Ovid: Ex Ponto
quid tibi cum Ponto?
what have you to do with Pontus?
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved
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- Book EIV.I:1-36 To Sextus Pompey: His Dilatoriness
- Book EIV.II:1-50 To Cornelius Severus: A Fellow Poet
- Book EIV.III:1-58 To A Faithless Friend: The Wheel Of Fortune
- Book EIV.IV:1-50 To Sextus Pompeius: Consulship
- Book EIV.V:1-46 To Sextus Pompeius: Thanking The Consul
- Book EIV.VI:1-50 To Brutus: After Augustus’s Death
- Book EIV.VII:1-54 To Vestalis: Local Knowledge
- Book EIV.VIII:1-48 To Suillius: Praying To Germanicus
- Book EIV.VIII:49-90 To Suillius: The Power of Poetry
- Book EIV.IX:1-54 To Graecinus: On His Consulship
- Book EIV.IX:55-88 To Graecinus: Ask Flaccus
- Book EIV.IX:89-134 To Graecinus: His Status and Loyalty
- Book EIV.X:1-34 To Albinovanus: The Sixth Summer
- Book EIV.X:35-84 To Albinovanus: The Rivers
- Book EIV.XI:1-22 To Gallio: Commiseration
- Book EIV.XII:1-50 To Tuticanus: Affinities
- Book EIV.XIII:1-50 To Carus: The Sixth Winter
- Book EIV.XIV:1-62 To Tuticanus: Being Nice To Tomis
- Book EIV.XV:1-42 To Sextus Pompey: The Same Request
- Book EIV.XVI:1-52 To An Enemy: His Fame
Book EIV.I:1-36 To Sextus Pompey: His Dilatoriness
Pompey, accept a poem composed by one
who’s indebted to you, Sextus, for his life.
If you don’t stop me setting down your name,
that too will add to the sum of your merits:
while, if you frown, I’ll confess I’ve sinned indeed,
though the reason for my offence should win approval.
Truly, my mind could not be held from gratitude.
Please don’t let anger bear down on my loyal service.
O, how often I thought myself disloyal in these books
in that your name was nowhere to be read!
O, how often, when I wished to write to others,
my hand, unwittingly, set your name in the wax!
The error of such mistakes itself pleased me,
and my hand was barely willing to make the change.
I said to myself: ‘Let him see it, indeed even if he complains!
I’m ashamed of not having earned his reproach before.’
Give me the waters of Lethe that numb the heart, if
they exist, I’ll still not have the power to forget you.
I beg you’ll allow this, and not reject my words
with contempt, nor consider my attentions a crime,
and let this be the inadequate thanks offered for all your help:
if not, I’ll still be grateful, against your will.
Your grace was never slow in my affairs,
your wealth never denied me generous assistance.
Even now your compassion, undeterred by my
swift fate, offers my life, and will offer it, aid.
You might ask from where I derive such confidence
in the future? Everyone cherishes what they’ve made.
As Venus remains the labour and glory of Apelles,
wringing her hair wet with the sea’s spray:
as warlike Athene stands guard on the Acropolis,
created in bronze and ivory by Phidias’s hand:
as Calamis wins praise for the horses he fashioned:
as those cattle, true to life, are a masterpiece by Myron:
so I’m not the least of your possessions, Sextus,
and celebrated as a work, a gift of your patronage.
Book EIV.II:1-50 To Cornelius Severus: A Fellow Poet
O Severus, mightiest poet of mighty patrons, this you read
comes all the way from the long-haired Getae:
and it shames me, if you’ll only allow me to tell the truth,
that my books have been silent as yet about your name.
Yet letters without metre have never ceased
to pass in turn between us, out of friendship.
It’s only verse I’ve not given you, witness to your thoughtful
attentions. Why indeed give you what you yourself compose?
Who’d give Aristaeus honey, Bacchus Falernian wine,
Triptolemus grain, or send apples to Alcinous?
You’ve a fertile mind, and of those who plough
Helicon, no one produces a richer crop.
To send verses to such, would be adding leaves to the woods.
That’s the reason for my delaying to do so, Severus.
Moreover my skill doesn’t respond as before,
I turn the arid shore with a barren blade.
As sure as mud chokes the waves in the canals,
and the troubled water builds in a choked spring,
so my mind’s been hurt by muddy misfortune,
and poetry flows in an impoverished vein.
If anyone had set Homer down in this place,
believe me, even he’d have turned into a Getan.
Forgive my confession, I’ve let slip the reins of study,
and my fingers are rarely drawn to letters.
That sacred impulse, that nourishes poet’s hearts,
that once used to be mine, has all vanished.
My Muse barely plays her part, when I’ve taken up my tablets,
she barely lays a hand there, almost has to be forced.
I’ve little or no pleasure, to speak of, in writing,
no joy in weaving words into metre,
whether it’s the fact I’ve reaped no profit from it,
that makes this thing the source of my misfortunes:
or that writing a poem you can’t read to anyone
is exactly like making gestures in the dark.
An audience stirs interest: power grows
with praise, and fame is a continual spur.
Who can I recite my work to here, but yellow-haired
Coralli, and the other tribes of the barbarous Danube?
But what can I do, alone, with what matters should I pass
an ill-starred idleness, and fritter away the days?
Since neither wine nor illusory dice attract me,
those usual ways in which time silently steals by,
and I can’t delight in renewing earth by cultivation,
though I’d like to if the savage wars allowed,
what’s left but the Muses, a chilly consolation,
those goddesses who’ve earned no good of me?
But you, who drink more felicitously of the Aonian spring,
go on loving that study that works advantageously for you,
perform the Muses’ rites as they deserve, and send some
product of your recent efforts, here, for me to read.
