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Ovid, Heroides XX

Introduction and Synopsis


Acontius to Cydippe

So receive, Cydippe, the despised Acontius,
Who gave you words with the apple.
Put fear aside!  You will swear no oath a second time to a lover;
It is enough that you promised yourself to me once.
Read through thoroughly--thus may the weakness depart from that body;
If there is pain in any part of it, it is pain for me.

Why does shame come over you beforehand? For I suspect that, 
Just as in Diana's temple, your delicate cheeks have reddened.
It is marriage that I seek, and pledged faith, not a sin;
I love as a promised husband, not an adulterer.
You may remember the words which the fruit taken from the tree,
Thrown by me, brought to your chaste hands;
There you will find what you promised, which I wish
That you, virgin, rather than the goddess, would remember.
Now it is also the same, I fear, but nevertheless a more painful same;
It takes on strength, and delay increases the flame.
And that love which was never small, by length of time
And by the hope you had given to me, now grows.
You had given me hope; my passion believed you;
You can not deny this fact with the goddess as witness.
She was there, and present as she was, she noted your words,
And she seemed by the motion of her hair to affirm them.

You may say that you were misled by my deceit,
So long as love is admitted as the cause of my deceit.
What did my deceit seek, except to be joined as one with you?
The thing which you complain of can join you to me.
Neither by nature nor by experience am I so clever;
Believe me, girl, you made me skillful.
It was ingenious Love that bound you to me
By the words I put together, if indeed I did anything.
I made the betrothal with words dictated by him.
And I was a lawyer advised by crafty Love.
Let deceit be the name given to my act, and let me be called cunning,
If indeed it is cunning to want to hold the one you love.

See--once again I write, putting down words of entreaty!
This is another deceit, and you have reason to complain.
If I injure you because I love, I confess that I will injure you without end,
And I will strive for you, even though you guard against my striving.
Others have taken away with swords the girls that pleased them;
Shall this letter, written cautiously by me, be a crime?
May the gods make it so that I can place more bonds upon you,
So that your pledge is free in no part.
A thousand ploys remain--I only sweat at the bottom of the slope;
My passion will leave nothing untried.
It may be doubtful whether you can be taken; you will certainly be pursued for capture.
The result is with the gods, but you will be taken nevertheless.
You may escape a part, but not all the nets will fail,
Which Love has spread for you in greater numbers than you believe.

If art is not of use, then I will resort to arms,
And you will be borne away, seized in the heart that is eager for you.
I am not one who is accustomed to reprove Paris' deed,
Nor anyone who, in order to be able to be a husband, has been a man.
I also--but I will not say anything.  Grant that death would be the punishment
For this theft, it will be less than not to have had you.
Or you should be less beautiful, so you would be sought more moderately;
I am driven to be rash by your beauty.
You do this--you and your eyes, to which the burning stars yield,
And which are the cause of my flames;
Your golden hair does this, and your ivory neck,
And the hands that I pray should come around my neck,
And your beauty, and your features which are modest without being unrefined,
And your feet, which I judge Thetis' could hardly match.
If I could praise the rest, I would be more happy,
Nor do I doubt, indeed, that the whole work is like these.
Compelled by such beauty, it is no wonder
If I wish to have the pledge of your voice.

Finally, so long as you are forced to confess yourself caught,
You may be a girl who was caught by my deceit.
I will endure the reproach; but let the one who endures it be given his reward.
Why should its profit be lacking for so great a crime?
Telamon took Hesione, and Achilles took Briseis;
Each of them surely followed her conqueror as her husband.
You may blame and be angry as much as you wish,
If only it is allowed that I can enjoy you while you are angry.
I, who caused the anger, will likewise lessen the anger I caused;
Just let there be some small opportunity for pleasing you.
Let me stand weeping before your face,
And let my tears add their own words,
And like a slave, when he fears savage lashes,
Let me stretch submissive hands to your legs.
You do not know your rights.  Call me!  Why am I accused in absence?
Order me to come immediately, in the manner of a ruler.
You may tear my hair with your own tyrannical hand,
And my face may be black and blue from your fingers.
I will endure all these things; I only fear lest perhaps
That hand should be injured by my body.
But do not restrain me with fetters nor with chains;
I will be held, vanquished, by strong love for you.
When your anger shall have well satisfied itself for as long as it wishes,
You will say to yourself, "How patiently he loves!"
You will say to yourself, when you see me bearing all things, 
"He who serves so well, let him serve me!"
Now, unhappy, I am accused in my absence, and my case,
Although it is excellent, is lost with no one to help me.

