§ 1.1.1 THE POET TO HIS BOOK: ITS NATURE
Little book, go without me – I don’t begrudge it – to the city.
Ah, alas, that your master’s not allowed to go!
Go, but without ornament, as is fitting for an exile’s:
sad one, wear the clothing of these times.
You’ll not be cloaked, dyed with hyacinthine purple –
that’s no fitting colour to go mourning –
no vermilion title, no cedar-oiled paper,
no white bosses, ‘horns’ to your dark ‘brow’.
Happier books are decorated with these things:
you instead should keep my fate in mind.
No brittle pumice to polish your two edges,
so you’re seen ragged, with straggling hair.
No shame at your blots: he who sees them
will know they were caused by my tears.
Go, book, greet the dear places, with my words:
I’ll walk among them on what ‘feet’ I can.
If, in the crowd, there’s one who’s not forgot me,
if there’s one, perhaps, who asks how I am,
say I’m alive, but deny that I am well:
that I’m even alive is a gift from a god.
Otherwise, be silent – let him who wants more read –
beware of saying by chance what isn’t needed!
The reader, prompted, will soon recall my guilt,
the crowd’s voice make me a common criminal.
Beware of defending me, despite the biting words:
a poor case will prove too much for advocacy.
Find someone who sighs about my exile,
and reads your verses with wet eyes,
and silently wishes, unheard by enemies,
my punishment lightened by a gentler Caesar.
For myself, I wish whomever it is no ill,
who asks the gods to be kind to suffering:
what he wishes, let that be: the Leader’s anger done,
grant me the right to die in my native country.
Though you obey, book, you may still be blamed,
and called inferior to the flower of my genius.
The judge’s duty is to search out time
and circumstance. You’re safe regarding time.
Fine-spun verses come from a tranquil mind:
my days are clouded by sudden miseries.
Verse asks for a writer with leisure and privacy:
I’m tossed by winter gales, the storms, the sea.
Every fear harms verse: I’m lost and always
afraid of a sword slicing at my throat.
Even what I’ve created, will amaze just critics:
they’ll read it, whatever it is, with indulgence.
Set Homer, the Maeonian, in such danger,
his genius would fail among such troubles.
Go then, book, untroubled by fame,
don’t be ashamed to displease the reader.
Fortune’s not so kind to me now
for you to take account of any praise.
Secure, I was touched by desire for fame,
and I burned with ardour to win a name.
Enough now if I don’t hate those studies, verses
that hurt me, so that wit brought me exile.
You go for me, you, who can, gaze at Rome.
If the gods could grant now that I were my book!
And because you’re a foreigner in a mighty city
don’t think you come as a stranger to the crowd.
Though you lack a title, they’ll know the style:
though wishing to deceive, it’s clear you’re mine.
But enter quietly so my verse won’t hurt you,
it’s not as popular as once it was.
If anyone thinks you shouldn’t be read
because you’re mine, and thrusts you away,
say: ‘Look at the title: I’m not love’s master:
that work’s already got what it deserved.’
§ 1.1.70 THE POET TO HIS BOOK: HIS WORKS
Perhaps you’re wondering if I’ll send you
to the high Palatine, to climb to Caesar’s house.
That august place and that place’s gods forgive me!
A lightning bolt from that summit fell on my head.
I know there are merciful powers on those heights
but I still fear the gods who bring us harm.
Hawks, the smallest sound of wings brings terror
to the doves your talons wounded.
Nor does the lamb dare stray far from the fold
once torn from the jaws of a hungry wolf.
If Phaethon lived he’d avoid the sky, refuse
to touch the horses he chose, foolishly.
I too confess, I fear what I felt, Jove’s weapon:
I think the hostile lightning seeks me when it thunders.
Every Greek who escaped the Capherean rocks
always turned away from Euboean waters:
and my vessel, shattered by a mighty storm,
dreads to near the place where it was wrecked.
So beware, book, look around with timid mind,
be content to be read by the middle orders.
Seeking too great a height on fragile wings
Icarus gave his name to the salt waters.
It’s hard to say from here, though, whether to use
oars or breeze: take advice from the time and place.
If you can be handed in when he’s at leisure, if
you see all’s calm, if his anger’s lost its bite,
if, while you’re hesitating, scared to go near,
someone will hand you in, with a brief word, go.
On a good day and with better luck than your master
may you land there and ease my distress.
Either no one can help, or in Achilles’s fashion,
only that man can help who wounded me.
Only see you don’t do harm, while you’ve power to help –
since my hope is less than my fear –
beware, while that angry emotion’s quiet don’t rouse it,
don’t you be a second cause for punishment!
Yet when you’re admitted to my inner sanctum,
and reach your own house, the curved bookcase,
you’ll see your brothers there ranged in order,
all, whom the same careful study crafted.
The rest of the crowd will show their titles openly,
carrying their names on their exposed faces:
but you’ll see three hide far off in dark places –
and still, as all know, they teach how to love.
Avoid them, or if you’ve the nerve, call them
parricides, like Oedipus, and Telegonus.
I warn you, if you’ve any care for your father,
don’t love any of those three, though it taught you.
There are also fifteen books on changing forms,
songs saved just now from my funeral rites.
Tell them the face of my own fortunes
can be reckoned among those Metamorphoses.
Now that face is suddenly altered from before,
a cause of weeping now, though, once, of joy.
I’ve more orders for you if you ask me,
but I fear to be any reason for delay:
and, book, if you carried everything I think of,
you’d be a heavy burden to the bearer.
Quick, it’s a long way! I’ll be alive here at the end
of the earth, in a land that’s far away from my land.
§ 1.2.1 THE JOURNEY: STORM AT SEA
Gods of the sea and sky – since what is left but prayer? –
don’t shatter the ribs of our storm-tossed ship,
don’t, I beg you, add to great Caesar’s anger!
Often when one god presses, another brings help.
Mulciber was against Troy, Apollo for her:
Venus was friendly to Trojans, Pallas hostile.
Saturnia hated Aeneas, supported Turnus:
yet he was safe through Venus’s power.
Fierce Neptune often challenged the cunning Ulysses:
Minerva often saved him from her uncle.
And however different I am from them,
who denies a power to me, against the angry god?
A wretch, I’m wasting idle words in vain.
My mouth that speaks is drenched by heavy waves,
and fearful Notus hurls my words away,
and won’t let my prayers reach the gods.
So the same winds drive my sails and prayers
who knows where, so I’m doubly punished.
Ah me! What mountains of water churn!
Now, now you think they’ll touch the highest stars.
What abysses sink beneath the yawning flood!
Now, now you think they’ll touch black Tartarus.
Wherever I look there’s nothing but sea or air,
here swollen waves, there threatening cloud,
between, the roar and humming of the winds.
The ocean waves don’t know what lord to obey.
Now Eurus storms in power from the purple east,
now Zephyrus rushes in from late evening,
Now frozen Boreas raves from dry polar stars,
now Notus wars with his opposing brow.
The helmsman’s unsure of what to shun or where
to steer for: his art is baffled by uncertain evils.
Surely we’re done for, there’s no hope of safety,
while I speak the waves drench my face.
The breakers will crush this life of mine, with lips
praying in vain, I’ll swallow the fatal waters.
But my loyal wife grieves only for my exile:
it’s the only ill of mine she knows, and groans at.
She doesn’t see me hurled through the vast seas,
pursued by the winds, she doesn’t see death nearing.
It’s good that I didn’t allow her to ship with me,
or I, poor wretch, would endure a double death!
Now, though I die, since she is free from danger,
at least the other half of me will survive.
Ah! What a swift flame flashes from the cloud!
What a mighty crash resounds from the ether!
The blow on her planks from the waves is no less
than a siege-gun’s heavy thud against the walls.
Here comes a wave that overtops them all:
after the ninth and before the eleventh.
I don’t fear dying: but this way of dying’s wretched.
Save me from drowning, and death will be a blessing.
A natural death or dying under the blade, at least
your body rests on the solid ground, as you ebb,
and there are requests to others, and hope of a tomb,
not to be food for the fishes in the ocean.
Assume I deserve such a death, I’m not the only
traveller here. Why does my sentence drown the innocent?
Gods above, and you of the green flood, who rule the seas,
both crowds of you, desist from your threats:
an unhappy man, let me carry the life that’s granted
by Caesar’s relenting anger, to the chosen place.
If you wish to punish me with the sentence I merit,
my fault, even to my judge, does not deserve death.
If Caesar had wished to send me to Stygian waters,
he wouldn’t have needed your help in this.
He has a power, not to be grudged, over my life:
he’ll take away what he’s given, when he wishes.
You, I pray, whom surely no offence of mine
has wounded, be content now with my troubles.
Yet, if you’re all willing to save this wretch,
the life that’s ruined can’t now be saved.
Though the seas quieten, and kind winds blow,
though you spare me, I’ll be no less an exile.
§ 1.2.75 THE JOURNEY: THE DESTINATION
I don’t plough the open sea to trade my goods
greedy to acquire wealth without end,
nor to reach Athens, I once sought as a student,
nor the Asian cities, nor places I’ve seen,
nor do I sail to Alexander’s famous city,
to see your pleasures, happy Nile.
I ask for favourable winds – who would credit it? –
to set my sails for the Sarmatian land.
I’m forced to touch the wild left shore of Pontus:
I complain my flight from my native land’s too slow.
I pray for the journey to be shorter,
to see the people of Tomis in their unknown world.
If you love me, hold back these breakers,
and let your powers favour the ship:
or if you hate me deeply, drive me to the land assigned,
part of my punishment is in the place.
Drive my body on swiftly, winds – why linger here? –
Why do my sails desire Italy’s shores?
Caesar does not want this. Why hold one he expels?
Let the land of Pontus see my face.
He orders it, I deserve it: nor do I think it pious
or lawful to defend a guilt he condemns.
Yet if mortal actions never deceive the gods,
you know that crime was absent from my fault.
Ah, if you know it, if my error has misled me,
if my thought was foolish, but not wicked,
if as the humblest may I’ve favoured that House,
if Augustus’s statutory law was enough for me,
if I’ve sung of the happy age with him as Leader,
and offered incense for Caesar and the Caesars –
if such was my intent, spare me, gods!
If not, may a towering wave drown my life!
Am I wrong, or do heavy clouds begin to vanish.
is the wave of the changing sea defeated, humbled?
No accident, but you, called as witness,
whom we cannot deceive, bring me this aid.
§ 1.3.1 THE FINAL NIGHT IN ROME: PREPARATION
When the saddest memory comes to mind,
of that night, my last hour in the city,
when I recall that night when I left so much
so dear to me, even now tears fall from my eyes.
The day was already here that Caesar ordered
for my departure beyond Italy’s furthest shores.
There wasn’t time or desire enough to prepare
what was fitting, my heart was numb with long delay.
I’d not thought about slaves or companions,
the clothing or the other needs of an exile.
I was as dazed as a man struck by Jove’s lightning,
who lives, whose life’s unknown to the man himself.
But when grief itself cleared my clouded mind,
and at last my senses began to revive,
I spoke to my sad friends at the end on leaving,
the one or two, of so many once, who remained.
As I wept my loving wife wept more bitterly in my arms,
tears falling endlessly over her guiltless cheeks.
My daughter was far away on the Libyan shore,
and couldn’t be informed of my fate.
Wherever you chanced, grief and mourning sounded,
and inside was the semblance of a noisy funeral.
Women and men, children too, cried at my obsequies,
and every corner of home had its tears.
If one might use a great example for a lesser,
this was the face of Troy when she was taken.
Now the cries of men and dogs grew silent:
the Moon on high steered her midnight horses.
Gazing at her, and, by her light, the Capitol,
close to my house, though that was no use to me,
I prayed: ‘You powers that own these sites nearby,
you temples my eyes will never see again,
gods who possess this great city of Quirinus,
I relinquish, receive my salutation, for all time.
And though I take up the shield too late, wounded,
free this banishment from the burden of hate,
and explain to that man-god what error misled me,
so that he doesn’t think my fault a crime,
so my pain’s author knows what you know, too.
If the god is content I can’t be wretched.’
I spoke to the gods in prayer like this,
my wife more so, sobs choking her half-heard cries.
She threw herself before the Lares, hair unbound,
touching the cold hearth with trembling lips,
poured out words to the Penates, before her,
not destined to help the husband she mourned.
§ 1.3.47 THE FINAL NIGHT IN ROME: DEPARTURE
Now vanishing night denied me more delay,
and the Arcadian Bear had turned about her axle.
What could I do? Sweet love of country held me,
but this was the last night before my decreed exile.
Ah! How often I spoke as someone hastened by:
‘Why hurry? Think where and whence you’re hurrying.’
Ah! How often I said, deceptively, I’d a set time,
an appropriate one for my intended journey.
I touched the threshold three times, was called back
three times, even my feet slow to match my intent.
Often, having said ‘Farewell’, I spoke again at length,
and, as if I was going, I gave the last kisses.
Often I gave the same orders, and deceived myself,
eyes turning back towards my dear ones.
At last I said: ‘Why hurry? I’m off to Scythia,
I’m leaving Rome. Both are good reasons for delay.
Living, my living wife’s denied to me forever,
my house, and the sweet ones in that faithful home,
and the friends that I’ve loved like brothers,
O hearts joined to me by Thesean loyalty!
I’ll hug you while I can: perhaps I’ll never again
be allowed to. This hour given me is so much gained.’
No more delay, I left my words unfinished,
and embraced each one dear to my heart.
While I spoke and we wept, Lucifer had risen,
brightest in the high heavens, baleful star to me.
I was torn, as though I had left my limbs behind,
and half seemed severed from my body.
So Mettus grieved when, punishing his treachery,
the horses were driven in different directions.
Then truly the groans and cries of my people rose,
and grieving hands beat on naked breasts.
Then truly my wife, clinging to me at parting,
mingled these sad words amongst my tears:
‘I can’t be separated. Together, we’ll go together.
I’ll follow you and be an exile’s wife in exile.
There’s a path for me too, the far off land will take me:
my going will add little weight to your fleeing ship.
Caesar’s anger drives you to leave your country,
loyalty orders me. Loyalty will be my Caesar.’
So she tried, as she had tried before,
and, with difficulty, ceased trying for my sake.
I went, like one carried off before his funeral,
bedraggled, hair straggling over unshaven cheeks.
Maddened by grief they say she was overcome
by darkness, and fell half-dead in the midst of the room,
and when she rose, hair fouled with filthy dust,
and lifted her body from the cold ground,
she wept for herself, and the deserted Penates,
and often called her lost husband’s name,
groaning no less than if she’d seen the bodies
of her daughter and me, on the stacked pyre,
and wanted to die, to end those feelings by dying,
yet out of care for me she did not die.
May she live, and, since the fates have willed my absence,
live so as always to help me with her aid.
§ 1.4.1 TROUBLED WATERS
Bootes, the guardian of the Erymanthian Bear, touches
the Ocean and stirs the salt-waters with his stars.
I still plough the Ionian Sea, not by my will,
but forced to bravery through my fear.
Ah me! What winds swell the waves,
and throw up boiling sand from the deep!
The breaker leaps mountain-high on prow
and curving stern, and strikes the painted gods.
The pine planks echo, the rigging’s whipped by the wind,
and the keel itself groans with my troubles.
The sailor, confessing cold fear by his pallor,
defeated, obeys his boat, doesn’t guide it by skill.
As a weak rider lets the useless reins,
fall loosely on his horse’s stubborn neck,
so, I see, our charioteer has given the ship her head,
where the wave’s force drives, not where he wishes.
Unless Aeolus alters the winds he’s sent
I’ll be carried to a place I must not visit.
Now Illyria’s shores are far behind, to larboard,
and forbidden Italy shows herself to me.
I pray the wind ends its effort towards a land
denied me, and obeys, with me, a mighty god.
While I speak, fearful and yet eager to be driven back,
with what power the waves pound at her sides!
Mercy, you gods of the blue-green sea, mercy,
let it be enough that Jove is angry with me.
Rescue my weary spirit from a cruel death,
if one already lost may be un-lost.
§ 1.5.1 LOYALTY IN FRIENDSHIP
O you who’ll always be named the first among my friends,
you above all who thought it right to make my fate your own
who were the first, carissime, the most dear, I remember
to dare to sustain me with words when the bolt struck,
who gave me the calm advice to go on living
when my wretched heart was filled with desire for death,
truly you know whom I mean, by these tokens of your name,
nor are you unaware, friend, of the service you rendered.
These things will always be fixed in my very marrow,
and I’ll be an eternal debtor for the life that’s mine,
and my spirit will melt away in the empty air,
leaving my ashes on the cooling pyre,
before the memory of your merit leaves my mind.
and loyalty fades away through the long years.
May the gods favour you, grant you good fortune
never to be in need, a fate dissimilar to mine.
Still, if this ship were borne on a favourable breeze,
perhaps your faithfulness would go unacknowledged.
Pirithous would not have felt Theseus’s friendship
as deeply, if he’d not gone down to the infernal waters.
That Phocean Pylades was an instance of true love
was due to the Furies, sad Orestes.
If Euryalus had not fallen among the Rutulian host,
Hyrtacian Nisus would have found no fame.
Just as red gold is assessed in the flames,
faithfulness is tested by hard times.
While Fortune helps us, a smile on her calm face,
all things follow our undiminished powers:
But they flee with the thunder, and no one knows him,
who a moment ago was circled by crowds of friends.
And this, which I once knew from old examples,
I know now to be true from my own troubles.
You, barely two or three of so many friends, are left me:
the rest were Fortune’s crew, not mine.
So, O few, aid my wounded state all the more,
and grant a safe strand for my wreckage.
And don’t be anxious with false fears, trembling,
lest this faithfulness offends the god!
Often Caesar praises loyalty among enemy troops:
he loves it in his own, approves it in opponents.
My case is better, since I was no armed opponent
of his, but earned this exile through naivety.
So keep watch on my affairs, I pray you,
in case the wrath of the god can be lessened.
§ 1.5.45 HIS ODYSSEY
If anyone wishes to know all my misfortunes,
he asks for more than circumstance allows.
I’ve endured as many evils as stars in the sky,
or as many tiny specks as the dry dust holds:
suffered many greater than you’d credit,
that won’t be believed, though they happened.
One part of it, even, ought to perish with me,
and I wish it could be veiled in concealment.
If I’d an untiring voice, lungs stronger than brass,
and many mouths with many tongues,
I still couldn’t compass all my ills in words,
the content is greater than my powers.
Wise poets, write of my troubles not Ulysses’:
I’ve suffered more than the Neritian.
He wandered a narrow space for many years,
between the palaces of Ithaca and Troy:
after crossing seas whole constellations apart
I’m carried by fate to Getic, and Sarmatian shores.
He had a faithful crew and true companions:
I, in my flight, am deserted by my friends.
Joyful in victory, he sought his native land:
I fled mine, defeated and an exile.
My home’s not Dulichium, Ithaca or Same,
absence from which is no great punishment,
but Rome, that sees the world from her seven hills,
Rome, the place of Empire and the gods.
He had a tough body, enduring toil:
my powers are delicate and slight.
He was always engaged in savage warfare,
I was used to gentler pursuits.
A god crushed me, and no one eased my pain:
Minerva the war-goddess brought him aid.
And as the king of the swollen waves is less than Jove,
Jupiter’s anger oppressed me, Neptune’s him.
And, the most part of his toil is fiction,
there’s no mythology in my troubles.
Finally, he found the household he sought,
reaching the fields he’d aimed at, for so long.
