Classical Texts Library >> Ovid, Heroides >> Epistles 1-5


Ovid, Heroides

OVID was a Latin poet who flourished in Rome in the late C1st B.C. and early C1st A.D., during the reign of the Emperor Augustus. His works include the Heroides, a collection of poems in the form of letters from heroines to their loves. Ovid's two other myth-themed works were the Metamorphoses and the Fasti.

Ovid. Heroides and Amores. Translated by Showerman, Grant. Loeb Classical Library Volume 41. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1931.

A revised version of this volume is currently in print and available new from Amazon.com (click on image right for details). In addition to the translation of the Heroides and Amores of Ovid, the book contains the source Latin texts, Showerman's introduction and footnotes, and an index of proper names.



1. Penelope to Ulysses
2. Phyllis to Demophoon
3. Briseis to Achilles
4. Phaedra to Hippolytus
5. Oenone to Paris


6. Hypsipyle to Jason
7. Dido to Aeneas
8. Hermione to Orestes
9. Deianira to Hercules
10. Ariadne to Theseus

EPISTLES 11 - 15

11. Canace to Macareus
12. Medea to Jason
13. Laodamia to Protesilaus
14. Hypermnestra to Lynceus
15. Sappho to Phaon

EPISTLES 16 - 18

16. Paris to Helen
17. Helen to Paris
18. Leander to Hero

EPISTLES 19 - 21

19. Hero to Leander
20. Acontius to Cydippe
21. Cydippe to Acontius



[1] This missive your Penelope sends to you, O Ulysses, slow of return that you are – yet write nothing back to me; yourself come! Troy, to be sure, is fallen, hated of the daughters of Greece; but scarcely were Priam and all Troy worth the price to me.1 O would that then, when his ship was on the way to Lacedaemon, the adulterous lover had been overwhelmed by raging waters! Then had I not lain cold in my deserted bed, nor would now be left alone complaining of slowly passing days; nor would the hanging web be wearying now my widowed hands as I seek to beguile the hours of spacious night.

[11] When have I not feared dangers graver than the real? Love is a thing ever filled with anxious fear. It was upon you that my fancy ever told me the furious Trojans would rush; at mention of the name of Hector my pallor ever came. Did someone begin the tale of Antilochus laid low by the enemy, Antilochus was cause of my alarm; or, did he tell of how the son of Menoetius fell in armour not his own,2 I wept that wiles could lack success. Had Tlepolemus’ with his blood made warm the Lycian spear,3 in Tlepolemus’ fate was all my care renewed. In short, whoever it was in the Argive camp that was pierced and fell, colder than ice grew the heart of her who loves you.

[23] But good regard for me had the god who looks with favour upon chaste love. Turned to ashes is Troy, and my lord is safe. The Argolic chieftains have returned, our altars are a-smoke4; before the gods of our fathers is laid the barbarian spoil. The young wife comes bearing thank-offering for her husband saved; the husband sings of the fates of Troy that have yielded to his own. Righteous elder and trembling girl admire; the wife hangs on the tale that falls from her husband’s lips. And someone about the board shows thereon the fierce combat, and with scant tracing of wine pictures forth all Pergamum: “Here flowed the Simois; this is the Sigeian land; here stood the lofty palace of Priam the ancient. Yonder tented the son of Aeacus; yonder, Ulysses; here, in wild course went the frightened steeds with Hector’s mutilated corpse.”

[37] For the whole story was told your son, whom I sent to seek you; ancient Nestor told him, and he told me. He told as well of Rhesus’ and Dolon’s fall by the sword, how the one was betrayed by slumber, the other undone by guile. You had the daring – O too, too forgetful of your own! – to set wily foot by night in the Thracian camp, and to slay so many men, all at one time, and with only one to aid! Ah yes, you were cautious, indeed, and ever gave me first thought! My heart leaped with fear at every word until I was told of your victorious riding back through the friendly lines of the Greeks with the coursers of Ismarus.

[47] But of what avail to me that Ilion has been scattered in ruin by your arms, and that what once was wall is now level ground – if I am still to remain such as I was while Troy endured, and must live to all time bereft of my lord? For other Pergamum has been brought low; for me alone it still stands, though the victor dwell within and drive there the plow with the ox he took as spoil. Now are fields of corn where Troy once was, and soil made fertile with Phrygian blood waves rich with harvest ready for the sickle; the half-buried bones of her heroes are struck by the curvèd share, and herbage hides form sight her ruined palaces. A victor, you are yet not here, nor am I let know what causes your delay, or in what part of the world hard-heartedly you hide.

[59] Whoso turns to these shores of ours his stranger ship is plied with many a question ere he go away, and into his hand is given the sheet writ by these fingers of mine, to render up should he but see you anywhere. We have sent to Pylos, the land of ancient Nestor, Neleus’ son; the word brought back from Pylos was nothing sure.5 We have sent to Sparta, too; Sparta also could tell us nothing true. In what lands are you abiding, or where do you idly tarry? Better for me, were the walls of Phoebus still standing in their place – ah me inconstant, I am wroth with the vows myself have made! Had they not fallen, I should know where you were fighting, and have only war to fear, and my plaint would be joined with that of many another. But now, what I am to fear I know not – yet none the less I fear all things, distraught, and wide is the field lies open for my cares. Whatever dangers the deep contains, whatever the land, suspicion tells me are cause of your long delay. While I live on in foolish fear of things like these, you may be captive to a stranger love – such are the hearts of you men! It may be you even tell how rustic6 a wife you have – one fit only to dress fine the wool. May I be mistaken, and this charge of mine be found slight as the breeze that blows, and may it not be that, free to return, you will to be away!

