Notes for

Ovid, Heroides XVI and XVII

Achaia:  A region of Greece; often used as a synonym for the whole of Greece.

Achelous:  A Greek river-god.  See the note on Alcides.

Aeetes:  The father of Medea.  See the notes on the Phasian girl and on Jason for more information.

Aegean waters:  The Aegean Sea, which lies between Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).

Aeson:  The father of Jason.

Aethra:  One of Helen's attendants in the palace.  She was the mother of Theseus; she was kidnapped by Castor and Pollux, Helen's twin brothers, in revenge for Theseus' abduction of Helen, and she was made to live as a servant to Helen.

Alcides:  The Greek hero Hercules, who was a descendant of Alcaeus.  When competing for the hand of Deianira in marriage, he defeated the river-god Achelous, breaking off one (or both) of his horns in the process.  Hercules and Deianira were married.  Achelous' broken horn was transformed into the cornucopia, or horn of plenty.  For more on Hercules and Deianira, see Heroides IX.

ancestor:  Tantalus, son of Jove and founder of the house of Atreus; great-grandfather of Menelaus.  Tantalus butchered and cooked his own son, Pelops, and then invited all the gods to a feast, planning to trick them into eating human flesh.  None of the gods was fooled except Ceres, the goddess of crops and fertility, who was distracted by her worry over the disappearance of her daughter, Proserpine; Ceres absent-mindedly ate a mouthful of Pelops' shoulder.  The gods were enraged at Tantalus' trickery.  They brought Pelops back to life, replacing the missing piece of his shoulder with a piece of ivory, and then sent Tantalus down to the depths of Tartarus in the underworld.  In Tartarus, Tantalus stands neck-deep in water, with branches loaded with ripe fruit over his head.  But when he tries to drink, the water drains away before he can get a sip, and when he tries to eat, a wind blows the branches out of his reach.

Anchises:  A cousin of Priam.  The goddess Venus loved him, and bore him a son named Aeneas.  Aeneas was an important warrior on the Trojan side during the Trojan War, and he was also the hero of Virgil's Aeneid.

Aquilo:  Boreas, the god of the north wind.

Atrax:  Father of Hippodameia; father-in-law of Theseus' best friend, Pirithous.

Atreus:  The father of Menlaus.  For more information on him, see the note on father-in-law.

Bistonian:  Bistonia was region of Thrace.

born from the sea:  See the note on Venus.

bow:  The bow of Cupid, son of Venus, whose arrows could induce overpowering love or infatuation.

Cassandra:  Daughter of Priam and Hecuba; sister of Paris.  She was a famous seer, but a tragic one.  According to one myth, Cassandra had received the gift of prophecy from Apollo while that god was trying to seduce her.  When she refused his sexual advances, he cursed her, decreeing that, although her prophecies would always be true, no one would ever believe them.  

Centaurs:  Mythological creatures who were half-human, half-horse.  They could be notably unruly, especially when drunk, and were responsible for disrupting the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodameia.  See the note on Hippodameia.

Chalciope:  Daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis; sister and confidant of Medea (see note on the Phasian girl).

Clymene:  A daughter of Aethra and half-sister of Theseus.  Along with her mother, she was one of Helen's servants at Sparta.

Colchian:  Colchis was a kingdom on the Black Sea.  Jason went there to retrieve the Golden Fleece.  Medea, who eloped with Jason after aiding him in his quest, was the daughter of the king of Colchis.

Crete, Cretans:  An island in the Mediterranean Sea, due south of Greece.  It was a major center of civilization during the period in which Paris is supposed to have been writing his letter.

Cupid:  Son of Venus, and a god of love whose arrows could induce overwhelming passion.  He was also called Amor (Latin for "love").

Cytherea:  The goddess of love, Venus.  In one version of her myth, she was born on the Greek island of Kythera (or Cythera), which was a major center of worship for her.

Dardanian city, Dardanian:  Troy and its inhabitants.  Dardanus was a son of Jove, and was the founder of the royal house of Troy.  He would have been the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Paris.

daughters of Leucippas:  Castor and Pollux abducted and married the daughters of Leucippas.  These young women were already promised in marriage to the brothers Idas and Lynceus, who were cousins of the twins.  The feud between the two sets of cousins eventually resulted in Castor's death.

Deianira:  Wife of Hercules.  See the note on Alcides.

Deiphobus:  A brother of Paris; reputed to be the greatest of the Trojan warriors after Hector.

