Ovid: The Loves
If Tibullus’s most striking characteristic is elegant simplicity and Propertius’s is prolix melancholy, Ovid’s is sheer exuberance. In part this is due to basic differences of character, but it is also because Ovid is a member of a new generation, one which had not been warped or deepened by the anguish of the Civil Wars. We know more about Publius Ovidius Naso than we do about most ancient poets, since his extensive surviving works include many references to his personal experiences. He was born at Sulmona in central Italy in 43 b.c. Although he was only a few years younger than Tibullus and Propertius, it was a crucial difference. At the time of Augustus’s all-important victory at Actium in 31 b.c., the two older poets were young men with vivid adolescent memories of the bloodshed of the years which had preceded that victory, while Ovid would then have been barely out of childhood. This is surely one reason why political concerns, while not entirely absent from his poetry, are much less prominent there than they are in the work of Tibullus and Propertius.
It is ironic, then, that politics should have been Ovid’s ruin. When Ovid came to Rome as a young man he devoted himself at first to love poetry, writing both the Loves (from which the pieces in this anthology are taken) and a number of other erotic works, including a long handbook for lovers, The Art of Love. These early works brought him to the attention of Messalla, although Ovid seems to have been less intimate with his patron than were the other two elegists. This is not surprising, considering that the flippant tone of his poetry was hardly likely to promote his popularity among the guardians of official morality. Perhaps Messalla became interested in him because he hoped that he could influence this undeniably talented young poet to write on more dignified subjects. Ovid in fact did go on to write more serious poetry: a tragedy (now lost), a long poem on Greek and Roman myths, another on Roman religion. But in 8 a.d. he became involved in a mysterious court scandal and was exiled by Augustus to a small, uncivilized town on the Black Sea at the very edge of the Empire, the Roman equivalent of Siberia. Ovid himself wrote that the two reasons for his punishment were “a mistake,” which probably meant that he had been involved or implicated in some intrigue in the Emperor’s household, and “a book,” which he specifies as The Art of Love. Thus his scorning of Augustan morality was at least half the reason for his ultimate downfall. Ovid spent his final years writing pathetic verse in which he described the sorrows of exile and pleaded for leniency from the Emperor, but he was never recalled. He died probably in 17 a.d.
What must have irritated Augustus most about Ovid’s verse is not its obscenity -- Ovid is not a particularly obscene author by either ancient or modern standards, although it is true that he is more specific about sex than the other elegists -- but rather his absolute refusal to take morality, or anything else, seriously. Ovid’s lack of seriousness is so total and elaborate that it takes on a symbolic significance: never was there a poet so profoundly frivolous. Where the other elegists use the metaphor of slavery to celebrate love’s power, Ovid uses his own irresponsibility to exemplify how completely love controls the human heart. If he is willing to lie, to risk injury at the hands of guards and jealous husbands, to behave in a manner which scandalizes the public, and to justify his behavior with the most absurdly illogical arguments, it is because he is in love, and love is stronger than honesty, stronger than fear, stronger than concern for reputation, and stronger than logic. Ovid’s poetry is not so much about love as it is an embodiment of love: like love itself, these poems put all human faculties and capabilities at love’s service and measure all human experiences by love’s standard. The title Loves, or in Latin, Amores, which we know that Ovid himself gave to this work, is apt in more ways than one. Amores can mean “passionate affection,” but it can also mean “little Love-gods,” or what we would call “Cupids,” and, like Cupids, Ovid’s Loves are elegant, light, and carefree, but they carry darts of fatal sweetness.
Naso made me five books long originally,
but then he changed his mind and made me three;
so if you still can find no pleasure reading me,
at least you’ll only have three-fifths the pain.
Note to Ovid, Epigram
There was evidently an earlier edition of the Loves in five books, which the author subsequently revised to form a second edition in three books. Only the latter has survived.
I tried in verse sublime to sing of violent war
and arms, with subjects suited to the meter.
My second verse was like the first; but Cupid laughed
(they say) and snatched one of the feet away.
“And who made you, cruel boy, the Lord of Poetry?
We bards belong to the Muses, not to you.
What if Venus brandished blonde Minerva’s arms,
while blonde Minerva raised the blazing torch?
Should Ceres rule as queen over the upland woods,
and the Virgin of the Arrows till the fields? 10
Who’d outfit long-haired Phoebus with a sharp-tipped spear,
while Mars sweetly twanged the Aonian lyre?
Your empire, boy, is great already -- all too great.
Why do you blindly yearn for still more power?
Or is the whole world yours? Do you own Helicon’s vales?
Is Phoebus’s lyre scarcely safe his own?
When my new poem had risen high with its first line,
that second one enfeebled all my force.
Besides, I have no subject fit for lighter verse;
no boy, nor girl with carefully braided tresses.”
Thus I complained. At once he opened up his quiver,
and, drawing a dart designed for my destruction, 20
he manfully bent his bow in a crescent against his knee.
“Receive, O bard,” he said, “your theme for song.”
O wretched me! That boy has shafts that never miss:
I burn, and Love has conquered my carefree heart.
In six verses arise, my poem, and fall in five.
Farewell to you, grim war, and to your meters!
Now bind your yellow curls with myrtle that loves the sea,
Muse to be measured out in eleven feet. 30
Notes to Ovid I.1.
A defense of elegiac love poetry against martial epic. Epic poetry, which dealt with wars and heroes, was written in dactylic hexameters, a meter consisting of six metrical units, or “feet.” Elegiac poetry, which among the Romans usually dealt with love, was written in couplets consisting of one dactylic hexameter followed by one line of five feet, called a “pentameter.” (For a more detailed description of these meters, see Introduction, section VIII.) Ovid portrays Cupid as changing his heroic verse to elegiac poetry by stealing one of the “feet” away from his second line, thus transforming his first two lines into an elegiac couplet.
7 Minerva, goddess of crafts, was also a war-goddess and was usually portrayed with helmet and spear.
8 The torch is the proper attribute of Venus because she inspires burning passion. The ritual use of torches in weddings also makes the torch an appropriate sign of Venus.
9-10 Ceres is goddess of agriculture; Diana (“the Virgin of the Arrows”) is a huntress-goddess who properly belongs in the wild woods.
29 The myrtle is associated with Venus. Several ancient authors state that the myrtle tends to grow near the sea. The myrtle’s fondness for the sea-shore strengthens its connection with Venus, since Venus was born from the foam on the sea-shore.
It was very hot. The day had gone just past its noon.
I’d stretched out on a couch to take a nap.
One of the window-shutters was open, one was closed.
The light was like you’d see deep in the woods,
or like the glow of dusk when Phoebus leaves the sky,
or when night pales, and day has not yet dawned.
-- a perfect light for girls with too much modesty,
where anxious Shame can hope to hide away.
When, look! here comes Corinna in a loose ungirded gown,
her parted hair framing her gleaming throat, 10
like lovely Semiramis entering her boudoir,
or fabled Lais, loved by many men.
I snatched her gown off -- not that it mattered, being so sheer,
and yet she fought to keep that sheer gown on;
but since she fought with no great wish for victory,
she lost, betraying herself to the enemy.
And as she stood before me, her garment all thrown off,
I saw a body perfect in every inch:
What shoulders, what fine arms I looked on -- and embraced!
What lovely breasts, begging to be caressed! 20
How smooth and flat a belly under a compact waist!
And the side view -- what a long and youthful thigh!
But why go into details? Each point deserved its praise.
I clasped her naked body close to mine.
You can fill in the rest. We both lay there, worn out.
May all my afternoons turn out this well.
Notes to Ovid I.5
A casual seduction in the afternoon.
5 Phoebus Here, as often, identified with the sun.
Doorkeeper, bound (how brutal!) to your post with a harsh chain,
open this stubborn door on its turning hinge.
It’s little enough I ask: let it open the tiniest crack,
so that I can just slip through by going sideways.
