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.
- Book TIV.I:1-48 His Love of Poetry
- Book TIV.I:49-107 His Love of Poetry
- Book TIV.II:1-74 Tiberius’s Triumph
- Book TIV.III:1-48 To His Wife: Death Would be Better
- Book TIV.III:49-84 To His Wife: He Asks For Her Help
- Book TIV.IV:1-42 To Messalinus: His Guilt
- Book TIV.IV:43-88 To Messalinus: His Sentence
- Book TIV.V:1-34 To A Loyal Friend (Probably Cotta)
- Book TIV.VI:1-50 Time Passing
- Book TIV.VII:1-26 Request for A Letter
- Book TIV.VIII:1-52 The Onset of Age
- Book TIV.IX:1-32 To An Enemy
- Book TIV.X:1-40 Ovid’s Autobiography: Childhood, Boyhood
- Book TIV.X:41-92 Ovid’s Autobiography: Youth and Manhood
- Book TIV.X:93-132 Ovid’s Autobiography: Exile and Immortality
Book TIV.I:1-48 His Love of Poetry
Reader, if you find fault with my books, and you will,
accept my excuse: this time when they were written.
I’m an exile, and I looked for solace, not fame,
lest my mind became too absorbed with misfortune.
That’s why the man in shackles, digging ditches,
still eases his hard labour with unlearned song.
And he who bows down to the sand and mud,
dragging a slow barge against the current, sings:
and he who draws flexed oars to his chest, together,
striking a rhythm with his arms, as he beats the water.
The tired shepherd, leaning on his crook, or sitting
on a stone, soothes his flock with the reed pipe’s tune.
The slave girl, singing at her work, spinning the thread,
diverts herself, and whiles away the hours of toil.
was stolen, eased his cares, with the Thessalian lyre.
Orpheus mourned the wife twice lost to him,
as he drew the trees and harsh rocks to his singing.
as ordered: she alone remained a friend to my flight:
she alone was unafraid of ambush, or the blades
of Sintian soldiers, storms, seas, and foreign shores.
She knows too the error that misled me, when I was ruined,
that there was guilt, but not wickedness, in my actions.
Surely she’s good to me now because she harmed me before,
when she was charged, with me, with a mutual crime.
Since they were once destined to be dangerous,
I might wish I’d never touched the Pierian rites.
But what can I do, now? Their very power holds me,
and, maddened, I love song, though song wounded me.
So the strange lotus-flowers, Odysseus’s men tasted,
gave pleasure by a flavour that did harm.
Often a lover’s aware of his own ruin, still he clings,
chasing after the substance of his mistake.
I too, I delight in books, though they harmed me,
and I love the weapon that dealt my wound.
Perhaps these studies might seem like madness,
but the madness has a certain benefit.
It stops the mind from always gazing at its woes,
and makes it forget its present circumstance.
Like a Bacchante, possessed, feeling no wound,
while the wild howling of the Idaean rites numbs her,
so, when my mind’s inspired, stirred by the leafy thyrsus,
the spirit is lifted above mortal suffering.
It feels no exile, no Scythian seashores,
it’s not aware of the angry gods.
As if I were drinking soporific Lethean draughts,
so the feeling of these hostile hours is absent.
Book TIV.I:49-107 His Love of Poetry
So, it’s right for me to revere the goddesses, who ease my ills,
who now by sea and now by land, deigned to follow
my traces, either aboard ship or on foot.
I pray that they at least are good to me!
Since the rest of the gods are of great Caesar’s party,
heaping as many as evils on me, as sand on the shore,
fishes in the sea, or the very spawn of those same fish.
You’d sooner count spring flowers, summer wheat,
autumn fruit, or the wintry snowflakes,
than the ills I endured, driven through the wide world,
a wretch who sought the left-hand Euxine shore.
But my evil fate’s no easier since I arrived:
misfortune has followed my track here too.
Here too I recognise the threads spun at my birth,
threads of a black fleece, twisted for me.
To say nothing of ambush, or the risks to my life,
real, but too serious for their reality to be believed,
a man who was always there on people’s lips!
How wretched to defend my life, at gate and wall,
scarcely protected by the strength of the place!
I avoided harsh military contests when I was young,
and only touched weapons with my hands in play:
now I’m old I strap a sword to my side, a shield
to my left arm, and place a helmet on my grey head.
