be armed yourself, for you can rely on such fanatical fighters, relentless enforcers, and thugs. From lofty Olympus your mother will clap for you and scatter about your head the rose petals that lovers have offered at her altars. With gems to adorn

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your wings and your hair, you shall ride on dazzling golden wheels. As your procession passes, you will touch spectators in the crowd with your flame and on your route further enlarge the number of your conquests. Your arrows never cease, not even when you rest, and the fi re burns with its heat wherever you go. It was in this way that Bacchus conquered the land of the Ganges. Tigers, they way, were fearful of his approach. And people will fear you with your team of invincible doves. Since I acknowledge all this and declare myself a part of your sacred triumph, do not, I implore you, waste your powers on me, but model yourself on Caesar: the hand that made him conqueror, he now employs to defend and shield his victims from threats from anyone else.

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i, 3 My prayer is just and fair, not so much an entreaty as it is an altogether attractive offer: let the young woman who has made me her prey and captive love me or else let me have some reason to continue to love. But am I asking too much? May Venus let her merely allow herself to be loved. Choose one who would cheerfully be your slave for years, one who knows how to love in honest faith. I may not have a prominent name or distinguished forebears (the founder of our line was merely a knight), and we may not have wide fields that are worked by numberless plowshares, and my parents may both be simple, frugal people, but Phoebus and his nine companions are on my side, and Bacchus as well and, it goes without saying, Cupid, who makes me his gift to you—a fellow who yields to none in excellent habits and good reputation, a simple, straightforward person, and, I blush to say it, modest. I am no amorous butterfly, no fickle gadabout, but a serious man whose love will last. You shall be my everlasting care. I hope to spend the years that the Sisters have spun for me with you and for you. And when I die, I should hope that you will be the one who grieves for me. Give me yourself as a subject for my songs,

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which, if they are worthy of their inspiration, will bring fame to us both. From the work of poets, fame came to Io as well as to Leda and Europa. In a like manner shall you and I endure everywhere on earth for as long as men can read, and our names will endure, joined together forever.

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i, 4 Your husband will be there? That is distressing news. What a dismal banquet this will be! I pray that it’s the last invitation to dinner he ever accepts. For me, it will be pure pain to see the woman I love but just be one of the guests. It is his hand you will hold, his arm you will touch, his breast that you will warm reclining next to you upon your couch. Whenever it strikes his fancy, he will throw his arm around your pretty neck, and I won’t be able to look or to look away. When they poured the wine at that legendary party in Atrax, it is not at all surprising that Lapiths and Centaurs came to blows, aroused by Hippodamia’s beauty. I do not dwell in the forest nor are my parts those of a horse, and yet I cannot keep my hands away from you. What you must do is keep silent. Don’t let the winds carry your words to places they should not go. Arrive before your husband, although I can’t think of a reason why you should. But do it. He will pat the couch to invite you to sit, and you will do that, although in a modest, ladylike way, but now and again you may touch my foot with yours, in secret, of course. And look in my direction sometimes, to see my nods and the language of my eyes. Perhaps with my eyebrows I may send you stealthy signals that you will return if you have a chance to do so 10

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safely. In this way we may speak without a sound. I can trace with my fi ngers words in the wine that you will be able to read. If you think of delights we have shared, perhaps you will touch your rosy cheek with your finger. If you are vexed with me in any way, let me know that you are displeased by touching your earlobe. If what I have done or said wins your approval, tell me by turning one of your rings around your finger. And if you wish your husband ill, as I always do, lay your hand on the table as if in prayer. The wine he mixes with water, let him drink himself, and ask the servant instead for what you prefer. Before you pass him your cup, lend it to me to sip from the place where your sweet lips have just touched it. If he offers you a morsel of food that his lips have touched, fi nd some way to refuse it. Sit up straight and make it awkward for him to put his arms around your neck. Do not allow your head to rest upon his chest. And for heaven’s sake keep his hands away from your breasts and thighs and of course his lips from yours. Unable to bear to see it, I should leap up to proclaim before his eyes and those of the other guests that I am your lover and therefore those kisses are rightly mine. Protect me, too, I implore you, from what I’ll imagine, my blind fears that your thigh may be touching against his or his rough feet may be rubbing your smooth instep. There are many things I fear because I have myself done them with you and now our sweet example

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torments me as I remember slipping my hand inside your capacious robe that I took as an invitation. Do not allow me even to suppose such things but remove that mantle you wear that can cover so much mischief. Keep your husband’s goblet full and urge him to drink, pouring for him wine that has not been watered, and he will doze off or collapse onto the table snoring. We’ll see what opportunity that presents and make a plan. At the least, when the dinner is over and guests are leaving we can perhaps meet in the crowded hall— I will fi nd you or you will seek me out—and then you can place a hand or fi ngertip on my body. I am in dreadful misery, and what I ask of you here will only assuage my pain for a few scant hours, for the dinner party will end and he will take you away to shut you into his house while I am outside, having followed behind you, careful not to be seen beside the cruel doors that close before me. There in the street I shall weep the bitter tears of love as he takes kisses from you, and more than kisses. What you give me in secret and, I believe, in joy, you give to him because it is his right, although you would not otherwise be willing. But still, do not speak or cry out, and let him fi nd that Venus is not in the mood. If prayers carry any weight, I implore the goddess to grant him little delight.

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Or, at the very least, I hope that you are not carried to any transports of pleasure. And if you are? However the night went, do me at least the kindness to say what I shall need to hear tomorrow when we see each other again and give me your assurance, whether it’s true or not, that you were cold.

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i, 5 It was late in the afternoon of a truly torrid day and I was sprawled on the couch in a half-dark room, with one of the shutters open in the hope of a passing breeze and the other closed to keep the room in shadow. The light was what you get sometimes in a woodland glen when Phoebus is taking leave and twilight is falling or else in the early morning when night has begun to retreat but the light of day has not yet shone in the east. This is the kind of light I should think that modest maidens ought to have so that modesty may hide from their own eyes as well as those of anyone else what they are about to do or are doing . . . And comes dear Corinna, draped in a loose tunic, and her hair flowing down both sides of her neck. This is how Sermiramis is said to have looked approaching her bridal chamber, or how Lais was dressed as she met one of her legendary number of lovers. I tore the tunic off her, fl imsy stuff that hadn’t covered much, but she resisted as if she were unwilling. We struggled some, or say that she did between her contradictory feelings so that she betrayed herself. She stood there naked and nowhere on her body could I fi nd the slightest flaw. What perfect shoulders, what arms, what lovely breasts

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begging to be caressed! How smooth her body’s skin, how long her flank and hip and beautiful thighs. I stared and touched and held her body against my own. But you know the rest. We wearied ourselves and lay exhausted together, enjoying the languorous heat that held us. I pray for many an afternoon like this.

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i, 6 Doorman, chained to your post (a pitiful plight), have pity on me, who am also chained. Open the portal a bare crack through which I shall be able to pass sideways, having wasted away with Love. It is Love who has taught me the silent tread that eludes watchmen, and how to insinuate myself through a very small aperture. I once was ner vous about the darkness and the vacuous phantoms of night and used to admire those who were bold enough to venture into the blackness, but not anymore . Cupid laughed in my face and told me that I should buck up and be a man. Be valiant! And love came upon me, so that I venture forth without any fear of the shades that fl it back and forth in the moonlight or of armed ruffians lurking somewhere in the shadows. My only fears now are of Cupid himself whose whims can ruin any man with his deadly arrows. Look out for a moment to see how the wood of the door is stained with the copious tears I have shed. You remember me as the one who went to your mistress to speak on your behalf when you had been stripped and tied, ready for whipping. Having received such kindness from me, can you now ignore me and make no minimal gesture in return?

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You must admit that you owe me! In equity or in kindness, help me and you may be helping yourself. The precious hours of night are fleeting, fleeting away; away, too, with the bar on the damned door! Get rid of it and rid yourself at the same time of the heavy chain you wear. From the bitter cup of slavery no man wishes to drink forever. Is your iron heart as hard as the links of your chain? The doorman is unmoved, the door, unmoving. Why? Towns shut their gates when enemy armies come, but we are at peace and need not fear any soldiers’ weapons. I am not here as a foe but as gentle lover. The precious hours of night are fleeting, fleeting away; away, too, with the bar on the damned door! I have no soldiers with me and I would be alone if Cupid were not with me, giving me orders. Him I cannot get rid of, no matter how hard I try, for that would divide me from my very self. You see then that my escort is Love, and a little wine, and the chaplet now askew on my perfumed hair. Who would tremble with fear at such an absurd figure? Who would not be happy to confront him? The precious hours of night are fleeting, fleeting away; away, too, with the bar on the damned door! Are you deaf? Or can it be sleep that blocks your ears to the words of a lover that float off on the wind? I remember back in the days when I had to escape your notice and you were awake and alert well past midnight.

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Has Cupid stricken you, too, so that you have a girl nestled cozily by your side? You’re doing better than I am here outside, addressing a wooden door. I’d be delighted to trade places with you. The precious hours of night are fleeting, fleeting away; away, too, with the bar on the damned door! Did the post of the hinge squeak? Do I deceive myself or is that the friendly welcome a door can make? Alas, it was only the wind making its random noises and bearing away my ever more forlorn hopes. Boreas, come! Remember your Orithyia and help a fellow lover. Blow down the door. The hour is late. The streets of the city are now silent, and the cobblestones are wet with crystal dew. The precious hours of night are fleeting, fleeting away; away, too, with the bar on the damned door! The only choice that remains is steel and my torch’s fi re with which to assail the haughty and unresponsive dwelling place. I grow increasingly desperate, and Night and Love and Wine are never voices of caution. I have been out here for hours, have pleaded, wheedled, and threatened, but nothing works. You and my lady are hard! You should not be the portal of a lovely woman but rather the mute, grim gate of a gloomy dungeon. The morning star has risen, and the early birds are chirping, rousing men to their tedious daily tasks. My chaplet lies on the ground, wilted and wet. She’ll see it, and it shall testify to my wretched vigil.

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And you, doorman, despite what you have been to me, I bid you Farewell. Unyielding and undisgraced, and having kept me out here all night long, Good morning! And you, doorposts, threshold, and stolid beams, you, the lowly slaves of the slave who is in charge of what you do, I offer a chilly goodnight.

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i, 7 Friends, if I have any friends on whom I can count, cuff me, for my hands deserve to be chained until the madness that possessed me has passed. Clearly, it must have been madness for me to strike my darling, who now is in tears from the pain of my blows. The monster in me lacked all limits— I could have attacked the parents I dearly love, or I could have assaulted even the heavenly gods. What can I say? It happens. Remember Ajax, the lord of the seven-fold shield, and how he went crazy, killing the flocks and herds he mistook for Argive soldiers. Did not Orestes, after he had avenged his father’s death by killing his mother, in his bloodlust ask for weapons with which to assault the goddess, too? But none of these examples can justify what I did with these hands, tearing her lovely hair . . . Remembering it, I am struck by the weird image of how handsome she looked then with her hair in such disorder, as beautiful as was Atalanta running through the Arcadian forests, or Ariadne on Naxos who tore her hair as she watched Theseus’s ship vanish into the offi ng. Or think of mad Cassandra in whose disordered hair fi llets were woven . . .

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But as you see, the mind skitters away. My friends told me that I was uncivilized and insane. She said nothing at all, silenced, I think, by her terror. All her reproaches were in her tear-stained face that accused me of my crime, although her lips were mute. I wish my arms had dropped from their shoulder sockets, for I would sooner have lost a part of myself than bear the weight of my remorse. My maddened strength I have turned against myself, for now my eyes have seen what my hands have done that deserves shackles. If they had struck the least important citizen, I should have been punished severely. For this worse crime, am I to be excused? Diomedes was the fi rst mortal to assault a goddess, smiting Venus at Troy. I am now the second man to do so, and he was fighting a foe, while I had professed love for my goddess, which makes me all the more guilty. So go now, victor, and celebrate your triumph, giving thanks to Jove while the throng along the way shouts their cheers for your brave defeat of a girl. Let her walk before your triumphal car, her hair loose, and clad from head to toe in white— except for the purple bruises upon her beautiful cheeks that I should better have marked with many kisses and, at the very worst, love bites on her neck. Even allowing for anger, for unremitting fury, why could I not have merely raised my voice at the frightened girl without making good my threats? She stood there almost senseless, her beautiful face blenched white as Parian marble. Her body shook

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like the leaves on a poplar or quivering reeds when breezes disturb them or the glassy sea when the south wind whips up waves. From her eyes there fell teardrops like those that the melting snow exhibits to mourn the end of winter’s cold. It was then that I felt the fi rst pangs of my great guilt so that my own blood flowed along with her tears. Three times I started to kneel at her feet as a suppliant would, but she thrust me and my fearsome fists away each time. What I now beseech is that she diminish my grief by striking my face with her fists and her sharp nails. Let her know that her hand, however weak it may be, will gain strength from its anger and righteousness. No? Not even that? Then I ask her for less. Repair the signs of my misdeeds by redoing her hair.

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i, 8 There is, if you’re in the market for an over-the-hill playgirl, a gal whose name (I swear to heaven) is Dipsas, which is right, considering how she has never seen the dawn with sober eyes. She’s conversant with black magic and knows the incantations for almost any occasion. She can make the waters of streams run back uphill; she can read the threads that are spun by the turning magic wheel, and is privy to the secrets of menstrual blood of mares, which can accomplish amazing things. She can call the clouds together or, if you like, disperse them to give us a day when the sun shines forth from a clear blue heaven. Believe it or not, I have seen stars drip blood and the moon blood-red, and I knew it was her doing. At night, I think she somehow changes form and fl its about in the shadows, her aged body decked out in gaudy plumage. It is said that her eyes can emit bright rays of light. She can summon forth the dead from long gone generations out of their tombs as her eerie incantations tear open the solid ground. Some of her schemes, more modest, poison lovers’ hearts and minds, as she puts her nasty tongue to use with insidious eloquence. By chance I heard her giving words of advice. The double doors were closed and I was concealed, but I could hear her talking. 23

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“Do you not know, my sweet, that you caught a young man’s eye, last night—and not just any young man. He’s rich! He was held fast and could not take his eyes from your face. All that’s fi ne. You’re beautiful, after all. Second to none, I say. The only thing you need is a wardrobe to match, and this we shall have to work on. If you are wealthy, I will share in your good fortune. Our interests coincide. Mars’s unhelpful aspect has hindered you, but now Venus is in the ascendant, which brings you better prospects. And here we see a man with money worthy of your consideration. He’s good-looking as well, which always helps. If you were the one with the money, a man with a face like that would be, I think, a more than plausible catch.” At this, the young lady—and I should make it clear that she and I were an item, as they say—must have blushed, for here the busybody observed, “Blushes are fi ne, especially if you’re pale. But what you must learn is how to blush on cue. The real ones are inconvenient, but the feigned that you turn on whenever you choose are instruments of profit. You cast your eyes downward and, with your head bent, look up at his face, the angle depending on what he says or, better, offers. Back in the ancient Sabine days a wife would not have more than a single husband. Times have changed, and Mars takes men away to try their souls

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as well as those of the women back home where Venus reigns in the splendid city of her son Aeneas. For all fair women, life is a party that never ends; only the homely have not had invitations (and only shy girls from the country do not themselves invite). The women with crow’s-feet and wrinkles are always easy (the wrinkles in strenuous exercise somehow fall away). Penelope tested the strength of all the suitors with a stiff longbow that was made, oddly enough, of horn. The stream of time may be smooth, but its flow is swift and unremitting, passing us by before we can take notice. Bronze grows bright with use; the best things in a wardrobe get lots of wear; abandoned houses molder. It happens thus with beauty, which, if it isn’t used, ages prematurely. What you need to maintain yourself is lovers—not just one or two, but a higher and healthier number. A wolf will stalk a large flock that he knows will improve his chances for prey. Avoid poets, who only give you verses that are altogether useless. Their proud god is Apollo who gets himself up in a golden tunic and strums his lyre, producing harmonious chords . . . But who needs them? Greater than Homer is one who knows how to give. Don’t let yourself be distracted, but keep your eyes on the prize. Suppose he is an ex-slave with the mark

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still on his foot? It shouldn’t make any difference to you. The fi ne fellow who shows you the busts on the wall of his eminent forebears is worth whatever he’s worth, grandfathers or no. If he’s poor, too bad. Let him go out and hustle, fi nd some dowager, maybe, who can give him pretty things he can give to you. Early on, before you have him well and truly subdued, you have to be careful not to appear greedy. Once he is in your power, you can milk him dry. And pretense in matters of love is no bad thing. Let him think he is loved, that he is a splendid lover, but make sure that you are well recompensed. Otherwise, you can always tell him you have a headache, or claim that it’s Isis’ time of the month (they never keep track of these things). But then, after a time, receive him lest he learn that he can survive without you. Your door should be closed to those who beg and implore but open wide to those disposed to give. Let the lover you welcome overhear the words with which you send another on his way. There may be times when you are out of temper and sorts and say or do something that hurts his feelings. Do not apologize. Rather go on the attack as if you were the one who was injured fi rst. In the face of this counter-charge, his charge will vanish. Learn to cry at will or, at the least, to wet your cheeks to simulate the tracks of tears. If you have enough courage to be deceitful, be consistent and do not fear to take false oaths, which Venus doesn’t trouble herself about.

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Coach your slaves and servants to suggest, in a helpful spirit, what little gifts you might especially like. And tell them that for performing such a ser vice, they, too, might ask for a little something, a tip or a token. From many straws, when they are piled together, you get a good-sized heap. Your mother and even your sisters can work the same tricks and thus add to your pile. When the stream shrinks to a trickle, order a cake and he will figure out that this must be your birthday. Never let him be without a rival, which would make him feel complacent. It’s better for him to worry. His love will keep strong if it has to fight. Let him fi nd traces sometimes of another man’s presence—the presents the competitor has sent, or the love-bites on your neck that will make him jealous. Here, too, if you have to, improvise. If there are no gifts from others for him to notice, buy them for yourself and put them out on display. If his generosity fails and there aren’t gifts, ask him to lend you money (which you will never repay). You have a naughty tongue. Use it to wheedle, and remember that bitter poisons are often hidden in honey. If you remember this advice and use it, not letting my words float away on the winds, you will think well of me as long as I live, and after I’m dead, you’ll pray that the earth lie light on my bones.” She would have said even more, but my shadow betrayed me.

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Discovered, I confronted her in a rage with my fists clenched tight—it was all I could do to restrain them from tearing her white hair out of her scalp or gouging her eyes reddened with drink or scratching her cheeks. Instead, I confi ned myself to mere words: “May the gods give you long hard winters and endless thirst!”

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i, 9 Every lover is a soldier. Cupid has his own bivouac. It’s true, Atticus. Every lover’s a soldier. Men of the right age fight in wars as well as in the campaigns of Venus. Old men are out of place in either kind of engagement. The spirit captains look for in their recruits is just what pretty girls look for in their suitors. And lovers and soldiers both go on night patrols. Both of them settle down on the ground at night, on guard at their posts or else at their inamoratas’ doors. The soldier goes on marches that seem to last forever, but send a lover’s sweetheart far away and he’ll march, too, however long he has to go, climbing high mountain passes, fording rivers through the driving rain or the swirling snow of winter blizzards. If he has to journey by sea, he will not complain that the wind’s from the wrong quarter or the stars are inauspicious, but board the vessel and help the oarsmen row. Who but lovers and soldiers would slog on through mud and rain, through the cold and dark of night, or blazing heat? One is always alert lest enemy skirmishers come; the other is looking around for possible rivals. One besieges cities and towns with walls; the other the threshold of a not-yet-willing woman. 29

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One breaks in city gates, the other domestic doors. Sometimes the solider goes out on night raids to surprise the sleeping and unarmed foe and easily kill them. This is what happened to Rhesus when Diomedes and crafty Ulysses fell upon him and captured his horses. Lovers often strike while husbands are sleeping and when the occasion arises put their pikes to use. To make their stealthy way through posted guards is the task that soldiers and lovers often have in common. Mars is capricious; Venus is whimsical too. The vanquished can rise again, and the victors can be brought low. Let those who make light of lovers then keep still. Love is for those prepared for the test of the body and soul. Consider Achilles, pining away for Briseis, while the men of Troy infl ict whatever damage they can on the Argive army. Hector left his bed and Andromache’s embrace to go out and fight in the war, and it was his wife who set his helm on his head. Atreus’s son, Agamemnon, was struck dumb seeing Cassandra, whose hair flowed in the wind, as wild as she was. Mars was ensnared by Venus and then by her husband Vulcan, at the story of which the Olympian gods all laughed. And for me? I used to lie on my couch and scribble verses, preferring the shade that suited my mild temper. But love for a lovely girl has recruited me into the ser vice, and you’ll see me now campaign in the wars of night.

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i, 10 Such as Helen was whom the Trojans’ keels abducted, causing the great and terrible war that ensued; such as Tyndareus’s wife Leda was in whose arms the swan took refuge, in fl ight from the menacing eagle; such as Amymone was, whom Danaus sent for water: with the urn on her head she attracted Neptune. And such were you, the dear girl whom I loved. I was alert to eagles, swans, and bulls and whatever other forms Jove may choose to assume. My fears are now allayed, and my heart is healed. My eyes are no longer fi xed upon your impressive beauty. What has been the cure of my affl iction? Your asking for money instantly chills my ardor. No longer am I beguiled. You once were a simple girl, and I loved you body and soul. Your beauty now is blemished by this defect in your heart that reveals itself. Love is a naked child, and the metaphor is clear— there isn’t any cunning or calculation. Does Venus’s offspring ask for cash or expensive presents? He has no pockets in which to hide them away. Neither mother nor child is motivated by greed, and in their campaigns do not draw the soldier’s pay. It’s the whore who stands for sale, not giving herself but trading her body for anyone’s lucre. Meanwhile she curses

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the pimp who has turned her out and compels her do what you formerly did for free, for love, for joy. Consider the beasts of the field. They lack the power of reason but are gentle and show a greater refi nement than you. Mares don’t ask the stallions for gifts, nor do cows ask bulls. Rams do not offer ewes payment or presents. Only women think it right and take pride in receiving whatever they can squeeze from a man in love, which does not at all increase but rather diminishes from the value of what the women give in return. The idea is that men and women ought to be equal, but if that’s true, why should my pleasure cost me, and why should yours—if you have any—bring you gain? Do witnesses only tell the truth if they’re paid, or is there not the temptation for them to provide whatever testimony the man who has paid them demands? This is a bribe and against the law, a corruption of justice. Are judges to sell their decision to whoever bids higher? It is as bad, or probably even worse, for beauty to put itself on sale in the market. When someone does you a favor without expectation of payment, you owe him gratitude and thanks for his kindness. No such thanks are due to a journeyman working for pay, the deal being presumed fair on both sides. After the wages are paid, neither one is obliged in any way to the other. Women should learn this. The small and sordid gain cheapens what otherwise would be a gift. Tarpeia, the vestal virgin,

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asked the Sabine women to give her their armlets of gold as payment for her treason. Their answer was to crush her to death with their shields. Eriphyle for a necklace sent Amphiarius to war, knowing he would be killed. Their son Alcmaeon killed her, thrusting a sword into his mother’s bosom. You insist on asking for presents? Ask from the rich who have plenty to spare and thus may be inclined from time to time to give. Pluck from the full clusters of grapes that hang from the vines. But Alcinous’s fields you ought to leave alone. Let the poor man pay in ser vice, zeal, and faithfulness in love. The kind of wealth each man possesses, accept with thanks, as he supplies his all to his heart’s mistress. What I offer is verse, to glorify the fair and make whomever I choose forever famous. Gowns will fall to tatters, and gold will dissolve into fragments, but the glory of my songs will endure for eons. It isn’t the price I object to so much as the asking that I despise. Show some self-respect. What I refuse to provide at your unseemly demand I may, if you will only shut up, give.

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i, 11 You are a splendid lady’s maid, showing great skill in combing out and arranging Corinna’s hair, but you are much more than that, dear Nape, when late at night you demonstrate your even greater talent for carrying messages back and forth and, in times of doubt, urging her to come to me. You’re a wonder, inventive, obliging . . . Here, take your mistress these tablets. Your heart has in it no trace of fl int or iron. And your wit is exactly what one wants in a confidante. I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that you have also felt the sting of Cupid’s little arrows, which is why you show me unfailing kindness. Should she ask how I am, tell her the truth and say that only my hope of her welcome keeps me alive. Whatever else she may desire to know is in here, incised in the tablet’s wax by my loving hand. But we are wasting time. Take her the letter at once, give it to her when she is free to receive it, and then see that she reads it without delay. Observe her eyes and face, for even if she is silent, you may be able to tell how she accepts my words. Do not delay but bid her write in return as much as she has received. I hate it when most of a page is blank. It’s such a waste. See that she packs the space with line upon line up to the outermost margin, in order to feed my desperately famished eyes. 34

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On the other hand, she need not be prolix but write only the single word, as long as she tells me, “Come!” Then I would take the tablets, bind them with mountain laurel, and hang them in Venus’s shrine, inscribed with the words: “To Venus the grateful Naso dedicates these tablets, dumb maple once but now his faithful friends.”

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i, 12 Weep for my sake—the tablets I sent have been returned with the dismal news: “Can’t make it today.” I ought to have known. The omens were clear in their portent, for as Nape left she caught her toe on the threshold. I pray that the next time she remembers to lift her feet. And you, baneful pieces of wood and wax that bring me the lady’s refusal, be gone. A funeral pyre is where the wood belongs, and the wax is from bees that gather the poison nectar of hemlock on Corsican hills. Your pretty vermilion tint turns out to be blood. I shall throw you away at some crossroads where wheels of wagons will crush you to tiny bits. The craftsman who made you out of the limb of a tree did not, I am sure, have hands that were free from the taint of many sordid crimes. The tree, for that matter, must have been used as gallows to hang some poor wretch who wasn’t even guilty. Or maybe the guards used the wood for a crucifi x. Owls and vultures lived in the foul shade of its branches. And to think that I entrusted my tender words to you, a vessel more fit for lawyers’ writs and contracts, or for some judge to use to impose his cruel sentence. You ought to have been a ledger in a miser’s countinghouse with a list of all his petty disbursements, each of which he hates. You are double-sided, 36

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and I should have known you were probably treacherous and two-faced. What prayer, what curse can I frame in my present anger? Let the worms of old age eat away at your frame, and let your wax harden from long neglect.

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i, 13 She is coming even now over the dark ocean from the bed of her geriatric husband Tithonus, and as her golden hair streams out in the wind behind her she brings us in her cart the dawn of day. I complained to her, asking why she seemed in such a hurry. Slow down so that the birds, the children of Memnon, may perform their solemn sacrifice to the shade of their father. This is the moment I love to lie here in bed in my sweetheart’s tender arms. This is the best of times, neither asleep nor entirely awake, when she is by my side in a dream we know is true. The bed is warm while the air around us is cool, and we hear the liquid notes from the slender throats of the birds. Why do you make such haste when men object and women, too, would much prefer a ritardando. With your gentle hand, check your dewy reins. Before you mount to the sky, mariners see the stars and can tell where they are and in what direction they go. When you appear, the wayfarer has to resume his journey and the soldier has to take up his cruel weapons. Weary men go out with mattocks to till the fields or hitch their oxen to plows. Young boys in bed

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have to get up and again face their schoolmasters’ demands and even endure his disciplinary strokes. Lawyers and clients go off to appear in courtrooms to risk enormous losses because of a single word, and neither the lawyer nor his client is happy. Women with only a little rest have to return to the tasks of carding and spinning the rough wool for weaving. It’s a terrible thing to impose on humankind. How can you treat so badly the members of your own gender? How often have I wished that night might continue and the stars would not have to flee once again at your approach. I have prayed that the rough winds might break your axle or that your steeds might trip on an uneven cloud and fall. What spite is it that drives you? The son you bore was black as is the hue of his mother’s obdurate heart. We have no idea what Tithonus thinks. What scandal could he reveal about how you depart each morning because you dislike his aged and withered body and mount the chariot he has come to loathe and despise? If you were in the embrace of Cephalus, would you not slow down your beasts? Why should I have to suffer because of your uncomfortable situation? Was I the one who forced you to marry an old geezer? Think of Luna and how she extends the slumber

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of her dear Endymion. (She is as pretty as you, and kinder.) Think of how mighty Jove, when he felt like it, put two nights together to give him more time with Alcmene. What else was there to say? None of it mattered. Possibly she heard me, for surely she blushed a little, but the day came on no more slowly than any other.

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i, 14 How many times did I tell you to leave your hair alone? Well, look at you now. There’s nothing left to dye. All you had to do was nothing at all, and now you’d still have hair, wonderful, fi ne in texture, long enough to reach down to your waist. Chinese silkworms don’t make anything quite like it. Spiders, spinning their webs that hang from beams and branches, would have to defer to it for sheer beauty. It was neither black as jet nor blonde like flax, but mixed, rather like what you might fi nd on Ida where, on the slopes, there are handsome cedars of just that shade. Aside from the color, your hair was easy to manage, and you could fi nd a hundred different ways to wear it. It gave way to the teeth of the fi nest comb, and it held a hairpin in place. Your hairdressers loved their labor. I often watched as they hovered over you and saw them grin in delight at how well their work was going. And early, when you hadn’t arisen from bed and lay supine with your hair streaming out on the pillow, you had a Bacchante’s beauty—or what I imagine as those mad dancers dropped down on the grass in exhaustion. But for all their docile beauty, what pains did they endure, 41

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what tortures did you impose, what patience did they exhibit? The hot curlers for ringlets burnt them. I saw the smoke that would arise, and I cried out against it and asked you to spare your hair, not out of kindness but vanity because it was beautiful as it was. O iron-hearted girl. Your natural curls could have taught the curlers to what their art aspired. And now, your tresses, your beautiful tresses are gone. Apollo would have adored them, and Bacchus as well, gods standing in awe of a human! In Apelles’ painting of Venus coming out of the sea, she is holding her hair and it is exactly the way yours used to look. You lament your grievous loss. You lay your mirror aside, unable to believe the image you see reflected in its glass. Now you have to forget the hair you had, the self you used to be. No rival’s magical herbs did this to you. No witch poured potions upon you. No sickness came to ravage your looks. There was no evil eye but yours, for the loss was infl icted by you. It is your fault. On your own head be it, for there you put the poison. You will get hair from some poor German girl, the bounty of our conquest in that barbaric land. But what will you do when someone makes a comment about how well you look? Will you tell them that you bought it in the fi nest shop? Will you confess the truth that the praise should go to some unknown Sygambrian woman but that you remember when it would have been yours.

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Poor dear! You sit at your table, weeping bitter tears and holding the sad hanks of hair in your lap. Your hands cover your cheeks where, under the makeup, there is a real blush. But calm yourself. Dry your tears. The loss may not be forever. The hair we all admired could very well grow back.

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i, 15 Go ahead, Envy, charge me with shiftlessness and sloth and call my writing the work of idle wit. Accuse me of lacking in all the manly virtues of soldiers or the seriousness of lawyers arguing cases, or the relevance of statesmen speaking out in the forum. My answer is that these paths you recommend are merely mortal, while my ambition is higher and harder— as I quest after immortal fame and glory. Homer’s name shall live as long as Ida shall stand and Simoïs’s waters pour down into the sea. Hesiod shall endure as long as grapes on the vine swell to ripeness and men harvest their wheat. And Callimachus, too, even if not by genius, shall persist by the art and excellence of his song. Sophocles shall revive again and again on stages. Aratus’s name is fi xed in the stars he wrote about. And as long as tricky slaves, treacherous pimps and harlots, and stern fathers belabor one another, Menander will keep us laughing. Ennius’s “Epicharmus” will transport us to another and higher plane. Accius’s tragic plays will speak in a fresh voice that will never die. What generation will not be familiar with Varro, who translated from Greek, the tale of the Argo and Jason’s quest? Lucretius’s “Nature of Things” is on as fi rm a foundation as the universe he explains to us in detail. 44

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And schoolboys shall read of Tityrus and the journey of pious Aeneas as long as the Latin language is spoken or taught. Splendid Tibullus! Mellifluous Gallus who sang of Lycoris . . . These are our heroes, our spokesmen, our monuments. Rocks will be ground to dust, and the teeth of the plowshare fail, but death will never touch the songs of these poets. Monarchs’ names and their arches and towers will be forgotten. The Tagus will no more pour out motes of gold. Let the crowds marvel at whatever is easy and flashy. For me there is Apollo’s bracing cup and the hope of his delicate myrtle chaplet to wear on my brow. Let my words be read in bed by lovers. Envy feeds on the living; after death, he relents and the fame each man has earned will continue to guard him. When fi re has consumed the last of my flesh and bones, the greater part of me will continue to live.

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Book II ii, 1 It’s me again, old Naso, from Sulmo’s damps and swamps the noted singer of my own layabout ways. More persiflage at the solemn bidding of Love. Be gone, all you who disapprove of tender strains. Those earnest young women trying to better themselves and the world are no more fit for me than I for them. I want the girl who glows when she sees her sweetheart’s face, or the young boy who is touched for the fi rst time by a passion he cannot entirely understand. The arrow’s wound in his breast is still fresh, and he can learn from these lines of mine an explanation of what goes on in his mind and heart and body. Indeed he may be amazed to fi nd that somebody else knows his secrets and understands his pain well enough to put them down in words on a page. Believe it or not, I once had grander plans— to describe the wars of heaven, when the giants tried to pile Pelion on Ossa and both of them atop Olympus to reach the place where the gods dwell. I was thinking of Jove and his thunderbolts he was about to hurl to preserve his celestial kingdom but my darling slammed the door shut in my face, resounding with a boom louder than any thunder. So, begging his gracious pardon, I put Jove by

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and turned my attention instead to more immediate subjects to which I’m afraid I may be better suited. The result, I’m pleased to report, is that the hard-hearted door has opened again. According to legend, song can call the horns of the blood-red moon and bring it down. It can even bring back the white steeds of Phoebus as he is about to depart. The jaws of serpents open and their frightening fangs no longer seem to be there. Song has made rivers flow back uphill to their source and, most prodigious of all, it opens doors, so that the bolt in its oaken brackets softens and yields. Swift-footed Achilles? What has he done for me? Or either one of Atreus’s royal sons. Ulysses, who wandered the world for ten long years, and Hector, whose corpse they dragged around the walls of Troy, are, to be sure, of academic interest. But my beloved likes my verses and, more important, rewards me well for having praised her beauty. You Greek heroes, farewell. You got along without me for all these generations. I wish you luck. But you, fair maids and maidens, lend me your lovely ears as I sing to you what Love dictates to me.

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ii, 2 Bagoas, your job, I understand, is watching your mistress, but let me say a few words that I hope may prove of mutual advantage. Yesterday, I saw her on the Palatine hill, walking past the temple Augustus built for Apollo. In the portico with the fi fty daughters of Danaus carved in Parian marble, I was smitten at once and sent her forthwith a note that asked what all men who are so smitten ask. She replied in a terse note in a shaky hand that said: “Impossible!” Undaunted, I replied: “Why?” Her answer to this was that you were keeping watch. It’s a duty, I suggest, you don’t want to do too well. The only recompense you will have is hatred, from her and from those who are in my position. There is danger in being feared, and the day may very well come when one of us decides you are inconvenient. Her husband is a fool, for he seems not to understand that even if you were not doing your job, nothing would be lost. He must be mad to suppose that chastity and beauty can coexist. Give her a little leeway, and she will return the favor, allowing you some of that same freedom. Conspire with her, and you will discover the curious truth that the mistress and the slave are bound together. 48

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Are you afraid to do this? You can at least pretend. If you see her reading a letter, you can assume it must be from her mother. If on the street she meets a stranger and you greet him as a friend of long standing, who can venture to criticize? Suppose she visits one who is sick. Must you verify his condition? As far as you are concerned, he’s gravely ill. Does she sometimes show up late? What do you care? You can lie down and snore for a while. No one can fi nd fault or blame you for that. She sometimes goes to the theater or the temple of Isis, but you need not inquire too closely about the play or the rite. You ought to respect her interest in art and religion. Your rewards will be great, I assure you. She and her friends will appreciate your silence, which isn’t so hard to maintain. You will fi nd yourself favored, will even enjoy immunity from whipping and power within the household, the use of which will separate you from the others. For the husband, you can dissemble, offering explanations more plausible than the truth. Your mistress, happy, will make her husband happy. We have seen too many times scowling husbands and wheedling wives. Their struggle only ends when he yields and peace is thus restored. Sometimes she will be forced to speak cross words, pretend to weep, and call you a monster or brute. In turn, you must report to the husband from time to time

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and make accusations that she can persuasively refute. Thus you will have his gratitude and trust. Your horde of coins will grow, and sooner rather than later you will have enough to buy your freedom. You are aware that gossips and talebearers wind up with chains hung around their necks. Those who cannot keep faith and silence are thrown into dungeons that they deserve. Tantalus’s garrulous tongue earned him his place in the underworld where he hungers and thirsts, grabbing at fruit just overhead or trying to drink the water in which he stands. Or think of Juno’s informant, Argus, charged with watching Io but lulled to sleep by Mercury’s lovely songs on the syrinx and then beheaded. What you are charged to do, if you do it well, is a thankless business. I have seen men with their legs shackled by their masters who did not like it when they were told that they were cuckolds. The penalty should have been even worse, for he brought harm to the husband and harm to the wife. Either the husband cares, in which case your report will be tormenting, or else he is quite indifferent, and puts you to this sordid employment purely for show. In the worst case, you report what you have seen but cannot prove beyond all possible doubt. Her lies are what he’d prefer to accept, and you look bad. Even if he sees for himself, he may not believe his own eyes but rather his lady’s tears.

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What then? The one who reported is punished for doing his job. Why play a game that you cannot possibly win? If she is the one who is guilty but you wind up with the flogging, where does the logic lead you? Think for a bit! What we intend to do together is hardly a crime. We are not concocting poisons or sharpening swords. All that we ask is to spend an hour or two together in safety. Can you not grant our modest prayer?

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ii, 3 What misery, that you who guard your mistress are neither man nor woman and therefore unaware of love’s joys. A ghastly operation! And he who fi rst thought it up ought to have been himself subjected to it. If only you had some faint idea of the pleasures of sex, you might be more sympathetic, yielding to the prayers of those who long for each other. But you have never known what lust is like, just as you do not enjoy horseback riding or battle, and the shaft of the spear is rough in your gentle hands. These are men’s pastimes. They’ve no appeal for you who exist only to serve your mistress. She is the one whom you hope to please. What else are you good for? She is, you must have noticed, attractive, charming, and of the right age for love. It would be a shame and a waste if her beauty were allowed to fade through disuse. We could elude your watchful eye by deceit or trick, both of our minds and wills working together, but would it not be better to be straightforward and ask your aid, while you still hold your position of power?

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ii, 4 I will not attempt to defend my imperfect morals nor will I try to shield myself with lies. I confess—if there is any advantage to such confession— to my sins and my shortcomings, which I hate. Indeed, I hate what I am, even though I am what I hate. I am unable to be anyone else. How sad to be the burden I long to lay aside! I do not have the strength of will to change or to rule myself. I am swept along like a rudderless ship tossed this way and that by the currents’ whims. Not even beauty holds me, concentrating my passion, for I can easily be and have been distracted. There are scores, hundreds of promptings to keep me always in love— some shy maiden whose eyes are always lowered, or a brassy babe, and either way I can feel the spark on the dry tinder. One is innocence, sweet; but the other’s knowing ways are spicy and very appealing. Even the most austere Sabine-seeming dame may be artfully feigning, playing an ancient game, and who can imagine what lies underneath that forbidding carapace? Smart girls are fun to talk with, and simple ones are honest and lacking in guile. Some artful girl insists that Callimachus’s verses are rustic next to mine, and I adore her, loving the way she makes me think better of myself. On the other hand, a critic who fi nds fault 53

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represents a challenge, and my hope is to seduce her into appreciation, and in my arms persuade her that she was wrong. One has a graceful walk, and I admire that and tell her so. Another clumps along, but she can be made aware of how lovely she is and learn to move in the way her face and body and flowing hair deserve. One has a sweet voice and can sing like a bird, and I would kiss those lips from which the music comes. One plays the guitar and her fi ngers dance on the frets, and I stare at the pretty hands and imagine them on me. Yet another dances, sways with her arms, and I am entranced. It would give Hippolytus a hard-on. You who are tall remind me of daughters of heroes and when you stretch out on a couch you take up its whole length. And you who are short and compact, I love you, too. One who is poorly dressed, I can imagine turned out in the fi nest robes that would scarcely do her justice. Another shows off her wardrobe and, contrariwise, I think what she will look like later when she’s naked. Fair-skinned, I love. And dusky complexions as well. Blondes are terrific (Aurora had blonde hair), but dark hair with its tendrils touching the nape of the neck, as Leda had . . . What could be fi ner than that? Youth is always attractive, but some women age well and often have a richness that they have earned. Beauty is good, but character and charm are also splendid. Surrounded by these delights, I love them all.

