Ovid: Ex Ponto

Book One

quid tibi cum Ponto?
what have you to do with Pontus?

Tristia III.XIII:11

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved

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Book EI.I:1-36 To Brutus: The Nature of His Book

Ovid sends you this work from the Getic shore:

he’s no stranger already to the land of Tomis.

Brutus, if you’ve time, welcome these foreign books

with friendship: but hide them somewhere, anywhere.

They don’t dare go entering a public library,

in case their author’s closed the doors to them.

Ah, the times I’ve said: ‘You teach nothing shameful:

go, the place is open to your chaste verses!’

They still won’t go, but as you see they think

it’s safer to lie hidden in a private household.

You’d like to know where to put them, without harming

anyone? Where my Ars Amatoria stood, there’s your place.

Perhaps you’ll ask why they come, while they’re a novelty.

Whatever the reason, accept them, so long as it’s not for love!

You’ll find, though the title’s not about anything sad,

this book’s no less sad than the ones that went before.

Same theme, different title: and each letter shows

whom it was sent to without hiding the name.

You don’t like it, but you can’t prevent it:

my obliging Muse comes against your will.

Whatever it is, add it to my works. Nothing stops

an exile’s children enjoying the city if they keep the law.

There’s nothing to fear. Antony’s writings are read,

and Marcus Brutus, the learned, has shelves waiting.

I’m not so foolish as to compare myself with such men:

still, I’ve not employed fierce weapons against the gods,

In short Caesar, though he doesn’t need it himself,

lacks no honour in any book of mine.

If you’re dubious about me, admit praise of a god,

and accept my poetry after removing the name.

The peaceful olive branch is helpful in wartime:

is it not beneficial to contain the creator of peace?

When Aeneas carried his father on his shoulders,

they say the very flames made way for the hero:

so won’t all paths open to a book bearing Aeneas’s scion?

Indeed one’s father of a country, the other only of a hero.

 Book EI.I:37-80 To Brutus: His Prayer

Is there anyone brave enough to drive from his threshold

one who shakes Isis’s rattling sistrum of Pharos in his hand?

When the flute-player, before Cybele, Mother of the gods,

sounds the curved horn, who grudges him a few coppers as alms?

No such thing, we know, is done at Diana’s command,

yet her prophet too still gains the means to live.

The power of the divine being itself stirs our hearts:

there’s nothing shameful in being caught by credulity.

Behold, instead of the sistrum or Phrygian boxwood pipe,

I come bearing the sacred names of the Julian race.

I celebrate, I prophesy. Make way for the bearer of holy symbols!

The right’s not claimed by me, but by a mighty god.

Because I’ve earned and experienced the prince’s anger,

don’t think I’d not wish, for my part, to worship him.

I’ve seen one who confessed to outraging the divinity

of linen-robed Isis kneeling before Isis’s altar.

Another, robbed of sight for a similar reason,

shouted, through the streets, that he’d deserved it.

The gods delight in instances of such testimony,

since they, thereby, give witness of their powers.

They often ease punishments and restore the sight

they’ve taken, when they see true penitence for sin.

Oh, I repent! If anything the wretched say’s believed,

I repent, and feel the real torment of my actions.

Though exile is grief, my offence is more so:

and deserving punishment’s worse than suffering it.

If the gods favoured me, and he most visible of them

should annul my sentence, the fault still exists forever.

At least death will make me, when it comes, no longer an exile:

but death can’t arrange things so I never offended either.

So it’s no wonder if my mind’s decaying,

melting like water dripping from the snow.

It’s gnawed at as a ship’s weakened by hidden molluscs:

as waves of salt water carve away the cliffs:

as heaps of iron are eaten by corroding rust:

as a shelved book feeds the worm’s mouth,

so my heart feels the constant bite of care,

which will never make an end. Not before

life itself will these pangs leave my mind:

he who grieves will die sooner than the grief.

If the gods above, whose I am, believe me,

perhaps I’ll be thought worthy of a little help,

and be sent to a place free of the Scythian bows.

If I asked for more, it would be sheer effrontery.

 Book EI.II:1-52 To Paullus Fabius Maximus: His Life In Exile

Maximus, you who fill the measure of so great a name,

and match your ancestry with your own nobility of spirit,

in order to secure whose birth not all the Fabii

were killed that day when the three hundred fell,

perhaps you’re asking who sent you this letter,

wishing to be surer of who speaks to you.

Ah, what should I do? I fear you’ll be hardened on seeing

the name, and you’ll read what’s left with a hostile mind.

