Translated by A. S. Kline © 2001 All Rights Reserved
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I, that poet Naso, born by Pelignian waters,
also composed these, my naughtinesses.
Here too Love commands – go far, stay far, you puritans!
You’re not fit audience for the erotic mode.
Let the virgin who’s not frigid, who’s betrothed, read me,
and the inexperienced boy unused to the touch of love:
and let some other youth, now I’m wounded by the bow,
acknowledge the shared sign of his passion,
and gazing long at it say: ‘what betrayal has he learnt,
this poet, that he’s written about my misfortunes?’
I remember, I dared to speak about celestial war
and hundred-handed Gyas – that was enough effrontery –
with Earth herself’s fell vengeance, and Ossa
and steep Pelion piled on high Olympus.
And I had Jupiter, with thunder and lightning, in hand,
the things he throws with such effect through the sky –
my lover closed the door! I dropped Jove and the lightning:
my genius let fall Jupiter himself.
Jupiter, forgive me! Your weapons were no help:
her entrance was even closed to your mightier bolt.
I resumed my weapons, light flattering elegies:
gentle words can soften harsh doors.
Songs can draw down the blood-red moon,
and call the sun’s white stallions from their journey:
Serpents’ jaws are forced apart by song,
and fountains flow backwards to their source.
Doors yield to song, and the bolt rammed home,
however hard it is, is conquered at last by charms.
What does it profit me to sing of swift Achilles?
what use to me one or the other Atrides,
whoever that was who wasted years on war and wandering,
or sad Hector dragged behind the Thessalian horses.
but her face often praised, the beautiful girl herself
comes for the poet, the reward for song.
A great prize won! Bright heroic names farewell:
your rewards are not adequate for me!
Songs bring the beautiful girls to my shining face,
songs that Love dictates to me!
While I’m passing a brief, appropriate, moment with you,
Bagoas, how anxious your mistress is at being watched!
I saw the girl yesterday in the light, walking there
where the portico displays the line of Danaids.
Straightaway, since she pleased me, I sent her a proposition.
She wrote back nervously: ‘It’s not allowed!’
And, querying why it wasn’t, I got the reply
that your excessive annoying care is the girl’s trouble.
O watchman, believe me, if you’re wise, you’ll desist
from incurring hatred: we wish those we fear would vanish.
Her husband’s also not wise: why labour to watch
something when nothing’s lost if you don’t?
But it humours the madman to think that his love
who delights many, is in fact chaste:
let your girl be given liberty in secret,
what you give her, she’ll repay you.
You choose to know – then the lady’s in debt to the servant:
you’re afraid to know – it’s alright to dissimulate.
She reads a note by herself – think that her mother sent it!
Some unknown comes – he’ll soon become known to you.
She pretends to go to see a friend who isn’t ill,
it’s fine! Your judgement is she’s ill.
If she’s late, don’t weary yourself waiting forever,
you can snore with your head between your knees.
Don’t ask what happens in the temple of linen-clad Isis,
and don’t be worried by the theatre’s arch!
One in the know constantly takes away gains he gathers –
equally how much less is the labour of the silent?
He pleases and lives in the house and doesn’t feel the lash:
he’s powerful – the others lie there a squalid crowd.
Concoct idle things to hide true motivations:
and what satisfies her will satisfy them both.
While her husband pulls a face and frowns,
the lovely woman does what she’d like to do.
Still now and then she needs to pick a quarrel with you too,
and simulate tears and call you a scoundrel.
You bring a charge against her, that she can wholly explain,
and with a false accusation you’ll hide the truth.
So your esteem and your savings grow.
Do this and you’ll be free in no time at all.
You see the informers with chains around their necks?
There’s a squalid prison for disloyal hearts.
His garrulous tongue left Tantalus searching
for water amongst the waters and fruit that fled.
Juno’s watchman guarded Io too well,
and died before his time: while she’s a goddess!
I’ve seen fetters worn on livid legs,
from a husband’s being made to learn of un-chastity.
The crime deserved no less. Bad tongues are doubly evil:
the husband grieves, the girl’s reputation is harmed.
Believe me, crimes like this don’t please a husband,
they’re no help to you, even if he listens.
If he’s indifferent, you speak your words to heedless ears:
if he’s in love, your officiousness will sadden him.
Most crime however obvious is unproven:
his judgement always comes to favour her.
Though he sees it himself, he’ll believe her denials
and condemn his own eyesight, and fool himself.
Seeing the woman’s tears, he’ll weep himself,
and say: ‘Punish that informer!’
Why start an unequal fight? Beaten, you’ll be lashed,
and she’ll be sitting on the judge’s lap.
