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 I

Introduction and Synopsis

Penelope to Ulysses

Your Penelope sends you these words, truant Ulysses;
It is of no use to write back to me: come yourself!
Troy has certainly fallen, hated by the daughters of the Greeks;
But Priam and all of Troy were hardly worth so much to me.
Oh would that, when his fleet made for Lacedaemon,
The adulterer had been obliterated by the raging sea!
I would not have lain, cold, in my lonely bed,
Nor, deserted, would I complain of the days' slow passing;
Nor would the hanging web weary my widowed hands
As I seek to cheat the endless night.



When did I not fear dangers greater than the real ones?
Love is a thing which is filled with restless fear.
I imagined the violent Trojans rushing upon you;
I was always pale at the name of Hector.
If someone told of Antilochus vanquished by the enemy,
Antilochus was the cause of my fear;
Or if the son of Menoetius was killed in borrowed armor,
I wept that guile could be without success.
Tlepolemus warmed the Lycian's spear with his blood:
So Tlepolemus' death renewed my care.
In short, whoever was butchered in the Achaean camp,
Your lover's heart became colder than ice.




But a favoring god looks after chaste love.
Troy is turned to ashes, with my husband safe.
The Argive leaders have returned, and the altars smoke;
The barbarian spoils are laid before our fathers' gods.
The young women bear gifts of thanks for their husbands' safe return;
The husbands sing of the fates of Troy defeated by their own.
Just-minded old folk and trembling girls admire;
The wife hangs on the words of her husband's tale.
And someone at the table shows the fierce conflict,
And paints all of Pergamum with a little wine:
"Here the Simois flowed; this is Sigeian land;
Here stood the lofty palace of old Priam.
There Aeacus grandson was camped, and there Ulysses;
Here Hector's mangled corpse terrifies the galloping horses."




For old Nestor told all of this to your son, whom I sent
To look for you, and he told it to me.
He also told of Rhesus and Dolon slain by the sword,
How one was betrayed by sleep, the other by guile.
You dared--O far too forgetful of your own!--
To enter the Thracian camp under cover of night
And to slay so many at once, helped by only one!
But you were very cautious, and thinking first of me!
My heart trembled constantly with fear, until it was reported that you rode
Victorious, with the horses of Ismarus, among friendly troops.
But what did it profit me that Ilium lies ruined by your arms,
And that what once was a wall is now level ground,
If I remain as I remained while Troy stood,
And my husband is kept from me to the very end?
Pergamum is destroyed for others; for me alone it still remains,
Though the victor settles and plows the earth with a captured ox.
Now there is grain where Troy was, and crops ripe for the scythe
Thrive in soil enriched by Phrygian blood.
The half-buried bones of men are struck by the curving plow,
And growing plants hide the ruined homes.
Although the victor, you are still gone, and I am not allowed to know
The cause of the delay, or where in the world you hide, cruel one.





Whoever turns his wandering ship to these shores,
Is asked by me many questions about you before he departs,
And he is given the letter written by these fingers,
To give to you if he ever even sees you anywhere.
We have sent to Pylos, the fields of ancient Nestor,
The son of Neleus; uncertain news returned from Pylos.
We have sent to Sparta; Sparta too knew nothing true.
What land do you inhabit, or where do you linger in absence?
It would be better if Phoebus' walls stood even now--
Alas! I am angry with my own inconstant prayers!
I would know where you fought, and would fear only war,
And my complaint would be joined with many others.
What I fear I do not know--nevertheless, half-crazed, I fear all things,
And a wide field lies open for my fears.
Whatever dangers the ocean has, whatever the land,
I suspect to be the cause of your long delay.
While I foolishly fear these things, such is your appetite
That you may be captive to a foreign love.
And perhaps you tell what a country wife you have,
That only her wool is not coarse.
May I be wrong, and may this crime vanish in thin air,
And may it not be that, free to return, you wish to remain away.







My father Icarius drives me to leave my widowed bed,
And rebukes me continuously for my long delay.
Let him rebuke me; I am yours--it behooves me to be called yours:
Penelope will always be Ulysses' wife.
But he is subdued by my loyalty and my chaste prayers,
And he tempers the force of his insistence.
Men of Dulichium and Samos, and those borne by high Zachynthos,
A dissolute crowd, rush to demand my hand;
In your hall they rule, with no one to forbid them.
My heart, your wealth they tear apart.
Why should I tell you of Pisander, Polybus, and the terrible Medon,
Of the greedy hands of Eurymachus and Antinous,
And of others, all of whom, because of your shameful absence,
You nourish with the wealth of your blood?
Irus the beggar, and Melanthius who drives the flocks to be eaten,
Add the final shame to your ruin.





We are three in number, unwarlike: a wife without power,
And the old man Laertes and the boy Telemachus.
The boy was almost taken from me by ambush not long ago,
While he prepared, against all their wishes, to go to Pylos.
I pray that the gods command that, our fates coming in order,
He is the one to close my eyes, and to close yours.
The keeper of the cattle and the aged nurse aid us,
And the faithful caretaker of the foul pig-sty is a third.
But Laertes, who is useless in arms,
Cannot wield power in the midst of enemies;
Telemachus will come, if only he lives, to stronger age,
But now he should have the protection of a father's help.
Nor do I have the strength to drive the enemies from our halls.
Come home quickly, refuge and altar for your own!
You have--and will have, I pray--a son, who in his tender years
Should have been trained in his father's skills.
Consider Laertes: he holds off the final day of fate
So that you may be the one to close his eyes.
At all events I, who was a girl when you left,
Will seem to have become an old woman, even if you come without delay.







This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

Comments and suggestions welcome:

Last updated 06/22/2013