Ovid: Ex Ponto

Book Three

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 EIII.I:1-66 To His Wife: Her Role

Sea, first struck by Jason’s oars, and land,

never free of savage enemies and snow,

will a time come when Ovid is ordered away

to a less hostile place, leaves you behind?

Surely I ought not, living on in this barbarian

country, to be buried in the soil of Tomis?

By your leave, Pontus, if you’ve any leave to give,

land trampled by swift horses of nearby enemies,

by your leave I’d seek to call you the worst feature

of my harsh exile, you that aggravate my trouble.

You never experience Spring wreathed in crowns

of flowers, nor see the naked bodies of the reapers.

Autumn never offers you its clusters of grapes:

all seasons are gripped by the immoderate cold.

You hold the waves ice-bound, and the fish,

in the sea, often swim roofed-in by solid water.

There are no springs, except those that are almost brine:

drink, and you’re dubious whether they quench or parch.

The odd barren tree sticks up in the open field,

and the land is merely the sea in disguise.

No birds sing, unless they’re ones from far forests,

drinking sea-water here, making raucous cries.

The empty plains bristle with acrid wormwood,

a harvest appropriate to this bitter place.

Add our fear, walls battered at by enemies,

their arrows soaking wet with fatal venom,

add how far this region is from every track,

to which none travel on foot, securely, or by boat,.

No wonder then if, seeking an end to this,

I ask endlessly for a different location.

Your lack of success, wife, is a greater wonder,

and your ability to hold back tears at my troubles.

You ask what you should do? Ask yourself, surely:

you’ll find out, if you truly desire to know.

It’s not enough to wish: you must long to achieve,

and the anxiety should shorten your hours asleep.

I think many wish it: who’d be so unfair to me

as to desire me to have no peace in my exile?

You should work for me day and night, strain

with a full heart and with every sinew.

And you must win our friends, so others help,

wife, and appear the leader of your party.

The role imposed on you in my books is a great one:

you’re spoken of as the model of a good wife.

Take care you don’t slip from that position. See you

guard what fame has achieved, so my claim is true.

Though I don’t complain myself, fame, as she should, will

complain when I’m silent, if you don’t show care for me.

Fate has exposed me to the public gaze,

and given me more notoriety than before.

Capaneus was made more famous when the lightning struck:

Amphiaraus when his horses were swallowed by the earth.

Ulysses would have been less known if he’d wandered less:

Philoctetes’ great fame derived from his wound.

If there’s a place for the humble among such names,

I too am made conspicuous by my ruin.

And my writings won’t let you pass unknown,

you, whose name’s no less than Coan Bittis’.

So whatever you do will be seen on a mighty stage,

and you’ll be a virtuous wife before many witnesses.

Believe me, whenever you’re praised in my verse

he who reads that praise asks if you’re worthy of it.

And though many, I think, approve those virtues,

not a few women will carp at your deeds.

It’s for you to ensure that jealousy can’t say:

‘She’s indifferent to her poor husband’s safety.’

 Book EIII.I:67-104 To His Wife: His Request To Her

Since I’m weakening, unable to drag the cart,

see that you shoulder the wavering yoke alone.

Sick, I gaze at the doctor with failing pulse:

stand by me, while the last of my life is left:

What I’d provide if I were stronger than you,

grant to me, since you yourself are the stronger.

Our mutual love and our marriage vows urge it:

this your own character urges, my wife.

You owe it to the Fabii who esteem you, to adorn

their house no less with virtue than with duty.

Do what you will, unless you’re praised as a wife

you won’t be thought to have brought honour to Marcia.

Nor am I undeserving: and, if you’ll confess the truth,

some thanks are due for all my kindnesses.

Indeed, you return them to me at full interest,

and talk, even if others wish, won’t harm you.

But add this one thing to your previous actions,

be assiduous in the matter of our misfortunes.

Work, so I might live in a less hostile region,

and then no aspect of your duty will be lacking.

I ask a lot, but nothing hateful’s being asked,

if you don’t succeed, the failure won’t harm you.

And don’t flare up because I ask you so often

to do what you’re doing, and act as you are.

The brave have often been inspired by the trumpets,

and the general’s words urge on troops fighting hard.

Your virtue is known and established for all time:

don’t let your courage be less than your virtue.

