Introduction and Synopses for

Ovid, Heroides XX and XXI

Text of Heroides XX; Synopsis of Heroides XVIII

Text of Heroides XXI; Synopsis of Heroides XIX


The Basic Situation

Acontius is in love with Cydippe, who has spurned his affections.  When he saw her offering her devotions in the temple of Diana on the island of Delos, he wrote the words "I swear by Diana that I will marry Acontius" on an apple and threw the fruit into the temple where Cydippe would pick it up.  She read the words aloud without thinking about their meaning, but by doing so--and particularly by doing so in the sacred precincts of Diana's temple--she bound herself by an oath.  She didn't give the matter much thought at the time, but when she became engaged to another man she fell grievously ill.  Each time she became engaged to be married thereafter, she once more became critically ill and the marriages had to be called off one after another.  Finally her parents sent to the Delphic oracle to ask why she kept becoming ill on the eve of her wedding. Once they learned the truth of what had happened, her father consented to Acontius as a son-in-law and the two were married.  

The Background

The story is a fairly simple one, and unlike many of the other letters, its subject matter is not part of a larger set of mythological tales.  Acontius was a young man of good family from the island of Ceos (called Cea in the poems); Ceos is in the Cyclades, and island group off the coast of Greece in the Aegean Sea.  Cydippe was a well-born young woman from the city of Athens, on the Greek mainland.  Acontius had fallen in love with Cydippe, but she apparently did not favor him.  

Cydippe traveled to the island of Delos (which is also in the Cyclades) to see the island's famous shrines and to worship at the temple of Diana there.  While she was in Diana's temple, Acontius spotted her.  He wrote a simple oath on an apple:  "I swear by Diana that I will marry Acontius."  He then threw the apple into the temple, and Cydippe, not knowing who it was from, picked it up.  At her old nurse's urging, she read the writing aloud.  The goddess Diana heard the oath that was uttered in her temple and considered it binding, but Cydippe did not realize what she had done and returned home to Athens.

Some time later, her parents arranged for her to be married to someone other than Acontius.  She immediately became gravely ill.  She had fever and her body wasted away.  The doctors could do nothing for her, and it was apparent that she was dying.  Her wedding was called off and her engagement was canceled.  Immediately afterwards, she miraculously recovered from her illness.  She became engaged to be married again, and the same thing happened.  No one could understand why.

The reason, of course, was the goddess Diana.  She was the goddess of the hunt, and her arrows could induce sickness or death.  She was punishing Cydippe for trying to break the oath that had been made in her temple.  As often as Cydippe tried to marry someone other than Acontius, Diana would make her deathly ill.  As soon as the marriage was called off, Diana would let her recover.

Cydippe's parents arranged a marriage for her one last time.  Once again she became ill.  This time her parents were determined to get to the bottom of things, and they sent emissaries to Delphi, the site of the most famous oracle in the ancient world, to ask why their daughter became ill every time they arranged a marriage for her.  The answer eventually came back that Diana was angry with her for attempting to break her oath.  Cydippe also admitted to her mother that she had accidentally sworn the oath in Diana's temple.  After this, Cydippe's father bowed to the will of the goddess and arranged for her to marry Acontius.

All this time, Acontius was apparently still trying to woo Cydippe.  He lurked around the doorway to her house, followed her servants, and asked for information about her from anyone available.  He also seems to have written letters to her, declaring his love and urging her to marry him.  The letters that Ovid gives us here were written while she was still ill and near death, and while her parents were still awaiting word from the Delphic oracle.

The Letters:  Heroides XX

Lines 1-6:  [Note:  Lines 1 and 2 are not included in some editions of the text.]  Acontius opens the letter by introducing himself and Cydippe by name, and by reminding us of the basic circumstance behind the letter--his trick of writing an oath on an apple and getting her to read it aloud.  Having done this, he tells her to "Put fear aside" as she reads this letter, since he is not trying to trick her swearing another oath--he does not need for her to swear a second time ("It is enough that you promised yourself to me once.")  He urges her to read the letter carefully, suggesting that its contents may help to relieve her illness, and he closes the section by assuring her that, if the letter causes her any pain, then he suffers pain because of it.

