A.S. Kline, used by permission' />
Ovid, Letters from PontusOvid, Letters From Pontus, Translated by A. S. Kline, © Copyright 2003, [URL: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/Admin/Copyright.php], All Rights Reserved. This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. This text has 273 tagged references to 120 ancient places.
CTS URN: urn:cts:latinLit:phi0959.phi009; Wikidata ID: Q3730671; Trismegistos: authorwork/1273 [Open Latin text in new tab]
§ 1.1.1 TO BRUTUS: THE NATURE OF HIS BOOK
Ovid sends you this work from the Getic shore:
he’s no stranger already to the land of Tomis.
Brutus, if you’ve time, welcome these foreign books
with friendship: but hide them somewhere, anywhere.
They don’t dare go entering a public library,
in case their author’s closed the doors to them.
Ah, the times I’ve said: ‘You teach nothing shameful:
go, the place is open to your chaste verses!’
They still won’t go, but as you see they think
it’s safer to lie hidden in a private household.
You’d like to know where to put them, without harming
anyone? Where my Ars Amatoria stood, there’s your place.
Perhaps you’ll ask why they come, while they’re a novelty.
Whatever the reason, accept them, so long as it’s not for love!
You’ll find, though the title’s not about anything sad,
this book’s no less sad than the ones that went before.
The same theme, different title: and each letter shows
whom it was sent to without hiding the name.
You don’t like it, but you can’t prevent it:
my obliging Muse comes against your will.
Whatever it is, add it to my works. Nothing stops
an exile’s children enjoying the city if they keep the law.
There’s nothing to fear. Antony’s writings are read,
and Marcus Brutus, the learned, has shelves waiting.
I’m not so foolish as to compare myself with such men:
still, I’ve not employed fierce weapons against the gods,
In short Caesar, though he doesn’t need it himself,
lacks no honour in any book of mine.
If you’re dubious about me, admit praise of a god,
and accept my poetry after removing the name.
The peaceful olive branch is helpful in wartime:
is it not beneficial to contain the creator of peace?
When Aeneas carried his father on his shoulders,
they say the very flames made way for the hero:
so won’t all paths open to a book bearing Aeneas’s scion?
Indeed one’s father of a country, the other only of a hero.
§ 1.1.37 TO BRUTUS: HIS PRAYER
Is there anyone brave enough to drive from his threshold
one who shakes Isis’s rattling sistrum of Pharos in his hand?
When the flute-player, before Cybele, Mother of the Gods,
sounds the curved horn, who grudges him a few coppers as alms?
No such thing, we know, is done at Diana’s command,
yet her prophet too still gains the means to live.
The power of the divine being itself stirs our hearts:
there’s nothing shameful in being caught by credulity.
Behold, instead of the sistrum or Phrygian boxwood pipe,
I come bearing the sacred names of the Julian race.
I celebrate, I prophesy. Make way for the bearer of holy symbols!
The right’s not claimed by me, but by a mighty god.
Because I’ve earned and experienced the prince’s anger,
don’t think I’d not wish, for my part, to worship him.
I’ve seen one who confessed to outraging the divinity
of linen-robed Isis kneeling before Isis’s altar.
Another, robbed of sight for a similar reason,
shouted, through the streets, that he’d deserved it.
The gods delight in instances of such testimony,
since they, thereby, give witness of their powers.
They often ease punishments and restore the sight
they’ve taken, when they see true penitence for sin.
Oh, I repent! If anything the wretched say’s believed,
I repent, and feel the real torment of my actions.
Though exile is grief, my offence is more so:
and deserving punishment’s worse than suffering it.
If the gods favoured me, and he most visible of them
should annul my sentence, the fault still exists forever.
At least death will make me, when it comes, no longer an exile:
but death can’t arrange things so I never offended either.
So it’s no wonder if my mind’s decaying,
melting like water dripping from the snow.
It’s gnawed at as a ship’s weakened by hidden molluscs:
as waves of salt water carve away the cliffs:
as heaps of iron are eaten by corroding rust:
as a shelved book feeds the worm’s mouth,
so my heart feels the constant bite of care,
which will never make an end. Not before
life itself will these pangs leave my mind:
he who grieves will die sooner than the grief.
If the gods above, whose I am, believe me,
perhaps I’ll be thought worthy of a little help,
and be sent to a place free of the Scythian bows.
If I asked for more, it would be sheer effrontery.
§ 1.2.1 TO PAULLUS FABIUS MAXIMUS: HIS LIFE IN EXILE
Maximus, you who fill the measure of so great a name,
and match your ancestry with your own nobility of spirit,
in order to secure whose birth not all the Fabii
were killed that day when the three hundred fell,
perhaps you’re asking who sent you this letter,
wishing to be surer of who speaks to you.
Ah, what should I do? I fear you’ll be hardened on seeing
the name, and you’ll read what’s left with a hostile mind.
You be the judge. I’ll dare to confess I’ve written to you
(..in the hope that you might be able to lessen my ills….?)
I, who, though admittedly deserving of a heavier
punishment, can scarcely experience a heavier one.
I live among enemies, surrounded with dangers,
as if peace was taken from me with my native land:
they double the chance of death from a cruel wound,
by smearing every arrow-head with viper’s gall.
Equipped so, the horseman circles our anxious walls,
in the same way that a wolf circles the penned sheep:
and once that light bow’s strung with horse’s sinew
it remains taut, held by its fastenings, forever.
The rooftops bristle, covered by the coating of arrows
fixed there, and the heavy-barred gate hardly prevents attack.
Add that the face of the land, is covered with neither shrubs
nor trees, and that lifeless winter merges into winter.
Here a fourth winter wearies me, contending as I am
with cold, with arrows, and with my own fate.
My tears are endless, unless numbness checks them:
and a lethargy like death grips my thoughts.
Though she saw so many deaths, Niobe was happy,
losing her sense of feeling, turned to stone by her sorrows!
And you, Phaethon’s sisters, whose mouths the poplar
closed with fresh bark, as you cried over your brother!
I’m one not allowed to enter any kind of tree:
I’m one who wishes in vain to become stone.
Let Medusa herself appear before my eyes,
Medusa herself will lose all her power.
In living I never lose the bitterness of sensation,
and my punishment’s worse for its long duration.
So Tityus’s liver, never consumed, is always whole,
renewed so that it can perish again, forever.
I imagine, when rest and sleep, care’s common healer,
are here, that night might be free of my usual ills.
But dreams that imitate real dangers terrify me,
and my senses wake to my own torment.
Either I believe myself dodging Sarmatian arrows,
or offering my hands, captive, to the cruel chains.
Or when I’m deceived by the semblance of kinder dreams,
I see the roofs of the homeland I’ve left behind.
And sometimes I speak with you, honoured friends,
and sometimes, at length, with my beloved wife.
So, when I’ve known this brief and unreal joy,
remembering the happiness, my state is worse.
§ 1.2.53 TO PAULLUS FABIUS MAXIMUS: HIS NEED
Whether day gazes on this wretched life,
or whether Night urges on her frosty horses,
my heart melts with its unending sorrow,
as fresh wax does too near the flames.
I often pray for death, yet un-pray that same death,
lest Sarmatian soil should cover my bones.
When I think how merciful Augustus is, I believe
a kindlier shore might be granted to my shipwreck.
When I see the enduring nature of my fate, I weaken,
and slight hope subsides, conquered by great fear.
Yet I neither hope nor pray for anything other
than, by exchange of ills, to be free to leave this place.
It’s that, and nothing else, your favour can modestly attempt
for me, and still preserve your reputation.
Maximus, chief eloquence of the Roman language,
in mercy, take up the advocacy of this difficult case.
A bad one, I admit, but it will become a good one
if you take it, just speak kind words for a wretched exile.
For Caesar doesn’t know, though a god knows all,
what state this isolated place is in.
The great burden of public affairs occupies his powers:
this is too small a matter for his celestial mind.
He’s not free to enquire about the region that holds Tomis,
a place scarcely known to the neighbouring Getae,
or what the Sarmatians are up to, or the fierce Iazyges,
and the Tauric land guarded by the Oresteian goddess,
or the other tribes that when Danube’s frozen with ice
ride over the solid spine of the river on their swift horses.
For the most part, glorious Rome, these people neither care
about you, nor fear the weapons of Italian soldiers.
Bows and full quivers supply them with courage,
and their horses, capable of long journeys,
and knowing how to endure days of hunger and thirst,
and that the pursuing enemy will have no access to water.
The anger of a merciful man wouldn’t have sent me here,
if this territory had been well enough known to him.
He wouldn’t delight in me, or any Roman, being taken
by the enemy, I least of all to whom he himself granted life.
He didn’t choose to destroy me as he might, at the slightest nod.
There’s no need of any Getae to bring about my death.
But he found no reason for my death in any of my actions,
and it’s possible he’s less hostile to me than he was.
Even then he did nothing I didn’t compel him to do:
his anger even stops short of what I deserve.
So may the gods, of whom he himself is the most just,
cause kindly earth to create nothing greater than Caesar,
and as it has been under his rule, may the earth stay under
a Caesar, passed on through the hands of his race.
§ 1.2.101 TO PAULLUS FABIUS MAXIMUS: HIS REQUEST
Now, open your lips on behalf of my sorrows,
whenever the judge is as mild as I too found him.
Don’t ask for my happiness, but for me to be safer
in my misery: exiled further from savage enemies:
that some rough Getan with his naked sword
shouldn’t take the life granted me by a living god:
in short, that if I die, I might be buried in a gentler land,
and my bones not be covered by Scythian earth,
nor my ashes, ill-interred, as no doubt an exile deserves,
be trampled under Thracian horses’ hooves,
nor, if there’s any consciousness beyond the grave,
even a shadow of Sarmatia, terrify my ghost.
This might move Caesar’s spirit if he heard it
Maximus, yet only if it has first moved yours.
Let your voice, I pray, arouse mercy in Augustus’s ear,
since it often brings help to anxious defendants,
and with your learned tongue’s accustomed sweetness
move the heart of a hero who must be treated as a god.
You’ll appeal, not to Theromedon, or savage Atreus,
or King Diomedes who made men food for horses,
but to a prince who’s slow to punish, swift to reward,
who grieves whenever he’s compelled to be harsh,
who conquers only that he might spare the conquered,
who’s placed an eternal bar on civil war, who rules
many things by fear of punishment, few by punishing,
and hurls his rare lightning with an unwilling hand.
So then, being sent as advocate to such a merciful hearing,
ask that my place of exile might be nearer home.
I’m he who honoured you, whose presence the dinner
table used to give witness to among your guests:
I’m he who brought Hymen to your wedding torches,
and sang verses worthy of your blest marriage bed,
whose books you used to praise, as I remember,
except the ones that have harmed their author,
who admired the writings you sometimes read me:
I’m he who was granted a bride from your house.
Marcia approved of her, always loved her from
her earliest years, counted her among her companions,
and her mother Atia, Caesar’s aunt, so regarded her
before: anyone approved by that court, is approved.
Even that Claudia, purer than her own reputation,
would have needed no divine aid, if praised by them.
I too lived years that are gone without a stain:
though my recent life must be passed over in silence.
But if I’m silent about myself, my wife’s your charge:
you can’t ignore her and still keep the faith.
She flies to you for refuge, and embraces your altar,
- rightly each comes to the god they honour - and begs,
with tears, that you might soften Caesar with your prayers,
so her husband’s funeral might take place nearer home.
§ 1.3.1 TO RUFINUS: YEARNING FOR ROME
Rufinus, your friend Ovid sends you this greeting,
if one who’s wretched can be anyone’s friend.
The solace you’ve lately granted my troubled mind
brought help and hope to my ills. As Philoctetes
the Poeantian hero, thanks to Machaon’s skill,
felt the healing power ease his wound,
So I, low in spirits, wounded by a bitter blow,
began to gather strength again from your advice
and, though fading, was revived by your words,
as the pulse recovers when wine’s administered.
But your eloquence was not so powerful
that my heart could be healed by your words.
You could reduce the whirlpool of my cares
yet no less than you took away still remains.
Perhaps a scar will form in sufficient time:
the raw wound quivers at the touch of a hand.
The doctor can’t always cure the patient:
at times the illness is beyond his skill.
You see how the blood expelled by a weak lung
points the sure way to the waters of the Styx.
Let Aesculapius himself bring sacred herbs,
he’ll not cure a wound in the heart.
Medicine can’t remove the crippling effects of gout,
or bring any relief for the horrors of dropsy.
Sorrow too at times isn’t curable by skill –
or, if it is, it has to be erased by passing time.
When your advice has strengthened my low spirits,
when I’ve adopted your mind’s defences,
then love of my country, stronger than all reason,
undoes the work your letters have achieved.
Whether you wish to call it love or unmanly tenderness,
I confess my strength of mind is weakened by misery.
No one doubts Ulysses’ worldly wisdom, but even he prayed
that he might see the smoke of his ancestral hearth again.
Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not
what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.
Where’s better than Rome? Where’s worse than cold Scythia?
Yet the homesick barbarian will still flee the City.
Though Pandion’s daughter is fine, shut in her cage,
she yearns to return to her woodlands.
Bulls seek the pastures they know, and lions –
despite their wild natures – seek their lairs.
Yet you hope, by your palliatives, to remove
the pangs of exile from my mind.
Ensure that you and yours are not so dear to me,
then it will be that much less painful to miss you.
And, I suppose, though I’m distant from my native land
I’ve still managed to end among human society.
§ 1.3.49 TO RUFINUS: THE EXILE LIST
I’m here, abandoned, on the furthest shores of the world,
where the buried earth carries perpetual snowfall.
No fields bear fruit, or sweet grapes, here,
no willows green the banks, no oaks the hills.
Nor can you celebrate the sea rather than the land,
the sunless waters ever heaving with the winds’ madness.
Wherever you look are uncultivated levels,
and the vast plains that no one owns.
A dreadful enemy’s near to left and right,
terrifying us on all sides with fear of our neighbours.
One side expects to feel the Bistonian spears,
the other arrows from Sarmatian hands.
So quote the example of ancient heroes to me,
ones who endured their fate with firm minds.
Admire the deep fortitude of great-hearted Rutilius,
who refused the offered terms of repatriation.
Smyrna held that hero, not Pontus a hostile land,
hardly anywhere’s more sought after than Smyrna.
Diogenes, the Cynic, didn’t grieve, far from Sinope,
since he found a home in the land of Attica.
Themistocles, who beat the Persians, weapon
for weapon, first knew exile in the city of Argos.
Aristides, driven from his country, fled to Sparta:
of the two places it’s uncertain which was best.
Patroclus left Opus, when young, having killed a man,
and became Achilles’ guest on Thessalian soil.
Jason, under whose leadership the sacred ship sailed
Colchian waters, was exiled from Haemonia to Pirene’s spring,
Agenor’s son Cadmus left the walls of Sidon
to found a city, Thebes, in a better place.
Tydeus exiled from Calydon, came to Adrastus,
Teucer was welcomed by Venus’s beloved Cyprus.
Why tell of the ancient Romans, whose
furthest place of exile was only Tibur?
Though I list them all, no one in any age
has every been given a worse place, so far from home.
So let your wisdom forgive one who grieves:
though he carries out so little of what you tell him.
Yet I don’t deny if my wounds were curable
they’d be able to be cured through your advice.
I’m afraid you’re trying to save me in vain:
the help you bring won’t aid my desperate sickness.
And I don’t say so because I’m the wiser of us two,
it’s that I know myself better than any doctor can.
Be that as it may, your kindness comes to me
as a great gift, and I’m well counselled by it.
§ 1.4.1 TO HIS WIFE: TIME PASSING
Now the decline of life is on me, whitening my hair,
now the wrinkles of age are furrowing my face:
now strength and vigour ebb in my weakened body,
the games of youth that pleased, no longer delight.
If you suddenly saw me, you wouldn’t know me,
such is the ruin that’s been made of my life.
I admit the years have done it, but there’s another cause,
my anguish of spirit and my continual suffering.
And if my ills had been spread over as many years
believe me, I’d be older than Pylian Nestor.
You know how the sturdy oxen are broken in body
by the stubborn earth – and what’s stronger than an ox?
The soil that’s never allowed to lie fallow
decays, wearied by endless production.
The horse that enters every race in the Circus
without a break in competition, will fall.
Strong though it may be, the ship that’s never hauled
from fresh water to dry-dock will founder in the waves.
I’m weakened too by an endless series of woes,
and am forced to be old before my time.
Leisure nourishes the body, the mind’s fed by it as well:
excessive labour works against them both.
Look what praise Jason, the son of Aeson, receives
from later ages because he came to this region.
Yet his toil was less and lighter than mine,
if great fame didn’t merely hide the truth.
He headed for Pontus, sent there by Pelias,
who was scarcely feared beyond Thessaly’s border.
Caesar’s anger harmed me, at whom earth trembles
from the sun’s rising to its setting, both.
Thessaly’s nearer Pontus than Rome the Danube’s mouth,
and he travelled a shorter distance than I did.
He had Greek leaders as companions,
but I was separated from all in my flight.
I ploughed the vast seas in a fragile boat:
it was a solid ship that carried Aeson’s son.
I had no Tiphys as helmsman, no son of Agenor,
Phineus, to teach what routes to follow or avoid.
He was protected by Pallas and royal Juno:
no divine powers defended my life.
He was aided by Cupid’s cunning arts:
I wish Amor had not learnt them from me.
He returned home: I’ll die in this land,
if the heavy wrath of an injured god endures.
Thus my labour is harder, my loyal wife,
than that which Jason undertook.
No doubt you’ve aged too because of our troubles,
you who were still young when I left the city.
O let the gods grant me to see you so,
and set fond kisses on your altered hair,
and, clasping your slight body in my arms,
say: ‘It’s love for me that’s made you thin,’
and tear for tear tell you of my sufferings,
enjoying the speech together I never expected,
and offering that incense, with grateful hand, due
to the Caesars and the wife worthy of a Caesar!
Would that the Dawn, Memnon’s mother, with rosy lips
might soon call forth the day when the Prince relents!
§ 1.5.1 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: THE COMPULSION TO WRITE
Ovid, who once was not the least of your friends
asks you to read his words to you, Maximus.
