Ovid: The Heroides
XVI to XXI
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved
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- XVI: Paris to Helen
- XVII: Helen to Paris
- XVIII: Leander to Hero
- XIX: Hero to Leander
- XX: Acontius to Cydippe
- XXI: Cydippe to Acontius
XVI: Paris to Helen
Daughter of Leda, I, the son of Priam, send you health,
which I allow that only you can grant me.
Shall I speak out, or is there no need to signal known passion,
and is my desire now visible, perhaps more than I wish?
In fact I’d prefer it hidden, until the time is granted
when fear might not be mixed with joy.
But I dissimulate badly: who in truth could have hidden a fire
that always betrays itself by its own light?
Still if you expect it, I’ll add my voice also to the fact:
I burn – now you own the word that declares my heart.
Spare me for confessing it, I beg you, and don’t read the rest of this
with a harsh expression, but rather one suited to your beauty.
I’ve long been grateful: since the fact that you accepted my letter
gave me hope that, by that token, you might also accept me.
Let it be so: I hope Venus, Love’s mother, hasn’t promised you
to me in vain, she who’s urged me to take this course.
And now I sail, by her divine command – you shouldn’t sin
not knowing this – and her great power is with me from the start.
I ask a great reward it’s true, and not one that is due me:
Cytherea’s promised you for my bed.
Guided by this, I’ve made my uncertain way over the wide sea,
from Sigeum’s shore, in the ship Phereclus built.
She brought me a helpful breeze, and a following wind –
born from the sea, she no doubt has power at sea.
May she continue, the passion in my heart exhorts me,
so that I might reach your harbour, and my wish.
I brought these desires with me: I didn’t find them here.
They were the reason for so long a journey.
For neither a wretched storm, nor some error brought me here:
Sparta’s land was what my fleet sought out.
Don’t think I divided the waves with my ship carrying goods –
the wealth I have the gods can keep.
Nor have I come just to visit the towns of Greece:
my kingdom’s cities are far richer.
I seek you, whom lovely Venus drives towards my bed:
I wished for you before you were known to me.
Your face was in my mind before I saw you with my eyes:
news of your fame first brought me the wound.
Still it’s no wonder I love, just as if I’d been struck a blow
by the arrows from a bow, fired from a distance.
So the Fates are pleased: lest you try to shy away from them,
accept the words I tell you, in true honour.
My birth delayed, I was yet held in my mother’s womb:
by now her belly was swollen with my full weight.
In the form of a dream, she saw herself delivered
of a flaming torch from her pregnant belly.
She woke terrified, and told the fearful vision of deep night
to old Priam, and he in turn to his seers.
One prophesied that Troy would be burnt by Paris’s fire –
the torch in my heart, such as there is now.
The beauty and vigour of my spirit, though I might have seemed
to have been low-born, were signs of my secret nobility.
There’s a place in the midst of the valleys of wooded Ida,
solitary, crowded with pines and holm-oaks,
where placid sheep, and she-goats that love the rocks,
and slow oxen, with open mouths, won’t graze:
There I was, leaning against a tree, gazing down
on the walls, and high roofs of Troy, and the sea –
behold, the earth seemed to me to shake, at the tread of many feet –
I speak the truth, scarcely having had faith it was true –
Mercury, the grandchild of mighty Atlas and Pleione,
appeared before my eyes, driven on his swift wings –
it was lawful to see it, let it be lawful to say what I saw –
and there was a rod of gold in the god’s fingers.
And at that same moment three goddesses, Venus, Athene,
and Hera, set down their tender feet on the grass.
I was stunned, and icy terror raised my hair on end,
when the winged messenger said to me: ‘Have no fear!:
you’re a judge of beauty: end the goddesses’ quarrel,
one beauty is worthy of conquering the other two.’
Lest I refuse, he commanded it in Jupiter’s name,
and took himself off right away, on the sky-path to the stars.
My spirits recovered, a sudden courage came to me,
and I wasn’t afraid to observe each one with a look.
They were all worthy of winning, and as judge I lamented
that all of their cases couldn’t succeed.
But even then one of them pleased me more,
she, as you might guess, is the one by whom love’s stirred.
They so much wanted to win: they were fired up
to tempt my judgement with powerful gifts.
Jupiter’s consort mentioned kingdoms: his daughter valour:
I might wish to think about power or being brave.
Sweet Venus laughed: ‘Don’t let either of their gifts fool you,
they’re filled with anxious fear,’ she said:
I’ll give you, what you should love, the lovelier daughter
of lovely Leda will indeed enter your embrace.’
She spoke, and, with her gift and her beauty both approved,
victorious, she retraced her steps to the sky.
Meanwhile, I believe, the Fates turned to my prosperity,
I was acknowledged a son of the king, by proven signs.
The joyful house increased, accepting a long lost child,
and also, because of it, Troy had a day of festival.
Just as I desire you, women desire me:
you alone can have what many pray for.
Not just the daughters of kings and lords seek me,
but I am cared for and loved by nymphs.
What beauty greater than Oeneone, in the world, is worthy,
after you, to become a daughter-in-law of Priam?
But, Helen, the whole crowd have become loathsome to me,
since I’ve had hopes of making you my bride.
Waking, my eyes see you: by night, my mind,
when my eyelids lie conquered by tranquil sleep.
How can your beauty, which I’ve not had pleasure in seeing,
be present to me? I was alight, though the fire was far from me.
I could no longer deny myself that hope of mine,
rather I sought out my wish, by the dark-blue roads.
Phrygian pine fell to the axes of Troy
and wood fit for the ocean waves:
The tall groves were stripped from high Gargara,
and Ida yielded me timbers without number.
Oak is curved for the foundations of my swift ships,
and their ribs are pinned to the curving keel.
Yards are added to masts, and receive the hanging shrouds,
and the raked sterns receive pictures of the gods:
so that the captain sails, an ornate goddess standing there
as sponsor of his union, accompanied by a little Cupid.
After the last hand had finished work on the fleet,
I was happy to leave ,right away, for Aegean waters.
but father and mother stopped me, asking for my prayers
and delaying my going by their pious intent:
and my sister Cassandra, just as she was, with hair unbound,
cried out, as our ships were ready to sail:
‘Where are you rushing to? You’ll bring fire back with you!
You don’t know how great the flames are you seek in those waters!’
The prophetess was right: I found the fires she spoke of,
and savage love blazes in my tender heart.
I left the harbour and carried by helpful winds
I landed on your shores, bride, scion of Oebalus.
Your husband welcomes me as a guest: this too
didn’t happen without the counsel and will of the gods.
In fact he showed me whatever in all of Sparta
is worthy and distinguished enough to be shown:
But I desired to see your much-praised beauty,
there was nothing else that could captivate my eyes.
When I saw you, I was stunned, and, astonished,
I felt new love swell in my deepest heart.
As far as I could remember, you had such looks
as when Cytherea came to me for judgement.
Equally, if you’d been in that competition,
Venus winning the palm would have been in doubt.
Fame in fact has greatly commended you,
and no land is ignorant of your beauty.
No other beauty has a name like yours,
anywhere from Phrygia to the place the sun rises!
Do you trust me in this? – Your fame is less than the truth
and fame’s almost unkind to your beauty.
I find more here than She promised me,
and your reality exceeds your fame.
So Theseus, who knew all this, deserved to be on fire,
and you were seen to be a prize worthy of such a hero,
when, according to your people’s custom, you exercised, naked,
in the gleaming gymnasium, a woman among the naked men.
I praise the fact he took you: I’m amazed he ever returned you.
a prize so great should have been held forever.
My head would have been severed from my blood-stained neck
before I’d have seen you taken from my bed.
Do you think my hands could ever wish to let you go?
Do you think that while I lived I’d let you leave my side?
If you’d had to be given up, still, before I produced you,
Venus would not have been entirely idle,
Either I’d have taken your virginity, or I’d have snatched
what I could, leaving you still intact.
Only give yourself: so you’ll know Paris is faithful:
the flame of my funeral pyre alone can end these flames.
I preferred you to kingdoms, that the great wife,
and sister, of Jupiter once offered me,
and, while I can encircle your neck with my arms,
the power of Pallas’s gift’s contemptible to me.
I’ve no regret, nor does anything I chose seem foolish:
my heart remains firm in its desire for you.
I only pray my hope is not allowed to die, oh you,
so worthy, I seek with so much labour!
I’m not a low-born man choosing a noble wife,
it would not, trust me, be shameful to be mine.
If you ask you’ll find Electra the Pleiad, and Jove in my line,
to say nothing of my later ancestors.
My father rules Asia, there’s no richer region,
with immense borders that can scarcely be surveyed.
You’ll see endless cities, and golden palaces,
and temples you’d say were fit for the gods.
You’ll see Troy, and its strong walls with high turrets,
built by the music of Apollo’s lyre.
What can I tell you of the crowds, and the host of warriors?
The earth can scarcely sustain so many people.
The Trojan women will come to meet you in a dense throng,
and our halls will not hold all the daughters of Phyrgia.
O how often you’ll say: ‘How poor our Achaia is!’
One house will display the wealth of a city.
But it wouldn’t be right for me to condemn your Sparta:
the land where you were born is rich for me.
