Classical Texts Library >> Ovid, Heroides >> Epistles 19-21




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] That I may enjoy in very truth the greeting you have sent in words, Leander, O come! Long to me is all delay that defers our joys. Forgive me what I say – I cannot be patient for love! We burn with equal fires, but I am not equal to you in strength; men, methinks, must have stronger natures. As the body, so is the soul of tender women frail – delay but a little longer, and I shall die!

[9] You men, now in the chase, and now husbanding the genial acres of the country, consume long hours in the varied tasks that keep you. Either the market-place holds you, or the sports of the supple wrestling-ground, or you turn with bit the neck of the responsive steed; now you take the bird with the snare, now the fish with the hook; and the later hours you while away with the wine before you. For me who am denied these things, even were I less fiercely aflame, there is nothing left to do but love. What there is left, I do; and you, O sole delight of mine, I love with even greater love than could be returned to me! Either with my dear nurse I whisper of you, and marvel what can keep you from your way; or, looking forth upon the sea, I chide the billows stirred by the hateful wind, in words almost your own; or, when the heavy wave has a little laid aside its fierce mood, I complain that you indeed could come, but will not; and while I complain tears course from the eyes that love you, and the ancient dame who shares my secret dries them with tremulous hand. Often I look to see whether your footprints are on the shore, as I the sand would keep the marks impressed on it; and, that I may inquire about you, and write to you, I still am asking if anyone has come from Abydos, or if anyone is going to Abydos. Why tell how many times I kiss the garments you lay aside when making ready to stem the waters of the Hellespont?

[33] Thus, when the light is done and night’s more friendly hour has driven out day and set forth the gleaming stars, straightway I place in the highest of our abode my watchful lamps, the signals to guide you on the accustomed way. Then, drawing with whirling spindle the twisted thread, with woman’s art we beguile the slow hours of waiting.

[39] What, meanwhile, I say through so long a time, you ask? Naught but Leander’s name is on my lips. “Do you think my joy has already come forth from his home, my nurse? Or are all waking, and does he fear his kin? Now do you think he is putting off the robe from his shoulders, and now rubbing the rich oil into his limbs?” She signs assent, most likely; not that she cares for my kisses, but slumber creeps upon her and lets nod her ancient head. Then, after slightest pause, “Now surely he is setting forth on his voyage, “ I say, “and is parting the waters with the stroke of his pliant arms.” And when I have finished a few strands and the spindle has touched the ground, I ask whether you can be mid way of the strait. And now I look forth, and now in timid tones I pray that a favouring breeze will give you an easy course; my ears catch at uncertain notes, and at every sound I am sure that you have come.

[55] When the greatest part of the night has gone by for me in such delusions, sleep steals upon my wearied eyes. Perhaps, false one, you yet pass the night with me, though against your will; perhaps you come, though yourself you do not wish to come. For now I seem to see you already swimming near and now to feel your wet arms about my neck, and now to throw about your dripping limbs the accustomed coverings, and now to warm our bosoms in the close embrace – and many things else a modest tongue should say naught of, whose memory delights, but whose telling brings a blush. Ah me! brief pleasures these, and not the truth; for you are ever wont to go when slumber goes. O more firmly let our eager loves be knit, and our joys be faithful and true! Why have I passed so many cold and lonely nights? Why, O tardy loiterer, are you so often away from me? The sea, I grant, is not yet fit for the swimmer; but yesternight the gale was gentler. Why did you let it pass? Why did you fear what was not to come? Why did so fair a night go by for naught, and you not seize upon the way? Grant that like chance for coming be given you soon; this chance was the better, surely, since ‘twas the earlier.

[77] But swiftly, you may say, the face of the storm-tossed deep was changed. Yet you often come in less time, when you are in haste. Overtaken here, you would have, methinks, no reason to complain, and while you held me close no storm would harm you. I surely should hear the sounding winds with joy, and should pray for the waters never to be calm. But what has come to pass, that you are grown more fearful of the wave, and dread the sea you before despised? For I call to mind your coming once when the flood was not less fierce and threatening – or not much less; when I cried to you: “ be ever rash with such good fortune, lest wretched I may have to weep for your courage!” Whence this new fear, and whither has that boldness fled? Where is that mighty swimmer who scorned the waters?

