Classical Texts Library >> Ovid, Heroides >> Epistles 6-10




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] You are said to have touched the shores of Thessaly with safe-returning keel, rich in the fleece of the golden ram. I speak you well for your safety – so far as you give me chance; yet of this very thing I should have been informed by message of your own. For the winds might have failed you, even though you longed to see me, and kept you from returning by way of the realms I pledged to you1; but a letter may be written, howe’er adverse the wind. Hypsipyle deserved the sending of a greeting.

[9] Why was it rumour brought me tidings of you, rather than lines from your hand? – tidings that the sacred bulls of Mars had received the curving yoke; that at the scattering of the seed there sprang forth the harvest of men, who for their doom had no need of your right arm; that the spoil of the ram, the deep-gold fleece the unsleeping dragon guarded, had nevertheless been stolen away by your bold hand. Could I say to those who are slow to credit these reports, “He has written me this with his own hand,” how proud should I be!

[17] But why complain that my lord has been slow in his duty? I shall think myself treated with all indulgence, so I remain yours. A barbarian poisoner, so the story goes, has come with you, admitted to share the marriage-couch you promised me. Love is quick to believe; may it prove that I am hasty, and have brought a groundless charge against my lord! Only now from Haemonian borders came a Thessalian stranger to my gates. Scarce had he well touched the threshold, when I cried, “How doth my lord, the son of Aeson?” Speechless he stood in embarrassment, his eyes fixed fast upon the ground. I straight leaped up, and rent the garment from my breast. “Lives he?” I cried, “or must fate call me too?” “He lives,” was his reply. Full of fears is love; I made him say it on his oath. Scarce with a god to witness could I believe you living.

[31] When calm of mind returned, I began to ask of your fortunes. He tells me of the brazen-footed oxen of Mars, how they ploughed, of the serpent’s teeth scattered upon the ground in way of seed, of men sprung suddenly forth and bearing arms – earth-born peoples slain in combat with their fellows, filling out the fates of their lives in the space of a day. He tells of the dragon overcome. Again I ask if Jason lives; hope and fear bring trust and mistrust by turns.

[39] While he tells the details of his story, such are the eagerness and quickness of his speech that of his own nature he reveals the wounds that have been dealt me. Alas! where is the faith that was promised me? Where the bonds of wedlock, and the marriage torch, more fit to set ablaze my funeral pile? I was not made acquaint with you in stealthy wise; Juno was there to join us when we were wed, and Hymen, his temples bound with wreaths. And yet neither Juno nor Hymen, but gloomy Erinys, stained with blood, carried before me the unhallowed torch.

[47] What had I with the Minyae, or Dodona’s pine?2 What had you with my native land, O helmsman Tiphys? There was here no ram, sightly with golden fleece, nor was Lemnos the royal home of old Aeëtes. I was resolved at first – but my ill fate drew me on – to drive out with my women’s ban the stranger troop; the women of Lemnos know – yea, even too well – how to vanquish men.3 I should have let a soldiery so brave defend my cause.

[55] But I looked on the man in my city; I welcomed him under my roof and into my heart! Here twice the summer fled for you, here twice the winter. It was the third harvest when you were compelled to set sail, and with your tears poured forth such words as these: “I am sundered from thee, Hypsipyle; but so the fates grant me return, thine own I leave thee now, and thine own will I ever be. What lieth heavy in thy bosom from me – may it come to live, and may we both share in its parentage!”

[63] Thus did you speak; and with tears streaming down your false face I remember you could say no more.

[65] You are the last of your band to board the sacred Argo.4 It flies upon its way; the wind bellies out the sail; the dark-blue wave glides from under the keel as it drives along; your gaze is on the land, and mine is on the sea. There is a tower that looks from every side upon the waters round about; thither I betake myself, my face and bosom wet with tears. Through my tears I gaze; my eyes are gracious to my eager heart, and see farther than their wont. Add thereto pure-hearted prayers, and vows mingled with fears – vows which I must now fulfil, since you are safe.

[75] And am I to absolve these vows – vows but for Medea to enjoy? My heart is sick, and surges with mingled wrath and love. Am I to bear gifts to the shrines because Jason lives, though mine no more? Is a victim to fall beneath the stroke for the loss that has come to me?

[79] No, I never felt secure; but my fear was ever that your sire would look to an Argolic city for a bride to his son. ‘Twas the daughters of Argolis I feared – yet my ruin has been a barbarian jade! The would I feel is not from the foe whence I thought to see it come. It is neither by her beauty nor by her merits that she wins you, but by the incantations she knows and the baneful herbs she cuts with enchanted knife. She is one to strive to draw down from its course the unwilling moon, and to hide in darkness the horses of the sun; she curbs the waters and stays the down-winding streams; she moves from their places the woods and the living rocks. Among sepulchres she stalks, ungirded, with hair flowing loose, and gathers from the yet warm funeral pyre the appointed bones. She vows to their doom the absent, fashions the waxen image, and into its wretched heart drives the slender needle – and other deeds ‘twere better not to know. Ill sought by herbs is love that should be won by virtue and by beauty.

[95] A woman like this can you embrace? Can you be left in the same chamber with her and not feel fear, and enjoy the slumber of the silent night? Surely, she must have forced you to bear the yoke, just as she forced the bulls, and has you subdued by the same means she uses with fierce dragons. Add that she has her name writ in the record of your own and your heroes’ exploits, and the wife obscures the glory of the husband. And someone of the partisans of Pelias imputes your deeds to her poisons, and wins the people to believe: “This fleece of gold from the ram of Phrixus the son of Aeson did not seize away, but the Phasian girl, Aeëtes child.” Your mother Alcimede – ask counsel of your mother – favours her not, nor your sire, who sees his son’s bride come from the frozen north. Let her seek for herself a husband – from the Tanais, from the marshes of watery Scythia, even from her own land of Phasis!

