Ovid: The Amores

Book I

Ovid - The Amores - Book I

Venus - Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833 - 1898)
National Gallery of Art


Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. 

Contents


His Epigram

We who were once five books are now three:

The author preferred the work this way.

Now, if it’s no joy to you to read us,

still it’s a lighter punishment with two books less.


Book I Elegy I : The Theme of Love

Just now, I was preparing to start with heavy fighting

and violent war, with a measure to fit the matter.

Good enough for lesser verse – laughed Cupid

so they say, and stole a foot away.

‘Cruel boy, who gave you power over this song?

Poets are the Muses’, we’re not in your crowd.

What if Venus snatched golden Minerva’s weapons,

while golden Minerva fanned the flaming fires?

Who’d approve of Ceres ruling the wooded hills,

with the Virgin’s quiver to cultivate the fields?

Who’d grant long-haired Phoebus a sharp spear,

while Mars played the Aonian lyre?

You’ve a mighty kingdom, boy, and too much power,

ambitious one, why aspire to fresh works?

Or is everything yours? Are Helicon’s metres yours?

Is even Phoebus’s lyre now barely his at all?

I’ve risen to it well, in the first line, on a clean page,

the next one’s weakened my strength:

and I’ve no theme fitting for lighter verses,

no boy or elegant long-haired girl.’

I was singing, while he quickly selected an arrow

from his open quiver, to engineer my ruin,

and vigorously bent the sinuous bow against his knee.

and said, ‘Poet take this effort for your song!’

Woe is me! That boy has true shafts.

I burn, and Love rules my vacant heart.

My work rises in six beats, sinks in five:

farewell hard fighting with your measure!

Muse, garland your golden brow with Venus’s myrtle

culled from the shore, and sing on with eleven feet!

Book I Elegy II: Love’s Victim

How to say what it’s like, how hard my mattress

seems, and the sheets won’t stay on the bed,

and the sleepless nights, so long to endure,

tossing with every weary bone of my body in pain?

But, I think, if desire were attacking me I’d feel it.

Surely he’s crept in and skilfully hurt me with secret art.

That’s it: a slender arrow sticks fast in my heart,

and cruel Love lives there, in my conquered breast.

Shall I give in: to go down fighting might bank the fires?

I give in! The burden that’s carried with grace is lighter.

I’ve seen the torch that’s swung about grow brighter

and the still one, on the contrary, quenched.

The oxen that shirk when first seized for the yoke

get more lashes than those that are used to the plough.

The hot steed’s mouth is bruised from the harsh curb,

the one that’s been in harness, feels reins less.

Love oppresses reluctant lovers more harshly and insolently

than those who acknowledge they’ll bear his slavery.

Look I confess! Cupid, I’m your latest prize:

stretching out conquered arms towards your justice.

War’s not the thing – I come seeking peace:

no glory for you in conquering unarmed men.

Wreathe your hair with myrtle, yoke your mother’s doves:

Your stepfather Mars himself will lend you a chariot,

and it’s fitting you go, the people acclaiming your triumph,

with you skilfully handling the yoked birds.

leading captive youths and captive girls:

that procession will be a magnificent triumph.

I myself, fresh prize, will just now have received my wound

and my captive mind will display its new chains.

You’ll lead Conscience, hands twisted behind her back,

and Shame, and whoever Love’s sect includes.

All will fear you: stretching their arms towards you

the crowd will cry ‘hurrah for the triumph!

You’ll have your flattering followers Delusion and Passion,

the continual crew that follows at your side.

With these troops you overcome men and gods:

take away their advantage and you’re naked.

Proudly, your mother will applaud your triumph

from high Olympus, and scatter roses over your head

You, with jewelled wings, jewels spangling your hair,

will ride in a golden chariot, yourself all golden.

And then, if I know you, you’ll inflame not a few:

and also, passing by you’ll deal out many wounds.

You can’t, even if you wish, suspend your arrows:

your fiery flames scorch your neighbours.

Such was Bacchus in the conquered land by Ganges:

you drawn by birds, he by tigers.

So since I will be part of your sacred triumph,

victorious one, spend your powers frugally on me now!

Look at Caesar’s similar fortunes of war –

what he conquers, he protects with his power.

Book I Elegy III: His Assets as a Lover

Be just, I beg you: let the girl who’s lately plundered me,

either love me, or give cause why I should always love her!

Ah, I ask too much – enough if she lets herself be loved:

Cytherea might listen to all these prayers from me!

Hear one who serves you through the long years:

hear one who knows how to love in pure faith!