[81] As for me – my father Icarius enjoins on me to quit my widowed couch, and ever chides me for my measureless delay. Let him chide on – yours I am, yours must I be called; Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, ever shall I be. Yet is he bent by my faithfulness and my chaste prayers, and of himself abates his urgency. The men of Dulichium and Samos, and they whom high Zacynthus bore – a wanton throng – come pressing about me, suing for my hand. In your own hall they are masters, with none to say them nay; my heart is being torn, your substance spoiled. Why tell you of Pisander, and of Polybus, and of Medon the cruel, and of the grasping hands of Eurymachus and Antinous, and of others, all of whom through shameful absence you yourself are feeding fat with store that was won at cost of your blood? Irus the beggar, and Melanthius, who drives in your flocks to be consumed, are the crowning disgrace now added to your ruin.

[97] We number only three, unused to war – a powerless wife; Laertes, an old man; Telemachus, a boy. He was of late all but waylaid and taken from me, while making ready, against the will of all of them, to go to Pylos. The gods grant, I pray, that our fated ends may come in due succession – that he be the one to close my eyes, the one to close yours! To sustain our cause are the guardian of your cattle and the ancient nurse, and, as a third, the faithful ward of the unclean stye; but neither Laertes, unable as he is to wield arms now, can sway the sceptre in the midst of our foes – Telemachus, indeed, so he live on, will arrive at years of strength, but now should have his father’s aid and guarding – nor have I strength to repel the enemy from our halls. Do you yourself make haste to come, haven and altar of safety for your own! You have a son – and may you have him ever, is my prayer – who in his tender years should have been trained by you in his father’s ways. Have regard for Laertes; in the hope that you will come at last to close his eyes, he is withstanding the final day of fate.

[115] As for myself, who when you left my side was but a girl, though you should come straightway, I surely shall seem grown an aged dame.

1. Homer is Ovid’s direct source for this letter. Tennyson’s Ulysses is of interest in connection with it.
2. Patroclus in the armour of Achilles.
3. Tlepolemus was slain by Sarpedon, king of Lycia.
4. The past rises vividly in her mind.
5. If this refers to Telemachus’ journey, Ovid has forgotten his Homer, or disregards it; for in the Odyssey (2, 373) Telemachus goes without his mother’s knowledge.
6. Rustica is frequent in the Herodies. It suggests "rustic," "countryfied," "simple," "homely," "unsophisticated," but may be rendered well by no single word.


[1] I, your Phyllis, who welcomed you to Rhodope, Demophoon, complain that the promised day is past, and you not here. When once the horns of the moon should have come together in full orb, our shores were to expect your anchor – the moon has four times waned, and four times waxed again to her orb complete; yet the Sithonian wave brings not the ships of Acte.1 Should you count the days – which we count well who love – you will find my plaint come not before its time.

[9] Hope, too, has been slow to leave me; we are tardy in believing, when belief brings hurt. Even now my love is loath to let me think you wrong me. Oft have I thought the gusty breezes of the south were bringing back your white sails. Theseus I have cursed, because methought he would not let you go; yet mayhap ‘tis not he that has stayed your course. At times have I feared lest, while you were holding toward the waters of the Hebrus, your craft had been wrecked and engulfed in the foaming wave. Oft, bending the knee in prayer that you fare well – ah, base, base man! – have I venerated the gods with prayer or with burning of holy incense; oft, seeing in sky and on sea that the winds were favouring, have I said to myself: “If he do fare well, he is on the way.” In a word, all things soever that hinder those in haste to come, my faithful love has tried to image forth, and my wit has been fertile in the finding of causes. But you delay long your coming; neither do the gods by whom you swore bring you back to me, nor does love of mine move your return. Demophoon, to the winds you gave at once both promised word and sails; your sails, alas! have not returned, your promised word has not been kept.

[27] Tell me, what have I done, except not wisely love? – and by the very fault I might well have won you for my own. The one crime which may be charged to me is that I took you, O faithless, to myself; but this crime has all the weight and seeming of good desert. The bonds that should hold you, the faith that you swore, where are they now? – and the pledge of the right hand you placed in mine, and the talk of God that was ever on your lying lips? Where now the bond of Hymen promised for years of life together – promise that was my warrant and surety for the wedded state? By the sea, all tossed by wind and wave, over which you had often gone, over which you were still to go; and by your grandsire – unless he, too, is but a fiction – by your grandsire, who calms the windwrought wave, you swore to me; yes, and by Venus and the weapons that wound me all too much – one weapon the bow, the other the torch; and by Juno, the kindly ward of the bridal bed; and by the mystical rites of the goddess who bears the torch. Should all the many gods you have wronged take vengeance for the outrage to their sacred names, your single life would not suffice.

