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 TII:1-43 His Plea: His Poetry
- Book TII:43-76 His Plea: His Loyalty
- Book TII:77-120 His Plea: His ‘Fault’
- Book TII:120-154 His Plea: The Sentence
- Book TII:155-206 His Plea: His Prayer
- Book TII:207-252 His Plea: ‘Carmen et Error’
- Book TII:253-312 His Plea: His Defence
- Book TII:313-360 His Plea: His Character
- Book TII:361-420 His Plea: Greek Precedents
- Book TII:421-470 His Plea: Roman Precedents
- Book TII:471-496 His Plea: Dubious Entertainments
- Book TII:497-546 His Plea: The Other Arts
- Book TII:547-578 His Plea: Last Defence and Prayer
Book TII:1-43 His Plea: His Poetry
What are you to me, my books, unhappy labour,
me, a wretch, ruined by my own talent?
Why return to the newly condemned Muses, my reproach?
Isn’t one well-deserved punishment enough?
Poetry made men and women want to know me,
but that was no happy omen for me.
Poetry made Caesar condemn me, and my ways,
through my Ars Amatoria: only now is it banned.
Take my work away, and you take the accusation
against me away, also: I charge the verse with guilt.
Here’s the reward for my care, and my sleepless toil,
a punishment’s been devised for my wit.
Were I wise I’d rightly hate the learned Sisters,
goddesses ruinous to their own devotee.
But now – madness is such a friend of my disease –
I’m turning my sad feet to those heights again:
as the defeated gladiator seeks out the arena,
and the beached ship returns to the surging sea.
Perhaps, like Telephus who ruled the Teuthrantian land,
the same weapon will both wound and cure me,
and the Muse who stirred the anger also calm it:
song often influences the great gods. Caesar himself
ordered the mothers and daughters of Italy
to chant the hymns to turreted Ops.
those that each age sees only once.
Merciful Caesar, I plead these as my precedents:
let my skill soften your anger.
It’s justified indeed: I don’t deny I deserve it –
shame hasn’t completely fled my cheeks –
But unless I’ve sinned, how can you forgive?
My fate has given you the chance for mercy.
If Jupiter hurled his lightning, every time men sinned,
it wouldn’t be long before he was weapon-less.
When he’s thundered, and scared the world with noise,
he scatters the rain-clouds and clears the air.
So it’s right to call him the father and ruler of the gods,
it’s right the wide world owns nothing greater than Jove.
You also, since you’re called father and ruler of the land,
should follow the ways of the god with the same title.
Book TII:43-76 His Plea: His Loyalty
And you do: no one has ever been able to hold
the reins of power with greater moderation.
You’ve often granted mercy to a defeated enemy
that he’d not have granted to you if he’d been victor.
I’ve often seen those you’ve enriched by wealth
or honours take up weapons against you:
the day that ends the war ends its anger, for you,
and both sides bring their gifts to the temple together:
even as your soldiers rejoice at beating the enemy,
the enemy’s a reason to rejoice at his own defeat.
My case is stronger: no one says I’ve followed
weapons or hostile forces opposed to you.
By earth, by sea, by heaven’s third power, I swear,
and by you, a present and a visible god,
this heart supported you, greatest of men,
and what I could be alone, I was: yours in spirit.
I prayed you might seek the celestial stars, but not soon:
was a humble member of a crowd that wished the same:
and piously offered incense for you, and one with the rest
aided the common prayers with mine as well.
Do I need to say that even the books that accuse me
are filled with your name in a thousand places?
Examine the major work, that’s still left unfinished,
of bodies changed in unimaginable ways:
you’ll come upon praise of your name there,
you’ll find many pledges of my feeling.
Your glory’s not increased by poetry, nor has it
any means of growing to make it greater.
Jove has fame in excess: still he enjoys his deeds
being retold, and for himself to be the theme of verse,
it may well be he’s happy with his praise.
Others celebrate you, as you should be sung,
and sing your praise with richer wit than mine:
but as a god’s won by red blood of a hundred bulls,
so he’s won by the smallest offering of incense.
