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 TIII.I:1-46 His Book Arrives in Rome
- Book TIII.I:47-82 His Books Are Banned
- Book TIII.II:1-30 The Weariness Of Exile
- Book TIII.III:1-46 Longing For His Wife
- Book TIII.III:47-88 His Epitaph
- Book TIII.IV:1-46 A Warning
- Book TIII.V:1-56 His Error and its Nature
- Book TIII.VI:1-38 His Error: The Fatal Evil
- Book TIII.VII:1-54 To Perilla: The Delights of the Mind
- Book TIII.VIII:1-42 His Desire for a Change of Place
- Book TIII.IX:1-34 The Origins of Tomis
- Book TIII.X:1-40 Winter in Tomis
- Book TIII.X:41-78 Barbarian Incursions
- Book TIII.XI:1-38 A Detractor
- Book TIII.XI:39-74 Exile As Torture
- Book TIII.XII:1-54 Spring in Tomis
- Book TIII.XIII:1-28 Ovid’s Birthday in Tomis
- Book TIII.XIV:1-52 To the Keeper of Books
Book TIII.I:1-46 His Book Arrives in Rome
‘I come in fear, an exile’s book, sent to this city:
kind reader, give me a gentle hand, in my weariness:
don’t shun me in fear, in case I bring you shame:
not a line of this paper teaches about love.
Such is my author’s fate he shouldn’t try,
the wretch, to hide it with any kind of wit.
Even that unlucky work that amused him
in his youth, too late alas, he condemns and hates!
See what I bring: you’ll find nothing here
but sadness, poetry fitting circumstance.
If the crippled couplets limp in alternate lines,
it’s the elegiac metre, the long journey:
If I’m not golden with cedar-oil, smoothed with pumice,
I’d blush to be better turned out than my author:
if the writing’s streaked with blotted erasures,
the poet marred his own work with his tears.
If any phrase might not seem good Latin,
it was a land of barbarians he wrote in.
If it’s no trouble, readers, tell me what place,
what house to seek, a book strange to this city.’
Speaking like this, covertly, with anxious speech,
I found one, eventually, to show me the way.
‘May the gods grant, what they denied our poet,
to be able to live in peace in your native land.
Lead on! I’ll follow now, though, weary, I come
by land and sea from a distant world.’
He obeyed, and guiding me, said: ‘This is Caesar’s
Forum, this is the Sacred Way named from the rites,
here’s Vesta’s temple, guarding the Palladium
and the fire, here was old Numa’s tiny palace.’
Then, turning right, here’s the gate to the Palatine,
here’s Jupiter Stator, Rome was first founded here.
Gazing around, I saw prominent doorposts hung
with gleaming weapons, and a house fit for a god.
‘And is this Jove’s house?’ I said, a wreath of oak
prompting that thought in my mind.
When I learnt its owner, ‘No error there,’ I said,
this is truly the house of mighty Jove.’
But why do laurels veil the door in front,
their dark leaves circling the august ones?
Is it because this house earned unending triumph,
or because it’s loved by Apollo of Actium forever?
Is it because it’s joyful, and makes all things joyful?
Is it a mark of the peace it’s given the world?
Does it possess everlasting glory, as the laurel
is evergreen, without a single withered leaf to gather?
Book TIII.I:47-82 His Books Are Banned
The writing gives the reason for the coronal wreath:
it says that by his efforts citizens were saved.
Best of fathers, add one more citizen to them,
driven away, and hidden at the world’s end,
the cause of whose punishment, which he confesses
he deserved, lay in nothing that he did, but in an error.
Ah me! I dread the place, I dread the man of power,
and my writing wavers with the tremor of fear.
Can you see the paper’s colour, bloodless pale?
Can you see each other footstep tremble?
I pray, that, some day, your house makes peace with him
who authored me, and, under the same masters, greets him!
Then I was led up the high stairway’s even steps,
to the sublime, shining temple of unshorn Apollo,
where statues alternate with exotic pillars,
Danaids, and their savage father with naked sword:
and all that men of old and new times thought,
with learned minds, is open to inspection by the reader.
I searched for my brothers, except those indeed
their author wishes he had never written.
As I looked in vain, the guard, from that house
that commands the holy place, ordered me to go.
I tried another temple, joined to a nearby theatre:
that too couldn’t be entered by these feet.
Nor did Liberty allow me in her temple,
the first that was open to learned books.
Our wretched author’s fate engulfs his children,
and from birth we suffer the exile he endures.
Perhaps one day Caesar, aware of the long years,
will be less harsh to him and to us.