You don’t have to raise an Amazon’s battle-axe for me,

or carry a curved shield on your feeble arm.

A god’s to be entreated, not that he befriend me,

but to be less angry with me than before.

If there’s no favour, tears will win you favour,

you can move the gods in that way, or not at all.

You won’t lack tears, well provided by our troubles,

you’ve a wealth of weeping with me for a husband:

and as things are I think you’ll always be crying.

These are the riches my fate serves up for you.

 Book EIII.I:105-166 To His Wife: An Approach To Livia

Had you to redeem my death, a detestable idea,

AlcestisAdmetus’s wife would be your model.

You’d emulate Penelope if, by chaste deceit, you wished

to be the bride misleading insistent suitors.

If you followed your dead husband to the shadows,

Laodamia would be your guide in the act.

You’d need to keep Evadne before your eyes, if you

wanted to throw yourself bravely onto the burning pyre.

But you don’t need to die, don’t need Penelope’s weaving.

It’s Caesar’s wife your lips need to pray to,

who by her virtue shows that ancient times

don’t touch our age in their praise of chastity:

she who with Venus’s beauty, Juno’s ways,

alone was found worthy to share the celestial bed.

Why tremble or hesitate to approach her? It’s no impious

Procne or Medea who’s to be moved by your words,

no murderous Danaid, not Agamemnon’s cruel wife,

no yelping Scylla terrorising Sicilian waters,

no Circe born with the power to alter forms,

no Medusa binding her knotted hair with snakes,

but the first of women, in whom Fortune shows herself

as clear-sighted, and falsely charged with being blind:

than whom the earth holds nothing more glorious,

save Caesar, from the sun’s rising to its setting.

Choose a well-considered time to ask,

lest your boat sets sail on an adverse tide.

The oracles don’t always deliver sacred prophecies,

the temples themselves aren’t always open.

When the city’s state is as I now divine it,

and there’s no grief on peoples’ faces,

when Augustus’s house, to be revered as the Capitol,

is as happy as it is now, and filled with peace,

then may the gods grant you the chance to make an approach,

then reflect your words may achieve something.

If she’s doing something greater, put off your attempt,

and take care not to ruin my chances by hastiness.

Again I don’t suggest you pick a time when she’s idle:

she barely has leisure for her personal needs.

When the whole House is filled with revered senators,

you too should go amongst the crush of business.

When you succeed in reaching Juno’s presence,

make sure you remember the part you have to play.

Don’t defend my actions: a poor case should be silent.

Let your words be nothing but anxious prayers.

Next remove the barrier to tears, sink to the ground,

stretch your arms towards those deathless feet.

Then ask for nothing except that I might leave

the cruel enemy behind: let fate be enemy enough.

More comes to mind, but confused by fear, your voice

trembling, you’ll barely be able even to say that.

I suspect it won’t harm you. She’ll see

you’re terrified of her majesty. And it won’t hurt

if your speech is interrupted by sobs:

tears sometimes carry the weight of words.

Make sure it’s a lucky day for such things too,

and a suitable hour, when the omens are good.

But first light a fire on the holy altars,

offer pure wine and incense to the great gods.

Worship divine Augustus amongst them, above all,

his loyal descendants, and the partner of his bed.

May they be merciful to you as is their way,

and view your tears with faces free of harshness.

 Book EIII.II:1-110 To Cotta Maximus: Iphigenia in Tauris

Cotta, may the ‘health’ you read here, that I

send you, be truly sent, and reach you, I pray.

Your well-being removes much of my torment,

and to a large extent causes me to feel well.

While others waver, and desert the storm-tossed sail,

you remain, the shattered boat’s only anchor.

So is your loyalty welcome. I forgive those

who’ve taken flight along with Fortune.

Though it strikes one man, it’s not only one the lightning

frightens, and the crowd round the stricken one tremble.

When a wall has given warning of its imminent fall,

nervousness and fear empty the place.

What fearful man doesn’t avoid contagious illness,

afraid of contracting disease by its proximity?

Some of my friends too deserted me because

of excessive fear and terror, not hatred of me.

They didn’t lack loyalty or the wish to serve me:

they went in fear of the hostile gods.

They might seem over cautious or fearful,

but they don’t deserve to be called bad.

