Classical Texts Library >> Ovid, Heroides >> Epistles 16-18




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] I, son of Priam, send you, Leda’s daughter, this wish for welfare – welfare that can fall to me through your gift alone.

[3] Shall I speak, or is there no need to tell of a flame already known, and is my love already clearer than I could wish? I should indeed prefer to keep it hid, until the time came when my joy could be unmixed with fears, but I can ill disguise; for who could conceal a fire that ever betrays itself by its own light? If, none the less, you look for me to add word to fact – I am on fire with love! There you have the words that bring the message of my heart. Pardon, I entreat, my having confessed, and do not read the rest with face that is hard, but with one that suits your beauty.

[13] Long now have I had cheer, for your welcoming my letter begets the hope that I also may be likewise welcomed. What the mother of Love, who persuaded me to this journey, has fixed upon, I deeply hope may be, and that she has not promised you to me in vain; for at divine behest – lest you sin unawares – I sail hither, and no slight godhead favours my undertaking. The prize I seek indeed is great, but I ask naught that is not my due; you have been promised for my marriage-chamber by her of Cythera. With her for pilot, from the Sigean strand I have sailed in Phereclean stern the dubious paths of the far-stretching flood. It is she who has given me gentle breezes and favouring wind – of a surety she has dominion over the sea, for she rose from the sea. May she still favour me, and calm my heart’s tide as she calmed the wave’s; and bring my bows to their desired haven.

[27] My passion for you I have brought; I did not find it here. It is that which was the cause of so long a voyage, for neither gloomy storm has driven me hither, nor a wandering course; Taenaris is the land toward which my ships were steered. Nor think I cleave the seas with a keel that carries merchandise – what goods I have, may the gods only keep for me! Nor am I come as one to see the sights of Grecian towns – the cities of my own realm are wealthier. It is you I come for – you, whom golden Venus has promised for my bed; you were my heart’s desire before you were known to me. I beheld your features with my soul ere I saw them with my eyes; rumour, that told me of you, was the first to deal my wound.

[39] Yet1 it is not strange if I am prey to love, as ‘tis fitting I should be, stricken by darts that were sped from far. Thus have the fates decreed; and lest you try to say them nay, listen to words told faithfully and true. I was still in my mother’s bosom, tardy of birth; her womb already was duly heavy with its load. It seemed to her in the vision of a dream that she put forth from her full womb a mighty flaming torch. In terror she rose up, and told the dread vision of opaque night to ancient Priam; he told it to his seers. One of the seers sang that Ilion would burn with the fire of Paris – that was the torch of my heart, as now has come to pass!

[51] My beauty and my vigour of mind, though I seemed from the common folk, were the sign of hidden nobility. There is a place in the woody vales of midmost Ida, far from trodden paths and covered over with pine and ilex, where never grazes the placid sheep, nor the she-goat that loves the cliff, nor the wide-mouthed, slowly-moving kine. From there, reclining against a tree, I was looking forth upon the walls and lofty roofs of the Dardanian city, and upon the sea, when lo! it seemed to me that the earth trembled beneath the tread of feet – I shall speak true words, though they will scarce have credit for truth – and there appeared and stood before my eyes, propelled on pinions swift, the grandchild of mighty Atlas and Pelione – it was allowed me to see, and may it be allowed to speak of what I saw! – and in the fingers of the god was a golden wand. And at the self-same time, three goddesses – Venus, and Pallas, and with her Juno – set tender feet upon the sward. I was mute, and chill tremors had raised my hair on end, when “Lay aside thy fear!” the winged herald said to me; “thou art the arbiter of beauty; put an end to the strivings of the goddesses; pronounce which one deserves for her beauty to vanquish the other two!” And, lest I should refuse, he laid command on me in the name of Jove, and forthwith through the paths of ether betook him toward the stars.

[73] My heart was reassured, and on a sudden I was bold, nor feared to turn my face and observe them each. Of winning all were worthy, and I who was to judge lamented that not all could win. But, none the less, already then one of them pleased me more, and you might know it was she by whom love is inspired. Great is their desire to win; they burn to sway my verdict with wondrous gifts. Jove’s consort loudly offers thrones, his daughter, might in war; I myself waver, and can make no choice between power and the valorous heart. Sweetly Venus smiled: “Paris, let not these gifts move thee, both of them full of anxious fear!” she says; “my gift shall be of love, and beautiful Leda’s daughter, more beautiful than her mother, shall come to thy embrace.” She said, and with her gift and beauty equally approved, retraced her way victorious to the skies.

[89] Meanwhile – I suppose because fate had turned to prosper me – I am found by well approved signs to be a child of the royal line. The son, after long time, is taken back to his home, the house is glad, and Troy adds this day, too, to its festivals. And as I long for you, so women have longed for me; alone, you can possess the object of many women’s prayers! And not only have the daughters of princes and chieftains sought me, but even the nymphs have felt for me the cares of love. Whose beauty was I to admire more than Oenone’s? – after you, the world contains none more fit than she to be bride to Priam’s son. But I am weary of all of them, Tyndaris, since hope was made mine of winning you. It was you that filled my vision as I waked, and you my soul saw in the night, when eyes lie overcome in peaceful slumber. What will you be face to face, you who won me yet unseen? I was fired with love, though here, far away, was the flame. I could not longer cheat myself of the hope of you, but started on the dark blue path to seek the object of my vows.