But Sparta’s tiny, you’re worthy of a wealthy culture:
that place is not beneficial to your beauty.
That beauty should enjoy copious adornments, without end,
and it’s fitting that new delights overflow for you.
When you see the refinement of our race of men,
what will you consider the daughters of Greece possess?
Grant only that you won’t reject a Phrygian husband too easily,
girl born in Therapnaean country.
It’s a Phrygian, Ganymede, one born of our race,
who mixes nectar now for the gods.
It’s a Phrygian, Tithonus, who’s Aurora’s husband: the goddess
carried him off, she who prescribes the final border of night.
Anchises, is Phrygian too, whom the mother of the winged Cupids
loves to lie with on the ridges of Mount Ida.
Nor do I think Menelaus will be preferred to me, in your mind,
when we’re compared in age and beauty.
I’ll certainly not give you Atreus as a father-in-law, who banishes
the light, who makes the Sun’s terrified horses shy from the feast:
nor is Priam’s father red, with his wife’s father’s murder:
a Pelops, who stained the Myrtoan waters with his crime:
Nor is Tantalus my ancestor, snatching fruit in Styx’s waters,
and seeking moisture in the midst of the stream.
Shouldn’t it concern me that one born of those has you?
To think that Jove’s the father-in-law of this house!
Ah, the crime of it! All the night that man who’s unworthy of you
holds you in his embrace, and enjoys you to the full:
but I, in short, scarcely see you when the tables are set,
and that time too is full of things that wound me.
May my enemies experience such feasts as ours,
that I often suffer when the wine goes round.
I’m sorry I’m a guest, when I see that boor
put his arms round your neck, as I watch.
I swell with anger and envy – why shouldn’t I tell all –
when he fondles your limbs beneath your clothes.
Truly, when you grant him gentle kisses in my presence,
I place the cup I’ve lifted in front of my eyes:
I drop my gaze when you take his arm,
and the food sticks in my unwilling throat.
Often I give a groan: and you, impudent girl, I noticed,
you can’t hold back your laughter at my groans.
Often I’d have drowned my passion in wine, but it grew,
and drunkenness was a fire added to a fire.
Many times, not to see you, I reclined with my face averted:
but my eyes were immediately called back to you.
I’m not sure what I’ll do: it’s a grief to see you,
but a worse grief to be absent from your face.
As I can and might, I struggle to hide my passion,
but though I pretend, my love still shows.
I’m not lying to you: you feel my wounds, you feel:
and I hope they are only known to you.
Ah, how often I’ve turned my face away when tears came,
so he might not see the reason for my tears.
Ah, how often in drink I’ve told of some love affair,
repeating every word that troubles you,
and expressing my judgment under cover of my tale:
truly I was that lover, if you didn’t realise.
Indeed, so that I might use lascivious words,
more than once my drunkenness was feigned.
I remember your breasts were exposed, betrayed by your dress,
and gave my eyes an opening to your nakedness,
breasts whiter than pure snow, or milk
or Jove, that swan, who embraced your mother.
While I was stunned, gazing – as I held a cup tightly –
the handle slipped from my curving fingers.
If you gave your daughter, Hermione, kisses, I delighted
right away in taking them from her tender lips.
And now, reclining there, I sang of ancient loves,
and now, by nods, I gave you secret messages.
And I dared to address your close friends recently,
Clymene and Aethra, in flattering tones:
who said no more to me than that they were frightened,
and left me, in the middle of stating my requests.
The gods should make you the prize in some great contest,
and the victor might have you, for his bed,
as Hippomenes took Atalanta, Schoeney’s daughter, in the race,
as Hippodamia came to Phrygian Pelops’s breast,
as Hercules broke Achelous’s horn,
while he sought your embrace, Deianira.
My courage might have passed boldly through these trials,
and you would have been needful of my efforts.
Now there’s nothing left for me but to beg, my lovely one,
and clasp your ankles, if you allow it.
O beauty, O present glory of the Twins,
O woman worthy of Jove for a husband, if you were not his scion,
either I’ll return to Sigeum’s harbour with you my bride
or, exiled, I’ll be covered by the earth here, in Taenaria!
My heart’s not been lightly grazed by the arrow’s point:
the wound has penetrated to my bones!
Now I recall, that to be pierced by a heavenly arrow
was the truth that my sister prophesied.
Helen, forebear to deny the love we’re given –
so that the gods will be ready to hear your prayers.
Many things come to mind: but, to say more in person,
take me to your bed in the silence of the night.
Perhaps you’re ashamed, and fear to desecrate the marriage bond
and betray the chaste rights of your lawful bed?
Ah, I won’t speak crudely, or too frankly Helen,
but do you think beauty can ever be free from sin?
You must either alter your beauty or be less harsh:
Chastity conflicts with great loveliness.
Jupiter delights in these intrigues, and lovely Venus:
such an intrigue surely gave you Jove for a father.
If the forces of love are in the seed it could hardly be
that the daughter of Jove and Leda could be chaste.
Still you’d be chaste while you kept to my Troy,
and I ask that I might be your only crime.
Now we’ll offend in what our hour of marriage will set right,
if only Venus made me no idle promises.
But indeed your husband persuades you to this, voicelessly:
he’s away, that his guest’s intrigue might not be hindered.
he found no time more fitting, to see his Cretan kingdom –
oh, what a wonderfully cunning man!
‘Wife, run my affairs, and as I’ve asked you,’ he said on leaving,
‘take care of my guest, in my place.’
I’m a witness, you’ll slight your absent husband,
if your every care’s not for your guest.
Do you hope this thoughtless man, my Tyndaris,
might sufficiently understand your gift of beauty?
You’re wrong: he’s ignorant: if he thought that what he held
was some great good, he wouldn’t trust it to a stranger.
Even if you’re not stirred by my voice or my ardour,
I’m compelled to seize the advantage:
if not I’d be as foolish as indeed he is himself,
in letting such a carefree time be idly lost.
Your lover’s almost been led to you, by his hand:
use your husband’s mandate in all innocence!
You lie alone in your empty bed, through such long nights:
on my empty couch indeed I too lie alone.
Let’s join in shared delights, you with me, and I with you:
midnight will be brighter than the day.
Then I’ll swear to you by whatever gods
and I’ll be bound by my words according to your rites:
then, unless our pledge is false,
I’ll make ready for you to travel to my kingdom.
If you’re ashamed, and fear lest you’re seen to go with me,
I’ll be the sole culprit in our crime.
I’ll imitate the deed of Theseus, and your twin brothers:
I can touch on no more appropriate example.
Theseus snatched you, the Twins took the daughters of Leucippus:
I’ll be numbered there too, as a fourth example.
The Trojan fleet is here, equipped with arms and men:
soon wind and oar could send them on their way.
A mighty queen you’ll go, through the Dardanian cities,
and people will think you’re a new goddess there,
as you take your course the flames will burn with cinnamon,
and a victim falling will strike the blood-stained earth.
My father will bring you gifts, and my brothers, mother, sisters,
all the daughters of Ilium, the whole of Troy.
Ah me! I can scarcely speak a tiny part of what will be,
more will be given to you than my letter mentions.
Don’t fear if you’re snatched away fierce war will pursue us,
and mighty Greece rouse its armed men.
Of all the abducted have any been brought back by armies?
Trust me, that thought’s full of idle fear.
The Thracians seized Orythia, Erectheus’s daughter,
in Boreas’s name, and Bistonia was safe from war.
Jason of Pagasa took Phasian Medea, in the first ship, the Argo,
and the land of Thessaly wasn’t harmed at Colchian hands.
Theseus who also took you, snatched the Minoan, Ariadne:
yet Minos did not call on the Cretans to take up arms.
The fear’s often greater than the risk in these things:
who’s afraid ends up ashamed, for what they might have lost.
Still, imagine, if you wish, a mighty war’s begun:
I have warriors, and my weapons can do harm.
Asia is no less wealthy than your country:
she has a wealth of men and horses.
Nor does Menelaus, son of Atreus, have more courage
than Paris, nor is he superior in arms.
When only a boy, I recovered our stolen herds, slaying the enemy,
and for that reason bear the name, Alexander, ‘defender’.
When only a boy, I conquered youths in varied competition,
among whom were Ilioneus and Deiphobus.
Lest you think I’m only to be feared in hand-to-hand combat,
I can pierce with my arrow whatever place you choose.
Can you show me deeds like these, in his early youth:
can you train the son of Atreus in my arts?
If you grant all that, can you grant him Hector for a brother?
He alone would be like having innumerable soldiers.
You don’t know my worth, and my strength’s deceptive:
you, who’ll be his future bride, don’t know the man.
So they’ll either demand you back, without the tumult of war,
or the Greek force will fall to my army.
Yet I’d not be displeased to take up arms for such a wife:
great prizes arouse competition.
You too, if all the world contends because of you,
you’ll bear a famous name, to all posterity.
Only trust me: fearlessly departing, with the gods we favour,
claim my service, as we swore, in complete faith.
XVII: Helen to Paris
Paris, if only I might have not read what I’ve read,
I might indeed retain your good regard as before.
Now that my eyes have been troubled by your letter,
I take pride in not replying lightly.
A chance stranger to our sacred hospitality you’ve dared
to tamper with the rightful loyalty of a wife!
