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Ovid, Heroides VII

Introduction and Synopsis

Dido to Aeneas

Thus, when the fates call, throwing himself down in the moist grasses
In the shallows of Maeander, sings the white swan.

Not because I hope that you can be moved by my prayers
Do I speak--I speak them with the gods against me;
But having lost, miserably, my merit and reputation, my virtue
Of body and spirit, to lose words is a small thing.


Are you determined, nevertheless, to go and to abandon miserable Dido,
And will the same winds bear away your sails and your faith?
Are you determined, Aeneas, to release your promises with your ships,
And to pursue the kingdoms of Italy, which lie you know not where?
And does not this new Carthage nor her rising walls
Touch you, nor the high dominion given over to you?
You flee what is done--you pursue what is yet to be done;
You have sought one land, but must seek another through the world.
But if you find this land, who will give it for you to have?
Who will give his fields to a stranger to hold?
Of course another love may await you, and another Dido,
Whom you may betray again, having given another promise.
When will it be that you found a city as great as Carthage,
And from the high citadel look down on your people?
If it should all happen, and there be no delay for your prayers,
Where will there be a wife for you who loves you so?





I burn, like waxen torches covered with sulfur,
Like pious incense placed upon the smoking hearth.
Aeneas always clings to my wakeful eyes;
Aeneas is in my heart in the stillness and the night.
Indeed he is ungrateful, and spurns my gifts,
And were I not foolish, I should wish to lose him.
Nevertheless I do not hate Aeneas, however ill he thinks of me,
But complain of his infidelity, and with the complaint I love more bitterly.
Venus, spare your daughter-in-law; brother Love embrace
Your hard-hearted brother, let him serve in your camp.
Or let me, who began it (and I am not ashamed of it), supply the love,
While he supplies the matter for my care.




I am deluded, and this is a delusion that flies before me;
His nature is opposed to his mother's.
Of rocks and mountains were you born, and of the oak
On the high cliff; you were born of savage beasts,
Or of the sea--like the sea you see now churned up by winds,
Across which you prepare to venture, despite the opposing waves.
Where are you fleeing? The storm opposes you. Let the storm be my benefactor.
Look how Eurus stirs up the churning waters!
What I would prefer to owe to you, let me owe to the storm.
The wind and waves are more just than your spirit.



I am not worth enough--why do I not judge you harshly?--
For you to perish fleeing from me across the long waves.
You pursue a costly hatred and purpose
If, to be rid of me, you count it cheap to die.
Soon the winds will calm, and with the waves spreading smoothly
Triton will drive his azure steeds across the sea.
Would that you too were changeable with the winds--
And, unless you exceed the oak in hardness, you will be.
Why, as if you did not know what the raging waters can do,
Do you trust the waves whose hardships you have known so often?
Even if you cast off your moorings when the sea invites the journey,
Nevertheless the broad depths hold many woes.
Nor is it good for those who break promises to tempt the waves:
That place exacts penalties for treachery,
Especially when love has been wounded, for the mother of Loves,
It is said, arose naked from the waves of Cythera.






Destroyed, I fear lest I destroy; wounded, I fear lest I wound--
Lest my enemy, shipwrecked, drink the waters of the sea.
Live, I pray you. Thus I shall destroy you more fully than by death.
Rather, you shall be said to be the cause of my death.
Consider that you are seized--may there be no weight to the omen--
By a fierce storm; what will be in your mind?
Immediately will come the perjury of your false tongue,
And Dido driven to die by Phrygian deception;
Before your eyes will stand the face of your deceived wife,
Sad and bloody, with streaming hair.
How much is it worth that then you will say "I deserve this! Pardon me!"
When you think that whatever thunderbolts that fall were sent at you?




Give a little time to the savagery of the sea, and your own;
A safe voyage will be a great reward for the delay.
And though you care little for this, spare the boy Iulus.
It is enough for you to have the honor of my death.
What has the boy Ascanius, what have your Penates done to deserve this fate?
Snatched from the fire, are they to be drowned in the waves?
But you are not taking them with you nor, as you claimed to me, false one
Did your gods or your father ever rest on your shoulders.
You lie about everything, nor did your tongue begin to deceive
With me, nor was I the first to suffer.
If you ask, where is the mother of lovely Iulus--
She died, left alone by her harsh husband.
This you told me--it was enough to warn me. I deserve
To burn; the punishment will be less than my crime.





And I do not doubt that your gods condemn you, too.
Over sea, over land, you are tossed for the seventh winter.
When you were cast up by the waves, I received you in a safe abode,
And hardly having heard your name, I gave you my throne.
But would that I had been content with these courtesies,
And the tale of our common bed were buried.
That day ruined me, when a sudden rain from the blue heavens
Drove us into the shelter of the cave.
I heard a voice; I thought the nymphs were crying--
It was the Eumenides giving warning of my fate.