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ii, 5 No love is worth this much. Cupid, take your quiver and go. Get out of my life! My usual prayers these days are for death, which seems a better option than the torment in which I suffer from that girl! The evidence is clear. I did not have to infer from equivocal clues or see my uncertain way through ambiguities. These are no mere suspicions, and not even a fool would try to refute them. Happy is he who can in good conscience defend his darling, who can swear, “I didn’t do it!” But stronger than I am in mind and heart is he who can be satisfied by proving his mistress guilty, winning the bloody battle and losing the damned war. I saw what you did. You thought I was drunk and asleep, but through my half-closed lids I watched you play the coquette, nodding, fl irting, and making that little moue you sometimes use. I watched your fingers write on the table messages that you once traced for me. And your talk was full of suggestive jokes and double-entendres. Then, when the party broke up and most had left, and only a few of us drunks were still in the room dozing, I saw you and him kissing, no mere pecks of the kind a brother and sister might very well exchange (Diana and Phoebus, say) but deep probings

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as if you were trying to swallow one another’s tongues (for example, Venus and Mars in the heat of passion). “What in hell is this?” is what I shouted out. “Why are you sharing the joys that should be mine? I assert and will defend my rights. Those kisses are ours, unencumbered by claims of any third party.” (Elaborate, but remember I had been drinking a lot.) She blushed. Of course, she blushed, crimson with shame with the tint of Tithonus’s spouse, like the flush of a virgin bride on her wedding night, like roses among the lilies, or the moon as it sometimes shows itself when it is in labor, or Assyrian ivory Lydians dye to preserve it and keep it from turning yellow . . . But you see my desperate condition, with metaphors running wild to describe her color, which, I have to admit, was absolutely lovely. She kept her eyes on the ground, which was also becoming, and the grief and shame on her face made an appealing picture. Still, what I wanted to do was tear her hair and rowel her gorgeous cheeks with my desperate fi ngernails. But as I stared at her face my arms dropped as if she were wearing armor. No longer enraged but humble, I begged her for kisses no less sweet than those I had observed. She smiled at me and then she kissed me in a way that would make great Jove let fall from his hand

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his three-forked thunderbolts. Again, I was wretched, thinking that he had enjoyed embraces just as sweet, or, even more disturbing, these kisses she gave me were better than before, inventive now, or say that she had been taught and now knew how to please voluptuously. I enjoy them, but they gnaw at my vitals as I think how she was lewdly taught and how much pleasure her tutor must have taken.

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ii, 6 Alas, our dear Indian parrot is no more; the clever mimic has fallen silent at last. Come, you birds of the air, flock about him to mark the obsequies of your beautiful feathered friend. Parroting what we do, beat your breasts with your wings, and scratch your tender cheeks with your sharp claws. Let your gaudy plumage be for once bedraggled as we tear at our hair and rip our clothing. In place of your usual twitter or proud trumpet calls, let your laments be heard. Philomela knows how to mourn, for she and Procne have had long practice. This was no common bird but a fountain of wisdom uttering philosophers’ observations but then punctuating his discourse with a shrill whistle and then awrk-awrk, with which no one could quarrel. All you who negotiate through the liquid air, pause and grieve, but especially you, the turtledove, for the friendship you and the parrot shared together was long and steadfast. The two of you were like Orestes and Pylades for as long as fate allowed. But what good did all that do you? Friendship, beautiful color, that talent you had to mimic the speech of humans, and my darling’s affection for you from the fi rst moment she saw you . . . You were the glory of birds and are no more. 58

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Unfortunate creature, your wings were brighter than yellow jasper and your beak was Punic red with touches of saffron. You were an exultation of nature, able to speak in a throaty voice but enunciating clearly. It was envious fate that destroyed you. You were no hawk or falcon but a prattling lover of peaceful conversation. Quail are contentious and sparrows engage in unseemly brawling, but you were content with little. Your beak loved words and hardly had time to devote to food: a nut was enough. Poppy seeds put you to sleep. And sips of water unmixed with wine would quench your abstemious thirst. Up in the sky there are vultures wheeling about, and kites and jackdaws still full of life, and ravens thriving, though none of those birds is deserving as you, the parrot who came from the farthest part of the known world to grace our lives and entertain with your chatter. The good die young, and the best are often swept away by the greedy hands of fate that allow the worst to fi ll out however they can their full allotments of years. Did not Thersites survive Protesilaus, and was not Hector ashes while his lesser brothers still lived? Why call to mind the prayers and pious vows my beloved made to the gods in the hope that you might live? Those prayers were swept away by the heartless winds.

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The seventh day dawned that turned out to be your last, and Fate stood over your cage with an empty distaff. Even as you expired, you uttered a few last words and managed to croak, “Corinna, farewell.” I should like to believe that there is an Elysian grove of leafy ilex where the moist earth is green with never-fading grass, and that this is where good birds go, the tranquil swans, the phoenix, and Juno’s peacock. There the sweet dove kisses his tenderly cooing mate. Lesser avian creatures are not allowed. This is where our pretty parrot will surely go, impressing his feathered companions with his words. Here on earth his bones lie under a little mound over which a small stone bears this legend: You may judge by this stone how much my mistress loved me. I was no poet but I had wingèd words.

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ii, 7 Am I accused again? Does this go on forever? I contest the charges and win, but am charged again, and I begin to weary of disputing these allegations. Did I glance at someone in the theater, or turn my head while you picked out which face I might have been looking at? Do we pass a pretty woman in the street, who says not a word? You still accuse me of having received silent signals. If I should happen to praise some girl we have met, then too bad for me. Your fingers go at once for my hair. If I criticize and point out flaws in some female, you are persuaded at once that this is only deception and she and I must be carrying on. If I seem in good spirits you say that my love for you must have cooled. But if I look poorly, then I must have fallen in love with somebody else. I haven’t done a thing. I don’t feel any secret twinge of remorse. The guilty bear recrimination with some patience. But you accuse without reason, suspect me without any cause, and hurl your insubstantial accusations again and again at my head. I am like some donkey whose spirit is broken by never-ending blows. The latest accusation? That your hairdresser Cypassis and I have been carrying on. It’s quite fantastic! 61

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If I did consider straying, it wouldn’t be with her, a slave, after all. Give me a little credit for taste! Would I clasp a waist that has felt a master’s lash? Consider, too, that her job is doing your hair, pleasing you with the skill of her cunning hands. Would I interfere with that? If I made a pass at her, I am sure that I should be repulsed and shamed, and I have no doubt but that she would report it to you. By Venus, I swear, and by the bow of her winged boy, I am not guilty of this ridiculous charge.

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ii, 8 You are perfect in the way you care for your mistress’ hair and you could do the coiffure of any goddess, but as well as you serve her, your ser vice to me is better, as we meet, my dear Cypassis, in stolen delights. But who has seen us and tattled? What villain or villainess has tried to interfere, jealous or greedy for a little reward by carrying tales to your mistress? How could Corinna ever have gotten wind of our affair? I do not think my face betrayed us, and I cannot remember an injudicious word from me that might have given a hint to her of our secret. I told her what I had to say—that a man who lost his heart to a slave would have to be out of his mind. But what about Achilles and his Briseis? Or think of Agamemnon and how he loved Cassandra. I am no better or stronger than either of them, and whatever is fit for kings is good enough for me. Still, when she glared in your direction this morning, I saw how the blush arose at once on your cheeks, while I showed more self-control (or at least I think so). If you remember, I swore up and down that I had been faithful, and asked of Venus that she reject all those who take false oaths in her name. The tirade soon subsided, and for my clever response, I come to you now 63

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to be rewarded with more of your sweet embraces. No? How can you refuse, ungrateful girl? Is it fear? Do you not trust me now? I will protect you. If you are to earn the favor of one of your masters, it ought to be me. It’s sheer folly for you to refuse me. If you do, I could turn informer, confess our crimes, betray my own guilt, but implicate you as well telling her where and when and how often and how.

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ii, 9 A Cupid, you cannot be reviled or insulted enough! I am a soldier who never has deserted your standard, and yet you wound me. Where is the sense in that? Why does your torch singe friends? Why does your bow shoot at your loyal allies? I should think that the greater glory would come to you from the conquest of your foes. Didn’t Achilles cure the wound his spear had infl icted on Telephus? Doesn’t a hunter leave behind the game he has taken, the better to chase after the quarry he has not yet bagged? We are your captives already and we have surrendered. Against the others, proud men who resist, your hand is slow to move. Why would you blunt your arrows on our poor naked bones? And yes, love is leaving my bones bare, while many men and many maidens as well are not in love and therefore ought to be your targets. Had Rome not used her power everywhere in the world, we would still be living in thatch-roofed huts. The old campaigner retires on the plot of land he is given; the old racehorse is sent out at last to pasture; after its useful days are over; the sailors’ ship is put into dry dock. Successful gladiators

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are given a wooden sword to celebrate their discharge. I have done my time and received my wounds in your legion’s ser vice, striving for women’s love, but I’m done and ought to be left alone to live in peace. B Should some god command me to lay my loves aside and learn to live without them, I should pray to be excused. However wicked and painful they are, how can I resist those beautiful women? Whenever my ardor cools, my soul knows some peace but is soon seized by a whirlwind of wretchedness. I am that hard-mouthed horse in headlong fl ight whose master pulls on the reins to try to hold him back. I am the ship that has all but reached the land, with the keel scraping the sandy bottom, when winds sweep it back out into the deep. Just so is naughty Cupid the perverse gale that arises to carry me off as Love takes up the weapons I already know so well. Transfi x me, little boy, for I am defenseless and stand before you unarmed waiting for you to strike. As if they were invited, let your arrows that never rest in their quiver fly at me once again. Who can sleep all the way through the night and say he is content? He may indeed be rested but he is a fool! Sleep is the model of death, and he will have plenty of rest once he is in the grave. As for me, let some deceitful sweetheart

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lure me on again, for either way I win. Hope in itself can be a man’s delight. Let her speak sweetly or let her upbraid and nag, and I am content. Let her doorman admit me or turn me away. It’s all a part of the great game. Mars, we know, is inconstant. You, his stepson, taught him how to be fickle and change as his whims dictate. He learned from you the art of fl itting about as the winds ruffle your wings, granting or not men’s desires and women’s. We pray to you, and your beautiful mother, too, all the more devoutly. Hear my plea. Set up your thrones in my heart and reign there forever. But exercise your awesome powers on fickle women as well, and we will adore you.

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ii, 10 You were the one, Graecinus, who declared to me for a fact that a man could not be in love with two women at once. I relied on that advice, but it turns out to be wrong— and I am now, to my profound shame, in love with two women at the same time. And it’s hell. Each is a beauty, charming, accomplished, stylish. It’s hard to judge between them. Each is more fair than the other. Each pleases me more than the other one can. I veer like a yacht that’s tacking, trying to head upwind, as my love is now for the one and now the other. I am torn in two as Venus doubles my torments. Wasn’t the one love enough of a nuisance? Why stick leaves on trees? Why water the ocean? Still, it could be worse. If I were not in love with either one, or any, and living alone the austere life I would wish on enemies, that would be dreadful. To sleep in a bed all alone, to spread my arms and legs and encounter nobody else’s? Let love’s demands wake me in the dark hours of night. Let me get up in the morning spent and exhausted. If one mistress suffices, well and good. But if two? I shall have to cope. I can meet the test, for even if I am slender, I am not without some strength. All my body is lacking is sheer bulk. My loins respond with vigor. I do not disappoint. The one-eyed wonder performs all through the night 68

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and at dawn still stands at attention. I pray to the gods that this is how I’ll end my days and nights. Let brave men in the army buy glory with blood. Let the merchant in quest of wealth go down on his ship with his lying mouth full of the salty water. For myself, I want a death in Venus’s saddle, so that those at my wake may make their smart remarks: “His life and death were splendidly all of a piece.”

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ii, 11 They say it was with a pine on Pelion’s peak that men fi rst learned to put to sea. The waves were amazed as the hull sliced through them between the terrible crashing rocks to fetch the golden fleece. If only the Argo had been overwhelmed, been swamped, and sunk to the silent depths, so that no one would ever attempt again to dip an oar into the far-reaching perilous sea! Corinna has left her couch and her household gods and makes ready to venture forth on the treacherous water. I shall be stricken with terror whenever I feel a breeze from any quarter that, out at sea, could do harm. She will be out there amidst the emptiness— no towns, no verdant groves, nothing in any direction. Those deep waters out there do not have pretty shells or multicolored pebbles. Those you fi nd on the shoreline, where pretty maidens leave footprints in the sand. The beach can be entertaining, but just a few yards out its dangerous power can do you in in an instant. Let others boast of having battled the winds and the tides, of having survived the malevolence of Scylla and Charybdis, or having safely passed the sheer Ceraunian cliffs or the shifting sands of the African Syrtes. Let others say these things; we shall nod and admire, believing whatever extravagance they tell us.

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Belief itself is without danger and will not drown you. They will cast off the hawser and you will look back to realize what a ghastly mistake you have made as the keel carries you farther away and the vessel commences that nauseating rocking. Look at the sailors’ faces and you will see the signs of the changing weather as they shudder in fear of the grave dangers they know you face. I hope it does not occur to Triton to rile the smooth surface to whitecaps, for then your face as well would go as white as that foam while you look to the sky, call on Castor and Pollux, and admit that you were wrong: “Happy is that woman who never goes to sea!” It would have been better and surely a whole lot safer if you had remained on your couch, quietly reading or perhaps producing notes on the strings of your Thracian lyre. Still, if the winds must bear my words away so that you ignore them, I pray that Nereus’s daughter, Galatea, may show your ship her mercy. It would be a crime as well as a terrible waste to lose a girl like you. I trust you will travel safely and then return home with a strong following wind. Let Nereus make the sea appear to slope gently toward our shores and contrive that the kind tides flow in our direction. And you must pray to Zephyr to belly your sails. I shall be waiting on shore, the fi rst to sight your vessel, and I shall say,

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“My goddess is on that ship!” When you come ashore I will hug you and kiss and kiss . . . The sacrificial victim I have promised will fall; I shall sculpt a couch in the sand and contrive somehow a pile to serve as a table. As soon as the wine is poured, you shall tell me your stories of how the ship was all but engulfed in a storm, and how, on the way home, you had no fear of the winds or the dark night’s slowly passing hours. True or not, I shall believe whatever you tell me, pleasing you as I satisfy myself. May Lucifer arise in the eastern sky to bring us full speedily that long-desired hour.

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ii, 12 Come, you laurels of triumph! Wind around my temples to celebrate my signal victory. Corinna is here in my arms, and I have defeated her husband, her vigilant keeper, her damned door— the whole scurvy lot of them, trying to keep her safe from naughty fellows like me. A splendid siege, ideal, without any bloodshed! What general can boast of such a feat? No moated walls fell down; no town out at the edge of beyond starved and surrendered. But victory and, of course, the girl are mine. For ten long years, the son of Atreus fought at Troy, but what part of the glory could he claim? Mine is not shared with any other soldiers and no one else can claim the slightest part of the credit. I was the captain and I was the army that followed orders, cavalry, footmen, and standard bearers as well, as we marched in excellent order toward our intended goal. Not even Fortune can say it played a part in the triumph that was mine in both plan and execution. Mine was the great cause. Helen was stolen. Otherwise Europe and Asia would never have gone to war. A woman set the Lapiths and Centaurs fighting in their drunken brawl. And again it was a woman for whom Aeneas and Turnus fought in Latinus’s land.

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And yet again when the city was young, the Romans and Sabines fought against each other, and all for a woman. I have seen bulls contending for some snowy heifer, while she stood by and looked on, spurring both their hearts. Cupid, who issues orders to many, bade me take up the standard in his eternal but bloodless campaign.

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ii, 13 Corinna’s gravid belly will soon be relieved of its burden, but now she lies languishing, biding her time. Her having chosen a course that puts her life at risk and without my knowledge is surely a reason for anger. Instead what I feel is fear. She assures me that it’s mine, as I’d prefer to hear. And it could be. O Isis, whom they worship in Libya and in Egypt where the Nile flows north in its broad bed to its seven mouths that pour into the sea, I beseech you now for help, in the name of Anubis and Apis and in the name of your husband Osiris: spare us both. Give life to my lady now in her time of trial and she, by living through this, will save my life as well. Often she has attended your rites on the Field of Mars where the worshippers march in a circle through your grove of laurel trees. And to you, Lucina, the goddess presiding at childbirth who shows compassion for women during their pains, I pray that you have mercy, give her aid, and bid her live. She is surely worthy of your attention. For my part, I promise you that I will don shining robes in which I will tender tributes of incense upon your smoking altars and offer gifts

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that I will lay at your feet in gratitude with the legend: With Naso’s thanks for Corinna’s life and health. All I ask of you is that you and the fates arrange that there will be an occasion when I may do this. And as for you, my darling, if I may intrude on your fear, let this be the last of such ordeals.

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ii, 14 Where is the advantage that women ought to enjoy, exempt as they are from the perils of bloody warfare? They do not pick up the heavy shields and arm themselves to march in the fi ne array of army parades, and yet they take up weapons to use against themselves, with their own hands striking the mortal blow. Whoever it was who fi rst attempted this plucking forth of an unborn life deserved, herself, to die in the warfare she had commenced. Can it be from the fear of my reproach that you scatter the stained sands of the deadly combat we see in the gladiators’ arena? If mothers of ancient days had used this vicious practice, the race of men would have utterly perished and another Deucalion should have been required to strewthe stones again to populate the world. Who would have crushed proud Priam in Troy if Thetis had refused to deliver herself of her burden? Had Ilia availed herself of this option and slain the tiny twins in her swollen abdomen, Romulus and Remus could never have founded Rome, the greatest city mankind has ever known. Had Venus slain the child in her womb, Aeneas would not have been born and we should not have had a race of Caesars. And you, a beautiful baby, I’m sure, would not have emerged, had your mother done what you have done. I expect to die in the ser vice of love, 77

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but this could not come to pass if my mother had refused me. Why cheat the vine of its cluster of ripe grapes, nipping the green fruit? Let what has quickened grow and be. A life is no small reward for a little waiting. Why do women attack themselves with the sharp needle or give their unborn children poison? We disapprove of what Medea did and condemn Procne for killing her son Itys. Each was a cruel parent, but each had her tragic reasons to wreak vengeance upon her vile husband. But tell me what has Jason ever done to you? How has Tereus earned your murderous wrath? The Armenian tigress, fierce as any beast in the world, does not do this; the lioness likewise forbears to destroy her unborn young. But women— tender, civilized, decent women—do this, even though they risk a grievous punishment, dying and then, on the funeral pyre, their critics crying: “She brought this on herself. This is what she deserved.” But I pray that the words I am saying, true though they be, are carried away by the winds. May my grim pronouncement be of no effect. You gods of mercy, I ask you to grant that she has sinned this once in safety. And if she does it again? Punish her then.

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ii, 15 O ring, who are going to circle my lady’s dainty fi nger, your only value, I fear, is the giver’s love. I hope that she may receive you with pleasure and put you on and that you may fit her as well as she fits me. Let your caress of her flesh be neither too tight nor loose. You will be happy, being touched by her and sometimes idly played with. She’ll twist you around her fi nger . . . I envy my own gift and wish somehow, through Circe’s magic or Proteus’s mysterious powers, that I could become that gift and devote my life to her. If I wanted to touch her breasts, I could contrive to loosen and, when she put her hand inside her tunic, fall into her bosom. Or else, when she seals a letter, and she wants to protect the signet from drying wax, she’ll put it to her moistened lips so that I shall be kissed. A delight, unless the letter is to some rival . . . Perhaps she may decide to put me into her jewel box, but I shall tighten, refusing to leave her fi nger. I promise not to be a burden her tender hand might refuse to bear. She’ll wear me always, even in her bath, without fear that the gem might somehow come loose in the soapy water. (Will I be able to bear such exquisite delight without reverting at once to my human form?) But it is absurd to pray for impossible things. Go, little ring, and tell her my love goes with you. 79

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ii, 16 Here I am in Sulmo, down in the Abruzzo, the town in which I was born and where I grew up. It’s hot here as it often is, but we have streams and irrigation canals to help the earth produce. We are rich in grain and we have our vineyards. We also have olive trees that Athena loves and meadows with rich grass for herds and flocks to graze. But the flame that glows in my heart is far away. Or, put it another and more accurate way, the flame is here within me; the fuel, alas, is not. What can I say? If I were fi xed among the stars between Castor and Pollux, I should fret unless you were there beside me. I hate all those engineers who have cut their roads to connect distant places, making it easy to travel—unless there were some strange law prohibiting men to journey unescorted by a woman close to their hearts. If that were the case, the Alps’ shivering passes would not be at all forbidding. If my lady were by my side, the treacherous shoals of the Syrtes would not at all deter me. The beetling cliffs, and even the fabled monsters like cruel Charybdis, sated with sunken vessels, would not impress me at all.

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Let us assume the worst that can happen: Neptune strikes with all the fury of winds and foam-tipped waves that obscure the sky to prevent the other gods from seeing our plight so that they cannot come to our aid. If you but put your arms around my neck, I am safe or, almost as good, indifferent to what may befall. If the ship went down we could still swim with easy strokes as Leander did, crossing the strait to Hero. Here in Sulmo it’s pretty, it’s busy, it’s all one could want except that you are not here, which makes it as bleak as Scythian wastes or Britain where the natives paint themselves blue. Or blood-stained Promethian rocks. These are my father’s familiar fields, but I feel like a stranger here. The elm and the vine entwine in a vegetal love and do not part. Are we less well ordered than they? You swore, I remember, that you would always be with me, and your eyes, those stars of mine, flashed in a sign of truth. Are the words of women lighter than falling leaves that spin and turn in the air on the whims of the wind? May I still believe what you promised with seeming fervor? If there is in your heart some feeling for me still, who am left alone and bereft down here, then come, make good your promise, turn your words into deeds, and soon. As soon as you can, take the reins of your ponies

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and hasten them here. I pray as your car bounces along that wherever you pass, the hills may flatten themselves, the winding valleys straighten, the rutted roads turn smooth and that the journey you make be easy and fast.

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ii, 17 If you believe it’s disgraceful to be enslaved by a woman, then you can fi nd me guilty and call me disgraced. I don’t much care what anyone may think of me. I pray only for a somewhat milder fi re by which Venus affl icts me. I’m in love with a beautiful woman: it would have been good if she were merciful, too. But beauty itself can be the place where arrogance breeds. Corinna’s lovely face has made her hard and even cruel. She sees herself in the looking glass and is more than satisfied and therefore smug. (She never looks before her maquillage is applied.) But even if she is pleased with herself, she shouldn’t treat me with scorn. Lesser can sometimes fit with great. The nymph Calypso loved the mortal Ulysses and kept him against his will to be her paramour. Nereus’s daughter Thetis took as her husband Peleus, King of Phthia. Egeria married Numa, and she was a water nymph and he was a king of Rome. Venus was married to Vulcan, who limped badly— as these uneven elegiac lines limp along joining the longer heroic and shorter. Can you condescend and take me on whatever terms may seem pleasing to you? If you must hand down the law as if we were in the forum, I shall obey. I shall not give you any further cause for complaint so that you are relieved when I leave your presence. 83

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We will no longer have to skulk around in secret, and I shall not be jealous and brooding but cheerful and even entertaining. I have heard women speak enviously of you who appear in these poems and thus can entertain a hope of undying fame as my Corinna. They’d give the world for that. The Eurotas has less chance of flowing into the Po than any of them do of taking your place. My little bibelots celebrate you alone for you are the one who inspires me to song.

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ii, 18 Dear Macer, your serious poems present Achilles’ wrath and give us the great drama of men at war, while I laze about in the shady groves of Venus whose antics distract me from your ambitious enterprise to which a good poet ought, I suppose, aspire. I have often told my mistress to leave me alone so that I could think and perhaps write some serious lines, but she comes to sit on my lap, and I am ashamed to have so little resolve. She knows what I am thinking (she always does)—and bursts at once into tears. She asks me then if I am ashamed of being in love and winds her pretty arms around my neck, and I am undone, routed, and cannot turn my mind to the exploits of brave warriors. I have my own battles to fight in campaigns that are much closer to home. I tried. I really did, and wrote about mighty kings hoping to achieve the dignity of the tragic. I have been told that I have a certain talent— but Love laughed in my face and guffawed at my outré getup. He pointed at the scepter I held in my unfit hand and could not say a word but only chortle and snort. My mistress, I am sorry to say, agreed with Love’s discouraging judgment. I packed the costumes away and settled, as many writers sooner or later do, on trying to fi nd my own modest métier. I am caught, as you can see, in the snares of my life 85

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and write about love, or else the words of women in love: Penelope, or Phyllis to Demiphoön. Or I try to imagine the words those ancient lovers read, Paris, Marcareus, ungrateful Jason, Hippolytus and his father. I did the Queen of Carthage who wrote with the sharp sword in her other hand. I even had the nerve to try to impersonate Sappho (telling myself that we have none of her prose). It’s an entertainment, merely, but it seems to have caught on, for Sabinus ventures to write likely replies, Ulysses back to Penelope, or Hippolytus to Phaedra. It’s a kind of flattery, really. Or that’s how I choose to interpret his poems meant to complement my own: what Jason might have said to the Queen of Lemnos; how Sappho, her letter answered and her love returned, gives Phoebus that lyre she promised. I leave you to judge between us. But let me point out, Macer, that even in your epic along with scenes of battle, women appear and men who pay them court. Paris is there and Helen, and you give Protiselaus’s wife more than a mention. I know you well enough to be able to see your verve. In these matters, you move from your camp to mine.

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ii, 19 You guard her because you’re jealous, doing this for yourself— or so you think, but the curious result is that you do it for me as well. If she were easy, there wouldn’t be any challenge. It’s better like this when she is forbidden and I have to find new ways to elude you and your not quite vigilant slaves who watch her. There’s even a touch of danger, at least in theory, and this pricks me on, is the spice that seasons the dish that otherwise might turn bland and, after a while, boring. What kind of dull fellow could love a mistress whose husband didn’t care one way or another or, worse, actively approved of the odd arrangement. Hope blooms best when it grows in the rich soil of fear, and it’s only being shut out that whets our desire to be let in to enjoy what fortune now withholds. A lover whose success is assured and constant soon becomes smug, which Corinna well understands, lashing out for reasons I cannot guess or sending me away, claiming she is unwell. And when I dawdle, she can lose all patience and bid me be gone at once, as if there were someone else she soon expected and I was in the way. Even if this was not the case, my jealous rage would be authentic. She will indulge her moods attacking me for no reason at all, to keep me paying attention. She can fret and fume 87

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and then subside to a demonstration of love and passion. Oh, how fi ne she can be at making amends with sweet words and even sweeter kisses. Good gods! Many kisses, as in our fi rst days together. She sometimes pretends to fear the slaves appointed to watch her and gives that as her reason for saying no, while I stretch out near the door for another long night’s vigil. It is in this way that my love grows robust like a bush that is pruned back the better to grow in thickly. Too much sweetness and one gets fat and lazy in love as well as diet. What Jove could not resist wasn’t just Danae but the tower that gave him a certain challenge. When Juno guarded Io, changed as she was to a horned white heifer, that was an aphrodisiac she never intended. Who wants the low-hanging fruit? Who wants to drink from the bank of a broad slow river? Women who understand what men are like practice now and then a deception or two—not to drive them away but to keep them. Am I worried, you ask, that I may be tormented by Corinna taking advantage of my own words of advice? Yes, of course. And no, for these are maneuvers motivated by love. What follows me, I flee; what flees from me, I am eager to follow. So do me a favor. Take better care of your woman, close and lock the gate to your house at dusk.

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Have a trusted doorman ask whoever may knock who he is and what his business may be. Send someone to fi nd out why the dogs in the yard have all begun to bark. Watch your servants and discover, if you can, who has notes in their tunics. Ask why your wife is sleeping alone so often. Worry about her a little, so that I may have problems to solve with wit and sometimes, if there is need of it, courage. With no lifeguard on the beach, stealing sand is easy. I give you fair warning—unless you pay closer attention, your wife will no longer be mine! The challenge is gone, and much of the fun, too, because you are slow and dull and endure what no husband should. What I need is threats, ultimata, and thugs lurking in the shadowy alleys around your house. I ought to fret about you and wish you dead, which doesn’t ever occur to me if you are a pander. How about your taking another mistress, someone you care about, so I can be your rival, and we can both behave like civilized men.

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Book III iii, 1 There is a grove of ancient towering trees no axe has ever come near in which is a breathless stillness, a hush of the kind one might expect where a deity dwelled. The only sounds are those of a sacred spring’s susurrus at the mouth of a cave where an overhanging rock shelters the place. And in the mornings birds in the branches twitter their greetings to the sun. Walking there one day, I considered how my Muse might next prompt me and what work she might assign, when I encountered Elegy standing there with pleasantly perfumed hair that was coiled around her head. One foot was longer than its mate, but still she had a kind of grace as she sashayed along and her pleasant face was radiating love. With her was another, more forbidding figure— Tragedy, with her purposive stride and a dignified expression of grief or possibly anger. The long train of her gown swept the grass while her left hand held—or rather brandished—a scepter, and she wore on her feet those high-topped Lydian buskins. Tragedy spoke fi rst: “Will you ever exhaust your theme of the pleasures, dangers, and complications of love? The gossip people exchange at dinner over a glass of wine, you dignify, making your poems. 90

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Stories travelers tell along the road you record as if they had significance or meaning. Worse, your readers assume that you speak of yourself and point at you as the bard who is always burning with love. Have you no shame at all? Or modesty? Or ambition? Is it not time for Bacchus’s thyrsus to touch you and inspire you to something substantial if not yet grand? You think you are showing off your modest talent, but what you write obscures it. You trivialize yourself along with what you like to claim is art. Get serious, why don’t you? Sing of the deeds of heroes! This is an exercise not merely of wit but of the soul as well. Your Muse has been fooling around with the follies of youth and of those who never grow up. Study with me and earn yourself a bit of renown, which is more than ephemeral celebrity. I believe that you are capable of far better undertakings.” She nodded her head as if she were a goddess affi rming what she had just spoken aloud to me. The other, Elegy, smiled sideways and answered (and I think she held in her hand a branch of green myrtle): “Why do you burden me with weary words? Poor Tragedy, you confuse the serious and the good. Intention and genre are always beside the point, which is and always has been excellence. You protest that I like unequal lines, but then you used them yourself just now as you assailed my usual practice. Your queenly gaits are more impressive than mine.

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But I do not apologize for my lightness. Cupid is light and I never aspire to any more dignity than he has. I turn rustic rutting to courteous sporting and I was born to be the go-between in the ser vice of Venus. Your forbidding door is always locked, while mine remains wide open, and men and women resort to me for advice and comfort. My power therefore is greater than your own. People may respect you, but they prefer to read me. Corinna, for instance, has learned to elude her husband’s doorman and slip away in the dead of night on tiptoe in a gauzy, ungirdled tunic. Lovers write out my poems and post them on closed doors unashamed that passersby may read them. My lines have been hidden away in the folds of servants’ clothing, which is, I think, a mark of my importance.” She had turned her head and now was speaking mostly to me: “You have sometimes sent one of my pieces as a birthday gift. And what is the reception we can expect? The rustic girl will be puzzled and tear the paper or throw it into the water to wash the words away. Sophisticated women are flattered and pleased. I enrich your mind and theirs. Surely you owe it to me that Tragedy wants to recruit you and use your talent.” I addressed them, saying, “I thank you both. I am flattered indeed. One offers a scepter and I can already feel the noble words welling up in my ambitious mind. The other gives endless glory to my love,

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which is a great gift. Let me write elegiacs for now. What Elegy asks is unlikely to take very long. Tragedy’s labor, eternal, is also time-consuming. I shall, one day, address myself to her, when I am no longer a mere plaything of love and dalliance and am ready to undertake her more serious task.”

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iii, 2 Although I do not come to the track to watch the horses run around an oval, I cheer for the ones you like. I’m here to sit with you, talk between the races, and let you see how much I love you, willing, or even eager, to undergo a little boredom. You gaze out at the track; I gaze at you. Each of us stares at what he or she fi nds delightful. How lucky is the charioteer who drives your favorite, having the good wishes of your whole heart— if only for the briefest stretch of time! For those few instants, I want to be that man as the steeds dash from the gate with a racket of hoofs and wheels and I am standing there fearless, urging them on with the reins, or even using the whip when necessary, and grazing the turning post with the hurtling inner wheel as we career along at breathtaking speed. Do I see you out of the corner of my eye, let go of the reins, and come to a stop? Remember Pelops’s race and how for Hippodamia’s sake he had Myrtilus sabotage Oenomaus’s axle-pins? Thus did Pelops win and gain the girl he loved. Love can do great things and bring rewards, as it does in my daydream. But why do you draw away? It will do no good. The seating here at the track 94

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packs us close together, which I don’t mind at all. It’s part of the fun of arena seating—except that the man on your other side seems to be pressing against you. Shall I tell him to keep away and not annoy you? And the man behind, whose knees keep grazing against your back . . . Shall I try to deal with him and risk a ruckus? Your cloak has fallen off your shoulder revealing more of your body than you intended. Gather it up, or allow me to do so. The garment was proud of itself, covering as it did so much of your pretty self, but not quite concealing. What Atalanta wore in their race made Milanion burn with love. In pictures we see Diana wearing a short tunic pursuing the wild beasts, and she looks even more tempting than if the artists had painted her in the nude. I burned when I fi rst met you before I had seen what you are beneath the distractions of your clothing, and now, having had that exquisite pleasure, the fi re within me is fanned and blazes all the more. We approach a theoretical point where the heat reaches its maximum. You cannot add a drop more water to the sea. And under your gown is the very same philosophical absolute. Are you warm at all? Shall I command a breeze? Or lacking that, I can fan you, unless the heat you feel is coming from the blaze within my breast. While we have been talking, some dust in the air has settled on the white of your dress. Shall I blow the motes away

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to discourage them from any such acts of presumptuousness? But look, the procession of gods is about to commence when they bring the statues in and parade them around the course. We must appear to pay devout attention and, from time to time, applaud. Victory comes fi rst, borne up high with her wings outspread . . . Come here, goddess, and bless my lady, helping her choices to win. Now Neptune passes by. Let those who trust their lives to the treacherous sea applaud for him. I remain committed to dry land, which is steady and safer. And Mars, for whom the soldiers applaud, but I keep my hands silent and in my lap: I dislike battles and much prefer to have peaceful times in which one pursues pleasure and love. Phoebus, kind to augurs, and Phoebe, to whom the hunters look, and then Minerva, the patroness of craftsmen, all pass by. Farmers rise in respect and thanks for Ceres and Bacchus. Boxing fans greet Pollux, and horsemen, Castor. We applaud for Venus and her naughty cupidons with their dangerous bows and arrows. O dear goddess, smile upon my efforts and put my newest mistress in the proper frame of mind to accept my love. It wasn’t merely the way they bore her along on her platform; I believe the goddess nodded her head in assent.

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What the goddess has promised you must now promise as well, and you will be the greater goddess for me to whom I devote myself forever. I ask you in the presence of this crowd of witnesses, be my queen and rein supreme in every breath I take. But your feet dangle. Put them against the rail. Be comfortable. The best part is about to begin with the four-horse cars ready at their gates. Which one do you like? Whoever it is will win because your eyes are upon him. Even the horses can feel the extra energy your attention brings. But he’s taking the turn much too wide and is losing ground. What is he thinking? The man behind him is gaining and now runs axle to axle. Your man is hopeless! Use the whip, damn you! Pull on the left rein and tighten the turn! Incompetent buffoon! You’ve picked, I fear, a loser, and he doesn’t have a chance . . . But wait, there is a protest. People object. Men around the arena are waving their togas, demanding a fresh start. See, they’re calling them all back. One of these damned togas may muss your hairdo! Hide your head in the fold of my cloak to keep it safe. They’re starting again. They’re off. This time the man you like is doing better. See how he fl ies on the straightaway. Go! Go! For my lady’s sake and mine, too. Go! Yes. He’s got it. My lady wins. Her driver

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receives his palm from the judges. Will I receive mine later? She smiles in the pleasure of winning, and maybe more. Is it a promise? It surely is not a refusal. We’ll see. How it comes out we’ll describe some other time.

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iii, 3 Gods, you say? What gods? She swore by them and failed in her oath, and what has happened? Nothing at all! Her face that was so fair is still as fair as before; none of her lovely hair has fallen out; her complexion is still the same peaches and cream perfection with that delicate blush on the cheeks; her dainty feet have not changed a whit; she is statuesque as ever; and her eyes still sparkle with health and life—those eyes by which she swore while telling the most outrageous lies. The gods seem not to be able to bring themselves to punish such a beauty. Her looks give her a pass. Her eyes have not been affected, while mine smart from acid tears of anger that well up again and again. If there were gods, how could they let her off? How, beyond that, could they punish me instead, who am guiltless? Can they be crazy? Andromeda they punished for Cassiopeia’s reckless and criminal boasting. Why? She makes a joke of the gods, which few would dare, and also makes a joke of me, which is easy to do. She perjures herself and they torture me instead, the victim of her deceits. “God” is an empty word that frightens stupid or trusting people and keeps them from misbehaving. Or else there are gods, who are so indulgent to pretty women that they can do as they please. 99

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For men, Mars puts on his death-dealing sword, and Athena takes up her mighty spear. We are Apollo’s targets when he flexes his curved bow. Jove aims his lightning bolts at us with his upraised arm. But pretty women? The gods fear to offend them. Even when women are wrong or do not show the proper reverence gods have a right to expect, there are no consequences whatever. Still we put pious incense on their altars as if they existed, as if they were wise and fair? Or sane. Has anyone paid attention to where the lightning really hits? Sacred groves, and citadels. Women? Aside from Semele, can you think of others (and her being struck was Hera’s wily machination)? But what is the point of complaining? Why should I scold heaven? The gods have eyes, or are supposed to. And hearts. If I were a god myself, I am afraid that women could bend me to their will with their lying lips that speak and smile and kiss . . . Whatever a woman swore, I would swear was true. Gods should be gracious, no? And yet, I urge you, lady, not to abuse your privileges and powers. Be polite to the gods, or, at the very least, spare my poor eyes.

