Ovid: The Heroides

I to VII

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

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I:  Penelope to Ulysses

Your Penelope sends you this, Ulysses, the so-long-delayed.

Don’t reply to me however: come yourself.

Troy lies in ruins, an enemy, indeed, to the girls of Greece -

Priam, and all of Troy, were scarcely worth this!

O I wish, at that time when he sought Sparta with his fleet,

Paris, the adulterer, had been whelmed beneath angry seas!

I would not have lain here, cold in an empty bed,

nor be left behind, to complain, at suffering long days,

nor my hand, bereft, exhaust me, working all night long

to cause deception, with my doubtful web.

When have I not feared dangers worse than all realities?

Love is a thing full of anxious fears.

I imagined the Trojans’ violent attacks on you:

often I grew pale at Hector’s name:

if someone told of Antilochus defeated by Hector,

Antilochus was the reason for my fears,

if of Patroclus, dying in Achilles’s armour,

I wept that tricks might fail of success.

Tlepolemus warmed the spear of Sarpedon with blood,

Tlepolemus’s death is then a new cause of anxiety to me.

In short, whoever of the Greek camp was killed,

the heart of a lover was chilled like ice.

But the god, who favours pure love, truly gave protection:

Troy is turned to ashes: by a hero who’s unharmed.

Our generals return to Greece, the altars smoke,

barbarous gifts are set before the country’s gods.

Wives give thanks, for the gift of living husbands:

who sing in turn of their Troy conquered by fate:

upright old men and trembling girls marvel,

the wife hangs on her husband’s words as he speaks.

And one seated at table describes the fierce battle

and draws all of Troy in a little wine:

‘Here was Simois, here Sigean ground,

here stood aged Priam’s towering palace:

here Achilles camped, here Ulysses,

here mangled Hector scared the galloping horses.’

Indeed Nestor related it all to your son Telemachus,

sent to enquire about you, then he to me.

And he told of Rhesus and Dolon dead by your sword,

so that one was betrayed by sleep, the other by guile.

It was brave, oh you, who are more and more forgetful of your own,

to enter the Thracian camp, with night’s deception,

and kill so many men, with the help of one!

Then you were truly cautious, and thinking first of me!

My heart shook all the time, with fear, while my dear hero

was depicted, riding through the army on Ismarus’s horses.

But what benefit to me if Troy’s cast down, by your arms,

and the walls that it possessed are razed to the ground,

if I wait here, as I waited while Troy still stood,

and my husband away, with no end in sight?

Destroyed for others, Troy remains, for me alone,

where the victor lives to plough with captive oxen:

there are fields now, where Troy once was, and the earth,

beneath the scythe, crops densely, rich with Phrygian blood:

half-buried bones of heroes are struck by the curving plough,

and grass conceals the ruined houses.

The victor is absent, and I am not allowed to know,

the reason for his delay, or in what land he cruelly hides.

Whoever turns his wandering vessel towards this shore

departs weary of being questioned by me, about you:

and what he’ll deliver to you, if he sees you anywhere,

will be letters surrendered to him, written by my hand.

I sent to Pylos, to the Nelean fields of ancient Nestor:

doubtful rumours returned from Pylos:

and I sent to Sparta: no known truth from Sparta either.

What land do you live in, or with whom do you delay so long?

It would be better if Apollo’s walls still stood:

alas I’m angered myself by my thoughtless prayers!

I might have known where you were fighting, and only fear the war,

and my complaints would then have be joined with many others.

I don’t know what to fear: I fear everything, insanely,

and my anxieties are open to wide speculation.

Whether the sea contains the danger, or the land,

such long delays equally cause me to suspect.

While I foolishly fear it, that is your wilfulness,

you could be captive now to a foreign love.

And perhaps you tell her, that your wife’s an innocent,

considered to be almost like raw wool.

Let me be deceived, and let this charge vanish in thin air

and let your returning sails not be wilfully absent.

My father Iscarius forces me to leave my empty bed,

and rebukes me for my continual, endless waiting.

It’s all right for him to rebuke me continually! I’m yours, I should

be spoken of as yours: I’ll be Penelope, wife to Ulysses, always.

Yet he weakens knowing my piety, and my chaste prayers,

and he moderates the force of it himself.

An insistent crowd of suitors comes to ruin us,

from Dulichium and Samos, and those who hold high Zacynthus,

and they rule in your palace, without restraint:

they tear your possessions to pieces, and my heart.

What should I say of how you, shamefully absent, nourish

Pisander, Polybus, cruel Medon, the greedy hands of Eurymachus,

and Antinous, and others: all of them, with your blood?

Irus and Melanthius driving in the flocks to be slaughtered

add the final insult to your ruin.

The unwarlike ones are three in number: a wife with no strength,

old Laertes, and Telemachus your son.

He, recently, was almost taken away from me by trickery,

when he prepared to go to Pylos, against their will.

I pray the gods decree that, in the natural order of things,

he will close my eyes in death, and yours!

The faithful guardian of the filthy sty makes up another three,

along with the herdsman, and your very ancient nurse:

but Laertes, has no power to hold his own among enemies,

he whose weapons are useless to him.

Telemachus, if only he lives, will become stronger with age:

now he ought to be protected with his father’s help.

I have no strength to drive these enemies from the house:

you must come quickly, to your harbour and refuge!

You’ve a son, and I pray he’ll be one who, in his tender years,

will be educated in his father’s arts.

Consider Laertes: who keeps death back to the very last day,

so that you might close his eyes.

You’ll find that I, in truth, a girl when you went away,

though you soon return, have become an aged woman.


II:  Phyllis to Demophoon

Phyllis, your Thracian friend, complains to you, Demophoon,

for being absent beyond your promised time.

When the moon’s horns had touched once more, at the full,

you agreed to anchor by our shores.

Four times the moon has hidden, four times waxed to the full,

without the Thracian sea bringing Athenian ships.

If you measure hours closely, as lovers measure,

my complaint does not come before due time.

Hope too was long drawn out. We’re slow to believe what wounds

us, when we do: now you seem guilty, reluctantly, to your lover.

I often deceived myself, for you, often I imagined

storms from the south brought back your white sails.

I cursed Theseus, because he did not wish to let you go:

or perhaps could not remember your course.

Now and then I feared lest, heading for Hebrus’s shallows,

the ship was wrecked, sunk in the white waves.

Often I have begged, impiously, of the gods that you be well,

have wished for it in prayer at incense-burning altars:

often, seeing favourable winds from sea and sky,

I said to myself: ‘If he’s well, he will come,’

Lastly, love supposed you faithful, whatever prevented haste,

and I was imaginative as to the reasons.

But you are indifferent, in your absence! No oaths to the gods

bring you back, nor do you return moved by my love.