Book EIV.III:1-58 To A Faithless Friend: The Wheel Of Fortune
Shall I complain or be silent? Should I declare the crime nameless,
or should I wish who you are to be known to everyone?
I’ll not utter a name, in case my complaint advantages
you, and you acquire fame through my verse.
As long as my ship rested on a solid keel, you were
first among those who wished to sail with me.
Now that Fortune’s frowned, you slide away,
now that you know your help is really needed.
You dissemble too: don’t want to be thought to know me,
‘Who’s that?’ you ask, on hearing the name of Ovid.
I’m the one, though you don’t want to hear it, joined to you,
in a long-standing friendship, almost boy with boy:
I’m the one who was the first to know your serious
thoughts, and the first to share in your pleasant jests:
I’m the one, familiar friend of your house, by frequent custom,
I’m the one, the one and only Poet in your opinion.
I’m the one, traitor, you don’t know if I’m still alive,
whom you’ve taken no care to enquire about.
If I was never dear to you, you show your deceit:
if you weren’t inventing it, your fickleness is revealed.
Or come, tell me about some resentment that changed you:
since my reproach is just, unless yours turns out to be.
What’s the fellow crime that stops you being what you were?
Do you call it a crime that I’ve commenced being unhappy?
If you couldn’t bring me help in substance or in action,
you might have managed three words on a sheet of paper?
I scarcely believe it myself, but rumour has it you insult
me in my downfall, without sparing a single word.
Ah, madman, why are you doing this! Why, given Fortune
might fail, do you lessen the tears to be shed at your own wreck?
That goddess shows by her own wavering orb that she’s fickle,
she who always stands on its top beneath her unsteady feet.
She’s less certain than every leaf, than any breeze:
only yours, perverse one, equals her fickleness.
All things mortal hang by a tenuous thread,
and what was strong is ruined by sudden chance.
Who’s not heard of the power of Croesus’s wealth?
Yet didn’t he, a captive, have his life spared by his enemy?
Dionysius, feared but now in the city of Syracuse,
barely kept fierce hunger away with his humble art.
Who was greater than Pompey? Yet, fleeing, he asked
for help from a client, and in a submissive voice,
and he, whom all the countries of the world obeyed,
ended by needing the aid of a single man.
Marius, famed for his triumphs over Jugurtha and the Cimbri,
under whose consulship Rome was so often victorious,
lay in the mud and the marsh grass, and suffered
may things shameful for so great a man.
Divine power toys with human affairs, and true
faith barely finds a place in present times.
If anyone had said to me: ‘You’ll travel to Euxine shores,
and live in fear of being wounded by Getic arrows,’
I’d have said: ‘Go and drink a potion that clears the brain,
whatever’s in all that stuff Anticyra produces.’
Yet it happened to me: even if I could have guarded against
human weapons, I couldn’t do so at all against supreme gods.
You too should be afraid, and consider: what seems
your happiness, can turn to sadness while you speak.
Book EIV.IV:1-50 To Sextus Pompeius: Consulship
There’s no day so drenched by the southern
clouds that the rain falls in an endless flood.
There’s no place so barren it hasn’t a useful herb,
lost as a rule among the tough brambles.
A heavy fate makes nothing so miserable
that there’s no joy to lessen the pain a little.
See how I, bereft of home, country, and the sight
of my own, driven like a wreck to Getic waters,
still found a reason there to brighten my glance,
and cease to remember my misfortunes.
As I walked alone along the yellow sands,
there seemed the sound of wings behind me.
Looking back, there was no one to be seen,
but nevertheless these words came to my ears:
‘Lo, I, Rumour, come to you with glad tidings,
having flown down the vast pathways of the air.
Because of Pompey’s consulship, he who’s dearer to you
than any other, the new year will be happy and bright.’
The goddess spoke and, having filled Pontus
with good news, made her way to other nations.
But care slipped from me in the midst of new joys,
and the hostile harshness of this place was banished.
So, two-faced Janus, when you’ve opened the long year,
and December’s been driven out by your holy month,
Pompey will don purple robes of high honour,
and leave nothing more to be added to his titles.
Now I seem to see halls near bursting with the crowd,
and the people trampled due to lack of space,
and first you go to visit the Tarpeian holy places,
and the gods begin to be receptive to your prayers:
the snowy oxen, that Falerii’s grass has nourished,
in its meadows, offer their throats to the sure axe:
and next, as you wish deeply that all the gods
might favour you, Jupiter and Caesar will do so.
The Curia will receive you, and the senators, summoned
in the usual way, will lend their ears to your words.
When your speech from eloquent lips has pleased them,
and, as customary, the day’s brought words of good-omen,
and you’ve given the thanks due to Caesar and the gods,
(he’ll give you cause why you should often repeat them)
then you’ll return home, escorted by the whole senate,
your house scarcely big enough for everyone’s attentions.
Pity me, because I won’t be there among that crowd,
my eyes won’t have the power to enjoy these things!
What’s permitted is for me to see you, though absent,
in my mind: and view the features of the dear consul.
May the gods allow my name to come to you sometimes,
when you’ll say: ‘Ah, what’s that poor wretch doing now?’
If anyone reports words like that to me,
I’ll immediately confess my exile’s eased.
Book EIV.V:1-46 To Sextus Pompeius: Thanking The Consul
Go, slight verses, to the Consul’s learned ear,
carry a message for that distinguished man to read.
It’s a long road, and your feet won’t balance,
and the land lies shrouded in winter snow.
You’ll cross frozen Thrace, Haemus hidden
in the clouds, and the waters of the Ionian Sea,
in less than ten days, even if you don’t hurry
on the journey, you’ll reach the imperial city.