Book TII:77-120 His Plea: His ‘Fault’
Ah! He was fiercest, cruellest, of all my enemies,
who read my witticisms aloud to you,
so that the verse that honours you in my books
could not be judged more justly.
Who could be my friend if you were angry?
I was scarcely less than an enemy to myself.
When a shattered house begins to settle,
the whole weight falls on the parts that lean,
and when chance forms a crack, it all gapes open,
and dragged down by its mass, falls to ruin.
So my poetry has earned people’s dislike,
as is right, the crowd copied your views.
Yet, I recall, you approved me, and my ways,
when I paraded before you, on the horse you gave.
If that’s no use, and no glory follows the honour
at least I suffered no accusation.
Nor was the fate of those on trial wrongly granted
to my care, nor the cases examined by the centumvirs.
I also settled private issues, without criticism, as arbiter,
and even the losers admitted my good faith.
Ah me! If I’d not been damaged by recent events,
I’d be many times secure in your judgement.
These last events destroy me: one storm blast drowns
the ship, so many times unharmed, in the ocean depths.
It’s no small weight of water that harms me,
but all the ocean flood falls on my head.
Why did I see anything? Why make my eyes guilty?
Why was a mischief, unwittingly, known to me?
none the less he became his own hounds’ prey.
Even fate must be atoned for, among the powers that be,
to a wounded god chance is no excuse.
On that day, when my unlucky error misled me,
my house, humble, without stain, was destroyed.
humble, yet they say, in our ancestors’ time
distinguished, inferior in excellence to none,
and noted neither for wealth nor poverty,
so its knights are not conspicuous either way.
But even if my house is lowly in means and origin,
at least my genius renders it not unknown:
though my practice might have seemed too impetuous,
still my name is great throughout the world,
and the cultured crowd know Ovid well,
and dare count him one not to be despised.
Book TII:120-154 His Plea: The Sentence
So my house, though pleasing to the Muses, has fallen,
sunk by a single charge though no small one:
yet its fall is such that it can rise again,
if only time will mellow Caesar’s anger,
whose mercy in punishing me is such
that the outcome’s better than I feared.
My life was spared, your anger stopped short of death,
O Prince, how sparingly you used your powers!
Then, as if life were too slight a gift, added,
since you didn’t subtract it, my family wealth.
You didn’t condemn my action by Senate decree,
nor was my banishment ordered by special court.
With stern invective – worthy of a prince –
you yourself, as is right, avenged the offence.
More, the edict, though harsh and threatening,
was still mild when naming my sentence:
since in it I’m called relegatus and not exile,
and special words cover my possessions.
There’s no punishment worse to anyone
in his right senses, than a great man’s displeasure,
but a god’s sometimes known to be appeased:
it’s known for clouds to scatter, the day grow bright.
I’ve seen an elm weighed down with vine leaves,
that’s been struck by savage Jupiter’s lightning.
Though you yourself forbid hope, I’ll still hope:
that’s one thing can be done that you deny me.
Great hope fills me, gazing at you, most merciful prince,
and fails me when I gaze at what I’ve done.
As there’s no steady rage, no constant fury,
in the winds that agitate the air,
but they subside to intermittent silence,
and you’d think they’d set aside their power:
so my fears vanish, change, return,
give, or deny me hope of pleasing you.
Book TII:155-206 His Plea: His Prayer
So by the gods, who grant and will grant you long life,
if only they love the name of Roman,
by our country, of which I was just now part,
one of the crowd safe and secure in your care –
so I pray, by a grateful city, may the debt of love
be paid you that your acts and spirit constantly deserve,
may Livia, joined with you, complete her years,
worthy of no other husband but you,
if not for her meant for unmarried life,
there was no other you could have married:
may your son, Tiberius, be safe, with you in safety,
and rule this Empire when old, with one older,
glory of youth, emulate your and your father’s deeds,
may Victory, always accustomed to your camp,
be present now, seeking the familiar standards,
wings hovering as ever over the Italian leader,
setting the laurel on the shining hair of him
in whose person you battle and wage war,
to whom you entrust the high auspices and the gods,
and so are half-present, watching over the city,
and also far-off conducting savage war:
nay he return to you victor over a defeated enemy,
shine out high on his wreathed chariot –
spare me, I pray, hide your lightning bolt, cruel weapon,
a weapon, ah, too well known to wretched me!