Demophoon, you gave words, and sails, to the wind:

I long for the sails’ return, lacking faith in the words.

Tell me what I have done, except to love unwisely?

Could I have deserved you, through some crime of mine?

There is only one sin in me, that I pledged myself to you,

wicked man, but it has the weight and likeness of justice.

Where now is the pact of loyalty, hand linked to hand,

and how were so many oaths in one lying mouth?

Where is that Hymen now, who, through long years of friendship,

was sponsor and guarantor to me of marriage?

You swore to me by the sea, all stirred by winds and waves,

over which you surely travel, over which you were to go,

you swore by Neptune, your grandfather, unless that too is a lie,

who calms the waters roused by the winds,

by Venus, and those weapons, made so much so to me,

one weapon the bow, the other the torch,

and by Juno, whose kindness presides over the marriage bed,

and by the mystic rites of the torch-bearing goddess:

if each of these many injured gods took vengeance with their powers,

your life alone would not be enough, in punishment!

Ah, like a madwoman, I even had your damaged fleet rebuilt,

so that there was a sound ship ready for your desertion:

I gave you oars so that you might abandon me in flight.

Alas! I suffer wounds from weapons I created!

I believed the flattering words, of which you had a store:

I believed in your breeding and your titles:

I believed your tears. Or might even they be taught to deceive?

Might they have arts as well, to flow when commanded?

I believed them, too. Where now those many pledges of ours?

Any one of them was enough to imprison me.

I am not disturbed that I helped you with harbour and shelter:

but that should have been the end of my kindnesses!

I regret that friendship was shamefully crowned

by the nuptial bed, and body was entwined with body.

I would rather the night, before that night, had been my last,

while Phyllis could still die virtuously.

I hoped for better things, and thought I deserved them:

whatever hope comes from kindness, is just.

I cannot believe that to cheat a girl is anything

to boast of: my innocence deserved friendship.

The lover and the woman were deceived by your words:

may the gods let this be the one thing you are known for!

And let your statue be set up in the midst of the city,

among the sons of Aegeus: Theseus, your great father,

his honours before him: Sciron with his bed, grim Procrustes,

and Sinis, and the Minotaur, man and bull joined together,

and Thebes conquered in war, and the Centaurs routed,

and the blind, shattered kingdom of Pluto, the dark god:

your statue inscribed with its title after theirs:

‘Here’s he who stole love from a stranger by a trick.’

Of all your father’s many deeds and affairs

only the abandoning of Ariadne sticks in your mind.

The thing in him needing to be excused, is the one thing you admire:

your father’s heir, deceiver: you act out his sin.

She – I don’t begrudge it –is blessed with a better husband

and rides high above Bacchus’s team of harnessed tigers.

But the Thracian men I despised flee from marriage with me,

because I allowed a man strange to me to be preferred.

And some said: ‘Let her go to learned Athens:

there will be someone else to rule armed Thrace.

Outcomes justify actions.’ I hope that anyone who thinks

what I did is wrong because of its result, also lacks success.

But if our water does foam under your oar,

they’ll say now I look out for myself, then my people.

But I have not looked to myself, and you will not touch

my shore, or bathe your limbs in Thracian water.

My eyes cling still to the sight of your going,

when your departing fleet sat in harbour.

You dared to embrace me, and, clinging to my neck,

poured out a lover’s slow kisses, through long moments,

and, as your tears mingled with my tears,

you complained at the favourable wind in your sails,

shouting to me, as you left, at the top of your voice:

‘Phyllis, make sure you wait for your Demophoon!’

Should I wait, for you who are absent and never wish to see me?

Should I wait for the sails that are denied my seas?

And still I wait. Only return, though late, to your lover,

seeing that your promise might lapse through time alone!

Why should I beg, miserably? Perhaps another wife

has you, and that love which served me so badly, now:

How I’m forgotten by you, I think: a no-body, the Phyllis you knew.

Ah me! If you ask what Phyllis this might be, and from where,

I’m she who gave you shelter and friendship in Thrace: 

you, Demophoon, driven by long wanderings:

I who added my wealth to you, to whom, rich in effect,

I gave many gifts, many that I was given:

she who brought you the wide kingdom of Lycurgus,

scarcely fit to be ruled in a woman’s name,

where sacred Hebrus extends, from icy Rhodope

to shadowy Haemus, and drives out the gathered waters,

you, who took my virginity, with sinister omens,

and loosed my chaste ties, with a deceiving hand.

Tisiphone, in attendance, howled at this marriage,

and the gloomy bird gave its solitary cry.

Allecto was there, entwined with tiny snakes,

and the lights were changed to funeral torches.

Though I am gloomy, I walk the cliffs and tangled shore:

wherever the wide sea is open to my gaze.

Whether the earth is warmed by day, or the cold stars shine,

I look to see what wind stirs the waves.

And whatever sails I see far-off, approaching,

I take them straight away as a sign from the gods.

I rush into the fickle sea, struggling with tenacious waves,

there, where the ocean breakers extend.

As the sails grow larger, I am less and less able to stand,

I faint and fall into my servants’ arms.

The bay is drawn in a faintly scythe-shaped arc:

the ends of its horns rise in a sheer cliff.

Here I had a mind to hurl myself into the swelling waves

- and since you will go on failing me, I will.

The tide will carry me, abandoned, to your shore

and your eyes will meet with my unburied body.

so that, though iron, and steel, and you, excel in hardness,

you will say: ‘Phyllis, this was not the way to follow me!’

Often I thirst for poison, often I’d like to die

a bloody death, pierced by a sword.

My neck too, since faithless arms offered to encircle it,

I’d like to entangle in a noose.

Mature thought upholds tender honour by dying:

there is little point in delaying the choice of death.

Inscribe the hateful reason on my tomb,

you’ll be known by these or similar lines:

‘Demophoon, the guest, gave loving Phyllis to death:

he offered her reason to die, by her own hand.


III:  Briseis to Achilles

The letter you read comes from Briseis, a captive:

its Greek, hardly written well by a barbarian hand.

Whatever you read, will be blotted with tears:

but still even tears carry the weight of my voice.

If it’s right to complain, a little, of you my lover,

and master: of master and lover, a little, I complain.

It’s not your fault I was quickly ordered to be handed over,

to King Agamemnon – however this is your fault:

when Eurybates and Talthybius both called to take me,

I, your companion, was given to Eurybates and Talthybius.

Glancing at each other’s face, they questioned,

silently, where our love might be.

I could have delayed: delayed punishment might have been welcome.

Ah me! I gave you no kiss in leaving!

But I shed tears endlessly and tore my hair:

I am unhappy finding myself, once more, a prisoner.

I have often wished I might return, deceiving my guard:

but whoever might catch this timid girl, is an enemy.

If I could get right away, however, I feared I’d be caught at night,

to be sent as a gift to some woman of Priam’s household.