[107] The Trojan groves of pine are felled by the Phrygian axe, and whatsoever tree will serve on the billowy seas; the steeps of Gargara are spoiled of their lofty woods, and far-stretched Ida gives up to me unnumbered beams. The oak is bent to make the frame for the speedy ship, and the curving keel is woven wit the ribbèd sides. We add the yards, and the sails that hang to the mast; the hook-shaped stern, too, receives its painted gods; on the one which carries me stands painted – and, with her, tiny Cupid – the goddess who is sponsor for your wedding me. After the last hand has been laid to the ships, and all is complete, forthwith I am eager to sail the Aegean main – but my father and lady mother hold me back from my purpose with their prayers, and with fond words delay the journey I propose. My sister Cassandra, too, all as she was, with hair let loose, when my vessels were eager now to spread the sail, cried out: “Whither thy headlong course? Thou wilt bring conflagration back with thee! How great the flames thou seekest over these waters, thou dost not know!” A truthful prophetess was she; I have found the fires of which she spoke, and flames of fierce love rage in my helpless breast!

[127] I sail forth from the harbour, and with favouring winds disembark upon your shores, O nymph of Oebalus’ line. Your lord receives me as befits a guest – this, too, an act not without the counsel and approval of the gods! He showed me, of course, whatever in all Lacedaemon was worthy to be shown and sightly to be seen; but I was eager to behold your much-praised charms, and there was nothing else by which my eyes could be held. When I did look on them, I was astonished mute, and felt new cares swelling big in my inmost breast. Features like those, as near as I recall, were Cytherea’s own when she came to be judged by me. If you had come to that contest together with her, the palm of Venus would have come in doubt! Fame has indeed made great heralding of you, and there is no land that knows not of your beauty; no other among fair women has a name like yours – nowhere in Phrygia, nor from the rising of the sun!

[145] Will you believe me when I say this, too? – your glory is less than the truth, and fame has all but maligned your charms; I find more here than the goddess promised me, and your glory is exceeded by its cause. And so Theseus rightly felt love’s flame, for he was acquaint with all your charms, and you seemed fit spoil for the great hero to steal away,2 when, after the manner of your race, you engaged in the sports of the shining palaestra, a nude maid mingled with nude men. His stealing you away, I commend; my marvel is that he ever gave you back. So fine a spoil should have been kept with constancy. Sooner would this head have left my bloody neck that you have been dragged from marriage-chamber of mine. One like you, would ever these hands of mine be willing to let go? One like you, would I, alive, allow to leave my embrace? If you must needs have been rendered up, I should first at least have taken some pledge from you; my love for you would not have been wholly for naught. Either your virgin flower I should have plucked, or taken what could be stolen without hurt to your virgin state.

[163] Only give yourself to me, and you shall know of Paris’ constancy; the flame of the pyre alone will end the flames of my love. I have placed you before the kingdoms which greatest Juno, bride and sister of Jove, once promised me; so I could only clasp my arms about your neck, I have held but cheap the prowess that Pallas would bestow. And I have no regret, nor shall I ever seem in my own eyes to have made a foolish choice; my mind is fixed and persists in its desire. I only pray, O worthy to be sought with such great toils! that you will not allow my hopes to fall to earth. I am no seeker after marriage ties with the nobly born, while myself of lowly line, nor will you find it disgrace, believe me, to be my wife. A Pleiad,3 if you will search, you will find in our line, and a Jove, to say naught of our ancestry since their time; my father wields the sceptre over Asia, land than which none other has more wealth, with bounds immense, scarce to be traversed. Unnumbered cities and golden dwellings you will see and temples you would say fit well their gods. Ilion you will look upon, and its walls made strong with lofty towers, reared to the tunefulness of Phoebus’ lyre.4 Why tell you of our thronging multitudes of men? Scarce does that land sustain the dwellers in it. In dense line the Trojan women will press forward to meet you, and our palace halls will scarce contain the daughters of Phrygia. Ah, how often will you say: “How poor is our Achaia!” One household, any one you choose, will show a city’s wealth.

[189] And yet let me not presume to look down upon your Sparta; the land in which you were born is rich for me. But a niggard land is Sparta, and you deserve keeping in wealth; with fairness such as yours this place is not in accord. Beauty like yours it befits to enjoy rich adornment without end, and to wanton in ever new delights. When you look on the garb of the men of our race, what garb, think you, must be that of the daughters of Dardanus? Only be compliant, and do not disdain a Phrygian for your lord, you who were born in rural Therapnae. A Phrygian, and born of our blood, was he who now is with the gods, and mingles water with the nectar for their drinking. A Phrygian was Aurora’s mate5; yet he was carried away by the goddess who sets the last bound to the advance of night. A Phrygian, too, Anchises, with whom the mother of the wingèd loves rejoices to consort on Ida’s ridge. Nor do I think that Menelaus, when you compare our beauty and our years, will find higher place in your esteem than I. I shall at least not give you a father-in-law who puts to flight the clear beams of the sun, and turns away from the feast his affrightened steeds6; nor has Priam a sire who is stained with blood from the murder of his bride’s father, or who marks the Myrtoan waters with his crime7; nor does ancestor of mine catch at fruits in the Stygian wave, or seek for water in the midst of waters.8