Then Pompey’s house should be your first objective:
no other’s nearer to the Forum of Augustus.
If any in the crowd asks who you are, and where
you’re from, speak any name to mislead his ear.
Even though I think it’s safe to confess,
surely words of deceit involve less danger.
Even when you’ve reached the threshold, you won’t get
the chance to see the Consul without being stopped.
He’ll be laying down words of law to the citizens, seated
on his high, conspicuously carved ivory chair:
or managing public revenues, next to the planted spear,
preventing the city’s wealth being diminished:
or, when the Senate’s been called to the Julian Temple,
he’ll be debating affairs fitting for so great a Consul:
or he’ll be bearing familiar greetings to Augustus and his son,
and consulting about some task not well enough understood.
Germanicus Caesar will claim the time left by all
of this: he reverences him next to the great gods.
But as soon as he’s free from this host of tasks,
he’ll reach out a kindly hand to you, and ask,
perhaps, how I myself, your author, am.
I want you to reply in words like these:
‘He’s alive still, and acknowledges he owes his life to you,
which he holds above all to be a gift of Caesar’s mercy.
With grateful lips he often says, that, when he was exiled,
you had occasion to make those savage roads safe:
it was owing to your heartfelt care he didn’t warm
some Bistonian sword-blade with his blood.
and you added many gifts to help him live,
so that his own resources weren’t depleted.
He swears he’ll be your servant for all time,
so thanks can be rendered for your services.
Mountains will first be free of shadowy trees,
and the seas be emptied of their sailing ships,
rivers aim their course backward to their springs,
before he ends his thanks for all your kindness.’
When you’ve spoken, ask him to protect his gift,
so the purpose of your journey can be fulfilled.
Book EIV.VI:1-50 To Brutus: After Augustus’s Death
Brutus, the letter you’re reading has come to you
from that land where you’d prefer Ovid not to be.
But what you’d not wish, wretched fate has willed.
Ah me, it has greater power than your prayers.
I’ve spent five years of one Olympiad in Scythia:
time’s moving onwards into a second five,
and stubborn fortune is unchanging, and slyly
obstructs my wishes with a limping foot.
Maximus, glory of the Fabii, had decided to speak,
in supplication, to divine Augustus on my behalf.
He died before he made the plea, and I think I’m reason
for his death (though I can’t be so important)
Now I fear to trust my salvation to anyone:
that recourse is truly finished with his death.
Augustus was beginning to forgive my mindless error:
he left the world, and my hopes, bereft together.
Yet situated as I am far from your shores, I sent you
such verse as I could write concerning the new god.
May this respectful act aid me, and let there be an end
to my ills, the anger of the sacred house be lessened.
O, I can swear with a clear conscience that you, Brutus,
known to me in no uncertain manner, pray for the same.
Though you always granted me your true love,
still that love has grown in my time of trouble.
Anyone who saw your tears, that equalled mine,
would have thought we were both to be punished.
Nature made you kind to the wretched: she gave
no man a more merciful heart than you, Brutus:
so whoever knew nothing of your worth in court cases,
would hardly think your lips could prosecute criminals.
In fact the same man, though it seems perverse maybe,
can be mild with suppliants, and harsh with the guilty.
When you undertake the vengeance of strict justice,
every word’s as though it’s steeped in venom.
May your enemies come to know how fierce you are
in conflict, and suffer the sharp weapons of your tongue,
which you polish with such refined care all would deny
that ability could be present in such a person.
But if you see anyone wounded by fate’s injustice,
no woman’s more tender-hearted than you.
I felt this most of all when the larger part
of my friends denied all knowledge of me.
Them I’ll forget, you I’ll never forget,
you who ease the anxiety of my ills.
The Danube, all too close, will sooner turn its course
back from the Euxine shore towards its source,
the chariot of the sun be driven to the Eastern sea,
as if the age of Thyestean banquets were returned,
than any of you who’ve grieved at my exile
shall denounce me as ungrateful, un-remembering.
Book EIV.VII:1-54 To Vestalis: Local Knowledge
Vestalis, since you’ve been posted to the Euxine Sea,
to deliver justice in these places below the pole,
you observe, in person, what country I’m stuck in, and you
will witness I’m not in the habit of complaining idly.
Through you, young offspring of Celtic kings,
the truth of my words will not be ignored.
You yourself can see Pontus truly solid with ice,
you yourself see wine stand frozen by the frost:
you yourself see the fierce Iazygian ox-herd
lead his loaded wagon over the Danube’s floes.
And you observe poison carried by barbed steel,
so the weapon can be a dual cause of death.
Would that this place had only to be administered,
not also known to you yourself through warfare!
Reaching for the highest rank, in the thick of danger,
that well-deserved honour recently fell to you.
Even though the title’s full of reward for you,
your courage is still greater than your role.
Danube won’t deny it whose waters were once
dyed dark red with Getic blood, at your hands.
Aegisos won’t deny it, recaptured at your coming,
gaining no advantage from the nature of its site.
Since it’s uncertain whether that city, touching the clouds
on its high ridge, was better defended by arms or position.
The fierce enemy had taken it from its Thracian king
and, victorious, held its treasure captive, till Vitellius,
carried downriver, disembarked his troops,
and advanced his standards against the Getae.
Then the impulse came to you, bravest scion
of noble Donnus, to attack the hostile force.
No delay: conspicuous from afar in shining armour,
ensuring that your brave deeds can’t go unnoticed,
with swift strides you charge their position,
its steel, and stones, heavier than winter hail.
A storm of missiles flung from above don’t stop you,
nor those arrow-tips steeped in snake’s venom.
