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
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- Book TI.I:1-68 The Poet to His Book: Its Nature
- Book TI.I:70-128 The Poet to His Book: His Works
- Book TI.II:1-74 The Journey: Storm at Sea
- Book TI.II:75-110 The Journey: The Destination
- Book TI.III:1-46 The Final Night in Rome: Preparation
- Book TI.III:47-102 The Final Night in Rome: Departure
- Book TI.IV:1-28 Troubled Waters
- Book TI.V:1-44 Loyalty in Friendship
- Book TI.V:45-84 His Odyssey
- Book TI.VI:1-36 His Wife: Her Immortality
- Book TI.VII:1-40 His Portrait: The Metamorphoses
- Book TI.VIII:1-50 A Friend’s Treachery
- Book TI.IX:1-66 A Faithful Friend
- Book TI.X:1-50 Ovid’s Journey to Tomis
- Book TI.XI:1-44 Ovid’s Apology for the Work
Book TI.I:1-68 The Poet to His Book: Its Nature
Little book, go without me – I don’t begrudge it – to the city.
Ah, alas, that your master’s not allowed to go!
Go, but without ornament, as is fitting for an exile’s:
sad one, wear the clothing of these times.
You’ll not be cloaked, dyed with hyacinthine purple –
that’s no fitting colour to go mourning –
no vermilion title, no cedar-oiled paper,
no white bosses, ‘horns’ to your dark ‘brow’.
Happier books are decorated with these things:
you instead should keep my fate in mind.
No brittle pumice to polish your two edges,
so you’re seen ragged, with straggling hair.
No shame at your blots: he who sees them
will know they were caused by my tears.
Go, book, greet the dear places, with my words:
I’ll walk among them on what ‘feet’ I can.
If, in the crowd, there’s one who’s not forgot me,
if there’s one, perhaps, who asks how I am,
say I’m alive, but deny that I am well:
that I’m even alive is a gift from a god.
Otherwise, be silent – let him who wants more read –
beware of saying by chance what isn’t needed!
The reader, prompted, will soon recall my guilt,
the crowd’s voice make me a common criminal.
Beware of defending me, despite the biting words:
a poor case will prove too much for advocacy.
Find someone who sighs about my exile,
and reads your verses with wet eyes,
and silently wishes, unheard by enemies,
For myself, I wish whomever it is no ill,
who asks the gods to be kind to suffering:
what he wishes, let that be: the Leader’s anger done,
grant me the right to die in my native country.
Though you obey, book, you may still be blamed,
and called inferior to the flower of my genius.
The judge’s duty is to search out time
and circumstance. You’re safe regarding time.
Fine-spun verses come from a tranquil mind:
my days are clouded by sudden miseries.
Verse asks for a writer with leisure and privacy:
I’m tossed by winter gales, the storms, the sea.
Every fear harms verse: I’m lost and always
afraid of a sword slicing at my throat.
Even what I’ve created, will amaze just critics:
they’ll read it, whatever it is, with indulgence.
Set Homer, the Maeonian, in such danger,
his genius would fail among such troubles.
Go then, book, untroubled by fame,
don’t be ashamed to displease the reader.
Fortune’s not so kind to me now
for you to take account of any praise.
Secure, I was touched by desire for fame,
and I burned with ardour to win a name.
Enough now if I don’t hate those studies, verses
that hurt me, so that wit brought me exile.
You go for me, you, who can, gaze at Rome.
If the gods could grant now that I were my book!
And because you’re a foreigner in a mighty city
don’t think you come as a stranger to the crowd.
Though you lack a title, they’ll know the style:
though wishing to deceive, it’s clear you’re mine.
But enter quietly so my verse won’t hurt you,
it’s not as popular as once it was.
If anyone thinks you shouldn’t be read
because you’re mine, and thrusts you away,
say: ‘Look at the title: I’m not love’s master:
that work’s already got what it deserved.’
Book TI.I:70-128 The Poet to His Book: His Works
Perhaps you’re wondering if I’ll send you
to the high Palatine, to climb to Caesar’s house.