Spare me, father of the country, don’t take away
all hope of placating you, forgetful of my name!
I don’t beg to return, though we believe the great gods
have often granted more than that prayer.
If you granted me a milder, closer place of exile
a large part of my punishment would be eased.
Thrust among enemies, patiently I suffer the extremes,
no exile’s more distant from his native land.
I’m the only one sent to seven-mouthed Hister’s delta,
I’m crushed beneath virgin Callisto’s icy pole –
are barely held back by the deep flood of the Danube –
and while others have been banished with greater cause,
no one’s assigned a remoter place than mine.
There’s nothing further than this, except frost and foes,
and the sea closed by the binding cold.
This is the furthest land subject to Italian law,
barely clinging to the edges of your Empire.
So, a suppliant, I beg you to banish me somewhere safe,
so that peace as well as my home aren’t taken from me,
so as not to fear the tribes the Danube scarcely checks,
so your subject can’t be captured by the enemy.
Justice forbids any man of Roman blood
to suffer barbarian chains while Caesars live.
Book TII:207-252 His Plea: ‘Carmen et Error’
Though two charges, carmen et error, a poem and an error,
ruined me, I must be silent about the second fault:
I’m not important enough to re-open your wound, Caesar,
it’s more than sufficient you should be troubled once.
The first, then: that I’m accused of being a teacher
of obscene adultery, by means of a vile poem.
So, it’s possible somehow for divine minds to be wrong,
indeed there are many things beneath their notice.
As Jove, who watches over the gods, as well as
the high heavens, hasn’t time to notice lesser things,
so as you gaze round the world that depends on you,
inferior matters escape your care.
Should you, the Empire’s prince, leave your post
and read poetry I’ve set going on limping feet?
The weight of Rome’s name is not so light,
pressing its burden on your shoulders,
that you can turn your power to foolish games,
examining my idle things with your own eyes.
now Armenia seeks peace, now the Parthian Horse
with timid hand offer their bows and captured standards,
now Germany, through Tiberius, feels your vigour,
and a Caesar wages war for a mighty Caesar.
Truly there’s no weak part in the body of Empire
though nothing so vast has ever existed.
The city and the guardianship of your laws, also,
wearies you, and morality you desire to be as yours.
Nor is that peace yours, that you grant the nations,
since you wage many restless wars.
So, should I wonder if, weighed down by so many things,
you’ve never unrolled my witticisms?
Yet if, by chance, as I wish, you’d had the time
you’d have read nothing criminal in my ‘Art’.
I confess the poem was written without a serious
face, unworthy of being read by so great a prince:
but that doesn’t render it contrary to established law,
or destined to teach the daughters of Rome.
And so you can’t doubt whom I wrote it for,
one of the three books has these four lines:
‘Far away from here, you badges of modesty,
the thin headband, the ankle-covering dress.
I sing what is lawful, permissible intrigue,
and there’ll be nothing sinful in my song.’
Haven’t I rigidly excluded from this ‘Art’
all whom the wife’s headband and dress deny?
Book TII:253-312 His Plea: His Defence
‘But,’ you may say, ‘the wife can use others’ art,
have what she takes from it, without being taught.’
Let a wife read nothing then, since she can learn
about how to do wrong from every poem.
If she’s partial to what’s perverse, then she’ll equip
her character for sin, whatever she touches.
Let her take the Annals – nothing’s coarser than them –
she’ll surely read who made Ilia pregnant.
Let her take Lucretius, she’ll ask straight away
If I’m allowed to present it in order, I’ll show, below,
the mind can be harmed by every sort of poem.
Yet every book’s not guilty because of it:
nothing’s useful, that can’t also wound.