[45] Yes, and more, in my madness I even refitted your shattered ships – that the keel might be firm by which I was left behind! – and gave you the oars by which you were to fly from me. Ah me, my pangs are from wounds wrought by weapons of my own! I had faith in your wheedling words, and you had good store of them; I had faith in your lineage, and in the names it shows; I had faith in your tears – or can these also be taught to feign; and are these also guileful, and ready to flow where bidden? I had faith, too, in the gods by whom you swore. To what end, pray, so many pledges of faith to me? By any part of them, however slight, I could have been ensnared.

[55] I am stirred by no regret that I aided you with haven and abiding-place – only, this should have been the limit of my kindness! Shamefully to have added to my welcome of the guest the favours of the marriage-bed is what I repent me of – to have pressed your side to my own. The night before that night I could wish had been the last for me, while I still could have died Phyllis the chaste. I had hope for a better fate, for I thought it my desert; the hope – whatever it be – that is grounded in desert, is just.

[63] To beguile a trustful maid is glory but cheaply earned; my simple faith was worthy of regard. I was deceived by your words – I, who loved and was a woman. May the gods grant that this be your crowning praise! In the midst of your city, even among the sons of Aegeus, go let yourself be statued, and let your mighty father2 be set there first, with record of his deeds. When men shall have read of Sciron, and of grim Procrustes, and of Sinis, and of the mingled form of bull and man, and of Thebes brought low in war, and of the rout of the two-framed Centaurs, and of the knocking at the gloomy palace of the darksome god – after all these, under your own image let be inscribed these words:

[75] Of all the great deeds in the long career of your sire, nothing has made impress upon your nature but the leaving of his Cretan bride. The only deed that draws forth his excuse, that only you admire in him; you act the heir to your father’s guile, perfidious one. She – and with no envy from me – enjoys now a better lord, and sits aloft behind her bridled tigers3; but me, the Thracians whom I scorned will not now wed, for rumour declares I set a stranger before my countrymen. And someone says: “Let her now away to learned Athens; to rule in armour-bearing Thrace another shall be found. The event proves well the wisdom of her course.” Let him come to naught, I pray, who thinks the deed should be condemned from its result. Ah, but if our seas should foam beneath your oar, then should I be said to have counselled well for myself, then well for my countrymen; but I have neither counselled well, nor will my palace feel your presence more, nor will you bathe again your wearied limbs in the Bistonian wave!

[91] Ever to my sight clings that vision of you as you went, what time your ships were riding the waters of my harbour, all ready to depart. You dared embrace me, and, with arms close round the neck of her who loved you, to join your lips to mine in long and lingering kisses, to mingle with my tears your own, to complain because the breeze was favouring to your sails, and, as you left my side, to say for your last words: “Phyllis, remember well, expect your own Demophoon!”

[99] And am I to expect, when you went forth with thought never to see me more? Am I to expect the sails denied return to my seas? And yet I do expect – ah, return only, though late, to her who loves you, and prove your promise false only for the time that you delay!

[103] Why entreat, unhappy that I am? It may be you are already won by another bride, and feel for her the love that favoured me but ill; and since I have fallen from out your life, I feel you know Phyllis no more. Ah me! if you ask who I, Pyllis, am, and whence – I am she, Demophoon, who, when you had been driven far in wanderings on the sea, threw open to you the havens of Thrace and welcomed you as guest, you, whose estate my own raised up, to whom in your need I in my plenty gave many gifts, and would have given many still; I am she who rendered to you the broad, broad realms of Lycurgus, scarce meet to be ruled in a woman’s name, where stretches icy Rhodope to Haemus with its shades, and sacred Hebrus drives his headlong waters forth – to you, on whom mid omens all sinister my maiden innocence was first bestowed, and whose guileful hand ungirdled my chaste zone! Tisiphone was minister at that bridal, with shrieks,4 and the bird that shuns the haunts of men chanted her mournful note; Allecto was there, with little serpents coiled about her neck, and the lights that waved were torches of the tomb!

[121] Heavey in soul, none the less do I tread the rocks and the thicket-covered strand, where’er the sea view opens broad before my eyes. Whether by day the soil is loosed by warmth, or whether constellations coldly shine, I look ever forth to see what wind doth sweep the straits; and whatever sails I see approaching from afar, straightway I augur them the answer to my prayers. I rush forth to the waters, scarce halted by the waves where first the sea sends in its mobile tide. The nearer the sails advance, the less and less the strength that bears me up; my senses leave me, and I fall, to be caught up by my handmaids’ arms.

[131] There is a bay, whose bow-like lines are gently curved to sickle shape; its outmost horns rise rigid and in rock-bound mass. To throw myself hence into the waves beneath has been my mind; and, since you still pursue your faithless course, so shall it be. Let the waves bear me away, and cast me up on your shores, and let me meet your eyes untombed! Though in hardness you be more than steel, than adamant, than your very self, you shall say: “Not so, Phyllis, should I have been followed by thee!” Oft do I long for poison; oft with the sword would I gladly pierce my heart and pour forth my blood in death. My neck, too, because once offered to the embrace of your false arms, I could gladly ensnare in the noose. My heart is fixed to die before my time, and thus make amends to tender purity. In the choosing of my death there shall be but small delay.