You be the judge. I’ll dare to confess I’ve written to you

(..in the hope that you might be able to lessen my ills….?)

I, who, though admittedly deserving of a heavier

punishment, can scarcely experience a heavier one.

I live among enemies, surrounded with dangers,

as if peace was taken from me with my native land:

they double the chance of death from a cruel wound,

by smearing every arrow-head with viper’s gall.

Equipped so, the horseman circles our anxious walls,

in the same way that a wolf circles the penned sheep:

and once that light bow’s strung with horse’s sinew

it remains taut, held by its fastenings, forever.

The rooftops bristle, covered by the coating of arrows

fixed there, and the heavy-barred gate hardly prevents attack.

Add that the face of the land, is covered with neither shrubs

nor trees, and that lifeless winter merges into winter.

Here a fourth winter wearies me, contending as I am

with cold, with arrows, and with my own fate.

My tears are endless, unless numbness checks them:

and a lethargy like death grips my thoughts.

Though she saw so many deaths, Niobe was happy,

losing her sense of feeling, turned to stone by her sorrows!

And you, Phaethon’s sisters, whose mouths the poplar

closed with fresh bark, as you cried over your brother!

I’m one not allowed to enter any kind of tree:

I’m one who wishes in vain to become stone.

Let Medusa herself appear before my eyes,

Medusa herself will lose all her power.

In living I never lose the bitterness of sensation,

and my punishment’s worse for its long duration.

So Tityus’s liver, never consumed, is always whole,

renewed so that it can perish again, forever.

I imagine, when rest and sleep, care’s common healer,

are here, that night might be free of my usual ills.

But dreams that imitate real dangers terrify me,

and my senses wake to my own torment.

Either I believe myself dodging Sarmatian arrows,

or offering my hands, captive, to the cruel chains.

Or when I’m deceived by the semblance of kinder dreams,

I see the roofs of the homeland I’ve left behind.

And sometimes I speak with you, honoured friends,

and sometimes, at length, with my beloved wife.

So, when I’ve known this brief and unreal joy,

remembering the happiness, my state is worse.

 Book EI.II:53-100 To Paullus Fabius Maximus: His Need

Whether day gazes on this wretched life,

or whether Night urges on her frosty horses,

my heart melts with its unending sorrow,

as fresh wax does too near the flames.

I often pray for death, yet un-pray that same death,

lest Sarmatian soil should cover my bones.

When I think how merciful Augustus is, I believe

a kindlier shore might be granted to my shipwreck.

When I see the enduring nature of my fate, I weaken,

and slight hope subsides, conquered by great fear.

Yet I neither hope nor pray for anything other

than, by exchange of ills, to be free to leave this place.

It’s that, and nothing else, your favour can modestly attempt

for me, and still preserve your reputation.

Maximus, chief eloquence of the Roman language,

in mercy, take up the advocacy of this difficult case.

A bad one, I admit, but it will become a good one

if you take it, just speak kind words for a wretched exile.

For Caesar doesn’t know, though a god knows all,

what state this isolated place is in.

The great burden of public affairs occupies his powers:

this is too small a matter for his celestial mind.

He’s not free to enquire about the region that holds Tomis,

a place scarcely known to the neighbouring Getae,

or what the Sarmatians are up to, or the fierce Iazyges,

and the Tauric land guarded by the Oresteian goddess,

or the other tribes that when Danube’s frozen with ice

ride over the solid spine of the river on their swift horses.

For the most part, glorious Rome, these people neither care

about you, nor fear the weapons of Italian soldiers.

Bows and full quivers supply them with courage,

and their horses, capable of long journeys,

and knowing how to endure days of hunger and thirst,

and that the pursuing enemy will have no access to water.

The anger of a merciful man wouldn’t have sent me here,

if this territory had been well enough known to him.

He wouldn’t delight in me, or any Roman, being taken

by the enemy, I least of all to whom he himself granted life.

He didn’t choose to destroy me as he might, at the slightest nod.

There’s no need of any Getae to bring about my death.

But he found no reason for my death in any of my actions,

and it’s possible he’s less hostile to me than he was.

Even then he did nothing I didn’t compel him to do:

his anger even stops short of what I deserve.

So may the gods, of whom he himself is the most just,

cause kindly earth to create nothing greater than Caesar,

and as it has been under his rule, may the earth stay under

a Caesar, passed on through the hands of his race.

 Book EI.II:101-150 To Paullus Fabius Maximus: His Request

Now, open your lips on behalf of my sorrows,

whenever the judge is as mild as I too found him.

