laeta fere laetus cecini, cano tristia tristis
happy, I once sang happy things, sad things
I sing in sadness:
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.
- Book TV.I:1-48 To The Reader: His Theme
- Book TV.I:49-80 To The Reader: The Quality of His Work
- Book TV.II:1-44 To His Wife: A Complaint
- Book TV.II:45-79 His Prayer to Augustus
- Book TV.III:1-58 His Prayer to the God Bacchus
- Book TV.IV:1-50 Letter To A True Friend
- Book TV.V:1-26 His Wife’s Birthday: His Greeting
- Book TV.V:27-64 His Wife’s Birthday: His Wish
- Book TV.VI:1-46 A Plea For Loyalty
- Book TV.VII:1-68 Among The Getae
- Book TV.VIII:1-38 Letter To An Enemy
- Book TV.IX:1-38 A Letter Of Thanks
- Book TV.X:1-53 Harsh Exile In Tomis
- Book TV.XI:1-30 An Insult To His Wife
- Book TV.XII:1-68 Poetry In Exile
- Book TV.XIII:1-34 Ill, And Wishing For Letters
- Book TV.XIV:1-46 In Praise Of His Wife
Book TV.I:1-48 To The Reader: His Theme
Devoted reader, add this book, now, to the four
that I’ve already sent from the Getic shore.
This one too will be like its poet’s fate:
no sweetness will visit its whole song.
As my state is mournful so is my verse,
the writing’s appropriate to the theme.
Untouched and happy I toyed with youth
and happiness, now I regret I wrote about them.
Since I fell I’ve been the crier of sudden doom,
and the author himself is his own theme.
As the swans of Cayster, they say, along its banks,
mourn their own death with a fading cry,
so I, exiled far off on the Sarmatian shore,
take care my funeral will not pass in silence.
If anyone seeks the delights of wanton verse,
that’s not what this writing is charged with.
Tibullus, with his winning nature, would be better.
Ah, why was my Muse ever playful?
the player with Love’s quiver is exiled.
I’ve turned people’s thoughts now to public verse,
and instructed them to remember my name.
And if any of you ask why I sing so many
sad things: I’ve suffered many sad things.
I don’t compose them with wit or skill,
the content’s inspired by its own misfortunes.
And how little of this fate is in my poetry.
Happy the man who can count his sufferings!
As the forest’s branches, as Tiber’s yellow sand,
as the tender grasses in the Field of Mars,
so the ills I’ve suffered without cure, or rest,
except in the study and practise of the Muses.
‘What end will there be to these sad songs, Ovid,’ you ask:
the same end that there’ll be to this misfortune.
It feeds me from a full fountain, of complaint,
nor are the words mine, they are my fate’s.
But if you restore me to my country, and my dear wife,
my face will be joyful, I’ll be what I was.
If invincible Caesar’s anger were milder to me,
then I’d give you poetry filled with delight.
But my verse will never play as it once played:
enough that it once ran riot with my wit.
If only a part of my sentence be reduced, I’ll sing
what he’ll approve, free of fierce Getae and barbarism.
Meanwhile what should my books be: but sad?
Such is the piping that befits my funeral rites.
Book TV.I:49-80 To The Reader: The Quality of His Work
‘But you’d endure your troubles better in silence,’
you say, ‘by mutely concealing your situation.’
Do you require torture without a cry:
forbid tears when a deep wound’s been suffered?
bellow and moan through the bull’s mouth.
do you, crueller than an enemy, prevent my tears?
they still did not order that her cheeks be dry.
To ease a deadly pain with words, is something:
That was why Philoctetes, son of Poeas, in his
cold cave, wearied the Lemnian rocks with his cries.
A grief suppressed chokes us, and seethes inside,
multiplying its own strength under pressure.
Reader, indulge me, or dispense with all
my books, if what benefits me harms you.
But it won’t harm you: my writings were never
pernicious: hurt no one except their author.
‘But it’s poor stuff.’ I admit it. Who forces you to read,
or, if you feel cheated, stops you putting it aside?
I don’t alter it, let it be read as written:
it’s no more barbarous than this place.
Rome should not compare me with her poets:
it’s among the Sarmatians that I’m a talent.
In short, I don’t seek glory, or that fame
which is commonly the spur to genius: even so,
I don’t wish my mind to dissolve in endless cares,
that break in upon me where they’re forbidden.