[91] But no, be rather as you are than as you were wont to be before; make your way when the sea is placid, and be safe – so you are only the same, so we only love each other, as you write, and that flame of ours turn not to chill ashes. I do not fear so much the winds that hinder my vows as I fear that like the wind your love may wander – that I may not be worth it all, that your perils may outweight their cause, and I seem a reward too slight for your toils.

[99] Sometimes I fear my birthplace may injure me, and I be called no match, a Thracian maid, for a husband from Abydos. Yet could I bear with greater patience all things else than have you linger in the bonds of some mistress’s charms, see other arms clasped round your neck, and a new love end the love we bear. Ah, may I rather perish than be wounded by such a crime, may fate overtake me ere you incur that guilt! I do not say these words because you have given sign that such grief will come to me, or because some recent tale has made me anxious, but because I fear everything – for who that loved was ever free from care? The fears of the absent, too, are multiplied by distance. Happy they whom their own presence bids know the true charge, and forbids to fear the false. Me wrongs imaginary fret, while the real I cannot know, and either error stirs equal gnawings in my heart. O, would you only come! Or did I only know that the wind, or your father – at least, no woman – kept you back! Were it a woman, and I should know, I should die of grieving, believe me; sin against me at once, if you desire my death!

[119] But you will not sin against me, and my fears of such troubles are vain. The reason you do not come is the jealous storm that beats you back. Ah, wretched me! with what great waves the shores are beaten, and what dark clouds envelop and hide the day! It may be the loving mother of Helle has come to the sea, and is lamenting in downpouring tears the drowning of her child1 – or is the step-dame, turned to a goddess of the waters, vexing the sea that is called by her step-child’s hated name?2 This place, such as ‘tis now, is aught but friendly to tender maids; by these waters Helle perished, by them my own affliction comes. Yet, Neptune, wert thou mindful of thine own heart’s flames, thou oughtst let no love be hindered by the winds – if neither Amymone, nor Tyro much bepraised for beauty, are stories idly charged to thee, nor shining Alcyone, and Calyce, child of Hecataeon, nor Medusa when her locks were not yet twined with snakes, nor golden-haired Laodice and Celaeno taken to the skies, nor those whose names I mind me of having read.3 These, surely, Neptune, and many more, the poets say in their songs have mingled their soft embraces with thine own. Why, then, dost thou, who hast felt so many times the power of love, close up with whirling storm the way we have learned to know? Spare us, impetuous one, and mingle thy battles out upon the open deep! These waters, that separate two lands, are scant. It befits thee, who art mighty, either to toss about the mighty keel, or to be fierce even with entire fleets; ‘tis shame for he god of the great sea to terrify a swimming youth – that glory is less than should come from troubling any pond. Noble he is, to be sure, and of famous stock, but he does not trace his line from the Ulysses thou dost not trust. Have mercy on him, and save us both! It is he who swims, but he limbs of Leander and all my hopes hang on the selfsame wave.

[151] My lamp has sputtered, see! – for I am writing with it near – it has sputtered and given us favouring sign. Look, nurse is pouring drops into auspicious fires.4 “To-morrow,” she says, “we shall be more,” and herself drinks of the wine. Ah, do make us more, glide over the conquered wave, O you whom I have welcomed to all my inmost heart! Come back to camp, deserter of your ally love; why must I lay my limbs in the mid space of my couch? There is naught for you to fear! Venus’ self will smile upon your venture; child of the sea, the paths of the sea she will make smooth. Oft am I prompted myself to go through the midst of the waves, but ‘tis the wont of this strait to be safer for men. For why, though Phrixus and Phrixus’ sister both rode this way, did the maiden alone give name to these wide waters?