[213] Yet what avails me this, if one sprung from them possesses you, and Jove perforce is father-in-law to this house?9 Ah, crime! Throughout whole nights that unworthy husband possesses you, enjoying your embrace; but I – I look on you only when at last the board is laid, and even this time brings many things that pain. May our enemies have such repasts as often I endure when the wine has been set before us! I regret my being a guest, when before my eyes that rustic lays his arms about your neck. I burst with anger and envy – for why should I not tell everything? – when he lays his mantle over your limbs to keep you warm. But when you openly give him tender kisses, I take up my goblet and hold it before my eyes; when he holds you closely pressed, I let my gaze fall, and the dull food grows big within my unwilling mouth. Many a time I have let forth groans; and you – ah, mischief that you are! – I have marked you unable to keep from laughing when I groaned. Oft I would have quenched the flame of love in wine, but it grew instead, and drinking was but fire upon the fire. That I may miss the sight of much, I recline with head turned from you; but you yourself straightway recall my eyes again.

[235] What I shall do, I know not; I suffer when I look upon these things, but I suffer more when I lack the sight of your face. In whatever way I am allowed and have the power, I struggle to conceal my madness; but none the less the love I cover up appears. And I am not deceiving you; you are aware what wounds are mine – you are aware! And would that they were known to you alone! Ah, how often at the coming of my tears I have turned away my face, lest that man should ask the reasons why I wept! Ah, how often, when in wine, I have told the tale of some amour, speaking straight to your face each single word, and have given you hint of myself under the made-up name! I was the real lover – if you do not know. Nay, indeed, that I might be able to use more froward speech, not once alone have I feigned I was in wine.

[249] You bosom once, I remember, was betrayed by your robe; it was loose, and left your charms bare to my gaze – breasts whiter than pure snows, or milk, or Jove when he embraced your mother. While I sat in ecstasy at the sight – I changed to have my goblet in hand – the twisted handle fell from my fingers. If you had bestowed kisses on your child Hermione, I forthwith snatched them with joy from her tender lips. And now I would sing of old amours, lying careless on my back; and again I would nod, making signs I should have kept hid. The first of your companions, Clymene and Aethra, I lately ventured to approach with flattering words; who said naught else than that they were afraid, and left me in the midst of my entreaties.

[263] Ah, might the gods make you the prize in a mighty contest, and let the victor have you for his couch! – as Hippomenes bore off, the prize of his running, Schoeneus’ daughter, as Hippodamia came to Phrygian embrace, as fierce Hercules broke the horns of Achelous while aspiring to thy embraces, Deianira. My daring would have boldly made its way in the face of conditions such as these, and you would know well how to be the object of my toils. Now nothing is left me but to entreat you, beauteous one, and to embrace your feet, so you suffer it. O honour, O present glory of the twin brethren, O worthy of Jove to husband were you not the child of Jove – either I shall return to the haven of Sigeum with you as my bride, or here, an exile, be covered with Taenarian earth! It is not slightly that my breast has been pierced, only by the arrow’s point; my wound is deep – to the very bones! This – for I recall it – was what my truthful sister prophesied – that I should be transfixed by a heavenly dart. Do not, O Helen, despise a love ordained by fate – so may you find the gods gracious to your prayers!

[283] Many things indeed come to my mind; but, that we may say more face to face, welcome me to your couch in the silent night. Or do you feel shame and fear to violate your wedded love, and to be false to the chaste bonds of a lawful bed? Ah, too simple – nay, too rustic – Helen! do you think that beauty of yours can be free from fault? Either you must change your beauty, or you must needs not be hard; fairness and modesty are mightily at strife. Jove’s delight, and the delight of Venus, are in stealthy sins like these; such stealthy sins, indeed, gave you Jove for sire. If power over character be in the seed, it scarce can be that you, the child of Jove and Leda, will remain chaste. Be chaste, nevertheless – but when my Troy shall hold you; and let your guilt, I beg, be with me alone. Let our sin now be one the hour of marriage will correct – if only what Venus promised me is not in vain!

[299] But even your husband presses you on to this – by deed, if not by word. That his guest may find no bar to theft, he absents himself. He could find no time more suited for him to see the realms of Crete – O husband marvellously shrewd! “I enjoin upon you in my stead the care of my affairs, and of our guest from Ida,” he said, making ready to depart. I call you witness; you neglect the injunction of your absent lord; you are not caring for your guest at all. Do you hope, Tyndaris, that so senseless a man as this can know well the riches of your beauty? You are deceived – he does not know; if he thought great the possessions that he holds, he would not entrust them to an outlander. Though neither my words should move you, nor my ardour, I am driven to take the advantage he himself gives – or I shall be foolish, even to surpassing him, if I let so safe a time go idly by. Almost with his own hands he has brought your lover to you; profit by the behests of your artless lord!

[317] You lie alone through the long night in a companionless couch; in a companionless bed I, too, lie alone. Let mutual delights join you to me, and me to you; brighter than mid of day will that night be. Then I will swear to you by whatever gods you choose, and bind myself by my oath to observe the rites of your choice; then, if confidence does not beguile me, with a plea in person I will make you wish to seek my realms. If you feel shame and fear lest you seem to have followed me, I myself will meet this charge without you; for I will imitate the deed of Aegeus’ son and of your brothers. You can be touched by no examples nearer than these. Theseus stole you away, and they the twin daughters of Leucippus; I shall be counted fourth among such examples. The Trojan fleet is ready, equipped with arms and men; soon oar and breeze will make swift our way. Like a great queen you will make your progress through the Dardanian towns, and the common crowd will think a new goddess come to earth; wherever you advance your steps, flames will consume the cinnamon, and the slain victim will strike the bloody earth. My father and my brothers and my sisters, with their mother, and all the daughters of Ilion, and Troy entire, will bring you gifts. Ah me! I am telling you scarce any part of what will be. You will receive more than my letter tells.

