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

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Nor fear that this rape will draw after it a cruel war, or that powerful Greece will summon her strength to recover you. Who, of the many that have been thus stolen, was demanded back by arms? These, trust me, are vain and frivolous fears. The Thracians, under the name of Boreas, stole the daughter of Erechtheus; and yet the kingdom of Thrace was not attacked by war. Jason of Thessaly carried off in his flying bark the Colchian maid; yet Thessaly was got invaded or distressed by an army from Colchis. Theseus too, who stole you, stole also the daughter of Minos; yet Minos did not once think of arming the Cretans to recover her. In these cases, the fear always exceeds the danger; and, when that is over, we begin to be ashamed of our fear. But suppose, if you will, that a dreadful war may ensure; I have strength to repel it, and my darts can wound. Nor does the power of Asia yield to that of Greece;----it is a rich land, abounding both in men and horses. Nor does Menelaus exceed Paris in bravery, or deserve the preference for military skill. While I was a mere boy, I recovered the stolen herds after slaying my foes, and thence borrowed a new name. While yet a boy, I carried off the prize in various exercises from the other youths, among whom were even Ilioneus and Deiphobus. Nor think

that I am only to be dreaded in close combat; my arrows always hit the appointed mark. Can you ascribe to him these acts of early youth? Can you honor the son of Atreus with my envied skill? But were you to allow him all these, will you also boast that he has such a brother as Hector? This one hero is equivalent to whole armies. You know not the extent of my power; my strength is in a great measure hidden from you; nor do you imagine what kind of man he is, who solicits to be received for your husband. Either therefore no war will be raised to demand you back; or the Grecian army must be vanquished by my superior force. Nor think that I shall be unwilling to draw the sword for such a wife. A prize so noble, is well worthy of the contest. You too, if all the world should arm for your sake, will acquire a name famous to the remotest ages. Fly hence then, full of hope, while the Gods are propitious, and demand with full assurance that I make good these promises.

Poem 17

Helen to Paris

WHEN your epistle violated my chaste eyes, it seemed no small glory to write back my resentment. Dare you, a stranger, in defiance of the most sacred rights of hospitality, presume thus to invade the just allegiance of a lawful wife? Was it for this that our Laconian harbours sheltered you from stormy winds and seas? Were our palace gates frankly opened to you, though from a foreign court, that you might return this injury, as the reward of so much good usage?

Was it a stranger or an enemy whom we received with so much kindness and friendship? These just complaints, I doubt not, will to your partial judgment appear rustic. Of what consequence is the imputation of rusticity, while my chastity is unstained, and the whole tenor of my life above reproach? Though I have not a countenance severe with dissembled looks, nor form my eye-brows into an artful frown, my fame is yet unspotted; my easy frankness never rose to a crime; nor can any vain seducer boast the spoils of my virtue. I therefore may reasonably be astonished at the bold scheme, and wonder whence your hopes came to share of my favors. Was it because the hero of Neptune's race forced me away? Did you conclude that, being once compelled, I was fit to

be made a second prey? Mine would have been the crime, had I been enticed to a compliance; but, as I was carried off by violence, what could I do more than show reluctance? Nor did he ultimately obtain the desired reward of his boldness; I returned unhurt by any thing but fear. The forward youth snatched by rude force a few reluctant kisses; but that was all he ever had of me. You, wicked as you are, would not have been thus satisfied: but the Gods were more favorable; he was of a temper very different from you. He restored me untouched, and by a modest usage atoned for his crime: it is evident that the young man repented the bold insult. Did Theseus repent, that Paris might succeed, and my name never cease to be the object of busy tongues? Nor am I yet displeased, (for who was ever offended with love?) if the affection you profess is sincere and undissembled. But that I doubt; not that I suspect your honor, or distrust the power of my own charms; but, because I know that a too easy faith often proves fatal to our sex, and dissembling man ruins us by feigned professions. What if others yield, or matrons are seldom chaste; may not my name occur among the rare instances of virtue? My mother's story seems, at the first view, a fit example to soften me to a compliance: but my mother was

deceived by a borrowed shape, and harmless feathers covered the unsuspected ravisher. If I offend, what have I to plead? by what error can I excuse the darling sin? Her frailty was happily redeemed by the dignity of the ravisher; but what Jupiter will take from the infamy of my crime?