We’re not taking to crime, we’re not uniting to mix
poisons, no drawn dagger gleams in my hand.
We’re looking for some safe love-making thanks to you.
What could be more innocuous than our prayers?
Ah me, that you, neither man nor woman, serve the lady
you who can’t know the mutual delights of Venus!
Whoever first cut off a boy’s genitals, that one,
who made the wound, should suffer it himself.
You’d be more gently compliant, facilitate my requests,
if you’d ever glowed with love before.
You weren’t born to ride a horse, or use heavy weapons:
a warlike spear would not be fitting in your hand.
Let men handle that: you can forget manly hopes.
your camp is with your lady.
Work your service there, you’ll benefit from her thanks:
What use would you be if you didn’t have her?
She’s lovely, the right age for play:
a disgrace to waste that beauty through sheer neglect.
She could have deceived you, however irksome you are:
Two, who want to, won’t fail to achieve it.
Still as it was fitting to try a request, so I’m asking,
while you’ve a good chance of gaining a reward.
I wouldn’t dare defend my suspect morals
or falsely move to protect my vices.
I confess – if it’s any use to confess a sin:
I acknowledge the foolish guilt now in myself.
I hate to desire, but can’t not be what I hate:
ah, what a painful burden to throw off what you love!
I lack all power and authority to control myself:
carried away like a boat, swept swiftly through the water.
It’s not one kind of beauty that excites my desires –
there’s a hundred reasons why I’m always in love.
If it’s one with modest eyes cast on the ground,
I burn, and her shyness sets a trap for me:
or if it’s one who’s bold, I’m taken, sophisticated,
giving hope of being sweetly nimble in bed.
If she looks severe, and strict as a Sabine,
I think she wants it, but hides it, being noble.
If you’re learned, you please me with rare arts:
if you’re naive, your innocence pleases.
Then there’s the girl who says that Callimachus’s songs
are rough beside mine – she who I please soon pleases me.
Even she who castigates me and my poems –
I long to endure her critical thighs.
She walks sweetly – I like the motion: another’s hard –
but she could be sweeter at a man’s touch.
This one who sings divinely and smoothly alters pitch,
I want to give stolen kisses as she sings:
She who strikes plaintive chords with practised fingers –
who could not love such knowledgeable hands?
She who pleases with her postures, and waves her arms
in rhythm, and twists her tender body with sweet art? –
Be silent about me, who’s enticed by everything,
but put chaste Hippolytus by her, and he’d be Priapus!
You, who are so tall, are like the ancient heroines
and can lie the full length of the bed.
This one’s small size is manageable. I’m ruined by both:
tall and short agree with my desire.
She’s not cultured – come, she could take up culture:
she’s well-equipped - she can display her gifts herself.
Fair ones capture me: I’m captured by golden girls,
but Venus is still pleasing when darkly coloured.
If dark tresses hang on a snowy neck,
then Leda was famed for her black hair:
If they’re golden, Aurora’s saffron hair pleases.
My desire adapts itself to all the stories:
Young girls entice me: older ones move me:
she pleases with her body’s looks, she with its form.
In short, whichever girls one might approve of in the city,
my desire has ambitions on them all.
No love is worth this – away, Cupid’s quiver! –
so that death has often been my greatest wish.
Death is my wish, when I recall your deceptions,
O girl born to be my eternal misfortune!
It wasn’t a half-erased tablet that laid bare your acts,
no furtive gifts gave away your crime.
Oh I wish if I were to argue my case I couldn’t win it!
Woe is me! Why’s my story so good?
Happy the man who can strongly defend what he loves,
whose little friend can say ‘I didn’t do it!’
He’s harsh and exercises his grief too much
who seeks the victor’s palm drenched in blood.
I saw your crime myself you wretch, sober,
when you thought I was asleep with wine.
I saw the many messages from those flickering eyebrows:
a good part of your speech was in your nods.
Your eyes never silent, nor letters under your fingers,
writing on the table with your wine.
Effecting secret messages, that go unseen,
the words prescribed meaning definite things.
And then the crowd of guests had left the table:
a few boys there left laid out together.
Then I truly saw her locked in sinful kisses –
tongues were entwined, that was clear to me –
not like a sister greeting her sober brother,
but an eager lover greeting his sweet friend:
It’s not credible that Phoebus would kiss Diana that way,
but Mars often does that with his Venus.
‘What are you up to?’ I cried, ‘spreading my joys around?
I claim jurisdiction over my girl!
What’s yours is shared with me, what’s mine with you –
Why has some third come into our property?’