[341] And do not fear lest, if you are stolen away, fierce wars will follow after us, and mighty Greece will rouse her strength. Of so many who have been taken away before, tell me, has any one ever been sought back by arms? Believe me, that fear of yours is vain. In the name of Aquilo the Thracians took captive Erechtheus’ child, and the Bistonian shore was safe from war; Pegasaean Jason in his new craft carried away the Phasian maid, and the land of Thessaly was never harmed by Colchian band. Theseus, too, he who stole you, stole Minos’ daughter; yet Minos called the Cretans ne’er to arms. The terror in things like these is wont to be greater than the danger itself, and where ‘tis our humour to fear, we shame to have feared too much.

[353] Imagine none the less, if you wish, that a great war is set on foot – I, too, have power, and my weapons, too, are deadly. Nor is the resource of Asia less than that of your land; in men is that country rich, and richly abounds in horses. Nor will Menelaus, Atreus’ son, have spirit more than Paris, or be esteemed before him in arms. While yet almost a child, I slew the enemy and got back our herds, and from the exploit received the name I bear10; while yet almost a child, I overcame young men in varied contest, and among them Ilioneus and Deiphobus; and, lest you think me not to be feared but in the thick of the fight, my arrow is fixed in any spot you choose. Can you bespeak for him such deeds of first young manhood? can you claim for the son of Atreus skill like mine? If you should claim for him everything, could you give him Hector for a brother? He alone will have the might of unnumbered warriors! My powers you do not know, and my prowess you have never seen. You do not know the man whose bride you are to be.

[371] Either, then, you will be demanded back with no tumult of war, or the Doric camp will yield to my soldiery. Nor yet would I disdain to take up arms for such a bride. Great prizes stir great strife. And you, besides, if the whole world shall content for you, will attain to fame among men, forever more! Only, take hope, cast off your fears, and leave this place, for the gods are with us; exact with full confidence the promised boon.

1. Of 39-142, Palmer says: “The question of authorship of these verses is bound up with that of the authorship of 21. 13-248. Their date has been a subject of much discussion: many critics have held that they were written so late as the revival of letters . . . Internal evidence seems to point to a date not more than a generation later than that of the composition of the Epistles 16-21: and the general correctness of the versification speaks for an author with an instinctive, not an acquired, feeling for Ovidian verse.”
2. Theseus and Pirithous carried her off, and Castor and Pollux rescued her.
3. Electra, mother of Dardanus, son of Jove.
4. Apollo with his music caused the walls to rise for Laomedon.
5. Tithonus, son of Laomedon.
6. Referring to Atreus and his serving to Thyestes his own sons.
7. Pelops, who compassed the death of Oenomaus in the famous race.
8. Tantalus.
9. Menelaus’ wife was daughter of Jove and Leda.
10. Alexandros, protector of men (the shepherds).


[1] Now that your letter has profaned my eyes, the glory of writing no reply has seemed to me but slight. You have dared, stranger, to violate the sacred pledge of hospitality, and to tamper with the faith of a lawful wife! Of course it was for this that the Taenarian shore received you into its haven when tossed on the windy tides, and that, come though you were from another race, our royal home did not present closed doors to you – for this, that wrong should be the return for kindness so great! You who so entered, were you guest, or were you enemy?

[11] I doubt not that, just though it is, this complaint of mine is called rustic in your judgment. Let me by all means be rustic, only so I forget not my honour, and the course of my life be free from fault. If I do not feign a gloomy countenance, nor sit with stern brows grimly bent, my good name is nevertheless clear, and thus far I have lived without reproach, and no false lover makes his boast of me. For this I wonder the more what confidence inspires your enterprise, and what cause has given you hope to share my couch. Because the Neptunian hero1 employed violence with me, can it be that, stolen once, I seem fit to be stolen, too, a second time? The blame were mine, had I been lured away; but seized, as I was, what could I do, more than refuse my will? Yet he did not reap form his deed the fruitage he desired; except my fright, I returned with no harm. Kisses only, and few, the wanton took, and those despite my struggles; father than that, he possesses naught of mine. Such villainy as yours would not have been content with this – ye gods do better by me! he was not a man like you. He gave me back untouched, and moderation lessened his blame; the youth repented of his deed, ‘tis plain. Did Theseus repent but for Paris to follow in his steps, lest my name should sometime cease from the lips of men? Yet I am not angered – for who grows offended with a lover? – if only what you profess is not pretended love. For I doubt of this too – not that I lack ground for confidence, or that my beauty is not well known to me; but that quick belief is wont to bring harm upon a woman, and your words are said to lack in faith.

[41] You say that others yield to sin, and the matron is rare that is chaste. Who is to keep my name from being among the rare? For, as to my mother’s seeming to you a fit example, and your thinking you can turn me, too, by citing it, you are mistaken there, since she fell through being deceived by a false outside; her lover was disguised by plumage.2 For me, if I should sin I can plead ignorance of nothing; there will be no error to obscure the crime of what I do. Her error was well made, and her sin redeemed by its author. With what Jove shall I be called happy in my fault?