I pray, gods, or rather – since I shouldn’t address
the crowd – Caesar, greatest of them, hear my prayer!
Meanwhile, since the public forum’s closed to me,
let me lie hidden in some private place.
You too, ordinary hands, if it’s allowed, take up
my poetry, dismayed by the shame of its rejection.
Book TIII.II:1-30 The Weariness Of Exile
So it was in my destiny to visit Scythia too,
and the land that lies under the Lycaonian pole:
neither you, you crowd of learned Muses,
nor you Apollo have brought aid to your priest.
It’s no help to me I played about, without real sin,
that my Muse was more wanton than my life,
since I’ve suffered many dangers on land and sea,
and Pontus, seared by perpetual frost, holds me.
I who fled from ‘business’, born for idle ease,
I was tender, and incapable of labour,
now I endure the extremes, no harbourless seas
no far-flung journeys have had the power to kill me:
my spirit matched my ills: my body borrowed
strength from it to bear what’s scarcely bearable.
Still, while I was hurled, anxious, over land and sea,
the effort masked my cares, and my sick heart:
so, now the journey’s done, the toil is over,
and I’ve reached the country of my punishment,
only grieving pleases, there’s no less rain from my eyes
than water from the melting snow in springtime.
Rome’s in my thoughts, and home, and longed-for places,
whatever of mine remains in the city I’ve lost.
Ah, how often I’ve knocked at the door of my own tomb
and yet it has never opened to me!
Why have I escaped so many swords, so many
storms that threatened to overwhelm an ill-starred life?
Gods, I’ve found too constant in cruelty,
sharers of the anger one god feels,
I beg you, drive my slow fate onwards
forbid the doors of death to close!
Book TIII.III:1-46 Longing For His Wife
If you’re wondering perhaps why my letter
is written in another’s hand, I’m ill.
Ill in the furthest region of an unknown land,
and almost unsure that I’ll be better.
How do you think I feel, lying here
in a vile place, among Getae and Sarmatians?
I can’t stand the climate, I’m not used to the water,
and the land itself, I don’t know why, displeases.
There’s no house here suitable for a patient, no food
that’s any use, no one to ease his pain with Apollo’s art,
no friend here to bring comfort, no one
to beguile with talk the slowly moving hours.
I’m weary lying here among distant peoples, places,
in sickness now thoughts come to me, of what’s not here.
Though I think of everything, still you above all, wife,
it’s you who occupy most of my thoughts.
Absent, I speak to you: you alone my voice names:
there no night for me without you, and no day.
They even say when I babbled disjointed things,
your name was on my delirious lips.
If I were failing now, and my tongue stuck to my palate
could barely be revived by a little wine,
let someone say my lady’s come, I’ll rise,
hope of you the reason for my vigour.
So, maybe, while I’m anxious for my life,
do you pass happy hours there forgetting me?
Not you, I know it. Dearest, it’s clear to me
without me you have no hour that isn’t sad.
Still if my fate’s fulfilled its destined years,
and the end of my life’s here, so quickly,
how difficult was it, O great gods, to spare the dying,
so I might have been covered by my native earth?
If sentence might have been delayed till the hour of death,
or swift death might have anticipated exile.
I could easily have renounced the light, just now,
when I was whole, now life’s given me to die in exile.
So I’ll die far away then, on a foreign shore,
and my fate will be desolate as the place itself:
my body won’t grow weak on a familiar couch,
at my death there’ll be no-one there to weep:
nor will my lady’s tears be falling on my lips,
adding a few brief moments to my life:
no parting instructions, no last lament
as a friendly hand closes my failing eyes:
but with no funeral rites, without honour of a tomb,
my head will bow, un-mourned, in a barbarous land!
Book TIII.III:47-88 His Epitaph
Hearing this won’t your whole heart be shaken
won’t you strike your faithful breast with trembling hand?
Won’t you stretch your arms in vain in my direction,
and call on your wretched husband’s empty name?
Don’t lacerate your cheeks or tear your hair,
it’s not now, for a first time, I’m taken from you, mea lux.
Think that I perished when I lost my native land:
that was an earlier and a deeper death.
Now if you can – but you can’t, best of wives –
be glad that so many of my ills end with my death.
This you can do, ease the woes by suffering them
with a brave heart, those you’ve known for a long time.
If only our souls might vanish with the body,
so no part of me escapes the greedy pyre!
Since if the deathless spirit flies on high in the empty air,
and old Pythagoras of Samos’s words are true,
a Roman will wander among Sarmatian shades,
a stranger forever among the savage dead.