I said this with a sorrowful tongue:
and a blush of shame came to her guilty face,
as the sky is tinged red by Tithonus’s bride,
or like a young girl seeing her betrothed:
like roses glowing bright among the lilies,
or when the Moon labours with charmed horses,
or as Lydian women stain oriental ivory
so that it’s not yellowed by the years.
That was the colour of her face or something like it,
and she had never looked more beautiful.
She looked at the ground – it became her to look down:
Sadness was in her face – sadness was becoming.
It was as if I wanted to tear her hair, all done up as it was,
and tear her tender cheeks, with anger, in my passion –
But I saw her beauty, and the strength of my arm abated:
the girl’s the weapon of her own defence.
I who was savage a moment ago, begged her as a suppliant
to give me no worse a set of kisses.
She laughed, and gave them with true spirit – such as can
counter the triple-forked bolt of angry Jove:
I was tormented, unhappy, lest that other felt such joy,
and I wished their quality wasn’t as good as it was.
Also these were so much better, where had she learnt?
And something new seemed to be added to them.
is admitted by my lips, and mine by yours.
Nor do I grieve at that alone – I don’t just lament
at mouths being so joined, I lament what else is joined too:
She could have been taught nowhere but in bed.
I don’t know which grand master has his reward.
Parrot, the mimic, the winged one from India’s Orient,
is dead – Go, birds, in a flock and follow him to the grave!
Go, pious feathered ones, beat your breasts with your wings
and mark your delicate cheeks with hard talons:
tear out your shaggy plumage, instead of hair, in mourning:
sound out your songs with long piping!
Philomela, mourning the crime of the Thracian tyrant,
the years of your mourning are complete:
divert your lament to the death of a rare bird –
Itys is a great but ancient reason for grief.
All who balance in flight in the flowing air,
and you, above others, his friend the turtle-dove, grieve!
All your lives you were in perfect concord,
and held firm in your faithfulness to the end.
What the youth from Phocis was to Orestes of Argos,
while she could be, Parrot, turtle-dove was to you.
What worth now your loyalty, your rare form and colour,
the clever way you altered the sound of your voice,
what joy in the pleasure given you by our mistress? –
Unhappy one, glory of birds, you’re certainly dead!
You could dim emeralds matched to your fragile feathers,
wearing a beak dyed scarlet spotted with saffron.
No bird on earth could better copy a voice –
or reply so well with words in a lisping tone!
You were snatched by Envy – you who never made war:
you were garrulous and a lover of gentle peace.
Behold, quails live fighting amongst themselves:
perhaps that’s why they frequently reach old age.
Your food was little, compared with your love of talking
you could never free your beak much for eating.
Nuts were his diet, and poppy-seed made him sleep,
and he drove away thirst with simple draughts of water.
Gluttonous vultures may live and kites, tracing spirals
in air, and jackdaws, informants of rain to come:
and the raven detested by armed Minerva lives too –
he whose strength can last out nine generations:
but that loquacious mimic of the human voice,
Parrot, the gift from the end of the earth, is dead!
The best are always taken first by greedy hands:
the worse make up a full span of years.
Thersites saw Protesilaus’s sad funeral,
and Hector was ashes while his brothers lived.
Why recall the pious prayers of my frightened girl for you –
prayers that a stormy south wind blew out to sea?
The seventh dawn came with nothing there beyond,
and Fate held an empty spool of thread for you.
Yet still the words from his listless beak astonished:
dying his tongue cried: ‘Corinna, farewell!’
A grove of dark holm oaks leafs beneath an Elysian slope,
the damp earth green with everlasting grass.
If you can believe it, they say there’s a place there
for pious birds, from which ominous ones are barred.
There innocuous swans browse far and wide
and the phoenix lives there, unique immortal bird:
There Juno’s peacock displays his tail-feathers,
and the dove lovingly bills and coos.
Parrot gaining a place among those trees
translates the pious birds in his own words.
A tumulus holds his bones – a tumulus fitting his size –
whose little stone carries lines appropriate for him:
‘His grave holds one who pleased his mistress:
his speech to me was cleverer than other birds’.
So I’m always to be accused of some new crime?
Even if I win I hate fighting my case so often.
If I glance up at the heights of the marbled theatre,
you pick someone out, so you can choose to be pained:
If some lovely girl looks at my expressionless face,
secret messages are deduced from its lack of expression.
If I praise someone, you try to tear my hair out:
if I damn her, you think I’m covering up a crime.
If my colour’s good, I’m also cold towards you,
if pale, pronounced to be dying for another.
And I wish I had some guilty secret!
Those who merit punishment take it calmly:
but you accuse me rashly and, groundlessly believe it all,
you stop your own anger carrying weight.
