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Ovid, Heroides XVI

Introduction and Synopsis


Paris to Helen

I, the son of Priam, send this wish for well-being to you, daughter of Leda,
Well-being which can be granted to me only by your gift.

Shall I speak, or is there no need to tell of a flame already known,
Or does my love already stand out more than I would wish?
Indeed, I would prefer to keep it hidden, until the time allowed
My joy not to be mixed with fears.
But I disguise badly; for who could conceal fire,
Which always shows itself by its own light?
If nevertheless you expect me to add voice to the fact--
I burn!  Now you have the words that announce my soul.
Spare me, I pray, since I have confessed, and do not read the rest
With a hard countenance, but with one that fits your beauty.

For a long time now I have been thankful, for your accepting my letter
Gives the hope that I may be accepted in the same way.
What the mother of Love, who persuaded me to this journey, has determined,
I choose, and let her not have promised you to me vainly;
For on divine authority, lest you sin unknowingly,
I sail, and no light divinity favors the undertaking.
I seek a great prize indeed, but one that is not unowed;
You have been promised to my marriage-bed by Cytherea.
With her as guide, I have sailed the uncertain paths
Of the wide sea in a Phereclean ship.
She has given me favorable breezes and following winds--
She was born from the sea and truly she has rule over the sea.
May she stand firm, and help with the disturbance in my breast as she has helped with the sea;
May she bring my vows to their harbor.

I have brought these flames; I did not find them here.
That was the cause of so long a journey for me,
For neither a gloomy storm nor wandering has brought me here;
Taenaris was the land my ships made for.
Nor believe that I split the sea in a ship carrying goods--
What wealth I have, may the gods look after it.
Nor do I come as one to see Greek cities--
The towns of my own kingdom are wealthier.
I seek you, whom golden Venus has promised for my bed;
I wanted you before you were known to me.
I saw your face with my soul before I saw it with my eyes;
Rumor, bringing news of you, brought the first wound.

Nevertheless it is not astonishing, if the bow is so powerful,
That I love, struck by darts hurled from far away.
Thus it is pleasing to the fates; lest you should try to go against them,
Hear true words told faithfully.
I was still held in my mother's womb, delaying in birth;
Her belly was already heavy with the appropriate weight.
It seemed to her in the image of a dream
That she gave forth a great flaming torch from her full belly.
Terrified, she rose up, and told the fearful vision of dark night
To aged Priam; he told it to the prophets.
A prophet sang that Ilium would burn with the fire of Paris--
That was the torch of my heart, as now is true!

Beauty and force of spirit, even though I seemed to be of the common people,
Were the sign of concealed nobility.
There is a place in the forested vales of the middle of Ida,
Off the path and full of firs and ilex,
Where the gentle sheep does not graze, nor the rock-loving she-goat,
Nor the slow cow with wide-open mouth.
From here, leaning upon a tree, I was looking upon the walls 
And high roofs of the Dardanian city, and upon the sea.
Behold!  It seemed to me that the earth moved beneath pounding feet--
I will speak true words that will hardly have faith for truth--
And there stood before my eyes, driven by swift wings,
The grandson of great Atlas and Pleione--
It was allowed to me to see; may it be allowed to me to tell what was seen--
And in the god's fingers was a golden wand.
And at the same time three goddesses, Venus, and with her Pallas and Juno,
Set their delicate feet on the grass.
I was astounded, and a cold shudder made my hair stand on end,
When "Set fear aside," the winged messenger said to me,
"You are the judge of beauty; settle the contest of the goddesses,
Which one is worthy for her beauty to defeat the other two!"
And lest I should refuse, he commanded me in the name of Jove,
And then immediately took his way through to upper air toward the stars.

My mind recovered, and immediately courage came,
Nor did I fear to observe each of them with my visage.
All were worthy of winning, and I, the judge, lamented
That all could not win their case.
Yet nevertheless, one of them already pleased me more,
And as you might know, it was she by whom love is moved.
And they have such eagerness to win; they burn
To bribe my judgment with vast gifts.
Jove's wife speaks of kingdoms, his daughter of deeds of courage;
I myself am uncertain, and can not choose between power and strength.
Venus smiled sweetly; "Paris, do not let the gifts affect you,
Both of them full of doubtful fear!" she said.
"What I will give is that you love, and the daughter of beautiful Leda,
One more beautiful than her mother, will go to your embrace."
She spoke, and with her gift and her beauty equally approved,
She returned with victorious steps to the sky.