When the lookout gives the signal for a raid
from his tower, I quickly arm myself, my hands trembling.
The enemy, with his bow, his arrows dipped in venom,
circles the walls fiercely on his snorting steed:
and as a ravening wolf carries off a sheep, outside
the fold, and drags it through the woods and fields,
so with anyone the barbarians find in the fields,
who hasn’t reached the protection of the gates:
he either follows them, a captive, and accepts the chain
round his neck, or dies by a venomous shaft.
This is the anxious place, where I, a new colonist,
am hidden away: ah, the lengthy days of my sentence!
Yet still my Muse suffers me to return to poetry
and the ancient rites, a guest despite misfortune.
But there’s no one to recite my verses to,
none whose ears appreciate Latin words.
I write, and read to myself – what else should I do?
and my writing’s safe in its own self-criticism.
Still I often say: ‘Who’s it for, this careful labour?
Often copious tears run down, too, as I write,
the paper has been soaked by my weeping,
and my heart feels the old wounds, like new,
and the rain of sorrow trickles down my chest.
When I think of what I am, and what I was, how fortune
changes, from where to where my fate has carried me,
often my hand, furiously, angered by its efforts,
has hurled my verses into the fire, to burn.
Since few of so many survived, see that you,
whoever you are, read them with forgiveness.
And you too, Rome, denied me, take them
in good part, songs no better than my fate.
Book TIV.II:1-74 Tiberius’s Triumph
Savage Germany, defeated, may have already submitted,
like the rest of the world, on bended knee, to the Caesars,
and perhaps the high Palatine is clothed with garlands,
and incense is crackling on the flames, staining the light,
while dark blood spurts over the earth, from the throat
of the bright sacrifice, struck by the axe-blow,
the gifts promised to the temples of the benign gods,
are being prepared for offering by both victorious Caesars,
so that their house will rule the world for ever:
and Livilla, is offering gifts, as ever, for her son’s safety,
to the noble gods, and the women with her, and the sinless
Vestals, who serve the pure fires in eternal virginity:
the loyal People, and the Senate with them, rejoice,
and the knights, among whom I recently played my small part:
but I miss the communal joy, I’m driven far away,
and only faint rumour travels as far as this.
So all the people will be able to watch the triumph,
and read the names of leaders and captured towns,
and see the captive kings with chains round their necks,
marching in front of the garlanded horses,
and behold some with down-turned faces, as is fitting,
others, still terrible, indifferent to their fate.
Some people will ask for histories, facts and names,
others will answer, though they know little.
‘He, who shines on high in Sidonian purple,
was leader in the war: this one next in command.
That one now who fixes his wretched gaze on the ground,
did not look so when he was carrying weapons.
This fierce one, with hostile eyes still burning,
was the instigator and planned the battles.
That traitor, who hides his face in his shaggy hair,
trapped our men in a treacherous place.
They say the one who follows him was their priest,
who sacrificed captives to their gods, gifts often refused.
These floats: lakes, mountains, all the forts and rivers,
filled with fierce slaughter, running with blood.
Drusus, the elder, once earned his name there,
who was a fine son worthy of his father.
This with broken horns badly covered with green sedge,
is the Rhine himself discoloured with his blood.
See even Germany is carried along with loosened hair,
seated sorrowing at the feet of the undefeated leader.
Offering her proud neck to the Roman axe
she wears chains on the arms that carried weapons.’
You’ll ride in the victory chariot, Caesar, high above,
wearing purple for the people, according to custom,
applauded by their clapping, all along the way,
flowers falling everywhere to cover your route.
Soldiers, their heads wreathed in Apollo’s laurel,
will chant: ‘Hurrah, for the triumph’ in loud voices.
Often you’ll see the four horses rearing at the noise
of all the chanting, the applause, and the din.
Then you’ll reach the citadel, and the shrines that favour
your prayers, and you’ll offer the votive wreath to Jove.
All this, I, the exile, will see with my mind, as I may:
it still has a right to the place that was taken from me:
it travels freely through immeasurable lands,
and reaches the heavens on its swift way,
leads my eyes into the middle of the city,
not allowing them to lose so great a good:
and my spirit will find a place to see the ivory car:
and so for a short while I’ll be in my native country.
Yet the happy people will own the true spectacle,
the joyful crowd will be there with their leader.
And I will enjoy the fruits in imagination only,
and far removed, in hearing, from it all,
and there’ll scarcely be anyone, sent so far from Italy
to this distant world, to tell me what I long for.