Lines 7-22:  Acontius begins this section by visualizing Cydippe's reaction to the letter.  He imagines her blushing with shame, and he immediately reassures her that there is nothing to be ashamed of; he seeks "marriage," and he speaks of himself as a "promised husband."  He reminds her of the words she read on the apple "the fruit taken from the tree"), and of the promise that reading these words aloud bound her to.  He reminds her obliquely of Diana's authority over her, saying that he wishes that she would remember the oath, "rather than the goddess."  In the middle of the section, he shifts tactics to speak of his own love for her:  it has increased, he says, because of the amount of time that has passed and because of the "hope" that her involuntary promise has given him.  He closes the section by reminding her once again that Diana was "witness" to the promise, and even adds a further detail--that the goddess "seemed to affirm" the promise "by the motion of her hair" in the temple.

Lines 23-34:  In this section, Acontius sets himself to address the objection that he knows Cydippe must raise regarding his courtship of her--that he deceived her into making her promise.  He says that he will admit the deceit, "so long as love is admitted" as the reason behind it.  He says that she can benefit from the very thing she complains of, and "be joined" to him by means of it.  He then says that she is to blame for his trickery; he is not "so clever," and she is the one who "made me skilful."  He goes on to excuse himself still further by saying that Love itself, personified as the god Amor or Cupid, is to blame; he claims that he only used words "dictated by him" and was like a lawyer "advised by crafty Love."  He ends the section as he began it, admitting to his deceit, and excusing it because it was motivated by his desire "to hold" her.

Lines 35-48:  In the opening lines of this section, Acontius continues with the theme of deceit, but he introduces a note of heavy irony now, saying that even his sincere pleading ("words of entreaty") must be deceitful, and that she has "reason to complain" of it.  He says that if his love is an injury to her, then he will continue to injure her in spite of her best efforts at defense.  He also points out, however, that others have used force ("taken away with swords") the women they desired, and that his "cautiously" written letter can hardly be considered a "crime" in comparison to them.  He then threatens to use more tricks in order to bind her promise more fully to him, saying that he has only begun in his efforts to get her ("I only sweat at the bottom of the slope").  He closes the section by saying that he will not rest from his pursuit of her, and that she can not escape all of the traps, or "nets," "that Love has spread for" her.

Lines 49-66:  Acontius opens this section by taking his pursuit of Cydippe even further, saying that he would even resort to force in order to have her, if the "art" or cleverness he has just described is not enough.  He insists that he does not condemn Paris, the son of King Priam who abducted Helen from Sparta and precipitated the Trojan War.  In line 53 he starts to elaborate further on this theme, but then stops himself ("but I will not say anything"), hinting at additional dark resolves.  Then he shifts tactics, moving away from the direct threat of kidnapping her and turning back instead to the strength of the passion that drives him, saying that even "death" would not be too high a price to pay for having her.  He asserts that she is to blame for this--she should "be less beautiful" so that he would seek her "more moderately."  He spends the next several lines describing the beauty that drives him "to be rash," going over the attractions of her eyes, her hair, her neck, her hands and face, and even her feet.  He ends the section by hinting at the parts of her that he has not been allowed to see, and by assuring her that he is driven to seek her "pledge" of marriage because he is "compelled by such beauty."

Lines 67-94:  The opening of this section shifts back to the theme of "deceit," as Acontius tells Cydippe that he will admit to his trickery and "endure the reproach" if only she will "confess yourself caught"--he will accept the "crime" so long as he gets the "profit" from it.  He then compares himself to Telamon and Achilles, two figures from Greek heroic legend who acquired their wives or lovers by abducting them, and he points out that these women accepted their abductors as husbands.  He even says Cydippe can be angry with him so long as "I can enjoy you while you are angry."  But he will "lessen the anger," he says, even though he was the one who caused it:  he will find ways to please her, he will "stand weeping before" her, and he will even submit himself to her like a slave.  He also suggests that she has acted unjustly by accusing him in his absence; she should call him before her like a defendant in a court case.  She may then mistreat him with her "tyrannical hand," and he will endure everything; the only thing he would fear, he says, is that her hand might be injured in punishing him.  He continues the metaphor of a defendant charged with a crime in the next two lines, saying that she would not need "fetters" or "chains" to imprison him, since he would be "vanquished" and bound by his love.  His patient suffering would show her how much he loves her, and she would finally accept his willingness to "serve" her.  He ends the section by returning to the metaphor of the court case, complaining once more that he is accused in his absence, and his "case" is lost, even though it is "excellent."