If no great names of ancient ancestors commend me,

if the creator of my blood was from the equestrian order,

if there aren’t innumerable ploughmen to refresh my fields,

my parents are both temperate and careful with wealth –

but Phoebus, his nine companions, the creator of the vine,

they made me as I am, and Amor, who gives me to you,

and unceasing loyalty, sinless morals,

naked simplicity, noble honour.

Not for me to satisfy thousands, I’m not a fickle lover:

you’ll be, for me, trust me, my eternal care.

With you, all the years the Sister’s thread might grant me,

partaking of life, and you’ll grieve at my death!

You’ll grant me a happy theme for singing –

reasons for song, worthy of you, will rise.

These have a name in song, frightened Io of the horns,

and she who played by the stream with the adulterous bird,

and she who was carried by that false bull over the waves,

that virgin holding tight to a crooked horn.

I too will be sung likewise through all the world,

and my name will always be linked to yours.

Book I Elegy IV: The Dinner-Party

Your husband too will be present at my banquet –

I pray it’s his last meal, that man of yours!

Shall I look at my beloved girl, like any guest?

One of you will be touching what he pleases, and will you

the other, rightly subject, be cherishing your love?

If he wishes, may he throw his arms round your neck?

I cease to wonder that the Centaurs full of wine

snatched up lovely Hippodamia in their arms.

I don’t live in the woods, or have limbs like a horse

but I can barely contain my hands when I see you!

Still, know what you must do, and don’t let

the east or the south wind go carrying off my words!

Arrive before your husband – not that I see what’s do-able

if you do come first, but still come before him.

When he sinks on the couch, as you recline at the table

there be the face of modesty itself – secretly touch my foot!

Watch me and my nods, and loquacious expression:

pick up their secret messages and yourself reply.

Voiceless, I’ll speak eloquent words with eyebrows:

my fingers will write words, words traced out in wine.

When the lasciviousness of our lovemaking occurs to you,

touch your radiant cheek with a delicate thumb.

If it’s some silent complaint against me you have in mind,

shadow your earlobe with a tender hand.

When what I do, and say, pleases you, light of my life,

keep continually twisting a ring with your fingers.

Touch your hands on the table, in the manner of prayer,

when you wish your husband many well-earned evils.

What he mixes for you, you know, order him to drink:

lightly ask the boy for what you wish, yourself.

What you give up to the boy I’ll take again first,

and, where you’ll drink from, I’ll sip from there.

If by chance he offers you what he’s tasted himself,

reject the gift of food from his mouth.

Don’t let him drape his arms around your neck,

or lay your gentle head on his firm chest,

or your breasts or convenient nipples accept his fingers.

Don’t, above all, be willing to yield a single kiss!

If you surrender kisses, I’ll make it clear I’m your lover,

and say ‘they’re mine!’, and take possession.

Still all this I can see, but what the cloth may well hide

that’s the cause of my secret fears.

Don’t touch thigh to thigh, or mingle legs,

or join the hard and the tender foot to foot.

Wretch, I fear everything, who’ve boldly done it all,

behold, I’m tormented by fear of my own example.

Often my girl and I, with quick pleasure,

completed the sweet work, the cloth covering us.

You won’t do that: but, so you’re not thought to have done,

remove that guilty cloth from your table.

Always suggest he drinks – but lips, disappoint his prayers!

While he drinks, if you can, in secret, add neat wine.

If he lies there sedately full of drink and sleep,

the time and place will give us wisdom.

When you and I and all get up to leave for home,

remember to be in the middle of the moving crowd.

I’ll find you in that procession, or you me:

whenever you’ve a chance to touch me, touch away.

Alas for me! I’m reminded, I only gain a few hours:

I’ll be separated, on night’s orders, from my girl.

The man shuts you in at night, I sad, with welling tears,

as is right, always haunt that cruel entrance.

now he exacts kisses, now not merely kisses,

what you give me secretly, you give him by force of law.

But give them reluctantly –you can do it – as if forced,

hold back blandishments, and let Venus be stingy.

If my prayers have power, I wish no pleasure for either:

if not that, then at least no pleasure for you!

But still whatever fortune brings tonight, tomorrow

to me, with constant voice, deny you gave him anything!

Book I Elegy V: Corinna in an Afternoon

It was hot, and the noon hour had gone by:

I was relaxed, limbs spread in the midst of the bed.

One half of the window was open, the other closed:

the light was just as it often is in the woods,

it glimmered like Phoebus dying at twilight,

or when night goes, but day has still not risen.

Such a light as is offered to modest girls,

whose timid shyness hopes for a refuge.