[145] On my tomb shall you be inscribed the hateful cause of my death. By this, or by some similar verse, shall you be known:

1. Attica.
2. Theseus.
3. After Theseus’ desertion of her, Ariadne wedded to Bacchus, whose tigers and car she drives.
4. A Fury, instead of Juno, patroness of marriage.


[1] From stolen Briseis is the writing you read, scarce charactered in Greek by her barbarian hand.1 Whatever blots you shall see, her tears have made; but tears, too, have none the less the weight of words.

[5] If ‘tis right for me to utter brief complaint of you, my master and my beloved, of you, my master and my beloved, will I utter brief complaint. That I was all too quickly delivered over to the king at his demand is not your fault – yet this, too, is your fault; for as soon as Eurybates and Talthybius came to ask for me, to Eurybates was I given over, and to Talthybius, to go with them.2 Each, casting eyes into the face of other, inquired in silence where now was the love between us. My going might have been deferred; a stay of my pain would have eased my heart. Ah me! I had to go, and with no farewell kiss; but tears without end I shed, and rent my hair – miserable me, I seemed a second time to suffer the captive’s fate!

[17] Oft have I wished to elude my guards and return to you; but the enemy was there, to seize upon a timid girl. Should I have gone far, I feared I should be taken in the night, and delivered over a gift to some one of the ladies of Priam’s sons.

[21] But grant I was given up because I must be given – yet all these nights I am absent from your side, and not demanded back; you delay, and your anger is slow. Menoetius’ son himself,3 at the time I was delivered up, whispered into my ear: “Why do you weep? But a short time,” he said, “will you be here.”

[25] And not to have claimed me back is but a slight thing; you even oppose my being restored, Achilles. Go now, deserve the name of an eager lover! There came to you the sons of Amyntor and Telamon – the one near in degree of blood, the other a comrade – and Laertes’ son; in company of these I was to return. Rich presents lent weight to their wheedling prayers: twenty ruddy vessels of wrought bronze, and tripods seven, equal in weight and workmanship; added to these, of gold twice five talents, twice six coursers ever wont to win, and – what there was no need of! – Lesbian girls surpassing fair, maids taken when their home was overthrown; and with all these – though of a bride you have no need – as bride, one of the daughters three of Agamemnon. What you must have given had you had to buy me back from Atrides with a price, but you refuse as a gift! What have I done that I am held thus cheap by you, Achilles? Whither has fled your light love so quickly from me?

[43] Or can it be that a gloomy fortune still weighs the wretched down, and a gentler hour comes not when woes have once begun? The walls of Lyrnesus I have seen laid in ruin by your soldier band – I, who myself had been great part of my father’s land; I have seen fall three who were partners alike in birth and in death – and the three had the mother who was mine; I have seen my wedded lord stretched all his length upon the gory ground, heaving in agony his bloody breast. For so many lost to me I still had only you in recompense; you were my master, you my husband, you my brother. You swore to me by the godhead of your seaborn mother, and yourself said that my captive’s lot was gain – yes, that though I come to you with dowry, you may thrust me back, scorning with me the wealth that is tendered you! Nay, ‘tis even said that when tomorrow’s dawn shall have shone forth, you mean to unfurl your linen sails to the cloud-bringing winds of the south.

[59] When the monstrous tale fell on my wretched and terror-stricken ears, the blood went from my breast, and with it my senses fled. You are going – ah me, wretched! – and to whom do you leave me, O hardened of heart? Who shall afford me gentle solace, left behind? May I be swallowed up, I pray, in sudden yawning of the earth, or consumed by the ruddy fire of careering thunderbolt, e’er that, without me, the seas foam white with Phthian oars, and I am left behind to see your ships fare forth! If it please you now to return to the hearth of your fathers, I am no great burden to your fleet. As captive let me follow my captor, not as wife my wedded lord; I have a hand well skilled to dress the wool. The most beauteous by far among the women of Achaea will come to the marriage-chamber as your bride – and may she come! – a bride worthy of her lord’s father,4 the grandchild of Jove and Aegina, and one whom ancient Nereus would welcome as his grandson’s bride.5 As for me, I shall be a lowly slave of yours and spin off the given task, and the full distaff shall grow slender at the drawing of my threads. Only let not your lady be harsh with me, I pray – for in some way I feel she will not be kind – and suffer her not to tear my hair before your eyes, while you lightly say of me: “She, too, once was mine.” Or, suffer it even so, if only I am not despised and left behind – this is the fear, ah woe is wretched me, that shakes my very bones!

[83] What do you still await? Agamemnon repents him of his wrath, and Greece lies prostrate in affliction at your feet. Subdue your own angry spirit, you who subdue all else! Why does eager Hector still harry the Danaan lines? Seize up your armour, O child of Aeacus – yet take me back first – and with the favour of Mars rout and overwhelm their ranks. For me your anger was stirred, through me let it be allayed; and let me be both the cause and the measure of your gloomy wrath. Nor think it unseemly for you to yield to prayer of mine; by the prayer of his wedded wife was the son of Oeneus roused to arms.6 ‘Tis only a tale to me, but to you well known. Reft of her brothers, a mother cursed the hope and head of her son. There was war; in fierce mood he laid down hi arms and stood apart, and with unbending purpose refused his country aid. Only the wife availed to bend her husband. The happier she! – for my words have no weight, and fall for naught. And yet I am not angered, nor have I borne myself as wife because oft summoned, a slave, to share my master’s bed. Some captive woman once, I mind me, called me mistress. “To slavery,” I replied, “you add a burden in that name.”