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iii, 4 You are a hard man, and setting a guard to watch your tender wife will accomplish nothing. Think! A woman’s one reliable guard is her own nature. Only she is chaste who has nothing to fear and yet remains pure. She, who refrains from sin merely because she cannot or may not, sins. You may be guarding the body but you cannot watch the mind or the will. And then the body will fi nd a way although you lock every door, for the traitor may be within. Indeed, the wife who is free to err, errs less, having no cause to rebel. Her power over herself is what she wants; the lack of that will quicken the seeds of sin. You think to diminish the likelihood, but in fact your prohibitions spur her on, if only to demonstrate that she is her own mistress. Consider the paradoxical effects of what you attempt to do. I saw not long ago a rebellious horse that took the bit in his mouth and ran like lightning. The moment the reins were released and he felt them lying loose on his flying mane, he came to a stop. People behave that way, yearning for what is forbidden and spurning whatever is not. The invalid, disobeying his doctor’s orders, will thirst for a glass of water only because he is told

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not to drink too much. Argus’s hundred eyes were not enough to keep Jove away from Io. When Danae was locked in the tower, she was a virgin but she became a mother, nevertheless. Penelope had no such restraints, but she remained chaste all those years among her many suitors. Locks invite the thief. Few pursue what the owner seems not to care about or try to protect. Your wife is pretty, but that is only part of her charm. Your jealousy is the spice that flavors the dish. You do not make her honest by keeping such close track of where she is and with whom she stops to talk, but rather more attractive. It’s not what you want to hear, but think about it. Her fear makes her a prize of greater value. Treat her as if she were a slave, and she will behave like any crafty slave. And if that’s the case, you cannot boast about her behavior but only your own strenuous vigilance. Are you some kind of country bumpkin who is upset when his wife strays a little from time to time? Look around you and see how city people live. Romulus and Remus, the city’s founders, were Ilia’s sons—and she was a vestal virgin, raped and comforted then by Mars. Our heritage is thus equivocal. You want your wife to be chaste? Explain, then, why you picked a beauty to marry, when beauty and chastity are seldom found together. If you are smart, you will learn to relax a little,

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give your wife some leeway, and even make friends with her lovers (and you will have many friends, I can assure you). You’ll have a good time and be invited to dinners where the bright and entertaining will be assembled, and often you will see in the house expensive presents you didn’t have to pay for and yet can enjoy.

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iii, 5 “Dead of night, and I slept; my eyes were closed, but I saw a vision that came to terrify my soul: At the base of a sunlit hill was a thick grove of ilex the branches of which concealed a number of birds. Nearby was a meadow with a brook babbling through it and I was seeking refuge there from the heat, which was intense even beneath the branches’ shadows. There appeared a heifer, whiter than any snowdrift, that had come to graze the rich, flower-dappled grass. Whiter than milk she was, fresh from the sheep and still with its bubbles of foam to decorate the bucket. There was a bull with her, a happy consort pawing the ground with delight to be there with his mate. He lay down to chew the cud and, in my vision, fell asleep. He lay his great horned head on the ground. Meanwhile a crow came swooping down through the air, alit, and, pecking three times at the heifer’s chest, carried away in his beak tufts of her hair. The heifer then wandered away from where the bull slept, but now there was a dark mark on her hide. There were a few more bulls grazing not too far off, and she ambled toward them and mingled with the herd in a place that I assumed was even richer in grass. So, tell me, augur of visions and dreams, if you can, what could all this mean? What truth does it conceal?” That’s what I asked the man who interprets dreams,

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and what he said, after weighing all the details, was this: “The heat you wanted to get away from but couldn’t, even in the shade of the grove of trees, was love. The heifer was the woman you are in love with. You were the happy bull, the mate who fell asleep. The crow that pecked her hide was some old woman, pandering, meddling, interfering with her emotions. That the bull continued to lie there after the heifer had taken off suggests that you will be left in a cold bed alone and deserted. The marks on her hide? These are signs that her heart is not without some taint.” Thus he spoke. I felt a dreadful chill as the blood fled from my face. I awoke in my room again and opened my eyes, but all I saw was blackness.

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iii, 6 Listen, stream, I’m trying to get to my lady, but you are in the way. Can’t you hold your water? No bridge anywhere, not even a boat drawn up on your bank to carry me across, pulling the cable. I remember you as a tiny rivulet one could cross when your deepest water would barely wet his ankles. You posed no danger then, and I wasn’t at all afraid, but snowmelt from the nearby mountainsides has given you volume and force with your muddy waters 10 flowing in menacing rapids and whirlpools. What was the point of all my speed to get here, traveling day and night? I’m stuck here, unable to move, looking across to the other side to which my wit cannot transport me. I am defeated by stupid contingencies. If I had wings on my shoes as Perseus did, attacking the dreadful Medusa, or if I had Ceres’ car that serpents drew through the air as she scattered seeds on the 20 earth . . . But those are the kind of tall tales I retell, that not only do not help but even mock me now. No dawn has ever broken on a day on which they performed their miraculous feats, nor ever will. It’s up to you I’m afraid, you absurd stream.

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Flow on forever for all I care but let your water keep within your proper bounds and depth. Do you want to bear the brunt of my implacable hatred? I am a lover, remember, and also a poet. Rivers should aid young men on amorous adventures having themselves been smitten by the emotion. The Inachus, we are told, went pale for Melie: his chilly waters warmed with the heat of his love for her. And the Xanthus at Troy was infatuated with sweet Neaera. The Alpheus in pursuit of Arethusa flowed underground from Elis to arise in Sicily’s plain. The Peneus was in love with the naiad Creusa, even though she had been promised already to Xuthus. The Asopus, we remember, was smitten with Thebe, a daughter of Mars. The Achelous was in love with Deianeira but lost her when he wrestled with Hercules. The mighty Nile’s flood could not drown out the fi re Asopus’s daughter Euanthe had kindled within him. The Enipeus, wishing to dry himself to hold Salmoneus’s child Tyro, bade his waters cease, and they somehow did so. Nor should I neglect how Ilia, the vestal virgin, roamed the woods with her hair in wild disorder and her cheeks raked by her nails, having been impregnated by Mars and now wandering barefoot and crying about her plight. The Anio beheld her and in pity

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and love addressed her in his deep-toned gravelly voice: “Why do you walk along my banks in grief with tears running down your cheeks and beating your breast 60 with your fists? Where are your beautiful clothes? Where is the white fi llet with which you always bind up your lovely hair? He who can look upon you and not melt in compassion for your tears and the pain that they come from must have a heart of iron and stony fl int. Put your fears and grief aside. Accept my help. I open my royal halls to welcome you, and each of my waves shall pay you honor and show you kindness. 70 You shall be mistress here of my hundred nymphs. All I ask in return is that you do not spurn my love. O girl of Laomedon’s noble line, I entreat you. You shall have gifts beyond your wildest imagination.” He fell silent, and she looked down at the ground with modest eyes. Her silent tears continued to flow. Three times she turned to flee but three times stopped and looked back, frozen by indecision and also fear. 80 Tugging still at her hair with hostile fi ngers she spoke and with trembling lips detailed the wrongs she had suffered: “I wish that my bones had been gathered and entombed and that they were still the bones of a virgin, for I am a vestal. But I am disgraced and denied my place at the fi re

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Aeneas brought from Troy. What is the point of living if everyone points at me and calls me a whore? One who bears such shame ought not to show herself.” She held her cloak before her face to hide it and with a sob that subsided at last to a weary sigh threw herself into the flowing water. The river received her body with tenderness and affection, bore her up, and caressed her as grooms caress their brides. And you as well, I venture to say, have felt a keen desire for some fair girl or woman, even if the bushes and trees that line your banks have hidden your indiscretions away from the world. But even as I have been speaking to you, I see that your waters are deeper than they were a few moments ago, and that they still overflow the banks that used to contain you. What could you have against me, wicked water? Why do you defer the pleasure toward which I travel with such great haste? Why interrupt my journey? You’re not an important river. You don’t even have a name! You’re an accident, a fluke, a thing of the moment. You do not arise from a spring but only carry the melt from the winter’s snow and then you disappear, leaving only an empty bed, a dusty ditch . . . No passerby can quench his thirst with you or say in his gratitude, “May you flow on forever!” You do the fields no good; you endanger the sheep.

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You exist to wrong whomever you can, including me. To a trickle like you I have been foolish enough to babble on of the loves of famous rivers and streams. I am ashamed to have mentioned such great names as the Achelous, the Inachus, and even the great Nile to a nullity like you, an impromptu drain. My wish for your disgustingly turbid water is this— fierce sunshine overhead and dry winters.

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iii, 7 In my dreams she was gorgeous, alluring, the not so obscure object of all my desire, but then that night when I held her close in my arms, my body would not perform but lay there limp, useless, an obstinate thing, as if my member possessed a mind of its own that rejected my brain’s fervent commands and then its pleas. I was eager, and she was eager, but it was indifferent, treacherous, willful. Imagine our disappointment that this poor piece of flesh was neither eager nor willing. My darling did what she could, held me and kissed me and entwined her limbs with mine. She whispered gentle endearments, made lewd suggestions and coy invitations to rapture, but nothing, nothing. My prick lay there as if it were dead or as if it were drugged from drinking the cold hemlock. Like a fallen log it refused to move or respond to coaxing, no longer a body part but a ghost’s member. If this can happen now, to what must I look forward as old age comes upon me? Yesterday I was a vigorous youth. Today my girlfriend discovers that I am a geezer, however well preserved. She left the bed as chaste as a vestal virgin tending the sacred fi re. I simply can’t understand it.

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A week ago I double-dipped with pretty Chlide, and with Pitho and Libas both I scored three times in a night. My record, I think, was the nine times I performed in a session with Corinna, which made me a fair bedroom athlete. Had I drunk some Thessalian decoction? Had some evil spell been cast to unman me this way? Was somebody sticking pins into the crotch of a little wax doll or into its liver? They say that magic charms can cause the grain in a field to wither and die on the stalk or wells to run dry. Acorns not yet ripe will fall from oak trees, and grapes and apples will fail on the vines and trees to mature. I never believed those old wives’ tales, but now in desperation I wonder. It felt that I was bewitched. I was also ashamed, and that made matters worse, providing a second cause to what was already sufficient. It wasn’t her. She was, as I say, delicious, and I was touching her closely, and she was touching me. It would have made Nestor randy. It would have revived Tithonus, about whom Aurora was always complaining. She was ideal, as I, I’m afraid, was not. What can I ask of the gods when I pray to them for favors? They were the ones who granted me this chance that I so dreadfully muffed (to employ the wrong locution). I wanted to be in her bedroom, and there I was. I wanted to be in her bed, and I was, and we kissed and fondled, but then nothing. A miser who never spends

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any part of his wealth, can, if he changes his mind. I was more in Tantalus’s sad case, parched with thirst in a river and famished beneath the fruit trees. Does anyone leave the bed of a pretty girl in a state that would permit him forthwith to approach the gods? You suggest it was her fault? You mean to be kind to me, but it’s not true. An exquisite female, inventive, and more than willing to do whatever the moment seemed to require. Her wiles could have softened a stone, melted a diamond, liquefied hard bronze (although it’s the contrary magic that she essayed to perform). She could have aroused any living male— but I was neither alive nor what I would call male. It was some kind of joke, as if the Ithacan poet Phemius had tried to sing to a stone-deaf man, or maybe a wonderful painter was showing his work to Thamyras, the minstrel, after he had been blinded. My mind was ready to play, and I had imagined her and me in many acrobatic positions as if it were some kind of carnal competition. But my body lay there, a wilted flower that never had bloomed, drooping down against the rim of the vase. Now, of course, it’s recovered, ready to come to attention and clamoring as brave soldiers do for engagement. The moment has passed. The shamefaced, worthless creature behaved like some of the women I have known,

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promising paradise and then at the last moment changing their minds. You have betrayed your master, and it may be some time before I decide to forgive you. Beyond everything else it was arrant rudeness: she condescends to help you out and gives you a hand-job and you just lie there dozing. She speaks to you, (and of course to me as well) and it isn’t merely a joke: “This is insulting, you know. Are you out of your mind? Why do you ask me to come to bed if you’re not in the mood? Have you spent the afternoon with some other girl so that you have nothing left to offer me?” Exasperated, she got up out of the bed, put on her loose robe (and a beautiful sight she was) and, to keep her maids from guessing what hadn’t happened and not embarrass me further or give them cause to giggle, descended into the tub for a hot bath.

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iii, 8 What obtains? The respect that Rome used to give the arts is gone. There was a time when a poet’s talent was valued more highly than gold, but who can remember that? We live in a barbarous age. My little books have won the attention and admiration of ladies, but they go places where I cannot go myself. A woman praises my work, but the man whom she has praised fi nds that the door is barred by a surly doorman who turns me away to wander the empty streets in disgrace. And look at him, a new-made knight who has won his rank on the battlefield by shedding blood. Should he, an arriviste, be preferred to me? How can you embrace in your beautiful arms and suffer yourself to be embraced by such a fellow? His head used to wear a helmet; his belt sported a sword; and his left hand with the brand-new eques ring carried a shield while his right was stained with dead men’s blood. How can you bear to touch that polluted hand? His body, I have no doubt, is covered with battle scars. His rank was not inherited but earned.

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He might, if the mood strikes him, tell you tales of his fights and describe what it’s like to plunge his sharp steel blade into a man’s throat. Where has that tenderness gone that I used to admire? Do you now fi nd glamor in tales of such violent deeds? Meanwhile, Apollo’s priest and the faithful acolyte of the Muses, untainted in any way, recite my verses—but all in vain. Young men who would be poets should pay attention, forget the exercise of their talents, and turn to the spear and brute force, which will get them what they want. If Homer had hoped to win the favors of pretty women (and hadn’t been blind) he might well have enlisted. Jove understood these crass new ways of courtship, and bluntly turned himself into gold for Danae’s sake. Without that cash on the barrel, the father, the girl herself, the bronze door, and the tower were all opposed, but with coins in the balance the coyness yielded: the girl would deal. When Saturn ruled in the heavens, gold and silver, copper and iron were hidden deep in the earth’s bowels. Nobody smelted or forged the ores into metal, but the earth’s gifts were abundant—crops without any plowshares scratching the dirt, and fruits that sprang from the trees. No boundary lines crisscrossed the faces of meadows and fields. No one put out to sea in the hope of profit,

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but men were content with whatever the land they lived on offered. Intellect has undone us, inventive minds that have girdled cities with towering walls to defend against armies equipped with terrible weapons. Our aspirations have been expressions of pride that has never led to contentment. We have conquered the seas and one day we shall assail the air, too, and claim the skies as our own. Quirinus has his temple, and Bacchus, and Hercules— and now Caesar as well. We draw up out of the earth not merely the food we need to live on but gold, and the soldier earns his salt by shedding the blood of men. The senate has now turned into a rich man’s club. Simple virtues have given way to money and rank for jury ser vice or knighthoods. But let them have it! Let them have their imposing villas and all their slaves, and let them decide such matters as war and peace. But let there be some limit to their arrogant greed that would buy our loves from us. Leave a little something to us, the deserving poor. The woman I love is austere as any Sabine matron, but that rich upstart now orders her about as if she were his captive, while I am turned away from her door by the servants with word that she fears her husband may somehow fi nd out. I could deal with all that, given the chance,

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could get by the guard and the husband and have the run of the house. Is there no god to whom I can turn in my need and pray that he avenge a neglected lover and change all of that man’s ill-gotten gains to dust?

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iii, 9 If Aurora wept for her son Memnon, if Thetis wept for her swift-footed Achilles, if sad fates can distress such goddesses, then you, Elegy, weep, for the glorious singer in your strain, Tibullus, lies on his pyre, or his spirit’s husk does, his mortal frame. Loosen your hair for mourning, having earned your woeful name. See, Venus’s child approaches, his quiver upside down, the shafts of his arrows broken, and his torch extinguished. His pretty wings are drooping now and he beats his bared breast with his little fists. In the locks of his hair around his neck his tears are caught and they shine like drops of dew on a fresh morning. From his well-formed lips there are sorry sighs that emerge and sobs. He has not been so distraught since his brother Aeneas was laid to rest. And Venus felt Tibullus’s loss as much as she did the death of her dear Adonis. We poets are called sacred and some go so far as to say that each of us has within him something divine. It is true that death profanes with its dirty hands each living being. Even Orpheus, although the child of Apollo and Calliope and even though the beasts stopped, stunned and amazed to hear him sing, was not immune from death. Another son of Apollo, Linus, died and the god, deep in the woods,

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mourned, singing “Woe, Linus,” his lyre mute. Homer, from whom the lips of all other poets are bedewed with Pierian waters, even the great Homer descended one day to Avernus below the earth. But the songs never die, the poems of Troy and Ulysses will endure throughout all time. So, too, with Delia of whom Tibullus sang. She will survive forever, not because of Isis in whom she believed, but because her poet lover celebrated the love he felt for her. They sleep now in separate beds, for implacable fate sweeps away whatever is sweet and good. I sometimes think that there are no gods, that nothing matters. Live the virtuous, dutiful life . . . and you die! Worship the gods and even as you pray, death will appear to drag you down from temple to tomb. Put your trust in the beauty of poetry, and see— even Tibullus is dead. Nothing remains but ashes in a little urn. Could that really be him whom the flames have consumed? Did they not fear to feed on your heart? Flames that displayed such coldness could have destroyed the golden temples of blessed and powerful gods. Venus atop Mount Eryx turned her face away, and some report that they saw her shedding bitter tears. It could have been worse, I suppose. When you lay ill in Corcyra, you prayed to recover and not be buried there but to die at home, and this the gods granted, so that your dear mother could close your eyes at the end, and your sister was there with her hair in wild disorder,

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and both of the women you’d loved and written about with feeling adding their sobs and kisses to those of your kin. Delia declared that you loved her, and Nemesis, her rival, said that she loved you more, that her loss was greater, and that she was the one who held your hand as you were dying. If anything survives us beyond our names and our shades in Elysian Fields, then you, Tibullus, will last. Young Catullus, his temples wreathed in ivy, will meet him there with his good friend and boon companion, Calvus. And Gallus, who never meant you harm, will also join the group. Such men as these were your friends. If shades survive the bodies, you have increased the number of those who are blessed, dear, refi ned Tibullus. I pray that the earth lie lightly on your bones.

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iii, 10 Ceres’ festival has come round again, and my love is observing it, fasting and also abstaining from sex. As if the goddess cared! Into that head with the wheat woven into a crown, how did this idea insinuate itself? We call you the giver of gifts because, before you came, we lived like beasts without a threshing floor, picking up nuts and acorns from Jupiter’s oaks. We scavenged for edible herbs. We are grateful to you, but why impose this hard regime that prohibits our joys? Are we not grateful enough? You taught us to sow the seeds of the plants that grow in the fields and then with a sickle to harvest their ears of grain. You instructed us in the business of hitching steers to the yoke and cutting the hard dirt with the sharp plowshares. Who would ever imagine that such a benevolent goddess could delight in the tears of lovers who lie apart? She is patroness of farmers but hardly a simple rustic and her heart is not unaware of the charms of love. The Cretans will bear witness (and not all Cretans are liars) that once on their fair island Ceres was nurse to the infant Jove, who had suckled milk from the generous goat. We ought to believe the people whose forebears lived there

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and saw these things. They report how Ceres out in the woods came upon Iasion slaughtering game 30 and her heart at once caught fi re. Torn between shame and love, she yielded at last to her passion and also to him and during the time she spent with him in the deep woods no crops could grow in the fields. The farmers plowed and sowed their seeds but nothing came forth for them to reap, no matter how hard they worked or how much they prayed. The goddess’s absence deprived the earth of its increase—except in Crete where the grain ripened in plenitude, 40 for wherever she goes she brings fertility in her footsteps. In Crete, even the mountainsides of Ida were white with grain, and the wild boars roaming the forests were gorging themselves. Minos, the King of Crete, hoped that Ceres’ romance might go on for a long time, in which event his island’s yields would continue. So you know, dear goddess, how sleeping apart is a bitter thing. 50 Why would you want to impose this pain on me? Your darling daughter is found and rules over a kingdom second only to Juno’s. Your day should be a festival with songs and dancing, wine and love— which is what men properly do to honor the gods.

iii, 11 A For far too long, I have put up with far too much from her: her repeated wrongs have exhausted my generous patience. All I can hope for now is that love may at last withdraw from within my breast. I want my freedom back. I wish to be rid of these fetters and I am ashamed to have borne what I felt no shame in bearing—but that was madness. Now I am sane and proclaim victory, freedom, and peace! My disgraceful love I stamp on like a bug. My courage was late in coming, but now it is here and will last. The potion I drank was bitter—some medicines are— but bitterness can bring help to those who languish. I cannot believe that I took what she dished out— to be turned away from her door and to sit on the cold hard ground, a freeborn man keeping watch like a lowly slave while she was inside in bed in somebody else’s embrace. I have had to watch when just before dawn he staggered out exhausted from the strenuous exercise that the two of them had enjoyed all night together. And worse than my seeing him was his seeing me and grinning while I tried to hide from him my profound shame.

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When was I not at her side, her companion, her guard, and her lover? And my love for her was something she could be proud of. Among my distinguished companions she even trolled for lovers, which I didn’t mind so much as the many lies, the ridiculous stories she told me, her perjured oaths to the gods by which she made me a fool and the butt of jokes. How many times have I heard that she had been taken ill when I ran to her to discover that she had been taken, yes, but by one of my rivals. One soon tires of this, or I have, at least. Now she may look for another who is stupid or gaga enough to put up with a woman like her. My vessel is up on the beach and decked with flowers, and no more shall I try the sea’s treacherous waters. Forget sweet words, forget even caresses, for neither will work anymore. I’ve toughened up at last and am no longer the fool I used to be. B There is no point in planning or thinking. High resolve is easy for part of an afternoon, but then the heart, fickle and with a stupid mind of its own, begins to waver. I will hate, if I have the strength. If not, I shall love, although against my better judgment. The ox hates the yoke that he nonetheless wears.

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I fly from your truly wretched character, or I try to, but your beauty won’t let go and it draws me back. Your habits are all repulsive; your body is stunningly gorgeous. Can’t live with you, can’t live without you. I wish that you were either less lovely or else that you were less vile. Your actions deserve hatred; your amazing body demands my love, and winningly, too. It is much stronger than its owner’s many crimes and misdemeanors. For the sake of your form, as fi ne that of any goddess, for the sake of your flashing eyes, for the sake of love, decide whether my love for you should be so begrudged. Let it not be an endless and dangerous struggle, but give me some fair winds, calm seas, and pleasant sailing so that I may love you again by choice.

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iii, 12 What black bird of dismal omen croaked its curse on the poor stupid poet, always in love? What malign star has crossed my fate in the heavens to bring me down this way? What angry god has noticed me and now is wreaking woe upon me? The woman I loved and for whom I used to be her one-and-only, I fi nd I am sharing with many. Worst of all, it’s my poems of praise that have done it, for I was the one who made the world aware of her beauty, her delightful tricks in bed, her fascinating mercurial temper. My words have become her advertisements to just the right clientele. I was her lover but my verse has become her pander. I might as well be on duty, bowing, leering, and ready to open her door. But who pays attention to poets? Who reads our work intending to fi nd any useful or practical information? I should have much preferred to be taken lightly. Amusement is what I have on offer. Who can believe in our tall tales—Scylla, snipping her father’s hair and being transformed to a monster with dogs at her groin?

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You think that really happened? You believe in winged shoes or monsters with snakes on their heads instead of hair? It’s madness to read these stories to extract their information. Perseus’s helmet that made him invisible? Horses with wings that could soar and swoop through the air? Really? Tityos stretched on the ground while vultures pecked at his liver? Dogs with three heads? The terrible Titan with a thousand arms? Sirens? Winds in a cave? Tantalus, famished and thirsty? Niobe as a rock that could still cry? These are children’s stories! And not even children give them any serious credence. Philomela, changed to a nightingale? Jove turned into a swan, or gold, or a white bull? With a straight face tell me that men sprang up from dragons’ teeth and that bulls spewed flames from gaping mouths. You think that Phaethon’s sisters turned into trees and now weep amber tears? Did Aeneas’s ships become goddesses to escape the wrath of Turnus? Atreus’s horrible story? Orpheus’s hyperbolic reception by the rocks to which he sang? This is poetic license that many men call nonsense. But I sing my lady’s praise and this becomes a consumer’s report. Having no readers at all is bad, but having the wrong kind is even worse.

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iii, 13 My wife and I went to visit her birthplace, Falerii, and to go to the town walls that Camillus razed. The priestesses were preparing their celebration for Juno with its solemn games and the sacrifice of a heifer. The road ascends steeply but it was well worth the effort to see them perform the rites. In an ancient grove, dark with the shadows of foliage of all the stately trees, so that it feels like a place in which deity dwells, there is an old altar at which the faithful offer prayers and burn the fragrant votive incense. Here, to the solemn sounds of the pipes of pan, they lead each year heifers raised in a local meadow, young calves the heads of which are not yet horned, and also pigs and rams with curving horns. The nanny goat is the only animal Juno dislikes (because of the way it tells tales: it gave her away when she had fled and was trying to hide somewhere in the woods). Children now shoot arrows at a goat that is given as a prize to the lucky or skillful boy whose arrow is the fi rst to infl ict a wound. Youngsters sweep the path on which the goddess will pass. The hair of the girls is decked with gold and gems and they wear long gowns that cover their golden-sandaled feet. These rites they observe come from their Greeks forebears, 129

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and they wear the same white vestments and carry on their heads their offerings to the goddess. In reverent silence her statue is borne in pomp in the train of the priests’ procession. These customs began in Argos. When Agamemnon was killed by Clytemnestra, Halaesus, his chariot driver, fled the crime and the city, went into exile, and after wandering many lands and seas, he arrived here, where he founded the town, built its walls, and taught the people these rites for the worship of Juno. My wish is the same as that of all these people— that the goddess may fi nd the ceremonies pleasing to her and shower her kindness down upon everyone here.

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iii, 14 It would be foolish to say that because you are good-looking you shouldn’t screw around. But I do ask that you make an effort to keep me from knowing too much about it. I am no prude or censor. I wouldn’t dare try to reform your ways, but can’t you be discreet? She does not sin who succeeds in denying the sin. Admitting it is what brings shame and dishonor. Confession is not good for your soul and it burdens mine. What kind of madness is it? Good manners, if nothing else, ought to keep your little secrets secret. A hooker out on the street tries not to call attention to herself and her John when they scurry off to her crib. But you tell the whole world about all your sexual exploits as if with pride, or else for the shock value. Women, it used to be, were modest, but not anymore. Can’t you feign for decency’s sake, pretend because of my admittedly stupid tender feelings? Do what you have to do, but lie about it to me and our friends. Be a lady out in public. There is a time and place to act like a slut.

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Go ahead (as you will, whatever I say), enjoy! Be as lewd as you like, but then, when you leave and put on your clothes, put on the outward manner of most respectable women. Think, if you like, of how you romped in bed not two hours before, the words and groans and cries you and he exchanged, how the bed shook, and how his tongue and yours buried themselves in various apertures, and then allow yourself a faint and mysterious smile. Enjoy how easily men and women are fooled. They don’t have to know what kind of whore you are, or what kind of fool I am. And neither do I. Is it so hard to send and receive your billets-doux in a way that I don’t notice every time? You might, as a basic courtesy, make the bed now and then. And comb your hair, why don’t you, after he leaves and before I get there? Love bites all over your pretty neck? Put on a scarf, maybe, to cover them up. If you won’t do this for the sake of your own reputation, think of mine and, to please me, make an effort. My blood runs cold each time you disclose to me the details of your latest rendezvous. I love you but I also try in vain to hate you and, torn, I am in agony and I wish that I were dead—or better, that we were dead together. I won’t ask questions. I shall not have you followed. That you deceive me I’ll even take as a kind of kindness. And if, despite myself, I do discover some tryst

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you’re having or have just had, deny what my eyes have witnessed, and I shall believe and be grateful for your words. It won’t be a difficult game to play if I want you to win. All you have to do is remember to say, “I didn’t do it! I wasn’t there. It was somebody else.” Even if they’re untrue, just say the words.

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iii, 15 Gentle mother of Love, fi nd yourself a new poet. I’m done. My wheels have passed the last turning post. I’ve had a good time with these verses and am by no means dishonored, for I am an heir to an old knightly line, and not one of these upstarts with a newly created title the winds of war have inflated for us these days. Mantua is proud of its Virgil as Verona is of its Catullus, and it’s my guess that I shall be a credit to the proud Paelignian people whom love of freedom compelled to take up arms when mighty Rome was threatened. Tourists will come to Sulmo, look at her small holdings, but then declare, “If you could beget as fi ne a poet as Ovid was, then, whatever your size, I call you mighty.” Cupid and you, too, Venus, take your golden standards out of my field. Bacchus calls on me now, dealing me a resounding blow with his heavy thyrsus. I turn to the serious noise of horses’ hooves as they hurry to battle. Elegy has been a friend to me, but I thank you, wish you long life, and say good-bye.

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4Letters$ ( Heroides )

I Penelope to Ulysses These words, dear slow Ulysses, Penelope dispatches; never mind the favor of your reply, but come, yourself, at once, now that hated Troy has fallen, as all Greek women hoped it would (although not even Priam and all the Troad’s treasure seem to me worth the price we have had to pay). It would have been far better if Paris’s ship had sunk when he was on the way to Lacedaemon to make away with Helen and he and his crew had gone down in the raging water. Then I would not have lain alone in my cold bed complaining of how the days and, even worse, the nights passed by so slowly. Neither would I have wearied my grass-widow’s hands, weaving that tapestry that hangs on our bedroom wall to occupy myself as well as I could at night. The dangers I feared may not have been like yours, but they were real to me, as all lovers’ worries are, and I imagined you in battle at Troy with their soldiers swarming about you, rushing in savage fury. At the mention of Hector’s name, I would grow pale. If someone were to mention the name of Nestor’s son Antilochus, whom Memnon slew, I’d worry.

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When I heard about Patroclos, killed in Achilles armor, I took to my bed and wept, assailed by my doubts that your famous wiles might not be enough to preserve you. 30 When the spear of Sarpedon, the Lycian king, hit Tlepolemus and brought him down, my panic returned, refreshed and revived. Whenever they brought me news of the death of one of the Argives, my heart was gripped in icy fears and the certain conviction that they would come true. But the god who protects chaste love looked upon me with favor so that Troy is reduced to ashes and you are safe. The Argive chiefs have returned, and smoke of thanksgiving prayers 40 rises from altars everywhere in Greece. The barbarians’ treasure is offered up to the gods of our fathers; wives give thanks for their husbands’ safe return; and the husbands sing their songs of victory and their joy at having survived. The white-haired elders admire, and trembling young girls, whose dazzled eyes are wide. Warriors tell their wives tales of their fighting at night in bed, or else, at the boisterous dinner table 50 when men draw lines with red wine on the cloth to show the troops’ disposition at the battle they are describing: “Here the Simoïs flows, and here are the walls of Priam’s ancient palace. Here was Achilles’ tent, and here was Ulysses’. And here was Hector’s corpse

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dragged in the dirt by the team of terrified war horses.” I know all this from our son, whom I sent to fi nd you, and what old Nestor told him, he in turn told me. He spoke of Rhesus’s fall and of Dolon’s, too, and how one was betrayed by sleep and the other by guile. He recounted with special pride your nighttime foray into the Thracian camp with only a single companion to slay all those men—never thinking of him, or of me either, if I may venture to point that out. My heart leapt into my throat over and over as I heard the details of the fight, until he told me the end and how you rode back to the waiting Greeks in triumph. But what is all this to me? How is my life made better if Troy’s proud walls are razed to level ground? I am as much alone now as I was when the fighting was still going on. I am as much bereft with Pergamon’s height brought low. For me it all still stands even though the Greeks are the victors now, plowing with oxen they took as the spoils of war those fields enriched as they are by waves of Phrygian blood. The tines of the harrow turn up the bones of Trojan heroes, but you are not here, and I cannot guess the cause of your protracted delay. In what part of the world are you occupied, or taken captive, or hiding? Whoever shows up on our shores we ask for news, for any word or rumor he may have heard, and to one of these I have entrusted this letter for you in the hope that you and he may encounter each other. We have sent to Pylos, the land of ancient Nestor, and also to Sparta, but no one could shed light

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on where you may be tarrying all these months and years. If Troy’s walls still stood, at least I’d know where you are and I should have only warfare to fear. My complaint would be in no way different from those of other wives. Now I worry alone and do not even know what I should dread. There are perils at sea and on land, too, and I worry about all of them and wonder into which snare you may have fallen. Or are you a captive of love? The hearts of men are fickle. Their eyes wander. Do you sit with some femme fatale, joking about your rustic wife back home who is only good for weaving? I hope this fancy of mine is altogether baseless, so that the slightest wind will blow it away. I pray that you may not assent to this long separation and that you have no wish to be away! And as for me? My father Icarius keeps insisting that I quit my widow’s weeds and face the truth. I have already waited too long, he says. But I pay no mind for I am only yours and will always be Ulysses’ wife. My love for you remains as strong as ever, even though the men of Dulichium and Samos come to the palace, a wild and rowdy throng, to sue for my hand. They are masters here in your hall, whom nobody can control. They pillage your household goods and assail me and beset my innocent life. I could list their names—Pisander, and Polybus, and Medon (he is especially cruel), and Eurymachus,

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and Antinoüs, and the rest, who feed themselves at your table on the delicacies you won at the risk of your blood. Irus, the faithless beggar, is the butt of their many jokes, and Melancthius, your shepherd, drives your flocks to be consumed as they raven at this immovable feast. Those who remember you are only three— a powerless wife; Laertes, an old man; and your son, Telemachus, who is still a stripling boy. He was assaulted not long ago and almost killed when I sent him, against the suitors’ will, to Pylos and he was preparing to leave. With all the more fervor, then, do I pray that he be the one to close my eyes and yours as well. The only friends we can rely on are your old nurse, our cowherd, and our swineherd. Laertes no longer has the strength he’d need to protect us, and Telemachus is still too young. He needs his father’s protection and guidance. I am a mere woman and cannot on my own get rid of these men. Therefore, make haste. Come, our pillar of strength, our hope of safety. Your son needs you now to teach him how to be a man. Your father needs you also and it is his prayer that you may return in time to close his eyes on his last—and not so distant—day. And as for me, I was a girl when you left. If you should come tomorrow, I am afraid you will find me not as I was but now “of a certain age.”

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II Phyllis to Demophoön I welcomed you once to Thrace, and you gave me your solemn word that you would return to me here, but the promised day is long past, and I write to remind you, Demophoön, that you had assured me I could look for your ship when the horns of the waxing moon should join to form their circle. Four times the moon has waned and grown again, but your Attic ship has not appeared on our waiting shore. If you have been counting the days as I have been doing, I think you’ll agree that this reproach is not premature. My hopes, too, have been slow in their diminution I have tried hard to reject my doubts and then my conviction that I knew would bring me only bitter pain. Even now I resist arriving at that conclusion reason presents. I try to imagine excuses, and as I defend your honor, I know I am false to myself. I stand on the shingle and feel on my face the breezes that blow from the south and ought to propel your billowing sail. How many times have I muttered imprecations and curses upon your father, Theseus? Is he to blame for your failure to return? But then I think

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it may not be he but something or someone else, and I fear that you have had some nautical misadventure, even as you were heading to the mouth of our River Hebrus. Was your vessel swamped? Wrecked in the foaming waves? I have prayed to the gods’ altars and burned the holy incense asking of them that your precious life be spared. I have looked up at the sky and out at the wind-whipped sea and repeated to myself the same old story, that you are alive, that you are doing your very best to come to me in haste, my faithful lover. My wits have been hard at work imagining plausible causes for your delay but, even so, belief erodes. Those gods by whom you swore you would return have not been able to move you, nor has my love. You promised the very winds that drive your vessel’s sails, but the winds and the sails have not enforced your words. Tell me, Demophoön, what have I done wrong except to love unwisely? Was that my crime? Thus did I betray myself, my judgment yielding to passion’s prompting and hopes that, against the odds, we might together fi nd that happiness in each other, the wedded state for which all lovers yearn. You took my hand in yours and pledged to me by the gods that the two of us could look forward to years of bliss— words on the wind, their meaning lost in the swirls of water on which you sailed away. You invoked Aegeus,

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your grandfather, or so you claimed at the time, when you promised that you would return and that he would calm the waves. Lies, all lies. And they wound me, as did the bow of Venus, and as does the torch of Juno, with which she leads brides to their marriage bed. Should all these gods unite to punish you for your outrageous behavior, your single and insignificant life would not be enough to sate their collective hunger for justice and vengeance. What could I have been thinking when I refitted your vessels, repairing the keel that would take you away from me? I must have been mad to infl ict with my own hand that wound to my heart and soul. I believed your beguiling words of which I ought to have been suspicious because they came from your practiced lips with eloquence and ease. I trusted that one with such noble ancestors was a man of honor. I put my faith in your tears, which can, I have learned, be feigned and taught to flow when bidden. More than any of that I believed in the gods by which you swore. But now it seems so clear. Why so many solemn oaths to me when only one would have been enough to ensnare my love? I do not at all regret having welcomed you and given you shelter as you were making your way back home from the war at Troy. But that should have been the limit

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of the kindness I showed you. There was no need to add a welcome fi rst to my heart and then soon to my bed. That is what I regret—that I pressed my flesh to yours. If only I had somehow died the night before that fateful night, I would still be the chaste Phyllis I had always been and not this sad, shamed stranger. This is not the fate I hoped for and believed I had deserved. To beguile an innocent maiden is probably entertaining but certainly no admirable achievement. You ought to have respected my innocence and my faith when you saw how easy it was for you to deceive me. May the gods grant that this be the cause of whatever fame your name has earned that will last after your death. In Athens, Aegeus’s city, and Theseus’s too, let this be the plaque on any statue of yours. Men have read of Sciron, the robber your father slew; and the madman bandit Procrustes he also killed; and Sinis, too, whose trick was to tear apart his victims on the bent pine trees—until your father appeared to do that to him. Men shall no longer remember the terrible Minotaur, the defeat of Thebes, the rout of the Centaurs, or any of these impressive deeds, but they will know about you from your inscription: This is the man who betrayed the Thracian hostess who loved him. The only one of your eminent father’s acts and deeds that seems to have impressed you is how he left Ariadne in a similar display of faithlessness,

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perfidiousness, and guile. She now has a better lord, wedded to Bacchus and driving her splendid car pulled by a matched team of bridled Indian tigers. For me, however, there can be no such change in fortune or sudden happy ending. No Thracian will take me to wife, for they all resent how I once preferred a stranger to my own countrymen. “Let her go off to Athens! We’ll fi nd another and better ruler in Thrace, one who is far less foolish than Phyllis proved to be.” Thus do they speak of me behind my back and even in my presence. I longed to prove them wrong, wanted to see your vessel’s oars flash in the sunlight, showing that I was right, for myself as well as my subjects. But I know now that this is not going to happen, that your footsteps will not resound in the corridors of the palace, and that I shall never again behold you bathing your wearied, sun-bronzed limbs in our gentle Thracian surf. I cannot erase from my mind those vivid pictures of how your refurbished ships rode in my harbor and you dared to take me into your arms and embrace me, joining your lips to mine in long, exquisite kisses during which you could not see the tears streaming down my cheeks. Even then, your attention wandered and you thought of the favoring wind that your sails would need and you did not want to lose. Even so, you said to me the words you thought I would want to hear about how you would return: “Remember your dear Demophoön. I will

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come as soon as I can.” I wonder if you believed this even as you spoke, holding me close, or were they words for the wind to take away with you as they billowed the sails and you disappeared in the offi ng? I believed you then, and even now in my heart absurdly a glimmer of hope remains that you may yet return, so that the only false part of your promise would be your lack of promptness—which I’d forgive. But why do I beg and entreat, making my misery worse? I cannot resist the thought that you have already found another bride on whom you bestow your love and that you feel for her what you felt for me. You have forgotten even my name. When people ask who in Thrace gave you shelter when you had been driven far off course, you might be prompted to mention me, who welcomed you as guest, and made my estate your own, who gave you many rare and expensive gifts, and would, if only you’d stayed, have given you more. I am the one who turned to you to rule the domain of old Lycurgus, for, being a mere woman, I did not presume to take upon my own shoulders so weighty a burden that stretches from Rhodopes to Haemus and where Hebrus’s rapid waters flow. The omens, as I remember then, were gloomy, but I ignored them and, fond and foolish as maidens can be, gave myself to you and welcomed your hand as it undid my dress and then you undid me. It was not Juno presiding at our union

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but Tisiphone, the fury, with her endless mournful shrieks, and the owl that hates the daylight chanted her dirge. Allecto, too, attended with those serpents coiled at her neck, and our nuptial torches were those one fi nds at a tomb. Even so, I walk the beach and stare out at the empty sea that gapes in defiance—or is it an invitation? By day, when the sand is dry and shows my trail of footprints, or by night when the icy constellations shine, I peer out to the narrow straits where the winds blow and pray to them to produce a glimpse of sail. I venture into the surf but I do not feel the cold water that swirls about my feet and ankles, but then, as the sails come closer and I see that they are not yours, my senses leave me, and I would fall to the ground if my handmaidens did not seize me and hold me upright. We have a bay the shores of which are curved in the shape of a sickle. Its outermost horns are crowned with rocks that rise up out of the water. I stare at them and think how quick it would be if I were to throw myself from those heights to the waves to let them wash my body away and the grief and anger out of my mind, while you pursue your thoughtless and faithless course. Perhaps the tides will cast me up upon your shore so that you can look down at my battered corpse, untombed, unmourned, and undone. Then shall your hard heart melt at last and you shall address me in shame:

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“O, dear Phyllis, I should have remained with you. I should have followed you to the bed of the surging ocean.” I think of taking poison, or falling upon some sword that would pierce my heart and spill out my hot blood. My neck that you embraced now longs for the feel of a noose. My heart is resolved upon death and begrudges beating. Thus can I make amends, correct my mistake, and restore myself to the maiden’s purity I lost. Only thus will my soul be mended and restored. There will not be much time between writing this and taking the action upon which you see I have resolved. On my tomb you shall see inscribed how I came to my end: Because Demophoön, Phyllis’s guest, whom she loved dearly, abandoned her, she then abandoned life.