Doric:  The Dorians were one of the four major groups of the ancient Greek peoples (the others were the Achaeans, the Aeolians, and the Ionians).  Here "Doric" is used as a synonym for "Greek."

Erechtheus' daughter:  Erechtheus was a legendary king of Athens.  One of his daughters, Oreithyia, was abducted by the god of the north wind, Boreas (or Aquilo); she became his wife, and became a goddess in her own right.  The north wind was traditionally situated in the far north of Greece, in Thrace.

father:  Pelops, the father of Atreus (and hence Menelaus' grandfather).  Pelops wanted to marry Hippodamia, and so he accepted the challenge of her father, King Oenomaus, to a chariot-race.  He got one of the servants, Myrtilus, to sabotage Oenomaus' chariot, and the king was killed.  Pelops then killed Myrtilus by throwing him off a cliff into the Myrtoan Sea, and married Hippodamia.

father-in-law:  Atreus, the father of both Menelaus and Agamemnon; Jove (or Jupiter) was Atreus' great-grandfather.  Atreus was married to Aerope.  Aerope committed adultery with Atreus' brogher, Thyestes.  When Atreus learned of the affair, he murdered Thyestes' sons and had their bodies cut up and cooked.  He then invited Thyestes to dinner and watched his brother eat the flesh of his own sons.  (Thyestes was then exiled for cannibalism.)  The sun-god turned his chariot away from the gruesome sight of the "feast," and so the sky became dark.

fifth from you:  Jove, Paris' ancestor.  The usual genealogy would make him seventh, not fifth:  Jove-Dardanus-Erichthonius-Tros-Ilus-Laomedon-Priam-Paris.

first from my name:  Jove, who was Helen's father, not just her distant ancestor.

Gargara:  A fertile region of Asia Minor near Troy; now in modern-day Turkey.

grandson:  The god Mercury, who acted a messenger and herald for Jove.

Haemonia:  Here, a name used for Thessaly, the region of Greece in which Pirithous and the Lapiths lived.  See the note on Hippodameia.  

Hector:  A brother of Paris, who was the greatest of the Trojan warriors.  He was killed by the Greek hero Achilles near the end of the Trojan War.

Hecuba:  Wife of King Priam of Troy, and mother of Paris.  When she was pregnant with Paris, she dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch that dripped blood and sprouted serpents.  Prophets, including Paris' sister Cassandra, interpreted the dream to mean that the unborn child would cause the destruction of Troy.  She agreed to have the child taken from the city and left in the countryside to die.  The infant Paris was found and raised by a shepherd.  When he reached young manhood, he was recognized as a prince of Troy and taken back into the royal palace.

Helen:  Wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta.  Helen was the daughter of the human woman Leda and the god Jove, who came to her in the form of a swan.  She was generally acknowledged to be the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world, and all the kings of Greece wanted to marry her.  Her human father (or step-father), Tyndareus, was afraid that fighting would break out among the disappointed suitors, so he delayed selecting a husband for Helen.  Ulysses suggested that Tyndareus make all the suitors swear an oath beforehand to defend the rights of the one who was finally chosen, so that anyone who tried to interfere with the marriage would face massive opposition.  This was done, and Helen was married to Menelaus, king of Sparta.  So when Paris eloped with (or abducted) Helen with the aid of the goddess Venus, all the kings of Greece joined together in an expedition to bring her back from Troy.  The marriage of Paris and Helen led to the Trojan War and the eventual destruction of Troy.

Hermione:  The daughter of Helen and Menelaus.

hidden by feathers:  Jove took on the form of a swan in order to rape (or seduce) Leda.

Hippodameia:  Daughter of Atrax; wife of Pirithous, Theseus' best friend; queen of the Lapiths in Thessaly..  At the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodameia, a group of Centaurs tried to abduct the bride and other members of the wedding party.  Theseus, Pirithous, and the Lapiths defeated them, slaughtering most of them.  This "Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs" was a famous episode in classical mythology.

Hippodamia:  Wife of Pelops, Menelaus' grandfather.  See the note on father.