[103] None the less, by the bones of my wedded lord, ill covered in hasty sepulture, bones ever to be held sacred in my eyes; and by the brave souls of my three brothers, to me now spirits divine, who died well for their country, and lie well with it in death; and by your head and mine, which we have laid each to each; and by your sword, weapon well known to my kin – I swear that the Mycenaean has shared no couch with me; if I prove false, wish never to see me more! If now I should say to you: “Most valiant one, do you swear also that you have tasted no joys apart from me!” you would refuse. Yes, the Danai think you are mourning for me – but you are wielding the plectrum, and a tender mistress holds you in her warm embrace! And does anyone ask wherefore do you refuse to fight? Because the fight brings danger; while the zither, and night, and Venus, bring delight. Safer is it to lie on the couch, to clasp a sweetheart in your arms, to tinkle with your fingers the Thracian7 lyre, than to take in hand the shield, and the spear with sharpened point, and to sustain upon your locks the helmet’s weight.

[121] Once the deed of renown, rather than safety, was your pleasure, and glory won in warring was sweet to you. Or can it be that you favoured fierce war only till you could make me captive, and that you praise lies dead, o’ercome together with my native land? Ye gods forfend! and may the spear of Pelion go quivering from your strong arm to pierce the side of Hector! Send me, O Danai! I carry many kisses mingled with my message. I shall achieve more than Phoenix, believe me, more than eloquent Ulysses, more than Teucer’s brother!8 It will avail something to have touched your neck with the accustomed arms, to have seen you and stirred your recollection by the light of my bosom. Though you be cruel, though more savage than your mother’s waves, even should I keep silence you will be broken by my tears.

[135] Even now – so may Peleus your father fill out his tale of years, so may Pyrrhus take up arms with fortune as good as yours! – have regard for anxious Briseis, brave Achilles, and do not hard-heartedly torment a wretched maid with long drawn out delay! Or, if your love for me has turned to weariness, compel the death of her whom you compel to live without you! And, as you now are doing, you will compel it. Gone is my flesh, and gone my hope in you. If I am left by that, I shall go to rejoin my brothers and my husband – and ‘twill be no boast for you to have bid a woman die. And more, why should you bid me die? Draw the steel and plunge it in my body; I have blood to flow when once my breast is pierced. Let me be stricken with that sword of yours, which, had the goddess not said nay, would have made its way into the heart of Atreus’ son!

[149] Ah, rather save my life, the gift you gave me! What you gave, when victor, to me your foe, I ask now from you as your friend. Those whom ‘twere better you destroyed, Neptunian Pergamum affords; for matter for your sword, go seek the foe. Only, whether you make ready to speed on with the oar your ships, or whether you remain, O, by your right as master, bid me come!

1. Briseis was a captive from Lyrnesus, in Mysia. Iliad IX is the basis of this letter.
2. Agamemnon forced Achilles to give up Briseis. Achilles having refused to aid the Greeks, Agamemnon sent an embassy to him, but the offended warrior scorned his adfances.
3. Patroclus.
4. Peleus, son of Aeacus, son of Jupiter and Aegina.
5. Thetis, mother of Achilles, was daughter of Nereus.
6. The story of Meleager, who slew his mother Althea’s brother, and was cursed by her. Refusing to aid his country in the war that followed the killing of the Calydonian bar, he was turned from his purpose by his wife Cleopatra.
7. Because Orpheus was a Thracian.
8. Ajax. The three were the delegation sent by Agamemnon to offer to make amends.


[1] With wishes for the welfare which she herself, unless you give it her, will ever lack, the Cretan maid greets the hero whose mother was an Amazon. Read to the end, whatever is here contained – what shall reading of a letter harm? In this one, too, there may be something to pleasure you; in these characters of mine, secrets are borne over land and sea. Even foe looks into missive writ by foe.

[7] Thrice making trial of speech with you, thrice hath my tongue vainly stopped, thrice the sound failed at first threshold of my lips. Wherever modesty may attend on love, love should not lack in it; with me, what modesty forbade to say, love has commanded me to write. Whatever Love commands, it is not safe to hold for naught; his throne and law are over even the gods who are lords of all. ‘Twas he who spoke to me when first I doubted if to write or no: “Write; the iron-hearted one will yield his hand.” Let him aid me, then, and, just as he heats my marrow with his avid flame, so may he transfix your heart that it yield to my prayers!

[17] It will not be through wanton baseness that I shall break my marriage-bond; my name – and you may ask – is free from all reproach. Love has come to me, the deeper for its coming late – I am burning with love within; I am burning, and my breast has an unseen wound. As the first bearing of the yoke galls the tender steer, and as the rein is scarce endured by the colt fresh taken from the drove, so does my untried heart rebel, and scarce submit to the first restrains of love, and the burden I undergo does not sit well upon my soul. Love grows to be but an art, when the fault is well learned from tender years; she who yields her heart when the time for love is past, has a fiercer passion. You will reap the fresh first-offerings of purity long preserved, and both of us will be equal in our guilt. ‘Tis something to pluck fruit from the orchard with full-hanging branch, to cull with delicate nail the first rose. If nevertheless the white and blameless purity in which I have lived before was to be marked with unwonted stain, at least the fortune is kind that burns me with a worthy flame; worse than forbidden love is a lover who is base. Should Juno yield me him who is at once her brother and lord, methinks I should prefer Hippolytus to Jove.