Look, pity the long-eared ass’s fate,
continually beaten to tame him, he goes slow!
Behold a new crime! With that clever dresser Cypassis,
I’m reproached for defiling the bed of our mistress.
Think better of me than that, if I wronged you in passion,
than to joy in a common girl with a contemptible fate!
What free man would want to take up with a slave,
and embrace the scars on her whipped back?
Added to which she takes pains to dress your hair,
and a well-taught servant is dear to you –
Of course, I’d beg it of a maid so faithful to you!
What! So she could tell you she’d spurned my offer?
I swear by Venus, and the bow of her winged boy,
I won’t allow myself to be accused of crime!
Cypassis, expert at setting hair in a thousand styles,
worthy to adorn none but the goddesses,
and in no way naive as I know from our stolen meetings
suited to your mistress, but more suited to me –
who was it informed on our entwined bodies?
How did Corinna know about our union?
I didn’t blush? Surely no loose word at all
gave away knowledge of our secret coupling?
Why did I say anyone would be lacking in wits
if he could commit the offence with a maidservant?
Achilles burnt for the beauty of Briseis his slave,
Agamemnon made love to captive Cassandra.
I’m no greater than Achilles or Atrides:
Why should I think what suited those heroes a crime?
Anyway, when she fixed angry eyes on you,
I saw you blush all over your cheeks:
if by chance you recall, it was my great presence of mind,
to swear faithfulness by the vast power of Venus!
You, goddess, prescribe that the perjury of my chaste spirit
be blown out to sea on a warm southerly from the Aegean.
For my service to you repay me, with a sweet reward,
and sleep with me today, dark Cypassis!
Why, ungrateful girl do you refuse, and find new fears?
Only one of us is satisfied with your service.
If you say no, foolish girl, I’ll say what we’ve done before,
and become the betrayer of my own crime,
and the place where we were, and how often, Cypassis:
I’ll tell your mistress how many times, and in what ways!
O nothing can express my indignation enough Cupid,
at the way you idle around in my heart –
Why annoy me, a soldier who’s never left your standard,
and let me be injured in my own camp?
Why does your torch blaze, your bow bend against friends?
There’s more glory in beating those who fight.
What of Achilles helping Telephus, struck by his spear,
healing his wounds quickly with its power?
The hunter chases what runs: leaves what he’s captured
and often searches for another quarry.
It’s we, the crowd dedicated to you, who feel your weapons:
your hand’s slack against enemies that fight.
What joy has a barbed arrow in being blunted on bone?
Love’s left my bones stripped naked of flesh.
There are so many men without love, so many girls! –
There you can triumph with the greatest praise.
If Rome had not spread her power to the wide world
she’d still to this day be just huts roofed with straw,
The weary soldier retires to the fields he’s given:
free of the starting line the racehorse is put out to grass:
after long service the warship is secretly beached,
the discharged man’s sword is safely laid away.
Me too, who’ve earned it so often, by loving girls:
time for me to be discharged and live in peace.
If a god said ‘Live, and set love aside’ I’d say ‘no’!
Girls are such sweet misfortune.
When I’m truly weary, and ardour has died in my spirit,
I’m driven on by who knows what force in my poor mind.
It’s like a hard-mouthed horse carrying off its rider
headlong, as he hauls on the foaming bit in vain:
or a ship, suddenly, on the point of touching land,
when a squall in harbour drags it into the deep –
That’s how Cupid’s inconstant winds drive me back,
and noble Love takes up his familiar arrow.
Pierce me, boy! I’m offered naked to your weapons:
this is your power, this is what your strength does:
as if your arrows came here now fired by themselves –
their quiver is scarcely more familiar than me!
Unhappy, the man who spends the night in slumber,
and calls sleep itself the greatest of gifts!
Foolish, what’s sleep but the image of frozen death!
The grave grants us enough time for sleep.
Now my girl’s lying words deceive me:
I still live in hope of great delight.
Now she flatters me: now she contrives to quarrel:
I often enjoy my girl: I’m often shut out.
Mars gets inconstancy from you, Cupid, his stepson:
your stepfather wields his arms by your example.
You’re unreliable, far more fickle than your wings,
and give and deny your delights with dubious loyalty.
If you still hear me, Cupid, and your lovely mother,
establish your rule in my un-forsaken heart!
Let girls enter your country, that oh-so-fickle crowd!
Then you’ll be worshipped by both your subject peoples.
It was you, Graecinus, you, I remember, for certain,
denied that one man could love two girls at once.
Deceived through you, through you caught defenceless –
behold, disgrace, I love two at the same time!