What’s more useful than fire? Yet whoever sets out
to commit arson, arms his bold hands with fire.
Medicine sometimes grants health, sometimes destroy it,
showing which plants are helpful, which do harm.
The robber and cautious traveller both wear a sword:
one for ambush, the other for defence.
Eloquence is learnt to plead just causes:
it protects the guilty, crushes the innocent.
So with verse, read with a virtuous mind
it’ll be established nothing of mine will harm.
But I ‘corrupt some’? Whoever thinks so, errs,
and claims too much for my writings.
Even if I’d confessed it, the games also sow
seeds of iniquity: order the theatres closed!
Many have often found an excuse for sin
when the hard earth’s covered with Mars’s sand!
Close the Circus! The Circus’s freedom isn’t safe:
here a girl sits close to an unknown man.
Why’s any portico open, since certain girls
stroll there, to meet a lover in the place?
What location’s more ‘august’ than a temple?
She’s to avoid them too, if she’s clever in sinning.
When she stands in Jove’s shrine, it’ll come to her,
shrined, how many mothers that god has made:
as she enters Juno’s temple in adoration,
how many rivals caused the goddess pain.
Seeing Pallas she’ll ask why the virgin
raised Ericthonius, the child of sin.
stands joined to the Avenger, the husband’s outside the door.
Anything can corrupt a perverted mind:
everything’s harmless in its proper place.
The first page of my ‘Art’, a book written only
for courtesans, warns noblewomen’s hands away.
Any woman who bursts in, where a priest forbids,
taking his guilt away, is herself the sinner.
Yet it’s no crime to unroll sweet verse: the chaste
read many things they shouldn’t be doing.
Often grave-browed women consider
naked girls positioned for every kind of lust.
And Vestals’ eyes see prostitutes’ bodies:
that’s no reason for punishing their owners.
Book TII:313-360 His Plea: His Character
But why is my Muse so wildly wanton,
why does my book tempt one to love?
Nothing for it but to confess my sin and my
open fault: I’m sorry for my wit and taste.
Why didn’t I attack Troy again in my poems,
that fell before the power of the Greeks?
mutual wounds, heroes at the seven gates?
Warring Rome didn’t deny me matter,
it’s virtuous work to tell one’s country’s tale.
Lastly, since you’ve filled the world with deeds,
some part of it all was mine to sing,
as the sun’s radiant light attracts the eye
so your exploits should have drawn my spirit.
I’m undeservedly blamed. Narrow the furrow I plough:
while that was a great and fertile theme.
A little boat shouldn’t trust itself to the waves
because it dares to fool about in a tiny pond.
Perhaps – and I should even question this – I’m fit
for lighter verse, adequate for humble music:
but if you order me to sing of the Giants, beaten
by Jove’s lightning, the weight will cripple me if I try.
It’s a rich mind can tell of Caesar’s mighty deeds,
if the content’s not to overpower the work.
Still I was daring: but I thought I detracted from it,
and what was worse, it harmed your authority.
I returned to my light labours, the songs of youth,
stirring my feelings with imaginary desires.
I wish I hadn’t. But destiny drew me on,
and my cleverness punished me.
Ah, that I ever studied! Why did my parents
educate me, or letters entertain my eyes?
This lewdness made you hate me, for the arts,
you were sure, troubled sacred marriage-beds.
But no bride learned deception from my teaching,
no one can teach what he scarcely knows.
I made sweet pleasurable songs in such a way
that no scandal ever touched my name.
There’s no husband even in the lower ranks,
who doubts his paternity through my offence.
Believe me, my character’s other than my verse –
my life is modest, my Muse is playful –
and most of my work, deceptive and fictitious,
is more permissive than its author.
A book’s not evidence of a life, but a true impulse
bringing many things to delight the ear.
and those who sing of war belligerent.
Book TII:361-420 His Plea: Greek Precedents
I’m not alone in having sung tender love-songs:
but I’m the one punished for singing of love.
but a mixture of love and plenty of wine?
Yet Sappho was acceptable, and so was he.
It didn’t harm you, Callimachus, who often confessed
your pleasures to the reader, in poetry.