But make sure my bones are brought back in a little urn:
so I’ll not be an exile still in death.
No one forbids that: Theban Antigone buried
her brother’s body under the earth, despite the king.
and, mixing leaves and nard with my bones,
bury them in ground near the city:
and carve these lines in fine letters on the marble
for the hurried eyes of passers-by to read:
I LIE HERE, WHO TOYED WITH TENDER LOVE,
OVID THE POET BETRAYED BY MY GENIUS:
BE NOT SEVERE, LOVER, AS YOU PASS BY,
SAY ‘EASY MAY THE BONES OF OVID LIE’
That suffices for an epitaph. In fact my books
are a greater and a lasting monument,
those, I know, though they’ve injured him
will give their author fame and enduring life.
But you, forever, bring funeral gifts to the dead
and wreaths that are soaked with your tears.
Though the fire transforms my body to ash,
the sorrowing dust will know your faithful care.
I’d write more: but my voice, tired of speech,
and my dry tongue, deny power to dictate it.
Accept the last words perhaps my lips will utter,
what he who sends them to you cannot do: ‘Fare well.’
Book TIII.IV:1-46 A Warning
O you who were always dear to me, but truly known
in hard times, after my hopes collapsed,
if you believe anything from a friend whom life has taught,
live for yourself, and keep far away from the great.
Live for yourself, as far as you can, avoid the bright light:
it’s a fierce lightning bolt that falls from that bright citadel.
Though only the powerful can help us,
it’s no use if they choose to harm us.
The lowered yard escapes the winter storm,
broad sails bring more risk than the narrow.
See how the light cork bobs on the waves,
while its own weight sinks the heavy net.
If I who warn you had once been warned myself,
perhaps I’d be in that city where I ought to be.
While I lived with you, while the light breeze bore me,
this boat of mine sailed on through calm water,
He who falls on level ground – it scarcely happens –
falls to rise again from the earth he touched,
but poor Elpenor who tumbled from the high roof
met his king again as a cripple and a shade.
Why is it that Daedalus beat his wings in safety
while Icarus gave his name to the endless waves?
Why because Icarus flew high, the other lower:
yet both flew on wings that were not their own.
Believe me, who lives quietly lives well,
and every man should be happy with his lot.
Eumedes would not have lost his child, if Dolon,
his foolish son, hadn’t yearned for Achilles’ horses.
Merops would not have seen his son on fire, his daughters
trees, if he’d sufficed Phaethon as a father.
You too, always fear what is too high,
and narrow the sails of your intentions.
Since you ought to run life’s course on sound feet,
and enjoy a brighter destiny than mine.
You deserve my prayers for you, by your kind
affection, and that loyalty that clings to me always.
I saw you grieving for my fate, with such a look
as I believe my own face must have showed.
I saw your tears falling on my lips,
tears that I drank with your faithful words.
Even now you defend your exiled friend zealously,
easing the pain that can scarcely be eased.
Live unenvied, pass sweet years, unknown,
form friendships equal to your own,
and love the name of Ovid, the only part of him
not exiled: the rest Scythian Pontus holds.
The land near the stars of the Erymanthian Bear
imprisons me, earth gripped with freezing cold.
The Bosphorus, Don, the Scythian marshes lie beyond it,
a handful of names in a region scarcely known.
Further there’s nothing but uninhabitable cold.
Ah how near I am to the ends of the earth!
And my country’s far away, my dear wife’s far away,
and everything that, after them, was sweet.
Even so they’re still present, though I cannot
touch them: everything’s alive in my mind.
My home’s before my eyes, the city, the image of places,
every event that happened in each place.
My wife’s form is before my eyes, as if she were here,
She makes my misfortunes darker: she lightens them:
darkens them by her absence, lightens them by her gift
of love, and her strength in enduring the load she bears.
You too cling to my heart, my friends,
whom I’d like to mention each by name,
but cautious fear inhibits that service, and I think
you wouldn’t want a place in my verse.
You did before: it was like an honour, deserving thanks,
for your names to be read in my poems.
Since it’s dangerous now, I’ll speak to you, each
in my heart, and be a source of fear to none.
My verse gives no hints that drag my friends from hiding.
Let him who loved me, love in secret still.
But though I’m absent, far away in a distant place,
know you’re always present in my heart.
And in whatever way each can, ease my pain somehow,
don’t refuse an outcast a loyal hand.
So may good fortune stay with you, and may you never,
touched by a like fate, have to make the same request.
Book TIII.V:1-56 His Error and its Nature
My friendship with you was recent, so you
could have concealed it without trouble,
yet you couldn’t have embraced me more closely
if my ship had been running, by chance, before the wind.