Don’t look to find my genius in them,
lest you appear ignorant of my exile.
You see how laziness spoils an idle body,
how water acquires a tang unless its flowing.
Whatever skill I had in making poetry
fails me, too, diminished by idle neglect.
Maximus, if you believe me, this too that you read,
I write while barely forcing it from an unwilling hand.
There’s no delight in setting the mind to such things,
nor does the Muse come to the harsh Getae when called.
Yet I’m struggling to weave verses, as you see:
though it’s no easier than my fate.
When I read it, I’m ashamed of what I’ve written,
since I see what I who wrote it think should be erased.
Still I don’t alter it. It’s a greater effort than writing,
and my fragile mind can’t bear anything onerous.
Should I start to use the file more bitingly,
and summon every single word to judgement?
Is fate not tormenting me enough unless I make Lixus
flow into Hebrus, and Athos add leaves to the Alps?
The spirit with a miserable wound should be spared.
Oxen draw back their sore necks from the load.
But suppose there’s a reward, the best reason for effort,
and the field returns the seed with profit?
So far no work of mine, you can list them all,
has profited me – I wish none had harmed me!
Why do I write then, you wonder? I wonder too,
and often ask like you what I seek in it.
Or do people say truly that poets are not sane,
and am I the greatest proof of what they say,
I who persist in sowing my seed in poisonous ground
though deceived so many times by barren soil?
The fact is everyone’s eager for their own pursuits,
and delight in spending time on their favourite art.
The wounded gladiator swears off fighting, then
lifts the same weapons, forgetting his old wound.
The shipwrecked sailor says: ‘No more of those waves’,
then takes oar in waters where, just now, he swam.
I too serve a useless pastime constantly,
and revisit the goddesses I wish I’d never worshipped.
§ 1.5.43 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: THE USE OF WRITING
What else should I do? I’m not one to lead a life
of idleness: wasted time’s like death to me.
I don’t enjoy lying drugged with excess drink, till dawn,
and the lure of the dice doesn’t grip my luckless hands.
When I’ve granted the time my body needs for sleep
how should I spend the long hours of wakefulness?
Shall I forget the ways of my country and, drawn
to the skills here, learn to bend the Sarmatian bow?
My powers prevent me taking up that pastime, too,
since my mind is stronger than my slight body.
When you’ve thought deeply about what I should do,
you’ll find nothing more useful than this useless art.
Through it I win forgetfulness of my state:
that’s harvest enough if my soil can grow it.
Fame may spur you on, you, intent on the Pierian choir
so that the poems you read might gain acceptance.
It’s enough if I compose what comes easily,
I lack the motive for too intense a labour.
Why should I polish my verse with anxious care?
Because I’m afraid the Getae won’t approve them?
Perhaps I’m being bold, but I would boast
the Danube possesses no greater wit than mine.
Here, in this land where I live, it’s enough if I
manage to be a poet among the uncivilised Getae.
Why should I contend in fame with a distant world?
What fate has granted me, let that place be Rome.
My luckless Muse is happy with that theatre:
as I deserve, so the great gods have willed.
And I doubt there’s a path for my books from here
to there: Boreas reaches you on failing wings.
We’re divided by the heavens, and the Bear,
far from Quirinus’s city, sees the wild Getae near.
I can scarcely believe a judgement on my work
could leap across so much land and sea.
Suppose it were read, and suppose, by a miracle,
it found favour: surely that’s no pleasure to the author.
What benefit to you in being praised in hot Syene,
or where the Indian waves wet Ceylon?
Do you wish to aim higher? If the far distant Pleiades
were to praise you, what would you boast of?
But I, with my mediocre writings, don’t register where
you are: fame fled with the author from his true city.
And you, I think, for whom I was lost when my reputation
was buried, now you’re silent about my dying here as well.
§ 1.6.1 TO GRAECINUS: HOPE
Is it true that when you heard of my downfall –
being in a foreign land – your heart was sad?
You may try to hide it and shrink from confessing,
Graecinus, but if I truly know you it must have been sad.
A hateful cruelty does not fit your character,
and is no less at odds with your pursuits.
The liberal arts, for which you care the most,
soften the feelings and drive away harshness.
No one embraces them with greater loyalty
as far as the service and a soldier’s duties allow.
Truly, as soon as I could understand where I was –
and I was stunned for a long time, unable to think –
I felt this also in my change of fortune: you were absent,
a friend who would have been my great support.
Everything that eases a troubled mind was absent too,
with you, the best part of my courage and my counsel.
But now, as you still can, I beg you, bring me one thing
from afar, help my heart with your encouragement,
one that, if you believe a friend who doesn’t lie,
ought to be called foolish rather than wicked.
Neither brief nor safe to write would be the history
of my sin: and my wounds fear to be touched.
However they were inflicted on me, cease asking
about them: don’t disturb them if you want them to heal.
Whatever happened should be called an error, not a crime.
or is every error involving the great gods a sin?
Graecinus, all hope of seeing my sentence
reduced, therefore, hasn’t completely left me.
Hope, that goddess, who, when all the other deities fled
from sinful lands, was left alone on the god-forsaken earth.
She lets the man digging ditches live, shackled with chains,
believing that his limbs will be freed from the irons.
She lets the shipwrecked sailor, who sees no land at all,
still flail his arms about in the midst of the waves.
Often the skill and care of the doctors fails someone,
but hope will not die though the pulse grows faint.
They say those shut in prison hope for release,
and hung on a cross, a man still utters prayers.
How many people this goddess has stopped from dying
by the death they chose, as they tied the noose round their neck!
She reproved me too, and checked me with her hand,
as I was trying to end my sorrows with a sword,
saying: ‘What are you doing? Tears not blood are needed,
often a prince’s anger can be turned aside by weeping.’
So though it’s not a debt due to my merits
still I’ve great hopes, given the kindness of the god.
Graecinus, pray he’s not harsh with me,
and add some words of your own to my prayers.
May I lie entombed in the sands of Tomis
if you don’t promise me this, for sure.
For sooner will the doves avoid the dovecote, wild
beasts their caves, cattle the grass, diving birds the sea,
than will Graecinus let an old friend down.
All things have not been altered by my fate.
§ 1.7.1 TO MESSALINUS: HIS CLAIMS FOR REMEMBRANCE
Letters instead of spoken words bring you the greeting
you read, Messalinus, all the way from the savage Getae.
Does the place reveal the author? And, if the name’s not been read,
is the fact that I, Ovid, write these words, still hidden from you?
Do any of your friends, except myself, who pray I am
your friend, live at the furthest limits of the world?
May the gods will that all who revere and love you
stay far from any acquaintance with these tribes.
It’s enough that I should live amongst ice and Scythian
arrows, if owning to a sort of death is life.
Let me be crushed by war on the ground, cold in the sky,
wild Getae with weapons, and battering winter hail:
let me live in a region producing neither fruit nor grape,
and not free of enemies in any direction,
but let all the rest of your crowd of supporters be safe,
of whom, as of the citizens, I was a humble member.
Woe is me if you’re offended by these words,
and deny that I had any connection with you!
Even if that were true, you should forgive my lie:
my boast detracts in no way from your glory.
Who that’s noticed by the Caesars doesn’t think himself a friend?
Grant pardon to the weary: you were a Caesar to me.
Yet I don’t push in where I’m not allowed to go:
it’s enough if you don’t deny your house was open to me.
Even if you were to have nothing more to do with me,
surely you’re hailed by one less voice than before.
Your father didn’t repudiate my friendship,
he, the spur, the torch, the reason for my studies:
for whom I shed tears, the last gift to the dead,
and wrote verses to be sung in the midst of the forum.
And there’s your brother, joined to you by as great a love
as that which joined the sons of Atreus, or the Twins:
he didn’t disdain me as a friend and companion:
if you don’t think these words likely to harm him.
if you do I’ll own to a falsehood in that regard as well:
and I’d rather then your whole House was closed to me.
But it shouldn’t be closed: no power is strong enough
to accept the responsibility that a friend should never sin.
And even though I’d like to be able to deny my offence,
still no one’s unaware that crime is absent from me.
That unless a part of my guilt were excusable
to be relegated would have been meagre punishment.
But Caesar, who sees all things, saw that himself,
that my crime might be termed stupidity:
he spared me as far as I and the circumstances allowed,
using his lightning bolt with restraint.
He took neither life nor wealth from me, nor, if his anger
might be overcome by your prayers, the possibility of return.
But I fell heavily. What wonder is it if one
who was struck by Jupiter has no trivial wound?
Even if Achilles had limited his power
the Pelian spear he hurled dealt a heavy blow.
So when my judge’s decision supports me,
there’s no reason for your door to deny knowledge of me.
I confess I cultivated it less frequently than I ought:
but I believe that too was part of my ill fortune.
Yet your brother’s house did not experience the same
lack of attention: so I was always under your House’s protection.
Such is your loyalty that your brother’s friend
has a claim on you, though he might not court you in person.
And, just as thanks should always be given for favours,
isn’t it due your position to have deserved those thanks?
If you allow me to suggest what you should desire,
ask the gods that you might give more than you repay.
This you do, and, as I clearly remember, your giving more
has always been a reason for loyalty of service to you.
Set me in whatever place you will, Messalinus,
so long as I’m not a stranger to your house:
and as for Ovid’s troubles, since it seems he deserved them,
if you don’t grieve at his suffering, grieve that they’re deserved.
§ 1.8.1 TO SEVERUS: MEMORIES OF HOME
Accept this greeting, Severus, dear to my heart,
sent to you by Ovid whom you loved.
Don’t ask how I am. If I told you all, you’d weep.
It’s enough if you have a summary of my troubles.
I live amongst endless conflict, deprived of peace,
while the quiver-carrying Getae make cruel war.
Of all those banished it’s I who am soldier and exile:
the rest, I don’t begrudge them, live in safety.
And my books are more deserving of consideration,
in that you’re reading verses written while on watch.
An old city stands on the banks of Hister, Danube’s
other name, barely vulnerable because of its walls and site.
Aegisos the Caspian founded it, and gave it his name,
if we can believe what its people tell of themselves.
The fierce Getae captured it after they had destroyed
the Odrysii in a shock war, taking arms against the king.
He, remembering the mighty race his virtue adds to,
arrived there at once supported by a vast army.
He did not leave until he’d crushed the bold spirit
of that people, by a justified slaughter of the guilty.
Bravest king of our times, may it be granted you
to always wield the sceptre in your noble hand.
What more could I ask on your behalf, than that, as now,
warring Rome, and mighty Caesar, should approve of you?
But remembering where I started, I complain, dear friend
that savage warfare’s added to my troubles.
The Pleiades, rising, announce the fourth autumn
since I, thrust down to the shores of Styx, lost you.
Don’t think it’s so much the comforts of city life
that Ovid looks for, though he does still seek them,
for I recall in thought my sweet friends sometimes,
sometimes I think of my dear wife and daughter:
and I revisit the sites of the lovely city from my home,
and my mind surveys it all with its own inward eye.
Now the fora, now the temples, now the marbled theatres,
now I think of each portico with its levelled grounds.
Now the grassy Campus that faces the lovely gardens,
the ponds and the canals, and the Aqua Virgo.
But I suppose, the pleasures of the city being snatched away
in my misery, that I should at least enjoy all this countryside!
It’s not so much that my heart desires the fields I lost,
the noble landscapes of the Paelignian country,
or those gardens sited on the pine-clad hills
that view the junction of Via Clodia and Via Flaminia.
I don’t know who I’ve cultivated them for: I used to add
spring water to the beds myself, I’m not ashamed to say:
if they’re still living, there are certain trees there
my hand planted, but I’ll not be gathering their fruit.
Despite those losses I wish it were possible to have
a plot of ground at least to cultivate in my exile!
If only I could I’d like to be shepherd to the cliff-hanging goats:
leaning on my staff, I’d like to guard the grazing sheep myself.
I myself would lead the oxen through the fields under the plough
so my heart would not be fixed on its familiar sorrows,
and learn the words the Getic bullocks understand
and go shouting the customary warnings to them.
I’d control the handle of the heavy ploughshare myself
and try my hand at scattering seed in the furrowed earth.
I wouldn’t hesitate to clear the weeds with a long hoe,
and supply the water that the thirsty garden drinks.
Yet how, when there’s only the thinnest of walls
and a barred gate between me and the enemy?
But the fatal goddesses, and it makes me rejoice
with all my heart, spun strong threads at your birth.
You have the Campus, or a colonnade’s dense shade,
or the forum in which you spend so little time.
Now Umbria calls you home, or the Appian Way leads you
to the country on flashing wheels heading for your Alban estate.
There perhaps you wish that Caesar might temper
his anger, and your villa entertain me as a guest.
Ah, my friend you ask too much: choose something
less demanding, and trim the sails of prayer I beg you.
I only desire a place nearer home, not exposed to war:
then a major part of my troubles would be eased.
§ 1.9.1 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: NEWS OF CELSUS’ DEATH
Your letter that came to me concerning Celsus’s death
was immediately made moist by my tears:
and though it’s wrong to say it, and I’d not have thought
it possible, your letter was read by unwilling eyes.
Nothing more bitter has reached my ears, since I
have been here in Pontus, and I pray it never will.
His image comes to my eyes as if he were here,
and, though he’s dead, love pictures him still living.
Often my mind recalls his playfulness, free of gravity,
how he performed serious things with a calm loyalty.
Yet no occasions come more frequently to mind
than those, and I wish they’d been the last of my life,
when my house suddenly fell in total ruin
and crashed down around it’s master’s head.
He stood by me, Maximus, when most people
abandoned me, and he was not involved in my affairs.
I saw him weeping at my ‘funeral rites’
as if he were laying his own brother in the flames.
He clung to my embrace, consoled me as I lay grieving,
and mingled his tears endlessly with mine.
O how often, as the frustrating saviour of my bitter life,
he restrained my hands ready to cause my own death!
O how often he said: ‘The gods’ anger is not implacable:
live, and don’t deny you could ever be pardoned!’
Yet what he repeated most often was: ‘Think,
how great a help Maximus can be to you.
Maximus will take the trouble: such is his loyalty:
and request that Caesar’s anger not be final:
He’ll exert his brother’s influence and his own,
and attempt every assistance to ease your pain.’
These words lessened my weariness with my sad life,
Maximus: take care that they were not idle ones.
He used to promise that he’d come to me even here
but only if you granted permission for the long journey,
since he revered the sanctuary of your house as you
revere the gods who are masters of this world.
Believe me, though it’s right you have many friends,
if it’s true that character and probity, not wealth
or the titles of illustrious ancestors, make for greatness,
then he was in no way the least among the many.
So it’s fitting I make libation of tears for dead Celsus,
those he granted to me in life when I was fleeing:
It’s fitting I make verse witness to a rare spirit,
that those to come may read your name, Celsus.
This, that I can send from the lands of the Getae,
this is the only thing of mine allowed in Rome.
I couldn’t accompany the bier, or anoint your body,
the whole world separates me from your tomb.
Maximus, who could do so, whom in life you
thought godlike, carried out every office for you.
He conducted your exequies and rituals of great honour,
and poured the spices over your cold breast.
Grieving, he mingled falling tears with the unguent
and laid your bones to rest in neighbouring ground.
Since he pays the debt he owes to friends who’ve died,
let him count me as well among the dead.
§ 1.10.1 TO FLACCUS: HIS STATE OF HEALTH
Ovid the exile sends you ‘good health’, Flaccus,
if he can send you something he lacks himself.
Prolonged apathy, with its bitter cares, has weakened
my body, won’t allow it to exercise its proper powers.
True I’ve no pain, I don’t burn and gasp with fever,
and my pulse keeps to its regular rhythm.
But my appetite’s gone: I push away meals I’m served,
with distaste, complain, when it’s time to eat hated food.
Serve me with what sea, land or air produces,
none of it will serve to make me hunger.
Let ambrosia and nectar, the gods’ food and drink
be served me by busy Hebe’s lovely hand,
still their savour won’t excite my jaded palate
and the weight will lie inert on my stomach for hours.
Though it’s all true I wouldn’t venture to write this
to everyone, in case they thought my ills a mere conceit.
As though my position, the nature of my circumstances,
was such there could actually be room for conceits!
If any fear that Caesar’s anger sits too lightly on me
I pray such ‘conceits’ as these may be theirs as well.
That sleep, too, which is food itself to a frail body,
fails to provide my useless body with its nurture.
I lie awake instead: my endless sorrows awake too,
since the place I’m in itself lends them substance.
You’d hardly know my features if you saw them,
and you’d ask what’s become of my old complexion.
No strength penetrates my fragile joints,
and my limbs are more pallid than fresh wax.
I haven’t contracted these ills by excess drinking:
you know that water’s almost the only thing I drink.
nor by eating heavily: even if I’d loved to do so,
there’s no opportunity in the Getic country.
My strength’s not wasted by Venus’s ruinous passion:
she doesn’t usually come to a sorrowful bed.
The water and the place harm me, and there’s a deeper
cause, the anxiety of spirit that’s always with me.
If you and your brother alike were not helping me,
my mind would hardly endure the weight of sadness
You’re like a shore without rocks to a shattered boat,
you offer me the help that so many deny.
I beg you to always bring me what I’ll always need,
for as long as Caesar’s godhead is offended with me.
Let each of you as suppliants implore your gods not to end,
but merely to lessen, his justified anger against me.
§ 2.1.68 TO GERMANICUS: THE TRIUMPH
The news of Caesar’s triumph has reached this place
as well, where the south wind’s breath barely comes.
I never thought any sweetness could be mine in Scythia,
but this land’s less hateful to me now than it was before.
At last the clouds of care are driven off: I see
a fragment of clear sky: I’ve cheated fate.
Even if Caesar doesn’t wish me any joy,
he should still wish this one joy on us all.
The gods, so as to be worshipped in joyous piety,
order sadness laid aside on their feast days too.
In short, though it’s madness to dare confess it
I’d still enjoy this happiness if he forbids it.
When Jupiter delights the fields with needed rain,
stubborn weeds will grow among the crops.
I too, a useless plant, feel the fertilising power,
and am often benefited despite his will.
The delights of Caesar’s heart are mine too, as far
as my powers allow: that House can’t be a private one.