Love has made my body pine so much away
that such a trick is easy for my thin frame.
He’s taught me to elude the outposts of the guards;
he guides my footsteps, so I never stumble.
And yet I trembled once at night and its false ghosts;
I marveled that anyone would brave the dark. 10
Cupid and his soft mother laughed for me to hear
and lightly said, “You too will now be brave.”
And then came love, and now I fear no flitting shades
of night, nor ruffian hands that mean me harm.
Harsh man, it’s only you I greatly fear and flatter:
you wield the bolt with which you can destroy me.
Just look (to see it better, loosen that cruel latch)
how damp my tears have made the doorway here!
I took your part and begged your mistress to forgive you,
when you stood stripped and trembling for a beating. 20
That favor helped you greatly then, -- oh, it’s a crime
that that same favor helps me now so little.
Repay my kindness; now you may discharge your debt.
The hours of night pass by: unbar the door!
Unbar it, and I will pray that someday you’ll be free,
nor always drink the water of servitude.
Your ears are deaf to prayers, iron-hearted doorkeeper:
the door stays shut, secured with harsh oak bolts.
Barred gates are fine defenses for cities under siege:
what weapons do you fear in times of peace? 30
How would you treat a foe, if you thus repel a lover?
The hours of night pass by: unbar the door!
I do not come surrounded with soldiers bearing arms:
I’d be alone, if fierce Love were not with me.
I never could dismiss him, even if I tried,
no more than I could part from my own body.
So Love’s my escort, then, and a little tipsiness,
and a crooked wreath around my scented locks.
Who would fear arms like these? Who’d dread encountering them?
The hours of night pass by: unbar the door! 40
You pay no heed. Does sleep (may you be ruined for it!)
toss love’s words to the winds out of your hearing?
But I recall at first I tried to hide from you,
and you stayed wide awake till midnight’s stars.
Or is your girl perhaps now sleeping at your side?
Ah! How much happier is your lot than mine!
Descend on me, harsh chains, but let me have that luck.
The hours of night pass by: unbar the door!
Either my ears deceive me, or I just heard the hinge
creaking as if the quivering door would open. 50
I guess my ears deceive me. It was the frisky wind.
How far that breeze has blown my hopes away!
Boreas, call to mind how you took Orithyia:
come here and beat this deaf door with your blasts.
All the city’s hushed, and wet with crystal dew
the hours of night pass by: unbar the door,
or I’ll take stronger measures, with iron and with the fire
of this my torch assaulting this haughty house.
Night, Love, and Wine advise no prudent strategies:
Night has no shame, and Wine and Love no fear. 60
I’ve tried, but all for nothing. Neither threats nor prayers
have moved you, harsher than the door you guard.
They never should have set you to keep a lovely girl’s
doorway: you should guard a dismal jail.
And now the Dawn-Star’s frosty chariot mounts the sky;
the rooster calls poor mortals to their toil.
But you, my garland, torn from my unhappy curls,
lie there in this harsh doorway all night long,
and when my mistress sees you thrown down there at dawn,
bear witness to the wretched hours I’ve spent. 70
Farewell, then, even so, doorkeeper: I wish you well,
unfeeling man with no respect for love.
You too, hard-hearted doorposts, unyielding entry-way,
you doors, harsh wooden fellow-slaves, farewell!
Notes to Ovid I.6
The poet is standing at the closed gates of his mistress’s house. Although he cannot see inside, he knows (presumably from his previous experience of the household) that the slave charged with the duty of answering the door and admitting only those with legitimate business is on the other side of the door, chained (as was apparently customary) to the door-bolt. For general remarks on this type of poem, see Introduction section IV.
7 The “guards” are those set over girls to keep away lovers, but the language used here has clear military overtones.
16 bolt The pun is implicit in the Latin. The Latin word for “thunder-bolt” is fulmen; the similar word fultus means “fastened” or “secured” and is used of the door in line 28. The thunderbolt is Jupiter’s prime attribute: Ovid emphasizes his own misery and humiliation by suggesting that the slave who controls access to his mistress seems to him equal in power to the greatest of the gods.
37-38 Here, as often, the excluded lover is portrayed as having come from a drinking-party to call on his mistress.
41 ruined Because a watchman who falls asleep on the job risks severe punishment.
74 fellow-slaves The poet scores a final hit at the doorkeeper by reminding him that he is only a slave and thus is mere property like the door he guards.
Lovers all are soldiers, and Cupid has his campaigns:
I tell you, Atticus, lovers all are soldiers.
Youth is fit for war, and also fit for Venus.
Imagine an aged soldier, an elderly lover!
A general looks for spirit in his brave soldiery;
a pretty girl wants spirit in her companions.
Both stay up all night long, and each sleeps on the ground;
one guards his mistress’s doorway, one his general’s.
The soldier’s lot requires far journeys; send his girl,
the zealous lover will follow her anywhere. 10
He’ll cross the glowering mountains, the rivers swollen with storm;
he’ll tread a pathway through the heaped-up snows;
and never whine of raging Eurus when he sets sail
or wait for stars propitious for his voyage.
Who but lovers and soldiers endure the chill of night,
and blizzards interspersed with driving rain?
The soldier reconnoiters among the dangerous foe;
the lover spies to learn his rival’s plans.
Soldiers besiege strong cities; lovers, a harsh girl’s home;
one storms town gates, the other storms house doors. 20
It’s clever strategy to raid a sleeping foe
and slay an unarmed host by force of arms.
(That’s how the troops of Thracian Rhesus met their doom,
and you, O captive steeds, forsook your master.)
Well, lovers take advantage of husbands when they sleep,
launching surprise attacks while the enemy snores.
To slip through bands of guards and watchful sentinels
is always the soldier’s mission -- and the lover’s.
Mars wavers; Venus flutters: the conquered rise again,
and those you’d think could never fall, lie low. 30
So those who like to say that love is indolent
should stop: Love is the soul of enterprise.
Sad Achilles burns for Briseis, his lost darling:
Trojans, smash the Greeks’ power while you may!
From Andromache’s embrace Hector went to war;
his own wife set the helmet on his head;
and High King Agamemnon, looking on Priam’s child,
was stunned (they say) by the Maenad’s flowing hair.
And Mars himself was trapped in The Artificer’s bonds:
no tale was more notorious in heaven. 40
I too was once an idler, born for careless ease;
my shady couch had made my spirit soft.
But care for a lovely girl aroused me from my sloth
and bid me to enlist in her campaign.
So now you see me forceful, in combat all night long.
If you want a life of action, fall in love.
Notes to Ovid I.9
Conventionally, ancient poetry contrasted the lover with the soldier. Here, Ovid wittily develops the inverse of this theme: lovers, he claims, are the soldiers of Venus.
4. Ovid is not saying that old men should not feel sexual desire, but rather that the sort of behavior characteristic of the typical elegiac lover -- obsession with a mistress, camping on her doorstep, fighting with his rivals -- is excusable in a hot-blooded youth but inappropriate for an older man.
7-8 The comparison here is between the soldier and the typical “excluded lover,” who languishes all night in the street in front of his mistress’s house. The comparison in line 8 is, of course, entirely specious.
15-16 .The “excluded lover” again.
23-24 Book X of the Iliad describes how two Greeks raided the sleeping troops of the Thracian king Rhesus, an ally of the Trojans, killing them all and stealing the king’s fine horses.
31 The implication is that Atticus (line 2) has made such remarks.
35-36 The poet refers to the famous scene in Iliad VI.390-502, where Hector says farewell to his wife Andromache before returning to the battlefield. Hector’s helmet is mentioned in that passage, although Andromache does not place it on his head.
37-38 After the fall of Troy, Agamemnon took Priam’s daughter Cassandra, a prophetess, as his war-prize. The term “Maenad,” which means “mad woman” and usually denotes a female votary of Bacchus, is here applied to Cassandra because of her ability to enter into a prophetic trance.