He’ll tell of a late triumph, already out of date,
still I’ll be glad to hear of it, whenever.
That day will come: I’ll lay aside my gloom,
and the public fate will outweigh the private.
Book TIV.III:1-48 To His Wife: Death Would be Better
Ursa Major and Minor, one that guides the Greek
the second Phoenician ships, both un-wet, since
you see all from the heights of the northern pole,
and never sink below the western waters,
and your orbit, circling the celestial reaches
stands clear of the earth it never touches,
leapt across, they say, to his undoing,
and turn your bright face upon my lady,
and tell me if she thinks of me or no.
Ah, why should I fear? I seek what is clearly known.
Why should my hope be mixed with anxious dread?
Believe in what’s as you wish, cease to doubt what’s true,
and have firm faith in that faith that’s firm,
and what the pole of the fixed fires cannot tell you,
say to yourself in a voice that does not lie,
she who’s your greatest care, thinks of you,
having with her all she has of you, your name.
She clings to your features as if you were there,
and if she lives, loves you, though far away.
So, when her weary mind broods on her just grievance,
does soft sleep leave her caring heart?
Do cares rise, while you touch my place in the bed,
that does not allow you to forget me,
does anguish come, and the night seem endless,
do the weary bones ache in your troubled body?
I don’t doubt these and other things occur,
that your love shows the marks of sorrow’s pain,
that you’re tormented no less than Andromache,
I’m not sure what prayer to speak, I can’t say
what feelings I wish you to have in your mind.
Are you sad? I’m troubled to be the cause of your grief:
Not sad? I’d have you worthy of an exiled husband.
Grieve truly for your loss, sweetest of wives,
endure the sad season of our misfortune,
weep for my fate: there’s a release in weeping,
grief is worked through, and relieved by tears.
And I wish what you had to grieve for was my death
and not my life, that you’d been left widowed, and alone!
This spirit, with your help, would have issued out
into its native air, loving tears would have wet my breast,
my eyes, staring at the familiar sky, on my last day,
would have been closed by your fingers,
my ashes laid to rest in my ancestors’ tomb,
and the earth that bore me would have had my body:
and, in short, I’d have been as sinless as I lived.
Now my life is shamed by this punishment.
Book TIV.III:49-84 To His Wife: He Asks For Her Help
I’m wretched if, when they call you an exile’s wife,
you turn your head away, and a blush comes to your cheeks!
I’m wretched, if you think it a disgrace to be married to me!
I’m wretched if you’re ashamed to be mine!
Where is that time when you used to boast
of your husband, and not hide his name?
Where is that time – unless you don’t wish it recalled –
when, I remember, you loved to be, and be called, mine?
Like a true woman you were pleased with my every gift,
and your fond love added others to the real ones.
There were none you preferred – I seemed so great to you –
no other man you wished for as a husband.
Don’t be ashamed even now, that you married me:
it should bring you grief, but never shame.
When reckless Capaneus died, at that sudden blow,
did you read that Evadne blushed for her husband?
Phaethon was not abandoned by his sisters,
because the king of the world quelled fire with fire.
because she was destroyed through her rash request.
Don’t let the blush of shame redden your cheeks,
because I’ve been struck by Jupiter’s fierce lightning.
But rise, in your faithfulness, to my defence, instead,
be the example of a noble wife to me,
and drown a sad theme with your virtues:
glory climbs the heights by dangerous paths.
The road to virtue’s paved with public ills.
Tiphys the helmsman’s art, is idle when the sea’s calm:
Phoebus, your art of medicine is idle if men are well.
The virtue that’s hidden and remains unknown
in good times, appears, asserts itself, in adversity.
My fate grants you the opportunity for fame:
now the loyalty you bear me can lift its head.
Use this time, in which the chance is given,
and the widest field lies open to your glory.
Book TIV.IV:1-42 To Messalinus: His Guilt
O you, who are noble in ancestral titles,
who outshine your tribe in nobility of character,
whose mind mirrors your father’s brilliance,
yet does not lack a brilliance of its own,
whose wit is eloquent in your father’s tongue,
bettered by no other in the Roman forum -
little though I wish to do so, I address you
with descriptions not names, forgive my praise of you.
I’ve sinned in nothing: your known virtues betray you,
and if what you are is revealed I’m free from blame.