But my native soil’s denied to me forever,
unless the wounded god’s anger lessens.
§ 1.6.1 HIS WIFE: HER IMMORTALITY
Lyde was not so dear to Antimachus,
nor Bittis so loved by her Philetas,
as you, my wife, clinging to my heart,
worthy of a happier, not truer husband.
You’re the support on which my ruins rest,
if I’m still anyone, it’s all your gift.
It’s your doing that I’m not despoiled, stripped bare
by those who sought the planks from my shipwreck.
As a wolf raging with the goad of hunger,
eager for blood, catches the fold unguarded,
or as a greedy vulture peers around
to see if it can find an unburied corpse,
so someone, faithless, in my bitter trouble,
would have come into my wealth, if you’d let them.
Your courage, with our friends, drove them off, bravely,
friends I can never thank as they deserve.
So you’re proven, by one who’s as true as he’s wretched,
if such a witness carries any weight.
Neither Andromache, nor Laodamia, companion
of her husband in death, exceeds you in probity.
If you’d been assigned to Homer, the Maonian bard,
Penelope’s fame would be second to yours:
either you owe it to your own self, not being taught loyalty
by some teacher, but through the character granted you at birth,
or, if it’s allowed to compare the small and great,
Livia, first lady, honoured by you all those years,
teaches you to be the model of a good wife,
becoming like her, through long-acquired habit.
Alas, my poetry has no great powers,
my lips are inadequate to sing your worth! –
if I had any inborn vigour long ago,
it’s extinct, quenched by enduring sorrows! –
or you’d be first among the sacred heroines,
seen to be first, for the virtues of your heart.
Yet in so far as my praise has any power,
you will still live, for all time, in my verse.
§ 1.7.1 HIS PORTRAIT: THE METAMORPHOSES
Whoever has a likeness, an image of my face,
take the ivy, Bacchus’s crown, from my hair.
such tokens of fortune suit happy poets,
a wreath is not becoming to my brow.
Hide it, yet know it, I say this to you, best friend,
who fetch and carry me on your finger,
clasping my semblance in the yellow gold,
seeing all you can of the exile, his dear face.
Perhaps, when you gaze, it will prompt you to say:
‘How far away our friend Ovid is from us!’
Your love is a comfort. Yet my verses are a better
likeness, I ask you to read them such as they are,
verses that speak about altered human forms,
the work cut short by it’s author’s sad flight.
Leaving, mournful, I threw it on the fire, myself,
along with so many other things of mine.
As Althaea, they say, burning the brand, burned
her son, and proved a better sister than a mother,
so I threw the innocent books, that had to die with me,
my vital parts, on the devouring pyre:
because I detested the Muses, my accusers,
or because the poem was rough and still unfinished.
The verses were not totally destroyed: they survive –
several copies of the writings, I think, were made –
Now I pray they live, and with industrious leisure
delight the reader, serve as a reminder of me.
Yet they can’t be read patiently by anyone
whose unaware they lack the final touch.
That work was won from me while on the anvil
and the writing lacks the last rasp of the file.
I ask forgiveness not praise, I’ll be praised in full,
if you don’t despise me, reader.
Have these six lines too, if you think they’re worth
placing at the very front of those books:
‘Whoever touches these volumes, bereft of their author,
at least let them have a place in your city,
a greater favour, since he didn’t publish them,
but they were almost snatched from his funeral.
So whatever weakness this rough work may have,
I’d have amended it, if I’d been allowed.’
§ 1.8.1 A FRIEND’S TREACHERY
From the sea, deep rivers will flow backwards
to their source: the hurrying Sun reverse his wheeling team,
earth will bear stars, and skies be cut by the plough,
water yield flames, and fire yield water:
all things will move against the natural laws,
no part of the universe will hold its course:
now all things will be, that I denied could be,
and there’ll be nothing that you can’t believe.
This I prophesy since I’ve been betrayed by one
whom I thought would bring me help in misery.
Traitor, did you forget me so completely,
or were so afraid to come near my disaster, cruel one,
that you’d no regard, or solace for my downfall,
not even to follow in my funeral train?
Does that sacred and honoured name of friend
lie beneath your feet, a worthless thing?
What effort to visit a comrade, crushed by a mighty blow,
and comfort him, you also, with your words,
and if not to shed a tear at my misfortune
still to offer a few words of feigned distress,
and, at least, say something, as even strangers do,
follow the common speech, public phrases –
see my mournful features, never to be seen again,
while you could, on that final day,
and hear, and return to me, in the same tone,
the never to be repeated, forever, ‘Farewell’?
Others, bound to me by no ties, did this,
and shed tears in token of their feelings.
What, weren’t there powerful reasons for our friendship
in our mutual life and our continuing love?
What, didn’t you share so many of my serious
and trivial moments, and didn’t I share yours?
What, didn’t you not only know me in Rome,
but in so many sorts of foreign places?
Was it all in vain, lost in the ocean winds?
Is it all gone, drowned in Lethe’s waters?
I don’t think of you as born in Quirinus’s tranquil city,
the city my feet must never more re-enter,
but on cliffs, that this sinister Black Sea raises,
or in the wild Scythian or Sarmatian hills,
and your heart circled with veins of flint,
and iron seeded in your rigid breast,
and your nurse a tigress, once, offering
full udders to be drained by your tender throat,
or you’d think my ills less alien to you now,
and wouldn’t stand accused by me of harshness.
But since it is added to my fatal loss,
that those youthful times are discounted, now
endeavour to make me forget this failing, and praise
your efforts with these lips with which I complain.
§ 1.9.1 A FAITHFUL FRIEND
You who read this work of mine without malice,
may you reach life’s goal without hindrance.
And may my prayers that failed to reach the harsh gods,
on my own behalf, have power for you!
You’ll have many friends while you’re fortunate:
when the weather’s cloudy, you’ll be alone.
See how the doves fly to a whitened dovecote,
but a weathered turret never attracts the birds.
Ants never head for an empty granary:
no friends gather round when your wealth is gone.
As a shadow trails those passing through the sun,
and flies when it’s hidden, weighed down by the cloud,
so the fickle crowd chases the glow of Fortune:
when it’s clothed in night’s veil, the crowd is gone.
I pray this might always prove false for you:
yet it’s truth must be admitted from my case.
While I stood firm, my house was crowded enough,
indeed, well known, though it wasn’t ostentatious.
But when the blow came, they all feared its downfall,
and discreetly turned away, in shared flight.
No surprise, since they fear the savage lightning
whose fires often blast everything nearby.
But Caesar approves of a friend who stays loyal
in hard times, however he hates him as an enemy.
and is never angered – no one shows greater restraint –
when someone loves, in adversity, what they loved.
They say even Thoas approved of Pylades,
hearing the tale about Orestes’s friend.
Patroclus’s constant loyalty to Achilles
was often praised by Hector’s lips.
When faithful Theseus went with his friend to the Shades,
they say Pluto, god of Tartarus, was grieved.
Told of the loyalty of Euryalus and Nisus,
Turnus, we credit your cheeks were wet with tears.
There’s faith even for the miserable, approved even in a foe.
Ah me! How few of you my words can move!
Such is my state, such is my fortune now,
there should be no limit to my tears.
Yet my heart, though grieving at my own disaster,
has been made calmer by your own success.
I knew it would happen, dear friend, far back,
when the wind then drove your sail less swiftly.
If there’s a prize for character, or a faultless life,
no one could be more highly valued:
or if anyone’s climbed high through the liberal arts –
well, every cause is made good by your eloquence.
Straightaway, feeling this, I said to you:
‘My friend, a great stage awaits your talents.’
No sheep’s liver, thunder on the left, or the cry
or the flight of some bird I observed, taught it me:
it was augury, a future prediction, based on reason:
that’s how I divined it, and gained my knowledge.
Now it’s true, I congratulate you with all my heart,
and myself, that your genius is not hidden.
If only mine had been buried in deep darkness!
It would have been best if light had failed my studies.
Just as the serious arts serve you, eloquent one,
so dissimilar arts have injured me.
Yet my life’s known to you. You know their author’s
conduct held those same arts at a distance:
you know those verses were the fun of my youth:
though not worth praising, they were still witty.
So, I think, though my offence can’t be defended
by eloquence, such an excuse for it can be found.
Make that excuse, as far as you can, don’t abandon
a friend’s cause: always go on as well as you’ve begun.
§ 1.10.1 OVID’S JOURNEY TO TOMIS
Golden-haired Minerva’s protection’s mine, and will be,
I pray, and the ship’s name’s from her painted helm.
Under sail, she runs well before the lightest wind,
if oars are used, the rowers speed her onward.
She’s not content to beat her peers in winged course,
she overhauls boats that set out long before.
She weathers the tides and the leaping billows,
not drenched, or overwhelmed, by wild seas.
I first joined her at Corinthian Cenchrae, and she
was the loyal friend, and guide, of my anxious flight,
made safe by the divine powers of Pallas,
through all event, through waves struck by the wind.
Now, I pray, she may also cleave the gates of wide Pontus,
and reach the waters she seeks, by the Getic shore.
As soon as she brought me into Aeolian Helle’s sea,
and reached the long passage through the narrows,
we changed tack to larboard, and from Hector’s city
came to your port, Imbrian land, from where
we reached the Zerynthian shore with a light breeze,
as our wearied keel touched Samothrace.
It’s only a short leap from there for someone seeking
Tempyra opposite: and as far as she took me.
Now I chose to travel the Bistonian land on foot:
while she sailed back through the Hellespont’s waves
seeking Dardania, named from its founder,
and you, Lampsacus, protected by the rural god, Priapus,
and virgin Helle’s straits, she carried in flight so insecurely,
that separate Sestos from Abydos’ town,
and Cyzicos clinging to Propontis’s shore,
nobly founded by the Haemonian people,
and Byzantium’s shores that guard the jaws of Pontus,
the giant gateway between the twin seas.
I pray she wins by them, and driven on a strong southerly
may she quickly pass the clashing rocks,
the Thynian bay and from there hold her course
past Apollonia and Anchialus’s high walls.
Then Mesembria’s harbour, and Odesos,
and the citadel of Dionysopolis, yours Bacchus,
and the exiles from Alcathous’s walls
who, they say, set their gods down in this place.
From there may she sail in safety to the Milesian city,
Tomis, where the anger of an injured god has sent me.
If that comes to pass, a lamb will fall, deservedly, to Minerva,
my resources won’t stretch to a larger sacrifice.
You too, Tyndaridae, the Gemini, this island honours,
I beg you, guard our separate paths with gentle powers!
One ship’s ready to thread the narrow Symplegades,
mine to plough through the Bistonian waters.
Though we take different routes, let the one
find favourable winds, no less than the other.
§ 1.11.1 OVID’S APOLOGY FOR THE WORK
Every letter you’ve read in this entire volume,
was composed in the troubled days of my journey.
Either the Adriatic saw me scribbling these words
in the midst of the waves, shivering in icy December,
or the verses I wrote to the wild roaring of the sea,
astonished the Aegean Cyclades, I suspect,
when I’d passed the Isthmus and its two gulfs on my way,
and boarded the second ship of my exile’s path.
I marvel myself my skill didn’t fail me
in such a turmoil of seas and feelings,
Whether numbness or madness is the name for such efforts,
all my troubles were eased by these troubles.
Often I was tossed, precariously, by the stormy Kids:
often the sea was menacing under the Pleiades,
or the day was darkened by Bootes, the Bear-herd,
or a southerly drew wintry rain from the Hyades:
Often the sea broke over the ship: still I spun
my verse, such as it is, with shaking hand.
Now the rigging shrieks, taut in a north wind,
and the curving breaker rises like a hillside.
The helmsman himself raises his hands aloft,
begging help, in prayer, forgetting his skills.
Wherever I look, nothing but the shadow of a death
I fear with anxious mind, and pray for in my fear.
If I reach harbour, the harbour itself will scare me:
the land has more terrors than the hostile sea.
I endure the deceptions of waves and men,
and sword and sea double my fears.
The one, by my blood, hopes for plunder, I’m afraid,
the other wants to win notice by my death.
A barbarous coast to port, used to savage rapine,
always full of bloodshed, murder, war,
and though the ocean’s stirred by wintry waves,
my heart is more turbulent than the sea.
So grant them greater forgiveness, honest reader,
if these verses are less than you hoped for, as they are.
They weren’t written in my garden, as once they were,
or while you, my familiar couch, supported me.
I’m tossed on the stormy deep, on a wintry day,
and the paper itself is exposed to the dark waters.
Let the storm defeat the man! Yet, at the same time,
let him halt the music of his songs, as I do mine.
§ 2.1 HIS PLEA: HIS POETRY
What are you to me, my books, unhappy labour,
me, a wretch, ruined by my own talent?
Why return to the newly condemned Muses, my reproach?
Isn’t one well-deserved punishment enough?
Poetry made men and women want to know me,
but that was no happy omen for me.
Poetry made Caesar condemn me, and my ways,
through my Ars Amatoria: only now is it banned.
Take my work away, and you take the accusation
against me away, also: I charge the verse with guilt.
Here’s the reward for my care, and my sleepless toil,
a punishment’s been devised for my wit.
Were I wise I’d rightly hate the learned Sisters,
goddesses ruinous to their own devotee.
But now – madness is such a friend of my disease –
I’m turning my sad feet to those heights again:
as the defeated gladiator seeks out the arena,
and the beached ship returns to the surging sea.
Perhaps, like Telephus who ruled the Teuthrantian land,
the same weapon will both wound and cure me,
and the Muse who stirred the anger also calm it:
song often influences the great gods. Caesar himself
ordered the mothers and daughters of Italy
to chant the hymns to turreted Ops.
He did the same for Apollo at the Secular Games
those that each age sees only once.
Merciful Caesar, I plead these as my precedents:
let my skill soften your anger.
It’s justified indeed: I don’t deny I deserve it –
shame hasn’t completely fled my cheeks –
But unless I’ve sinned, how can you forgive?
My fate has given you the chance for mercy.
If Jupiter hurled his lightning, every time men sinned,
it wouldn’t be long before he was weapon-less.
When he’s thundered, and scared the world with noise,
he scatters the rain-clouds and clears the air.
So it’s right to call him the father and ruler of the gods,
it’s right the wide world owns nothing greater than Jove.
You also, since you’re called father and ruler of the land,
should follow the ways of the god with the same title.
§ 2.43 HIS PLEA: HIS LOYALTY
And you do: no one has ever been able to hold
the reins of power with greater moderation.
You’ve often granted mercy to a defeated enemy
that he’d not have granted to you if he’d been victor.
I’ve often seen those you’ve enriched by wealth
or honours take up weapons against you:
the day that ends the war ends its anger, for you,
and both sides bring their gifts to the temple together:
even as your soldiers rejoice at beating the enemy,
the enemy’s a reason to rejoice at his own defeat.
My case is stronger: no one says I’ve followed
weapons or hostile forces opposed to you.
By earth, by sea, by heaven’s third power, I swear,
and by you, a present and a visible god,
this heart supported you, greatest of men,
and what I could be alone, I was: yours in spirit.
I prayed you might seek the celestial stars, but not soon:
was a humble member of a crowd that wished the same:
and piously offered incense for you, and one with the rest
aided the common prayers with mine as well.
Do I need to say that even the books that accuse me
are filled with your name in a thousand places?
Examine the major work, that’s still left unfinished,
of bodies changed in unimaginable ways:
you’ll come upon praise of your name there,
you’ll find many pledges of my feeling.
Your glory’s not increased by poetry, nor has it
any means of growing to make it greater.
Jove has fame in excess: still he enjoys his deeds
being retold, and for himself to be the theme of verse,
and when the battles are sung, of his war with the Giants,
it may well be he’s happy with his praise.
Others celebrate you, as you should be sung,
and sing your praise with richer wit than mine:
but as a god’s won by red blood of a hundred bulls,
so he’s won by the smallest offering of incense.
§ 2.77 His Plea: His ‘Fault’
Ah! He was fiercest, cruellest, of all my enemies,
who read my witticisms aloud to you,
so that the verse that honours you in my books
could not be judged more justly.
Who could be my friend if you were angry?
I was scarcely less than an enemy to myself.
When a shattered house begins to settle,
the whole weight falls on the parts that lean,
and when chance forms a crack, it all gapes open,
and dragged down by its mass, falls to ruin.
So my poetry has earned people’s dislike,
as is right, the crowd copied your views.
Yet, I recall, you approved me, and my ways,
when I paraded before you, on the horse you gave.
If that’s no use, and no glory follows the honour
at least I suffered no accusation.
Nor was the fate of those on trial wrongly granted
to my care, nor the cases examined by the centumvirs.
I also settled private issues, without criticism, as arbiter,
and even the losers admitted my good faith.
Ah me! If I’d not been damaged by recent events,
I’d be many times secure in your judgement.
These last events destroy me: one storm blast drowns
the ship, so many times unharmed, in the ocean depths.
It’s no small weight of water that harms me,
but all the ocean flood falls on my head.
Why did I see anything? Why make my eyes guilty?
Why was a mischief, unwittingly, known to me?
Actaeon, unaware, saw Diana unclothed:
none the less he became his own hounds’ prey.
Even fate must be atoned for, among the powers that be,
to a wounded god chance is no excuse.
On that day, when my unlucky error misled me,
my house, humble, without stain, was destroyed.
humble, yet they say, in our ancestors’ time
distinguished, inferior in excellence to none,
and noted neither for wealth nor poverty,
so its knights are not conspicuous either way.
But even if my house is lowly in means and origin,
at least my genius renders it not unknown:
though my practice might have seemed too impetuous,
still my name is great throughout the world,
and the cultured crowd know Ovid well,
and dare count him one not to be despised.
§ 2.120 HIS PLEA: THE SENTENCE
So my house, though pleasing to the Muses, has fallen,
sunk by a single charge though no small one:
yet its fall is such that it can rise again,
if only time will mellow Caesar’s anger,
whose mercy in punishing me is such
that the outcome’s better than I feared.
My life was spared, your anger stopped short of death,
O Prince, how sparingly you used your powers!
Then, as if life were too slight a gift, added,
since you didn’t subtract it, my family wealth.
You didn’t condemn my action by Senate decree,
nor was my banishment ordered by special court.
With stern invective – worthy of a prince –
you yourself, as is right, avenged the offence.
More, the edict, though harsh and threatening,
was still mild when naming my sentence:
since in it I’m called relegatus and not exile,
and special words cover my possessions.
There’s no punishment worse to anyone
in his right senses, than a great man’s displeasure,
but a god’s sometimes known to be appeased:
it’s known for clouds to scatter, the day grow bright.
I’ve seen an elm weighed down with vine leaves,
that’s been struck by savage Jupiter’s lightning.
Though you yourself forbid hope, I’ll still hope:
that’s one thing can be done that you deny me.
Great hope fills me, gazing at you, most merciful prince,
and fails me when I gaze at what I’ve done.
As there’s no steady rage, no constant fury,
in the winds that agitate the air,
but they subside to intermittent silence,
and you’d think they’d set aside their power:
so my fears vanish, change, return,
give, or deny me hope of pleasing you.