This also, that however much that writing of mine may have injured you,
You should not indeed complain of me alone.
The Delian does not deserve to be cheated as well along with me; if you do not wish
To keep your promise to me, keep it to the goddess.
She was there and she saw when, deceived, you blushed,
And she stored your words in a mindful ear.
May the omens lack substance!  Nothing is more violent than she
When she sees--which I hope will not be--her divinity injured.
The Calydonian boar will be witness--so savage, but that
A mother was found to be more savage to her son than it was.
And Actaeon will be witness, once believed to be a wild beast by those
With whom he himself had given wild beasts to death before;
And the arrogant mother, her body transformed into stone,
Even now stands weeping on Mygdonian soil.

Ah me!  Cydippe, I fear to speak the truth to you,
Lest I seem to warn falsely for the sake of my own case;
Nevertheless, it must be said.  This is, believe me, why you
Often lie ill at the very time of marriage.
The goddess herself looks to your welfare; she toils lest you should be perjured,
And she desires that you be unhurt in an unbroken pledge.
Thus it is that, as often as you try to be unfaithful,
So often she corrects your fault.
Forbear to move the cruel bow of the courageous virgin;
She can yet be mild, if you allow it.
Forbear, I pray, to destroy your delicate limbs with fevers;
Save that beauty to be enjoyed by me.
Save that face that was born to inflame me,
And the soft blush that is in your snowy complexion.
May my enemies, and any who oppose your being mine,
Be just as I am when you are ill.
I am equally tormented whether you are marrying or ill,
Nor am I able to say which I wish for less.
Sometimes I grow weak because I believe I may be the cause of pain to you,
And my cunning the cause of your injury.
May the oath-breaking of my lady fall upon my head, I ask;
May the punishment be mine, and she be safe!

Nevertheless, lest I be ignorant of how you are doing, I often go,
Anxious, here and there by your door in secret;
I follow the maid-servant and the slave stealthily, asking
What benefit there has been for you from sleep, or what benefit from food.
Miserable me, that I do not carry out the orders of the doctors,
And stroke your hand and sit by your bed!
And miserable again, because when I am far removed from you,
Perhaps that other, whom I would least wish, is there.
He strokes your hand and sits by your illness,
Hated by me and by the gods above,
And when he tests your pulsing vein with his thumb,
He often holds your white arm for this reason,
And touches your breast and perhaps kisses you;
This payment is greater than his service.

Who gave you permission to reap my harvests early?
Who made a path for you to another's fence?
That breast is mine!  You take my kisses wrongly!
Take your hand away from the body promised to me!
Wicked one, take your hand away!  She whom you touch will be mine;
Soon if you do that, you will be an adulterer.
Select, from among those who are free, one whom another does not claim;
If you do not know, this thing has its master.
You need not believe me; let the form of our covenant be recited;
And lest you say it is false, have her read it herself.
Leave the bedroom of another--I say to you, leave!
What are you doing here?  Leave!  This bed is not empty.
Just because you have other words in an identical covenant,
Your case will not on that account be equal to mine.
She promised herself to me; her father promised her to you.  He is first after her.
But certainly she is closer to herself than her father is.
Her father promised her; she swore herself to her lover;
He called men to witness--she called a goddess.
He fears being called untruthful; she also fears being called foresworn.
Do you doubt which of these would be the greater fear?
In short, even if you could compare the dangers of the two,
Consider the result:  she lies ill in bed; he is in good health.
We also are undergoing a contest with different minds;
The hope is not the same for us, nor are our fears equal.
You seek from safety; for me a rejection is heavier than death,
And I already love her whom you, perhaps, will love.
If you had cared for justice or right,
You yourself should have given way to the flames of my passion.