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III Briseis to Achilles This letter scrawled in the hand of your stolen Briseis comes with many mistakes, I fear, who am not Greek. There are also unsightly blots here and there on the paper but those are from tears, which have more weight than words. It may not be correct behavior for me to complain to you, my beloved master, but I shall risk indecorousness and rely upon your loving indulgence. It wasn’t your fault that I was delivered over abruptly and all too brusquely at the Argive king’s demand. And yet I wonder if some of the blame was yours, for when Eurybates came with Talthybius to your tent to ask for me to go along with them, each looked at the other with the unasked question of whether there was anything like love between us two. My departure might have been deferred. A stay would have eased my heart and—I must suppose— yours. I had to go without a farewell kiss but only endless tears. I tugged at my hair and suffered a second time being taken captive. Often I have imagined eluding my guards to return to you, but someone was always there on watch. I thought of sneaking away in the dark of night

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but I feared I might be seized and turned over then as a slave to one of Priam’s daughters-in-law in Troy. I grant at once that you had no choice but to give me up, but all these nights I am absent from your side and not demanded back. Your anger, your famous wrath, seem exceedingly slow. When you let me go, I heard Patroclus whisper into my ear, “Take heart. You need not weep. It won’t last very long.” It is not so grave a matter that you did not claim me back. What’s worse and therefore harder for me to bear is that you, Achilles my eager lover, oppose my return. I know how Phoenix came to you and Ajax, the one your relative and the other a good friend, along with Odysseus. They offered to return me bringing along rich presents to add more weight to their prayers— twenty vessels of shining bronze and tripods of excellent workmanship. Also five talents of gold and six race horses well known for their speed. Along with me, although there was not any need, they offered beautiful maidens from Lesbos, taken captive back when their island was conquered. Beyond all that, they offered you one of Agamemnon’s daughters to be your bride. I reason with myself and ask the question, what would you have had to pay Agamemnon to buy me back? And how could you have refused the gift of my return? I can’t think what I’ve done

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for you to behave this way, as if I meant nothing to you. How has your love for me vanished so quickly? Is something possessing you? A whim perhaps of the gods, so that a sad fortune attends us both who are wretched already and adds to the burdens we bear. Once woe has begun there is no remission, no brighter hour for which in our desperation to hope. I have seen the walls of Lyrnesus destroyed by your band of soldiers attacking the land of my fathers; I’ve seen my three brothers killed and my wedded lord stretched out on the gory ground, his bloody breast heaving its last breaths. My recompense? My only solace in all this pain and loss was you, who were master, husband, and brother to me. You swore by the godhead of your mother that all my losses were gains, The dower I brought meant nothing at all, you said, and that at the morrow’s dawn you would scorn to loot the city but instead would unfurl your linen sails and depart . . . As your words fell on my terrified ears, my heart’s blood drained away from my face and breast, and my senses failed. To whom will you leave me, I asked. To whom will I turn for comfort? How hard is your heart, I thought. In my fresh grief I prayed that the earth would open wide and swallow me up or that a bolt of lightning’s flying fi re would fall from a merciful heaven to consume my body before the sea should foam with the beating of Phthian oars,

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leaving me behind to watch them in my dismay. If it is now your pleasure to stop fighting and return to your home, hearth, and the land of your fathers, take me aboard with you, for I shall be no great burden. I do not ask to return as your wedded wife but merely a captive in the train of my noble captor, happy to card and spin the wool in the women’s quarters. You will wed, I assume, some beautiful woman— the fairest of all the Achaeans will come to your marriage chamber. And this is right and proper. You have my blessing. Choose a bride worthy of her father-in-law, the great Peleus, the son of Jove and Aegina, and one whom Thetis’s father Nereus would welcome as his grandson’s wife. I shall be content to be your humble slave, spinning so that the distaff diminishes as I draw out the threads. All I ask is that you try to prevent your wife from being harsh with me. Do not stand by while she slaps me or tears my hair and joke with her: “She, too, once shared my bed.” Or, no, I take that back. I shall endure whatever abuse she heaps upon me, if only you do not abandon me now. That is the one fear that shakes my wretched bones. What are you waiting for? What do you want? Agamemnon is chastened and regrets his pride and pique. Greece lies in affl iction and looks to you

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in a need that they admit as they grovel at your feet. Subdue your stubborn spirit as you subdue everything else. Hector still raids the Danaan lines. Put on your armor again, and go to fight— after you take me back. With the favor of Mars, you will conquer their champions and overwhelm their ranks. It was because of me that your anger was fi rst roused; let it be for me that it is allayed. If I am the cause, then let me also be the measure of your terrible wrath. It is not unseemly for you to yield to a prayer I offer for our sakes. By Cleopatra, his wife, was Meleager roused to battle in aid of his countrymen in their war. I have heard the tale, which you well know of how his mother cursed him, who then laid down his arms, stood apart, and refused to fight for his country. But Cleopatra was able to change his mind—as I have not been able to do with you, my words having little weight. But I do not complain, or presume, for I am not a wife but merely a slave you summoned to bed. One of your captive women once addressed me as “mistress,” but I replied, “You add with that name a further burden, for I am a slave.” Nevertheless, I swear by the sacred bones of my late lord and husband; by the souls of my three brothers who died for their country and now are divine spirits;

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and by your head and mine that have shared a pillow together; and by your sword that my kinfolk know too well— I swear that the Lord of Mycenae has never shared my bed. If I am untrue in this claim, abandon me! But can you likewise swear to me that you have abstained from pleasure all this time? I shouldn’t think so. The Greeks believe you are sulking and mourning for me, but I know you strum your lyre and lie in the warm embrace of one of your willing women’s arms. You aren’t fighting because this kind of life is safe and pleasant. The zither, songs, and Venus can seem a much better choice than the dangers and strenuousness of the battlefield. Your sweetheart clasped in your arms, you let yourself be tickled, and the spear with its sharp point and shield on the wall seem awfully remote and, as you remember them, heavy. You used to seek out danger and wanted glory, both of them much sweeter to you than pleasure and safety. Did all that change after you conquered my land and made me your captive? Have you forgotten your spear and the thought of it flying from your strong arm to lodge in Hector’s side? I cannot imagine why the Danaans have not sent me as a herald to beg my lord

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with passionate words and kisses to don his armor again. I should do better than Phoenix, Ulysses, and Ajax. What can be more persuasive than arms around a lover’s familiar neck or the gaze into his eyes that remind him of and revive and refresh one’s faded existence? Even if you are as heartless as Thetis’s waves, before I speak a single word, your will shall break as you see the tears flowing down my cheeks. I pray you, do this for me. As I pray that your father’s years be many and happy, that Pyrrhus take up arms with your good fortune—have a heart for your poor Briseis. Do not prolong the torment a wretched woman feels afresh with every painful moment. I beg you if your love for me has turned to weary surfeit, tell me and compel my death, which would be more kind than having to live without you. Or do nothing, and that will kill me. My flesh is melting away; my color is faded and gone; what spirit I have left is only sustained by the weakening hope I have in you. If that hope dies, I will die and join my brothers and my late husband. What kind of victory is that for you to boast about? A woman’s death? Draw your sword and plunge it deep into my body and let my blood pour forth. Had the goddess not forbidden it, that sword would have slain King Agamemnon. But, better, save my life that you once spared.

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What you once granted a foe, I ask that you give your friend. You have many likelier victims at Troy. Let your sword seek them. But whether you go to fight or speed home with your ships, take me with you.

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IV Phaedra to Hyppolytus With wishes for the happiness and health she cannot have unless you grant it to her, the Cretan woman greets the son of Hyppolite. Read these words to the end— what harm can there be in the reading of a letter? In this one you may even fi nd something to please you. Secrets lie in these characters of mine on the page to be borne to you over land and the wide sea. A prudent person studies the words of a foe. Three times I have tried to address you and each attempt has failed as my tongue fell still and my voice halted at the threshold of my lips. Modesty ought to attend on Love, but for me what modesty forbids Love insists on my saying and commands me to write to you, a serious god whose powers even the gods respect and whose many works in the world of men and women impressively demonstrate again and again. It was he who spoke to my doubts and urged me to write this letter. “The iron heart will soften. He will listen,” is what the god said to persuade my hesitant hand. I obey his command and look for his aid. Just as he heats my marrow with irresistible flame so may he cause you to hear my prayers.

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It will not be through wantonness that I break my marriage vows. My name has been free from any such reproach. But love has come to me—late but burning all the hotter— and my breast has an unseen and unbearable wound. I am like the young steer whom the yoke at fi rst galls, or the colt that rebels against the reins’ restraint. My untamed heart thus bucks and my soul resists the burden of love to the weight of which it is unaccustomed. To those who learned the fault from their tender years, passion becomes a graceful game or a fi ne art, but to her to whom love comes when the time for such things is past it is devastating, debilitating, and fierce. I offer these fi rst fruits of a purity long preserved, and both of us shall be equal in our guilt. It is joy to pluck the fruit from the heavy-hanging branch, or to clip with the fi ngernails the fi rst red rose. I take some solace in noting that if my blamelessness must be stained, at least the fates have been kind in their choice for me. Worse than any forbidden love would be that for some base, undeserving person. But even if Juno were somehow to give her approval to Jove, her brother and husband, to have an affair with me, I should forgo that honor for sweet Hippolytus’s sake. Meanwhile I am launched on new pursuits and am prompted to venture into the forests to seek out the wild beasts. My goddess now is Diana,

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the huntress whom you worship, and therefore so do I. I am busy driving the deer into the nets or urging on the hounds as they cross the high ridgeline. I draw back my arm and hurl the quivering spear or bounce and carom along in the hunting car with the reins in the mouth of the fleet steed while I cry out like some Bacchante driven by frenzy in one of their rites or one on Mt. Ida who shakes Cybele’s timbrel. I am like one whom the Dryads have touched and driven mad— or so they say when the fit has passed away, and I am silent, knowing it’s Love who tortures me. I sometimes think that this is a family curse, a kind of debt I pay, or a tribute Venus exacts. It goes back to Europa to whom Jove came disguised as a bull. Pasiphaë, my deluded mother, mated with a bull (with Dedalus’s help) and bore with scorn and laughter the Minotaur whom Theseus killed and then with his winding thread escaped from the Labyrinth with help from Ariadne, my sister, whom he left behind on Naxos . . . That I, too, am of Minos’s affl icted line is clear with my legacy of passion, torment, and ruin. Your beauty has captured my heart as my poor sister’s was taken when she fi rst saw your father. He and you have been our undoing. You two have earned a double trophy. It would have been well if Crete had held me back

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from that trip I took to Eleusis to celebrate the rites, for there I fi rst felt that piercing wound of Love that struck deep to my innermost bones when I saw you dressed in shining white with a wreath of flowers. Your sun-bronzed cheeks were wearing modesty’s flush. Your features that others might have called hard and stern, I thought were rugged and strong. The careful getup of some dandies, young men who attempt to be prettier than women, I fi nd absurd and repellent. You were carelessly handsome, your locks arranged by the whim of passing breezes and your face lightly powdered with dust from your horseback ride. I noticed you fi rst out in the exercise yard and marveled at your steed’s performance and your fine seat. Whenever you threw your spear with your muscular arm I stared, I’m afraid, in a fascination that turned to delight. Your manner, then and still, was cool and aloof, although I suppose you relax when you hunt on the mountain ridges. But I am no fit prey for you to pursue. You devote yourself to girded Diana and pay no heed to Venus, who also deserves attention and honor. Everything in nature manifests its cycle of action and repose, which renews the limbs and also restores the strength of the spirit. Diana’s bow, if you never cease to bend it, will go slack

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and lose its spring. Only consider Cephalus’s case, and how that single-minded hunter of beasts that fell on the ground where his accurate spear had brought them down yielded himself to Aurora’s blandishments, and she would often leave old Tithonus at home to come to him. Or think of Adonis and Venus and how under an ilex they lay in the grass together. And Meleager burned for Atalanta and awarded her the skin of the Calydonian boar as the pledge of his love. Let our names shine as well in that distinguished list. If you exclude love the forest is nothing more than a rustic venue. I will come to your side and shall not fear the terrain or dangerous beasts like the boar with his sharp tusks. There are two seas that wash the sides of the Isthmus of Corinth, and, when the wind is right, you can hear the surf from both directions. Here I am content to dwell in Troezen’s land, the realm of your grandsire Pittheus. The place is dearer to me than my own island of Crete. Theseus is away and will stay away for a good long while at Pirithous’s side. Unless we refuse to admit what our eyes report, his love for his friend is greater than what he feels for me, his wife, or even for you, his own son. We both have suffered grievous wrongs at his hands: he smashed my brother’s head with his triple-knotted club; and he left my sister Ariadne on a deserted island, the prey of beasts. And as for you,

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he killed Antiope, the Amazon queen, your mother. Have you wondered what happened to her? No one will tell you, but while they were fighting together your father’s steel spear pierced her side. He had never bothered to marry with nuptial torches but only took her home to beget you, who are his bastard—and that is why you are not an heir to his throne as the sons I bore him are. And this was never my idea but his. That is the man you so respect and revere. His bed is what you are loath to defi le, although he does that by his neglect of me and his actions toward both of us. You fl inch, still, at the idea, or in truth the words—that I am your stepmother and you my stepson, and therefore you recoil in distaste. Such scruples were rustic even in Saturn’s ancient reign and doomed to die out soon after Jove decreed that goodness consists merely in that which produces pleasure. How can the gods disapprove when Jupiter made his sister his wife? There are no bonds that matter but those chains that Venus has forged. Consult your feelings and you will discover at once the love we bear for each other. That is our true kinship and trumps any other. Should someone observe us embracing, who would dare fi nd fault? I shall be called the dutiful stepmother

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who loves her husband’s son. And we live in the same house, so there won’t be any sordid sneaking around, no watchmen we have to bribe or deceive, no bolted doors to worry about. We both are under the cover of one roof. Often before you’ve given me kisses, and now your affectionate habit will not appear to have changed. What others might call a sin will only earn you praise even should you be seen in my bedroom. But enough of these arguments! Do what both of us want so much and make all haste to join us together in love. May Love, who is now harsh with me, be gentle to you. I do not scruple to bend my knee before you and humbly to entreat you. Where is my old pride now? For a long time I fought against this, determined not to give in to my desire, but I am defeated, quite overcome, and I stretch out my queenly arms to clasp your knees and beg. What is right and decent doesn’t matter to one who is so much in love. Modesty and its standards are routed and they flee. Forgive me. Forgive, too, this shameful confession. Soften your heart and read what my moistened eyes proclaim. It means nothing at all that my father is Minos, the lord of the sea, or that my line goes back to the god of the thunderbolts. Helios was my grandsire, who moves with his diadem of light across the sky on his shining car . . . But how does that help me now

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when, with my noble name, I am prostrate with love? Have pity! Think not so much of me as of my dower, the entire land of Crete, Jupiter’s rich island. All of my court will become Hippolytus’s slaves. Bend your rigid spirit. My mother could seduce Neptune’s bull. Will you be more fierce than a beast? Venus is my mistress! In her name I ask you to spare me. So may your passions never be unreturned; so may the goddess wait upon you in lonely glades and keep you safe; so may the forests yield beasts to slay; so may the Satyrs all be your friends, and the mountain gods, the Pans; and so may the boar fall before you, its throat pierced by your sharp spear; so may the nymphs—although you dislike females— offer you flowing water to relieve your parching thirst. These are the fervent prayers I offer, weeping. My words are before you to read. With your mind’s eye, envision my more eloquent advocates, my tears.

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V Oenone to Paris Will your new wife allow you to read this letter of mine? Glance at the words and relax. The script is not that of an Argive, Menelaus or Agamemnon, so it isn’t a threat. It comes from the fountain nymph Oenone, who writes you to say what you already know— that she has been badly wronged and she complains to you. What god has turned a deaf ear to my fervent prayers? What was my fault that I cannot remain your own? We are supposed to bear the pains we deserve in silence. But those that come without our deserving and are for that reason harder for us to endure? What then? You were no eminent person when we met and I was content to wed you, a simple shepherd boy— while I was a nymph, the child of a mighty stream. You were a servant who turned out to be a son of Priam. But I had no idea and married for love. Among the sheep, we lay down beneath the sheltering trees on a couch that was made of mingled grasses and leaves. Or we lay in the hay or the straw on the floor of a simple hut, a shelter from rain or cold. I showed you the places good for hunting or spreading the nets to entrap the deer. I pointed out the dens where the wild beast live and will fight to defend and keep their helpless cubs safe. How often have I led dogs over the ridges?

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There are many beech trees on which you have carved my name, and the larger the trees grow, the bigger the letters, Oenone. I observe their slow progress and note how my honors are proclaimed throughout the woods. There is a poplar, remember, close to a stream that says: While Paris lives, he shall love Oenone until the River Xanthus shall flow upstream to its source. O river, turn around and flow uphill, for Paris no longer loves Oenone and is still alive and breathing. It all went bad on that terrible day when the three goddesses argued, Venus, Juno, and Minerva, and appointed you as the one to judge among them. I felt a chill in my bones as you told me what had happened, from which I could see no possible good coming. I consulted with wise women and asked experienced elders and all of them said that a dire evil threatened. The lumbermen cut the pine trees, and the shipwrights hewed the timbers to ready your armada, and the water received the tarred hulls of your vessels. I bade you farewell and saw— do not attempt to deny it—your flowing tears. We held each other and wept together in shared grief. The elm and the clinging vine are not so tightly twined together as we were, your arms about my neck. Your comrades laughed when you complained of the winds

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and how they were wrong, knowing your reluctance to set sail. You took your leave of me and then turned back again and again, asking each time for one more kiss. Your tongue rebelled in your mouth and could not say the bitter word, “Farewell.” And then the breezes shift and the slack sails flutter. The ships put out and the blue water is churned to white by the sweeping oars. I stand on the strand and squint through tear-fi lled eyes as the ships depart. The sand is wet from my copious weeping. I think of the dangers of wind and wave and pray to the Nereids that they protect you and bring you home safe, even if it must be to my undoing. But how could I know that I was praying on her behalf and that all the benefit would be my rival’s? We have, you must remember, a rocky promontory that looks down on the sea—almost a mountain— and protects the harbor. I climbed to the top and was the fi rst to see the familiar sails of your vessel approaching. My impulse was to jump and swim to you, or walk on the water’s surface, as one can do in dreams. From my vantage point I also made out a spot of purple, which troubled me. That was never your style. The boat comes closer, pushed along by an eager wind that blows from behind. I see the woman’s face. Worse, I see that you and the shameless woman embrace . . . And I blamed myself for being so mad and stupid

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as to watch this, stay there, suffer, and still keep watching. I began to tear my clothing, beat my breast, and claw at my cheeks with my fi ngernails to bring the pain from deep inside to the surface, but nothing worked to get me from breath to breath, not even the screams I voiced that rose to holy Ida’s indifferent peak and tinted those rocks I have always loved with my lamentation. So may Helen endure such grief one day and so may she fi nd herself without a mate. That grief she brought to me should somehow return to her. You take your pleasure now in whores who leave their husbands to come with you across the expanse of the sea. But when you were young and poor and watching over the flocks, Oenone was your love, your wife, your life. Your wealth does not impress me or your sybaritic palace. I never hoped to be one of the wives of Priam’s sons—though Priam would not have been displeased to have a nymph as one of his daughters-in-law, and Hecuba would have been proud of such a connection. I am entirely worthy of being the consort of a man who wields great power. A scepter would fit my hand comfortably. Do not despise me because we once made love on a bed of hay. I am better suited to lie on a couch adorned in royal purple.

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Had you stayed with me, moreover, there would not have been a war, nor would a fleet of avenging ships have come from far away with an army demanding my return. Blood is the dower that woman brings to Troy! And should she be given back? Ask your brother Hector! Ask Deiphobus or Polydamas or ask wise Antenor. Find out what your father’s advisors think. Your career as a prince has not started out well when you value a stolen woman more than your native country. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Her husband is absolutely correct to come here under arms to assert his rights. Everyone knows that. And what about her? Only consider the woman and whether she will not be any more faithful to you than she was before to him. Easy women are always easy. Menelaus cried out in anger and shame at the sordid betrayal of his marriage bed, and you will also feel that wound of a wife’s betrayal and you will cry out as well. Purity, once it is stained, cannot be made white again but is gone. You think she is ardent with you? So was she ardent with him. He was a fool to trust in that and he lies alone in bed, deserted. As you will, too. You see Andromache every day, Hector’s constant wife. I would have been a wife like that, but you are like leaves dropped from the tree that the slightest wind can stir

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this way and that to flutter and then lie still for a while. You are the dried-out silk on a spear of grain that becomes an instant’s plaything for any passing breeze. Do you not remember how your sister Cassandra foretold to me what terrible things would happen? “What are you doing, Oenone? Why do you sow seeds in the sand? Why do you plow the beach with your oxen? Nothing will come of this. A Greek cow is coming to bring ruin on your house and on your homeland. A Greek heifer . . . She comes on an unclean ship. Pray that it sink deep in the sea, for its cargo is blood, an ocean of Phrygian blood that it will spill.” She was still raving when the slaves showed up to take her away to some quiet place. My neck hairs bristled in fear, but I see now that she was telling the truth. The cow has come to dislodge me from my pastures. However pretty she seems, she is ugliness incarnate in her behavior. I’ve heard how Theseus took her away before you did. And do we suppose she returned a virgin still? How do I know these things? I love. I can think of little else. You may call it slander and try that way to dismiss the truth of her faults, but it would appear that one who is so often abducted may have been part of these criminal enterprises. Oenone remains faithful, however errant her husband, while she, as you have learned, is not to be trusted. The naughty Satyrs used to come after me all the time, and I hid from them in a gully deep in the woods,

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and Faunus was after me, too, with his goat feet and his horns. Apollo took me by force, but he is a god whom mortals cannot resist. And he gave me the gift of healing, with the secrets of all the potent roots and herbs. But for my disease there is no herbal remedy and my art fails me in my dire need. The only cure for me is in your power to give, if only you will. Surely, I have deserved it. Have pity on the woman you used to love. I come with no Greek hordes or bloodied suits of armor— and I am yours. We two have been together since childhood. I was and am and pray I will be again.

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VI Hipsipyle to Jason It is reported to me that you have reached the shores of Thessaly, returning safely home with the fleece of the golden ram. I am glad to hear this news and I send, insofar as you deign to read them, my best wishes for your continuing health and safety. These tidings I have received ought to have come from you, I should have thought, in a message in your hand. I have been concerned that the whims of the winds and waves might have failed or, even worse, betrayed you, even though you longed to return to me and the territories I brought to you as my marriage dower. No matter how adverse the winds may be a letter will somehow contrive to arrive, and I deserved information as well as a greeting from you. It was merely rumor, rather than lines from your own hand, that let me know how you had yoked the bulls sacred to Mars and sowed the serpent’s teeth from which a harvest of men sprang up and turned against you. I heard, too, how the fleece of the ram the unsleeping dragon guarded had been stolen by your bold fi ngers. If only I had been able to answer my informants and tell them how I had heard all this from you,

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how proud I should have been. But what good is complaining that my lord, for whatever reason, has been remiss? So long as I remain yours, I shall think myself to have been well treated indeed. But there is a woman, a barbarian, they say, and skilled in the arts of poison, who has come with you and shares the marriage bed that you had promised me. I may be wrong in this, and love, as we all know, is quick to believe. It may be that I have brought a baseless charge against you. Just this morning a stranger arrived at our gates from Thessaly, and I asked him at once, “How fares my lord, Jason, the son of Aeson?” He stood there silent, embarrassed, his eyes fi xed on the stone floor before him. I sprang up from my chair, weeping, tearing my garments, and then questioned him further, “Is he alive?” Slow to respond, he said, at last, “He lives.” Suspicious as any lover would be, I had him swear, as god was his witness, that what he had said was true. I believed him and in time I recovered myself enough to inquire of him further about your fortunes. He told me of the oxen of Mars and how they ploughed the ground and how the armed men then appeared, and you threw a stone among them to set them fighting and brawling with one another until they all were dead. He told me, too, of the dragon and how you coped with him with a combination of herbs that put him to sleep.

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Each of these perils caused me an agony of worry and I asked him again, “Are you certain he is alive?” But as he is telling his tale, I feel another wound begin to cause me pain. Where is the faith he pledged to me? Was the flame of the marriage torch more fit to set my funeral pyre ablaze? I speak clearly and even bluntly, for deviousness is beneath me. Juno was there to bless our marriage vows and Hymen, with his temples bound with laurel leaves. Where are they now? The gloomy Furies have brought their smoking torches instead, stained with human blood. What were the Argonauts to me or the pines that were felled in Dodona for timbers to build your famous ship? What reason had Tiphys, your helmsman, to steer the vessel here to Lemnos? We had no golden fleece! Our island was never the royal home of old Aeëtes of Colchis whose murder of Phryxus your purpose was to avenge. When you came ashore, the women here proposed to kill the lot of you—and they have shown their talents for homicide on another bloody occasion. I should have listened to them and let them loose upon you, but instead I offered you help and a warm welcome into my house and bedroom and then into my heart. Twice did the summer come and then leave us

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while you were here. It was during the third harvest that you felt the need to leave us your lies and our tears and sail away. “I am parted from you,” you said, “but the fates I pray will grant that I soon return. I am yours now and forever. The child now in your womb I trust will be born in robust health, and you and I shall share in his care and rearing as also in his affection.” These were words you said as the tears rolled down your lying face. Then, as if overcome by the moment’s emotion, you said no more and turned away. You are the last of your crew to board the sacred Argo. It speeds away as the wind bellies its sails. The dark blue waves part as its sharp prow cuts through them and there is a wake astern. I gaze out to sea as you stare back at the land. There is, you recall, a tower that commands a view of the sea on every side, and I hurry there with the tears streaming down my face and onto my bosom to watch as you progress. I have to squint through my tears but my eyes are kind to my heart and I see farther on that terrible day as you disappear in the offi ng. I prayed and made my vows to the gods that they might let you come home again— which with a heavy heart I now am obliged to fulfi ll. Can I break my solemn promises now that Medea is the one who benefits from your survival? My heart is sick, torn as it is between love and anger.

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Must I bear these gifts to the shrine because Jason lives, although he is no longer mine? Shall a heifer feel the fatal stroke because of my loss and shame? I never ceased from worry, but my concern was about your father who might insist on an Argive bride. I never worried about some barbarian witch! The wound then comes from a totally unexpected quarter, and you are her slave not because of her beauty or merit, but only her potions and powerful incantations. She knows which herbs to gather with her blade, which is, itself, enchanted. She summons the fickle moon down from its orbit and makes the steeds of the sun hide at her will in shadows. She issues commands to the waters and can stay the downward flow of mighty rivers. She charms rocks and trees into life and has them move from place to place at her whim. She robs the tombs of bones still warm from their cleansing funeral pyre. She curses those who may be far distant, fashioning dolls of wax into the hearts of which she thrusts her needles. And she does other things too grim and ghastly to speak of. What kind of love is it that witchcraft and necromancy rather than virtue and beauty have kindled in you? How can you make love to such a creature? How can you close your eyes at night and not feel fear? Just as you forced those bulls to bear the yoke, she now has put the yoke on your neck, and you feel its weight.

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Just as she gave you the simples to put the dragon to sleep, she uses her herbs on you. She wants her name written along with those of the Argonaut heroes. The wife should not attempt to obscure the husband’s glory. Some among Pelias’s people impute your achievements to her potions and poisons and say among themselves, “It was not the son of Aeson who fetched the golden fleece, but the Asian girl did this, Aeëtes’ child.” You may not trust my judgment, but ask your own mother what she thinks of Medea. Ask your father what he thinks of the bride you brought from the frozen north. Let her seek from among her own kind a husband from the Scythian marshes somewhere or the banks of the Phasis. What kind of man are you whose words mean nothing? You left declaring that you were mine forever. What happened? Why were you not still mine when you came back? Let me be the wife I was before you left. Is it noble blood you want? I am the daughter of Thoas, who fought at Troy with Ajax and great Achilles. My grandsire was Bacchus, who took as his wife Ariadne to whom he gave the famous crown that, after she died, he threw up into the sky to shine as one of the brighter constellations. Lemnos will be my marriage portion, rich and fertile.

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And among the many whom you may reckon as your subjects, I shall be one, and you will have my love. You will be happy to hear that I have delivered twins with Lucina’s help and kindness, each a pledge of the love that gave them being. They both resemble you except that they have not yet learned deceit. I thought for a time of having them brought to you as ambassadors for me, but then I thought of what kind of a mother Medea would be to them, and in fear of her I changed my mind. Beyond the caricature of the wicked stepmother, she’s cruel, and I cannot think what crimes would be beyond her. Would she, who butchered her brother and strewed his body parts over the fields, be gentle with our two babies? But you know without my prompting that this is what she did. Such is the woman who charmed you out of your senses with the poisons of Colchis, the woman for whom you left the bed you had shared with your adoring Hypsipyle. Immoral and shameless she is, and only by trickery won you away from me and took you for her husband. She betrayed her father. I, on the other hand, saved mine from the massacre of all the men of Lemnos. She deserted her homeland while I am where I was born. What sense does anything make if sin is preferred to virtue and devotion? And she made no effort to hide her flaws but used them openly to win you.

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The vengeful and violent behavior of the women of Lemnos I hate, but I do not fi nd it surprising: passion drives even the timid to take up arms for desperate crimes. Suppose some contrary wind had driven your ship off course so that you returned to the harbor of Lemnos and I had come forward to meet you holding our twins. Surely you would have prayed for the earth to open wide rather than look at them or look at me. What spectacular death would you think that you deserve for perfidy? But I would have spared your life and offered, yet again, my protection and my love— not that you would have deserved such kindness, but I am a kind and merciful person, at least to you. Her I would have attacked with my own hands splashing my face and yours with the fountains of her blood because she stole you away from me. I would have out-Medea-ed Medea a hundred-, a thousandfold. My prayer to almighty Jove is that she suffer what I am suffering now and groan Hypsipyle’s groans. I am left alone with only my two babies, but let her be bereft of babies and husband, too. Let her lose all her ill-gotten gains, become an exile, and wander the world in search of refuge. A bitter sister to that poor brother she killed, a bitter daughter also to that father whom she betrayed, may she be bitter as well to her own children,

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and to you, her husband. Let land and sea refuse her welcome, and let her seek from the air her desperate escape. Let her wander the roads of the world, indigent, hopeless, and her hands showing the blood of her many crimes. Thus do I, the daughter of Thoas, fervently pray: Live on, husband and wife, in your cursed bed.

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VII Dido to Aeneas Thus does the dying swan sing in Meander’s marshes, the noble white bird in the watery grass. This prayer of mine I hope may similarly move you, for despite the clear adversity of the gods, I am impelled to dispatch these hopeless words to you. After losing what I believe I deserved, as well as my reputation and unblemished body and soul, how slight a matter it is to put away pride and send you these last words. You are resolved to abandon wretched Dido and let the indifferent winds that have blown away your solemn oaths and words of love carry you out to sea. You will cast off not only your vessels’ hawsers but also your pledges and honor to persevere in your dream of Italy’s lands, a place you have never seen and can only vaguely imagine. Carthage is somehow displeasing? Her sturdy walls cannot hold you. The feel of its scepter in your hand is altogether meaningless to you. You turn your back on the real to pursue a shimmering vision. You have sought and won a land that you throw away in search of another on which you intend to begin again. And even if you should fi nd this proper place, will whoever lives there just give it over to you abandoning their houses, orchards, and fields? 182

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I suppose you will manage to fi nd a second Dido there, another to whom you can give your meaningless pledges. But how long will it take to construct from the wilderness a city like the Carthage you leave behind, from the citadel of which you can look out at cultivation and thriving people? And even if all this should happen just as you plan, how will you find a woman to be your wife and love you as much as I? I am ablaze with love, a wax flambeau that is dipped in sulfur to burn all the brighter. I am incense the priests sprinkle onto the smoking altar fi res. During all my waking hours, my eyes follow you, cling to you. And then in the dark of night my body clings. It is true, I know, he is false, an ingrate who does not respond to love and human kindness. I am not blind, and if I were not so maddened by love, I should be more than willing to let him go. But I cannot bring myself to hate him. Complain? Yes, I complain of his selfish faithlessness, but then love him more madly still. I pray to Venus, be merciful to the bride of your son; and beseech your brother Mars to soften the heart of Aeneas and yield him to you. Or help me more directly and let my passion kindle his so the two of us burn together. These are mere delusions, empty dreams that I know do not connect with the truth of a brutish world. Your heart is nothing like that of your goddess mother. You were begotten of mountain rocks, of oaks

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on lofty cliffs, of savage beasts, of the stormy sea— such a sea as even now you gaze at, preparing your departure despite its winds and tides. What impels you? Look out at the tempests that recommend delay. The east wind roils the waves. I should prefer that your own emotion prompt you, but I will accept the intercession of storms more just than anything arising from your spirit. I chastise myself for having failed to understand you and your hatred for me, strong enough to move you to risk your very life to get away from me and cherish that hatred enough to die for it. Soon the winds that keep you here will die down and leave the surface of the sea as smooth as glass for Triton’s steeds to race on. If only you were as fickle as the wind and weather, but, no, you are an oak fi xed in its position. You have sailed enough to know the grave perils of suddenly raging storms. How foolhardy it is for you to risk yourself and your crew and put your trust in blind luck! However fair the prospects, when you cast off and set sail a swirl of woes surrounds your vessel’s progress. Should you find yourself in danger and look to the gods for help, how do you suppose they will respond to the pleas of faithlessness and one who has outraged Love? Remember that it was from out of this same sea that Venus fi rst emerged in all her naked glory. Undone myself, I fear that my undoing may lead to his as well. I do not wish him dead! I do not want him to drink those salty waters.

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Let him live! I pray to the high gods. Worse than death will be his having to bear the blame for mine and live with the reputation of being a man without honor. Imagine that you are caught in some sudden squall— I hope that it doesn’t happen, but it perfectly well could— what do you expect as your last thought if not of your false tongue and your perjured soul . . . and Dido done to death by your Phrygian faithlessness? The last image to fi ll your mind will be the face of your abandoned wife, distorted in grief with her wild hair streaming and her face stained with her blood. Will you then understand—too late, too late—what you did? What will you think as you look up at the raging heavens except that the gods are angry at you and the thunderbolts are not falling at random but with you their intended target? Only wait a while for the sea to calm, for its cruelty to abate and your own as well. Your safety will be your great reward for this little delay. You can be reckless yourself, but think of your young son and spare Ascanius. What has he done to deserve an early and violent death? My own demise is enough for your conscience to carry. Your child and your household gods that you rescued from Troy’s conflagration will go down with you. You are known for hoisting Anchises up on your shoulders

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and bearing your father from Troy. Did you rescue him from fi re only to subject him to death by water? You betray the two of them as you have betrayed me, so that I am not the fi rst to whom you have lied. I wonder what happened back in Troy to Ascanius’s mother. You said she died in the fi re—left behind by accident, was it? On purpose? I never thought to inquire, or to pay any heed to what should have been fair warning. It is for that blindness that I deserve to be punished by the gods who take note of how we conduct ourselves. But what must they think of you? How can they fi nd a penalty heavy enough for your offenses? They have tossed you over the seas into a number of ports for seven years now. I found you cast ashore and received you far better than you ever could have expected. I barely knew your name before I gave you a seat on my throne. If only that had been all, but no, there was the sudden cloudburst from which we ran to take shelter together in that protected grotto. There I heard the voice that spoke only to me, not a cry of the nymphs but a warning the Furies gave me, the signal to alert me to my doom. I was undone and unfaithful to my late husband Sychaeus. I go to perform an act of penance now in the marble shrine in which his life-sized image stands, hung about with the fronds of living plants

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and fi llets of white wool. I go there often to visit, and four times now I have heard a faint but familiar voice, inviting more than commanding: “Dido, come!” To this I answer, although not speaking aloud, “I am still your rightful bride, and I will no longer delay. I am ashamed but I have confessed my fault. He who caused my fall was worthy enough, which draws some of the poison from my sin. His mother was a goddess. His aged father is here, and I had reason to hope that he would remain and be faithful to me. My fate was to make a grave mistake. Had he fulfi lled his promises, I should have no cause for shame or anger, or reason for any regret.” My old misfortunes continue to dog my steps even to these last moments of wretched life. My husband fell before our household altars, killed by my cruel brother Pygmalion, who had gone mad with greed. He still has that great treasure he looted then. I fled at once into exile, leaving my husband’s ashes behind me as well as the land of my birth and childhood. Taking a dangerous route, I fled as my brother pursued me, but I escaped to land on these Libyan shores where I purchased the land I was stupid enough to hand over to you. I built a city and laid the foundations of walls that my neighbors envied enough to threaten with wars. Assailed, a woman, alone, I managed somehow to defend

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what is rightfully mine. Suitors show up here by the thousand, casting fond eyes on me and the city I rule. They join together complaining when I reject them all and instead choose you, a stranger. Instead of leaving, you might as well bind me over and send me off to Iarbas, the king of Gaetulia, whom I expect to attack any moment now. Or my brother Pygmalion could come to stain his hands with my blood as he did with my husband’s. Lay down those sacred things you carried away from Troy. Your touch profanes them. They would recoil from your hands if they could move. Rather than being saved by you, they would have preferred the fi re at Troy. Does it satisfy your delight in doing evil to know that Dido, whom you abandon, is soon to become a mother, and your departure blights not only her life but also that of the child who is yet unborn? It is Ascanius’s brother who will die along with me as Fate bears us two away together. You said that it was your god who had commanded you to continue your journey. Would that the god had been gentler and had forbidden a detour here to Carthage! Is it this god at whose whim you have been battered for years by adverse winds and tempestuous surging seas? It would have taken less effort on your part

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to return to the Troad—if Troy were still as it had been while Hector lived. But the Simoïs you would exchange for the Tiber, where, if you get there, you will come as a stranger. That notional new Troy for which you search continually recedes from your eyes and your questing keels, and if you ever do get there at all you will be old and feeble, as your poor father is now. Come to your senses. Give up your mad plan and instead choose me and accept the people and throne of Carthage and the part of Pygmalion’s treasure that I brought with me. Found your new Troy here, where it will thrive and prosper, and enjoy an assured success. If you want battles in which your son can excel and show his mettle, wars will not be lacking, but peace and the rule of law also offer themselves. I pray by your mother’s love and your brother’s weapons, and all your household gods, that Mars has spared that this be the end of your tribulations. Here may Ascanius live a long and happy life and the bones of Anchises may fi nd a resting place. Only spare the house that gave itself without any condition into your hands. What fault can you charge me with except my reckless love? I am not Greek. I have no husband, brother, or father who fought against you at Troy. If I am not worthy

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of being your wife, then let me continue to be your hostess, and I will endure, accept, and bow to your will. I know these seas along our coasts and their ways and times of granting or denying ships safe passage. When the winds are right for you to sail, I swear I will tell you. I can interpret the floating seaweed’s patterns and know how to read the skies. You shall go safely then, and even though it is not what I desire, I shall not permit you to stay. Your comrades need more time to repair and refit your shattered vessels. Delay only a little while. By my very hope of marriage I ask you this. Allow the sea and my love to calm themselves and let me acquire the strength to bear if I can my heavy sorrow a little more bravely. If you refuse me this, I tell you it is my purpose to end my life. I will not allow this wound to hurt for long. If you could look at my face as I write, you would see the tears that are rolling down my face to land in my lap where I have the Trojan sword you gave me. Instead of my tears, there will be bloodstains. I do not at all fear the thrust of the cold blade, for I have felt the sharper stab of love, compared to which this will be short and easy to bear. My sister Anna in whom I confide my secrets will soon deliver at my request a little urn with my pyre’s ashes, bearing the simple inscription:

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Dido, Wife of Sychaeus. And at my tomb will be this epitaph, carved into the marble: From Aeneas came the sword and the reason for her death; but from her own hand, the stroke that killed her.