§ 2.155 HIS PLEA: HIS PRAYER
So by the gods, who grant and will grant you long life,
if only they love the name of Roman,
by our country, of which I was just now part,
one of the crowd safe and secure in your care –
so I pray, by a grateful city, may the debt of love
be paid you that your acts and spirit constantly deserve,
may Livia, joined with you, complete her years,
worthy of no other husband but you,
if not for her meant for unmarried life,
there was no other you could have married:
may your son, Tiberius, be safe, with you in safety,
and rule this Empire when old, with one older,
and may Germanicus and Drusus, your grandsons,
glory of youth, emulate your and your father’s deeds,
may Victory, always accustomed to your camp,
be present now, seeking the familiar standards,
wings hovering as ever over the Italian leader,
setting the laurel on the shining hair of him
in whose person you battle and wage war,
to whom you entrust the high auspices and the gods,
and so are half-present, watching over the city,
and also far-off conducting savage war:
nay he return to you victor over a defeated enemy,
shine out high on his wreathed chariot –
spare me, I pray, hide your lightning bolt, cruel weapon,
a weapon, ah, too well known to wretched me!
Spare me, father of the country, don’t take away
all hope of placating you, forgetful of my name!
I don’t beg to return, though we believe the great gods
have often granted more than that prayer.
If you granted me a milder, closer place of exile
a large part of my punishment would be eased.
Thrust among enemies, patiently I suffer the extremes,
no exile’s more distant from his native land.
I’m the only one sent to seven-mouthed Hister’s delta,
I’m crushed beneath the Parrhasian virgin's [Callisto/Ursa Major] icy pole –
the Ciziges, the Colchi, the hordes of Teretei and Getae,
are barely held back by the deep flood of the Danube –
and while others have been banished with greater cause,
no one’s assigned a remoter place than mine.
There’s nothing further than this, except frost and foes,
and the sea closed by the binding cold.
So far north Rome extends, west of the Euxine Sea:
the Bastarnae and the Sarmatians hold the nearby region.
This is the furthest land subject to Italian law,
barely clinging to the edges of your Empire.
So, a suppliant, I beg you to banish me somewhere safe,
so that peace as well as my home aren’t taken from me,
so as not to fear the tribes the Danube scarcely checks,
so your subject can’t be captured by the enemy.
Justice forbids any man of Roman blood
to suffer barbarian chains while Caesars live.
§ 2.207 His Plea: ‘Carmen et Error’
Though two charges, carmen et error, a poem and an error,
ruined me, I must be silent about the second fault:
I’m not important enough to re-open your wound, Caesar,
it’s more than sufficient you should be troubled once.
The first, then: that I’m accused of being a teacher
of obscene adultery, by means of a vile poem.
So, it’s possible somehow for divine minds to be wrong,
indeed there are many things beneath their notice.
As Jove, who watches over the gods, as well as
the high heavens, hasn’t time to notice lesser things,
so as you gaze round the world that depends on you,
inferior matters escape your care.
Should you, the Empire’s prince, leave your post
and read poetry I’ve set going on limping feet?
The weight of Rome’s name is not so light,
pressing its burden on your shoulders,
that you can turn your power to foolish games,
examining my idle things with your own eyes.
Now Pannonia, now the Illyrian coast’s to be subdued,
now Raetia and the war in Thrace concerns you,
now Armenia seeks peace, now the Parthian Horse
with timid hand offer their bows and captured standards,
now Germany, through Tiberius, feels your vigour,
and a Caesar wages war for a mighty Caesar.
Truly there’s no weak part in the body of Empire
though nothing so vast has ever existed.
The city and the guardianship of your laws, also,
wearies you, and morality you desire to be as yours.
Nor is that peace yours, that you grant the nations,
since you wage many restless wars.
So, should I wonder if, weighed down by so many things,
you’ve never unrolled my witticisms?
Yet if, by chance, as I wish, you’d had the time
you’d have read nothing criminal in my ‘Art’.
I confess the poem was written without a serious
face, unworthy of being read by so great a prince:
but that doesn’t render it contrary to established law,
or destined to teach the daughters of Rome.
And so you can’t doubt whom I wrote it for,
one of the three books has these four lines:
‘Far away from here, you badges of modesty,
the thin headband, the ankle-covering dress.
I sing what is lawful, permissible intrigue,
and there’ll be nothing sinful in my song.’
Haven’t I rigidly excluded from this ‘Art’
all whom the wife’s headband and dress deny?
§ 2.253 HIS PLEA: HIS DEFENCE
‘But,’ you may say, ‘the wife can use others’ art,
have what she takes from it, without being taught.’
Let a wife read nothing then, since she can learn
about how to do wrong from every poem.
If she’s partial to what’s perverse, then she’ll equip
her character for sin, whatever she touches.
Let her take the Annals – nothing’s coarser than them –
she’ll surely read who made Ilia pregnant.
Let her take Lucretius, she’ll ask straight away
by whom kindly Venus became Aeneas’s mother.
If I’m allowed to present it in order, I’ll show, below,
the mind can be harmed by every sort of poem.
Yet every book’s not guilty because of it:
nothing’s useful, that can’t also wound.
What’s more useful than fire? Yet whoever sets out
to commit arson, arms his bold hands with fire.
Medicine sometimes grants health, sometimes destroy it,
showing which plants are helpful, which do harm.
The robber and cautious traveller both wear a sword:
one for ambush, the other for defence.
Eloquence is learnt to plead just causes:
it protects the guilty, crushes the innocent.
So with verse, read with a virtuous mind
it’ll be established nothing of mine will harm.
But I ‘corrupt some’? Whoever thinks so, errs,
and claims too much for my writings.
Even if I’d confessed it, the games also sow
seeds of iniquity: order the theatres closed!
Many have often found an excuse for sin
when the hard earth’s covered with Mars’s sand!
Close the Circus! The Circus’s freedom isn’t safe:
here a girl sits close to an unknown man.
Why’s any portico open, since certain girls
stroll there, to meet a lover in the place?
What location’s more ‘august’ than a temple?
She’s to avoid them too, if she’s clever in sinning.
When she stands in Jove’s shrine, it’ll come to her,
shrined, how many mothers that god has made:
as she enters Juno’s temple in adoration,
how many rivals caused the goddess pain.
Seeing Pallas she’ll ask why the virgin
raised Ericthonius, the child of sin.
If she enters your gift, the temple of Mars, Venus
stands joined to the Avenger, the husband’s outside the door.
Sitting in Isis’s shrine, she’ll ask why Juno drove her
over the Ionian Sea and the Bosphorus.
It’ll be Anchises reminds her of Venus,
Endymion of Luna, Iasion of Ceres.
Anything can corrupt a perverted mind:
everything’s harmless in its proper place.
The first page of my ‘Art’, a book written only
for courtesans, warns noblewomen’s hands away.
Any woman who bursts in, where a priest forbids,
taking his guilt away, is herself the sinner.
Yet it’s no crime to unroll sweet verse: the chaste
read many things they shouldn’t be doing.
Often grave-browed women consider
naked girls positioned for every kind of lust.
And Vestals’ eyes see prostitutes’ bodies:
that’s no reason for punishing their owners.
§ 2.313 HIS PLEA: HIS CHARACTER
But why is my Muse so wildly wanton,
why does my book tempt one to love?
Nothing for it but to confess my sin and my
open fault: I’m sorry for my wit and taste.
Why didn’t I attack Troy again in my poems,
that fell before the power of the Greeks?
Why silent on Thebes, Eteocles, Polynices,
mutual wounds, heroes at the seven gates?
Warring Rome didn’t deny me matter,
it’s virtuous work to tell one’s country’s tale.
Lastly, since you’ve filled the world with deeds,
some part of it all was mine to sing,
as the sun’s radiant light attracts the eye
so your exploits should have drawn my spirit.
I’m undeservedly blamed. Narrow the furrow I plough:
while that was a great and fertile theme.
A little boat shouldn’t trust itself to the waves
because it dares to fool about in a tiny pond.
Perhaps – and I should even question this – I’m fit
for lighter verse, adequate for humble music:
but if you order me to sing of the Giants, beaten
by Jove’s lightning, the weight will cripple me if I try.
It’s a rich mind can tell of Caesar’s mighty deeds,
if the content’s not to overpower the work.
Still I was daring: but I thought I detracted from it,
and what was worse, it harmed your authority.
I returned to my light labours, the songs of youth,
stirring my feelings with imaginary desires.
I wish I hadn’t. But destiny drew me on,
and my cleverness punished me.
Ah, that I ever studied! Why did my parents
educate me, or letters entertain my eyes?
This lewdness made you hate me, for the arts,
you were sure, troubled sacred marriage-beds.
But no bride learned deception from my teaching,
no one can teach what he scarcely knows.
I made sweet pleasurable songs in such a way
that no scandal ever touched my name.
There’s no husband even in the lower ranks,
who doubts his paternity through my offence.
Believe me, my character’s other than my verse –
my life is modest, my Muse is playful –
and most of my work, deceptive and fictitious,
is more permissive than its author.
A book’s not evidence of a life, but a true impulse
bringing many things to delight the ear.
Or Accius would be cruel, Terence a reveller,
and those who sing of war belligerent.
§ 2.361 HIS PLEA: GREEK PRECEDENTS
I’m not alone in having sung tender love-songs:
but I’m the one punished for singing of love.
What did old Anacreon’s lyric Muse teach
but a mixture of love and plenty of wine?
What did Sappho, the Lesbian, teach the girls, but love?
Yet Sappho was acceptable, and so was he.
It didn’t harm you, Callimachus, who often confessed
your pleasures to the reader, in poetry.
No plot of playful Menander’s is free of love,
yet he’s commonly read by boys and girls.
The Iliad itself, what’s that but an adulteress
over whom a husband and a lover fought?
What’s first in it but a passion for Briseis,
and how her abduction made the leaders quarrel?
What’s the Odyssey but Penelope wooed by many suitors
while her husband’s away, for the sake of love?
Who but Homer tells of Mars and Venus
their bodies snared in a flagrant act?
On whose evidence but great Homer’s do we know
of Calypso and Circe, goddesses burning for a guest?
All forms of writing are surpassed in seriousness by tragedy,
yet this too always deals with matters of love.
What’s in the Hippolytus but Phaedra’s blind passion?
Canace’s famed for love of her brother.
Again, didn’t ivory-shouldered Pelops, with Phrygian steeds
abduct the Pisan girl, while Cupid drove?
Medea, who dipped her sword in her children’s blood,
was roused to do it by the pain of slighted love.
Passion suddenly changed King Tereus, Philomela,
and Procne, the mother still mourning her Itys, to birds.
If Thyestes, her wicked brother, hadn’t loved Aerope
we’d not read about the swerving horses of the Sun.
Impious Scylla would never have touched tragedy
if she hadn’t shorn her father’s hair, through love.
Who reads of Electra and maddened Orestes,
reads of Aegisthus’s and Clytemnestra’s crime.
Why tell of Bellerophon, who defeated the Chimaera,
whom a deceitful woman brought near to death?
Why speak of Hermione, or you, virgin Atalanta,
or you Cassandra, Apollo’s priestess, loved by Agamemnon?
Or of Danae, Andromeda, of Semele mother of Bacchus,
of Haemon, or Alcmena for whom two nights were one?
Why tell of Admetus, Theseus, Protesilaus
first of the Greeks to touch the Trojan shore?
Add Iole, and Deidamia, Deianira Hercules’s wife,
Hylas and Ganymede the Trojan boy.
Time will fade if I repeat all the passions of tragedy,
and my book will scarcely hold the naked names.
There’s ‘tragedy’ too, involving obscene laughter,
with many exceedingly shameful words:
it didn’t harm one author to show an effeminate
Achilles, belittling brave actions with his verse.
Aristides associated himself with Milesian vice,
but Aristides wasn’t driven from his city.
Eubius wasn’t exiled, writer of a vile story,
who described the abortion of an embryo,
nor Hemitheon who’s just written Sybaritica,
nor those who’ve not concealed their adventures.
These things are shelved with records of learned men,
and are open to the public through our leaders’ gifts.
§ 2.421 HIS PLEA: ROMAN PRECEDENTS
I’ll not defend myself with so many foreign weapons,
Roman books too have plenty of frivolous matter.
Though Ennius sang of war, with grave speech –
Ennius great in talent, primitive in his art –
though Lucretius explains the cause of impetuous fire,
and predicts the triple death of earth, water, air,
yet wanton Catullus often sang of his girl,
she whom, deceptively, he called Lesbia:
not content with her, he broadcast many love poems,
in which he confessed to his own affairs.
Equal and similar licence from little Calvus
who revealed his intrigues in various metres.
Why speak of Ticidas’ or Memmius’ verse
in which things are named, and shameful things?
Cinna belongs with them, Anser bolder than Cinna,
and the light things of Cornificus and Cato,
and others, in whose books she who was disguised
as Perilla is now called by your name, Metella.
Varro, too, who guided Argo to the waves of Phasis,
couldn’t keep silent about his own affairs.
Hortensius’ and Servius’ poems are no less perverse.
Who’d hesitate to follow such great names?
Sisenna did Aristides and wasn’t harmed
for weaving vile jokes into the tale.
It was no disgrace to Gallus that he wrote about Lycoris,
that came from his indulgence in too much wine.
Tibullus thinks it’s hard to believe his girl’s denials,
when she swears the same about him, to her husband.
He also admits to teaching her how to cheat her guards,
saying, the wretch, that he’s checked by his own arts.
Often he recalls how he touched her hand
as if appraising the gem in his girl’s ring:
and tells how he often signalled by nods, or fingers,
and traced silent letters on the table’s surface:
and he teaches what juices erase the bruise
that the imprint of a love-bite often makes:
finally he begs her more than careless husband
to keep watch too, so she’ll sin a little less.
He knows who’s barked at, when someone prowls
outside, why there’s so much coughing by the door.
He teaches many maxims for such affairs,
and by what arts a wife can cheat her spouse.
It didn’t do him harm, Tibullus is read and pleases,
and he was known when you were first called prince.
You’ll find the same maxims in charming Propertius:
yet he’s not censured in the slightest way.
I succeeded them, since honesty forbids me
to reveal the names of well-known living men.
I confess I’d no fear that where so many sailed,
one would be wrecked, and all the rest unharmed.
§ 2.471 HIS PLEA: DUBIOUS ENTERTAINMENTS
Others have written about the art of playing dice –
to our ancestors that was no light sin –
how to tally the bones, what throw scores the most,
and how to avoid the ruinous ‘dogs’:
how the dice count, when a side is challenged
how one should throw, and move given the throw:
how a multi-coloured piece attacks in a straight line,
when a piece between two enemy pieces is lost,
how to pursue with force, and then recall
the piece in front, and retreat again safely, in company:
how a small board’s set with three ‘stones’ a side,
and winning rests in keeping them together:
and those other games – I’ll not describe them all
that tend to waste that precious thing, our time.
Look, this man tells of various kinds of ball-game,
that one teaches swimming, this, bowling hoops.
others have written works on painting with cosmetics:
that one the etiquette for dinner-parties:
another shows the clay from which pots are moulded,
or teaches what storage jar’s best for clear wine.
Such things are toyed with, in December’s smoky month,
but nobody was damned for writing them.
Misled by these I made poems, without gravity,
but a grave punishment has followed my jests.
In the end I’ve not seen one of all those many writers
who’s been ruined by his Muse – they picked on me.
§ 2.497 HIS PLEA: THE OTHER ARTS
What if I’d written lewd and obscene mimes,
that always show the sin of forbidden love,
in which a smart seducer constantly appears,
and the skilful wife cons her stupid husband?
They’re seen by nubile girls, wives, husbands,
sons, indeed most of the Senate attend.
It’s not enough your ears are burned by sinful words:
your eyes get used to many shameful things:
and when the lover’s newly tricked the husband,
he’s applauded, given a prize, to vast acclaim:
because it’s common, theatre’s profitable for poets,
and the praetor pays for sin at no small price.
Check the cost of your own games, Augustus,
you’ll scan many pricey items like these.
You’ve seen them yourself and often shown them others –
your greatness is so generous everywhere –
and with your eyes, that the whole world employs,
you’ve calmly watched these staged adulteries.
If it’s right to scribble mimes that copy vice,
a smaller punishment is due my matter.
Or is this kind of writing safe on stage, where
it’s allowed, and theatre grants licence to the mime?
Well my poems have often been danced to, publicly,
often they’ve even detained your eyes.
As images of the bodies of ancient heroes,
some hand has painted, glow in our houses,
so isn’t there a little painting too in some place
showing the various forms and acts of love.
Not only does Ajax sit there, his look betraying wrath,
and savage Medea, a mother with sin in her face,
but Venus, damp, too, wringing wet hair in her fingers,
rising, scarce decent, from her natal waves.
Some sing the noise of war, its blood-stained weapons,
some of your actions, some of your ancestors’.
Nature, grudgingly, shut me in a narrow space,
gave my ingenuity slender powers.
Yet Virgil, the happy author of your Aeneid,
brought the man and his arms to a Tyrian bed,
and no part of the whole work’s more read
than that love joined in an improper union.
Before, in youthful pastoral music, the same poet
played out the passions of Phyllis and sweet Amaryllis.
I too, long ago, sinned with that kind of writing:
a fault that’s not new earns new punishment:
I’d published those songs when I passed before you,
so many times, a faultless knight, as you reviewed our sins.
So the writing I thought, in my youth, would never hurt me,
scarcely foreseeing it, hurts me now I’m old.
Late vengeance in excess for those early books,
remote the penalty from the time of guilt.
§ 2.547 HIS PLEA: LAST DEFENCE AND PRAYER
Still, don’t think that all my work’s remiss,
I’ve often launched my boat under full sail.
I’ve written six of the Fasti in as many books,
each volume ending with its own month’s end.
I wrote it recently Caesar, under your name,
but my fate interrupted work dedicated to you.
And I gave a royal poem to the tragic stage,
in the heavy style that tragedy demands.
And I also sang bodies changed to new forms,
though my efforts lacked the final touch.
If only you might calm your anger for a while
and order some of it read while you’re at leisure,
a few lines, where having started from the world’s
first origin, I bring the work, Caesar, to your times!
You’ll see how much you yourself have inspired my spirit,
how in song my mind favours you, and yours.
I’ve never hurt anyone with caustic verse,
my poetry’s never accused anyone.
I’ve openly avoided wit steeped in venom,
not a single letter’s stained with poisonous jest.
Among so many thousands of our people,
so much writing, I’m the one my Calliope wounds.
So I’m sure there’s no citizen who delights
in my misfortune, but there are many of them who grieve:
I don’t believe there’s one who jeers at my fall,
if there’s any regard at all for an open heart.
I pray this, and other things, might move your will,
O father, O guardian, and salvation of the land!
Not that I should return to Italy, unless some day
perhaps you’ll be swayed by my long punishment,
but a safer, more peaceful place of exile, I beg for,
so my punishment might match the offence.
§ 3.1.1 HIS BOOK ARRIVES
‘I come in fear, an exile’s book, sent to this city:
kind reader, give me a gentle hand, in my weariness:
don’t shun me in fear, in case I bring you shame:
not a line of this paper teaches about love.
Such is my author’s fate he shouldn’t try,
the wretch, to hide it with any kind of wit.
Even that unlucky work that amused him
in his youth, too late alas, he condemns and hates!
See what I bring: you’ll find nothing here
but sadness, poetry fitting circumstance.
If the crippled couplets limp in alternate lines,
it’s the elegiac metre, the long journey:
If I’m not golden with cedar-oil, smoothed with pumice,
I’d blush to be better turned out than my author:
if the writing’s streaked with blotted erasures,
the poet marred his own work with his tears.
If any phrase might not seem good Latin,
it was a land of barbarians he wrote in.
If it’s no trouble, readers, tell me what place,
what house to seek, a book strange to this city.’
Speaking like this, covertly, with anxious speech,
I found one, eventually, to show me the way.