Behold Corinna comes, hidden by her loose slip,

scattered hair covering her white throat –

like the famous Semiramis going to her bed,

one might say, or Lais loved by many men.

I pulled her slip away –not harming its thinness much;

yet she still struggled to be covered by that slip.

While she would struggle so, it was as if she could not win,

yielding, she was effortlessly conquered.

When she stood before my eyes, the clothing set aside,

there was never a flaw in all her body.

What shoulders, what arms, I saw and touched!

Breasts formed as if they were made for pressing!

How flat the belly beneath the slender waist!

What flanks, what form! What young thighs!

Why recall each aspect? I saw nothing lacking praise

and I hugged her naked body against mine.

Who doesn’t know the story? Weary we both rested.

May such afternoons often come for me!

Book I Elegy VI: The Doorkeeper

Doorkeeper – shameful! – bound by a harsh chain,

open that door with the hinge that’s hard to move!

What I ask is nothing – make an entrance, a little crack

half-open, that a body gets through sideways.

Love has thinned my body with such long usage,

and given me limbs that lose weight.

He’ll show you how to go softly past watchful sentries:

he directs your inoffensive feet.

Now once I was scared of the night and vain phantoms:

I was amazed at anyone who went out in the dark.

Cupid laughed, so I heard, and his tender mother,

and said lightly, ‘You too can become brave.’

Without delay, love came – I don’t fear clutching hands

in my fate, or the flitting shadows of night.

You, so slow, you I fear: you’re the one to flatter:

you keep the bolt that can finish me off.

Look – you can see, then, undo the lock –

the doorway’s wet with my tears!

Surely, when you stood quivering, stripped for flogging,

I spoke words to your mistress on your behalf.

So isn’t the favour that you once valued – oh what a crime!

- not worth something of equal value to me, now?

Repay the service in kind! You’ll easily get what you want.

The night is passing: throw open the door!

Open! Then, I say, you’ll be eased of your long bondage,

and you won’t drink slave’s water for ever!

Like iron you listen uselessly to my prayers, doorkeeper,

the door’s barred solidly with tough wood.

Barred gates are of use to a city under siege:

what arms do you fear in the midst of peace?

What will you do to your enemies, who shut out lovers so?

The night’s passing: throw open the door!

I don’t come accompanied by armies and weapons:

I was alone till cruel Love arrived.

I couldn’t dismiss him even if I wanted:

I’d first have to separate myself from my limbs.

So Love, and a modicum of wine going round in my head,

is here with me, dew-drenched hair with a wreath askew.

Who’s afraid of an army like this? Who isn’t open to them?

The night is passing: throw open the door!

You’re slow: or asleep, do lovers who curse you,

throw words to the winds, lost to your ears?

But, I remember, when I wanted to hide from you,

you kept good vigil under the midnight stars.

Perhaps a little friend stays with you now –

alas, your fate is better than mine!

As long as it’s so, pass your harsh chains to me!

The night is passing: throw open the door!

Am I wrong, or didn’t the door resound with turning hinges,

giving out the strident noise of panels thrown back?

I am wrong – the entrance was struck by an airy blast.

Ah me, how the far-off breeze carries my hopes!

Boreas , if the memory of raped Orithyia, is enough,

come here and beat with your gale on these deaf posts!

All the city’s silent, and wet with glassy dewfall

the night is passing: throw open the door!

Or I’m ready now myself with the sword and fire

that I hold, to attack this proud house.

Night and desire and wine don’t urge moderation:

She quenches shame, Bacchus and Love the fear.

I’ve tried it all: neither threats nor prayers

move you, harder than your doors themselves.

It doesn’t suit you, guarding lovely girls’ thresholds,

you’re worthy of some securer prison.

Soon Lucifer moves day’s frosted axles,

and the birds rouse poor wretches to their work.

But you, garland removed from an unhappy brow,

lie there, all night, on the cruel threshold!

To my mistress, when she sees you thrown there at dawn,

you’ll bear witness of so many evil hours consumed.

Farewell, anyway, and know your duty’s over:

it’s no disgrace to admit lovers slowly, so goodbye!

You too, cruel doorposts with an inflexible threshold

and the tough wood of fellow-slaves, farewell, you doors!

 Book I Elegy VII: The Assault

If there’s a friend here, tie my hands –

they merit chains – while my fury wanes!

Just now my fury thoughtlessly struck my girl:

my darling’s weeping, wounded by my mad hands.

Then I could have done violence to my dear parents

or savagely taken a scourge to the sacred gods!