When Taenarus’s shore welcomed you, driven by stormy seas,
to its harbour, and, our kingdom held no doors shut against you,
though you come of a foreign people,
is insult then to be the reward for such great services?
You who so enter, are you friend or enemy?
No doubt, in your judgement, my reproach,
though just, might indeed be called naive.
Let me be naive, then, as long as I’m not smeared with shame,
and the course of my life is free of blemish.
If there’s no sad expression on my face,
and I don’t sit grimly with a frown on my brow,
still my reputation’s spotless, and as yet, without sin,
I entertain myself, and no adulterer has my approval.
I’m the more surprised you’ve confidence in your attempt,
and that it’s given you reason to hope to share my bed.
Perhaps because Neptune’s hero, Theseus, took me by force,
once taken I’m thought worthy of being taken twice?
If I’d been seduced, the crime would have been mine:
since I was forced, what was I but unwilling?
He still didn’t get from his deed the fruits he sought:
I returned untouched except by fear.
The insolent man only stole a few kisses:
he had nothing further from me.
Your wickedness mightn’t have been content with that.
The gods help me! He wasn’t like you.
He returned me intact, and his restraint lessened the crime,
and it’s obvious the young man repented of his actions.
Did Theseus repent, so that Paris might succeed him,
so that my name would always be on men’s lips?
Yet I’m not angry – who’s angered by a lover? –
If only the love you show for me isn’t false.
Indeed I doubt that too, not because assurance is lacking,
or that my beauty’s not well-known to me,
but because credulity’s usually harmful to girls
and they say your words lack truth.
It may be said others sin, and a chaste woman’s rare.
Why is my name forbidden to be among the rare ones?
Or that my mother seems suited to you, by whose example
you may think you can sway me too: it’s an error: my mother
accepted love-making while under a false illusion:
the adulterer was hidden by a swan’s plumage.
I can’t pretend ignorance, if I sin: nor would there be any error
that could screen the fact of my crime.
She erred in good faith, and the wrong was redeemed by its author.
For what Jove could I be said to be happily at fault?
And you mention your race, forebears, your royal name:
this house is distinguished enough in its nobility.
Not to speak of Jupiter, my husband’s ancestor, and all the glory
of Pelops, Tantalus’s son, and of Tyndareus:
Leda, deceived by the swan, gave me Jupiter for a father,
she who trustingly fondled the illusory bird in her lap.
Now go on telling me of the distant origin of the Phrygian race
and of Priam and his father Laomedon!
I admire them: but he who’s your greatest glory is fifth in line
from you: Jupiter, who would be first in line from my name.
Though I suppose your sceptre to be a power in your land,
yet I don’t think ours is less mighty.
If indeed the place outdoes this one in wealth and numbers of men,
certainly yours is a barbarous country.
It’s true your letter offers such rich gifts
that they might move the gods themselves.
But if I wished now to cross the bounds of modesty,
you yourself would be a better reason for my sin.
Either I’ll keep my name forever without stain
or I’ll follow you rather than your gifts.
While I don’t reject them, gifts are always the most acceptable
when the author of them has made them precious.
It’s more that you love me, that I’m the reason for your labours,
that you come in hope, over such wastes of water.
Also, persistent man, I notice what you do now
when the tables are laid, though I try to pretend –
when you only look at me with your eyes, impudent, bold,
the gaze which my eyes can scarcely bear,
and now you sigh, and now you take the cup nearest me,
and where I drank from, you drink from that place too.
Ah, how many times I’ve seen your fingers, how many times,
giving secret signals, and your eyebrows almost speaking!
And often I’ve been fearful lest my husband might see it,
and I blushed at the signs you didn’t sufficiently hide.
Often I’ve whispered or, not even aloud, I’ve said:
‘This man has no shame!’ nor did that voice deceive me.
Also I’ve read, on our corner of the table beneath my name,
what the letters, composed with wine, spelt: ‘I love.’
I still refused to believe it, giving a look of denial.
Ah me, now I’ve learnt how to speak in that manner!
These are the blandishments, if I’d been sinful, that might
have deflected me: these might have captured my heart.
It’s also I confess your rare beauty: and a girl
could want to fall into your embrace.
But some other might be made happier, without sinning,
rather than that my honour fall to a foreign lover.
Only, learn by example to be able to do without beauty:
virtue is to refrain from self-indulgent pleasures.
How many young men, do you think, wish for what you wish for?
Are they wise, or is Paris the only one with eyes?
You see no more than them, but you dare more rashly:
you’ve no more judgement, but less composure.
I wish that your swift ship had come then,
when a thousand suitors sought my virginity.
If I’d seen you, you’d have been first among the thousand:
my husband himself will pardon my opinion.
You come late, to delights already taken and possessed:
you hope was tardy: what you seek another has.
Though I chose to become your bride in Troy,
Menelaus does not hold me here unwillingly.
I beg you, stop tearing my heart apart sweetly with your words,
don’t hurt me, whom you say you love:
but allow me to keep the situation fate has granted,
and don’t shamefully make a prize of my honour.
But Venus agreed this, and in the deep valleys of Ida
three naked goddesses showed themselves to you:
and while one offered a kingdom, and another fame in battle,
the third said: ‘Helen will be your bride!’
It’s hard to believe, for my part, that those heavenly bodies
were presented to you for judgement on their beauty:
if it were true, certainly the rest is fiction,
that I was said to be the prize for your judgement.
I don’t have enough confidence in my body to think that I
might have been the finest gift the goddess could call on.
I’m content that men’s eyes approve my beauty:
Venus praising me would be a cause of envy.
But I won’t refute a thing: I favour your praise too:
For, heart, why reject the voice that is desired?
Don’t be angry if my belief in you comes only with great difficulty:
trust in important things usually builds slowly.
My prime pleasure is to have so pleased Venus:
the next, that you saw me as the greatest prize,
and preferred neither Hera’s nor Athene’s offerings
to the charms of Helen you had heard of.
So I’m excellence to you, I’m a noble kingdom?
I’d be made of iron, if I didn’t love your heart.
Believe me, I’m not of iron: but I resist loving
he whom I think could scarcely be mine.
Why plough the wet sands with curving blade,
or try to chase hopes that this situation denies?
I’m innocent of the affairs of Venus, and I never –
may the gods be my witness! – play tricks on my husband!
Now too, as I entrust my words to the silent page,
this letter performs a new service.
Happy, those who are used to these things! I know nothing of them,
I suspect the path of sin is difficult.
Fear is itself wrong: I’m confused now,
and I think all eyes are on my face.
Nor do I think it false: I sense the hostile murmurs of the people,
and Aethra brings me news of what they say.
But hide your love, unless you prefer to end it?
Why end it? You can dissimulate.
Indulge, but secretly! I’m given more freedom
though not total, because Menelaus is away.
In fact business required him to travel abroad,
there was a great, and valid, cause for his sudden journey:
or so it seemed to me. When he hesitated about going,
I said: ‘Go, and return quickly!’ Pleased by this
he kissed me, saying: ‘Care for the house,
and business, and for the Trojan guest.’
I could scarcely hold my laughter, which, with a struggle,
I suppressed, and could say nothing except; ‘It shall be.’
It’s true he sailed for Crete with a following wind:
but don’t think everything is as you’d wish!
When my husband’s away like this, absent he still guards me,
or don’t you realise a king’s hands have a long reach?
Also beauty is a burden: now I’m constantly praised
by your people’s mouths, he’s rightly more anxious.
That same glory I delight in, as it now is, harms me,
and it would have been better to have foregone fame.
Don’t be amazed that he’s gone, leaving me with you:
he trusts my virtue and my way of life.
He fears my looks, relies on my habits:
my goodness makes him feel secure, my beauty scares him.
You anticipate a later time beforehand, lest it’s lost,
so as to take advantage of my foolish husband.
And I both desire and fear, and my inclination’s not yet clear
enough: my mind hesitates, with doubt.
And my husband’s away, and you sleep without a partner,
your beauty captivates me, mine in turn captivates you:
and the nights are long, and now we meet to talk,
and you, ah me! flatter, and we share one house.
And let me perish if everything does not invite my sin:
I don’t know why I delay, but for the fear itself.
I wish you could rightly compel, what you wrongly persuade!
My awkwardness should have been overcome by force.
Sometimes a wrong benefits those who suffer it.
so I might have been compelled to be happy.
While it’s new, we should fight love’s inception the more!
A fresh flame dies sprinkled with a little water.
Love’s not certain in a guest: it wanders, like himself,
and, when you think nothing’s more certain, vanishes.
Hypsipyle’s a witness, and Ariadne, the Minoan virgin:
both of them dallied in illicit beds.
You also, unfaithful man, have abandoned Oenone,
they say, your delight for many years.
You have still not denied it: and if you don’t know
it was my first care to search out everything about you.
Added to which, if you wished to stay true in love,
you couldn’t. Your Phrygians are readying your sails:
while you speak to me, while you arrange the hoped-for night,
a breeze will come, to carry you soon to your homeland.
you’ll abandon complete delight in the midst of its newness:
our love will be gone with the wind.
Or should I follow, as you argue, and see the Troy you praise,
and be the granddaughter-in-law of great Laomedon?
