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


Ovid, Heroides III

Introduction and Synopsis

Briseis to Achilles

The letter which you read comes from stolen Briseis,
Written with difficulty in Greek by her barbarian hand.
Whatever blots you see, her tears have made--
But tears, nevertheless, have the strength of a voice.


If it is right for me to complain a little of you, my master and husband--
Then of my master and husband I will complain a little.
That I was so quickly delivered to the king when he asked,
Is not your fault--and yet this too is your fault;
For immediately when Eurybates and Talthybius called for me,
I was given to Eurybates and Talthybius to accompany them.
Each, casting his eyes on the other's face,
Asked silently where our love was.
It could have been postponed; a delay of pain would have been welcome.
Alas for me! Parting, I gave no kiss.
But tears without end I gave, and tore my hair--
Unhappy one, I seemed taken prisoner a second time!




Often I wished to return, deceiving my guards,
But there were enemies to seize me, a fearful girl.
If I had gone out by night, I feared lest I be captured,
And sent as a gift to one of Priam's daughters-in-law.



But even if I was given because I had to be given--I am gone so many nights
And am not demanded back; you delay, and your anger is slow.
The son of Menoetius himself, when I was given up, said in my ear,
"Why do you cry? In a short time you will be here."


Not to have demanded me back is a small thing; but you even fight against my return, Achilles!
Go now, and earn the name of an eager lover.
The sons of Telamon and Amyntor came to you--
The one closer to you in blood relationship, the other a comrade--
And Laertes' offspring; by these I was to be returned, along with
(Since great gifts were added to their flattering pleas)
Twenty tawny vessels of worked bronze,
And seven tripods equal in weight and craftsmanship;
To these were added twice five talents of gold,
Twice six horses always accustomed to victory,
And (what was certainly unnecessary) maidens of Lesbos, outstanding for their beauty,
Who were taken captive when their home was destroyed.
With all this, a wife (although you had no need of a wife!)
From among Agamemnon's three daughters.
If you had paid to buy me back from the son of Atreus,
What would you have had to give for that which you refuse as a gift?
For what crime do I deserve to be held so cheap by you, Achilles?
Where has your fickle love fled so quickly from me?





Is it that sad fortune constantly oppresses the miserable,
And a more pleasant time does not come once evils have begun?
I have seen the Lyrnessian walls demolished by your soldiers--
And I myself had been a great part of my fatherland.
I have seen three fall who were equally companions
In birth and in death--ones whose mother was also mine.
I have seen my husband stretched out full length,
Heaving his bleeding breast on the bloody ground.
Yet for so many lost, I had only you in compensation;
You were my lord, you my husband, you my brother.
You said to me, swearing by the divinity of your water-dwelling mother,
That my captivity itself was benefit--
Oh yes, since (although I come to you with a dowry) you send me away,
And shun the wealth that is given to you with me.
It is even rumored that, when the dawn shines tomorrow,
You wish to give your sails to the cloud-bearing south wind.




When this evil deed reached my trembling and miserable ears,
Both blood and spirit fled from my empty breast.
You go--O miserable me--and to whom do you leave me, violent one?
Who will give gentle comfort to me, deserted?
May I first be swallowed up, I pray, in a sudden opening of the earth,
Or be consumed by the ruddy fire of a hurled thunderbolt,
Before, without me, the seas grow white under Phthian oars,
And, abandoned, I see your ships depart.
If it please you now to return to the gods of your fathers,
I am not a heavy burden for your fleet.
As a captive I will follow my conqueror, not as a wife her husband;
I have a skillful hand for preparing wool.
By far the most beautiful of the women of the Achaeans
Will come to your bedchamber as your wife; and let her come,
A daughter-in-law worthy of her father-in-law, the grandson of Jove and Aegina,
And one to whom old Nereus would wish to be grandfather-in-law.
And I, a lowly servant, shall spin the assigned wool,
And the full distaff will diminish with my threads.
Yet do not let your wife reproach me, I entreat you--
For somehow I do not think she will treat me fairly--
Nor allow her to tear my hair in public
While you say lightly, "This one also was mine."
Or, even if you allow it, I am still not left behind, despised--
This, alas my wretched self, is the fear that shakes my bones!