Well? Didn’t Lord Ajax of the seven-layered shield

lay out the sheep he caught all over the fields,

and didn’t lawless Orestes, avenging his father

on his mother, dare to call up a spear for the secret Sisters?

So can’t I tear at her done-up hair?

or unravel the girl’s flying locks?

She was lovely like that. I’d say like Schoeny’s daughter,

Atalanta , hunting game in Maenalian hills:

or like Ariadne weeping as the south wind

blew away perjured promises and Theseus’s sails:

or who but Cassandra with sacred ribbons in her hair,

on the ground, in your temple, chaste Minerva.

Who’ll not say ‘madman, barbarian!’ to me?

She said nothing: her mouth slackened by trembling fear.

But her silent face still showed reproof:

she accused me with speechless mouth, in tears.

I’d sooner have wished my arms to fall from my body:

easier to have lost a part of myself.

I had a madman’s strength to my cost

and the force of my punishment was in it.

What are you to me, wicked and murderous tools?

Submit to the binding fetters, sacrilegious hands!

If I’d struck the least citizen of the Roman masses,

I’d be punished – had I any more right to hit her?

Tydeus , the wretch, left behind the worst example.

He was the first to strike a goddess – then me!

And he did less harm. I hurt what I professed

to love: Tydeus was cruel to the enemy.

Go, now, Conqueror, devise a great triumph,

wreathe your hair with laurel, and give thanks to Jove,

all the surging crowd, following your chariot,

calling ‘Bravo! The great man who conquered a girl!’

She’ll go ahead, sad dishevelled captive,

all pale, except for her wounded cheeks.

Lips bruised black would have been more apt

and love-bites marking her neck.

Lastly, if I had to act like a swollen torrent,

and my blind anger make her my prey,

wouldn’t it have been enough to shout at the frightened girl,

or thunder away with harsh threats,

or shamefully tear her tunic from throat to waist?

  -  Only her waistband would have felt my strength.

Instead I held her by the hair I grabbed at her brow

marked those delicate cheeks with cruel nails.

She stood there, stupefied, with pale and bleeding face,

as if cut from everlasting Parian marble.

I saw her terrified body, her limbs trembling –

like a breeze blowing through the poplar leaves,

or a soft west wind troubling the slender reeds,

or the tips of the waves touched by a warm southerly:

at length, the brimming tears flowed down her face,

as water runs from the melting snow.

Then for the first time I began to realise her hurt –

the tears I had made her shed were my blood.

Three times I tried to kneel at her feet in supplication:

three times she pushed away those repulsive hands.

Well, don’t hesitate, girl – revenge will lessen the grief –

go at my face with your nails straight-away.

don’t spare my hair or my eyes:

Anger adds what you will to weak hands:

don’t let so much as one sad sign of my wickedness remain,

put your hair back in place like it was before!

Book I Elegy VIII: The Procuress

There’s a certain – Listen! Anyone who wants to know

of a procuress! – there’s a certain old woman called Dipsas.

She gets her name from the thing – she never saw Dawn

with her rosy horses, mother of dark Memnon, while sober.

She’s learnt the Magi’s tricks and Circe’s Aaean charms

and her art can make rivers flow back to their source:

She knows what herbs to use, how to whirl the bullroarer

and the value of the slime from a mare on heat.

When she wants, she can make cloud gather in the sky:

when she wants, she brightens the day with a full sun.

If you can believe it, I’ve seen the stars drip blood:

blood-red was the very face of the Moon.

I suspect she changes, at will, in the shadows of night

and her old woman’s body grow feathers.

I suspect it, and that’s the rumour. Her eyes shine too

with double pupils, and twin lights come from the orbs.

She calls up ancient ancestors, ghosts from the grave

and with long-winded charms splits solid earth.

She herself set out to desecrate our chaste bed:

nor did she lack an eloquent tongue for doing harm.

Chance made me witness to her speech: her instructions

went just like this – the double doors hid me:

‘You know, the other day, light of my life, you pleased

 the rich young man? He’s always here, hangs on your look.

And why shouldn’t he? With beauty second to none:

alas, you lack the training worthy of your body.

I wish you to be as happy as you’re lovely –

I’ll not be poor if you get rich.

That opposing planet Mars was doing you harm.

Mars transited: now Venus is right for you.

Her move benefits you, come and see! A rich lover

desires you: he’s got attentions for you, those you lack.

he’s even handsome too, a match for you:

if he didn’t want to win you, Venus has fixed it.’

Someone blushed. ‘True, modesty suits a pale face,

and good if you simulate it: reality often harms us.