Thanks to you, Fame, though I’m imprisoned
among the Getae, I’ve seen the glorious triumph.
Your report told me how countless peoples
recently gathered to gaze on the leader’s face:
and Rome whose vast walls compass the wide world,
scarcely had room to hold her many guests.
You told me how the sun shone brightly,
by heaven’s power, and the day matched
the faces of the crowd, though, for days before,
a cloudy southerly poured down endless rain,
and how the victor made warlike gifts to the heroes,
honouring them in a mighty voice, how,
wearing embroidered robes, glorious insignia,
he first scattered incense on the sacred fires
purely to placate his father’s Justice,
which always occupies a temple in his heart,
how he heard happy omens of applause as he went
and the stones were red with dew-wet roses:
silver fascimiles of conquered walls were carried
before him, barbarian towns with defeated men,
rivers, mountains and battles in thick forests,
mingled piles of shields and spears,
the buildings of the Roman forum gilded
by the gold of trophies, glittering in the sun,
and so many captive chieftains, chained by the neck,
they were almost enough to form an enemy host.
Most of them were granted life and pardon,
among them Bato, high chieftain of the war.
Why should I fail to believe the divine anger could lessen
towards me, when I see the gods merciful to an enemy?
Germanicus, the same news informed me,
that floats of townships rolled on in your name.
Those towns were not well-enough defended against you,
despite massive walls, armaments, and clever placing.
May the gods grant you long life, you’ll do the rest,
so long as there’s time enough to show your worth.
I pray it will come about: a poet’s oracle’s worth something,
since the god gave a favourable answer to my prayer.
You too with garlanded horses, will be seen to climb
the Tarpeian Rock in victory, by a happy Rome:
your father will see his son’s mature honours,
feeling the joy that he has felt at his own.
Mark my prophetic words to you even now,
you, greatest of youths in war or peace.
I’ll tell of that triumph also perhaps in verse
if only my lifespan equals my misfortunes,
and I don’t stain Scythian arrows with my blood
before, and no fierce Getan steals my life with a sword.
If your laurels are dedicated in the temple while I live,
you’ll say that both my prophecies have come true.
§ 2.2.1 TO MESSALINUS: HIS ERROR
He who honoured your House from his earliest years,
Ovid, driven to the Black Sea’s sinister left-hand shore,
gives you the greeting, Messalinus, he once offered
face to face, from this land of unconquered Getae.
Alas if, having read the name, your expression
is not what it once was, and you hesitate to read on!
Read, don’t banish my words with my self:
my verse is allowed to exist in your city.
I never believed, though Ossa supported Pelion,
I had the power to touch the bright stars with my hand,
nor did I join Enceladus’s mad faction,
taking up arms against the gods of the world,
nor as the rash hand of Diomedes did,
have I aimed my spear at any divine power.
My offence is grave but it’s one that has only
ventured to destroy me, not cause greater sin.
I can only be called unwise and cowardly:
those are the proper terms for my behaviour.
I confess it’s right you too were resistant to my
entreaties, after I’d deserved Caesar’s anger:
such is your loyalty to all the Julian clan,
you’re hurt if you think any of them are hurt.
But even if you take up arms and threaten me
with cruel wounds you won’t make me afraid.
A Trojan ship of Aeneas’s welcomed Greek
Achaemenides: Achilles’ spear helped Mysian Telephus.
Sometimes temple violators seek sanctuary at the altar,
not fearing to seek the help of the god they’ve injured.
Some might say it isn’t wise. I admit it.
But my ship doesn’t sail through calm waters.
Let others seek safety: the most wretched fate’s
the safest, since fear of a worse one is absent.
Driven by the foaming sea, stretching out our arms
we snatch at thorns and harsh rocks with our hands:
the bird, with quivering wings, in fear of the hawk
dares to seek human protection in its weariness,
and a doe won’t hesitate to trust herself to a nearby house
when she’s running in terror from the hostile hounds.
§ 2.2.39 TO MESSALINUS: THE TIME IS PROPITIOUS
Kindest of men, allow my tears an audience, I beg you,
don’t close a harsh door against my anxious voice,
show favour, carry my words to the gods of Rome,
worshipped no less by you than the Tarpeian Thunderer,
be ambassador for my request, take up my cause:
though no case with my name on is a good one.
Now I’m almost buried, now I’m ill and frozen
at least: if I’m saved at all, I’ll be saved by you.
Now let that influence, the love of an eternal prince
wins for you, exert itself on behalf of the weary.
Now let the shining eloquence of your house appear,
with which you’ve benefited anxious defendants.
Your father’s fluent tongue lives in both you sons,
and that asset has found its proper heirs.
I don’t ask that it should try to defend me: the case
of an accused who’s confessed is not defensible.
Yet see if you might apologise for my actions
given the source of my error, or whether it’s better
not to try anything like that. The wound is such
that, since it can’t be healed, I think it’s safer not to touch it.
Tongue, be silent! Nothing more is to be told.
I wish to be able to bury my own ashes.
So speak your words as if no error ever misled me,
so that I can enjoy the life he granted me:
and when he’s calm and that expression’s tranquil
that, as it changes, alters the empire and the world,
ask that I might not be a worthless prize for the Getae,
and to grant a gentler land for my wretched exile.
It’s a good time for petitions. He’s safe and sound, and sees
that your powers, Rome, which he fashioned, are sound.
His wife, is well, and keeps the sacred bed intact:
his son, Tiberius, extends the Roman Empire:
Germanicus, by his courage, is greater than his years,
and Drusus’ energy is no less than his nobility.
Add that the younger women, the loyal granddaughters,
the granddaughter’s sons, and the rest of his House are whole.
§ 2.2.75 TO MESSALINUS: HIS REQUEST
Then there’s the triumph over Paeonia, there are
raised arms in mountainous Dalmatia lowered in peace:
Illyria, a servant now, throwing down her weapons,
and not refusing to set her head beneath Caesar’s foot.
Tiberius himself appeared in his chariot, calm-faced,
his forehead wreathed with Apollo’s Daphnian laurel.
His loyal sons worthy of their father and the names granted
them, followed him, attended by you two brothers,
like the Twins of the neighbouring temple
whom divine Julius views from his lofty shrine.
Messalinus does not deny the supreme place
of joy, to those before whom all must yield,
whatever’s left concerns battles of affection,
in these he’ll take second place to no man.
He’ll celebrate this day above all others, on which
the laurel of merit’s rightly set on an honoured brow.
O happy are those allowed to see the triumph,
and savour the general’s godlike countenance!
But instead of Caesar’s face I see the Sarmatians,
a land without peace and waves bound by ice.
Yet if you hear this, if my voice reaches so far,
let your influence, your charm alter my place of exile.
Your father wishes this, if his eloquent shade still feels,
he whom I cultivated from my earliest youth.
And your brother so wishes, though perhaps he fears
that attention to my affairs might harm you.
All your House asks it, nor can you deny
that I too was once one of your followers.
Surely my genius, that I feel I used wrongly,
was often approved, except for the Ars Amatoria.
Nor is my life, if you except its recent sins,
able to bring shame on your House.
May the sanctuaries of your race flourish,
may the gods above and the Caesars protect you:
only beg that merciful deity, who’s rightly angered with me,
to move me far from the savagery of Scythian lands.
I know it’s difficult, but virtue aims for the heights,
and the thanks for such a service will be greater.
Besides it’s no Polyphemus in Etna’s vast caves,
it’s no cannibal, no Antiphates, who’ll hear your words,
but a calm and merciful father, inclined to pardon,
who often thunders without the flash of lightning,
who’s indeed sad himself when he’s ordered something sad,
and for whom to exact punishment is to punish himself,
though his mercy was defeated by my offence,
and his anger was forced to display its full strength.
Since I’m a whole world apart from my country,
I can’t throw myself before the god himself,
Be the priest: carry my request to the god you worship,
while adding words of your own to my prayers.
But only try it if you think it won’t be harmful to me.
Forgive me. I’m a shipwrecked man, afraid of every sea.
§ 2.3.1 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: ON FRIENDSHIP
Maximus, whose name is equalled by your bright virtues,
you, who don’t allow your nature to be altered by fame,
cherished by me to the last day of my life –
for how does this state differ from death? –
by not turning away from a friend in need,
you perform an act rarer than any in this age.
It’s shameful to say, yet, if we confess the truth,
the crowd values friendship by its usefulness.
Their first care’s for expediency, not honour,
and their loyalty stands or falls by Fortune.
You won’t easily find one in a thousand
who considers virtue to be its own reward.
If right action doesn’t gain a prize, it fails
to impress, and doing good for free is regretted.
Only what’s profitable is dear: take hope of gain
from a greedy mind, and no one’s sought after.
Now everyone desires his return, and counts,
with anxious fingers, what will be of use to himself.
That goddess of friendship, who was once revered,
sells herself, intent on gain, like a prostitute.
So I marvel the more that you’re not swept away
as well, by the force of common vice, that torrent of water.
There’s only love for those whom fortune follows:
but when she’s stormy everyone takes flight.
Look at me, once fortified with many friends,
while the favouring breeze swelled my sails:
now the wild seas are tumultuous with the tempest,
I’m abandoned on a shattered boat in mid-ocean:
while others didn’t even wish to be seen to know me,
only two or three brought help when I was banished.
You were the chief. You were fit to be their leader
not companion, not to find an exemplar but to be one.
You, who accept the exile only made a mistake,
delight in virtue and duty for their own sake.
Goodness, in your judgement, is free of reward:
sought for itself, unaccompanied by outward benefit.
You think it’s wrong to drive a friend away who’s wretched,
or prevent him being one because he’s been unlucky.
It’s kinder to support his weary chin with only a finger,
than to push the swimmer’s face beneath the clear wave.
See what Achilles did for his dead friend Patroclus:
and think, that to live this life of mine is like death.
Theseus went with Pirithous to the Stygian waves:
how far distant is my death from those Stygian waters?
Orestes, maddened, was helped by Phocean Pylades:
and my offence was not without a touch of madness.
You too should receive, as you are doing, the praise due
to mighty heroes, and bring what help you can to the fallen.
§ 2.3.49 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: THE DISCLOSURE
If I know you well, if you’re still as you
used to be, and your courage has not lessened,
the more Fortune rages, the more you resist her,
taking care, rightly, lest she overwhelm you:
and you fight well when your enemy fights well.
So, I’m helped and injured by the same thing.
Doubtless you consider it shameful, dearest boy,
to become a friend of the goddess on her sphere.
You’re loyal, and seeing that that sails of the broken boat
are not as you wish, you still raise them such as they are.
The boat’s so shattered it’s thought it must soon founder,
but the wreckage is still supported on your shoulders.
It’s true your anger was justified at first, no milder
than his, who was justifiably offended by me.
The pain that distressed great Caesar’s feelings,
you swore immediately that you felt it too.
Yet they say that when you heard the cause
of my disaster, you groaned aloud at my error.
Then your letters began to bring me comfort,
bringing hope that the wounded god might be softened.
Then the constancy of long friendship moved you,
that began for me before you were born: and at birth
you were the friend, to me, that you became to others,
because I gave you the first kisses in your cradle.
Since I’ve honoured your House from my earliest years,
that makes me an old responsibility of yours.
That father of yours, with an eloquence
in the Latin tongue not inferior to his lineage,
first urged me to grant my verse a public
hearing: he was the guide to my talent.
Nor, I contend, could your brother recall
the moment of my first service to him.
But it was you I was attached to before all others,
so that our friendship was as one whatever came.
Aethalian Elba last saw me with you, and caught
the tears as they fell from our sad cheeks:
when you asked whether the rumour was true
that brought the evil news of my offence,
I wavered, doubtfully, between confession and denial
my trembling revealing the signs of my fear,
and, like the snow the rainy south wind melts,
welling tears ran down my terrified cheeks.
So you, recalling this, knowing that my sin
could be buried if my first error were forgiven,
you think of your old friend in his misfortunes
and help me by bandaging my wounds.
In return, if I had the chance to choose freely, I’d ask
a thousand blessings on you, for showing such true worth.
But if I’m only to echo your own vows, I’ll pray
for your mother’s well-being, after Caesar’s.
I recall you used to ask that of the gods, first of all,
when you made the altars rich with incense.
§ 2.4.1 TO ATTICUS: LITERARY FRIENDSHIP
Let Ovid speak to you from the icy Danube, Atticus,
you who, in my opinion, should not be doubted.
Do you still think of your wretched friend at all,
or has your love played its part, and weakened?
The gods are not so harsh to me that I’d believe,
or think it reasonable, that you’ve forgotten me already.
Your image is always in front of my eyes,
and I seem to see your features in my mind.
I remember many deep talks you and I had,
and more than a few hours of playful fun.
Often hours of lengthy talk passed swiftly,
often the day was briefer than my words.
Often you listened to a freshly made poem,
a new Muse was submitted to your criticism.
I considered the public pleased, if you praised:
that was the sweet prize of the critic’s affection.
More than once I’ve edited it, on your advice,
so my work might be smoothed by a friendly file.
The streets, the squares, all the porticoes, saw us
together: and the amphitheatre, in adjoining seats.
In short our love, was always as great, dearest friend,
as that of Achilles and Antilochus, Nestor’s son.
I can’t believe it would vanish from your heart,
though you drank deep of Lethe’s care-dispelling waters.
Sooner will the longest days occur in winter,
and summer nights be swifter than December’s,
Babylon lack heat, and Pontus have no ice,
the marigold out-scent the rose of Paestum,
than forgetfulness of what we were shall possess you.
No part of my fate can be so devoid of brightness.
Take care that this faith of mine is not called
false, and my credulity pure foolishness,
and defend your old comrade, with constant loyalty,
as best you can, and as long as I’m not a burden.
§ 2.5.1 TO SALANUS: AN ABORTIVE POEM
I send words composed in elegiac measure, Ovid
to Salanus, prefaced by my wish for his good health.
I hope it may be so, and to prove the omen true,
I pray that you’re safe to read this, my friend.
Your sincerity, something almost extinct in this age,
requires me to make such prayers, on your behalf,
for though I was only slightly acquainted with you,
they say you were grieved by my exile:
and, reading my verses sent from the Black Sea,
your approval helped, regardless of their worth:
and you wished that Caesar’s anger towards me
might be eased, a wish he would allow, if he knew.
Such a kind prayer, because of that nature of yours,
and none the less pleasing to me for that.
It’s possible you’re the more moved by my ills,
learned friend, due to the circumstances that apply here.
Believe me, you’ll hardly find a place, anywhere on earth,
that takes less delight in the fruits of Augustan peace.
Yet you read this verse composed amid fierce battles,
and having read it, approve it with favourable words,
and you praise my genius, that runs in a meagre vein,
and you make a mighty river of a little stream.
Indeed, your endorsement’s gratifying to my spirit,
even if it’s hard for you to imagine the wretched being pleased.
As long as I undertake poems on humble themes
my talent’s sufficient for the slender content.
Lately, when news of a great triumph arrived,
I dared to undertake a work of some substance.
The gravity and splendour of the thing sank my attempt,
I couldn’t support the weight of what I’d started.
What’s praiseworthy in it is the willingness to oblige:
the rest of the material was stillborn.
If by any chance that work has come to your notice,
I ask that it might enjoy your protection.
Let my thanks to you, who’d do this even if I didn’t
ask it, add to it their slight crowning touch.
I don’t deserve your praise, but you have a heart
that’s pure as milk or the un-trodden snow:
you admire others, when you’re to be admired
yourself, your art and eloquence aren’t hidden.
§ 2.5.41 TO SALANUS: PRAISE OF GERMANICUS
You’re accustomed to share the Prince of Youth’s studies,
that Caesar who made a name for himself in Germany.
You’ve been Germanicus’s companion from his earliest years,
a friend of old, pleasing by talent as well as character.
Your prior speech gave forward impetus to his:
he has you to elicit his words, from your own.
When you cease, and the mortal mouth is still,
and the room is quiet for a little while,
the youth, worthy of his Julian name, rises,
as Lucifer rises from the Eastern waters.
As he stands there, silent, with an orator’s face and bearing,
his graceful appearance creates the expectation of learned speech.
Then when the pause is over, and the celestial lips have opened,
you’d swear the gods are accustomed to speak in that fashion,
and say: ‘This is eloquence appropriate to a Prince’:
there’s such nobility in his use of words.
Though you please him, your head among the stars,
you still think to acquire an exiled poet’s writings.
Truly, there’s harmony between kindred spirits,
and everyone maintains allegiance to their calling:
the labourer loves the farmer, the soldier the maker
of cruel war, the sailor the master of the swaying ship.
You too, studiously, make a study of the Muses,
and, skilfully, you approve my skill.
Our work is different, but it flows from the same fountain:
we are both practitioners of the liberal arts.
The thyrsus fails to aid you, chewing laurel’s for me,
and yet the love is bound to be in us both:
as your eloquence gives my poetry vigour,
so beauty flows from me into your words.
So you’re right to think verse borders on your studies,
and the rites of mutual service should be kept.
For that reason I pray the friend who values you,
may do so to the last moment of your life,
and he, who holds the reins of the world, succeed:
which is the people’s prayer and mine as well.
§ 2.6.1 TO GRAECINUS: AN ANSWER TO HIS REPROOF
Ovid, who used to be present in person, Graecinus,
greets you sadly in verse, from Black Sea waters.
This is an exile’s voice: letters grant me a tongue,
and I’d be dumb if I weren’t allowed to write.
You reprove your foolish friend’s sins, as you ought,
and tell me the ills I endure are less than I earned.
You say true, but it’s too late to reprove my fault:
don’t speak bitter words to the defendant who’s confessed.
I needed the warning when I could have rounded Ceraunia,
all sails standing, so might I have avoided the cruel reefs.
Now I’m shipwrecked what use is it to learn
what course my boat should have taken?
Rather an arm should be extended to the tired swimmer,
and don’t regret supporting his chin with your hand.
That you do: I pray you will do too: that your wife and mother
your brothers and all your household might be well,
as you always pray, aloud, with all your heart,
that all your actions might be approved of by the Caesars.