Don’t ask for my happiness, but for me to be safer

in my misery: exiled further from savage enemies:

that some rough Getan with his naked sword

shouldn’t take the life granted me by a living god:

in short, that if I die, I might be buried in a gentler land,

and my bones not be covered by Scythian earth,

nor my ashes, ill-interred, as no doubt an exile deserves,

be trampled under Thracian horses’ hooves,

nor, if there’s any consciousness beyond the grave,

even a shadow of Sarmatia, terrify my ghost.

This might move Caesar’s spirit if he heard it

Maximus, yet only if it has first moved yours.

Let your voice, I pray, arouse mercy in Augustus’s ear,

since it often brings help to anxious defendants,

and with your learned tongue’s accustomed sweetness

move the heart of a hero who must be treated as a god.

You’ll appeal, not to Theromedon, or savage Atreus,

or King Diomedes who made men food for horses,

but to a prince who’s slow to punish, swift to reward,

who grieves whenever he’s compelled to be harsh,

who conquers only that he might spare the conquered,

who’s placed an eternal bar on civil war, who rules

many things by fear of punishment, few by punishing,

and hurls his rare lightning with an unwilling hand.

So then, being sent as advocate to such a merciful hearing,

ask that my place of exile might be nearer home.

I’m he who honoured you, whose presence the dinner

table used to give witness to among your guests:

I’m he who brought Hymen to your wedding torches,

and sang verses worthy of your blest marriage bed,

whose books you used to praise, as I remember,

except the ones that have harmed their author,

who admired the writings you sometimes read me:

I’m he who was granted a bride from your house.

Marcia approved of her, always loved her from

her earliest years, counted her among her companions,

and her mother Atia, Caesar’s aunt, so regarded her

before: anyone approved by that court, is approved.

Even that Claudia, purer than her own reputation,

would have needed no divine aid, if praised by them.

I too lived years that are gone without a stain:

though my recent life must be passed over in silence.

But if I’m silent about myself, my wife’s your charge:

you can’t ignore her and still keep the faith.

She flies to you for refuge, and embraces your altar,

- rightly each comes to the god they honour - and begs,

with tears, that you might soften Caesar with your prayers,

so her husband’s funeral might take place nearer home.

 Book EI.III:1-48 To Rufinus: Yearning For Rome

Rufinus, your friend Ovid sends you this greeting,

if one who’s wretched can be anyone’s friend.

The solace you’ve lately granted my troubled mind

brought help and hope to my ills. As Philoctetes

the Poeantian hero, thanks to Machaon’s skill,

felt the healing power ease his wound,

So I, low in spirits, wounded by a bitter blow,

began to gather strength again from your advice

and, though fading, was revived by your words,

as the pulse recovers when wine’s administered.

But your eloquence was not so powerful

that my heart could be healed by your words.

You could reduce the whirlpool of my cares

yet no less than you took away still remains.

Perhaps a scar will form in sufficient time:

the raw wound quivers at the touch of a hand.

The doctor can’t always cure the patient:

at times the illness is beyond his skill.

You see how the blood expelled by a weak lung

points the sure way to the waters of the Styx.

Let Aesculapius himself bring sacred herbs,

he’ll not cure a wound in the heart.

Medicine can’t remove the crippling effects of gout,

or bring any relief for the horrors of dropsy.

Sorrow too at times isn’t curable by skill –

or, if it is, it has to be erased by passing time.

When your advice has strengthened my low spirits,

when I’ve adopted your mind’s defences,

then love of my country, stronger than all reason,

undoes the work your letters have achieved.

Whether you wish to call it love or unmanly tenderness,

I confess my strength of mind is weakened by misery.

No one doubts Ulysses’ worldly wisdom, but even he prayed

that he might see the smoke of his ancestral hearth again.

Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not

what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.

Where’s better than Rome? Where’s worse than cold Scythia?

Yet the homesick barbarian will still flee the City.

Though Pandion’s daughter is fine, shut in her cage,

she yearns to return to her woodlands.

Bulls seek the pastures they know, and lions –

despite their wild natures – seek their lairs.

Yet you hope, by your palliatives, to remove

the pangs of exile from my mind.

Ensure that you and yours are not so dear to me,

then it will be that much less painful to miss you.

And, I suppose, though I’m distant from my native land

I’ve still managed to end among human society.

 Book EI.III:49-94 To Rufinus: The Exile List

I’m here, abandoned, on the furthest shores of the world,

where the buried earth carries perpetual snowfall.

