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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When shall I again clasp you in my longing arms, and be elate with joy in your embraces? When, happily united with you in the same bed, shall I hear you recount your noble deeds in war? Though I shall be pleased

with the recital, yet will your relation be often interrupted by our mutual kisses. These always occasion an agreeable pause in discourse: the tongue is rendered more prompt by such alluring delays. But when I think of Troy, of the winds, and the sea, flattering hopes give way to anxious fears. I am alarmed that your fleet is detained by adverse winds. How can you think of sailing when the sea forbids? What man returns to his own country when the winds are against him? why then do you spread your sails to leave it, when the sea forbids? Neptune himself stops up the way to his own city. Whither hurry you so rashly? Let each return to his own home. Whither, I say, O ye Greeks, do you hurry so rashly? Attend to the voice of the forbidding winds. This delay is no work of blind chance; it comes from the Gods. What do you intend by this mighty war, but to regain a base adulteress? Return, ye Grecian ships, while it yet may be done with honor. But why do I thus call you back? Forbid, ye Gods, every bad omen; and may an inviting gale bear you through

the quiet waves. How I envy the lot of the Trojan wives; for, if they are doomed to see the mournful funerals of their husbands, the enemy is however not far off. The youthful bride will with her own hand fix the helmet upon the head of her gallant spouse, and buckle on his shining armour. She will buckle on his armour, and, as she performs the task, often snatch a kiss. This sportive office will be grateful to both. She will partly attend him in his march, affectionately enjoin him to return, and advise him to caution, that he may triumph, and dedicate his arms to Jupiter. He, bearing in mind the fresh injunctions of his beloved spouse, will fight with due care of himself, and think of her whom he has left at home. At his return, she will take from him his shield, and unbuckle the ponderous helmet, while he reclines his wearied breast upon her soft bosom. Unhappy, we are racked with uncertainty; an anxious fear makes us apt to fancy you surrounded with a thousand dangers. Yet while you bear armour, and are fighting in remote lands, I take a pleasure in contemplating the wax which exhibits your likeness. As if you were present, I make use of the softest expressions, and address it in words due only to my Protesilaus: I even embrace and caress it. Surely it must be so: this

image is more than what it seems. Add speech to the statue, and it will be my Protesilaus himself. My eyes are incessantly fixed upon it; I press it to my bosom as if it were indeed my husband, and pour out my complaints to it, vainly hoping for an answer. I swear by yourself and your return, so dear to me above all things; by the nuptial torch, and that glowing heart which is only yours; by your beloved head, which, O ye propitious Gods, restore to me unhurt, and give me to see at length venerable with grey hairs; that I am ready to fly whithersoever you call me, and will readily share your fate, whether that should happen which, alas! I too much fear, or the Gods should graciously preserve you. Permit me to conclude my epistle with a small request: If you have yet any love for me, be sure to show it in the care you take of yourself.

Poem 14

Hypermnestra to Lynceus

HYPERMNESTRA sends to the only survivor of so many brothers: the rest have all perished by the crime of their wives. I am closely confined, and loaded with a weight of chains. My piety is the sole cause of my punishment. I am deemed guilty, because my hand trembled to urge the sword to my husband's throat. Had I dared to commit the bloody deed, I should have been extolled. It is better to be thus deemed guilty, than please a father by an act of barbarity. I can never repent that my hands are unstained withmurder.

Should my father torture me with the flames that I have not dared to violate, or throw in my face the torches used at the nuptial rites; should be pierce me with the very sword which he gave me for an inhuman purpose, and destroy the wife by the death from which she saved her husband; yet would all his cruelty be insufficient to make my dying lips own repentance: Hypermnestra is not one who will repent of her piety. Let Danaus and my bloody sisters testify penitence for their wickedness; this usually follows deeds of guilt. My heart sickens at the remembrance of that bloody night; and a sudden trembling enervates the joints of my right hand. That hand which was thought strong enough to engage in the murder of a husband, even dreads to write of a murder that it did not commit; yet will I attempt to describe the horrid scene. Twilight had overspread the earth; it was about the close of day, and night hastened on: we, the descendants of Inachus, are led to the palace of the great Pelasgus; and a father-in-law receives, into his house, daughters armed for the

destruction of their husbands. Lamps adorned with gold shine through all the apartments, and impious incense is offered to the unwilling gods. The people invoke Hymen; but Hymen neglects their call: even the wife of Jove forsook her beloved city. The bridegrooms made their appearance, high in wine, and enlivened by the acclamations of their attendants; their anointed heads were adorned with garlands of flowers: they entered their bed-chambers (chambers doomed to be their graves), and reposed their limbs on beds fitter for their funeral piles. Thus they lay overcome with food, wine, and sleep; and a dead silence reigned in unsuspecting Argos. I seemed to hear around me the groans of dying men; I indeed heard them, and it was really as I feared. At this the blood forsook my limbs, the vital heat departed, and a coldness spread itself over all my joints. As the bending reeds are shaken by the mild zephyrs, or the rough northern blasts agitate the poplar leaves; a like, or more

violent shaking seised me. You lay quiet, lulled to rest by the sleepy draught I had given. The commands of a violent father had banished fear. I started up, and seised with a trembling hand the deadly sword. Why should I deceive? Thrice I took hold of the pointed steel, and thrice my feeble hand dropped the hated load. I aimed at your throat; blame me not if I acknowlege the truth: I aimed at your throat the blade I had received of my father. But fear and piety opposed the bloody deed; and my blameless right hand refused the hated task. I tore my purple garments, I tore my hair, and with a faint voice uttered this mournful complaint: "A cruel father you have, Hypermnestra; think of executing his commands, and make Lynceus also a companion to his brothers. I am a woman and a virgin, mild both by nature and years; these gentle hands are unfit to wield the fatal steel: but take courage, and, while he lies defenceless, imitate the bravery of your resolute sisters; it is very probable that, ere now, all their husbands are slain. Alas! if this hand could perpetrate a cruel

murder, it must first be dyed in the blood of its owner. How can they deserve death by possessing their uncle's realms, which yet must have been given to foreign sons-in-law? Even if our husbands have deserved death, what have we done? Why am I urged to a crime, which, if committed, robs me of my claim to piety? What have I to do with a drawn sword? Why are warlike weapons put into the hands of a girl? A spindle and distaff better suit these fingers." These things I revolved with myself; and, as I complained, the mournful words were accompanied with tears, which, gently falling from my eyes, bedewed your naked limbs.