[109] O changeable son of Aeson, more uncertain than the breezes of springtime, why lack your words the weight a promise claims? My own you went forth hence; my own you have not returned. Let me be your wedded mate now you are come back, as I was when you set forth! If noble blood and generous lineage move you – lo, I am known as daughter of Minoan Thoas! Bacchus was my grandsire; the bride of Bacchus, with crown-encircled brow, outshines with her stars the lesser constellations. Lemnos will be my marriage portion, land kindly-natured to the husbandman; and me, too, you will possess among the subjects my dowry brings.

[119] And now, too, I have brought forth; rejoice for us both, Jason! Sweet was the burden that I bore – its author had made it so. I am happy in the number, too, for by Lucina’s kindly favour I have brought forth twin offspring, a pledge for each of us.5 If you ask whom they resemble, I answer, yourself is seen in them. The ways of deceit they know not; for the rest, they are like their father. I almost gave them to be carried to you, their mother’s ambassadors; but thought of the cruel stepdame turned me back from the path I would have trod. ‘Twas Medea I feared. Medea is more than a stepdame; the hands of Medea are fitted for any crime.

[129] Would she who could tear her brother limb from limb and strew him o’er the fields be one to spare my pledges?6 Such is she, such the woman, O madman swept from your senses by the poisons of Colchis, for whom your are said to have slighted the marriage-bed with Hypsipyle! Base and shameless was the way that mad became your bride; but the bond that gave me to you, and you to me, was chaste. She betrayed her sire; I rescued form death my father Thoas.7 She deserted the Colchians; my Lemnos has me still. What matters aught, if sin is to be set before devotion, and she has won her husband with the very crime she brought him as her dower?

[139] The vengeful deed of the Lemnian women I condemn, Jason, I do not marvel at it; passion itself drives the weak, however powerless, to take up arms. Come, say, what if, driven by unfriendly gales, you had entered my harbours, as ‘twere fitting you had done, you and your companion, and I had come forth to meet you with my twin babes – surely you must have prayed earth to yawn for you – with what countenance could you have gazed upon your children, O wretched man, with what countenance upon me? What death would you not deserve as the price of your perfidy? And yet you yourself would have met with safety and protection at my hands – not that you deserved, but that I was merciful. But as for your mistress – with my own hand I would have dashed my face with her blood, and your face, that she stole away with her poisonous arts! I would have been Medea to Medea!

[151] But if in any way just Jupiter himself from on high attends to my prayers, may the woman who intrudes upon my marriage-bed suffer the woes in which Hypsipyle groans, and feel the lot she herself now brings on me; and as I am now left alone, wife and mother of two babes, so may she one day be reft of as many babes, and of her husband! Nor may she long keep her ill-gotten gains, but leave them in worse hap – let her be an exile, and seek a refuge through the entire world! A bitter sister to her brother, a bitter daughter to her wretched sire, may she be as bitter to her children, and as bitter to her husband! When she shall have no hope more of refuge by the sea or by the land, let her make trial of the air; let her wander, destitute, bereft of hope, stained red with the blood of her murders! This fate do I, the daughter of Thoas, cheated of my wedded state, in prayer call down upon you. Live on, a wife and husband, accursed in your bed!

1. As her marriage portion.
2. The Argo, with whose building Dodona in Thessaly had to do.
3. The women of Lemnos had once slain all the men in the island as a measure of revenge against their husbands, who had taken Thracian women in their stead.
4. Built at the instigation of Athena.
5. Nebrophonus and Euneus, according to Apollodorus; according to Hyginus, Euneus and Deiphilus.
6. So Medea had done with Absyrtus, to delay her father’s pursuit of Jason and herself.
7. She had saved her father from the general massacre of the men of Lemnos.


[1] Thus, at the summons of fate, casting himself down amid the watery grasses by the shallows of Maeander, sings the white swan.1

[3] Not because I hope you may be moved by prayer of mine do I address you – for with God’s will adverse I have begun the words you read; but because, after wretched losing of desert, of reputation, and of purity of body and soul, the losing of words is a matter slight indeed.

[7] Are you resolved none the less to go, and to abandon wretched Dido,2 and shall the same winds bear away from me at once your sails and your promises? Are you resolved, Aeneas, to break at the same time from your moorings and from your pledge, and to follow after the fleeting realms of Italy, which lie you know not where? and does new-founded Carthage not touch you, nor her rising walls, nor the sceptre of supreme power placed in your hand? What is achieved, you turn you back upon; what is to be achieved, you ever pursue. One land has been sought and gained, and ever must another be sought, through the wide world. Yet, even should you find the land of your desire, who will give it over to you for your own? Who will deliver his fields to unknown hands to keep? A second love remains for you to win, and a second Dido; a second pledge to give, and a second time to prove false. When will it be your fortune, think you, to found a city like to Carthage, and from the citadel on high to look down upon peoples of your own? Should your every wish be granted, even should you meet with no delay in the answering of your prayers, whence will come the wife to love you as I?

[23] I am all ablaze with love, like torches of wax tipped with sulphur, like pious incense placed on smoking altar-fires. Aeneas my eyes cling to through all my waking hours; Aeneas is my heart through the night and through the day. ‘Tis true he is in ingrate, and unresponsive to my kindnesses, and were I not fond I should be willing to have him go; yet, however ill his thought of me, I hate him not, but only complain of his faithlessness, and when I have complained I do but love more madly still. Spare, O Venus, the bride of thy son; lay hold of thy hard-hearted brother, O brother Love, and make him to serve in thy camp! Or make him to whom I have let my love go forth – I first, and with never shame for it – yield me himself, the object of my care!