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VIII Hermione to Orestes Against every law of heaven and earth, Achilles’ son Pyrrhus holds me as if I were his captive. Whatever was in my power to do to resist, I have done, imploring, protesting, accusing, refusing to be kept: “What are you doing? Who can defend me? I have told you again and again, I have a husband.” But he was deaf as the raging sea as I shrieked out, “Orestes!” and he grabbed me by the hair and dragged me inside his palace. One might have thought that Troy had won the war, and I had been captured and made, as a prize of war, a slave to some barbarian with other daughters of Greece. Andromache was less badly used than I when her son was hurled from the walls, which then went up in flames! I write to ask you, Orestes, if you still love me, lay claim to me and assert your rights in forceful terms. Should raiders come to break open your pens and steal your cattle and sheep, then surely you would take up arms. When your wife is stolen away, will you hesitate, even a moment, to reclaim her and your own honor? Remember Menelaus, your father-in-law, and how he demanded that my mother be returned at once or else he threatened there would be war.

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Had he shown less spirit and dawdled in his deserted halls, Helen would still be in Troy, married to Paris. But you have no need of a thousand-ship armada or hosts of Danaän soldiers, for you can come, yourself. This would be sufficient and altogether proper— for a husband to come to demand his wife’s return. Should the dispute require man-to-man combat, that is allowed for a husband in such a fi x as ours. Atreus, Pelops’s son, is grandfather to us both, and were you not my husband we should still be cousins (and on both sides). As husband as well as cousin, come to my aid as both these bonds require. Deliver me from this distasteful predicament. My grandfather Tyndareus, old and wise, gave you my hand, as was proper, my father being away at war in Troy. My grandfather acted for him. Not knowing this, my father promised me in marriage to Pyrrhus, Achilles’ son. And any lawyer can tell you that grandfathers take precedence over their sons and therefore it was his decision to make. My marriage to you brought no one harm, but by this union with Pyrrhus I shall cause you terrible grief. My father, Menelaus, will surely pardon us, having succumbed himself to the sharp darts of the god of love. What he has allowed for himself he must also grant as a right for his own daughter

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and for you, my husband. My mother’s extravagant example will surely stand as a precedent. What the Trojan did to her was no different than what Pyrrhus does to me. Let him take endless pride in his father’s deeds, but you, too, have a father about whom you can boast. Tantalus’s son Pelops was king of kings and ruled over everyone—including Achilles’ people who served as soldiers but under Pelops’s command. Your ancestors then are even more noble than he can claim, for you can count back a mere five generations and get to Jove himself. You have shown your martial prowess, although one could wish that the deed the Fates assigned you was less horrid. The weapons that you took up, your father put in your hands, leaving you no other choice. But surely the enterprise took courage when you slit Aegisthus’s throat and reddened the same floor with blood that he had stained with Agamemnon’s. Pyrrhus insults you for this and turns the praise that you deserve to blame. I glare at him in hatred and my face turns red with rage as my breast burns with a fury all the hotter for having been bottled up. When I hear you being insulted, all I can do is weep in silence and let my scalding tears pour down to land upon my bosom. My cheeks are red and my face is wet and unsightly from this disfiguring grief. It is, I truly believe, the family curse,

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Tantalus’ dark legacy in which we women are victims of ravishers’ lust and envy. Jove as a swan lied to Leda in his bizarre disguise. At the isthmus 90 where the two seas almost meet, Hippodamia, too, was carried away by Pelops. Helen as well was taken by the stranger-guest from Troy, which roused the Greeks to arm themselves and pursue her. I was only a child but I remember the grief and anger mixed with fear, which is how men always feel before a war. My grandfather wept, and my mother’s sister Phoebe, as well as the twins, Castor and Pollux. My grandmother Leda fell on her knees to pray to her own Jove, while in my terror I tore my not-yet-very-long hair 100 and cried for my mother not to go away and leave me behind. Now, lest anyone have doubts that I am of Pelops’s unfortunate line, I, too, fi nd myself with Pyrrhus against my will, a chattel. If Apollo had not steadied Paris’s hand and eye so that the arrow found Achilles’ heel, the father, I am sure, would condemn the son for such bad conduct. It was never Achilles’ style to countenance the weeping of a husband 110 for a stolen wife. I ask myself what I could have done to provoke the gods in heaven to turn against me. What constellation opposes my wishes and my will, and how do I complain to it or try to placate it? When I was a little girl, my mother was gone, and my father was also away fighting,

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so even though they were both alive, I was like an orphan. You were not here, mother, to hear my fi rst words or see my early attempts to stand and walk. I could never wrap my loving little arms around your neck, could never snuggle into your lap. It was not by your hand that I was reared and cared for, and when I was promised in marriage, you could not prepare the chamber or give me advice as mothers do to their daughters. When you at last came home I went out to greet you but could not recognize your face on which I had not been able to look for years. I knew you had to be Helen because of your beauty, but you had to inquire which one was your daughter! The single precious gift I have received from grudging Fortune is having Orestes as my husband, but he will be taken from me unless he fights to claim what is his by right. Pyrrhus holds me captive even though my father has come back home victorious. This is the sorry prize I have received from the fall of Troy—which gives me a measure of comfort during the day when the radiant steeds are crossing the sky. But then, at night, I am sent to the bedchamber and am wretched again, fi lling the palace with bitter wails and lamentation. I stretch myself on the bed shedding tears from eyes that never close and wet the fancy linen. I shrink from Pyrrhus’s touch and he knows that I hate him and think of him as a foe. My misery drives me mad and I cannot tell

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what has happened to me and where I am. Deluded I reach out beside me to touch warm flesh and then, when I wake, I shrink from the unintended contact with a vile and defi ling thing, my enemy’s body. Often when I call out into the darkness the name that escapes from my lips is “Orestes” rather than “Pyrrhus,” and his chagrin produces in me a bitter joy. I swear by all of my accursed forebears and by our remotest ancestor who, from the realms above, shakes the land and the sea; by the bones of your father, my Uncle Agamemnon—which owe it, of course, to you that in their burial mound, they have been avenged— that I shall die before my time has come and end these terrible and endless years and tears, unless you arrive to save me and bring me home so that we, both Tantalids, shall be again united.

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IX Deianira to Hercules I send my thanks to the gods and congratulations to you on your victory over Oechalia, now on your long list of achievements and triumphs. The only qualification to my joy at this excellent news is the further report that the victor has been transformed and has himself been vanquished. The man whom the famous labors never crushed now has Iole’s yoke around his neck, delighting those who hate him—Eurystheus and Juno. Those who are fond of you, your father, Jove, for example, will take no joy in hearing how you fare. More than Juno’s, you have been the object of Venus’s spite, for when the former crushed your body and spirit, you arose all the stronger. The other even now has her heel upon your neck. You are the one who has brought peace to the troubled earth wherever Nereus’s winds may blow on land or out at sea. From farthest east where the sun rises all the way to the west where it sets, the fame of your heroic deeds fi lls the ears and minds of admiring men. What other mortal could bear Atlas’s weight of the starry welkin for even a moment? How then can you blotch your record of noble

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deeds with this moment of shame? Could you, who as an infant lying in your cradle strangled the serpents and showed even then that you were a child of Jove, behave weakly and badly? One’s latest deeds erase all recollection of earlier achievements and their honor. You cannot be the same man as you were! A thousand ferocious beasts could not overcome you; Juno’s spite could not defeat you. But love does. Women envy me because I am your wife and my father-in-law is therefore mighty Jove who thunders from on high. But they have no idea how mismatched we are in the yoke of marriage. It is not so much of an honor for me as it is a burden. I suppose you might have been happier had your wife been in some way your equal—if such a woman exists. My husband is mostly absent, pursuing monsters and performing impressive tasks. And when he is at home, he is more like a guest than he is a man who lives here. Meanwhile I busy myself with prayers I offer in torment, lest my husband be felled by some savage foe. My imagination teems with serpents and ravening lions, wild boars charging, and three-headed mastiffs baying for blood. We try to read the entrails of sacrificed beasts that offer little comfort. Or I tell my dreams to the priests to interpret, but they are cautious and say nothing. I attend to rumors the common people speak of,

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and my fears abate and hope arises, but then it recedes and my dread returns. Your mother, Alcmene, regrets that she ever pleased the thundering god—and she is absent, while neither Amphitryon nor your son Hyllus is here to comfort me. I am the one who suffers from Eurytheus’s vicious acts that angry Juno inspired in him to satisfy her desire for vengeance. As if this weren’t enough for me to bear, there are also reports of your infidelities, frequent and flagrant, in which any woman who wants to become a mother can look to you for assistance. Auge comes to mind, whom you seduced on Mount Parthenius’s slopes, Astydamia, the nymph of Ormenus, and all fi fty of Thespius’s daughters on whom you begot fi fty sons. But these are old and tiresome stories. I was not pleased, however, to learn of my new stepson, Lamus, your child with the Lydian queen Omphale. The river Meander that wanders this way and that, returning upon itself in apparent indecision, has seen you with her trinkets around your neck that was strong enough to bear up the weight of the bowl of heaven. Were you not ashamed to bedeck yourself with gold and jewels that do not comport at all with your brawn once splotched with the Nemean lion’s blood? Your shaggy hair you now bind in a woman’s turban and at your waist is a pretty Maeonian girdle

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a silly girl might wear. Do you remember when you encountered Diomedes’ man-eating mares? Have you forgotten barbarous King Busiris of Egypt who sacrificed passing strangers to the gods— until you killed him and stopped those dismal proceedings? Could he see you now, he would laugh. Or think of Antaeus and the shame he would feel at having been defeated by such an unmanly man as you have become. I even have word that you hold the wool basket now. Amazing! You’re just one of the girls who giggle and gossip and worry about incurring their mistress’s disapproval. How can those hands that accomplished such great things be content to help pluck strands of wool from a spindle? And do you, while you work, entertain the ladies talking of those deeds about which you should be silent? You frighten them with your stories of strangling serpents or defeating the great boar that shook Erymanthus’s ground. Do they huddle together or giggle in disbelief when you speak of the human skulls in Thrace and the horrid horses that had eaten their flesh? Eurystheus’s stolen cattle you recovered for him from Geryon, the triple-headed monster. All the virtue of those great deeds is leaching away as you prattle to them of the dog from hell with the viper in his fur; or the Lernean Hydra

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that sprang back afresh from its wounds; or the giant, Antaeus, you raised into the air with your hands in a choke-hold; or your struggle against the centaurs on Thessaly’s high ridges. You speak of these deeds tricked out in a fancy robe in the Sidonian style, and the dissonance must be amusing. But there’s more, for Omphale gets into your armor to celebrate her triumph over the famous hero, who is, of course, yourself. By having vanquished you, she becomes the victor in all your former struggles. The glory of all your exploits devolves to her. The rough skin of your lion cloak is reduced to a shawl in which she struts about—but the spoil is not from the lion anymore: she takes it, instead, from you, for if you conquered the beast, she conquered you. A woman now has borne the deadly arrow points that were dipped in the Hydra’s blood. A mere woman who ought to be holding a spindle has wielded your great club that in better days dispatched ferocious beasts. She gazes into a mirror to see herself arrayed, as if in a costume, in my husband’s armor. I have not myself seen these sorry demonstrations of your disgrace. I have only heard reports, and from the ears we suffer less than from what we behold at fi rst hand—as I do while you parade Iole through the city, as captive women are marched with their hair unkempt and full of woe, but wearing

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ornaments of gold and such other fi nery as proves to the vulgar crowd their former status. But she holds her head high, glares at the throng, and smiles as if she were the conqueror and you her pitiable captive. One might very well infer that Oechalia is still standing and her father is alive and in good health. Does she somehow have it in mind that you will drive away your Deianira, who is her rival, and that she will no longer be a mistress but will soon be able to claim the title of wife, the two of you basely joined in Hymen’s disgraceful bond? My mind goes blank at the thought, my body trembles as my hand lies insensate, immobile in my lap. I, too, have been one of your loves but with me there has been no reproach, disgrace or shame. Twice you have done battle on my behalf. The fi rst occasion was when you struggled with Achelous, the river god, who was my suitor and therefore your rival. And you won me and took me away and wed me. You also contended for me with Nessus, the centaur, who bore me across the river but then attempted to rape me, and you shot him with one of your poisoned arrows. As he sank down into the lotus bed he stained the river with his flowing crimson blood—which he told me I could use as a love potion. I sent you the shirt I’d prepared, dipped in that blood, but word comes that he lied,

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that the blood was a deadly poison, and that you are dying from it. Alas! What have I done? What madness is it, what folly and desperation have driven me to this deed? Shall your husband die a wretched death on Mt. Oeta while you, the cause of this terrible thing, remain alive? If I ever deserved the name of wife, then I must die, too, to fulfi ll the pledge of our union. Meleager shall see a true sister in me. O sinful Deianira, do you hesitate to die? Alas for my affl icted house in which Agrius, my uncle, sits on my father’s throne while he is exiled, old, and feeble. My brother Tydeus, too, is in exile, although I have no idea where. My brother Meleager is dead, the brand on which his life depended extinguished by our mother, who thereupon killed herself with the thrust of a sword. O sinful Deianira, do you hesitate to die? What I hate most is that it appears to the world that I plotted your death, that I wanted this to happen to you. But it was not so. Nessus, dying, desperate, told me that his blood had the power to elicit love. And that was what I intended and hoped. O sinful Deianira, do you hesitate to die? Now, I bid farewell to you, aged father, and to you, dear sister Gorge, and to you, my native land. I bid farewell to the last light I shall see. You, my beloved lord, I wish you could fare well. And Hyllus, our son, I pray the gods may bless you.

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X Ariadne to Theseus No wild beast in the forest is any more cruel than you, nor is there any less worthy of trust. The words that you are now reading I send from that distant shore from which you sailed, leaving me behind, betrayed by sleep that had closed my eyelids and you who were wicked and snuck away before dawn as I slumbered. There was crystal dew on the grass and the songbirds began to perform their various tunes perched on the branches of trees. On the border of sleep and waking, where dreams begin to shred, I turned on my side and reached out my arms to you to embrace my beloved Theseus—who was no longer beside me. I flailed my arms about exploring the wide expanse of the bed but you were nowhere, and I fi rst felt a faint fl icker of fear that grew to consume my entire being. I arose in a panic and tore my hair wild from sleep and beat my breasts in my distraction. I remember the moon was shining and I looked outside and down at the beach that was empty

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as my bed, a wide expanse of shameful absence. I ran along the shifting sand that impeded my steps as can happen sometimes in nightmares, but I was not asleep and this was worse. Again and again I called your name that the rocks along the shore would echo back so that it seemed that the place was calling you, as if attempting to help me or offer its consolation. There was a mountain with scrub on its top: the relentless waves had gnawed at its side to make a vertiginous cliff. I scrambled up to the top for a better view of the sea’s expanse and from there I could make out the distant dot of your ship’s sails that the southern wind had bellied even as it was blowing at me so that my hair was streaming in the direction of your vessel. With my fears confi rmed, my body went suddenly cold as if all life had drained from it, but the anguish would not let me be still. I walked in circles and cried aloud, “Theseus, come back. O wicked man! Turn your ship around and come back for me,” but the wind shredded my words, which, even had you heard them, you would not have heeded. But still I could not just stand there. I waved my arms. I saw a tree branch and made it into a staff for the signal flag I fashioned using my veil. I waved that back and forth in the perfectly vain hope that you might see it, might be moved and shamed, and somehow might change your mind and return for me.

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Your ship disappeared from my vision so that my eyes’ only use was to weep until my eyelids hurt. I wandered about with my tousled hair making me look like some Bacchante possessed by the god, or I sat stunned upon a stone and all but turned into the stone on which I found myself. I made my way back to the bed that we had formerly shared to touch the imprint that your body had left upon it— all that remained to me, the rumpled fabric that you had once warmed. I threw myself down and wept, pouring forth fresh tears and speaking aloud to the bed: “Two of us pressed you down! We came to you together. Give me Theseus back, restoring the pair that we entrusted to you. Faithless bed! The greater part of my being—oh, gods—has gone away.” What am I now to do? Where shall I go? Here I am alone on an island where nobody lives— no trace of habitation or animal herds. It’s a speck of dirt protruding out of an empty sea away from any fishermen or sailors. Even supposing that I could fi nd sufficient wood and knew how to construct a primitive raft, where would I go? Not to my father’s realm. If the winds were kindly disposed and the sea’s currents peaceful, wherever else I came to land, I should be an exile. I shall never again visit the hundred cities of my beloved Crete where the infant Jupiter played, for I have betrayed my wise and righteous father in the help I gave ungrateful Theseus, giving him thread to unwind as he entered the Labyrinth’s twists

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and turns to fi nd my monster half-brother’s hidden lair. You took the thread from my hand and by it you swore, “So long as we both shall live, I promise I shall be yours.” But we’re both alive, and I am no longer yours— if, that is, a woman, castaway as I am, can properly be said to be alive. It would have been kinder if you had bludgeoned me, too, as you did the Minotaur. And you would not have broken the terms of the solemn oath you made to me. But you left me here to imagine horrible deaths for which, nonetheless, I yearn if only they could come soon, for delay is a slow, intolerable torture. Are there wolves that roam the island? Will they rush upon me and tear my vitals with greedy fangs? Are there tawny lions? Tigers, perhaps? Do the waters around the island conceal walruses that have learned to feast on men? Are there men? Must I worry about some half-wild creatures who have managed to arm themselves with spears and swords? But I do not much care, so long as I am not taken captive and set to spin as a slave, disgracing Minos, my father, and my mother, too, the daughter of Phoebus Apollo. I stare out at the wide sea and along the shoreline and count the dangers from each of them. I raise my eyes to the skies, and there I fear

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the disapproval of gods who have witnessed my treasonous conduct, and I wonder if they will take it upon themselves to set the ravening beasts upon me. If men are living anywhere on this island, I cannot trust them— for my hurts have taught me caution about kind words from strangers. If only my brother Androgeos still were alive, that champion whom the Athenians murdered and for whom my father made them pay the tribute of seven youths and seven maidens to feed the Minotaur. If only you had never come with your club to kill my monster brother! Or if I had not been a fool and given you the thread to unwind . . . But we cannot rewrite the past. I am not at all surprised that you were able to kill him. How could he wound a heart as hard as yours? Like fl int! Like adamant! I can blame my slumber that kept me here. It would have been better for me had the bigger sleep weighed me down forever. And you breezes, so ready to help his fl ight and my spate of tears. At his hands both my brother and I have been undone. I listened to him and was stupid and wrong—but slumber, wind, and falsehood all conspired against one helpless woman. Am I to die without seeing my mother’s tears? Will there be no hand to close my eyes?

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Shall my limbs depart this earth without having been arranged in the pose prescribed for the dead and without the unguents? Shall my bones lie unburied, food for the carrion birds? Are these the fitting punishments for my kindness? You will return in triumph to Athens where you will be cheered as you tell them about the death of the man-and-bull in those winding halls cut out of the living rock, but tell them also about me, abandoned here alone, for I should be included among your conquests. Then men and women will know the dismal truth that you could not have been the child of Aegeus and Aethra but were in fact the offspring of hard rocks and the depths of the cold ocean. I pray to the gods to know if you were able to see me from your stern the sad figure waving in frantic desperation. You cannot see me now with your eyes, but your mind must retain the image of a woman alone on a beach. Contemplate that picture I put before you of hair in the wind, tears, a waving stick with a cloth, and the desperate calling out you cannot hear of your name. The figure shakes and quivers as grain in the field trembles in the blasts of the north wind. And my fi ngers tremble still inscribing the painful words. Is this what I deserved? Or never mind

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deserving, but ask if I should be punished for what I did. I may not have been the sole reason your life did not come to an end in the Labyrinth, but you, leaving me here, will be the cause of my death. I am weary of beating my breast. Instead, I stretch my hands over the wide sea in your direction. Look at my streaming hair and streaming tears and consider what you have done. Turn your ship around. Come back. If I have not survived until you get here, you can at least carry away my corpse.

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XI Canace to Macareus If there are blots on the scroll obscuring the words I write they will be from my blood, for in my right hand I hold a pen, but my left has a dagger drawn from its sheath. The paper is unrolled in my lap between them. This is the picture you must try to keep in mind of Aeolus’s daughter, writing her dear brother in obedience to the stern command of her obdurate father. I only wish he were here to behold the deed and witness the suicide upon which he has insisted. My assumption is that he would be dry-eyed for he is more fierce than the savage winds that he commands. His temper is more harsh than that of Notus, the strong south wind, or Zephyrus, Aquilo, or Eurus. He can rule these powerful winds but not his anger, and the realm over which he presides is not so wide as his faults. What use is it to me that my forebears go back to Jove, to whom I cannot frame an appeal? The sharp blade that I have here in my hand is unimpressed and will spill blood, noble or not. It would have been far better for us if we had been joined together in death. We loved each other more than brother and sister should ever allow themselves to love.

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I was inflamed by passion, as if some god had possessed me, and the stories I had heard about that god I had at last to acknowledge were true. My color faded so that I looked wan and pale; my frame diminished because in my distraction I could not eat; and I could not sleep so that the nights were years as I lay in bed and groaned although I was not in pain. I could not diagnose my mysterious ailment because I did not know what it was to be in love. But that’s what it was. My nurse explained it to me, and I blushed for shame and lowered my eyes in deep remorse. I had not said a word, but my nurse knew and was able to read the signs as clearly as if I’d confessed. As the continuing weight on my spirit further weakened my already enfeebled body, she brought me medicinal herbs and nostrums that could not cure but might at least alleviate some of the pain from which I suffered. This was the only secret I kept from you. But within me the burden strengthened and grew despite the remedies from my nurse’s hand. Nine times the sun’s sister had renewed herself and a fresh manifestation approached on light-bearing steeds when I felt the sudden, sharp, and unfamiliar pangs from which I cried out in fright, but my nurse now cautioned me to be silent and not to betray my condition. What could I do, torn as I was between the pains on the one hand and fear and shame on the other? I stifle my cries and force myself to drink

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the tears I am shedding. Death is looming before my eyes and Lucina denies me her aid. My fear of dying is the posthumous disgrace that would fasten upon me, but you are leaning over me now, tearing my robe, and warming my chilled body with the heat of your own flesh. “Live, my sister, live,” is what I hear, “and do not be the death of two beings at once. Take what strength you can from hope, and knowing that you will now be your brother’s bride. He made you a mother and now it is only right that he make you a wife.” I was as good as dead, but your welcome words revived me so that I could bring forth my womb’s burden. But it is not cause for rejoicing. Aeolus sits in the palace, and the evidence of our guilt must be kept from him. The nurse attempts to conceal the infant and decks the body with olive branches and fi llets of sacrifice. She intones the words of prayers, and men and women make way to let her pass. Our father, too, stands aside. She has almost reached the doorway when the sound of a baby’s cry reaches my father’s ears, and all is lost. The baby has given himself away. My father grabs the pretended sacrifice, and his maddened howls fi ll the palace halls. We have seen an aspen shake when the slightest breeze disturbs its leaves, or the sea’s

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glassy surface tremble when the south wind passes upon it. So did the parts of my body quake to hear him give voice to his rage. The bed I lay upon shook with my fear as he rushed into my room to make my guilt known to the world. It is all he can do to keep from striking me with his own hand. In my confusion I could not utter a single word but allowed my silent tears to testify on my behalf as he ordered his grandchild to be exposed in some deserted place and left to the dogs and birds. You would have supposed the child had understood for he broke out into new and louder wailing, entreating, protesting, defying . . . Imagine how I felt hearing these desperate cries—you can judge from your own emotions—and seeing the guard march off with the helpless infant deep into the forest to leave him to die, the fruit of my womb to be torn apart by pitiless wolves. Our father left the chamber and I could give way to my feelings, beating my breast and raking my cheeks. A little later the guard appeared to tell me the leaden words: “You father sends this sword to you.” He handed me the short sword and went on. “He says that you will understand what you must do.” I do understand and shall make use of the sword, bury its blade deep in my breast as he intends. This is his only wedding present, my rich

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dowry. And I do not require Hymen’s torches. Rather I need the smoky flambeaux of the Fates to light my funeral pyre and burn bright in the night. I pray that my sisters may wed and avoid such grief, but may they on their nuptial days remember me. What could have been that newborn baby’s crime in the few hours he lived? If he deserved to die, it was my fault for which the poor thing suffered, torn limb from limb by beasts on the very day of his birth. The pledge of unholy love, my little son, your fi rst day was also your last, and the harsh Fates did not allow me to shed the tears I owed you, bear to your tomb the shorn hank of my hair, or kiss your cold lips. The mouths you felt were the wolves’. But I shall deal myself the fatal stroke and follow where my baby’s shade has gone. I shall not be called “mother” or “bereaved,” or not for long. But I ask you to fi nd whatever pieces you can of our son, gather them up, and lay them to rest with me in my tomb, sharing an urn. Live, but do not forget me. Pour forth your tears upon my wounded body. Do not shrink from her whom you loved and who loved you. Fulfi ll the requests of the sister you loved too well, as I even now fulfi ll the request of our father.

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XII Medea to Jason But wait! Think! When I was the queen of Colchis and you asked me to help you with my arcane arts I did not refuse you. These days, I wish that the three sisters who spin out the threads of our lives had ended mine. Only in that way could Medea have died happy. The rest of it has been a series of woes, as if I were being punished. I ask myself why it was that the ship you built of Pelion’s strong timbers was driven over the sea by the winds and your strong men in quest of the golden fleece of the ram of Phryxus. Were we of Colchis fated to see the Argo arrive? What god’s plan was it for Argonauts to drink the Phasus’s waters? Why was I such a fool as to take delight in your curly golden hair, your physical grace, and your lying, seductive tongue? But I confess, I did, and when that strange craft landed, I was so taken with you as not to allow you to go without my magical unguents to face the bulls that snorted fi re. You would have sowed the dragon’s teeth and seen them sprout and spring up out of the ground as armed soldiers eager to take your life—except that I had given instructions for you to follow.

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Without my foolish help, the faithlessness you embody would have perished and I would have been spared the many griefs and humiliations I’ve had to endure. The only pleasure I can derive these days 30 is reproaching you for your signal ingratitude for the favors I can reckon up and that you have forgotten. When that boat of yours landed on Colchis’s shores and you set foot on the soil of our rich realm, I was as dear to you as you say your new bride is. Her father is rich and rules over Corinth. So was mine also rich and could claim all the land on the eastern shore of the Pontus, extending even to Scythia’s snows. My father, Aeëtes, extends a welcome to these Greek heroes 40 and invites them to dine and rest on comfortable couches— and that’s where I fi rst see you and then begin to know you, unaware that this is my soul’s downfall. The fi re that burned within me was no mere worldly flame but like that of one of those torches that blaze for the gods. Your face and your body were noble. Your eyes robbed mine of 50 sight. This is how the Fates were dragging me down, helpless, to my doom. You could see it, I’m certain, for love’s flame shines forth to betray the lover. You are assigned the task of yoking the fierce bulls that belong to Mars and setting them to the plow.

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Fire-breathing beasts, their feet were of bronze, and their nostrils were a sooty black from the flames they snorted out. You are also ordered to scatter the seeds for a crop of men who would rise up to assail you—a terrible harvest! Your fi nal task is eluding the never-sleeping watchman. These are Aeëtes orders, and you set out in great gloom, for who can accomplish these things and live? Where was Creusa then? Or her father’s wealth? Through the blur of my tears I watch as you go forth with apprehension if not fear in your heart. I murmur, “Farewell,” and I lie on my couch and imagine what will happen to you—with the bulls, the fighting men, and the vigilant serpent. My love for you is only increased by the fears I feel . All night I lie awake until in the morning my sister Chalciope enters my room to fi nd me sprawled prone on my bed that I’d soaked with my flow of tears. She begs me to aid the doomed Greeks. Thinking only of Jason, I grant her request. There is a grove, or was, of somber pine trees and ilex into which few rays of the sun intrude. There is a shrine to Diana, the goddess with three faces and three names, and in it stands an image in gold. Do you remember the place? Or have you forgotten along with me the places where we were

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and the things that happened there? We came to that shrine together. You were the one who fi rst broke the silence with those faithless words it so much pains me now to recall: “Fortune has given my life into your hands, and the choice is yours as to whether I shall live or die. To have the power to ruin a man is great, but how much greater it is to save that person’s life! I beg of you to have pity. By my misfortunes that only you have the power to alleviate; by your noble line; by the godhead of your grandsire, the radiant sun; and by the goddess Diana’s holy mysteries I implore you to show your mercy to me and my shipmates, and I shall be yours forever! Should you refuse my suit to you, I swear that my spirit will vanish into thin air before another woman enters my bedchamber as bride. May Juno, who protects the bonds of wedlock, witness what I have sworn, as well as the virgin goddess in whose shrine we are standing.” Those were the words you spoke as you clasped my hand and gazed into my eyes melting the heart of a naïve girl whose help you needed. You even managed to weep, and I believed your tears were a guarantee of what you said you were feeling. I was beguiled by your words and gave you my help so that you yoked the wild bulls together and hitched them to draw the plow that broke the clods into which

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you sowed the envenomed dragon’s teeth. The armed men sprang up, and I looked upon them in horror, until you threw the stone that set them all to brawling, each against all. But there was, of course, more, for the dragon appeared, hissing and sweeping the ground with his tail . . . And where was Creusa then, in your moment of need, or Creon’s vast wealth below the isthmus that now dazzles your eyes? I am an inconvenience, the mad barbarian woman who is, moreover, poor. But then I was able to close the dragon’s eyes with the drug I had carried with me and give you the golden fleece. to steal away unharmed. I betrayed my father. I abandoned my throne and my native land and became an exile with you and for you. My spotless maidenhood you made the spoil of marauders from overseas. I left my beloved mother and dear sisters behind. But my brother I did not leave. And now my pen fails me and my hand is unwilling to write what my hand then did. I, too, should have been torn limb from limb with you, and yet I had no fear. I was beyond that, a woman entrusting myself to the sea and now burdened with guilt for fratricide as well as for my treason. Where was heaven’s justice? Where are the gods? I defied everything men fear and dared the sea

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to punish us both for what we had done in Colchis together. Would that the Symplegades had crushed us so that our bones down in the depths were clinging together. Or Scylla should have dragged us under for her dogs to tear apart in her hatred of all lovers. Or Charybdis could have drowned us in a whirlpool in the treacherous waters off the Sicilian coast. But no, you return home and offer your father’s gods the fleece you had been sent to fetch. We need not speak of Peleas’s daughters and how they tried to follow my rejuvenation of Aeson, performing the same operation upon their aged father. Others may put the blame for their failure on me, but you, for whom I have so often been driven to crime, ought to have given me praise and gratitude. What you said was altogether different and hard to believe. You dared to suggest that I should withdraw from Aeson’s palace! I did and I took with me our two children along with my love for you. And then I heard the piping of wedding music and saw the blazing torches. Festive notes for you, they were a dirge for me, sadder than if I heard my own funeral march. I was possessed by fear as well as my disbelief that anyone could behave as badly as you. The crowd passed by calling “Hymen! O Hymenaeus!” and my slaves turned their faces away ashamed to show their tears for me. They argued among themselves about who should bring me this news, as if I had not

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figured out myself what the commotion outside was for. They agreed it would be better if I knew nothing, but our younger son, excited, called me to come to the threshold with him to see for myself: “A procession is going by with my father in the lead, dressed in gold and driving a team of steeds.” I could no longer deny what I knew to be the horrid truth and I tore my gown and cried aloud, beating my breast with my fists or tearing my cheeks with my nails. It was all I could do not to run outside and shout to the moving throng, “No, he is mine!” and tear the wreath from my head as I laid hold of you. Now may my father’s grief and anger be changed at last to a smile of satisfaction and all of Colchis may also rejoice that I am punished. My brother, too, may receive from my chagrin that sacrifice he ought to have had from me. I exchanged my home and throne for a husband whom I valued more than all. Dragons I could subdue and raging bulls, but not one man, alone. I could beat back fire but not the inextinguishable flames of my own passion. My incantations fail me, my charms don’t work. The goddess will not respond to my prayers or sacrifices. There is no joy in the daytime, and nights are torment. Instead of gentle sleep, there is in my heart a war of bitter thoughts. I got the dragon to doze but cannot drowse off myself. Whatever I do produces benefit for everyone but me.

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The body I preserved from manifold dangers, she now embraces, enjoying the fruit of my toil. Will you amuse her with slanders about your fi rst wife’s strange and barbaric ways? Will she celebrate my faults? Let her lie on Tyrian purple and laugh at me, for she shall weep soon enough and be consumed by greedy tongues of flame. As long as fi re burns, steel cuts, and the juice of poison kills, do not suppose that Medea shall be unavenged. But if somehow my entreaties touch a heart that appears to be harder than iron, listen, I implore you. I am as much a suppliant now to you as you were once to me. I am not at all ashamed to prostrate myself at your feet, cast off pride, and beg you to be kind to the children we had together. Stepmothers are often ill-disposed to children of another woman, and these, our sons, bear a striking resemblance to their father, which pleases me, although, when I see them I often weep. I ask you, by the light of my grandsire’s beams, by what I did for you when you were in dire need, and by these children who are our mutual pledge, restore me to the bed for which I left behind so much in the madness of love. Come to my aid. as I once came to yours. Be faithful to your oaths. I do not send you to go forth against bulls or men or dragons. I ask only for yourself, whom I have earned, I think, and whom you gave me.

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By you I became a mother and you, by me, a father. But where is my dower, you ask. Back in that field you plowed with the bulls, I counted it out to you. The ram is my dowry, which, if I were to ask you now to return it, you would refuse. My dowry is yourself, your life preserved and those of the Argonauts. Compare all that, you wretch, with Sisyphus’s fabled wealth! That you are alive at all and can marry that woman whose father is a king—you owe it all to me! That you have the power now of being an ingrate . . . What you now deserve is not for me to tell you. I shall not bother to make any threats against you, but where my anger leads, I will surely follow. I may one day repent for what I plan, but now I repent of having loved a faithless husband. I shall work it out with the god within my heart.

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XIII Laodamia to Protesilaus Laodamia sends you greetings and wishes for good health, and with all her heart desires that they arrive where they have been sent. Rumor says you are now in Aulis, held there by a perverse, adverse wind. Where was all that wind when you shipped out and left me? Then the sea should have risen to frustrate your oars! I could have given you more kisses and more embraces and talked more in the extra time we had. But you were swept away by a brisk following wind for which your seamen longed but which I hated. I had to let you loose from my arms, and the tongue in my mouth had to leave unsaid my ardent thoughts. The most I was able to manage was to blurt an abrupt “Farewell!” Boreas swept down to belly your sails and my Protesilaus dwindled into the distance as I gazed in a sadness in which was mixed delight. Too soon you disappeared, but I could make out your sails that my hungry eyes followed until they, too, vanished, leaving only an empty expanse of the sea, which also faded as the last daylight fled. In the darkness I felt a sudden weakness and sank down on my knees in the damp sand. Neither your father

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nor mine could rouse me. My worried mother knelt beside me and sprinkled my face with drops of icy water, but nothing helped. What I wanted was just to be left alone and perhaps to pass away right there and then. But consciousness returned and with it my pained love that tore at my heart. I am past all caring about how my hair looks or what I may be wearing. I am like one of those women Bacchus has touched with his vine-leafed rod and who wander aimlessly in their madness. The women here in Phylace speak to me kindly and urge me to put on my state robes. But it makes no sense to deck myself out in garments of royal purple when my husband is far away, fighting against the Trojans. Shall I have my hair dressed and coifed while he wears on his head a heavy helmet and has his body clad in armor? I think of your rude attire and insofar as I can, I try to conform to that, feeling the deep gloom of a time of war. I think of Paris and wish him every possible evil— may he be as poor a fighter now as he was a treacherous and catastrophic guest. How could you not have found some flaw in Helen’s appearance? Or if only she had not taken such great delight in yours! Menelaus is angry and sad, but how many Greek women shall shed more tears than he as he seeks his revenge on Paris and on Troy?

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I pray to the gods that they do not send us evil omens, and that my lord may return to hang up his armor high on a wall of the temple of Jove-of-the-Safe-Return. I am ner vous and full of fear whenever I think of what bad things can happen during this wretched war. My tears pour forth like snowmelt in spring sunshine. I am frightened by the sounds of the names of Ilion, Tenedos, Simoïs, Xanthus, and Ida. That stranger would not have dared to take the woman if he had doubts about the strength of the Trojans to defend him. He arrived with Phrygian wealth and a force of ships and men of warlike bearing, but how many more did he leave behind in Troy? I fear the Danaäns may be overcome. And I understand how Leda’s daughter was taken, but that is the force against which the Greeks must now contend. If you have any regard for me, beware of Hector. Keep his name emblazoned in your mind. Avoid him and all the others who are like him. Whenever you prepare for battle, remember me and spare yourself with a view to sparing me. If it be fated that Troy shall fall, then it will happen without your having taken a single wound. Let Menelaus fight. It is, after all, his battle to retrieve his wife from the enemy. She is not anyone else’s. Your role as a husband is clear—to survive and then to come back home to your loving wife. I pray that the Trojans may spare at least one of their many opponents in this confl ict. It is my blood

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that will flow from his wounds! You have no quarrel with him or me. Beneath that armor there is a loving breast. Attack the others but let my Protesilaus live. I confess to you now that on the day you left I almost called out for you to stay, but my tongue was mute. The omens had not been good. As you crossed our threshold, you put your foot down wrong. I smothered my heart’s groan and tried to convince myself that it could mean that he will return. But I tell you now to bear it in mind and not to be too forward in going to battle. If you promise me that, my fears will fly to the winds. There is, I have heard, a prophecy—or a warning— that for the fi rst Danaän to set foot on Troy’s soil there will be a swift and unjust end. Think of him, or think of his poor widow at home. May the gods deter you from being excessively eager! Among the thousand ships let yours be the last to launch and the last to beach on that shore. And may you be the last of your ship to disembark. The land you desire is here in your father’s kingdom. Make all haste with sail and oar for this shore that yearns for you to be home. Whether Phoebus is high in the sky or hidden, come soon, by day or night. Make it night, for women beneath whose necks should be a lover’s arm prefer the night. But now, when you are away, I lie on my couch with only my lying dreams for comfort.

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In the absence of true joys, these fantasies must serve. But they can be troublesome, too. I see your face pale, and from your lips there come bitter complaints. I rouse myself from slumber and tell myself that these are not visions but fears, and I pray to the gods of night that these dreams may not in any way be true. There is no Thessalian altar from which smoke does not ascend from sacrifices I’ve made. I offer incense and my tears fall on the fi re that brightens as when wine is poured upon it. When will you come home safe into my empty arms’ embrace? When shall we obliterate each other in fervent embrace? When shall you tell me in bed of your valorous deeds in battle, while I listen but interrupt you from time to time with many kisses that you will return a hundredfold? Even the best stories are thus improved, for the speaker’s tongue is refreshed and revived by such delays. Still, the thought of Troy arouses fear in my heart of the winds and the seas that you will have to cross, and my hopes disintegrate. I imagine you ready and eager to sail for Troy, but the winds prevent you. You trimmed your sails when you left home and ignored Neptune’s prohibition. Do you think he has changed his mind and will open the way for you to attack his city?