Now, since this wild one fights for his unfair cause,
To what , Cydippe, does my letter return?
It is he who has made you lie ill and be suspected by Diana;
He is the one that you, if you were wise, would deny entrance to your door.
By his doing you have come under such savage dangers to your life,
And would that he, who caused them, would perish instead of you!
If you reject him and do not love one whom the goddess condemns,
Then you will be well at once, and certainly I will be.
Halt your fear, virgin!  You will acquire lasting health,
If only you honor with an offering the temple that shares your knowledge;
The celestial divinities are not made glad by a slain ox,
But by good faith, which should be kept even without a witness.
To be healthy, some women endure steel and fire;
To others, the bitter juice brings harsh power.
There is no need for these; it is enough to avoid false oaths,
And you will at the same time save me and your pledged faith!
Ignorance will give pardon for past offenses:
The agreement you read had slipped your mind.
You are just now warned by my voice, just now warned by these misfortunes
Which you are accustomed to suffer as often as you try to fail in your promise.
Even if you avoid these misfortunes, will you ask that the goddess'
Light-bearing hand
bring aid to you in childbirth?
She will hear, and then recalling what she had heard before, she will ask,
From what husband this child comes to you.
You will promise an offering; she knows that you promise falsely.
You will swear; she knows that you can deceive the gods.

I am not troubled about myself; I labor for a greater concern.
My heart is anxious for your case.
Why just now, when you were in danger, did your trembling parents weep,
Whom you have kept in ignorance of your crime?
And why should they be ignorant?  It is allowed for you to tell all to your mother.
Nothing you have done, Cydippe, deserves a blush.
See to it that you tell her, in order, how you first became known to me,
While she herself was making sacrifice to the quiver-bearing goddess;
How, having caught sight of you, if perhaps you noticed,
I stood still with eyes fixed on your limbs;
And while I admired you too greatly--a sure sign of passion--
My mantle fell down, slipping from my shoulder;
How after that, in some way, the rolling apple came,
Bearing deceitful words in clever letters,
Which, because they were read with holy Diana present,
Made your promise binding with a goddess as witness.
Lest she still might not understand what the meaning of the writing might be,
Say again now the words that were once read by you.
"Marry, I pray," she will say, "him to whom the good gods join you;
He whom you swore should be, that one should be my son-in-law;
Whoever he is, he will please, since he pleased Diana before."
So will your mother say, if only she is a mother.

But nevertheless, see to it that she inquires who I am and what kind of person;
She will discover that the goddess has regard for the interests of you all.
An island once crowded with Corycian nymphs
Whose name is Cea, is encircled by the Aegean Sea.
This is my homeland; nor, if you approve of noble
Names, may I be accused of being born of contemptible ancestors.
We have wealth, and we have character without stain;
And even if there was nothing more, Love joins me to you.
You would seek such a husband even if you had not sworn;
Having sworn, you should have him even if he were not such.

These things the huntress Phoebe, in my dreams, ordered me to write to you;
These things Love ordered me to write while I was awake;
Arrows from one of them have already wounded me;
Beware that missiles from the other do not wound you!
Our safety is joined--have pity on me and on yourself;
Why do you waver about bringing a single help to both?
If this should happen, when the given signals shall sound,
And Delos shall be stained with votive blood,
A golden image of the lucky apple will be set down,
And the cause will be written in two little lines:
"With the image of this apple, Acontius bears witness
That what was written on it has been settled."

So that a longer letter should not tire your weakened body,
And so that it should be closed by the customary ending:  farewell!




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Last updated 06/23/2013