‘May the gods grant, what they denied our poet,
to be able to live in peace in your native land.
Lead on! I’ll follow now, though, weary, I come
by land and sea from a distant world.’
He obeyed, and guiding me, said: ‘This is Caesar’s
Forum, this is the Sacred Way named from the rites,
here’s Vesta’s temple, guarding the Palladium
and the fire, here was old Numa’s tiny palace.’
Then, turning right, here’s the gate to the Palatine,
here’s Jupiter Stator, Rome was first founded here.
Gazing around, I saw prominent doorposts hung
with gleaming weapons, and a house fit for a god.
‘And is this Jove’s house?’ I said, a wreath of oak
prompting that thought in my mind.
When I learnt its owner, ‘No error there,’ I said,
this is truly the house of mighty Jove.’
But why do laurels veil the door in front,
their dark leaves circling the august ones?
Is it because this house earned unending triumph,
or because it’s loved by Apollo of Actium forever?
Is it because it’s joyful, and makes all things joyful?
Is it a mark of the peace it’s given the world?
Does it possess everlasting glory, as the laurel
is evergreen, without a single withered leaf to gather?
§ 3.1.47 HIS BOOKS ARE BANNED
The writing gives the reason for the coronal wreath:
it says that by his efforts citizens were saved.
Best of fathers, add one more citizen to them,
driven away, and hidden at the world’s end,
the cause of whose punishment, which he confesses
he deserved, lay in nothing that he did, but in an error.
Ah me! I dread the place, I dread the man of power,
and my writing wavers with the tremor of fear.
Can you see the paper’s colour, bloodless pale?
Can you see each other footstep tremble?
I pray, that, some day, your house makes peace with him
who authored me, and, under the same masters, greets him!
Then I was led up the high stairway’s even steps,
to the sublime, shining temple of unshorn Apollo,
where statues alternate with exotic pillars,
Danaids, and their savage father with naked sword:
and all that men of old and new times thought,
with learned minds, is open to inspection by the reader.
I searched for my brothers, except those indeed
their author wishes he had never written.
As I looked in vain, the guard, from that house
that commands the holy place, ordered me to go.
I tried another temple, joined to a nearby theatre:
that too couldn’t be entered by these feet.
Nor did Liberty allow me in her temple,
the first that was open to learned books.
Our wretched author’s fate engulfs his children,
and from birth we suffer the exile he endures.
Perhaps one day Caesar, aware of the long years,
will be less harsh to him and to us.
I pray, gods, or rather – since I shouldn’t address
the crowd – Caesar, greatest of them, hear my prayer!
Meanwhile, since the public forum’s closed to me,
let me lie hidden in some private place.
You too, ordinary hands, if it’s allowed, take up
my poetry, dismayed by the shame of its rejection.
§ 3.2.1 THE WEARINESS OF EXILE
So it was in my destiny to visit Scythia too,
and the land that lies under the Lycaonian pole:
neither you, you crowd of learned Muses,
nor you Apollo have brought aid to your priest.
It’s no help to me I played about, without real sin,
that my Muse was more wanton than my life,
since I’ve suffered many dangers on land and sea,
and Pontus, seared by perpetual frost, holds me.
I who fled from ‘business’, born for idle ease,
I was tender, and incapable of labour,
now I endure the extremes, no harbourless seas
no far-flung journeys have had the power to kill me:
my spirit matched my ills: my body borrowed
strength from it to bear what’s scarcely bearable.
Still, while I was hurled, anxious, over land and sea,
the effort masked my cares, and my sick heart:
so, now the journey’s done, the toil is over,
and I’ve reached the country of my punishment,
only grieving pleases, there’s no less rain from my eyes
than water from the melting snow in springtime.
Rome’s in my thoughts, and home, and longed-for places,
whatever of mine remains in the city I’ve lost.
Ah, how often I’ve knocked at the door of my own tomb
and yet it has never opened to me!
Why have I escaped so many swords, so many
storms that threatened to overwhelm an ill-starred life?
Gods, I’ve found too constant in cruelty,
sharers of the anger one god feels,
I beg you, drive my slow fate onwards
forbid the doors of death to close!
§ 3.3.1 LONGING FOR HIS WIFE
If you’re wondering perhaps why my letter
is written in another’s hand, I’m ill.
Ill in the furthest region of an unknown land,
and almost unsure that I’ll be better.
How do you think I feel, lying here
in a vile place, among Getae and Sarmatians?
I can’t stand the climate, I’m not used to the water,
and the land itself, I don’t know why, displeases.
There’s no house here suitable for a patient, no food
that’s any use, no one to ease his pain with Apollo’s art,
no friend here to bring comfort, no one
to beguile with talk the slowly moving hours.
I’m weary lying here among distant peoples, places,
in sickness now thoughts come to me, of what’s not here.
Though I think of everything, still you above all, wife,
it’s you who occupy most of my thoughts.
Absent, I speak to you: you alone my voice names:
there no night for me without you, and no day.
They even say when I babbled disjointed things,
your name was on my delirious lips.
If I were failing now, and my tongue stuck to my palate
could barely be revived by a little wine,
let someone say my lady’s come, I’ll rise,
hope of you the reason for my vigour.
So, maybe, while I’m anxious for my life,
do you pass happy hours there forgetting me?
Not you, I know it. Dearest, it’s clear to me
without me you have no hour that isn’t sad.
Still if my fate’s fulfilled its destined years,
and the end of my life’s here, so quickly,
how difficult was it, O great gods, to spare the dying,
so I might have been covered by my native earth?
If sentence might have been delayed till the hour of death,
or swift death might have anticipated exile.
I could easily have renounced the light, just now,
when I was whole, now life’s given me to die in exile.
So I’ll die far away then, on a foreign shore,
and my fate will be desolate as the place itself:
my body won’t grow weak on a familiar couch,
at my death there’ll be no-one there to weep:
nor will my lady’s tears be falling on my lips,
adding a few brief moments to my life:
no parting instructions, no last lament
as a friendly hand closes my failing eyes:
but with no funeral rites, without honour of a tomb,
my head will bow, un-mourned, in a barbarous land!
§ 3.3.47 HIS EPITAPH
Hearing this won’t your whole heart be shaken
won’t you strike your faithful breast with trembling hand?
Won’t you stretch your arms in vain in my direction,
and call on your wretched husband’s empty name?
Don’t lacerate your cheeks or tear your hair,
it’s not now, for a first time, I’m taken from you, mea lux.
Think that I perished when I lost my native land:
that was an earlier and a deeper death.
Now if you can – but you can’t, best of wives –
be glad that so many of my ills end with my death.
This you can do, ease the woes by suffering them
with a brave heart, those you’ve known for a long time.
If only our souls might vanish with the body,
so no part of me escapes the greedy pyre!
Since if the deathless spirit flies on high in the empty air,
and old Pythagoras of Samos’s words are true,
a Roman will wander among Sarmatian shades,
a stranger forever among the savage dead.
But make sure my bones are brought back in a little urn:
so I’ll not be an exile still in death.
No one forbids that: Theban Antigone buried
her brother’s body under the earth, despite the king.
and, mixing leaves and nard with my bones,
bury them in ground near the city:
and carve these lines in fine letters on the marble
for the hurried eyes of passers-by to read:
I LIE HERE, WHO TOYED WITH TENDER LOVE,
OVID THE POET BETRAYED BY MY GENIUS:
BE NOT SEVERE, LOVER, AS YOU PASS BY,
SAY ‘EASY MAY THE BONES OF OVID LIE’
That suffices for an epitaph. In fact my books
are a greater and a lasting monument,
those, I know, though they’ve injured him
will give their author fame and enduring life.
But you, forever, bring funeral gifts to the dead
and wreaths that are soaked with your tears.
Though the fire transforms my body to ash,
the sorrowing dust will know your faithful care.
I’d write more: but my voice, tired of speech,
and my dry tongue, deny power to dictate it.
Accept the last words perhaps my lips will utter,
what he who sends them to you cannot do: ‘Fare well.’
§ 3.4.1 A WARNING
O you who were always dear to me, but truly known
in hard times, after my hopes collapsed,
if you believe anything from a friend whom life has taught,
live for yourself, and keep far away from the great.
Live for yourself, as far as you can, avoid the bright light:
it’s a fierce lightning bolt that falls from that bright citadel.
Though only the powerful can help us,
it’s no use if they choose to harm us.
The lowered yard escapes the winter storm,
broad sails bring more risk than the narrow.
See how the light cork bobs on the waves,
while its own weight sinks the heavy net.
If I who warn you had once been warned myself,
perhaps I’d be in that city where I ought to be.
While I lived with you, while the light breeze bore me,
this boat of mine sailed on through calm water,
He who falls on level ground – it scarcely happens –
falls to rise again from the earth he touched,
but poor Elpenor who tumbled from the high roof
met his king again as a cripple and a shade.
Why is it that Daedalus beat his wings in safety
while Icarus gave his name to the endless waves?
Why because Icarus flew high, the other lower:
yet both flew on wings that were not their own.
Believe me, who lives quietly lives well,
and every man should be happy with his lot.
Eumedes would not have lost his child, if Dolon,
his foolish son, hadn’t yearned for Achilles’ horses.
Merops would not have seen his son on fire, his daughters
trees, if he’d sufficed Phaethon as a father.
You too, always fear what is too high,
and narrow the sails of your intentions.
Since you ought to run life’s course on sound feet,
and enjoy a brighter destiny than mine.
You deserve my prayers for you, by your kind
affection, and that loyalty that clings to me always.
I saw you grieving for my fate, with such a look
as I believe my own face must have showed.
I saw your tears falling on my lips,
tears that I drank with your faithful words.
Even now you defend your exiled friend zealously,
easing the pain that can scarcely be eased.
Live unenvied, pass sweet years, unknown,
form friendships equal to your own,
and love the name of Ovid, the only part of him
not exiled: the rest Scythian Pontus holds.
The land near the stars of the Erymanthian Bear
imprisons me, earth gripped with freezing cold.
The Bosphorus, Don, the Scythian marshes lie beyond it,
a handful of names in a region scarcely known.
Further there’s nothing but uninhabitable cold.
Ah how near I am to the ends of the earth!
And my country’s far away, my dear wife’s far away,
and everything that, after them, was sweet.
Even so they’re still present, though I cannot
touch them: everything’s alive in my mind.
My home’s before my eyes, the city, the image of places,
every event that happened in each place.
My wife’s form is before my eyes, as if she were here,
She makes my misfortunes darker: she lightens them:
darkens them by her absence, lightens them by her gift
of love, and her strength in enduring the load she bears.
You too cling to my heart, my friends,
whom I’d like to mention each by name,
but cautious fear inhibits that service, and I think
you wouldn’t want a place in my verse.
You did before: it was like an honour, deserving thanks,
for your names to be read in my poems.
Since it’s dangerous now, I’ll speak to you, each
in my heart, and be a source of fear to none.
My verse gives no hints that drag my friends from hiding.
Let him who loved me, love in secret still.
But though I’m absent, far away in a distant place,
know you’re always present in my heart.
And in whatever way each can, ease my pain somehow,
don’t refuse an outcast a loyal hand.
So may good fortune stay with you, and may you never,
touched by a like fate, have to make the same request.
§ 3.5.1 HIS ERROR AND ITS NATURE
My friendship with you was recent, so you
could have concealed it without trouble,
yet you couldn’t have embraced me more closely
if my ship had been running, by chance, before the wind.
When I fell and everyone ran in fear from my ruin,
turning their backs against my friendship,
you dared to touch the body Jove’s lightning struck,
and touch the threshold of a house despaired of.
You, a new friend, not one known by long usage, in my pain,
gave me what scarcely two or three of my old friends did.
I saw your expression of grief, noted your face,
wet with tears and more pallid than my own.
And seeing your tears falling at every word,
drinking the tears with my lips, the words in my ears,
I felt your encircling arms clasp my neck,
and your kisses mingled with the sound of sobbing.
I’ve also felt your strong defence of me, in my absence –
dear friend, you know that ‘dear’ might stand for your true name –
and I possess many clear signs of your affection,
as well, that will not be absent from my heart.
May the gods always grant you power to defend your own,
and aid them in more fortunate circumstances.
If you ask meanwhile – and I believe, of you,
that you do – how I am, a ruined man, on these shores,
I’m led on by the slight hope: don’t remove it from me,
that the desolating will of the god can be mollified.
Whether my hope is rash, or whether I touch on what is possible,
may you set out to prove, I beg, that what I wish is possible,
Whatever eloquence you have apply to this,
to showing that my prayer might be effective.
The greater a man the more his anger can be placated,
and a noble mind has generous impulses.
It’s enough for the great lion to bring down his quarry:
when his enemy’s fallen the battle’s at an end:
but wolves and lowly bears will worry the dying,
as will every creature of the lower orders.
Who can we show at Troy greater than brave Achilles?
But he couldn’t suffer aged Dardanian Priam’s tears.
Porus and the funeral rites of Darius,
display Emathian Alexander’s mercy, to us.
And to show not merely human anger turned to mildness,
Juno’s former enemy Hercules is now her son-in-law.
So it’s impossible for me not to hope of salvation,
since the cause of my punishment’s not stained with blood.
I never tried to ruin everything by attacking
Caesar’s life, which is the life of the world:
I’ve said nothing: a pure tongue has spoken,
no impious words poured out with too much wine:
I’m punished because my unknowing eyes
saw an offence, my sin’s that of possessing sight.
True I can’t entirely defend myself from blame,
but one of my offences was an error.
So hope remains that he might bring himself to ease
my punishment by changing the terms of its location.
Might such a dawn as that be brought to me, by bright
Lucifer with swift horses, herald of the shining Sun!
§ 3.6.1 HIS ERROR: THE FATAL EVIL
Dearest friend, you neither wish to hide the bond of our
friendship, nor, if you did wish so, have you the power.
Since, while it was right, no other was dearer to me,
no one in the whole city closer to you than me:
that love was so truly witnessed by the crowd
it was almost better known than you or I were:
and your openness of heart to your dear friends –
is well known to the man you cultivate.
You concealed nothing I was not aware of,
and entrusted many hidden things, to my heart:
I told whatever secrets I had to you
except that one that ruined me.
If you’d known that too, my friend, you’d be enjoying
your companions safety, I’d be safe through your advice.
But my fate was dragging me surely to punishment:
it closed off every road that led to good.
Whether with care I might have avoided this evil,
or whether there’s no way to overcome fate,
Oh, you, closest to me through long friendship,
you whom I miss almost the most of all,
remember me still, and, if favour grants you power,
prove it on my behalf, I beg you,
lessen the anger of the injured god,
and lessen my punishment by a change of place,
and that because there’s no wickedness in my heart,
an error was the cause of my offence.
What chance it was, through which my eyes were witness
to a fatal evil, it’s not safe or brief to tell.
As if from its own wound, my mind shrinks
from that time, and thinking of it is new shame,
and whatever is able to bring us such shame
should be veiled and hidden in the blind night.
So I’ll say nothing but that I sinned,
though I sought no advantage from that sin,
and my offence should be called foolishness,
if you want to give a true name to what I did.
If it’s not so, find a more distant place:
call this a country too near Rome for me.
§ 3.7.1 THE DELIGHTS OF THE MIND
Go, greet Perilla, hastily written letter,
and be the faithful servant of speech.
You’ll find her sitting with her sweet mother,
or among her books, and the Muses.
Wherever she’s doing when she knows you’ve come
she’ll stop, and ask you quickly how I am.
Say I live, but so that I’d rather not live,
my ills not eased by any length of time:
and still I return to the Muses though they harmed me,
forcing words to fit with alternating feet.
Say: ‘Do you still cling to our shared studies,
write learned verse, though not in your father’s style?
Since nature and fate gave you modest
manners, and the rare gift of imagination.
I was the first to lead you to Pegasus’s spring
lest that precious rill of water be lost:
I first discerned it, in your girlhood’s tender years,
when I was your friend and guide, father to daughter.
And if the same fire still burns in your heart,
only Sappho of Lesbos’s work outshines you.
But I fear lest my fate holds you back,
and that since my misfortune your mind is idle.
I often used to read your verses to me, while I could,
and mine to you, often your critic, often your teacher:
giving ear to the poems you had made,
causing you to blush when you fell silent.
From the example, perhaps, of how books hurt me,
you too have been harmed by my punishment.
Have no fear, Perilla: only let no man or woman
learn from your writings how to love.
So, learned girl, reject every reason for idleness,
return to the true arts and your sacred calling.
The long years will spoil those precious looks,
and time’s wrinkles mar your furrowed brow,
Ruinous age that comes with noiseless step
will take possession of all your beauty:
you’ll grieve when someone says: “She was lovely”,
and you’ll complain that your mirror lies.
You have a modest fortune, though worth a great one,
but imagine yours the equal of immense wealth,
still fortune gives and takes away as she pleases:
suddenly he’s Irus the beggar, who was Croesus.
In short, we’ve nothing that isn’t mortal,
except the benefits of heart and mind.
Look at me, my country lost, you two, and my home,
and everything, that could be, taken from me.
still I follow and delight in my genius:
Caesar has no power over that.
Let whoever will end this life with a cruel blade,
yet my fame will survive when I am dead,
and I’ll be read as long as warlike Rome
looks, in victory, from her hills, on all the world.
You also: may a happier use of art await you,
in whatever way you can, evade the future’s flame!’
§ 3.8.1 HIS DESIRE FOR A CHANGE OF PLACE
Now I’d wish to drive Triptolemus’s chariot,
he who scattered fresh seed on uncultivated soil:
now I’d wish to bridle Medea’s dragons,
she fled with from your citadel, Corinth:
now I’d wish for wings to beat in flight,
either yours Perseus, or yours Daedalus:
so the gentle air might fall beneath my swiftness
and suddenly, I’d see my country’s sweet earth,
and the faces in the house I left, true friends,
and above all my dear wife’s features.
Foolish, why utter childish prayers for them in vain,
things which no day brings, or could bring?
If you can only pray, worship the divine Augustus,
and petition the god you’ve known, in the proper way.
He can bring you feathers and winged chariots:
let him grant your return and you’ll have wings at once.
If I pray for this – and there’s nothing I ask more –
I fear only lest my prayer might be immodest.
Perhaps, sometime, when his anger’s sated,
I need to pray then with a still anxious mind.
Meanwhile something less, but a great gift to me,
would be to order me somewhere away from here.
Sky, and water, earth and air don’t suit me:
ah me! A perpetual weakness grips my body!
Whether the disease of an ill mind drains my limbs,
or this region is the cause of my misfortune,
I’m vexed by insomnia since I reached Pontus,
my flesh scarce covers bone, food barely finds my lips:
my skin has the colours of the autumn leaves,
struck by the first frost, when winter spoils them,
and no strength of body brings relief,
and I never lack the cause of grievous pain.
I’m no fitter in mind than body, rather both
are ill and I endure a double ache.
The nature of that fate I must view clings to me,
and stands before my eyes like a visible form:
and when I consider this place, the customs, dress,
the language of the people, what I am and what I was,
my love of death is such, I complain of Caesar’s anger,
who did not avenge his wrongs with the sword.
But as he’s exercised a mild displeasure, once,
let him ease my exile now, by a change of place.
§ 3.9.1 ORIGINS OF TOMIS
So there are Greek cities here – who’d believe it? –
among the place-names of the savage barbarians:
here too colonists came, sent by the Milesians,
to found Greek holdings among the Getae.
But its ancient name, older than the city’s founding,
was derived for it from Absyrtus’s murder.