Both are lovely, the pair are sophisticated:
it’s doubtful, between her and her, who’s most artful.
She’s beautiful: she’s also beautiful:
she pleases me a lot, and she does too!
I sway, like a yacht caught by opposing winds,
and desire is divided between the two.
Venus, why endlessly double my problems?
Wasn’t there enough trouble with the one girl?
Why leaf the trees, why fill the sky with stars,
why add water you’ve gathered to the deep sea?
Still this is better, since I’m not despised and love-less –
let the sober life happen to my enemies!
Let my enemies sleep on a couch, bereft,
and relax their limbs in the midst of the bed!
But let wild love shatter my indolent slumber:
let me not be the only one weighing the mattress down!
Don’t let my girl spoil it, nothing forbidden –
if one can satisfy, fine, if not, then two!
I’ll manage – my limbs are slender but not without strength:
my body’s light but not lacking in power:
and pleasure secretly nourishes my forces.
No girl’s been disappointed by my performance:
often I’ve spent the whole night in play,
and was capable and resolute at dawn.
Happy the man, who dies in Love’s mutual battle!
Let the gods make that the cause of my death!
Let the soldier’s breast oppose the enemy missiles
and buy a lasting name with his blood.
Let the greedy seek wealth, and weary with voyaging,
shipwrecked, let their lying mouths drink brine.
But let me be taken fainting in Venus’s act,
when I die: freed in the midst of it, the work half-done:
and someone will say, weeping, at my funeral:
‘That death was so appropriate to his life!’
The worst evil told of was that ship, pine felled on Pelion,
amazing the sea-lanes, among the ocean waves,
tossed about rashly between the clashing rocks
in its quest for the notorious Golden Fleece.
O I wish, if men had to cut the seas with oars, at least,
that Argo, crushed, had drunk funereal waters!
Behold, Corinna’s preparing to go on a tricky voyage,
and flee the familiar bed and our shared household gods.
Ah me, how I’ll fear, with you, the west and east wind,
the frozen north wind, and the cooling south!
No cities there, no woods for you to gaze at:
only the blue form of the cruel sea.
Mid-ocean has no delicate shells or coloured pebbles:
their natural place is by the thirsty shore.
Girls, imprint the sands with marble feet:
the beach is safe – the rest’s a dark journey.
Let others tell you of the battles of the winds:
whom Scylla attacks, and whom Charybdis’s waters:
and what rocks jut out from violent Ceraunian coasts:
what large and small bays lie hidden on that of Syrtes.
Let others report it to you: what ever they say
believe! No storms will harm your credulity.
Too late to look back at shore, when the ropes are loosed
and the curved ship sails over the immense sea:
while the worried sailor trembles at adverse winds
and sees the water near, as near as death.
And if Triton provokes the breaking waves,
the colour will drain completely from your face!
Then you’ll call on the noble stars of fertile Leda
and say ‘Happy, the one who stayed on shore!’
It’s safer to stay in bed, read your books,
make your Thracian lyre quiver with your fingers.
But if my words are carried in vain on the winged storm,
let Galatea still favour your ship’s sailing!
You’ll be guilty of shaking my girl about so much
Nereids, goddesses, and you, father of the Nereids.
Go on remembering me, return with a following wind:
let the breeze more strongly fill your sails!
May great Nereus drive the seas towards this shore:
let the winds blow this way, and the tides run!
Beg, yourself, and a west wind will fill your canvas,
you yourself lend a hand with the swelling sails!
I’ll be the first to sight your boat from the shore,
and say: ‘It carries my goddess!’
I’ll bear you to land on my shoulders, snatch disordered
kisses. I’ll offer the sacrifice promised for your return:
and we’ll make a couch of the soft sand,
and some dune can be our table.
There you’ll sit drinking wine and tell me –
how your ship was nearly wrecked in mid-ocean:
that, hastening to me, you weren’t frightened
by iniquitous nights or headlong southerlies.
Let me believe it’s all true: fiction’s worthwhile –
why shouldn’t I please myself with my dreams?
Lucifer, bright in the sky, with your galloping horses,
bring me that moment, as quickly as you can.
Go wreathe my brows with triumphal laurel!
I’ve won: behold, Corinna, in my arms,
whom husband, watchman, firm doors, all those enemies
guarded: she couldn’t be kept prisoner by their art!
Here’s a victory worthy of a major triumph,
where, whatever else it is, the gain is bloodless.
Not shallow walls, not some town encircled
with a narrow ditch, my general-ship won a girl!
When Troy fell, conquered after a ten-year war,
how much of the honour was due to Atrides?
But my fine glory’s not shared with any soldiers,
no one else has a right to the prize.