Hippomenes:  A Greek legendary hero.  He fell in love with Atalanta, a beautiful virgin huntress who scorned marriage.  In order to keep her many suitors at bay, Atalanta had decreed that any man who wanted to marry her would have to beat her in a foot race; any suitor who failed would be put to death.  Many had tried, but all had failed.  Hippomenes prayed to Venus for assistance, and she gave him three golden apples.  As he ran his race, Hippomenes dropped the apples one at a time.  Atalanta paused to pick them up, and as a result Hippomenes won the race.  Hippomenes and Atalanta were married, with her as his "prize" in the contest.

his daughter:  Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and defensive warfare.

husband of Aurora:  Tithonus, an uncle of Priam.  He was beloved by Aurora, the goddess of the dawn; she carried him off and the two lived together as lovers.  Aurora asked Jove to make Tithonus immortal, but she forgot to ask that he also be made eternally young.  He eventually wasted away into a shriveled husk, begging for death but unable to die; in one version of the myth, he was finally turned into a cicada.

Hypsipyle:  The queen of Lemnos, who fell in love with the hero Jason, and then was abandoned by him.  See Heroides VI for more details.

Ida, Idaean:  Ida is a mountain near Troy; it was the home of the naiad Oenone.  Idaean simply refers to the region from which Paris came.

Idiya:  Mother of Medea (see note on the Phasian girl); wife of Aeetes, king of Colchis.

Ilioneus:  A Trojan warrior, son of Phorbas, who is mentioned in Homer's Iliad as being killed by the Greek warrior Peneleos during the Trojan War.

Ilium:  The city of Troy, home of Paris.

Jason:  A legendary Greek hero; leader of the Argonauts.  Jason and his crew sailed in the Argo to Colchis, on the Black Sea, to retrieve the Golden Fleece.  There he received help from Medea, the king's daughter, who eloped with him when he left.  He later abandoned her in favor of a projected marriage to the daughter of the king of Corinth.  Medea then murdered the king and his daughter, as well as her own children by Jason, before fleeing the city.  Jason is presumably called "Pegasaean" because he is from Thessaly, near the Pegasaean Gulf.  For more information, see Heroides XII.  

Jove:  King of the gods; brother and husband of Juno; father of Venus, Minerva and Helen, and ancestor of Paris and Menelaus.

Jove's wife:  Juno (see below).

Juno:  Wife and sister of Jove; queen of the gods, and goddess of marriage.

Jupiter:  Another name for Jove, king of the gods and Helen's father.

Lacedaemon:  Also called Laconia; the region of Greece in which Sparta was situated and over which its kings ruled.

Laomedon:  Priam's father, a legendary king of Troy, and the great-great-grandson of Jove.

Leda:  Wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta.  Jove, the king of the gods, lusted after her.  In order to have her, he took on the form of a swan, and then either seduced or raped her.  Leda gave birth to four children:  Helen (daughter of Jove); Clytemnaestra (daughter of Tyndareus); and the twin brothers Castor (son of Tyndareus) and Pollux (son of Jove).

Mars:  The god of war.

Medea:  Daughter of the King of Colchis, who eloped with Jason and later was abandoned by him.  See the note on the Phasian girl for more information.

Menelaus:  King of Sparta and husband of Helen.

Minerva:  Goddess of wisdom and defensive warfare.  She was the daughter of Jove, apparently without benefit of a mother (she sprang fully armed from Jove's head).

Minos:  King of Crete and father of Ariadne.  See the note on Theseus for information on this tale from Greek legend.

Minos' daughter, Minoan virgin:  Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who fled with Theseus as he slew the Minotaur with her assistance.  See the note on Theseus; see also Heroides X.

mother of Love:  the goddess Venus; she was the mother of the god Cupid, who was more commonly called "Amor" (love) in Latin.

mother's womb:  Hecuba, wife of Priam and mother of Paris.  When she was pregnant with Paris, she dreamed that she gave birth to a flaming torch that dripped blood and sprouted serpents.  Prophets, including Paris' sister Cassandra, interpreted the dream to mean that the unborn child would cause the destruction of Troy.

my mother:  See the note on Leda, who was Helen's mother.

my name:  Paris' other name was Alexandros, meaning "protector of men."

Myrtoan waters:  See the note on father.

Neptunian hero:  Theseus, who was a son of the god Neptune, and who abducted Helen when she was very young.  For more information on this episode, see the note on Theseus.

nymphs:  A nymph was a demi-goddess, usually associated with some natural feature of the world, such as a spring, a mountain, a tree, etc.  Paris' first love, Oenone, seems to have been a naiad, or water-nymph, from Mount Ida near Troy.

Oebalus:  A legendary early king of Sparta, about whom little is known.