But I may be given back, since I was given. I’ve been absent

so many nights, and no recall. You are idle, and slow to anger.

Patroclus himself, when I was handed over, whispered

in my ear:  ‘Why cry, you’ll be here again in a little while.’

Scarcely thought of: you disagree with my return, Achilles.

Go, now, and keep your name as a fond lover!

Ajax and Phoenix came to you, Telamon and Amyntor’s sons,

the one related to you by blood, the other a friend,

and Ulysses, Laertes’s son: I might be returned through them:

they added many valuable gifts to their entreaties:

twenty cauldrons made of yellow bronze,

and seven tripods of equal weight and art.

Added to that were ten talents of gold,

and twelve horses, always accustomed to winning.

And, what were superfluous, girls of outstanding beauty,

captured when their island of Lesbos was overthrown:

and with all this – but you don’t need a bride –

a bride, one of Agamemnon’s three daughters.

If I might have been ransomed to you by Atrides, at a price,

why did you refuse to accept what you ought to have given?

For what fault of mine did I deserve to become worthless to you, Achilles?

Where has gentle love gone, fleeing so swiftly, from us?

Or does sad fortune press hard on the wretched,

and no sweeter hour may come to my endeavours?

I saw you destroy the walls of Lyrnessus by your warfare

and I was an important person in my country.

I saw three brothers fall, who were born and died together,

whose mother was my mother also.

I saw my husband, how dear to me, spilled on the cruel earth,

his bloodstained chest heaving.

Yet, with so many lost, you alone made up for them:

you were lord, you were husband, you were brother to me.

Swearing by your mother the sea-goddess Thetis’s power,

you said to me that to have been a captive was useful in itself –

no doubt, so that though I came with a dowry, you might reject me,

and shun me, and what might have given wealth to you!

Indeed it’s even said you’ll set full sails to the South wind,

that brings the cloud, when tomorrow’s dawn shines clear.

What a crime that the fearful winds of misery touched me,

and the heart of life was empty of feeling.

You’ll go - O pity me! – to what violent man do you abandon me?

Who will comfort my tenderness when I’m deserted?

I pray that I might be swallowed by some sudden crack in the earth,

or be burned by red fire hurled out by the lightning,

before Phthian oars whiten the waves without me,

and I see your ships sail, leaving me behind.

If it’s your return and your father’s gods that please you now,

I’ll be no great burden to your fleet.

I’d follow the victor as his captive, not a husband as his wife:

I could work the wool: its fitting for my hands.

Far off among the Greek women the most beautiful bride

will enter your bed, and she’ll be worthy to be a daughter-in-law

to her father-in-law Peleus, descendant of Jove and Aegina,

of whom old Nereus well might wish to be a grandfather to the wife.

I’ll be a humble servant spinning out the day’s work

and thinning the full distaff into my threads.

I beg you not to let your wife scold me too much,

not knowing if she will be at all kind to me,

nor suffer my hair to be pulled out in your presence,

with you saying lightly: ‘She too was mine.’

Perhaps suffering’s better, since I’m indeed contemptible, forsaken:

here fear shakes my bones – alas the wretchedness!

Still, what do you wait for? Agamemnon regrets his anger

and lays out all Greece, in mourning, before your feet.

Conquer your feelings and anger, you who’ve conquered all else!

Why should Hector actively destroy the Greek forces?

Take up your arms, Aeacides –but take me back first –

and overcome those troublesome men aided by Mars!

Your anger was stirred because of me: through me let it fade,

and let me be the cause, and end, of your sorrows.

Don’t think it shameful to yield to my prayers:

Meleager was turned towards war by his wife’s prayer.

It’s a tale I’ve heard, one known to you: bereaved of her brothers

by her son, her hope and heir, the mother cursed him.

There was a war: he proudly withdrew, refusing battle,

and, stubborn of mind, refused aid to his country.

Only his wife could persuade the man – happier was she! –

but my words fail, and carry little weight.

Yet I’m not displeased that I’ve not performed as a wife,

as a slave I was summoned more often to my master’s bed.

I remember once some captive called me mistress –

I said: ‘The weight of that name adds to the slavery.’

Yet I swear by my husband’s bones, scarce buried

in a hasty grave: they are always sacred, to my judgement:

and by the three spirits of my brave brothers, gods to me,

who died well, for and with their country,

and by your body and mine that we joined as one,

and by your swords known to our weapons,

no Mycenean has shared the bed with me:

you might wish to abandon one who deceived.

If I now said to you: ‘Bravest, you too swear to me

you’ve never made love without me’ – you’d refuse.

Now the Greeks think you’re grieving – but you play music,

a sweet friend clasps you to her warm breast.

and if anyone asks why you decline to fight –

fighting’s harmful, while Venus, and nights with the lyre, delight.

It’s safer to lie there in bed, holding a girl tight,

strumming the Thracian lyre with your fingers,

than bearing a shield and a sharp-pointed spear in your hands,

and a helmet that presses down on your hair.

Yet, instead of safety, conspicuous action pleased you,

and a glorious part in the fighting was sweet.

Or was it merely that while you might still capture me,

you approved of fierce war, and your glory died with my country?

May the gods alter that! And I pray, that the spear from Pelion,

hurled from a strong arm, pierces Hector’s side!

Send me to him, you Greeks! As delegate, I’ll beg my lord,

and mingle many kisses with your requests.

I’ll achieve more than Phoenix, more than eloquent Ulysses,

more than Ajax, Teucer’s brother, believe me.

It’s something to have been embraced by familiar arms

and to have recalled his eyes to oneself in person!

Though you may be harsher, and fiercer than your mother’s waves,

I’ll suppress my tears in order to stay silent.

Now too – so that your father Peleus may complete long years,

so your son Pyrrhus might take up arms under your auspices! –

have regard for anxious Briseis, mighty Achilles,

don’t oppress the miserable girl, cruelly, with long delay:

but if your love has turned to loathing of me,

force me to die, who am forced to live without you!

Yet you do force me. My flesh and colour fade:

the one hope I still have left is that of your feelings.

If I lose that, I’ll join my husband and my brothers:

why even order it? Attack my body with your naked sword,

I have blood that should flow from my pierced breast.

Attack me with that sword, which, if Thetis had allowed,

would have entered Agamemnon’ breast!

Ah! Rather, save my life, your gift to me!

What the conqueror granted his enemy, I ask as a friend.

You can destroy better things, those that Neptune gave

to Troy: seek matter in the enemy you kill!

Only, order me, on my lord’s authority, to come: whether you

prepare your fleet to be driven by oars, or whether you stay!


IV:  Phaedra to Hippolytus

The Cretan girl, who lacks health unless he grants it her,

wishes good health to the man who’s an Amazon’s son.