Nor does the tribute offered you by my verse
have power to harm you, I think, with our just prince.
The Father of the Country himself – and who is milder
than him – tolerates being mentioned often in my verse,
nor can he prevent it, since Caesar is the State,
and a share of the common wealth is also mine.
Jupiter adds his divinity to the poet’s art,
allowing himself to be glorified by every tongue.
So your cause is safe, given these two deities,
of whom one’s seen to be, the other’s thought, a god.
Though I won’t need to, I’ll accept the blame,
since this letter of mine wasn’t prompted by you.
And I commit no new offence in speaking to you,
since I often spoke to you in happier days.
Don’t fear lest my friendship with you be a crime,
if there’s any harm its author can be blamed.
I always honoured your father from my earliest days -
at least don’t wish that fact to be concealed,
and (you may remember) he approved my talent
even more than, in my judgement, it deserved:
he used to speak of my verse with that eloquence
which was a part of his great nobility.
If your house made me welcome, it was not you
but your father before you was deceived.
Yet, there was no deceit, believe me: and my life
is worth defending in all its actions but the last.
You would deny this fault too that ruined me
is a crime, if my sequence of ill luck was known to you.
Either fear or error harmed me, above all error.
Ah! Let me not remember my fate:
Let me not touch and open those wounds
that are not yet closed: rest itself will scarcely heal them.
Book TIV.IV:43-88 To Messalinus: His Sentence
So I’m rightly paying the penalty, but no
act or stratagem is connected with my sin:
this the god knows: so my life was not taken,
nor my possessions appropriated by another.
Perhaps, if I live, he might end this exile
one day when time has softened his anger.
For now I beg him to order me to another place,
if my prayer is not without respect and humility.
I pray for a milder place, a little nearer home,
and one that’s further from the savage enemy:
and such is Augustus’s clemency, if someone
were to petition him for me, he might grant it.
The frozen shores of the Euxine, the ‘hospitable’, Sea
hold me: called Axenus, ‘inhospitable’, by men of old,
since its waters are troubled by immoderate winds,
and there are no quiet harbours for foreign ships.
There are tribes round it, seeking plunder and mayhem,
and the land’s no less fearful than the hostile sea.
Those you hear of, men delighting in human blood,
live almost beneath the same starry sky as myself,
and not far away from here is the dread Tauric altar
of Diana, goddess of the bow, stained with murder.
They say this was once the kingdom of Thoas,
not envied by the evil, nor desired by the good.
Here virgin Iphigenia, for whom a deer was substituted,
cared for the offerings, of whatever nature, to her goddess.
Later, Orestes came here, either in piety or wickedness,
driven by the Furies, his own conscience,
and Pylades came, his friend, an example of true love:
and they were a single mind in two bodies.
They were brought straight to the sad altar
that stood, blood-stained, before the double doors.
yet neither of them feared death, but each
grieved for the death that came to the other.
The priestess had already taken her place, knife drawn,
her Greek hair bound with barbarous sacred ribbons,
when she recognised her brother by his speech,
and Iphigenia gave him her embrace, not his death.
Joyfully, she carried off the statue of the goddess
who loathed those cruel rites, to a better home.
Such is the region, nearly the earth’s remotest,
that men and gods shun, that’s nearest mine:
And near my land are those murderous rites,
if a barbarian country can be Ovid’s land.
O let the winds, that carried Orestes home,
fill my returning sails, and the god be appeased.
Book TIV.V:1-34 To A Loyal Friend (Probably Cotta)
O you the foremost of my dear friends,
who proved the sole altar for my fortunes,
whose words of comfort revived this dying spirit,
as the flame does at the touch of Minerva’s oil:
you who loyally offered a safe harbour
and a refuge to the ship blasted by lightning:
through whose wealth I should not have wanted
had Caesar stripped me of my inheritance,
while force of feeling carries me on, forgetting myself,
ah, how close I’ve come to revealing your name!
You know it though, and, touched by desire for praise,
wish you could say out loud: ‘I am that man.’
If you’d allow it, I’d certainly show you honour,
and unite your rare loyalty with fame.
But I fear my verse of thanks might harm you,
an untimely honouring of your name might obstruct you.
This you can do (and it’s safe): delight in this inwardly,
that I’ve remembered you and you’ve been loyal,
and, as you have, bend your oars to bring me help,
till there’s a softer breeze and the god’s appeased:
and save a life that no one can save, unless
he who drowned it lifts it from the Stygian depths:
and do what is rare, devote yourself constantly
to every act of undiminished friendship.