[35] Ah, vain delusion! the fancy that flits before my mind is not the truth; far different his heart from his mother’s. Of rocks and mountains were you begotten, and of the oak sprung from the lofty cliff, of savage wild beasts, or of the sea – such a sea as even now you look upon, tossed by the winds, on which you are none the less making ready to sail, despite the threatening floods. Whither are you flying? The tempest rises to stay you. Let the tempest be my grace! Look you, how Eurus tosses the rolling waters! What I had preferred to owe to you, let me owe to the stormy blasts; wind and wave are juster than your heart.

[45] I am not worth enough – ah, why do I not wrongly rate you? – to have you perish flying from me over the long seas. ‘Tis a costly and a dear-bought hate that you indulge if, to be quit of me, you account it cheap to die. Soon the winds will fall, and o’er the smooth-spread waves will Triton course with cerulean steeds. O that you too were changeable with the winds! – and, unless in hardness you exceed the oak, you will be so. What could you worse, if you did not know of the power of raging seas? How ill to trust the wave whose might you have so often felt! Even should you loose your cables at the persuasion of calm seas, there are none the less many woes to be met on the vasty deep. Nor is it well for those who have broken faith to tempt the billows. Yon is the place that exacts the penalty for faithlessness, above all when ‘tis love has been wronged; for ‘twas from the sea, in Cytherean waters, so runs the tale, that the mother of the Loves, undraped, arose.

[61] Undone myself, I fear lest I be the undoing of him who is my undoing, lest I bring harm to him who brings harm to me, lest my enemy be wrecked at sea and drink the waters of the deep. O live; I pray it! Thus shall I see you worse undone than by death. You shall rather be reputed the cause of my own doom. Imagine, pray, imagine that you are caught – may there be nothing in the omen! – in the sweeping of the storm; what will be your thoughts? Straight will come rushing to your mind the perjury of your false tongue, and Dido driven to death by Phrygian faithlessness; before your eyes will appear the features of your deceived wife, heavy with sorrow, with hair streaming, and stained with blood. What now can you gain to recompense you then, when you will have to say: “’Tis my desert; forgive me, ye gods!” when you will have to think that whatever thunderbolts fall were hurled at you?

[73] Grant a short space for the cruelty of the sea, and for your own, to subside; your safe voyage will be great reward for waiting. Nor is it you for whom I am anxious; only let the little Iulus3 be spared! For you, enough to have the credit for my death. What has little Ascanius done, or what your Penates, to deserve ill fate? Have they been rescued from fire but to be overwhelmed by the wave? Yet neither are you bearing them with you; the sacred relics which are your pretext never rested on your shoulders, nor did your father. You are false in everything – and I am not he first your tongue has deceived, nor am I the first to feel the blow from you. Do you ask where the mother of pretty Iulus is? – she perished, left behind by her unfeeling lord! This was the story you told me – yes, and it was warning enough for me! Burn me; I deserve it! The punishment will be less than befits my fault.

[87] And my mind doubts not that you, too, are under condemnation of your gods. Over sea and over land you are now for the seventh winter being tossed. You were cast ashore by the waves and I received you to a safe abiding-place; scarce knowing your name, I gave to you my throne. Yet would I had been content with these kindnesses, and that the story of our union were buried! That dreadful day was my ruin, when sudden downpour of rain from the deep-blue heaven drove us to shelter in the lofty grot. I had heard a voice; I thought it a cry of the nymphs – ‘twas the Eumenides sounding the signal for my doom!

[97] Exact the penalty of me, O purity undone! – the penalty due Sychaeus.4 To absolve it now I go – ah me, wretched that I am, and overcome with shame! Standing in shrine of marble is an image of Sychaeus I hold sacred – in the midst of green fronds hung about, and fillets of white wool. From within it four times have I heard myself called by a voice well known; ‘twas he himself crying in faintly sounding tone: “Elissa, come!”

[103] I delay no longer, I come; I come thy bride, thine own by right; I am late, but ‘tis for shame of my fault confessed. Forgive me my offence! He was worthy who caused my fall; he draws from my sin its hatefulness. That his mother was divine and his aged father the burden of a loyal son gave hope he would remain my faithful husband. If ‘twas my fate to err, my error had honourable cause; so only he keep faith, I shall have no reason for regret.

[111] The lot that was mine in days past still follows me in these last moments of life, and will pursue to the end. My husband fell in his blood before the altars in his very house, and my brother possesses the fruits of the monstrous crime; myself am driven into exile, compelled to leave behind the ashes of my lord and the land of my birth. Over hard paths I fly, and my enemy pursues. I land on shores unknown; escaped from my brother and the sea, I purchase the strand that I gave, perfidious man, to you. I established a city, and lay about it the foundations of wide-reaching walls that stir the jealousy of neighbouring realms. Wars threaten; hardly can I rear rude gates to the city and make ready my defence. A thousand suitors cast fond eyes on me, and have joined in the complaint that I preferred the hand of some stranger love. Why do you not bind me forthwith, and give me over to Gaetulian Iarbas? I should submit my arms to your shameful act. There is my brother, too, whose impious hand could be sprinkled with my blood, as it is already sprinkled with my lord’s. Lay down those gods and sacred things; your touch profanes them! It is not well for an impious right hand to worship the dwellers in the sky. If ‘twas fated for you to worship the gods that escaped the fires, the gods regret that they escaped the fires.