Read what is here. How could reading a letter harm you?

There might even be something in it that pleases you.

My secrets are carried, by these letters, over land and sea:

even enemies read letters received from their enemies.

I’ve tried to speak to you three times, three times my tongue

clung to my mouth, three times the sound died on my lips.

It’s right and natural that shame is mingled with love:

love ordered me to write, to say what shames me.

Whatever love commands cannot be wholly denied:

he rules and is a law among the gods.

He told me to pen words, in my first confusion:

‘Write! Having conquered, he’ll give his cruel hand.’

He helps me, and, seeing that he heats my marrow with greedy fire,

he may also fix your affections as I wish.

I would not break my marriage contract through sin –

you can enquire – my reputation’s free of any stain.

Love that comes late is deeper. We burn within: we burn:

and our feelings suffer the secret wounds:

I suppose that, as a young ox is chafed by the yoke,

and a horse captured from the herd scarcely suffers the harness,

so with great difficulty, with rawness, the heart suffers new love.

and this burden does not lie easy on my spirit.

When guilt’s fully learnt in early years, it becomes an art:

love that comes with the claims of time, loves less easily. 

You will enjoy a new libation, one that has been guarded from sin,

and both of us will become equally guilty.

What’s plucked from the loaded branches in the orchard

is valuable, and the rose first gathered by slender fingers.

But even if that first purity, that I bring you free of sin,

were to be marked by this unaccustomed stain,

then I would still accept being burnt by a worthy fire:

a vile adulterer is more harmful than the adultery.

If Juno yielded me Jupiter, her husband and brother,

I’d consider Hippolytus preferable to Jove!

Now too – you’ll scarcely believe this – I take up new arts:

I have the urge to be among wild creatures:

now my chief goddess is Diana, known for her curved bow:

in following her I follow your preference:

I love to pass through the woods and drive deer into my nets,

urging my swift hounds over the tops of the hills,

or launch a quivering spear from my trembling arm,

or throw my body down on the grassy earth.

often I delight in driving a light chariot through the dust,

and twisting the bit in the mouth of a fleeing horse,

Now I’m swept away, like the Maenads roused by Bacchic frenzy,

like those who beat their drums on the slopes of Mount Ida,

or those semi-divine Dryads, and twin-horned Fauns,

who are stunned, touched by his power.

And then others relate it all, when the madness abates:

I silently burn, conscious of love.

Perhaps by my fate I’m paying for the passions of my race,

and Venus may be seeking a tribute from all the tribe.

Jupiter loved Europa, as a bull, hiding his godhead,

– she was the first origin of our people.

A burden and a reproach was born from the womb

of my mother, Pasiphae, mounted by a bull she tricked.

Treacherous Theseus, following the guiding thread

escaped the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne, my sister.

Indeed, I now, lest I might be thought no child of Minos,

am the latest to be subject to the common rules of my tribe.

This was destined too: one House pleased both of us:

your beauty captivated me, your father’s my sister.

Theseus and his son have seized on two sisters:

build twin memorials to us then in your house!

At the time when I entered Ceres’s Eleusis –

the soil of Crete should have held me back –

then you above all pleased me (though you had before):

fierce love clung to me in the depths of my bones.

You were clothed in white, your hair surrounded by flowers,

a modest blush tinged your golden cheeks:

others call your face grim and severe,

in Phaedra’s judgment that severity is strength.

let men who are adorned like women stay far from me:

beauty loves the masculine, adorned in moderation.

That severity of yours suits you, hair placed without art,

and the light dust on your distinguished face.

I admire it if you struggle with the arched necks of fiery horses,

forcing them to turn their hooves in a tight circle:

or if you calmly hurl the javelin with your strong arm,

your warlike face turned towards your shoulder:

or grasp the wide-bladed hunting spear of cornel wood –

in the end whatever you do delights my eyes.

Only expend your harshness on the wooded hills:

I’m not a fit subject to be destroyed by you.

Why delight in the study of high-girt Diana’s occupation,

and avoid what you owe to Venus?

What lacks rest now and then, will not last:

rest renews the powers, and restores weary limbs.

The bow (indeed, your weapons imitate Diana’s)

which never ceases to be strung, grows slack.

Cephalus was distinguished in hunting, and many creatures

were killed, among the grasses, by his blows:

yet he didn’t do badly in yielding to Aurora’s lovemaking:

the discreet goddess went to him from her aged husband.

The grass beneath the oak trees often held

Venus and Adonis, both, lying there relaxed.

And Meleager was on fire for Arcadian Atalanta:

she had the wild boar’s hide as a token of his love.

We too could soon be numbered in this throng!

If you take Love away your woods are uncivilised.

I’ll come myself as your companion, the hidden rocks

don’t worry me, nor fear of the boar’s curving tooth.

Two seas pound the Isthmus with their waves,

and the slender stretch of land hears both their waters.

There I might live with you, in Troezen, Pittheus’s kingdom:

it’s now a country dearer to me than my own.

Theseus, Neptune’s son, has been away a while, and will be, longer,

Pirithous keeps him there in his country.

Theseus, unless we deny what’s obvious,

prefers Pirithous to Phaedra, and Pirithous to you.

That is not all: injury comes to us from him:

we have both been wounded deeply, in fact.

Breaking my brother’s bones with his three-knotted club,

he scattered them over the soil: left my sister a prey to wild beasts.

Your mother, worthy, by her energy, of her son, bore you,

she the most courageous of the axe-wielding Amazon girls.

If you ask where she is, Theseus pierced her body with his sword:

not even such a child as you guaranteed her safety!

Indeed she was not even a bride, experiencing the wedding torch –

why, if not that you, a bastard, mightn’t hold your father’s kingdom?

Brothers he took from me, he gave to you. Yet I was not

the reason for taking them all away, he was.

O I wish the harm done you, in your heart’s core,

might be ended by the most beautiful of actions!

Come now, show your respect for your worthy father’s bed like this:

he who fled, and himself disowned his deeds.

Nor, because I’d be seen as a stepmother coupling with her stepson,

should you let your mind fear those empty names.

That old morality was held to be dying, as far as future ages,

were concerned, by Saturn, in his primitive kingdom.

Whatever might give Jupiter pleasure he declared lawful,

and divine law allows any sister to be married to her brother.

The tie is firm that’s made by procreation,

those bonds that Venus herself imposes.

It’s no effort to hide them, though! Seek the gift from her

of being able to mask guilt by known kinship.

Let someone see us embrace: we’ll both be praised,

I’ll be said to be a stepmother loyal to her stepson.

Not for you the unbarring of a harsh husband’s gate,

in the shadows, nor the deceiving of a guardian:

the house will hold as one, what it held as two.

Open kisses you gave, open kisses you’ll give.

You’ll be safe with me, and guilt will earn praise,

even if you are observed in my bed.