I made supreme commander here: I was the soldier,
the cavalry itself, the infantry: I was the standard-bearer.
And there’s no good fortune mixed in with my acts –
O triumph of mine you are due to all my care!
Nor is there any new reason for war here. If Helen
hadn’t been snatched, Europe and Asia had been at peace.
A woman made the woodland Lapiths, and the Centaurs,
shamefully turn to weapons, in the midst of the wine:
a woman incited the Trojans to a second war
in your kingdom, just Latinus:
Roman women, when it was still new-founded,
let in their fathers-in-law and gave them cruel weapons.
I’ve seen bulls fighting over a snow-white heifer:
watching, she herself aroused their passion.
Cupid orders me too, with many others,
without shedding blood though, to join his army.
Corinna lies there exhausted in danger of her life,
after rashly destroying the burden of an unborn child.
I should be angry: she took that great risk
and hid it from me: but anger’s quelled by fear.
All the same it’s me by whom she conceived – or I think so:
I often take things for facts that only might be.
Isis, of Paraetonium, and the joyful fields of Canopus,
you who protect Memphis, and palmy Pharos,
and the land where the swift Nile spreads in its wide delta,
its waters flowing through seven mouths to the sea,
by your sistrum I pray, by the sacred head of Anubis –
so may Osiris love your holy rites for ever,
and the slow serpent glide about your altar,
and the horned Apis follow your procession!
Turn your face towards us, and spare both in one!
Then you will grant life to her, and she to me.
Often she’s taken pains to attend your special days,
when Gallic laurel crowns your worshippers.
And you, Ilythia, who pity girls struggling in labour,
whose hidden child strains their reluctant body,
be gentle with her and hear my prayers!
It’s proper for you to demand gifts for yourself.
I myself, in white, will burn incense on your smoking altars,
I myself will lay at your feet the gifts I vowed.
I’ll add an inscription: ‘Naso, for saving Corinna!’
Make that occasion soon, for the inscription and the gifts.
If it’s still possible to warn you, girl, in such a state of fear,
let it be enough for you to have fought this one battle!
Where’s the joy in a girl being free from fighting wars,
unwilling to follow the army and their shields,
if without battle she suffers wounds from her own weapons,
and arms unsure hands to her own doom?
Whoever first taught the destruction of a tender foetus,
deserved to die by her own warlike methods.
No doubt you’d chance your arm in that dismal arena
just to keep your belly free of wrinkles with your crime?
If the same practice had pleased mothers of old,
Humanity would have been destroyed by that violation.
and we’d need a creator again for each of our peoples
to throw the stones that made us onto the empty earth.
Who would have shattered the wealth of Priam, if Thetis,
the sea goddess, had refused to carry her rightful burden?
If Ilia had murdered the twins in her swollen womb,
the founder of my mistress’s City would have been lost.
If Venus had desecrated her belly, pregnant with Aeneas,
Earth would have been bereft of future Caesars.
You too, with your beauty still to be born, would have died,
if your mother had tried what you have done:
I myself would be better to die making love
than have been denied the light of day by my mother.
Why rob the loaded vine of burgeoning grapes,
or pluck the unripe apple with cruel hand?
Let things mature themselves – grow without being forced:
life is a prize that’s worth a little waiting.
Why submit your womb to probing instruments,
or give lethal poison to what is not yet born?
Medea is blamed for sprinkling the blood of her children,
and Itys, slain by his mother, is lamented with tears:
both cruel parents, yet both had bitter reason
to shed blood, revenge on a husband.
Say, what Tereus, what Jason incites you
to pierce your troubled body with your hand?
No tiger in its Armenian lair would do it,
no lioness would dare destroy her foetus.
But tender girls do it, though not un-punished:
often she who kills her child, dies herself.
She dies, and is carried to the pyre with loosened hair,
and whoever looks on cries out: ‘She deserved it!’
But let these words vanish on the ethereal breeze,
and let my imprecations have no weight!
You gods, prosper her: let her first sin go, in safety,
and be satisfied: you can punish her second crime!
Ring, to encircle my beautiful girl’s finger,
appreciated only in terms of the giver’s love,
go as a dear gift! Receiving you with glad heart,
may she slide you straightaway over her knuckle:
May you suit her as well as you suit me,
and smoothly fit the right finger with your true band!
Lucky ring, to be touched by my lady:
now I’m sadly envious of my own gift.
O if only I could, suddenly, be my present,
by the art of Circe or old Proteus!
Then, when I wanted to touch my girl’s breasts
and slip my left hand into her tunic,
I’d glide from her finger, however tight and clinging,
and with wonderful art fall into the loose folds.