So may your fortunes ever go forward,
so may you need no help, and yet help your own:
so may your wife equal her husband’s endless kindness,
and your union meet with no complaints:
and may that brother, who’s of your blood,
so may your young son be like you, and all
recognise that he’s yours by his character:
so may your daughter’s marriage-torch make you
a father-in-law, and, soon, a grandfather, while you’re young.
Book TIV.VI:1-50 Time Passing
In time the ploughman’s ox is made obedient to the plough,
submitting its neck to the weight of the curving yoke:
in time the fiery horse endures the pliant bridle,
and takes the harsh bit in its gentle mouth:
in time the rage of African lions is subdued,
the fierceness they had is absent from their spirit:
the Indian elephant, obeying its master’s command,
submits to servitude, conquered by time.
Time makes the grapes swell on the burgeoning clusters,
till they can barely hold the juice inside:
time ripens the seed into white ears of wheat,
and takes care that the fruits do not taste sour.
It thins the ploughshare as it turns the soil,
it wears away hard stone, and solid steel:
it even softens fierce anger, little by little,
it lessens sorrow, and eases the grieving heart.
All can be lessened by time passing,
on its silent feet, except my troubles.
Since I lost my native land, the threshing-floor’s twice been
smoothed for grain, the grapes twice trampled under naked feet.
But the long space of time hasn’t granted me patience,
and my mind still feels the emotions of recent troubles.
Indeed old bullocks often resist the yoke, it’s true,
and the horse that’s broken-in often fights the bit.
My current distress is harder than before: though still
similar in nature, it’s grown and deepened with time.
My ills were not so well known to me as they are now:
they weigh more heavily now I know them better.
It’s no little thing to apply powers still fresh to them,
and not be exhausted beforehand by time’s ills.
The new wrestler, on the yellow sand, is stronger
than the one whose arms are tired by long waiting.
The unwounded gladiator, in shining armour, is better
than the man with weapons stained by his own blood.
A fresh built ship does well in a furious storm:
even a little squall shatters an old one.
I too once endured, what I now endure, more patiently:
how my troubles have been multiplied by passing time!
Believe me, I’m failing, and as far as I can see, given
my bodily powers, there’s little time left for these ills.
I’ve neither the strength nor the colour I used to have:
I’ve barely skin enough to cover my bones.
My body’s troubled, but my mind is worse,
absorbed in contemplating its ills, endlessly.
The sight of the city’s absent, my dear friends, absent,
and my wife’s absent, none dearer to me than her.
So what I can see, and what I can’t see, moves me.
There’s only one hope that comforts me in all this,
these troubles will not outlast my death.
Book TIV.VII:1-26 Request for A Letter
The sun has twice drawn near me, after the icy winter cold,
and twice completed his journey, reaching Pisces.
In all that time why hasn’t your hand
stirred itself to write me a few lines?
Why has your loyalty ended, while those
with whom I had little acquaintance have written?
Why whenever I broke the seal on some letter
have I hoped that it contained your name?
The gods grant that you have indeed written, often,
though not one letter has been delivered to me.
I hope there’s an obvious reason. I’d sooner believe
that virgin Scylla has dogs below her belly, that there’s
a Chimaera, lioness and serpent segmented by fire,
that there are four-hooved Centaurs, with human breasts,
have changed, and abandoned your affection for me.
There are innumerable mountains, between you and me,
roads, and rivers, and plains and many seas.
There are a thousand reasons why frequent letters,
from you, should rarely reach my hands.
But defeat those thousand reasons by writing often,
so I’m not always making excuses for you, my friend.
Book TIV.VIII:1-52 The Onset of Age
My temples already take on the colour of swan’s plumage,
and white old age is bleaching my dark hair.
The years of frailty, and the inertia of age, already
steal over me, and it’s hard for me to endure my weakness.
Now’s the time when, my labour ended,
I should be living without troubling fears,
to indulge in the leisure my mind always enjoyed,
and to live at ease with my studies,
keeping a humble house with its ancient gods,
and the fields I inherited, now lacking a master,
growing old with my lady’s devotion, dear friends,
and at peace in my native country.
Youth once hoped for such a fulfilment:
I deserved to spend my years like that.