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Can you not comply with the wishes of that god? You can still change your minds and your ships’ heading, and set a homeward course. Do not defy the winds! They do not blow at random but with the gods’ clear prohibition. What is the point of the great war but Menelaus’s slut? It is not too late for the Greek ships to adjust their sails, oars, and rudders. But wait! Do I call you back? Is that an omen? I take it all back and wish you a swift and easy voyage. I envy the women of Troy. They also worry about the dangers their husbands face but are close by, and with her own hands the young bride can set the heavy helm on her husband’s dear head and hand him his arms, with which she gives him her caresses. She will lead him forth with words commanding him to return to hang his armor on Jupiter’s temple wall, and with this fresh in his mind, he will exercise caution, fighting for Troy but always mindful of her. At the end of the day, when he returns she will help him loosen his shield, his helmet and greaves, and embrace his weary body she is happy to have for one more night. But we here are on our own, have to imagine what each day was like, and try not to give in to the fears that forever lurk of the terrible things that have happened in war and still can happen, and even now may to those we love who are far away.

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I keep near my bed a waxen figure that has your features I can gaze at and address with loving words. It hears what I say and receives my delicate embraces that are yours by right. If it could only speak, it would be my Protesilaus. I hold it close to my heart and complain to it of its worrisome silences. I swear by your return for which I so ardently yearn; by yourself, who are my god; and by the torches that burned on our wedding day that I will come to you and be your companion wherever you happen to be, whether what I most fear shall come to pass or you return safely. My closing words to you— and if you have any care at all for me you will heed them— is that you think of me and take care of yourself.

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XIV Hypermestra to Lynceus Hypermestra sends this letter to the surviving single son of King Aegyptus’s fi fty. All your brothers now lie dead, the bloody victims of their forty-nine new brides who are my sisters. I am held in chains in close confi nement here in the palace, where I am punished for being faithful. My hand refused to drive the dagger into your throat and for that reason I am adjudged guilty. Had I dared to do the wicked deed, I would have been praised. But what kind of choice was that? To please my father or to be, as I am now, charged with the crime of treason? I feel no regret at not having shed your blood. My father may use our wedding torches in order to burn me for not breaking the oaths we swore to each other. Or he may cut my throat with the blade I’d been told to use on yours so that my death can pay him back, but there is no way in which he can get me to say the words, “I repent,” for that, too, would betray our oaths. The ones who should feel guilt are my father, Danaus, and my forty-nine cruel sisters I could not join

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in their wicked deeds that still horrify and amaze me as I remember that night profaned with gore and the way in which my hand was paralyzed as if it had been chained as I am fettered now. The woman you suppose plotted against your life fears even to write of those murders others committed but she could not and would not. Still I shall try to tell you how it was. Twilight had settled upon the earth as day gave way to the oncoming night. We daughters of Inachus’s line are led into the house of your forebear Pelasgus, King of Argos, and your father, King Aegyptus, receives us himself. All around there are golden torchères blazing with light as incense is scattered onto the altar fi res. The courtiers cry, “Hymen, Hymenaeus!” but the god refuses to listen. Even Juno declines to appear in her chosen city. After the nuptial feast, fuddled with wine, your brothers, decked with flowers, and with cries of congratulation to one another, enter those bridal chambers that will be their tombs and lay themselves down on couches that soon will be their biers. Heavy with food and wine, they lie in a deep slumber that has settled upon all Argos, free from any thought of care. But all around me I hear the repeated cries of dying men that are muffled but clear enough in their meaning. What I had feared was true, and my blood ran cold, and I trembled there on the couch as grain in the fields trembles when gentle Zephyr

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passes over, or poplar leaves in the winter shake from winds that come howling through them. You were still, fast asleep in the grip of the wine you had drunk at dinner. I thought, of course, of my father’s violent order and tried to banish my fear. I got up and clutched the dagger and—I tell you truly—raised its blade above you and brought it down to your tender throat three times, but then each time my love and my fear combined to prevent the cruel stroke. My hand would not obey my father. I ripped my nightdress, tore at my hair, and muttered such words as these: “Your father is cruel. Perform the deed! Let your husband go to join his brothers. You are a woman, young and gentle. Your soft hands are ill suited to weapons. But there he is, and your brave sisters have led the way. They have all killed their bridegrooms, and you can fi nd it within yourself to do as they have done. And yet if this hand could murder it would be stained with the blood of its own mistress. Assume that Aegyptus’s sons have all deserved to die for trying to seize their Uncle Danaus’s lands, why should that involve me? Why should I bear the guilt? What has a girl to do with the weapons of war? These hands are better suited to spinning and weaving.” These were my thoughts upon which followed tears

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that fell upon your body. You stirred and reached out to me from sleep for my embrace. Your groping hand just missed the blade in my hand. And then I was afraid for you, and the coming of dawn and my father’s guards. I roused you with these urgent words, “Lynceus, wake! You are the only brother left alive. Unless you make haste, this night will last forever for you!” Fully awake, and you saw that I had a weapon and asked what it was for and why I had it. My answer was only that you should flee at once while you could in the dark of night. “Hurry and I shall remain behind.” First thing that morning my father counted the bodies of his slain sons-in-law, but the tally was incomplete because yours wasn’t there. Angry, he complained that too little blood had been shed. I was seized by the hair and dragged off here to the dungeon in which I languish, my reward for love and duty. Juno’s ancient wrath remains as strong as it was when the mortal daughter of old Inachus became a heifer and then the goddess Io. One might suppose the transformation Jove imposed in order to hide her from his angry wife would have been in itself more than sufficient—the girl found herself abruptly turned into a beast and as she stared into the water of her father’s stream she saw horns on her head and a mouth not hers that could not produce any words but only moo. She must have been terrorized by what she beheld

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and further frightened that there were no longer any words with which to complain or express her fear and frustration. But what speech could have been adequate to the occasion? Poor thing, you count your feet and you feel your enormous frame as it ambles along. You are the mistress of Jove, but you must assuage your hunger by grazing on grass and chewing the leaves of bushes and quench your thirst lapping the water from springs and streams in which you see your face . . . And you begin to worry about those horns to which you have not yet become accustomed. Can you hurt yourself with these? Once you were rich but now you have to sleep on the cold ground as you wander all over the earth and the realms of your various relatives’ rivers. But you cannot travel far enough to lose that new form and those features that go wherever you go. You flee from yourself but cannot escape, for you follow. Or are you at once the tourist and also her faithful guide? It is the Nile with its seven mouths that at last strips the heifer’s form and returns the girl to herself . . . But why do I speak of these long-ago events? I have in my own time a plenitude of laments: my father and my uncle are waging war,

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one against the other. We are driven out of our homes and wander to the ends of the earth as exiles. Of all those brothers, only one is still alive, and I weep for the victims and those who did the deed, for my sisters as well as my late brothers-in-law. And I, because you are not dead, am kept in a dungeon, condemned for an act that merits only praise. I am the relict of a hundred of whom you and I are all that remain. But Lynceus, if you care at all for me and are worthy of the gift I gave you, come and save me—or at the least come when I am dead and lay my corpse in secret on the pyre. Then bury my bones moistened with whatever tears they prompt in you. And let my epitaph be: “Exiled Hypermestra paid for her wifely behavior the unjust price of the death she refused to infl ict.” I would write more, but the chains impede my hand, and fear takes away what little strength I can muster.

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XV Sappho to Phaon Could you tell at fi rst glance whose verses they had to be before you saw that the author’s name was Sappho? Did the handwriting give me away, or the idiosyncrasies of style? But I mostly write in the lyric mode. Here we have elegiacs, better suited to weeping. The lyre wants different and better occasions. I burn with the same intense heat as one often fi nds when harvests of some fruitful acre are blazing and the wicked east winds fan the conflagration. The fields you frequent, Phaon, are far away on the slopes of Aetna, but the flame within me is just as hot as that of the great volcano and more than the lyre, with its well-tempered strings, can venture to express. Its songs are the happy products of carefree minds. What the girls of Mithymna or Pyrrha or anywhere else on Lesbos sing to each other to while away pleasant hours has no charms for me now. Anactorie’s talents I admire and those of the lovely Cydro and Atthis, but I do not have the heart for their frou-frou or that of a hundred other maidens whom I have loved, sometimes earning reproaches. But you, unworthy Phaon, have to yourself what all those lovely young girls had to share. You are, as you know too well, lovely. Your beauty lay waiting in ambush for me.

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Only take up the lyre and a quiver to put on your shoulder and you could pass for Apollo. Or else let horns pop out of your head, and you would be another Bacchus. Phoebus adored Daphne, and Bacchus was smitten by Ariadne, but neither god knew the lyric mode in which the Muses have taught me to perform. My name is already familiar everywhere in the world. Not even my Lesbotian friend Alcaeus is any better known or more highly praised than I am, although his work is statelier than mine. If nature has denied me irresistible beauty, she more than compensates me with my talent. I am slight of stature but the shadow I cast is long. If I am not a dazzling apparition, they say King Cepheus’s daughter Andromeda was fair in Perseus’s eyes, although she must have been dark as Ethiopians are. What lovers’ eyes can discern is often different from what the woman is. Milk-white pigeons are often mated with those of another iridescent color, and turtledoves black as coal are sometimes loved by bright green parrots. If you insist on perfection of looks and stature, what you are likely to get in the end is nothing at all. When I recited my songs to you the light changed and during that time I seemed lovely enough. You said that I was the only one whom speech had so lavishly graced. I sang—I remember this clearly as lovers remember every detail—while you would now and again steal kisses, and these you also praised as more than passing sweet. When we made love

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my playful ways surprised and, I’m certain, delighted you, slow or abrupt and quick, almost as a joke that added a certain spice and often provoked laughter after which we enjoyed our bodies’ languor. But now you are after new prey, the Sicilian girls . . . And what is Lesbos to me unless you are here? I doubt that I can get the Sicilian maids and matrons to send you back. I hope they are not deceived by your busy, deceitful tongue. Whatever you say to them, you have said to me before a hundred times. And you, Venus, be kind to your singer and give her protection. My woeful fortune must sooner or later improve. I was only six when my father died before his time and I had to gather his bones and let them drink the tears of his little girl. My undisciplined brother fell in love with a whore and spent what little the family had, a loss and also a terrible shame. The wealth he cast away by evil means he now tries to recoup by evil means, at sea where he and his desperate companions roam as pirates. I warned him but all the thanks I got for that was his hatred— as if I were the scapegrace rather than he. I also have my daughter to rear and worry about. And then, there’s you who are cause for my complaint. The ship I steer is in choppy water with strong headwinds, and the going is not easy. My hair is a mess, my fi ngers sport no sparkling jewels, and no perfume from Arabia wafts agreeable scents about me.

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But for whom would I adorn myself or trick myself out in order to please? You aren’t here to look. My heart is easily pierced by the darts of love. Too often. It is, I’m afraid, my nature, as if the Sisters had omitted from my skein any dark, somber strands. Or perhaps my work and my tastes have their effect on my character, with the Muse Thalia making me soft and not at all reluctant. But explanations are not, I think, required. He’s just at that perfect age, that peach-fuzz perfection nobody can resist. These are the years that distract sober, mature men. He is the kind of youth who would charm Aurora if her arms were not already fi lled by her close embrace of Cephalus, and Phoebe would think again about her sweet Endymion and how he compares with Phaon. Venus might well carry him up to the stars in her ivory car as her boy-toy, except that Mars might take an interest, too, in his perfection. Not quite yet a man, nor still a boy, he is nature’s ornament, the glory of his time. Come back to me. Come back to my embrace, my sweet. I do not ask you to love but only allow yourself to be loved. I write and my tears blot the paper. See how many words are obliterated! If you had to leave me, the manner might have been less abrupt and unbecoming. You might have said good-bye.

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You did not take my tears along with you or my kisses. I hadn’t the slightest inkling of the pain I was about to suffer. You have left me nothing but my sense of having been grievously wronged. And you have no farewell token to remind you of your lover, no last words. What I would have told you would not have been so unpleasant—only to remember me, us, and the time we had together. I swear to you by our love, which never can be extinguished, and by the Heavenly Muses who are my gods that when somebody told me my joys had departed from me forever, I could not even weep. I could not speak. Tears failed my eyes as words, my tongue. My breast felt a sudden chill as those who are dying must feel in their last moments. Only a while later did enough animation return to me to allow the tears, the shrieks, the rending of hair and garments— the same as what a mother would do whose son had died and who bears his beloved corpse to the funeral pyre. Joy fi lls my brother’s heart, for he can fi nd fault and even mock my grief. “Your daughter is still alive!” is what he said, meaning that life goes on. It wasn’t soothing. I continued to beat my breast indecorously, but modesty and love have nothing to do with each other. My heart is full of Phaon, and in my best dreams you return

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so that my nights are brighter than any blazing noon. Despite the distance between us, you and I are together again, if only briefly, for slumber deserts me as you did, and I remember the weight of your neck on my embracing arms and the taste of your mouth in kisses you loved to give and receive. I fondle you and speak to you in words that sound like waking truth. I blush to tell it, but all this happens and more. I feel a sharp delight and cannot control myself. Eventually, the sun comes up and restores banal daylight to the earth. I complain that sleep is gone and head for the woodland clearings that were our haunts back then, as if they could somehow help me, having known all our secret joys. I run there frenzied, like someone Enyo has touched, with my hair streaming behind me. I see our hiding places among the rocks, places that could have been walled in Thessalonian marble. I fi nd the piles of leaves we used to use as a couch to lie on, canopied by even more leaves. Everything is still there except you, the lord of the forest, the lord of myself. The place without your presence is just another place. You were what made it magic. I tell myself I can see the outlines in the grass that we pressed down.

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I lie down on the turf on one of those lovely spots to touch where your body rested. The indifferent grass drinks my tears as if they were rain or dewdrops. The branches overhead are leafless now. No bird sings here except the nightingale in mourning for what she did when she was Procne and took her vengeance on Tereus. Otherwise the air and the trees are silent. There is a sacred spring with crystal water, lovely enough so that people suppose there must be a spirit that dwells in it. Above it the lotus spreads its branches to make, all by itself, a grove. The earth beneath is dark green with velvety grass. I stretched out there to rest my weary limbs and to weep, and a Naiad appeared to give me her advice: “You burn with unrequited love, and the only cure is on the Ambracian coast where the sun looks down on the wide Gulf of Actium. From the top of one of its cliffs Deucalion, inflamed with his love for Pyrrha, cast himself down and into the blue sea, quite unharmed. His passion, he found, had fled in fear from his breast, and Deucalion then was free from love’s tenacious grip. That is the law of the place—to which you must go and without any fear fl ing yourself from that same cliff.” Having said this, the Naiad disappeared. I rose up in terror and wept, but the tears were different now, and I promised the Naiad that I would go to the cliff in the hope of ridding myself of passion’s disease. Either way, whether I survive the fall or not,

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I shall be better off than I am now. My body is not so great a weight as to burden the winds, and love may lend me feathers to gentle my descent, not for my sake only but for the cliff ’s. If not, I shall consecrate my body’s husk to Apollo and I shall have prepared its epitaph: “Sappho the singer brings you, O Phoebus Apollo, a lyre: it was her life and was and is always yours.” But you, dear Phaon, could spare me from this ordeal. Return to Lesbos and me, and you can help me more than Atrium’s gulf. You can choose to be my Apollo. Suppose that in my attempt at a drastic cure I perish. Can your heart be harder than those cliffs? Will you feel guilt or shame, causing my death? I should prefer to press my bosom against yours than to fl ing it out into space and down to the sea. You praised not only my bosom but also my genius, Phaon: I only wish my eloquence served me better. Grief impedes my art and dulls my mind and my tongue. My songs will not come. My lyre and plectrum lie mute in my hands. O you Lesbian girls and women, you of the island’s daughters of whom I have sung and many of whom I have loved—often to my reproach— come to me no more to hear my poems. Phaon has swept away all that you used to love. (My wretched hand was about to write, “My Phaon.”) Contrive his return, somehow, and I shall return as well. My talent had its power once with him,

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but that, too, is swept away and, like him, will not come back. Am I wasting breath and effort? Will this worthless man’s heart be moved, or is it utterly cold and unfeeling? Do the winds shred my words that ought to be fi lling the sails of your vessel toward me? I try to persuade myself that you will indeed come back, however tardy, and that you are silent only in order to be a surprise, but why would you want to protract my pain? Weigh anchor! Venus emerged from the sea and makes way now for the lover. The wind will speed your progress, but you must begin. Cupid will be your helmsman and master of sails, but you fi rst must board the vessel. Or do you intend to flee, to keep your distance from your adoring Sappho? Why you would want to do so, I cannot imagine. But if that is your intention, at least send me the cruel truth in a letter in order that I may direct my steps to that vertiginous cliff that will decide which way my unbearable pain will end.

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XVI Paris to Helen I, the son of Priam, send you, the daughter of Leda, the wish that you fare well: my own welfare depends on you to give or withhold as you decide. Do I need to speak explicitly or have you already clearly enough inferred and understood me? I should rather have kept the flame within me hidden until a better moment when joy would not be mixed with fear, but I am not good at concealing. Who can keep such a blaze hidden from anyone nearby that betrays itself by its own light? Still, if it pleases you to add the word to the thing, know that I am on fi re from my love. Thus, bluntly, the message from my heart, I hope, to yours. And having said it, I beg at once for your pardon. Do not read any further with a disapproving moue but rather with the smile that enhances your beauty. I thank you for the welcome you give to my letter and hope one day that you will likewise welcome me. What the Goddess of Love, who sent me on this journey, has determined I fervently hope will come to pass as I trust that the promise she made to me was in earnest—that you and I would become one another’s lovers.

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Do not fret about sin or fear to be seduced, for I came here at the goddess’s command, seeking a prize that is great indeed—but is my due, for Aphrodite promised you for my marriage bed. She was the one who protected me and my crew and guided our vessel from the littoral of Troy over the dangerous roads of the sea to arrive here, having been blessed all the way with a favoring wind. She arose, of course, from the sea where her influence continues. I pray she may smooth the tides of both our hearts with the same benign attention as I strive to achieve the prize. I admit at once that I brought my passion for you and did not fi nd it here. I did not arrive by chance, driven off course by some storm on my way elsewhere. You were the cause of the voyage, the treasure I sought in the fi rst place, steering my ship toward Taenaris and Sparta. I had no merchandise stowed in the hold to trade, nor am I here as a tourist seeing the sights. Our own towns in the Troad are richer. I am here only for you, whom Venus promised me, my heart’s desire before I had my fi rst glimpse of you. I saw you not with my eyes but with my soul, and the mere report of your beauty was what fi rst seized my heart. None of this is surprising when the bow

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from which the arrows were fi red is famous for its strength. Our love is decreed by the fates, and who are we to try to deny or refuse them? I have been told the story, which I believe is true, of how my mother, when I was still in her womb, saw in a vivid dream that she had given birth to a flaming torch. In fear she awoke and reported to ancient Priam what her vision had been, and he in turn conferred with his trusted seers—one of whom explained that I was the torch that would set the mighty fi re in which the city of Troy would be obliterated. That torch now burns within me, the will of the gods expressing itself as it always does in the fullness of time. My beauty and my brains set me apart from the other shepherds who thought I must be of royal blood. There is a place in the midst of Mt. Ida’s woods far from the paths that most of us use to graze our sheep or goats or cattle. Pine and ilex grow thickly together, and there I had sat down to rest, leaning against a tree trunk and looking down at the walls and the roofs of Troy and out to the sparkling sea, when the ground shook as if from trampling feet. What I am saying is true, if hard to believe, but I swear this is what happened. Hermes appeared before me with a golden wand in his fi ngers. And at the same instant, three goddesses appeared, Venus, Athena, and Juno.

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I was mute with terror, and the hair on my neck prickled, but the heavenly herald reassured me: “Do not fear,” he said. “You have been selected as the judge of beauty. You can put an end to the quarrel among these goddesses, pronouncing which of them can claim to exceed the other two in looks.” I was about to refuse or try to excuse myself, but Hermes told me that this had been Jove’s will, after which he rose abruptly into the ether. Whether it was merely because of his words or because he had managed some other way to affect my spirit, I no longer felt that fear but was able now to turn my face toward them and observe each one in turn. My fi rst thought, and I still believe it was true, was that each of them could claim an unsurpassable beauty. There should have been three prizes for equal merit. Or, no, wait, was one of them ever so slightly better? I found myself inclined toward the one who inspires love, as you have already been able to infer. Each very much wanted to win the contest, and each was candid or shameless enough to offer me bribes. Juno offered me power, kingdoms, thrones, and respect in the world. Athena promised me prowess in war. (Power? Valor? How can one choose between them?) But Venus gave me a sweet, seductive smile and told me not to pay attention to what they’d proposed.

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“My gift shall be the love of Leda’s beautiful daughter, who puts even her mother into the shadow. She shall come to your bed and your astonished embrace.” How could I resist her or her gift? Graceful, gracious, the winner, she returned to her home in the skies. Soon thereafter—whether a part of the plan of the goddess or mere coincidence, I cannot decide— it is discovered that I am no mere shepherd but a part of the royal line and I am welcomed home with a feast that Troy celebrates every year. In the palace I found that just as I longed for you, there were women who longed for me, a prince who was unattached. Not only the daughters of princes and local chieftains pursued me, but nymphs expressed their willingness and interest. Most beautiful of these was the river nymph, Oenone, whose beauty and grace are second only to yours. Who was more fit to be the bride of a son of Priam? But not even she can compare to you, dear Helen. I thought of the goddess’s promise and your image fi lled my dreams and I saw your face before me when I awoke. If you were so compelling without my having beheld you, I asked myself what it would be like to see you face to face. I was fired with love, though the spark was far away. I could not stand the torment or defy the gods and would not deprive myself of my hope of loving you. I set forth on the dark

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blue path as I was destined to do to seek my heart’s desire. Axes are set to biting the trees on Mt. Ida to serve as spars and beams for the vessel I need. The oaks contribute the frame, the curving keel, and the strakes. We add the sail and the lines and paint the stern with gods. My ship has an image of Venus, who is my sponsor, and along with her is a figure of tiny Cupid. At last, when all is ready and I am about to board, my father and mother protest and hold me back with their prayers and loving words. They say I should reconsider, that this is a dangerous course and a bad idea. My sister Cassandra, an eccentric, appears before me, her hair wild and radiating in all directions, to shriek at me, “Where do think you’re going? You will bring back with you an enormous conflagration! You cannot begin to imagine the tongues of flame that you go to fetch from across the dark blue water.” She was telling the truth—as she always does. The flame is in my heart, the blazing passion within my breast. So I sail from our harbor and with the winds’ help soon arrive at yours, O lovely nymph. Your lord receives me with all ceremony due to a guest like me, of which the gods approve. He shows me all the Lacedaemonian sights, but the only one that I am eager to see is you. I feigned as much interest as I could manage, but all the while waiting to behold your famous beauty that the goddess had promised me would soon be mine.

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And when I did, I was astonished, breathless, my chest tight with my heart within it pounding madly. The only gorgeousness I had ever seen before that could be compared with yours was that of Venus. Had you been there on Mt. Ida, her prize might have been in doubt. Fame has proclaimed your beauty throughout the world and no other woman’s name is used to personify the almost abstract perfection of loveliness— nowhere equaled between the rising and setting sun. But what astonished me was that your fame, which extends only as far as imagination can go, is less than the truth. Your renown is far exceeded by its cause. I understood at once how Theseus felt when he and Pirithoüs carried you off after having seen you compete in the shining palaestra in Olympia’s games with all the athletes naked. I see why he stole you away: what I cannot understand is how and why he ever gave you back. If I had been he, I would sooner have given up my life than let you be pried from my embracing arms. At the very least, I should have taken some token from you to cherish as long as I live—your maidenhead, or something just a bit less that would leave you still a virgin. Give yourself to me, and you shall discover the constancy of Paris. The hot flame of my love will only extinguish itself in the lesser fl ame

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of my funeral pyre. Juno offered me thrones and kingdoms, but I preferred to hold you in my arms. The military prowess Athena proposed, I scorned as nothing to compare with loving you. And now that I have seen you, I shall not regret or doubt that I made a choice some men might consider frivolous or foolish. My mind confi rms my decision as does my increased desire. I only pray that you do not frustrate the wish the goddess and I share and that you do not reject my suit. I do not come to marry into nobility—I lived, content, as a shepherd for many years. But you will not be disgraced, I think, to be my wife. On lofty branches of my ancestral tree is Electra, one of the Pleads, upon whom Jove begat Dardanus, the fi rst of our line. Since that time we have distinguished ourselves. My father rules over Troy: no land on earth is stronger or richer than ours. It is an epic journey to traverse his territories with cities beyond counting and golden temples and palaces fit for the gods. Ilion stands supreme with its walls and towers that Phoebus’s lyre raised. My father rules over multitudes of men and women that even his fertile fields can scarcely sustain. The ladies of Troy will crowd around you to see and to praise so that even the spacious palace halls for once will seem small and crowded. You will often compare Troy to your native Achaia and see how poor,

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how primitive the place in which you grew up will seem. A single household there can boast more wealth than whole villages here. I do not mean to belittle Sparta, but you deserve an abundant life surrounded by every luxury that this place cannot offer, lavish with rich adornments and sweet delights. Look at the clothing of my male companions and think how much more grand must be what the women wear! Only accept an Asian to be the lord and husband of a woman born in Therapnai out in the country. Ganymede was a Trojan whom Jupiter took up to be the gods’ cup-bearer; Tithonus, too, whom Aurora took as her lord was also a Trojan; Anchises with whom Venus consorted on Ida’s ridge was Trojan. Compare these people with your own Menelaus! I am at least as handsome ,I think, as he. And with me you will not get a father-in-law who is famous for having made the sun go dark in disgust when he served up to Thyestes that meal of his cooked sons. Menelaus’s father killed his father-in-law, but we have no such bloody blots on our escutcheon. We don’t drown our charioteers as Pelops did. Tantalus’s terrible afterlife of hunger and thirst under the boughs of a fruit tree and in a river is nothing that any of us have had to worry about. But what good does all my family honor do me if you are a daughter of Jove? I lie awake all night while your unworthy husband possesses you

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and delights in your embrace. Almost as bad is daylight in which we sit down to dine and I have to watch, when the table is set and the wine is brought forth, the endearments between you two, the gestures, the shared glances. That clumsy bumpkin king touches your neck with his fi ngers or puts his cloak around your shoulders for warmth, and I am half-mad with envy. Worst of all, I think, was the time I saw you give him tender kisses and I was forced to turn my eyes away and stare into the depths of my goblet, while my mouthful of food grew to the size of a hill, a mountain range, impossible to chew, let alone swallow. On several occasions, despite myself, I allowed a groan to pass my lips, which you were wicked enough to fi nd amusing. You laughed aloud. I tried to drown my shame in wine, but that only made things worse, enhancing my desire. I had poured oil on the fi re that blazed up all the brighter. I turned away with my head at the other end of the pillowed dining couch, but you could frustrate that maneuver, too, by addressing me to make me look in your direction. It’s a terrible choice—between the unbearable pain of looking at you and suffering from envy and my desire or not looking and therefore being deprived of that unearthly loveliness you bring to the world. Either way, I am driven mad. I try to conceal my discomfiture as I try to hide my love, but again and again I give myself away—

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as you perfectly well know and seem sometimes to enjoy. If you were the only one who had suspicions . . . But I fear this is not the case. Often I’ve turned away to keep that man from seeing the tears well up in my helpless eyes. The last thing in the world I want is for him to ask me what may be my trouble. Sometimes, when I have had too much wine, I tell a story of some love affair or another, but all I say has to do with you and me, as the hints I provide make obvious. The invented names do not conceal the fact that I’m the lover and you’re the beloved. Sometimes my inebriation is merely feigned as a way to give myself license to make suggestive remarks. I remember once how your robe that was loosely tied fell open to reveal one of your breasts, as white as snow, or milk, or the swan shape your father assumed when he embraced your mother. In joy at the sight I let my goblet fall from my numb fi ngers. It’s close to pathetic that I once saw you kiss your daughter, Hermione, and forthwith I kissed her to try to take from her lips your kiss at second hand. I have tried to approach your two companions, Clymene and Aethra, with gifts and flattering words, but they were afraid to help me, or so they said, and they turned away. Sometimes in the dark of night I imagine how he and I could compete with you as the prize as they used to do in the old days. Hippomanes, you recall, raced for King Schoenus’s daughter, Atalanta, and won her.

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For Hippodamia, too, the charioteers contested in that unfair and famously bloody race. Hercules battled with Acheloüs for Deianira. Inspired by you, my daring would equal theirs. But nothing like that will happen, and all that is left to me is to prostrate myself before you, embrace your feet, and entreat you to be mine. Jove himself would want you to be his consort if you were not his daughter. Either I shall return to Troy with you as my bride or I shall die here and be buried in Spartan soil. The wound of the arrow that pierced my breast is not skin-deep but goes through to the bones. My mother’s dream of me as a burning torch has come to pass, for here I am transfi xed by heaven’s fiery dart. As the gods may be gracious to you and grant your every prayer, do not despise a love ordained by fate. There is much more I could say, but rather than in a letter let us talk face to face, some night perhaps, in your bedchamber. . . . But do you feel shame or even fear about thus violating your marriage vows? Do not deceive yourself. Such beauty as you possess is never above suspicion, right or wrong. Do not be naïve or try to deny it: envy has already drawn its conclusions. The only choice is whether or not the rumors have any basis in truth. Such beauty as you have and modesty cannot survive together. Stealthy assignations, if you allow them, can do you no further harm. In such an encounter

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Jove came to your mother. How can such a union produce a child who is diffident or chaste? If you want to be a faithful wife, I have no objection, once you have come home with me to Troy. If any guilt attach to our coming together, let it all be on my head. The sin of a single hour is what the goddess promised, and you and I must not join forces to make her into a liar. You husband assents, or at the very least allows what I propose. Why else would he go away at such a time? As if complicit in the act, he’s suddenly impelled to visit Crete? What other sense can it make? “I bid you farewell, and urge you to take good care of my affairs and of our guest from Ida,” is what he said to you. You must remember his words and, indeed, obey them. Is this how you take care of his honored houseguest from Troy? I cannot believe that he has any idea how beautiful you are, how fortunate he is . . . A simpleton, a fool to entrust you to me. My words may not be sufficient to move you or my ardor, but of his indifference you ought to take some notice. I am most unlikely to fail to exploit the moment that he enables. To do so would be to exceed his folly. It is as if with his own hands he propels us to come together. We might as well accede to this clear expression of what his wishes are. You lie alone through the long night in your large bed,

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while I, too, lie alone and long for you in a room only a few steps away from yours. Let us join together to remedy this grotesque deprivation in mutual delight 390 in which we make the night more splendid than any noontime. Then by whatever gods you propose, I will swear to bind myself to you by whatever rites you choose. If I am not beguiled by my confidence, I believe I can persuade you that you want to see the Troad. Do you worry perhaps about your reputation, running off this way with a feckless Asiatic? I shall take the entire blame and declare that I carried you away—as Theseus once did, or as your brothers, Castor and Pollux, did 400 with Phoebe and Elaira. Such things, as you know, happen, and you and I shall be one more example of the bad behavior of men. The Trojan fleet stands ready with arms and men, bright sails, and flashing oars that will take us swiftly away. Like some great queen you will come through our Dardanian towns where crowds will assemble in awe as if some new goddess had deigned to visit. 410 The spicy aroma of cinnamon will combine with that of burning flesh after the sacrificial victims fall to the ground. My father, King Priam, my brothers and sisters, our mother, and all of Troy will present you with splendid gifts as a token of welcome.

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All this and more, much more than I can describe or you can begin to imagine will be what you can expect. Do not trouble yourself about how they might follow, how Greece might decide to use this as a pretext to show her strength and come to Troy to make fierce war. Of all of those who have ever been carried away, can you name one for whom a kingdom roused itself to take her back by force of arms? Believe me, it won’t happen. Remember how Boreas took the daughter of Athens’ King Erechtheus, Orithyia, and carried her off to Thrace! Nothing whatever ensued. Or think of Jason who took Medea from Colchis. Did they follow after him with an army? No! Theseus stole Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, but Crete did not make war on Athens. There is no reason to fear when there is such little cause or actual danger. Still, assuming the worst and that your concern is not altogether fanciful, and war is set afoot, what then? Troy has enormous power, and our weapons are deadly as anyone else’s. We have with our large population a mighty army and many horses. More to the point, I think, Menelaus is not a match for me in strength or spirit. While I was hardly more than a child, there was a band of rustlers I fought against to recover the animals they had taken, and I slew enough of them so that the others ran away. I recovered the beasts and also received my second name— Alexander, protector of men. In athletic contests I triumphed over Ilioneus and won

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in a contest with Deiphobos. I am a skilled bowman and can hit any target you set before me. Has Menelaus ever made any similar claims? And even if he had, can he look to a brother as strong and as valiant as Hector to come to his aid? He has alone the might of countless fighting men. You have not seen our strength or mine and therefore worry, but let me reassure you, all will be well. Either there will be some purely formal protest and demand for your return, or they will come in arms to defeat. To fight for you would be an honor, a way of showing the strength of my love for you. And such a war, if it were to happen, would only serve to give you forever the fame that you deserve. Trust me, discard your fears, and let us leave this place. If the gods are with us, we can expect good fortune.

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XVII Helen to Paris I’ve read your disgusting letter. My only indecision is whether the pleasure of not replying at all can compare with letting you know how contemptible you are. How can you as a stranger violate the sacred bond that ought to exist between guest and host and make indecent proposals to his wife? Do you suppose it was for this that we received you when you appeared, tossed by the winds and currents in search of a safe haven from the buffeting waves of the sea? Is this how you repay our kindnesses? We took you in as a royal guest from another race, having no reason to think you might be hostile, an enemy or thief! The simple truths I declare I suppose you will dismiss as naïve and rustic, adjectives to which I do not at all object as long as I retain my honor unspoiled and my life is free from wickedness. I may not frown or try to maintain a gloomy, forbidding look with my brows furrowed and lips pressed thinly together, but that does not imply that I am complaisant. My name is without reproach. No lover boasts to his friends that I have been one of his conquests. Indeed, I wonder

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what on earth made you think that your bizarre suggestion that you share my bed had any chance of success. Even if Theseus once abducted me by force, that does not mean that I can now be stolen by anyone at any time. I was not complicit in what he did, and none of the blame was mine. I was not gently lured away but roughly seized and I protested loudly. What he wanted he never got but only my fright and bitter anger. He tried to force himself upon me and managed to wrestle a few kisses I tried hard to avoid, but he never got farther than that—and unlike you he gave me back untouched and repented of what he’d done, which rather lessens the burden of his guilt. For you, the only mitigation is that you have not acted but merely proposed—and what woman objects to professions of love or, at least, desire, assuming, of course, that what you say is sincere. I do not doubt you because of any lack on my part of confidence or of belief in my beauty, but trust too easily granted can bring great harm to a woman, and pleasing words may be too easily spoken. You maintain that other women have often yielded and even claim that chastity is rare. To have my name on the rolls of those who have not strayed is more precious because the list is short.

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You mention my mother, but her situation was vastly different for she was deceived and then was overpowered— and this by the mightiest god. What excuse would I have, well aware of who and what you are and what you want? It would not be some simple blunder but a knowing act without any mitigation. You prattle about your birth, your noble line, and your royal connections, but what is any of that to me? Our house has its own distinctions—Jove, Tantalus, Pelops, and all the others. Priam’s line is distinguished, but he is separated by five generations from Jove’s glory, while I am his truly begotten daughter. The Trojan scepters may have power, but ours have no less. Your country may, indeed, be richer than ours, but that does not change the fact that you are barbarian Asians. Your letter promises boundless treasures to tempt a goddess—but even were I willing to travel with you, it would not be for the golden gifts I scorn but for yourself. Only the giver makes them precious, otherwise your offer is crass and sordid. The only persuasive offer than you might make would be love, and that I am the cause of your anguish and of your journey. Your behavior at dinner of which you have the nerve to boast is shameful—you stare at me with lust in your eyes

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so that I cannot meet your gaze without feeling assaulted. Do you think that nobody has observed how you pick up my goblet, as if by mistake, and drink from the spot where I just drank? Your every gesture is more fit for girls in a tavern than here at the palace with your lowered eyes and your winks and all the rest that I fi nd it hard to believe my husband has never noticed— and I have blushed at what he would think if he did. How many times have I whispered or said to myself in silence, “He has no shame whatever! I can’t believe it!” after I’ve watched you trace my name on the table’s surface in wine with your fi nger and, under it, I LOVE? Not that I believed you, and I think I made that clear with my narrowed eyes as I glared across the table. But are these the kinds of blandishments that might be persuasive were I at all disposed to pay attention to them or you? In some such way, as a man is reduced to boyishness, so may a woman be wooed and her proud heart taken captive. I freely admit that your beauty is striking and rare, and many a woman might wish to submit to your embrace. But let someone else do so in a lawful way and without reproach. I do not value my honor and reputation so lightly as even to think about loving a stranger like you. Learn, if you would, from my example how to control your emotions if you can, but at least your behavior.

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Abstinence from delight and restraint are surely virtues, and the greater the temptation the greater the virtue. How many young men have desired what you desire? Do you suppose you’re the only man with eyes? You see no better than they, but you are rash and bold, too sure of yourself, too cocky. Had you arrived when I was still a maiden and my hand was being sought by a thousand suitors, your looks and confidence would have recommended themselves to the girl I was, and I can imagine that I might have ranked you fi rst. My husband, I think, will pardon me for saying this much, for I add that you are too late and I’m spoken for and now belong to another. But even going so far as to think that I might want to become your bride and join you in Troy, do not for a moment suppose that Menelaus holds me against my will. It is my choice, entirely my decision to make, and therefore I beg you to spare me further temptation. Do not continue to pluck at the strings of my wavering heart or give pain to the woman you say you love. Let me keep to the lot that fate has assigned me. Do not bring this shame upon me or spoil my honor. You claim that Venus gave you her promise on Mount Ida when the three goddesses stood before you naked. One offered a throne, another martial prowess, and the third myself. I fi nd it hard to believe that goddesses would pose that way for a mere mortal or that they would offer inducements that you describe. It has to be fiction, a tall tale—my beauty is not so special. The greatest gift of the goddess?

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It’s merely a hyperbolic compliment you’ve made up! That some men fi nd me attractive I can believe, but for a goddess to think so is likely to cause envy, and I cannot imagine that anything good would happen to one so singled out. It is a charming fiction, and I admit I am to some degree impressed. What woman wouldn’t be pleased by such a story as part of a foolish fl irtation? Do not be offended if I have my reservations. Faith in such declarations is slow to grow and ripen in serious matters. The idea itself is pleasing that I have found such favor in Venus’s eyes and that of these three prizes you thought, merely from what you had heard, that I was the best. To pick me over a kingdom or over valor? I should be made of iron if I did not take pleasure in hearing such an extravagant compliment. But I fight against the temptation to love someone like you to whom I can never be joined. To sail away on a ship that plows with its curved prow the sea’s furrows to pursue a distant and quite implausible hope? I am not that kind of person and never have thought of straying— the gods can be my witness to this—from my husband. Even now as I form the letters on this paper I fi nd myself upon new and dangerous ground. Women who have experience in such negotiations know, I suppose, what to do and how.

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I am a novice and must adjust to every thought that crosses my mind and makes its way to the page and seems to be fraught not only with guilt but actual danger. My fear is a burden, as also is my confusion. It feels as though every eye in the palace is staring, and not without, it seems, some reason. I have heard the whispered, disgraceful rumors Aethra has reported. If you are merely pretending, toying with me, I beg you to stop. Or if you insist on this kind of teasing, be at least more discreet. Menelaus is gone, and I have more freedom than I would otherwise enjoy. He had good cause to travel so far away, but he hesitated nevertheless, and I assured him that he should go but return as soon as he could. He took this as an omen, kissed me good-bye, and said, “Take care of the household and our guest from Troy.” I managed to keep from laughter and with a straight face told him that I would do as he asked. And he set sail. But do not think for a moment that your way has now been cleared. My lord, even if gone, is guarding me still, for kings have all-seeing eyes and far-reaching arms and hands. My beauty works against me, for all men lust and study one another, suspecting that all must feel what each one in his secret heart admits to. What glory I have and fame are therefore burdensome in a way that a plain woman could not imagine.

