The Heroides 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21


Ovid, Heroides XXI

Introduction and Synopsis

Cydippe to Acontius

Your letter arrived as it was accustomed to, Acontius,
And almost laid an ambush for my eyes.
I was fearful, and I read without a murmur what you had written,
Lest my tongue might swear unknowingly by some god.
And I believe you would have tried to capture me again except that, as you yourself said,
You knew that a single promise from me was enough.
I should not have read, but if I had been harsh with you,
The anger of the fierce goddess might perhaps have increased.
Even though I do all things, even though I give pious incense to Diana,
She nevertheless favors your side more than is just,
And, as you are eager that I believe, she avenges you with mindful anger;
She was hardly this way even with her Hippolytus.
But it would have been better for the virgin to favor my virgin years--
Years which I fear she wishes to be few.

For weariness clings to me for reasons that are not clear,
And, exhausted, I am not helped by any of the powers of the doctors.
How thin do you think I am now, hardly able to write this back to you,
And how pale, hardly able to lift my limbs from the bed?
Now fear is added, lest someone besides the nurse who shares my knowledge
Should realize that words are exchanged between us.
She sits before the doors, and when anyone asks how I am doing inside,
So that I can write in safety she says, "She is sleeping."
Presently when sleep, the excellent reason for my long solitude,
Ceases to be believable on account of long delay,
And now she sees those coming whom it would be hard not to allow to enter,
She coughs and gives me the agreed-upon sign.
Just as they are, hurrying, I leave my words unfinished,
And the letter I started is hidden in my trembling breast.
Taken out from there, it wearies my fingers again;
How great the labor is for me, you see for yourself.
May I die if you are worthy, as I speak the truth;
But I am better than you deserve in fairness.

Thus because of you I am so often in uncertain health,
And because of your deceits that I am and have been punished?
Does this reward befall my beauty, proud in your praising,
And I suffer for having pleased?
If I had seemed ugly to you, which I would have preferred,
My body, being disapproved, would need no help.
Now I lament having been praised; now you two destroy me with your struggle,
And I myself am wounded by my own worth.
While neither you yield to him, nor he believes himself second,
You hamper his vows, he hampers yours.
I myself am tossed like a ship, which dependable Boreas drives
Into the deeps, and the seething sea and waves bring back.
And when the day chosen by my dear parents approaches,
Excessive burning is in my body at the same time.
Now at the very time of marriage for me, cruel 
Persephone beats at my door prematurely.
Already I am ashamed and I fear, although there is no awareness of sin in me,
Lest I appear to have deserved divine displeasure.
One person maintains that these things happen by accident, and another
Denies that my husband has been accepted by the gods.
And, lest you believe that rumor says nothing against you as well,
Some think this was done by your sorcery.
The cause is hidden, but my ills are plain; you two stir up
Rough strife, driving out peace, and I am punished.

Tell me now, and do not deceive me in your usual manner,
What will you do from hatred, when you harm me thus from love?
If you injure one whom you love, you should wisely love the enemy;
In order to save me, I pray, wish to desire to destroy me!
Either you no longer have care for the girl you hoped for,
Whom, savage one, you allow to die from an unmerited wasting away,
Or, if you vainly entreat the cruel goddess on my behalf,
Why boast of yourself to me?  You will have no thanks!
Choose that which you have made; you do not wish to please Diana.
You are unmindful of me; you have no power--she is unmindful of you.

I wish that Delos in Aegean waters had never--
Or not at that time--been known to me.
At that time my ship set out on difficult seas,
And the hour was unlucky that began my journey.
By what step did I come forth?  By what step did I move across the threshold?
By what step did I touch the painted fabric of the swift ship?
Twice, nevertheless, the sails turned back before opposing winds:
Ah, I am mad--I lie!  It was a favoring wind.
That was a favoring wind which brought me back from my traveling,
And which obstructed the path of little happiness.
And would that it had been constant against my sails!
But it is foolish to complain against the capricious winds.