What, then, are you waiting for? Agamemnon repents his wrath,
And sorrowful Greece lies before your feet.
Vanquish your spirit and your wrath, you who vanquish everything else.
Why does busy Hector wound the Danaan power?
Seize your arms, offspring of Aeacus, but having taken me back first,
And, with Mars favoring, press hard upon their disordered ranks.
Because of me your wrath was aroused; because of me let it cease.
I should be both the cause and the limit of your harshness.
Do not consider it shameful to yield to my pleas;
The son of Oeneus was turned to arms by the plea of his wife.
It is only a story to me, but to you it is known. Bereft of her brothers,
A mother cursed the head and hope of her son.
There was war; arrogant, he stood aside, his arms laid down,
And with unbending mind denied his power to his fatherland.
Only the wife bent her husband. More happy she!
But my words fall with no weight.
But I am not offended, nor have I conducted myself as wife,
Having been often called as a slave to my master's bed.
Once, I remember, a captive woman called me mistress.
"To slavery," I said, "you add a burden with that name."






Nevertheless, by the bones of my husband, badly covered in a hurried tomb,
Bones always to be revered in my mind,
And by the brave spirits of my three brothers, my divinities,
Who died well for their fatherland, and fell with it;
And by your head and mine, which we joined together;
And by your sword, a weapon known to my people--
I swear the Mycenean shared no bed
With me; if I deceive you, wish to be quit of me forever.
If I should now say to you, most powerful one, "You also swear
That you have enjoyed no pleasures except for me," you would refuse.
The Danaans believe you are mourning, but you move the plectrum,
And a tender lover holds you to her warm breast.
And does anyone ask why you refuse to fight?
Fighting is harmful; the lute and the voice and Venus are delightful.
It is safer to lie on the bed, to hold a young girl,
To strum a Thracian lyre with your fingers,
Than to take a shield in your hands, and a sharp-pointed spear,
And to hold up a helmet covering your hair.






Yet exploits of note once pleased you more than safety,
And glory obtained in war was sweet.
Or was it only until you captured me that you thought well of fierce war,
And your praise lies conquered with my fatherland?
May the gods be kinder! And may the spear of Pelion, I pray,
Brandished by your powerful arm, pierce Hector's side.
Send me, Danaans! As envoy, I will entreat my lord,
And will carry may kisses mixed with my mission.
I shall do more than Phoenix, more than Ulysses did,
I shall do more, believe me, than Teucer's brother.
It is something to have touched his neck with familiar arms,
And to recall oneself to his eyes in person.
Even should you be cruel, and more fierce than your mother's waves,
Even if I were silent, my tears would weaken you.




Even now--thus may your father Peleus live out his years,
Thus may Pyrrhus go to arms under your guidance--
Give consideration to troubled Briseis, powerful Achilles,
And do not, cruel one, torture a miserable woman with long delay.
Or, if your love for me has turned to boredom,
Compel the death of her whom you compel to live without you.
And as you are doing, you will compel it. My body is gone, and my color;
Hope of you alone supports my spirit.
If I am forsaken by that, I return to my brothers and my husband--
And it will not be a great thing for you to have ordered the death of a woman.
And why do you order this? Attack my body with drawn steel;
I have blood which will flow from my pierced breast.
Let me be attacked by that sword of yours, which, if the goddess
Had allowed it, would have gone into the breast of Atreus' son.





Ah, rather save my life, your gift!
What you gave as victor to an enemy, I ask for as a friend.
Those whom you could better destroy, Neptunian Pergamum
Offers. Seek matter for killing among the enemy.
But only, whether you prepare to drive your ships with the oar,
Or whether you remain, order by your right as master for me to come.





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