39-40 Odyssey VIII.266-366 tells how Vulcan, the god of craftsmen, trapped his wife Venus in the act of adultery with Mars by forging a gossamer-thin but unbreakable net which he arranged to fall on them as they lay in bed together.
Like Helen, when she was borne from Eurotas by Phrygian sails,
to be the cause of war for her two husbands;
like Leda, when the shrewd philanderer played her false,
wrapped in the dazzling plumage of a swan;
like Amymone wandering over the thirsty plain,
when she took up the urn upon her head,
you were to me: I feared great Jove would change for love
to eagle or to bull and sweep you off.
But now all dread has vanished, my wandering mind has healed,
your loveliness no longer snares my eyes. 10
You wonder why I’ve changed? Because you ask for gifts.
This ruins all the joy I took in you.
When you were innocent, I loved you body and soul:
your inner fault now spoils your outer beauty.
Love is a naked boy: a child won’t grub for cash,
and since he has no clothes, he’s open and free.
Why do you ask the child of Venus to sell himself?
He has no pocket to keep the profits in.
Both Venus and her son are strangers to fierce war:
These peaceful gods should not be mercenaries. 20
The prostitute, sold to any comer for a price,
seeks wretched gain by bodily servitude,
yet curses the greedy pimp who has her in his power,
compelled to what you women all do freely!
Consider how the mindless beasts of the field behave:
you’ll be ashamed to be less kind than brutes.
Mares ask no gifts from stallions, heifers none from bulls,
and rams don’t lure their favorite ewes with gifts.
It’s only Woman that gloats over the spoils she’s gained;
alone, she sells her nights and stands at auction, 30
and what she sells is something both seek and both enjoy,
and she prices it in proportion to her pleasure!
The rapture Venus yields is equal joy for both:
why must one sell it, and the other buy?
Why must you profit, while I lose, from the delight
that woman and man engender in joint exertion?
It’s shameful that witnesses should perjure themselves for hire,
or chosen jurors open their moneybags wide;
it’s foul for rented tongues to plead for criminals;
a court that’s bent on getting rich is foul. 40
It’s foul, with your bed’s income to swell what wealth you have,
prostituting your beauty for a fee.
Thanks are rightly owed for things that are not bought;
no thanks are due a bed that’s basely hired.
The one who hires pays all when he has paid the bill:
he does not stay a debtor to your favor.
So cease, you lovely girls, to swap your nights for pay:
ill-gotten gains bring no prosperity.
At too great cost a deal was struck for the Sabines’ bracelets:
instead, their armor crushed the sacred virgin. 50
A son pierced that same womb that bore him with his sword:
a necklace was the reason for that revenge.
And yet it’s not so wrong to ask a rich man’s gifts:
he has something to give to girls who ask.
Gather the grapes that hang from richly clustered vines
and reap fruits from Alcinous’s kindly fields.
But let the poor man pay in service, faith, and zeal:
let each one give his mistress all he has.
And this too is my gift, to praise deserving girls
in song: I have the power to bring you fame. 60
Rich gowns will turn to rags, time shatters gold and jewels:
renown my songs confer will never die.
Not giving, but your asking, do I disdain and scorn:
stop asking, and I’ll give you all you want.
Notes to Ovid I.10
Like T.II.3, T.II.4, and P.II.16, this poem is a conventional diatribe against greedy girls. In Ovid’s hands, however, the argument is advanced with impeccable illogic, culminating in the final couplet with that most insincere of assertions, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing.”
1-6 These lines are a clear reminiscence of P.I.3.1-7.
1 Phrygian I.e., Trojan.
2 two husbands Paris and Helen’s husband Menelaus.
3 shrewd philanderer Jove, “shrewd” because he was clever enough to trick Leda (a mortal woman) by appearing to her in the form of a swan, which enabled him to get close enough to rape her; “philanderer” because he was notorious for his adulteries. One of the offspring of this union was Helen.
19 Ovid had with equal glibness argued the exact opposite at great length in the immediately preceding poem.
20 mercenaries The translation attempts to bring out a pun in the Latin. Ovid says that Venus and Cupid should not aera merere, a phrase that means literally “to earn money,” but which was regularly used in the special sense of “to enlist in the army.”
21-24 The prostitute described here is a slave and thus has no choice but to sell herself.
24 you women It should be noticed that Ovid’s tirade against mercenary women is not directed specifically at Corinna (who is presumably the “you” of lines 7 ff.) but to the general class of women of Corinna’s type. These women are young, free citizens, attractive, and possess enough wealth to live comfortably; they demand gifts and money in return for their favors not because they are forced to by poverty or a master but because they are greedy for luxuries.
32 I.e., the longer and more frequent the love-making, the bigger the bill.
37-40 Roman law of Ovid’s time prohibited anyone from making money from the legal process. Even lawyers were supposed to represent their clients as a favor to them, not for a fee. (This is not so idealistic as it sounds: the Roman social and political system was to a large extent a system of patronage, in which having favors owed to you was at least as important as having money.) Ovid’s argument here is utterly specious, carrying the ridiculous implication that free love is a matter of good citizenship.
49-52 Ovid proves his point that ill-gotten money is a bad thing by two mythological examples, each of them so well known that he can refer to them in abbreviated form: Tarpeia and Eriphyle.
Already over the sea from her old spouse she comes,
the blonde goddess whose frosty wheels bring day.
Why do you hurry, Aurora? Hold off, so may the birds
shed ritual blood each year for Memnon’s shade.
Now it’s good to lie in my mistress’s tender arms;
if ever, now it’s good to feel her near.
Now drowsiness is richest, the morning air is cool,
and birds sing shrilly from their tender throats.
Why do you hurry, dreaded by men and dreaded by girls?
Draw back your dewy reins with your crimson hand. 10
The sailor marks the stars more clearly before you rise,
not roaming aimlessly across the sea;
the traveler, though weary, arises when you come,
and the soldier sets his savage hand to arms;
you’re first to see the farmers wield their heavy hoes
and to call slow oxen under the curving yoke;
you rob boys of their sleep and give them over to schools,
where tender hands must bear the savage switch;
and you send reckless fools to pledge themselves in court,
where they take ruinous losses through one word; 20
the lawyer and the pleader take no delight in you,
for each must rise and wrangle with new torts;
and you ensure that women’s chores are never done,
calling the spinner’s hands back to her wool.
All this I’d bear; but who would bear that girls must rise
at dawn, unless himself he has no girl?
How many times I’ve wished Night would not yield to you,
the stars not fade and flee before your face!
How many times I’ve wished the wind would smash your wheels,
your steeds would stumble on a cloud and fall! 30
Jealous, why do you hurry? If your son is black,
it’s since his mother’s heart is that same color. 32
How I wish Tithonus could still tell tales of you: 35
no goddess would be more disgraced in heaven.
Since he is endless eons old, you rise and flee
at dawn to the chariot the old man hates,
but if some Cephalus were lying in your arms,
you’d cry out, “O run slowly, steeds of night!” 40
Why should this lover pay, if your husband withers with age?
Was I the matchmaker who brought him to you?
Remember how much sleep was given to her loved youth
by Luna -- and she’s beautiful as you.
The father of gods himself, to see you all the less,
joined two nights into one for his desires.
I’d finished my complaint. You could tell she’d heard: she blushed;
and yet the day rose at its usual time.
Notes to Ovid I.13
The poet awakes early by the side of his mistress and reproaches the goddess of dawn for ending his night of love.
1 Aurora, the dawn-goddess, fell in love with the mortal Tithonus and asked Zeus to make him immortal like herself. Zeus complied, but since Aurora had forgotten to ask that Tithonus also stay ever young, he kept growing older forever.