It’s well to keep your eyes looking down at your lap,

the response should be according to what he brings.

Perhaps under Tatius’s rule the unwashed Sabine women

were unwilling to handle several men:

but now Mars exerts his mind on foreign warfare

and Venus rules in Aeneas’s city.

Lovely girls play: she’s chaste, whom nobody asks –

she asks herself, if naivety doesn’t prevent her.

Look at those too that walk round with serious faces:

lots of crimes arise behind those frowns.

Penelope tested the young mens’ strength with the bow:

it was a bow of horn that proved the best.

Secretly gliding, the circling years deceive us

and, quickly sliding, the river’s waters go by.

Bronze gleams with use, a nice dress looks to be worn,

a house that’s left in a sorry state ages –

Beauty, unless you allow it, withers without exercise.

Just one or two occasions are not enough.

It’s better and not so invidious to take from many.

The wolf eats best that preys on the whole flock.

Look, what does that poet of yours give you

but new verses? Choose from a thousand lovers.

Look at the god of poets himself with a golden robe,

he performs on the strings of a gilded lyre.

He who gives should be greater for you than Homer:

believe me, giving is the clever thing.

And don’t despise a slave who’s bought his freedom:

chalked feet from the market-place are no crime.

And don’t let ancestral portraits round the atrium fool you.

Impoverished lover, remove yourself, and your fathers too!

The one, who’s handsome, who, gift-less, asks for a night,

ask him in front of his lover, what he’ll give!

Don’t ask a great reward, while you spread your net,

lest they fly: once captive oppress them with your law!

No harm in pretending love: but, if he thinks himself loved,

beware lest he sets the price of your love at nothing!

Often deny him nights. Pretend you’ve a headache,

or it’s the days of Isis, to give him a reason.

Receive him again soon, don’t let him get used to suffering,

lest love slacken through often being repulsed.

Let your door be deaf to prayers: welcome the giver:

let the one you receive hear the words of those outside:

and, as if you were hurt first, sometimes in anger hurt him –

the blame vanishes when you repay with blame.

But never spend too long a time being angry:

often an angry manner makes for quarrels.

Rather learn to cry with forced tears,

and make him, or yourself, end with wet cheeks:

and if you’re cheating don’t let perjury scare you –

Venus ensures the gods are deaf to her games.

A page or sometimes a clever maid should appear,

who has learned what gifts are fitting for you:

and let them ask little for themselves – if they often ask,

little stalks soon grow to a vast heap.

Your sister and mother and nurse can all fleece a lover:

booty can be gathered quickly by many hands.

When you’re lacking in reasons for asking gifts,

swear it’s your birthday, and here’s the cake!

Beware of letting him love securely, rival-free:

love never lasts if you take away competition.

Let him see signs of activity in your bed,

and show lascivious marks on your bruised neck.

Above all show him the gifts others have given.

If no one’s given, get some from the Via Sacra.

When you’ve taken a lot, so he shouldn’t seem to give all,

ask him to oblige with a loan, you’ll never repay!

Please him with your tongue and hide your feelings –

hurt him with flattery: foul poison hides under sweet honey.

I offer you all this learning from long experience,

don’t let the winds and the breeze blow my words away,

living, you’ll often say good things of me, and often pray,

that my bones rest softly after I’m dead.’

Her voice was running on, when my shadow betrayed me,

since my hands could scarcely contain themselves,

ready to tear at that those sparse white locks, and eyes

full of drunken tears, and wrinkled cheeks.

May the gods grant her an old age without roof or wealth,

and endless winters and perpetual thirst!

Book I Elegy IX: Love is War

Every lover’s in arms, and Cupid holds the fort:

Atticus , believe me, every lover’s in arms.

The age that’s good for war, is also right for love.

An old soldier’s a disgrace, and an old lover.

That spirit a commander looks for in a brave army,

a lovely girl looks for in a love partner.

Both keep watch: both sleep on the ground,

one serves at his lady’s entrance, the other his general’s.

A long road’s a soldier’s task: but send the girl off,

and a restless lover will follow her to the end.

He’ll go against mountains and bend into stormy rivers,

he’ll push his way through swollen snowdrifts,

he’ll not rely on excuses, like angry northerlies,

or waiting for suitable stars to take to the waves.

Who but a soldier or lover could endure

cold nights or dense snow mixed with rain?

One’s sent out to spy on attacking forces:

the other keeps eye on his rival, his enemy.

This one lays siege to strong cities, that one his harsh friend’s

entrance: one breaks down gates, the other doors.