Since wicked Medea, fleeing the father she’d left,
in the Argo, that ship built with the protection
of warlike Minerva, and first to course through
these unknown seas, rested its oars in these shallows.
A look-out on a high hill saw Aeetes ship far-off,
and said: ‘A guest from Colchis, I know the sail.’
While the Argonauts rushed to loose the cables,
while the anchor was raised swiftly by ready hands,
the Colchian struck her breast, knowing her guilt,
with a hand that dared and would dare much evil,
and though her mind retained its great courage,
there was a pallor over the girl’s troubled face.
So, watching the approaching sail, she cried:
‘We’re caught: my father must be delayed by some trick.’
While she thought what to do, gazing around her,
her eyes fell, by chance, on her brother.
Aware now of his presence, she said: ‘I have it:
his death will be the means of my salvation.’
While he was unsuspecting, fearing no such attack,
she quickly stabbed his innocent heart with a sword.
Then she tore him apart, and scattered his limbs
through the fields, to be found in many places.
And lest her father did not realise, high on a rock,
she set the bloodless hands, and blood-stained head,
so her father would be delayed by this new grief,
gathering those lifeless fragments, on a sad trail.
So this place was called Tomis, because they say
it was here the sister cut up her brother’s body.
§ 3.10.1 WINTER
If anyone there still remembers exiled Ovid,
if my name’s alive in the city now I’m gone,
let him know that, beneath the stars that never
touch the sea, I live among the barbarian races.
The Sarmatians, a wild tribe, surround me, the Bessi
and the Getae, names unworthy of my wit!
While the warm winds still blow, the Danube between
defends us: with his flood he prevents war.
And when dark winter shows its icy face,
and the earth is white with marbled frost,
when Boreas and the snow constrain life under the Bears,
those tribes must be hard-pressed by the shivering sky.
Snow falls, and, once fallen, no rain or sunlight melts it,
since the north wind, freezing, makes it permanent.
So another fall comes before the first has melted,
and in many parts it lingers there two years.
The power of Aquilo’s northern gales is such
it razes high towers, and blows away the roofs.
Men keep out the dreadful cold with sewn trousers
and furs: the face alone appears of the whole body.
Often their hair tinkles with hanging icicles,
and their beards gleam white with a coat of frost.
Wine stands exposed, holding the shape of the jar,
and they don’t drink draughts of mead, but frozen lumps.
Shall I speak of solid rivers, frozen by cold,
and water dug out brittle from the pools?
The Danube itself, no narrower than lotus-bearing Nile,
mingling with deep water through many mouths,
congeals, the winds hardening its dark flow,
and winds its way to the sea below the ice:
Feet cross now, where boats went before,
and horses’ hooves beat on waters hard with cold:
and across this new bridge over the sliding flood
barbarous wagons are pulled by Sarmatian oxen.
I’ll scarcely be believed, but since there’s no prize
for deceit, the witness should be given due credit:
I’ve seen the vast waters frozen with ice,
a slippery shell gripping the unmoving deep.
Seeing was not enough: I walked the frozen sea,
dry-shod, with the surface under my feet.
§ 3.10.41 BARBARIAN INCURSIONS
If such waters had once been yours, Leander,
those straits would not be guilty of your death.
Since the dolphins can’t hurl themselves into the air,
harsh winter holds them back if they try:
and though Boreas roars and thrashes his wings,
there’s no wave on the besieged waters.
The ships stand locked in frozen marble,
and no oar can cut the solid wave.
I’ve seen fish stuck fast held by the ice,
and some of them were alive even then.
Whether the savage power of wild Boreas
freezes the sea-water or the flowing river,
as soon as the Danube’s levelled by dry winds,
the barbarian host attack on swift horses:
strong in horses and strong in far-flung arrows
laying waste the neighbouring lands far and wide.
Some men flee: and, with their fields unguarded,
their undefended wealth is plundered,
the scant wealth of the country, herds
and creaking carts, whatever a poor farmer has.
Some, hands tied, are driven off as captives,
looking back in vain at their farms and homes.
some die wretchedly pierced by barbed arrows,
since there’s a touch of venom on the flying steel.
They destroy what they can’t carry, or lead away,
and enemy flames burn the innocent houses.
Even at peace, they tremble on the edge of war,
and no man ploughs the soil with curving blade.
This place sees the enemy, or fears him unseen:
the earth lies idle, abandoned to harsh neglect.
No sweet grapes are hidden in leafy shade,
no frothing must fills the deep wine-vats.
This land’s denied fruit, nor would Acontius have
an apple to write words on for Cydippe to read.
You can see naked fields without crops or trees:
a region, ah, that no happy man should enter.
This then, though the great world stretches wide,
is the place invented for my punishment!
§ 3.11.1 A DETRACTOR
Cruel, whoever you are, you who exult in my misfortunes,
bloodthirsty, endlessly using the law against me,
born of the rock, nursed on the milk of wild beasts,
and, I’ll swear, your heart is made of stone.
What further reach is left to which your ire might stretch?
What do you seek that’s missing from my ills?
A barbarous land, the unfriendly coast of Pontus,
the Maenalian Bear, and her Boreas gaze at me.
I have no commerce, in speech, with the wild tribes:
every place fills me with anxiety and fear.
Like a timid deer trapped by hungry bears,
or a stricken lamb circled by mountain wolves,
so I’m in terror of belligerent races, hedged in
on all sides, the enemy almost at my flank.
If it were a slight penalty to be deprived
of my dear wife, my country, those I love:
if I endured no anger but Caesar’s naked anger,
then is our Caesar’s naked anger not enough?
Yet still there’s one who’ll re-open my raw wounds,
and attack my character in eloquent speeches.
Anyone can be eloquent when the brief is easy,
and the least strength shatters what’s already broken.
It’s brave to take citadels and standing walls:
any coward can crush what’s already down.
I am not what I was. Why trample an empty shadow?
Why attack my tomb, my ashes, with your stones?
Hector existed while he fought the war: but that
was not Hector, dragged behind Achilles’ horses.
I too, remember, whom you once knew, do not exist:
only the ghost, here, of that man remains.
Why attack a ghost with bitter words, so cruelly?
I beg you, cease to trouble my shade.
Imagine my crimes were all real, nothing
you might think of as an error not a sin,
then, as a fugitive – let this be enough for you – I still
pay a heavy penalty, by exile, and my place of exile.
My fate might seem sad enough to a hangman:
but it’s still not profound enough for a judge.
§ 3.11.39 EXILE AS TORTURE
You’re fiercer than cruel Busiris, fiercer than Perillus
who heated the brazen bull in the slow fires,
and gave that bull to Phalaris, tyrant of Sicily,
commending his work of art in these words:
‘There’s greater worth in my gift than it seems, my king,
not only the form of my work deserves your praise.
Do you not see the bull’s right flank can be opened?
You can thrust a man in here, whom you would destroy.
Shut him in at once, and roast him over slow coals:
he’ll bellow, and it will sound like a real bull.
Give me a prize, I pray, worthy of my genius,
reward me gift for gift, for this invention.’
So he spoke, But Phalaris replied: ‘You marvellous
creator of torments, try out your work in person,’
At once, roasting in the fires he’d prepared,
Perillus made double sounds with groaning lips.
Between Ciziges and Getae why speak of Sicilians?
My complaint returns to you, whoever you are.
If you can sate your thirst for blood on this,
enjoy what pleasure you can in your greedy heart:
I’ve suffered so many evils in flight by land and sea
I think even you, hearing them, might feel the pain.
Believe me, if Ulysses is compared to me,
Neptune’s anger was much slighter than Jove’s.
So, whoever you are, rescind the charge against me,
take your unfeeling hands from my deep wound,
and allow a scar to form, over my actions,
so forgetfulness might lessen knowledge of my fault:
remember mortal fate that lifts a man and crushes him,
and fear the uncertainties of change yourself.
And since, though I’d never have thought it possible,
you take the greatest of interest in my affairs,
you’ve nothing to fear: my fate’s most miserable,
Caesar’s anger brings with it every ill.
And so it’s clear, and I’m not thought a liar,
I’d like you to try my punishment yourself.
§ 3.12.1 SPRING IN TOMIS
Zephyrus lessens the cold, now the past year’s done,
a Black Sea winter that seemed longer than those of old,
and the Ram that failed to carry Helle on its back,
makes the hours of night and day equal now.
Now laughing boys and girls gather the violets
that grow, un-sown, born of the countryside:
and the meadows bloom with many flowers,
and the song-birds welcome spring, untaught:
and the swallow, denying the name of wicked Procne,
builds her nest with its little roof under the eaves:
and the shoots that lay hid, buried in the wheat furrows,
show through, unfurl their tender tips from the earth.
Wherever the vine grows, buds break from the stem:
but vines grow far away from these Getic shores:
wherever there’s a tree, the tree’s twigs are bursting,
but trees grow far away from these Getic lands.
It’s a time of ease there, and a string of festive days
succeed the noisy battles of the wordy forum.
Now they ride horses, practise with light weapons,
play ball games, or with the swiftly circling hoops:
now young men, when they’re slick with slippery oil,
soak their weary limbs in the flow of the Aqua Virgo,,
The stage is alive, faction flares among separate parties,
and the three theatres resound not the three forums.
O four times, O endlessly blessed that man
who’s not forbidden, and can enjoy, the city!
But I only see snow that melts in the spring sun
and water that’s not dug frozen from the pool.
The sea’s solid ice no longer, Sarmatian herdsmen
don’t drive creaking carts on the Danube, as before.
Ships will be starting to make their voyage here,
and there’ll be friendly prows on the Pontic shore.
I’ll go eagerly to meet the captain, and greet him:
I’ll ask why he comes, who he is and from where.
It’ll be strange if he’s not from a neighbouring place,
one who’s not safely ploughed the local waters.
It’s rare for sailors to cross the deep sea from Italy,
rare for them to come to this harbourless coast.
Yet if he knows how to speak in Greek or Latin
– and for sure the latter tongue would be more welcome –
possibly someone too who’s sailed with a steady southerly
from far Propontis, and the mouth of the straits,
whoever he is he can recount the news he knows,
and be the sharer and passer-on of rumour.
I hope he can tell what he’s heard of Caesar’s triumphs,
of prayers made to our Roman Jupiter, and that you
rebellious Germany, at last, have bowed
your sorrowful head beneath the general’s foot.
He who tells me things, I’m sad I haven’t seen,
will be an instant guest in my house.
Ah, is Ovid’s house, now, in the Scythian world?
Does my sentence assign the land, it specified, as Home?
Gods, let Caesar not will my hearth and home here,
but only a temporary lodging as a punishment.
§ 3.13.1 OVID’S BIRTHDAY IN TOMIS
Behold, the god of my birth, comes, on his day,
uselessly – what was the point of my being born?
Harsh one, why here, in the wretched years of exile?
You should, instead, have put an end to them.
If you had any care for me, or any shame,
you’d not have followed me beyond my native country,
and there, where you first knew this ill-fated child,
you should have tried to know me for the last time,
and like my friends, as I was leaving the city,
you too should have said a sad ‘Farewell.’
What have you to do with Pontus? Did Caesar’s anger
send you, as well, to the farthest land of the icy world?
I suppose you expect the usual kind of honours,
a white robe hanging from my shoulders,
a smoking altar circled by garlands,
grains of incense crackling in the flames,
myself to offer cakes to mark my birthday,
and make propitious prayers with fine words?
My situation and the times aren’t such
that I can be joyful at your arrival.
A funeral altar covered with deathly cypress,
fits me, a flame prepared for a tall pyre.
I don’t wish to offer incense to unresponsive gods,
fine words don’t rise to my lips in evil times.
Yet, if I must ask something from this day,
I beg you never to return to this place,
not while this all but farthest stretch of the earth,
Pontus, falsely named Euxine, still holds me.
§ 3.14.1 TO THE KEEPER OF BOOKS
Keeper and revered supporter of learned men,
what are you doing, to befriend my wit at all?
Just as you used to celebrate me when I was ‘safe’,
do you still see to it, that I’m not wholly absent?
Do you still protect my verse, excepting that poem
about the ‘Art’, that did such harm to the artist?
I beg, in so far as you can, connoisseur of new poets,
do so, and keep my ‘body’ of work in the city.
Exile was decreed for me, not for my books:
they didn’t deserve their author’s sentence.
Often a father’s exiled to a foreign shore,
but his children are still allowed to live in the city.
My poems were born of me, in the manner of Pallas,
without a mother: these are my blood-line, my children.
I commend them to you, they who’ll be a greater burden
to you their guardian the longer they lack a father.
Three of my offspring have caught my infection:
let the rest of the flock be publicly in your care.
There are also fifteen books of transmuted forms,
verses snatched from their author’s funeral rites.
That work might have gained more certain fame
from a final polish, if I’d not perished first,
now it has reached peoples’ lips un-revised,
if anything of mine is on their lips.
Add this something to my books, as well,
this, that comes to you from a distant world.
Whoever reads it - if anyone shall - let him first
remember the time and place that it was made.
He’ll be fair to writing that he knows
was done in a time of exile, a barbarous place;
and he’ll be amazed I managed to persevere
at verse at all, with sorrow’s hand, in such adversity.
My ills have weakened my talent, whose flow
was scant before, and whose stream was meagre.
But whatever it was, it has shrunk without nurture,
and is lost, dried up, by a long neglect.
I’ve no great supply of books here, to tempt
and feed me: bows and armour rattle here instead.
If I recite my verse, there’s no one about,
to ensure I receive an intelligent hearing:
there’s no secluded place. The guards on the wall,
and closed gates keep out the hostile Getae.
I often search for a word, a name, a location,
and there’s no one I can ask, to be more certain.
Often in trying to say something – shameful confession! –
words fail me, and I’ve forgotten how to speak.
Thracian and Scythian tongues sound round me,
and I think I could almost write in Getic metres.
Believe me, I’m afraid lest you read the words
of Pontus, in my writings, mixed with the Latin.
So, whatever this book may be, think it worth your
favour and pardon, given the nature of my fate.
§ 4.1.1 BOOK 4: HIS LOVE OF POETRY
Reader, if you find fault with my books, and you will,
accept my excuse: this time when they were written.
I’m an exile, and I looked for solace, not fame,
lest my mind became too absorbed with misfortune.
That’s why the man in shackles, digging ditches,
still eases his hard labour with unlearned song.
And he who bows down to the sand and mud,
dragging a slow barge against the current, sings:
and he who draws flexed oars to his chest, together,
striking a rhythm with his arms, as he beats the water.
The tired shepherd, leaning on his crook, or sitting
on a stone, soothes his flock with the reed pipe’s tune.
The slave girl, singing at her work, spinning the thread,
diverts herself, and whiles away the hours of toil.
They say that Achilles, sad, when Briseis of Lyrnesus
was stolen, eased his cares, with the Thessalian lyre.
Orpheus mourned the wife twice lost to him,
as he drew the trees and harsh rocks to his singing.
The Muse helped me too, when I sailed to Pontus
as ordered: she alone remained a friend to my flight:
she alone was unafraid of ambush, or the blades
of Sintian soldiers, storms, seas, and foreign shores.
She knows too the error that misled me, when I was ruined,
that there was guilt, but not wickedness, in my actions.
Surely she’s good to me now because she harmed me before,
when she was charged, with me, with a mutual crime.
Since they were once destined to be dangerous,
I might wish I’d never touched the Pierian rites.
But what can I do, now? Their very power holds me,
and, maddened, I love song, though song wounded me.
So the strange lotus-flowers, Odysseus’s men tasted,
gave pleasure by a flavour that did harm.
Often a lover’s aware of his own ruin, still he clings,
chasing after the substance of his mistake.
I too, I delight in books, though they harmed me,
and I love the weapon that dealt my wound.
Perhaps these studies might seem like madness,
but the madness has a certain benefit.
It stops the mind from always gazing at its woes,
and makes it forget its present circumstance.
Like a Bacchante, possessed, feeling no wound,
while the wild howling of the Idaean rites numbs her,
so, when my mind’s inspired, stirred by the leafy thyrsus,
the spirit is lifted above mortal suffering.
It feels no exile, no Scythian seashores,
it’s not aware of the angry gods.
As if I were drinking soporific Lethean draughts,
so the feeling of these hostile hours is absent.
§ 4.1.49 HIS LOVE OF POETRY
So, it’s right for me to revere the goddesses, who ease my ills,
friends of my anxious flight, Muses of Helicon,
who now by sea and now by land, deigned to follow
my traces, either aboard ship or on foot.
I pray that they at least are good to me!
Since the rest of the gods are of great Caesar’s party,
heaping as many as evils on me, as sand on the shore,
fishes in the sea, or the very spawn of those same fish.
You’d sooner count spring flowers, summer wheat,
autumn fruit, or the wintry snowflakes,
than the ills I endured, driven through the wide world,
a wretch who sought the left-hand Euxine shore.
But my evil fate’s no easier since I arrived:
misfortune has followed my track here too.
Here too I recognise the threads spun at my birth,
threads of a black fleece, twisted for me.
To say nothing of ambush, or the risks to my life,
real, but too serious for their reality to be believed,
how wretched to be living among Bessi and Getae,
a man who was always there on people’s lips!
How wretched to defend my life, at gate and wall,
scarcely protected by the strength of the place!
I avoided harsh military contests when I was young,
and only touched weapons with my hands in play:
now I’m old I strap a sword to my side, a shield
to my left arm, and place a helmet on my grey head.
When the lookout gives the signal for a raid
from his tower, I quickly arm myself, my hands trembling.
The enemy, with his bow, his arrows dipped in venom,
circles the walls fiercely on his snorting steed:
and as a ravening wolf carries off a sheep, outside
the fold, and drags it through the woods and fields,
so with anyone the barbarians find in the fields,
who hasn’t reached the protection of the gates:
he either follows them, a captive, and accepts the chain
round his neck, or dies by a venomous shaft.
This is the anxious place, where I, a new colonist,
am hidden away: ah, the lengthy days of my sentence!
Yet still my Muse suffers me to return to poetry
and the ancient rites, a guest despite misfortune.
But there’s no one to recite my verses to,
none whose ears appreciate Latin words.
I write, and read to myself – what else should I do?
and my writing’s safe in its own self-criticism.
Still I often say: ‘Who’s it for, this careful labour?
Will Sarmatians and Getae read my writings?’
Often copious tears run down, too, as I write,
the paper has been soaked by my weeping,
and my heart feels the old wounds, like new,
and the rain of sorrow trickles down my chest.
When I think of what I am, and what I was, how fortune
changes, from where to where my fate has carried me,
often my hand, furiously, angered by its efforts,
has hurled my verses into the fire, to burn.
Since few of so many survived, see that you,
whoever you are, read them with forgiveness.
And you too, Rome, denied me, take them
in good part, songs no better than my fate.
§ 4.2.1 TIBERIUS’S TRIUMPH
Savage Germany, defeated, may have already submitted,
like the rest of the world, on bended knee, to the Caesars,
and perhaps the high Palatine is clothed with garlands,
and incense is crackling on the flames, staining the light,
while dark blood spurts over the earth, from the throat
of the bright sacrifice, struck by the axe-blow,
the gifts promised to the temples of the benign gods,
are being prepared for offering by both victorious Caesars,
and by young Germanicus and Drusus, bearing that name,
so that their house will rule the world for ever:
and Livia, with their fine wives, Agrippina,
and Livilla, is offering gifts, as ever, for her son’s safety,
to the noble gods, and the women with her, and the sinless
Vestals, who serve the pure fires in eternal virginity:
the loyal People, and the Senate with them, rejoice,
and the knights, among whom I recently played my small part:
but I miss the communal joy, I’m driven far away,
and only faint rumour travels as far as this.