No plot of playful Menander’s is free of love,
yet he’s commonly read by boys and girls.
The Iliad itself, what’s that but an adulteress
over whom a husband and a lover fought?
What’s first in it but a passion for Briseis,
and how her abduction made the leaders quarrel?
while her husband’s away, for the sake of love?
their bodies snared in a flagrant act?
On whose evidence but great Homer’s do we know
All forms of writing are surpassed in seriousness by tragedy,
yet this too always deals with matters of love.
Canace’s famed for love of her brother.
Medea, who dipped her sword in her children’s blood,
was roused to do it by the pain of slighted love.
we’d not read about the swerving horses of the Sun.
Impious Scylla would never have touched tragedy
if she hadn’t shorn her father’s hair, through love.
whom a deceitful woman brought near to death?
first of the Greeks to touch the Trojan shore?
Time will fade if I repeat all the passions of tragedy,
and my book will scarcely hold the naked names.
There’s ‘tragedy’ too, involving obscene laughter,
with many exceedingly shameful words:
it didn’t harm one author to show an effeminate
Achilles, belittling brave actions with his verse.
but Aristides wasn’t driven from his city.
Eubius wasn’t exiled, writer of a vile story,
who described the abortion of an embryo,
nor Hemitheon who’s just written Sybaritica,
nor those who’ve not concealed their adventures.
These things are shelved with records of learned men,
and are open to the public through our leaders’ gifts.
Book TII:421-470 His Plea: Roman Precedents
I’ll not defend myself with so many foreign weapons,
Roman books too have plenty of frivolous matter.
Though Ennius sang of war, with grave speech –
Ennius great in talent, primitive in his art –
though Lucretius explains the cause of impetuous fire,
and predicts the triple death of earth, water, air,
yet wanton Catullus often sang of his girl,
she whom, deceptively, he called Lesbia:
not content with her, he broadcast many love poems,
in which he confessed to his own affairs.
Equal and similar licence from little Calvus
who revealed his intrigues in various metres.
in which things are named, and shameful things?
and others, in whose books she who was disguised
couldn’t keep silent about his own affairs.
Who’d hesitate to follow such great names?
for weaving vile jokes into the tale.
that came from his indulgence in too much wine.
Tibullus thinks it’s hard to believe his girl’s denials,
when she swears the same about him, to her husband.
He also admits to teaching her how to cheat her guards,
saying, the wretch, that he’s checked by his own arts.
Often he recalls how he touched her hand
as if appraising the gem in his girl’s ring:
and tells how he often signalled by nods, or fingers,
and traced silent letters on the table’s surface:
and he teaches what juices erase the bruise
that the imprint of a love-bite often makes:
finally he begs her more than careless husband
to keep watch too, so she’ll sin a little less.
He knows who’s barked at, when someone prowls
outside, why there’s so much coughing by the door.
He teaches many maxims for such affairs,
and by what arts a wife can cheat her spouse.
It didn’t do him harm, Tibullus is read and pleases,
and he was known when you were first called prince.
You’ll find the same maxims in charming Propertius:
yet he’s not censured in the slightest way.
I succeeded them, since honesty forbids me
to reveal the names of well-known living men.
I confess I’d no fear that where so many sailed,
one would be wrecked, and all the rest unharmed.
Book TII:471-496 His Plea: Dubious Entertainments
Others have written about the art of playing dice –
to our ancestors that was no light sin –
how to tally the bones, what throw scores the most,
and how to avoid the ruinous ‘dogs’:
how the dice count, when a side is challenged
how one should throw, and move given the throw:
how a multi-coloured piece attacks in a straight line,
when a piece between two enemy pieces is lost,
how to pursue with force, and then recall
the piece in front, and retreat again safely, in company:
how a small board’s set with three ‘stones’ a side,
and winning rests in keeping them together:
and those other games – I’ll not describe them all
that tend to waste that precious thing, our time.