No fields bear fruit, or sweet grapes, here,

no willows green the banks, no oaks the hills.

Nor can you celebrate the sea rather than the land,

the sunless waters ever heaving with the winds’ madness.

Wherever you look are uncultivated levels,

and the vast plains that no one owns.

A dreadful enemy’s near to left and right,

terrifying us on all sides with fear of our neighbours.

One side expects to feel the Bistonian spears,

the other arrows from Sarmatian hands.

So quote the example of ancient heroes to me,

ones who endured their fate with firm minds.

Admire the deep fortitude of great-hearted Rutilius,

who refused the offered terms of repatriation.

Smyrna held that hero, not Pontus a hostile land,

hardly anywhere’s more sought after than Smyrna.

Diogenes, the Cynic, didn’t grieve, far from Sinope,

since he found a home in the land of Attica.

Themistocles, who beat the Persians, weapon

for weapon, first knew exile in the city of Argos.

Aristides, driven from his country, fled to Sparta:

of the two places it’s uncertain which was best.

Patroclus left Opus, when young, having killed a man,

and became Achilles’ guest on Thessalian soil.

Jason, under whose leadership the sacred ship sailed

Colchian waters, was exiled from Haemonia to Pirene’s spring,

Agenor’s son Cadmus left the walls of Sidon

to found a city, Thebes, in a better place.

Tydeus exiled from Calydon, came to Adrastus,

Teucer was welcomed by Venus’s beloved Cyprus.

Why tell of the ancient Romans, whose

furthest place of exile was only Tibur?

Though I list them all, no one in any age

has every been given a worse place, so far from home.

So let your wisdom forgive one who grieves:

though he carries out so little of what you tell him.

Yet I don’t deny if my wounds were curable

they’d be able to be cured through your advice.

I’m afraid you’re trying to save me in vain:

the help you bring won’t aid my desperate sickness.

And I don’t say so because I’m the wiser of us two,

it’s that I know myself better than any doctor can.

Be that as it may, your kindness comes to me

as a great gift, and I’m well counselled by it.

 Book EI.IV:1-58 To His Wife: Time Passing

Now the decline of life is on me, whitening my hair,

now the wrinkles of age are furrowing my face:

now strength and vigour ebb in my weakened body,

the games of youth that pleased, no longer delight.

If you suddenly saw me, you wouldn’t know me,

such is the ruin that’s been made of my life.

I admit the years have done it, but there’s another cause,

my anguish of spirit and my continual suffering.

And if my ills had been spread over as many years

believe me, I’d be older than Pylian Nestor.

You know how the sturdy oxen are broken in body

by the stubborn earth – and what’s stronger than an ox?

The soil that’s never allowed to lie fallow

decays, wearied by endless production.

The horse that enters every race in the Circus

without a break in competition, will fall.

Strong though it may be, the ship that’s never hauled

from fresh water to dry-dock will founder in the waves.

I’m weakened too by an endless series of woes,

and am forced to be old before my time.

Leisure nourishes the body, the mind’s fed by it as well:

excessive labour works against them both.

Look what praise Jason, the son of Aeson, receives

from later ages because he came to this region.

Yet his toil was less and lighter than mine,

if great fame didn’t merely hide the truth.

He headed for Pontus, sent there by Pelias,

who was scarcely feared beyond Thessaly’s border.

Caesar’s anger harmed me, at whom earth trembles

from the sun’s rising to its setting, both.

Thessaly’s nearer Pontus than Rome the Danube’s mouth,

and he travelled a shorter distance than I did.

He had Greek leaders as companions,

but I was separated from all in my flight.

I ploughed the vast seas in a fragile boat:

it was a solid ship that carried Aeson’s son.

I had no Tiphys as helmsman, no son of Agenor,

Phineus, to teach what routes to follow or avoid.

He was protected by Pallas and royal Juno:

no divine powers defended my life.

He was aided by Cupid’s cunning arts:

I wish Amor had not learnt them from me.

He returned home: I’ll die in this land,

if the heavy wrath of an injured god endures.

Thus my labour is harder, my loyal wife,

than that which Jason undertook.

No doubt you’ve aged too because of our troubles,

you who were still young when I left the city.

O let the gods grant me to see you so,

and set fond kisses on your altered hair,

and, clasping your slight body in my arms,

say: ‘It’s love for me that’s made you thin,’

and tear for tear tell you of my sufferings,

enjoying the speech together I never expected,

and offering that incense, with grateful hand, due

to the Caesars and the wife worthy of a Caesar!