[165] Perhaps you fear the time may fail you for return, or you may not endure the effort of the twofold toil. Then let us both from diverse ways come together in mid sea, and give each other kisses on the waters’ crest, and so return again each to his own town; ‘twill be little, but more than naught! Would that either this shame that compels us to secret loving would cease, or else the love that fears men’s speech. Now, two things that ill go together, passion and regard for men, are at strife. Which I shall follow is in doubt; the one becomes, the other delights. Once had Jason of Pagasae entered Colchis, and he set the maid of the Phasis in his swift ship and bore her off; once had the lover from Ida come to Lacedaemon, and he straight returned together with his prize. But you, as oft as you seek your love, so oft you leave her, and whene’er ‘tis peril for boats to go, you swim.

[181] Yet, O my young lover, though victor over the swollen waters, so spurn the sea as still to be in fear of it! Ships wrought with skill are overwhelmed by the wave; do you think your arms more powerful than oars? What you are eager for, Leander – to swim is the sailor’s fear; ‘tis that follows ever on the wreck of ships. Ah, wretched me! I am eager not to persuade you to what I urge; may you be too strong, I pray, to yield to my admonition – only so you come to me, and cast about my neck the wearied arms oft beaten by the wave!

[191] But, as often as I turn my face toward the dark blue wave, my fearful breast is seized by some hidden chill. Nor am I the less perturbed by a dream I had yesternight, though I have cleared myself of its threat by sacrifice. For, just before dawn, when my lamp was already dying down, at the time when dreams are wont to be true, my fingers were relaxed by sleep, the threads fell from them, and I laid my head down upon the pillow to rest. There in vision clear I seemed to see a dolphin swimming through the wind-tossed waters; and after the flood had cast it forth upon the thirsty sands, the wave, and at the same time life, abandoned the unhappy thing. Whatever it may mean, I fear; and you – nor smile at my dreams, nor trust your arms except to a tranquil sea! If you spare not yourself, spare the maid beloved by you, who never will be safe unless you are so! I have hope none the less that the waves are broken and peace is near; do you cleave their paths while placid with all your might! Meanwhile, since the billows will not let the swimmer come, let the letter that I send you soften the hated hours of delay.

1. Nephele, mother of Phrixus and Helle.
2. Ino, second wife of Helle’s father Athamas.
3. “Such learned enumerations of the love adventures of the gods appear to have been a form of poetry cultivated by the Alexandrians.” Purser, in Palmer p. 475.
4. She drops water into the flame of the lamp, either to clear the wick or to honour the omen.


[1] Lay aside your rears! here you will give no second oath to your lover; that you have pledged yourself to me once is enough.1 Read to the end, and so may the languor leave that body of yours; that it feel pain in any part is pain to me!

[5] Why do your blushes rise before you read? – for I suspect that, just as in the temple of Diana, your modest cheeks have reddened. It is wedlock with you that I ask, and the faith you pledged me, not a crime; as your destined husband, not as a deceiver, do I love. You may recall the words which the fruit I plucked from the tree and threw to you brought to your chaste hands; you will find that in them you promise me what I pray that you, maiden, rather than the goddess, will remember, I am still as fearful as ever, but my fear has grown keener than it was; for the flame of my love has waxed with being delayed, and taken on strength, and the passion that was never slight has now grown great, fed by long time and the hope that you had given. Hope you had given; my ardent heart put trust in you. You cannot deny that this was so – the goddess is my witness. She was there and, present as she was, marked your words, and seemed, by the shaking of her locks, to have accepted them.

[21] I will give you leave to say you were deceived, and by wiles of mine, if only of those wiles my love be counted cause. What was the object of my wiles but the one thing – to be united with you? The thing you complain of has power to join you to me. Neither by nature nor by practice am I so cunning; believe me, maid, it is you who make me skilful. It was ingenious Love who bound you to me, with words – if I, indeed, have gained aught – that I myself drew up. In words dictated by him I made our betrothal bond; Love was the lawyer that taught me knavery. Let wiles be the name you give my deed, and let me be called crafty – if only the wish to possess what one loves be craft!