Shafts with painted feathers cling to your helm,
and scarcely any part of your shield’s unscarred.
Unhappily, your body can’t escape every blow:
but the pain is less than your sharp desire for glory.
Such, they say, was Ajax at Troy, when he endured
Hector’s brands, in defending the Greek ships.
When you came nearer, fighting hand to hand,
when battle could be joined with cruel swords,
it’s difficult to tell of all your warlike actions there,
how many you killed, whom, and how they fell.
You trod in victory over the piles of dead your sword
had made, the Getae heaped wherever your feet stood.
The lower ranks followed their leader’s example,
fought, took many wounds, and delivered many.
But your courage exceeded all others, as Pegasus,
once flew faster than the swiftest horse.
Aegisos was taken, and your deeds, Vestalis,
are born witness to, for ever, in my song.
Book EIV.VIII:1-48 To Suillius: Praying To Germanicus
A letter has arrived here, one perfected Suillius
by your studies: late indeed, but still, it pleases me:
in which you say you’ll bring me aid, as far as
loyal friendship can stir the gods by asking.
Even if you offered nothing else, your friendly purpose
makes me your debtor: I call your wish to help true service.
Only let that impulse of yours endure lengths of time,
and your loyalty not grow weary of my troubles.
Our bonds of kinship make some claims on us,
bonds that I pray will always remain strong.
Since she who’s your wife is almost my own daughter,
and one who calls you son-in-law, calls me husband.
It would be sad for me if you frowned reading this verse,
and felt shame at being related to me by marriage!
But you’ll find nothing here meriting shame,
except fate: she was blind where I was concerned.
If you look at my family, you’ll find we were knights
for endless generations, from our first origins:
or if you want to enquire into my morals,
ignore my one error, alas, and they’re spotless.
If you hope anything at all can be achieved by praying,
exhort the gods you worship, with a suppliant’s voice.
Let your god be young Caesar. Please your divine power,
Germanicus, truly no altar’s better known to you than his.
It never allows its priest’s prayers to be made in vain:
seek assistance from it, concerning my affairs.
No matter how slight the breeze, so long as it aids me
my foundering barque will rise again from the waves.
Then I’ll offer sacred incense to the swift flames,
and I’ll bear witness to the power of the divinity.
I’ll not build a temple of Parian marble for you,
Germanicus: my ruin stripped me of my wealth.
Prosperous houses and cities will found temples to you:
Ovid will thank you with his only riches, with poetry.
I confess it’s a meagre gift indeed for a great service,
if it’s words I give in return for my return being granted.
But he who gives all he has gives thanks in abundance,
and piety such as that has achieved its ends.
Incense a poor man offers the gods from his lowly censer
has no less power than that from a great man’s dish.
The new-born lamb, struck down in sacrifice, reddens
the Tarpeian altars, as well as oxen fed on Faliscan grass.
There’s still nothing more fitting for the leaders of men
than the tribute rendered by a poet’s verse.
Poetry acts everywhere as the herald of your glory,
and ensures that the fame of your actions never dies.
Book EIV.VIII:49-90 To Suillius: The Power of Poetry
Virtue’s kept alive by verse, and, escaping
the tomb, gains fame among later generations.
Age’s decay consumes iron and stone,
and nothing has greater power than time.
Writing survives the years. Through writing you know
of Agamemnon, and all who bore arms for or against him.
Who’d know of Thebes and the seven generals, without
poetry, or everything that happened before and since?
The gods too, if it’s right to say it, take on existence
through poetry, such majesty needs a singing voice.
It’s how we know that Chaos, that mass of early
nature, separated out to acquire its elements:
how the Giants, aspiring to the rule of the Heavens,
were hurled to Styx by the avenger’s lightning blast:
how victorious Bacchus won fame by conquering
India, and Hercules by capturing Oechalia.
And Germanicus, your grandfather whom his virtues have
newly added to the stars, was immortalised in part by poetry.
So, Caesar, if there’s any life left in my skill,
it will be at your service, completely.
As a poet yourself you can’t despise a poet’s tribute:
it is a thing of value in your judgement.
And if your fame hadn’t called you to great affairs,
you’d have been the crowning glory of the Muses.
But it’s better to give us all themes than poems:
even if you can’t abandon poetry completely.
One moment waging war, the next coercing words,
what’s labour for others, will be play for you.
Just as Apollo’s not slow to use the lyre or bow,
and either string will serve his holy hands,
so the arts of prince and scholar never fail you,
and the Muse is bound up with Jupiter in your mind.
And since she’s not banished me from that spring
that Gorgonian Pegasus’s hollow hoof created,
let it be helpful, and bring aid, that I observe our mutual rite,
and have set my hand to the same studies:
so I might flee these shores, too open to the Coralli,
a tribe clad in skins: escape the savage Getae, at the last,
and if my country’s barred to such a wretch, be set down
in any place not so far as this place is from Rome,
from where I might celebrate your latest glories,
and tell of your great actions with least delay.
Pray for him who’s almost your father-in-law, dear
Suillius, that this request might reach the heavenly powers.
Book EIV.IX:1-54 To Graecinus: On His Consulship
Ovid sends you this greeting, Graecinus, as he can,
but not as he would, from the Black Sea waters:
once sent, may the gods have it find you in the dawn
that first brings you the twelve ‘rods and axes’:
because, since you’ll reach the Capitol as consul
without me, and I’ll not be one of your people,
allow my letter to take its master’s place,
and serve as a friend on the chosen day.
And if I’d been born to a better fate,
and my wheels had run on a truer axle,
my lips would have performed the greeting
that my hand now acts out in writing,
and I’d congratulate you with sweet words and kisses,
and your honours would be no less mine than yours.