Again, so I could seal a secret letter,
the sticky wax not freeing from a dry gem,
I’d be touched first by the lovely girl’s wet lips –
so that sealing the work would give me no pain.
If I were to be plunged in your purse, I’d refuse to go,
I’d cling, a shrinking ring, to your finger.
I’ll never be an embarrassment to you, mea vita,
so your tender finger refuses to carry the weight.
Wear me, when you drench your body in the hot shower,
and let the falling water run beneath the jewel –
though, I think, your naked limbs would rouse my passion,
and, as that ring, I’d carry out a man’s part.
A vain wish? Off you go then little gift:
show her that true loyalty comes with you!
I’m at Sulmo, it’s a third of Paelignian country –
small, but a region of refreshing health-giving waters.
Though the full sun cracks the earth in season,
and the violent star in Orion’s Dog flashes,
clear waters wander through Sulmo’s fields,
and lush grass grows green in gentle soil.
The ground’s heavy with crops, heavier still with vines:
here and there the land shows an olive-grove:
and where resurgent rivers slide through the meadows
grassy turf casts a shade on the damp earth.
But my flame’s absent. One word of that’s misleading! –
What kindles the fire is distant. The passion’s here.
Even if I were set between Castor and Pollux, I’d
not wish to be anywhere in the heavens without you.
May those who carved the world into long roads,
lie restless, pressed down under uneven ground.
If they were carving long roads through the earth
they should have said girls must travel with their men!
Then if I were crossing the shivering windy Alps,
with my girl there, the road would still be kind.
With my girl, I’d dare to force a way through Syrtes’s sands
and spread full sails before the wild south winds.
I’d not fear the monsters yelping from Scylla’s virgin groin,
nor would I fear your folds, curved Cape Malea:
nor Charybdis’s mouth glutted with wrecked ships
spewing out and sucking back the flooding waters.
But should Neptune’s stormy powers triumph,
and the gods that aid us be carried off by the waves,
you’d throw your white arms about my shoulders:
I’d bear your sweet body’s burden easily.
Young Leander often swam the waves seeking Hero,
then swam again, but the sea-road was dark.
But without you here, though the busy vineyards
occupy me, though the countryside’s flowing with rivers,
and countrymen summon flowing water to their streams,
and cool breezes caress the leafy trees,
I don’t think of celebrating Sulmo’s healthiness,
that’s its my native place, ancestral country –
it’s Scythia, with wild Cilician pirates, painted Britons,
or the Promethean rocks dyed red with blood.
Elm loves vines, vines never desert their elm:
why should I be so often parted from my girl?
And you swore that you would stay with me forever –
by me you swore, and by your eyes, my stars!
Vain the words of girls, lighter than falling leaves,
carried off, as we see, by wind and wave.
But if you’ve still a true care for me, abandoned,
begin to put your promises in action.
First your little chariot and swift Gallic horses,
crack the whip yourself over their galloping manes!
And, as for the ways, you come by, may swelling hills
subside, and the winding valleys be easy!
If there’s anyone who thinks it’s disgraceful
to be slave to a girl, he’ll judge me guilty and disgraced!
Disrepute’s alright, so long as I’m less scorched
by her who holds Paphos and sea-washed Cythera.
And, since I’m to be a lovely woman’s prize,
I wish I was also the prize of a gentler girl!
Beauty brings pride. Corinna’s tempestuous with beauty –
Ah me! How does she know herself so well?
No doubt she gets her disdain from her mirror’s image,
and never looks at it until she’s ready!
If your beauty gives you pride and shows your power –
O beauty born to command my eyes! –
You don’t for that reason have to scorn me,
little things go well alongside the great.
The nymph Calypso was captivated by love of a mortal,
and held on to the reluctant man, it’s said.
A Nereid of the ocean shared her bed with Peleus,
that’s the story, Egeria hers with Numa the Just,
Venus with Vulcan, though when he leaves his anvil,
he’s shamefully defective with a crippled foot.
My kind of verse is just as unbalanced: but still fitting,
joining the heroic with the shorter line.
You too - accept me, mea lux, on whatever terms:
you’re suited to laying the law down in a public place.
I won’t be a reproach to you, one you’d be pleased to lose:
this love of ours will never be one to disown.
Instead of wealth I possess joyful song,
and many a girl hopes for fame through me:
I know one who spreads it around she’s Corinna.
What wouldn’t she give for it to be so?
But cold Eurotas, far-off poplar-fringed Eridanus
can’t both slide between the same shores,
and no one but you will be sung in my verses:
you alone give me a chance to show my wit.