[33] Look, a second time I write, inditing words of entreaty! A second stratagem is this, and you have good ground for complaint. If I wrong you by loving, I confess I shall wrong you for ever, and strive to win you; though you shun my suit, I shall ever strive. With the sword have others stolen away the maids they loved; shall this letter, discreetly written, be called a crime? May the gods give me power to lay more bonds on you, so that your pledge many nowhere leave you free! A thousand wiles remain – I am only perspiring at the foot of the steep; my ardour will eave nothing unessayed. Grant ‘tis doubtful whether you can be taken; the taking shall at least be tried. The issue rests with the gods, but you will be taken none the less. You may evade a part, but you will not escape all the nets which Love, in greater number than you think, has stretched for you.

[47] If art will not serve, I shall resort to arms, and you will be seized and borne away in the embrace that longs for you. I am not the one to chide Paris for what he did, nor any one who, to become a husband, has been a man.2 I, too – but I say nothing! Allow that death is fit punishment for this theft of you, it will be less than not to have possessed you. Or you should have been less beautiful, would you be wooed by modest means; ‘tis by your charms I am driven to be bold. This is your work – your work, and that of your eyes, brighter than the fiery stars, and the cause of my burning love; this is the work of your golden tresses and that ivory throat, and the hands which I pray to have clasp my neck, and your comely features, modest yet not rustic, and feet which Thetis’ own methinks could scarcely equal. If I could praise the rest of your charms, I should be happier; yet I doubt not that the work is like in all its parts. Compelled by beauty such as this, it is no cause for marvel if I wished the pledge of your word.

[65] In fine, so only you are forced to confess yourself caught, be, if you will, a maid caught by my treachery. The reproach I will endure – only let him who endures have his just reward. Why should so great a charge lack its due profit? Telamon won Hesione, Briseis was taken by Achilles; each of a surety followed the victor as her lord. You may chide and be angry as much as you will, if only you let me enjoy you while you are angry. I who cause it will likewise assuage the wrath I stirred, let me but have a slight chance of appeasing you. Let me have leave to stand weeping before your face, and my tears have leave to add their own speech; and let me, like a slave in fear of bitter stripes, stretch out submissive hands to touch your feet! You know not your own right; call me! Why am I accused in absence? Bid me come, forthwith, after the manner of a mistress. With your own imperious hand you may tear my hair, and make my face livid with your fingers. I will endure all; my only fear perhaps will be lest that hand of yours be bruised on me.

[85] But bind me not with shackles nor with chains – I shall be kept in bonds by unyielding love for you. When your anger shall have had full course, and is sated well, you will say to yourself: “How enduring is his love!” You will say to yourself, when you have seen me bearing all: “He who is a slave so well, let him be slave to me!” Now, unhappy, I am arraigned in my absence, and my cause, though excellent, is lost because no one appears for me.

[93] This further – however much that writing of mine was a wrong to you, it is not I alone, you must know, of whom you have cause to complain. She of Delos was not deserving of betrayal with me; if faith with me you cannot keep, keep faith with the goddess. She was present and saw when you blushed at being ensnared, and stored away your word in a remembering ear. May your omens be groundless! Nothing is more violent than she when she sees – what I hope will not be! – her godhead wronged. The boar of Calydon will be my witness – fierce, yet so that a mother3 was found to be fiercer than he against her own son. Actaeon, too, will witness, once on a time thought a wild beast by those with whom himself had given wild beasts to death; and the arrogant mother, her body turned to rock, who still sits weeping on Mygdonian soil.4

[107] Alas me! Cydippe, I fear to tell you the truth, lest I seem to warn you falsely, for the sake of my plea; yet tell it I must. This is the reason, believe me, why you oft lie ill on the eve of marriage.5 It is the goddess herself, looking to your good, and striving to keep you from a false oath; she wishes you kept whole by the keeping whole of your faith. This is the reason why, as oft as you attempt to break your oath, she corrects your sin. Cease to invite forth the cruel bow of he spirited virgin; she still may be appeased, if only you allow. Cease, I entreat, to waste with fevers your tender limbs; preserve those charms of yours for me to enjoy. Preserve those features that were born to kindle my love, and the gentle blush that rises to grace your snowy cheek. May my enemies, and any who would keep you from my arms, so fare as I when you are ill! I am alike in torment whether you wed, or whether you are ill, nor can I say which I should wish the less; at times I waste with grief at thought that I may be cause of pain to you, and my wiles the cause of your wounds. May the false swearing of my lady come upon my head, I pray; mine be the penalty, and she thus be safe!