When I fell and everyone ran in fear from my ruin,
turning their backs against my friendship,
you dared to touch the body Jove’s lightning struck,
and touch the threshold of a house despaired of.
You, a new friend, not one known by long usage, in my pain,
gave me what scarcely two or three of my old friends did.
I saw your expression of grief, noted your face,
wet with tears and more pallid than my own.
And seeing your tears falling at every word,
drinking the tears with my lips, the words in my ears,
I felt your encircling arms clasp my neck,
and your kisses mingled with the sound of sobbing.
I’ve also felt your strong defence of me, in my absence –
dear friend, you know that ‘dear’ might stand for your true name –
and I possess many clear signs of your affection,
as well, that will not be absent from my heart.
May the gods always grant you power to defend your own,
and aid them in more fortunate circumstances.
If you ask meanwhile – and I believe, of you,
that you do – how I am, a ruined man, on these shores,
I’m led on by the slight hope: don’t remove it from me,
that the desolating will of the god can be mollified.
Whether my hope is rash, or whether I touch on what is possible,
may you set out to prove, I beg, that what I wish is possible,
Whatever eloquence you have apply to this,
to showing that my prayer might be effective.
The greater a man the more his anger can be placated,
and a noble mind has generous impulses.
It’s enough for the great lion to bring down his quarry:
when his enemy’s fallen the battle’s at an end:
but wolves and lowly bears will worry the dying,
as will every creature of the lower orders.
Who can we show at Troy greater than brave Achilles?
But he couldn’t suffer aged Dardanian Priam’s tears.
Porus and the funeral rites of Darius,
display Emathian Alexander’s mercy, to us.
And to show not merely human anger turned to mildness,
Juno’s former enemy Hercules is now her son-in-law.
So it’s impossible for me not to hope of salvation,
since the cause of my punishment’s not stained with blood.
I never tried to ruin everything by attacking
Caesar’s life, which is the life of the world:
I’ve said nothing: a pure tongue has spoken,
no impious words poured out with too much wine:
I’m punished because my unknowing eyes
saw an offence, my sin’s that of possessing sight.
True I can’t entirely defend myself from blame,
but one of my offences was an error.
So hope remains that he might bring himself to ease
my punishment by changing the terms of its location.
Might such a dawn as that be brought to me, by bright
Lucifer with swift horses, herald of the shining Sun!
Book TIII.VI:1-38 His Error: The Fatal Evil
Dearest friend, you neither wish to hide the bond of our
friendship, nor, if you did wish so, have you the power.
Since, while it was right, no other was dearer to me,
no one in the whole city closer to you than me:
that love was so truly witnessed by the crowd
it was almost better known than you or I were:
and your openness of heart to your dear friends –
is well known to the man you cultivate.
You concealed nothing I was not aware of,
and entrusted many hidden things, to my heart:
I told whatever secrets I had to you
except that one that ruined me.
If you’d known that too, my friend, you’d be enjoying
your companions safety, I’d be safe through your advice.
But my fate was dragging me surely to punishment:
it closed off every road that led to good.
Whether with care I might have avoided this evil,
or whether there’s no way to overcome fate,
Oh, you, closest to me through long friendship,
you whom I miss almost the most of all,
remember me still, and, if favour grants you power,
prove it on my behalf, I beg you,
lessen the anger of the injured god,
and lessen my punishment by a change of place,
and that because there’s no wickedness in my heart,
an error was the cause of my offence.
What chance it was, through which my eyes were witness
to a fatal evil, it’s not safe or brief to tell.
As if from its own wound, my mind shrinks
from that time, and thinking of it is new shame,
and whatever is able to bring us such shame
should be veiled and hidden in the blind night.
So I’ll say nothing but that I sinned,
though I sought no advantage from that sin,
and my offence should be called foolishness,
if you want to give a true name to what I did.
If it’s not so, find a more distant place:
call this a country too near Rome for me.
Book TIII.VII:1-54 To Perilla: The Delights of the Mind
Go, greet Perilla, hastily written letter,
and be the faithful servant of speech.
You’ll find her sitting with her sweet mother,
or among her books, and the Muses.
Wherever she’s doing when she knows you’ve come
she’ll stop, and ask you quickly how I am.
Say I live, but so that I’d rather not live,
my ills not eased by any length of time:
and still I return to the Muses though they harmed me,
forcing words to fit with alternating feet.
Say: ‘Do you still cling to our shared studies,
write learned verse, though not in your father’s style?
Since nature and fate gave you modest
manners, and the rare gift of imagination.