That august place and that place’s gods forgive me!
A lightning bolt from that summit fell on my head.
I know there are merciful powers on those heights
but I still fear the gods who bring us harm.
Hawks, the smallest sound of wings brings terror
to the doves your talons wounded.
Nor does the lamb dare stray far from the fold
once torn from the jaws of a hungry wolf.
If Phaethon lived he’d avoid the sky, refuse
to touch the horses he chose, foolishly.
I too confess, I fear what I felt, Jove’s weapon:
I think the hostile lightning seeks me when it thunders.
Every Greek who escaped the Capherean rocks
always turned away from Euboean waters:
and my vessel, shattered by a mighty storm,
dreads to near the place where it was wrecked.
So beware, book, look around with timid mind,
be content to be read by the middle orders.
Seeking too great a height on fragile wings
Icarus gave his name to the salt waters.
It’s hard to say from here, though, whether to use
oars or breeze: take advice from the time and place.
If you can be handed in when he’s at leisure, if
you see all’s calm, if his anger’s lost its bite,
if, while you’re hesitating, scared to go near,
someone will hand you in, with a brief word, go.
On a good day and with better luck than your master
may you land there and ease my distress.
Either no one can help, or in Achilles’s fashion,
only that man can help who wounded me.
Only see you don’t do harm, while you’ve power to help –
since my hope is less than my fear –
beware, while that angry emotion’s quiet don’t rouse it,
don’t you be a second cause for punishment!
Yet when you’re admitted to my inner sanctum,
and reach your own house, the curved bookcase,
you’ll see your brothers there ranged in order,
all, whom the same careful study crafted.
The rest of the crowd will show their titles openly,
carrying their names on their exposed faces:
but you’ll see three hide far off in dark places –
and still, as all know, they teach how to love.
Avoid them, or if you’ve the nerve, call them
I warn you, if you’ve any care for your father,
don’t love any of those three, though it taught you.
There are also fifteen books on changing forms,
songs saved just now from my funeral rites.
Tell them the face of my own fortunes
can be reckoned among those Metamorphoses.
Now that face is suddenly altered from before,
a cause of weeping now, though, once, of joy.
I’ve more orders for you if you ask me,
but I fear to be any reason for delay:
and, book, if you carried everything I think of,
you’d be a heavy burden to the bearer.
Quick, it’s a long way! I’ll be alive here at the end
of the earth, in a land that’s far away from my land.
Book TI.II:1-74 The Journey: Storm at Sea
Gods of the sea and sky – since what is left but prayer? –
don’t shatter the ribs of our storm-tossed ship,
don’t, I beg you, add to great Caesar’s anger!
Often when one god presses, another brings help.
yet he was safe through Venus’s power.
Minerva often saved him from her uncle.
And however different I am from them,
who denies a power to me, against the angry god?
A wretch, I’m wasting idle words in vain.
My mouth that speaks is drenched by heavy waves,
and fearful Notus hurls my words away,
and won’t let my prayers reach the gods.
So the same winds drive my sails and prayers
who knows where, so I’m doubly punished.
Ah me! What mountains of water churn!
Now, now you think they’ll touch the highest stars.
What abysses sink beneath the yawning flood!
Now, now you think they’ll touch black Tartarus.
Wherever I look there’s nothing but sea or air,
here swollen waves, there threatening cloud,
between, the roar and humming of the winds.
The ocean waves don’t know what lord to obey.
Now Eurus storms in power from the purple east,
now Zephyrus rushes in from late evening,
now Notus wars with his opposing brow.
The helmsman’s unsure of what to shun or where
to steer for: his art is baffled by uncertain evils.
Surely we’re done for, there’s no hope of safety,
while I speak the waves drench my face.
The breakers will crush this life of mine, with lips
praying in vain, I’ll swallow the fatal waters.
But my loyal wife grieves only for my exile:
it’s the only ill of mine she knows, and groans at.
