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Ovid, Heroides XVIII

Introduction and Synopsis


Leander to Hero

That which I would have wished, Hero, to carry to you through the accustomed waves,
Receive from the hand of Leander, while he comes himself.
The man of Abydos sends you greetings that he would rather bring
To you, girl of Sestos, if the waves of the sea would fall.
If the gods are favorable to me, if they assist me in love,
You will read these words of mine with unwilling eyes.
But they are not favorable; for why do they delay my vows,
Nor suffer me to hurry through familiar waters?
You yourself see the skies blacker than pitch, and the straits roiled by winds,
Through which the hollow ships can hardly go.
Only one sailor--and he a daring one, by whom my letter
Is brought to you--moves forth from the harbor.
I would have gone aboard with him except that, when he released the lines
From the bow, he was in full view of all Abydos.
I could not hide from my parents as before,
And that love that we wish to conceal, would not have been hidden.

Immediately writing these words, "Go, happy letter," I said,
"Soon she will reach out for you with her lovely hand,
Perhaps you will even be touched by her lips as they approach,
While she wishes to break the cords with her snow-white tooth."
Speaking such words to myself in a faint murmur,
The rest were said by my right hand upon the sheet.
But how much I would prefer that it swim rather than write,
And bear me diligently through the familiar waves.
Indeed it is more suited to giving strokes to the tranquil sea,;
Nevertheless it is also a suitable servant of my feelings.

It is the seventh night, a space longer than a year to me,
That the troubled sea has boiled with harshly sounding waters.
If in all these nights I have seen sleep soothe my breast,
May the maddened sea bring long delay.
Sitting on some rock, I look sadly at your shores
And, where I can not be borne in my body, I am borne in my mind.
Indeed, my eye even sees--or believes it sees--
A watchful light in the height of your tower.
Three times I have put my clothes down on the dry sand;
Three times I have tried, naked, to proceed on the heavy journey.
The swollen waves resisted the youthful attempt,
And the opposing waves submerged my face as I swam.

But you, wildest of the speeding winds,
Why do you wage war on me with fixed intent?
You rage against me, Boreas, if you do not know it, not against the waves,
What would you do if love were not known to you?
As cold as you may be, can you nevertheless deny, wicked one,
That once you burned with Actaean fire?
If, as you would seize your joys, someone wished to close to you
The airy approach, how would you endure it?
Spare me, I pray; be more restrained, and move an easier breeze!
Thus may the son of Hippotes give you no harsh command.

I plead in vain, and he himself roars against my prayers,
And the waves which he whips up, he restrains in no part.
Now, would that Daedalus would give me daring wings--
Even though the Icarian shore is not far from here.
Whatever there was, I would endure it, so long as my body was borne
In the air, which has so often hung in the doubtful water.

Meanwhile, while wind and sea deny all things to me,
I go over in my mind the first time of my stolen love.
Night was beginning--for it is pleasure to remember--
When I, a lover, left my father's doors.
With no delay, putting aside my fears at the same time as my clothes,
I flung my supple arms on the calm sea.
The moon barely offered a trembling light as I went,
Like a dutiful companion in my journey.
Looking up at her, "Be favorable, bright goddess," I said,
"And let the rocks of Latmos come into your mind."
Endymion will not allow you to be of stern heart;
Turn, I pray, your face to my stolen love.
You, a goddess gliding down from the sky, sought a mortal;
May it be allowed that I speak the truth--she whom I pursue is a goddess herself!
Not to speak of character worthy of a celestial heart,
Such beauty falls to none except true goddesses.
After Venus' face, and yours. there is none before her;
And lest you not believe my words, see for yourself!
As much as all the stars yield to your flames,
When you flash silver with pure rays,
So much more lovely is she than all the lovely ones;
If you doubt, Cynthia, you have a blind eye."

Having spoken these words, or at least words not much different,
I was borne through waters that gave way willingly to me.
The waves gleamed with the image of the reflected moon,
And there was a brightness like day in the silent night.
There was no voice anywhere; nothing came to my ears
Beyond the murmur of the waters parted by my body.
The Halcyons alone, mindful of their beloved Ceyx,
Seemed to give some sweet complaint.

And now, my arms having grown weary below both shoulders,
I lift myself strongly to the greatest height of the waters.
Seeing a light far away, "My fire is in that fire,"
I said; "Those shores hold my light."
And immediately strength returned to my tired arms,
And the waves seemed more yielding to me.
Lest I should feel the cold of the frigid depths,
Love showed itself, which was hot in my eager breast.
The more I came near, and the closer the shore was,
And the less distance that remained, the greater was my pleasure in going.
When truly I can be seen as well, your looking
Inspires my heart, so that you make me strong.
Now also I labor in my swimming to please my lady,
And toss my arms for your sight.
Your nurse can hardly keep you from going down into the sea;
Indeed I also saw this, and did not deceive myself.
Nevertheless she did not, although she held you back as you went,
Keep you from getting your foot wet at the edge of the water.
You welcome me with an embrace, and join with happy kisses--
Kisses, great gods, worthy of being sought across the sea!
And taking your garments from your shoulders, you give them up to me,
And you dry my hair, soaked with the rain of the sea.

The rest of it, the night, and we, and the tower that shares our knowledge knows,
And the light that shows me the way through the sea.
The joys of that night can not be counted, any more than
The seaweed of the Hellespontine sea.
The briefer the space that was given to us for our stolen love,
The more we took care that it should not be idle.

