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


One of the captives, I remember, called me mistress. You only increase, said I, the weight of my servitude by that name. I swear by the slightly-buried bones of my husband, those remains which must ever appear venerable to me; by the sacred ghosts of my three undaunted brothers, who bravely died for and with their country; by your lips and mine, which we have often joined in love; and by your conquering sword, too well known to my house; that Agamemnon has shared none of the joys of my bed. If I speak falsely, may I be eternally forsaken by you. Where I now to say, Do you too, great hero, swear that you have tasted no joys apart from me, must you not refuse? And yet the Greeks fancy you plunged in grief. You, mean-while, solace yourself with the harp, resigned to the soft embraces of a fond mistress. Should any one ask why you so obstinately refuse to fight, you say, War is become hateful; only night, love, and music, charm. It is safer to be content with domestic pleasures, to cherish a beloved mistress, and exercise the fingers upon a Thracian harp, than to grasp a target and sharp-pointed spear, and load the head with a weighty helmet. Heretofore you preferred the glory of illustrious actions to ease; and the fame acquired in war was all your aim. Could martial deeds then only please till I was made a captive? Is your thirst of praise extinguished in the fall of my country? Heaven forbid! May the Pelian spear, urged by your victorious arm, pierce the loins of Hector. Send me, O ye Greeks, as your ambassador, to solicit my lord: I will enforce your requests with a thousand melting kisses. Trust me, I can do more with him than Phnix, more than the brother of Teucer, even more than eloquent Ulysses. There is rhetoric in throwing my once familiar arms round his neck, and putting him in mind that it is his Briseis who urges the request. Though you are cruel and more obdurate than the waves of the sea, my silence and tears must prevail.

Now then (so may your father Peleus measure out his full term of years, and Pyrrhus enter upon war with your propitious fortune), brave Achilles, have respect to your Briseis, oppressed with a load of anxiety; nor kill her with your cruel delays. Or, if your former love is turned to disdain, rather hasten my fate, than force me thus to live without you. And even as it is, you hasten it; my beauty and bloom have fled; and the remaining faint hope of your love alone supports life: if this also should fail, my hard destiny will soon join me to the shades of my brothers and husband; nor will it add to your fame, to have occasioned the death of one who loved you. But why thus torment me by a lingering death? Plunge into my breast your naked poignard; I have still blood enough left to stream from the gaping wound. Let your sword, which (had not Minerva interposed) would have reached the heart of Atrides, find its way to mine. Ah rather preserve a life that is your own gift: I ask no more from my lover than what he formerly granted me when an enemy. The walls of Troy, built by Neptune, will afford more ample matter for your resentment. Hunt ruin in the hostile field. Let me only request, whatever be your design, whether to remain here, or navigate your fleet home, that, in right of master, you command me to attend you.

Poem 4

Phaedra to Hippolytus

Phdra of Crete wishes to Hippolytus, born of an Amazon, that health. which, if he will not give it, she herself must want. Read this at least; how can the reading of a letter hurt you? Perhaps, too, you may meet with some things in it that will be agreeable. In this manner secrets are conveyed over land and sea. Even enemies look at the letters sent from each other. Thrice I essayed to speak with you; thrice my tongue failed; thrice the words forsook me at my tongue's end. Modesty is to be joined with love, as far as is possible and convenient. Love commands me to write what I was ashamed to speak. It is not safe to slight the commands of Love; he reigns uncontrolled, and has power even over the sovereign gods. He first commanded me, when full of doubts and fears, to write; Write, said he; though hard as steel, he will yield his captive hands. Be present, Love; and, as you nourish in my bones a wasting fire, fix also in his breast a dart that may soften it towards me. Yet will I not by any crime stain my connubial vows. My fame (search into it) you will find fair and spotless. Love, the later it seizes us, rages the more. I burn inwardly; I burn, and my breast feels the hidden wound. As the tender bull is at first impatient of the yoke, and the young courser is with difficulty rendered obedient to the rein: so my unconquered heart resists the first attacks of love, and this unusual burthen sits heavy on my unpractised mind. When love is habitual from our cradle, we may learn by art to manage it; but, in our riper years, it assaults us with violence. You will taste the first offerings of my

spotless fame, and the guilt will be the same in both. There is a pleasure in plucking the ripe apples from loaded branches, and gathering with an industrious hand the earliest roses. If yet my chastity, hitherto unstained, must be blotted by an unusual crime, it has happily fallen out that I burn with a noble flame. A worthless partner of my crime, something still worse than the crime itself, cannot in my case by objected. If Juno should resign her brother and husband in my favour, even Jupiter would probably be disregarded in competition with Hippolytus. And now (what you will scarcely believe) my inclinations carry me after new and unaccustomed delights. I long to assault with you the savage breed; already the Delian goddess, distinguished by the crooked bow, presides in my thoughts; your judgement in this determines also mine. I am impatient to range the woods, to pursue the stage into the toils, and cheer the nimble hounds along the rocky cliffs; or lance the trembling dart with a

vigorous arm, and stretch my wearied limbs on a grassy bank. Oft I am pleased to drive the nimble chariot involved in dust, and guide the panting steeds with steady rein. Now wild, I rave as a Bacchanal when full of the inspiring god, or like those who on the Idean hill urge with redoubled strokes the sounding brass; yea more wild than those whom the Dryads half divine, and horned Satyrs, strike with terror and amazement.