It would be wrong if you brought no kind of help
to your old friend in such a wretched state,
it would be wrong to retreat, and not stand firm,
it would be wrong to abandon a ship in distress,
wrong to side with chance, surrender a friend to fate,
and deny he’s yours unless he’s fortunate.
That’s not how Pylades and Orestes behaved,
not such the loyalty of Theseus and Pirithous:
admired by previous ages, to be admired by those to come,
for whom the whole theatre echoes with applause.
You too deserve a name amongst such heroes,
protecting your friend in the hardest times.
You deserve it, and since you earned praise by loyalty,
my thanks for your help will never fall silent.
Believe me, if my poetry’s not destined to die,
you’ll often be on the lips of our posterity.
Only see that you stay loyal to the weary, Graecinus,
and let that impulse endure for lengths of time.
Though you do, I’ll still row despite the following wind,
there’s no harm in setting spurs to the galloping horse.
§ 2.7.1 TO ATTICUS: HIS CONSTANT GRIEF
Atticus, my letter, sent from among the barely
pacified Getae, wishes first of all to greet you.
Next follows the desire to hear how you are,
and whether, however you are, you care about me.
I don’t doubt you do, yet real dread of misfortune
often causes me to suffer baseless fears.
Forgive me, please, excuse excessive dread.
The shipwrecked sailor even fears calm water.
The fish that’s been hurt by a treacherous barb
thinks there’s a bronze hook in all its food.
Often a lamb flees the sight of a distant dog,
thinks it’s a wolf, avoiding true help in error.
The wounded limb shrinks from a gentle touch,
and a vain shadow instils fear in the nervous.
So, pierced by Fortune’s iniquitous arrows,
I only conceive sad thoughts in my mind.
It’s clear to me now that fate, keeping its first course,
will always keep pursuing its familiar track:
the gods are watching in case anything’s conceded to me
in kindness, and I think it’s scarcely possible to cheat fate.
Fortune takes care to destroy me, she who used
to be fickle, constant now, and sure to harm me badly.
Believe me, if I’m known to you as a truth-sayer,
(in my position how could one be a liar)
you’d count ears of wheat faster, by Cinyphus,
or thyme plants flowering on the heights of Hybla,
birds flying through the air on quivering wings,
or know how many fish swam in the sea,
before you’d have the total of my sufferings
that I’ve endured on land, endured mid-ocean.
There’s no harsher race in the world than the Getae,
yet even they’ve groaned at my troubles.
If I tried to record it all in autobiographical verse,
a whole Iliad could be made from my misfortune.
I’m not afraid because I think I need to fear you
whose love has granted me a thousand proofs,
but because every wretched thing is fearful, and because
the door of happiness has long been closed to me.
Now my grief’s become a habit, and as falling water
carves out a stone with its constant dripping,
so I’m hurt by continual blows of Fortune,
until I’ve hardly room for a new wound.
The ploughshare’s not worn thinner by steady use,
nor the Appian Way more hollowed by the wheel’s rim,
than my heart’s trampled by this run of misfortunes,
and I’ve found nothing that can bring me help.
§ 2.7.47 TO ATTICUS: COURAGE CONQUERS ALL
Fame in the liberal arts is sought by many of us:
unhappily I’ve perished through my own gifts.
My life before was free of fault, and passed without stain:
but that’s brought me no aid in my misery.
Often a serious fault’s pardoned by the intercession
of friends: all kindness has been silent on my account.
Some, in trouble, are assisted by being present in person:
I was absent when this great storm overwhelmed my life.
Who wouldn’t dread even the silent wrath of Caesar?
Bitter words were added to my punishment.
The season can lighten exile: I, driven out to sea,
suffered Arcturus’ threats and the Pleiades’.
Ships often find the winter waves calm,
the seas were no stormier for Ulysses’.
Friends’ true loyalty might have eased my troubles:
but a treacherous crowd enriched themselves with my spoils.
Location makes exile milder: there’s no sadder
land than this beneath either starry pole.
It’s something to be near the borders of your own country:
The furthest lands, the ends of the world, hold me.
Caesar, your laurel should offer peace even to exiles:
Black Sea earth is open to hostile neighbours.
It’s sweet to spend time cultivating the fields:
barbarian foes allow no ground to be ploughed.
Body and mind are helped by a temperate climate:
perpetual cold chills the Sarmatian coastline.
There’s a harmless pleasure in fresh water:
I drink marsh water mixed with brine.
Everything’s lacking. Yet courage conquers all:
It even causes the body to acquire strength.
To support the burden you must strive with head unbowed,
if you allow your strength to falter you will fall.
The hope too that time might soften the prince’s wrath,
warns me against aversion to life, losing heart.
And you give no small comfort to me,
whose loyalty’s been tested by my troubles.
Please hold to what you’ve started, don’t desert the ship
at sea, defend me and your decision in one.
§ 2.8.1 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: IMPERIAL LIKENESSES
A Caesar arrived with a Caesar, for me, just now,
those that you’ve sent me Cotta Maximus: the gods:
and Livia is there, joined with her Caesars, so that
your gift could be complete, as it ought to be.
Fortunate silver, more blessed than any gold,
that was recently coarse metal, is now divine.
By granting me riches, you wouldn’t have given me more
than the triple deities you’ve sent to these shores.
It’s something to gaze at gods, and consider them present,
and be able to speak with them as if with the truly divine.
As much as you could achieve it, I’ve returned home,
no longer in a far land, safe as before in the midst of the city.
I see the faces of the Caesars, as I once did:
I scarcely had any hope of this in my prayers:
I salute, as I used to salute, the heavenly power.
Even if you offered me return, I think you could do
nothing greater. What do my eyes miss but the Palace?
That place would be worthless without Caesar.
As I gaze at him I seem myself to be seeing Rome:
since he embodies the features of the fatherland itself.
Am I wrong or is the expression in his portrait one of anger,
is his face somehow grim and menacing?
Spare me, hero mightier in virtues than
the vast world, reign in your justified revenge.
Please, spare me, undying glory of our age,
lord of the earth that you make your care.
In the name of the fatherland, dearer to you than yourself,
and the gods who are never deaf to your prayers,
and your bed-mate who alone is equal to you,
and to whom your grandeur is no burden,
and your son, like you the model of virtue,
who can be seen from his character to be yours,
and your grandsons, worthy of their father and grandfather,
who make great strides under your command,
ease my sentence the least amount, reduce it,
and grant me a place of exile far from the Scythian foe.
§ 2.8.37 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: HIS PRAYER
And you, the Caesar closest to Caesar, if it’s allowed,
let your godhead not be hostile to my prayers,
So may fierce Germany be dragged, a slave
with fear-struck face, before your triumphant horses:
so may your father reach Pylian Nestor’s years, your mother
those of the Cumean Sybil, and you be long a son.
You too, fitting wife for a mighty husband,
give a sympathetic ear to a suppliant’s prayers.
May your husband prosper, your grandsons and their sons,
your good daughters-in law, and their daughters.
May the Elder Drusus whom cruel Germany snatched
from you, be the only one of your race to fall.
May Tiberius soon drive behind snow-white steeds,
the avenger of his brother’s death, clothed in purple.
O, kindest gods, assent to my timorous prayers.
Let it benefit me to have deities present here.
When Caesar arrives the gladiator exits safely
from the arena: his appearance is no small aid.
I’m aided too, by seeing your faces, as much as I can,
now that three deities have entered a single house.
Happy are those who see the reality, not phantoms,
and see the gods’ true features, face to face.
Since hostile fate has begrudged me that,
I cherish the forms and portraits art created,
so men might know the gods the deep heavens
conceal, and worship Jupiter through Jupiter’s image.
So have a care that your likenesses, that are here with me
and always will be, aren’t situated in a hateful region.
Sooner shall my head be severed from my neck,
sooner will I let my eyes be gouged from their sockets,
than I lack you, by your being taken from me, O powers
of the State: you’ll be the altar and refuge of my exile.
I’ll embrace you when I’m surrounded by Getic weapons,
and I’ll follow you as my eagles, and my standards.
Either I’m deceiving myself, mocked by excess
of longing, or hope of a more appropriate exile’s here.
The portrait’s features grow less and less severe,
and the head seems to nod at my words.
I pray my timid heart’s presentiments prove true,
that the god’s anger lessens, even if it’s just.
§ 2.9.1 TO COTYS OF THRACE: MUTUAL ADVANTAGE
Cotys, descendant of kings, the line of whose nobility
reaches as far back as the name of Eumolpus,
if ready rumour has already reached your ears,
that I inhabit part of a country near to yours,
kindest of youths, hear the voice of the suppliant,
and, since you can, bring what help you can, to an exile.
Fortune has surrendered me to you – I don’t complain
of her in doing so – in this one thing she isn’t hostile to me.
Welcome my shipwreck on a gentle shore:
don’t let the waves prove safer than the land.
Believe me, it’s a regal action to aid the fallen,
it’s appropriate for as great a hero as yourself.
It’s fitting to your rank: that great as it is
can scarcely be equal to your spirit.
Power is never active in a better cause
than in not letting such prayers be made in vain.
That brilliant lineage of yours urges it,
it’s a work of that nobility born of the gods.
Eumolpus the famous founder of your race,
and Ericthonius his ancestor advise it.
You and the gods have this in common, both of you
are accustomed to offer help when your suppliants ask.
Would there be any reason for the divine to be granted
its usual honour, if the gods lacked the will to help?
If Jupiter turned deaf ears to our prayers, why should
a fallen victim die, in front of Jupiter’s temple?
If the sea didn’t offer calm waters for my journey
why should I offer Neptune incense in vain?
Why should Ceres receive the entrails of a pregnant sow
if she left unfulfilled the prayers of labouring farmers?
The sacrificial goat won’t offer its throat to long-haired Bacchus,
if grape juice doesn’t flow under the trampling feet.
It’s because he plans for his country so well,
that we ask Caesar to control the reins of Empire.
Advantage, then, makes god and humans great,
by their support and their mutual assistance.
You too, O Cotys, son worthy of your father
should benefit one who’s within your camp.
§ 2.9.39 TO COTYS OF THRACE: HIS REQUEST
It’s fitting for a man to take delight in saving man,
and there’s no better way of winning support.
Who does not curse Antiphates, a king of cannibals?
Who disapproves of generous Alcinous’s character?
Your father’s no tyrant from Cassandrea or Pherae,
no Phalaris who burnt the inventor in his invention:
but one fierce in war, never knowing defeat when armed,
yet never desiring bloodshed once peace was made.
Moreover constant study of the liberal arts
civilises the character, and inhibits cruelty.
No king’s been better equipped in them,
or given more time to the gentler arts.
Your poetry’s a witness, so that, if you hid your name,
I’d deny it was composed by a youth of Thrace:
and Bistonia’s land is made proud of your skill,
so that Orpheus might not be the only poet there.
Just as you have the courage, when events demand it,
to take up arms and stain your hands with enemy blood,
just as you’ve learned to hurl javelins with a flick of the wrist,
and guide the flight of your galloping horse,
so when ample time’s been given to your father’s arts,
and their military task happens to be dormant,
in order that your leisure time’s not lost in idle sleep,
you take the Muses’ path to the bright stars.
This creates something of a bond between you and me:
each is a follower of the same sacred rites.
Poet to poet I stretch out my arms in asking
that your land should protect me in my exile.
I didn’t come to Pontus, guilty of murder,
no lethal poison was mixed by my hand:
no fraudulent document convicted my ring
of printing a false seal on its linen ties.
I’ve done nothing that the law forbids to be done:
yet a weightier offence of mine’s to be confessed here.
And don’t ask, what it is, I wrote a stupid ‘Art of Love’:
that prevents my hands from ever being clean.
Did I sin further? Don’t seek to know,
so my guilt can hide beneath my ‘Art’ alone.
Whatever it is, my judge’s anger was moderate,
who took nothing from me, except my native earth.
Since I’m bereft of that now, let your nearness offer me
the power to live in safety in this place I hate.
§ 2.10.1 TO MACER: EARLY TRAVELS TOGETHER
Macer, do you guess at all from the image printed
in the wax, that Ovid writes these words to you?
If the ring is not a witness to its master,
do you recognise the letters shaped by my hand?
Or is recognition denied you by passing time,
so your eyes cannot recall the ancient signs?
You’re allowed to forget hand and seal,
so long as your love for me hasn’t vanished.
You owe it to long years of friendship,
to the fact that my wife’s no stranger to you,
to the studies you employed more wisely than I did,
and, as is proper, you’re not incriminated by ‘Art’.
You sing whatever immortal Homer left unsung,
so the Trojan War won’t lack the final touch.
Master Ovid, without much prudence, passing on
the art of love, sadly won the prize for his teaching.
Still, there are rites common to all poets,
though each follows a different path:
I think you’ll remember it, though we’re
far apart, and desire to ease my situation.
We gazed at splendid cities of Asia, with you as guide:
Sicily, with you as guide, was revealed to my eyes.
We saw Etna’s flames illuminate the sky,
eruptions of the giant under the mountain,
and Enna’s lake, Palicus’s sulphurous pools,
and where Anapus joins Cyane to his waters.
Not far from there the nymph, Arethusa, escaping
the Elean river, runs hidden beneath the waves, even now.
There I passed the greater part of the quickly gliding year.
Ah, how different that place is to this land of the Getae!
And that was only a part of what we both saw,
while you made the paths joyful for me!
Whether we cut the blue wave in a painted boat,
or drove along in a swift-wheeled carriage,
the road often seemed short with changing talk,
and more words than inches if you numbered them.
Often the day was too short for our discourse,
and the long hours of summer days failed us.
It’s something to have feared the dangers of the sea,
together, and offered our mutual prayers to the ocean gods,
and to have done things together on occasion,
and afterwards be able to recall innocent laughter.
When these thoughts come to you, though I’m absent,
I’ll be in front of your eyes as if you just now saw me.
And, for my part, though I live beneath the celestial pole,
that always stands high above the flowing waters,
I see you in the only way I can, in my mind,
and often speak to you beneath the frozen axis.
You’re here, unwittingly, many times present though absent,
and you come, at my command, from mid-city to the Getae.
Repay me in turn, and, since yours is a happier land,
keep me there forever in your remembering heart.
§ 2.11.1 TO RUFUS: HIS WIFE’S UNCLE
Ovid, the author of the unfortunate Ars Amatoria
sends you this effort, Rufus, rushed off in a hurry,
so that though we’re separated by a whole world’s
width, you can still know that I remember you.
I’d sooner come to forget my own name,
than let your loyalty be driven from my heart:
and I’ll return this spirit to the vacant air,
before my thanks for your services fail.
I call those tears a great service that flowed
over your face when mine was dry, rigid with pain:
I call your solace of a grieving mind great service,
when you granted it to me and to yourself.
My wife’s to be praised spontaneously, for herself,
yet she’s the better for your advice. And the sort
of uncle that Castor was to Hermione, Hector to Iulus,
I’m pleased to say is what you are to my wife.
She tries to be not unlike you in honesty,
and proves by her life that she’s of your blood.
So that which she would have done without urging
she completes more fully with you as sponsor also.
The spirited horse which races for the prize,
itself, runs more strongly still if you urge it on.
Besides you execute the wishes of an absent man
with faithful care, and no burden you carry annoys you.
Oh, since I’ve not the power, may the gods show
gratitude! As they will do if they see your acts of loyalty:
May you long have strength as well to maintain that character,
Rufus, the greatest glory of Fundi’s earth.
§ 3.1.1 TO HIS WIFE: HER ROLE
Sea, first struck by Jason’s oars, and land,
never free of savage enemies and snow,
will a time come when Ovid is ordered away
to a less hostile place, leaves you behind?
Surely I ought not, living on in this barbarian
country, to be buried in the soil of Tomis?
By your leave, Pontus, if you’ve any leave to give,
land trampled by swift horses of nearby enemies,
by your leave I’d seek to call you the worst feature
of my harsh exile, you that aggravate my trouble.
You never experience Spring wreathed in crowns
of flowers, nor see the naked bodies of the reapers.
Autumn never offers you its clusters of grapes:
all seasons are gripped by the immoderate cold.
You hold the waves ice-bound, and the fish,
in the sea, often swim roofed-in by solid water.
There are no springs, except those that are almost brine:
drink, and you’re dubious whether they quench or parch.
The odd barren tree sticks up in the open field,
and the land is merely the sea in disguise.
No birds sing, unless they’re ones from far forests,
drinking sea-water here, making raucous cries.
The empty plains bristle with acrid wormwood,
a harvest appropriate to this bitter place.
Add our fear, walls battered at by enemies,
their arrows soaking wet with fatal venom,
add how far this region is from every track,
to which none travel on foot, securely, or by boat.
No wonder then if, seeking an end to this,
I ask endlessly for a different location.
Your lack of success, wife, is a greater wonder,
and your ability to hold back tears at my troubles.
You ask what you should do? Ask yourself, surely:
you’ll find out, if you truly desire to know.
It’s not enough to wish: you must long to achieve,
and the anxiety should shorten your hours asleep.
I think many wish it: who’d be so unfair to me
as to desire me to have no peace in my exile?
You should work for me day and night, strain
with a full heart and with every sinew.
And you must win our friends, so others help,
wife, and appear the leader of your party.
The role imposed on you in my books is a great one:
you’re spoken of as the model of a good wife.
Take care you don’t slip from that position. See you
guard what fame has achieved, so my claim is true.
Though I don’t complain myself, fame, as she should, will
complain when I’m silent, if you don’t show care for me.
Fate has exposed me to the public gaze,
and given me more notoriety than before.
Capaneus was made more famous when the lightning struck:
Amphiaraus when his horses were swallowed by the earth.
Ulysses would have been less known if he’d wandered less:
Philoctetes’ great fame derived from his wound.
If there’s a place for the humble among such names,
I too am made conspicuous by my ruin.
And my writings won’t let you pass unknown,
you, whose name’s no less than Coan Bittis’.
So whatever you do will be seen on a mighty stage,
and you’ll be a virtuous wife before many witnesses.
Believe me, whenever you’re praised in my verse
he who reads that praise asks if you’re worthy of it.
And though many, I think, approve those virtues,
not a few women will carp at your deeds.
It’s for you to ensure that jealousy can’t say:
‘She’s indifferent to her poor husband’s safety.’