I’d be so proud on that day, I confess, there’d
be scarcely any roof could contain my pride:
and while the crowd of sacred senators surrounded you,
I’d be commanded, a knight, to go before the consul:
and though I’d wish always to be near you,
I’d be glad not to have a mere place at your side.
I’d not complain if I were crushed, it would be
pleasant to be jostled by people at a time like that.
I’d delight in gazing at the order of procession,
and how the dense throng filled the lengthy way.
and so you’d know how much little things impress me,
I’d examine the quality of purple you were wearing,
consider the shapes of the figures on your curule chair,
and the whole of that carved work of Numidian ivory.
Then when you’d been accompanied to the Tarpeian Rock,
when the holy sacrifice was slaughtered at your command,
the great god that sits in the midst of the temple
would have heard me too as I gave my private thanks:
I’d have offered incense, heart fuller than my salver,
rejoicing more than once at your supreme honour.
There I’d be counted among the friends around you,
if only a kinder fate granted me entrance to the city,
and the pleasure my mind can only grasp at, now,
would be experienced by my eyes as well.
The gods won’t consider it, and perhaps they’re right:
how can denying the case for my punishment help me?
I’ll still use my mind: it alone’s not exiled from that place,
to gaze at your robes and ‘rods and axes’.
It will see you one moment dispensing justice to the people,
and fancy itself secretly present at your actions:
then it will think you’re doling out lengthy contracts,
by the spear, settling it all with scrupulous honesty:
next moment you’re speaking eloquently to the Senate,
pursuing what the state interest demands:
then you’re giving thanks on behalf of the divine
Caesars, striking the white necks of fat oxen.
If only, when you’ve done praying for greater things,
you could ask the prince’s anger to relent, for me!
May a true flame rise from the holy altar, at your voice,
and a bright flare declare its good omen as you pray.
Book EIV.IX:55-88 To Graecinus: Ask Flaccus
Meanwhile, don’t let me complain about everything,
I’ll be as festive as I can here at your consulship, as well.
There’s another reason for joy, not inferior to the first,
your brother, Flaccus, will succeed you in that great honour.
The office that ends for you as December closes
he’ll enter into on the first of January.
Such is your affection you’ll experience alternate joys,
you in your brother’s consulship, and he in yours.
And you’ll be consul twice, and he’ll be twice consul,
and there’ll be a double honour witnessed by your house.
Though the honour’s great, and martial Rome perceives
nothing higher than the office of supreme consul,
it’s still magnified by the authority of the sponsor,
and the gift acquires the majesty of the giver.
So may it be for you and Flaccus to enjoy
such approval by Augustus for all time.
Still when your concerns are free of more pressing things,
add both your prayers to mine, I beg you,
and, if the breeze will fill a sail, loose the cables,
so my ship can leave the waters of the Styx.
Flaccus commanded here till recently, Graecinus,
and the warring banks of Danube were safe in his care.
He kept the Moesian tribes to their peace treaty,
he cowed the Getic bowmen with the sword.
He re-took Troesmis when captured, swiftly, with courage,
and stained the river waters with savage blood.
Ask him about the features of this place, and the hostile
Scythian climate, and how I fear the enemy nearby:
if the slender arrows aren’t tipped with snake venom,
and human beings don’t become a hideous offering:
if I lie or Pontus really does freeze with the cold,
and ice covers many acres of sea.
When he’s told you, question him as to my standing,
and ask him, too, how I spend this cruel time.
Book EIV.IX:89-134 To Graecinus: His Status and Loyalty
I’m not disliked here, nor indeed do I deserve to be,
and my temperament’s not altered with my fortunes.
That calm reason, you used to praise, that diffidence
there used to be, is still there in my appearance.
So I’ve been throughout, here, where savage enemies
demonstrate that might’s more powerful than right,
and no man, woman or child, in all these years,
has had any reason to complain about me.
That’s why, in my wretchedness, the Tomitae are kind
and support me, since this land has to play witness for me.
They’d prefer me to leave, since they see it’s my wish:
but for themselves they want me still to stay here.
Don’t take my word for this: there are sealed decrees
extant, praising me and granting me concessions.
Though it’s not fitting for the miserable to boast,
the neighbouring towns grant me the same right.
Nor is my piety unknown: this foreign land
sees the shrine to Caesar in my home.
His virtuous son, Tiberius, and priestess-widow, Livia,
stand beside him, no less a power now he’s become a god.
So none of his House are absent, Drusus and Germanicus,
are there, one by his grandmother’s side, one by his father’s.
I offer incense to them and words of prayer,
every time the sun rises in the East.
All of Pontus, you’re free to ask, would say that I’m
not inventing this, and will witness to my devotion.
Pontus knows I celebrate the birthday of the god,
with what show I can, at this altar.
Nor is my piety less known to such strangers
as far-off Propontis sends to these waters.
Your brother too, who had command of Pontus
on the left, may perhaps have heard of it.
My fortune is unequal to my purpose, but, though poor,
I spend my slight resources freely on such attentions.
So far away from the city, I don’t bring it to your notice,
but I’m content, out of a sense of duty, to be silent.
Still, it may sometimes reach a Caesar’s ears: from whom
nothing that passes in the whole world is hidden.
Caesar, received among the gods, you know and see it,
for certain, since the earth’s now set beneath your gaze.
You, placed there among the vaulted stars,
hear my prayers spoken by anxious lips.
Perhaps the poems I’ve made and sent off, about
you, the new god, may reach you there, too.
And so I foretell your divine power will yield to them:
not without reason you take the gentle name of Father.