She doesn’t see me hurled through the vast seas,
pursued by the winds, she doesn’t see death nearing.
It’s good that I didn’t allow her to ship with me,
or I, poor wretch, would endure a double death!
Now, though I die, since she is free from danger,
at least the other half of me will survive.
Ah! What a swift flame flashes from the cloud!
What a mighty crash resounds from the ether!
The blow on her planks from the waves is no less
than a siege-gun’s heavy thud against the walls.
Here comes a wave that overtops them all:
after the ninth and before the eleventh.
I don’t fear dying: but this way of dying’s wretched.
Save me from drowning, and death will be a blessing.
A natural death or dying under the blade, at least
your body rests on the solid ground, as you ebb,
and there are requests to others, and hope of a tomb,
not to be food for the fishes in the ocean.
Assume I deserve such a death, I’m not the only
traveller here. Why does my sentence drown the innocent?
Gods above, and you of the green flood, who rule the seas,
both crowds of you, desist from your threats:
an unhappy man, let me carry the life that’s granted
by Caesar’s relenting anger, to the chosen place.
If you wish to punish me with the sentence I merit,
my fault, even to my judge, does not deserve death.
he wouldn’t have needed your help in this.
He has a power, not to be grudged, over my life:
he’ll take away what he’s given, when he wishes.
You, I pray, whom surely no offence of mine
has wounded, be content now with my troubles.
Yet, if you’re all willing to save this wretch,
the life that’s ruined can’t now be saved.
Though the seas quieten, and kind winds blow,
though you spare me, I’ll be no less an exile.
Book TI.II:75-110 The Journey: The Destination
I don’t plough the open sea to trade my goods
greedy to acquire wealth without end,
nor to reach Athens, I one sought as a student,
nor the Asian cities, nor places I’ve seen,
nor do I sail to Alexander’s famous city,
to see your pleasures, happy Nile.
I ask for favourable winds – who would credit it? –
to set my sails for the Sarmatian land.
I’m forced to touch the wild left shore of Pontus:
I complain my flight from my native land’s too slow.
I pray for the journey to be shorter,
to see the people of Tomis in their unknown world.
If you love me, hold back these breakers,
and let your powers favour the ship:
or if you hate me deeply, drive me to the land assigned,
part of my punishment is in the place.
Drive my body on swiftly, winds – why linger here? –
Why do my sails desire Italy’s shores?
Caesar does not want this. Why hold one he expels?
Let the land of Pontus see my face.
He orders it, I deserve it: nor do I think it pious
or lawful to defend a guilt he condemns.
Yet if mortal actions never deceive the gods,
you know that crime was absent from my fault.
Ah, if you know it, if my error has misled me,
if my thought was foolish, but not wicked,
if as the humblest may I’ve favoured that House,
if Augustus’s statutory law was enough for me,
if I’ve sung of the happy age with him as Leader,
and offered incense for Caesar and the Caesars –
if such was my intent, spare me, gods!
If not, may a towering wave drown my life!
Am I wrong, or do heavy clouds begin to vanish.
is the wave of the changing sea defeated, humbled?
No accident, but you, called as witness,
whom we cannot deceive, bring me this aid.
Book TI.III:1-46 The Final Night in Rome: Preparation
When the saddest memory comes to mind,
of that night, my last hour in the city,
when I recall that night when I left so much
so dear to me, even now tears fall from my eyes.
The day was already here that Caesar ordered
for my departure beyond Italy’s furthest shores.
There wasn’t time or desire enough to prepare
what was fitting, my heart was numb with long delay.
I’d not thought about slaves or companions,
the clothing or the other needs of an exile.
I was as dazed as a man struck by Jove’s lightning,
who lives, whose life’s unknown to the man himself.
But when grief itself cleared my clouded mind,
and at last my senses began to revive,
I spoke to my sad friends at the end on leaving,
the one or two, of so many once, who remained.
As I wept my loving wife wept more bitterly in my arms,
tears falling endlessly over her guiltless cheeks.
and couldn’t be informed of my fate.