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Do not suppose that because he has gone away on a journey he therefore trusts me. Spies are everywhere. My character has taught him trust, but my looks arouse fear, and the two are always warring within him. You say we should take advantage of his now being absent and profit from the convenient situation, but while I may entertain the idea I am yet afraid, and my heart wavers in doubt. He is away and you are sleeping alone, and I think of that and your beauty. The nights are extremely long, and we want each other. We have already come together in thought and word and gesture in which you are, alas, all too persuasive, and the same roof covers us both as we lie in our beds. What can I do? All things seem to conspire, inviting my fall, but caution somehow holds me back. What you basely propose, I would consent to if you could in honor compel me and cast out my rustic scruples. I know that sometimes wrongs can bring advantage not only to those who commit them but to those who suffer them, too. I might be persuaded if such a case could be made. But let us be prudent. Our love, if I may call it that, is still fresh, and like a new-kindled fi re may be put out with only a little water, but later it cannot be so easily contained.

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The love of strangers is sweet but it wanders as they do themselves, and just when you let yourself trust it, it disappears. Think of Hipsipyle’s wretched encounter with Jason or think of Ariadne’s treatment at Theseus’s hands. Or we need not go so far afield when you are here having just abandoned Oenone, your wife of many years. You cannot deny this intractable fact. I have taken care to inquire about you. But let us suppose for the moment that the love you feel for me is real and secure, the universe is contingent. You cannot control your fate. Even now your men are checking the lines by which they unfurl the canvas. Here you are talking to me and hoping that one of these nights you may succeed and achieve what you are after, but your men are preparing the boats, consulting the winds and tides, and you may have to leave. Out of sight of land, your passion for me may scatter to the winds that fi ll your sails. If I were to accept your invitation and follow to distant Troy, what would people say? The earth would be fi lled with reproaches that would sting all the more for being true. What will Sparta think? What will be the opinion throughout Achaea? And in Troy, how will it be? Will Priam and Priam’s wife be proud to welcome a woman who has arrived

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under such a cloud? Your brothers and their wives may try to be polite but will still betray what they really think of a woman who has behaved as I have done. And for that matter you will never trust me, having proven that I can be persuaded, as you have done, to break my faith. Whenever a stranger arrives, you will commence to worry what he may say to me or I to him. And worst of all, you will put the blame for what you are thinking on me, “the adulteress,” forgetting how your reproach includes yourself who shared in my crime and are author as well as censor of what we did. Before such a thing may happen to you and me I pray that the earth may cover my shamed face. You talk of Ilion’s wealth and the luxuries I shall enjoy, magnificent gifts of silks in royal purple and heaped-up gold. These don’t mean much to me. This land that you despise I love, and it holds me back. Who shall care about me? If I meet with some kind of harm, who will help me? In whom can I confide? My brothers will not be there. All those things that Jason promised Medea turned out to have been illusions, as she learned when she was rudely evicted from Aeson’s house. Her father Aeëtes was far away, and her mother and trusted sister could not give aid to the scorned young woman. I do not expect or fear such disgraceful treatment,

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but neither did she. Hopes may turn out to be deceitful. Every ship that is tossed in wild sea storms set forth from its harbor’s safety when the weather was calm and fair. And fi nally what weighs on my mind is that dream your mother had of the torch when she brought you into the world and the seers’ interpretation that one day Troy would be consumed by fi re. Venus has favored you, but the other two goddesses may bear a grudge or even hate you because of the verdict you gave. What if the seers were correct about that dream, and I follow you to Troy and, because I do, there is war, so that our love will have to survive among swords? From Hippodamia’s marriage to Pirithoüs arose the war between the Lapiths and the Centaurs. I cannot think that Menelaus and my twin brothers and Tyndareus, my father, will be any less likely to rouse themselves and follow in righteous wrath. You boast about your readiness for battle, but you are better suited to Venus, I think, than Mars. Leave the waging of war to the brave and strong. You are the lover. Your brother Hector can fight with men, while your campaigns are likely to be with women. I think you should stick to what you have the talent to do, for if I were to forget myself and my fears, I should in time yield to you in a sweet surrender. You ask to meet face to face and in secret, but I know plainly enough what it is that you want when you speak of a conversation. I say . . . not yet.

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Not quite so fast. Be patient a while. You may find that time turns out to be an ally after all. But enough for now. I pause in this furtive endeavor, for my hand begins to weary. Let us continue through my trusted companions, both of whom you know, Clymene and Aethra, whose words you may take for mine.

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XVIII Leander to Hero The man of Abydos sends to the maiden of Sestos the greetings he would rather deliver in person if only the waves of the sea would calm themselves for a spell. If the gods are kind to me and my love, you will read with regretful eyes these words of mine on a mute page. But they aren’t kind, or even fair and neutral, for you see how they stir up the waves with winds and black storm clouds so that I cannot cross the familiar straits. Captains of hollow ships are reluctant to leave port in weather like this, and no sane man would swim. One mariner only, braver than all the others, has put out from our shore to bring you this letter. I would have gone along with him, but as he cast off all Abydos watched and, had I gone aboard, my parents, I have no doubt, would have observed my departure and ferreted out the secret we two keep of our love for each other. I must, therefore, content myself with these words I send you. “Go, fortunate paper, and soon you will feel her delicate hand reaching out to touch you. She may, if you are lucky, have your seal

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broken by her pretty teeth and rosebud lips.” There is more in my heart, but my hand sets that down on the sheet before me. Its exercise should have been quite different in the strenuous swim through the billows I know so well across to you. Swimming and then embracing you is what I want it to do, as my agent should. This is the seventh night of the storm’s undiminished rage, but it seems to me like a year has passed of the howling winds and crashing breakers along the forbidding shore. In none of these long nights have I slept at all, for I sit on a rock and look out, carried away by my thoughts to where I cannot go. I believed I saw a glimmer of light atop the tower in which you live. Three times I have taken my clothes off, put them down on the sand, and ventured into the surf, but on each attempt the waves broke over my head, the strong riptide dragged me down, and it took all my strength to return to heave myself ashore and sprawl exhausted. What have you against me, pernicious Boreas? Why do you make war with me? You know about love, having yourself been smitten by Orithyia of Athens. When you were pursuing her, had someone tried to interfere or obstruct you, how could you have endured it? Have mercy on me, I pray. Turn gentle and mild,

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and Aeolus will bless you and issue no harsh commands. But words to the winds are futile. He pays no mind and continues to toss up whitecaps fiercer than ever to mock me. Would that I had Daedalus’s inventive mind and Icarus’s courage, and I could sail on these winds across the stretch of water that lies between us. I would do whatever it took, run any risk to rise up into the air in which I could swim with no greater challenge than what the sea now presents. I wait and, of course, I think of how it was the fi rst time when I snuck across to meet you. The twilight was giving way to darkness as I stepped forth from my father’s house on a sweet errand of love. To recall it is a charming way to pass the dragging hours. I flung off my garments along with my fear and dove into the waves to churn them with my arms. The moon shed a tremulous, almost diffident light that followed me as I swam. I raised my eyes and prayed. “Be gracious to me, O shining goddess,” I said. “Remember the rocks of Latmos where you and your sweet Endymion met, and for his sake be kind to a lover. Look upon me with the gentle face he knew. You came down from the skies to meet a mortal lover. Let me assert that my love, although she is human, is like a goddess to me. Her beauty, her many virtues are truly divine. She must acknowledge Venus

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and you as her equals, but no one else as a serious rival. Do not trust my words, but look for yourself and you will see that just as the stars are dim compared with your effulgence, so do other women, even the fairest, fade when they are near her. The truth will declare itself to anyone but the blind.” These were the words with which I addressed the moon as I swam through water that made way for my rhythmic strokes. The silver path on the water showed how the goddess was present, splendid and serene in the silent night. Aside from the slight splashes my body made as I swam, there were no noises except the Halcyons’ sweet and repeated lament, their hearts true to their beloved Ceyx, whose drowned body washed ashore. But now my arms begin to tire a bit. I feel a heaviness below the shoulder that grows into what is not merely fatigue but steady pain, and to make it worse I start to worry: is this beyond what I can do? I raise myself in the water to try to see where I am and how far I must go to reach the shore I yearn for. I see a light that shines from far off. It is my sweetheart, my life. Hope returns to my heart and strength to my weary arms, and the waves seem a little less difficult. I’m cold, but the thought of my love waiting for me warms my body and fights the chill of the dark water. The nearer I get to the shore, the surer I feel, and joy hurries me on the way. At last I reach

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the point at which you can see me not very far out, and you wave, and this, too, gives me renewed strength. I exert myself to try to convince you that I’m fi ne, still fresh and able (and also persuade myself ). You try to rush into the water, and your nurse has to restrain you, a touching scene and all the more appealing because I am close enough to be able to observe it. You struggle with her and manage to get your feet wet in the lapping waves that are soughing up on the sand. I drag myself from the surf, and you welcome me with kisses and embraces that make the entire ordeal more than worth the effort it took and the pain. You take from your own shoulders your mantle that you drape on mine to dry and warm me. Water sluices down from my hair to the sand, eager to rejoin the sea again. The rest of the night we recall not in any detail for it was a blur of joys as extensive as the seaweed that floats on the tide. We climbed the tower that shares our secret and holds the light to which I swam, a guiding star in the night. We had little time and we fi lled it frantically with our love, careful not to waste one stolen moment. At last Aurora made ready to chase away the darkness, and the morning star, the herald of sunrise, commenced to shine above us. In haste we continued to kiss and embrace, distressed that the night had been so short and fleeting.

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Lingering there until the nurse’s warnings become ever more urgent as she tells me to flee, we go outside and head for the shore where morning’s chill reflects our mood precisely. We part in tears, and I commit myself again to the care of the cruel waves in which poor Helle drowned when she fell from the ram’s back. Coming across to you I swam eagerly, boldly, an athlete. On the return I am a desperate sailor fleeing his sinking vessel. You may fi nd this difficult to credit, but going over, it was as if I were swimming downhill, while on the return the angle was ascending. Although it is not what I wish, I reach dry land again and arrive home, separated from you. But not completely. Our souls are joined together still. Though our bodies are far apart on opposite shores, we are in our minds and hearts an indivisible unit. Why should your Sestos not take me or my Abydos you? I love your land if only because it gave you life. And you, I am sure, love mine. My heart is as disturbed as the sea is when the storms churn it fiercely. The winds, which are mere air, have their enormous power to check me and keep us apart. The path I take through the water is like a road on which many wheels have passed, and even the fi sh now know me. Formerly, I complained that this was the only way for me to visit you. I should have kept silent, for now that it is no longer open I see

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how fortunate I was. It is a treacherous strait, as everyone has known since Phrixus’s time, with tricky currents and sudden storms so that ships in port are not entirely safe from its violent whims. It is right that it takes its reproachful name from the famous maiden who fell from the sky and drowned. Phrixus was lucky, having made it safely across. I do not require a ship or a flying ram, but am willing to venture out with only my body as passenger, vessel, and oars. I do not rely on Polaris to take my bearings or any of those stars or constellations that sailors carefully study, making their difficult way. I have another and more reliable beacon to lead me through the confusing darkness and choppy water as sure and steady as is my love for you. With my eyes fi xed upon that light, I could swim on to Colchis, the furthest point in the Black Sea where the Argo reached its destination. I could surpass Palaemon, whom some call Portunus, the mariners’ god, who ate the strange grass in which fish swam. Often my arms protest that they cannot exert themselves further through the relentless waves, but I offer them the prospect of sweet reward when they may drape themselves around the softness of my lady’s neck and then they revive, eager, stretching forward to reach that consummation, as horses at Elis do

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at the starting gate at Olympus. Thus do I keep on going, glimpsing between my strokes the distant gleam, that small spark of the fi re I feel burning within me. You deserve the skies but tarry here on earth where you can tell me how I may fi nd a way to the gods. 210 But while you are here you are not near, and I am tormented, for I see you only now and then and each time at such risk and such great effort. What good does it do that the strait is not after all so wide? If there were a whole ocean that lay between us, I should not feel such torment from hopes that continue to plague me. If you and they were removed, I should suffer less, but when I look out and see the light in the tower, I stretch 220 my hand as if I could almost touch your hand— but “almost” is cruel and starts my groans and tears afresh. Tantalus’s ordeal in the land of the shades, where the branch of the fruit tree hovers just out of reach and the stream below him shrinks away and never lets him drink, is mine, but I am alive and have not greatly sinned. I can embrace you only with the grudging consent of the winds and the weather. Storms are my dreaded foes, 230 capricious and unpredictable. I fawn and pray, but nothing I do or say has persuasive power. And this is still summertime when the water’s moods are mostly placid! The winter constellations are whirling and coming closer every day and hour

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to test my mind and body. How rash am I? How strong? You fear, perhaps, that I may not come. I cannot promise anything more than that I will make the effort. Even if the sea continues its menace I shall nevertheless try my strength and will to reach either the safety of your embrace or that of death beneath the water’s unruly surface, in which case I shall pray that my broken body washes ashore on the beach where you walk and can weep for me, touch my lifeless limbs, and cry to the winds, “I was the one who caused Leander’s untimely death.” I trust you are not offended by my candor and that you do not take this letter as some kind of omen, foretelling my demise. “Do not be angry,” is what I tell the sea and say to you as well. Rather add your prayers to those I offer. I need some time to prepare for the crossing tonight, but soon I shall plunge in and, when I have touched your shore, shall defy the storm to rage in all its fury. You are my safe haven, the shipyard for my keel, and nowhere in the world is there anyplace so safe. There let Boreas fume and keep me ashore where it is such pleasure to wait. I shall be slow to swim the return leg and will exercise caution. I shall not revile the terrible weather but meekly accept what the fates present. Too rough to try?

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Then I shall bide my time as would any prudent person, stayed at once by the winds and your gentle arms. Soon when the sea permits, my arms will become my oars propelling me across toward your beacon light. My letter comes before me to be with you until I join it and you, I pray, with little delay.

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XIX Hero to Leander In order that I may delight in the words of your greeting, spoken aloud and vis-à-vis, I beg you to come soon. My patience and modesty yield to the greater force of desire and love. We both burn with flames of equal heat, but you are much the stronger, men having hardier natures. Women are frail both in body and soul. Do not delay any longer, or I shall die of the agony of waiting. You men are about in the world, out in the woods hunting, occupied with working your rich acres and all the tasks of farming, or else in the marketplace or the stables or the wrestling ring. You snare birds or fish with hooks or nets, and at night at table while away the hours with wine and talk. For me there are none of these occupations or diversions, and I have nothing whatever to do but love, my sole delight, the great purpose of my small being. Therefore, I think I offer a greater love than what any woman ought to expect from a man in return. To my trusted nurse, I whisper about you and wonder what it can be that keeps you at home or obstructs your way. Or else I look out with longing at empty water

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and scold the waves and the hateful winds in words you’d use. Sometimes, when the weather improves, my anger turns toward you, who could come but do not, and at the same time tears of love are coursing down my cheeks and my nurse with a tremulous hand dries my face and soothes me. I walk on the beach and search for your footprints as if they were souvenirs the sand might have preserved. I inquire if anyone has just arrived from Abydos or is going there, so that I might meet him to ask for news of you or to send a message. The garments you have left with me to dry I touch and kiss as I hope soon to kiss their owner. I wait for the day to end and darkness to come when I can hang the signal beacon high in the tower to guide you on your way, but still there is the waiting when my nurse and I get through the dawdling hours as women often do with the whirling spindle and thread. And what do we talk about? No need to ask. “Leander” is on our lips, embedded in pointless questions: “Do you think he has managed to get away from his house? Or are they suspicious now and watching his every move? Has he made it yet to the beach? Is he getting ready, rubbing the rich oil now onto his body for warmth in the frigid water?” Whatever I may ask, she nods in assent, or perhaps from fatigue for the hour is late. Only a moment later, I ask again,

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“Do you think he has set out? Is he swimming now with his arms cutting their way through the waves?” Again she nods. I tell myself to stop this ridiculous behavior and manage a few more strands on the spindle, but then I cannot help myself. “Do you think he is halfway?” Once more I stop my chatter, but now I am praying that the winds make your crossing easy. I listen to slightest sounds imagining that they may be your footfalls. When most of the night has passed, weariness overwhelms me and sleep closes my eyes to let me dream that you are only delayed, will soon show up at the door, and that we may yet spend some hours together. Or I dream that you have arrived and we are together, but then, waking, I fi nd that I have deceived myself. It never happened that you arrived on the beach. I never felt your still wet arms around my neck or dried your dripping limbs, or tried my best to warm you, your shivering bosom pressed hard to my own. There is more, but not what a modest girl should put in a letter or can say aloud without a crimson blush. Sweet pleasures, and brief, and they turn out to be illusions. But even were I awake, you would go away

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when the sun comes up. Oh, let our loves be steady and fi rm, knit together as one, and persisting through time. Why have I passed so many lonely nights? And why do you so often delay? I grant that the sea 90 is not now fit to swim in, but if I remember correctly, was much less bad last night. You let the occasion pass from fear of what was not to come. The winds died down, and you let a fair night go to waste. Grant that another such chance will come again soon! But had you appeared last night, it would have been sooner. I suppose you will tell me how these changes in winds and weather can arise from nowhere all of a sudden, and no one can trust the present moment. But whatever the 100 explanation, you have not come to see me in what seems a long time. Had you arrived, we would have welcomed the wind and rain outside as we cuddled together. I should have prayed then that the storm would never abate. But look where we are now. Have you grown more fearful? Is it the outer weather or is it inside your heart where your desire has lost some of its keenness? Could that be why you seem less reckless now than before? 110 I remember not so long ago when the weather was as bad as it has been lately and, with lofty disregard, you came nevertheless, if only to show that combination of courage and luck that you believe accompanies love. What happened to that scorn

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or—dare I even ask it—the passion from which it came? But, no, I take that back. Your caution is good. I shouldn’t want you to take such extravagant risks. Wait, and there will be placid weather and you will be safe. You must survive as our love must also survive and its flame not turn into ashes cold in the grate. It is not the winds I fear, but your love that, like the winds, may subside or shift to another quarter. In panic, I try to persuade myself that your delay is not a demonstration that I have become a prize no longer worth your effort. I know it cannot be so but is a mere logical possibility I have dreamed up on my own. I fret about coming from Thrace and therefore not being a good match for someone like you from Abydos. I fret all the time imagining things to worry about. The worst and hardest for me to bear is that you fi nd someone else, a new mistress whose arms are around your neck so that the new love ends the one we share. I pray that a gentle fate may spare me this terrible wound even if it means that I must die, as I should rather do before you exhibit such faithlessness. But why do I say horrid things like this? You have shown no signs of such behavior, and I have heard no whispered rumors about you from friends— or enemies, for that matter. My only excuse

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is irrational fear. What lover has not had to live with this? Such groundless worries multiply with distance. How happy are they who are close to each other! I envy them, for they can separate false alarms from the true. My fears are of fantasies, while real dangers may lurk about which I am utterly ignorant— which is, of course, another reason for my concern. Oh, if you would only come. Or at least if I knew it was the wind that keeps you away, or your father, and not some other woman . . . If that were the reason and if I learned of it, I should die of grief, the only remedy for a love that has been betrayed. This is absurd, I know. There is no disgraceful affair that keeps you away but only the jealous storm that cannot abide happy lovers and holds you back with angry breakers that crash upon the shore and howling winds that drive the scudding clouds overhead. Could it be Nephele’s spirit, Helle’s mother, who comes back here in her distracted rage to mourn with her downpouring tears and wracking sobs for her daughter’s death? Or could it perhaps be Ino, Athamas’s second wife, who hates the strait named now after Helle, the stepdaughter she despised? The place ever since has been malign for maidens, as if that poor girl’s drowning had tainted the waters forever. Neptune, one might suppose, could be more gentle

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to lovers, remembering how he adored, if the stories are right, anyone as well as the beautiful Tyro, and a number of others—Alcyone, Calyce, and Medusa (before the hair on her head had turned into snakes). One could make it a game, trying to think of more. Laodice? Yes, and Celaeno, who rose to the skies! All these, the poets say, mingled their sweet embraces with his, so that he has felt the power of love. He could cause the storm to abate its demoniac fury or move it out somewhere to open water to exhaust itself at last. The strait here is too confi ned for a demonstration of majesty and might. Why would a god oppress a single swimming boy when he could upset the keels of a whole armada? What glory is there in this? It’s a storm in a pond, or a teacup! Leander’s line is noble but does not include Ulysses, whom you distrust. Have mercy on him and on me! He is the one who swims, but all my hopes are in the strength of his arms that battle every wave. The lamp on my table has sputtered, which bodes well. My nurse pours drops of water to honor the excellent omen. “He will be here tomorrow,” she says, and sips some wine as if to toast her own pleasant prediction. I pray that she is correct. Glide over the waves and come. You are welcome here in the house, my room, and my conquered heart. Come back to the bivouac that you have deserted!

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Why should I have to lie down alone in bed’s center? Do not fear, for Venus will bless your effort. She, who was born of the sea, will calm and smooth its surface. I should undertake the crossing myself but ever since Helle drowned here, it’s safer for men than for women. Could it be the return swim that you fear, the length of the round trip? Why, then, we could meet perhaps in the middle, exchange our kisses there, and each swim back. That would cut the effort you have to make in half, and therefore your reason for worry. Better yet, how fi ne it would be if there were no more reason to hide the love we have for each other. The opinions of men ought to have nothing to do with passion. Which should I choose? The former earns respect for good behavior, but the latter gives delight. Jason came to Colchis and took Medea away with him in the Argo, and when Paris came from Troy, he sailed back taking Helen, indifferent to any objections men might make. You come to seek your love, but when you depart, you leave me, and where it is risky for boats to go, you swim. You have conquered the water a number of times, and yet we ought to fear it. Think of the strong ships, well made by the shipwrights, that tempests easily overturn. Do you imagine your arms are stronger than oars

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hewn out of sturdy oak? Wise sailors hate to swim as they must try to do after a wreck, clinging to whatever flotsam each one is able to reach. Ignore what I wrote before. Rather be strong in your mind and do not yield to my importunate nonsense! Whenever you think you can, come to me, darling. Then will you wrap your weary arms about my neck and we will embrace and make up for lost time. I stare out at the blue expanse, and I feel a chill of another, more piercing kind within my breast. Added to this I had an ominous dream last night, the threat of which I tried my best to evade by making a sacrifice, but that could not purge my fear. It came to me just before dawn when dreams often turn out to be true. I had been up late when sleep had come upon me, and my fi ngers loosed the threads they were holding. I laid my head on the pillow and had a vivid vision of a dolphin swimming with great effort through the violent waves, which cast it up on shore, whereupon the water and life as well abandoned the pitiable beast. I hope its apparent meaning is not correct, but whatever it may portend, I am fi lled with dread. I beg you, do not smile but take the dream as a warning. Do not trust your arms to conquer a turbulent sea but spare yourself and spare the woman who loves you,

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whose safety depends on your own. Wait for the troubled waters themselves to tire, subsiding to calm and peace. Only then should you venture forth on what will remain a daunting enough exertion. Meanwhile, I send, because the wind-tossed water keeps you away, this letter to sweeten a little the hours of our delay.

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XX Acontius to Cydippe Do not be afraid! I will not repeat myself with another oath for you to read aloud and fi nd that unawares you have pledged yourself to me. Read all the way to the end and perhaps your languor will leave your lovely body. That you are in pain pains me. Do you blush? I fear that you do, and that your cheeks redden as they did that day in Diana’s temple to match the apple you held in your delicate hand. What I ask of you now is what you swore to then, saying aloud the words you read in the temple. The goddess, of course, remembers, but I pray that you do as well, for I am as full of desire for you now as I was then. Or, no, it has grown keener, the flame of my love having been fueled by long delay. What was in the beginning no more than a slight frisson has now become an obsession, fed by the hope you may not have meant to give although you gave it. My ardent heart believed the words you spoke in that solemn venue. You cannot deny what you said aloud, to which the goddess herself bore witness. She nodded her head and confi rmed the oath and its obligation That you may say I tricked you into, but still

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those words had meaning to which she gave solemn assent, and the world has given heed. I freely admit that you were deceived by my wiles, but you may perhaps concede that the wiles were prompted by love—which was no trick. What did my devious practice have as its object except being united with you, a legitimate aim from which no sensible woman would ever take offense? I am not, most of the time, a deceptive person either by nature or practice. It was only my love for you that taught me these deplorable, useful skills, in which case one might say I took my instruction from you. It was Love that bound you to me with the extorted marriage bond. Love made the match, as it often does, but this time with more flair than is often required. Love was the lawyer (“solicitor” might be the better title) who worked out the details and to whom to complain. He dictated the words and the manner of the bond. And yet you may call me crafty, if the wish to possess be craft. And here you catch me at it again with the stratagem of candor. If I wrong you, I am afraid I cannot promise ever to stop. Resist as long as you must, but I shall persist longer. Others have stolen away girls whom they loved with a sword. Shall this discreet and decorous letter be called a crime? I only pray to the gods that they advise me how to contrive to obtain more oaths from you

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so that you may in no way free yourself from me. There must be a thousand other possible ruses by which I can accomplish the purpose within my heart. I have not started to sweat, am still in the foothills of the steep mountain I venture to climb. My reliable guide to the peak is ardor, to whom I entrust my life. It is doubtful whether you may be taken once again, but I shall at least make the effort and try, believing that the outcome rests in the hands of the gods. You may evade for a time, but you cannot escape all the snares that Love will put into my hands, more intricate than you can begin to imagine. If art and wit both fail me, I may resort to arms and abduct you by brute force. I do not blame Paris for what he did, or anyone less well known who, to become a husband, became a man. I think of him and others like him, and will not say more—except that if I’m pursued and killed as the crime might have demanded, I should still be content having once possessed you. Had you been less lovely, I should not have been driven to such an extreme. I do not blame you for your beauty, but cite it as mitigation for my deplorable behavior. This is the result of what you are and of the effect you have, intentional or not. Your eyes, brighter than stars, have sparked the fi re with which I burn. The gold of your hair, your ivory neck, which almost demand to be pillaged, I long to touch

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in admiration. Your classic, chiseled features are those of an artist’s ideal of the rustic country girl. Your tiny feet are what I imagine immortal Thetis must have had. I could go on to praise the rest of you, but the work is alike in all its parts. Compelled as I was by your extravagant beauty, it is not at all surprising that I wished to extort your pledge by any means, fair or foul—for I was desperate. Accuse me of being a trickster, and I plead guilty, but you must admit nonetheless that you gave your pledge. I will accept the blame if I may also claim the reward to which I am properly entitled. Telamon won Hesione, Priam’s sister; Achilles took Briseis as his prize of honor. Both of them followed their new lords and even learned to love them. Complain, be angry with me, but admit that you are mine and allow me to try to assuage your wrath. Allow me to show my affection, my admiration, and give me permission to stand before you and shed my tears of chagrin for having done what I knew to be wrong. To the tears I will add my halting words of profound contrition, and hold out my hands as a suppliant would or a slave. Let me lie on the ground and touch your beautiful feet as I beg for your forgiveness. Take satisfaction in seeing the one who has wronged you humbled and asking for pardon. Like a furious mistress, tear my hair and scratch

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my face with your lovely nails or punch and slap me, and I shall receive all this with gratitude and pleasure, my only concern being that you may injure your hands in the strenuous exercise that you have assigned them. But do not bind me with shackles, for I shall be wearing the iron chains of my love, which cannot ever be broken. There will come a point, I imagine, when your anger starts to cool and gradually you begin to realize how strong is my unassailable love for you and how sure. You will come to see how good a slave I can be and accept me as your servant. As matters now stand, I am helpless, tried in absentia with no one to argue my cause. And what could an advocate possibly say? That the blame is not entirely mine, for the goddess is part of the case. Although she did not deserve to be used in this way, she was, for she was present and saw you blush and heard you read aloud the words I had written. And she remembers, as goddesses do, everything that happens. Nothing can be more dangerous than a goddess who is affronted and her godhead disrespected. Only recall how she inspired Althaea to anger—and even to kill her son Meleager. Think as well of Actaeon and how Diana chastised him for peeping at her and her nymphs, turning him to a stag to be ripped apart

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by his own dogs. Her anger is terrible and famous. Remember poor Niobe, turned to stone and weeping forever for lack of deference and respect. Do not suppose that I say these things to scare you. It is rather out of concern lest your bad fortune continue. How many times have you been betrothed and then on the night before your wedding come down with a serious illness? More than twice? Coincidence merely? Or is it the goddess herself who intervenes to prevent your breaking the oath you took in her temple? This is a kindness, but do not try her patience. The bow in her hands is strong, and when she is roused to shoot, her arrows are lethal. I hate to think of your body’s aches, fevers, and chills each time you have agreed to take a husband. They will, after awhile, ruin your delicate looks that I adore and that you, I have no doubt, are proud of. The gentle blush that comes to suffuse your cheek must be preserved. My enemies should languish and suffer in the sickness that recurs so often with you— but when you are affl icted with pains, I, too, have pain. It would be a torment to me if you were to marry, but it is torment now when your poor health prevents the ceremony and you lie in a sickbed. I cannot say which is the worse to bear. I take to my bed and mourn that you are an invalid and I am the cause of your sickness with my wiles.

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I pray to the goddess to let her anger be directed solely at me. Let me bear the burden but keep the poor and innocent girl safe. I know how you fare because I frequent your street and often pass before your door where I bribe the servants for whatever information they can provide. Your maid reports about the state of your health and your footman also brings me news for a few small coins. I ask how well or badly you have slept and what you have managed to eat and have kept down. I wish I were the nurse who followed your doctor’s orders, sitting beside your bed and holding your hand. I suppose your fiancé is the one who does these things. While I am far away, he is close by, which makes me wretched to think about. And I hate him! He feels your pulse with his thumb. In your wrist? Your neck? He uses this, of course, as a warrant to touch your arm or even your pretty bosom—which is a wage far in excess of what his ser vice to you deserves. How does it happen that he can reap my harvest? Who opened the gate for him to trespass upon the fields of another man? Those arms and that bosom are mine! That body is pledged to me! Take your hands away, you lowlife! To touch her person as you do is adulterous. Go fi nd someone who is not promised to somebody else. You dare to doubt my word? Have her recite to you herself the words of the oath, and from her lips perhaps you will believe them.

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Out of her room, out of her house! Be gone at once! You have no claim to be there. Whatever she said to you cannot be valid, for she was already promised. Your pact with her is therefore null and void. Her father may have said that he would give you her hand, but it was no longer his to give—for she is closer to herself even than he and therefore better able to speak on her own behalf. He called men to witness his act and deed, but she swore before Diana in her temple. He does not wish to be false; she wishes not to be forsworn. And which of these is the greater fear? Compare their risks, for she is ill while he is strong. Then compare the two of us and admit that the consequences of disappointment are very different. Our hopes are not the same, nor are our fears. Should your suit fail, your pride may suffer a little; for me a rejection from her would be worse than death itself. You might come to love her; I am already in love. If you had any decency in your soul or sense of right and justice, you would give way to me. But I write to you, Cydippe, and leave it to you to judge between our claims. Consider, as well, that he is the cause of your present illness or, say, Diana, who in her mercy keeps you this way from sinning against her. If you were wise and would bar your door to him, the goddess would approve and your health would promptly return. My welfare as well would thereby be secured.

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Honor the pledge you made to me in that holy shrine, and all will be well. More than slain oxen, what makes the gods glad is a demonstration of faith and oaths that are kept, whether or not they are witnessed. Maidens affl icted with sickness resort to fi re and steel or the tinctures and potions of powerful herbs, but for you there is no need to resort to any such drastic measures. Only observe and maintain the oath you took for your sake as well as my own. The goddess has given some leeway to you, making allowance perhaps for your forgetfulness or your lack of understanding that the saying aloud of the words, whether or not you realized it, was binding upon you. Now you have been warned, not only by my words but by actions the goddess has taken in these recurrent bouts of illness. Let us assume, as I should like to do, that you somehow recover, what then will be your prospects? When you come to the trials of childbirth, how will you dare pray for help from the light-bringing Diana? She will hear your words but then inquire of you what husband is the cause of these pains that you are feeling. You may promise a votive gift, but she’ll know your promises mean nothing. You may take an oath, but she will have cause to doubt you when you swear. Even if I am in torment, it is your pain that concerns me and on your account that my mind is so much troubled.

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Your parents weep with fear that you may die, unaware of the pledge you gave and why you are now ailing. Why should they live in doubt? You could tell your mother, who will understand, I am sure. You have done nothing wrong or shameful. Let her know in the fullest detail how, when she was offering sacrifice to the archer goddess, I saw you standing there and was stricken dumb with delight at your irresistible beauty. So rapt was my gaze that my cloak slipped from my shoulder, a sure sign of love’s madness. It was then I conceived the idea of writing the treacherous words on the skin of an apple and rolling it in your direction. You picked it up and read the words aloud—in the presence of holy Diana— and thus were bound by the oath I had inscribed. Your mother will tell you to marry the one whom the goddess has picked, the one to whom you swore. They will accede and choose whomever the goddess has chosen as son-in-law. These will be the only words that a loving mother could give, but when she inquires, as she and your father will do, she will understand that the goddess took care to arrange an altogether appropriate match. There is in the Aegean sea an island called Cea, where once the Corcyran nymphs frolicked and played. This is the land of my fathers, and if you like noble

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names, I can claim grandfathers of high repute and of wealth. Had you not sworn to be mine, the match would be attractive, but I am also bound to you by love, which ought to weigh in the scales. And having sworn, there is one further reason for you to accept my suit. These are the words Diana bade me write, coming to me in dreams that I recalled upon waking. One of her darts has wounded me. Of the other, if it has not wounded you already, beware! Your safety and health are joined with mine. For pity’s sake— pity for me and for yourself—do not hesitate but aid us both together. On that day when the ceremony begins and the altar is stained with blood, I shall offer the goddess a token of thanks, a golden apple on which I shall inscribe two verses commemorating the intervention of heaven: This is the apple on which Acontius wrote the words that by the grace of the goddess have come true. This letter is long enough. Your health is frail. I conclude with accustomed words delivered with fervor: fare well!

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XXI Cydippe to Acontius Understandably frightened, I read what you wrote, careful not to make a sound lest I discover that I have sworn something else to a vigilant god or goddess pronouncing every phoneme (once was enough). But having my pledge, you need not snare me a second time. My fi rst thought was not to read it at all, but I worry about cruel Diana and how she might disapprove and punish me more severely. I have tried every way I can think of to mollify her with prayer and incense, but she seems to favor you—more, I think, than you have deserved. Her anger on your behalf bewilders, for she must know that she, too, was a victim of the trick you played on me. She can be harsh, as you have pointed out. I think how badly she treated Hippolytus, whom she loved. One might expect that she would be kind to a virgin, but the gods have their own logic or don’t need any at all. My exhaustion persists, although my physicians cannot diagnose my ailment. Their nostrums do me no good. I am thin and wasted, can barely write, can scarcely raise my body to rest on my arm and elbow . . . And to add to my already heavy burden

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there is now the concern that someone besides my nurse (who shares my secrets) will see that we are exchanging letters. She sits by the door and, whenever anyone comes, says that I am asleep—so I may write more or less in safety. Sometimes when that ruse wears thin, she clears her throat and coughs loudly as a signal to me to put away my paper and pen. I tuck what I have written into my bosom. Later, when it is safe again, I return to the paper to continue with what I was saying, but my fi ngers are tired and I can barely hold the quill. You can see what a nuisance you are, and, if I may say so, more trouble for me than what you justly deserve. I am not pleased to hear that you are the cause of my uncertain health. Your ill-considered trick has consequences you could not have imagined. You praise my beauty, but is this its proper reward in the world? Is it right that I should suffer for having pleased? If I had been ugly, misshapen, deformed, or fat, you would never have bothered me, and I should not need help, advice, or intercession. But I looked good to you and for that I lie here in bed and groan. You and the goddess conspire against me. My beauty, too, becomes my enemy. You and my intended battle each other, and neither shows willingness to yield. You hinder each other’s prayers, and I, in the middle, am tossed like a ship at sea that the wind drives one way and the tide and the waves another. The day approaches

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for which my parents have yearned, and the burning affl icts me again as cruel Persephone knocks before her time. I am afraid and ashamed lest anybody suppose I am affl icted, having deserved the gods’ displeasure—although I feel no guilt within my soul. One says that my sickness is purely random; another maintains that the gods disapprove of my husband; and some suppose that you may be the cause, exercising some black and poisonous arts upon me. Whatever the cause, the result is clear to see. While I burn with fever, the two of you contend in strenuous battle, but all the wounds are mine. You claim to be sincere. Maintain that a little longer and, without deceit or calculation, tell me, if this is how you hurt me when you are in love, what further harm may I expect when your love has cooled? If you injure friends but treat your enemies well, I pray you wish me death to save me from my illness. You cannot care for one whom you allow to languish, wasting away as I am and weaker each day. You claim to have the help of the goddess, but you beseech her, and nothing good or beneficial follows. Either you have no wish to mollify Diana, having forgotten me, or else you try and fail, which clearly means that she has forgotten you. How sorry I am that I ever went to Delos.

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The ship set out on the voyage in an hour of ill omen, although I had boarded with lively, eager steps, putting my foot down on the brightly painted deck. Early into the voyage the wind came about so that the canvas snapped as if with a thunderclap . . . But, no, that isn’t the way it was at all, for on the return trip the winds hurried me home to danger I never suspected I was facing. To complain about the winds or blame them is otiose. Better to bear the weight on my own shoulders for having been eager to reach Delos and step ashore. I complained that the oars were slow and the canvas slack, and it seemed to take forever to pass Mykonos abeam, and Tenos and Andros before we sighted Delos with its gleaming limestone cliffs. Even then it teased and seemed to recede in the sea at the same speed as our boat was approaching—as if it remembered floating as it is said to have done in ancient times. When we disembarked it was twilight. The sun was already preparing to release his shining steeds from his golden car. In the morning, when he summoned them back again, I arose and my mother dressed my hair and with loving hand put gems on my fi ngers and in my hair and draped a robe around my shoulders. We went then to the temple to greet the gods to whom the island is consecrated and offer them the incense and pour the wine.