Would that the DawnMemnon’s mother, with rosy lips

might soon call forth the day when the Prince relents!

 Book EI.V:1-42 To Cotta Maximus: The Compulsion To Write

Ovid, who once was not the least of your friends

asks you to read his words to you, Maximus.

Don’t look to find my genius in them,

lest you appear ignorant of my exile.

You see how laziness spoils an idle body,

how water acquires a tang unless its flowing.

Whatever skill I had in making poetry

fails me, too, diminished by idle neglect.

Maximus, if you believe me, this too that you read,

I write while barely forcing it from an unwilling hand.

There’s no delight in setting the mind to such things,

nor does the Muse come to the harsh Getae when called.

Yet I’m struggling to weave verses, as you see:

though it’s no easier than my fate.

When I read it, I’m ashamed of what I’ve written,

since I see what I who wrote it think should be erased.

Still I don’t alter it. It’s a greater effort than writing,

and my fragile mind can’t bear anything onerous.

Should I start to use the file more bitingly,

and summon every single word to judgement?

Is fate not tormenting me enough unless I make Lixus

flow into Hebrus, and Athos add leaves to the Alps?

The spirit with a miserable wound should be spared.

Oxen draw back their sore necks from the load.

But suppose there’s a reward, the best reason for effort,

and the field returns the seed with profit?

So far no work of mine, you can list them all,

has profited me – I wish none had harmed me!

Why do I write then, you wonder? I wonder too,

and often ask like you what I seek in it.

Or do people say truly that poets are not sane,

and am I the greatest proof of what they say,

I who persist in sowing my seed in poisonous ground

though deceived so many times by barren soil?

The fact is everyone’s eager for their own pursuits,

and delight in spending time on their favourite art.

The wounded gladiator swears off fighting, then

lifts the same weapons, forgetting his old wound.

The shipwrecked sailor says: ‘No more of those waves’,

then takes oar in waters where, just now, he swam.

I too serve a useless pastime constantly,

and revisit the goddesses I wish I’d never worshipped.

 Book EI.V:43- 86 To Cotta Maximus: The Use Of Writing

What else should I do? I’m not one to lead a life

of idleness: wasted time’s like death to me.

I don’t enjoy lying drugged with excess drink, till dawn,

and the lure of the dice doesn’t grip my luckless hands.

When I’ve granted the time my body needs for sleep

how should I spend the long hours of wakefulness?

Shall I forget the ways of my country and, drawn

to the skills here, learn to bend the Sarmatian bow?

My powers prevent me taking up that pastime, too,

since my mind is stronger than my slight body.

When you’ve thought deeply about what I should do,

you’ll find nothing more useful than this useless art.

Through it I win forgetfulness of my state:

that’s harvest enough if my soil can grow it.

Fame may spur you on, you, intent on the Pierian choir

so that the poems you read might gain acceptance.

It’s enough if I compose what comes easily,

I lack the motive for too intense a labour.

Why should I polish my verse with anxious care?

Because I’m afraid the Getae won’t approve them?

Perhaps I’m being bold, but I would boast

the Danube possesses no greater wit than mine.

Here, in this land where I live, it’s enough if I

manage to be a poet among the uncivilised Getae.

Why should I contend in fame with a distant world?

What fate has granted me, let that place be Rome.

My luckless Muse is happy with that theatre:

as I deserve, so the great gods have willed.

And I doubt there’s a path for my books from here

to there: Boreas reaches you on failing wings.

We’re divided by the heavens, and the Bear,

far from Quirinus’s city, sees the wild Getae near.

I can scarcely believe a judgement on my work

could leap across so much land and sea.

Suppose it were read, and suppose, by a miracle,

it found favour: surely that’s no pleasure to the author.

What benefit to you in being praised in hot Aswan,

or where the Indian waves wet Ceylon?

Do you wish to aim higher? If the far distant Pleiades

were to praise you, what would you boast of?

But I, with my mediocre writings, don’t register where

you are: fame fled with the author from his true city.

And you, I think, for whom I was lost when my reputation

was buried, now you’re silent about my dying here as well.

 Book EI.VI:1-54 To Graecinus: Hope

Is it true that when you heard of my downfall –

being in a foreign land – your heart was sad?

You may try to hide it and shrink from confessing,

Graecinus, but if I truly know you it must have been sad.

A hateful cruelty does not fit your character,

and is no less at odds with your pursuits.

The liberal arts, for which you care the most,

soften the feelings and drive away harshness.

No one embraces them with greater loyalty

as far as the service and a soldier’s duties allow.