3-4 Memnon, the son of Aurora and Tithonus (see preceding note), was king of the Ethiopians. He fought at Troy as an ally of Priam and was slain in battle by Achilles. After he was cremated, birds rose from his ashes, divided into two factions, and fought each other to death. Every year on the anniversary of this event birds visited Memnon’s tomb and repeated this battle.
10 crimson hand A reminiscence of the standard Homeric phrase, “rosy-fingered dawn.”
19-20 The reference is to a certain type of legally binding oral contract which one entered into by pronouncing the word spondeo (“I promise.”).
21-22 lawyer . . . pleader Roman legal practice, unlike our own, distinguished between two classes of lawyer: the pleader specialized in the presentation of cases, while the consulting lawyer specialized in jurisprudence.
32-35 Lines 33-34, containing a reference to Aurora’s love for Cephalus, fit poorly in their context and are not in Ovid’s style. Scholars are agreed that they were not written by Ovid but rather by some later scribe in a clumsy attempt to foreshadow the reference to Cephalus in line 39.
31-32 As an Ethiopian, Memnon was often conceived of as black.
35-36 Tithonus, according to the myth, grew so old that finally he could no longer speak but could only chirp like a cricket. Aurora was said to have had a number of other lovers besides Tithonus.
39 Aurora fell in love with the mortal youth Cephalus.
43-44 Luna (the Moon) fell in love with the beautiful mortal youth Endymion and put him into an eternal sleep so that she could steal up to him and kiss him every night (but some versions of the myth give other reasons for Endymion’s sleep). Ovid argues that since Luna, beautiful as she was, was not too proud to grant sleep to a mortal, Aurora should not be too proud to do so either.
45-46 When Jupiter lay with the mortal Alcmene, he made the night last twice as long as usual in order to prolong his pleasure.
This too I wrote, the child of Sulmo’s watery vale,
Naso, notorious poet of my own folly;
this too at Love’s command. Away, stern moralists!
You’re no fit audience for my tender songs.
Mine is the virgin who melts before her promised one’s charm,
and the unschooled boy, touched by his first love.
And some youth, when the bow that wounds me now, strikes him,
will recognize the signs of his own flame,
and wondering long will say, “Where did this poet learn
my suffering, to put it in his verses?” 10
I’d dared, as I recall, to tell of heaven’s wars,
of hundred-handed Giants -- and I was able --
of Earth’s ill-fated vengeance, and how sheer Ossa, piled
atop Olympus, bore steep Pelion.
I took in hand the stormy thunder-bolt with Jove,
which he would hurl to save his heavenly realm.
My girlfriend slammed her door. I dropped the bolt with Jove,
and Jupiter himself fell from my mind.
Forgive me, Jupiter! Your shafts did me no good:
her closed door has a mightier bolt than yours. 20
I turned to my own weapons: fond speech, light elegies:
gentle words have made harsh doors to yield.
Song lures the blood-red moon’s twin horns down from the sky,
and stays the snowy steeds of the fading sun.
The power of song bursts serpents, splitting apart their jaws,
and makes the rivers run back to their sources.
By song house-doors give way, and bolts that bar the entrance,
though made of solid oak, are quelled by song.
What would I gain by singing “Achilles, swift of foot?”
What good will either of Atreus’s sons do me, 30
or he that lost ten years in wandering, ten in war,
and pitiful Hector, dragged by Haemonian steeds?
But a tender girl, whose charms are praised so many times,
will come herself to the bard, as his song’s fee.
Now, that’s what I call profit. Farewell, heroic names
so famous: yours is not the thanks I need.
Girls, now turn your lovely faces to my songs,
which sparkling Love himself dictates to me.
Notes to Ovid II.1
Another apology for love poetry, in the tradition of P.III.3. Ovid here effects two major innovations on the usual conventions: he does not say that epic is beyond his powers, but rather that he prefers to devote his talents to poetry which will win him the affections of his mistress; and the figure who dissuades him from epic is not a god, but his mistress.
1-2 Ovid, whose full name was Publius Ovidius Naso, was born at Sulmo (modern Sulmona), a region of central Italy where water was abundant. (Ovid actually wrote here “among the watery Paeligni,” referring to the old tribal name of the inhabitants of Sulmo.)
11-16 Ovid had evidently attempted, or at least contemplated, a Gigantomachia, an epic on the war between Jupiter and the Giants.
12 and I was able Ovid is justified in claiming that he does not lack the ability to write serious verse, as is shown by his long mythological epic The Metamorphoses and by the fact that he wrote a tragedy (now lost) Medea, which was admired in antiquity.
13-14 In an earlier war, Jupiter had beaten the Titans, sons of Earth; Earth later gave birth to the Giants, who made a second attack on heaven. For Ossa and Pelion, see Glossary.
17 The comic implication is that she is afraid of all the thunder and lightning.
20 The pun is implicit in the Latin; see O.I.6.16n.
23-28 The original is enlivened by an untranslatable word-play: carmen, which means “song,” is a regular term for “poetry,” but it can also be used to mean “magic incantation.” Note the climactic position of this couplet: song can suspend the laws of nature, and, more wonderful still, can even coax open a cruel girl’s door.
32 See P.III.1.28.
Then must I always bear your endless accusations?
They all prove false, but still I have to fight them.
If I happen to glance at the marble theater’s topmost row,
you pick some girl in the crowd to moan about;
or if a beautiful woman looks at me wordlessly,
you charge she’s using lovers’ wordless signs.
If I compliment a girl, you try to tear out my hair;
if I criticize one, you think I’ve got something to hide.
If I look well, I love no one -- not even you;
if I’m pale, you say that I’m pining for someone else. 10
I wish I really had committed some such sin:
punishment hurts less when you deserve it;
but as it is, your wild indictments at every turn
themselves forbid your wrath to have much weight.
Think of the little long-eared donkey’s wretched lot:
continual beatings only make him stubborn.
Now look, here’s another charge: Cypassis, your coiffeuse,
is cast at me for defiling her mistress’s bed!
The gods forbid that I, even if I yearned to sin,
should find delight in a slave-girl’s lowly lot! 20
What man, being free, would want a servile liaison,
or wish to embrace a body the whip has scarred?
And furthermore, the girl’s your personal beautician,
and valued by you because of her skillful hands.
Is it likely that I’d approach such a trusted serving-maid?
What would I get, but rejection and exposure?
By Venus and by the bow of her swift boy I swear,
you’ll never find me guilty of that crime.
Notes to Ovid II.7
Ovid indignantly refutes Corinna’s accusation that he is carrying on with her hairdresser Cypassis. He is, of course, quite guilty of the charge, as we learn in the next poem.
3 Cf. P.IV.8.77n.
17 Cypassis The name, and the fact that she is referred to in O.II.8.22 as having a dark complexion, suggest that Cypassis is an Asiatic Greek. She would thus be stereotypically exotic and sensual.
22 Ovid does not mean to state definitely that Cypassis has been beaten, but is rather driving home the point that she is a slave.
27-28 Cf. T.I.4.21-26.
Cypassis, expert at dressing the hair in a thousand ways
(but you ought to arrange the tresses of goddesses only)
you that I’ve found quite polished in stolen ecstasy,
fit for your mistress’s service, but fitter for mine,
whoever was it that told of our bodies joining together?
Where did Corinna learn of our affair?
Could I have blushed? Or slipped by a single word to give
some sign that has betrayed our furtive joys?
And what of it, if I argued that nobody could transgress
with a servant, except for a man who was out of his mind? 10
The Thessalian burned with passion for lovely Briseis, a servant;
the Mycenean leader loved Apollo’s slave.
I’m no greater man than Achilles, or the scion of Tantalus.
How can what’s fine for kings be foul for me?
And yet, when your mistress turned her glowering eyes on you,
I saw a deep blush spread all over your face.
But how much more possessed I was, if you recall,
I swore my faith by Venus’s great godhead!
(You, goddess, bid, I pray, the warm Southwind to blow
those innocent lies across the Carpathian sea.) 20
Now give me a sweet return for the favor I did you then,
by bedding with me, you dusky Cypassis, today.