Often it helps to attack a sleeping enemy,

and strike the unarmed mass with armed hand.

That’s how Rhesus and his fierce Thracians were killed

and forfeited the leader’s captured mares.

Lovers, for sure, will make use of a husband’s sleep

and employ their arms while the enemy slumbers.

Getting past watchman’s hands, and enemy sentinels

is work for soldiers and wretched lovers.

Mars is chancy, Venus uncertain: the fallen can rise again,

while those you think could never be thrown are beaten.

So if you’ve called all lovers idlers, forget it.

Love is all experience and ability.

Great Achilles burns for stolen Briseis –

while you can Trojans, smash the Argive wall!

Hector went into battle from Andromache’s arms,

it was the wife who placed the helmet on his head.

The great lord Atrides, they say, seeing Cassandra

that Trojan Maenad, was enraptured by her flowing hair.

Mars too, surprised, felt the blacksmith’s chain mesh:

there was never a greater scandal in heaven.

I myself was lazy and born to idle leisure:

bed and shade both softened my mind.

Love for a lovely girl soon drove the idler

and ordered him off to earn his pay in camp.

Now see me, active and fighting nocturnal wars.

If you don’t want to be idle, fall in love!

Book I Elegy X: The Poet’s Gift

Like the woman carried by the ships from Eurotas

to Troy, the cause of war between two husbands:

like Leda to whom the adulterous god made love,

craftily hidden, disguised in white plumage:

like Amymome wandering through arid fields,

with a water-pot on top of her head –

such were you: I feared eagles and bulls, for you,

and whatever else great Jupiter might make love as.

Now all fear’s gone, my mind is healed of error,

now your beauty can’t captivate my eyes.

Why am I changed, you ask? Because you want gifts.

That’s the cause that stops you from pleasing me.

Once you were innocent, I loved you body and soul:

now your beauty’s flawed by this defect of mind.

Love is a child and naked: without the shabbiness of age

and without clothing, so he’s all openness.

Why tell Venus’s son to sell himself for cash?

Where can he keep cash, he’s got no clothes!

Neither Venus nor Venus’s son carry arms –

unwarlike gods don’t merit soldier’s pay.

Even the whore who’s buyable for money,

and seeks alas to command wealth with her body:

nevertheless curses a grasping pimp’s orders,

and is forced to do, what you do by choice.

Think about unreasoning creatures for example:

it’s a disgrace, if the beasts are better natured than you.

Mares don’t ask gifts of stallions, cows of bulls:

rams don’t capture pleasing ewes with gifts.

Only a woman delights in taking spoils from her mate,

only she hires out her nights, comes for a price,

and sells what this one demands, what that one seeks,

or gives it as a gift, to please herself.

When making love pleases both partners alike,

why should she sell and the other buy?

When a man and a woman perform a joint act

why should the pleasure hurt me and profit you?

It’s wrong for witnesses to perjure themselves for gain,

it’s wrong to open the purse of the chosen judges.

It’s a disgrace to defend the accused with a bought tongue:

a disgraceful court makes itself wealthy:

it’s wrong to swell family wealth with the bed’s proceeds,

or prostitute your good looks for money.

un-purchased, things deserve our thanks, on merit:

no thanks for the evil of a bought bed.

The buyer loosens all bonds: freed by payment

he no longer remains a debtor in your service.

Beware, you beauties, bargaining gifts for a night:

you’ll have no good outcome from sordid presents.

Sabine bracelets weren’t worth so much

when weapons pressed down on the sacred virgin’s head:

and Eriphyle died, her son’s sword through her body,

a necklace the reason for her punishment.

Still there’s nothing unworthy in asking gifts of the rich:

those who can give have presents demanded of them.

Pick your grapes from the most loaded vines:

Alcinous’s fruitful orchard offers its apples!

Count on a poor man for duty, loyalty, devotion:

what a man has, let him gather it all for his lady.

My gift then’s to celebrate worthy girls in my song:

those that I wish, are made famous by my art.

dresses crumble, gold and gems are worn down:

but the tribute of song brings eternal fame.

It’s not giving, it’s being asked for a gift I loathe and scorn:

Stop wanting what I refuse to supply, and I’ll give!

Book I Elegy XI: His Note to Her

Skilled at gathering unruly hair and setting it in place

Nape’s not just an ordinary lady’s maid,

she’s known to be useful in the secret service

of night: clever at carrying messages between us:

often exhorting a hesitant Corinna to come:

often faithfully labouring to find things out for me –

here take these wax tablets by hand to my lady

and be sure to avoid obstructions and delay!

