Notes for

Ovid, Heroides XX and XXI


Achilles:  Son of the human Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis; the mightiest of the Greek heroes who fought in the Trojan War.  During the Trojan War, Achilles took Briseis as his war-prize from the conquest of the city of Lyrnessos (a Trojan ally).  He became quite fond of her, and when she was taken from him by the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces, Agamemnon, he refused to take further part in the fighting.  For Briseis' letter to Achilles, reproaching him for not accepting Agamemnon's later offer to return her, see Heroides III.  [Note:  Achilles' anger at Agamemnon, his withdrawal from the battle, and his eventual return to fighting form the main plot of Homer's Iliad.]

Acontius:  A well-born young man from the Greek island of Ceos.  While on the island of Delos, he saw Cydippe and fell in love with her.  He wrote an oath on an apple and threw it where she would pick it up inside the temple of Diana.  When she read the oath aloud, she became unwillingly committed to marry him.

Actaeon:  While Actaeon was out hunting, he accidentally saw Diana bathing in a woodland pool.  Diana was enraged at being seen naked and transformed Actaeon into a deer.  Actaeon was then pursued by his own companions and torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs.  The story was often used as an example of Diana's cruelty and her sensitivity to affronts.

Aegean:  The Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean which lies between Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).

altar built of innumerable horns:  According to tradition, Apollo built an altar on Delos, constructing it entirely from the horns given to him by his sister, Diana.  Later writers even reported seeing the famous "horned altar."

Amazonian, Amazons:  The Amazons were a tribe of warrior women who were famed in the world of Greek myth for their courage and their prowess in battle.

ambush for my eyes:  Acontius had tricked Cydippe once before by throwing an apple into the temple of Diana.  On the apple, he had written an oath, and when Cydippe inadvertently read this oath aloud within the sacred precincts of the temple, she became sworn to marry Acontius.  (Hence also Cydippe's insistence in the next line that she "read without a murmur" from his letter--she was fearful of reading aloud lest she be tricked into making another oath.)

Andros:  An island near Delos in the Cyclades archipelago of the Aegean Sea.

arrogant mother:  A reference to the story of Niobe.  Niobe bragged that she was superior to Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, since she had seven sons and seven daughters while Latona had only one of each.  In revenge, Apollo and Diana killed all of Niobe's children with invisible arrows.  Niobe, weeping uncontrollably over the loss of her children, was transformed into a stone; even after her transformation, the stone continued to drip with the water of her tears.

arrows:  A play on the fact that both Love (the god Cupid, or Amor) and Diana were archers.  Cupid's arrows have already induced passion in Acontius; he warns that Diana's arrows, which are more deadly in effect, may punish Cydippe if she does not keep her oath and marry him.

Boreas:  God of the north wind.

bring my glance to your bath:  A reference to the story of Actaeon, who was punished for accidentally seeing Diana while she was bathing.  For the circumstances of this incident, see the note on Actaeon.  

Briseis:  Daughter of the king of Lyrnessos; she became the war-prize of the Greek hero Achilles after he conquered her city.  For the circumstances of their relationship, see the note on Achilles.  For Briseis' letter to Achilles, see Heroides III.  

brother:  Apollo, the brother of Diana.  Apollo was, among other things, the god of healing.

Calydonian boar:  A reference to Oeneus, king of Calydon in Arcadia, who made offerings to all the other gods but neglected Diana; Diana punished him by sending an enormous and savage boar to ravage the countryside of his kingdom.  Many of the most famous figures of Greek heroic legend assembled to hunt the beast down; the Atalanta, the only female in the group, was the first to wound the boar, and Oeneus' son, Meleager, finally succeeded in killing it.  Meleager, who was in love with Atalanta, defended her rite to a trophy from the animal and killed his maternal uncles in the ensuing scuffle.  Meleager's mother then encompassed his death in revenge for the deaths of her brothers.

Cea:  An island in the Cyclades, an archipelago in the Aegean Sea off Greece; the home of Acontius.  The island was also known as Ceos of Keos; its modern name is Kea.

Corycian nymphs:  A group of nymphs, or female demigods, associated with a sacred cave on Mount Parnassus (the Corycian Cave).

cruel bow of the courageous virgin:  A reference to Diana, who was goddess of the hunt and of chastity.  She was most often depicted with a bow and quiver of arrows, which she would use to strike down those who offended her.

cruel goddess:  The goddess Diana.