Or is it my honesty excuses dear friends,

and favours them so they’re absolved from blame.

Let them be content with this forgiveness: they’re free

to boast they’re proved innocent by my testimony too.

You few are the better friends who though it wrong

not to bring me help in a tight corner.

So my gratitude for your services will only die

when my body’s consumed and turned to ashes.

I’m wrong: it will outlast the years of my life,

if I’m still read by thoughtful posterity.

The bloodless body’s destined for a mournful tomb,

fame and honour escape the towering pyre.

Even Theseus died, and PyladesOrestes’ friend:

yet each still lives on in his renown.

You too will often be praised by remote descendants,

and your glory will shine bright in my verses.

Here too the Sarmatians and the Getae already know

of you, and the savage crowd approve of such spirits.

And lately when I was telling of your loyalty

(since I’ve learnt how to speak Getic and Sarmatian)

it chanced that an old man, standing in the circle,

replied in this way to what I said:

‘Good stranger, we too know the name of friendship, we

who live by the Black Sea and the Danube, far from you.

There’s a place in Scythia, our ancestors called Tauris,

that’s not so far away from the Getic lands.

I was born in that land (I’m not ashamed of my country):

it’s people worship a goddess, Diana, sister of Apollo.

Her temple still stands, supported on giant columns,

and you enter it by a flight of forty steps.

The story goes that it once held a statue of the deity,

and the base, lacking its goddess, is there to quell your doubts:

and the altar, which was white from the colour of the stone,

is darkened, reddened by the stains of spilt blood.

A woman, unknown to the marriage torches, noblest

of the daughters of Scythia by birth, performs the rites.

The nature of the sacrifice, as our ancestors decreed,

is that a stranger be slain by this virgin’s blade.

Thoas ruled the kingdom, famous in Maeotia,

no other was better known, by Euxine waters.

They say that while he was king a certain Iphigenia

made her way there through the clear air.

They say Diana set her down in these regions, she

blown in a cloud, through the sky, by gentle breezes.

She duly presided over the shrine for many years,

performing the sad rites with unwilling hands:

until two young men arrived on board a ship

with sails, and set their feet on our shores.

They were equal in age and affection: one was Orestes,

the other Pylades: fame keeps their names alive.

They were led straight to Trivia’s savage altar,

their hands tied together behind their backs.

The Greek priestess sprinkled the captives with purifying water,

that the long sacrificial ribbons might encircle their yellow hair.

As she initiated the rites, bound the threads round their temples,

as she herself searched for reasons for her slow delay,

she said: “Youths, I am not cruel (forgive me),

I perform rites more cruel than those of my own land.

It’s the practice of this people. What city do you come from?

What journey do you make in your ill-fated vessel?”

So she spoke, then the sacred virgin, hearing the name

of her native country, found them to be men of her own city.

“Let one of you die, a victim of these rites,” she said,

“let the other carry the news to the fatherland.”

Pylades, intent on being the one to die, orders his dear Orestes

to go: he refuses, and each in turn argue about their dying.

This remains the only thing they ever disagreed on:

on all else they were as one, and without dispute.

While the handsome youths act out their loving quarrel,

she pens pages of writing to her brother.

She was sending word to her brother, and he to whom

it was given (such is human fate!) was her brother.

So, without delay, they took Diana’s image from the temple,

and were carried in secret over the boundless sea in their boat.

The youths’ love was wonderful: though many years

have passed, they still have great fame here in Scythia.’

After he had finished telling this well-known story,

everyone there praised acts of loyal devotion.

Even on this shore, and there’s none that is wilder,

it’s clear that friendship’s name moves savage hearts.

If such actions stir the harsh Getae, what should they

do to you, who are born of an Italian city?

Added to which you have a spirit that’s always gentle,

and a character that’s witness to your high nobility,

that Volesus, founder of your father’s line, would recognise,

or on your mother’s side, that Numa would not disown,

and the Cottas, added to your natal line, a house and name

that would perish but for your existence, would approve.

Hero, worthy of this ancestry, consider it in keeping

with such things to support a fallen friend.

 Book EIII.III:1-108 To Paullus Fabius Maximus: Love’s Visit

If you’ve a little time to give to an exiled friend,

O star of the Fabii, Maximus, attend,

while I tell of what I saw, a ghost of the flesh,

an image of reality, or perhaps it was a dream.