Rid yourself of delay, and join quickly in a compact!

Love will spare you, then, that which rages in me now!

I don’t scorn to be a suppliant, or beg humbly of you.

Ah! Where are pride and noble words now? Lost!

And I was certain I’d struggle for a long time –

if Love can be certain – and not submit to sin.

Conquered, I beg you, and clasp your knees with royal arms.

No lover thinks about what’s fitting.

I have no shame, and shame, fleeing, relinquishes its standards.

Acknowledge the favour given and conquer your hard heart!

For Minos, who is my father, rules the seas,

the lightning comes from one grandfather, Jupiter’s raised hand,

the other, Sol, his forehead fenced with sharp rays,

drives his gleaming chariot through the heat of day –

Nobility lies here subject to love: pity my forefathers

and if your power cannot spare me, spare them!

The land of Crete, Jupiter’s island, is my dowry:

all my kingdom would serve Hippolytus.

Cruel man, change your mind! My mother could seduce a bull:

will you be more savage than that wild bull?

Spare me, I beg you, by Venus who’s closest to me:

and so may you never love, what scorns you:

may the nimble goddess be with you in secret glades,

may the deep woods offer you creatures for plunder:

may the Satyrs and the Pans, mountain gods, favour you,

and the wild boar fall, pierced by your opposing spear:

may the nymphs, though you’re said to hate the girls,

give you that water which quenches parching thirst!

I add tears also to these prayers. You who read

words of prayer, imagine that you can also see my tears!


V:  Oenone to Paris

The Nymph sends words you ordered her to write,

from Mount Ida, to her Paris, though you refuse her as yours.

Will you read them? Or does your new wife forbid it?

Read! This is not a letter created by a Mycenean hand.

I, Oenone, the fountain-nymph, famous in Phrygian woods,

wounded, complain of you, who are my own if you allow it.

What god opposes my prayers with his divine will?

Might I be suffering from some crime of yours that harms me?

Whatever one deserves to suffer should be borne lightly:

what comes undeservedly, comes as bitter punishment.

You were not important as yet, when I was happy

with you as my husband, I, a nymph born of a mighty river.

You who now are a son of Priam, (let fear of the truth be absent)

were a slave: the nymph endured marriage with a slave!

We often rested our flocks, hidden among the trees,

leaves, mingled with grass, offered us a bed.

Often lying on straw, and in the deep hay,

a humble roof sheltered us from the hoar frost.

Who showed you the glades that suit the quarry,

and where the wild beast hides her cubs among the rocks?

Often, as your companion, I’ve set the wide-meshed nets,

often I’ve led swift hounds over the long slopes.

The beech trees guard my name, cut there by you,

and I read ‘Oenone’, written there by your knife:

And as the trunk grows, my name grows the same:

grow, and rise straight, in honour of my name!

I remember, a poplar, rooted by a flowing stream,

on which letters are carved, testaments to us.

Live, poplar, I pray, which rooted on the edge of the bank,

that holds this verse in your wrinkled bark:

‘If Paris breathed while Oeneone were forsaken,

Scamander’s waters would flow backwards to their source.’

Scamander, rush backwards, turn your streams around!

Paris allows Oenone to be deserted.

That day spoke my miserable fate, on that evil day

winter began to transform our love,

when Venus and Juno, and Minerva, who is more comely armed,

came, naked, to receive your judgement.

My stunned heart trembled, and a cold tremor,

ran through solid bone, as I heard that being told.

I took council (not afraid of much as yet) with old women

and age-old men: they agreed it was wrong.

Fir-trees were felled, and timbers cut, a fleet prepared,

and the blue waves received the new-caulked vessels.

You wept on leaving. Don’t deny that, at least:

your love is more shameful to you than in the past.

You wept and saw my eyes filled with tears:

we both mixed our grief and tears together.

The elm’s not smothered, by the vine, more closely

than I, your arms entwined with my neck.

Ah how many times, when you complained the wind

was feeble, your companions laughed – it was fine.

How many times you dismissed me repeatedly!

How your tongue could scarcely bear to say: ‘Farewell!’

The light breeze stirred slack sails on the firm mast

and the oars whitened the swirling water.

Unhappy I followed the departing sail with my eyes,

as is right, and my tears wet the sand,

and I begged the sea-green Nereids that you might come back soon –

so, no doubt, you could return quickly to my harm.

Did you return at my prayers, returning with another?

Ah me, my flattering speech was for a rival!

A vast natural cliff looks down onto the deep,

(once part of the mountain) and meets the ocean tide:

Here I was first to recognise the sails of your ships

and I desired to rush into the waves.

While I hesitated, I became afraid of royal-purple robes

that gleamed towards me from the height of the prow:

to wear that was no fashion of yours.

It grew nearer, and the boat touched shore with the swift breeze:

with trembling heart I saw a female face.

As if that was not enough – why did I still wait there madly? –

your vile mistress clung to your chest!

Then truly I tore my clothes, and beat my breast

and scratched my wet cheeks with sharp nails,

and filled sacred Ida with howls of complaint

I carried my tears there among the rocks.

So may Helen grieve and weep, abandoned by her lover,

let her suffer what she first brought me!

Now those women suit you, who leave their rightful husbands

to follow you over the open sea.

When you were a poor man, and a shepherd driving the flock,

the poor man had only his wife Oenone.

I’m not amazed by wealth, nor does your palace move me,

nor to be spoken of as one of Priam’s many daughters:

however Priam would not refuse to be father-in-law to a nymph,

nor would that daughter-in-law be concealed by Hecuba.

I am worthy, and wish, to become the wife of a powerful man:

I have hands that might grace a sceptre.

Don’t despise me, because I lay with you among the beech leaves:

I’m more suited to a bed of royal purple.

In the end my love is safe: here no war’s prepared

the waves carry no vengeful ships.

The fugitive daughter of Tyndareus needs dangerous weapons:

she comes to your bed with a magnificent dowry.

Ask your brother Hector, or Deiphobus or Polydamas,

whether she should be returned to the Greeks:

consult as to what grave Antenor, or Priam himself, would urge,

who have been in command for many years.

It’s shameful to start preferring a stolen woman to your country.

It’s a cause of shame to you: a just husband takes up arms.

Don’t expect the Spartan to be loyal to you, if you’re wise,

she who fell so quickly into your embrace.

Like Menelaus who cries out at the desecration of his marriage bed,

and wounded grieves at this love for a stranger,

you will also cry. Wounded chastity is restored

by no art: it remains lost for ever.

She’s on fire with your love: just so, she loved Menelaus;

now, too trusting, he lies there in an empty bed.

Happy Andromache is truly married to a good husband:

take your brother’s wife as an example.

You are lighter than leaves, without weight of sap,

flying along, dried by the fickle winds.