Don’t shake your head, you ingrate, pretending you’re still afraid:
you can please one of your masters, and that’s enough.
If you’re silly enough to refuse, I’ll confess all that we’ve done,
making myself the betrayer of my own crime,
and I’ll tell your mistress how often we met, Cypassis, and where,
and how many times we did it, and how many ways!
Notes to Ovid II.8
In a companion piece to the previous poem, Ovid begins by wondering how Corinna learned of his infraction, and ends by repeating it.
11-12 References to Achilles (who was from Thessaly) and Briseis and to Agamemnon (who was from Mycenae) and Cassandra.
20 Carpathian sea An area of the eastern Mediterranean. The idea is simply, “far away.”
13 scion of Tantalus Agamemnon, Tantalus’s great-grandson.
24 Ovid is probably being typically specious in referring to himself as being joint master, along with Corinna, of Cypassis. It is conceivable, however, that Ovid had given or lent her to Corinna; cf. P.IV.7.35-39 and notes.
Rashly bent on destroying the burden of her womb,
Corinna languishes, her life in danger.
Her taking so grave a risk, and hiding it from me,
should anger me, but fear dispels my rage.
And yet it was my child -- at least, I believe it was:
I often accept what might be as the truth.
Isis, you that inhabit Canopus’s fruitful fields,
and Africa’s shore, and palmy Pharos, and Memphis,
and the lands where speeding Nile cascades to his broad stream
and flows through seven harbors to the sea, 10
by your sacred rattle I pray, by Anubis’s dreadful visage,
and so may Osiris always cherish your rites,
and the snake glide slowly around your holy offerings,
and the horned god, Apis, be borne in your procession,
O turn your face to us, and saving one, save two:
for you will give life to my mistress, and she to me.
She’s often kept your vigil on days dedicated to you,
where the Gallic squadron stains your sacred laurels.
And you that ease the pangs of girls when their wombs labor
and the unseen burden swells their heavy bodies, 20
grant my prayer, and kindly aid us, Ilithyia:
she’s worthy you should bring her this salvation.
In white robes I’ll burn incense on your smoke-shrouded altar
and lay my promised offerings at your feet,
and post this sign: FROM NASO, FOR HIS CORINNA’S LIFE.
Just give me cause to offer you these honors.
And if, in so great peril it’s right to give a warning,
let this one battle be enough for you.
Notes to Ovid II.13
It seems to have been obligatory for a Roman elegist to include in his series of love poems one or more pieces expressing anxiety over a serious illness afflicting the beloved (see, in this anthology, T.I.5.9-16, P.II.28c, and S.5, this last being a variant in which the ailing beloved speaks for herself). In this and the following elegy, Ovid gives the theme a new twist by writing of a mistress who is languishing from the after-effects of an abortion. These pieces are not among Ovid’s best, nor is abortion a prominent topic elsewhere in Roman erotic elegy. Yet they constitute one of the most substantial documents we have dealing with popular attitudes towards abortion in the Roman world, and for this reason they have been included here. In evaluating Ovid’s views on the viciousness of abortion, it should be kept in mind that he was clearly following a hidden agenda in publishing these two pieces. For all his frivolity, Ovid, like other Romans of his time, understood the need to express his support for the new Augustan order. Augustan poets expressed such support both by flattering Augustus directly and also by more subtly indicating approval for his political, social, and military projects. These two pieces illustrate both strategies. Lines 17-18 of the second piece are directly and personally complimentary to Augustus. Both pieces may also be construed as an indirect expression of support for one of Augustus’s most important social policies: to raise the Roman birth-rate, especially among the upper classes (see introductory note to P.II.7). While our evidence for the practice in Ovid’s time is scanty, later Roman authors, such as Seneca and Juvenal, speak of abortion as if it were common even among Roman women of good family, and it is reasonable to assume that abortion was a similarly important factor in depressing the birth-rate under Augustus. In inveighing against abortion, then, Ovid was (and surely intentionally) supporting the Augustan party line. It is noteworthy that Ovid mentions no formal legal penalty for abortion, appealing instead to the inherent danger of the process and to the disapproval of public opinion (lines 37-40 of the following poem). So far as we can tell, abortion was not a crime in the early Empire, although a woman’s husband could in theory use his authority as head of the family to punish a wife who had had one. There is currently no comprehensive work on abortion in the ancient world available in English. A brief discussion (designed for the non-specialist reader) with a short ancient and modern bibliography may be found in Pomeroy, p.168 and notes. Those who can read Italian may consult Nardi, who gives a complete collection of the ancient sources with translations and commentary in Italian.
5-6 This couplet is a bit puzzling. The meaning seems to be, “She said it was I that made her pregnant, and I might as well believe her: in this as in other cases I prefer to accept her declarations of faithfulness rather than undergo the torment of knowing she is unfaithful.”
8 Africa’s shore Ovid actually refers to “Paraetonium,” a costal town in north Africa (modern Marsa Labeit). It is not known whether this town had any special connection with Isis.
10 seven harbors The seven mouths of the Nile.
13 It was a good omen if the sacred snake eagerly ate the offerings set on the altar.
18 The text and translation of this line are very uncertain, although it is clear that the overall meaning is “at the temple of Isis.” One possibility is that Isis is here being identified with Cybele. The “Gallic squadrons” would then be bands of Cybele’s eunuch priests, known as “Galli,” who would stain the sacred laurels with the blood they shed in their rites of self-mutilation. (This is the interpretation of Brandt and of Martinon.)
25 When giving a thank-offering, one labeled it with one’s name and the reasons for offering it.
28 battle Ovid speaks of Corinna’s injury as if it were a wound received in battle, a metaphor developed further in the next piece.
What good is it for girls to be exempt from war,
nor bear the buckler in the fierce front lines,
only to wound themselves in peace with their own spears,
arming their reckless hands for their own destruction?
Whoever first tore out the soft child from her womb
ought to have died by the warfare she began!
To spare yourself the worry of creases on your belly,
will you spread the sands on the grim combatants’ field?
Had this same practice pleased the women of early days,
all mankind would have vanished through their crime, 10
and someone would have to be found to throw the stones again
to start the race anew in the empty world.
Who would have conquered Troy, had Thetis, the watery goddess,
refused to bear the burden that was hers?
If Ilia had slain the twins in her swollen belly,
the Ruling City’s founder would have died.
Had Venus foully butchered Aeneas in her full womb,
the world to come would never have had its Caesars.
You too, who were to be born so lovely, would have perished,
if your own mother had tried what you have tried, 20
and I, though doomed to die a better death -- by love --
would never have seen the day if my mother had slain me.
Why do you cheat the heavy vine of its swelling grapes,
and pluck the unripe fruit with ruthless hand?
What’s ripe should fall itself; permit what’s born to grow:
a life for a short delay is no small gain.
Why do you scrape your entrails, women, with stabbing spears,
and give dire poisons to your unborn babes?
We all condemn the Colchian, stained with the blood of her boys,
and mourn for Itys, killed by his own mother; 30
cruel parents both, yet both had grim cause to repay
their husbands’ crimes with the blood of the brood they bore them.
What Tereus, women, tell me, what Jason spurs you on
to pierce your bodies with your frenzied hands?
No Armenian tigress has done this in her lair,
no lioness dares to kill the young she’s borne.
But tender girls do this! Yet not with impunity:
who slays the child of her womb, oft dies herself.
She dies, and is carried off to the pyre with loosened hair,
and all who see her cry, “It serves her right!” 40
But may the ethereal winds scatter these words away,
and may there be no substance to these omens.
Kind gods, allow this once that she has sinned in safety,
but let her suffer if she repeats this crime.
Notes to Ovid II.14
This poem presents some more general reflections on abortion, occasioned by the specific situation described in O.II.13. For further comments, see the introductory note to that piece.
