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Ovid, Heroides V

Introduction and Synopsis

Oenone to Paris

The nymph sends to her Paris, even if he should refuse to be hers,
Written words from the mountain heights of Ida.

Will you read this through? Or does your new wife forbid it? Read it--
This is not a letter written by a Mycenaean hand.
Oenone of the fountain writes, renowned in the Phrygian forests;
Injured, I complain of you--you who are mine, if you yourself allow it.


What god opposes his power against my prayers?
That I may not remain yours, what crime stands in my way?
Whatever we suffer deservedly, we must bear mildly;
The punishment that comes underservedly comes with pain.



You were not so great when I was content to marry you,
I, a Nymph born of a great river.
You who are now a son of Priam (let respect be absent from truth)
Were then a slave--a Nymph, I endured to wed a slave!
Often among our flocks we rested in the shade of the trees,
Where grass mixed with leaves offered us a bed;
Often on the straw we lay, or in the deep hay,
In a humble hut that kept us from the white hoar-frost.
Who showed you the mountain glens suitable for hunting,
And the crag where the wild beast hid her young?
Often have I gone as your companion to spread the wide-meshed net;
Often I have driven the swift dogs across the long ridge.
The beech-trees still hold my name with your carving,
And I read "Oenone," written by your blade.
And as much as those trunks grow, so much my name increases.
Rise up, and grow straight with my glory!
Poplar, live, I pray, planted by the river bank
With, in your furrowed bark, this verse:
"If Paris can still draw breath when he has abandoned Oenone,
Then the waters of the Xanthus shall flow back toward their source."
Xanthus, make haste backward, and flowing waters return!
Paris endures his desertion of Oenone!






That day spoke doom for unhappy me; on that day
Began the terrible tempest of altered love,
When Venus and Juno, and naked Minerva (more pleasing
When she bears arms), came for your judgement.
My breast shuddered with amazement, and a cold shiver,
As you told of it, ran through my hard bones.
I consulted (for I was more than a little frightened) old women
And long-lived old men. All agreed that this was a great evil.


The silver firs were felled, the timbers cut; the fleet was ready,
And the deep-blue waves took the waxed ships.
You wept at parting--at least don't deny this.
We mingled our tears and one another's grief;
The elm is not so imprisoned by its companion vine
As my neck was by your entwining arms.
Oh how often, when you complained that the wind held you back,
Did your companions smile--it was a favoring wind.
How often, having taken leave, did you return for another kiss.
How your tongue could hardly bear to say "farewell."




A light breeze lifts the sails hanging from the stiff mast,
And the oars turn the broken water white.
Unhappy, I follow with my eyes the departing sails,
As far as I can, and the sand is wet with my tears.
That you may swiftly return, I pray to the sea-green Nereids--
Surely, that you may return swiftly to my great loss!
Intended to return because of my vows, do you return for another?
Alas me! My sweet persuasion was on behalf of a cruel mistress.




A great mass of natural rock looks down upon the measureless depths--
It is a mountain; it withstands the waters of the sea.
Here I was the first to recognize the sails of your ship,
And my impulse was to rush out through the waves.
While I delayed, from the peak of the prow a flash of purple gleamed back at me;
I was afraid--this was not your fashion.
It came closer, and with a freshening breeze the craft touched shore;
With trembling heart I saw a woman's face.
And this was not enough--why was I mad enough to stay?
Your shameful lover clung to your breast.
Then truly I tore my bosom and beat my breast,
And tore my streaming cheeks with my hard nails,
And filled sacred Ida with my wailing lamentation,
Bearing my tears there to the rocks that were mine.
So may Helen lament when she is left without a husband,
And what she brought before upon me, may she bear herself!





Now you are pleased by those who follow you over the open sea,
And desert their lawful husbands;
But when you were poor, and as a shepherd drove the flocks,
None but Oenone was that poor man's wife.
I am not dazzled by your wealth, nor does your palace move me,
Nor would I be called one of Priam's many daughters-in-law--
Not that Priam would refuse to be father-in-law to a nymph,
Or that Hecuba would hide her daughter-in-law;
I am worthy to be the wife of a man of great power;
My hands would be well suited for a sceptre.
And do not despise me because I lay with you on beech-tree branches;
I am more suited to the purple marriage couch.




Also, my love is safe; in it no wars are prepared,
And the sea brings no avenging ships.
The Tyndarid fugitive is now demanded back with hostile arms;
This is the dowry that your proud lover brings to your marriage-bed.
Whether she should be given back to the Danaeans, ask your brother Hector,
Or Deiphobus and Polydamas;
Consult grave Antenor, and seek the advice of Priam himself,
Whose long lives have taught them much.
It is a disgraceful beginning, to put your stolen bride ahead of your fatherland.
Yours is a shameful case; her husband takes up arms justly.




And don't expect, if you are wise, that the Laconian will be faithful,
She who has so quickly turned to your embrace.
Just as the younger Atreides cries out against the violation of his dishonoured bed,
And feels the wound of his wife's foreign love,
So too you will cry out. By no art may wounded chastity
Be restored; it is ruined once and for all.
Does she burn with love for you? So also she loved Menelaus;
Now, gullible fool, he lies in a widowed bed.
Happy Andromache, well married to a trustworthy husband;
I should have been held as a wife after your brother's manner.
You are lighter than leaves are when, dry without the weight of their sap,
They fly in the shifting wind;
There is less weight in you than in the tip of an ear of grain,
Burned light and standing stiff in the constant sun.





Once, I recall, your sister sang this to me,
With streaming hair, speaking prophecy:
"What are you doing, Oenone? Why do you trust your seeds to sand?
You plow the shore with oxen that are of no use.
A Greek heifer is coming, who will destroy your fatherland and your house!
Oh, keep her away! A Greek heifer is coming!
While you can, sink the unclean ship in the sea!
Alas! How much Phrygian blood it carries!"
Her voice was running on; her handmaids took her away, raving.
But my golden hair stood on end.
Ah, all too true a prophet you were to my miserable self.
She has them, see--that heifer holds my pastures.





However beautiful her countenance may be, she is surely an adulteress.
Taken by a stranger, she has forsaken her marriage gods.
Theseus--unless I have the name wrong--a certain Theseus
Stole her away from her father's land once before.
Is it believable that she returned a virgin from a young and eager man?
How have I learned this so well, you ask?  I love.
You may call it force, and hide the sin with the word;
But one who has been taken so often has allowed herself to be taken.
Yet Oenone remains chaste, while her husband is false to her:
And she could have been false by your own rules.



Me the swift Satyrs, while I lay hidden in cover in the woods,
Would seek on rapid feet, a bold and impudent mob,
And Faunus as well, his horned head encircled with sharp-needled pine,
Where Ida swells in endless ridges.
Me the builder of Troy's walls, famous for his lyre, loved,
And gave his gifts into my hands.
Any herb with power to heal, and root useful to the physician,
That grows in all the world, is mine.
Miserable me--that love has no medicinal herb!
Skilled in an art, I am failed by my own art.



That help which neither the earth, fertile in bringing forth plants,
Nor a god can give, you can bring to me.
You can, and I have merited it--have pity on a worthy maiden!
I bear no bloody arms in company with the Danaeans.
But I am yours, and was yours in the years of childhood,
And yours, through all the time to come, I pray to be.





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Last updated 06/22/2013