[51] But you boast your birth, your ancestry, and your royal name. This house of mine is glorious enough with its own nobility. To say naught of Jove, forefather of my husband’s sire, and all the glory of Pelops, Tantalus’ son, and of Tyndareus, Leda makes Jove my father, deceived by the swan, false bird she cherished in her trusting bosom. Go now, and loudly tell of remote beginnings of the Phrygian stock, and of Priam with his Laomedon! Them I esteem; but he who is your great glory and fifth from you, you will find is first from our name.3 Although I believe the sceptres of your Troy are powerful, yet I think these of ours not less than they. If indeed this place is surpassed in riches and number of men, yours at nay rate is a barbarous land.

[65] Your letter, to be sure, promises gifts so great they could move the goddesses themselves; but, were I willing to overstep the limit of my honour, yourself would have been a better cause of fault. Either I shall hold forever to my stainless name, or I shall follow you rather than your gifts; and if I do not scorn them, it is because those gifts are ever most welcome whose giver makes them precious. It is much more than you love me, that I am the cause of your toils, that your hope of me has led your over waters so wide.

[75] What you do now when our board has been spread, oh, shameless one! I also note, though I try to feign – when now you look on me, wanton, with those bold eyes which my own can scarcely meet when they assail me, and now sigh, and now again take up the goblet nearest me, and yourself, too, drink from the part where I have drunk. Oh, how often have I noted the covert signals you made with your fingers, how often those from your almost speaking brows! And oft I have been in terror lest my husband see it, and have reddened at the signs you did not well conceal. Oft in lowest murmur, or, rather, with no sound at all, I have said: “He has no shame for anything!” and this word of mine was not false. On the round surface of the table, too, I have read beneath my name, which had been writ with the tracing of wine: I LOVE. I could not believe you, none the less, and signified it with my eyes – ah me, already I have learned that thus one may speak! These are the blandishments, had I been disposed to sin, by which I could be bent; by these my heart could be taken prisoner. Your beauty, too, I confess, is rare, and a woman might well wish to submit to your embrace; but let another be happy without reproach rather than my honour fall before a stranger’s love. Learn from my example how to live without the fair; there is virtue in abstinence from what delights. How many youths, think you, desire what you desire, and yet are wise? Or are you, Paris, the only one with eyes? You see no more clearly: your daring is only more rash; nor have you more spirit, but less of modesty.

[103] I would the time of your swift keel’s coming had been when my maiden hand was sought by a thousand suitors; had I seen you, of the thousand you would have been the first. My husband himself will pardon this judgment of mine. YOu come late – to joys already seized on and possessed; your hope has been tardy; what you seek, another has. Grant, none the less, that I longed to become your bride at Troy, even so think not Menelaus holds me against my will. Cease, I pray, to pluck with your words at my faltering heart, and do not give pain to her you say you love; but allow me to keep the lot that fortune has given, and do not covet to my shame the spoil of my honour.

[115] You say Venus gave her word for this; and that in the vales of Ida three goddesses presented themselves unclad before you; and that when one of them would give you a throne, and the second glory in war, the third said: “The daughter of Tyndareus shall be your bride!” I can scarce believe that heavenly beings submitted their beauty to you as arbiter: and, grant that this is true, surely the other part of your tale is fiction, in which I am said to have been given you as reward for your verdict. I am not so assured of my charms as to think myself the greatest gift in the divine esteem. My beauty is content to be approved in the eyes of men; the praise of Venus would bring envy on me. Yet I attempt no denial; I am even pleased with the praises of your report – for why should my words deny what I much desire? Nor be offended that I am over slow to believe in you; faith is wont to be slow in matters of great moment.

[131] My first pleasure, then, is to have found favour in the eyes of Venus; the next, that I seemed the greatest prize to you, and that you placed first he honours neither of Pallas nor of Juno when you had heard of Helen’s parts. So, then, I mean valour to you, I mean a far-famed throne! I should be or iron, did I not love such a heart. Of iron, believe me, I am not; but I fight against my love for one who I think can hardly become my own. Why should I essay with curvèd plough to furrow the watery shore, and to follow a hope which the place itself denies? I am not practised in the theft of love, and never yet – the gods are my witnesses – have I artfully made sport of my lord. Even now, as I entrust my words to the voiceless page, my letter performs an office all unwonted. Happy they who are no novices! I, ignorant of the world, dream that the path of guilt is hard.

[147] My very fear is a burden, I am in confusion even now, and think that the eyes of all are on my face. Nor do I think so groundlessly; I have caught the evil murmurs of the crowd, and Aethra has brought back certain words to me. But you – do you feign, unless you choose rather to desist! Yet why should you desist? – you have the power to feign. Keep on with your play, yet secretly! Greater, yet not the greatest, freedom is given me by Menelaus’ absence. He is away, to be sure, on a far journey, for so his affairs compelled; he had great and just cause for his sudden setting forth – or so it seemed to me. ‘Twas I, when he was doubting whether to go, that said: “Go, but see that you return as soon as may be!” Glad at the omen, he kissed me, and, “Look you to my affairs, and to the household, and to our guest from Troy,” he says. I scarce could hold my laughter; and, while I struggled to keep it back, could say to him nothing except “I will.”