3 spears In ancient as in modern times, abortion could be induced either by physical means, using some sharp instrument, or by drugs (as mentioned in line 28 of this poem). Corinna evidently used the former method, and Ovid accordingly speaks of her abortion as a “wound” and of the implements used as “weapons.”
7 Seneca, writing about a half century later, also states that women procure abortion because they fear that pregnancy will spoil their looks (see Seneca, Consolation to Helvia, section 16).
8 The reference is to the sand spread in the gladiatorial arena. The line means, “Will you enter into the deadly combat (i.e. of abortion)?”
11-12 In the Greek version of the myth of the Deluge, the flood destroyed all humanity except for Deucalion and Pyrrha, who, at the advice of the gods, threw stones behind them which became human beings, thus repopulating the earth.
15-16 Ilia Also known as Rhea Silvia, she conceived Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders, by Mars.
17-18 Venus, through her mortal son Aeneas, was the mythical ancestor of Caesar’s family.
27-37 Here Ovid addresses, not Corinna, but women in general. For his motives in thus broadening the attack, see introductory note to O.II.13.
41-42 The Romans
believed that if you predicted something bad, it was likely to
happen. Since lines 37-40 could be construed as predicting
Corinna’s death, Ovid hastens to unpredict it.
There stands an ancient wood, uncut for many years
(it’s easy to believe a god must haunt that place)
and in its depths a sacred spring and rocky cave,
and birds make their sweet moan from every side.
And here, as I was walking, screened by the leafy shade,
and trying to plan some project for my Muse,
came Elegy, her scented hair bound up in braids,
and one of her feet seemed longer than the other.
She was exquisite: her gown was sheer, love lit her face,
and even her limping gait was a charming flaw. 10
And furious Tragedy came mightily striding there
with trailing robe and curls on her glowering brow.
Her left hand widely brandished the scepter of a queen,
and highbound Lydian boots were on her feet,
and she spoke first: “When will you make an end of loving,
O tedious poet of a single theme?
Your folly is the gossip of every winey feast;
you’re gossiped of on all the boulevards.
Folk often point their fingers, seeing the passing bard,
and say, ‘This, this is he whom wild love burns!’ 20
Your name (but you know not) is bruited all through Rome,
while you, shame cast aside, tell all your deeds.
It is high time a weightier thyrsus roused your songs.
Enough delay: take on a nobler project.
Your theme constrains your talent: sing of heroic deeds
and say, ‘This field is worthy of my spirit.’
Your Muse has played at songs designed for tender girls;
your early youth has passed in verse that fits it.
Now Roman Tragedy must gain its fame through you:
your genius will suffice for what I need.” 30
She spoke, and standing gravely in her painted boots
thrice and four times shook her head’s thick curls.
The other, as I recall, smiled with a sidelong glance
-- and was that a myrtle bough in her right hand?
“Bold Tragedy, why chide me with weighty words,” she said,
“Or can’t you ever be anything but weighty?
Yet you have deigned to speak uneven lines yourself,
attacking me while using my own verses.
I never would compare exalted poems to mine:
your palace overwhelms my humble home. 40
I’m light, and my own darling, Cupid, is light too.
I can’t be any stronger than my subject.
Without me, playful Love’s own mother would be coarse:
I was born to be her ally and procurer.
The door which you, in your harsh boots, could never unbar
is free and open to my blandishments.
Yet I deserve to have more power than you, for I
have suffered much your pride would never bear.
Through me Corinna’s learned to dupe her guardians
and coax the tight-sealed door to break its trust, 50
and slipping from her bed, still in her loose nightgown,
silently steal off into the night.
And how many times I’ve hung fastened to harsh doors,
shamelessly being read by the passing crowd!
Why, I recall that once, till that fierce guard went off,
the maid who brought me hid me in her bosom.
If you send me as a birthday gift, that uncouth girl
breaks me, throwing me in some nearby water.
I was the first to quicken the fertile seeds of your mind:
it’s due to me that Tragedy wants you now.” 60
She’d finished. I began: “I beg by both your godheads
that you be heedful of my trembling words.
One goddess honors me with scepter and high boot;
I feel the mighty song poised on my lips.
The other gives my love a name that will not die:
so come, and join the short verse to the long.
Grant but a short delay, O Tragedy, to your bard:
your work’s eternal, what she asks is brief.”
She yielded to my prayer. Haste hither, tender Loves,
while still you may: a greater project claims me. 70
Notes to Ovid III.1
Book Three of the Loves, like the previous two books, begins with a programmatic poem in which the poet rejects serious poetry in favor of erotic elegy. The poem seems to make allusion to a number of earlier Greek and Roman writings, most notably: 1) P.III.3, which narrates a similar mythologic/aesthetic vision; 2) The Choice of Hercules by the Greek philosopher Prodicus. The original is lost, but we have an imitation in Book II of Xenophon’s Memorabilia (Recollections of Socrates). This is a moral fable in which the young Hercules sees a vision of two women. One of them, modest of demeanor and chastely attired, is Virtue, who promises Hercules a life of salubrious hardship. The other, a boldfaced, painted floozy, is Vice, who promises him a life of indolent luxury. Ovid, in his typical fashion, rings a change on the theme by making Elegy, who corresponds to Prodicus’s Vice, claim to be the one who knows how to bear hardship (lines 47-58). It is noteworthy that, in contrast to all the other Propertian and Ovidian rejections of “serious” poetry included in this anthology, Ovid here rejects tragedy only temporarily. Ovid in fact went on to write a tragedy and an epic (see Ovid II.1.12n.).
11-14 Tragedy is outfitted like a royal tragic heroine, with long gown and painted buskins, a sort of boot originating in Lydia which became a standard part of the Greek and Roman tragic actor’s costume. The hair piled over the forehead is a typical feature of the masks used in tragic drama. A sceptre was usually held in the right hand; the fact that she carries it in the left is probably symbolic of a kingdom lost -- a typical tragic theme.
23 thyrsus The thyrsus, a long stock of wild fennel tipped with ivy, was the sacred emblem of Bacchus, god of tragedy. Tragedy speaks of her thyrsus as “weightier” perhaps because Bacchus, as god of wine, could also be associated with love-poetry (see P.III.3.35-36 and n). Thus “weightier thyrsus” could mean “inspiration from Bacchus as the god of tragedy rather than as the god of drinking parties.”
32 The immediately preceding lines constitute a prophecy. Tragedy shakes her hair here because this gesture was a standard feature of the prophetic trance of Greek and Roman prophetesses.
34 myrtle Sacred to Venus.
37-38 Tragedy of course has no choice but to speak elegiacs in an elegiac poem, but the speciousness of an argument never prevented Ovid from using it.
45 door Of a mistress.
47-58 Here Ovid humorously fuses the image of Elegy as a goddess with the image of elegy as poems written on a wax tablet.
50 The door is personified as a guardian of the house (similarly in O.I.6.73-34).
53-54 If refused entrance, the lover could at least declare his love by leaving a poem on a wax tablet attached to the door.
57-58 The text and translation of this couplet are uncertain. Apparently Corinna was angry because she had expected a birthday gift of more material value than a mere poem; because of this philistinism, Elegy calls her “uncouth.” But it is puzzling that Elegy speaks of this in the present tense, as if it were a regular occurrence.
62 trembling Because he, a mortal, is afraid at conversing with goddesses.
But oh, I suppose she was ugly; she wasn’t elegant;
I hadn’t yearned for her often in my prayers.
Yet holding her I was limp, and nothing happened at all:
I just lay there, a disgraceful load for her bed.
I wanted it, she did too; and yet no pleasure came
from the part of my sluggish loins that should bring joy.
The girl entwined her ivory arms around my neck
(her arms were whiter than the Sithonian snows),
and gave me greedy kisses, thrusting her fluttering tongue,
and laid her eager thigh against my thigh, 10
and whispering fond words, called me the lord of her heart
and everything else that lovers murmur in joy.