There’s no stony vein or harsh metal in your breast,

older than the others, there’s no foolishness in you.

It’s easy to believe that you’ve felt Cupid’s arrows –

see the traces of your battles in me!

If she asks how I am, say I live in hope at night:

you’ll carry the rest in your hand, flattering waxen words.

While I speak, time flies. Give her them when she’s free,

Make sure though that she reads them straight away.

Watch her eyes and brow as she chews them over:

and know that a silent face may show the future.

When she’s read it I need a long reply, and no delay:

I hate it when the clear wax is mostly empty.

Let her squeeze the lines in ranks, and hold my eyes

with letters that graze the edges of the margins.

Why should she weary her fingers holding a pen?

  One word can take up the whole tablet: ‘Come!’

I won’t hesitate to wreathe the victorious tablets with laurel

and set them up in the centre of Venus’s temple.

I’ll write: ‘Naso dedicates these loyal servants to Venus,

these tablets that till now were worthless maple-wood.’

Book I Elegy XII: Her Reply

Weep for my misfortune – the miserable tablets returned

with a wretched message saying: ‘Can’t manage today.’

Omens mean something. Just now when she wished to leave

Nape stopped when she stubbed her toe on the threshold.

Remember next time you’re sent out, crossing the doorsill,

pick your feet up, carefully and soberly!

Away with these surly tablets of funereal wood,

and you, wax, filled with your negative message! –

Extracted I bet from honey of long hemlock flowers

made by the infamous Corsican bees.

Just as if you’d blushed, steeped in deep dye –

that colour indeed was truly bloody.

Useless wood, I’ll throw you out at the crossroads,

so the weight of a passing wheel can smash you!

Even the man who carved you for use, from the tree,

I’m convinced the man had impure hands.

That tree held some wretch hung by the neck,

it offered itself as dread executioner’s crosses:

it gave vile shade to the screeching owls,

and carried their eggs and vultures in its branches.

Madman, did I give these to my lady, trusting

my love to them, to carry my gentle words?

This wax is more fitted to garrulous words of bail,

to be read aloud by some hard mouthed attorney:

or better to throw these tablets among the accounts,

where a miser goes weeping for his lost wealth.

So I judge you, two-faced things by nature.

The number itself is in no way auspicious.

How to curse you, in anger, other than crumbling age

might rot you, and whiten your wax in a filthy place?

Book I Elegy XIII: The Dawn

Now she rises over the ocean, come from her aged husband,

the golden girl, who brings day to the frozen sky.

‘Why hurry, Aurora? Wait! – so the bird, Memnon’s shade,

can perform the annual sacrificial rite!

Now I delight to lie in my girl’s soft arms:

now she’s so sweetly joined to my side.

now sleep’s still easy, and the air is cool,

and the bird sings in full flow from a clear throat.

Why hurry, unwelcome to men, unwelcome to girls?

Restrain those dewy reins with rosy fingers!

Before you rise the sailor more easily watches for his stars

and wanders less unknowingly in the deep:

the traveller, however weary, rises at your coming,

and the fierce soldier takes his weapon in hand.

You first see the farmer burdened with his hoe in the field:

you first call the tardy oxen to couple beneath the yoke.

You rob boys of sleep and send them to their masters,

and submit the tender ones to the lash of a savage hand.

You send the heedless guarantor before that court,

where a single word carries a heavy price.

No eloquence for you from pleaders and lawyers,

you force them both to rise to new litigation.

You, when the labours of women might cease,

call back the spinner’s hand to her duty.

I could endure it all – but for girls to rise early,

who’d bring that about but one who’s not a girl?

The number of times I’ve begged night not to yield to you,

and the circling stars not to flee before your face!

The number of times I’ve begged a storm to crack your axle

or your wayward horses to fall through thick cloud!

What, did she never burn for Cephalus?

Does she think that wickedness is unknown?

Hostile one, why hurry? Because your son is black

is that the colour of your maternal heart?

I wish Tithonus would tell the truth about you:

there’d be no more disgraceful tale in heaven.

Now you flee him, who’s so much older than you,

early in mounting the chariot, hateful to the old man.

But if you were leaving Cephalus, caught in your arms,

you’d cry out: “Run slow, O horses of the night!”

Why should I be punished in love, if your husband

faints with age? Did you marry the old man on my advice?

Look what a sleep the Moon allowed her lover! –

And she’s not second to you in beauty.

The father of the gods himself, so as not to see you so often,

joined two nights together, in his longing.’