I wouldn’t take the noise of rumour’s wings so lightly,
if the countries were full of my unchastity.
What would Sparta say of me, all Achaia,
the peoples of Asia, and your Troy?
What would Priam and Hecuba feel about me,
and all your brothers, and Trojan daughters-in-law?
You too, how could you hope for me to be faithful
and not be anxious at your own example?
Every stranger entering a Trojan port,
would be a source of troublesome fear to you.
How often, angry with me, you’d cry: ‘Adulteress!’
forgetting my guilt also belongs to you!
You’d become at once the author and critic of the offence.
Before that may the earth cover my face!
But I’ll enjoy Troy’s wealth and rich culture
and I’ll bear gifts more copious than you promised:
I’ll be offered purple-dyed and precious fabrics,
and I’ll be rich in heaped weights of gold!
Forgive this confession! Your gifts aren’t worth that much to me:
I don’t know this land that would hold me at all.
Who will rush to help me, if I’m hurt, on Phrygian shores?
Where will I find a brother or father’s aid?
Jason, the deceiver, promised Medea everything:
wasn’t she driven out, no less, from Aeson’s house?
There was no Aeetes, to whom, scorned, she might return,
no mother, Idyia, no sister, Chalciope.
I fear nothing like that, but nor did Medea fear:
often hope’s deceived by its own presentiments of good.
You’ll find the sea in harbour was calm for every ship
that’s now tossed about in the deep.
That torch of blood terrifies me too, that your mother saw
born to her, before your day of birth:
and I fear the seer’s warning, who prophesied, it’s said,
that Troy would be burnt by a Pelasgian fire.
And as Venus favours you, because she triumphed, and holds
the double trophy through your choice (the apple and her beauty),
so I am afraid of those other two, if your boast is true,
who, through your decision, lost their cause:
I’ve no doubt, if I followed you, war would be prepared.
Our love would travel among weapons, alas!
Perhaps Hippodamia of Atrax was the cause that forced
the Thessalian warriors into savage war with the Centaurs:
do you think Menelaus would be slow to righteous anger
or the Twins, his brothers-in-law, or Tyndareus?
For all your talk and tales of brave deeds
your beauty conflicts with your words.
Your body’s fitter for Venus than Mars.
Let the brave wage war, you, Paris, always love!
Command Hector, whom you praise, to fight for you:
your skills are in another kind of battle.
If I were to taste of them, and were a little braver,
I might enjoy them: if any girl tastes them, she might.
Or perhaps, abandoning shame, I might taste them
and, hesitation conquered by time, give you my hand.
I know what you seek: to tell me this, privately, in person:
what you might attempt to win, and invite in conversation:
But you’re too hasty, and as yet green shoots are your harvest.
Perhaps a fond delay would be to your liking.
Enough: now let these words, which share the mysteries
of my secret heart, cease with my weary fingers.
I’ll speak the rest through my friends Clymene and Aethra,
who are my two companions, and my counsel.
XVIII: Leander to Hero
Hero, accept, from Leander’s hand, while he himself comes,
what he’d have wished to bear through the customary waves.
From one of Abydos, greetings, girl of Sestos, which he’d prefer
to bring to you, if only the waves would abate.
If the fates are good to me, if the gods accompany me with love,
you’ll read these words with indifferent eyes.
But the fates aren’t kind: why now would they delay my pledge,
not allowing me to hurry to you through familiar waters?
You yourself can see the sky blacker than pitch, and the strait
troubled by winds, and ships hardly venturing the deeps.
One boatman, and he’s daring, by whom my letter
is delivered to you, makes his way from harbour.
I’d have embarked with him, except that when he cast off
the lines from the stern, he was in view from all Abydos.
I wouldn’t have been masked from my parents, as before,
and the love we wish to conceal wouldn’t have been hidden.
As soon as I wrote this, I said: ‘Go, happy letter!
now she’ll reach out her lovely hand for you.
Perhaps she’ll even touch you, with her snow-white teeth,
bringing you to her lips, when she wishes to break your seal.’
I spoke these words to myself in a low murmur,
while the rest of the sheet was indicated by my right hand.
But how I’d prefer that this hand, that writes, might swim
and carry me faithfully through familiar waters!
However apt it is as a servant of my feelings,
it’s better in fact at making strokes in the placid sea:
For seven nights, a space of time longer to me than a year,
I’ve been disturbed, as the troubled ocean raged with cruel waves.
If my mind has seen gentle sleep through those nights,
may this delay caused by the raging straits be a long one.
I’m sitting on a rock, sadly gazing at your other shore
and I’m carried in mind to where my body cannot go.
Indeed my keen watchful eye either sees
or thinks it sees the summit to your tower.
Three times I’ve left my clothes on the dry sands:
three times, naked, painfully, I’ve tried to swim the roads:
the swollen sea opposed my youthful undertaking,
and, swimming against the waves, my head was submerged.
But you, wildest of the swift winds, why do you,
with fixed purpose, wage war against me?
If you don’t see it, Boreas, you rage against me not the waves.
What might you do if love was not known to you?
Icy though you may be, cruel one, still, can you deny
that you once glowed with Greek fire?
What joy in plundering would you have known
if the airy approaches had wished to shut you out?
Spare me, I beg you, and release a more gentle breeze!
And let Aeolus not command anything offensive to you!
I beg in vain: he roars in answer to my prayers
and holds in check no part of the waters he’s stirred.
Now I wish Daedalus might give me bold wings!
Though the shores of the Icarian Sea are not far from here.
I’d suffer whatever might be, if only my body, that often hangs
above the uncertain water, might be lifted into the air.
Meanwhile, while winds and waves deny all,
I agitate my mind with the first moments of my secret affair.
Night was falling – indeed I remember the pleasure of it –
when, a lover, I slipped from my father’s door.
Without delay, shedding my clothes, and with them my fear,
I calmly slid my arms into the flowing water.
The moon offered only a trembling light, to my going,
like an obliging companion on the road.
I looked up to her, and said: ‘Favour me, bright goddess,
and let the cliffs of Latmia suggest themselves to your mind.
Endymion would not allow you to be hard-hearted:
I beg you, turn your face to my secret enterprise!
Goddess, you came down from the sky to seek a mortal:
may I speak truth! – She whom I follow is herself a goddess.
Without calling to mind her virtues, worthy of the gods,
her beauty doesn’t appear except among true goddesses.
There’s no greater loveliness than hers, after yours and Venus’s:
if you don’t believe my words, look for yourself!
By as much as all the stars yield to your fires
when you shine out, silver, with clear rays,
so much more beautiful than all the beauties is she:
if you doubt it, Cynthia, your eye is blind.’
I spoke these words or ones not unlike them,
the waters I shouldered parting before me, of themselves.
The waves shone with the image of the reflected moon
and it was bright as day in the silent night.
There was no voice anywhere: nothing came to my ears,
except the murmur of the waters, parted by my body.
Halycons alone appeared, lamenting to me,
sweetly, remembering dear Ceyx.
Then, both my arms growing weary, at the shoulder,
I raised myself strongly, high above the waves.
Seeing a distant light, I said: ‘My fire is in that fire:
that is the shore that holds my light.’
And sudden strength returned to my weary arms,
and the waves seemed calmer to me.
Love aids me, warming my eager heart,
so I will not be chilled by the deep cold.
I am more vigorous and the shore comes nearer,
as the distance grows less, my joy increases.
When I can see you clearly, your watching
gives me strength, and adds to my courage.
Now, to please my lady, I labour to swim,
and lift up my arms to catch your sight.
Your nurse can hardly stop you plunging into the deep.
This I saw too, it was not something I was told of.
Though she held you from going, she could not stop you,
nor prevent your feet being wet by the wave’s edge.
You embrace me, and join in happy kisses –
kisses, great gods, worth seeking over the sea!
Then you surrender to me the shawl from your shoulders,
and dry my hair drenched by the showers of brine.
The rest night knows, and we, and the tower that sees,
and the light that showed me a path through the sea.
The joys of that night can no more be counted
than the seaweeds in the waters of Hellespont:
how brief the time granted us for that secret passion,
how great the care that it was not wasted.
Soon Aurora, Tithonus’s bride, would chase away the night:
Lucifer paving the way, was in the sky:
we shower hasty kisses, quickly, without thought,
and complain how little the night lingers.
And so, delaying until the nurse’s cross warning,
leaving the tower, I seek the cold shore.
We part weeping, and I re-enter virgin Helle’s waters,
looking back at my lady, when I can, all the way.
If truth be known, coming to you from here I was a swimmer,
when I returned, I seemed to myself like a drowning man.
This too, if you would believe it: to you the way seemed smooth:
from you returning, a hill of inert water.
I return, unwillingly, to my country: who would believe it?
Now truly I linger in my city unwillingly.
Ah me! Why are our hearts that joined severed by the waves,
two of one mind but not of one country?
Your Sestos should take me, or my Abydos you:
your land pleases me, as much as mine pleases you.
Why am I troubled, when the sea is troubled?
How can a slight cause, the wind, oppose me?
Now the curved dolphins know of our affairs,
nor do I think I’m unknown to all the fish.
Now my worn path through the solitary waves is familiar,
no different to a road traversed by many wheels.