Meanwhile--I believe because my fates had turned fortunate--
I am recognized by fixed signs as a royal child.
The house is joyful at the son being taken back after a long time,
And Troy adds this day also to the festivals.
And as I desire you, girls have desired me;
You can hold the object of many prayers!
Not only have the daughters of kings and rulers sought me,
But even nymphs have had care and love.
Whose beauty should I admire above Oenone's?  In the world,
There is no one save you who is worthier to be Priam's daughter-in-law.
But I am disgusted with them all, since
Hope was given, Tyndaris, of marrying you.
It was you my eyes saw when awake, you my soul saw at night,
When eyes lie conquered by peaceful sleep.
How will you appear when you are present, who pleased me when not even seen?
I burned, even though the flame was here, far away,
I could no longer leave my hope of you unrealized,
But sought my vow across the deep-blue path.

The Trojan pine groves are cut by the Phrygian ax,
And whatever tree will be useful on the sea waters;
The steep sides of Gargara are despoiled of their tall forests,
And wide Ida gives to me innumerable beams.
The oak is bent, making the foundation of the swift ship,
And the curved keel is woven with its sides.
We add the yard-arms and the sails that attend the mast,
And the crooked stern receives its painted gods;
On the one on which I am carried stands, accompanied by little Cupid,
The painted goddess who is guarantor for your marriage.
After the last hand has been placed on the completed ships,
I wish to go immediately to Aegean waters.
But my father and mother, entreating me, hold me back from my vow,
And with affectionate words delay my proposed journey;
And my sister, Cassandra, as she was with streaming hair,
When my ships wished to spread sail,
"Where do you rush?" she cried; "You will bring conflagration back with you!
You do not know how great are the flames you seek across these waters!"
She was a true prophet; I have found the fires of which she spoke,
And fierce love flames in my tender breast.

I left the port and, borne by favoring winds,
I touched your lands, nymph descended of Oebalus.
Your husband receives me as a guest; this also
Did not occur without the counsel and divine will of the gods.
Indeed he showed me whatever in all Lacedaemon
Was striking and worthy to be shown.
But I desired to see your celebrated beauty;
There was nothing else that could capture my eyes.
When I saw, I was astounded, and I felt, thunderstruck,
A new love swelling in my inmost heart.
You had a face like, as far as I can remember,
Cytherea when she came to my judgment.
Equally, if you had come to that contest,
Venus' victory would have been in doubt.
Indeed, rumor has given great praise to you,
And there is no land that does not know of your beauty;
No one else among beautiful women has fame like you,
Not anywhere, from Phrygia, to the rising of the sun.

Will you also trust me in this?  Your glory is less than the truth,
And the fame of your beauty is almost insulting.
I find more here than she promised,
And your glory is vanquished by its subject.
Thus Theseus burned with good cause, who knew all this,
And you seemed worthy plunder for such a hero,
When, according to the custom of your people, you played at sport
in the gymnasium, and you were a naked woman among naked men.
That he stole you away, I praise; I marvel that he ever gave you back.
Such a fine prize should have been held firmly.
My head would have been severed from my bloody neck
Before you would have been dragged from my marriage-bed.
Would my hands ever have been willing to let you go?
Would I, living, have allowed you to leave my breast?
If you must have been given back, nevertheless in some way before I carried you away,
Venus would not have been altogether idle.
Either I would have taken your virginity,
Or I would have taken what could be taken, leaving your virginity safe.

Only give yourself to me, and you will know the faithfulness of Paris;
Only the flame of the funeral pyre will end my flames.
I have preferred you to the kingdoms which the great
Wife and sister of Jove once offered me.
So that I could circle your neck with my arms,
I have despised the strength of Pallas' gift.
I do not regret, nor will I ever seem to myself to have decided foolishly;
My mind remains firm in its vow.
I only plead that my hope not be allowed to fall,
Oh one who is worthy to be sought with such labor!
I am not an ignoble man choosing marriage with a high-born wife,
Nor will it be shameful, believe me, for you to be my wife.
If you look, you will find one of the Pleiades in our line, and Jove,
Even if I am silent about ancestors in between.
My father holds rule over Asia, than which no country is more blessed by wealth,
With immense boundaries, hardly able to be traversed.
You will see cities without number, and golden dwellings,
And temples which you will say are suitable for their gods.
You will behold Ilium, its walls strengthened with tall towers,
Built to the tune of Phoebus' lyre.
What do I tell you of the crowds and the number of men?
That land can hardly sustain its people.
The Trojan mothers will run to meet you in a dense crowd,
Nor will our halls contain the Phrygian daughters-in-law.
Oh, how often you will say "How poor our Achaia is!"
Any one house will have the wealth of a city.