I’ve explained my writing. You ask why I send it?
I wish to be with you, by any means I can.
Book TV.II:1-44 To His Wife: A Complaint
When another letter reaches you from Pontus,
do you grow pale, open it with anxious fingers?
Don’t worry, I’m well: my body that was weak
before, and unable to endure any effort, bears up,
hardened by its own afflictions. Or is it more
that I’m not granted the luxury of being unwell?
Yet my mind’s ill, it gains no strength from time,
and the effect on my spirits remains what it was.
The wounds I thought would close, in due course,
hurt me as if they’d been freshly made.
It’s true: small troubles are lightened by the years:
the pain of great ones increases with time.
For ten years Philoctetes nursed the foul wound
dealt him by that snake swollen with venom.
Telephus would have died, wasted by unending sickness,
if the hand that wounded him had not brought relief.
If I’ve committed no crime, I pray the one
who made my wounds, might ease what he’s made.
and satisfied at last by a measure of suffering,
drain a little saltwater from this brimming sea.
Though he takes much, much bitterness will remain,
and a part of my sentence is as bad as the whole.
As shells the sand, as flowers a rich rose-garden,
as the host of seeds the soporific poppy owns,
as creatures the forest shelters, or fishes that swim the waves,
or the feathers with which a bird beats the gentle air,
so I’m burdened with sorrows: if I tried to count them,
say I’d tried to number the water-drops in the Icarian Sea.
To say nothing of the journey’s danger, the bitter perils
of the sea, or the hands raised against my person,
a barbarous land holds me, the most alien in all
the wide world, a place encircled by cruel enemies.
Since my offence was bloodless, I could be transferred
from here, if your love for me were as it ought to be.
That god, in whom Rome’s power is rooted,
was often merciful to his enemy in victory.
Why hesitate, why fear what’s harmless? Go, and ask him:
the great globe has no one kinder than Caesar.
Ah! What will I do, if those closest abandon me?
Do you draw your neck from the shattered yoke as well?
Where can I turn? Where seek solace for my weariness?
Not a single anchor tethers my vessel now.
Do it! Though I’m hated, I’ll have recourse
to the sacred altar: the altar rejects no one’s hands.
Book TV.II:45-79 His Prayer to Augustus
A distant suppliant, I address a distant god,
if it’s allowed for mortals to address Jupiter.
Imperial judge, through whom the security
of all the gods of the Roman people is assured,
O glory, O symbol of the country that prospers
through you, O hero equal to that world you rule –
so may you live on earth, and heaven long for you,
so may you pass at length, as promised, to the stars –
spare me, I beg of you, and reduce the lightning-bolt’s
effect a little! The punishment that’s left will be enough.
Indeed your anger is moderated, you grant me life,
I’m not deprived of a citizen’s name or rights,
my possessions have not been given to others,
I’m not called an ‘exul’ by the terms of your decree.
And I feared these things because I knew I’d earned them:
yet your anger is lighter than my offence.
You ordered me to view Pontus’ fields as a ‘relegatus’,
cutting the Scythian waves in a fleeing vessel.
As commanded, I’ve reached the featureless shores
of the Euxine Sea – this land beneath the frozen pole –
yet I’m not so much tormented by this weather, never
free of cold, this soil always hardened by white frost,
these barbarian tongues ignorant of the Latin language,
this Greek speech submerged in the sounds of Getic,
as by the fact that I’m encircled, and shut in on all sides
by nearby conflict: a thin wall scarcely keeps the enemy out.
While there’s peace at times, there’s no reliance on peace:
so the place now endures attack, and now fears it.
If only I could transfer from here, let Zanclean Charybdis
swallow me, and send me down to Styx in her waves,
or let me suffer the flames, in the fires of greedy Etna,
or be thrown in the ocean deep, offered to the Leucadian god.
What I ask is punishment: truly, I don’t evade suffering,
but I beg that I might suffer somewhere safer.
Book TV.III:1-58 His Prayer to the God Bacchus
to celebrate you, if only I’ve not got the date wrong,
wreathing scented garlands round their foreheads,
and singing your praises to the wine you gave us.
I remember how, while my fortunes still allowed it,
I often took part, among them, and didn’t displease you,
I who am now subjected to the stars of the Little Bear,
I, who led a life of ease, free of labour,
in my studies, among the Pierian choir,
after many sufferings on sea and land, I’m surrounded
by the noise of Getic weapons, and far from home.