Lines 95-108:  In this section, Acontius shifts course to warn Cydippe that she should beware of betraying the goddess Diana.  However much she may think she has been injured by the trick of his "writing," he is not the only one involved; Diana ("the Delian") "does not deserve to be cheated," and she should keep her promise "to the goddess."  He reminds her that the goddess witnessed the oath ("She was there and she saw"), and then goes on to warn her about Diana's vengeful reactions "when she sees...her divinity injured."  The remainder of the stanza is taken up with three examples of revenge that Diana took against offending mortals:  the fury of the Calydonian boar against Oeneus' kingdom; the horrible fate of Actaeon, who saw Diana naked and bathing; and the piteous plight of Niobe, who claimed she was superior to Diana's mother.

Lines 109-130:  Here Acontius shifts from giving general examples of Diana's wrath in the past, and focuses specifically on Cydippe's predicament.  He begins by assuring her of his own sincerity, saying that he must speak even though he fears that she will think he is lying "for the sake of my own case."  The reason she falls ill, he tells her, is that she is attempting to go against the goddess' will by marrying against her oath.  He hastens to assure her that Diana is not punishing her in this way--in fact, the goddess is protecting her by making it impossible for her to marry and therefore preserving her "unbroken pledge."  Diana "corrects your fault" by making her too ill to marry.  He urges Cydippe not "to move the cruel bow" of the goddess, and to "save that beauty to be enjoyed by me."  He spends three lines describing her loveliness and the effect it has on him, and then says that he is "equally tormented" by her illness and by the thought of her marrying someone else.  He ends the section by wishing that any punishment for her "aoth-breaking" should "fall upon my head," so that she would "be safe."

Lines 131-144:  In this section, Acontius begins by shifting topics fairly abruptly and describing his own activities during her illness.  He says that he wants to know "how you are doing," and so he sneaks around the doorway to her house, and he follows her servants in order to ask them how much good the various remedies are doing.  Then he laments that he is not the one to sit by her bedside and help nurse her back to health.  He worries lest "that other," her fiancÚ, is there instead, and he imagines that his rival touches Cydippe's arm to check her pulse, and that he "touches your breast and perhaps kisses you."  He closes the section by complaining that the fiancÚ is receiving more than "his service" deserves.

Lines 145-172:  At this point Acontius launches into a diatribe against the imagined fiancÚ.  Addressing his rival directly, he claims Cydippe as his own property, comparing her metaphorically to the grain ripening in a field ("Who gave you permission to reap my harvests early?") and to a piece of land protected by a boundary fence.  He then claims her body more directly ("That breast is mine!") and orders the man to "take your hand away," telling him to find someone else who is not already taken.  He emphasizes again that "this thing has its master," and cites "the form of our covenant" as proof.  He orders the man to "leave the bedroom of another," repeating the order twice to make it more forceful.  He then compares their competing claims to Cydippe, going through their various merits as though they were a case in court.  He points out that her father promised Cydippe to the fiancÚ, but that Cydippe herself promised marriage to Acontius.  Men witnessed her father's promise, but a goddess witnessed hers.  He says that her father is afraid of being "untruthful," but that she fears being "foresworn."  He suggests that being foresworn is "the greater fear," and points to the consequences:  Cydippe is deathly ill, while her father is "in good health."  He even compares the situations of the two rivals themselves, claiming that the fiancÚ is in no danger, while for him "rejection is heavier than death."  He closes the section by appealing to "justice or right," saying that if the fiancÚ cared for either one, he would already have "given way" to Acontius' "passion."

