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Ovid, Heroides IV

Introduction and Synopsis

Phaedra to Hippolytus

The well-being which she herself will lack, unless you give it to her,
The Cretan maiden wishes for the man born of an Amazon.
Read through whatever there is here--what harm will reading a letter do?
And there could be something in this one which pleases you;
Secrets are carried over land and sea in these writings.
An enemy examines writings received from an enemy.


Three times I tried to speak with you, and three times my tongue was held fast;
Three times the sound remained in the front of my mouth.
Wherever modesty follows love, love should be mixed with it;
What modesty would not let me say, love has ordered me to write.
Whatever Love orders, it is not safe to despise;
He rules and gives law even to the gods who are lords themselves.
He spoke to me when I first doubted whether I should write:
"Write! And the unfeeling one will give his hand, defeated."
Let him help and, as he heats the marrow of my bones with his insatiable fire,
So let him transfix your spirit with my prayers.




I do not break my marriage bonds through wantonness;
My reputation--as you may inquire--is free from fault.
Love comes more heavily, because it comes later in life--I burn within;
I burn, and my breast has a hidden wound.
Just as the first yoke wounds the tender young bull,
And the horse taken from the herd hardly endures the reins,
So my unskilled heart submits badly and with difficulty to its first love,
And this burden does not sit well upon my spirit.
Love becomes an art, when the sin is learned thoroughly from tender years;
She to whom it comes when its time is past, loves more excessively.
You will take the new offerings of a reputation long conserved,
And each of us will be equally guilty.
It is something to pick from a garden with full branches,
And to pluck the first rose with a fine fingernail.
If nevertheless my former purity, which I have born without fault,
Were to be marked with an unaccustomed stain,
At least it is good that I burn with a worthy flame;
Worse than adultery is a base adulterer.
If Juno yielded to me her brother and husband,
It seems to me I would put Hippolytus before Jove.






Now also--you would hardly believe it--I am sent into unknown activities.
I am moved to go among savage beasts;
For me the foremost goddess is the Delian, distinguished by
Her curved bow; I follow your own choice.
It pleases me to go into the woods, driving the deer into the net,
And to urge on the swift dogs over the highest ridge,
Or to brandish the quivering spear with my arm,
Or to lay my body on the grassy ground.
Often do I delight to turn the light chariot in the dust,
Twisting the reins in the mouth of the speeding horse;
Now I am carried away, like the women driven by the fury of Bacchus,
And those who shake the tambourine beneath Ida's ridge,
Or those whom the demi-god Dryads and two-horned Fauns
Rob of sense by the touch of their spirit.
For they tell me of all these things, when the madness has gone away;
I keep silent, aware that it is love that sets me aflame.




Perhaps I pay this love as a debt owed for the fate of my family,
And Venus demands tribute out of my whole line.
Jupiter loved Europa--this is the first origin of our family--
A bull concealing the god.
My mother Pasiphae, having lain under the deluded bull,
Bore from her womb her sin and her burden.
The treacherous son of Aegeus, having followed the guiding thread,
Fled from the curving house through my sister's help.
Behold--now I, lest I be thought too weak an offspring of Minos' line,
Am the last to come under the common law of our family!
This too is fated: one house has pleased two of us;
Your beauty captures me, and my sister was captured by your father.
Theseus' son and Theseus have seized two sisters--
Set up a pair of trophies upon our house.




That time I entered Eleusis, city of Ceres,
I wish the Knossian land had detained me.
It was then especially (although you had pleased me before)
That sharp love stuck in my deepest bones.
Your clothes were white, your hair bound round with flowers;
A modest blush colored your golden face,
And what others call a stern and fierce countenance,
Was in Phaedra's judgement strong instead of stern.
Let young men adorned like women be far from me;
A man's beauty should be cultivated moderately.
That sternness and the hair that lies without art
Are fitting for you, and the light dust upon your wonderful face.
When you draw back the struggling neck of a wild horse,
I am struck with wonder that his feet turn in so small a circle;
Or when you hurl the supple spear with your strong arm,
Your noble arm draws my gaze to itself;
Or when you grasp the cornel hunting spear with its broad iron tip--
In short, you delight my eyes, whatever you do.