Wherever you chanced, grief and mourning sounded,
and inside was the semblance of a noisy funeral.
Women and men, children too, cried at my obsequies,
and every corner of home had its tears.
If one might use a great example for a lesser,
this was the face of Troy when she was taken.
Now the cries of men and dogs grew silent:
the Moon on high steered her midnight horses.
Gazing at her, and, by her light, the Capitol,
close to my house, though that was no use to me,
I prayed: ‘You powers that own these sites nearby,
you temples my eyes will never see again,
gods who possess this great city of Quirinus,
I relinquish, receive my salutation, for all time.
And though I take up the shield too late, wounded,
free this banishment from the burden of hate,
and explain to that man-god what error misled me,
so that he doesn’t think my fault a crime,
so my pain’s author knows what you know, too.
If the god is content I can’t be wretched.’
I spoke to the gods in prayer like this,
my wife more so, sobs choking her half-heard cries.
She threw herself before the Lares, hair unbound,
touching the cold hearth with trembling lips,
poured out words to the Penates, before her,
not destined to help the husband she mourned.
Book TI.III:47-102 The Final Night in Rome: Departure
Now vanishing night denied me more delay,
What could I do? Sweet love of country held me,
but this was the last night before my decreed exile.
Ah! How often I spoke as someone hastened by:
‘Why hurry? Think where and whence you’re hurrying.’
Ah! How often I said, deceptively, I’d a set time,
an appropriate one for my intended journey.
I touched the threshold three times, was called back
three times, even my feet slow to match my intent.
Often, having said ‘Farewell’, I spoke again at length,
and, as if I was going, I gave the last kisses.
Often I gave the same orders, and deceived myself,
eyes turning back towards my dear ones.
At last I said: ‘Why hurry? I’m off to Scythia,
I’m leaving Rome. Both are good reasons for delay.
Living, my living wife’s denied to me forever,
my house, and the sweet ones in that faithful home,
and the friends that I’ve loved like brothers,
O hearts joined to me by Thesean loyalty!
I’ll hug you while I can: perhaps I’ll never again
be allowed to. This hour given me is so much gained.’
No more delay, I left my words unfinished,
and embraced each one dear to my heart.
While I spoke and we wept, Lucifer had risen,
brightest in the high heavens, baleful star to me.
I was torn, as though I had left my limbs behind,
and half seemed severed from my body.
So Mettus grieved when, punishing his treachery,
the horses were driven in different directions.
Then truly the groans and cries of my people rose,
and grieving hands beat on naked breasts.
Then truly my wife, clinging to me at parting,
mingled these sad words amongst my tears:
‘I can’t be separated. Together, we’ll go together.
I’ll follow you and be an exile’s wife in exile.
There’s a path for me too, the far off land will take me:
my going will add little weight to your fleeing ship.
Caesar’s anger drives you to leave your country,
loyalty orders me. Loyalty will be my Caesar.’
So she tried, as she had tried before,
and, with difficulty, ceased trying for my sake.
I went, like one carried off before his funeral,
bedraggled, hair straggling over unshaven cheeks.
Maddened by grief they say she was overcome
by darkness, and fell half-dead in the midst of the room,
and when she rose, hair fouled with filthy dust,
and lifted her body from the cold ground,
she wept for herself, and the deserted Penates,
and often called her lost husband’s name,
groaning no less than if she’d seen the bodies
of her daughter and me, on the stacked pyre,
and wanted to die, to end those feelings by dying,
yet out of care for me she did not die.
May she live, and, since the fates have willed my absence,
live so as always to help me with her aid.
Book TI.IV:1-28 Troubled Waters
the Ocean and stirs the salt-waters with his stars.
but forced to bravery through my fear.
Ah me! What winds swell the waves,
and throw up boiling sand from the deep!
The breaker leaps mountain-high on prow
and curving stern, and strikes the painted gods.
The pine planks echo, the rigging’s whipped by the wind,
and the keel itself groans with my troubles.