Cydippe:  A maiden from a prosperous family in Athens.  She traveled to the Greek island of Delos to celebrate the festival of the goddess DianaAcontius saw her there, and he tricked her into reading an oath that he had written on an apple.  Since she read this oath aloud inside the temple of Diana, she was thereafter committed to marry him. 

daughter of Latona:  The goddess Diana.  

Delian:  The goddess Diana, who was born on the island of Delos.

Delos:  Island in the Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea.  It was sacred to Apollo and Diana and was traditionally seen as the birthplace of the two deities.  Delos was a major center for worship and sacrifice.

Diana:  Goddess of chastity and hunting; sister of the god Apollo.  She is generally depicted as carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows; she often also carries a spear or javelin.  Acontius tricked Cydippe into swearing by Diana that she would marry him, and Diana was angered when Cydippe did not keep her oath.  Every time Cydippe starts to get married to someone else, Diana makes her desperately ill; the young girl lingers near death until the wedding is called off.

fierce goddess:  The goddess Diana.

glide across the great sea:  Delos was originally supposed to have been a "floating island," which had no fixed location of its own.  When the goddess Latona was pregnant by Jove, carrying the twins Apollo and Diana, Jove's jealous wife, Juno, refused to allow Latona to give birth on "terra firma."  However, the island of Delos, which floated across the seas and was not true land, gave her shelter, and the god Apollo and Diana were born there.  Delos acquired a fixed location after their birth.

god at Delphi who sings the fates:  Apollo, the brother of Diana.  Apollo was a god of prophecy, and his shrine at Delphi was the most famous oracle in the ancient world.  Cydippe's family apparently asked the Delphic oracle how she could be healed.

goddess:  The goddess Diana, who witnessed Cydippe's "promise" because it was read aloud in Diana's temple on Delos.

goddess' light-bearing hand:  A description sometimes associated with the goddess Diana.

goddess who is joyful with the painted quiver; quiver-bearing goddess:  Diana, goddess of the hunt.  She is usually shown carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows.

have I passed by your altars:  A reference to Oeneus, king of Calydon, whose failure to make offerings to Diana resulted in the ravages of the Calydonian boar.

Hesione:  Daughter of King Laomedon of Troy; sister of King Priam of Troy.  Troy was besieged by a sea monster, sent by the sea-god Neptune in revenge for King Laomedon's refusal to pay him for his help in building Troy's walls.  The sea monster could only be appeased by the sacrifice of Laomedon's daughter, Hesione.  Hesione was tied to a rock and left for the sea-monster to devour.  The Greek hero Hercules happened to be passing by at the time, and he saved Hesione, killing the sea-monster.  Laomedon, however, refused to pay Hercules the agreed-upon reward for his services, so Hercules raised an army and conquered Troy.  He captured Hesione and gave her to one of his companions, Telamon.  Hesione thus became Telamon's wife as a prize of battle.  [Note:  Hercules also allowed Hesione to take any of the other captives with her, and she chose her brother, Priam (who was then known as Podarces); thus Priam/Podarces survived to become King of Troy.]

Hippolyta:  An Amazon warrior, often cited as the queen of the Amazons; sister of Penthesilea and mother of Hippolytus.  Hippolyta had a magical belt, given to her by her father, Mars (the god of war).  This belt was taken by either Hercules or Theseus (versions of the story vary widely).  Theseus was said to have married her, either by abduction or courtship, and she bore him a son, Hippolytus.  Theseus later either abandoned Hippolyta in order to marry Phaedra, daughter of King Minos of Crete, or else he remarried after Hippolyta's death.

Hippolytus:  Son of the Greek hero Theseus and the Amazon queen Hippolyta.  Hippolytus' step-mother, Phaedra, became inflamed with sexual desire for him and tried to seduce him.  Hippolytus was devoted to the goddess of chastity, Diana, and he rebuffed her advances.  Phaedra then went to Theseus and accused Hippolytus of trying to seduce her.  Enraged, Theseus asked the god Neptune to curse his son; Hippolytus was dragged to his death behind runaway horses while he was driving his chariot along the beach.  Phaedra then committed suicide.  In Heroides IV, Ovid gives Phaedra's love letter to Hippolytus.