Lines 173-198:  Having delivered his diatribe against the fiancÚ, Acontius returns his attention in this section to Cydippe's own predicament ("to what, Cydippe, does my letter return?").  He first tells her that it is the fiancÚ, not Acontius himself, who is really responsible for her illness; she should "deny entrance" to him, for he is the one who caused "such savage dangers to your life."  The "goddess condemns" this marriage, and if she should "reject him," then she would "be well at once."  He tells her that she should make an offering to Diana's temple at Delos ("the temple that shares your knowledge").  However, he is not talking about the usual sort of offering, like "a slain ox"; instead, she should offer her "good faith," by keeping her oath to marry no one but him.  He points out that women do many things to ensure their good health ("steel and fire," "the bitter juice"), but that she does not need these things--all she needs is "to avoid false oaths" in order to save both herself and him.  He goes on to say that she need not worry about punishment for her past attempts to break her oath; she can plead "ignorance" since she had forgotten about it and has only just now been reminded of it by Acontius' letter and her own illness.  He reminds her once again that the illness strikes whenever she tries to marry someone else ("as often as you try to fail in your promise").  He finishes the section by asking her what she would do even if she could marry and "avoid these misfortunes."  If she had a child, would she call on Diana's help during labor ("the goddess' light-bearing hand")?  Diana, he says, would surely ask who the child's father was, and even if she promised an offering to the goddess, even if she swore, Diana would know that her promises could not be trusted.

Lines 199-220:  Acontius opens this section by first reiterating his concern for her welfare, and then asking why her parents still do not know the reasons for her misfortunes.  He urges her to tell her mother about what happened, saying that "it is allowed for you to tell all to your mother," and reassuring her that she has done nothing that she should be ashamed of.  He then becomes quite specific, for the first time in the poem, about what actions she should take.  She should describe how they first met in Diana's temple, how he stood with his "eyes fixed on your limbs," and how his "mantle fell down" from his shoulder in his preoccupation with her.  She should explain the trick with the apple and its "deceitful words," and how the oath bound her because it was "read with holy Diana present."  He even urges her to repeat the words from the apple so that her mother will understand the importance of what happened.  He closes the section by predicting that her mother, if she is tryly a mother, will tell her to marry "him to whom the good gods join you."

Lines 221-230:  Acontius goes on to expand on his own worthiness to be her husband.  He tells Cydippe to make sure her mother inquires about "who I am and what kind of person."  She will discover, he says, that Diana has chosen favorably for the family.  He is from the Greek island of Ceos ("Cea" in the poem).  He is of noble birth, and his family is wealthy and has a good reputation.  Above all, he says, "love joins me to you."  He ends by saying that he is the sort of husband she would wish to have, even if she had not sworn to marry him--and since she has sworn, she should take him even if he did not have so many desirable attributes.

Lines 231-242:  In this next-to-last section, Acontius makes his final appeal to Cydippe.  He starts by claiming that the goddess Diana, coming to him in his dreams, told him to write this letter, and that Cupid ("Love") prompted him to do the same while he was awake.  Then he plays on the fact that both deities are archers, saying that Cupid's arrows have already wounded him, and warning Cydippe not to let Diana's more deadly arrows wound her.  He tells her that their well-being is "joined," and that she should not hesitate to help both of them by doing as he asks.  He finishes by telling her that, when the "signals" of their wedding are heard and sacrifice has been offered in the temple at Delos, he will dedicate a gold replica of the apple he used to trick her, and on it he will inscribe his testimony that her oath has been settled at last.

Lines 243-244:  He closes the poem simply, saying that he would not "tire" her with a longer letter, and so he will just give the "customary ending" of "farewell."

The Letters:  Heroides XXI

Lines 1-14:  [Note:  Lines 1 and 2 are not included in some editions of the text.]  Cydippe begins by echoing the opening of Acontius' letter.  Despite the fact that he told her to "put fear aside," she says that she feared his letter was a trick ("an ambush for my eyes"), like the writing on the apple; she read it silently ("without a murmur"), afraid that she might be trapped into making another oath without meaning to.  She even says that she believes that he would have tried to make her swear again except that (again echoing Acontius) "a single promise from me was enough."  She goes on to acknowledge the anger of the goddess Diana.  She says that "I should not have read," but she was afraid of Diana's reaction if she was "harsh" with him.  She herself worships Diana with "pious incense," but in spite of that she favors Acontius "more than is just."  She laments the Diana's unusual favoritism, saying that she wishes the virgin goddess would "favor my virgin years."  She ends the section by expressing the fear that her own years may be cut short by the goddess' wrath.

