The Heroides 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21


Ovid, Heroides XI

Introduction and Synopsis

Canace to Macareus

However, if anything that I write strays beneath deep blots,
The little book has been obscured by its mistress' blood.
My right hand holds the pen, my left holds a drawn sword,
And in my lap lies the open paper.
This is the picture of Aeolus' daughter writing to her brother;
In this way it seems I please my harsh father.


I would wish that he himself were here, an observer of my death,
And that the work might be finished before the eyes of its author!
As cruel as he is, and much more ferocious than his east winds,
He would look upon my wounds with dry eyes.
Surely there is something about living with the savage winds;
His nature agrees with the nature of his people.
He commands the south wind and the west wind, and the Sithonian north wind,
And also your wings, bold east wind.
He rules the winds, alas, but he does not rule his swollen anger,
And he holds a kingdom that is smaller than his faults.
What help is it to move up through my ancestors' names to the sky,
And to put down Jove among my relatives?
No less dangerous is the sword, my funeral gift,
That I hold in my feminine hand, a weapon not fit for me. 




O would that, Macareus, the hour that united us as one
Had come after my death!
Why, brother, did you ever love more than as a brother,
And why was I what a sister should not be to you?
I too was inflamed, and knew by what I was accustomed to hear of his nature
What god I felt in my warming heart.
Color had fled from my face; thinness had shrunk my limbs;
I took very little food with an unwilling mouth.
Sleep was not easy, and the night was a year long for me,
And I gave groans though wounded with no pain.
I was not able to give myself a reason why I did these things;
I did not know what it was to be in love--but I was.




My nurse, with her old woman's soul, first divined my trouble;
My nurse first said to me, "Daughter of Aeolus, you are in love!"
I blushed, and shame took my eyes down to my lap;
These signs were enough that I confessed in silence.
And now the burden swelled my corrupted womb,
And the secret load pressed my sickly limbs.
What herbs, what medicines did my nurse not bring to me,
And put on with bold hand,
In order to strike out from my entrails--we hid this one thing from you--
The weight that was growing deep within.
Ah, too vigorous, the infant resisted the arts brought against it,
And was safe from the hidden enemy.




Now nine times the most beautiful sister of Pheobus had risen,
And now a new moon moved her light-bearing horses.
I did not know what cause created the sudden pains in me,
I was unpracticed at childbirth and was a new soldier.
I did not hold back my voice.  "Why do you reveal your sin?"
Said the old woman who shared my knowledge, and pressed my crying mouth.
Unhappy, what should I do?  Pain forces me to give birth to groans,
But fear and the nurse and shame itself forbid.
I restrain the groans and halt the words that escaped
And am forced to drink my very tears.
Death was before my eyes, and Lucina refused aid--
And if I died, death also would be a heavy crime--
When leaning over me with hair and garments torn,
You re-warmed my breast pressed against yours.
And you said to me, "Live, sister, O dearest sister;
Live, and do not destroy two in a single body!
Let good hope give strength; for you will be your brother's bride.
Of him, by whom you are a mother, you will be wife."





Half-dead, believe me, nevertheless at your words I revived,
And the sin and burden of my womb was delivered.
Why do you rejoice?  In the middle of the palace sits Aeolus;
The crimes must be taken away from our father's eyes.
With fruits and whitened branches of olive
And light fillets the busy old woman hides the infant,
And makes pretence of sacred rites and speaks words of prayer;
The people give way to the rites; our father himself gives way.
Now she was near the threshold--crying comes to our father's ears,
And the child is revealed by its own evidence!
Aeolus snatches the child and exposes the false sacrifice;
The palace resounds with his raving voice.
As the sea trembles when it is touched by a light breeze,
As the ash twigs are shaken by the warm south wind,
So might you have seen my pale limbs quivering;
The bed was quivering with the body that lay upon it.
He rushes in and with cries makes my shame common knowledge,
And hardly restrains his hand from my wretched face.
I myself did nothing except pour forth tears in my shame;
My captive tongue was numb with cold fear.






And now he orders his little grandson to be given to the dogs and birds,
And to be left in some lonely place.
The wretched child cried--you would think he understood--
And with what voice he could he pleaded with his grandfather.
What spirit do you believe was mine then, brother--
For you can understand from your own spirit--
When the enemy bore off before my face my inmost parts
To the deep forests to be eaten by mountain wolves?
He left my bedroom; then at last I was able to beat my breast
And tear my cheeks with my nails.




Meanwhile one of my father's attendants, with mournful face,
Came and spoke these unworthy words:
"Aeolus sends this sword to you"--he handed me the sword--
"And bids that you know from your faults what it signifies."
I know, and I will use the violent sword bravely;
I will hide my father's gift in my breast.
Do you give these gifts, my father, for my marriage?
With this dowry, father, will your daughter be rich?
Bear far away, deceived Hymen, the wedding torches,
And flee with troubled foot from these impious halls.
Bring to me the torches that you bear, black Furies,
And let my funeral pyre be bright from that fire!
Happy sisters, marry with a better Fate,
But nevertheless be mindful of me, sent away!



What crime has the child, brought forth so few hours ago, committed?
By what deed has he, scarcely born, injured his grandfather?
If he could deserve death, let him be judged to deserve it--
Ah, the wretched one is punished for my crime!
My son, sorrow of your mother, prey of ravening wild beasts,
Ah me!  Torn to pieces on the day of your birth!
My son, wretched pledge of an inauspicious love--
This is the first day for you; this will be the last for you.
It was not allowed to me to pour forth suitable tears for you,
Nor to bear to your tomb the shorn hair;
I have not bent over you, nor plucked a cold kiss.
Greedy wild beasts tear to pieces my inmost parts.




I also will follow the shades of my infant with a wound;
I will not be called either mother or bereaved for long.
Nevertheless you, O one vainly hoped for by your wretched sister,
Gather, I pray, the scattered limbs of your son,
And bring them back to their mother and place them in a shared tomb,
And let one urn, however small, have us both!
Live mindful of me, and pour tears upon my wound,
Nor shun the body you loved and who loved you.
You, I ask, carry out the commands of a sister loved too well;
The commands of my father I will obey myself!






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Last updated 06/23/2013