§ 3.1.67 TO HIS WIFE: HIS REQUEST TO HER
Since I’m weakening, unable to drag the cart,
see that you shoulder the wavering yoke alone.
Sick, I gaze at the doctor with failing pulse:
stand by me, while the last of my life is left:
What I’d provide if I were stronger than you,
grant to me, since you yourself are the stronger.
Our mutual love and our marriage vows urge it:
this your own character urges, my wife.
You owe it to the Fabii who esteem you, to adorn
their house no less with virtue than with duty.
Do what you will, unless you’re praised as a wife
you won’t be thought to have brought honour to Marcia.
Nor am I undeserving: and, if you’ll confess the truth,
some thanks are due for all my kindnesses.
Indeed, you return them to me at full interest,
and talk, even if others wish, won’t harm you.
But add this one thing to your previous actions,
be assiduous in the matter of our misfortunes.
Work, so I might live in a less hostile region,
and then no aspect of your duty will be lacking.
I ask a lot, but nothing hateful’s being asked,
if you don’t succeed, the failure won’t harm you.
And don’t flare up because I ask you so often
to do what you’re doing, and act as you are.
The brave have often been inspired by the trumpets,
and the general’s words urge on troops fighting hard.
Your virtue is known and established for all time:
don’t let your courage be less than your virtue.
You don’t have to raise an Amazon’s battle-axe for me,
or carry a curved shield on your feeble arm.
A god’s to be entreated, not that he befriend me,
but to be less angry with me than before.
If there’s no favour, tears will win you favour,
you can move the gods in that way, or not at all.
You won’t lack tears, well provided by our troubles,
you’ve a wealth of weeping with me for a husband:
and as things are I think you’ll always be crying.
These are the riches my fate serves up for you.
§ 3.1.105 TO HIS WIFE: AN APPROACH TO LIVIA
Had you to redeem my death, a detestable idea,
Alcestis, Admetus’s wife would be your model.
You’d emulate Penelope if, by chaste deceit, you wished
to be the bride misleading insistent suitors.
If you followed your dead husband to the shadows,
Laodamia would be your guide in the act.
You’d need to keep Evadne before your eyes, if you
wanted to throw yourself bravely onto the burning pyre.
But you don’t need to die, don’t need Penelope’s weaving.
It’s Caesar’s wife your lips need to pray to,
who by her virtue shows that ancient times
don’t touch our age in their praise of chastity:
she who with Venus’s beauty, Juno’s ways,
alone was found worthy to share the celestial bed.
Why tremble or hesitate to approach her? It’s no impious
Procne or Medea who’s to be moved by your words,
no murderous Danaid, not Agamemnon’s cruel wife,
no yelping Scylla terrorising Sicilian waters,
no Circe born with the power to alter forms,
no Medusa binding her knotted hair with snakes,
but the first of women, in whom Fortune shows herself
as clear-sighted, and falsely charged with being blind:
than whom the earth holds nothing more glorious,
save Caesar, from the sun’s rising to its setting.
Choose a well-considered time to ask,
lest your boat sets sail on an adverse tide.
The oracles don’t always deliver sacred prophecies,
the temples themselves aren’t always open.
When the city’s state is as I now divine it,
and there’s no grief on peoples’ faces,
when Augustus’s house, to be revered as the Capitol,
is as happy as it is now, and filled with peace,
then may the gods grant you the chance to make an approach,
then reflect your words may achieve something.
If she’s doing something greater, put off your attempt,
and take care not to ruin my chances by hastiness.
Again I don’t suggest you pick a time when she’s idle:
she barely has leisure for her personal needs.
When the whole House is filled with revered senators,
you too should go amongst the crush of business.
When you succeed in reaching Juno’s presence,
make sure you remember the part you have to play.
Don’t defend my actions: a poor case should be silent.
Let your words be nothing but anxious prayers.
Next remove the barrier to tears, sink to the ground,
stretch your arms towards those deathless feet.
Then ask for nothing except that I might leave
the cruel enemy behind: let fate be enemy enough.
More comes to mind, but confused by fear, your voice
trembling, you’ll barely be able even to say that.
I suspect it won’t harm you. She’ll see
you’re terrified of her majesty. And it won’t hurt
if your speech is interrupted by sobs:
tears sometimes carry the weight of words.
Make sure it’s a lucky day for such things too,
and a suitable hour, when the omens are good.
But first light a fire on the holy altars,
offer pure wine and incense to the great gods.
Worship divine Augustus amongst them, above all,
his loyal descendants, and the partner of his bed.
May they be merciful to you as is their way,
and view your tears with faces free of harshness.
§ 3.2.1 TO COTTA MAXIMUS: IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS
Cotta, may the ‘health’ you read here, that I
send you, be truly sent, and reach you, I pray.
Your well-being removes much of my torment,
and to a large extent causes me to feel well.
While others waver, and desert the storm-tossed sail,
you remain, the shattered boat’s only anchor.
So is your loyalty welcome. I forgive those
who’ve taken flight along with Fortune.
Though it strikes one man, it’s not only one the lightning
frightens, and the crowd round the stricken one tremble.
When a wall has given warning of its imminent fall,
nervousness and fear empty the place.
What fearful man doesn’t avoid contagious illness,
afraid of contracting disease by its proximity?
Some of my friends too deserted me because
of excessive fear and terror, not hatred of me.
They didn’t lack loyalty or the wish to serve me:
they went in fear of the hostile gods.
They might seem over cautious or fearful,
but they don’t deserve to be called bad.
Or is it my honesty excuses dear friends,
and favours them so they’re absolved from blame.
Let them be content with this forgiveness: they’re free
to boast they’re proved innocent by my testimony too.
You few are the better friends who though it wrong
not to bring me help in a tight corner.
So my gratitude for your services will only die
when my body’s consumed and turned to ashes.
I’m wrong: it will outlast the years of my life,
if I’m still read by thoughtful posterity.
The bloodless body’s destined for a mournful tomb,
fame and honour escape the towering pyre.
Even Theseus died, and Pylades, Orestes’ friend:
yet each still lives on in his renown.
You too will often be praised by remote descendants,
and your glory will shine bright in my verses.
Here too the Sarmatians and the Getae already know
of you, and the savage crowd approve of such spirits.
And lately when I was telling of your loyalty
(since I’ve learnt how to speak Getic and Sarmatian)
it chanced that an old man, standing in the circle,
replied in this way to what I said:
‘Good stranger, we too know the name of friendship, we
who live by the Black Sea and the Danube, far from you.
There’s a place in Scythia, our ancestors called Tauris,
that’s not so far away from the Getic lands.
I was born in that land (I’m not ashamed of my country):
it’s people worship a goddess, Diana, sister of Apollo.
Her temple still stands, supported on giant columns,
and you enter it by a flight of forty steps.
The story goes that it once held a statue of the deity,
and the base, lacking its goddess, is there to quell your doubts:
and the altar, which was white from the colour of the stone,
is darkened, reddened by the stains of spilt blood.
A woman, unknown to the marriage torches, noblest
of the daughters of Scythia by birth, performs the rites.
The nature of the sacrifice, as our ancestors decreed,
is that a stranger be slain by this virgin’s blade.
Thoas ruled the kingdom, famous in Maeotia,
no other was better known, by Euxine waters.
They say that while he was king a certain Iphigenia
made her way there through the clear air.
They say Diana set her down in these regions, she
blown in a cloud, through the sky, by gentle breezes.
She duly presided over the shrine for many years,
performing the sad rites with unwilling hands:
until two young men arrived on board a ship
with sails, and set their feet on our shores.
They were equal in age and affection: one was Orestes,
the other Pylades: fame keeps their names alive.
They were led straight to Trivia’s savage altar,
their hands tied together behind their backs.
The Greek priestess sprinkled the captives with purifying water,
that the long sacrificial ribbons might encircle their yellow hair.
As she initiated the rites, bound the threads round their temples,
as she herself searched for reasons for her slow delay,
she said: “Youths, I am not cruel (forgive me),
I perform rites more cruel than those of my own land.
It’s the practice of this people. What city do you come from?
What journey do you make in your ill-fated vessel?”
So she spoke, then the sacred virgin, hearing the name
of her native country, found them to be men of her own city.
“Let one of you die, a victim of these rites,” she said,
“let the other carry the news to the fatherland.”
Pylades, intent on being the one to die, orders his dear Orestes
to go: he refuses, and each in turn argue about their dying.
This remains the only thing they ever disagreed on:
on all else they were as one, and without dispute.
While the handsome youths act out their loving quarrel,
she pens pages of writing to her brother.
She was sending word to her brother, and he to whom
it was given (such is human fate!) was her brother.
So, without delay, they took Diana’s image from the temple,
and were carried in secret over the boundless sea in their boat.
The youths’ love was wonderful: though many years
have passed, they still have great fame here in Scythia.’
After he had finished telling this well-known story,
everyone there praised acts of loyal devotion.
Even on this shore, and there’s none that is wilder,
it’s clear that friendship’s name moves savage hearts.
If such actions stir the harsh Getae, what should they
do to you, who are born of an Italian city?
Added to which you have a spirit that’s always gentle,
and a character that’s witness to your high nobility,
that Volesus, founder of your father’s line, would recognise,
or on your mother’s side, that Numa would not disown,
and the Cottas, added to your natal line, a house and name
that would perish but for your existence, would approve.
Hero, worthy of this ancestry, consider it in keeping
with such things to support a fallen friend.
§ 3.3.1 TO PAULLUS FABIUS MAXIMUS: LOVE’S VISIT
If you’ve a little time to give to an exiled friend,
O star of the Fabii, Maximus, attend,
while I tell of what I saw, a ghost of the flesh,
an image of reality, or perhaps it was a dream.
It was night, and the moonlight entered my double
shuttered window, as bright as ever at the full.
Sleep, our common rest from care, held me,
and my weary limbs were sprawled over the bed,
when suddenly the trembling air shook with wings,
and, with a slight noise, the window creaked open.
Startled I lifted myself on my left elbow, and sleep
was driven at a blow from my anxious mind.
There stood Love, but not with the aspect that he used
to have, resting his left hand on the maple bedpost,
no neck-let, no pin in his hair, his unruly locks
not neatly groomed now, as they were before.
The hair fell softly over his unkempt cheeks,
and his plumage looked bedraggled to my eyes,
as the back of a homing dove often is,
with the many hands that touch and handle it.
As soon as I knew him, and no one’s better known
to me, my tongue was freed and I spoke these words:
‘Boy, the cause of your deceived master’s exile,
you, whom I’d far better not have taught,
are you here too, where there’s never any peace,
where the wild Danube gathers its icy waters?
What’s the reason for your journey, other than to view
my troubles, which accuse you, if you’re unaware of it?
You were the first to dictate my youthful verses to me:
you guided me to set elegiac pentameter to hexameter.
You wouldn’t let me reach to Homeric song,
or tell the actions of the mighty heroes.
The force of my genius, slight perhaps yet something,
was diminished by your bow and your torches.
and my mind was free for no great undertaking,
while I sang your, and your mother’s, reign.
That wasn’t enough. I also ensured by a foolish poem
that you wouldn’t be inexperienced in my Arts.
The reward of exile was dealt me for it, wretchedly,
and that in a remote place, never peaceful.
Chionian Eumolpus was not such to Orpheus,
nor Olympus to Marsyas, the Satyr of Phrygia,
nor did Chiron receive such a prize from Achilles,
nor did Numa, they say, harm Pythagoras.
Not to list all the names collected down the ages,
I’m the only one ruined by my disciple.
This is the reward the master has, with you as pupil,
because I gave you weapons, and taught you, wanton.
Yet you know, and could swear with a clear
conscience, that I’ve never troubled lawful beds.
I wrote for those whose chaste hair was never
touched by ribbons, nor their feet by the long robe.
Say, I beg you, did you ever at my command
learn how to cheat brides, and make paternity uncertain?
Hasn’t every woman the law protects from seducers
been strictly excluded from all those works?
Still, what use is that if it’s thought I’ve composed
notes on adultery, which is forbidden by harsh laws?
But don’t let Caesar’s anger at me be implacable,
who’s of your kin, through Aeneas your brother,
so may you carry the arrows that strike us all,
so may your torches never lack their swift fire,
so may he rule the empire, and control all lands:
let him wish to punish me in a pleasanter place.’
So it seemed I spoke to the winged boy,
so he seemed to reply to me in these words:
‘I swear by my weapons, my torches and arrows,
by my mother, and by Caesar’s life, I’ve learnt
nothing save what’s legal from your teaching,
and there’s nothing criminal in your arts.
I wish I could defend you on other charges, as in this!
You know there’s another thing that harms you more.
Whatever it is (since the painful thing shouldn’t be told,
and you can’t say that you are free from blame)
though you try to hide the crime under the guise of error,
your judge’s anger was no more than you deserved.
Yet my wings have glided over endless ways
to see you, and console you in your misery.
I first saw this place when, at my mother’s request,
I pierced the Phasian girl, Medea, with my arrow.
The reason why I’m here again after long ages
is you, O fond soldier of my army.
So forget your fears: Caesar’s anger will relent,
and a gentler hour will come, at your prayer.
Don’t be scared at the delay, the time we wish is near,
and the triumph has filled everyone with joy.
While the house, the children, their mother Livia, rejoice,
while you rejoice, great father of our leader and our land,
while the people congratulate themselves, and every altar
burns with fragrant fires throughout the city,
while the sacred powers offer an easy approach,
it’s to be hoped our prayers might have some worth.’
He spoke, and either he slid away into thin air,
or my senses themselves began to wake.
If I doubted your approval of these words, Maximus,
I might believe that swans were black as Memnon.
But milky liquid can’t be altered to dark pitch,
nor can shining ivory become purple terebinth.
Your birth suits your spirit, since you have a noble
heart, and the straightforwardness of Hercules.
Livid malice, vice of fear, won’t show itself in noble
natures, but slides like a hidden snake along the earth.
Your mind towers high above your birth itself,
for your name’s no greater than your genius.
So let others hurt the wretched, and choose to be feared,
and carry points dipped in bitter poison:
Your house, at least, is used to helping suppliants,
be willing, please, for me to be among their number.
§ 3.4.1 TO RUFINUS: HIS POEM ON THE ‘TRIUMPH’
Ovid sends these words, bearing no empty greeting,
from the town of Tomis, to you, Rufinus,
and asks you, to befriend his ‘Triumph’
if, that is, it has reached your hands yet.
It’s a slight work, unequal to the occasion:
but such as it is he asks you to defend it.
The strong have inner power, and need no Machaon.
It’s the sick and anxious who seek the doctor’s skill.
Great poets don’t require indulgent readers: they grip us,
however unwilling we are, or hard to please.
I, with a skill diminished by long suffering,
(or perhaps there never was any former talent),
my powers gone, am strengthened by your sincerity:
take that away and I’d think all was lost.
Though all my work depends on well-disposed indulgence,
that one in particular has a special right to your support.
Other poets write about triumphs they’ve watched:
it’s one thing to record events with the hand of a witness,
but I’ve penned what an eager ear learned, with difficulty,
from hearsay, and rumour has acted as my eyes.
As if a similar passion, or the same inspiration
comes from what is heard as what is seen!
It’s not the absence of the shining gold and silver
that you’ve seen, that finery, I complain of:
but the places, people in a thousand shapes and forms,
the battles themselves would have fed my verse,
and the royal faces, surest guide to their thoughts,
might perhaps have added something to the work.
Any talent can catch alight, from the applause
and the happy approval of the crowd:
I’d have gained strength from such a clamour,
like a raw recruit hearing the trumpet-call to arms.
Though my heart were colder than snow and ice,
frozen harder than this place that I endure,
the general’s face up there in his ivory chariot,
would drive away all frost from my feelings.
Without that, and using dubious informants,
it’s right I seek the help of your indulgence.
The names of the leaders and the places
aren’t known to me. Nothing is to hand.
What portion of such things could rumour bring
or someone writing to me about it?
The more you ought to forgive me, O reader,
if I’ve made errors in it, or neglected anything.
Add that my lyre, always dwelling on it’s master’s moans,
can barely turn itself to happy songs.
Cheerful words, though searched for, hardly come to mind,
and delight in anything seems novel to me.
Just as eyes shun the unaccustomed sunlight,
so my mind was slow to delight.
Novelty’s the most dearly-loved of all things, too,
and thanks are lacking for service made late by delay.
Others have competed together in writing of the great triumph,
and I suspect people have read them widely, for some time.
The thirsty reader drank them: he’s sated by my cup:
that drink was fresh, my water will be tepid.
§ 3.4.57 TO RUFINUS: HIS PROPHECY
I haven’t been remiss: idleness hasn’t slowed me:
but I live on a far shore of a vast sea.
While news gets here, and hasty verse is written
and, once made, goes to you, a year can pass.
It’s no small thing to be first in the untouched rose-garden,
not gather, with late hands, what’s almost been passed by.
No wonder, with the flowers picked, the garden bare,
if the wreath that’s made is unworthy of your leader.
This I beg: that no poet thinks these words are spoken
against their verse! My Muse speaks only for herself.
Poets, you and I have rites in common:
if the wretched are allowed to be of your choir.
You spent a large part of your spirit with me, friends:
I cherish you now in that way, even though I’m absent.
So let my verse be sealed with your approval
since I cannot speak on its behalf myself.
Often writings are made pleasing by death, since envy
hurts the living, gnaws with the tooth of injustice.
If to live wretchedly is like dying, earth delays
me, and my destiny only lacks a tomb.
Though the outcome of my efforts is faulted in the end,
by everyone, there’ll be no one to deny my sense of duty.
Though strength is lacking, yet the will’s to be praised:
I divine that the gods will be content with that.
It ensures that a poor man’s welcome at the altars:
a lamb’s no less acceptable than a sacrificial ox.
It was a great enough thing too to make it a heavy task
even for the noble author of the Aeneid.
Anyway, weak elegiacs couldn’t carry the weight
of so great a triumph on their disparate wheels.
My judgement’s uncertain as to what metre to use now:
since a second triumph’s near, concerning you, Rhine.
The prophecies of inspired poets are not vain:
Jove will be granted laurel, while the first’s still green.