Lines 15-32:  Cydippe begins this section by lamenting her own illness.  Despite the fact that she has acknowledged Diana's influence, she says that the reasons for her sickness "are not clear," and that the doctors can not help.  She is so weak that she can barely write the letter, and on top of that she is afraid that someone will find out that she is corresponding with Acontius (she is, after all, engaged to marry another man). The only person who knows is her faithful nurse, who guards the door and tells visitors that Cydippe is sleeping so that she will not be discovered at her letter-writing.  When she can not prevent interruption, the nurse coughs, and Cydippe quickly hides the letter, unfinished, in her "trembling breast."  When the danger is passed, she takes it out and "it wearies my fingers again."  She ends the section by reproaching Acontius, telling him that she is "better than you deserve in fairness."

Lines 33-56:  Cydippe begins this section by responding to Acontius' letter directly.  She acknowledges his claim that it is because of him--or because of the trick he played on her--that she is ill.  She reproaches him again, asking whether this suffering is the reward for the beauty that he has praised so highly.  She wishes that she had seemed ugly to him, so that he would not have wanted her in the first place, and her body would be healthy and "would need no help."  Then she moves on to reproach both Acontius and her fiancÚ ("you two"), saying that she is "wounded by your struggle."  Neither one of them will yield to the other, and she is caught between them; she compares herself to a ship, tossed helplessly upon the sea by the north wind ("Boreas").   Next she describes the consequences of their competition for her hand.  As her wedding day approaches, she begins to burn up with fever ("excessive burning is in my body"), and at the very time of marriage the goddess of the underworld and the dead (cruel Persephone) calls for her.  To make matters worse, even though she is innocent, she is afraid that people will think she has done something to deserve the wrath of the gods.  She even discusses some of the rumors that have gone around.  One person blames her fiancÚ, saying that he has not "been accepted by the gods," while another claims that Acontius is doing it by sorcery.  She closes the section by blaming them both:  They "stir up rough strife," and she is the one who is "punished."

Lines 57-66:  In this section, Cydippe returns to reproaching Acontius alone.  If he hurts her this much out of love, she says, what would he do if he hated her instead?  She begs him "to desire to destroy me," since then she might escape the damaging consequences of his love.  She says that either he must not care for her, since he allows her "to die from an unmerited wasting away," or else his prayers for Diana to spare her must be worthless.  She closes the section by taunting him with the uncertainty of his motives and actions:  either he does not care, or he is powerless to do anything.

Lines 67-78: Here and in the sections which follow, Cydippe moves away from her reproaches to give an account of the events that led up to her oath. She starts by saying that she wishes she had not seen the island of Delos--which is where Acontius perpetrated his trick on her--or at least that she had not been there at that time.  She sets the tone for her journey by saying that her ship sailed through "difficult seas," and that the hour of her departure "was unlucky."  She asks how she came to depart in the first place, how she stepped out of her house and onto the "painted fabric of the swift ship."  Two times on the voyage, she says, "the sails turned back before opposing winds."  Then in keeping with her theme that this was an unlucky journey, she corrects her phrasing, saying instead that the winds were "favoring" because they held her back from "the path of little happiness."  She ends the section by wishing that the winds had continued to obstruct her travels, but laments that "it is foolish to  complain against the capricious winds."

Lines 79-86:  Having set the tone of her ill-fated journey in the previous section, she continues with a heavily ironic account of her feelings during the voyage.  She says that she "hastened" in her eagerness to see the famous island of Delos, and that the ship seemed "sluggish" to her.  She thought that its "oars were slow," and that the sailors spread "too little sail."  She names some of the other islands in the Cyclades that she passed, and then she finally saw "shining Delos."  Even then, the ship seemed to approach too slowly, and she asks whether Delos once ore floats "across the great sea."  (According to myth, Delos was once a floating island, without any fixed position.)

