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Ovid, Heroides IX

Introduction and Synopsis

Deianira to Hercules

I give thanks that Oechalia is added to our honors,
But that the victor has surrendered to the vanquished, I complain.
Rumor has come suddenly to the Pelasgian cities,
An unsuitable rumor, and one which should be denied by your deeds,
That him whom Juno and her vast series of labors never
Subdued, on him Iole has imposed the yoke.
Eurystheus would wish this; the Thunderer's sister would wish it--
The stepmother would be happy at this stain on your life.
But he would not, the one for whom one night of striving--if it may be believed--
Was little enough time to conceive so great a one.


More than Juno, Venus has harmed you.  The one, by pressing you down,
Has raised you up; the other holds your neck beneath her humble foot.
Look around the world, made peaceful by your avenging strength,
Where sea-blue Nereus surrounds the broad earth.
Peace on the earth is owed to you, and safety upon the seas;
You have filled up with your services both houses of the sun.
The sky which is to bear you, you yourself once bore;
The stars shone with Hercules in place of Atlas.
What have you done except to make known your unhappy shame,
If you crown your earlier famous deeds with disgrace?
Was it you that men say squeezed tightly the twin serpents,
While you were still an infant in a cradle, already worthy of Jove?
You started better than you end; your last actions yield to your first.
This man is different from that boy.
Him whom a thousand beasts, whom the Stheneleian enemy,
Whom Juno could not conquer, love conquered.




But I am said to be well married, because I am called the wife of Hercules,
And my father-in-law is he who thunders above with swift horses.
As unequal bulls come unhappily to the plow,
So is constrained the wife who is less than her great husband.
It is not honor but mere appearance for those who, injured, bear the burden.
If you wish to marry suitably, marry equally.
My husband is always gone from me, and is better known as a guest than a husband;
He pursues monsters and dreadful wild beasts.
I myself, widowed at home, and busy with virtuous prayers,
Am tormented, lest my husband should fall to the fearsome foe.
Amid serpents and boars and hungry lions
I am harassed, and three-faced dogs with a tight grip.
The entrails of sacrificial sheep, the empty images of sleep
And the omens sought in the silent night, move my emotions. 
Unhappy, I catch the murmurs of uncertain rumor,
And fear sinks before doubtful hope, and hope falls before fear.
Your mother is absent, and laments that she pleased the powerful god,
And neither your father Amphitryon nor your son Hyllus is here.
Eurystheus, who is master through the cunning of unjust Juno,
Is my burden, along with the long-lasting anger of the goddess.





Is this not enough for me to bear?  You add foreign loves,
And anyone whatsoever can be a mother by you.
I will not speak of Auge, dishonored in the Parthenian valleys,
Nor of your childbirth, nymph of Ormenus.
Nor will they be an accusation against you, the Teuthrantian mob, the sisters,
None of whom among the crowd was passed over by you.
But there is one adulteress, a recent offense which has been told to me,
By which I have been made stepmother to Lydian Lamus.
The Maeander, a wanderer so often in the same lands,
Who turns his weary waters back on himself so frequently,
Has seen a collar hanging on Hercules' neck,
That neck for which the sky was a small burden.
Doesn't it cause you shame to restrain those strong arms with gold,
And to put jewels upon those solid muscles?
Surely under these arms, the bane of Nemea breathed its last,
Whence your left side has its covering.
You have ventured to wreath your shaggy hair with a woman's turban:
The white poplar is more fitting for the hair of Hercules.
To wear a Maeonian girdle in the manner of a wanton girl,
Do you not think this is unfitting?
Did there not occur to you the image of cruel Diomedes,
The savage one who fed his horses a human feast?
If Busiris had seen you in this fashion,
You would have made him ashamed to be vanquished by such a conqueror.
Antaeus would drag the bands from that hard neck,
Lest it disgust him to surrender to an effeminate hero.