It’s not my words you read, I’m banished to the Danube,
waters that the as yet un-pacified Getae drink:
this is the voice of a god, a god is in my heart,
this I prophesy, led by a god’s command.
Livia, why hesitate, to ready a retinue and chariot
for a triumph? Already war allows you no delay.
Traitorous Germany throws away the hated spears,
soon you’ll admit my omen carries weight.
Believe, and truth will shortly arrive. Your son will have
double honour, and, as before, follow the yoked horses.
Bring out the purple, to throw on the victor’s shoulders:
the wreath itself will know that familiar brow:
and let greaves and shield shine with gold and gems,
and the trophied tree-trunk stand above chained men:
and towns in ivory be circled by towered walls,
and the semblance be thought to act the real thing.
Let uncouth Rhine, hair trailing under broken
reeds, bear along its waters fouled with blood.
Captive kings already call for savage insignia,
and for robes richer than their destinies,
and what else the unconquered courage of your sons,
has needed you to prepare so often, and so often will.
Gods, by whose prophecy I speak of things to come,
prove my words, I pray, with swift vindication.
§ 3.5.1 TO COTTA: A COMPLIMENT
You ask where the letter that you read comes from?
From here: where Danube joins with the blue waves.
As soon as the region’s named, the author should appear
to you, Ovid the poet, wounded by his own talent.
He offers a greeting to you, Maximus Cotta, to whom he’d prefer
to offer it face to face, a greeting from the land of the uncouth Getae.
I’ve read the fluent words you spoke in the crowded forum,
O youth not unworthy of your fathers’ eloquence.
Though my hurrying tongue repeated them for a fair
number of hours, I complain they were too few.
But I’ve made them more by frequent re-reading, and never
a time when they weren’t more pleasing to me than at first.
Though they lose nothing of their charm by such reading,
it’s by their power, not their novelty, that they please.
Happy those to whom it was granted to hear them
in actuality and enjoy so eloquent a speech!
Though water that’s brought to us has a taste that’s sweet,
the water we drink from the fount itself’s more pleasing.
And to take the fruit we’ve pulled from the branch
delights us more than from a chased dish.
If I’d not sinned, if my Muse hadn’t caused my exile,
your own voice would have told me what I read,
and perhaps I’d have sat, as I used to sit, as one
of the Centumviri, in judgement of your words,
and a greater joy might have filled my heart, when I
was swayed, and nodded my approval of your speech.
But since fate preferred I leave you and my country,
to live among the uncivilised Getae, please send,
as often as you can, proofs of your skill for me to read
so that I might seem to be in your company more,
and unless you scorn to do so, follow the example,
which you might more readily set me, since I,
who have long been lost, try by my talent
to be one who is not yet lost to you, Maximus.
Repay me, and in future let me receive that frequent
pleasure, the records of your labours, in my hands.
But tell me, O youth, pregnant with my studies,
if anything among them reminds you of me.
When you read your friends a new made poem,
or, as you often used to, urge them to recite,
do you sometimes think your mind, unsure what’s missing,
nevertheless feels that something is missing,
and as you often used to talk about me, present,
is Ovid’s name on your lips, even now?
As for me may I die, pierced by a Getic arrow,
(and you know how near punishment is if I lie)
if I, absent, don’t see you at almost ever instant.
It’s a kindness that the mind can go where it wishes.
When I enter the City like that, unseen by all,
I often speak with you, and enjoy your speech.
I can’t tell you then how blessed I am,
and how bright that hour is to my mind.
Then, if you can believe it, I dream I’ve been received
in the heavenly realm, to exist among the happy gods.
When I’m here again, I leave the sky, the deities,
for the land of Pontus, not far from the Styx.
If my striving to return from here is prohibited by fate,
then take from me, Maximus, this unprofitable hope.
§ 3.6.1 TO AN UNKNOWN FRIEND: SHIPWRECK
Ovid sends this brief poem from the Euxine Sea to his
friend (how near he came to setting down the name!)
But if his hand, lacking caution, had written who you are,
perhaps that attention would have been grounds for complaint.
But why do you alone, when others think it safe,
request that I not address you in my verse?
You can learn how great Caesar’s mercy is, in the midst
of his anger, from my case, if you don’t already know.
If I were forced to judge what I deserve, myself,
I wouldn’t reduce the sentence, I suffer, one iota.
He doesn’t forbid anyone to remember his friends,
nor prevent me writing to you, or you to me.
You’d commit no crime by consoling a comrade,
easing his bitter fate with gentle words.
Why do you, by fearing what’s safe, make such
reverence for the Augustan gods offensive?
We see things, struck by the lightening bolt, live
and recover, unhindered by Jupiter.
Leucothea didn’t refuse her aid to Ulysses, as he swam,
merely because Neptune wrecked his ship.
The heavenly powers, believe me, spare the wretched,
and don’t always, endlessly oppress the wounded.
No god is more lenient than our prince:
Justice moderates his powers.
Caesar recently established her in a marble shrine,
but long ago in the temple of his heart.
Jupiter casually hurls his lightning at many,
who’ve not merited punishment for any crime.
Though the god of the sea has overwhelmed a multitude
in the cruel waves, how many deserved to be drowned?
When the bravest die in battle, even Mars’
tithe seems unjust, in his own judgement.
But if you chance to question every one,
none of us would deny he earned what he suffers.
More, those who have perished in sea, war or fire,
no new day can bring them back to life again,
but Caesar reprieves many or lightens their sentence,
and I pray he’ll want me as one among those many.
When we as a people live under such a prince, can you
really believe there’s anything to fear in speaking to an exile?
Perhaps you’d have reason to be afraid with Busiris as master,
or Phalaris who used to incinerate men in his bronze bull.
Stop defaming that kind spirit with your empty fears.
Why be terrified of cruel reefs in calm waters?
I scarcely think that I myself should be pardoned,
for writing to you at first without using your name.
But panic robbed me, stunned, of the use of reason,
and all judgement had ended at fresh misfortune,
and dreading my fate, not my judge’s anger,
I was even terrified of adding my own name.
So admonished, allow the thoughtful poet
to add the names dear to him, to your letters.
It will be shameful for us both if you, so close to me
through long acquaintance, were nowhere visible in my book.
Yet that fear of yours can’t be allowed to disturb your sleep,
I’ll not show you more attentions than you wish,
and I’ll hide who you are unless you yourself allow:
no one shall be forced to accept my tribute.
Though you could have loved me openly, in safety,
if that’s a thing of danger, love me secretly.
§ 3.7.1 TO UNKNOWN FRIENDS: RESIGNATION
Words fail me, at asking the same thing so often,
and I’m ashamed my useless prayers are without end.
You’ve become weary of my monotonous verses,
and I ask what you’ve all learned by heart, I suppose.
You already know what my letter brings, though
the wax has not been shaken from its ties.
So let me alter my purpose in writing,
and not swim so often against the stream.
Forgive me friends: I hoped so much from you:
let there be an end for me to such mistakes.
Nor will I be considered a burden on my wife:
who’s as honest to me, truly, as she’s timid and unassertive.
Naso, endure this too: you’ve suffered worse.
there’s no weight now that you could feel.
The bull shuns the plough when he’s taken from the herd,
and draws his neck away, new to the harsh yoke:
for long there’s been no trouble unknown to me,
to whom the cruel usage of fate is customary.
I’ve reached the Getic lands: let me die among them,
and let my Fate end as it has begun.
It helps to embrace hope – that’s no help, being always in vain –
and think that what you wish to occur, will happen:
the next stage is to despair of being saved, completely,
and know you’re lost, once and for all, with the surety of faith.
We see some wounds become worse by treatment,
that it would have been better not to touch.
He dies more easily, who’s suddenly drowned by the waves,
than he who wearies his arms in the raging sea.
Why did I think it possible to leave Scythia’s
bounds, and enjoy a more favourable land?
Why did I ever hope for any leniency in my case?
Surely my fate was clear enough to me?
See, my torment’s worse: recalling the sight of places
renews the bitterness of exile, makes it recent.
Yet it’s better if it is that my friends’ zeal has waned,
than that petitions they’ve made have proved worthless.
Indeed it’s a great thing you don’t dare to ask, my friends:
yet there’d have been one willing to give, if anyone asked.
Assuming Caesar’s anger doesn’t forbid it me,
I’ll waste away, bravely, by the Euxine Sea.
§ 3.8.1 TO MAXIMUS PAULLUS: A GIFT
I was wondering what gift the land of Tomis
might send you as witness to my thoughtful affection.
You deserve silver, even more so yellow gold, but you
used to find more joy in those when you were the giver.
Besides there are no mines for precious metal here:
the enemy barely allow the farmers to dig the ground.
Often bright purple has bordered your robes,
but it’s not been dyed by the Sarmatian sea.
The flocks produce coarse wool, and the women
of Tomis have not yet learned the arts of Pallas.
Instead of spinning they grind Ceres’s gift,
and carry water in pots on their heads.
Here no clustering vines clothe the elms,
no apples bend the branches with their load.
The unlovely plains yield acrid wormwood,
and the land shows its bitterness by its fruit.
So there was nothing in all this region of Pontus,
the perverse, that my consideration could send.
Still I’ve sent you Scythian arrows sheathed in a quiver:
I pray they might be stained by your enemies’ blood.
Such are the pens of this shore: such are the books,
such is the Muse, Maximus, that flourishes in this place!
Though I’m ashamed to send them, they seem so poor,
still I beg you to take pleasure in their being sent.
§ 3.9.1 TO BRUTUS: ON CRITICISM
Brutus, you tell me someone’s carping at my verse,
because the same sentiment’s in all these books:
nothing but asking to enjoy somewhere nearer, he says,
and the fact I’m surrounded by crowds of enemies.
O, how only one of my many faults is seized on!
If that’s the only way my Muse has sinned, that’s fine.
I see the defects in my books myself, though everyone
approves their own poetry more than is right.
The author praises the work: so once perhaps Agrius,
Thersites’ father, might have called his son handsome.
But this mistake doesn’t cloud my judgement,
I don’t immediately love what I produce.
So why, you ask, if I see my errors, do I sin,
and allow the faults to remain in my writings?
To suffer a disease and cure it are not the same affair,
anyone can feel an illness, it’s only removed by art.
Often I leave some word I want to change,
and energy abandons my judgement.
Often I dislike (why hesitate to tell you the truth)
correcting, enduring the toil of hard labour.
The effort of writing’s a joy in itself, and less an effort,
and the growing work glows with one’s feelings.
But correction’s as much more arduous a thing
as Homer was greater than Aristarchus, his critic,
so that it hurts the mind, with worry’s icy chill,
and tightens the rein on horses eager for the race.
And truly, as I wish the merciful gods to lessen Caesar’s
anger, and my bones to be buried in peaceful ground,
when I try, sometimes, to exercise care myself,
the bitter aspect of my fate confronts me,
and it seems to me a man who makes verse and bothers
to correct it, among the savage Getae, is barely sane.
Yet there’s nothing more forgivable in my writing
than that a single feeling, almost, penetrates it all.
Happy, I once sang happy things, sad things I sing in sadness:
every time is suited to its own particular work.
What should I write of but the ills of this bitter region,
and to beg that I might die in a pleasanter place?
I say the same things so often hardly any of it’s heard,
and my words, ignored, lack any profit.
And yet though they’re the same, I haven’t addressed the same
friends, and one voice of mine seeks help from many.
Should I be asking it of you alone, Brutus, of all my comrades,
in case some reader discovers the same feelings written twice?
Forgive the confession, learned ones, but that wasn’t the object:
my work’s reputation is worth less than my own salvation.
In short, many a poet, at his own discretion, plays
variations on a subject, that he’s shaped for himself.
My Muse, also, is only too true a witness to my troubles,
and has the weight of an incorruptible informant.
Not to produce a book, but that each should be granted
his own letter, that was my intention and my care.
Later collecting them, anyhow, I linked them regardless:
in case you think perhaps this work was selected by me.
Be kind to my writings, whose purpose was not my glory,
but their usefulness, and the duty they performed.
§ 4.1.1 TO SEXTUS POMPEY: HIS DILATORINESS
Pompey, accept a poem composed by one
who’s indebted to you, Sextus, for his life.
If you don’t stop me setting down your name,
that too will add to the sum of your merits:
while, if you frown, I’ll confess I’ve sinned indeed,
though the reason for my offence should win approval.
Truly, my mind could not be held from gratitude.
Please don’t let anger bear down on my loyal service.
O, how often I thought myself disloyal in these books
in that your name was nowhere to be read!
O, how often, when I wished to write to others,
my hand, unwittingly, set your name in the wax!
The error of such mistakes itself pleased me,
and my hand was barely willing to make the change.
I said to myself: ‘Let him see it, indeed even if he complains!
I’m ashamed of not having earned his reproach before.’
Give me the waters of Lethe that numb the heart, if
they exist, I’ll still not have the power to forget you.
I beg you’ll allow this, and not reject my words
with contempt, nor consider my attentions a crime,
and let this be the inadequate thanks offered for all your help:
if not, I’ll still be grateful, against your will.
Your grace was never slow in my affairs,
your wealth never denied me generous assistance.
Even now your compassion, undeterred by my
swift fate, offers my life, and will offer it, aid.
You might ask from where I derive such confidence
in the future? Everyone cherishes what they’ve made.
As Venus remains the labour and glory of Apelles,
wringing her hair wet with the sea’s spray:
as warlike Athene stands guard on the Acropolis,
created in bronze and ivory by Phidias’s hand:
as Calamis wins praise for the horses he fashioned:
as those cattle, true to life, are a masterpiece by Myron:
so I’m not the least of your possessions, Sextus,
and celebrated as a work, a gift of your patronage.
§ 4.2.1 TO CORNELIUS SEVERUS: A FELLOW POET
O Severus, mightiest poet of mighty patrons, this you read
comes all the way from the long-haired Getae:
and it shames me, if you’ll only allow me to tell the truth,
that my books have been silent as yet about your name.
Yet letters without metre have never ceased
to pass in turn between us, out of friendship.
It’s only verse I’ve not given you, witness to your thoughtful
attentions. Why indeed give you what you yourself compose?
Who’d give Aristaeus honey, Bacchus Falernian wine,
Triptolemus grain, or send apples to Alcinous?
You’ve a fertile mind, and of those who plough
Helicon, no one produces a richer crop.
To send verses to such, would be adding leaves to the woods.
That’s the reason for my delaying to do so, Severus.
Moreover my skill doesn’t respond as before,
I turn the arid shore with a barren blade.
As sure as mud chokes the waves in the canals,
and the troubled water builds in a choked spring,
so my mind’s been hurt by muddy misfortune,
and poetry flows in an impoverished vein.
If anyone had set Homer down in this place,
believe me, even he’d have turned into a Getan.
Forgive my confession, I’ve let slip the reins of study,
and my fingers are rarely drawn to letters.
That sacred impulse, that nourishes poet’s hearts,
that once used to be mine, has all vanished.
My Muse barely plays her part, when I’ve taken up my tablets,
she barely lays a hand there, almost has to be forced.
I’ve little or no pleasure, to speak of, in writing,
no joy in weaving words into metre,
whether it’s the fact I’ve reaped no profit from it,
that makes this thing the source of my misfortunes:
or that writing a poem you can’t read to anyone
is exactly like making gestures in the dark.
An audience stirs interest: power grows
with praise, and fame is a continual spur.
Who can I recite my work to here, but yellow-haired
Coralli, and the other tribes of the barbarous Danube?
But what can I do, alone, with what matters should I pass
an ill-starred idleness, and fritter away the days?
Since neither wine nor illusory dice attract me,
those usual ways in which time silently steals by,
and I can’t delight in renewing earth by cultivation,
though I’d like to if the savage wars allowed,
what’s left but the Muses, a chilly consolation,
those goddesses who’ve earned no good of me?
But you, who drink more felicitously of the Aonian spring,
go on loving that study that works advantageously for you,
perform the Muses’ rites as they deserve, and send some
product of your recent efforts, here, for me to read.
§ 4.3.1 TO A FAITHLESS FRIEND: THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE
Shall I complain or be silent? Should I declare the crime nameless,
or should I wish who you are to be known to everyone?
I’ll not utter a name, in case my complaint advantages
you, and you acquire fame through my verse.
As long as my ship rested on a solid keel, you were
first among those who wished to sail with me.
Now that Fortune’s frowned, you slide away,
now that you know your help is really needed.
You dissemble too: don’t want to be thought to know me,
‘Who’s that?’ you ask, on hearing the name of Ovid.
I’m the one, though you don’t want to hear it, joined to you,
in a long-standing friendship, almost boy with boy:
I’m the one who was the first to know your serious
thoughts, and the first to share in your pleasant jests:
I’m the one, familiar friend of your house, by frequent custom,
I’m the one, the one and only Poet in your opinion.
I’m the one, traitor, you don’t know if I’m still alive,
whom you’ve taken no care to enquire about.
If I was never dear to you, you show your deceit:
if you weren’t inventing it, your fickleness is revealed.
Or come, tell me about some resentment that changed you:
since my reproach is just, unless yours turns out to be.
What’s the fellow crime that stops you being what you were?
Do you call it a crime that I’ve commenced being unhappy?
If you couldn’t bring me help in substance or in action,
you might have managed three words on a sheet of paper?
I scarcely believe it myself, but rumour has it you insult
me in my downfall, without sparing a single word.
Ah, madman, why are you doing this! Why, given Fortune
might fail, do you lessen the tears to be shed at your own wreck?
That goddess shows by her own wavering orb that she’s fickle,
she who always stands on its top beneath her unsteady feet.
She’s less certain than every leaf, than any breeze:
only yours, perverse one, equals her fickleness.
All things mortal hang by a tenuous thread,
and what was strong is ruined by sudden chance.
Who’s not heard of the power of Croesus’s wealth?
Yet didn’t he, a captive, have his life spared by his enemy?
Dionysius, feared but now in the city of Syracuse,
barely kept fierce hunger away with his humble art.
Who was greater than Pompey? Yet, fleeing, he asked
for help from a client, and in a submissive voice,
and he, whom all the countries of the world obeyed,
ended by needing the aid of a single man.
Marius, famed for his triumphs over Jugurtha and the Cimbri,
under whose consulship Rome was so often victorious,
lay in the mud and the marsh grass, and suffered
may things shameful for so great a man.