And there’s less weight in you than a fragile ear of wheat,

that stiffens, parched by the continual sun.

Your sister Cassandra once chanted, (now I recall)

prophesying to me, with her hair unbound:

‘What are you doing, Oenone? Why sow seed in the sand?

Ox, you plough the shore in vain!

The Greek heifer comes, who will destroy you house and lands!

Oh prevent her! The Greek heifer’s coming!

While you can, sink the obscene vessel in the sea!

Alas! How much Trojan blood she carries!’

She spoke: her servants led her away, her madness in full flight,

but my yellow hair stood on end.

Ah, prophetess, you were only too right about my woes:

see, the Greek heifer occupies my field!

Though her beauty is distinguished, she’s truly adulterous:

captivated by a guest, abandoning her husband’s gods.

Theseus (unless the name’s wrong, I’m unsure which Theseus)

stole her away from her country before.

A young man, and passionate, do we believe she returned a virgin?

How did I learn all this, you rightly ask? I love!

You might call it violence, and hide her crime, by a word:

but she who gets raped so often, offers herself to rape.

Oeonone remains chaste, though betrayed by her husband –

and you might have been betrayed yourself, by your rules:

The swift Satyrs, with hasty foot, an insolent crowd,

searched for me (I hid secretly in the woods)

and horned Faunus, his head crowned with bristling pine,

there, where Mount Ida swells up in vast ridges.

Noble Tros, who built Troy, loved me truly:

he took the prize of my virginity.

By a struggle too: all the same, his hair was torn,

and his face was scratched, by my fingernails.

I didn’t ask gold and gems for the price of my unchastity:

it’s shameful for gifts to buy a free-born body.

He entrusted me with his arts of medicine, certain I was worthy,

and allowed my hands to use his gifts.

I know every useful herb, with power to aid,

and every healing root, growing in the world.

Alas for me, that love’s not curable with herbs!

The skill in that art’s lacking from my arts.

The creator of these gifts himself they say herded

Thessalian cattle: and was wounded by my passion.

What neither the fruitful earth with its herbs, nor a god,

can create, that help you can bring to me.

You can and I deserve it. Pity this worthy girl!

I don’t bring Greeks and bloodstained weapons.

But I am yours, and I was yours in our tender years,

and I pray I might be yours, while time endures.


VI:  Hypsipyle to Jason

Hypsipyle of Lemnos, born of the people of Bacchus,

speaks to Jason: how much of your heart was truly in your words?

You’re said to have reached Thessaly’s shore in your returning ship,

rich with the fleece of the golden ram.

I give thanks for your safety, as much as you might allow:

yet surely the letter itself should have come from you.

For though you might not have had the winds, as you wished,

so as not to be driven beyond the kingdoms I granted:

however adverse the wind, Hypsipyle was worthy

of being sent a sealed letter of greeting!

Why does rumour reach me, with news, before a letter:

the sacred bulls of Mars going under the yoke,

a crop of warriors growing from scattered seed

and their deaths not requiring your efforts,

the watchful dragon guarding the hide of the ram

yet the golden fleece snatched by your brave hand?

If I could say this timidly to the doubters: ‘He himself

wrote this to me’, how fine that would be!

Why complain at the sense of duty of an indifferent husband?

If I’m still yours, I’ve been shown great indulgence.

It’s been said that a barbarous sorceress came back with you

to be welcomed to that half of the bed you promised me.

Love’s a credulous thing. If only it’s thoughtless speech

that has charged a man with false crimes!

Recently a guest came to me from Thessalian shores,

and had scarcely crossed the threshold when I said:

‘How is my Jason faring?’ He hung there,

shame-faced, his eyes fixed on the ground.

I leapt up immediately, and tearing my tunic from my breast,

I shouted: ‘Does he live, or does death call me, also?’

‘He lives,’ he said timidly: I forced that timid man to swear it.

I scarcely believe you live even with a god as witness.

As my reason returns, I begin to inquire about your deeds:

He tells of your ploughing with the bronze-footed bulls,

the dragon’s teeth sown in the earth instead of seed

and the sudden warriors bearing arms,

an earthborn people killed in civil war

fulfilling their life’s destiny in a day.

The dragon defeated. Again, I ask if Jason lives:

belief alternates with hope and fear.

While he relates each tale, he reveals, by his ability,

in the eagerness, and the flow of his story, my wounds.

Oh, where’s the loyalty promised? Where’s the marriage oath,

and the torch better fitted to plunge beneath my funeral pyre?

I was not known to you secretly. Juno was present at the wedding

and Hymen, his brow was crowned with garlands.

Yet neither Juno nor Hymen, but dismal bloodstained Erinys

carried her torches of ill-luck before me.

What are the Minyans to me? Or ships and Tritons?

Or Tiphys the Argo’s helmsman, and my country, to you?

There’s no ram here with a remarkable golden fleece,

nor was Lemnos the kingdom of old Colchian King Aeetes.

True, at first – but my evil fate drew me on –

I intended to drive the stranger away with my army of women

and they know how to overcome Lemnian men – too much so!

His life was protected by such a resolute army!

I saw that man into my city, admitted him to my house and heart.

Here two summers and two winters passed you by.

It was the third harvest when you contracted to sail,

mixing words like these with your tears:

‘I’m dragged away from you Hypsipyle. May fate only let me return:

I leave here as your husband, your husband I’ll always be.

But that of mine that’s hidden in your pregnant womb,

will live, and we should both be parents to it!’

So you spoke. And, tears falling from your lying cheeks,

I remember you could say nothing more to me.

Of the comrades you embarked last on the sacred Argo:

it sped away, the wind took your billowing sails.

The dark-blue waves well up from your driving keel:

The land’s gazed at by you, the sea by me.

A wide tower, open on all sides, surveys the waves:

there I suffer and tears wet my face and breast.

I gaze through tears, and my eyes see further

than they used to do, sharpened by loving feelings.

Now, also, add to them chaste prayers for your safety,

mingled with anxious vows, to be fulfilled by me.

Shall I fulfil the vows? Medea may enjoy the fruits of sacrifice!

My heart grieves, and overflows, with anger mixed with love.

Shall I take gifts to the temples because Jason lives who I’ve lost?

Should some victim die at a blow because of the harm to me?

I was anxious, and always afraid, lest your father

might arrange for a daughter-in-law from a city of Argolis.

I feared the Argolid – yet it’s a barbarian rival that harms me!

I never expected to suffer this wound from your enemy.

It’s not her face or merits that enchant you, but the charms she knows

and the herbs, cut, with fearful incantations.

She could labour to draw the reluctant moon from her course

and hide the horses of the sun in darkness:

she could hold back the waters, and halt the falling streams,

she could move woods, and natural rocks, from their place.