Yet it is not right for me to despise your Sparta;
The land in which you were born is rich to me.
But Sparta is parsimonious; you are worthy of a wealthy culture;
That place does not fit such beauty.
That beauty is fitting for great adornments without limit,
And to luxuriate in new delights.
When you see the refinement of the men of our race,
What sort will you believe the Dardanian daughters to possess?
Only be compliant, and do not disdain a Phrygian husband,
Girl born in the Therapnaean countryside.
It was a Phrygian, and one born of our blood, who now
With the gods mixes water with nectar for them to drink
.
A Phrygian was the husband of Aurora; nevertheless she carried him off,
The goddess who sets the farthest limit to the journey of night.
Anchises is Phrygian, with whom the mother of winged Loves
Rejoices to lie on the ridges of Ida.
Nor do I think that Menelaus, when our beauty and age are compared,
Will be preferred to me in your judgment.
I certainly shall not give you a father-in-law who drives away the clear
Light of the sun, whose agitated horses turn away from the feast;
Nor is there a father to Priam who is bloody with the murder of his father-in-law,
And who marks the Myrtoan waters with his crime.
Nor does my ancestor snatch at fruit in the Stygian waves,
Nor seek moisture in the midst of waters.

Nevertheless, what difference does this make, if one born of these holds you?
Jupiter is brought in as father-in-law to this house.
Oh, what villainy! Throughout whole nights that unworthy one
Holds you and enjoys your embrace;
But you are scarcely seen by me when the tables are finally set,
And that time too has many things that wound me.
May such feasts befall my enemies,
Such as I have known often when the wine has been set out.
I regret being a guest when that yokel puts his arms
Around your neck as I watch.
I burst with rage and I envy--why should I not tell everything?--
When he warms your limbs with his garment.
But truly when you give him gentle kisses in public.
I place my uplifted cup before my eyes.
I drop my eyes when he holds you close,
And the tough food swells in my unwilling mouth.
Often have I given sighs; and you, wanton one, I have marked
That you do not hold back laughter at my sighs.
Often I wished to curb the flame with wine, but it grew,
And drunkenness was fire upon fire.
So that I may not see many things, I recline with my head turned away;
But you yourself call back my eyes immediately.

What I shall do, I am uncertain; my pain is to see these things,
But it is a worse pain to be away from your face.
However I can and am allowed, I struggle to conceal my madness,
But nevertheless the concealed love appears.
I am not giving you words only; you feel my wounds--you feel;
And would that they were noticed by you alone.
Ah, how many times have I turned my face away when tears came,
Lest that man should ask the cause of my weeping.
Ah, how often when I have been drinking have I told of some love,
Assigning every single word to my own wound,
And giving you a sign of myself under a made-up name;
I was the true lover, if you do not know.
Indeed, in order to use more wanton words,
More than once I have pretended to be drunk.

Your breasts were shown once, I remember, by your loose garment,
And my eyes were given access to your naked
Breasts, whiter than pure snow, or milk,
Or Jove when he embraced your mother.
While I was stunned at the sight--for I happened to be holding a cup--
The twisted handle fell from my fingers.
If you gave kisses to your daughter, I immediately took them
With joy from Hermione's soft lips.
And sometimes, lying on my back, I sang of old loves,
And sometimes, by a nod, I gave hidden signs.
And the first among your companions, Clymene and Aethra,
I recently ventured to approach with flattering words,
Who, saying nothing else to me than that they were terrified,
Abandoned me in the middle of giving voice to my pleas.

The gods should make you the prize in some great contest,
And the victor could have you for his bed.
As Hippomenes took Schoeneus' daughter, the prize of his running,
As Hippodamia came to a Phrygian breast,
As fierce Alcides broke Achelous' horns,
While he sought your embraces, Deianira.
My boldness would have gone bravely through these conditions,
And you would know how to be the finished work of my labor.
Now there is nothing left for me but to beg you, lovely one,
And to embrace your feet, if you will allow it.
Oh ornament of beauty, oh present glory of the twin brothers,
Oh one worthy of Jove as a husband, if you were not the daughter of Jove,
Either I will return to the Sigean port with you as my bride,
Or here, as an exile, be covered with Taenarian earth.
My heart has not been lightly grazed by the tip of the arrow;
My wound goes down to the bone!
This, for I recall it, my truthful sister prophesied for me,
That I should be pierced by a heavenly dart.
Forbear, Helen, to despise a love given by fate--
Thus you will find the gods well disposed to your prayers.