Divine power toys with human affairs, and true
faith barely finds a place in present times.
If anyone had said to me: ‘You’ll travel to Euxine shores,
and live in fear of being wounded by Getic arrows,’
I’d have said: ‘Go and drink a potion that clears the brain,
whatever’s in all that stuff Anticyra produces.’
Yet it happened to me: even if I could have guarded against
human weapons, I couldn’t do so at all against supreme gods.
You too should be afraid, and consider: what seems
your happiness, can turn to sadness while you speak.
§ 4.4.1 TO SEXTUS POMPEIUS: CONSULSHIP
There’s no day so drenched by the southern
clouds that the rain falls in an endless flood.
There’s no place so barren it hasn’t a useful herb,
lost as a rule among the tough brambles.
A heavy fate makes nothing so miserable
that there’s no joy to lessen the pain a little.
See how I, bereft of home, country, and the sight
of my own, driven like a wreck to Getic waters,
still found a reason there to brighten my glance,
and cease to remember my misfortunes.
As I walked alone along the yellow sands,
there seemed the sound of wings behind me.
Looking back, there was no one to be seen,
but nevertheless these words came to my ears:
‘Lo, I, Rumour, come to you with glad tidings,
having flown down the vast pathways of the air.
Because of Pompey’s consulship, he who’s dearer to you
than any other, the new year will be happy and bright.’
The goddess spoke and, having filled Pontus
with good news, made her way to other nations.
But care slipped from me in the midst of new joys,
and the hostile harshness of this place was banished.
So, two-faced Janus, when you’ve opened the long year,
and December’s been driven out by your holy month,
Pompey will don purple robes of high honour,
and leave nothing more to be added to his titles.
Now I seem to see halls near bursting with the crowd,
and the people trampled due to lack of space,
and first you go to visit the Tarpeian holy places,
and the gods begin to be receptive to your prayers:
the snowy oxen, that Falerii’s grass has nourished,
in its meadows, offer their throats to the sure axe:
and next, as you wish deeply that all the gods
might favour you, Jupiter and Caesar will do so.
The Curia will receive you, and the senators, summoned
in the usual way, will lend their ears to your words.
When your speech from eloquent lips has pleased them,
and, as customary, the day’s brought words of good-omen,
and you’ve given the thanks due to Caesar and the gods,
(he’ll give you cause why you should often repeat them)
then you’ll return home, escorted by the whole senate,
your house scarcely big enough for everyone’s attentions.
Pity me, because I won’t be there among that crowd,
my eyes won’t have the power to enjoy these things!
What’s permitted is for me to see you, though absent,
in my mind: and view the features of the dear consul.
May the gods allow my name to come to you sometimes,
when you’ll say: ‘Ah, what’s that poor wretch doing now?’
If anyone reports words like that to me,
I’ll immediately confess my exile’s eased.
§ 4.5.1 TO SEXTUS POMPEIUS: THANKING THE CONSUL
Go, slight verses, to the Consul’s learned ear,
carry a message for that distinguished man to read.
It’s a long road, and your feet won’t balance,
and the land lies shrouded in winter snow.
You’ll cross frozen Thrace, Haemus hidden
in the clouds, and the waters of the Ionian Sea,
in less than ten days, even if you don’t hurry
on the journey, you’ll reach the imperial city.
Then Pompey’s house should be your first objective:
no other’s nearer to the Forum of Augustus.
If any in the crowd asks who you are, and where
you’re from, speak any name to mislead his ear.
Even though I think it’s safe to confess,
surely words of deceit involve less danger.
Even when you’ve reached the threshold, you won’t get
the chance to see the Consul without being stopped.
He’ll be laying down words of law to the citizens, seated
on his high, conspicuously carved ivory chair:
or managing public revenues, next to the planted spear,
preventing the city’s wealth being diminished:
or, when the Senate’s been called to the Julian Temple,
he’ll be debating affairs fitting for so great a Consul:
or he’ll be bearing familiar greetings to Augustus and his son,
and consulting about some task not well enough understood.
Germanicus Caesar will claim the time left by all
of this: he reverences him next to the great gods.
But as soon as he’s free from this host of tasks,
he’ll reach out a kindly hand to you, and ask,
perhaps, how I myself, your author, am.
I want you to reply in words like these:
‘He’s alive still, and acknowledges he owes his life to you,
which he holds above all to be a gift of Caesar’s mercy.
With grateful lips he often says, that, when he was exiled,
you had occasion to make those savage roads safe:
it was owing to your heartfelt care he didn’t warm
some Bistonian sword-blade with his blood.
and you added many gifts to help him live,
so that his own resources weren’t depleted.
He swears he’ll be your servant for all time,
so thanks can be rendered for your services.
Mountains will first be free of shadowy trees,
and the seas be emptied of their sailing ships,
rivers aim their course backward to their springs,
before he ends his thanks for all your kindness.’
When you’ve spoken, ask him to protect his gift,
so the purpose of your journey can be fulfilled.
§ 4.6.1 TO BRUTUS: AFTER AUGUSTUS’S DEATH
Brutus, the letter you’re reading has come to you
from that land where you’d prefer Ovid not to be.
But what you’d not wish, wretched fate has willed.
Ah me, it has greater power than your prayers.
I’ve spent five years of one Olympiad in Scythia:
time’s moving onwards into a second five,
and stubborn fortune is unchanging, and slyly
obstructs my wishes with a limping foot.
Maximus, glory of the Fabii, had decided to speak,
in supplication, to divine Augustus on my behalf.
He died before he made the plea, and I think I’m reason
for his death (though I can’t be so important)
Now I fear to trust my salvation to anyone:
that recourse is truly finished with his death.
Augustus was beginning to forgive my mindless error:
he left the world, and my hopes, bereft together.
Yet situated as I am far from your shores, I sent you
such verse as I could write concerning the new god.
May this respectful act aid me, and let there be an end
to my ills, the anger of the sacred house be lessened.
O, I can swear with a clear conscience that you, Brutus,
known to me in no uncertain manner, pray for the same.
Though you always granted me your true love,
still that love has grown in my time of trouble.
Anyone who saw your tears, that equalled mine,
would have thought we were both to be punished.
Nature made you kind to the wretched: she gave
no man a more merciful heart than you, Brutus:
so whoever knew nothing of your worth in court cases,
would hardly think your lips could prosecute criminals.
In fact the same man, though it seems perverse maybe,
can be mild with suppliants, and harsh with the guilty.
When you undertake the vengeance of strict justice,
every word’s as though it’s steeped in venom.
May your enemies come to know how fierce you are
in conflict, and suffer the sharp weapons of your tongue,
which you polish with such refined care all would deny
that ability could be present in such a person.
But if you see anyone wounded by fate’s injustice,
no woman’s more tender-hearted than you.
I felt this most of all when the larger part
of my friends denied all knowledge of me.
Them I’ll forget, you I’ll never forget,
you who ease the anxiety of my ills.
The Danube, all too close, will sooner turn its course
back from the Euxine shore towards its source,
the chariot of the sun be driven to the Eastern sea,
as if the age of Thyestean banquets were returned,
than any of you who’ve grieved at my exile
shall denounce me as ungrateful, un-remembering.
§ 4.7.1 TO VESTALIS: LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
Vestalis, since you’ve been posted to the Euxine Sea,
to deliver justice in these places below the pole,
you observe, in person, what country I’m stuck in, and you
will witness I’m not in the habit of complaining idly.
Through you, young offspring of Celtic kings,
the truth of my words will not be ignored.
You yourself can see Pontus truly solid with ice,
you yourself see wine stand frozen by the frost:
you yourself see the fierce Iazygian ox-herd
lead his loaded wagon over the Danube’s floes.
And you observe poison carried by barbed steel,
so the weapon can be a dual cause of death.
Would that this place had only to be administered,
not also known to you yourself through warfare!
Reaching for the highest rank, in the thick of danger,
that well-deserved honour recently fell to you.
Even though the title’s full of reward for you,
your courage is still greater than your role.
Danube won’t deny it whose waters were once
dyed dark red with Getic blood, at your hands.
Aegisus won’t deny it, recaptured at your coming,
gaining no advantage from the nature of its site.
Since it’s uncertain whether that city, touching the clouds
on its high ridge, was better defended by arms or position.
The fierce enemy had taken it from its Thracian king
and, victorious, held its treasure captive, till Vitellius,
carried downriver, disembarked his troops,
and advanced his standards against the Getae.
Then the impulse came to you, bravest scion
of noble Donnus, to attack the hostile force.
No delay: conspicuous from afar in shining armour,
ensuring that your brave deeds can’t go unnoticed,
with swift strides you charge their position,
its steel, and stones, heavier than winter hail.
A storm of missiles flung from above don’t stop you,
nor those arrow-tips steeped in snake’s venom.
Shafts with painted feathers cling to your helm,
and scarcely any part of your shield’s unscarred.
Unhappily, your body can’t escape every blow:
but the pain is less than your sharp desire for glory.
Such, they say, was Ajax at Troy, when he endured
Hector’s brands, in defending the Greek ships.
When you came nearer, fighting hand to hand,
when battle could be joined with cruel swords,
it’s difficult to tell of all your warlike actions there,
how many you killed, whom, and how they fell.
You trod in victory over the piles of dead your sword
had made, the Getae heaped wherever your feet stood.
The lower ranks followed their leader’s example,
fought, took many wounds, and delivered many.
But your courage exceeded all others, as Pegasus,
once flew faster than the swiftest horse.
Aegisus was taken, and your deeds, Vestalis,
are born witness to, for ever, in my song.
§ 4.8.1 TO SUILLIUS: PRAYING TO GERMANICUS
A letter has arrived here, one perfected Suillius
by your studies: late indeed, but still, it pleases me:
in which you say you’ll bring me aid, as far as
loyal friendship can stir the gods by asking.
Even if you offered nothing else, your friendly purpose
makes me your debtor: I call your wish to help true service.
Only let that impulse of yours endure lengths of time,
and your loyalty not grow weary of my troubles.
Our bonds of kinship make some claims on us,
bonds that I pray will always remain strong.
Since she who’s your wife is almost my own daughter,
and one who calls you son-in-law, calls me husband.
It would be sad for me if you frowned reading this verse,
and felt shame at being related to me by marriage!
But you’ll find nothing here meriting shame,
except fate: she was blind where I was concerned.
If you look at my family, you’ll find we were knights
for endless generations, from our first origins:
or if you want to enquire into my morals,
ignore my one error, alas, and they’re spotless.
If you hope anything at all can be achieved by praying,
exhort the gods you worship, with a suppliant’s voice.
Let your god be young Caesar. Please your divine power,
Germanicus, truly no altar’s better known to you than his.
It never allows its priest’s prayers to be made in vain:
seek assistance from it, concerning my affairs.
No matter how slight the breeze, so long as it aids me
my foundering barque will rise again from the waves.
Then I’ll offer sacred incense to the swift flames,
and I’ll bear witness to the power of the divinity.
I’ll not build a temple of Parian marble for you,
Germanicus: my ruin stripped me of my wealth.
Prosperous houses and cities will found temples to you:
Ovid will thank you with his only riches, with poetry.
I confess it’s a meagre gift indeed for a great service,
if it’s words I give in return for my return being granted.
But he who gives all he has gives thanks in abundance,
and piety such as that has achieved its ends.
Incense a poor man offers the gods from his lowly censer
has no less power than that from a great man’s dish.
The new-born lamb, struck down in sacrifice, reddens
the Tarpeian altars, as well as oxen fed on Faliscan grass.
There’s still nothing more fitting for the leaders of men
than the tribute rendered by a poet’s verse.
Poetry acts everywhere as the herald of your glory,
and ensures that the fame of your actions never dies.
§ 4.8.49 TO SUILLIUS: THE POWER OF POETRY
Virtue’s kept alive by verse, and, escaping
the tomb, gains fame among later generations.
Age’s decay consumes iron and stone,
and nothing has greater power than time.
Writing survives the years. Through writing you know
of Agamemnon, and all who bore arms for or against him.
Who’d know of Thebes and the seven generals, without
poetry, or everything that happened before and since?
The gods too, if it’s right to say it, take on existence
through poetry, such majesty needs a singing voice.
It’s how we know that Chaos, that mass of early
nature, separated out to acquire its elements:
how the Giants, aspiring to the rule of the Heavens,
were hurled to Styx by the avenger’s lightning blast:
how victorious Bacchus won fame by conquering
India, and Hercules by capturing Oechalia.
And Germanicus, your grandfather whom his virtues have
newly added to the stars, was immortalised in part by poetry.
So, Caesar, if there’s any life left in my skill,
it will be at your service, completely.
As a poet yourself you can’t despise a poet’s tribute:
it is a thing of value in your judgement.
And if your fame hadn’t called you to great affairs,
you’d have been the crowning glory of the Muses.
But it’s better to give us all themes than poems:
even if you can’t abandon poetry completely.
One moment waging war, the next coercing words,
what’s labour for others, will be play for you.
Just as Apollo’s not slow to use the lyre or bow,
and either string will serve his holy hands,
so the arts of prince and scholar never fail you,
and the Muse is bound up with Jupiter in your mind.
And since she’s not banished me from that spring
that Gorgonian Pegasus’s hollow hoof created,
let it be helpful, and bring aid, that I observe our mutual rite,
and have set my hand to the same studies:
so I might flee these shores, too open to the Coralli,
a tribe clad in skins: escape the savage Getae, at the last,
and if my country’s barred to such a wretch, be set down
in any place not so far as this place is from Rome,
from where I might celebrate your latest glories,
and tell of your great actions with least delay.
Pray for him who’s almost your father-in-law, dear
Suillius, that this request might reach the heavenly powers.
§ 4.9.1 TO GRAECINUS: ON HIS CONSULSHIP
Ovid sends you this greeting, Graecinus, as he can,
but not as he would, from the Black Sea waters:
once sent, may the gods have it find you in the dawn
that first brings you the twelve ‘rods and axes’:
because, since you’ll reach the Capitol as consul
without me, and I’ll not be one of your people,
allow my letter to take its master’s place,
and serve as a friend on the chosen day.
And if I’d been born to a better fate,
and my wheels had run on a truer axle,
my lips would have performed the greeting
that my hand now acts out in writing,
and I’d congratulate you with sweet words and kisses,
and your honours would be no less mine than yours.
I’d be so proud on that day, I confess, there’d
be scarcely any roof could contain my pride:
and while the crowd of sacred senators surrounded you,
I’d be commanded, a knight, to go before the consul:
and though I’d wish always to be near you,
I’d be glad not to have a mere place at your side.
I’d not complain if I were crushed, it would be
pleasant to be jostled by people at a time like that.
I’d delight in gazing at the order of procession,
and how the dense throng filled the lengthy way.
and so you’d know how much little things impress me,
I’d examine the quality of purple you were wearing,
consider the shapes of the figures on your curule chair,
and the whole of that carved work of Numidian ivory.
Then when you’d been accompanied to the Tarpeian Rock,
when the holy sacrifice was slaughtered at your command,
the great god that sits in the midst of the temple
would have heard me too as I gave my private thanks:
I’d have offered incense, heart fuller than my salver,
rejoicing more than once at your supreme honour.
There I’d be counted among the friends around you,
if only a kinder fate granted me entrance to the city,
and the pleasure my mind can only grasp at, now,
would be experienced by my eyes as well.
The gods won’t consider it, and perhaps they’re right:
how can denying the case for my punishment help me?
I’ll still use my mind: it alone’s not exiled from that place,
to gaze at your robes and ‘rods and axes’.
It will see you one moment dispensing justice to the people,
and fancy itself secretly present at your actions:
then it will think you’re doling out lengthy contracts,
by the spear, settling it all with scrupulous honesty:
next moment you’re speaking eloquently to the Senate,
pursuing what the state interest demands:
then you’re giving thanks on behalf of the divine
Caesars, striking the white necks of fat oxen.
If only, when you’ve done praying for greater things,
you could ask the prince’s anger to relent, for me!
May a true flame rise from the holy altar, at your voice,
and a bright flare declare its good omen as you pray.
§ 4.9.55 TO GRAECINUS: ASK FLACCUS
Meanwhile, don’t let me complain about everything,
I’ll be as festive as I can here at your consulship, as well.
There’s another reason for joy, not inferior to the first,
your brother, Flaccus, will succeed you in that great honour.
The office that ends for you as December closes
he’ll enter into on the first of January.
Such is your affection you’ll experience alternate joys,
you in your brother’s consulship, and he in yours.
And you’ll be consul twice, and he’ll be twice consul,
and there’ll be a double honour witnessed by your house.
Though the honour’s great, and martial Rome perceives
nothing higher than the office of supreme consul,
it’s still magnified by the authority of the sponsor,
and the gift acquires the majesty of the giver.
So may it be for you and Flaccus to enjoy
such approval by Augustus for all time.
Still when your concerns are free of more pressing things,
add both your prayers to mine, I beg you,
and, if the breeze will fill a sail, loose the cables,
so my ship can leave the waters of the Styx.
Flaccus commanded here till recently, Graecinus,
and the warring banks of Danube were safe in his care.
He kept the Moesian tribes to their peace treaty,
he cowed the Getic bowmen with the sword.
He re-took Troesmis when captured, swiftly, with courage,
and stained the river waters with savage blood.
Ask him about the features of this place, and the hostile
Scythian climate, and how I fear the enemy nearby:
if the slender arrows aren’t tipped with snake venom,
and human beings don’t become a hideous offering:
if I lie or Pontus really does freeze with the cold,
and ice covers many acres of sea.
When he’s told you, question him as to my standing,
and ask him, too, how I spend this cruel time.
§ 4.9.89 TO GRAECINUS: HIS STATUS AND LOYALTY
I’m not disliked here, nor indeed do I deserve to be,
and my temperament’s not altered with my fortunes.
That calm reason, you used to praise, that diffidence
there used to be, is still there in my appearance.
So I’ve been throughout, here, where savage enemies
demonstrate that might’s more powerful than right,
and no man, woman or child, in all these years,
has had any reason to complain about me.
That’s why, in my wretchedness, the Tomitae are kind
and support me, since this land has to play witness for me.