It was night, and the moonlight entered my double

shuttered window, as bright as ever at the full.

Sleep, our common rest from care, held me,

and my weary limbs were sprawled over the bed,

when suddenly the trembling air shook with wings,

and, with a slight noise, the window creaked open.

Startled I lifted myself on my left elbow, and sleep

was driven at a blow from my anxious mind.

There stood Love, but not with the aspect that he used

to have, resting his left hand on the maple bedpost,

no neck-let, no pin in his hair, his unruly locks

not neatly groomed now, as they were before.

The hair fell softly over his unkempt cheeks,

and his plumage looked bedraggled to my eyes,

as the back of a homing dove often is,

with the many hands that touch and handle it.

As soon as I knew him, and no one’s better known

to me, my tongue was freed and I spoke these words:

‘Boy, the cause of your deceived master’s exile,

you, whom I’d far better not have taught,

are you here too, where there’s never any peace,

where the wild Danube gathers its icy waters?

What’s the reason for your journey, other than to view

my troubles, which accuse you, if you’re unaware of it?

You were the first to dictate my youthful verses to me:

you guided me to set elegiac pentameter to hexameter.

You wouldn’t let me reach to Homeric song,

or tell the actions of the mighty heroes.

The force of my genius, slight perhaps yet something,

was diminished by your bow and your torches.

and my mind was free for no great undertaking,

while I sang your, and your mother’s, reign.

That wasn’t enough. I also ensured by a foolish poem

that you wouldn’t be inexperienced in my Arts.

The reward of exile was dealt me for it, wretchedly,

and that in a remote place, never peaceful.

Chionian Eumolpus was not such to Orpheus,

nor Olympus to Marsyas, the Satyr of Phrygia,

nor did Chiron receive such a prize from Achilles,

nor did Numa, they say, harm Pythagoras.

Not to list all the names collected down the ages,

I’m the only one ruined by my disciple.

This is the reward the master has, with you as pupil,

because I gave you weapons, and taught you, wanton.

Yet you know, and could swear with a clear

conscience, that I’ve never troubled lawful beds.

I wrote for those whose chaste hair was never

touched by ribbons, nor their feet by the long robe.

Say, I beg you, did you ever at my command

learn how to cheat brides, and make paternity uncertain?

Hasn’t every woman the law protects from seducers

been strictly excluded from all those works?

Still, what use is that if it’s thought I’ve composed

notes on adultery, which is forbidden by harsh laws?

But don’t let Caesar’s anger at me be implacable,

who’s of your kin, through Aeneas your brother,

so may you carry the arrows that strike us all,

so may your torches never lack their swift fire,

so may he rule the empire, and control all lands:

let him wish to punish me in a pleasanter place.’

So it seemed I spoke to the winged boy,

so he seemed to reply to me in these words:

‘I swear by my weapons, my torches and arrows,

by my mother, and by Caesar’s life, I’ve learnt

nothing save what’s legal from your teaching,

and there’s nothing criminal in your arts.

I wish I could defend you on other charges, as in this!

You know there’s another thing that harms you more.

Whatever it is (since the painful thing shouldn’t be told,

and you can’t say that you are free from blame)

though you try to hide the crime under the guise of error,

your judge’s anger was no more than you deserved.

Yet my wings have glided over endless ways

to see you, and console you in your misery.

I first saw this place when, at my mother’s request,

I pierced the Phasian girl, Medea, with my arrow.

The reason why I’m here again after long ages

is you, O fond soldier of my army.

So forget your fears: Caesar’s anger will relent,

and a gentler hour will come, at your prayer.

Don’t be scared at the delay, the time we wish is near,

and the triumph has filled everyone with joy.

While the house, the children, their mother Livia, rejoice,

while you rejoice, great father of our leader and our land,

while the people congratulate themselves, and every altar

burns with fragrant fires throughout the city,

while the sacred powers offer an easy approach,

it’s to be hoped our prayers might have some worth.’

He spoke, and either he slid away into thin air,

or my senses themselves began to wake.

If I doubted your approval of these words, Maximus,

I might believe that swans were black as Memnon.