And now the wife of Tithonus was about to drive away the night,
And Lucifer, who precedes Aurora, had risen.
We pile up our kisses in haste, without order,
And complain that the night gives little delay.
And thus, having lingered until the nurse's harsh warning,
Leaving the tower, I seek the cold shore.
We part, weeping, and I return to the water of the maiden,
Looking always back, while I can, at my lady.
If you trust me, this is true:  that coming hence I seem to be a swimmer,
But when I return, I seem to myself to be a shipwrecked man.
This also, if you will believe:  toward you, the way seems inclined forward;
When I return from you, it seems an uphill ascent through sluggish water.
Unwilling, I return to my homeland; who could believe it?
Unwilling indeed, I linger now in my own city.

Ah me!  Why, joined in soul, are we parted by the waves,
Two of one mind, but not of one land?
Either let your Sestos take me, or let my Abydos take you;
Your land is as pleasing to me, as mine is to you.
Why am I troubled as often as the sea is troubled?
Why should a slight cause, the wind, be able to oppose me?
Already the curved dolphins know of our loves,
And I think I am not unknown to the fish.
Already my well-worn path through the customary seas is clear,
Not unlike the road pressed by many wheels.
That there was no other path for me but this one, I complained before;
But now I complain that this one also has failed because of the winds.
The sea of Athamas' daughter is white with wild waves,
And the ship that remains in its harbor is hardly safe;
Such was this sea, I believe, when the name it bears
Was first obtained from the sunken virgin.
This place is ill-famed enough for the loss of Helle,
And even though it spare me, it has its crime in its name.

I envy Phrixus, whom the golden ram with its wool-bearing fleece
Bore safe across the harsh seas.
Nevertheless I do not demand the service of ram or ship,
So long as the seas are given, which I part with my body.
I need no art; let there be given only the opportunity to swim
I will be at the same time ship, sailor, passenger.

I do not follow Helice, nor Arctos, which was used by Tyre;
My love does not care for the public stars.
Let another watch Andromeda and the bright Crown,
And the Parrhasian Bear which sparkles in the icy pole.
Moreover, those whom Perseus and Liber and Jove loved
Do not please me as signs for my doubtful road.
There is another light, much more certain for me than those;
My love does not wander in the shadows with it as guide;
While I watch this, I could go to Colchis or the farthest part of Pontus,
And where the Thessalian pine made its path,
And I could surpass young Palaemon in swimming,
And him whom the bitten herb made suddenly a god.

 Often my arms grow weak from the constant motion,
And, weary, can hardly drag themselves through the vast waters.
When I say these words to them, "There will be no small prize for your labors;
Soon I will give you your lady's neck to embrace,"
Immediately they are strong, and stretch out toward their prize,
Like a swift horse sent forth from the Elean starting-box.
So I keep watch on my love, by which I am burned,
And I seek for you, girl more worthy of the heavens.
Worthy of the heavens indeed, yet still linger on earth,
Or tell me also where is the way to the gods!
You are here, and you scarcely touch your wretched lover,
And when the sea is wild, so is my mind.
What does it profit me, that I am separated by waters that are not wide?
Does this short span of water thus hinder me any less?
I could wish, almost, to be distant by the whole world,
And have my hopes far away with my lady.
Now the nearer you are, the nearer is the flame with which I burn,
And hope is always present, not always the thing hoped for.
I can almost touch the one I love with my hand, she is so close;
But often, alas, this "almost" moves me to tears.
How is this different from grasping at fleeing fruit,
And following the hope of a retreating stream with one's mouth?

Therefore will I never hold you, except when the waves wish it,
And will no winter storm see me happy?
And while nothing is less certain than wind and wave,
Will my hope always be in wind and water?
Yet it is still summer.  What then, when the Pleiades, and the Watcher of the Bear,
And the beast of Olenus wound the sea, along with me?
Either I do not know how rash I may be,
Or then too incautious Love will send me into the sea.
And lest you believe that I promise this because the time is not here,
I will give you no tardy assurance of my promise.
Let the sea still be swollen now for a few nights,;
I will attempt to go through the unwilling waters.
Either a happy boldness will hold me safe,
Or death will be the end of anxious love.
Nevertheless, I wish to be cast forth on those shores,
And that my shipwrecked limbs may be held by your harbor.
Indeed you will weep, and deign to touch my body,
And "Of this death," you will say, "I was the cause."

Of course you are displeased by this omen of my ruin,
And my letter is unwelcome to you in this part.
I cease.  Be sparing of complaint; but that the sea, also, may end its wrath,
Add, I ask, your prayers to mine.
I need a brief calm while I cross to you;
When I will have touched your shore, let the storm last!
There by you is a fitting dockyard for my ship,
And there are no waters better for my vessel.
There let Boreas shut me in, where it is sweet to linger;
Then I will be slow to swim; then I will be cautious,
Nor will I make any reproaches to the unhearing flood,
Nor complain that the sea is harsh when I would be swimming.
Let the winds and your tender arms alike hold me,
And let me be ensnared there by two causes!

When the storm suffers it, I will use the oars of my body;
You only keep the light always in view.
In the meantime, let the letter pass the night with you in my place,
Which I pray that I may follow with least delay.





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Last updated 06/23/2013