Hippomenes:  The successful suitor of Atalanta (see the note on Schoeneus' daughter).  He used three golden apples to trick her into losing a footrace and agreeing to marry him.

Hymen:  The god who presided over weddings.  He is usually shown wearing fine clothing and carrying a wedding torch.

Love:  Cupid, the son of the goddess of love, Venus; Cupid was also called "Amor," the Latin word for "love."  Cupid was a love-god in his own right and could induce love or infatuation in both mortals and gods.  Ovid also presents him elsewhere as urging lovers to pursue the objects of their affection and as suggesting stratagems by which they might do so.

Myconos:  An island near Delos in the Cyclades archipelago of the Aegean Sea.

Mygdonian:  Mydgonia was the region of Thrace where Niobe lived, and where she was transformed into a weeping stone.  See the note on the arrogant mother.

Paris:  The son of King Priam of Troy.  He fell in love with Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta; he then abducted her (or eloped with her, depending on the version of the tale}.  This abduction resulted in the Trojan War, which lasted for ten years and resulted in the destruction of Troy.  Ovid gives the letters between Paris and Helen in Heroides XVI and XVII.  For additional background, see Heroides V:  Oenone to Paris.

Penthesilea:  An Amazon warrior, sometimes named as the queen of the Amazons; sister of Hippolyta.  She fought in the Trojan War on the side of the Trojans, having promised to kill the greatest of the Greek warriors, Achilles.  She was a formidable warrior, but was killed in battle by Achilles (who reportedly fell in love with her after her death, when he removed her helmet and saw her face).

Persephone:  Wife of Hades, who is king of the underworld.  Hence she is queen of the underworld and ruler of the spirits of the dead.

Phoebe:  An alternate name for the goddess Diana.  (Her brother, Apollo, was also called "Phoebus" or "Phoebus Apollo.")

savage goddess:  The goddess Diana.

Schoeneus' daughter:  The maiden Atalanta.  She was a very swift runner, and she promised to marry the man who could beat her in a footrace--with the understanding that any man who lost would be put to death.  Hippomenes undertook the challenge after a number of suitors had lost their lives.  He had been given three golden apples by the goddess of love, Venus.  He dropped them one after another during the race, and Atalanta paused to pick them up, thus allowing Hippomenes to win.

Telamon:  Father of the Greek hero Ajax; husband of Hesione and friend of Hercules.  For the circumstances of his marriage, see the note on Hesione.

Tenos:  An island near Delos in the Cyclades archipelago of the Aegean Sea.

that boy:  Cupid, the son of the goddess of love, Venus.  Cupid was a love-god in his own right and could induce love or infatuation in both mortals and gods.  He often carried a torch, one of the symbols of wedding festivities, in addition to his more famous bow and arrows.

Thetis:  A sea-nymph; the mother of the Greek hero Achilles.  Her feet were apparently especially beautiful, and she is often described as "shining-footed" or "silver-footed."

tree:  The palm tree that Latona used to support herself while she was giving birth to Apollo and Diana on Delos.

Trojan, Troy:  Having to do with the city of Troy, located in what is now Turkey.  Greek armies laid siege to Troy for ten years before finally conquering and destroying the city.

virgin:  Diana, the goddess of chastity.  Cydippe was tricked into swearing by Diana that she would marry Acontius.

why your name was Acontius:  A pun on Acontius' name.  "Acontius" sounds much like "akontion," the Greek word for javelin or dart; hence in the next line, Acontius is said to "have sharpness," and to inflict "a wound from far off," like a spear does.

yoke from his shining horses:  In Greek and Roman mythology, the sun was supposed to be a god who drove a gleaming horse-drawn chariot across the sky each day.  He would "remove the yoke" so that the horses could rest after sundown.  He would "call them back" (see the next line) at sunrise the next day.

you two:  The two men who are vying for Cydippe's hand in marriage:  i.e., the man to whom she is betrothed (who is never named), and Acontius.

your mother been disdained by mine:  A reference to the story of Niobe.  For the circumstances of this tale, see the note on the arrogant mother




This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

Comments and suggestions welcome:

Last updated 06/23/2013