Whether chance or the anger of the gods caused it,
or whether a dark Fate attended my birth,
you, at least, with divine power, should have aided
one of the worshippers of your sacred ivy.
Or is it that what the Sisters, the Mistresses of Fate,
ordain is no longer wholly in the god’s power?
You yourself were admitted to the heavens, on merit,
to which one makes one’s way with no little toil.
You did not live in your native land, but went
all the way to snowy Strymon, and the warlike Getae,
to Persia, and the wide-flowing River Ganges,
and all the waters the dusky Indian drinks.
This was the destiny for sure that the Parcae, who spun
the fatal thread, twice ordained for you, at your double birth.
I too, if it’s right to take the gods as examples,
am crushed by a difficult, an iron fate in life.
drove, for his pride, from Thebes’ walls, with lightning.
And when you heard a poet had been struck by fire,
you might have remembered your mother, Semele,
and had sympathy, and gazing at the bards round your altar,
have said: ‘One of my worshippers is missing.’
Help me, good Liber: and may another vine burden the elm,
and the grapes be filled with the imprisoned juice,
be here, and their cries of inspiration not be silent,
may the bones of Lycurgus the axe-bearer be crushed,
and Pentheus’ impious shade never free of torment,
may your Ariadne’s crown glitter brightly in the sky,
and shine more brilliantly than the neighbouring stars:
be here, and ease my fate, loveliest of the gods,
remembering that I am one of your own.
The gods traffic between themselves. Bacchus,
try to influence Caesar’s power with your own.
You too, loyal crowd of poets who share my studies,
drink the neat wine, and make the same request.
And one of you, mentioning Ovid’s name,
pledge him in a cup mixed with your own tears,
and when you’ve gazed around you, say in memory
of me: ‘Where’s Ovid, who was lately one of our choir?’
This only if I’ve earned your approval by my honesty,
and never a book’s been wounded by my criticism:
if, though I revere the noble writings of ancient men,
I still think the recent ones to be worth no less.
So, as you may make songs empowered by Apollo,
keep my name fresh among you, as is right.
Book TV.IV:1-50 Letter To A True Friend
A letter of Ovid’s, I come from the Euxine shore,
wearied by the sea-lanes, wearied by the roads,
to whom, weeping, he said: ‘You, go look on Rome,
who can do so. Ah, how much better your fate than mine!’
He wrote me weeping, too, and he lifted the gem
I was sealed with to his wet cheeks, first, not his lips.
Whoever seeks to know the cause of his sadness,
must need to have the sun pointed out to him,
is unable to see the leaves in the woods, soft grass
in the open meadow, or water in the overflowing river:
and why Philoctetes groaned at the serpent’s bite.
May the gods grant such circumstances for Ovid
that he has no cause of sorrow to make him grieve!
Yet he endures bitter trouble patiently, as he should,
and doesn’t shy at the bit like an unbroken horse.
He hopes the god’s anger won’t last forever
conscious there was no evil in his offence.
Often he remembers how great the god’s mercy is,
accustomed, too, to treat himself as an example:
since he keeps his family possessions, and the name
of citizen, in short it’s a gift of the god that he’s alive.
Yet you (oh, if you trust me in anything, dearer to him
than all) you he keeps always in the depths of his heart.
He misses his country and the many things
in his country whose absence he feels,
no less than your face and eyes, O you, sweeter
than the honey the Attic bee stores in the hive.
Often he remembers, as he laments that time,
grieving it was not prevented by his death,
when others fled the contagion of his sudden downfall,
unwilling to approach the threshold of a stricken house,
remembers how you and a few others stayed loyal,
if one might call two or three others a few.
Though stunned, he was conscious of it all, that you
grieved at his misfortune no less than he did.
He often recalls your words, your face, your cries,
and his own chest, soaked by your tears:
how you supported him, with what help you consoled
your friend, though you yourself needed comfort.
Because of it he assures you he’ll remember and be true,
whether he sees the day, or is covered by the earth,
swearing it on his own life, and on yours,
that I know he holds no less dear than his own.
Full thanks will be rendered for so many fine deeds:
he’ll not allow your oxen to plough the sands.
Only do you, endlessly, protect the exile: what he
who knows you well does not ask, I ask.