Oenone:  Daughter of the river-god Cebrenis and first love of Paris.  Oenone was a naiad, or water-nymph, of Mount Ida near Troy.  She met Paris and fell in love with him while he was working as a shepherd, and before he was recognized as a son of King Priam of Troy.  According to Apollodorus, the two were married.  Paris later deserted Oenone for Helen.  Oenone had learned the arts of healing from one of the gods or goddesses--from Apollo in Ovid's account, or from the goddess Rhea in Apolodorus'.  She told Paris that if he were ever wounded, she would heal him.  When he was mortally wounded by Philoctetes' arrow, he appealed to her for aid and she refused.  She repented, but did not arrive in time to save him.  She committed suicide, either by hanging herself or by hurling herself from a cliff, or by throwing herself on Paris' funeral pyre.

painted goddess:  The image of Venus, painted on the stern of the ship.

Pallas:  Another name for Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and defensive warfare.

Paris:  Son of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba.  While Hecuba was pregnant with him, she had a dream that she gave birth to a torch that dirpped blood and from which serpents came forth.  When the child was born, he was supposed to be killed; he was left exposed to the elements in the countryside and was rescued and raised by shepherds who were ignorant of his true parentage.  There he met and married the nymph Oenone.  Later he was recognized and received into the royal household of Troy as Priam's son.  When he was a young adult, he was asked to judge which of three goddesses was the most beautiful--Juno, Minerva, or Venus.  Each goddess tried to bribe him--Juno with a kingdom, Minerva with military success, and Venus with the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.  Paris chose Venus.  In return, he won Helen as his wife.  However, Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of Sparta, and after Paris eloped with (or abducted) her, the kings of the other Greek cities banded together and led a military expedition to get her back.  (For more background on this, see the note on Helen.)  The result was the Trojan War, a ten-year siege of the city of Troy that led to its fall.  Paris was famed as an archer, and it was his arrow that killed the greatest of the Greek warriors, Achilles.  Paris in turn was killed by one of the poisoned arrows of Hercules, fired by the Greek warrior Philoctetes.  

Pegasaean:  Having to do with the winged horse Pegasus, or with the Pegasaean Gulf near Thessaly.  See the note on Jason.

Pelasgian:  The Pelasgians were the pre-Greek inhabitants of the Greek lands.  Here, however, "Pelasgian" is used simply as a synonym for "Greek."

Pelops:  Son of Tantalus; he was Atreus' father, and hence Menelaus' grandfather.  See the note on father for more details.

Pergamum:  the citadel of the city of Troy; sometimes used as a synonym for Troy itself.

Phasian girl:  Medea, the daughter of the king of Colchis on the Black Sea.  She helped Jason acquire the Golden Fleece, against her father's wishes.  She then eloped with Jason.  She is called "Phasian" because of the nearby Phasis River (called the Rioni River in modern-day Georgia).

Phereclean Phercelus built the ships in which Paris sailed to Sparta, and in which he carried Helen back to Troy.

Phoebus:  Another name for Apollo, god of healing, prophecy, and music; also associated with the sun.  Apollo and Neptune built the original walls of Troy, with Apollo making the stones move to the sound of his lyre.

Phrygian, Phrygia:  Phrygia was an area in Asia Minor, near Troy.  In poetry, "Phrygian" was often used as a synonym for "Trojan."

Pleiades:  The seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione; companions of the goddess Diana, and caretakers of the god Bacchus during his infancy.  Electra, one of the Pleiades, gave birth to Dardanus after an affair with Jove.  Dardanus was the earliest human ancestor of the royal house of Troy.

Priam:  The king of Troy and father of Paris, Hector, Deiphobos, etc.  For details of Paris' birth and his ignorance of his true parents, see the note on Paris.

Schoeneus' daughter:  The beautiful huntress Atalanta.  See the note on Hippomenes.

Sigean port:  A seaport on the Aegean Sea, in Trojan territory.

Sparta:  A city in the Peloponnesian peninsula of Greece.  It was the home of Helen and Menelaus.

Stygian waves:  The waters of the river Styx, in the underworld.  This is a reference to the water in which Tantalus is partially immersed; see the note on ancestor.

Taenaris, Taenarian:  Taenarum was an area of Lacedaemon, or Laconia, the kingdom ruled by Sparta.

Tantalus:  A son of Jove; he was Menelaus' great-grandfather.  See the note on ancestor for more details.

Therapnaean:  Therapnae was a small town in Lacedaemon, the region ruled by Sparta; it was the traditional birthplace of Helen.