Moved by the fame of the place, I hastened to see Delos,
And I seemed to make the journey in a sluggish ship.
How often I gave reproach that the oars were slow,
And complained that too little sail was given to the wind.
And now I had gone past Myconos, now Tenos and Andros,
And shining Delos was before my eyes;
When I saw it from far away, "Why do you flee me, island," I said,
Do you glide across the great sea now, as you did before?"

I stood on land when, the light being already almost done,
The sun wished to remove the yoke from his shining horses.
When he had called them back as usual to their customary rising,
My hair is arranged at my mother's order.
She herself gives jewels to my fingers and gold to my hair,
And she herself places garments upon my shoulders.
Going out immediately, greeting the gods to whom the island is sacred,
We give wine and golden incense;
And while my mother stains the altars with offered blood,
And puts the severed entrails on the smoking hearth,
My diligent nurse led me also to the lofty temples,
And we wander through the sacred places with roving steps;
And now I walk through the porticoes, and now wonder at the gifts of kings,
And the statues standing in all places.
.I wonder also at the altar built of innumerable horns,
And at the tree by which the goddess was supported in her labor,
And those things beyond these--for I do not remember, nor is it allowed
To tell everything I saw there--that Delos holds.

Perhaps, looking at these things, I was looked at by you, Acontius,
And my simplicity seemed able to be seized.
I go back into the temple of Diana by the lofty steps--
Should any place be safer than this?
An apple is sent before my feet, with this verse--
Alas me!  Now I almost swore to you again!
The nurse picked it up and, wondering, said, "Read this through,"
I read your trap, great poet!
At the mention of the name of marriage, I was confused with shame,
And felt all my cheeks blush,
And I held my eyes on my lap as though they were fixed there,
Eyes that were made servants to your plan.
Wicked one, why do you rejoice, or what glory is there for you?
Or what praise do you, a man, have for deluding a virgin?
I did not stand bearing a shield, with a battle-ax,
Like Penthesilea on Trojan soil;
No sword-belt, chased with Amazonian gold,
Was offered as plunder to you by me, as by Hippolyta.
Why exult in your words if the words deceived me,
And I, a girl of little experience, was taken by the snares?
An apple caught Cydippe; an apple caught Schoeneus' daughter;
Will you now indeed be another Hippomenes?
But it would have been better, if that boy holds you,
Whom you say has some torches,
To act as good men are accustomed to and not mar your hope with falseness;
I should have been prevailed upon by entreaty, not seized by you.

Why, when you were seeking after me, did you not consider declaring those things
On account of which you yourself should have been sought by me?
Why did you wish to compel rather than persuade,
If I could have been taken by listening to your suit?
What benefit is it to you now, having the formula of law being sworn,
And the tongue calling the present goddess as witness?
It is the mind that swears.  I have sworn nothing with that;
That alone can add faith to words.
It is deliberation and the intentional meaning of the soul that swears,
And no bonds except those of judgement have force.
If I have wished to promise my marriage to you,
Then exact the rights that are owed for the promised marriage-bed.
But if I have given nothing but my voice, without my heart,
Then you hold in vain orphaned words without strength of their own.
I did not swear--I read words that swore;
That was no way for you to be appointed as husband to me.
Deceive others this way--let a letter follow an apple;
If this has power, steal great wealth from the rich;
Make kings swear to give you their kingdoms,
And let whatever in the world pleases you be yours!
You are much greater in this, believe me, than Diana herself,
If your writing has such divine might at hand.

Nevertheless when I have said this, when I have firmly denied myself to you,
When the reason of my promise has been well finished,
I confess that I fear the anger of the savage daughter of Latona,
And I suspect that my body is wounded by this.
For why, as often as the conjugal rites are prepared,
So often the feeble limbs of the bride fall ill?
Three times already Hymen, coming to the altars set up for me,
Has fled, and turned away from the threshold of my marriage chamber,
And the lights poured out by his reluctant hand scarcely rise up again; 
The shaken torch is scarcely seized by flame.
Often the perfume drips from his wreath-crowned hair,
And his robe, splendid with much saffron, trails the ground.
When he touches the threshold, he sees tears and fear of death
And many things that are far from his custom.
He himself throws forth the wreaths drawn down from his brow,
And dries the thick balsam from his glistening hair;
And he is ashamed to rise up, glad in a mournful crowd,
And the red that was in his robe moves into his face.