While in your poem you get to the Anger of Achilles,
and entangle your sworn heroes in a war,
Macer, I’m loitering in Venus’s idle shadows,
and sweet Love’s spoiling my sublimer ventures.
I’ve often told my girl ‘It’s final, off you go’ –
straight away she’s sitting in my lap again.
Often I’ve said ‘I’m ashamed!’ – ‘Ah me!’ she said,
scarce holding back tears, ‘Ashamed now of loving me?’
And wound her arms around my neck,
and gave me a thousand kisses that destroyed me.
I’m conquered, call back my wits from the war I started,
and, you, my lovely verses, gabble about things at home.
Still I grabbed the sceptre, and a tragedy flourished
in my care, and I was as suited as you like to doing it.
Love laughed at my cloak, and high, coloured boots,
and the sceptre I’d quickly grasped in my humble hand.
Here too my girl’s unfair power deflected me,
and Love has triumphed over the tragic poet.
I turn instead to what’s allowed, the arts of sweet loving –
ah me, burdened by my own precepts, myself! –
or I pen the words Penelope wrote Ulysses
and your tearful ones, deserted Phyllis,
the ones Paris, and Macareus, and ungrateful Jason,
and Hippolytus’s father, Theseus, and Hippolytus read,
what poor Dido said with the sword tight in her hand
or that lover from Ionian Lesbos with her lyre.
How soon Sabinus. my poet friend, you returned
carrying replies from lands scattered through the world!
Fair Penelope knew the seal of Ulysses:
Hippolytus’s stepmother recognised his script.
Dutiful Aeneas has replied to wretched Dido,
Phyllis, if she’s alive, has a note too.
A sad note from Jason reaches Hypsipyle:
the lover of Lesbos offers Phoebus her lyre.
Nor Macer, are you, in the midst of war’s martial song
silent, as far as is safe, about Love’s splendour.
Paris is there and the adulteress, guilty and famous,
and Laodamia faithful companion to the end.
If I know you, you’d be happier with that than war,
and you’ll be coming from your camp over to mine.
Fool, if you don’t want to guard the girl for your own sake,
still, guard her for mine, it makes me desire her more!
What’s allowed is no fun: what isn’t burns more fiercely.
He’s cold who loves what some one else allows:
lovers hope and fear, in equal amounts.
and the occasional rebuff leaves room for prayer.
What use is she to me if she can’t be bothered to cheat me?
And I can’t love what never causes pain!
Clever Corinna saw that weakness in me,
and knew how to work it craftily to catch me.
Oh, the number of times she invented a headache
and ordered me away when I lingered with tardy feet!
Oh, the number of times, she invented a crime,
however innocent, to give the appearance of hurting!
Then when she’d vexed me, and relit the dying flames,
vowed herself my friend again, that she’s right for me.
What flattery, what sweet words she prepared for me,
what quantity and quality of kisses she gave!
You too, who lately drew my eyes to you,
must often pretend to fear, often say no when asked:
and let me lie on the threshold at your entrance
suffering cold frost the whole night through.
So my love will last and grow stronger through the years:
I enjoy it: it’s food for my spirit.
Love that’s too free and easy makes me weary
and harms me as over-rich food does the stomach.
If Danae had never been shut in the brazen tower,
Danae would never have been impregnated by Jove:
when Juno guarded Io with added horns,
Io was made more pleasing to Jove than before.
What’s allowed and easy - if that’s what you want
pluck leaves from trees, drink water from the wide river.
If she wants to rule a long time, she must cheat her lover.
Ah me, may my advice not torture me!
Whatever occurs, indulgence only hurts me –
what follows me, I flee: what flees, I follow.
And you, so careless of your lovely girl,
start locking your door at early evening.
Start asking who knocks in secret so often at the window,
and why dogs bark in the silence of night,
what messages the maid carries and brings back,
and why She so often sleeps alone in bed.
Let these worries sometimes pierce your marrow,
and give me space and matter for my deceits.
He’s only stealing sand from the empty beach,
the man who makes love to the wife of a fool.
I give you due warning: if you don’t start to guard the girl
she’ll start to leave off being mine!
I’ve stood it long enough: often I’ve hoped there’d be
a time when you guarded well, so I could truly deceive.
You’re dull, and allow what no husband should allow:
while for me freedom puts an end to love!
Will I never be stopped from coming, unhappy man?
Will my nights always be vengeance-free?
Will I never be scared? Will I never have nights of sighs?
Will you never give me a reason for wishing you dead?
What use to me is an easy, pandering husband?
His defects are ruining my delight.
Why not find someone who enjoys such forbearance?
If you enjoy having me for a rival, deny!
End of Book II