Thessalian land:  Thessaly, a region of eastern Greece.  Jason was from Thessaly.

Theseus:  One of the most famous of the Greek legendary heroes; king of Athens.  His mother was the mortal woman Aethra; his fathers were the god Neptune and the mortal king Aegeus (both of whom slept with Aethra in a single night).  Theseus and his best friend, Pirithous, vowed to marry daughters of Jove.  They first abducted Helen as a bride for Theseus.  They then went to the underworld to kidnap the goddess Proserpine for Pirithous; they were trapped there until Hercules rescued Theseus some time later.  During Theseus' absence, Helen's brothers, Castor and Pollux, freed Helen and brought her home to Sparta.  Theseus also went to Crete as part of Athens' tribute to King Mnos of Crete.  Seven young men and seven young women were sent into the Cretan Labyrinth as food for the Minotaur (a monster who was half-man and half-bull).  With the assistance of Ariadne, Minos' daughter, Theseus slew the Minotaur.  When he fled from Crete, Ariadne went with him, intending to marry him; however, in a fit of forgetfulness, he abandoned her on a Greek island (Naxos, in Ovid's version of the tale--see Heroides X).  

those two:  The goddesses Juno and Minerva, whom Paris judged to be less beautiful than Venus.

thousand men sought my virginity:  Almost all the kings of Greece wanted to marry Helen, and her human father, Tyndareus, had to choose among the many suitors.  For more details on this episode, see the note on Helen.

Thracians:  The people of Thrace, a region of northern Greece.  (In modern times, the region covers an area in northern Greece, southern Bulgaria, and eastern Turkey.)

Three goddesses:  This was the famous Judgment of Paris, in which Paris was asked to decide which of the three goddesses--Juno, Minerva, or Venus--was the most beautiful.  For more information on this episode, see the note on Paris.

torch:  Before Paris' birth, his mother dreamed that she gave birth to a bloody torch, from which serpents came forth.  The dream was interpreted to mean that the child would cause the destruction of Troy.  See the note on Paris.

Troy:  City in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  Its king was Priam, and it was the home of Paris; it was one of the wealthiest cities of the time.  After Paris brought Helen to Troy, Greek armies besieged the city for ten years, trying to get her back.  They finally got into the city by means of a trick.  They left a huge wooden horse, apparently as a divine offering, and withdrew their troops.  The Trojans brought this "Trojan horse" into the city, believing that Troy could never fall with the horse inside.  The horse was full of Greek warriors, who crept out at night, let the other Greek troops into the city, and then sacked and burned Troy.  For more details on the events that led up to the Trojan War, see the notes on Paris and on Helen.

truthful sister:  Paris' sister Cassandra.  See the note on Cassandra.

twin brothers:  Castor and Pollux, Helen's brothers.  See the note on Leda.  Castor and Pollux were the ones who rescued Helen when she was abducted by Theseus; they also kidnapped Theseus' mother, Aethra, as revenge, and took her back to Sparta to be a servant to Helen.  They also abducted and married the daughters of Leucippas, thus starting a feud with the jilted fiancÚs of the young women.

Tyndareus:  The human father (or step-father) of Helen, and the husband of Leda.  Tyndareus was the king of Sparta before Menelaus.

Tyndaris:  Helen.  She is called Tyndaris because she is the daughter ( or step-daughter) of Tyndareus.

Venus:  The goddess of love.  As a reward for Paris' "judgment" of her as the fairest of the goddesses, she promised him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen.  She was generally represented as the daughter of Jove and Dione.  However, in some accounts she was born out of the foam of the sea: Saturn (the ruler of the Titans and the father of Jove) castrated his father, Uranus, and threw the genitals into the sea; Venus then arose from the sea-foam.

when he embraced...:  Jove took on the form of a swan when he seduced (or raped) Helen's mother, Leda.

who now with the gods...:  Ganymede, a great-great-grandson of the founder of the Trojan royal family, Dardanus.  He was the most beautiful of mortals; Jove lusted after him and took on the form of an eagle to seize him and carry him away.  He became an immortal and served as the gods' cupbearer, mixing their drinks and serving at table.

Wife and sister of Jove:  Juno, queen of the gods, who offered Paris a kingdom if he would decide in her favor.

winged messenger:  The god Mercury, who acted a messenger and herald for Jove.  He had winged sandals, which allowed him to fly through the air.




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Last updated 06/23/2013