Many things indeed come to mind; but, so that we may say more things in person,
Welcome me into your bed in the silent night.
Or is it shameful and do you fear to dishonor a married love,
And to betray the chaste rights of a lawful bed?
Ah, too simple, Helen, or too rustic I say,
Did you think this beauty could be without fault?
It is necessary that you change the beauty, or not be hard;
Great beauty quarrels with modesty.
Jupiter delights in these secret loves, and beautiful Venus delights in them;
Such a secret love surely gave Jove to you as a father.
It can hardly be, if the powers of love are in the seed,
That you, the daughter of both Jove and Leda, can be chaste.
Be chaste then, nevertheless, when my Troy holds you,
And I ask that I alone be your crime.
Now we will sin in that which the hour of marriage will correct,
If only Venus did not make idle promises to me.

But even your husband persuades you to these things, without words;
So that nothing may stand in the way of the stolen love of his guest, he is absent.
He had no more fitting time to see the kingdoms of Crete--
Oh, wonderfully clever man!
"I direct you, wife," he said as he was going,
"To take care on my behalf of my affairs and of the Idaean guest."
I bear witness that you neglect the orders of your absent husband:
You are not taking any care of your guest.
Do you hope, Tyndaris, that this man without a heart
Can understand well enough the dowry of your beauty?
You are deceived.  He does not know; if he believed that these things he held
Were great goods, he would not trust them to a foreigner.
Even if neither my voice nor my ardor spur you on,
I am compelled to reap the benefits of the advantage that he offers.
Or I should be foolish, thus surpassing even him,
If I let such a safe time pass by idly?
Almost with his own hands he has brought a lover to you;
Make use of the guilelessness of your husband's orders!

You lie alone through such long nights in an empty bed;
I myself lie alone in an empty bed.
Let shared joys join you to me and me to you;
That night will be brighter than the middle of the day.
Then I will swear to you by whatever gods,
And I will be bound by my words in your rites.
Then, if trust is not false to us,
I will act immediately for you to seek my kingdom.
If you are ashamed and fear to seem to have followed me,
I myself will be the culprit without you in this crime.
For I will follow the deeds of Aegeus' son and of your brothers;
You could not be touched by a more personal example.
Theseus stole you, and they the twin daughters of Leucippas;
I shall be numbered a fourth in the examples.
The Trojan fleet is here, furnished with arms and men;
Soon oar and breeze will make their journey swift.
A great queen, you will go through the Dardanian cities,
And the common people will think you a new goddess who has come.
Wherever you take your way, flames will consume cinnamon,
And the slain victim will strike the bloody earth.
My father will give you gifts, and my brothers, and my sisters with our mother,
And all of Ilium's daughters, and the whole of Troy.
Ah me!  I am hardly telling you any part of what will be;
You will bear away more than my letter tells.

And do not fear lest, you being stolen away, fierce wars will follow us'
And great Greece will stir up its fighting men.
Of so many abducted before, have any at all been demanded back by arms?
Believe me, that is an empty fear.
The Thracians seized Erechtheus' daughter in the name of Aquilo,
And the Bistonian boundaries were safe from war.
Pegasaean Jason carried off the Phasian girl in his new ship,
And Thessalian land was not harmed by Colchian hand.
Theseus too, who stole you away, stole away Minos' daughter;
Nevertheless, Minos did not call the Cretans to arms.
The fear in these things is generally greater than the danger;
And what is allowable to fear, it is shameful to fear greatly.

Nevertheless imagine, if you wish, that a great war rises up;
I too have soldiers, and my spears give wounds.
The abundance of Asia is not less than that of your land;
It is rich in men, and rich in horses.
Nor does Menelaus, son of Atreus, have more spirit
Than Paris, nor is he to be preferred in war.
While almost a child, I recovered our stolen herds, slaying
The enemy, and for this reason I bear my name.
While almost a child, I defeated young men in varied contests,
Among whom were Ilioneus and Deiphobus.
And lest you should believe that I am not to be feared except in close combat,
My arrow will be fixed in any place that is commanded.
Can you offer such deeds of early youth for him?
Can you provide my skill for the son of Atreus?
If you offer everything, can you offer Hector as a brother?
He alone will be the equivalent of innumerable soldiers.
You do not know my worth, and my strength is concealed from you;
You do not know the man to whom you will be bride.

Either, therefore, you will be demanded back with no upheaval of war,
Or the Doric camp will yield to my battle.
Yet I would not think it unworthy to take up arms for such a wife;
Great prizes stir up competition.
You also, if the whole world contends for you,
You will bear fame forever to posterity.
Only do not be fearful; depart from this place, with hope in the favoring gods.
Exact with full faith the promised gift.

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Last updated 06/23/2013