[133] Perhaps, too, it is Dido soon to be mother, O evil-doer, whom you abandon now, and a part of your being lies hidden in myself. To the fate of the mother will be added that of the wretched babe, and you will be the cause of doom to your yet unborn child; with his own mother will Iulus’ brother die, and one fate will bear us both away together.

[139] “But you are bid to go – by your god!” Ah, would he had forbidden you to come; would Punic soil had never been pressed by Teucrian feet! Is this, forsooth, the god under whose guidance you are tossed about by unfriendly winds, and pass long years on the surging seas? ‘Twould scarce require such toil to return again to Pergamum, were Pergamum still what it was while Hector lived. ‘Tis not the Simois of your fathers you seek, but the waves of the Tiber – and yet, forsooth, should you arrive at the place you wish, you will be but a stranger; and the land of your quest so hides from your sight, so draws away from contact with your keels, that ‘twill scarce be your lot to reach it in old age.

[149] Cease, then, your wanderings! Choose rather me, and with me my dowry – these peoples of mine, and the wealth of Pygmalion I brought with me. Transfer your Ilion to the Tyrian town, and give it thus a happier lot; enjoy the kingly state, and the sceptre’s right divine. If your soul is eager for war, if Iulus must have field for martial prowess and the triumph, we shall find him foes to conquer, and naught shall lack; here there is place for the laws of peace, here place, too, for arms. Do you only, by your mother I pray, and by the weapons of your brother, his arrows, and by the divine companions of your flight, the gods of Dardanus – so may those rise above fate whom savage Mars has saved from out your race, so may that cruel war be the last of misfortunes to you, and so may Ascanius fill happily out his years, and the bones of old Anchises rest in peace! – do you only spare the house which gives itself without condition into your hand. What can you charge me with but love? I am not of Phthia,5 nor sprung of great Mycenae, nor have I had a husband and a father who have stood against you. If you shame to have me your wife, let me not be called bride, but hostess; so she be yours, Dido will endure to be what you will.

[169] Well do I know the seas that break upon African shores; they have their times of granting and denying the way. When the breeze permits, you shall give your canvas to the gale; now the light seaweed detains your ship by the strand. Entrust me with the watching of the skies; you shall go later, and I myself, though you desire it, will not let you to stay. Your comrades, too, demand repose, and your shattered fleet, but half refitted, calls for a short delay; by your past kindnesses, and by that other debt I still, perhaps, shall owe you, by my hope of wedlock, I ask for a little time – while the sea and my love grow calm, while through time and wont I learn the strength to endure my sorrows bravely.

[181] If you yield not, my purpose is fixed to pour forth my life; you can not be cruel to me for long. Could you but see now the face of her who writes these words! I write, and the Trojan’s blade is ready in my lap. Over my cheeks the tears roll, and fall upon the drawn steel – which soon shall be stained with blood instead of tears. How fitting is your gifts in my hour of fate! You furnish forth my death at a cost but slight. Nor does my heart now for the first time feel a weapon’s thrust; it already bears the wound of cruel love.

[191] Anna my sister, my sister Anna, wretched sharer in the knowledge of my fault, soon shall you give to my ashes the last boon. Nor when I have been consumed upon the pyre, shall my inscription read: ELISSA, WIFE OF SYCHAEUS; yet there shall be one the marble of my tomb these lines:

1. The song preceding death.
2. Ovid has the fourth book of the Aeneid in mind as he composes this letter.
3. Another name for Ascanius, the son of Aeneas.
4. Dido’s husband in Tyre.
5. The home of Achilles.


[1] Pyrrhus, Achilles’ son, in self-will the image of his sire, holds me in durance against every law of earth and heaven. All that lay in my power I have done – I have refused consent to be held; farther than that my woman’s hands could not avail. “What art thou doing, son of Aeacus? I lack not one to take my part!”1 I cried. “This is a woman, I tell thee, Pyrrhus, who has a master of her own!” Deafer to me than the sea as I shrieked out the name of Orestes, he dragged me with hair all disarrayed into his palace. What worse my lot had Lacedaemon been taken and I been made a slave, carried away by the barbarian rout with the daughters of Greece? Less misused by the victorious Achaeans was Andromache herself, what time the Danaän fire consumed the wealth of Phrygia.2

[15] But do you, if your heart is touched with any natural care for me, Orestes, lay claim to your right with no timid hand. What! should anyone break open your pens and steal away your herds, would you resort to arms? and when your wife is stolen away will you be slow to move? Let your father-in-law Menelaus be your example, he who demanded back the wife taken from him, and had in a woman righteous cause for war. Had he been spiritless, and drowsed in his deserted halls, my mother would still be wed to Paris, as she was before.

[23] Yet make not ready a thousand ships with bellying sails, and hosts of Danaän soldiery – yourself come! Yet even thus I might well have been sought back, nor is it unseemly for a husband to have endured fierce combat for love of his marriage-bed. Remember, too, the same grandsire is ours, Atreus, Pelops’ son, and, were you not husband to me, you would still be cousin.3 Husband, I entreat, succour your wife; brother, your sister! Both bonds press you on to your duty.