And yet, as if chill hemlock were smeared upon my body,
my numb limbs would not act out my desire.
I lay there like a log, a fraud, a worthless weight;
my body might as well have been a shadow.
What will my age be like, if old age ever comes,
when even my youth cannot fulfill its role?
Ah, I’m ashamed of my years. I’m young and a man: so what?
I was neither young nor a man in my girlfriend’s eyes. 20
She rose like the sacred priestess who tends the undying flame,
or a sister who’s chastely lain at a dear brother’s side.
But not long ago blonde Chlide twice, fair Pitho three times,
and Libas three times I enjoyed without a pause.
Corinna, as I recall, required my services
nine times in one short night -- and I obliged!
Has some Thessalian potion made my body limp,
injuring me with noxious spells and herbs?
Did some witch hex my name scratched on crimson wax
and stab right through the liver with slender pins? 30
By spells the grain is blighted and withers to worthless weeds;
by blighting spells the founts run out of water.
Enchantment strips the oaks of acorns, vines of grapes,
and makes fruit fall to earth from unstirred boughs.
Such magic arts could also sap my virile powers.
Perhaps they brought this weakness on my thighs,
and shame at what happened, too; shame made it all the worse:
that was the second reason for my failure.
Yet what a girl I looked at and touched -- but nothing more!
I clung to her as closely as her gown. 40
Her touch could make the Pylian sage feel young again,
and make Tithonus friskier than his years.
This girl fell to my lot, but no man fell to hers.
What will I ask for now in future prayers?
I believe the mighty gods must rue the gift they gave,
since I have treated it so shabbily.
Surely, I wanted entry: well, she let me in.
Kisses: I got them. To lie at her side: There I was.
What good was such great luck -- to gain a powerless throne?
What did I have, except a miser’s gold? 50
I was like the teller of secrets, thirsty at the stream,
looking at fruits forever beyond his grasp.
Whoever rose at dawn from the bed of a tender girl
in a state fit to approach the sacred gods?
I suppose she wasn’t willing, she didn’t waste her best
caresses on me, try everything to excite me!
That girl could have aroused tough oak and hardest steel
and lifeless boulders with her blandishments.
She surely was a girl to arouse all living men,
but then I was not alive, no longer a man. 60
What pleasure could a deaf man take in Phemius’s song
or painted pictures bring poor Thamyras?
But what joys I envisioned in my private mind,
what ways did I position and portray!
And yet my body lay as if untimely dead,
a shameful sight, limper than yesterday’s rose.
Now, look, when it’s not needed, it’s vigorous and strong;
now it asks for action and for battle.
Lie down, there -- shame on you! -- most wretched part of me.
These promises of yours took me before. 70
You trick your master, you made me be caught unarmed,
so that I suffered a great and sorry loss.
Yet this same part my girl did not disdain to take
in hand, fondling it with a gentle motion.
But when she saw no skill she had could make it rise
and that it lay without a sign of life,
“You’re mocking me,” she said. “You’re crazy! Who asked you
to lie down in my bed if you don’t want to?
You’ve come here cursed with woolen threads by some Aeaean
witch, or worn out by some other love.” 80
And straightway she jumped up, clad in a flowing gown
(beautiful, as she rushed barefoot off),
and, lest her maids should know that she had not been touched,
began to wash, concealing the disgrace.
Notes to Ovid III.7
The time, the place, and the girl were perfect, but the poet was inexplicably impotent.
8 Sithonian Thracian. Thrace has high snowcapped mountains.
13-14 Here and throughout the poem Ovid uses words like “body” and “limbs” as euphemisms for “penis.”
21 So rises That is, “When she rose up from that bed, she was as pure as . . .” This is an exaggeration, since the Vestal Virgin (the “priestess” referred to here) and the chaste sister would be virgins, which the girl in question here was not.
22-23 These are all Greek names suitable for prostitutes. Chlide means “luxury,” Pitho “persuasion,” and Libas “fountain,” or perhaps “libation.”
29-30 Scholars disagree on exactly what magical operations are being referred to here, but it is clear that they involve a wax voodoo doll as well as some sort of sorcerous manipulation of the victim’s name.
41 Pylian sage Nestor
51 teller of secrets Tantalus
54 Among the Greeks and Romans, participants in most religious ceremonies were supposed to abstain from sexual intercourse the previous night.
79-80 The text and translation are uncertain, and commentators disagree as to the exact magical use of the wool. The interpretation followed here (that of Brandt) is that wool threads are meant, threads being used in love magic because they bind.
83 had not been touched An exaggeration; of course he had touched her (line 39). But “untouched” here is a euphemism.
84 The wording is compressed, but the meaning is clear. Roman women, as we know from a number of sources, regularly washed their genitals after intercourse. Ovid’s disappointed girlfriend, not wanting her servants to know of the insult he has done to her, calls to her maids to bring her water as if such a washing were necessary.
If Memnon’s mother mourned, Achilles’ mother mourned,
and our sad fates can touch great goddesses,
then weep, and loose your hair in grief you never earned,
Elegy, now ah! too much like your name.
That bard whose work was yours, who gave you fame, Tibullus,
burns on the mounded pyre, a lifeless corpse.
See Venus’s boy, bearing his quiver upside down;
his bow is broken and his torch is quenched;
look how he goes dejected: his wings trail on the ground;
he smites his naked breast with violent hand; 10
his tears dampen the curls that fall around his neck,
and heaving sobs keep breaking on his lips.
(Just so he went out, fair Iulus, from your house,
they say, at his brother Aeneas’s funeral.)
No less was Venus stunned by her Tibullus’s death
than when the fierce boar smote her lover’s thigh.
They say we bards are sacred, favorites of the gods,
and even that there’s something holy in us,
but that churl Death defiles every sacred thing:
his shadowy hand appropriates us all. 20
Was Orpheus saved by his father and mother, who were gods,
or by his songs that tamed the astonished beasts?
They say that that same father sang “Linos! Ai, Linos!”
deep in the woods on his reluctant lyre.
And Homer, too, from whom, as from an endless fount,
bards’ lips are moistened with the Muses’ waters,
one last day pulled him under Avernus’s murky wave:
his songs alone escaped the greedy pyre.
The work of bards endures: Troy’s famous sufferings,
and the endless shroud, undone by nightly fraud. 30
So Nemesis and Delia: both their names will live,
the one his first, the one his latest love.
But what use now your rites? What use the Egyptian rattle?
What use, to have slept alone in an empty bed?
When harsh fate steals away the good (forgive my words!)
I almost want to believe there are no gods.
Live virtuous: you will die. Respect the gods: grim Death
will drag you from their altars to your grave.
Write glorious verse, and see! here Tibullus lies:
one small urn holds the dust of what he was. 40
Is it you the blazing pyre bears off, O sacred bard,
not dreading to be fed upon your breast?
Flames that dare so great a blasphemy would burn
the golden temples of the blessed gods!
She turned aside her gaze who rules Mt. Eryx’ heights,
and some say she could not restrain her tears.
And yet it’s better thus than if Phaeacia’s land
had strewn mere dirt on your neglected grave.
Here, as you fled life, your mother closed your streaming
eyes, and brought her last gifts to your ashes. 50
Here your sister joined your mother in her grief
and came with loosened hair all disarrayed.
And with their kisses Nemesis and your first love
joined theirs, and did not leave your pyre forsaken,
and Delia, as she left, said, “Happier far your love
for me: you lived, while I was still your flame.”
“Why,” Nemesis replied, “do you grieve for my loss?
Dying, he clutched me with his failing hand.”
If anything remains of us but name and shade,
Elysium’s vale will be Tibullus’s home, 60
and you will greet him, learned Catullus, ivy bound
on your young brow, with Calvus at your side,
and you (if it is false that you betrayed your friend)
Gallus, careless of your blood and soul.