Only lay down your harshness on the wooded ridges;
I am not worthy to perish by your warfare.
What pleasure is there in practicing the pursuits of girdled Diana,
And to have snatched from Venus her own measures?
That which lacks the alternative of rest, will not last;
This is what restores strength and renews exhausted limbs.
The bow--and you should imitate the arms of your Diana--
If you do not cease bending it, will become weak.
Cephalus was famous in the forest, and many wild beasts
Fell upon the grass, pierced by him;
Nevertheless he did not behave badly in the love of Aurora.
The wise goddess went to him from her aged husband.
Often under the ilex trees, some grassy spot
Held Venus and Cinyras' son, reclining together.
The son of Oeneus also burned for Maenalian Atalanta;
She has the beast's hide as a token of his love.
Let us also be soon numbered among that throng.
If you take away Venus, your forest is a rustic place.
I myself will come as your companion, and neither the hidden rocks
Will make me fear, nor the boar, fearsome for his slanting tusk.





Two bodies of water attack an isthmus with their waves,
And the narrow land hears both seas.
Here I will live with you in Troezen, the kingdom of Pittheus;
That land is dearer to me now than my own fatherland.
The hero, son of Neptune, is absent now and will be absent for a long time;
The shores of his Pirithous hold him back.
Theseus preferred--unless we deny the obvious--
Pirithous to Phaedra, and Pirithous to you.
Nor is this the only injury that comes to us from him;
We both have been harmed in great matters.
Having shattered my brother's bones with his triple-knotted club,
He scattered them on the ground; my sister was left as the prey of wild beasts.
The most courageous among the ax-carrying maidens
Bore you, a mother worthy of the strength of the son;
If you ask where she is--Theseus pierced her side with his sword,
Nor did the mother find safety in the assurance of so great a child.
And she was not even wed to him and taken in with the nuptial torch:
Why, except that you should not take your father's throne?
And he has given you brothers by me, who have all
Been acknowledged as heirs because of him, not me.
Oh, that the womb which was going to harm you, fairest of beings,
Had been torn open in the midst of its labor.
Go now, revere the bed of a father who is so worthy--
The bed which he has fled and has renounced by his deeds!






And do not, since I may seem a stepmother who would sleep with her stepson,
Let empty names terrify your soul.
This ancient sense of virtue, which will die out in the coming age,
Was out of fashion even in Saturn's reign.
Jupiter established that whatever gave pleasure was virtuous,
And all things are divinely accepted since a sister was made wife by a brother.
The only bond of kinship that binds firmly
Is the one in which Venus herself has forged the chain.
Nor would it be difficult to conceal our love, even if we are at fault.
Our wrong can be covered under the name of kinship.
Should anyone see us embracing, we should both be praised;
I shall be called a faithful stepmother to my stepson.
Not for you will the door of a harsh husband have to be unbolted in the night;
No guard will have to be deceived.
As the same house has held us both, the same house will still hold us.
You have given kisses openly; you will still give kisses openly.
You will be safe with me, and will merit praise for your wrong,
Even though you are seen in my bed.
Only have done with delay, and hurry to bind our pact--
Let Love, which is so fierce to me, spare you from harm.
I do not disdain to beg humbly and on bended knee.
Alas! Where now have my pride and my high words fallen?
I was determined to fight long and not to yield to sin--
If there is anything determined in love.
Defeated, I beg you and clasp your knees with my royal arms--
No lover is concerned with what is fitting and proper.
I have lost all shame; and having fled, my shame has abandoned its standards in the field.








Forgive me, and tame your hard heart.
That I have Minos for a father, who holds the seas;
That from my ancestor's hand comes the twisted lightning;
That the visage of my grandfather is crowned with pointed rays of light,
He who sets in motion the warmth of day with his gleaming axle-tree--
This noble line falls to love! Spare those who came before
And, if you will not spare me, spare my line!
My dowry is the isle of Jove, the land of Crete--
Let all my royal court serve Hippolytus.


Bend your spirit, cruel one. My mother could corrupt
The bull; will you be fiercer than the savage bull?
Spare me, I pray by Venus, who is greatest with me now.
So may you never love one who can spurn you;
So may the nimble goddess keep you safe in the solitary glades,
And the deep forest offer wild beasts for the killing;
So may the Satyrs favor you, and the mountain deities, the Pans,
And the boar fall pierced from the front by your spear;
So may the Nymphs, although you are said to hate young maidens,
Give you water to ease your parching thirst.
I add to these prayers my tears as well. The words of the one who prays
You read; imagine you see my tears also.






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Last updated 06/22/2013