You are said to have held the basket among the Ionian girls,
And to have been afraid at the threats of your mistress.
Do you not flee, Alcides, from putting the hand
That was victorious in a thousand labors, on the smooth basket?
And do you draw the coarse threads with your strong thumb,
And do you weigh back an equal weight of wool to your notorious mistress?
Ah, how many times while you twisted the threads with your hard fingers,
Have you broken the spindles with your powerful hands?
Before the feet of your mistress, . . .
You spoke of the deeds which you should have kept silent about--
No doubt you spoke of huge serpents, their throats crushed,
Coiling their tails around your childish hand;
How the Tegeaean boar dwells in cypress-bearing Erymanthus
And wounds the earth with his immense weight.
You are not silent about the heads mounted over Thracian homes,
Nor the horses fattened by the slaughter of men;
And the triple monster, rich with Iberian cattle,
Geryon, who was one in three,
And Cerberus, spreading into three dogs from one trunk,
With the menacing serpent entangled in his hair;
And the fertile serpent, multiplying from its productive wound,
And rich from its own injuries;
And he who, between your left side and left arm,
Hung as a great weight, his throat squeezed;
And the equine mob, trusting unsuccessfully in their feet and double form,
Driven away on the Thessalian ridges.







Can you talk of these things, conspicuous in your Sidonian garment?
Is not your tongue silent, restrained by your dress?
The nymph, daughter of Iardanus, even adorned herself with your armor,
And bore the famous trophies of her captive man.
Go now, lift up your pride and recount your mighty deeds;
She has been a man by right, which you have not.
You are as much less than she is, O greatest one of all, by as much
As it was greater to conquer you than to vanquish those you conquered.
The full measure of your deeds goes over to her--
Give up your goods; your lover is heir to your praises.
O shame!  Taken from the sides of a shaggy lion,
That rough skin now covers her soft side.
You are deceived, and you do not know it.  This is not plunder from the lion,
But from you; you are the conqueror of the wild beast, and she of you.
A woman has borne the missiles black with Lernaean poison,
One hardly fit to bear a distaff heavy with wool.
She has taken up in her hand the club that subdued wild beasts,
And has seen in the mirror the armor of my husband.





These things, however, I had heard; I could disbelieve rumor,
And the soft pain came to my senses through my ear.
But before my eyes the foreign concubine is brought,
And it is not possible for me to disguise what I suffer.
You do not allow me to turn away; through the middle of the city the captive
Comes, looked upon by my reluctant eyes.
Nor does she come in the manner of captive women, with disordered hair,
With fitting expression acknowledging her misfortune;
She walks, notable from far away in rich gold,
Dressed in the same way that you were in Phrygia.
She holds her head high to the crowd, as though she had conquered Hercules;
You would think that Oechalia still stood, with her father still alive.
Perhaps also, with Aetolian Deianira driven out,
Putting aside the name of concubine, she will be wife.
Iole, daughter of Eurytus, and Alcides of Aonia
Will be joined with disgraceful bonds by an infamous Hymen.
My mind flees from the thought, and a chill goes through my limbs,
And my hand, made weak, lies in my lap.





Among many others you have also loved me, but you have loved me without guilt.
Do not regret that I was twice the cause of battle for you.
Achelous, weeping, picked up his horns on the wet river-bank,
And immersed his mutilated temples in the muddy water.
The half-man, Nessus, lay down in lotus-bearing Euenus,
And his equine blood stained the waters.
But why do I say these things?  As I write, rumor comes,
Saying that my husband dies of the poison from my shirt.
Woe is me!  What have I done?  Where has madness driven me in love?
Disloyal Deianira, why do you hesitate to die?



Shall your husband be torn to pieces in the midst of Mount Oeta,
While you, the cause of so great a crime, are still alive?
If I have done anything to deserve to be believed the wife of Hercules,
My death will be the proof of our marriage.
You too, Meleager, will know in me a sister!
Disloyal Deianira, why do you hesitate to die?


Alas for my accursed house!  Agrius sits on the high throne;
Defenseless old age press down upon abandoned Oeneus.
My brother Tydeus is exiled on an unknown shore;
My other brother was placed alive in the fatal fire.
My mother drove steel through her own heart.
Disloyal Deianira, why do you hesitate to die?


The one thing I pray to escape, by the sacred rights of the marriage-bed,
Is that I seem to have plotted your ruin.
Nessus, as he was struck by the arrow in his lustful heart,
"This blood," he said, "holds the power of love."
I sent you a garment smeared with the poison of Nessus.
Disloyal Deianira, why do you hesitate to die?



And now farewell, my old father and my sister Gorge,
And my homeland, and my brother deprived of your homeland;
And you, today's light, the last for my eyes,
And my husband (O if you could fare well!) and my boy Hyllus, farewell.




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Last updated 06/23/2013