Truly, as soon as I could understand where I was –

and I was stunned for a long time, unable to think –

I felt this also in my change of fortune: you were absent,

a friend who would have been my great support.

Everything that eases a troubled mind was absent too,

with you, the best part of my courage and my counsel.

But now, as you still can, I beg you, bring me one thing

from afar, help my heart with your encouragement,

one that, if you believe a friend who doesn’t lie,

ought to be called foolish rather than wicked.

Neither brief nor safe to write would be the history

of my sin: and my wounds fear to be touched.

However they were inflicted on me, cease asking

about them: don’t disturb them if you want them to heal.

Whatever happened should be called an error, not a crime.

or is every error involving the great gods a sin?

Graecinus, all hope of seeing my sentence

reduced, therefore, hasn’t completely left me.

Hope, that goddess, who, when all the other deities fled

from sinful lands, was left alone on the god-forsaken earth.

She lets the man digging ditches live, shackled with chains,

believing that his limbs will be freed from the irons.

She lets the shipwrecked sailor, who sees no land at all,

still flail his arms about in the midst of the waves.

Often the skill and care of the doctors fails someone,

but hope will not die though the pulse grows faint.

They say those shut in prison hope for release,

and hung on a cross, a man still utters prayers.

How many people this goddess has stopped from dying

by the death they chose, as they tied the noose round their neck!

She reproved me too, and checked me with her hand,

as I was trying to end my sorrows with a sword,

saying: ‘What are you doing? Tears not blood are needed,

often a prince’s anger can be turned aside by weeping.’

So though it’s not a debt due to my merits

still I’ve great hopes, given the kindness of the god.

Graecinus, pray he’s not harsh with me,

and add some words of your own to my prayers.

May I lie entombed in the sands of Tomis

if you don’t promise me this, for sure.

For sooner will the doves avoid the dovecote, wild

beasts their caves, cattle the grass, diving birds the sea,

than will Graecinus let an old friend down.

All things have not been altered by my fate.

 Book EI.VII:1-70 To Messalinus: His Claims For Remembrance

Letters instead of spoken words bring you the greeting

you read, Messalinus, all the way from the savage Getae.

Does the place reveal the author? And, if the name’s not been read,

is the fact that I, Ovid, write these words, still hidden from you?

Do any of your friends, except myself, who pray I am

your friend, live at the furthest limits of the world?

May the gods will that all who revere and love you

stay far from any acquaintance with these tribes.

It’s enough that I should live amongst ice and Scythian

arrows, if owning to a sort of death is life.

Let me be crushed by war on the ground, cold in the sky,

wild Getae with weapons, and battering winter hail:

let me live in a region producing neither fruit nor grape,

and not free of enemies in any direction,

but let all the rest of your crowd of supporters be safe,

of whom, as of the citizens, I was a humble member.

Woe is me if you’re offended by these words,

and deny that I had any connection with you!

Even if that were true, you should forgive my lie:

my boast detracts in no way from your glory.

Who that’s noticed by the Caesars doesn’t think himself a friend?

Grant pardon to the weary: you were a Caesar to me.

Yet I don’t push in where I’m not allowed to go:

it’s enough if you don’t deny your house was open to me.

Even if you were to have nothing more to do with me,

surely you’re hailed by one less voice than before.

Your father didn’t repudiate my friendship,

he, the spur, the torch, the reason for my studies:

for whom I shed tears, the last gift to the dead,

and wrote verses to be sung in the midst of the forum.

And there’s your brother, joined to you by as great a love

as that which joined the sons of Atreus, or the Twins:

he didn’t disdain me as a friend and companion:

if you don’t think these words likely to harm him.

if you do I’ll own to a falsehood in that regard as well:

and I’d rather then your whole House was closed to me.

But it shouldn’t be closed: no power is strong enough

to accept the responsibility that a friend should never sin.

And even though I’d like to be able to deny my offence,

still no one’s unaware that crime is absent from me.

That unless a part of my guilt were excusable

to be relegated would have been meagre punishment.

But Caesar, who sees all things, saw that himself,

that my crime might be termed stupidity:

he spared me as far as I and the circumstances allowed,

using his lightning bolt with restraint.

He took neither life nor wealth from me, nor, if his anger

might be overcome by your prayers, the possibility of return.

But I fell heavily. What wonder is it if one

who was struck by Jupiter has no trivial wound?

Even if Achilles had limited his power

the Pelian spear he hurled dealt a heavy blow.

So when my judge’s decision supports me,

there’s no reason for your door to deny knowledge of me.