Book TV.V:1-26 His Wife’s Birthday: His Greeting
My wife’s birthday, returning, demands its customary
honour: my hands go perform affection’s holy rites.
So Ulysses, the hero, at the ends of the earth
perhaps, once spent his lady’s day of celebration.
Let that tongue be graced, forgetful of my troubles,
that I think, by now, has unlearned propitious speech:
and let me wear the clothes I wear only once a year,
of shining white so different in colour to my fate:
let them erect a green altar of grassy turf,
and veil the warm hearth with a woven garland,
Boy, give me incense that delivers a rich flame,
and wine that hisses, poured on the sacred fire.
Brightest of birthday spirits, so unlike my own,
I beg you, though I’m far away, be radiantly here,
and if any sad hurt threatens my lady,
may it be annulled by my troubles:
and may the vessel that was more than shaken
by the recent storm, and survived, sail safely on.
May she enjoy her home, her daughter and her country
- enough that they’ve been snatched from me alone –
and since she’s not blessed with her dear husband,
let the rest of her life be free of dark clouds.
May she live, and love her husband, though forced
to be parted from him, and, at length, fulfil her days.
I’d add mine to hers, but I fear lest a contagion
might spread from my fate to poison hers as well.
Book TV.V:27-64 His Wife’s Birthday: His Wish
Nothing’s certain for humankind. Who’d have thought
that I’d be performing these rites among the Getae?
Yet see how the wind blows the smoke that rises
from the altar towards Italy, and the fortunate lands.
So there’s meaning in the fumes the fire emits:
Pontus, they flee your skies with a purpose.
Purposefully, when the joint offering’s made
on the altar, to the brothers who killed each other,
the discordant ashes, as if at their command,
separate darkly into two distinct heaps.
I remember I once said it was impossible,
and, in my opinion, Callimachus was mistaken:
now I believe it implicitly, since you wise vapours
turn from the Bears and search out Italy.
So this is the day, and if it had not dawned
there would have been no festive day for me.
It engendered a character equal to those heroines,
On this day chastity was born, courage and loyalty,
but no joys were born on this day, rather effort
and trouble, a fate your character didn’t deserve,
and all too justified a complaint over your empty bed.
Truly virtue schooled in adversity offers
a theme for praise in the saddest times.
If tough Ulysses had seen no misfortunes
Penelope would have been happy not famous.
perhaps Evadne would have been unknown in her land.
Let another have touched the sands of Troy first
and there’d be no reason to remember Laodamia.
And your loyalty would be hidden, as you’d wish,
if favourable winds failed my sails.
Yet, you gods, and Caesar, destined to be a god,
but only when your days have equalled Nestor’s,
spare her who grieves without deserving grief,
not me, who confess I deserved your punishment.
Book TV.VI:1-46 A Plea For Loyalty
Do you too, once the mainstay of my fortunes,
who were my refuge, who were my harbour,
do you too cease to care for the friend you protected,
and shrug off duty’s honest charge so speedily?
I’m a burden, I confess, but you shouldn’t have taken it up.
if you were going to drop it at a difficult time for me.
Do you abandon ship, Palinurus, in mid-ocean?
Don’t go: don’t let your loyalty be less than your skill.
Did Automedon lose faith and in the fierceness of battle
did he abandon the horses of Achilles?
Once Podalirius had accepted a case, he never
failed to bring the sick the help he’d promised.
It’s worse to eject a guest than not receive them:
let the altar I can reach be steady in my hands.
At first you were only saving me: but now
support your judgement and myself as well,
so long as there’s no new fault to find in me,
and my guilt’s not suddenly altered your loyalty.
This I wish, that my breath, that I breathe ill
in the Scythian air, might leave my body,
before your heart’s wounded through my fault,
and I seem to be rightly worth less to you.
I’m not so wholly crushed by fate’s adversity
that my mind’s disturbed by my enduring troubles.
But suppose it is disturbed, don’t you think Orestes
It’s not far from the truth to say he struck him:
yet his friend remained no less firm in his friendship.
It’s the one thing that links the wretched and the blessed,
that it’s usual to offer courtesy to both: we give way
to the blind, and those for whom the purple stripe,
and the lictors’ rods and cries, demand reverence.
If you won’t consider me, you should consider my fate:
there’s no place for any indignation against me.