Lines 87-104:  She landed on Delos at sunset, when the sun-god releases his "shining horses" from his fiery chariot.  At sunrise the next morning, her mother sees to her hair, and to her jewels and clothing; then they go out and offer "wine and golden incense" to the gods.  While her mother was busy making animal sacrifices to the deities, her nurse led out sightseeing around the many temples for which Delos was famous.  She marveled at all the "gifts of kings" that had been offered at Delos, and at the many statues; she even saw the famous altar to Apollo, which was "built of innumerable horns."  She comments on the tree that the goddess Latona was supposed to have held onto as she was giving birth to Apollo and Diana.  She ends the section by saying that she can not tell of all the marvels that she saw on Delos, both because she does not remember them all, and because "it is not allowed" by the rules of the sacred place to tell of everything.

Lines 105-130:  In this section, Cydippe completes her account of her visit to Delos and returns to reproaching Acontius for his trickery.  She begins by suggesting that perhaps Acontius caught sight of her as she was sightseeing and thought that she might be naive enough to be easy prey for him.  She says that she returned to the temple of Diana--a sacred place that ought to be safer than any other--and saw the apple that Acontius had thrown.  She almost repeats the verse that was written on it, but stops herself before she "swore to you again."  It was the nurse who picked up the apple and urged her to read it aloud.  When Cydippe realized what she had been tricked into saying, she reacted strongly, blushing with shame and keeping her eyes fixed on her lap.  Having described the scene, she launches into an attack on Acontius, calling him "wicked one" and asking him what "glory" or "praise" he has gained by "deluding a virgin."  She goes on to compare herself to various mythological figures, pointing out that she brought with her no fame or treasure like the defeated Amazon warriors Penthesilea and Hippolyta had, and that tricking "a girl of little experience" was not something to "exult" over.  She asks him tauntingly whether he is supposed to be like Hippomenes, who also tricked a maiden ("Schoeneus' daughter," Atalanta) with an apple thrown in her path.  She closes by telling him that it would have been better, if Cupid ("that boy") really influenced him as he claimed, for him to behave as honorable men do:  she should have been moved by persuasion rather than by trickery or force.

Lines 131-152:  Cydippe opens this section with a further consideration of how Acontius should have acted if he wished to marry her.  She asks him why he "did not consider declaring those things" which would have made her want him as a husband, and why he wanted to force her instead.  She then launches into a long, quasi-legal argument that her oath can not be binding since it was obtained by deceit.  She says that "it is the mind that swears," adding "faith to words," and her mind has given no consent; only the commitments of "judgement have force."  She challenges him to claim "the promised marriage-bed" if he can say that she "wished to promise;" if she has "given nothing but my voice," then all he has are "vain orphaned words," and hence no real marriage vow at all.  She winds up the argument by claiming once more that she "did not swear," but only "read words that swore"--and this is not enough to make her his wife.  She closes the section by challenging him to use his deceitful words on others, if they really have such power.  Let him take "wealth from the rich" and "kingdoms" from kings; anything "in the world" can be his if he can trick people into making oaths in this way.  Such power would make him even greater "than Diana herself."

Lines 153-170: In this section, Cydippe signals a sharp change in the nature of her argument.  Even though, she says, she has "firmly denied myself to you," and explained why her "promise" was not valid, she still is afraid of "the anger of the savage daughter of Latona" (i.e., Diana), because she suspects that Diana is responsible for her illness. Otherwise, why would she get seriously ill every time she started to get married ("the conjugal rites are prepared")?  Hymen, the god who presides over marriage ceremonies, has arrived three times, but has always "fled." She gives a vivid picture of what happens when this god comes to her household.  He is richly dressed in saffron robes; he is crowned with a traditional wreath and anointed with perfumes.  But the marriage torch he carries tries to go out and "is scarcely seized by flame" even when he shakes it to fan the fire.  The reason for this is that "he sees tears and fear of death" in her home, which "are far from his custom" as a god who celebrates marriage.  So he throws down the wreaths which crown him, and he dries the perfume ("rich balsam") from his hair.  He blushes with shame for being "glad in a mournful crowd."