[37] Now too – you will scarce believe it – I am changing to pursuits I did not know; I am stirred to go among wild beasts. The goddess first for me now is the Delian, known above all for her curved bow; it is your choice that I myself now follow. My pleasure leads me to the wood, to drive the deer into the net, and to urge on the fleet hound over the highest ridge, or with arm shot forth to let fly the quivering spear, or to lay my body upon the grassy ground. Oft do I delight to whirl the light car in the dust of the course, twisting with the rein the mouth of the flying steed; now again I am borne on, like daughters of the Bacchic cry driven by the frenzy of their god, and those who shake the timbrel at the foot of Ida’s ridge,1 or those whom Dryad creatures half-divine and Fauns two-horned have touched with their own spirit and driven distraught. For they tell me of all these things when that madness of mine has passed away; and I keep silence, conscious ‘tis love that tortures me.

[53] It may be this love is a dept I am paying, due to the destiny of my line, and that Venus is exacting tribute of me for all my race. Europa – this is the first beginning of our line – was loved of Jove; a bull’s form disguised the god. Pasiphaë my mother, victim of the deluded bull,2 brought forth in travail her reproach and burden. The faithless son of Aegeus followed the guiding thread, and escaped from the winding house through the aid my sister gave.3 Behold, now I, lest I be thought too little a child of Minos’ line, am the latest of my stock to come under the law that rules us all! This, too, is fateful, that one hose has won us both; your beauty has captured my heart, my sister’s heart was captured by your father. Theseus’ son and Theseus have been the undoing of sisters twain – rear ye a double trophy at our house’s fall!

[67] That time I went to Eleusis, the city of Ceres, would that the Gnosian land had held me back! It was then you pleased me most, and yet you had pleased before; piercing love lodged in my deepest bones. Shining white was your raiment, bound round with flowers your locks, the blush of modesty had tinged your sun-browned cheeks, and, what others call a countenance hard and stern, in Phaedra’s eyes was strong instead of hard. Away from me with your young men arrayed like women! – beauty in a man would fain be striven for in measure. That hardness of feature suits you well, those locks that fall without art, and the light dust upon your handsome face. Whether you draw rein and curb the resisting neck of your spirited steed, I look with wonder at your turning his feet in circle so slight; whether with strong arm you hurl the pliant shaft, your gallant arm draws my regard upon itself, or whether you grasp the broad-headed cornel hunting-spear. To say no more, my eyes delight in whatsoe’er you do.

[85] Do you only lay aside you hardness upon the forest ridges; I am no fit spoil for you campaign. What use to you to practise the ways of girded Diana, and to have stolen from Venus her own due? That which lacks its alternations of repose will not endure; this is what repairs the strength and renews the wearied limbs. The bow – and you should imitate the weapons of your Diana – if you never cease to bend it, will grow slack. Renowned in the forest was Cephalus, and many were the wild beasts that had fallen on the sod at the piercing of his stroke; yet he did not ill in yielding himself to Aurora’s love. Oft did the goddess sagely go to him, leaving her aged spouse.4 Many a time beneath the ilex did Venus and he5 that was sprung of Cinyras recline, pressing some chance grassy spot. The son of Oeneus, too, took fire with love for Maenalian Atalanta; she has the spoil of the wild beast as the pledge of his love. Let us, too, be now first numbered in that company! If you take away love, the forest is but a rustic place. I myself will come and be at your side, and neither rocky covert shall make me fear, nor the boar dreadful for the side-stroke of his tusk.

[105] There are two seas that on either side assail an isthmus with their floods, and the slender land hears the waves of both. Here with you will I dwell, in Troezen’s land, the realm of Pittheus; yon place is dearer to me now than my own native soil. The hero son of Neptune is absent now, in happy hour, and will be absent long; he is kept by the shores of his dear Pirithous.6 Theseus – unless, indeed, we refuse to own what all may see – has come to love Pirithous more than Phaedra, Pirithous more than you. Nor is that the only wrong we suffer at his hand; there are deep injuries we both have had from him. The bones of my brother he crushed with his triple-knotted club and scattered o’er the ground; my sister he left at the mercy of wild beasts. The first in courage among the women7 of the battle-axe bore you, a mother worthy of the vigour of her son; if you ask where she is – Theseus pierced her side with the steel, nor did she find safety in the pledge of so great a son. Yes, and she was not even wed to him and taken to his home with the nuptial torch – why, unless that you, a bastard, should not come to your father’s throne? He has bestowed brothers on you, too, from me, and the cause of rearing them all as heirs ahs been not myself, but he. Ah, would that the bosom which was to work you wrong, fairest of men, had been rent in the midst of its throes! Go now, reverence the bed of a father who thus deserves of you – the bed8 which he neglects and is disowning by his deeds.