[129] Nevertheless, that I may not be ignorant of how you fare, now here, now there, I oft walk anxiously in secret before your door; I follow stealthily the maid-slave and the lackey, asking what change for good your sleep has brought, or what your food. Ah me, wretched, that I may not be the one to carry out the bidding of your doctors,6 and may not stroke your hands and sit at the side of your bed! and again wretched, because when I am far removed from you, perhaps that other, he whom I least could wish, is with you! He is the one to stroke those dear hands, and to sit by you while ill, hated by me and by the gods above – and while he feels with his thumb your throbbing artery, he oft makes this the excuse for holding your fair, white arm, and touches your bosom, and, it may be, kisses you. A hire like this is too great for the service given!

[143] Who gave you leave to reap my harvests before me? Who laid open the road for you to enter upon another’s hopes? That bosom is mine! mine are the kisses you take! Away with your hands from the body pledged to me! Scoundrel, away with your hands! She whom you touch is to be mine; henceforth, if you do that, you will be adulterous. Choose from those who are free one whom another does not claim; if you do not know, those goods have a master of their own. Nor need you take my word – let the formula of our pact be recited; and, lest you say ‘tis false, have her read it herself! Out with you from another’s chamber, out with you, I say! What are you doing there? Out! That couch is not free! Because you, too, have the words of a second pact, the twin of mine, your case will not on that account be equal with mine. She promised herself to me, her father her to you; he is first after her, but surely she is nearer to herself than her father is. Her father but gave promise of her, while she, too, made oath – to her lover; he called men to witness, she a goddess. He fears to be called false, she to be called forsworn also; do you doubt which – this or that – is the greater fear? In a word, even grant you could compare their hazards, regard the issue – for she lies ill, and he is strong. You and I, too, are entering upon a contest with different minds; our hopes are not equal, nor are our fears the same. Your suit is without risk; for me, repulse is heavier than death, and I already love her whom you, perhaps, will come to love. If you had cared for justice, or cared for what was right, you yourself should have given my passion the way.

[171] Now, since his hard heart persists in its unjust course, Cydippe, to what conclusion does my letter come? It is he who is the cause of your lying ill and under suspicion of Diana; he is the one you would forbid your doors, if you were wise. It is his doing that you are facing such dire hazards of life – and would that he who causes them might perish in your place! If you shall have repulsed him and refused to love on the goddess damns, then straightway you – and I assuredly – will be whole. Stay your fears, maiden! You will possess abiding health, if only you honour the shrine that is witness of your pledge; not by slain oxen are the spirits of heaven made glad, but by good faith, which should be kept even though without witness. To win their health, some maids submit to steel and fire; to others, bitter juices bring their gloomy aid. There is no need of these; only shun false oaths, preserve the pledge you have given – and so yourself, and me! Excuse for past offence your ignorance will supply – the agreement you read had fallen from your mind. You have but now been admonished not only by word of mine, but as well by those mishaps of health you are wont to suffer as oft as you try to evade your promise. Even if you escape these ills, in child-birth will you dare pray for aid from her light-bringing7 hands? She will hear these words – and then, recalling what she has heard, will ask of you from what husband comes those pangs. You will promise a votive gift – she knows your promises are false; you will make oath – she knows you can deceive the gods!