I was the first to lead you to Pegasus’s spring
lest that precious rill of water be lost:
I first discerned it, in your girlhood’s tender years,
when I was your friend and guide, father to daughter.
And if the same fire still burns in your heart,
only Sappho of Lesbos’s work outshines you.
But I fear lest my fate holds you back,
and that since my misfortune your mind is idle.
I often used to read your verses to me, while I could,
and mine to you, often your critic, often your teacher:
giving ear to the poems you had made,
causing you to blush when you fell silent.
From the example, perhaps, of how books hurt me,
you too have been harmed by my punishment.
Have no fear, Perilla: only let no man or woman
learn from your writings how to love.
So, learned girl, reject every reason for idleness,
return to the true arts and your sacred calling.
The long years will spoil those precious looks,
and time’s wrinkles mar your furrowed brow,
Ruinous age that comes with noiseless step
will take possession of all your beauty:
you’ll grieve when someone says: “She was lovely”,
and you’ll complain that your mirror lies.
You have a modest fortune, though worth a great one,
but imagine yours the equal of immense wealth,
still fortune gives and takes away as she pleases:
suddenly he’s Irus the beggar, who was Croesus.
In short, we’ve nothing that isn’t mortal,
except the benefits of heart and mind.
Look at me, my country lost, you two, and my home,
and everything, that could be, taken from me.
still I follow and delight in my genius:
Caesar has no power over that.
Let whoever will end this life with a cruel blade,
yet my fame will survive when I am dead,
and I’ll be read as long as warlike Rome
looks, in victory, from her hills, on all the world.
You also: may a happier use of art await you,
in whatever way you can, evade the future’s flame!’
Book TIII.VIII:1-42 His Desire for a Change of Place
Now I’d wish to drive Triptolemus’s chariot,
he who scattered fresh seed on uncultivated soil:
now I’d wish to bridle Medea’s dragons,
she fled with from your citadel, Corinth:
now I’d wish for wings to beat in flight,
either yours Perseus, or yours Daedalus:
so the gentle air might fall beneath my swiftness
and suddenly, I’d see my country’s sweet earth,
and the faces in the house I left, true friends,
and above all my dear wife’s features.
Foolish, why utter childish prayers for them in vain,
things which no day brings, or could bring?
If you can only pray, worship the divine Augustus,
and petition the god you’ve known, in the proper way.
He can bring you feathers and winged chariots:
let him grant your return and you’ll have wings at once.
If I pray for this – and there’s nothing I ask more –
I fear only lest my prayer might be immodest.
Perhaps, sometime, when his anger’s sated,
I need to pray then with a still anxious mind.
Meanwhile something less, but a great gift to me,
would be to order me somewhere away from here.
Sky, and water, earth and air don’t suit me:
ah me! A perpetual weakness grips my body!
Whether the disease of an ill mind drains my limbs,
or this region is the cause of my misfortune,
I’m vexed by insomnia since I reached Pontus,
my flesh scarce covers bone, food barely finds my lips:
my skin has the colours of the autumn leaves,
struck by the first frost, when winter spoils them,
and no strength of body brings relief,
and I never lack the cause of grievous pain.
I’m no fitter in mind than body, rather both
are ill and I endure a double ache.
The nature of that fate I must view clings to me,
and stands before my eyes like a visible form:
and when I consider this place, the customs, dress,
the language of the people, what I am and what I was,
my love of death is such, I complain of Caesar’s anger,
who did not avenge his wrongs with the sword.
But as he’s exercised a mild displeasure, once,
let him ease my exile now, by a change of place.
Book TIII.IX:1-34 The Origins of Tomis
So there are Greek cities here – who’d believe it? –
among the place-names of the savage barbarians:
here too colonists came, sent by the Miletians,
to found Greek holdings among the Getae.
But its ancient name, older than the city’s founding,
was derived for it from Absyrtus’s murder.
Since wicked Medea, fleeing the father she’d left,
in the Argo, that ship built with the protection
of warlike Minerva, and first to course through
these unknown seas, rested its oars in these shallows.
A look-out on a high hill saw Aeetes ship far-off,
and said: ‘A guest from Colchis, I know the sail.’
While the Argonauts rushed to loose the cables,
while the anchor was raised swiftly by ready hands,
the Colchian struck her breast, knowing her guilt,
with a hand that dared and would dare much evil,
and though her mind retained its great courage,
there was a pallor over the girl’s troubled face.
So, watching the approaching sail, she cried:
‘We’re caught: my father must be delayed by some trick.’
While she thought what to do, gazing around her,
her eyes fell, by chance, on her brother.