But for me--ah miserable one--my limbs are burned with fever
And the covers are heavier than they should be.
I see my parents weeping over my face,
And in place of the wedding torch, the funeral torch is here for me.
Spare a suffering girl, goddess who is joyful with the painted quiver,
And give me now the health-bringing aid of your brother.
It is a disgrace to you that he drives away the causes of death,
And that you, in contrast, have the glory of my death.
Did I ever, when you wished to bathe in a shady spring,
Unknowingly bring my glance to your bath?
Or have I passed by your altars, among those of so many of the heavenly beings,
Or has your mother been disdained by mine?
I have sinned in nothing, except that I read a false oath,
And was skilled in a verse that had too little favor.

You also, if you do not lie about your love, should offer incense
For me; let the hands that injured me benefit me!
Why do you, who are angry that the girl who was pledged to you
Is still not yours, act so that she can not be yours?
All your hopes are of my life; why should the savage goddess
Take away life from me, and hope of me from you?

Do not believe that he, to whom I am intended as wife,
Puts his hand on me to caress my sick limbs.
He sits beside me, indeed, as much as he is allowed,
But he remembers that mine is the bed of a virgin.
Already, too, he seems to sense something;
For his tears often fall for some hidden reason,
And he flatters less boldly, and he gives 
Few kisses and he calls me his own in a timid voice.
Nor do I wonder that he senses it, for I show myself by open signs;
I turn on my right side when he comes;
I do not speak, and sleep is counterfeited with closed eyes,
And when he touches, I throw off his grasping hand.
He groans and sighs in his silent breast, for he
Has my displeasure, even though he has not deserved it.
Ah me, that you are glad and that this will of mine pleases you!
Ah me, that I have confessed my feelings to you!
You are worthy of me if anyone would be, you who are more worthy of anger,
You who spread nets for me.

You write, so that you may be allowed to see my feeble body;
You are far from me, and yet even from there you harm me.
I wondered why your name was Acontius;
You have sharpness, which inflicts a wound from far off.
Certainly I have not yet recovered from such a wound,
By the spear of your letter, thrown from afar.
Yet why would you come here?  A body in wretched health
You would see, the great trophy of your skill!
I am ruined by wasting away; my color is without blood, just as,
I call to mind, was that apple of yours.
My white face does not gleam with red mixed in.
Such beauty is customary in new marble;
Such is the color of silver set out at the feast,
Which is pale with the touch of icy water.
If you should see me now, you would deny having seen me before;
"My arts," you would say, "have not striven for that one."
You would give up the faith of my promise, lest I should be joined to you,
And desire that the goddess not remember it.
Perhaps also you would make me swear again, but in an opposite manner,
And send me other words to read.

Yet nevertheless I wish you to look upon me as you have asked,
And become acquainted with the feeble limbs of your bride!
Even though your heart were as hard as iron, Acontius,
You yourself would seek favor for my words.
Yet so that you may not be ignorant of it:  the god at Delphi who sings the fates
Is being asked by what aid I may be restored to health.
He also, as wandering rumor now murmurs, complains
Of some neglected pledge that was witnessed.
This the god says, this the priests, this the verses that were brought forth;
Ah!  No divine will is lacking from your vow.
Whence this favor toward you?  Unless, perchance, some new writing has been found
Of which the reading captures even the great gods.
And since you hold the gods, I myself follow the will of the gods,
And willingly yield my vanquished hands to your prayer;
And I have confessed to my mother the oath of my ensnared tongue,
With eyes full of shame held fixed on the ground.
The rest is your concern; even this is more than a virgin should do--
That my page has not feared to speak with you.
Already I have tired my feeble limbs enough with the pen;
And my suffering hand refuses its duty any longer.
What is left, if I wish now to be joined with you,
Except that I add to my letter:  "Farewell!"




























































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