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Ovid, Heroides XII

Introduction and Synopsis

Medea to Jason

But I recall that I, queen of Colchis, found time for you,
When you begged that my art should help you.
Then was the time when the sisters who pay out the thread of mortality
Should have unwound my spindle.
Then could Medea have died well! Whatever life
Has drawn out from that time, has been punishment.

Woe is me! Why did those Pelian timbers, driven by
The arms of young men, ever seek the ram of Phrixus?
Why did we of Colchis ever see Magnesian Argo,
And why did the crowd of Greeks drink the waters of the Phasis?
Why did your golden hair, and your beauty,
And the false charm of your tongue please me out of measure?
Otherwise, when your new ship first came
To our sands and brought your bold men,
The unmindful son of Aeson would have gone unprotected by charms
Into the flaming breath of the bull's fire-scorched mouth.
He would have sown the seeds, and as many enemies as seeds,
So that the sower would have fallen victim to his own sowing.
How much treachery, villain, would have died with you,
And how many evils would have been averted from my head?




There is some pleasure in reproaching the ingrate with services done.
This I will enjoy; that is the only joy I will have from you.
Ordered to steer the untested ship to Colchis,
You entered the rich kingdom of my homeland.
There Medea was what the new bride is here:
As wealthy as her father is, so was mine.
Hers holds Corinth of the two seas; mine holds all the country
That lies on the left bank of Pontus, up to snowy Scythia.


Aeetes receives the young Pelasgian men as guests,
And the Greek bodies rest upon the painted couches.
Then I saw you; then I began to know you;
That was the beginning of the ruin of my soul.
I saw and I perished, nor did I burn with ordinary fires,
But as a pine torch burns before the great gods.
Not only were you beautiful, but my fates drew me;
Your eyes took away my sight.
Betrayer, you saw--for who can well conceal love?
Its rising flame displays its own evidence.




Meanwhile the rule is given to you that you must press
The hard necks of the fierce bulls to the unaccustomed plow.
The bulls belonged to Mars, and were savage with more than horns,
For their breath was terrible fire.
Their feet were solid bronze, and their nostrils lined with bronze
Which was made black also by their breath.
Besides this, you are ordered to scatter with faithful hand
Over the wide field the seeds that give birth to people
Who attack your body with weapons that are born with them;
That is a harvest which is enemy to the farmer.
The final labor is by some art to deceive
The guardian's eyes which never yield to sleep.



Thus spoke Aeetes. Sorrowful, you all rise up,
And the high table is taken away from the purple couches.
How far from you then were Creusa's dowered kingdom,
The father-in-law, and the daughter of great Creon!
In sadness you depart; I follow your departure with moist eyes,
And my tongue says with a faint murmur, "Farewell."
Then lying in bed within my room, sorely wounded,
I pass all the rest of the night in tears.
Before my eyes were the bulls and the abominable harvest;
Before my eyes was the ever-watchful serpent.
Here was love, and here fear; fear increased love iteself.
Morning came, and my dear sister, admitted to my room,
Found me with disheveled hair, lying face down,
And everywhere full of my tears.
She begs help for the Minyans. One pleads for the favor, but another obtains it:
What she asks, I give to the Aesonian youth.




There is a wood, dark with spruce and the leaves of the ilex;
The rays of the sun can hardly penetrate there.
In it there is--or certainly there was--a shrine to Diana;
The golden goddess stands there, made by a barbaric hand.
Do you know the place? Or have you forgotten places along with me? We came there.
You began to speak first, with unfaithful lips:
"Fortune has delivered to you the law and the decision
Of our salvation; in your hand is life and death.
To be able to destroy is enough, if one enjoys power for its own sake;
But saving me will be greater glory for you.
I pray by our troubles, which you can alleviate,
By your race, and the divinity of your all-seeing grandfather,
By the three-fold face and hidden rites of Diana,
And, if your people have any gods, by those gods--
O virgin, have pity on me, have pity on my men!
By this kindness make me yours for all time.
If by chance you do not disdain a Pelasgian man--
But how will my gods look so kindly on me?--
Then my soul will vanish into thin air before
Any woman but you will be a bride in my chamber.
Our accomplice will be Juno, ruler of sacred marriage,
And the goddess in whose marble temple we are."
These words--and how small a part of them are here--moved the soul
Of the simple girl, and your right hand was joined with mine.
I also saw tears--they were part of the deception, too.
Thus I, just a girl, was captured by your words.
You yoke the bronze-footed bulls with unsinged body,
And, as ordered, you split the solid earth with the ploughshare.
You fill the field, using venomous teeth as seed,
And warriors bearing swords and shields are born.
I myself, who gave the drugs, sat pale,
When I saw men arise, bearing arms,
Until the earth-born men--marvelous deed!--
Fought hand to hand, brother against brother.








Behold the unsleeping guardian, bristling with rustling scales,
Hissing and dragging along the ground on its twisting belly.
Where was your rich dowry? Where was your royal wife,
And the Isthmus that divides the waters of the twin seas?
I, who now at last have become a barbarian to you,
Who now is poor, who now seems noxious to you,
I subdued those flaming eyes in drugged sleep,
And I gave safely to you the fleece, which you stole.
My father is betrayed; I abandon my kingdom and my homeland.
My reward is to be allowed to live in exile.
My virginity has become the plunder of a wandering thief;
I have left the best of sisters behind with my loving mother.