I’d ended the brawl. You’ll know I’d dared: she blushed –

but still the day rose as usual, no more slowly!

Book I Elegy XIV: Her Hair

I said: ‘Stop dyeing your hair!’

Now you’ve no hair left to colour.

Since it was so luxuriant, why not have let it be?

It stretched right down, and touched your sides.

Why? - If it was so fine, and you were scared to dress it.

It was like a coloured veil of Chinese silk,

or the slender thread spun by a spider,

when she ties her fine work to some deserted rafter.

It wasn’t black: it wasn’t golden, however,

not quite either, a colour mixed from both –

like a tall cedar, stripped of its bark,

in a dewy valley of mountainous Ida.

Add that it was docile, and fit for a hundred styles,

and was never a cause of grief to you.

No pin or tooth of a comb ever broke it.

The maid doing your hair kept her skin whole:

often in front of my eyes, no, never a pin

tore your maid’s arm with a wound.

Often, with your hair still uncombed

you lay reclining on a bed of purple.

But even neglected like that it was lovely, like a weary

Thracian Maenad’s, lying heedless on the emerald grass.

Still, the hairs were fine, like fleece,

alas, what suffering they had to bear!

How they offered themselves patiently to the steel and fire,

as their waves were twisted and tied in ringlets!

I cried: ‘That’s wicked, wicked to scorch your hair!

It’s fine as it is: go carefully with the steel!

Take the pressure away! No one ought to burn it:

your hair itself teaches others how to pin theirs.’

Fear for the lovely hair – that Apollo or Bacchus

would wish to have on their heads!

I might have gathered it, like naked Venus’s,

painted, she holding it in her drenched hand.

Why search your neat hair for what’s vilely lost?

Silly girl why hold the mirror sadly in your hand?

It’s no use contriving to stare at yourself:

you need to forget about yourself, to please.

No mistress of magic herbs has wounded you,

no Thessalian witch soaked you in treacherous water:

no illness’s power has touched you – perish the thought! –

No evil tongue has thinned your dense hair.

Your hand did it and you’re paying for your crime:

Now you’ll send for the hair of German prisoners:

you’ll be safe, with the gift of conquered peoples.

O how often you’ll blush when someone praises your hair,

and say: ‘Now I’m counting the cost of buying it,

I don’t know if they praise the Sygambri instead of me.

It’s fame will be remembered with mine.’

Alas! She scarcely contains her tears and with her hand

hides her delicate cheeks painted with blushes.

She holds her former hair in her lap, and stares at it,

ah me, a tribute not fitting for that place!

Calm yourself, doing your face! The harm’s reparable.

Shortly your natural hair will be seen again.

Book I Elegy XV: His Immortality

Gnawing Envy, why reproach me with an indolent life:

and call the work of my genius idle song?

Is it that I don’t follow the custom of the country,

seek the dusty reward of army life while I’m young?

That I don’t study wordy laws,

or prostitute my voice in the forum?

The work you seek is mortal. I seek eternal fame,

to be sung throughout the whole world forever.

Homer will live, while Ida and Tenedos stand,

while Simois still runs swiftly to the sea:

Hesiod, as well, while the vintage ripens,

while the crops fall to the curving blade.

Callimachus will always be sung throughout the world:

not because of his imagination, but his art.

The tragedies of Sophocles will never be lost:

nor Aratus as long as there’s a sun and moon:

While devious slaves, stern fathers, cruel pimps,

and enticing whores live, so will Menander:

Artless Ennius, and brave-voiced Accius

have names that no time will erase.

What age will not know Varro’s tale of the first ship,

and Jason leading the quest for the Golden Fleece?

Then, the works of sublime Lucretius will endure,

while there’s a day left till the world’s ruin.

Virgil’s pastorals, and the Aeneid will be read,

while Rome triumphs over the world:

While Cupid’s weapons are still the torch and arrows,

they’ll speak your measures, elegant Tibullus:

Gallus will be renowned in the west, Gallus in the east,

and Lycoris will be famous with her Gallus.

So, while granite, while the unyielding ploughshare

perish with the years, poetry will not die.

Leaders and countries yield to the triumphs of song,

and the lavish waters of gold-bearing Tagus yield!

Let the masses gaze at trash: let golden-haired Apollo

offer me a brimming cup of Castalian waters,

and I’ll wear a wreathe of myrtle, that hates the cold,

and be read by many an anxious lover!

Envy feeds on the living: it’s quiet after death,

while everyone who’s dead gets their due honours.

So even when I’m given to the final flames,

I’ll live, and the better part of me will survive.


End of Book I