[31] I was given to you by Tyndareus, weighty of counsel both for his life and for his years; the grandsire was arbiter of the grandchild’s fate. But my father, it might be said, had promised me to Aeacus’ son, not knowing this; yet my grandsire, who is first in order, should also be first in power. When I was wed to you, my union brought harm to none; if I wed with Pyrrhus, I shall deal a wound to you. My father Menelaus, too, will pardon our love – he himself succumbed to the darts of the wingèd god. The love he allowed himself, he will concede to his daughter’s chosen; my mother, loved by him, will aid with her precedent. You are to me what my sire is to my mother, and to the part which once the Dardanian stranger played, Pyrrhus now plays. Let him be endlessly proud because of his father’s deeds; you, too, have a sire’s achievements of which to boast. The son of Tantalus was ruler over all, over Achilles himself. The one was but a part of the soldier band; the other was chief of chiefs. You, too have ancestors – Pelops, and the father of Pelops; should you care to count more closely, you could call yourself fifth from Jove.4

[49] Nor are you without prowess. The arms you wielded were hateful – but what were you to do? – your father placed them in your hand. I could wish that fortune had given you more excellent matter for courage; but the cause that called forth your deed was not chosen – it was fixed. The call you none the less obeyed; and the pierced throat of Aegisthus stained with blood the dwelling your father’s blood had reddened before.5 The son of Aeacus assails your name, and turns your praise to blame – and yet shrinks not before my gaze. I burst with anger, and my face swells with passion no less than my heart, and my breast burns with the pains of pent-up wrath. Has anyone in hearing of Hermione said aught against Orestes, and have I no strength, and no keen sword at hand? I can weep, at least. In weeping I let pour forth my ire, and over my bosom course the tears like a flowing stream. These only I still have, and still do I let them gush; my cheeks are wet and unsightly from their neverending found.

[65] Can it be some fate has come upon our house and pursued it through the years even to my time, that we Tantalid women are ever victims ready to the ravisher’s hand? I shall not rehearse the lying words of the swan upon the stream, nor complain of Jove disguised in plumage.6 Where the sea is sundered in two by the far-stretched Isthmus, Hippodamia7 was borne away in the car of the stranger; she of Taenarus, stolen away across the seas by the stranger-guest from Ida, roused to arms in her behalf all the men of Argos. I scarcely remember, to be sure, yet remember I do. All was grief, everywhere anxiety and fear; my grandsire wept, and my mother’s sister Phoebe, and the twin brothers, and Leda fell to praying the gods above, and her own Jove. As for myself, tearing my locks, not yet long, I began to cry aloud: “Mother, will you go away, and will you leave me behind?” For her lord was gone. Lest I be thought none of Pelops’ line, lo, I too have been left a ready prey for Neoptolemus!

[83] Would that Peleus’ son had escaped the bow of Apollo!8 The father would condemn the son for his wanton deed; ‘twas not of yore the pleasure of Achilles, nor would it be now his pleasure, to see a widowed husband weeping for his stolen wife. What wrong have I done that heaven’s hosts are against me? or what constellation shall I complain is hostile to my wretched self? In my childhood I had no mother; my father was ever in the wars – though the two were not dead, I was reft of both. You were not near in my first years, O my mother, to receive the caressing prattle from the tripping tongue of the little girl; I never clasped about your neck the little arms that would not reach, and never sat, a burden sweet, upon your lap. I was not reared and cared for by your hand; and when I was promised in wedlock I had no mother to make ready the new chamber for my coming. I went out to meet you when you came back home – what I shall say is truth – and the face of my mother was unknown to me! That you were Helen I none the less knew, because you were most beautiful; but you – you had to ask who your daughter was!

[101] This one favour of fortune has been mine – to have Orestes for my wedded mate; but he, too, will be taken from me if he does not fight for his own. Pyrrhus holds me captive, though my father is returned and a victor – this is the boon brought me by the downfall of Troy! Yet my unhappy soul has the comfort, when Titan is urging aloft his radiant steeds, of being more free in its wretchedness; but when the dark of night has fallen and sent me to my chamber with wails and lamentation for my bitter lot, and I have stretched myself prostrate on my sorrowful bed, then springing tears, not slumber, is the service of mine eyes, and in every way I can I shrink from my mate as from a foe. Oft I am distraught with woe; I lose sense of where I am and what my fate, and with witness hand have touched the body of him of Scyrus; but when I have waked to the awful act, I draw my hand from the base contact, and look upon it as defiled. Oft, instead of Neoptolemus the name of Orestes comes forth, and the mistaken word is a treasured omen.

[117] By our unhappy line I swear, and by the parent of our line, he who shakes the seas, the land, and his own realms on high; by the bones of your father, uncle to me, which owe it to you that bravely avenged they lie beneath their burial mound – either I shall die before my time and in my youthful years be blotted out, or I, a Tantalid, shall be the wife of him sprung from Tantalus!

1. A legal allusion: a vindex was one who undertook the defence of a person seized for debt.
2. Andromache’s son Astyanax was thrown from the walls.
3. Frater is often so used.
4. Jupiter, Tantalus, Pelops, Atreus, Agamemnon, Orestes – really sixth.
5. During Agamemnon’s absence, Aegisthus won Clytemnestra’s heart, and the two compassed the king’s death. After seven years of reigning, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra were slain by her son Orestes.
6. The story of Leda and the swan.
7. Pelops won her in the race with Oenomaus, her father, whose death he compassed by tampering with Oenomaus’ charioteer Myrtilus.
8. Apollo directed the arrow of Paris which wounded Achilles in the heel, his only vulnerable part.


[1] 1 I render thanks that Oechalia has been added to the list of our honours; but that the victor has yielded to the vanquished, I complain. The rumour has suddenly spread to all the Pelasgian cities – a rumour unseemly, to which your deeds should give the lie – that on the man whom Juno’s unending series of labours has never crushed, on him Iole has placed her yoke. This would please Eurystheus,2 and it would pleas the sister of the Thunderer; stepdame3 that she is, she would gladly know of the stain upon your life; but ‘twould give no joy to him for whom, so ‘tis believed, a single night did not suffice for the begetting of one so great.