Book EIV.X:1-34 To Albinovanus: The Sixth Summer
This is the sixth summer I’m forced to spend
on Cimmerian shores, among Getae dressed in skins.
Dearest Albinovanus, can you compare flint
or iron, in any way, to me, for durability?
Drops of water carve out stone, a ring’s thinned by use,
the curved plough’s worn away by the soil’s pressure.
So devouring time destroys all other things:
but death delays, conquered by my hardiness.
Ulysses, the example of a spirit suffering to excess,
was tossed about for ten years, on dangerous seas:
yet, he didn’t endure the anxiety of fate throughout,
and there were often peaceful interludes.
Was it really a hardship to fondle lovely Calypso
for six years, and share a bed with a sea-goddess?
And Aeolus, Hippotes’ son, welcomed him, gifted him
with following winds so the breeze filled his driven sails.
Nor is it any effort to listen to the Sirens’ sweet singing:
and the lotus wasn’t bitter to him who tasted it.
I’d buy those juices, that make you forget your homeland,
at the price of half my life, if they were offered.
And you can’t compare a city of Laestrygonians,
with the tribes the Danube reveals in its winding course.
Cyclops couldn’t outdo cruel Piacches in savagery,
and to me they’re only a small part of the local terrors!
Scylla may yelp, fierce with monsters, from distorted loins,
but the Sarmatian pirates harm sailors more.
Though Charybdis may suck the sea down three times,
and three times spew it out, you can’t compare her
with the fierce Achaei, who roam the eastern shore
with more licence, yet won’t leave this shore alone.
Here there’s leafless land, arrows steeped in venom,
here winter makes the sea a pathway for walkers,
so where oars, a moment ago, beat their way through the waves,
the passer-by, despising boats, walks without wetting his feet.
Book EIV.X:35-84 To Albinovanus: The Rivers
Those who come from Italy say you barely believe all this.
Wretched the man who suffers things too harsh to be believed!
Well believe this: I won’t let you remain in ignorance
of what causes bitter winter to freeze the Sarmatian sea.
The stars of the Wain, Ursa Major, wagon-shaped,
are very close to us, and they possess extreme cold.
Here’s the source of the north wind, Boreas, and this coast
is his home, and he gains power from the location.
But Notus, the south wind, blows warm from the opposite
pole, is far from us, is rarely experienced, and is feeble.
Also the rivers here merge with land-locked Pontus,
and the waves lose their force because of the flow.
Here the Lycus, Sagaris, Penius, Hypanes, and Cales,
all enter, the Halys writhing, full of whirlpools,
raging Parthenius, Cynapses rolling boulders,
sliding on, Tyras, fastest of streams, and you,
Thermodon, known to the Amazon war-bands,
and you, Phasis, once sought by the Greek heroes,
Borysthenes and clearest Dyrapses, Melanthus
silently completing its gentle course. And the Don
that separates two continents, Asia and Europe,
and innumerable others, Danube mightiest of all,
that refuses, Nile, to yield in power even to you.
The spoil of so many waters adulterates the waves
it swells, and stops the sea maintaining its power.
Indeed, like a still pool or a stagnant swamp,
it’s colour is diluted, and it’s barely blue.
The fresh water overlays the flood, lighter than sea-water,
which gains specific weight from the salt admixture.
If anyone asks why I relate all this to Pedo,
and what the point is of speaking so precisely,
I’d say: ‘I’ve whiled away the time, held off care.
That’s the fruit the present hour has brought me.
I’ve avoided my usual worries, by writing this,
and no longer feel that I’m among the Getae.’
But I’ve no doubt that you, singing Theseus’ praises,
are doing justice to the fame of your subject,
and imitating the hero you describe. He’d deny
that loyalty’s only the friend of tranquil times.
Though his deeds are great, and he’s shown by you
as grandly as a hero should be sung by such lips,
there’s still something of his, that we can copy,
anyone can be a Theseus in faithfulness.
You don’t have to master enemies, with sword and club,
those who made the Isthmus scarcely passable:
but you must show love, not difficult for the willing.
What effort is it to not to desecrate true loyalty?
You mustn’t think these words spoken by a complaining
tongue, to you who stand by your friend, eternally.
Book EIV.XI:1-22 To Gallio: Commiseration
Gallio, it would be a crime barely excusable on
my part, if your name wasn’t present in my verse.
Since I remember that you too bathed my wound
with your tears when I was struck by the divine shaft.
I wish that, injured by the snatching away of your
friend, you’d had nothing more to complain of!
The cruel gods were not pleased it should be so,
not owning it wrong to strip you of your pure wife.
Only now has the letter with your mournful news
reached me, and I’ve read of your loss with tears.
But I wouldn’t, stupidly, dare to console the wise
repeating the trite words of the learned to you:
I suspect your grieving is already over, if not
through rational thought, by the lapse of time.
While your letter was reaching me, while my reply
crossed so many lands and seas, a year has gone.
The act of consolation belongs to a definite time,
when grief’s in train, and the harmed seek help.
After many days have calmed the mind’s hurt,
he only renews it, who disturbs it, inappropriately.
And then (and I hope this omen proves true on arrival!)
you may be happy now, in a fresh marriage.
Book EIV.XII:1-50 To Tuticanus: Affinities
The reason you’re not found in my works, my friend,
is a result of the way your name’s constructed.
I’d consider no one else worthier of that honour –
if my verse happened to confer any honour.
Metric rules, and the nature of your name, prevent
the compliment: there’s no way you can be in my verse.
I’d be ashamed to split your name across two lines,
ending the first with one bit, starting the next with the rest.
I’d be equally ashamed if I shortened a syllable
that’s long, and addressed you as Two-tick-a-nus.