[129] And, should you think of me as a stepdame who would mate with her husband’s son, let empty names fright not your soul. Such old-fashioned regard for virtue was rustic even in Saturn’s reign, and doomed to die in the age to come. Jove fixed that virtue was to be in whatever brought us pleasure; and naught is wrong before the gods since sister was made wife by brother. That bond of kinship only holds close and firm in which Venus herself has forged the chain. Nor need you fear the trouble of concealment – it will be easy; ask the aid of Venus! Through her our fault will be covered under name of kinship. Should someone see us embrace, we both shall meet with praise; I shall be called a faithful stepdame to the son of my lord. No portal of a dour husband will need unbolting for you in the darkness of night; there will be no guard to be eluded; as the same roof has covered us both, the same will cover us still. Your wont has been to give me kisses unconcealed, your wont will be still to give me kisses unconcealed. You will be safe with me, and will earn praise by your fault, though you be seen upon my very couch. Only, away with tarrying, and make haste to bind our bond – so may Love be merciful to you, who is bitter to me now! I do not disdain to bend my knee and humbly make entreaty. Alas! where now are my pride, my lofty words? Fallen! I was resolved – if there was aught love could resolve – both to fight long and not to yield to fault; but I am overcome. I pray to you, to clasp your knees I extend my queenly arms. Of what befits, no one who loves takes thought. My modesty has fled, and as it fled it left its standards behind.

[156] Forgive me my confession, and soften your hard heart! That I have for sire Minos, who rules the seas, that from my ancestor’s hand comes hurled the lighting-stroke, that the front of my grandsire, he who moves the tepid day with gleaming chariot, is crowned with palisade of pointed rays – what of this, when my noble name is prostrate under love? Have pity on those who have gone before, and, if me you will not spare, O spare my line! To my dowry belongs the Cretan land, the isle of Jove – let my whole court be slaves to my Hippolytus!

[165] Bend, O cruel one, your spirit! My mother could pervert a bull; will you be fiercer than a savage beast? Spare me, by Venus I pray, who is chiefest with me now. So may you never love one who will spurn you; so may the agile goddess wait on you in the solitary glade to keep you safe, and the deep forest yield you wild beasts to slay; so may the Satyrs be your friends, and the mountain deities, the Pans, and may the boar fall pierced in full front by your spear; so may the Nymphs – though you are said to loathe womankind – give you the flowing water to relieve your parching thirst!

[175] I mingle with these prayers my tears as well. The words of her who prays, you are reading; her tears, imagine you behold!

1. The votaries of Cybele, Great Mother of the Gods.
2. The gods caused the animal to see in her his own kind.
3. The story of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth.
4. Tithonus.
5. Adonis.
6. The king of the Lapithae, Theseus’ companion on the expedition to Hades, aided by him in the war against the Centaurs.
7. Antiope, sister of Hippolyte, is here meant; but the usual story made Hippolyte Hippolytus’ mother.
8. Palmer makes Hippolytus the antecedent of quem.


[1] Will you read my letter though? or does your new wife forbid? Read – this is no letter writ by Mycenaean hand!1 It is the fountain-nymph Oenone writes, well-known to the Phrygian forests – wronged, and with complaint to make of you, you my own, if you but allow.

[5] What god has set his will against my prayers? What guilt stands in my way, that I may not remain your own? Softly must we bear whatever suffering is our desert; the penalty that comes without deserving brings us dole.

[9] Not yet so great were you when I was content to wed you – I, the nymph-daughter of a mighty stream. You who are now a son of Priam – let not respect keep back the truth! – were then a slave; I deigned to wed a slave – I, a nymph! Oft among our flocks have we reposed beneath the sheltering trees, where mingled grass and leaves afforded us a couch; oft have we lain upon the straw, or on the deep hay in a lowly hut that kept the hoar-frost off. Who was it pointed out to you the coverts apt for the chase, and the rocky den where the wild beast hid away her cubs? Oft have I gone with you to stretch the hunting-net with its wide mesh; oft have I led the fleet hounds over the long ridge. The beeches still conserve my name carved on them by you, and I am read there OENONE, charactered by your blade; and the more the trunks, the greater grows my name. Grow on, rise high and straight to make my honours known! O poplar, ever live, I pray, that art planted by the marge of the stream and hast in thy seamy bark these verses:

O Xanthus, backward haste; turn, waters, and flow again to your fount! Paris has deserted Oenone, and endures it.

[33] That day spoke doom for wretched me, on that day did the awful storm of changed love begin, when Venus and Juno, and unadorned Minerva, more comely had she borne her arms, appeared before you to be judged. My bosom leaped with amaze as you told me of it, and a chill tremor rushed through my hard bones. I took counsel – for I was no little terrified – with grandams and long-lived sires. ‘Twas clear to us all that evil threatened me.

[41] The firs were felled, the timbers hewn; your fleet was ready, and the deep-blue wave received the waxèd crafts. Your tears fell as you left me – this, at least, deny not! We mingled our weeping, each a prey to grief; the elm is not so closely clasped by the clinging vine as was my neck by your embracing arms. Ah, how oft, when you complained that you were kept by the wind, did you comrades smile! – that wind was favouring. How oft, when you had taken your leave of me, did you return to ask another kiss! How your tongue could scarce endure to say “Farewell!”