So all the people will be able to watch the triumph,
and read the names of leaders and captured towns,
and see the captive kings with chains round their necks,
marching in front of the garlanded horses,
and behold some with down-turned faces, as is fitting,
others, still terrible, indifferent to their fate.
Some people will ask for histories, facts and names,
others will answer, though they know little.
‘He, who shines on high in Sidonian purple,
was leader in the war: this one next in command.
That one now who fixes his wretched gaze on the ground,
did not look so when he was carrying weapons.
This fierce one, with hostile eyes still burning,
was the instigator and planned the battles.
That traitor, who hides his face in his shaggy hair,
trapped our men in a treacherous place.
They say the one who follows him was their priest,
who sacrificed captives to their gods, gifts often refused.
These floats: lakes, mountains, all the forts and rivers,
filled with fierce slaughter, running with blood.
Drusus, the elder, once earned his name there,
who was a fine son worthy of his father.
This with broken horns badly covered with green sedge,
is the Rhine himself discoloured with his blood.
See even Germany is carried along with loosened hair,
seated sorrowing at the feet of the undefeated leader.
Offering her proud neck to the Roman axe
she wears chains on the arms that carried weapons.’
You’ll ride in the victory chariot, Caesar, high above,
wearing purple for the people, according to custom,
applauded by their clapping, all along the way,
flowers falling everywhere to cover your route.
Soldiers, their heads wreathed in Apollo’s laurel,
will chant: ‘Hurrah, for the triumph’ in loud voices.
Often you’ll see the four horses rearing at the noise
of all the chanting, the applause, and the din.
Then you’ll reach the citadel, and the shrines that favour
your prayers, and you’ll offer the votive wreath to Jove.
All this, I, the exile, will see with my mind, as I may:
it still has a right to the place that was taken from me:
it travels freely through immeasurable lands,
and reaches the heavens on its swift way,
leads my eyes into the middle of the city,
not allowing them to lose so great a good:
and my spirit will find a place to see the ivory car:
and so for a short while I’ll be in my native country.
Yet the happy people will own the true spectacle,
the joyful crowd will be there with their leader.
And I will enjoy the fruits in imagination only,
and far removed, in hearing, from it all,
and there’ll scarcely be anyone, sent so far from Italy
to this distant world, to tell me what I long for.
He’ll tell of a late triumph, already out of date,
still I’ll be glad to hear of it, whenever.
That day will come: I’ll lay aside my gloom,
and the public fate will outweigh the private.
§ 4.3.1 TO HIS WIFE: DEATH WOULD BE BETTER
Ursa Major and Minor, one that guides the Greek
the second Phoenician ships, both un-wet, since
you see all from the heights of the northern pole,
and never sink below the western waters,
and your orbit, circling the celestial reaches
stands clear of the earth it never touches,
gaze at those walls that Remus, Ilia’s son,
leapt across, they say, to his undoing,
and turn your bright face upon my lady,
and tell me if she thinks of me or no.
Ah, why should I fear? I seek what is clearly known.
Why should my hope be mixed with anxious dread?
Believe in what’s as you wish, cease to doubt what’s true,
and have firm faith in that faith that’s firm,
and what the pole of the fixed fires cannot tell you,
say to yourself in a voice that does not lie,
she who’s your greatest care, thinks of you,
having with her all she has of you, your name.
She clings to your features as if you were there,
and if she lives, loves you, though far away.
So, when her weary mind broods on her just grievance,
does soft sleep leave her caring heart?
Do cares rise, while you touch my place in the bed,
that does not allow you to forget me,
does anguish come, and the night seem endless,
do the weary bones ache in your troubled body?
I don’t doubt these and other things occur,
that your love shows the marks of sorrow’s pain,
that you’re tormented no less than Andromache,
seeing blood-stained Hector dragged by Achilles’ chariot.
I’m not sure what prayer to speak, I can’t say
what feelings I wish you to have in your mind.
Are you sad? I’m troubled to be the cause of your grief:
Not sad? I’d have you worthy of an exiled husband.
Grieve truly for your loss, sweetest of wives,
endure the sad season of our misfortune,
weep for my fate: there’s a release in weeping,
grief is worked through, and relieved by tears.
And I wish what you had to grieve for was my death
and not my life, that you’d been left widowed, and alone!
This spirit, with your help, would have issued out
into its native air, loving tears would have wet my breast,
my eyes, staring at the familiar sky, on my last day,
would have been closed by your fingers,
my ashes laid to rest in my ancestors’ tomb,
and the earth that bore me would have had my body:
and, in short, I’d have been as sinless as I lived.
Now my life is shamed by this punishment.
§ 4.3.49 TO HIS WIFE: HE ASKS FOR HER HELP
I’m wretched if, when they call you an exile’s wife,
you turn your head away, and a blush comes to your cheeks!
I’m wretched, if you think it a disgrace to be married to me!
I’m wretched if you’re ashamed to be mine!
Where is that time when you used to boast
of your husband, and not hide his name?
Where is that time – unless you don’t wish it recalled –
when, I remember, you loved to be, and be called, mine?
Like a true woman you were pleased with my every gift,
and your fond love added others to the real ones.
There were none you preferred – I seemed so great to you –
no other man you wished for as a husband.
Don’t be ashamed even now, that you married me:
it should bring you grief, but never shame.
When reckless Capaneus died, at that sudden blow,
did you read that Evadne blushed for her husband?
Phaethon was not abandoned by his sisters,
because the king of the world quelled fire with fire.
Semele was not born of some other father than Cadmus,
because she was destroyed through her rash request.
Don’t let the blush of shame redden your cheeks,
because I’ve been struck by Jupiter’s fierce lightning.
But rise, in your faithfulness, to my defence, instead,
be the example of a noble wife to me,
and drown a sad theme with your virtues:
glory climbs the heights by dangerous paths.
Who would know of Hector, if Troy had been happy?
The road to virtue’s paved with public ills.
Tiphys the helmsman’s art, is idle when the sea’s calm:
Phoebus, your art of medicine is idle if men are well.
The virtue that’s hidden and remains unknown
in good times, appears, asserts itself, in adversity.
My fate grants you the opportunity for fame:
now the loyalty you bear me can lift its head.
Use this time, in which the chance is given,
and the widest field lies open to your glory.
§ 4.4.1 TO MESSALINUS: HIS GUILT
O you, who are noble in ancestral titles,
who outshine your tribe in nobility of character,
whose mind mirrors your father’s brilliance,
yet does not lack a brilliance of its own,
whose wit is eloquent in your father’s tongue,
bettered by no other in the Roman forum -
little though I wish to do so, I address you
with descriptions not names, forgive my praise of you.
I’ve sinned in nothing: your known virtues betray you,
and if what you are is revealed I’m free from blame.
Nor does the tribute offered you by my verse
have power to harm you, I think, with our just prince.
The Father of the Country himself – and who is milder
than him – tolerates being mentioned often in my verse,
nor can he prevent it, since Caesar is the State,
and a share of the common wealth is also mine.
Jupiter adds his divinity to the poet’s art,
allowing himself to be glorified by every tongue.
So your cause is safe, given these two deities,
of whom one’s seen to be, the other’s thought, a god.
Though I won’t need to, I’ll accept the blame,
since this letter of mine wasn’t prompted by you.
And I commit no new offence in speaking to you,
since I often spoke to you in happier days.
Don’t fear lest my friendship with you be a crime,
if there’s any harm its author can be blamed.
I always honoured your father from my earliest days -
at least don’t wish that fact to be concealed,
and (you may remember) he approved my talent
even more than, in my judgement, it deserved:
he used to speak of my verse with that eloquence
which was a part of his great nobility.
If your house made me welcome, it was not you
but your father before you was deceived.
Yet, there was no deceit, believe me: and my life
is worth defending in all its actions but the last.
You would deny this fault too that ruined me
is a crime, if my sequence of ill luck was known to you.
Either fear or error harmed me, above all error.
Ah! Let me not remember my fate:
Let me not touch and open those wounds
that are not yet closed: rest itself will scarcely heal them.
§ 4.4.43 TO MESSALINUS: HIS SENTENCE
So I’m rightly paying the penalty, but no
act or stratagem is connected with my sin:
this the god knows: so my life was not taken,
nor my possessions appropriated by another.
Perhaps, if I live, he might end this exile
one day when time has softened his anger.
For now I beg him to order me to another place,
if my prayer is not without respect and humility.
I pray for a milder place, a little nearer home,
and one that’s further from the savage enemy:
and such is Augustus’s clemency, if someone
were to petition him for me, he might grant it.
The frozen shores of the Euxine, the ‘hospitable’, Sea
hold me: called Axenus, ‘inhospitable’, by men of old,
since its waters are troubled by immoderate winds,
and there are no quiet harbours for foreign ships.
There are tribes round it, seeking plunder and mayhem,
and the land’s no less fearful than the hostile sea.
Those you hear of, men delighting in human blood,
live almost beneath the same starry sky as myself,
and not far away from here is the dread Tauric altar
of Diana, goddess of the bow, stained with murder.
They say this was once the kingdom of Thoas,
not envied by the evil, nor desired by the good.
Here virgin Iphigenia, for whom a deer was substituted,
cared for the offerings, of whatever nature, to her goddess.
Later, Orestes came here, either in piety or wickedness,
driven by the Furies, his own conscience,
and Pylades came, his friend, an example of true love:
and they were a single mind in two bodies.
They were brought straight to the sad altar
that stood, blood-stained, before the double doors.
yet neither of them feared death, but each
grieved for the death that came to the other.
The priestess had already taken her place, knife drawn,
her Greek hair bound with barbarous sacred ribbons,
when she recognised her brother by his speech,
and Iphigenia gave him her embrace, not his death.
Joyfully, she carried off the statue of the goddess
who loathed those cruel rites, to a better home.
Such is the region, nearly the earth’s remotest,
that men and gods shun, that’s nearest mine:
And near my land are those murderous rites,
if a barbarian country can be Ovid’s land.
O let the winds, that carried Orestes home,
fill my returning sails, and the god be appeased.
§ 4.5.1 TO A LOYAL FRIEND
O you the foremost of my dear friends,
who proved the sole altar for my fortunes,
whose words of comfort revived this dying spirit,
as the flame does at the touch of Minerva’s oil:
you who loyally offered a safe harbour
and a refuge to the ship blasted by lightning:
through whose wealth I should not have wanted
had Caesar stripped me of my inheritance,
while force of feeling carries me on, forgetting myself,
ah, how close I’ve come to revealing your name!
You know it though, and, touched by desire for praise,
wish you could say out loud: ‘I am that man.’
If you’d allow it, I’d certainly show you honour,
and unite your rare loyalty with fame.
But I fear my verse of thanks might harm you,
an untimely honouring of your name might obstruct you.
This you can do (and it’s safe): delight in this inwardly,
that I’ve remembered you and you’ve been loyal,
and, as you have, bend your oars to bring me help,
till there’s a softer breeze and the god’s appeased:
and save a life that no one can save, unless
he who drowned it lifts it from the Stygian depths:
and do what is rare, devote yourself constantly
to every act of undiminished friendship.
So may your fortunes ever go forward,
so may you need no help, and yet help your own:
so may your wife equal her husband’s endless kindness,
and your union meet with no complaints:
and may that brother, who’s of your blood,
always love you, with the love of Pollux for Castor:
so may your young son be like you, and all
recognise that he’s yours by his character:
so may your daughter’s marriage-torch make you
a father-in-law, and, soon, a grandfather, while you’re young.
§ 4.6.1 TIME PASSING
In time the ploughman’s ox is made obedient to the plough,
submitting its neck to the weight of the curving yoke:
in time the fiery horse endures the pliant bridle,
and takes the harsh bit in its gentle mouth:
in time the rage of African lions is subdued,
the fierceness they had is absent from their spirit:
the Indian elephant, obeying its master’s command,
submits to servitude, conquered by time.
Time makes the grapes swell on the burgeoning clusters,
till they can barely hold the juice inside:
time ripens the seed into white ears of wheat,
and takes care that the fruits do not taste sour.
It thins the ploughshare as it turns the soil,
it wears away hard stone, and solid steel:
it even softens fierce anger, little by little,
it lessens sorrow, and eases the grieving heart.
All can be lessened by time passing,
on its silent feet, except my troubles.
Since I lost my native land, the threshing-floor’s twice been
smoothed for grain, the grapes twice trampled under naked feet.
But the long space of time hasn’t granted me patience,
and my mind still feels the emotions of recent troubles.
Indeed old bullocks often resist the yoke, it’s true,
and the horse that’s broken-in often fights the bit.
My current distress is harder than before: though still
similar in nature, it’s grown and deepened with time.
My ills were not so well known to me as they are now:
they weigh more heavily now I know them better.
It’s no little thing to apply powers still fresh to them,
and not be exhausted beforehand by time’s ills.
The new wrestler, on the yellow sand, is stronger
than the one whose arms are tired by long waiting.
The unwounded gladiator, in shining armour, is better
than the man with weapons stained by his own blood.
A fresh built ship does well in a furious storm:
even a little squall shatters an old one.
I too once endured, what I now endure, more patiently:
how my troubles have been multiplied by passing time!
Believe me, I’m failing, and as far as I can see, given
my bodily powers, there’s little time left for these ills.
I’ve neither the strength nor the colour I used to have:
I’ve barely skin enough to cover my bones.
My body’s troubled, but my mind is worse,
absorbed in contemplating its ills, endlessly.
The sight of the city’s absent, my dear friends, absent,
and my wife’s absent, none dearer to me than her.
A mob of Scythians are present, crowds of trousered Getae:
So what I can see, and what I can’t see, moves me.
There’s only one hope that comforts me in all this,
these troubles will not outlast my death.
§ 4.7.1 REQUEST FOR A LETTER
The sun has twice drawn near me, after the icy winter cold,
and twice completed his journey, reaching Pisces.
In all that time why hasn’t your hand
stirred itself to write me a few lines?
Why has your loyalty ended, while those
with whom I had little acquaintance have written?
Why whenever I broke the seal on some letter
have I hoped that it contained your name?
The gods grant that you have indeed written, often,
though not one letter has been delivered to me.
I hope there’s an obvious reason. I’d sooner believe
that Medusa’s Gorgon face was wreathed in snaky hair,
that virgin Scylla has dogs below her belly, that there’s
a Chimaera, lioness and serpent segmented by fire,
that there are four-hooved Centaurs, with human breasts,
three-bodied Geryon, and triple-headed Cerberus,
Sphinx, and Harpies, and snake-footed Giants,
Gyas of the hundred hands, the Minotaur, half man, half bull.
I’d rather believe all this, than that you, dearest friend,
have changed, and abandoned your affection for me.
There are innumerable mountains, between you and me,
roads, and rivers, and plains and many seas.
There are a thousand reasons why frequent letters,
from you, should rarely reach my hands.
But defeat those thousand reasons by writing often,
so I’m not always making excuses for you, my friend.
§ 4.8.1 THE ONSET OF AGE
My temples already take on the colour of swan’s plumage,
and white old age is bleaching my dark hair.
The years of frailty, and the inertia of age, already
steal over me, and it’s hard for me to endure my weakness.
Now’s the time when, my labour ended,
I should be living without troubling fears,
to indulge in the leisure my mind always enjoyed,
and to live at ease with my studies,
keeping a humble house with its ancient gods,
and the fields I inherited, now lacking a master,
growing old with my lady’s devotion, dear friends,
and at peace in my native country.
Youth once hoped for such a fulfilment:
I deserved to spend my years like that.
The gods did not see it so, who have driven me
over earth and sea, and landed me in Sarmatia.
Shattered boats are drawn up in dry-dock,
in case they fall apart in deep water.
The horse, that has won many races, grazes idly
in the meadow, before he fails and dishonours his victories.
When the long-serving soldier is no longer useful
he dedicates the weapons he carried to the ancient Lares.
Since the slowness of old age is sapping my strength
its time now for me to receive the gladiator’s wooden sword.
It’s time I no longer breathed foreign air,
or quenched my parched thirst at Getic fountains,
but retired now to the sheltered gardens I owned,
and enjoyed the sight of men, and the city, again.
So, with a mind unaware of what the future would bring,
I once prayed to be able to live peacefully when old,
The Fates were hostile, bringing ease
to my early years, pain to the later ones.
Now after half a century without stain,
I’m crushed, in the harshest years of life:
not far from the winning post, I thought I’d reached,
my chariot has been gravely wrecked.
In my madness, did I drive him to hostile anger,
the most gracious man in all the world?
Has his mercy been quenched by my wrongdoings,
yet my life has not been forfeit, for my error?
I must spend it far from home, under the Northern pole,
in the land to the sinister left of the Euxine Sea.
If Dodona or Delphi itself had proclaimed it to me,
both oracles would have seemed unbelievable.
Nothing is strong enough, though bound with steel,
to stand firm against Jove’s swift lightning:
nothing’s so high and reaches so far beyond danger,
that it’s not inferior, and subject, to a god.
And though I brought a part of my trouble on myself,
by my sin, I suffered more from the divine power’s wrath.
Be warned by my fate, too, to make yourselves worthy
of that man who deserves to be equal to the gods.
§ 4.9.1 TO AN ENEMY
If it’s right and you allow me, I’ll keep your name
and what you did quiet, consign the act to Lethe’s waters,
and my clemency will be won by your late tears,
if only you clearly have repented: if only
you condemn yourself, and are eager to erase
that moment of Tisiphonean madness from your life.
If not, if your heart still burns with hatred for me,
barren indignation will be driven to use its weapons.
If I’m banished, as I am, to the edge of the earth,
my anger will still reach out to you from here.
If you don’t know it, Caesar has left me all my rights,
and my only punishment is to lose my country.
My country: I even hope for that from him, if he lives:
the oak blasted by Jove’s lightning often grows green again.
And if I’ve no chance for revenge, in the end,
the Muses will grant me strength and their weapons.
Though I live far away on the shores of Scythia,
with those stars visible that never touch the sea,
my cry will go out to countless peoples,
my complaint will be known throughout the world.
What I relate will travel from sunrise to sunset,
and the East bear witness to the Western voice.
I’ll be heard on land, and over the deep waters,
and my lament will find a mighty voice in the future.
It won’t be your own age only, that will know it was you,
you’ll be guilty in the eyes of posterity forever.
I’m already charging, without raising my horns,
and I wish I’d no reason to raise them at all.
The Circus is still quiet: but the fierce bull scatters sand,
and paws the earth, already, with its angry hoof.
That too is more than I want. Sound the retreat, Muse,
while that man’s still able to hide his name.
§ 4.10.1 OVID’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: CHILDHOOD, BOYHOOD
Listen Posterity, and find out who this ‘I’ was,
this playful poet of tender passions you read.
Sulmo’s my native place, rich in icy streams,
and ninety miles distant from the City.
There I was born: if you want to know the date,
it was when both Consuls died at Mutina.
If it matters, I was heir to an ancient line,
not a knight new-made by fortune’s gift.
I was not the first child: I’d an elder brother,
who was born twelve months before me.
The same day of the year saw both our birthdays:
one day celebrated with both our offering of cakes,
the first day stained with the blood of combat,
in armed Minerva’s festival, the Quinquatrus.
We began our education at a tender age, and, through
our father’s care, went to men distinguished in the city’s arts.