Before, I complained that this was the only way for me:
but now I also complain that I fail because of the wind.
Helle’s waters whiten with unruly waves,
and scarcely a boat remains safe at its moorings.
I think this sea was found like this, when first
it took its name from the drowned virgin.
This place is infamous enough from Helle’s loss,
and though it spares me, it has an evil name.
I envy Phrixus, carried safely over stormy seas,
on the golden ram, with its woolly fleece:
nevertheless I don’t need the services of a ram, or a boat,
provided these waters are given me, that my body parts.
Nothing’s done by artifice: only by the means to swim,
riding the waves, I’m both sailor and ship,
I don’t follow, Helice, the Great Bear, or Arctos, the Little Bear
that men of Tyre use: my love needs no visible stars.
Some other can gaze at Andromeda, or bright Corona Borealis,
or Callisto’s Bear shining at the frozen pole:
But it does not please me for the loves of Perseus,
Bacchus, or Jove, to be the judges of my dangerous path.
Another light’s more certain for me: my love,
that guides me, doesn’t wander in the darkness.
While I gaze on it, I might swim to Colchis, furthest Pontus,
and where the Thessalian ship, the Argo made its way,
and I might outdo young Palaemon, and Glaucus
whom a bite of grass made suddenly a god.
Exhausted, I can scarcely drag myself through the vast waters,
and often my arms are wearied by the endless motion.
When I tell them: ‘The reward for your labours will not be small,
soon it will be granted you to embrace your lady’s neck,’
they gain strength right away, and strain for the prize,
like swift horses of Elis, released from the starting gate.
So I serve my passions, with which I’m burnt,
and follow you the more, girl worthy of the heavens.
True you are worthy of the heavens, but linger still on earth,
or tell me which is indeed the way to the gods!
You are here, and have only a wretchedly small part of your lover,
and when the sea is stirred, my mind is stirred.
What good is it to me that no great width of sea divides us?
Does so narrow a stretch of water obstruct me less?
I wonder if I’d prefer to be a whole world distant,
when the hope I have of my lady is also far away.
Now, because we are nearer, I burn with a nearer flame,
and the hope, but not the thing itself, is always near me.
I almost touch what I love with my hand: it is so near:
but often, alas, that ‘almost’ moves me to tears!
How is it different, I say, to snatching at intangible fruit,
or chasing the hope of vanishing water with one’s mouth?
In that way, am I never to hold you, unless the waves wish it,
and is the storm never to see me happy,
and, when nothing’s less permanent than wind or wave,
are my hopes always to be with wind and water?
It is still summer. What when the Pleiades, and Bootës,
and Capella’s Kids wound me and the waters?
Either I haven’t learnt how rash I might be,
or, then too, incautious Love will send me into the sea:
If you think I vow it only because the time is not yet ripe,
I’ll give you an assurance of my promise without delay.
Let the tides be still as high as now for a few nights more,
and I’ll try to cross the uninviting waters.
Either I’ll reach happiness, through courage, in safety,
or death will make an end of anxious love.
I wish nevertheless to be thrown on that shore
and my drowned body reach your harbour.
For you’ll weep, and think my body worthy to be touched
and you’ll say: ‘I was the cause of this man’s death!’
No doubt you might be grieved by an omen of my death,
and this part of my letter might be hateful to you.
Enough: refrain from complaint. But let your prayer
agree with mine, I beg, that the sea indeed ends its wrath.
A brief lull is needed for me to cross to you:
when I touch your shore let the storm rage on!
There is the right harbour for my keel,
and no better waters exist for my vessel.
There let the North Wind shut me in, where delay is sweet:
There I’ll be reluctant to swim, there I’ll be cautious,
I’ll not cry out against the unheeding waves,
nor complain the sea is harsh for swimming.
Let both the winds and your tender arms hold me equally,
and I’ll be hindered by both causes.
When I’ve suffered the storm, I’ll use my arms as oars:
only always keep your light in sight.
Meanwhile let this stay with you, all night, instead of me,
this letter, that I pray, myself, to follow, with the least delay.
XIX: Hero to Leander
Come! That I might have, in fact, the greetings
that you sent to me in words.
All waiting is long to us, that delays our joy.
Forgive my confession: I’m not patient in my love.
We blaze with equal fire, but I’m unequal to you in strength:
I suspect that a man is stronger by nature.
Like their bodies, the wills of tender girls are weaker:
add a little more time for delay, and I’ll fail.
You men, now hunting, now farming pleasant country,
spend many hours in various pastimes.
Either the market occupies you or, oiled, you’re bent at the skills
of wrestling, or you guide your horse’s neck with a bridle:
now you trap a bird, now draw a fish to your hook,
now dilute the wine that circles in the twilight hours.
These are denied me: even if I were less fiercely on fire,
nothing remains for me but to do what I do, to love.
What I do remains, and you, o my sole delight, I love,
more too than you may be able to give back to me.
I whisper about you with my white-haired nurse,
and ponder the reason for your delayed passage:
or I watch the sea stirred by hostile winds
reproving the waves almost with the words you use:
or when the waves slacken their weight of savagery a little,
I complain, it’s true, that you can come, but don’t want to:
while I complain tears trickle from my loving eyes,
and the old nurse, who knows, dries them with trembling hand.
Often I look to see if your footprints might mark the shore,
as if the sand might retain the marks traced there:
and to ask about you and write to you, I search out, if anyone
might be coming from Abydos, or going to Abydos.
Why recall how many times I kiss the garments
that you left when you plunged into the Hellespont’s waters?
So when day’s done, and night’s more friendly hour
shows its bright stars, driving away the daylight,
straight away I set out the unsleeping lights in the tower’s top,
signs and tokens of your familiar path,
and we beguile the long wait with feminine art,
twisting the threads drawn from the turning spindle.
Meanwhile I search for what to talk of in those long hours:
nothing but Leander’s name is on my lips.
‘Nurse, do you think my joy has left his house now,
or perhaps they are all awake, and he’s afraid of them?
Now do you think perhaps he slips the clothes from his shoulders,
and rubs olive oil now over all his limbs?’
She gives a nod: she doesn’t care about my kisses,
but moves her head, sleep stealing upon the old woman.
After the slightest pause, I say: ‘Now he’s swimming, for sure,
and his slow arms are cleaving the water.’
And, while the few threads I’ve finished fall to the floor,
I ask if you can have reached mid-strait perhaps.
And now I look out, and now I pray in a fearful voice,
that favourable winds grant you an easy passage:
I hear uncertain cries and I think that every noise
might be the sound of your arrival.
So as the larger part of the night passes for me in illusion,
sleep stealthily overcomes my weary eyes.
Perhaps, cruel one, you’ll still sleep with me, unwillingly,
and though not wishing, yourself, to come, you’ll come.
Now you seem to be nearer, now I see you swimming,
now my shoulders bear your briny arms,
now, as I do, I give the clothes from my breast to your wet limbs,
now, joined to you, I warm you with my heart,
and much besides is concealed, by the modest tongue,
that’s ashamed to speak of things it delights in doing.
Alas! It’s brief and pleasure is untrue:
for you always leave me, as sleep does.
Oh, let’s bind our eager passions more firmly,
so that our joys lack nothing of faith and truth.
Why do I spend so many cold, empty nights?
Why are you so often, lingering slowly, absent from me?
I grant the sea’s not fit for swimming:
but last night the wind became more gentle.
Why did you neglect it? Why didn’t you dare to come?
Why did such a moment die, and you not seize the time?
May you soon be given many similar chances,
though this one was surely better than those before.
But the shape of the peaceful deep changes quickly.
When you hurried, you often came in less time than that.
I think if you were to be caught here you wouldn’t complain
and, with me holding you, the storm would do you no harm.
Then I’d joyfully listen to the sounding winds
and I’d pray for the waters never to be calm.
What’s happened then, why are you more fearful of the waves,
and are afraid now of the straits you despised before?
Now I remember, when the sea was no less, or a little less,
savage and threatening, you came:
when I cried to you: ‘You are so reckless,
I’ll be mourning your courage in misery.’
Where’s this new fear from, and that courage fleeing to?
Where is that great swimmer scorning the tides?
Still, be rather as you would be, than as you used to be before,
and make your way here safely in a calm sea –
Provided that you’re the same: let us love, so, as you write,
and may its flame never become cold ashes.
I don’t greatly fear that the winds will delay my prayers,
but I fear lest your love strays like the wind,
or that I be not worthy, and the risk will outweigh my cause,
and the reward appear less to you than your labour.
At times I’m afraid lest my race harms me, and a Thracian girl
be considered unfit for marriage to Abydos.
Still, I could bear all things patiently, so long as I knew
you didn’t spend your time with a rival, captive, in idleness,
and no other’s arms came about your neck,
and no new love was ending our love.
Ah, let me rather die, than be wounded by that crime,
and my fate be charged with guilt before yours!
I don’t say this because you’ve shown signs of it happening,
or because I’m distressed by some new rumour.
I fear everything! Who has ever been secure in love?
And distance creates more fear, for the absent.
Happy are they, whose presence commands knowledge
of true guilt, and prevents fear of falsehood.
So many vain things move me, wrong that’s done deceives,
and the sting of both errors equally rouses me.