But milky liquid can’t be altered to dark pitch,

nor can shining ivory become purple terebinth.

Your birth suits your spirit, since you have a noble

heart, and the straightforwardness of Hercules.

Livid malice, vice of fear, won’t show itself in noble

natures, but slides like a hidden snake along the earth.

Your mind towers high above your birth itself,

for your name’s no greater than your genius.

So let others hurt the wretched, and choose to be feared,

and carry points dipped in bitter poison:

Your house, at least, is used to helping suppliants,

be willing, please, for me to be among their number.

 Book EIII.IV:1-56 To Rufinus: His Poem On The ‘Triumph’

Ovid sends these words, bearing no empty greeting,

from the town of Tomis, to you, Rufinus,

and asks you, to befriend his ‘Triumph

if, that is, it has reached your hands yet.

It’s a slight work, unequal to the occasion:

but such as it is he asks you to defend it.

The strong have inner power, and need no Machaon.

It’s the sick and anxious who seek the doctor’s skill.

Great poets don’t require indulgent readers: they grip us,

however unwilling we are, or hard to please.

I, with a skill diminished by long suffering,

(or perhaps there never was any former talent),

my powers gone, am strengthened by your sincerity:

take that away and I’d think all was lost.

Though all my work depends on well-disposed indulgence,

that one in particular has a special right to your support.

Other poets write about triumphs they’ve watched:

it’s one thing to record events with the hand of a witness,

but I’ve penned what an eager ear learned, with difficulty,

from hearsay, and rumour has acted as my eyes.

As if a similar passion, or the same inspiration

comes from what is heard as what is seen!

It’s not the absence of the shining gold and silver

that you’ve seen, that finery, I complain of:

but the places, people in a thousand shapes and forms,

the battles themselves would have fed my verse,

and the royal faces, surest guide to their thoughts,

might perhaps have added something to the work.

Any talent can catch alight, from the applause

and the happy approval of the crowd:

I’d have gained strength from such a clamour,

like a raw recruit hearing the trumpet-call to arms.

Though my heart were colder than snow and ice,

frozen harder than this place that I endure,

the general’s face up there in his ivory chariot,

would drive away all frost from my feelings.

Without that, and using dubious informants,

it’s right I seek the help of your indulgence.

The names of the leaders and the places

aren’t known to me. Nothing is to hand.

What portion of such things could rumour bring

or someone writing to me about it?

The more you ought to forgive me, O reader,

if I’ve made errors in it, or neglected anything.

Add that my lyre, always dwelling on it’s master’s moans,

can barely turn itself to happy songs.

Cheerful words, though searched for, hardly come to mind,

and delight in anything seems novel to me.

Just as eyes shun the unaccustomed sunlight,

so my mind was slow to delight.

Novelty’s the most dearly-loved of all things, too,

and thanks are lacking for service made late by delay.

Others have competed together in writing of the great triumph,

and I suspect people have read them widely, for some time.

The thirsty reader drank them: he’s sated by my cup:

that drink was fresh, my water will be tepid.

 Book EIII.IV:57-115 To Rufinus: His Prophecy

I haven’t been remiss: idleness hasn’t slowed me:

but I live on a far shore of a vast sea.

While news gets here, and hasty verse is written

and, once made, goes to you, a year can pass.

It’s no small thing to be first in the untouched rose-garden,

not gather, with late hands, what’s almost been passed by.

No wonder, with the flowers picked, the garden bare,

if the wreath that’s made is unworthy of your leader.

This I beg: that no poet thinks these words are spoken

against their verse! My Muse speaks only for herself.

Poets, you and I have rites in common:

if the wretched are allowed to be of your choir.

You spent a large part of your spirit with me, friends:

I cherish you now in that way, even though I’m absent.

So let my verse be sealed with your approval

since I cannot speak on its behalf myself.

Often writings are made pleasing by death, since envy

hurts the living, gnaws with the tooth of injustice.

If to live wretchedly is like dying, earth delays

me, and my destiny only lacks a tomb.

Though the outcome of my efforts is faulted in the end,

by everyone, there’ll be no one to deny my sense of duty.

Though strength is lacking, yet the will’s to be praised:

I divine that the gods will be content with that.

It ensures that a poor man’s welcome at the altars:

a lamb’s no less acceptable than a sacrificial ox.