[53] A light breeze stirs the sails that hang idly from the rigid mast, and the water foams white with the churning of the oar. In wretchedness I follow with my eyes the departing sails as far as I may, and the sand is humid with my tears; that you may swiftly come again, I pray the sea-green daughters of Nereus – yes, that you may swiftly come to my undoing! Expected to return in answer to my vows, have you returned for the sake of another? Ah me, ‘twas for the sake of a cruel rival that my persuasive prayers were made!

[61] A mass of native rock looks down upon the unmeasured deep – a mountain it really is; it stays the billows of the sea. From here I was the first to spy and know the sails of your bark, and my heart’s impulse was to rush through the waves to you. While I delayed, on the highest of the prow I saw the gleam of purple – fear seized upon me; that was not the manner of your garb. The craft comes nearer, borne on a freshening breeze, and touches the shore; with trembling heart I have caught the sight of a woman’s face. And this was not enough – why was I mad enough to stay and see? – in your embrace that shameless woman clung! Then indeed did I rend my bosom and beat my breast, and with the hard nail furrowed my streaming cheeks, and filled holy Ida with wailing cries of lamentation; yonder to the rocks I love I bore my tears. So may Helen’s grief be, and so her lamentation, when she is deserted by her love; and what she was first to bring on me may she herself endure!

[77] Your pleasure now is in jades who follow you over the open sea, leaving behind their lawful-wedded lords; but when you were poor and shepherded the flocks, Oenone was your wife, poor though you were, and none else. I am not dazzled by your wealth, nor am I touched by thought of your palace, nor would I be called one of the many wives of Priam’s sons – yet not that Priam would disdain a nymph as wife to his son, or that Hecuba would have to hide her kinship with me; I am worthy of being, and I desire to be, the matron of a puissant lord; my hands are such as the sceptre could well beseem. Nor despise me because once I pressed with you the beechen frond; I am better suited for the purpled marriage-bed.

[89] Remember, too, my love can bring no harm; it will beget you no wars, nor bring avenging ships across the wave. The Tyndarid run-away is now demanded back by an enemy under arms; this is the dower the dame brings proudly to your marriage-chamber. Whether she should be rendered back to the Danai, ask Hector your brother, if you will, or Deiphobus and Polydamas; take counsel with grave Antenor, find out what Priam’s self persuades, whose long lives have made them wise. ‘Tis but a base beginning,2 to prize a stolen mistress more than your native land. Your case is one that calls for shame; just are the arms her lord takes up.

[99] Think not, too, if you are wise, that the Laconian will be faithful – she who so quickly turned to your embrace. Just as the younger Atrides cries out at the violation of his marriage-bed, and feels his painful wound from the wife who loves another, you too will cry. By no art may purity once wounded be made whole; ‘tis lost, lost once and for all. Is she ardent with love for you? So, too, she loved Menelaus. He, trusting fool that he was, lies now in a deserted bed. Happy Andromache, well wed to a constant mate! I was a wife to whom you should have clung after your brother’s pattern; but you – are lighter than leaves what time their juice has failed, and dry they flutter in the shifting breeze; you have less weight than the tip of the spear of grain, burned light and crisp by ever-shining suns.

[113] This, once upon a time – for I call it back to mind – your sister3 sang to me, with locks let loose, foreseeing what should come: “What art thou doing, Oenone? Why commit seeds to sand? Thou art ploughing the shores with oxen that will accomplish naught. A Greek heifer is one the way, to ruin thee, thy home-land, and thy house! Ho, keep her far! A Greek heifer is coming! While yet ye may, sink in the deep the unclean ship! Alas, how much of Phrygian blood it hath aboard!”

[121] She ceased to speak; her slaves seized on her as she madly ran. And I – my golden locks stood stiffly up. Ah, all too true a prophetess you were to my poor self – she has them, lo, the heifer has my pastures! Let her seem how fair soever of face, none the less she surely is a jade; smitten with a stranger, she left behind her marriage-gods. Theseus – unless I mistake the name – one Theseus, even before, had stolen her away from her father’s land.4 Is it to be thought she was rendered back a maid, by a young man and eager? Whence have I learned this so well? You ask. I love. You may call it violence and veil the fault in the word; yet she who has been so often stolen has surely lent herself to theft. But Oenone remains chaste, false though her husband prove – and, after your own example, she might have played you false.

[135] Me, the swift Satyrs, a wanton rout with nimble foot, used to come in quest of – where I would lie hidden in covert of the wood – and Faunus, with hornèd head girt round with sharp pine needles, where Ida swells in boundless ridges. Me, the builder of Troy, well known for keeping faith, loved, and let my hands into the secret of his gifts. Whatever herb potent for aid, whatever root that is used for healing grows in all the world, is mine. Alas, wretched me, that love may not be healed by herbs! Skilled in an art, I am left helpless by the very art I know.

[153] The aid that neither earth, fruitful in the bringing forth of herbs, nor a god himself, can give, you have the power to bestow on me. You can bestow it, and I have merited – have pity on a deserving maid! I come with no Danai, and bear no bloody armour – but I am yours, and I was your mate in childhood’s years, and yours through all time to come I pray to be!

1. She taunts Paris with fear of Agamemnon and Menelaus.
2. Of his career as a prince, after his recognition.
3. Cassandra.
4. Theseus and Pirithous had carried away Helen in her early youth.