Select the very least of all my woes, the smallest,
and that will be greater than you would imagine.
as many as the reeds that shroud the sodden ditches,
as many as the bees that flowery Hybla knows,
or the ants that carry the grains of wheat they find
down little trails to their granaries underground,
so dense is the crowd of evils that surrounds me.
Believe me, what I complain of is less than the truth.
Whoever’s dissatisfied with them is one who’d add
sand to the shore, wheat to the fields, water to the waves.
So check the swell of anger, it’s inappropriate,
don’t desert our ship in the midst of the sea.
Book TV.VII:1-68 Among The Getae
The letter you’re reading comes to you from that land
where the wide Danube adds its waters to the sea.
If you are still alive and have sweet health,
one part of my fate retains its brightness.
Dearest friend, you’re doubtless asking yourself
how I am, though you know, even if I’m silent.
I’m miserable: that’s a brief summary of my ills,
and whoever lives on having offended Caesar, will be so.
Are you interested to know what the people round Tomis
are like, and the customs of those I live among?
Though there’s a mix of Greeks and Getae on this coast,
it’s characterised more by the barely civilised Getae.
Great hordes of Sarmatians and Getae pass
to and fro, along the trails, on horseback.
There’s not one among them who doesn’t carry
bow, quiver, and arrows pale yellow with viper’s gall:
Harsh voices, grim faces, the true image of Mars,
neither beard or hair trimmed, hands not slow
to deal wounds with the ever-present knife
that every barbarian carries, strapped to his side.
Alas, dear friend, your poet is living among them,
seeing them, hearing them, forgetting those he loves:
and would he were not alive, and died among them,
so that his shade might yet leave this hateful place.
You write that my songs are being danced now
to a crowded theatre, my verses applauded, dear friend,
though for my part I’ve composed nothing for the theatre,
as you know yourself, my Muse isn’t eager for applause.
Still I’m not ungrateful for anything that prevents
my being forgotten, and brings the exile’s name to the lips.
Though I sometimes curse the poetry
that has harmed me, and my Muses,
when I’ve cursed them at length, I still can’t be without them,
I seek the weapons blood-stained from my wounds,
and the Greek ship battered by the waves of Euboea
dares to run the waters of Cape Caphereus.
Yet I don’t labour all night for the praise, or work
for the sake of a future name that were better hidden.
I occupy my mind with studies: beguile my sorrow,
trying to deceive my cares with words.
What else can I do, alone on this desert strand,
what other help for these ills should I try to find?
If I look at the place, the place is hateful,
and nothing could be sadder on this earth,
if at the people, they barely deserve the name,
they’ve more cruel savagery in them than wolves.
They fear no law: justice yields to force,
and right is overturned by the sword’s aggression.
They keep off the evils of cold with pelts
and loose trousers, shaggy faces hidden in long hair.
A few still retain vestiges of the Greek language,
though even this the Getic pronunciation barbarises.
There’s not a single one of the population who might
chance to utter a few words of Latin while speaking.
I, the Roman poet – forgive me, Muses! –
am forced to speak Sarmatian for the most part.
See, I’m ashamed to admit it, from long disuse,
now, the Latin words scarcely even occur to me.
I don’t doubt there are more than a few barbarisms
in this book: it’s not the man’s fault but this place.
Yet, lest I lose the use of the Italian language,
and my own voice be muted in its native tongue,
I speak to myself, using forgotten phrases,
and retrace the ill-fated symbols of my studies.
So I drag out my life, and time, so I retreat from
and banish the contemplation of my troubles.
I seek forgetfulness of my misery in song:
if I win that prize by my studies, it’s enough.
Book TV.VIII:1-38 Letter To An Enemy
Abject as I am, I’ve not fallen so low that
I’m beneath you, whom nothing can be below.
Shameless one, what stirs your animosity against me?
Why exult in misfortunes you yourself might suffer?
My troubles, which would make wild beasts weep,
don’t thaw you, or reconcile you to one who’s down,
nor do you fear the power of Fortune’s precarious wheel,
nor the proud words that the goddess hates.
Vengeful Nemesis exacts punishment on those
who deserve it: why set foot where you trample on my fate?
I saw a man who laughed at shipwrecks, drowned
in the sea, and said: ‘The waves were never more just.’
He who once denied humble food to the poor
now eats the bread of beggary himself.