[11] More than Juno, Venus has been your bane. The one, by crushing you down, has raised you up; the other has your neck beneath her humbling foot. Look but on the circle of the earth made peaceful by your protecting strength, wherever the blue waters of Nereus wind round the broad land. To you is owing peace upon the earth, to you safety on the seas; you have filled with worthy deeds both abodes of the sun.4 The heaven that is to bear you, yourself one bore; Hercules bent to the load of the stars when Atlas was their stay. What have you gained but to spread the knowledge of your wretched shame, if a final act of baseness blots your former deeds? Can it be you that men say clutched tight the serpents twain while a tender babe in the cradle, already worthy of Jove? You began better than you end; your last deeds yield to your first; the man you are and the child you were are not the same. He whom not a thousand wild beasts, whom not the Stheneleian foe, whom not Juno could overcome, love overcomes.

[27] Yet I am said to be well mated, because I am called the wife of Hercules, and because the father of my lord is he who thunders on high with impetuous steeds. As the ill-mated steer yoked miserably at the plough, so fares the wife who is less than her mighty lord. It is not honour, but mere fair-seeming, and brings dole to us who bear the load; would you be wedded happily, wed your equal. My lord is ever absent from me – he is better known to me as guest than husband – ever pursuing monsters and dreadful beasts. I myself, at home and widowed, am busied with chaste prayers, in torment lest my husband fall by the savage foe; with serpents and with boars and ravening lions my imaginings are full, and with hounds three-throated hard upon the prey. The entrails of slain victims stir my fears, the idle images of dreams, and the omen sought in the mysterious night. Wretchedly I catch at the uncertain murmurs of the common talk; my fear is lost in wavering hope, my hope again in fear. Your mother is away, and laments that she ever pleased the potent god, and neither your father Amphitryon is here, nor your son Hyllus; the acts of Eurystheus, the instrument of Juno’s unjust wrath, and the long-continued anger of the goddess – I am the one to feel.

[47] Is this too little for me to endure? You add to it your stranger loves, and whoever will may be by you a mother. I will say nothing of Auge betrayed in the vales of Parthenius, or of thy travail, nymph sprung of Ormenus; nor will I charge against you the daughters of Teuthras’ son, the throng of sisters from whose number none was spared by you.5 But there is one love – a fresh offence of which I have heard – a love by which I am made stepdame to Lydian Lamus.6 The Meander, so many times wandering in the same lands, who oft turns back upon themselves his wearied waters, has seen hanging from the neck of Hercules – the neck which found the heavens but slight burden – bejewelled chains! Felt you no shame to bind with gold those strong arms, and to set the gem upon that solid brawn? Ah, to think ‘twas these arms that crushed the life from the Nemean pest, whose skin now covers your left side! You have not shrunk from binding your shaggy hair with a woman’s turban! More meet for the locks of Hercules were the white poplar. And for you to disgrace yourself by wearing the Maeonian zone, like a wanton girl – feel you no shame for that? Did there come to your mind no image of savage Diomede, fiercely feeding his mares on human meat? Had Busiris seen you in that garb, he whom you vanquished would surely have reddened for such a victor as you. Antaeus would tear from the hard neck the turban-bands, lest he feel shame at having succumbed to an unmanly foe.

[73] They say that you have held the wool-basket among the girls of Ionia, and been frightened at your mistress’ threats. Do you not shrink, Alcides, from laying to the polished wool-basket the hand that triumphed over a thousand toils; do you draw off with stalwart thumb the coarsely spun strands, and give back to the hand of a pretty mistress the just portion she weighed out? Ah, how often, while with dour finger you twisted the thread, have your too strong hands crushed the spindle! Before your mistress’ feet . . . . and told of the deeds of which you should now say naught – of enormous serpents, throttled and coiling their lengths about your infant hand; how the Tegeaean boar has his lair on cypress-bearing Erymanthus, and afflicts the ground with his vast weight. You do not omit the skulls nailed up in Thracian homes, nor the mares made fat with the flesh of slain men; nor the triple prodigy, Geryones, rich in Iberian cattle, who was one in three; nor Cerberus, branching from one trunk into a three-fold dog, his hair inwoven with the threatening snake; nor the fertile serpent that sprang forth again from the fruitful wound, grown rich from her own hurt; nor him whose mass hung heavy between your left side and left arm as your hand clutched his throat; nor the equestrian array that put ill trust in their feet and dual form, confounded by you on the ridges of Thessaly.

[101] These deeds can you recount, gaily arrayed in a Sidonian gown? Does not your dress rob from your tongue all utterance? The nymph-daughter of Jardanus7 has even tricked herself out in your arms, and won famous triumphs from the vanquished hero. Go now, puff up your spirit and recount your brave deeds done; she has proved herself a man by a right you could not urge. You are as much less than she, O greatest of men, as it was greater to vanquish you than those you vanquished. To her passes the full measure of your exploits – yield up what you possess; your mistress is heir to your praise. O shame, that the rough skin stripped from the flanks of the shaggy lion has covered a woman’s delicate side! You are mistaken, and know it not – that spoil is not from the lion, but from you; you are victor over the beast, but she over you. A woman has borne the darts blackened with the venom of Lerna, a woman scarce strong enough to carry the spindle heavy with wool; a woman has taken in her hand the club that overcame wild beasts, and in the mirror gazed upon the armour of her lord!