I confess I cultivated it less frequently than I ought:

but I believe that too was part of my ill fortune.

Yet your brother’s house did not experience the same

lack of attention: so I was always under your House’s protection.

Such is your loyalty that your brother’s friend

has a claim on you, though he might not court you in person.

And, just as thanks should always be given for favours,

isn’t it due your position to have deserved those thanks?

If you allow me to suggest what you should desire,

ask the gods that you might give more than you repay.

This you do, and, as I clearly remember, your giving more

has always been a reason for loyalty of service to you.

Set me in whatever place you will, Messalinus,

so long as I’m not a stranger to your house:

and as for Ovid’s troubles, since it seems he deserved them,

if you don’t grieve at his suffering, grieve that they’re deserved.

 Book EI.VIII:1-70 To Severus: Memories of Home

Accept this greeting, Severus, dear to my heart,

sent to you by Ovid whom you loved.

Don’t ask how I am. If I told you all, you’d weep.

It’s enough if you have a summary of my troubles.

I live amongst endless conflict, deprived of peace,

while the quiver-carrying Getae make cruel war.

Of all those banished it’s I who am soldier and exile:

the rest, I don’t begrudge them, live in safety.

And my books are more deserving of consideration,

in that you’re reading verses written while on watch.

An old city stands on the banks of Hister, Danube’s

other name, barely vulnerable because of its walls and site.

Aegisos the Caspian founded it, and gave it his name,

if we can believe what its people tell of themselves.

The fierce Getae captured it after they had destroyed

the Odrysii in a shock war, taking arms against the king.

He, remembering the mighty race his virtue adds to,

arrived there at once supported by a vast army.

He did not leave until he’d crushed the bold spirit

of that people, by a justified slaughter of the guilty.

Bravest king of our times, may it be granted you

to always wield the sceptre in your noble hand.

What more could I ask on your behalf, than that, as now,

warring Rome, and mighty Caesar, should approve of you?

But remembering where I started, I complain, dear friend

that savage warfare’s added to my troubles.

The Pleiades, rising, announce the fourth autumn

since I, thrust down to the shores of Styx, lost you.

Don’t think it’s so much the comforts of city life

that Ovid looks for, though he does still seek them,

for I recall in thought my sweet friends sometimes,

sometimes I think of my dear wife and daughter:

and I revisit the sites of the lovely city from my home,

and my mind surveys it all with its own inward eye.

Now the fora, now the temples, now the marbled theatres,

now I think of each portico with its levelled grounds.

Now the grassy Campus that faces the lovely gardens,

the ponds and the canals, and the Aqua Virgo.

But I suppose, the pleasures of the city being snatched away

in my misery, that I should at least enjoy all this countryside!

It’s not so much that my heart desires the fields I lost,

the noble landscapes of the Paelignian country,

or those gardens sited on the pine-clad hills

that view the junction of Via Clodia and Via Flaminia.

I don’t know who I’ve cultivated them for: I used to add

spring water to the beds myself, I’m not ashamed to say:

if they’re still living, there are certain trees there

my hand planted, but I’ll not be gathering their fruit.

Despite those losses I wish it were possible to have

a plot of ground at least to cultivate in my exile!

If only I could I’d like to be shepherd to the cliff-hanging goats:

leaning on my staff, I’d like to guard the grazing sheep myself.

I myself would lead the oxen through the fields under the plough

so my heart would not be fixed on its familiar sorrows,

and learn the words the Getic bullocks understand

and go shouting the customary warnings to them.

I’d control the handle of the heavy ploughshare myself

and try my hand at scattering seed in the furrowed earth.

I wouldn’t hesitate to clear the weeds with a long hoe,

and supply the water that the thirsty garden drinks.

Yet how, when there’s only the thinnest of walls

and a barred gate between me and the enemy?

But the fatal goddesses, and it makes me rejoice

with all my heart, spun strong threads at your birth.

You have the Campus, or a colonnade’s dense shade,

or the forum in which you spend so little time.

Now Umbria calls you home, or the Appian Way leads you

to the country on flashing wheels heading for your Alban estate.

There perhaps you wish that Caesar might temper

his anger, and your villa entertain me as a guest.

Ah, my friend you ask too much: choose something

less demanding, and trim the sails of prayer I beg you.

I only desire a place nearer home, not exposed to war:

then a major part of my troubles would be eased.

 Book EI.IX:1-56 To Cotta Maximus: News Of Celsus’ Death

Your letter that came to me concerning Celsus’s death

was immediately made moist by my tears:

and though it’s wrong to say it, and I’d not have thought

it possible, your letter was read by unwilling eyes.

