The Heroides 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21


A Translation of Ovid's Heroides

With Notes and Resources for Study

About the Poems

Ovid’s Heroides is a collection of twenty-one poems, written in the form of fictional letters.  They are what are known as “literary epistles,” a genre which is not especially popular today, but which was widely used for the better part of two thousand years in western Europe and parts of the Mediterranean.  Ovid represents the letters as having been written (with one exception) by and about figures from Greek legend or myth. 

The first fourteen letters are based on well-known myths and are written by women to the legendary heroes who have abandoned them.  They give a quintessentially Ovidian twist to the myths, letting us see the often less admirable—and always more human—consequences of the heroic exploits of figures like Theseus, Jason, or Ulysses.  The fifteenth letter is something of an anomaly, and its authenticity has been questioned fairly often.  It is written by a non-legendary figure, the Greek poet Sappho; she writes to the youth who was reputed to be her only male lover, Phaon.  The last six letters are the so-called “double letters.”  As the name implies, these letters are in pairs, with the first letter being written by the male lover, and the second being written in response by the female lover. 

About the Translations

The translations presented here are intended primarily for college undergraduates enrolled in introductory or general-education literature courses.  It is likely that students enrolled in these courses will not know Latin, and it is possible that they may have only a limited background in Greek and Roman mythology. 

In order to make the poems as accessible as possible for this audience, I have accompanied the text with fairly extensive hypertext notes that are intended to clarify Ovid’s frequent mythological references.  The introduction to each poem focuses, not on questions of interpretation or scholarship, but on filling in the mythological and narrative background which is necessary for understanding the context of each letter.  Each poem is also accompanied by a section-by-section “synopsis,” which is intended to make first-reading comprehension a little easier for students who may find the form or content of the poems unfamiliar.

I have not attempted a verse translation. I have preserved the line-breaks as closely as possible—in part to allow ease of reference to the Latin text for any student who might have some Latin, and in part because Ovid structures his thought and syntax in elegiac couplets—but the text itself is essentially a prose translation. 

This project was made possible by sabbatical leaves granted by Edgewood College.  All of the translations may be copied and redistributed freely for non-commercial purposes, but I would appreciate it if you would let me know about it if you choose to use them:  


Contents of the Web Edition

Background Materials

A brief introduction to Ovid:  A short sketch of the poet's life and his place in Roman literature.

Two major myth cycles:  Summaries of the events associated with two major sets of stories which function as background for several of the letters in the Heroides.  

Some principal deities of Greek and Roman mythology:  A highly selective list of some of the major gods and goddess mentioned in the Heroides, along with brief descriptions of them.

The Single Letters

The Double Letters


This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

Comments and suggestions welcome:

Last updated 06/22/2013