Exact the penalty, O wounded purity, injured Sychaeus,
To which, wretched soul, I go full of shame.
In a marble shrine there is an image of Sychaeus, sacred to me--
Covered with leafy branches placed against it, and white fleeces.
Thence I have heard myself called four times by a familiar voice;
He himself in a faint voice called "Elissa, come!"
No more delay--I come, I come to you, thy rightful bride;
I am late, however, because of my admitted shame.
Give pardon for my fault! A worthy agent beguiled me;
He draws off the odium from my offense.
His divine mother and aged father, burden of a dutiful son,
Gave me hope that he would remain my rightful husband.
If I have erred, that error had an honorable cause;
If he were to keep faith, there would be no cause for regret.




The course of fate which was mine before still follows me
In these last days of my life, and will endure to the end.
My husband was killed, struck down at the altars in his house,
And my brother has the reward of this great crime;
I am driven into exile, leaving behind my husband's ashes and my homeland,
And I flee over uncertain roads, pursued by my enemy.
I land on this coast, having escaped my brother and the sea;
I purchase this shore, traitor, which I gave to you.
I found a city, and set down extensive walls
Arousing jealousy in neighboring kingdoms.
Wars rumble; a woman and a foreigner, I am assailed by wars;
I barely prepare rough gates for the city and get weapons ready.
I am wooed by a thousand suitors, who join in complaining
That I preferred some stranger to their marriage beds.
Why do you hesitate to deliver me, bound, to Gaetulian Iarbas?
I would hold out my arms for your evil deed.
There is my brother, too, whose impious hand asks
To be sprinkled with my blood, as with my husband's.
Put down the gods and those sacred things which your touch profanes!
It is not good for an impious hand to honor the gods.
If you were to be a worshipper of gods who escaped from the fires,
Then the gods regret that they escaped the fires.






Perhaps also it is a pregnant Dido, evil one, whom you abandon,
And a part of me lies hidden in my body.
The wretched infant will join the fate of the mother,
And you will be the author of the death of your unborn child.
With his mother will the brother of Iulus die,
And one punishment will take us both away.


"But your god orders you to go." I wish that he had forbidden you to come;
Punic soil would never have felt the weight of Teucrians!
Is this truly the god under whose guidance you are driven about by hostile winds,
And are worn out for so long on the savage seas?
You would hardly have such labor in returning to Pergamum,
If Pergamum were what it had been while Hector lived.
You do not seek the Simois of your fathers, but Tiber's waves--
But surely, should you arrive at the place you seek, you will be a stranger;
And this secret place so hides and so avoids your keels,
That you will scarcely reach it in old age.




Instead, take these peoples as dowry, having given up your wandering,
And take also the wealth of Pygmalion which I carried away.
Convey Ilion to the Tyrian city, with better fortune,
And hold the state of king and the sacred sceptre.
If your mind is eager for war, if Iulus seeks
A place for his warlike spirit and for triumphs,
We shall supply enemies to conquer, and nothing shall be lacking:
Here is a place for the laws of peace, and a place for arms.
You must only, I pray by your mother and the weapons of your brother, the arrows,
And by the gods, sacred to Dardanus, who are your companions in flight--
So may they succeed, those of your people whom savage Mars
Has let escape, so may this be the limit of their loss,
And so may Ascanius happily fill out his years,
And the bones of old Anchises rest gently--
You must only spare the house which has given itself to you.
What do you say is my crime, except to love?
I am not from Phthia, or born of great Mycenae,
Nor have my husband and father stood against you.
If you are ashamed of me as a wife, then let me be called not bride but hostess;
So long as she is yours, Dido will be what you wish.





Well known to me are the pounding seas of the African shores;
At certain times they give and deny passage.
When the breeze gives passage, give your sails to the winds;
Now the light seaweed holds your beached ship.
Trust me to watch the weather; you will go more safely,
And I myself, even though you wish it, will not let you stay.
Your comrades also ask for rest, and your mangled fleet,
Half-repaired, demands a short delay.
By your services, and that additional debt I may owe you,
By my hope of marriage, I ask for a little time--
While the seas and my love grow calm, while through time and experience
I learn to be able to endure my sorrows bravely.




If you say no, I am resolved to spill out my life;
You cannot be cruel to me any longer.
If only you could see the face of the one who writes these words!
I write, and the Trojan sword is here in my lap.
Over my cheeks the tears run, onto the drawn sword,
Which soon will be stained with blood rather than tears.
How well your gift suits my fate!
You furnish my grave at small expense.
Nor is my breast now struck for the first time by a weapon;
That place has the wound of fierce love.



Anna my sister, my sister Anna, bitterly aware of my sin,
Soon you will give the last gift to my ashes.
Nor, consumed by the pyre, shall I be inscribed "Elissa, wife of Sychaeus";
Just this much verse shall be on the marble of the tomb:
"Aeneas provided both the cause of death and the sword;
Dido herself struck the blow with her own hand."




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Last updated 06/22/2013