Oh I wish you would come! Or let the cause of your delay
be the winds, for sure, or your father, and not some woman!
If I were to know that grief, I’d die, believe me:
sin at once if you seek my death.
But you will not sin, and I fear it foolishly,
also you don’t come because you fight a hostile storm.
Ah me! What a tide pounds this shore,
and the day is hidden, buried by a dark cloud!
Perhaps Nephele, Helle’s devoted mother, may have come
to the straits, and weeps for her drowned child, with the water’s flow:
or Ino, the stepmother, now a sea-goddess, stirs the sea,
that’s called by the name of her hated step-daughter?
As it is, this place is not kind to tender girls:
here Helle perished, here I’m wounded by the waters.
But remember your love-flames, Neptune,
and love won’t be hindered by the winds:
if the tale of your crimes against Amymone, and Tyro,
most praised for her beauty, are not vain,
and bright Alcyone, and Calyce, and Hecate’s daughter,
and Medusa before her hair was knotted with snakes,
and golden-haired Laodice, and Celaeno, received in heaven,
and other names I remember that I’ve read of.
Surely, the poets sing of these and more, Neptune,
who have joined their sweet flanks to yours.
So why have you, who so often felt the power of love,
closed the familiar path to us, with storms?
Spare us, proud one, and embroil yourself in battle out at sea:
this short passage separates our two lands.
You are suited to hurling about great ships with your might,
or even being fierce towards a whole fleet:
It’s shameful for the god of the sea to terrify a young swimmer,
and the glory’s less than that of the god of a pond somewhere.
In fact he’s noble and of a distinguished family,
but he draws nothing from Ulysses’s race, that you mistrust.
Take pity, and guard us both. He swims: but the same wave
carries the body of Leander and my hopes.
The light splutters in fact – for I write where it’s placed –
it splutters, and thereby gives me a favourable sign.
See, onto the auspicious flame my nurse drops wine:
‘Tomorrow,’ she says, ‘ there’ll be more of us’, and drinks the rest.
Make us more, gliding through the defeated waves,
oh you, received deep within me, by my whole heart!
Return to this camp, deserter from mutual love:
why should my body be left in the centre of the bed?
What I might fear: is not! Venus herself blesses you with courage,
and, born from the waves, she smoothes the sea-lanes.
Often I want to travel the midst of the waves myself,
but these straits are usually safer for men.
Why, if Phrixus and his sister Helle were carried over them,
did only the girl give her name to the desolate waters?
Perhaps you fear there’ll not be time for you to return,
or you won’t be able to endure the effort of a double journey.
But let us meet, from opposite directions, in mid-strait,
and exchange kisses, as we touch, on the crest of a wave,
and each return, once more, to the cities we came from:
that would be little, but better than nothing at all.
I wish this shame, that forces us to love in secret,
would end, or our love, fearful of reputation!
Now, the thing’s badly joined: passion and propriety conflict.
Which to follow’s in doubt: one is proper: the other gives joy.
When Jason, of Pagasa, once entered Colchis
he swiftly carried Medea away from Phasis, in his ship:
When Paris, of Ida, once came as an adulterer to Sparta,
he soon returned with Helen, his prize.
You, who so often seek whom you love, as often leave her,
and whenever it’s difficult for ships to sail, you swim.
In this way, o youth, conqueror of the swollen waters,
you scorn what the straits may do, though you fear them.
Ships built with skill can be sunk by the waters:
do you think your arms are more capable than oars?
What you desire: to swim, Leander: is what the sailor fears:
it’s usually the result for him of his ship being wrecked.
Ah me! I want to persuade you not to do as I urge,
and pray you’re stronger than my admonishments:
provided you’d come and throw those weary arms,
battered often by the waves, around my shoulders.
But whenever I turn towards the dark-blue waves
my fearful heart’s possessed by some unknown chill.
And I’m troubled no less by last night’s dream,
though I’ve propitiated the gods with holy rites.
Just before dawn, when the lamp was sinking,
a time when true dreams are often experienced,
the slackened thread fell from my hands in sleep,
and I laid my head on the supporting pillow.
In it, without doubt, in true vision, I saw a dolphin
swimming along through the stormy waves:
then, when the flood had dashed it against the thirsty sands,
life, and the tide, together, abandoned the wretched creature,
Whatever it means, I’m frightened: don’t mock my dream
and don’t trust yourself to the sea unless it’s tranquil.
If you don’t spare yourself, spare your beloved girl,
who can never be safe unless you’re safe too.
Yet there’s hope of peace near in the weakening waves:
then you must divide the calm waters with your breast.
Meanwhile, since the straits are not passable by swimming,
let the letter I send ease the hateful hours of waiting.
XX: Acontius to Cydippe
Cydippe, come now, receive despised Acontius –
he who deceived you with the apple.
Don’t fear! You won’t swear another oath of love because of this:
it’s enough that you once promised to be mine.
Read on! So may the illness vanish from your body:
that any part of it is grieved, is grief to me!
Why blush before you start? Since I suspect your noble cheeks
have reddened, as they did in Dian’s temple.
I ask not sin of you, but marriage and a true contract:
I love as one bound in marriage, not an adulterer.
You might recall the message, that the fruit from the tree
brought to your chaste hands, when I threw it to you:
there you’ll find you promised that which I’d wish for you,
virgin, rather than that which the goddess remembers.
Now it’s just the same (I fear), but yet the same in being stronger:
it grows in power, and the flame increases with delay,
and what was never small, is now vast with time,
and love is nurtured by the hope you’ve given me.
You gave me hope: my passion trusted you in this.
You can’t deny the fact, as the goddess is my witness.
There, and in person, as she was, she noted your words,
and the movement of her hair seemed to allow them.
You can say you were deceived, by my trick,
as long as love’s shown to be the reason for it.
What did my offence seek except to be made one with you?
What you complain of is capable of uniting us.
Neither by nature or custom am I so cunning:
I believe that you make me clever, girl.
If I’ve achieved anything, ingenious Love,
joined you to me, binding you with my words.
I made the betrothal with words he dictated,
and was a lawyer, advised by devious Love.
Let the name of the action be fraud, and let it be called crafty,
if to desire what you love is held to be craft.
Look, I again write, and send you, words of pleading!
This letter’s another offence, and what you complain of, you hold.
I confess, if my love for you hurts you, I’ll hurt you endlessly,
and I’ll seek you continually, though you beware my seeking.
Other men have snatched lovely girls at sword-point:
is this letter I’ve written, thoughtfully, to be called a crime?
May the gods allow me to impose more ties on you,
so that your honour is in no way free.
A thousand wiles remain: I toil at the base of the hill:
my passion won’t let anything go untried.
Let it be unsure whether you can be caught: you’ll be caught for sure.
the outcome’s with the gods, but it’s still captivity.
Though you flee some you can’t escape all the nets,
many more than you think, that Love spreads for you.
If art is not enough, I’ll turn to arms,
and snatch you away, borne on my loving breast.
I’m not one who’s accustomed to criticise Paris’s actions,
nor any man who played the husband to become one.
I too – but I say no more. Though death might be the punishment
for taking you, it would be better than not having you at all.
If you were less beautiful, then you’d be sought with restraint:
I’m driven to daring by your charms.
You’ve done this, and your eyes, whose fires the stars
yield to, you who are the cause of my passion:
your golden hair has done this, and your ivory throat,
and your hands, that I pray will come about my neck,
and your comeliness, and your modest, and refined appearance,
and your ankles, such as I suppose Thetis’s scarcely to be.
I would be happier still, if I might praise the rest,
I don’t doubt, indeed, the whole is itself of equal art.
It’s no wonder, with this compelling beauty,
that I wished to hear you speak that pledge.
When you’re finally forced to confess you’re caught,
then, be a girl captured by my trickery.
I’ll suffer, if the suffering’s granted its prize.
Why should such a crime fail of its reward?
Telamon took Hesione: Achilles took Briseis:
certainly each of them followed her victorious lord.
As much as you may accuse me and be angered,
your anger would be allowed, as long as you enjoyed my company.
In the same way as I cause your anger, I’ll ease it,
a little of you might bring much reconciliation.
Let me weep before your eyes,
and add words to those tears,
so that, like a slave who fears a savage lashing,
I may stretch my submissive hands out at your feet!
Forgo your anger: summon me! Why condemn me in my absence?
Order me now to come at my lady’s whim.
Be pleased to tear my hair imperiously,
and let my face be bruised by your fingers.
I’ll endure anything: I only fear that your hand
might be wounded by striking my body so furiously.
But don’t restrain me with fetters and chains:
I’m enslaved to you by true love.
When you’ve satisfied your anger as much as you wish,
you’ll say to yourself: ‘How patiently he loves!’
You’ll say to yourself, when you see I endure it all:
‘He who serves so well, he may serve me!’
Now unhappily I play the accused in my absence,
and my cause, though good, is lost, with no defence.
Also, let my letter have injured you as much as you wish,
you shouldn’t only complain of what you receive from me.
Diana doesn’t merit being disappointed as well: if you
don’t wish to repay your promise to me, repay the goddess.
She was there and she saw, how you blushed, deceived,
and the memory of your words remains in her ears.