These shades will be your comrades, if any shades there are:
you have joined the blessed, elegant Tibullus.
May your bones find repose within their sheltering urn,
and may earth not lie heavy on your ashes.
Notes to Ovid III.9
Tibullus died in b.c. 19. We know nothing of the circumstances of his death. Although Ovid must have come to Rome a number of years before Tibullus died, he knew him only slightly, if at all; as he says in his verse autobiography (Tristia IV.10.51-52) “Greedy fate did not allow time for me to become friends with Tibullus.” At any rate, it is clear that Ovid knew and loved Tibullus’s poetry. The present piece is full of Tibullan reminiscences, some of which are indicated in the following notes.
1 Ovid introduces his presentation of the deities Elegy, Cupid, and Venus mourning for Tibullus by alluding to the two most famous mythological examples of goddesses mourning for men: Aurora for her son Memnon and Thetis for her son Achilles.
4 Elegiac verse was from ancient times used for laments as well as for erotic themes; in fact, the ancients derived the word “elegy” from the Greek phrase e legein, which means “to say alas.” (They were wrong in this; the name actually comes from a non-Greek word which means “flute.”)
16 lover’s Adonis’s.
20 The translation attempts to bring out a metaphor implicit in the original. Ovid wrote literally that Death “lays its shadowy hands on everyone.” The phrase “lay hands on” (manus inicere) is also a legal term referring to the principle of iniectio, by which it was considered lawful in certain circumstances for the rightful owner of something to seize his own property without obtaining a court order. The classic example of iniectio was the case of a man who comes across his runaway slave in a public place; he would have the right to take possession of his slave on the spot. Thus Ovid’s seemingly casual statement is actually a powerful metaphor: death owns us and can take us at his whim, without needing authorization from any higher source.
21 According to one tradition, Orpheus was the son of Apollo and one of the Muses.
23-24 A very old, mournful song among the Greeks contained the word ailinon, evidently a meaningless “petrified” refrain like “down-derry-down.” The ancients explained this phrase by inventing a figure called Linos, since “ai linon” could be Greek for “Alas for Linos!” Linos’s parentage, life, and death are variously given; here Ovid follows the tradition that he was the son of Apollo. The god is pictured as wandering through the woods with his lyre, singing “Ai, Linon!” as a dirge for his son. Apollo’s lyre is “unwilling” because it is accustomed to singing happier songs.
29-30 Troy’s . . . shroud References to the Iliad and the Odyssey respectively. The shroud is the one woven by Penelope for Odysseus’s father Laertes. She promised her suitors that she would choose one of them when the shroud was finished, but made sure that it would never be finished by secretly undoing her weaving at night.
33-34 Addressed to Delia; see T.I.3.23-26 and note.
45 She Venus.
47-52 See T.I.3.3-8 and notes.
53 first love Delia.
58 See T.I.1.59-60.
59-66 See T.I.3.57-66. Ovid envisions Tibullus meeting earlier love poets in Elysium: Catullus (who also died young), Catullus’s fellow-poet and best friend Calvus, and Gallus. This last poet, Gaius Cornelius Gallus, was considered “the father of Roman elegy,” but only one line of his verse survives. He was a friend and protégé of Augustus, but later fell from the emperor’s favor and committed suicide. Ovid here hedges his praise of Gallus by suggesting that perhaps he did not really “betray his friend” Augustus, but that the whole thing was a tragic misunderstanding.
I don’t ask you to be faithful -- you’re beautiful, after all --
but just that I be spared the pain of knowing.
I make no stringent demands that you should really be chaste,
but only that you try to cover up.
If a girl can claim to be pure, it’s the same as being pure:
it’s only admitted vice that makes for scandal.
What madness, to confess by day what’s wrapped in night,
and what you’ve done in secret, openly tell!
The hooker, about to bed some Roman off the street
still locks her door first, keeping out the crowd: 10
will you yourself then make your sins notorious,
accusing and prosecuting your own crime?
Be wise, and learn at least to imitate chaste girls,
and let me believe you’re good, though you are not.
Do what you do, but simply deny you ever did:
there’s nothing wrong with public modesty.
There is a proper place for looseness: fill it up
with all voluptuousness, and banish shame;
but when you’re done there, then put off all playfulness
and leave your indiscretions in your bed. 20
There, don’t be ashamed to lay your gown aside
and press your thigh against a pressing thigh;
there take and give deep kisses with your crimson lips;
let love contrive a thousand ways of passion;
there let delighted words and moans come ceaselessly,
and make the mattress quiver with playful motion.
But put on with your clothes a face that’s all discretion,
and let Shame disavow your shocking deeds.
Trick everyone, trick me: leave me in ignorance;
let me enjoy the life of a happy fool. 30
Why must I see so often notes received -- and sent?
Why must I see two imprints on your bed,
or your hair disarrayed much more than sleep could do?
Why must I notice love bites on your neck?
You all but flaunt your indiscretions in my face.
Think of me, if not of your reputation.
I lose my mind, I die, when you confess you’ve sinned;
I break out in cold sweat from hand to foot;
I love you then, and hate you -- in vain, since I must love you;
I wish then I were dead -- and you were too! 40
I won’t investigate or check whatever you try
to hide: I will be thankful to be deceived.
But even if I catch you in the very act
and look on your disgrace with my own eyes,
deny that I have seen what I have clearly seen,
and my eyes will agree with what you claim.
You’ll win an easy prize from a man who wants to lose,
only remember to say, “I didn’t do it.”
Since you can gain your victory with one short phrase,
win on account of your judge, if not your case. 50
Note to Ovid III.14
In this cynical ending to the Loves, Ovid asks Corinna, not to be faithful (that would obviously be too much to expect from a beautiful woman), but only to pretend to be so. Ovid’s claim that what is important is reputation itself, whether or not it is deserved, would have been especially shocking to official Roman morality.
Search for another bard, mother of tender Loves!
My elegies have nearly reached their goal,
which I composed, a child of Sulmo’s countryside
(nor have these frolics brought dishonor to me),
bequeathed (for what it’s worth) my rank from ancient sires,
not made a knight just now by war’s wild changes.
Vergil is Mantua’s pride, Catullus is Verona’s:
I shall be called the glory of Sulmo’s people,
who once were forced to righteous war in freedom’s cause,
when allied troops struck terror into Rome. 10
And when some traveler sees well-watered Sulmo’s walls,
which hold a few scant acres of land within,
he’ll say, “The town that gave the world so great a poet
I call a mighty city, however small.”
O elegant Love, and Cypriote mother of elegant Love,
take up your golden standard from my camp:
a weightier thyrsus strikes me, that of the horned god,
and I must drive great steeds a greater course.
Peaceful Elegy and pleasant Muse, farewell,
and book that will survive when I am gone! 20
Notes to Ovid III.15
In this, the final poem of the Loves, the poet “signs” his work by restating his identity, predicts that the present work will bring him eternal fame, and bids farewell to Elegy and Love in favor of more serious poetry.
5-6 In early Rome, the knights (equites) were the social class from which the cavalry troops were actually drawn. By Ovid’s time, the knights were an officially designated social and political class of citizens possessing a certain amount of property. The knights were second only to the senatorial order in wealth and power; they may be thought of as roughly what we would call the upper middle class. Ovid’s boast is that, unlike many of his contemporaries who bought their way into the order after becoming rich through the fortunes of war, he himself is from a family which has belonged to the order for many generations.
9-10 In the Social War of the early first century b.c., Rome’s Italian allies rebelled against Roman rule. The conflict was finally settled by Rome’s granting Roman citizenship to the allies. The Paeligni, the ethnic group to which the people of Sulmo belonged, played a prominent role in this war.
15 Cypriote Ovid wrote “Amathusian,” the city of Amathus in Cyprus being sacred to Venus.
17-18 See O.III.1.23n. The “horned god” is Bacchus, who was sometimes portrayed with horns.