Fortune wanders, changeable, with uncertain footsteps,
never remaining sure, nor fixed in the same place,
now bringing happiness, now showing a bitter face,
and only true in her inconstancy.
I too flowered, but the flower was transient,
my fire was a fire of straw, and was brief.
Still, so cruel joy might not grip your soul complete,
my hope of placating the god’s not wholly dead,
either on the grounds that I offended without crime,
and my fault, not free of shame, is free of odium,
or because the whole world from dawn to dusk
contains no one more merciful than him it obeys.
Isn’t it true, that, though no power conquers him,
he has a tender heart for the prayers of the fearful,
and, following the example of the gods he’ll join,
when he remits my sentence he’ll grant other requests.
If you count the sunny or cloudy days in a year,
you’ll find that it’s more often been bright,
so don’t rejoice too much in my downfall,
when you think that I too may be recalled:
think, if the prince shows lenience, it may be
you’ll be saddened by seeing my face in the city,
and I may see you exiled, with greater cause:
after my first wish that’s the next in turn.
Book TV.IX:1-38 A Letter Of Thanks
Oh, if you’d let your name be set in my verse
how often you’d have been set there by me!
Remembering your help, I’d have sung only you,
without you no page of my books would have been seen.
What I owe to you would be known by the whole city:
if I’m still read, as an exile, in the city I lost.
Present times would be aware of your kindness,
and future times, if only my writings endure,
and wise readers would never cease to bless you:
your honour, in rescuing a poet, would remain.
Caesar’s gift is supreme: that I breathe the air:
it’s you I need to thank, after the great gods.
He gave life: you preserve what he gave,
and make it possible to enjoy the gift received.
When most men had a horror of my downfall,
some even wishing it thought they’d feared it,
and gazed at my shipwreck from a high hill,
and gave no hand to the swimmer in wild seas,
you alone dragged me, half-dead, from the waves.
This too is your doing: that I’m able to remember.
May Caesar and the gods always befriend you:
no prayer of mine could be more heartfelt.
If you allowed it, my work would set these things
in the brightest of lights in eloquent books:
even now my Muse, though ordered to be silent,
can scarcely hold back from naming you, against your wishes.
Like a hound that’s scented the trail of a frightened deer,
baying, and held in check by the strong leash,
like an eager racehorse thudding on the unopened
starting-gate, with its hooves, and even its brow,
so my Thalia, chained and imprisoned by your command,
longs to pursue the glory of your forbidden name.
But, so you’re not harmed by the homage of a friend
who remembers, I’ll obey your orders – have no fear.
I wouldn’t obey if you didn’t count on my remembering.
What your voice doesn’t forbid, I will be: grateful.
While I see the light of life – oh, let the time be brief –
my spirit will be a slave to that duty.
Book TV.X:1-53 Harsh Exile In Tomis
Yet I seem to have been absent from my country already
for as long as the ten years Troy knew the Greek host.
You’d think time stood still, it moves so slowly,
and with lagging steps the year completes its course.
For me the summer solstice hardly lessens the nights,
and winter can’t make the days any shorter.
Surely nature’s been altered, in my case,
and makes all things as tedious as my cares.
Or is time running its course in the usual way,
and it’s more this period of my life that’s hard?
I’m trapped by the shore of the Euxine, that misnomer,
and the truly sinister coast of the Scythian Sea.
Innumerable tribes round about threaten fierce war,
and think it’s a disgrace to exist without pillage.
Nowhere’s safe outside: the hill itself’s defended
by fragile walls, and the ingenuity of its siting.
The enemy descends, when least expected, like birds,
hardly seen before they’re taking away their plunder.
Often when the gates are shut, inside, we gather
arrows that fell in the middle of the streets.
So the man who dares to farm the fields is rare,
one hand grips the plough, the other a weapon.
The shepherd plays his reed-pipe glued with pitch,
under a helmet, and frightened sheep fear war not wolves.
We’re scarcely protected by the fortress’s shelter: and even
the barbarous crowd inside, mixed with Greeks, inspire fear,
for the barbarians live amongst us, without discrimination,
and also occupy more than half the houses.
Even if you don’t fear them, you’d hate the sight
of their sheepskins, their chests covered by their long hair.
Those too, who are thought to descend from the Greek colony,
wear Persian trousers instead of their ancestral clothing.