My brother tended towards oratory from his early years:
he was born to the harsh weapons of the noisy forum:
but even as a boy the heavenly rites delighted me,
and the Muse was drawing me secretly to her work.
My father often said: ‘Why follow useless studies?’
Maeonian Homer himself left no wealth behind.’
Moved by his words, and leaving Helicon alone,
I tried to write words that were free of metre.
But verse came, of itself, in the right measures,
and whatever I tried to write was poetry.
Meanwhile, as the silent-footed years slipped by,
my brother and I assumed the freer adult toga:
our shoulders carried the broad purple stripe,
our studies remained what they were before.
My brother had just doubled his first ten years of life,
when he died, and I went on, part of myself lost.
Still, I achieved tender youth’s first honours,
since at that time I was one of the tresviri.
The Senate awaited me: I narrowed my purple stripe:
it would have been an effort too great for my powers.
I’d neither the strength of body, nor aptitude of mind
for that vocation, and I shunned ambition’s cares,
and the Aonian Muses urged me on to seek
that safe seclusion my tastes always loved.
§ 4.10.41 YOUTH AND MANHOOD
I cherished and cultivated the poets of those times,
I thought the bards that existed so many gods.
Often old Macer read to me about those birds of his,
the snakes that harm you, and the herbs that heal.
Often Propertius would tell about his passions,
by right of that friendship by which we were united.
Ponticus, too, famous for epic, Bassus for iambics,
were members of that mutual circle dear to me.
And many-metered Horace captivated us,
when he sang his polished songs to the Italian lyre.
Virgil I only saw: and greedy fate granted
Tibullus no time for my friendship.
He came after you, Gallus: Propertius after him:
I was the fourth, after them, in order of time.
And the younger poets cultivated me, as I the elder,
since my Muse, Thalia, was not slow to become known.
When I first read my youthful efforts in public,
my beard had only been shaved once or twice.
She who was called Corinna, by me, not her real name,
she stirred my wit, she who was sung throughout the City.
I wrote a good deal, but what I considered lacking
I gave to the flames myself, for them to revise it.
Even then, when I was leaving, I burnt certain things,
that were pleasing, angry with my studies and my verse.
Soft, and never safe from Cupid’s arrows,
was my heart, that the slightest thing could move.
But though I was such, fired by the smallest spark,
no scandal was associated with my name.
I was given a worthless and useless wife when I was
scarcely more than a boy: married to me for a brief while.
A bride succeeded her, who, though she was blameless,
was not destined to remain sharing my bed.
Lastly she who remained with me till I was old,
who’s lived to be the bride of an exiled husband.
My daughter, twice a mother, by different husbands,
when she was young, has made me a grandfather.
And my father had already completed his fated time,
after adding years to years till he was ninety.
I wept for him as he would have wept for me
if I had died. Next I bore my mother to her grave.
Both lucky to have been buried at the right time,
dying before the days of my punishment!
And I’m fortunate my trouble wasn’t while they lived,
and that they never had to grieve for me!
Yet if the dead are left something more than a name,
if a slender ghost escapes the towering pyre,
if news of me has reached you, spirits of my parents,
and my guilt is proclaimed in the courts of Styx,
know, I beg you ( it would be a sin to deceive you)
the cause of the exile decreed was an error not a crime.
Let this suffice the shades: I turn again, to you,
studious spirits, who wish to know the facts of my life.
§ 4.10.93 EXILE AND IMMORTALITY
Already, white hairs had come, driving away
my best years, flecking my ageing locks,
and ten times since my birth, the victorious rider
wreathed with olive, had carried off the Olympic prize,
when a wounded prince’s anger ordered me
to Tomis on the left of the Black Sea.
The cause, too well known to all, of my ruin,
is not to be revealed by any testimony of mine.
Why tell of friends’ wickedness and servants’ harm?
I suffered things no less evil than exile itself.
Yet my mind refused to succumb to misfortune,
and proved invincible, relying on its own powers.
Forgetting myself and my life of leisure
I grasped the unaccustomed weapons of that time:
and I suffered as many troubles on sea or land
as stars between the visible and hidden poles.
At length, driven through long wanderings, I reached
that shore, where Sarmatians and Getic bowmen unite.
Here, though the noise of weapons surrounds me,
I ease my sad fate with such song as I can.
Though there’s no one to listen to me,
still this is the way I pass, and deceive, the days.
So the fact that I live, and struggle against harsh suffering,
not filled with weariness by the anxious days,
is thanks to you, my Muse: you grant me solace,
you come as a rest from, and a cure for, care.
You are both guide and friend, who spirit me
from the Danube to a place in the midst of Helicon:
you’ve given me, something rare, while still alive,
the honoured name fame only grants us when we’re dead.
Nor has Envy, that belittles present things,
attacked any work of mine with malignant teeth.
Though this age of ours has produced great poets,
fame has not been unkind to my gifts,
and though I set many above myself, people say
I’m not inferior, and I’m the most widely read of all.
So, if there’s truth in poet’s prophecies,
I’ll not be yours, earth, though I die today.
Whether I’ve won fame through fashion or through
poetry itself, it’s right that I thank you, honest reader.
§ 5.1.1 BOOK V: TO THE READER: HIS THEME
Devoted reader, add this book, now, to the four
that I’ve already sent from the Getic shore.
This one too will be like its poet’s fate:
no sweetness will visit its whole song.
As my state is mournful so is my verse,
the writing’s appropriate to the theme.
Untouched and happy I toyed with youth
and happiness, now I regret I wrote about them.
Since I fell I’ve been the crier of sudden doom,
and the author himself is his own theme.
As the swans of Cayster, they say, along its banks,
mourn their own death with a fading cry,
so I, exiled far off on the Sarmatian shore,
take care my funeral will not pass in silence.
If anyone seeks the delights of wanton verse,
that’s not what this writing is charged with.
Gallus would be better, or smooth-tongued Propertius,
Tibullus, with his winning nature, would be better.
Ah, why was my Muse ever playful?
But I pay the penalty, in Scythian Danube’s lands,
the player with Love’s quiver is exiled.
I’ve turned people’s thoughts now to public verse,
and instructed them to remember my name.
And if any of you ask why I sing so many
sad things: I’ve suffered many sad things.
I don’t compose them with wit or skill,
the content’s inspired by its own misfortunes.
And how little of this fate is in my poetry.
Happy the man who can count his sufferings!
As the forest’s branches, as Tiber’s yellow sand,
as the tender grasses in the Field of Mars,
so the ills I’ve suffered without cure, or rest,
except in the study and practise of the Muses.
‘What end will there be to these sad songs, Ovid,’ you ask:
the same end that there’ll be to this misfortune.
It feeds me from a full fountain, of complaint,
nor are the words mine, they are my fate’s.
But if you restore me to my country, and my dear wife,
my face will be joyful, I’ll be what I was.
If invincible Caesar’s anger were milder to me,
then I’d give you poetry filled with delight.
But my verse will never play as it once played:
enough that it once ran riot with my wit.
If only a part of my sentence be reduced, I’ll sing
what he’ll approve, free of fierce Getae and barbarism.
Meanwhile what should my books be: but sad?
Such is the piping that befits my funeral rites.
§ 5.1.49 TO THE READER: THE QUALITY OF HIS WORK
‘But you’d endure your troubles better in silence,’
you say, ‘by mutely concealing your situation.’
Do you require torture without a cry:
forbid tears when a deep wound’s been suffered?
Even Phalaris let Perillus, inside the bronze,
bellow and moan through the bull’s mouth.
Though Priam’s weeping did not offend Achilles,
do you, crueller than an enemy, prevent my tears?
Though Latona’s children made Niobe childless,
they still did not order that her cheeks be dry.
To ease a deadly pain with words, is something:
it created Procne’s and Halcyone’s lament.
That was why Philoctetes, son of Poeas, in his
cold cave, wearied the Lemnian rocks with his cries.
A grief suppressed chokes us, and seethes inside,
multiplying its own strength under pressure.
Reader, indulge me, or dispense with all
my books, if what benefits me harms you.
But it won’t harm you: my writings were never
pernicious: hurt no one except their author.
‘But it’s poor stuff.’ I admit it. Who forces you to read,
or, if you feel cheated, stops you putting it aside?
I don’t alter it, let it be read as written:
it’s no more barbarous than this place.
Rome should not compare me with her poets:
it’s among the Sarmatians that I’m a talent.
In short, I don’t seek glory, or that fame
which is commonly the spur to genius: even so,
I don’t wish my mind to dissolve in endless cares,
that break in upon me where they’re forbidden.
I’ve explained my writing. You ask why I send it?
I wish to be with you, by any means I can.
§ 5.2.1 TO HIS WIFE: A COMPLAINT
When another letter reaches you from Pontus,
do you grow pale, open it with anxious fingers?
Don’t worry, I’m well: my body that was weak
before, and unable to endure any effort, bears up,
hardened by its own afflictions. Or is it more
that I’m not granted the luxury of being unwell?
Yet my mind’s ill, it gains no strength from time,
and the effect on my spirits remains what it was.
The wounds I thought would close, in due course,
hurt me as if they’d been freshly made.
It’s true: small troubles are lightened by the years:
the pain of great ones increases with time.
For ten years Philoctetes nursed the foul wound
dealt him by that snake swollen with venom.
Telephus would have died, wasted by unending sickness,
if the hand that wounded him had not brought relief.
If I’ve committed no crime, I pray the one
who made my wounds, might ease what he’s made.
and satisfied at last by a measure of suffering,
drain a little saltwater from this brimming sea.
Though he takes much, much bitterness will remain,
and a part of my sentence is as bad as the whole.
As shells the sand, as flowers a rich rose-garden,
as the host of seeds the soporific poppy owns,
as creatures the forest shelters, or fishes that swim the waves,
or the feathers with which a bird beats the gentle air,
so I’m burdened with sorrows: if I tried to count them,
say I’d tried to number the water-drops in the Icarian Sea.
To say nothing of the journey’s danger, the bitter perils
of the sea, or the hands raised against my person,
a barbarous land holds me, the most alien in all
the wide world, a place encircled by cruel enemies.
Since my offence was bloodless, I could be transferred
from here, if your love for me were as it ought to be.
That god, in whom Rome’s power is rooted,
was often merciful to his enemy in victory.
Why hesitate, why fear what’s harmless? Go, and ask him:
the great globe has no one kinder than Caesar.
Ah! What will I do, if those closest abandon me?
Do you draw your neck from the shattered yoke as well?
Where can I turn? Where seek solace for my weariness?
Not a single anchor tethers my vessel now.
Do it! Though I’m hated, I’ll have recourse
to the sacred altar: the altar rejects no one’s hands.
§ 5.2.45 HIS PRAYER TO AUGUSTUS
A distant suppliant, I address a distant god,
if it’s allowed for mortals to address Jupiter.
Imperial judge, through whom the security
of all the gods of the Roman people is assured,
O glory, O symbol of the country that prospers
through you, O hero equal to that world you rule –
so may you live on earth, and heaven long for you,
so may you pass at length, as promised, to the stars –
spare me, I beg of you, and reduce the lightning-bolt’s
effect a little! The punishment that’s left will be enough.
Indeed your anger is moderated, you grant me life,
I’m not deprived of a citizen’s name or rights,
my possessions have not been given to others,
I’m not called an ‘exul’ by the terms of your decree.
And I feared these things because I knew I’d earned them:
yet your anger is lighter than my offence.
You ordered me to view Pontus’ fields as a ‘relegatus’,
cutting the Scythian waves in a fleeing vessel.
As commanded, I’ve reached the featureless shores
of the Euxine Sea – this land beneath the frozen pole –
yet I’m not so much tormented by this weather, never
free of cold, this soil always hardened by white frost,
these barbarian tongues ignorant of the Latin language,
this Greek speech submerged in the sounds of Getic,
as by the fact that I’m encircled, and shut in on all sides
by nearby conflict: a thin wall scarcely keeps the enemy out.
While there’s peace at times, there’s no reliance on peace:
so the place now endures attack, and now fears it.
If only I could transfer from here, let Zanclean Charybdis
swallow me, and send me down to Styx in her waves,
or let me suffer the flames, in the fires of greedy Etna,
or be thrown in the ocean deep, offered to the Leucadian god.
What I ask is punishment: truly, I don’t evade suffering,
but I beg that I might suffer somewhere safer.
§ 5.3.1 HIS PRAYER TO THE GOD BACCHUS
This is the day, Bacchus, that the poets are accustomed
to celebrate you, if only I’ve not got the date wrong,
wreathing scented garlands round their foreheads,
and singing your praises to the wine you gave us.
I remember how, while my fortunes still allowed it,
I often took part, among them, and didn’t displease you,
I who am now subjected to the stars of the Little Bear,
held fast to the Sarmatian shore of the savage Getae.
I, who led a life of ease, free of labour,
in my studies, among the Pierian choir,
after many sufferings on sea and land, I’m surrounded
by the noise of Getic weapons, and far from home.
Whether chance or the anger of the gods caused it,
or whether a dark Fate attended my birth,
you, at least, with divine power, should have aided
one of the worshippers of your sacred ivy.
Or is it that what the Sisters, the Mistresses of Fate,
ordain is no longer wholly in the god’s power?
You yourself were admitted to the heavens, on merit,
to which one makes one’s way with no little toil.
You did not live in your native land, but went
all the way to snowy Strymon, and the warlike Getae,
to Persia, and the wide-flowing River Ganges,
and all the waters the dusky Indian drinks.
This was the destiny for sure that the Parcae, who spun
the fatal thread, twice ordained for you, at your double birth.
I too, if it’s right to take the gods as examples,
am crushed by a difficult, an iron fate in life.
I’ve fallen no less heavily than Capaneus, whom Jupiter
drove, for his pride, from Thebes’ walls, with lightning.
And when you heard a poet had been struck by fire,
you might have remembered your mother, Semele,
and had sympathy, and gazing at the bards round your altar,
have said: ‘One of my worshippers is missing.’
Help me, good Liber: and may another vine burden the elm,
and the grapes be filled with the imprisoned juice,
may the Bacchae and the vigorous young Satyrs
be here, and their cries of inspiration not be silent,
may the bones of Lycurgus the axe-bearer be crushed,
and Pentheus’ impious shade never free of torment,
may your Ariadne’s crown glitter brightly in the sky,
and shine more brilliantly than the neighbouring stars:
be here, and ease my fate, loveliest of the gods,
remembering that I am one of your own.
The gods traffic between themselves. Bacchus,
try to influence Caesar’s power with your own.
You too, loyal crowd of poets who share my studies,
drink the neat wine, and make the same request.
And one of you, mentioning Ovid’s name,
pledge him in a cup mixed with your own tears,
and when you’ve gazed around you, say in memory
of me: ‘Where’s Ovid, who was lately one of our choir?’
This only if I’ve earned your approval by my honesty,
and never a book’s been wounded by my criticism:
if, though I revere the noble writings of ancient men,
I still think the recent ones to be worth no less.
So, as you may make songs empowered by Apollo,
keep my name fresh among you, as is right.
§ 5.4.1 LETTER TO A TRUE FRIEND
A letter of Ovid’s, I come from the Euxine shore,
wearied by the sea-lanes, wearied by the roads,
to whom, weeping, he said: ‘You, go look on Rome,
who can do so. Ah, how much better your fate than mine!’
He wrote me weeping, too, and he lifted the gem
I was sealed with to his wet cheeks, first, not his lips.
Whoever seeks to know the cause of his sadness,
must need to have the sun pointed out to him,
is unable to see the leaves in the woods, soft grass
in the open meadow, or water in the overflowing river:
he’ll wonder why Priam grieved when Hector was taken,
and why Philoctetes groaned at the serpent’s bite.
May the gods grant such circumstances for Ovid
that he has no cause of sorrow to make him grieve!
Yet he endures bitter trouble patiently, as he should,
and doesn’t shy at the bit like an unbroken horse.
He hopes the god’s anger won’t last forever
conscious there was no evil in his offence.
Often he remembers how great the god’s mercy is,
accustomed, too, to treat himself as an example:
since he keeps his family possessions, and the name
of citizen, in short it’s a gift of the god that he’s alive.
Yet you (oh, if you trust me in anything, dearer to him
than all) you he keeps always in the depths of his heart.
He calls you his Patroclus: Pylades to his Orestes:
he calls you his Theseus, and his Euryalus.
He misses his country and the many things
in his country whose absence he feels,
no less than your face and eyes, O you, sweeter
than the honey the Attic bee stores in the hive.
Often he remembers, as he laments that time,
grieving it was not prevented by his death,
when others fled the contagion of his sudden downfall,
unwilling to approach the threshold of a stricken house,
remembers how you and a few others stayed loyal,
if one might call two or three others a few.
Though stunned, he was conscious of it all, that you
grieved at his misfortune no less than he did.
He often recalls your words, your face, your cries,
and his own chest, soaked by your tears:
how you supported him, with what help you consoled
your friend, though you yourself needed comfort.
Because of it he assures you he’ll remember and be true,
whether he sees the day, or is covered by the earth,
swearing it on his own life, and on yours,
that I know he holds no less dear than his own.
Full thanks will be rendered for so many fine deeds:
he’ll not allow your oxen to plough the sands.
Only do you, endlessly, protect the exile: what he
who knows you well does not ask, I ask.
§ 5.5.1 HIS WIFE’S BIRTHDAY: HIS GREETING
My wife’s birthday, returning, demands its customary
honour: my hands go perform affection’s holy rites.
So Ulysses, the hero, at the ends of the earth
perhaps, once spent his lady’s day of celebration.
Let that tongue be graced, forgetful of my troubles,
that I think, by now, has unlearned propitious speech:
and let me wear the clothes I wear only once a year,
of shining white so different in colour to my fate:
let them erect a green altar of grassy turf,
and veil the warm hearth with a woven garland,
Boy, give me incense that delivers a rich flame,
and wine that hisses, poured on the sacred fire.
Brightest of birthday spirits, so unlike my own,
I beg you, though I’m far away, be radiantly here,
and if any sad hurt threatens my lady,
may it be annulled by my troubles:
and may the vessel that was more than shaken
by the recent storm, and survived, sail safely on.
May she enjoy her home, her daughter and her country
- enough that they’ve been snatched from me alone –
and since she’s not blessed with her dear husband,
let the rest of her life be free of dark clouds.
May she live, and love her husband, though forced
to be parted from him, and, at length, fulfil her days.
I’d add mine to hers, but I fear lest a contagion
might spread from my fate to poison hers as well.
§ 5.5.27 HIS WIFE’S BIRTHDAY: HIS WISH
Nothing’s certain for humankind. Who’d have thought
that I’d be performing these rites among the Getae?
Yet see how the wind blows the smoke that rises
from the altar towards Italy, and the fortunate lands.
So there’s meaning in the fumes the fire emits:
Pontus, they flee your skies with a purpose.
Purposefully, when the joint offering’s made
on the altar, to the brothers who killed each other,
the discordant ashes, as if at their command,
separate darkly into two distinct heaps.
I remember I once said it was impossible,
and, in my opinion, Callimachus was mistaken:
now I believe it implicitly, since you wise vapours
turn from the Bears and search out Italy.
So this is the day, and if it had not dawned
there would have been no festive day for me.
It engendered a character equal to those heroines,
Eetion’s Andromache, and Icarius’s Penelope.
On this day chastity was born, courage and loyalty,
but no joys were born on this day, rather effort
and trouble, a fate your character didn’t deserve,
and all too justified a complaint over your empty bed.