Let the omens lack reality! None is more violent than her
when she sees, what I do not wish, her divinity offended.
The fierce Calydonian Boar is witness, though Althaea, that mother,
will be found to have been fiercer against Meleager, her son.
And Actaeon is witness, once taken to be a wild creature,
when granted the death himself, that he’d granted creatures before.
and also that proud mother, Niobe, her body rising as rock,
stands weeping, now, on the soil of Lydia.
Ah me! Cydippe, I fear to tell you the truth,
lest my cause appear a false one to you:
Still it should be said. I believe, you’re often ill,
thinking about the moment of marriage.
She protects your interests, she’s anxious lest you perjure yourself,
and the goddess wishes you intact, your promise intact.
So that whenever you try to be unfaithful,
she then rectifies your error.
Beware of provoking the proud virgin’s cruel bow:
she can still be gentle, if you’ll allow it.
Beware, I pray, of wasting your tender body with fevers:
guard your beauty for my enjoyment.
Let the face, born to inflame me, be preserved,
and the slow blush of modesty entering snowy cheeks.
And if any of my enemies opposes your becoming mine,
let him be as you, in your weakness, are to me.
I’m tormented equally whether it’s your marriage or sickness:
I can’t say now which of them I least desire:
meanwhile I’m distressed, that I might be a cause of your pain,
and consider you to have been hurt by my cunning.
I pray that my lady’s perjury falls on my head:
let her be safe from my punishment!
Lest I’m ignorant what’s happening, I often, secretly,
in my anxiety, pass here and there, before your door:
I follow your maid and serving-boy, stealthily, asking
if sleep or food has benefited your health.
Alas for me that I can’t implement the doctor’s orders
or take your hand, or sit by your bed!
And more misery, that when I’m far away from there,
perhaps some other, whom I’d least wish, is present.
He takes your hand and, hated by the gods, and by me
as well as the gods, he sits by you in your illness,
and while he checks the pulse in your vein with his finger,
under this pretext, he holds your white arm,
and perhaps he touches your breast, and kisses you:
that reward is too much for his services.
Who allowed you to gather in my crops before time?
Who made a path for you to another’s hedge?
That breast is mine! You shamefully steal my kisses!
Take your hand from the body that was meant for me!
Wretch, take you hand away! What you touch is to be mine:
If you do that, shortly, you’ll be an adulterer.
Choose another from the single girls, one not yet claimed:
if you don’t know: this object has an owner.
You don’t have to believe me: have the terms of our contract read:
let her read them, lest you should say they’re false.
Stranger to our bed I say, I say to you, leave!
What do you want here? Leave! This bed’s not free.
Though you have another contract now with identical words,
your cause is not for that reason equal to mine.
She first settled this with me, herself, her father settled with you:
but she’s surely closer to herself than her father.
Her father promised it, she swore herself to be in love:
in once case a man, in the other the goddess is witness.
He fears to be called a liar, she a perjurer:
do you doubt that the latter’s a greater fear than the first?
And if you should compare the risk to each,
look at their state: she lies sick, and he’s well.
You and I too come to this struggle with different feelings:
our hopes are not equal, are fears are not the same.
You venture in safety: to me rejection’s worse than death,
and I love her, now, whom you perhaps might.
If justice, or what is right, was your care,
you’d have conceded to my greater love.
Now that this cruel man, Cydippe, fights for his unjust cause,
to what theme should my letter return?
It’s he who made you ill, and mistrusted by Diana: given that,
if you’re wise, you won’t let him approach your threshold.
that you plunge into so many cruel risks to your life is his doing,
and I wish he who caused them might die instead of you!
If you immediately shun one whom the goddess condemns,
and don’t love him, I will be surely be fine.
Virgin, cease to fear! Only respect your firm promise, make sure
you worship in the temple that shares our knowledge:
the gods don’t delight in sacrificial oxen,
but loyalty that’s shown, and needs no witness.
Others to be well suffer steel and flame,
others endure the dismal aid of bitter juices.
You need none of these: shun such perjury and you’ll save
yourself, and me, and the pledge you gave!
Your ignorance of it will forgive your past sin:
the agreement you recited slipped from your mind.
Now you’re warned by my voice, now by this sickness,
that you’re accustomed to suffer whenever you try to deceive.
Do you think you might avoid calling on her in childbirth,
pleading that she might bring you her shining hands?
She’ll hear, and recalling what she’s heard, she’ll ask
what husband’s given you this child.
You’ll promise gifts: she knows your promises are false.
You’ll swear: she knows that you betray the gods.
I’m not anxious for myself: I labour at a greater task.
My anxieties are caused by your love.
Why do your parents, doubtful for you, just weep in fear,
ignorant of what constitutes your sin?
And why are they ignorant? You might tell your mother all.
Your actions, Cydippe, should cause no blushes.
Make sure you tell her, in order, how you were first known to me
while she performed the rites of the quiver-bearing goddess:
how suddenly seeing you, if you clearly noticed,
I halted, my eyes gazing at your limbs:
and while I marvelled at you greatly, a sure sign of passion,
my cloak slipped from my shoulder and fell to the ground:
Presently an apple came rolling from I know not where,
bearing artful words in cunning letters:
which, being read out loud, in sacred Diana’s presence,
made your pledge binding, with her as divine witness.
Lest your mother’s still unsure how vital the words might be,
now also repeat what was once written to you.
She’ll say: ‘I beg you marry whoever the good gods joined you to:
whom you were sworn to, he’ll be my son-in-law.
Whoever he is, he’ll please us, since he pleased Diana before.’
So your mother will say if she’s truly your mother.
But see to it she enquires who I might be and what:
let her discover the goddess is looking out for you.
An island encircled by the Aegean Sea, is named Cea,
once celebrated for the Corcyrian nymphs.
That’s my native land: nor can you condemn my ancestors
as ones to be despised, if you approve a noble name.
And they are rich, and their morals without stain:
and if there were nothing more, Love joined me to you.
You might have desired such a husband, even without your oath:
having sworn it, even if he were not such, he must be accepted.
Diana the huntress, in dream, ordered me to write these words:
Love, awake, ordered me to write them to you:
I’m already wounded, by the second one’s arrows,
you, beware lest the first one’s shafts harm you!
Our well-being is linked – take pity on yourself, and on me:
Why hesitate to bring one relief to both?
If you’ll do this, when the signal’s sounded,
and Delos is drenched with sacrificial blood,
a golden image of the fortunate apple will be offered,
and the reason for the offering will be written in two short lines:
‘With this likeness of an apple, Acontius bears witness
that what may have been written on it, has been done.’
Let your fragile body be wearied no longer by this letter,
and let it be closed with the usual ending: ‘Farewell!’
XXI: Cydippe to Acontius
Your writing reached me Acontius, as it is wont to do,
and indeed it almost set a trap for my eyes.
I was fearful, and read your letter without a murmur,
lest my tongue unknowingly swore by some god.
And I think you might have set out to trap me again, except that,
as you confess yourself, you know one promise is enough for me.
I wouldn’t have read it: but if I’d been harsh to you,
perhaps it might have increased the fierce goddess’s anger.
Though I do everything, though I burn sacred incense to Diana,
she still takes your part more than is right, and as you want it
to be thought, mindful of you, protects you with her anger:
She scarcely did more for Hippolytus himself.
But she might do better to favour my virgin years
which I fear she intends will be all too few.
Yes, weariness clings to me for no apparent reason,
and my fatigue’s not helped by any doctor’s cure.
Would you believe with what difficulty I write this meagre letter
to you now, or ease my pale limbs from lying in my bed?
Now an added fear, lest someone other than my knowing nurse
thinks that there’s a conversation between us.
She sits outside my door, and on being asked how I am, within,
says: ‘She’s sleeping,’ so that I can write in safety.
Soon, when sleep, the best reason for extended privacy,
lacks credibility as an excuse, through the lengthy delay,
and she sees those arriving whom it would be hard not to admit,
she coughs and gives me the sign we agreed on.
So it goes: I hurriedly leave off my unfinished words,
and hide the letter I’ve started, against my anxious breast.
Then I weary my fingers again with repetition:
how much effort these words of mine are that you read.
May I die if you were worthy of my speaking truthfully:
but I’m more just to you than you deserve.
So, is it because of you my health is so uncertain
and I’m punished, and have been punished, for your deceit?
Is this the reward that comes, by your praise of marvellous beauty,
and harms me for having pleased you?
How I’d prefer it if I’d seemed deformed to you,
my blameworthy body would not have needed help:
now I grieve that I was praised, now you destroy me
with your rivalry, and I’m wounded by my own charm itself.
And you won’t concede, nor does he think himself inferior,
you obstruct his wishes, he obstructs yours.
I’m tossed about like a boat, that the unerring North Wind
drives out into the deep, carried back by tide and surge.
And when the day’s here, that was chosen by my dear parents,
at the same time unruly passion’s in my body.
Now cruel Persephone beats harshly on my door,
at the very moment of my marriage.
Now I fear, and am ashamed, though not conscious of any guilt,
I don’t seem to have merited the gods being offended.
Some say this happened by chance, and others
deny that my husband’s acceptable to the heavens:
and lest you think there’s nothing of you too in the talk,
some of them think it was caused by your poisons.