But I did not leave you behind, brother, when I fled.
My words fail in this one place.
What my right hand dared to do, it does not dare to write.
Thus I, but with you, should have been dismembered.
Nevertheless I did not fear--for after that, what could I fear?--
To entrust myself to the sea, even as a guilty woman.
Where is divine will? Where are the gods? Let our merited punishments
Overtake us on the sea: you for deceit, me for trustfulness.



Would that the Symplegades had shattered us, crushed us,
And my bones were clinging to yours;
Or greedy Scylla had swamped us, to be eaten by her dogs--
It would be fitting for Scylla to harm ungrateful men.
And she who spews up the flood so many times and sucks them down again,
She should have drawn us, too, beneath the Tinacrian waters.
Safe and victorious you return to the Haemonian cities;
The golden fleece is placed before your fathers' gods.


Why tell again of the daughters of Pelias, doing evil through devotion
And hacking their father's limbs with maiden hands?
Granted that others blame me, you must praise me,
You by whom so many times I have been forced to do evil.
You have dared--Oh! words are lacking for my justified anguish--
You have dared to say "Give up the home of Aeson's clan!"
So ordered, I have given up the home, accompanied by our two children
And, that which always follows me, my love for you.



When suddenly the song of Hymen came to my ears,
And torches gleamed with blazing fire,
And the flute poured out a wedding song for you,
But for me a tune more tearful than the funeral trumpet,
Then I was filled with fear. I still did not believe such villainy could be;
Yet nevertheless cold spread through all my breast.
The crowd rushed on and cried "Hymen, Hymenaeus!" over and over--
The nearer this cry was, the worse it was for me.
My slaves wept, and turning away they hid their tears--
Who wishes to be the messenger of so much evil?
It was better for me as well not to know, whatever it was;
But my mind was sad, as if I knew,
When the younger of the children (eager to see, he happened
To be standing at the first threshold of the double door)
Said, "Come here quickly, mother; my father Jason is leading
A procession, all in gold and driving a team of horses."
Immediately, tearing my dress, I beat my breast;
My face was not safe from my nails.
My spirit persuaded me to rush into the middle of the crowd,
And to tear off the garland from my combed hair.
I could hardly restrain myself, with hair all torn,
From crying out, "He is mine," and laying hands on you.






Rejoice, injured father! Abandoned Colchis, rejoice!
Shades of my brother, you have my funeral-offering.
Having lost kingdom and fatherland and home, I am deserted
By my husband, who alone was everything for me.
I could tame serpents and raging bulls, then;
One man I could not subdue.
I, who could repulse fierce fires with learned drugs,
Am not strong enough to escape my own flames.
My own incantations, and herbs, and arts desert me;
Nothing does the goddess do, nor the rites of powerful Hecate.
The day is not welcome to me; the nights are bitter wakefulness,
And soft sleep is absent from my wretched breast.
I, who could put the dragon to sleep, cannot do the same for myself;
My work is more useful for anyone else than for me.
The limbs which I saved are now embraced by a concubine,
And she has the fruits of my labor.





And perhaps when you want to boast to your foolish wife,
And say those things that are welcome to her unfair ears,
In my appearance and my customs you will invent new faults.
Let her laugh, and take joy in my defects!
Let her laugh, and lie exalted on Tyrian purple--
She will weep, and her burning will exceed my own flames!
While steel and fire are at hand, and the juice of poison,
No enemy of Medea shall go unpunished!



But if perchance my prayers strike a heart of iron,
Now hear words too weak for my soul.
I am as much a suppliant to you, as you were often to me,
Nor do I hesitate to lie at your feet.
If I am worth little to you, consider our common children;
A cruel stepmother will rage at my offspring.
Their likeness to you is too great, and I am touched by the image,
And as often as I see them, my eyes are moist.
I plead by the gods, by the light of my grandfather's flames,
By my services and by our two children, mutual pledges--
Restore that marriage bed, for which I madly left so many things behind;
Give faith to your promises, and give help to her who has helped you!
I do not plead with you to go against bulls or heroes,
Nor ask your help to subdue a dragon;
I ask for you--whom I have earned, who you yourself gave to me,
By whom I became a parent, and who was made a parent by me.




My dowry--where is it, you ask? I counted it out on that field,
Which you had to plow before carrying off the fleece.
That golden ram, remarkable for its deep pelt, was
My dowry--and if I said to you "Return it!," you would refuse.
My dowry is you, safe and uninjured; my dowry is the Grecian youths!
Now go compare this, traitor, with the wealth of Sisyphus!
That you live, that you have a bride and a powerful father-in-law,
That you even are able to be ungrateful, is due to me.
Who, indeed, immediately--but of what use is it to foretell
Your punishment? My wrath labors with monstrous warnings.
Where my wrath leads, I will follow! Perhaps I will regret my deeds--
I also regret having concern for an unfaithful husband.
Let that god see to it, who now disturbs my heart!
Something great, certainly, now drives my mind!






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Last updated 06/23/2013