They hold communication in the common tongue:
I have to make myself understood by gestures.
Here I’m the barbarian no one comprehends,
the Getae laugh foolishly at my Latin words.
and they often talk maliciously to my face,
quite safely, taunting me perhaps for my exile.
As is usual they think there’s something wrong
about my only nodding no or yes to what to they say.
Add to all this that the sharp sword dispenses justice
unjustly, and wounds are often dealt in the forum.
Oh harsh Lachesis, when I have such adverse stars,
not to have granted a shorter thread to my life.
That I’m deprived of the sight of my country, and of you,
my friends: that I sing of existence among the Scythian tribes:
both are a heavy punishment. However much I deserved exile
from the city, I didn’t perhaps deserve to exist in such a place.
Madman! What am I saying? In offending Caesar’s
divine will, I also deserved to lose life itself.
Book TV.XI:1-30 An Insult To His Wife
Your letter complains that someone has said
that you’re ‘an exile’s wife’, by way of insult.
I was aggrieved, not so much that my fate is spoken of
with malice, I’m used to suffering pain bravely now,
as to think that I’m a cause of shame to you, to whom
I’d wish it least of all, and that you blushed at our ills.
Endure, and be true: you’ve suffered much worse,
when the Prince’s anger tore me away from you.
Still the one who called me ‘exile’ judges wrongly:
a milder sentence punishes my fault.
My worst punishment is having offended him,
and I wish the hour of my death had come before.
Still my ship was wrecked, but not drowned and sunk,
and though deprived of harbour, it still floats.
He didn’t take my life, my wealth, my civil rights,
though I deserved to lose them all by my offence.
But since no criminal act accompanied my sin,
he only ordered I should leave my native hearth.
Caesar’s power proved lenient to me,
as to others, whose number is immeasurable.
He applied the word relegatus to me not exul:
my case is sound because he judged it so.
So my verses, rightly, sing your praises, Caesar,
however good they are, to the best of their abilities:
I beg the gods, rightly, to close the gates of heaven
to you still, and will you to be a god, separate from them.
So the people pray: and as rivers run to the deep ocean
so a stream runs too, with its meagre waters.
And you, the one whose mouth calls me ‘exile’,
stop burdening my fate with that lying name!
Book TV.XII:1-68 Poetry In Exile
You write: I should lighten my sad hours with work,
lest my thoughts vanish through shameful neglect.
What you advise is hard, my friend, since songs
are the product of joy, and need a mind at peace.
My fortunes are blown about by hostile winds,
and nothing could be sadder than my fate.
You’re urging Priam to dance at the death of his sons,
and Niobe, bereaved, to lead the festive chorus.
You think poetry and not mourning should claim
one ordered off alone to the distant Getae?
Grant me a heart strengthened by the vigorous power
wisdom still falls crushed by the weight of such misfortune:
a god’s anger’s more powerful than human strength.
That ancient, called wise by Apollo, would have had
no more power to write in this situation.
If I could forget my country, and forget you,
if all sense of what I’ve lost should leave me,
still fear itself denies me peace to perform the task,
I live in a place encircled by countless enemies.
And add to that, my imagination’s dulled, harmed
by long disuse, and much inferior to what it once was.
A field that’s not refreshed by constant ploughing
will produce nothing but weeds and brambles.
A horse that’s stabled too long will race badly,
and be last of those released from the starting-gate.
A boat will be weakened by rot, and gape with cracks,
if it’s separated from its accustomed waters too long.
Give up hope for me, that little as I was before
I can even become that man I was, once more.
My talent’s extinguished by long sufferance of ills,
and nothing of my former strength remains.
Yet if I take up a writing tablet, as I have now,
and wish to set words on their proper feet,
no verses are composed, or only such as you see,
only worthy of their author’s age and situation.
Lastly, the thought of fame grants no small power
to the mind: desire for praise makes for fertile thought.
Once, while a following breeze drove my sails on,
I was attracted by the glitter of celebrity and fame.
Now things are not so good for me that I yearn for glory:
if it were possible I’d wish no one to know of me.
Or do you urge me to write because at first my verse
went well, so as to follow up on my success?
With your permission, Muses, let me say: Sisters,
the nine of you are the main cause of my exile.
As Perillus, who made the bronze bull, paid the price,
so I’m paying the penalty for my art.