She wanders through the tombs, clothes loose, hair dishevelled,

and collects particular bones from tepid funeral pyres.

She bewitches absent folk: she pierces wax effigies,

and forces fine needles into their wretched livers.

And what it might be better for me not to have known: wrongly,

love’s sought, and its nature’s to be bought, by magic practices.

Can you embrace her, without fear, in the one bed,

enjoying sleep, in the silence of the night?

I suppose she forced you to bear the yoke, like those bulls:

and like cruel dragons, you too are lulled by her powers.

Add that she favours attributing your long list of deeds to herself

and that the wife’s name harms the husband’s.

Someone of Pelias’s party could ascribe your successes to poisons,

and there are people who might believe him, saying:

‘It wasn’t Jason, but Medea of Phasis, Aeetes’s daughter

who stripped the golden fleece from the Phrixean ram’

Alcimede, your mother, doesn’t approve – seek her council! –

nor your father: she’s a daughter-in-law come from the frozen pole.

Let her find a husband from the Don, or the damp Scythian marshes,

or even from her homeland of Phasis, for herself.

Fickle son of Aeson, more uncertain than a spring breeze,

why do your words of promise lack substance?

You who’d gone from here my husband, didn’t return so from there –

if I might be restored as your wife, I’d be as before your going.

If high birth and a noble name move you:

see, I was born the daughter of Thoas and of Ariadne.

Bacchus was my grandfather: as Bacchus’s wife she wears a crown,

and her constellation outshines the lesser stars.

Lemnos will be my gift to you: a land ripe for cultivation:

and you shall have me too with the rest of my dowry.

Now I have given birth, also. Rejoice for us both, Jason –

sweetly it’s author had made a burden for my womb.

I’m happy in their number, as well, and produced twin boys,

favoured by Lucina with a double pledge.

I you ask who they are like, you’ll be able to identify them:

they don’t know how to pretend they have any other father.

I nearly gave them up to be seen as ambassadors for their mother,

but a cruel stepmother stood in the way of that undertaking.

I feared Medea – a stepmother indeed –

Medea’s hands are made for every wickedness.

She who could scatter the torn limbs of her brother, Absyrtus,

over the fields, would she spare my children?

O you, maddened and confused by Colchian drugs,

do you still say she’s preferable to Hypsipyles in bed?

Shamefully that girl knew a man in adultery:

chaste marriage gave me to you, and you to me.

She betrayed her father – I snatched my Thoas from death.

She abandoned Colchis – I have my Lemnos.

What does matter, then, if wickedness overcomes piety,

if she is endowed by crime itself, and it earns her a husband?

Jason, I don’t admire the crime the Lemnian women committed!

However indignation grants itself a coward’s weapons.

If hostile winds as they ought had forced you and your friends

to enter my harbour, and I’d come out to meet you with young twins –

surely you’d have asked the earth to swallow you! –

say, wretch, with what look would you have gazed at me, and your children?

What death would have been fitting reward for such treachery?

In fact you would have been safe and sound because of me,

not because you deserved it, but because I am kind.

I would have drenched my face with my rival’s blood,

and yours that she stole with her magic arts.

I would have been Medea to Medea. Why, if he who is on high,

Jupiter the Just, himself, assists my prayers,

let her grieve herself for what Hypsipyle bewails, a rival

in my bed, and feel the effect of her own laws,

and as I am forsaken, a wife, and mother of two children,

may she be bereaved of similar children, and her husband!

May she not keep her evil place for long, and forsake worse:

may she be exiled, and search the whole world for refuge.

What the sister was to the brother, the daughter to the unlucky father,

let that harsh woman be to her husband and her children!

When she’s exhausted sea and land, let her try the air:

may she wander helpless, hopeless, bloodied by her crimes.

I, daughter of Thoas, cheated of my husband, beg this:

‘Live man and bride in an accursed bed!’


VII:  Dido to Aeneas

Dardanian, receive this song of dying Elissa:

what you read are the last words written by me.

At fate’s call, the white swan, despondent on the grass,

sings, like this, to the waters of Maeander.

I do not speak because I hope to move you with prayers:

I offer up my prayers to a hostile god!

But since I may have wholly wasted my reputation for merit,

and for chaste body and spirit, the waste of words is nothing.

You’re still determined to go, abandoning wretched Dido,

and the same wind will carry off your sails and promises.

Aeneas, you’re determined to break your pledge, loose

your ships, to seek domains in Italy, where, you do not know.

You are not moved by New Carthage, its growing walls,

or the supreme power entrusted to you by the sceptre.

You flee what’s done, you seek what is to do: yet searching

for another kingdom in the world, it’s already found.

If you reach that country who’d surrender it to you?

Who’d give possession of his fields to an unknown?

Another love’s in store for you, another Dido,

and another pledge being given, you’ll again deceive.

Where might you create a city as good as Carthage,

and look out on your people from its high fortress?

If it all came to pass, and the gods did not delay your hopes,

where would you find a wife, to love you like this?

I am scorched like wax torches dipped in sulphur,

like holy incense added to smoking pyres.

My sleepless eyes cling, always, to Aeneas:

I’ve Aeneas in my mind day and night.

It’s true that he’s ungrateful, and silent about my gifts,

and if I weren’t a fool, I’d wish to be free.

yet I don’t hate Aeneas, though he might think badly of me,

though I complain of his treachery, still I love him more.

Venus, spare your daughter-in-law, and Love, my brother,

embrace your hard-hearted brother: let him serve in your ranks.

So I, who began this love – I don’t scorn indeed to say this –

might offer him the substance of my affections.

I’m cheated and this is a false idea I speak of:

he differs from his mother in disposition.

Begotten by stones, or hills, or native oaks

on tall cliffs, by savage beasts, or by the sea

such as you now gaze on, stirred by the winds:

why do you still prepare to battle with adverse tides?

Where do you flee to? Storms obstruct you. The storms’ aid

will benefit me! See how the wind excites the crashing waves.

The storm I wished for you, comes to pass without me:

wind and wave are more just to me than your heart.

I’m not worth so much that you should perish, unjustly,

by not being stopped from fleeing me over the wide seas.

You’d be cultivating constancy and hatred too lavishly,

if, though free of me, you met a common fate,

Soon the winds will die, and, evenly, over the level waves,

Triton will drive his dark-green horses through the waters.

I wish that you too might be altered like the winds,

and you will, unless you’re harder than an oak.

Why, unless you’re ignorant of how furious the seas can be,

do you so often, so wrongly, trust the waters you’ve tried?

Even, when you loose the hawsers, persuaded by the tide,

still the wide sea holds many sorrows.

It’s no use tempting the waves, when faith’s been violated:

there punishment’s demanded for treachery,

especially when love is wounded, because, Venus, it’s said,

the mother of Love, was born naked from Cythera’s waters.