Nor can you enter a poem disguised as Tutti-car-nus,
where a short syllable’s made of that first long one.
Nor by making the second syllable, that’s over quickly,
long, Two-tea-car-nus, by extending it in time.
If I dared to distort your name by such tricks,
I’d be laughed at, and rightly said to have no taste.
That was the reason for delaying these attentions,
but my love will perform them with added interest,
and I’ll sing you in some measure, send you a song, you,
known to me, barely a lad, when you were barely a lad,
and, through the ranks of all the many years we’ve seen,
no less beloved by me than brother by brother.
When I first controlled the reins, in my weak grasp,
you were kind encouragement, my friend and guide.
I often revised my works with you acting as critic,
I often made changes based on your suggestions,
while the Muses, those Pierian goddesses, taught you
how to compose a Phaeacis worthy of Homer’s pages.
This steady path, this harmony begun in green youth,
has extended undiminished to white-haired age.
If that didn’t move you, I’d think you’d a heart
encased in hard iron or unbreakable steel.
But this land will sooner be free of war and cold,
the two things hateful Pontus offers me, sooner
might north winds be warm, south winds cold,
and my fate have the power to be gentler,
than your heart be harsh to your weary friend.
Let that culmination of evils be absent, as it is.
But by the gods, and He is the surest of them
under whose rule esteem for you steadily grows,
see that the winds of hope don’t desert my boat,
protect the exile, with your endless devotion.
What do I command, you ask? I’m dying to answer,
if a dead man can be dying, but it’s difficult to say:
I can’t find anything to try, to desire or not desire,
and I don’t exactly know what would benefit me.
Believe me, wisdom’s the first thing to flee the wretched,
and sense and judgement vanish with position.
Seek out yourself, please, in what way you can help,
as well: make a road for my prayers through the deep.
Book EIV.XIII:1-50 To Carus: The Sixth Winter
Greetings to you, O Carus, counted among my true
friends, you who are truly what you’re named: dear!
The style and form of my verse can act as immediate
witness to the place from which you’re greeted.
Not that my style’s wonderful, but it’s not ‘anyone’s’ at least:
whatever it may be, there’s no hiding that it’s mine.
And I think I could say which works are yours
even if your name were missing from the title page.
However you’re placed among the books you’ll
be discovered, recognised by well-known features.
A power we know to be worthy of Hercules
will reveal the author, so suited to the one you sing.
And perhaps my Muse can be detected
in her true colours, by tokens of her failings.
Thersites’ ugliness prevented him from hiding,
as much as Nireus’ beauty made him stand out.
And you shouldn’t marvel if my art’s defective,
since I’ve almost turned into a Getic poet.
Ah! Shameful: I’ve even written a work in Getic,
where savage words are set to Italian metres.
My theme, you ask? You’d praise me: I speak of Caesar.
My new attempt was helped by a god’s power.
I tell how the body of our father, Augustus, was mortal,
but his spirit has passed to the domains of heaven:
and Tiberius is equal to his father in virtue, taking
up the reins of empire, often refused, when asked:
and you Livia are the Vesta of modest mothers,
whether worthier of son or husband is unclear:
and two sons, a powerful help to their father,
have given true pledges of their courage.
When I read it aloud, not penned by my native Muse,
and the last page came beneath my fingers,
they nodded their heads and their full quivers,
and there was a long murmur from Getic mouths.
And one said: ‘Since you write all this about Caesar,
you ought to be restored to Caesar’s dominions.’
That’s what he said: but already, my Carus,
the sixth winter sees me exiled under the icy pole.
My poetry’s no help. Poetry once harmed me,
and was the prime cause of this wretched exile.
But, by the mutual bonds of our sacred calling, in the name
of friendship, and that’s not something insignificant to you,
(and may Germanicus, with the German enemy
led in chains, provide a subject for your art: and may
his sons, who you’ve been given to train, to your
great credit, be well, as the public asks of the gods),
promote my cause, my health, as much as you can,
something I’ll not regain without a change of place.
Book EIV.XIV:1-62 To Tuticanus: Being Nice To Tomis
These words are sent to you, whose name won’t fit
my metres, as I complained to you recently in verse:
and in these lines, except that I’m fairly well,
you won’t hear of anything else that pleases me.
Even health itself is hateful, and my last prayer
is to go anywhere at all away from here.
I don’t care where I’m sent to from this land,
anywhere will be better than what I see.
Send me sailing to Syrtes, or to Charybdis,
as long as I escape this ground before me.
Styx too, if it exists, would be a nice change from Danube,
or wherever the world holds that’s deeper than Styx.
The ploughed field hates weeds less, the swallow cold,
than Ovid hates this place near the warlike Getae.
The Tomitae are irritated with me for such words,
and public anger’s stirred by my verse.
Shall I never stop being harmed by poetry,
and always suffer for my outspoken art?
Shall I hesitate to cut my fingers, so they can’t write,
still chase after the weapons madly, that have hurt me?
Am I being driven towards the old reef again,
into the waters where my ship was wrecked?
But I’ve done nothing, not guilty: Tomitae,
I like you, while I hate the place you’re in.
Let anyone examine the products of my labour:
there’s no complaint about you in my letters.
I moan about the cold, the fearful incursions on every
side, the assaults the enemy make on the walls.
The charges I’ve uttered against your land, not its people,
are quite true: you too often criticise your own country.
Hesiod, ancient farmer, dared to sing of how
his Ascra was a place to be constantly avoided:
though the man who wrote it had been born
in that land, still Ascra wasn’t angry with its poet.
Who delighted in his homeland more than cunning Ulysses?
Yet he, by his own witness, learned the harshness of the place.