Aware now of his presence, she said: ‘I have it:
his death will be the means of my salvation.’
While he was unsuspecting, fearing no such attack,
she quickly stabbed his innocent heart with a sword.
Then she tore him apart, and scattered his limbs
through the fields, to be found in many places.
And lest her father did not realise, high on a rock,
she set the bloodless hands, and blood-stained head,
so her father would be delayed by this new grief,
gathering those lifeless fragments, on a sad trail.
So this place was called Tomis, because they say
it was here the sister cut up her brother’s body.
Book TIII.X:1-40 Winter in Tomis
If anyone there still remembers exiled Ovid,
if my name’s alive in the city now I’m gone,
let him know that, beneath the stars that never
touch the sea, I live among the barbarian races.
The Sarmatians, a wild tribe, surround me, the Bessi
and the Getae, names unworthy of my wit!
While the warm winds still blow, the Danube between
defends us: with his flood he prevents war.
And when dark winter shows its icy face,
and the earth is white with marbled frost,
when Boreas and the snow constrain life under the Bears,
those tribes must be hard-pressed by the shivering sky.
Snow falls, and, once fallen, no rain or sunlight melts it,
since the north wind, freezing, makes it permanent.
So another fall comes before the first has melted,
and in many parts it lingers there two years.
The power of Aquilo’s northern gales is such
it razes high towers, and blows away the roofs.
Men keep out the dreadful cold with sewn trousers
and furs: the face alone appears of the whole body.
Often their hair tinkles with hanging icicles,
and their beards gleam white with a coat of frost.
Wine stands exposed, holding the shape of the jar,
and they don’t drink draughts of mead, but frozen lumps.
Shall I speak of solid rivers, frozen by cold,
and water dug out brittle from the pools?
The Danube itself, no narrower than lotus-bearing Nile,
mingling with deep water through many mouths,
congeals, the winds hardening its dark flow,
and winds its way to the sea below the ice:
Feet cross now, where boats went before,
and horses’ hooves beat on waters hard with cold:
and across this new bridge over the sliding flood
barbarous wagons are pulled by Sarmatian oxen.
I’ll scarcely be believed, but since there’s no prize
for deceit, the witness should be given due credit:
I’ve seen the vast waters frozen with ice,
a slippery shell gripping the unmoving deep.
Seeing was not enough: I walked the frozen sea,
dry-shod, with the surface under my feet.
Book TIII.X:41-78 Barbarian Incursions
If such waters had once been yours, Leander,
those straits would not be guilty of your death.
Since the dolphins can’t hurl themselves into the air,
harsh winter holds them back if they try:
and though Boreas roars and thrashes his wings,
there’s no wave on the besieged waters.
The ships stand locked in frozen marble,
and no oar can cut the solid wave.
I’ve seen fish stuck fast held by the ice,
and some of them were alive even then.
Whether the savage power of wild Boreas
freezes the sea-water or the flowing river,
as soon as the Danube’s levelled by dry winds,
the barbarian host attack on swift horses:
strong in horses and strong in far-flung arrows
laying waste the neighbouring lands far and wide.
Some men flee: and, with their fields unguarded,
their undefended wealth is plundered,
the scant wealth of the country, herds
and creaking carts, whatever a poor farmer has.
Some, hands tied, are driven off as captives,
looking back in vain at their farms and homes.
some die wretchedly pierced by barbed arrows,
since there’s a touch of venom on the flying steel.
They destroy what they can’t carry, or lead away,
and enemy flames burn the innocent houses.
Even at peace, they tremble on the edge of war,
and no man ploughs the soil with curving blade.
This place sees the enemy, or fears him unseen:
the earth lies idle, abandoned to harsh neglect.
No sweet grapes are hidden in leafy shade,
no frothing must fills the deep wine-vats.
This land’s denied fruit, nor would Acontius have
an apple to write words on for Cydippe to read.
You can see naked fields without crops or trees:
a region, ah, that no happy man should enter.
This then, though the great world stretches wide,
is the place invented for my punishment!
Book TIII.XI:1-38 A Detractor
Cruel, whoever you are, you who exult in my misfortunes,
bloodthirsty, endlessly using the law against me,
born of the rock, nursed on the milk of wild beasts,
and, I’ll swear, your heart is made of stone.
What further reach is left to which your ire might stretch?
What do you seek that’s missing from my ills?
A barbarous land, the unfriendly coast of Pontus,
the Maenalian Bear, and her Boreas gaze at me.
I have no commerce, in speech, with the wild tribes:
every place fills me with anxiety and fear.