I ought to have nothing more to do with verse,
one shipwrecked I ought rightly to avoid all water.
And if I were mad and tried the fatal art again,
consider if this place equips me for song.
There are no books here, no one to lend me an ear,
or understand what my words signify.
Everywhere’s filled with barbarism, cries of beasts:
everywhere’s filled with the fear of hostile sounds.
I myself have already un-learned Latin, I think,
Yet still, to confess the truth to you, my Muse
can’t be prevented from composing poems.
I write, and burn the books I’ve written in the fire:
a few ashes are the outcome of my labours.
I can’t, and yet I long to, make some worthwhile verse:
therefore my effort’s thrown into the flames,
and only fragments of any of my work,
saved by chance or guile, ever reach you.
If only my Ars Amatoria, that ruined its author,
who anticipated no such thing, had turned to ashes!
Book TV.XIII:1-34 Ill, And Wishing For Letters
This ‘Good health’ Ovid sends you from Getic lands,
if anyone can send what he lacks himself.
Sick at heart I’ve drawn the sickness into my body,
so no part of me might be free of torment,
and for days I’ve been tortured by pains in my side:
so winter’s immoderate cold has harmed me.
Yet if only you are well, I’m partly well:
since my ruin was supported by your shoulders.
Why, when you’ve given me such great proof of love,
when you protect my life in every way,
do you sin by rarely consoling me with a letter,
offering the fact of loyalty, denying me the words?
I beg you to alter that! If you corrected that one thing
there’d be no flaw in your illustrious person.
I’d accuse you more strongly, except it’s possible
a letter’s been sent that’s not reached me yet.
The gods grant that my complaint’s baseless,
and I’m wrong in thinking you’ve forgotten me.
It’s clear what I pray for is so: since it’s wrong for me
to believe that the strength of your feelings should change.
Sooner would pale wormwood be missing from icy Pontus,
than anyone could convict you of forgetting a friend.
The threads of my fate are not so dark as that.
Still, beware of seeming what you’re not, so you
can refute these false accusations of guilt.
As we used to spend long hours in conversation,
until the daylight failed us, while we talked,
so letters now should bear our silent voices to and fro,
and paper and hands perform the acts of tongues.
Lest I seem too despairing of this ever being so,
and may these few lines serve to remind you of it,
accept that word with which a letter always ends –
and may your fortunes be different from mine! – ‘Vale’.
Book TV.XIV:1-46 In Praise Of His Wife
You see how great a monument I’ve reared
to you in my books, wife dearer to me than myself.
Though Fortune might detract from their author,
you’ll still be made glorious by my art:
as long as I’m read, your virtue will be read,
nor can you vanish utterly in the mournful pyre.
Though your husband’s fate might make you seem
one to be pitied, you’ll find those who’d wish to be
what you are, who’d call you happy and envy you
in that you share in our misfortunes.
I’d not have given you more by giving you wealth:
the rich take nothing to the ancestral shades.
I’ve given you the fruits of immortal fame,
and you possess a gift, the greatest I could give.
Add that you’re the sole custodian of my estate,
a burden to you that comes with no little honour:
that my voice is never silent about you, and you
should be proud of your husband’s testimony.
Stand firm, so no one thinks it said thoughtlessly,
support me and your faithful devotion equally.
While I was untouched your virtue was free
of vile accusations, and to that extent of reproach.
Now a space is cleared for you, by our ruin:
let your virtue build a house here for all to see.
It’s easy to be good when what prevents it is remote,
and a wife has nothing that obstructs her duties.
Not to avoid the clouds, when the god thunders,
that’s loyalty indeed, that’s wedded love.
That virtue not governed by Fortune is truly rare,
that which remains still standing, when she vanishes.
Yet whenever virtue itself is the prize it seeks,
and faces what’s difficult, in less happy times,
no age ignores it, though you add centuries,
it’s a subject for admiration, wherever Earth’s paths extend.
Do you see how Penelope’s loyalty is praised
through distant ages, with undying fame?
How Laodamia’s name lives, wife to Phylacos’ grandson
You’d be no help to me dead, rather loving and loyal, here:
you don’t need to search for fame through suffering.
And don’t think I’m admonishing you, for inaction:
I’m raising sail on a ship that’s already under oars.
Who tells you to do what you’re already doing, praises
your actions, in telling, and approves them by his urging.
The End of Tristia Book V