The sailor, confessing cold fear by his pallor,
defeated, obeys his boat, doesn’t guide it by skill.
As a weak rider lets the useless reins,
fall loosely on his horse’s stubborn neck,
so, I see, our charioteer has given the ship her head,
where the wave’s force drives, not where he wishes.
Unless Aeolus alters the winds he’s sent
I’ll be carried to a place I must not visit.
Now Illyria’s shores are far behind, to larboard,
and forbidden Italy shows herself to me.
I pray the wind ends its effort towards a land
denied me, and obeys, with me, a mighty god.
While I speak, fearful and yet eager to be driven back,
with what power the waves pound at her sides!
Mercy, you gods of the blue-green sea, mercy,
let it be enough that Jove is angry with me.
Rescue my weary spirit from a cruel death,
if one already lost may be un-lost.
Book TI.V:1-44 Loyalty in Friendship
O you who’ll always be named the first among my friends,
you above all who thought it right to make my fate your own
who were the first, carissime, the most dear, I remember
to dare to sustain me with words when the bolt struck,
who gave me the calm advice to go on living
when my wretched heart was filled with desire for death,
truly you know whom I mean, by these tokens of your name,
nor are you unaware, friend, of the service you rendered.
These things will always be fixed in my very marrow,
and I’ll be an eternal debtor for the life that’s mine,
and my spirit will melt away in the empty air,
leaving my ashes on the cooling pyre,
before the memory of your merit leaves my mind.
and loyalty fades away through the long years.
May the gods favour you, grant you good fortune
never to be in need, a fate dissimilar to mine.
Still, if this ship were borne on a favourable breeze,
perhaps your faithfulness would go unacknowledged.
as deeply, if he’d not gone down to the infernal waters.
That Phocean Pylades was an instance of true love
Hyrtacian Nisus would have found no fame.
Just as red gold is assessed in the flames,
faithfulness is tested by hard times.
While Fortune helps us, a smile on her calm face,
all things follow our undiminished powers:
But they flee with the thunder, and no one knows him,
who a moment ago was circled by crowds of friends.
And this, which I once knew from old examples,
I know now to be true from my own troubles.
You, barely two or three of so many friends, are left me:
the rest were Fortune’s crew, not mine.
So, O few, aid my wounded state all the more,
and grant a safe strand for my wreckage.
And don’t be anxious with false fears, trembling,
lest this faithfulness offends the god!
Often Caesar praises loyalty among enemy troops:
he loves it in his own, approves it in opponents.
My case is better, since I was no armed opponent
of his, but earned this exile through naivety.
So keep watch on my affairs, I pray you,
in case the wrath of the god can be lessened.
Book TI.V:45-84 His Odyssey
If anyone wishes to know all my misfortunes,
he asks for more than circumstance allows.
I’ve endured as many evils as stars in the sky,
or as many tiny specks as the dry dust holds:
suffered many greater than you’d credit,
that won’t be believed, though they happened.
One part of it, even, ought to perish with me,
and I wish it could be veiled in concealment.
If I’d an untiring voice, lungs stronger than brass,
and many mouths with many tongues,
I still couldn’t compass all my ills in words,
the content is greater than my powers.
Wise poets, write of my troubles not Ulysses’:
I’ve suffered more than the Neritian.
He wandered a narrow space for many years,
after crossing seas whole constellations apart
He had a faithful crew and true companions:
I, in my flight, am deserted by my friends.
Joyful in victory, he sought his native land:
I fled mine, defeated and an exile.
My home’s not Dulichium, Ithaca or Same,
absence from which is no great punishment,
but Rome, that sees the world from her seven hills,
Rome, the place of Empire and the gods.
He had a tough body, enduring toil:
my powers are delicate and slight.
He was always engaged in savage warfare,
I was used to gentler pursuits.
A god crushed me, and no one eased my pain:
Minerva the war-goddess brought him aid.