Like a timid deer trapped by hungry bears,
or a stricken lamb circled by mountain wolves,
so I’m in terror of belligerent races, hedged in
on all sides, the enemy almost at my flank.
If it were a slight penalty to be deprived
of my dear wife, my country, those I love:
if I endured no anger but Caesar’s naked anger,
then is our Caesar’s naked anger not enough?
Yet still there’s one who’ll re-open my raw wounds,
and attack my character in eloquent speeches.
Anyone can be eloquent when the brief is easy,
and the least strength shatters what’s already broken.
It’s brave to take citadels and standing walls:
any coward can crush what’s already down.
I am not what I was. Why trample an empty shadow?
Why attack my tomb, my ashes, with your stones?
Hector existed while he fought the war: but that
was not Hector, dragged behind Achilles’ horses.
I too, remember, whom you once knew, do not exist:
only the ghost, here, of that man remains.
Why attack a ghost with bitter words, so cruelly?
I beg you, cease to trouble my shade.
Imagine my crimes were all real, nothing
you might think of as an error not a sin,
then, as a fugitive – let this be enough for you – I still
pay a heavy penalty, by exile, and my place of exile.
My fate might seem sad enough to a hangman:
but it’s still not profound enough for a judge.
Book TIII.XI:39-74 Exile As Torture
You’re fiercer than cruel Busiris, fiercer than Perillus
who heated the brazen bull in the slow fires,
and gave that bull to Phalaris, tyrant of Sicily,
commending his work of art in these words:
‘There’s greater worth in my gift than it seems, my king,
not only the form of my work deserves your praise.
Do you not see the bull’s right flank can be opened?
You can thrust a man in here, whom you would destroy.
Shut him in at once, and roast him over slow coals:
he’ll bellow, and it will sound like a real bull.
Give me a prize, I pray, worthy of my genius,
reward me gift for gift, for this invention.’
So he spoke, But Phalaris replied: ‘You marvellous
creator of torments, try out your work in person,’
At once, roasting in the fires he’d prepared,
Perillus made double sounds with groaning lips.
Between Scythians and Getae why speak of Sicilians?
My complaint returns to you, whoever you are.
If you can sate your thirst for blood on this,
enjoy what pleasure you can in your greedy heart:
I’ve suffered so many evils in flight by land and sea
I think even you, hearing them, might feel the pain.
Believe me, if Ulysses is compared to me,
Neptune’s anger was much slighter than Jove’s.
So, whoever you are, rescind the charge against me,
take your unfeeling hands from my deep wound,
and allow a scar to form, over my actions,
so forgetfulness might lessen knowledge of my fault:
remember mortal fate that lifts a man and crushes him,
and fear the uncertainties of change yourself.
And since, though I’d never have thought it possible,
you take the greatest of interest in my affairs,
you’ve nothing to fear: my fate’s most miserable,
Caesar’s anger brings with it every ill.
And so it’s clear, and I’m not thought a liar,
I’d like you to try my punishment yourself.
Book TIII.XII:1-54 Spring in Tomis
Zephyrus lessens the cold, now the past year’s done,
a Black Sea winter that seemed longer than those of old,
and the Ram that failed to carry Helle on its back,
makes the hours of night and day equal now.
Now laughing boys and girls gather the violets
that grow, un-sown, born of the countryside:
and the meadows bloom with many flowers,
and the song-birds welcome spring, untaught:
and the swallow, denying the name of wicked Procne,
builds her nest with its little roof under the eaves:
and the shoots that lay hid, buried in the wheat furrows,
show through, unfurl their tender tips from the earth.
Wherever the vine grows, buds break from the stem:
but vines grow far away from these Getic shores:
wherever there’s a tree, the tree’s twigs are bursting,
but trees grow far away from these Getic lands.
It’s a time of ease there, and a string of festive days
succeed the noisy battles of the wordy forum.
Now they ride horses, practise with light weapons,
play ball games, or with the swiftly circling hoops:
now young men, when they’re slick with slippery oil,
soak their weary limbs in the flow of the Aqua Virgo,
The stage is alive, faction flares among separate parties,
and the three theatres resound not the three forums.
O four times, O endlessly blessed that man
who’s not forbidden, and can enjoy, the city!
But I only see snow that melts in the spring sun
and water that’s not dug frozen from the pool.
The sea’s solid ice no longer, Sarmatian herdsmen
don’t drive creaking carts on the Danube, as before.
Ships will be starting to make their voyage here,
and there’ll be friendly prows on the Pontic shore.