It was a great enough thing too to make it a heavy task

even for the noble author of the Aeneid.

Anyway, weak elegiacs couldn’t carry the weight

of so great a triumph on their disparate wheels.

My judgement’s uncertain as to what metre to use now:

since a second triumph’s near, concerning you, Rhine.

The prophecies of inspired poets are not vain:

Jove will be granted laurel, while the first’s still green.

It’s not my words you read, I’m banished to the Danube,

waters that the as yet un-pacified Getae drink:

this is the voice of a god, a god is in my heart,

this I prophesy, led by a god’s command.

Livia, why hesitate, to ready a retinue and chariot

for a triumph? Already war allows you no delay.

Traitorous Germany throws away the hated spears,

soon you’ll admit my omen carries weight.

Believe, and truth will shortly arrive. Your son will have

double honour, and, as before, follow the yoked horses.

Bring out the purple, to throw on the victor’s shoulders:

the wreath itself will know that familiar brow:

and let greaves and shield shine with gold and gems,

and the trophied tree-trunk stand above chained men:

and towns in ivory be circled by towered walls,

and the semblance be thought to act the real thing.

Let uncouth Rhine, hair trailing under broken

reeds, bear along its waters fouled with blood.

Captive kings already call for savage insignia,

and for robes richer than their destinies,

and what else the unconquered courage of your sons,

has needed you to prepare so often, and so often will.

Gods, by whose prophecy I speak of things to come,

prove my words, I pray, with swift vindication.

 Book EIII.V:1-58 To Cotta: A Compliment

You ask where the letter that you read comes from?

From here: where Danube joins with the blue waves.

As soon as the region’s named, the author should appear

to you, Ovid the poet, wounded by his own talent.

He offers a greeting to you, Maximus Cotta, to whom he’d prefer

to offer it face to face, a greeting from the land of the uncouth Getae.

I’ve read the fluent words you spoke in the crowded forum,

O youth not unworthy of your fathers’ eloquence.

Though my hurrying tongue repeated them for a fair

number of hours, I complain they were too few.

But I’ve made them more by frequent re-reading, and never

a time when they weren’t more pleasing to me than at first.

Though they lose nothing of their charm by such reading,

it’s by their power, not their novelty, that they please.

Happy those to whom it was granted to hear them

in actuality and enjoy so eloquent a speech!

Though water that’s brought to us has a taste that’s sweet,

the water we drink from the fount itself’s more pleasing.

And to take the fruit we’ve pulled from the branch

delights us more than from a chased dish.

If I’d not sinned, if my Muse hadn’t caused my exile,

your own voice would have told me what I read,

and perhaps I’d have sat, as I used to sit, as one

of the Centumviri, in judgement of your words,

and a greater joy might have filled my heart, when I

was swayed, and nodded my approval of your speech.

But since fate preferred I leave you and my country,

to live among the uncivilised Getae, please send,

as often as you can, proofs of your skill for me to read

so that I might seem to be in your company more,

and unless you scorn to do so, follow the example,

which you might more readily set me, since I,

who have long been lost, try by my talent

to be one who is not yet lost to you, Maximus.

Repay me, and in future let me receive that frequent

pleasure, the records of your labours, in my hands.

But tell me, O youth, pregnant with my studies,

if anything among them reminds you of me.

When you read your friends a new made poem,

or, as you often used to, urge them to recite,

do you sometimes think your mind, unsure what’s missing,

nevertheless feels that something is missing,

and as you often used to talk about me, present,

is Ovid’s name on your lips, even now?

As for me may I die, pierced by a Getic arrow,

(and you know how near punishment is if I lie)

if I, absent, don’t see you at almost ever instant.

It’s a kindness that the mind can go where it wishes.

When I enter the City like that, unseen by all,

I often speak with you, and enjoy your speech.

I can’t tell you then how blessed I am,

and how bright that hour is to my mind.

Then, if you can believe it, I dream I’ve been received

in the heavenly realm, to exist among the happy gods.

When I’m here again, I leave the sky, the deities,

for the land of Pontus, not far from the Styx.

If my striving to return from here is prohibited by fate,

then take from me, Maximus, this unprofitable hope.