The gods did not see it so, who have driven me
over earth and sea, and landed me in Sarmatia.
Shattered boats are drawn up in dry-dock,
in case they fall apart in deep water.
The horse, that has won many races, grazes idly
in the meadow, before he fails and dishonours his victories.
When the long-serving soldier is no longer useful
he dedicates the weapons he carried to the ancient Lares.
Since the slowness of old age is sapping my strength
its time now for me to receive the gladiator’s wooden sword.
It’s time I no longer breathed foreign air,
or quenched my parched thirst at Getic fountains,
but retired now to the sheltered gardens I owned,
and enjoyed the sight of men, and the city, again.
So, with a mind unaware of what the future would bring,
I once prayed to be able to live peacefully when old,
The Fates were hostile, bringing ease
to my early years, pain to the later ones.
Now after half a century without stain,
I’m crushed, in the harshest years of life:
not far from the winning post, I thought I’d reached,
my chariot has been gravely wrecked.
In my madness, did I drive him to hostile anger,
the most gracious man in all the world?
Has his mercy been quenched by my wrongdoings,
yet my life has not been forfeit, for my error?
I must spend it far from home, under the Northern pole,
in the land to the sinister left of the Euxine Sea.
both oracles would have seemed unbelievable.
Nothing is strong enough, though bound with steel,
to stand firm against Jove’s swift lightning:
nothing’s so high and reaches so far beyond danger,
that it’s not inferior, and subject, to a god.
And though I brought a part of my trouble on myself,
by my sin, I suffered more from the divine power’s wrath.
Be warned by my fate, too, to make yourselves worthy
of that man who deserves to be equal to the gods.
Book TIV.IX:1-32 To An Enemy
If it’s right and you allow me, I’ll keep your name
and what you did quiet, consign the act to Lethe’s waters,
and my clemency will be won by your late tears,
if only you clearly have repented: if only
you condemn yourself, and are eager to erase
that moment of Tisiphonean madness from your life.
If not, if your heart still burns with hatred for me,
barren indignation will be driven to use its weapons.
If I’m banished, as I am, to the edge of the earth,
my anger will still reach out to you from here.
If you don’t know it, Caesar has left me all my rights,
and my only punishment is to lose my country.
My country: I even hope for that from him, if he lives:
the oak blasted by Jove’s lightning often grows green again.
And if I’ve no chance for revenge, in the end,
the Muses will grant me strength and their weapons.
Though I live far away on the shores of Scythia,
with those stars visible that never touch the sea,
my cry will go out to countless peoples,
my complaint will be known throughout the world.
What I relate will travel from sunrise to sunset,
I’ll be heard on land, and over the deep waters,
and my lament will find a mighty voice in the future.
It won’t be your own age only, that will know it was you,
you’ll be guilty in the eyes of posterity forever.
I’m already charging, without raising my horns,
and I wish I’d no reason to raise them at all.
The Circus is still quiet: but the fierce bull scatters sand,
and paws the earth, already, with its angry hoof.
That too is more than I want. Sound the retreat, Muse,
while that man’s still able to hide his name.
Book TIV.X:1-40 Ovid’s Autobiography: Childhood, Boyhood
Listen Posterity, and find out who this ‘I’ was,
this playful poet of tender passions you read.
Sulmo’s my native place, rich in icy streams,
and ninety miles distant from the City.
There I was born: if you want to know the date,
it was when both Consuls died at Mutina.
If it matters, I was heir to an ancient line,
not a knight new-made by fortune’s gift.
I was not the first child: I’d an elder brother,
who was born twelve months before me.
The same day of the year saw both our birthdays:
one day celebrated with both our offering of cakes,
the first day stained with the blood of combat,
in armed Minerva’s festival, the Quinquatrus.
We began our education at a tender age, and, through
our father’s care, went to men distinguished in the city’s arts.
My brother tended towards oratory from his early years:
he was born to the harsh weapons of the noisy forum:
but even as a boy the heavenly rites delighted me,
and the Muse was drawing me secretly to her work.
My father often said: ‘Why follow useless studies?’
Moved by his words, and leaving Helicon alone,
I tried to write words that were free of metre.
But verse came, of itself, in the right measures,
and whatever I tried to write was poetry.
Meanwhile, as the silent-footed years slipped by,
my brother and I assumed the freer adult toga:
our shoulders carried the broad purple stripe,
our studies remained what they were before.