Look, this man tells of various kinds of ball-game,
that one teaches swimming, this, bowling hoops.
others have written works on painting with cosmetics:
that one the etiquette for dinner-parties:
another shows the clay from which pots are moulded,
or teaches what storage jar’s best for clear wine.
Such things are toyed with, in December’s smoky month,
but nobody was damned for writing them.
Misled by these I made poems, without gravity,
but a grave punishment has followed my jests.
In the end I’ve not seen one of all those many writers
who’s been ruined by his Muse – they picked on me.
Book TII:497-546 His Plea: The Other Arts
What if I’d written lewd and obscene mimes,
that always show the sin of forbidden love,
in which a smart seducer constantly appears,
and the skilful wife cons her stupid husband?
They’re seen by nubile girls, wives, husbands,
sons, indeed most of the Senate attend.
It’s not enough your ears are burned by sinful words:
your eyes get used to many shameful things:
and when the lover’s newly tricked the husband,
he’s applauded, given a prize, to vast acclaim:
because it’s common, theatre’s profitable for poets,
and the praetor pays for sin at no small price.
Check the cost of your own games, Augustus,
you’ll scan many pricey items like these.
You’ve seen them yourself and often shown them others –
your greatness is so generous everywhere –
and with your eyes, that the whole world employs,
you’ve calmly watched these staged adulteries.
If it’s right to scribble mimes that copy vice,
a smaller punishment is due my matter.
Or is this kind of writing safe on stage, where
it’s allowed, and theatre grants licence to the mime?
Well my poems have often been danced to, publicly,
often they’ve even detained your eyes.
As images of the bodies of ancient heroes,
some hand has painted, glow in our houses,
so isn’t there a little painting too in some place
showing the various forms and acts of love.
Not only does Ajax sit there, his look betraying wrath,
and savage Medea, a mother with sin in her face,
but Venus, damp, too, wringing wet hair in her fingers,
rising, scarce decent, from her natal waves.
Some sing the noise of war, its blood-stained weapons,
some of your actions, some of your ancestors’.
Nature, grudgingly, shut me in a narrow space,
gave my ingenuity slender powers.
Yet Virgil, the happy author of your Aeneid,
brought the man and his arms to a Tyrian bed,
and no part of the whole work’s more read
than that love joined in an improper union.
Before, in youthful pastoral music, the same poet
I too, long ago, sinned with that kind of writing:
a fault that’s not new earns new punishment:
I’d published those songs when I passed before you,
so many times, a faultless knight, as you reviewed our sins.
So the writing I thought, in my youth, would never hurt me,
scarcely foreseeing it, hurts me now I’m old.
Late vengeance in excess for those early books,
remote the penalty from the time of guilt.
Book TII:547-578 His Plea: Last Defence and Prayer
Still, don’t think that all my work’s remiss,
I’ve often launched my boat under full sail.
I’ve written six of the Fasti in as many books,
each volume ending with its own month’s end.
I wrote it recently Caesar, under your name,
but my fate interrupted work dedicated to you.
And I gave a royal poem to the tragic stage,
in the heavy style that tragedy demands.
And I also sang bodies changed to new forms,
though my efforts lacked the final touch.
If only you might calm your anger for a while
and order some of it read while you’re at leisure,
a few lines, where having started from the world’s
first origin, I bring the work, Caesar, to your times!
You’ll see how much you yourself have inspired my spirit,
how in song my mind favours you, and yours.
I’ve never hurt anyone with caustic verse,
my poetry’s never accused anyone.
I’ve openly avoided wit steeped in venom,
not a single letter’s stained with poisonous jest.
Among so many thousands of our people,
so much writing, I’m the one my Calliope wounds.
So I’m sure there’s no citizen who delights
in my misfortune, but there are many of them who grieve:
I don’t believe there’s one who jeers at my fall,
if there’s any regard at all for an open heart.
I pray this, and other things, might move your will,
O father, O guardian, and salvation of the land!
Not that I should return to Italy, unless some day
perhaps you’ll be swayed by my long punishment,
but a safer, more peaceful place of exile, I beg for,
so my punishment might match the offence.
The End of Tristia Book II