Truly virtue schooled in adversity offers
a theme for praise in the saddest times.
If tough Ulysses had seen no misfortunes
Penelope would have been happy not famous.
If her husband, Capaneus, had entered Thebes in triumph,
perhaps Evadne would have been unknown in her land.
Though Pelias had many daughters, why’s Alcestis well-known? Surely because she married the ill-starred Admetus.
Let another have touched the sands of Troy first
and there’d be no reason to remember Laodamia.
And your loyalty would be hidden, as you’d wish,
if favourable winds failed my sails.
Yet, you gods, and Caesar, destined to be a god,
but only when your days have equalled Nestor’s,
spare her who grieves without deserving grief,
not me, who confess I deserved your punishment.
§ 5.6.1 A PLEA FOR LOYALTY
Do you too, once the mainstay of my fortunes,
who were my refuge, who were my harbour,
do you too cease to care for the friend you protected,
and shrug off duty’s honest charge so speedily?
I’m a burden, I confess, but you shouldn’t have taken it up.
if you were going to drop it at a difficult time for me.
Do you abandon ship, Palinurus, in mid-ocean?
Don’t go: don’t let your loyalty be less than your skill.
Did Automedon lose faith and in the fierceness of battle
did he abandon the horses of Achilles?
Once Podalirius had accepted a case, he never
failed to bring the sick the help he’d promised.
It’s worse to eject a guest than not receive them:
let the altar I can reach be steady in my hands.
At first you were only saving me: but now
support your judgement and myself as well,
so long as there’s no new fault to find in me,
and my guilt’s not suddenly altered your loyalty.
This I wish, that my breath, that I breathe ill
in the Scythian air, might leave my body,
before your heart’s wounded through my fault,
and I seem to be rightly worth less to you.
I’m not so wholly crushed by fate’s adversity
that my mind’s disturbed by my enduring troubles.
But suppose it is disturbed, don’t you think Orestes
Agamemnon’s son, often cursed Pylades?
It’s not far from the truth to say he struck him:
yet his friend remained no less firm in his friendship.
It’s the one thing that links the wretched and the blessed,
that it’s usual to offer courtesy to both: we give way
to the blind, and those for whom the purple stripe,
and the lictors’ rods and cries, demand reverence.
If you won’t consider me, you should consider my fate:
there’s no place for any indignation against me.
Select the very least of all my woes, the smallest,
and that will be greater than you would imagine.
as many as the reeds that shroud the sodden ditches,
as many as the bees that flowery Hybla knows,
or the ants that carry the grains of wheat they find
down little trails to their granaries underground,
so dense is the crowd of evils that surrounds me.
Believe me, what I complain of is less than the truth.
Whoever’s dissatisfied with them is one who’d add
sand to the shore, wheat to the fields, water to the waves.
So check the swell of anger, it’s inappropriate,
don’t desert our ship in the midst of the sea.
§ 5.7.1 AMONG THE GETAE
The letter you’re reading comes to you from that land
where the wide Danube adds its waters to the sea.
If you are still alive and have sweet health,
one part of my fate retains its brightness.
Dearest friend, you’re doubtless asking yourself
how I am, though you know, even if I’m silent.
I’m miserable: that’s a brief summary of my ills,
and whoever lives on having offended Caesar, will be so.
Are you interested to know what the people round Tomis
are like, and the customs of those I live among?
Though there’s a mix of Greeks and Getae on this coast,
it’s characterised more by the barely civilised Getae.
Great hordes of Sarmatians and Getae pass
to and fro, along the trails, on horseback.
There’s not one among them who doesn’t carry
bow, quiver, and arrows pale yellow with viper’s gall:
Harsh voices, grim faces, the true image of Mars,
neither beard or hair trimmed, hands not slow
to deal wounds with the ever-present knife
that every barbarian carries, strapped to his side.
Alas, dear friend, your poet is living among them,
seeing them, hearing them, forgetting those he loves:
and would he were not alive, and died among them,
so that his shade might yet leave this hateful place.
You write that my songs are being danced now
to a crowded theatre, my verses applauded, dear friend,
though for my part I’ve composed nothing for the theatre,
as you know yourself, my Muse isn’t eager for applause.
Still I’m not ungrateful for anything that prevents
my being forgotten, and brings the exile’s name to the lips.
Though I sometimes curse the poetry
that has harmed me, and my Muses,
when I’ve cursed them at length, I still can’t be without them,
I seek the weapons blood-stained from my wounds,
and the Greek ship battered by the waves of Euboea
dares to run the waters of Cape Caphereus.
Yet I don’t labour all night for the praise, or work
for the sake of a future name that were better hidden.
I occupy my mind with studies: beguile my sorrow,
trying to deceive my cares with words.
What else can I do, alone on this desert strand,
what other help for these ills should I try to find?
If I look at the place, the place is hateful,
and nothing could be sadder on this earth,
if at the people, they barely deserve the name,
they’ve more cruel savagery in them than wolves.
They fear no law: justice yields to force,
and right is overturned by the sword’s aggression.
They keep off the evils of cold with pelts
and loose trousers, shaggy faces hidden in long hair.
A few still retain vestiges of the Greek language,
though even this the Getic pronunciation barbarises.
There’s not a single one of the population who might
chance to utter a few words of Latin while speaking.
I, the Roman poet – forgive me, Muses! –
am forced to speak Sarmatian for the most part.
See, I’m ashamed to admit it, from long disuse,
now, the Latin words scarcely even occur to me.
I don’t doubt there are more than a few barbarisms
in this book: it’s not the man’s fault but this place.
Yet, lest I lose the use of the Italian language,
and my own voice be muted in its native tongue,
I speak to myself, using forgotten phrases,
and retrace the ill-fated symbols of my studies.
So I drag out my life, and time, so I retreat from
and banish the contemplation of my troubles.
I seek forgetfulness of my misery in song:
if I win that prize by my studies, it’s enough.
§ 5.8.1 LETTER TO AN ENEMY
Abject as I am, I’ve not fallen so low that
I’m beneath you, whom nothing can be below.
Shameless one, what stirs your animosity against me?
Why exult in misfortunes you yourself might suffer?
My troubles, which would make wild beasts weep,
don’t thaw you, or reconcile you to one who’s down,
nor do you fear the power of Fortune’s precarious wheel,
nor the proud words that the goddess hates.
Vengeful Nemesis exacts punishment on those
who deserve it: why set foot where you trample on my fate?
I saw a man who laughed at shipwrecks, drowned
in the sea, and said: ‘The waves were never more just.’
He who once denied humble food to the poor
now eats the bread of beggary himself.
Fortune wanders, changeable, with uncertain footsteps,
never remaining sure, nor fixed in the same place,
now bringing happiness, now showing a bitter face,
and only true in her inconstancy.
I too flowered, but the flower was transient,
my fire was a fire of straw, and was brief.
Still, so cruel joy might not grip your soul complete,
my hope of placating the god’s not wholly dead,
either on the grounds that I offended without crime,
and my fault, not free of shame, is free of odium,
or because the whole world from dawn to dusk
contains no one more merciful than him it obeys.
Isn’t it true, that, though no power conquers him,
he has a tender heart for the prayers of the fearful,
and, following the example of the gods he’ll join,
when he remits my sentence he’ll grant other requests.
If you count the sunny or cloudy days in a year,
you’ll find that it’s more often been bright,
so don’t rejoice too much in my downfall,
when you think that I too may be recalled:
think, if the prince shows lenience, it may be
you’ll be saddened by seeing my face in the city,
and I may see you exiled, with greater cause:
after my first wish that’s the next in turn.
§ 5.9.1 A LETTER OF THANKS
Oh, if you’d let your name be set in my verse
how often you’d have been set there by me!
Remembering your help, I’d have sung only you,
without you no page of my books would have been seen.
What I owe to you would be known by the whole city:
if I’m still read, as an exile, in the city I lost.
Present times would be aware of your kindness,
and future times, if only my writings endure,
and wise readers would never cease to bless you:
your honour, in rescuing a poet, would remain.
Caesar’s gift is supreme: that I breathe the air:
it’s you I need to thank, after the great gods.
He gave life: you preserve what he gave,
and make it possible to enjoy the gift received.
When most men had a horror of my downfall,
some even wishing it thought they’d feared it,
and gazed at my shipwreck from a high hill,
and gave no hand to the swimmer in wild seas,
you alone dragged me, half-dead, from the waves.
This too is your doing: that I’m able to remember.
May Caesar and the gods always befriend you:
no prayer of mine could be more heartfelt.
If you allowed it, my work would set these things
in the brightest of lights in eloquent books:
even now my Muse, though ordered to be silent,
can scarcely hold back from naming you, against your wishes.
Like a hound that’s scented the trail of a frightened deer,
baying, and held in check by the strong leash,
like an eager racehorse thudding on the unopened
starting-gate, with its hooves, and even its brow,
so my Thalia, chained and imprisoned by your command,
longs to pursue the glory of your forbidden name.
But, so you’re not harmed by the homage of a friend
who remembers, I’ll obey your orders – have no fear.
I wouldn’t obey if you didn’t count on my remembering.
What your voice doesn’t forbid, I will be: grateful.
While I see the light of life – oh, let the time be brief –
my spirit will be a slave to that duty.
§ 5.10.1 HARSH EXILE IN TOMIS
Three times the Danube’s frozen with the cold, three times
the Black Sea’s waves have hardened, since I’ve been in Pontus.
Yet I seem to have been absent from my country already
for as long as the ten years Troy knew the Greek host.
You’d think time stood still, it moves so slowly,
and with lagging steps the year completes its course.
For me the summer solstice hardly lessens the nights,
and winter can’t make the days any shorter.
Surely nature’s been altered, in my case,
and makes all things as tedious as my cares.
Or is time running its course in the usual way,
and it’s more this period of my life that’s hard?
I’m trapped by the shore of the Euxine, that misnomer,
and the truly sinister coast of the Scythian Sea.
Innumerable tribes round about threaten fierce war,
and think it’s a disgrace to exist without pillage.
Nowhere’s safe outside: the hill itself’s defended
by fragile walls, and the ingenuity of its siting.
The enemy descends, when least expected, like birds,
hardly seen before they’re taking away their plunder.
Often when the gates are shut, inside, we gather
arrows that fell in the middle of the streets.
So the man who dares to farm the fields is rare,
one hand grips the plough, the other a weapon.
The shepherd plays his reed-pipe glued with pitch,
under a helmet, and frightened sheep fear war not wolves.
We’re scarcely protected by the fortress’s shelter: and even
the barbarous crowd inside, mixed with Greeks, inspire fear,
for the barbarians live amongst us, without discrimination,
and also occupy more than half the houses.
Even if you don’t fear them, you’d hate the sight
of their sheepskins, their chests covered by their long hair.
Those too, who are thought to descend from the Greek colony,
wear Persian trousers instead of their ancestral clothing.
They hold communication in the common tongue:
I have to make myself understood by gestures.
Here I’m the barbarian no one comprehends,
the Getae laugh foolishly at my Latin words.
and they often talk maliciously to my face,
quite safely, taunting me perhaps for my exile.
As is usual they think there’s something wrong
about my only nodding no or yes to what to they say.
Add to all this that the sharp sword dispenses justice
unjustly, and wounds are often dealt in the forum.
Oh harsh Lachesis, when I have such adverse stars,
not to have granted a shorter thread to my life.
That I’m deprived of the sight of my country, and of you,
my friends: that I sing of existence among the Scythian tribes:
both are a heavy punishment. However much I deserved exile
from the city, I didn’t perhaps deserve to exist in such a place.
Madman! What am I saying? In offending Caesar’s
divine will, I also deserved to lose life itself.
§ 5.11.1 AN INSULT TO HIS WIFE
Your letter complains that someone has said
that you’re ‘an exile’s wife’, by way of insult.
I was aggrieved, not so much that my fate is spoken of
with malice, I’m used to suffering pain bravely now,
as to think that I’m a cause of shame to you, to whom
I’d wish it least of all, and that you blushed at our ills.
Endure, and be true: you’ve suffered much worse,
when the Prince’s anger tore me away from you.
Still the one who called me ‘exile’ judges wrongly:
a milder sentence punishes my fault.
My worst punishment is having offended him,
and I wish the hour of my death had come before.
Still my ship was wrecked, but not drowned and sunk,
and though deprived of harbour, it still floats.
He didn’t take my life, my wealth, my civil rights,
though I deserved to lose them all by my offence.
But since no criminal act accompanied my sin,
he only ordered I should leave my native hearth.
Caesar’s power proved lenient to me,
as to others, whose number is immeasurable.
He applied the word relegatus to me not exul:
my case is sound because he judged it so.
So my verses, rightly, sing your praises, Caesar,
however good they are, to the best of their abilities:
I beg the gods, rightly, to close the gates of heaven
to you still, and will you to be a god, separate from them.
So the people pray: and as rivers run to the deep ocean
so a stream runs too, with its meagre waters.
And you, the one whose mouth calls me ‘exile’,
stop burdening my fate with that lying name!
§ 5.12.1 POETRY IN EXILE
You write: I should lighten my sad hours with work,
lest my thoughts vanish through shameful neglect.
What you advise is hard, my friend, since songs
are the product of joy, and need a mind at peace.
My fortunes are blown about by hostile winds,
and nothing could be sadder than my fate.
You’re urging Priam to dance at the death of his sons,
and Niobe, bereaved, to lead the festive chorus.
You think poetry and not mourning should claim
one ordered off alone to the distant Getae?
Grant me a heart strengthened by the vigorous power
they say Socrates had, who was accused by Anytus,
wisdom still falls crushed by the weight of such misfortune:
a god’s anger’s more powerful than human strength.
That ancient, called wise by Apollo, would have had
no more power to write in this situation.
If I could forget my country, and forget you,
if all sense of what I’ve lost should leave me,
still fear itself denies me peace to perform the task,
I live in a place encircled by countless enemies.
And add to that, my imagination’s dulled, harmed
by long disuse, and much inferior to what it once was.
A field that’s not refreshed by constant ploughing
will produce nothing but weeds and brambles.
A horse that’s stabled too long will race badly,
and be last of those released from the starting-gate.
A boat will be weakened by rot, and gape with cracks,
if it’s separated from its accustomed waters too long.
Give up hope for me, that little as I was before
I can even become that man I was, once more.
My talent’s extinguished by long sufferance of ills,
and nothing of my former strength remains.
Yet if I take up a writing tablet, as I have now,
and wish to set words on their proper feet,
no verses are composed, or only such as you see,
only worthy of their author’s age and situation.
Lastly, the thought of fame grants no small power
to the mind: desire for praise makes for fertile thought.
Once, while a following breeze drove my sails on,
I was attracted by the glitter of celebrity and fame.
Now things are not so good for me that I yearn for glory:
if it were possible I’d wish no one to know of me.
Or do you urge me to write because at first my verse
went well, so as to follow up on my success?
With your permission, Muses, let me say: Sisters,
the nine of you are the main cause of my exile.
As Perillus, who made the bronze bull, paid the price,
so I’m paying the penalty for my art.
I ought to have nothing more to do with verse,
one shipwrecked I ought rightly to avoid all water.
And if I were mad and tried the fatal art again,
consider if this place equips me for song.
There are no books here, no one to lend me an ear,
or understand what my words signify.
Everywhere’s filled with barbarism, cries of beasts:
everywhere’s filled with the fear of hostile sounds.
I myself have already un-learned Latin, I think,
now I’ve learnt to speak Getic and Sarmatian.
Yet still, to confess the truth to you, my Muse
can’t be prevented from composing poems.
I write, and burn the books I’ve written in the fire:
a few ashes are the outcome of my labours.
I can’t, and yet I long to, make some worthwhile verse:
therefore my effort’s thrown into the flames,
and only fragments of any of my work,
saved by chance or guile, ever reach you.
If only my Ars Amatoria, that ruined its author,
who anticipated no such thing, had turned to ashes!
§ 5.13.1 ILL, AND WISHING FOR LETTERS
This ‘Good health’ Ovid sends you from Getic lands,
if anyone can send what he lacks himself.
Sick at heart I’ve drawn the sickness into my body,
so no part of me might be free of torment,
and for days I’ve been tortured by pains in my side:
so winter’s immoderate cold has harmed me.
Yet if only you are well, I’m partly well:
since my ruin was supported by your shoulders.
Why, when you’ve given me such great proof of love,
when you protect my life in every way,
do you sin by rarely consoling me with a letter,
offering the fact of loyalty, denying me the words?
I beg you to alter that! If you corrected that one thing
there’d be no flaw in your illustrious person.
I’d accuse you more strongly, except it’s possible
a letter’s been sent that’s not reached me yet.
The gods grant that my complaint’s baseless,
and I’m wrong in thinking you’ve forgotten me.
It’s clear what I pray for is so: since it’s wrong for me
to believe that the strength of your feelings should change.
Sooner would pale wormwood be missing from icy Pontus,
or Sicilian Hybla lack its sweet-scented thyme,
than anyone could convict you of forgetting a friend.
The threads of my fate are not so dark as that.
Still, beware of seeming what you’re not, so you
can refute these false accusations of guilt.
As we used to spend long hours in conversation,
until the daylight failed us, while we talked,
so letters now should bear our silent voices to and fro,
and paper and hands perform the acts of tongues.
Lest I seem too despairing of this ever being so,
and may these few lines serve to remind you of it,
accept that word with which a letter always ends –
and may your fortunes be different from mine! – ‘Vale’.
§ 5.14.1 IN PRAISE OF HIS WIFE
You see how great a monument I’ve reared
to you in my books, wife dearer to me than myself.
Though Fortune might detract from their author,
you’ll still be made glorious by my art:
as long as I’m read, your virtue will be read,
nor can you vanish utterly in the mournful pyre.
Though your husband’s fate might make you seem
one to be pitied, you’ll find those who’d wish to be
what you are, who’d call you happy and envy you
in that you share in our misfortunes.
I’d not have given you more by giving you wealth:
the rich take nothing to the ancestral shades.
I’ve given you the fruits of immortal fame,
and you possess a gift, the greatest I could give.
Add that you’re the sole custodian of my estate,
a burden to you that comes with no little honour:
that my voice is never silent about you, and you
should be proud of your husband’s testimony.
Stand firm, so no one thinks it said thoughtlessly,
support me and your faithful devotion equally.
While I was untouched your virtue was free
of vile accusations, and to that extent of reproach.
Now a space is cleared for you, by our ruin:
let your virtue build a house here for all to see.
It’s easy to be good when what prevents it is remote,
and a wife has nothing that obstructs her duties.
Not to avoid the clouds, when the god thunders,
that’s loyalty indeed, that’s wedded love.
That virtue not governed by Fortune is truly rare,
that which remains still standing, when she vanishes.
Yet whenever virtue itself is the prize it seeks,
and faces what’s difficult, in less happy times,
no age ignores it, though you add centuries,
it’s a subject for admiration, wherever Earth’s paths extend.
Do you see how Penelope’s loyalty is praised
through distant ages, with undying fame?
Do you see how Alcestis, Admetus’s wife, is sung:
Hector’s Andromache: Evadne who dared the burning pyre?
How Laodamia’s name lives, wife to Phylacos’ grandson
Protesilaus, whose swift foot first touched the Trojan shore?
You’d be no help to me dead, rather loving and loyal, here:
you don’t need to search for fame through suffering.
And don’t think I’m admonishing you, for inaction:
I’m raising sail on a ship that’s already under oars.
Who tells you to do what you’re already doing, praises
your actions, in telling, and approves them by his urging.