My brother had just doubled his first ten years of life,
when he died, and I went on, part of myself lost.
Still, I achieved tender youth’s first honours,
since at that time I was one of the tresviri.
The Senate awaited me: I narrowed my purple stripe:
it would have been an effort too great for my powers.
I’d neither the strength of body, nor aptitude of mind
for that vocation, and I shunned ambition’s cares,
and the Aonian Muses urged me on to seek
that safe seclusion my tastes always loved.
Book TIV.X:41-92 Ovid’s Autobiography: Youth and Manhood
I cherished and cultivated the poets of those times,
I thought the bards that existed so many gods.
Often old Macer read to me about those birds of his,
the snakes that harm you, and the herbs that heal.
Often Propertius would tell about his passions,
by right of that friendship by which we were united.
were members of that mutual circle dear to me.
And many-metered Horace captivated us,
when he sang his polished songs to the Italian lyre.
Virgil I only saw: and greedy fate granted
Tibullus no time for my friendship.
I was the fourth, after them, in order of time.
And the younger poets cultivated me, as I the elder,
since my Muse, Thalia, was not slow to become known.
When I first read my youthful efforts in public,
my beard had only been shaved once or twice.
She who was called Corinna, by me, not her real name,
she stirred my wit, she who was sung throughout the City.
I wrote a good deal, but what I considered lacking
I gave to the flames myself, for them to revise it.
Even then, when I was leaving, I burnt certain things,
that were pleasing, angry with my studies and my verse.
Soft, and never safe from Cupid’s arrows,
was my heart, that the slightest thing could move.
But though I was such, fired by the smallest spark,
no scandal was associated with my name.
I was given a worthless and useless wife when I was
scarcely more than a boy: married to me for a brief while.
A bride succeeded her, who, though she was blameless,
was not destined to remain sharing my bed.
Lastly she who remained with me till I was old,
who’s lived to be the bride of an exiled husband.
My daughter, twice a mother, by different husbands,
when she was young, has made me a grandfather.
And my father had already completed his fated time,
after adding years to years till he was ninety.
I wept for him as he would have wept for me
if I had died. Next I bore my mother to her grave.
Both lucky to have been buried at the right time,
dying before the days of my punishment!
And I’m fortunate my trouble wasn’t while they lived,
and that they never had to grieve for me!
Yet if the dead are left something more than a name,
if a slender ghost escapes the towering pyre,
if news of me has reached you, spirits of my parents,
and my guilt is proclaimed in the courts of Styx,
know, I beg you ( it would be a sin to deceive you)
the cause of the exile decreed was an error not a crime.
Let this suffice the shades: I turn again, to you,
studious spirits, who wish to know the facts of my life.
Book TIV.X:93-132 Ovid’s Autobiography: Exile and Immortality
Already, white hairs had come, driving away
my best years, flecking my ageing locks,
and ten times since my birth, the victorious rider
wreathed with olive, had carried off the Olympic prize,
when a wounded prince’s anger ordered me
The cause, too well known to all, of my ruin,
is not to be revealed by any testimony of mine.
Why tell of friends’ wickedness and servants’ harm?
I suffered things no less evil than exile itself.
Yet my mind refused to succumb to misfortune,
and proved invincible, relying on its own powers.
Forgetting myself and my life of leisure
I grasped the unaccustomed weapons of that time:
and I suffered as many troubles on sea or land
as stars between the visible and hidden poles.
At length, driven through long wanderings, I reached
Here, though the noise of weapons surrounds me,
I ease my sad fate with such song as I can.
Though there’s no one to listen to me,
still this is the way I pass, and deceive, the days.
So the fact that I live, and struggle against harsh suffering,
not filled with weariness by the anxious days,
is thanks to you, my Muse: you grant me solace,
you come as a rest from, and a cure for, care.
You are both guide and friend, who spirit me
you’ve given me, something rare, while still alive,
the honoured name fame only grants us when we’re dead.
Nor has Envy, that belittles present things,
attacked any work of mine with malignant teeth.
Though this age of ours has produced great poets,
fame has not been unkind to my gifts,
and though I set many above myself, people say
I’m not inferior, and I’m the most widely read of all.
So, if there’s truth in poet’s prophecies,
I’ll not be yours, earth, though I die today.
Whether I’ve won fame through fashion or through
poetry itself, it’s right that I thank you, honest reader.
The End of Tristia Book IV