They’d prefer me to leave, since they see it’s my wish:
but for themselves they want me still to stay here.
Don’t take my word for this: there are sealed decrees
extant, praising me and granting me concessions.
Though it’s not fitting for the miserable to boast,
the neighbouring towns grant me the same right.
Nor is my piety unknown: this foreign land
sees the shrine to Caesar in my home.
His virtuous son, Tiberius, and priestess-widow, Livia,
stand beside him, no less a power now he’s become a god.
So none of his House are absent, Drusus and Germanicus,
are there, one by his grandmother’s side, one by his father’s.
I offer incense to them and words of prayer,
every time the sun rises in the East.
All of Pontus, you’re free to ask, would say that I’m
not inventing this, and will witness to my devotion.
Pontus knows I celebrate the birthday of the god,
with what show I can, at this altar.
Nor is my piety less known to such strangers
as far-off Propontis sends to these waters.
Your brother too, who had command of Pontus
on the left, may perhaps have heard of it.
My fortune is unequal to my purpose, but, though poor,
I spend my slight resources freely on such attentions.
So far away from the city, I don’t bring it to your notice,
but I’m content, out of a sense of duty, to be silent.
Still, it may sometimes reach a Caesar’s ears: from whom
nothing that passes in the whole world is hidden.
Caesar, received among the gods, you know and see it,
for certain, since the earth’s now set beneath your gaze.
You, placed there among the vaulted stars,
hear my prayers spoken by anxious lips.
Perhaps the poems I’ve made and sent off, about
you, the new god, may reach you there, too.
And so I foretell your divine power will yield to them:
not without reason you take the gentle name of Father.
§ 4.10.1 TO ALBINOVANUS: THE SIXTH SUMMER
This is the sixth summer I’m forced to spend
on Cimmerian shores, among Getae dressed in skins.
Dearest Albinovanus, can you compare flint
or iron, in any way, to me, for durability?
Drops of water carve out stone, a ring’s thinned by use,
the curved plough’s worn away by the soil’s pressure.
So devouring time destroys all other things:
but death delays, conquered by my hardiness.
Ulysses, the example of a spirit suffering to excess,
was tossed about for ten years, on dangerous seas:
yet, he didn’t endure the anxiety of fate throughout,
and there were often peaceful interludes.
Was it really a hardship to fondle lovely Calypso
for six years, and share a bed with a sea-goddess?
And Aeolus, Hippotes’ son, welcomed him, gifted him
with following winds so the breeze filled his driven sails.
Nor is it any effort to listen to the Sirens’ sweet singing:
and the lotus wasn’t bitter to him who tasted it.
I’d buy those juices, that make you forget your homeland,
at the price of half my life, if they were offered.
And you can’t compare a city of Laestrygonians,
with the tribes the Danube reveals in its winding course.
Cyclops couldn’t outdo cruel Piacches in savagery,
and to me they’re only a small part of the local terrors!
Scylla may yelp, fierce with monsters, from distorted loins,
but the Sarmatian pirates harm sailors more.
Though Charybdis may suck the sea down three times,
and three times spew it out, you can’t compare her
with the fierce Achaei, who roam the eastern shore
with more licence, yet won’t leave this shore alone.
Here there’s leafless land, arrows steeped in venom,
here winter makes the sea a pathway for walkers,
so where oars, a moment ago, beat their way through the waves,
the passer-by, despising boats, walks without wetting his feet.
§ 4.10.35 TO ALBINOVANUS: THE RIVERS
Those who come from Italy say you barely believe all this.
Wretched the man who suffers things too harsh to be believed!
Well believe this: I won’t let you remain in ignorance
of what causes bitter winter to freeze the Sarmatian sea.
The stars of the Wain, Ursa Major, wagon-shaped,
are very close to us, and they possess extreme cold.
Here’s the source of the north wind, Boreas, and this coast
is his home, and he gains power from the location.
But Notus, the south wind, blows warm from the opposite
pole, is far from us, is rarely experienced, and is feeble.
Also the rivers here merge with land-locked Pontus,
and the waves lose their force because of the flow.
Here the Lycus, Sagaris, Penius, Hypanes, and Cales,
all enter, the Halys writhing, full of whirlpools,
raging Parthenius, Cynapses rolling boulders,
sliding on, Tyras, fastest of streams, and you,
Thermodon, known to the Amazon war-bands,
and you, Phasis, once sought by the Greek heroes,
Borysthenes and clearest Dyrapses, Melanthus
silently completing its gentle course. And the Don
that separates two continents, Asia and Europe,
and innumerable others, Danube mightiest of all,
that refuses, Nile, to yield in power even to you.
The spoil of so many waters adulterates the waves
it swells, and stops the sea maintaining its power.
Indeed, like a still pool or a stagnant swamp,
it’s colour is diluted, and it’s barely blue.
The fresh water overlays the flood, lighter than sea-water,
which gains specific weight from the salt admixture.
If anyone asks why I relate all this to Pedo,
and what the point is of speaking so precisely,
I’d say: ‘I’ve whiled away the time, held off care.
That’s the fruit the present hour has brought me.
I’ve avoided my usual worries, by writing this,
and no longer feel that I’m among the Getae.’
But I’ve no doubt that you, singing Theseus’ praises,
are doing justice to the fame of your subject,
and imitating the hero you describe. He’d deny
that loyalty’s only the friend of tranquil times.
Though his deeds are great, and he’s shown by you
as grandly as a hero should be sung by such lips,
there’s still something of his, that we can copy,
anyone can be a Theseus in faithfulness.
You don’t have to master enemies, with sword and club,
those who made the Isthmus scarcely passable:
but you must show love, not difficult for the willing.
What effort is it to not to desecrate true loyalty?
You mustn’t think these words spoken by a complaining
tongue, to you who stand by your friend, eternally.
§ 4.11.1 TO GALLIO: COMMISERATION
Gallio, it would be a crime barely excusable on
my part, if your name wasn’t present in my verse.
Since I remember that you too bathed my wound
with your tears when I was struck by the divine shaft.
I wish that, injured by the snatching away of your
friend, you’d had nothing more to complain of!
The cruel gods were not pleased it should be so,
not owning it wrong to strip you of your pure wife.
Only now has the letter with your mournful news
reached me, and I’ve read of your loss with tears.
But I wouldn’t, stupidly, dare to console the wise
repeating the trite words of the learned to you:
I suspect your grieving is already over, if not
through rational thought, by the lapse of time.
While your letter was reaching me, while my reply
crossed so many lands and seas, a year has gone.
The act of consolation belongs to a definite time,
when grief’s in train, and the harmed seek help.
After many days have calmed the mind’s hurt,
he only renews it, who disturbs it, inappropriately.
And then (and I hope this omen proves true on arrival!)
you may be happy now, in a fresh marriage.
§ 4.12.1 TO TUTICANUS: AFFINITIES
The reason you’re not found in my works, my friend,
is a result of the way your name’s constructed.
I’d consider no one else worthier of that honour –
if my verse happened to confer any honour.
Metric rules, and the nature of your name, prevent
the compliment: there’s no way you can be in my verse.
I’d be ashamed to split your name across two lines,
ending the first with one bit, starting the next with the rest.
I’d be equally ashamed if I shortened a syllable
that’s long, and addressed you as Two-tick-a-nus.
Nor can you enter a poem disguised as Tutti-car-nus,
where a short syllable’s made of that first long one.
Nor by making the second syllable, that’s over quickly,
long, Two-tea-car-nus, by extending it in time.
If I dared to distort your name by such tricks,
I’d be laughed at, and rightly said to have no taste.
That was the reason for delaying these attentions,
but my love will perform them with added interest,
and I’ll sing you in some measure, send you a song, you,
known to me, barely a lad, when you were barely a lad,
and, through the ranks of all the many years we’ve seen,
no less beloved by me than brother by brother.
When I first controlled the reins, in my weak grasp,
you were kind encouragement, my friend and guide.
I often revised my works with you acting as critic,
I often made changes based on your suggestions,
while the Muses, those Pierian goddesses, taught you
how to compose a Phaeacis worthy of Homer’s pages.
This steady path, this harmony begun in green youth,
has extended undiminished to white-haired age.
If that didn’t move you, I’d think you’d a heart
encased in hard iron or unbreakable steel.
But this land will sooner be free of war and cold,
the two things hateful Pontus offers me, sooner
might north winds be warm, south winds cold,
and my fate have the power to be gentler,
than your heart be harsh to your weary friend.
Let that culmination of evils be absent, as it is.
But by the gods, and He is the surest of them
under whose rule esteem for you steadily grows,
see that the winds of hope don’t desert my boat,
protect the exile, with your endless devotion.
What do I command, you ask? I’m dying to answer,
if a dead man can be dying, but it’s difficult to say:
I can’t find anything to try, to desire or not desire,
and I don’t exactly know what would benefit me.
Believe me, wisdom’s the first thing to flee the wretched,
and sense and judgement vanish with position.
Seek out yourself, please, in what way you can help,
as well: make a road for my prayers through the deep.
§ 4.13.1 TO CARUS: THE SIXTH WINTER
Greetings to you, O Carus, counted among my true
friends, you who are truly what you’re named: dear!
The style and form of my verse can act as immediate
witness to the place from which you’re greeted.
Not that my style’s wonderful, but it’s not ‘anyone’s’ at least:
whatever it may be, there’s no hiding that it’s mine.
And I think I could say which works are yours
even if your name were missing from the title page.
However you’re placed among the books you’ll
be discovered, recognised by well-known features.
A power we know to be worthy of Hercules
will reveal the author, so suited to the one you sing.
And perhaps my Muse can be detected
in her true colours, by tokens of her failings.
Thersites’ ugliness prevented him from hiding,
as much as Nireus’ beauty made him stand out.
And you shouldn’t marvel if my art’s defective,
since I’ve almost turned into a Getic poet.
Ah! Shameful: I’ve even written a work in Getic,
where savage words are set to Italian metres.
My theme, you ask? You’d praise me: I speak of Caesar.
My new attempt was helped by a god’s power.
I tell how the body of our father, Augustus, was mortal,
but his spirit has passed to the domains of heaven:
and Tiberius is equal to his father in virtue, taking
up the reins of empire, often refused, when asked:
and you Livia are the Vesta of modest mothers,
whether worthier of son or husband is unclear:
and two sons, a powerful help to their father,
have given true pledges of their courage.
When I read it aloud, not penned by my native Muse,
and the last page came beneath my fingers,
they nodded their heads and their full quivers,
and there was a long murmur from Getic mouths.
And one said: ‘Since you write all this about Caesar,
you ought to be restored to Caesar’s dominions.’
That’s what he said: but already, my Carus,
the sixth winter sees me exiled under the icy pole.
My poetry’s no help. Poetry once harmed me,
and was the prime cause of this wretched exile.
But, by the mutual bonds of our sacred calling, in the name
of friendship, and that’s not something insignificant to you,
(and may Germanicus, with the German enemy
led in chains, provide a subject for your art: and may
his sons, who you’ve been given to train, to your
great credit, be well, as the public asks of the gods),
promote my cause, my health, as much as you can,
something I’ll not regain without a change of place.
§ 4.14.1 TO TUTICANUS: BEING NICE TO TOMIS
These words are sent to you, whose name won’t fit
my metres, as I complained to you recently in verse:
and in these lines, except that I’m fairly well,
you won’t hear of anything else that pleases me.
Even health itself is hateful, and my last prayer
is to go anywhere at all away from here.
I don’t care where I’m sent to from this land,
anywhere will be better than what I see.
Send me sailing to Syrtes, or to Charybdis,
as long as I escape this ground before me.
Styx too, if it exists, would be a nice change from Danube,
or wherever the world holds that’s deeper than Styx.
The ploughed field hates weeds less, the swallow cold,
than Ovid hates this place near the warlike Getae.
The Tomitae are irritated with me for such words,
and public anger’s stirred by my verse.
Shall I never stop being harmed by poetry,
and always suffer for my outspoken art?
Shall I hesitate to cut my fingers, so they can’t write,
still chase after the weapons madly, that have hurt me?
Am I being driven towards the old reef again,
into the waters where my ship was wrecked?
But I’ve done nothing, not guilty: Tomitae,
I like you, while I hate the place you’re in.
Let anyone examine the products of my labour:
there’s no complaint about you in my letters.
I moan about the cold, the fearful incursions on every
side, the assaults the enemy make on the walls.
The charges I’ve uttered against your land, not its people,
are quite true: you too often criticise your own country.
Hesiod, ancient farmer, dared to sing of how
his Ascra was a place to be constantly avoided:
though the man who wrote it had been born
in that land, still Ascra wasn’t angry with its poet.
Who delighted in his homeland more than cunning Ulysses?
Yet he, by his own witness, learned the harshness of the place.
Scepsian Metrodorus attacked Italian ways, not the land,
in bitter writing: and Rome itself was accused of guilt:
yet Rome accepted the lying invective equably,
and the author’s wild speech did him no harm.
But a wrong interpretation rouses people’s anger
against me, accuses my poetry of a fresh crime.
I wish I were as happy as my heart is pure!
No one still alive has been wounded by my lips.
And even if I were blacker in words than Illyrian
pitch, no loyal crowd would be harmed by me.
Tomitae, my situation’s gentle reception among you
shows how kind men of Greek extraction are.
The Paeligni, my own race, and Sulmo my native place,
could not have been more sympathetic to my troubles.
An honour you don’t often grant to one who’s
safe and sound, you recently granted to me.
I’m the only one so far immune from taxes on your
shores, excepting those that have that right by law.
My forehead has been wreathed with the sacred crown,
that popular favour set there, against my will.
As the island of Delos was dear to Latona, offering
her the only place of safety in her wanderings,
so Tomis is dear to me, and remains true and hospitable
to one who’s exiled from his native land.
If only the gods had made it so it might know hope
of sweet peace, and was further from the frozen pole.
§ 4.15.1 TO SEXTUS POMPEY: THE SAME REQUEST
If there’s anyone left around who’s still not forgotten
me, and who asks how Ovid the exile is getting on:
let him know I owe my life to the Caesars, and my comfort
to Sextus. After the gods he’ll be supreme to me.
If I consider all the days of my unhappy life,
none of them has been devoid of his attentions.
They’ve been as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds reddening
under their slow-growing husks, in some fertile farm’s orchard,
as African grain, as the grape clusters of Lydia,
as olives of Sicyon, as honeycombs of Hybla.
My confession: you can witness it. Seal it, Citizens!
The power of the law’s not needed: I say it myself.
Set me down, a humble possession, amongst your family
wealth: I’m a part of your estate, however insignificant.
Just like those Sicilian lands of yours, and those in Macedonia,
like your house next to the Forum of Augustus,
like your Campanian estate, dear to your eyes,
whatever was left to you, Sextus, or you’ve bought:
so I am yours as well, and by this sad gift
you can’t say you own nothing in Pontus.
I wish you could, and a pleasanter field be granted you,
so you could own your investment in a better location!
Given that it’s up to the gods, try and woo those powers
with prayer, that you worship with a constant devotion,
since it’s hard to make out whether you are more
a confirmation of my error, or a remedy for it.
I don’t ask because I doubt: but, following the stream,
the flow of the current’s often speeded by using oars.
I’m ashamed and anxious, always making the same request,
in case weariness with me, rightly, fills your mind.
But what can I do? My desire’s immoderate.
Kind friend, forgive this fault of mine.
Wanting to write otherwise, I fall to speaking the same:
my letters of their own accord set the theme.
Whether your influence achieves its effect, or whether
harsh fate orders me to die beneath the frozen pole,
I’ll always recall your gifts to me, with a dutiful mind,
and my homeland will hear how I am yours.
It will be known by every place beneath the sky
(if my Muse travels well beyond the savage Getae)
that you’re the reason for, and guardian of, my well-being,
I’m yours no less than if the bronze and scales weighed me.
§ 4.16.1 TO AN ENEMY: HIS FAME
Why attack wretched Ovid’s poetry, jealous man?
The last day never harms genius, and fame
is greater after we’re turned to ashes. When I
was counted among the living I too had a name:
when Marsus lived, and mighty-voiced Rabirius,
and the Ilian, Macer, and the starry Pedo:
and Carus, who’d have angered Juno in his Hercules,
if that hero wasn’t already Juno’s son-in-law:
and Severus who gave Latium a royal poem,
and tasteful Numa, along with the two Prisci:
and Montanus, master of equal and unequal couplets,
who has a reputation in both forms of verse:
and he who had Ulysses write to Penelope
in his ten year wanderings over the cruel sea,
and Sabinus, abandoning his Troien to swift
death, the incomplete effort of many days:
Largus, known by the name of his own genius,
who guided the aged Antenor to Gallic fields:
Camerinus, singing of Troy after Hector’s defeat,
and Tuscus, well-known for his Phyllis:
the poet of a sea of sails whose verse you’d think
composed by the sea-green gods themselves:
he who spoke of Libya’s armies, Rome’s battles:
and Marius, skilled in every form of writing:
Trinacrius, author of his Perseid, and Lupus
author of Helen’s return with Menelaus:
and he who translated Phaeacis out of Homer,
and you too Rufus, sole lyricist of Pindar’s lyre:
and Turranius’s Muse, the tragically shod:
and yours Melissus with her little slippers:
Varius and Graccus, granting tyrants fierce words,
Proculus holding to Callimachus’s tender path,
Passer turning to Tityrus and the ancient meadow,
while Grattius gave hunters suitable weapons:
Fontanus singing of Naiads loved by Satyrs,
Capella locking words in elegiac couplets:
and others, whose names would take too long
to mention, whose songs people possess:
and youths whose work’s unpublished
so I’ve no right to speak about them
(but, in all that crowd, I’d not dare to forget you,
Cotta, light of the Muses, patron of their forum,
to whom double the nobility was granted, Cottas
on your mother’s side, Messallas on your father’s)
and with them, if it’s not wrong to say so, my Muse’s
bright name, she too being read among all those others.
So, Envy, stop reviling one exiled from his country,
stop scattering my ashes about, you, cruel one.
I’ve lost everything: only my life remains,
to grant me feeling and the stuff of sorrow.
Where’s the joy in stabbing your steel into my dead flesh?
There’s no place left where I can be dealt fresh wounds.