And as the king of the swollen waves is less than Jove,
And, the most part of his toil is fiction,
there’s no mythology in my troubles.
Finally, he found the household he sought,
reaching the fields he’d aimed at, for so long.
But my native soil’s denied to me forever,
unless the wounded god’s anger lessens.
Book TI.VI:1-36 His Wife: Her Immortality
as you, my wife, clinging to my heart,
worthy of a happier, not truer husband.
You’re the support on which my ruins rest,
if I’m still anyone, it’s all your gift.
It’s your doing that I’m not despoiled, stripped bare
by those who sought the planks from my shipwreck.
As a wolf raging with the goad of hunger,
eager for blood, catches the fold unguarded,
or as a greedy vulture peers around
to see if it can find an unburied corpse,
so someone, faithless, in my bitter trouble,
would have come into my wealth, if you’d let them.
Your courage, with our friends, drove them off, bravely,
friends I can never thank as they deserve.
So you’re proven, by one who’s as true as he’s wretched,
if such a witness carries any weight.
of her husband in death, exceeds you in probity.
Penelope’s fame would be second to yours:
either you owe it to your own self, not being taught loyalty
by some teacher, but through the character granted you at birth,
or, if it’s allowed to compare the small and great,
Livia, first lady, honoured by you all those years,
teaches you to be the model of a good wife,
becoming like her, through long-acquired habit.
Alas, my poetry has no great powers,
my lips are inadequate to sing your worth! –
if I had any inborn vigour long ago,
it’s extinct, quenched by enduring sorrows! –
or you’d be first among the sacred heroines,
seen to be first, for the virtues of your heart.
Yet in so far as my praise has any power,
you will still live, for all time, in my verse.
Book TI.VII:1-40 His Portrait: The Metamorphoses
Whoever has a likeness, an image of my face,
take the ivy, Bacchus’s crown, from my hair.
such tokens of fortune suit happy poets,
a wreath is not becoming to my brow.
Hide it, yet know it, I say this to you, best friend,
who fetch and carry me on your finger,
clasping my semblance in the yellow gold,
seeing all you can of the exile, his dear face.
Perhaps, when you gaze, it will prompt you to say:
‘How far away our friend Ovid is from us!’
Your love is a comfort. Yet my verses are a better
likeness, I ask you to read them such as they are,
verses that speak about altered human forms,
the work cut short by it’s author’s sad flight.
Leaving, mournful, I threw it on the fire, myself,
along with so many other things of mine.
As Althaea, they say, burning the brand, burned
her son, and proved a better sister than a mother,
so I threw the innocent books, that had to die with me,
my vital parts, on the devouring pyre:
because I detested the Muses, my accusers,
or because the poem was rough and still unfinished.
The verses were not totally destroyed: they survive –
several copies of the writings, I think, were made –
Now I pray they live, and with industrious leisure
delight the reader, serve as a reminder of me.
Yet they can’t be read patiently by anyone
whose unaware they lack the final touch.
That work was won from me while on the anvil
and the writing lacks the last rasp of the file.
I ask forgiveness not praise, I’ll be praised in full,
if you don’t despise me, reader.
Have these six lines too, if you think they’re worth
placing at the very front of those books:
‘Whoever touches these volumes, bereft of their author,
at least let them have a place in your city,
a greater favour, since he didn’t publish them,
but they were almost snatched from his funeral.
So whatever weakness this rough work may have,
I’d have amended it, if I’d been allowed.’
Book TI.VIII:1-50 A Friend’s Treachery
From the sea, deep rivers will flow backwards
to their source: the hurrying Sun reverse his wheeling team,
earth will bear stars, and skies be cut by the plough,
water yield flames, and fire yield water:
all things will move against the natural laws,
no part of the universe will hold its course:
now all things will be, that I denied could be,
and there’ll be nothing that you can’t believe.
This I prophesy since I’ve been betrayed by one
whom I thought would bring me help in misery.
Traitor, did you forget me so completely,
or were so afraid to come near my disaster, cruel one,
that you’d no regard, or solace for my downfall,
not even to follow in my funeral train?