[119] These things, however, I had only heard; I could distrust men’s words, and the pain hit on my senses softly, through the ear – but now my very eyes must look upon a stranger-mistress8 led before them, nor may I now dissemble what I suffer! You do not allow me to turn away; the woman comes a captive through the city’s midst, to be looked upon by my unwilling eyes. Nor comes she after the manner of captive women, with hair unkempt, and with becoming countenance that tells to all her lot; she strides along, sightly from afar in plenteous gold, apparelled in such wise as you yourself in Phrygia. She looks straight out at the throng, with head held high, as if ‘twere she had conquered Hercules; you might think Oechalia standing yet, and her father yet alive. Perhaps you will even drive away Aetolian Deianira, and her rival will lay aside the name of mistress, and be made your wife. Iole, the daughter of Eurytus, and Aonian Alcides will be basely joined in shameful bonds of Hymen. My mind fails me at the thought, a chill sweeps through my frame, and my hand lies nerveless in my lap.

[137] Me, too, you have possessed among your many loves – but me with no reproach. Regret it not – twice you have fought for the sake of men. In tears Achelous gathered up his horns on the wet banks of his stream, and bathed in its clayey tide his mutilated brow; the half-man Nessus sank down in lotus-bearing Euenus, tingeing its waters with his equine blood.9 But why am I reciting things like these? Even as I write comes rumour to me saying my lord is dying of the poison from my cloak. Alas me! what have I done? O wicked Deianira, why hesitate to die?

[147] Shall thy lord be torn to death on midmost Oeta, and shalt thou, the cause of the monstrous deed, remain alive? If I have yet done aught to win the name of wife of Hercules, my death shall be the pledge of our union. Thou, Meleager, shalt also see in me a sister of thine own! O wicked Deianira, why hesitate to die?

[153] Alas, for my devoted house! Agrius sits on the lofty throne10; Oeneus is reft of all, and barren old age weighs heavy on him. Tydeus my brother is exiled on an unknown shore11; my second brother’s life hung on the fateful fire12; our mother drove the steel through her own heart. O wicked Deianira, why hesitate to die?

[159] This one thing I deprecate, by the most sacred bonds of our marriage-bed – that I seem to have plotted for your doom. Nessus, stricken with the arrow in his lustful heart, “This blood,” he said, “has power over love.” The robe of Nessus, saturated with poisonous gore, I sent to you. O wicked Deianira, why hesitate to die?

[165] And now, fare ye well, O aged father, and O my sister Gorge, and O my native soil, and brother taken from thy native soil, and thou, O light that shinest to-day, the last to strike upon mine eyes; and thou my lord, O fare thou well – would that thou couldst! – and Hyllus, thou my son, farewell to thee!

1. The Trachiniae of Sophocles dramatizes the Deianira story, and Apollodorus contains it. See also Ovid, Metam. ix. 1-273, and Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus.
2. Who imposed the twelve labours on Hercules at the instigation of Juno.
3. Jupiter was the father of Hercules by Alcmene.
4. Farthest east and west.
5. There were fifty of them, and their father Thespius wished for fifty grandchildren of Hercules.
6. Hercules was the lover of Omphale, or Iardanis (v. 103), queen of Lydia, sold to her by Hermes as a slave.
7. Omphale.
8. Iole.
9. His poisoned blood is in the robe she sends to Hercules.
10. Agrius drove out Oeneus his brother after Meleager’s death.
11. By Oeneus, for slaying a brother.
12. Meleager perished when his mother Althea, in revenge for his slaying her brother, finally burned the brand on whose preservation the Fates had said his life depended.


[1] Gentler than you I have found every race of wild beasts; to none of them could I so ill have trusted as to you. The words you now are reading, Thesues, I send you from that shore form which the sails bore off your ship without me, the shore on which my slumber, and you, so wretchedly betrayed me – you, who wickedly plotted against me as I slept.

[7] ‘Twas the time when the earth is first besprinkled with crystal rime, and songsters hid in the branch begin their plaint. Half waking only, languid from sleep, I turned upon my side and put forth hands to clasp my Theseus – he was not there! I drew back my hands, a second time I made essay, and o’er the whole couch moved my arms – he was not there! Fear struck away my sleep; in terror I arose, and threw myself headlong from my abandoned bed. Straight then my palms resounded upon my breasts, and I tore my hair, all disarrayed as it was from sleep.

[17] The moon was shining; I bend my gaze to see if aught but shore lies there. So far as my eyes can see, naught to they find but shore. Now this way, and now that, and ever without plan, I course; the deep sand stays my girlish feet. And all the while I cried out “Theseus!” alone the entire shore, and the hollow rocks sent back your name to me; as often as I called out for you, so often did the place itself call out your name. The very place felt the will to aid me in my woe.

[25] There was a mountain, with bushes rising here and there upon its top; a cliff hangs over from it, gnawed into by deep-sounding waves. I climb its slope – my spirit gave me strength – and thus with prospect broad I scan the billowy deep. From there – for I found the winds cruel, too – I beheld your sails stretched full by the headlong southern gale. As I looked on a sight methought I had not deserved to see, I grew colder than ice, and life half left my body. Nor does anguish allow me long to lie thus quiet; it rouses me, it stirs me up to call on Theseus with all my voice’s might. “Whither doest fly?” I cry aloud. “Come back, O wicked Theseus! Turn about thy ship! She hath not all her crew!”

