The Epistles of Ovid

The Epistles of Ovid
By P. Ovidius Naso
London J. Nunn, Great-Queen-Street; R. Priestly, 143, High-Holborn; R. Lea, Greek-Street, Soho; and J. Rodwell, New-Bond-Street 1813

Perseus Documents Collection Table of Contents

Penelope to Ulysses

Phyllis to Demophoon

Briseis to Achilles

Phaedra to Hippolytus

Oenone to Paris

Hypsipyle to Jason

Dido to Aeneas

Hermione to Orestes

Deianira to Hercules

Ariadne to Theseus

Canace to Macareus

Medea to Jason

Laodamia to Protesilaus

Hypermnestra to Lynceus

Sappho to Phaon

Paris to Helen

Helen to Paris

Leander to Hero

Hero to Leander

Acontius to Cydippe

Cydippe to Acontius

Funded by The Annenberg CPB/Project


No wonder that victory declared for you, and the prostrate monster tinged with its blood the Cretan ground. A heart so steeled could not be pierced by the sharpest horn. Had you encountered him with your breast uncovered, you were yet safe from harm. There you were armed with flint and adamant; there you bore Theseus, yet harder than adamant. Cruel sleep, why did you bind me over to a fatal sloth? It had been better for me to have sunk in eternal night. You also, barbarous winds, too readily conspired against me. Ye officious gales have been to me the cause of many tears.

O inhuman right-hand, the bane of both me and my brother; and faith, an empty name, plighted at my request! Sleep, the winds, and strongest vows, combined against me, and concurred in deceiving a harmless unsuspecting maid. Alas! must I then here breathe my last, nor see the tears of a pitying mother? shall none attend to close my dying eyes? Must I breathe out my mournful soul in foreign air, and no friendly hand anoint my motionless limbs? Shall my unburied frame be left a prey to devouring vultures? Are these the proper returns for all my affectionate services? When you enter the port of Cecrops, and, welcomed by your country, mount the lofty citadel that overlooks the town; when there you relate your victory over the doubtful monster, and your escape from the intricate prison, branched out into a thousand windings; tell also how I was abandoned in a desert land: I ought not to be forgotten in the train of your exploits. Surely geus was not your father; thra never gave birth to you: you sprang from pointed locks, or the raging sea. Oh if

you could have viewed me from the stern of your ship, the mournful figure had surely moved compassion. As you cannot now observe me with your eyes, only imagine me to yourself, hanging over a frightful rock, undermined by the waves that dash against it below. Consider me with my hair disheveled, and carelessly spread over my disconsolate face; behold my clothes heavy with tears, as from a shower. My body trembles like corn shaken by the north winds; and the letters proceed unequal from my faltering hand. I do not urge you now by my merit, since my favors were so ill bestowed, nor expect any retribution, as due to my kind offices: but then, what pretence have you for ill usage? Had I not contributed in the smallest degree to your safety, even this is no reason why you should be the cause of my death. To thee wretched Ariadne stretches over the wide sea her hands, faint with often beating her sorrowful breast. Disconsolate as I am, I remind you of the few mangled tresses that yet remain. I conjure you, by the tears shed for your cruel departure, turn your ship, dear Theseus, and bear back your inverted sails. If I die ere you arrive, you may yet collect my scattered bones.

Poem 11

Canace to Macareus

IF any of these lines should appear stained and obscured by blots, know that they will be occasioned by the death of the writer. My right hand holds the pen, my left a drawn sword; and the paper lies unfolded in my lap. This is the true picture of Canace writing to her brother: it is only in this manner, it seems, that I can satisfy a hard-hearted father. I could wish him to be a spectator of my untimely death, that the blow might be given in the presence of a

stern father who commanded it. Fierce, and far more cruel than his eastern ministers of storms, he would view without a tear the mortal wound. For it is infectious to live with savage winds; and therefore he contracts the temper of his people. He commands the South, the Zephyr, and the northern blasts of Thrace; and, surly East, he checks thy rigid wing. He controls indeed the winds; but, alas! he has no power over his own unmeasurable wrath, and governs a kingdom less intractable than his own vices. What avails it that I am allied to the Gods above, that Jupiter is in the number of my kindred? does it snatch from my trembling hind the destructive steel, that fatal gift and weapon, alas, unfit for me! O Macareus, I wish that the hour which joined us had

come later than that of my death! Why, brother, did you ever love me otherwise than as a brother? And why did I regard you more than became a sister? For I also felt the powerful flame, and perceived I know not what God taking possession of my glowing heart; but such as I had often heard described. The color had forsaken my cheeks; a leanness had spread itself over all my joints; and my mouth took with reluctance even the smallest food. No gentle slumbers refreshed me; the nights seemed tedious and lingering; and I often sighed to myself, though no apparent grief oppressed me. I could not give any reason why I was thus disconsolate; nor, though in love myself, did I know what it was to love. My aged nurse first divined the growing mischief; and, wise through years, first told me that it was love. I blushed; and, full of shame, fixed my eyes upon my bosom; signs which, accompanied with silence, too clearly testified my confession. And now my womb swelled with the guilty load, and the growing weight pressed my sickly limbs. What herbs, what me-

dicines and not my nurse procure, and with her impious hands apply, that the increasing load (this alone we hid from thee) might be entirely discharged? But, alas! the tenacious infant too well withstood our best artifices, securely screened from all hostile attacks. And now the splendid sister of Phbus had nine times completed her course, and the tenth moon was guiding forward her light-revolving steeds; when some unknown cause afflicted me with sudden pangs. I was a stranger to the movements of child-bearing, and a mere novice in this kind of discipline. I suppressed not my cries, "What!" said my nurse, "do you thus openly proclaim your guilt?" And, knowing the cause of my complaint, she stopped my mouth with her hand. What could I do in that unhappy case? Pain urged my groans; but shame, fear, and my nurse, pressed me to silence.

I nevertheless strove to repress my groans, and struggled with my cries; and was forced to drink the tears that trickled from my eyes. Death seemed to hover round me; Lucina refused her aid; and even death was a grievous crime, had I then expired: when entering with thy hair and garments torn, my bosom cherishing close pressed to thine, thou saidst, Live, my sister, O live, my dearest sister; nor rashly destroy two lives in one. Strengthen yourself by hope; for you shall soon be wedded to your brother, and become the wife of him by whom you have been made a mother. Though taint, and almost dead, yet (believe it) your words revived me; and the guilty load sprang forward from my womb.