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My mother stains the altar with the victim’s blood and places sliced entrails on the smoking altar fi re, and while she does so my nurse shows me around the temple’s porticoes with the lavish gifts of kings everywhere on display. I stare with especial wonder at the antler altar Apollo built for his sister. I see Latona’s tree and the rest of the island’s treasures memory barely retains. But this is no time for a travelogue. The point is that while I inspected the sights, you were inspecting me—or ogling, rather— and being naïve, I was, I’m afraid, an easy prey. I returned to the sweeping stairs of Diana’s temple. Should any place in the world be safer than this for a maiden? An apple comes out of nowhere to land at my feet on which is inscribed the verses . . . But let me not repeat them and stupidly make the same mistake again. My nurse took it up, looked at it briefly, gave it to me, and playful, or foolish, or mischievous, said, “Read it.” O smooth-tongued poet! Artificer! Devious trickster! I read it and, when I came to the word “wedlock,” fell into confusion and blushes covered my face while my eyes fell to my bosom as if they were weighted by your malign intent. And you rejoice at this? Whatever for? What glory have you gained? How difficult can it be for a man of the world to deceive an innocent maiden? I was not armed with a sword

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and shield or a battle axe as Penthesilea was on Ilium’s soil. I was no Amazon queen like Hippolyta with whom Hercules once battled. They weren’t deeds but merely words that tricked me, an altogether unsuspecting girl. Cydippe was snared by an apple, as was Atalanta— which makes you Hippomanes, or, rather, an imitator. Had Cupid possessed your soul as you have claimed, and if you had been a decent and honorable person, you might have won what your false dealing lost. If you wanted to seek my hand, why not come out and say so and try to persuade rather than force or trick? What possible worth can there be in an oath that was never meant, even if its words may have been pronounced? You called the goddess to witness, but in her wisdom she knows that meaningful oaths only come from a conscious mind— and mine had taken none. A person’s mind and soul are able to swear, accept an obligation, and give good faith to its words, which otherwise are empty. If I had willed to pledge myself to you, you could in justice exact the rites of the marriage bed. But I gave you only my voice, words of no force without my heart’s assent, vacuous and absurd. If such a trick could be played in the world and honored,

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you could swindle the rich out of their wealth, or kings who would abdicate in your favor. The world would be yours. If the mere spoken or written word had the powers you give it, you would be greater than even Diana herself. All that having been said, and making my case clear, I am still anxious lest the anger of Leto’s cruel daughter touch me in any way. It cannot be ruled out that she is the cause of the sickness that has possessed me. How else to explain the repeated sequence—Hymenaeus comes to the altars that have been raised for me and my bridegroom, and then he flees, turning his fickle back on my wedding chamber. The torches he waves gutter out and the saffron scent disappears into the air as the threshold that had been happy is suddenly glum with the fear of death. Such things as these he does not like to approach. His garlands he tears from his brow and throws away. The balsam he combs from his glittering locks, for he is ashamed to stand among gloomy guests and frightened family members. The blush that was in his cloak he wears on his cheeks. Meanwhile, I am wretched, with my limbs either burning up or shivering with cold and I pull up the blankets,

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which seem now impossibly heavy. My parents sigh and weep, and instead of the nuptial torches, those of a death watch burn in the halls. O goddess, have mercy, spare a maiden, and ask your brother to come to the aid of my health. But would it not be awkward for him to help me while you affl ict me and even harry me to death? Could it have somehow happened that without knowing I walked in the woods and one day happened to spy you naked while you bathed? I have no such recollection. Did I, like Oeneus, pass by your altar, forgetting to pay you proper honor? Did my mother insult yours, as Niobe did Latona? I am without fault, or guilt, or blame, at least as far as I know, except that I read the lines of another’s verse and was duped into appearing to having sworn an oath. If you are sincere in your professions of love, offer incense for me. Instead of hurting, help me. You complain that the maiden you want remains aloof, and yet you act in such a way that she cannot be yours. While I am still alive, your hopes are, too. The cruel goddess infl icts this wasting sickness upon me, and stands between you and what you desire. Do not suppose for a moment that my betrothed behaves as you have described, sitting beside my bed to fondle my feverish body. Indeed, he does sit here, but he respects the fact that I am a virgin.

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I think he is suspicious of me. I see his tears that may or may not be because of my illness. His loving words are diffident and his kisses seldom. I all but betray myself, turning away when he enters the room, or closing my eyes as if asleep. When he touches me, I brush away his hand, and he groans and sighs, for he does not think he deserves such treatment. But you are delighted, altogether unjustly, to hear how my mind is inclined. I ought not to confess what my feelings are for you who deserve my anger, having snared me by playing your wicked trick upon me. You are far away and you ask permission to visit, the distance another impediment to your courtship. Is it coincidence that your name derives from the Greek word for “javelin,” the weapon that wounds from afar? Your letter was that kind of far-flung dart that struck deep, and the pain has not yet begun to abate. But why would you travel all that way to see a wretched body, no longer an object of your desire except as a ghastly trophy? My color is sallow, and no longer boasts the healthy blush your apple displayed. My face is as pale as banquet silverware and as cold as the goblet of ice water at each place setting. If you could see me now you would turn away and declare that no arts of yours could have been used to ensnare so pathetic a creature. You will release me

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from any promise I may have made, lest you be burdened with such a prize and will ask the goddess, too, to forget that it ever happened. You may even contrive some further verses for me to recite that will swear this time to leave you alone and forget you absolutely. With one part of your letter I do concur, and I wish you might sit at my bedside just as you wanted so that you could see how your promised bride suffers. Even if your heart were harder than steel, you would pray that I might be absolved from my oath. We have sent to Delphi to ask the oracle how my health might be improved, and Apollo, too, complains on his sister’s behalf of the promise unfulfi lled and says that your heart’s wish has heaven’s approval. What sense this makes or how it is fair and just, I cannot imagine—unless your artful pen has contrived some new verses, beguiling even the mighty gods. But since you have somehow bound the divine beings who now support your cause, I will yield to them and to you and, with my eyes full of shame, confess to my mother what the pledge was that trapped my lips. The rest is up to you. I have gone as far as a maiden should, or farther. My letter is much too bold, and my weakened hand is wearied holding the pen. At any rate, what else is there left to say except that I long to join you soon and add Farewell?

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4remedies$ ( Remedia Amoris )

Love, take a look at the cover: the name of the book is clear. “Aha,” he said, “so it’s war between us two.” “Not so,” I replied, “I have not betrayed you. I remain your champion and your poet. I carry your standard and hold it high. I am no Diomedes, who wounded your mother so that Mars had to come and fetch her back to heaven’s heights. Other young men are cool, but I have been a lover and still am. I have taught my readers techniques of wooing women so that what was impulse is science now. I do not turn my back on you or my old poems, and if anyone is happy being in love, let him rejoice in his good fortune. I wish him well. But what about the man with a cruel mistress? Rather than continue to endure her tyrannical ways, let him learn from me how to save himself. We know of those sad cases where a lover in desperation has fastened a rope to some convenient beam and hanged himself. Another falls on his sharp sword. You are a lover of peace! Why bear the reproach of the self-murders that happen when love goes terribly wrong? Let him who would otherwise die of faithless love simply stop being in love, and you can continue to be the innocent if sometimes mischievous boy. Go on having your fun. The arrows you use are sharp, but you do not intend for them to draw blood.

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Leave the deadly weapons for your stepfather, Mars, to wield. Follow instead your mother’s gentle example that fosters delight without bereaving the lovers’ parents. Help men break down doors. Cover the gates with garlands of pretty flowers. Arrange for youths and maidens to meet in their secret trysts. Deceive the husbands. Teach the rejected lover the blandishments and reproaches that move the obdurate doorposts to open wide. Let them sing their sorrowful songs of the pain they feel that ought to gratify your sense of power even if no one dies. Your torch should not be used for the grim work of lighting funeral pyres.” So I spoke, and Love fluttered his jeweled wings, nodded his head, and told me to fi nish my task. Attend to what I say, all you ill-treated youths who have been betrayed by the love that grew in your heart. From me you learned to love; from me you may also learn to heal from the cruel wounds you have received, for the hand that caused the hurt can also relieve the pain. Out of the same earth the noxious herbs and the beneficial grow. Near the roses, nettles proclaim the wide range of nature’s palate. Remember Telephus’s wound that Achilles had infl icted and only rust from the tip of his spear could cure! And whatever I say here to men, women may also study and learn to profit by, or cut their losses.

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Mostly, I’m speaking to men, but the principles do not change, and you may discover the way to extinguish the fi re that burns in your breast and to free the heart that has been enslaved. Had Phyllis been able to read these useful instructions, her love for Demophoön might not have ended her life. Dido might have been able to shrug off Aeneas when she saw the Trojan sails disappear into the offi ng. Medea would not have been driven to murderous fury by Jason’s dreadful behavior so that she murdered her children. With the helpful suggestions I have here on offer Tereus might not have been changed into a hoopoe. Pasaphaë’s mad lust for the Cretan bull, Phaedra’s sad fi xation—or let us call it love— for Hippolytus might well have been defused. Let Paris read my instructions and Helen is not at risk, will not be kidnapped, or bring about Troy’s ruin. Had Scylla read these verses, Nisus’s purple hair would still be growing safely on his scalp. Under my guidance, young men will learn how to control their passions. With me as their experienced master, the ship and its crew will avoid the dangerous rocks and shoals. When you were acquainting yourself with the art of love, Naso was your instructor; let him instruct you now. I shall relieve the pains that gnaw at your hearts.

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I hold out to each of you the rod of manumission that will give you back the freedom you once enjoyed. I pray to Apollo to help me and let his laurel be near, for he is the god of song as well as of healing. First off, when you have the chance, and your feelings have not yet grown to possess your entire being, stop and think, asking yourself in as cold and calculating a way as you can still manage, is this the girl with whom I want to involve myself? And if you have doubts, admit them and keep your foot from that fi rst step. While you still can, crush those fi rst pestilent seeds of what some part of you knows will be a fever that will damage your health and ruin or even end your life. Before he runs off in a panic, you pull on the reins of a ner vous steed you are riding. Do the same thing with yourself. At the very least, the delay will give you strength. Delay matures the grapes and ripens the crops in the field. When the tree that gives you shade and fruit was planted, it was merely a tender shoot that you could, if you chose to, uproot with one hand, but now it stands fi rm and tall. Give some serious thought to what you may expect from love, and how difficult it becomes to remove your neck from its yoke when it has begun to gall. The beginning is your best chance to resist.

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Delay only a little, and the medicine works less well, for the sickness soon gains in its virulence. Make all possible haste: he who does not act today will be even less able to do so tomorrow. All love is deceitful and thrives on procrastination, which is why it tells you tomorrow will do as well. Few rivers are born from mighty springs: they arise in rivulets that gather in strength and volume as other brooks and streams add themselves to the current. Think of Myrrha and how she might have avoided being turned into a tree as a punishment for her incest if only she had resisted the wild idea at the same instant it fi rst fl ickered across her mind. I have seen wounds that were not so long or deep and that could have been cured at fi rst, but after a little delay became infected and threatened the victim’s life. But the blossoms are sweet on this treacherous bush, and you say, “Tomorrow will do as well. What possible difference can one more day make?” But that’s what you’ll say tomorrow while the secret flames spread throughout your being and the roots of the poison tree drive further into your heart. When an old love has established itself in you, a much heavier task confronts the concerned physician. Still, having been called to the patient’s side, I cannot abandon him and leave him to his fate. Philoctetes could have cured himself

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if he had had the will to cut off his purulent foot— and yet, in the end, he was healed after many years and it was his bow that brought an end to the Trojan War. You had ignored my all too accurate warning when your ailment could have been nipped in the bud, and now you require my cautious care. I say when the flame is new you can manage to fight it, and then when it has died down, having spent itself, you have another chance. But when it is in full force, raging in all its fury, the only advice I can offer is that you give way. You cannot expect to prevail over irresistible force. The swimmer who tries to go directly upstream is doomed to fail, for the shrewd and only effective method is to tack in a zigzag pattern. Only the foolish reject the advice of the skilled and rely on brute strength. As the suffering man must allow his wounds to be touched, so must the suffering spirit listen to wise counsel. A mother who has lost her son will weep, and it would be foolish and useless to try too soon to console her. Only when she has poured out her grief in tears and expressed her mind’s distress can one offer words of comfort that might at least in some measure diminish her pain. Timeliness is a vital part of a number of cures. Wine is sometimes helpful and sometimes not.

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To try to treat a malady at an inappropriate moment can irritate the condition and make it worse. So here, when you’re ready to listen, is what I have to tell you: take my advice and try to avoid leisure. It’s an idle mind that runs the risk of infatuation and the lack of any distraction that lets it grow. Leisure is the occasion and even the cause of love. Take that away, and Cupid’s bow is broken and his torch is extinguished and powerless to harm you. Wine and the plane tree with its pleasant shade go together; poplars often grow near the water; and reeds like the marshy ground near ponds. So does Venus delight in the leisure of men and women. Anyone who wants not to be in love should occupy himself, for love will yield to business. Be up and about, therefore, and you will be safe. Lying about all day, sleeping till noon with no reason to rouse yourself, gambling, drinking will sap the strength of the spirit and leave you without defenses so that Love can insinuate itself into your empty heart and fi nd a lodging. Wherever is sloth, love is likely to follow. He hates those who are busy, so fi ll your vacant mind with tasks requiring energy and persistence. Consider how in the practice of law a man can defend his friends in the courts and speak for them and for justice.

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In these civilian struggles you may fi nd satisfaction and even win yourself glory for your achievements. Then there are literal struggles on the bloody fields of Mars where the charms of dalliance appear as distant and silly. The rumor is that there may soon be an armed encounter with Parthia where they already quake with fear. Sign up and defeat the Parthians’ arrows and also Cupid’s and thus you can win two trophies in one campaign. The moment Venus’s hand was wounded by Diomedes, she called upon her husband, Ares, to help her. Think of Aigisthos who did not go off to war (because Argos had no part in the quarrel or reason to fight). Having no other more urgent business, he fell in love with Clytemnestra—it did not turn out well. When a man is idle, the naughty boy comes into his life, and if he stays idle, Cupid stays. Life in the countryside, which delights the mind, requires attention that the work of farming demands. In the spring you yoke the bullocks to the task of plowing the fields and turning the stubborn earth to receive the seeds that are Ceres’ gifts. Their repayment will be at usurious rates. You will go to inspect your orchards where the boughs of trees will bend low with the weight of their many apples or will walk along the banks of your purling brook. Look at the gentle sheep cropping the rich grass or the sure-footed goats climbing high on the rocks

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and then returning with full udders to feed their kids. The shepherd plays a tune on his pipes of Pan, while his dogs, his friends and companions, help him guard the sheep. Elsewhere in the pasture a mother bawls who has lost track of her calf. A buzzing of honeybees that flee from the smoking torches makes it clear that they have assembled a trea sure of liquid gold in the hive. Springtime is flowers; summer is rich harvests; autumn is fruit from the trees; and winter is warmth at the hearth. At the proper season the peasants pick the grapes and trample them for the juice that soon will turn into wine. At the right time of the year, they make the hay, and with the wide-toothed harrow glean the crops at harvest while you look on—or, if you have a mind, you can plant a shoot somewhere in the garden, guiding the irrigation ditches to bring it the water it needs. You can supervise the grafting of one kind of branch to a trunk of a different species of tree and watch it take hold. With the plea sure of these pursuits focusing your attention, Love cannot assault you but flutters away on feckless wings. Other men have found that the chase is a strenuous and exciting form of diversion. Apollo’s sister, Diana, is more than a match for Venus as you follow your coursing hounds that chase the hare,

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stretch your nets on the mountain ridges to snare the deer, or try your courage and go after boar with spears. At night, you will fi nd yourself completely exhausted and sleep oblivious and dreamless without any thought of women and girls as you refresh your body’s strength. It’s a less strenuous pleasure to go after birds or sit on the riverbank with a baited hook and fi sh. By such pursuits as these, you may fi nd relief from the turmoil within you. Travel can also do you good, the longer the journey the better. You may weep and the name of your mistress may resonate in your mind. You may hesitate and drag your feet, but the less you wish to go, the greater the need for going. Don’t wait for the fi ne weather but leave at once, and when you are on the road, do not look back at Rome where the danger is. Like the Parthian soldier, flee, and as he survives, perhaps to fight on another occasion, you too may manage to save yourself. There are some who may complain that the advice I am giving is cruel. I agree that it is. The remedy is drastic, but those who want to recover must be willing to bear a measure of pain. Sometimes when I have been ill I have had to drink concoctions of bitter juices. To redeem the body, you must walk through the fi re. Parched and thirsty, you may not allow yourself a drink. To be whole again in your mind, will you refuse some temporary discomfort? You reply that this part of you is of even greater value than your body.

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All I can say is that the hardest part is starting, and once you have begun, the worst is over. The yoke chafes the bullock the fi rst time it is put on him, and the steed bucks the fi rst time he wears a saddle. Yes, perhaps it will pain you to leave your home and your country, but do not deceive yourself. It isn’t home or country calling you back, but only your mistress. Do not disguise your real motive in grandiose words. Travel is difficult, an arduous and frustrating enterprise, but these cares will bring you comfort as much as the scenic views, your travel companions, and long strenuous days at the end of which you will sleep. Stay away for a good long time—until the flame within you has died down and its fuel is spent. Return too soon and, unless your mind has fully recovered, Love will renew the assault and fight you unfairly using your absence against you, your whetted appetite, to resume where you left off when you went away. If anyone supposes that Thessaly’s magic herbs can solve his problems, let him take his chances. Who knows what is in those elixirs? My methods are safer, for Apollo’s sacred song is perfectly harmless. I do not try to raise ghosts from their tombs; I do not practice witchcraft or mutter incantations. I do not propose to transfer a crop from one field to another, dim the light of the sun, or reverse the flow

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of the Tiber or any other river. The course of the moon will not be changed, and neither will troubled hearts be cured of their obsessions by sniffi ng sulfur smoke. If any of that were effective, wouldn’t Medea, skilled as she was said to be in all the black arts, have remained in Colchis? What good were Circe’s charms if she had to stand on the shore while Ulysses sailed away? She used whatever she had in her pharmacopoeia, but nothing she did could keep him and his men from leaving. She must have had great powers, changing the crew from men to beasts, but still she could not affect his soul. She even used the wiles of normal women, telling him how she was a goddess, the Sun’s daughter, offering him marriage, and then begging for more time, only a little . . . But nothing she said could move him. She roused the waters and summoned adverse winds, but not even this could dissuade him. At last, reduced to begging, she offered him safety, peace, and luxurious ease. She was still cajoling as Ulysses loosed his hawsers, weighed anchor, and unfurled the canvas sails. Disconsolate, bereft, she could not assuage her pain or calm her passion by any potion or spell. The meaning of this is clear: the black arts do not work. There is no relief that witchcraft has to offer. But what if your obligations are such that you cannot leave imperial Rome? What can you do then?

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Some can burst their bonds by an act of sheer will and thus overcome the ailment. I marvel at them who do not need my precepts or my advice. But you who only with great pain can unlearn love, to you I can give some guidance. Objectively, think of your mistress and what she has done, and how often, and with what disregard of your feelings. Remember how you were before you met her, and do the calculation of how far her greed for plunder has now reduced you. The “For Sale” sign on your house is all her doing. Consider, too, how often she swore to you and lied, how often you spent the night outside her gate, and how she was unfaithful, preferring to deal with the jeweler and cutting out the middleman, which was you. Keep these memories vivid and steep your tender feelings in the bitter gall you can squeeze from them at will. In your heart are the murmursof hatred to which for a long time you turned a deaf ear, but now listen and hear the eloquent litany of cruelties and affronts. Not long ago, I found myself attracted to a certain girl even though I knew her to be bad news. Like Homer’s Podalirius, I treated myself so that I might recover from what I knew was a sickness. I recited all her faults, which brought me relief. “How ugly are her legs,” I said, although they were not all that bad. “Her upper arms are flabby!”

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although that wasn’t true. “How short she is!” That, too, was not the case. “How very greedy she is!” That last, alas, was true, for faults can show themselves in the same person as any attractiveness. We even mistake them sometimes and call vices virtues (and vice versa), so that “fat” is “full-breasted,” “black” is “of dark complexion,” and “skinny” is merely “slender.” If she is not straightforward, she can be “pert” or if she is honest, then one might call her “simple.” Whatever gift your mistress happens to lack, with coaxing words urge her to show it off—like singing, which is, for one who can’t carry a tune, funny. Or dancing, for one who has no sense of her arms and legs and how to move them . . . painful to watch. Has she perhaps an accent? Engage her in conversation. Are her fi ngers stubby and clumsy? Give her a lyre. Her gait is awkward and clumping? Take her for long promenades. Her boobies are large? Let her go without bands so that her great udders sway whenever she moves. Her teeth are unattractive? Tell her jokes that will make her smile or, even better, laugh out loud. If her eyes are weak, then tell her sad stories that will further blur them with tears. Another shrewd thing to do is to drop in early one morning unexpected to see what she looks like before she has done her face and hair, and dressed—or has been dressed—for the day.

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What is she under the maquillage and the pretty jewels that Love uses to trick or distract the eye? This way, if you show up when she doesn’t at all expect you, you will see how she starts out, the natural woman. (It doesn’t always work, for some have an artless beauty.) Examine the makeup, the dyes, the creams and lotions before she has applied them, a palette of many colors. Pick one or two and sniff them—they are as noxious as Phineus’s ghastly feast the Harpies fouled with their shit and will make even a strong stomach turn queasy. Now we come to a rather delicate subject that I hesitate to speak of: physical love and how even the hottest passions may be overcome. I shall depend upon my readers’ wit to infer from what I say much of the crude detail. I have been accused, as I think you know, of ignoring the bounds of decent discourse in my verse, or calculatingly transgressing them. I hear the attacks and the censure, the postures of moral outrage . . . My audience, however, is loyal and large, and the critics speak out of envy, which comes with the territory. Who would remember Zoilus, who found such fault with Homer’s work, except as a footnote to Homer’s poems? Not even Virgil is safe from such nitpicking who tells Aeneas’s story, bringing him from Troy to reestablish his vanquished gods in Rome.

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Whatever achievement is highest is Envy’s constant target. In just that way do the fiercest winds swirl on the mountain peaks, and the lightning seeks out whatever is tallest. I appeal to sensible people to think of the meter. The stately hexameter sings of heroes and valiant deeds and does not stoop to recite the stories of lovers. Tragedy’s varied rhythms suit the performance on stage, lofty and grave in the chorus, but often less so in the scenes with dialogue. In elegiac verse the lines in their dishabille are oddly uneven to sing in an easy manner of the joys and sorrows of love. Callimachus’s rhythms do not comport with Achilles’ rage. And Homer would fi nd it awkward to tell Cydippe’s story. Think of how weird it would be for a Thais to perform Andromache’s part on a stage. I’ve nothing against Thais, you understand, for she and such louche lovelies have often been my subjects. If people accuse my Muse of a lack of decorum, she wins, and of course I do, for that was our aim all along. Swallow your tongue, Envy. Your accusations only increase my fame, which can’t be what you intended. If only my luck holds, it will keep on growing, and the longer I live and the more I write, the worse you will feel, for my genius will keep on producing excellent work.

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I like being famous. It’s fun and it keeps me entertained. I am still climbing the foothills but I can see the giddy heights. Already Elegy owes me as much as Epic owes to master Virgil. But enough of this defense of what I’m about to say. Let us get to the point. When you go to your mistress for the work and pleasure of lust, your appetite can be blunted if you have gone to some other woman fi rst. Give that other partner the fi rst gush of your ardor, and the second encounter, although still pleasant, will be a little less keen. In the heat of noon we enjoy the shade, in thirst the water we drink is a great delight, and in cold we take much comfort in the warm rays of the sun. When you do get to it, fi nd some odd position that isn’t conducive to pleasure but has a novelty value. She won’t object: few women ever do. They want to appear adept and show that they are good sports. Meanwhile, open the curtains so you can see her, weirdly contorted and straining with the unaccustomed exertion. Notice how, when you’ve fi nished, having achieved the goal, you are struck by the thought that you’d rather be somewhere else. Your body is utterly weary. You wonder why this rumpy-pumpy business ever seemed so important, You think that you’ll take a break from this kind of thing

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and as you lie there, bored, you take a good look at her body, noticing every blemish and imperfection. These may not be major disfigurements but still will nip at your pride. Besides, small faults add up. The tiny bite of the viper can bring down a huge bull; a small hound can sometimes hold a boar. But the numbers are on your side: reckon them all together and then consider the aggregate effect. Suppose, however, you fi nd nothing to which to object. Your friends may point out defects you have missed. One man I know was troubled to see his lover parade around the room with her nether parts exposed. Another was distressed that when he and his woman arose from their romp together, the couch was shamefully soiled. If such trivial things come to your notice, it means that the fi res that burn in your breast are becoming feeble. You have yet to know real passion. From this one you can retreat. If that should ever happen, you will feel worse and you will need far stronger remedies than these. I know one fellow who lurked behind a door to watch what custom forbids a man ever to see . . . It wasn’t all that different from what he’d expected, but it brought to an end his absurd idea of her daintiness, the almost ethereal quality he believed

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he’d found in her. (I don’t recommend that you watch at privies: it’s gross but it very probably will work.) One good plan is to have two mistresses at once— it’s a rare man who can take on more than two. Your attention is in that way divided, and whichever you’re with distracts you from the other. It’s like a river from which farmers have dug ditches for irrigation, and the flow in any one channel is diminished. A fierce flame is reduced when its fuel has to be shared with other fi res. One anchor cannot hold a large vessel fast, but two will do the job. Having two companions who share your bed means that, in some sense, you are always sleeping alone, which is, after all, the object of these efforts. In practical terms, this means that if you have a single mistress, you ought, as soon as you can, to find another. It was with Procris that Minos weaned himself of the passion he’d had for Pasiphaë. And Phineus, too, extricated himself from Cleopatra’s arms with his second wife, Ideae. Alcmaeon departed from Alphesiboea’s couch for Callirhoe’s. Oenone might have kept Paris forever had it not been for Helen. Tereus might have been content with Procne except for Philomela. But why go on with the list? There are many examples, all of which show that love can be defeated

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by another love. It is with a better heart that a mother mourns one son out of many. She who has only the one child is distraught and utterly undone. I’m not making this up. (I’m not that clever.) Think of Agamemnon, who loved his prize, Chryseis! You know the tale—how the father came and blubbered and asked him to give back the girl—as, in the end, he did, because Calchas the priest, under Achilles’ protection, said he had to. Agamemnon turned his attention to Achilles’ prize, Briseis. Except for the fi rst letter, her name was the same as that of the girl he’d lost. He orders Achilles to give her up forthwith. He, after all, is king and has every right to demand this. To have to sleep alone would be a disgrace. One might as well give the scepter to somebody like Thersites. Agamemnon, thus, recoups his loss with another girl. The new flames can put out the old. Learn from his example and my advice. It is less complicated and difficult than you think. The only question you may still have is where to fi nd this alternative object for your amorous appetites. Do as I say, and you’ll have plenty to choose from. First of all, what I recommend, or convey from Apollo, is that, however hot your feelings may be, as if you were suspended in Aetna’s raging caldera, pretend to your mistress that you are colder than ice and that your heart is whole and your mind is in perfect balance. If you let her see that you need her, she will laugh,

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happy that you are in pain and scorning your show of weakness. Pretend to be indifferent, and you may learn the rudiments of that very condition to which you aspire. Sometimes at a banquet, I have pretended to sleep in order that I might not drink any more wine, and the pretense turned real—and I did sleep, my vanquished eyelids falling closed in actual slumber. I have laughed at a friend who feigned being happy even though we knew his mistress was cheating on him, and soon thereafter I found myself in the same risible plight. I believe it’s a matter mostly of habit, or call it inertia. You don’t so much decide as you simply persist, keeping on in the same direction. A feigning turns real and pretending to be sane induces a condition of actual mental health. Suppose she has told you to come to her one night, and you do come on time and you find that the door is shut. Utter no endearments, make no complaints; do not hurl abuse at the doorman; do not lie down, a suppliant there on the threshold, pathetic, absurd. And the next time you see her, let there be no reproaches, no sign on your face of even the slightest annoyance. As soon as she suspects that your ardor has started to fail, she will lose some of her high-handed pride. If you get even this far, you will have made great gains, although you shouldn’t allow her to see that you’re pleased. No matter what you feel, continue the nonchalance, for the bird avoids the nets that show too plainly.

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Never let her become too sure of you. Take courage in order that hers may wane and yield to yours. Her door is open? Pass by and make her call you back. She grants you a night together? Tell her you’re booked and cannot get free. Make her offer you another. Endurance and resolve turn out to be easy if you have another option, as I suggested before, another mistress with whom you can fi nd comfort. Lest anyone suggest that my precepts are too severe, let me answer that people have different natures and that I can adapt. The disease takes a thousand forms for which I am able to offer a thousand cures. There are some whose pains are such that not even sharp swords can end them. For others, elixirs of rare herbs will prove to be more than sufficient. Are you perhaps soft-hearted and do you fi nd yourself unable to say that you are leaving? Is Love’s foot upon your neck? In that case, cease your struggles. Allow the winds to bear your vessel backward. Where the current bids you, go. If your thirst is overpowering you, quench it. Drink deep, even more than you crave, until you gag. Continue with your mistress and let her days and her nights be yours, your object a satiety that may free you, restore your judgment, and strengthen your resolve. Even when you think you have had your fi ll, continue. Too much of anything kills the appetite,

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and you will fi nd that you hate her house, her bedroom, her, and that what you used to crave has turned distasteful. A diffident passion often persists for a long time. If you would escape from this, escape from fear. Do you worry that someone else will take her from you? No doctor can treat this kind of intractable symptom. A mother of two sons worries about the one whose return from the war she prays for every day. Close by the Colline Gate is a temple to Venus Erycina, the goddess of love and prostitutes, to which young men and women come to pray for forgetfulness. The goddess makes hearts whole and pours cold water upon their burning torches. It was there that Cupid addressed me (it could have been a dream, but dreams can be true): “Listen, Naso, who give and take away the passions, add this to your list of cures and nostrums. Tell each man to consider and reflect on his own troubles, for the gods have assigned them, more or less, to all. This will wake your dreamers and call their attention back to the real problems of life. Let them who owe and fear the fi rst of the month when all the bills come in, tell these feckless fellows to pull up their socks and straighten out their fi nances. (Spending less will help.) If somebody has a tyrannical father, what else should he need to pray for or worry about? Or suppose a man has a wife who came with a meager dower

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and he blames his persistent lack of success in the world on her. Tell him to wake up: it was his fault having known what to expect when he married her in the fi rst place. A man is lucky enough to have an estate with rich vineyards? Let him worry about the harvest that either too much rain or too little can ruin. Another has a ship coming in with a rich cargo. Let him think of storms that can wreck it or winds that can drive it on the rocks where the natives can steal the flotsam. One has a soldier son. Another a daughter whose marriage prospects are dwindling year by year. Who doesn’t have sufficient distractions from this obsession of chasing after women or struggling then to get free? Had Paris not been such a selfish ninny, he might have thought of his brothers and how his banal romance would end with their bloodshed on the Trojan plain.” He continued to speak, but that is all I can now remember, for I woke and he had vanished. I was left without a pilot—Aeneas without his Palinurus, trying to guess a course through unknown waters. But I’ll do my best. Those who brood about love should avoid being alone, a state in which idle thoughts can loom large. You will fi nd that being with others helps distract you from your obsession and brings you out

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of the funk into which you were sinking, as if into quicksand. Crowds are good, of almost any kind. Alone, the shape of your mistress appears before your eyes as vivid as if she were real. Nights are hard, mostly because there is nobody else around to amuse you and occupy your mind. Don’t hang around in your room in the dark, indulging your melancholy state, but force yourself to go out. Orestes had his Pylades to talk to and to keep him from going mad. What do you suppose drove Phyllis crazy? Demophoön had left her, and that was a terrible blow, but then she wandered around in the woods alone and being by herself she magnified the affront, tearing her hair, sobbing, carrying on, complaining aloud at the shore where the waves paid no attention. “Faithless Demophoön,” is what she was saying, but the winds and the surf tore the words as they came from her lips. Again and again, she came by that narrow path to the beach, and the idea grew from an idle thought to a fi xed purpose in her mind. On the ninth visit she still shrank from the thought, but her busy fi ngers removed her sash and contrived a knotted noose by which she managed to hang herself from the bough of a prominent tree. Had she not been by herself in that troubled time

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she might have been prevented from putting an end to her life. Be warned and do not follow her baleful example, you men who are pained by a mistress, you girls who grieve for a man, 750 and do not stay by yourselves when your heart is breaking. I knew a fellow who followed my regimen and was nearly cured, but then, at the very mouth of the harbor, fell back into his madness. He had sought out companions, but all of them were in love in those early stages when everybody is merry and lucky to be alive. A convivial person, he let his guard down, and Love, seeing this chance to do his mischief, took up his arms once more to strike at this critical moment. What you must do is avoid Love like the plague it is, or at any rate a highly contagious disease. Merely a chance encounter with somebody who is affl icted can be enough to cause you to suffer, too. Consider how a river that runs through some parched soil can leach by simple propinquity into the dryness. Your heart will fi nd an excuse to revert to its former behavior at the least prompting, although you thought you were cured. This young man of whom I was speaking fell in with a rowdy crowd in which he happened to meet his old mistress, and the scar he had formed opened up as if the wound were fresh. And all my advice proved to be useless.

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A fi re that breaks out in the house next door to yours is a serious danger. Give the old neighborhood a wide berth. Avoid the colonnade she frequents, and anybody she knows you must try to shun. Live, if you possibly can, in another world altogether. It’s only common sense: if you’re on a diet don’t show up at banquets where you will be tempted to gorge. The sound of a bubbling spring can make you thirsty. It is hard to manage a bull when he sees an attractive heifer or a lusty horse when he’s whinnying at a mare. You think you have recovered? Well and good, but say good-bye to her mother, her sisters, and even her nurse, who was so helpful in so many ways on so many occasions. If she sends one of her slaves with an urgent message and implores you with feigned tears to send a kind reply, turn her away. And do not ask any questions. You may want to know how she fares or whom she is seeing, but keep your lips closed and your teeth clenched. Don’t even complain about how badly she once behaved. Your show of silent indifference is better revenge. Don’t even say that you have ceased to love the woman. A person who keeps saying he isn’t in love is surely in love still, whether or not he admits it. Let the fi re burn itself out completely, and then still watch for embers that may flare up again. A great torrent of water can come in the springtime, washing away whatever may stand in its way, but soon that flood recedes. The gentler stream persists,

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continues through the summer, and runs year after year. Let love die out slowly. Give it time, and it will subside and vanish into the tenuous air. Do not hate the woman you used to love. That’s an uncivilized thing to do. You’re better than that. What you are aiming for is a suave indifference. Hatred is a disguise that love can contrive for itself and another form that misery can take. For a man and woman, having been so close together, to become bitter foes is a shameful thing of which Venus herself disapproves. Quarrels happen, of course, and the reconciliation can be most delightful. From couples who never fight, love can turn routine and slip away. I knew a young man once who was suing his wife for divorce and on the way to court he was fulminating, complaining, and making threats. When they neared their destination the wife emerged from her litter, and he fell dumb, dropped the double tablets with his list of claims and charges, rushed into her arms, and cried aloud, “Thus do you win the decision.” If two must separate, it should be in a peaceful way. Your expensive gifts? Let her keep them all. Whatever you lose, you recoup in the self-respect that comes from behaving well. But then, if by some chance, despite your best efforts, you fi nd that you and she have been brought together, you must use your wit and remember all of her misdeeds. She must be Penthesilea whom your steel

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resolve—if not your sword—vanquishes yet again. Think of your rival, or rivals, for her affection. Remember that terrible threshold you so often failed to cross. Recall your fruitless prayers to indifferent gods. Take no special care to have your hair dressed well. Do not devote a moment to how your toga is draped. You are not trying to please her. The point is not to care about her, one more pair of eyes in the room. More hints and useful lore I shall set out, but for each these suggestions may have to be adapted to his own situation. We tend to be reluctant to break off with a woman because we enjoy being told we are loved. It’s a flattering thing to hear. But do not pay much attention to what she says. Words are always easy, even those she swears by the high gods. And tears are also easy. They learned as little girls how to weep at will. Behavior is all. Her actions will speak for her or else they will indict her. Your feelings will be assaulted like the rocks against which waves crash and break on every side. You don’t have to specify your reasons to her but only keep them clear in your mind. To tell her what’s wrong is to act on her behalf as advisor or even as her advocate in the quarrel. Remain silent. Don’t give her the chance to reform (or promise to try to do so and then to fail). There are no miracle cures, no bow of Philoctetes by which you can be sure of taking Troy.

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I cannot douse Cupid’s torch in a bucket of water, clip his diaphanous wings to make him harmless, or somehow manage to unstring his ever accurate bow. All I can offer is modest recommendations that will, with Phoebus’s help, accomplish what we desire. Phoebus is here, believe me. I recognize the sound of his lyre, the rattle of arrows within his quiver. Use your wits. Use, for heaven’s sake, your eyes. You can tell that wool the Spartans have dyed is nothing at all compared with the purple from Tyre. In a similar way compare your girl with the famous beauties, and you will be ashamed of the how plain she is. The rivals among whom Paris had to choose for the prize were all gorgeous, but love clouded his vision and Venus won. But do not compare by looks alone. Character counts. And talent. And a quick wit. The difficult thing is to judge without letting love obscure what you are judging. Oh, and one more thing, small but not unimportant: never go back to read the letters your mistress wrote you back in the day. This I learned fi rsthand. What had moved me years before had not lost the power to speak to my mind with the same force. It’s a terrible thing to have to do, but burn them all and let the fi re be the funeral pyre of the passion you know to be defunct. Althaea burned the brand on which the life of her son Meleager depended. Are you less brave than she? Her pictures, too. Get rid of them all! An image, however mute it may seem, can speak, scold, and plead, as Laodamia’s story demonstrates.

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Avoid the places where you met and made love together. They hold the seeds of sorrow: “Here she was, here we lay, in the room behind that upstairs window in a lovely frenzy that lasted all night long.” Love, when it is brought to mind that way, can still sting, as a dead bee is said to do. The wound opens again. To the weak, the smallest error can trigger a total and catastrophic relapse. A dying cinder, touched with a little sulfur, revives to become a raging conflagration. Shun those places that have tender associations. Danger is lurking there as at Caphereus. Nauplius hung those false beacons to lure the Greeks to their ruin on the rocks. The prudent sailor stays as far away as he possibly can from Scylla without coming too close to dreaded Charybdis. The spots that were once too pleasant are now your risky shoals. There is never a good reason to court disaster. There are some things that happen beyond all human control, merely by chance. And some of them can be good. Imagine that Phaedra loses her wealth. Neptune will then spare his grandson, for he will have no reason to send a monster to frighten Hippolytus’s ner vous horses. Had Ariadne been poor, she might have loved more prudently. The kindly Hecale never had trouble, was never carried away by a passionate suitor, and Irus, the beggar, was never bothered by Love’s darts. Poverty is busy looking for food

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and has no time for passion or means to foster its growth. Still, one might not wish to become poor just because it is safe. But you can avoid theaters, the blandishments of zithers and flutes, and the charms of gracefully moving arms and feet in the rhythms of dance. All these arts hit us over the head with representations of love, encomia of the passions, and reminders of their delights that we do not need. I’m afraid I even have to advise you to shun poets, who all too often dwell on this delicate subject. Don’t read me, or Callimachus (who’s very good), or Philitas of Cos. Avoid Sappho (I read my mistress her verses to assure myself of welcome), Anacreon, Tibullus, Propertius . . . Out! You are in no condition to learn about Cynthia’s tricks. Gallus will soften your heart and also your will. And my own poems, too, sound in that mordant mode more than may be good for you right now. But unless Apollo deceives me, what you must worry about more than any lines of verse on a page is the idea of a rival or, let us say, your successor. Do not picture her lying with him on her couch but imagine that she is alone—whether it’s true or not. Orestes loved Hermione all the more after she wound up in Neoptolemus’s arms. Think of Menelaus, quite content to be without a consort when he traveled off to Crete. It was only when he’d heard that Paris had taken Helen away to Troy that passion fl amed up in his breast, Paris’s ardor having rekindled his own.

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Achilles was fond of Briseis, but then Agamemnon took her, and fondness turned to monomaniacal wrath because Agamemnon, despite what he claimed, enjoyed her now. He swore by his scepter that he had never touched her, which Achilles thought was implausible and therefore a further insult. May the gods grant you the strength to pass the door where your former mistress lives; may your feet just keep on going. You can do it, if only you have the will. Do not be lulled or distracted by lotus-eaters or Sirens, but continue on course just as Ulysses did, his sails spread and his rowers helping the work of the wind. You must learn to think of your rival not as a foe but rather as an ally now. If your paths should cross, by chance in the street somewhere, do not glower. No matter what you are feeling, if you can greet him warmly and even embrace him, you will have been cured. Finally, there’s diet, which doctors always say is important. It is here, too. Try to avoid onions, imported or domestic. And arugula is bad. Whatever may incline your body to Venus, keep away from. Rue, on the other hand, is good, improving the eyesight (because love is blind). And wine? It can work two ways, as you probably know already. In moderate amounts, it prepares the heart

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for love, but then too much will dull the senses and spirits. A fi re can be fanned by a gentle wind, or extinguished by a gale. Draw your own conclusions. Either abstain absolutely or else you should get totally drunk so you can’t keep your head from the table. The muddle in the middle is where you’re at risk. So that’s it. We’re done. Hang garlands on the prow of my weary vessel now that it has reached port. I hope what I’ve told you is useful, and I trust that you fi nd it works so that men and women will thank me for my song.

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