Scepsian Metrodorus attacked Italian ways, not the land,
in bitter writing: and Rome itself was accused of guilt:
yet Rome accepted the lying invective equably,
and the author’s wild speech did him no harm.
But a wrong interpretation rouses people’s anger
against me, accuses my poetry of a fresh crime.
I wish I were as happy as my heart is pure!
No one still alive has been wounded by my lips.
And even if I were blacker in words than Illyrian
pitch, no loyal crowd would be harmed by me.
Tomitae, my situation’s gentle reception among you
shows how kind men of Greek extraction are.
The Paeligni, my own race, and Sulmo my native place,
could not have been more sympathetic to my troubles.
An honour you don’t often grant to one who’s
safe and sound, you recently granted to me.
I’m the only one so far immune from taxes on your
shores, excepting those that have that right by law.
My forehead has been wreathed with the sacred crown,
that popular favour set there, against my will.
As the island of Delos was dear to Latona, offering
her the only place of safety in her wanderings,
so Tomis is dear to me, and remains true and hospitable
to one who’s exiled from his native land.
If only the gods had made it so it might know hope
of sweet peace, and was further from the frozen pole.
Book EIV.XV:1-42 To Sextus Pompey: The Same Request
If there’s anyone left around who’s still not forgotten
me, and who asks how Ovid the exile is getting on:
let him know I owe my life to the Caesars, and my comfort
to Sextus. After the gods he’ll be supreme to me.
If I consider all the days of my unhappy life,
none of them has been devoid of his attentions.
They’ve been as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds reddening
under their slow-growing husks, in some fertile farm’s orchard,
as African grain, as the grape clusters of Lydia,
as olives of Sicyon, as honeycombs of Hybla.
My confession: you can witness it. Seal it, Citizens!
The power of the law’s not needed: I say it myself.
Set me down, a humble possession, amongst your family
wealth: I’m a part of your estate, however insignificant.
Just like those Sicilian lands of yours, and those in Macedonia,
like your house next to the Forum of Augustus,
like your Campanian estate, dear to your eyes,
whatever was left to you, Sextus, or you’ve bought:
so I am yours as well, and by this sad gift
you can’t say you own nothing in Pontus.
I wish you could, and a pleasanter field be granted you,
so you could own your investment in a better location!
Given that it’s up to the gods, try and woo those powers
with prayer, that you worship with a constant devotion,
since it’s hard to make out whether you are more
a confirmation of my error, or a remedy for it.
I don’t ask because I doubt: but, following the stream,
the flow of the current’s often speeded by using oars.
I’m ashamed and anxious, always making the same request,
in case weariness with me, rightly, fills your mind.
But what can I do? My desire’s immoderate.
Kind friend, forgive this fault of mine.
Wanting to write otherwise, I fall to speaking the same:
my letters of their own accord set the theme.
Whether your influence achieves its effect, or whether
harsh fate orders me to die beneath the frozen pole,
I’ll always recall your gifts to me, with a dutiful mind,
and my homeland will hear how I am yours.
It will be known by every place beneath the sky
(if my Muse travels well beyond the savage Getae)
that you’re the reason for, and guardian of, my well-being,
I’m yours no less than if the bronze and scales weighed me.
Book EIV.XVI:1-52 To An Enemy: His Fame
Why attack wretched Ovid’s poetry, jealous man?
The last day never harms genius, and fame
is greater after we’re turned to ashes. When I
was counted among the living I too had a name:
when Marsus lived, and mighty-voiced Rabirius,
and the Ilian, Macer, and the starry Pedo:
and Carus, who’d have angered Juno in his Hercules,
if that hero wasn’t already Juno’s son-in-law:
and Severus who gave Latium a royal poem,
and tasteful Numa, along with the two Prisci:
and Montanus, master of equal and unequal couplets,
who has a reputation in both forms of verse:
and he who had Ulysses write to Penelope
in his ten year wanderings over the cruel sea,
and Sabinus, abandoning his Troien to swift
death, the incomplete effort of many days:
Largus, known by the name of his own genius,
who guided the aged Antenor to Gallic fields:
Camerinus, singing of Troy after Hector’s defeat,
and Tuscus, well-known for his Phyllis:
the poet of a sea of sails whose verse you’d think
composed by the sea-green gods themselves:
he who spoke of Libya’s armies, Rome’s battles:
and Marius, skilled in every form of writing:
Trinacrius, author of his Perseid, and Lupus
author of Helen’s return with Menelaus:
and he who translated Phaeacis out of Homer,
and you too Rufus, sole lyricist of Pindar’s lyre:
and Turranius’s Muse, the tragically shod:
and yours Melissus with her little slippers:
Varius and Graccus, granting tyrants fierce words,
Proculus holding to Callimachus’s tender path,
Passer turning to Tityrus and the ancient meadow,
while Grattius gave hunters suitable weapons:
Fontanus singing of Naiads loved by Satyrs,
Capella locking words in elegiac couplets:
and others, whose names would take too long
to mention, whose songs people possess:
and youths whose work’s unpublished
so I’ve no right to speak about them
(but, in all that crowd, I’d not dare to forget you,
Cotta, light of the Muses, patron of their forum,
to whom double the nobility was granted, Cottas
on your mother’s side, Messallas on your father’s)
and with them, if it’s not wrong to say so, my Muse’s
bright name, she too being read among all those others.
So, Envy, stop reviling one exiled from his country,
stop scattering my ashes about, you, cruel one.
I’ve lost everything: only my life remains,
to grant me feeling and the stuff of sorrow.
Where’s the joy in stabbing your steel into my dead flesh?
There’s no place left where I can be dealt fresh wounds.
The End of Ex Ponto Book IV