Does that sacred and honoured name of friend
lie beneath your feet, a worthless thing?
What effort to visit a comrade, crushed by a mighty blow,
and comfort him, you also, with your words,
and if not to shed a tear at my misfortune
still to offer a few words of feigned distress,
and, at least, say something, as even strangers do,
follow the common speech, public phrases –
see my mournful features, never to be seen again,
while you could, on that final day,
and hear, and return to me, in the same tone,
the never to be repeated, forever, ‘Farewell’?
Others, bound to me by no ties, did this,
and shed tears in token of their feelings.
What, weren’t there powerful reasons for our friendship
in our mutual life and our continuing love?
What, didn’t you share so many of my serious
and trivial moments, and didn’t I share yours?
What, didn’t you not only know me in Rome,
but in so many sorts of foreign places?
Was it all in vain, lost in the ocean winds?
Is it all gone, drowned in Lethe’s waters?
I don’t think of you as born in Quirinus’s tranquil city,
the city my feet must never more re-enter,
but on cliffs, that this sinister Black Sea raises,
and your heart circled with veins of flint,
and iron seeded in your rigid breast,
and your nurse a tigress, once, offering
full udders to be drained by your tender throat,
or you’d think my ills less alien to you now,
and wouldn’t stand accused by me of harshness.
But since it is added to my fatal loss,
that those youthful times are discounted, now
endeavour to make me forget this failing, and praise
your efforts with these lips with which I complain.
Book TI.IX:1-66 A Faithful Friend
You who read this work of mine without malice,
may you reach life’s goal without hindrance.
And may my prayers that failed to reach the harsh gods,
on my own behalf, have power for you!
You’ll have many friends while you’re fortunate:
when the weather’s cloudy, you’ll be alone.
See how the doves fly to a whitened dovecote,
but a weathered turret never attracts the birds.
Ants never head for an empty granary:
no friends gather round when your wealth is gone.
As a shadow trails those passing through the sun,
and flies when it’s hidden, weighed down by the cloud,
so the fickle crowd chases the glow of Fortune:
when it’s clothed in night’s veil, the crowd is gone.
I pray this might always prove false for you:
yet it’s truth must be admitted from my case.
While I stood firm, my house was crowded enough,
indeed, well known, though it wasn’t ostentatious.
But when the blow came, they all feared its downfall,
and discreetly turned away, in shared flight.
No surprise, since they fear the savage lightning
whose fires often blast everything nearby.
But Caesar approves of a friend who stays loyal
in hard times, however he hates him as an enemy.
and is never angered – no one shows greater restraint –
when someone loves, in adversity, what they loved.
hearing the tale about Orestes’s friend.
was often praised by Hector’s lips.
Turnus, we credit your cheeks were wet with tears.
There’s faith even for the miserable, approved even in a foe.
Ah me! How few of you my words can move!
Such is my state, such is my fortune now,
there should be no limit to my tears.
Yet my heart, though grieving at my own disaster,
has been made calmer by your own success.
I knew it would happen, dear friend, far back,
when the wind then drove your sail less swiftly.
If there’s a prize for character, or a faultless life,
no one could be more highly valued:
or if anyone’s climbed high through the liberal arts –
well, every cause is made good by your eloquence.
Straightaway, feeling this, I said to you:
‘My friend, a great stage awaits your talents.’
No sheep’s liver, thunder on the left, or the cry
or the flight of some bird I observed, taught it me:
it was augury, a future prediction, based on reason:
that’s how I divined it, and gained my knowledge.
Now it’s true, I congratulate you with all my heart,
and myself, that your genius is not hidden.
If only mine had been buried in deep darkness!
It would have been best if light had failed my studies.
Just as the serious arts serve you, eloquent one,
so dissimilar arts have injured me.
Yet my life’s known to you. You know their author’s
conduct held those same arts at a distance:
you know those verses were the fun of my youth:
though not worth praising, they were still witty.