[37] Thus did I cry, and what my voice could not avail, I filled with beating of my breast; the blows I gave myself were mingled with my words. That you at least might see, if you could not hear, with might and main I sent you signals with my hands; and upon a long tree-branch I fixed my shining veil – yes, to put in mind of me those who had forgotten! And now you had been swept beyond my vision. Then at last I let flow my tears; till then my tender eyeballs had been dulled with pain. What better could my eyes do than weep for me, when I had ceased to see your sails? Alone, with hair loose flying, I have either roamed about, like to a Bacchant roused by the Ogygian god, or, looking out upon the sea, I have sat all chilled upon the rock, as much a stone myself as was the stone I sat upon. Oft do I come again to the couch that once received us both, but was fated never to show us together again, and touch the imprint left by you – ‘tis all I can in place of you! – and the stuffs that once grew warm beneath your limbs. I lay me down upon my face, bedew the bed with pouring tears, and cry aloud: “We were two who pressed thee – give back two! We came to thee both together; why do we not depart the same? Ah, faithless bed – the greater part of my being, oh, where is he?

[59] What am I to do? Whither shall I take myself – I am alone, and the isle untilled. Of human traces I see none; of cattle, none. On every side the land is girt by sea; nowhere a sailor, no craft to make its way over the dubious paths. And suppose I did find those to go with me, and winds, and ship – yet where am I to go? My father’s realm forbids me to approach. Grant I do glide with fortunate keel over peaceful seas, that Aeolus tempers the winds – I still shall be an exile! ‘Tis not for me, O Crete composed of the hundred cities, to look upon thee, land known to the infant Jove! No, for my father and the land ruled by my righteous father – dear names! – were betrayed by my deed1 when, to keep you, after your victory, from death in the winding halls, I gave into your hand the thread to direct your steps in place of guide – when you said to me: “By these very perils of mine, I swear that, so long as both of us shall live, thou shalt be mine!”

[75] We both live, Theseus, and I am not yours! – if indeed a woman lives who is buried by the treason of a perjured mate. Me, too, you should have slain, O false one, with the same bludgeon that slew my brother; then would the oath you gave me have been absolved by my death. Now, I ponder over not only what I am doomed to suffer, but all that any woman left behind can suffer. There rush into my thought a thousand forms of perishing, and death holds less of dole for me than the delay of death. Each moment, now here, now there, I look to see wolves rush on me, to rend my vitals with their greedy fangs. Who knows but that this shore breeds, too, the tawny lion? Perchance the island harbours the savage tiger as well. They say, too, that the waters of the deep cast up the mighty seal! And who is to keep the swords of men from piercing my side?

[89] But I care not, if I am but not left captive in hard bonds, and not compelled to spin the long task with servile hand – I, whose father is Minos, whose mother the child of Phoebus, and who – what memory holds more close – was promised bride to you! When I have looked on the sea, and on the land, and on the wide-stretching shore, I know many dangers threaten me on land, and many on the waters. The sky remains – yet there I fear visions of the gods! I am left helpless, a prey to the maws of ravening beasts; and if men dwell in the place and keep it, I put no trust in them – my hurts have taught me fear of stranger-men.

[99] O, that Androgeos were still alive, and that thou, O Cecropian land, hadst not been made to atone for thy impious deeds with the doom of thy children!2 and would that thy upraised right hand, O Theseus, had not slain with knotty club him that was man in part, and in part bull; and I had not given thee the thread to show the way of thy return – thread oft caught up again and passed through the hands led on by it. I marvel not – ah, no! – if victory was thine, and the monster smote with his length the Cretan earth. His horn could not have pierced that iron heart of thine; thy breast was safe, even didst thou naught to shield thyself. There barest thou flint, there barest thou adamant; there hast thou a Theseus harder than any flint!

[111] Ah, cruel slumbers, why did you hold me thus inert? Or, better had I been weighed down once for all by everlasting night. You, too, were cruel, O winds, and all too well prepared, and you breezes, eager to start my tears. Cruel the right hand that has brought me and my brother to our death, and cruel the pledge – an empty word – that you gave at my demand! Against me conspiring were slumber, wind, and treacherous pledge – treason three-fold against one maid!

[119] Am I, then, to die, and, dying, not behold my mother’s tears; and shall there be no one’s finger to close my eyes? Is my unhappy soul to go forth into stranger-air, and no friendly hand compose my limbs and drop them on the unguent due? Are my bones to lie unburied, the prey of hovering birds of the shore? Is this the entombment due to me for my kindnesses? You will go to the haven of Cecrops; but when you have been received back home, and have stood in pride before your thronging followers, gloriously telling the death of the man-and-bull, and of the halls of rock cut out in winding ways, tell, too, of me, abandoned on a solitary shore – for I must not be stolen from the record of your honours! Neither is Aegeus your father, nor are you the son of Pittheus’ daughter Aethra; they who begot you were the rocks and the deep!

[133] Ah, I could pray the gods that you had seen me from the high stern; my sad figure had moved your heart! Yet look upon me now – not with eyes, for with them you cannot, but with your mind – clinging to a rock all beaten by the wandering wave. Look upon my locks, let loose like those of one in grief for the dead, and on my robes, heavy with tears as if with rain. My body is a-quiver like standing corn struck by the northern blast, and the letters I am tracing falter beneath my trembling hand. ‘Tis not for my desert – for that has come to naught – that I entreat you now; let no favour be due for my service. Yet neither let me suffer for it! If I am not the cause of your deliverance, yet neither is it right that you should cause my death.

[145] These hands, wearied with beating of my sorrowful breast, unhappy I stretch toward you over the long seas; these locks – such as remain – in grief I bid you look upon! By these tears I pray you – tears moved by what you have done – turn about your ship, reverse your sail, glide swiftly back to me! If I have died before you come, ‘twill yet be you who bear away my bones!

1. Her aid to Theseus in his slaying of the Minotaur her brother, and his escape from the Labyrinth.
2. Androgeos, Ariadne’s brother, was accidentally killed at Athens.