Lines 171-184:  In this section, Cydippe returns to bemoaning her illness.  She says that she is "burned with fever;" the covers of her bed feel "heavier than they should be" as her parents are weeping for her.  She also plays on the two traditional uses of torches, saying that she has the "funeral torch" rather than the "wedding torch" she should have expected.  She goes on to plead with Diana ("goddess who is joyful with the painted quiver") to send the help of her brother, Apollo, who is a god of healing.  She points out the irony that he "drives away the causes of death," while his sister is killing her with illness.  She then runs rapidly through three of the most famous examples of mortals against whom Diana sought revenge:  Actaeon, Oeneus, and Niobe.  (They are the same examples that Acontius cited in his letter.)  She asks whether she committed any of the sins of which these were guilty, and then answers her own question:  "I have sinned in nothing."  All she has done, she says, is "read a false oath."

Lines 185-190:  Now Cydippe turns her attention back to Acontius.  She tells him that he should "offer incense" to pray for her to be healed as well.  He may be angry that his beloved does not belong to him yet, but by failing to intervene on her behalf, he is making sure that she can never belong to him.  She points out that she can only be his if she recovers, and Diana's revenge, which will cost her her life, will also cost him his hope of ever having her.

Lines 191-208:  In this section, Cydippe responds more or less directly to Acontius' jealous imaginings about her fiancÚ's conduct as he sits by her bedside.  He does not, she says, "caress my sick limbs."  He sits by her only "as much as he is allowed," and he treats her as "a virgin."  What is more, "he seems to sense" that something is wrong between them.  He cries for no apparent reason; his flattery is less bold, his kisses are few, and his voice is "timid" when "he calls me his own."  She is not surprised at this, for she herself has given him cause to doubt their relationship; she turns on her side when he comes in and pretends to be asleep, and she throws off his hand when he touches her.  He is unhappy about her rejection and "he groans and sighs;" she acknowledges that "he has not deserved" her displeasure.   She ends the section by lashing out at Acontius.  For the first time she has admitted that she has feelings for him, and she protests at the pleasure he will take in her confession.  She says that he is indeed worthy of her "if anyone would be," even though he is the one who tricked her.

Lines 209-228:  Having admitted her unwilling feelings for Acontius, she returns to reproaching him.  He wishes to come see her, she says, and yet he harms her even from a long way off.  She comments on his name, which is like "akontion," a Greek word for javelin, and says that it is appropriate since he has "sharpness" and can inflict wounds from a distance.  But why would he want to see her, she asks.  She describes her body as "in wretched health," and "ruined by wasting away."  She describes her complexion as pale, without the rosy flush of health, like marble or ice-cold silver.  She tells him that he would not even recognize her if he saw her now and would deny that he had ever "striven" for her.  She ends the section by suggesting that he would release her from her oath, or even get her to swear one that negated the first one, by sending her "other words to read."

Lines 229-250:  In this final section, Cydippe finally says that he should come visit her, so that he can see "the feeble limbs of your bride."  The sight would surely elicit pity from him, and he would seek favor for her from Diana.  Then she shifts topics.  She lets him know that her family has sent to Apollo's oracle at Delphi to find out how she might :"be restored to health."  She has heard rumors that he speaks "of some neglected pledge" on her part.  Even "divine will," she exclaims, favors Acontius' "vow."  She asks why he should be so favored, and speculates that he has tricked even "the great gods" with "some new writing."  And so she comes to her closing.  Since he commands the gods, she must follow their will, and she "willingly" gives herself to him.  She says that she has told her mother of her involuntary oath, but she refuses to describe much of that scene to him, saying that "even this is more than a virgin should do."  She closes the letter by saying that she has "tired my feeble limbs enough with the pen," and that her hand is too weak to write any more.  All that is left, if she wishes "now to be joined with you," is to end her letter as he ended his, with "Farewell."

 

 

 

This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

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Last updated 06/23/2013