So, I think, though my offence can’t be defended
by eloquence, such an excuse for it can be found.
Make that excuse, as far as you can, don’t abandon
a friend’s cause: always go on as well as you’ve begun.
Book TI.X:1-50 Ovid’s Journey to Tomis
Golden-haired Minerva’s protection’s mine, and will be,
I pray, and the ship’s name’s from her painted helm.
Under sail, she runs well before the lightest wind,
if oars are used, the rowers speed her onward.
She’s not content to beat her peers in winged course,
she overhauls boats that set out long before.
She weathers the tides and the leaping billows,
not drenched, or overwhelmed, by wild seas.
was the loyal friend, and guide, of my anxious flight,
made safe by the divine powers of Pallas,
through all event, through waves struck by the wind.
Now, I pray, she may also cleave the gates of wide Pontus,
and reach the waters she seeks, by the Getic shore.
and reached the long passage through the narrows,
we changed tack to larboard, and from Hector’s city
came to your port, Imbrian land, from where
we reached the Zerynthian shore with a light breeze,
as our wearied keel touched Samothrace.
It’s only a short leap from there for someone seeking
Tempyra opposite: and as far as she took me.
Now I chose to travel the Bistonian land on foot:
while she sailed back through the Hellespont’s waves
seeking Dardania, named from its founder,
and virgin Helle’s straits, she carried in flight so insecurely,
nobly founded by the Haemonian people,
the giant gateway between the twin seas.
I pray she wins by them, and driven on a strong southerly
may she quickly pass the clashing rocks,
the Thynian bay and from there hold her course
and the exiles from Alcathous’s walls
who, they say, set their gods down in this place.
From there may she sail in safety to the Milesian city,
Tomis, where the anger of an injured god has sent me.
If that comes to pass, a lamb will fall, deservedly, to Minerva,
my resources won’t stretch to a larger sacrifice.
I beg you, guard our separate paths with gentle powers!
One ship’s ready to thread the narrow Symplegades,
mine to plough through the Bistonian waters.
Though we take different routes, let the one
find favourable winds, no less than the other.
Book TI.XI:1-44 Ovid’s Apology for the Work
Every letter you’ve read in this entire volume,
was composed in the troubled days of my journey.
Either the Adriatic saw me scribbling these words
in the midst of the waves, shivering in icy December,
or the verses I wrote to the wild roaring of the sea,
astonished the Aegean Cyclades, I suspect,
when I’d passed the Isthmus and its two gulfs on my way,
and boarded the second ship of my exile’s path.
I marvel myself my skill didn’t fail me
in such a turmoil of seas and feelings,
Whether numbness or madness is the name for such efforts,
all my troubles were eased by these troubles.
Often I was tossed, precariously, by the stormy Kids:
often the sea was menacing under the Pleiades,
Often the sea broke over the ship: still I spun
my verse, such as it is, with shaking hand.
Now the rigging shrieks, taut in a north wind,
and the curving breaker rises like a hillside.
The helmsman himself raises his hands aloft,
begging help, in prayer, forgetting his skills.
Wherever I look, nothing but the shadow of a death
I fear with anxious mind, and pray for in my fear.
If I reach harbour, the harbour itself will scare me:
the land has more terrors than the hostile sea.
I endure the deceptions of waves and men,
and sword and sea double my fears.
The one, by my blood, hopes for plunder, I’m afraid,
the other wants to win notice by my death.
A barbarous coast to port, used to savage rapine,
always full of bloodshed, murder, war,
and though the ocean’s stirred by wintry waves,
my heart is more turbulent than the sea.
So grant them greater forgiveness, honest reader,
if these verses are less than you hoped for, as they are.
They weren’t written in my garden, as once they were,
or while you, my familiar couch, supported me.
I’m tossed on the stormy deep, on a wintry day,
and the paper itself is exposed to the dark waters.
Let the storm defeat the man! Yet, at the same time,
let him halt the music of his songs, as I do mine.
The End of Tristia Book I