[163] Yes, he has spread sail for Crete with favouring winds; but think not for this that everything may be as you choose! My lord is away, but in such wise that he guards me, even though away – or know you not that monarchs have far-reaching hands? My fame, too, is a burden to me; for, the more you men persist in your praise of me, the more justly does he fear. The glory that is my delight, just now is a bane as well, and it were better I had cheated fame. Nor let his absence cause you to wonder that I have been left here with you; my character and way of life have taught him trust. My face makes him fearful, my life makes him sure; he feels secure in my virtue, my charms rouse his fear.

[175] You urge on me that opportunity freely offered should not be wasted, and that we should profit by the obliging ways of a simple husband. I both desire it and am afraid. So far my will is not determined; my heart is wavering in doubt. Both my lord is away from me, and you are without companion for your sleep, and your beauty takes me, and mine in turn you; the nights, too, are long, and we already come together in speech, and you – wretched me! – are persuasive, and the same roof covers us. May I perish if all things do not invite me to my fall; and yet some fear still holds me back! What you basely urge on me, would that you could in honour compel me to! You should have cast out by force the scruples of my rustic heart. Wrong sometimes brings gain even to those themselves who suffer it. In this way, surely I could have been compelled to happiness.

[189] While it is new, let us rather fight against the love we have begun to feel. A new-kindled flame dies down when sprinkled with but little water. Uncertain is the love of strangers; it wanders, like themselves, and when you expect nothing to be more sure, ‘tis gone. Hypsipyle is witness, witness is the Minoan maid, both mocked in their unacknowledged marriage-beds. You, too, faithless one, they say have abandoned your Oenone, beloved for many years. Nor yet do you yourself deny it; and, if you do not know, to inquire into all concerning you has been my greatest care. Besides, though you should long to remain constant in love, you have not the power. The Phrygians are even now unfurling your sails; while you are speaking with me, while you are making ready for the hoped-for night, already the wind to bear you homeward will be here. In their mid course you will abandon joys yet full of freshness; away with the winds will go your love of me.

[205] Of shall I follow as you urge, and look upon the Pergamum your praise, and be a bride of the grandchild of Laomedon? I do not so despise the heraldings of the winged talk of men that I would let it fill the earth with my reproach. What will Sparta find to say of me, what all Achaia, what other peoples, what your Troy? What will Priam think of me, what Priam’s wife, and all your many brothers and their Dardanian wives? You, too, how will you be able to hope that I shall keep faith and not be troubled by your own example? Whatever stranger shall have entered the harbours of Ilion will be the cause of anxious fears for you. You yourself, how often in anger will you say to me: “Adulteress!” forgetful that your own reproach is linked with mine! You will be at the same time the censor and the author of my fault. Ere that, I pray, may earth lie heavy o’er my face!

[221] But you say I shall enjoy the wealth of Ilion and a life of all things rich, and shall have gifts more splendid even than your promise; yes, purple and precious webs will be given me, and I shall be rich with heaped-up weight of gold! Forgive me if I say it – your gifts are not worth so much; I know not how, my land itself still holds me back. Who will succour me on Phrygian shores if I meet with harm? Where shall I look for brothers, where for a father’s aid? All things false Jason promised to Medea – was she the less thrust forth from the house of Aeson? There was no Aeëtes to receive the scorned maid home, no mother Idyia, no sister Chalciope. Naught like this do I fear – but neither did Medea fear! Fair hope is often deceived in its own augury. For every ship tossed now upon the deep, you will find that the sea was gentle as it left the harbour.

[237] The torch, too, starts my fears – the bloody torch your mother brought forth in vision before the day of her travail; and I shrink at the words of the seers who they say forewarned that Ilion would burn with Pelasgian fire. And, just as Cytherea favours you, because she was victorious and has a twofold trophy won from the verdict you gave, so I fear those two that – if your boast be true – lost their causes by your judging; and I do not doubt that, should I follow you, war would be set on foot. Through swords, ah me! our love will have to make its way. Or did Hippodamia of Atrax compel Haemonia’s men to declare fierce war on the Centaurs – and do you think that Menelaus and my twin brethren and Tyndareus will be slow to act in such righteous wrath?

[251] As for your loud vaunting and talk of brave deeds, that face belies your words. Your parts are better suited for Venus than for Mars. Be the waging of wars for the valiant; for you, Paris, ever to love! Bid Hector, whom you praise, go warring in your stead; ‘tis the other campaigning befits your prowess. That prowess, were I wise or something bolder, I would employ; employed it will be by whatever maid is wise – or I perchance, forgetting modesty, shall learn wisdom and, overcome by time, yield in tardy surrender.

[261] You ask that we speak of these things in secret, face to face. I know what it is you court, and what you mean by speech with me; but you are over hasty, and your harvest is still in the green. This delay perhaps may be friendly to your wish.

[265] Thus far now; let the writing that shares the secret of my heart now stay its furtive task, for my hand is wearied. The rest let us say through my companions Clymene and Aethra, the two who attend and counsel me.

1. Theseus.
2. Leda and the swan.
3. Helen, Jove ; Paris, Priam, Laomedon, Ilus, Tros, Erichthonius, Dardanus, Jove. The usual pedigree makes Jove seventh from Paris.