The cause is hidden, my illness is obvious: you two
drive away peace, stir bitter conflict, I’m punished.
Tell me now, and don’t deceive me, as is your usual custom,
what might you do in hate, when you hurt me so with love?
If you wound one you love, you’d be wise to love your enemy:
I pray that, to save me, you might want to destroy your wish!
Either you’ve, now, no care for the girl you hoped for,
whom you cruelly allow to die from a shameful illness,
or, if you’ve asked the fierce goddess for me in vain,
why throw yourself at me? You’ll have no thanks.
Choose, as you’ve wrought: don’t try to appease Diana.
You don’t care about me: you can’t – she’s on your side.
I’d rather Delos, in Aegean waters, had never been known –
or at least had not been known then, to me.
Then my ship was launched in troubled waters,
and an unlucky hour saw my journey start.
Why did I take a step? Why did I cross the threshold?
Why did my feet touch the painted fabric of that swift vessel?
Yet twice the sails were backed, in an opposing wind:
I tell a lie, ah foolish! It was a favourable one.
It was favourable in reversing my departure
and hindering that scarcely fortunate journey.
And I wish the sails had been always set against me!
But it’s stupid to complain about the fickleness of the breeze.
I hurried to see Delos, stirred by the fame of the place,
and the journey seemed to be made in an idle boat.
How often I protested at the slowness of the oars,
and complained that too little sail was set for the wind.
And I’d already passed Andros, Tenos and Myconos,
and bright Delos was there before my eyes:
when I saw it in the distance, I said: ‘Island, why do you flee me,
do you wander, as long ago, on the mighty waters?’
I stood on the island, as day was nearly done,
and the sun desires to unyoke his bright horses.
When as usual that same sun returned to the east,
my mother arranged my hair as prescribed.
She put rings on my fingers, gold in my hair,
and herself placed the robes on my shoulders.
We went straight to the gods to whom the isle is sacred,
making offerings of golden incense and wine:
and, while my mother drenched the altar in sacrificial blood,
and threw the divided entrails on the smoking fires,
my diligent nurse led me to the high temple also,
and we wandered with errant feet through the holy place:
and now I walk in the colonnades, and now wonder
at the regal gifts and statues set up everywhere.
I marvel at the altar made of countless horns,
and the tree near to which the goddess in labour gave birth,
and whatever else Delos displays – and I can’t remember,
and I’m unable to speak of, all I saw there.
Perhaps as I gazed at this, I was gazed at by you, Acontius,
and my innocence was seen to be capable of capture.
I turn back into the temple by its high flight of steps –
can any place be safer than this?
An apple was thrown at my feet with this verse on it –
ah me! Now too I almost swore that oath to you!
My nurse bent down and, marvelling, said: ‘Read this’.
I read your deceitful lines, mighty poet.
Reading the word ‘marriage’ I blushed with shame,
I felt the whole of both cheeks had reddened,
and I held my gaze on my lap as it if were fixed there.
Cruel man, why do you rejoice: what glory is there for you?
And why should you have praise, a man cheating a virgin girl?
I didn’t stand there armed with shield and axe,
as Penthesilea was armed on Trojan soil:
nor were you given the prize of an embossed girdle,
of Amazon gold, like Hippolyte’s.
Why exult in your words if they deceived me,
I a girl, taken in, scarcely aware of trickery?
An apple caught Cydippe, an apple Atalanta:
surely now you’re a second Hippomenes?
But it would have been better, if the Boy held you,
whom you say has all those torches, to behave
in the way good men do, not to ruin hope by fraud:
better if winning by entreaty had been yours, and not snatching.
Why, when you sought me, did you think it unnecessary
to declare what required you to be sought by me too?
Why did you wish to use force, rather than persuasion,
if I was able to be trapped by only hearing the word marriage?
Why is the law of use to you now, my needing to swear by rote,
my tongue needing to call the goddess in person to vouch for it?
It’s the mind that swears the oath. I swore nothing to her:
she alone can impart truth to what’s been said.
Intention, and the mind’s thoughtful judgement, swear oaths,
and unless there’s judgement the contract has no value.
If you think I wished to promise you marriage,
then demand the rights of the promised bed by law.
But if I gave voice to nothing unless it was without thought,
you have only idle words bereft of power.
I did not swear, I read the words of an oath:
my husband is not to be chosen that way.
Deceive others so, let your letters follow apples:
if it’s valid, carry away the riches of the wealthy:
make kings swear they’ll give their kingdoms to you,
and let whatever on earth pleases you be yours!
Believe me, this is far superior to Diana herself,
if your writing really has such ready power.
Yet though I’ve said all this, though I’ve firmly rejected you,
though the reason for my promise has been fully rehearsed.
I confess, I’m afraid of the anger of Leto’s fierce daughter,
and I suspect my body’s troubled because of her.
Why, whenever the ceremonies of marriage are being prepared,
do the weary limbs of the destined bride give way?
Three times now Hymen, coming to the altars raised for me,
has fled, and turned his back on the wedding threshold,
and the slowly flickering light in his hand is barely rising,
his torch is barely alight with quivering flame.
Often perfumes have dripped from his garlanded hair,
and his dragging robe has been bright with saffron.
When he reaches the threshold, and finds tears and terror of death,
and everything alien to his customs,
he throws away the wreathes, tearing them from his brow,
and wipes the thick spices from his shining hair:
and he’s ashamed to stand there, joyful, among the mournful crowd,
and the yellow of his robe transfers to his blushing cheeks.
But I, alas, am so wretched! My body burns with fever,
and the ordinary sheets on my bed feel heavier.
I see my weeping parents, by my head,
and the funeral torch, not the wedding torch, is here.
Spare my suffering, goddess, who delights in the ornate quiver,
and grant me now your brother’s healing aid.
It’s shameful to you, if he averts the cause of death,
while you bear the responsibility for my dying.
Is it that you may have wanted to bathe in a shaded pool,
and my face, unaware, came upon you bathing?
Have I neglected your altars, of all the deities: is it that
my mother’s ancestress, Niobe, scorned your mother, Leto?
I’ve not sinned at all, except that I read a false oath aloud,
and was fluent in a verse that brought me little luck.
You, too, Acontius, if you’re not lying about your love,
bring incense: let the hands, that harmed me, help me!
Why, if you’re angry that the girl sworn to you is not yet yours,
do you act in such a way that she can never be yours?
All your hopes depend on my living: why should the cruel goddess
take away my life from me, your hope of me from you?
Don’t think that he, who’s intended for my husband,
fondles my fevered limbs, placing his hands there.
Rather he sits here, as long as he’s allowed to:
but he remembers that mine is a virgin bed.
Now too something of what he has felt appears:
now often tears fall from some hidden cause,
and he praises me less boldly and gives me fewer kisses,
and calls me his with a humble expression.
I’m not surprised he felt that: I’m betrayed by obvious signs:
I turn on my right side, un-speaking, when he comes,
and pretend to be asleep with eyes closed,
and, catching his hand when he touches me, I push it away.
He groans, and sighs secretly from his heart, and has
me as a cause of offence, though it’s undeserved.
Ah me, how you delight in me, how this wish of yours gives you joy!
Ah me, how I feel I’ve revealed my feelings to you!
You were worthy of me if anyone was, you, more justly
an object of indignation, who spread the nets for me.
You write that you’d like to see this wasted body:
you’re far from me, and you might still harm me by it.
I wondered why your name was ‘Acontius’:
that blade which wounds from far off, has ‘acuteness’.
Certainly I’ve not recovered from that wound,
that spear of your letter hurled from a distance.
Why would you still come here? You’d see a body
in ill health, a glorious prize for your skills!
I’m enfeebled by emaciation: my colour is bloodless,
just like your apple was, I recall to mind.
My face shines white, unmixed with red.
a statue of fresh marble looks like this:
the silver set out on the table is the same,
pale, touched by the chill of iced water.
If you saw me now, you’d deny you’d seen me before:
you’d say: ‘This was not what my cunning sought.’
And you’d return my pledge of faith, lest I be joined to you,
and wish the goddess had forgotten it.
Perhaps indeed you might make me swear a contrary oath,
and you might send me other words to read.
But I still wish you might see me, as you yourself asked,
and see your promised bride’s weakened limbs!
Even if your heart were harder than iron, Acontius,
you would indeed seek to forgive my words.
But don’t ignore me: I seek from the god of Delphi, who foretells
our fate, the aid through which I could be made well again.
Also someone complains, now that vague rumour whispers it,
that the witnessed promise has been neglected.
This the god, this his seer, this his oracle declare:
ah, no power is lacking to support your wishes!
How have you found such favour? Unless perhaps a new choice text
has been discovered, that harnesses the great gods.
And I follow the will of the gods, gods you are master of,
and willingly give my captive hands to your wishes:
and full of shame, with my eyes fixed on the ground,
I told my mother of the promise my deceived tongue made.
The rest is your concern, and more than a virgin should do:
with you I’m not afraid of what my letter declares.
Now I’ve wearied my sick body with this pen:
and my hand denies further service, in my illness.
Nothing remains, since I now desire to join myself with you,
except for me to add, to my letter, this: ‘Farewell!’
The End of the Heroides