Nothing more bitter has reached my ears, since I

have been here in Pontus, and I pray it never will.

His image comes to my eyes as if he were here,

and, though he’s dead, love pictures him still living.

Often my mind recalls his playfulness, free of gravity,

how he performed serious things with a calm loyalty.

Yet no occasions come more frequently to mind

than those, and I wish they’d been the last of my life,

when my house suddenly fell in total ruin

and crashed down around it’s master’s head.

He stood by me, Maximus, when most people

abandoned me, and he was not involved in my affairs.

I saw him weeping at my ‘funeral rites’

as if he were laying his own brother in the flames.

He clung to my embrace, consoled me as I lay grieving,

and mingled his tears endlessly with mine.

O how often, as the frustrating saviour of my bitter life,

he restrained my hands ready to cause my own death!

O how often he said: ‘The gods’ anger is not implacable:

live, and don’t deny you could ever be pardoned!’

Yet what he repeated most often was: ‘Think,

how great a help Maximus can be to you.

Maximus will take the trouble: such is his loyalty:

and request that Caesar’s anger not be final:

He’ll exert his brother’s influence and his own,

and attempt every assistance to ease your pain.’

These words lessened my weariness with my sad life,

Maximus: take care that they were not idle ones.

He used to promise that he’d come to me even here

but only if you granted permission for the long journey,

since he revered the sanctuary of your house as you

revere the gods who are masters of this world.

Believe me, though it’s right you have many friends,

if it’s true that character and probity, not wealth

or the titles of illustrious ancestors, make for greatness,

then he was in no way the least among the many.

So it’s fitting I make libation of tears for dead Celsus,

those he granted to me in life when I was fleeing:

It’s fitting I make verse witness to a rare spirit,

that those to come may read your name, Celsus.

This, that I can send from the lands of the Getae,

this is the only thing of mine allowed in Rome.

I couldn’t accompany the bier, or anoint your body,

the whole world separates me from your tomb.

Maximus, who could do so, whom in life you

thought godlike, carried out every office for you.

He conducted your exequies and rituals of great honour,

and poured the spices over your cold breast.

Grieving, he mingled falling tears with the unguent

and laid your bones to rest in neighbouring ground.

Since he pays the debt he owes to friends who’ve died,

let him count me as well among the dead.

 Book EI.X:1-44 To Flaccus: His State Of Health

Ovid the exile sends you ‘good health’, Flaccus,

if he can send you something he lacks himself.

Prolonged apathy, with its bitter cares, has weakened

my body, won’t allow it to exercise its proper powers.

True I’ve no pain, I don’t burn and gasp with fever,

and my pulse keeps to its regular rhythm.

But my appetite’s gone: I push away meals I’m served,

with distaste, complain, when it’s time to eat hated food.

Serve me with what sea, land or air produces,

none of it will serve to make me hunger.

Let ambrosia and nectar, the gods’ food and drink

be served me by busy Hebe’s lovely hand,

still their savour won’t excite my jaded palate

and the weight will lie inert on my stomach for hours.

Though it’s all true I wouldn’t venture to write this

to everyone, in case they thought my ills a mere conceit.

As though my position, the nature of my circumstances,

was such there could actually be room for conceits!

If any fear that Caesar’s anger sits too lightly on me

I pray such ‘conceits’ as these may be theirs as well.

That sleep, too, which is food itself to a frail body,

fails to provide my useless body with its nurture.

I lie awake instead: my endless sorrows awake too,

since the place I’m in itself lends them substance.

You’d hardly know my features if you saw them,

and you’d ask what’s become of my old complexion.

No strength penetrates my fragile joints,

and my limbs are more pallid than fresh wax.

I haven’t contracted these ills by excess drinking:

you know that water’s almost the only thing I drink.

nor by eating heavily: even if I’d loved to do so,

there’s no opportunity in the Getic country.

My strength’s not wasted by Venus’s ruinous passion:

she doesn’t usually come to a sorrowful bed.

The water and the place harm me, and there’s a deeper

cause, the anxiety of spirit that’s always with me.

If you and your brother alike were not helping me,

my mind would hardly endure the weight of sadness

You’re like a shore without rocks to a shattered boat,

you offer me the help that so many deny.

I beg you to always bring me what I’ll always need,

for as long as Caesar’s godhead is offended with me.

Let each of you as suppliants implore your gods not to end,

but merely to lessen, his justified anger against me.

The End of Ex Ponto Book I