Lost, I fear lest I lose, and harm the one who harmed,

lest my enemy, shipwrecked, drink the salt breakers.

Live, I beg you! Thus I’d curse you more harshly than if you died,

you’d be more widely known as the cause of my death.

Come, imagine, if you were snatched up by a swift whirlwind –

let there be no weight to that omen – what would be in your mind?

Immediately the perjury of your false tongue will strike you

and Dido, forced to die by Phrygian deceit:

the image of the wife you cheated would stand before your eyes,

in sorrow, and with loosened bloodstained hair.

However many times you say: ‘Forgive me, I deserved it all!’

you’ll find each one a thunderbolt falling on you!

Grant a little space to your cruelty, and the sea:

a safe path in future will be the great reward for your delay.

If you’ve no care for me: spare your child Iulus!

It’s enough for you to bear notoriety for my death.

Why do that son, Ascanius, and your household gods deserve this?

Shall the waves bury those gods you rescued from the fire?

But you did not bring them with you, as you told me, traitor,

nor did your sacred father straddle your shoulders.

You lied about it all: for your lying tongue did not

start with me, nor am I the first one to be punished:

if you ask where Creusa is, the lovely mother of Iulus –

she died alone, abandoned by a hard-hearted husband!

You told me this, but in winning me you suppressed it.

From that minor fault, came my future punishment.

I’ve no doubt that your gods condemn you:

storm-ridden for seven years, by land and sea.

Spewed up by the waves, I received you to a safe harbour

and, scarce having heard your name aright, gave you a kingdom.

Yet I wish I’d been contented with those services

and my reputation not buried by our union!

That day harmed me, when a sudden dark rainstorm

forced us to shelter under the roof of a cave.

I heard a voice: I thought it the nymphs’ wailing:

it was the Furies giving warning of my fate.

Exact my punishment, wounded Honour, and by the violated

laws of my marriage-bed leave no reputation to my ashes.

And you ghost, and spirit, and ashes of my Sychaeus

to whom, alas for me, filled with shame I go.

Sychaeus is honoured by me in a marble shrine:

covered by shadowing branches, with their white strands of wool.

From it, four times, I heard his familiar voice, calling me by name:

his tones, faintly, saying: ‘Elissa, come!’

No delay: I come: I come to you, a wife in debt –

yet still I am late through confessing to my shame!

Grant forgiveness of my sin: he was worthy, he who deceived me:

that it was him removes the evil from my offence.

His divine mother, Venus, and the son’s pious burden, his old father,

Anchises, gave me hope he’d be a true husband to me.

If I was mistaken, the error had an honest cause:

add my loyalty, and nothing’s to be regretted.

The course of my fate holds true to the end,

and runs clear to the last day of my existence:

My husband, Sychaeus, died at the altar of his house

and my wicked brother, Pygmalion, has the spoils.

Exiled from Tyre, I left my country, my husband’s ashes,

and endured harsh journeys, pursued by enemies.

Escaping my brother and the sea, I was brought to unknown lands,

and I won this shore, that I granted to you, faithless man.

I founded Carthage, and laid out wide walls on every side,

a cause of envy to the neighbouring peoples.

War broke out. A stranger, and a woman, they tested me by war,

and I’d barely prepared the weapons and defences of my new city.

I was flattered by a thousand suitors, plaintive to wed me,

and I don’t know which of their marriage beds I preferred.

Why hesitate to surrender me in chains to Iarba, of the Gaetuli?

I will have offered my arms up to your wickedness.

There is my brother, too, whose impious hand demands

to be sprinkled with my blood, already stained by my husband’s.

Set aside the gods, and the holy things you profane by touching!

It’s not well for an impious hand to worship the heavens.

If you were their future supporter escaped from the fire,

it’s a shame that the gods themselves escaped the flames.

Wicked man, you abandon both pregnant Dido

and that part of you hidden enclosed by my body.

You add the infant’s death to the unhappy mother’s,

and you’ll be author of the funeral of your unborn child.

Iulus’s brother will die with his mother,

and one punishment will destroy the two of us.

‘But the god orders me to go.’ I wish he had prevented your

coming to Carthage, its earth from being touched by a Trojan.

Led by this god, are you not driven by adverse winds,

and endlessly scoured by ravening seas?

Returning to Troy had scarcely been so much effort for you

if it were as great as when Hector was alive.

You don’t seek your father’s Simois, but Tiber’s streams,

surely, when you reach the place you wish, you’ll be an enemy.

While the land, you force yourself on, hides and shuns your ships,

you’ll hardly be able to touch what you seek until you’re old.

Rather you should accept this nation, without quibbling,

as my dowry, and the riches of Pygmalion I brought here.

Transform this happier Phoenician city into Troy,

and rule this place, and hold the sacred sceptre!

If your mind’s eager for war, if Iulus asks, what victorious part

might fall to him in battle, we’ll have no lack of enemies

to offer him, for him to overcome: here he can cultivate

the conditions for peace, here too a place for arms.

Only – by your mother Venus, and your brother’s arms, his arrows,

and the sacred Trojan gods companions of your flight! –

may whoever of your race you brought, so conquer,

and cruel Mars bring an end to your troubles,

and Ascanius fulfil his years in happiness

and old Anchises’s bones rest in peace!

I beg you, spare this house that surrenders ownership to you!

What crime could you say was mine except having loved?

I was not born in Greece, in Phthia, or great Mycenae,

my husband and father did not depend on you.

If it’s shameful to marry me, call me friend not wife:

so long as Dido is yours, she’ll endure anything.

I know how the waves strike the African shore:

and grant or deny a passage at certain times:

when the wind grants you way, you may unfurl your sails:

then fickle weeds enclose your grounded boat.

Trust me to watch for the right time: you’ll leave more certainly,

and even if you wish it, I won’t let you stay.

And your companions need rest, and the sails of your ships,

half-repaired, require some further delay.

By my kindnesses, if I am destined for you, beyond this,

by those hopes of union I beg a little time:

while the seas grow calmer, while love’s eased by familiarity,

I learn to bear my sorrows more firmly.

If not, I have the courage to pour away my life:

your harshness cannot endure within me long.

I wish you could see my appearance as I write:

I write, and a Trojan sword lies in my lap:

and tears fall from my cheeks onto the naked blade,

which will soon be stained with tears of blood.

How truly fitting your gift is for my death,

you prepare my funeral at little cost.

Nor is this the first wound, from a weapon, my heart suffers:

that place bears the wound of cruel love.

Anna, sister, sister Anna, sadly conscious of my crime,

soon you must give the last offerings to my ashes.

Do not write ‘Sychaeus’s Elissa’, when I’m consumed by fire,

let this verse, alone, appear on my marble tomb:

‘Aeneas offered a reason to die, and the sword.

Dido killed herself by her own hand.’