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Ovid, Heroides VIII

Introduction and Synopsis

Hermione to Orestes

Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, in spirit just like his father,
Holds me prisoner against both law and piety.
I did what I could; I refused to be held against my will--
My woman's hands were not strong enough for more.
"What are you doing, descendant of Aeacus?  I am not without a defender," I said;
"This woman, I say to you, Pyrrhus, is under her own master!"
More deaf than the sea as I cried out the name "Orestes," he
Dragged me, with hair disheveled, into his house.
How much worse could it have been if, with Lacedaemon captured, I were taken as a slave,
If a barbarian mob carried off the young wives of Greece?
The Achaean victors misused Andromache less,
When Danaean fire burned Phrygian riches.


But you, if devoted care for me touches you, Orestes,
Take possession of your right with an unfearful hand.
If anyone, opening up your barns, seized your herds,
Wouldn't you take up arms?  Will you be slow when your wife is seized?
Let your father-in-law be an example, who demanded back a wife taken away,
For whom a woman was a legitimate cause of war.
If your father-in-law had been cowardly, sleeping in his widowed palace,
My mother would still be the bride of Paris, as she was before.



Do not prepare a thousand ships with curving sails,
Nor a mass of Danaean soldiers--come yourself!
But even thus I might have been demanded back--it is not disgraceful
For harsh war to be endured by a husband for his beloved marriage-bed.
And, since Atreus, son of Pelops, is our common grandfather,
If you were not my husband, you would still be my cousin.
Husband, I pray you, give aid to your wife; cousin give aid to your cousin.
Both names insist on your duty.


Tyndareus gave me to you, a leader venerable both for his life and his age;
The grandfather had judgement over the granddaughter.
But my father promised me to a son of Aeacus' line, unaware of this action;
The grandfather, as first in order, has greater power than the father.
When I married you, my wedding torch brought harm to no one;
If I am joined with Pyrrhus, you will be injured by me.
And my father, Menelaus, will forgive our love:
He himself succumbed to the missiles of the swift-winged god.
The love which he permitted to himself, he will allow for his offspring;
My well-loved mother will assist by her example.
You are to me what my father is to my mother; the part which
The Dardanian foreigner once played, Pyrrhus plays.
He may have pride without limit because of his father's deeds;
You too have the acts of a parent to answer with.
The descendant of Tantalus ruled over all, even Achilles himself:
The one was part of the army; the other was commander-in-chief.
You also have for ancestors Pelops and the father of Pelops;
If you count the ones between, you are fifth from Jove.





Nor do you lack courage.  You bore hateful arms,
But what should you have done? Your father placed them on you.
I wish that you had by chance had a better cause,
But the reason for your deeds was not chosen, but given.
Nevertheless, you accomplished them; Aegisthus bloodied with his opened throat
The house which your father had stained before.
The descendant of Aeacus rebukes you and turns praise to accusation--
And nevertheless he endures my gaze.
I burst, and my face swells as much as my heart,
And my breast suffers the burning of pent-up fires.
Has anyone reproached Orestes in the presence of Hermione,
And I did not have strength, and there was no savage sword at hand?
To weep is allowed, certainly; in weeping I pour out my rage--
Over my breast my tears go like a river.
These only I always have, and always I let them flow;
My neglected cheeks are wet from the unending fountain.




Is it by some fate of our family, which comes even into my time,
That we women of Tantalus' house are suitable for plunder?
I will not recall the lies of the swan on the river,
Nor complain of Jove concealed in feathers.
Where the far-stretching Isthmus splits the sea in two,
Hippodameia was carried away in a foreign chariot.
The woman of Taenaris, abducted by the guest from Mount Ida,
Brought the powers of Argos into arms for her sake.
I scarcely remember, indeed, but I do remember.  All was grief,
All was full of anxious fear;
Grandfather wept, and my mother's sister Phoebe and the twin brothers;
Leda prayed to the gods and to her Jove.
I myself, tearing my hair (which was not long then),
Cried out, "Without me, without me, mother, will you go away?"
For her husband was away.  Lest I be believed not to be of Pelops' family,
Behold!  I was ready plunder for Neoptolemus.




Would that the son of Peleus had avoided Apollo's bow,
The father would have condemned the son for his rash deed.
It did not at that time please, nor would it now please, Achilles
For a widowed husband to weep for his abducted bride.
What wrong of mine makes the gods my enemies?
What constellation shall I complain is against my unhappy self?
When I was young, I was without my mother; my father was bearing arms.
And although both were alive, I was deprived of both.
You were not there in my first years, my mother,
To take the charming words spoken by the hesitant mouth of a little girl.
I did not hold your neck with little arms,
Nor sat as a pleasing burden in your lap.
I was not raised by your care, nor, when I was promised to a husband,
Did I enter new chambers prepared by my mother.
I came out to meet you on your return--I speak truth--
And the face of my mother was not known to me!
Nevertheless, I saw that you were Helen, because you were the most beautiful,
But you yourself asked who your daughter was.





One share has been left to me, to have Orestes as husband;
But he too, unless he fights for his own, will be taken from me.
Pyrrhus has seized me, even with my father returned and victorious--
This gift demolished Troy gives to me.
Nevertheless, when lofty Titan presses behind his glowing horses,
Miserable as I am, I enjoy my evils more freely.
But when bitter night hides me in my rooms, wailing and moaning,
And I fall down on my sad bed,
My eyes are occupied with springing tears in place of sleep;
In any way possible, I flee from my master as from an enemy.
Often I am overwhelmed with evils, and forgetting things and places,
With ignorant hand I have touched the limbs of the man of Scyros,
And when I perceive the crime, I withdraw from touching his body as evil,
And believe I have a hand defiled.
Often the name of Orestes comes out in place of the name of Neoptolemus,
And I love the mistake in the word as an omen.





By our unhappy family I swear, and by the forefather of our family,
Who shakes the sea, who shakes the earth and his own realm;
By the bones of your father, my uncle, which owe it to you
That they lie, courageously avenged, beneath their burial mound--
Either I will die before my time and be killed in my early years,
Or I, a descendant of Tantalus, will be the wife of a man of Tantalus' line.




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Last updated 06/23/2013