[1] He of Abydos sends to you, Maid of Sestos, the greetings he would rather bring, if the waves of the sea should fall.1 If the gods are kindly toward me, if they favour me in my love, you will read with unwilling eye these words of mine. But they are not kindly; for why do they delay my vows, nor suffer me to haste though the well-known waters? You yourself see how the heavens are blacker than pitch, and the straits turbid with winds, and how the hollowed ships can scarce set sail upon them. One seaman only, and he a bold one – he by whom this letter is brought to you – has put out from the harbour; I had embarked with him, but that, as he loosed the cables from the prow, Abydos all was looking down on him. I could not evade my parents, as before, and the love we wish to keep hid would have come to light.

[15] Forthwith writing these words, “Go, happy letter!” I said; “soon she will reach forth for thee her beautiful hand. Perchance thou wilt even be touched by her approaching lips as she seeks to break thy bands with her snowy tooth.” Speaking such words as these in lowest murmur, the rest I let my right hand say upon the sheet. But ah! how much rather would I have it swim than write, and eagerly bear me through the accustomed waves! It is more fit, I grant, for plying the stroke upon the tranquil deep; yet also apt minister of what I feel.

[25] It is now the seventh night, space longer than a year to me, that the troubled sea has been boiling with hoarse-voiced waters. If in all these nights I have had sleep soothe my breast, may I be long kept from you by the raging deep! Sitting upon some rock, I look sadly on your shores, carried in my thoughts to where in body I cannot go. Nay, my vision even sees – or thinks it sees – lights waking in the topmost of your tower. Thrice have I laid down my garments upon the dry sand; thrice, naked have I tried to enter on the heavy way – the swollen billows opposed the bold attempts of youth, and their waters, surging upon me as I swam, rolled over my head.

[37] But thou, most ungentle of the sweeping winds, why art thou bent on waging war with me? It is I, O Boreas, if thou dost not know, and not the waves, against whom thou ragest! What wouldst thou do, were it not that love is known to thee? Cold as thou art, canst thou yet deny, base wind that of yore thou wert aflame with Actaean fires?1 If, when eager to seek thy joys, someone were to close to thee the paths of air, in what wise wouldst thou endure it? Have mercy on me, I pray; be mild, and stir a more gentle breeze – so may the child of Hippotes2 lay upon thee no harsh command.

[47] Vain is my petition; my prayers are met by his murmurings, and the waves tossed up by him he nowhere curbs. Now would that Daedalus could give me his daring wings – though the Icarian strand is not far hence! Whatever might be I would endure, so I could only raise into air the body that oft has hung upon the dubious wave.

[53] Meantime, while wind and wave deny me everything, I ponder in my heart the first times I stole to you. Night was but just beginning – for the memory has charm for me – when I left my father’s doors on the errand of love. Nor did I wait, but, flinging away my garments, and with them my fears, I struck out with pliant arm upon the liquid deep. The moon for the most shed me a tremulous light as I swam, like a duteous attendant watchful over my path. Lifting to her my eyes, “Be gracious to me, shining deity,” I said, “and let the rocks of Latmos rise in thy mind! Endymion will not have thee austere of heart. Bend, O I pray, thy face to aid my secret loves. Thou, a goddess, didst glide from the skies and seek a mortal love; ah, may it be allowed me to say the truth! – she I seek is a goddess too. To say naught of virtues worthy of heavenly breast, beauty like hers falls to none but the true divine. After the beautiful face of Venus, and thine own, there is none before hers; and, that thou mayst not need to trust my words, look thou thyself! As much as all the stars are less than thy bright fires when thy silvery gleam goes forth with pure rays, so much more fair is she than all the fair. If thou dost, doubt it, Cynthia, thy light is blind.”

[75] These words I spake, or words at least not differing much from these, and was borne along in the night through waters that made way before my stroke. The wave was radiant with the image of the reflected moon, and there was a splendour as of day in the silent night; no note came anywhere to my ears, no sound but the murmur of the waters my body thrust aside. The Halcyons only, their hearts still true to beloved Ceyx, I heard in what seemed to my some sweet lament.

[83] And now my arms grow tired below the shoulder-joint, and with all my strength I raise myself aloft on the summit of the waters. Beholding, far off, a light, “It is my love shines in yonder flame,” I cried; “it is my light yon shores contain!” And straight the strength came back to my wearied arms, and the wave seemed easier to me than before. To keep me from the chill of the cold deep, love lends his aid, hot in my eager breast. The nearer I approach, and the nearer draw the shores, and the less of the way remains, the greater my joy to hasten on. When in truth I can be seen as well as see, by your glance you straightway give me heart, and make me strong. Now, too, I strain in my course to pleasure my lady, and toss my arms in the stroke for you to see. Your nurse can scarce stay you from rushing down into the tide – for I saw this, too, and you did not cheat my eye. Yet, though she held you as you went, she could not keep you from wetting your foot at the water’s edge. You welcome me with your embrace, share happy kisses with me – kisses, O ye great gods, worth seeking across the deep! –and from your own shoulders you strip the robes to give them over to me, and dry my hair all dripping with the rain of the sea.

[105] For the rest – night knows of that, and ourselves, and the tower that shares our secret, and the light that guides me on my passage through the floods. The joys that that dear night may no more be numbered than the weeds of the Hellespontic sea; the briefer the space that was ours for the theft of love, the more we made sure it should not idly pass.