 Book EIII.VI:1-60 To An Unknown Friend: Shipwreck

Ovid sends this brief poem from the Euxine Sea to his

friend (how near he came to setting down the name!)

But if his hand, lacking caution, had written who you are,

perhaps that attention would have been grounds for complaint.

But why do you alone, when others think it safe,

request that I not address you in my verse?

You can learn how great Caesar’s mercy is, in the midst

of his anger, from my case, if you don’t already know.

If I were forced to judge what I deserve, myself,

I wouldn’t reduce the sentence, I suffer, one iota.

He doesn’t forbid anyone to remember his friends,

nor prevent me writing to you, or you to me.

You’d commit no crime by consoling a comrade,

easing his bitter fate with gentle words.

Why do you, by fearing what’s safe, make such

reverence for the Augustan gods offensive?

We see things, struck by the lightening bolt, live

and recover, unhindered by Jupiter.

Leucothea didn’t refuse her aid to Ulysses, as he swam,

merely because Neptune wrecked his ship.

The heavenly powers, believe me, spare the wretched,

and don’t always, endlessly oppress the wounded.

No god is more lenient than our prince:

Justice moderates his powers.

Caesar recently established her in a marble shrine,

but long ago in the temple of his heart.

Jupiter casually hurls his lightning at many,

who’ve not merited punishment for any crime.

Though the god of the sea has overwhelmed a multitude

in the cruel waves, how many deserved to be drowned?

When the bravest die in battle, even Mars

tithe seems unjust, in his own judgement.

But if you chance to question every one,

none of us would deny he earned what he suffers.

More, those who have perished in sea, war or fire,

no new day can bring them back to life again,

but Caesar reprieves many or lightens their sentence,

and I pray he’ll want me as one among those many.

When we as a people live under such a prince, can you

really believe there’s anything to fear in speaking to an exile?

Perhaps you’d have reason to be afraid with Busiris as master,

or Phalaris who used to incinerate men in his bronze bull.

Stop defaming that kind spirit with your empty fears.

Why be terrified of cruel reefs in calm waters?

I scarcely think that I myself should be pardoned,

for writing to you at first without using your name.

But panic robbed me, stunned, of the use of reason,

and all judgement had ended at fresh misfortune,

and dreading my fate, not my judge’s anger,

I was even terrified of adding my own name.

So admonished, allow the thoughtful poet

to add the names dear to him, to your letters.

It will be shameful for us both if you, so close to me

through long acquaintance, were nowhere visible in my book.

Yet that fear of yours can’t be allowed to disturb your sleep,

I’ll not show you more attentions than you wish,

and I’ll hide who you are unless you yourself allow:

no one shall be forced to accept my tribute.

Though you could have loved me openly, in safety,

if that’s a thing of danger, love me secretly.

 Book EIII.VII:1-40 To Unknown Friends: Resignation

Words fail me, at asking the same thing so often,

and I’m ashamed my useless prayers are without end.

You’ve become weary of my monotonous verses,

and I ask what you’ve all learned by heart, I suppose.

You already know what my letter brings, though

the wax has not been shaken from its ties.

So let me alter my purpose in writing,

and not swim so often against the stream. 

Forgive me friends: I hoped so much from you:

let there be an end for me to such mistakes.

Nor will I be considered a burden on my wife:

who’s as honest to me, truly, as she’s timid and unassertive.

Naso, endure this too: you’ve suffered worse.

there’s no weight now that you could feel.

The bull shuns the plough when he’s taken from the herd,

and draws his neck away, new to the harsh yoke:

for long there’s been no trouble unknown to me,

to whom the cruel usage of fate is customary.

I’ve reached the Getic lands: let me die among them,

and let my Fate end as it has begun.

It helps to embrace hope – that’s no help, being always in vain –

and think that what you wish to occur, will happen:

the next stage is to despair of being saved, completely,

and know you’re lost, once and for all, with the surety of faith.

We see some wounds become worse by treatment,

that it would have been better not to touch.

He dies more easily, who’s suddenly drowned by the waves,

than he who wearies his arms in the raging sea.

Why did I think it possible to leave Scythia’s

bounds, and enjoy a more favourable land?

Why did I ever hope for any leniency in my case?

Surely my fate was clear enough to me?