I’ll go eagerly to meet the captain, and greet him:
I’ll ask why he comes, who he is and from where.
It’ll be strange if he’s not from a neighbouring place,
one who’s not safely ploughed the local waters.
It’s rare for sailors to cross the deep sea from Italy,
rare for them to come to this harbourless coast.
Yet if he knows how to speak in Greek or Latin
– and for sure the latter tongue would be more welcome –
possibly someone too who’s sailed with a steady southerly
from far Propontis, and the mouth of the straits,
whoever he is he can recount the news he knows,
and be the sharer and passer-on of rumour.
I hope he can tell what he’s heard of Caesar’s triumphs,
of prayers made to our Roman Jupiter, and that you
rebellious Germany, at last, have bowed
your sorrowful head beneath the general’s foot.
He who tells me things, I’m sad I haven’t seen,
will be an instant guest in my house.
Ah, is Ovid’s house, now, in the Scythian world?
Does my sentence assign the land, it specified, as Home?
Gods, let Caesar not will my hearth and home here,
but only a temporary lodging as a punishment.
Book TIII.XIII:1-28 Ovid’s Birthday in Tomis
Behold, the god of my birth, comes, on his day,
uselessly – what was the point of my being born?
Harsh one, why here, in the wretched years of exile?
You should, instead, have put an end to them.
If you had any care for me, or any shame,
you’d not have followed me beyond my native country,
and there, where you first knew this ill-fated child,
you should have tried to know me for the last time,
and like my friends, as I was leaving the city,
you too should have said a sad ‘Farewell.’
What have you to do with Pontus? Did Caesar’s anger
send you, as well, to the farthest land of the icy world?
I suppose you expect the usual kind of honours,
a white robe hanging from my shoulders,
a smoking altar circled by garlands,
grains of incense crackling in the flames,
myself to offer cakes to mark my birthday,
and make propitious prayers with fine words?
My situation and the times aren’t such
that I can be joyful at your arrival.
A funeral altar covered with deathly cypress,
fits me, a flame prepared for a tall pyre.
I don’t wish to offer incense to unresponsive gods,
fine words don’t rise to my lips in evil times.
Yet, if I must ask something from this day,
I beg you never to return to this place,
not while this all but farthest stretch of the earth,
Pontus, falsely named Euxine, still holds me.
Book TIII.XIV:1-52 To the Keeper of Books
Keeper and revered supporter of learned men,
what are you doing, to befriend my wit at all?
Just as you used to celebrate me when I was ‘safe’,
do you still see to it, that I’m not wholly absent?
Do you still protect my verse, excepting that poem
about the ‘Art’, that did such harm to the artist?
I beg, in so far as you can, connoisseur of new poets,
do so, and keep my ‘body’ of work in the city.
Exile was decreed for me, not for my books:
they didn’t deserve their author’s sentence.
Often a father’s exiled to a foreign shore,
but his children are still allowed to live in the city.
My poems were born of me, in the manner of Pallas,
without a mother: these are my blood-line, my children.
I commend them to you, they who’ll be a greater burden
to you their guardian the longer they lack a father.
Three of my offspring have caught my infection:
let the rest of the flock be publicly in your care.
There are also fifteen books of transmuted forms,
verses snatched from their author’s funeral rites.
That work might have gained more certain fame
from a final polish, if I’d not perished first,
now it has reached peoples’ lips un-revised,
if anything of mine is on their lips.
Add this something to my books, as well,
this, that comes to you from a distant world.
Whoever reads it - if anyone shall - let him first
remember the time and place that it was made.
He’ll be fair to writing that he knows
was done in a time of exile, a barbarous place;
and he’ll be amazed I managed to persevere
at verse at all, with sorrow’s hand, in such adversity.
My ills have weakened my talent, whose flow
was scant before, and whose stream was meagre.
But whatever it was, it has shrunk without nurture,
and is lost, dried up, by a long neglect.
I’ve no great supply of books here, to tempt
and feed me: bows and armour rattle here instead.
If I recite my verse, there’s no one about,
to ensure I receive an intelligent hearing:
there’s no secluded place. The guards on the wall,
and closed gates keep out the hostile Getae.
I often search for a word, a name, a location,
and there’s no one I can ask, to be more certain.
Often in trying to say something – shameful confession! –
words fail me, and I’ve forgotten how to speak.
Thracian and Scythian tongues sound round me,
and I think I could almost write in Getic metres.
Believe me, I’m afraid lest you read the words
of Pontus, in my writings, mixed with the Latin.
So, whatever this book may be, think it worth your
favour and pardon, given the nature of my fate.
The End of Tristia Book III