[111] And now Aurora, the bride of Tithonus, was making ready to chase the night away, and Lucifer had risen, forerunner of the dawn; in haste we ply our kisses, all disorderly, complaining that the night allows brief lingering. So, tarrying till the nurse’s bitter warnings bid me go, I leave the tower and make for the chilly shore. We part in tears, and I return to the Maiden’s sea,3 looking ever back to my lady while I can. Believe me, it is true: going hence, I seem a swimmer, but, when I return, a shipwrecked man. This too, is true, will you but believe: toward you, my way seems ever inclined; away from you, when I return, it seems a steep of lifeless water. Against he wish of my heart I regain my own land – who could believe? Against the wish of my heart I tarry now in my own town.

[125] Ah me! why are we joined in soul and parted by the wave; two beings of one mind, but not of one land? Either let your Sestos take me, or my Abydos you; your land is as dear to me as mine is dear to you. Why must my heart be troubled as oft as the sea is troubled? Why must the wind, slight cause, have power to hinder me? Already the curving dolphins have learned our loves, and I think the very fishes know me. Already my accustomed path through the waters is well trod, like to the road pressed on by many a wheel. That there was no other way open than this was my complaint before; but now, because of the winds, I complain that this way, too, has failed. The sea of Athamas’ child is foaming white with immense billows, and scarcely safe is the keel that remains in its own harbour; such were these waters, I judge, when first they got from the drowned maid the name they bear. This place is of evil fame enough for the loss of Helle, and, though it spare me, its name reproaches it.

[143] I envy Phrixus, whom the ram with gold in its woolly fleece bore safely over the stormy seas; yet I ask not the office of ram or ship, if only I may have the waters to cleave with my body. I need no art; so only I am allowed to swim, I will be at once ship, seaman, passenger! I guide myself neither by Helice, nor by Arctos, the leading-star of Tyre; my love will none of the stars in common use. Let another fix his eyes on Andromeda and the bright Crown, and upon the Parrhasian Bear that gleams in the frozen pole; but for me, I care not for the loves of Perseus, and of Liber and Jove, to point me on my dubious way. There is another light, far surer for me than those, and when it leads me through the dark my love leaves not its course; while my eyes are fixed on this, I could go to Colchis or the farthest bounds of Pontus, and where the ship of Thessalian pine held its course; and I could surpass the young Palaemon in my swimming, and him whom the wondrous herb made suddenly a god.4

[161] Often my arms grow heavy from the unceasing stroke, and scarce can drag their weary way through the endless floods. When I say to them: “No slight reward for toil shall be yours, for soon you shall have my lady’s neck to hang about,” forthwith they take on strength, and stretch forward to the winning of their prize, like the swift steed let go from the Elean starting-chamber.5 And so I myself keep eyes on the love that burns me, and guide myself by you, maid worthy rather of the skies. For worthy of the skies you are – yet tarry still on earth, or tell me where I also may find a way to the gods above! You are here, yet your wretched lover has but small part in you, and when he sea grows turbid my heart is turbid, too. Of what avail to me that the billows are not broad that sunder us? Is this brief span of waters less an obstacle to me? I almost would that I were distant from you the whole world, so that my hopes were far removed, together with my lady. Now, the nearer you are, the nearer is the flame that kindles me, and hope is always with me, not always she I hope for. I can almost touch her with my hand, so near is she I love; but oft, alas! this “almost” starts my tears. What else than this was the catching at elusive fruits, and pursuing with the lips the hope of a retreating stream?6

[183] Am I, then, never to embrace you except when the wave so wills, and shall no tempest see me happy? and, though nothing is less certain than the wind and wave, must winds and water ever by my hope? And yet it still is summer. What when the seas have been assailed by the Pleiad, and the guardian of the Bear, and the Goat of Olenos? Either I know not how rash I am, or even then a love not cautious will send me forth on the deep. And, lest you deem I promise this because the time is not yet come, I will give you no tardy pledge of what I promise. Let the sea be swollen still for these few nights, and I shall essay to cross despite the waves; either happy daring shall leave me safe, or death shall be the end of my anxious love! Yet I shall pray to be cast up on yonder shores, and that my shipwrecked limbs may come into your haven; for you will weep over me, and not disdain to touch my body, and you will say: “Of the death he met, I was the cause!”

[201] You are hurt, no doubt, by this omen of my death, and my letter in this part stirs your displeasure. I cease – no more complain; but, that the sea, too, may end its anger, add, I beseech, your prayers to mine. I need a brief space of calm until I cross to you; when I shall have touched your shore, let the storm rage on! Yonder with you is an apt ship-yard for my keel, and in no waters rests my bark more safe. There let Boreas shut me in, where tarrying is sweet! Then will I be slow to swim, then will I be ware, nor cast revilement on the unhearing floods again, nor complain that the sea is rough when I fain would swim. Let me be stayed alike by the winds and your tender arms, and let there be double cause to keep me there!

[215] When the storm permits, I shall make use of the oarage of my arms; do you only keep ever the beacon-light where I shall see! Meanwhile, my letter in my stead be with you throughout the night. I pray to follow it myself with least delay!

1. Orithyia of Athens.
2. Aeolus.
3. Helle.
4. Glaucus, the fisherman who ate of a curious grass in which fish were swimming as if in water: Met. xiii. 905 ff.
5. At Olympia.
6. Tantalus.