See, my torment’s worse: recalling the sight of places

renews the bitterness of exile, makes it recent.

Yet it’s better if it is that my friends’ zeal has waned,

than that petitions they’ve made have proved worthless.

Indeed it’s a great thing you don’t dare to ask, my friends:

yet there’d have been one willing to give, if anyone asked.

Assuming Caesar’s anger doesn’t forbid it me,

I’ll waste away, bravely, by the Euxine Sea.

 Book EIII.VIII:1-24 To Maximus Paullus: A Gift

I was wondering what gift the land of Tomis

might send you as witness to my thoughtful affection.

You deserve silver, even more so yellow gold, but you

used to find more joy in those when you were the giver.

Besides there are no mines for precious metal here:

the enemy barely allow the farmers to dig the ground.

Often bright purple has bordered your robes,

but it’s not been dyed by the Sarmatian sea.

The flocks produce coarse wool, and the women

of Tomis have not yet learned the arts of Pallas.

Instead of spinning they grind Ceres’s gift,

and carry water in pots on their heads.

Here no clustering vines clothe the elms,

no apples bend the branches with their load.

The unlovely plains yield acrid wormwood,

and the land shows its bitterness by its fruit.

So there was nothing in all this region of Pontus,

the perverse, that my consideration could send.

Still I’ve sent you Scythian arrows sheathed in a quiver:

I pray they might be stained by your enemies’ blood.

Such are the pens of this shore: such are the books,

such is the MuseMaximus, that flourishes in this place!

Though I’m ashamed to send them, they seem so poor,

still I beg you to take pleasure in their being sent.

Book EIII.IX:1-56 To Brutus: On Criticism

Brutus, you tell me someone’s carping at my verse,

because the same sentiment’s in all these books:

nothing but asking to enjoy somewhere nearer, he says,

and the fact I’m surrounded by crowds of enemies.

O, how only one of my many faults is seized on!

If that’s the only way my Muse has sinned, that’s fine.

I see the defects in my books myself, though everyone

approves their own poetry more than is right.

The author praises the work: so once perhaps Agrius,

Thersites’ father, might have called his son handsome.

But this mistake doesn’t cloud my judgement,

I don’t immediately love what I produce.

So why, you ask, if I see my errors, do I sin,

and allow the faults to remain in my writings?

To suffer a disease and cure it are not the same affair,

anyone can feel an illness, it’s only removed by art.

Often I leave some word I want to change,

and energy abandons my judgement.

Often I dislike (why hesitate to tell you the truth)

correcting, enduring the toil of hard labour.

The effort of writing’s a joy in itself, and less an effort,

and the growing work glows with one’s feelings.

But correction’s as much more arduous a thing

as Homer was greater than Aristarchus, his critic,

so that it hurts the mind, with worry’s icy chill,

and tightens the rein on horses eager for the race.

And truly, as I wish the merciful gods to lessen Caesar’s

anger, and my bones to be buried in peaceful ground,

when I try, sometimes, to exercise care myself,

the bitter aspect of my fate confronts me,

and it seems to me a man who makes verse and bothers

to correct it, among the savage Getae, is barely sane.

Yet there’s nothing more forgivable in my writing

than that a single feeling, almost, penetrates it all.

Happy, I once sang happy things, sad things I sing in sadness:

every time is suited to its own particular work.

What should I write of but the ills of this bitter region,

and to beg that I might die in a pleasanter place?

I say the same things so often hardly any of it’s heard,

and my words, ignored, lack any profit.

And yet though they’re the same, I haven’t addressed the same

friends, and one voice of mine seeks help from many.

Should I be asking it of you alone, Brutus, of all my comrades,

in case some reader discovers the same feelings written twice?

Forgive the confession, learned ones, but that wasn’t the object:

my work’s reputation is worth less than my own salvation.

In short, many a poet, at his own discretion, plays

variations on a subject, that he’s shaped for himself.

My Muse, also, is only too true a witness to my troubles,

and has the weight of an incorruptible informant.

Not to produce a book, but that each should be granted

his own letter, that was my intention and my care.

Later collecting them, anyhow, I linked them regardless:

in case you think perhaps this work was selected by me.

Be kind to my writings, whose purpose was not my glory,

but their usefulness, and the duty they performed.

The End of Ex Ponto Book III