[197] ‘Tis not a matter of myself; the care I labour with is greater. It is concern for your life that fills my heart. Why, but now when your life was in doubt, did your frightened parents weep with fear, whom you keep ignorant of your crime? And why should they be ignorant? – you could tell your mother all. What you have done, Cydippe, needs no blush. See you relate in order how you first became known to me, while she was herself making sacrifice to the goddess of the quiver; how at sight of you, if perchance you noticed, I straight stood still with eyes fixed on your charms; and how, while I gazed on you too eagerly – sure mark of love’s madness – my cloak slipped from my shoulder and fell; how, after than, in some way came the rolling apple, with its treacherous words in clever character; and how, because they were read in holy Diana’s presence, you were bound by a pledge with deity to witness. For fear that after all she many not know the import of the writing, repeat now again to her the words once read by you. “Wed, I pray,” she will say, “him to whom the good gods join you; the one you swore should be, let be my son-in-law. Whoever he is, let him be our choice, since he was Diana’s choice before!” Such will be your mother’s word, if only she is a mother.

[219] And yet, see that she seeks out who I am, and of what ways. She will find that the goddess had you and yours at heart. An isle once thronged by he Corycian nymphs is girdled by the Aegean sea; its name is Cea. That is the land of my fathers; nor, if you look with favour on high-born names, am I to be charged with brith from grandsires of no repute. We have wealth, too, and we have a name above reproach; and, though there were nothing else, I am bound to you by Love. You would aspire to such a husband even though you had not sworn; now that you have sworn, even though he were not such, you should accept him.

[229] These words Phoebe, she of the darts, bade me in my dreams to write you; these words in my waking hours Love bade me write. The arrows of the one of them have already wounded me; that the darts of the other wound not you, take heed! Your safety is joined with mine – have compassion on me and on yourself; why hesitate to aid us both at once? If you shall do this, in the day when the sounding signals8 will be given and Delos be stained with votive blood,9 a golden image of the blessed apple shall be offered up, and the cause of its offering shall be set forth in verses twain:

[241] That too long a letter may not weary your weakened frame, and hat it may close with the accustomed end: fare well!

1. In the temple of Diana at Delos, Acontius threw before Cydippe an apple inscribed: “I swear by the sanctuary of Diana that I will wed Acontius,” which she read aloud, thus inadvertently pledging herself.
2. “Vir” is used in two senses – “husband” and “man of courage.”
3. Meleager, whose mother Althaea’s anger was inspired by Diana.
4. Niobe, with the children of whom she boasted, was slain by Diana and Apollo. A “weeping Niobe” rock was pointed out in Mygdonia, a province of Phrygia.
5. The day was often postponed.
6. Administer the prescriptions.
7. A frequent epithet of Diana.
8. For the beginning of the ceremony.
9. The sacrifices attendant upon Acontius’ marriage to Cydippe.


[1] All fearful, I read what you wrote without so much as a murmur, lest my tongue unwittingly might swear by some divinity. And I believe you would have tried to snare me a second time, did you not know, as you yourself confess, that one pledge from me was enough. I should not have read at all; but had I been hard with you, the anger of the cruel goddess might have grown. Though I do everything, though I offer duteous incense to Diana, she none the less favours you more than your due, and, as you are eager for me to believe, avenges you with unforgetting anger; scarce was she such toward her own Hippolytus.1 Yet the maiden goddess had done better to favour the years of a maiden like me – years which I fear she wishes few for me.

[13] For the languor clings to me, for causes that do not appear; worn out, I find no help in the physician’s art. How thin and wasted am I now, think you, scarce able to write this answer to you? and how pale the body I scarce can raise upon my arm? And now I feel an added fear, lest someone besides the nurse who shares my secret may see that we are interchanging words. She sits before the door, and when they ask how I do within, answers, “She sleeps,” that I may write in safety. Presently, when sleep, the excellent excuse for my long retreat, no longer wins belief because I tarry so, and now she sees those coming whom not to admit is hard, she clears her throat and thus gives me the sign agreed upon. Just as they are, in haste I leave my words unfinished, and the letter I have begun is hid in my trembling bosom. Taken thence, a second time it fatigues my fingers; how great the toil to me, yourself can see. May I perish if, to speak truth, you were worthy of it; but I am kinder than is just or your deserve.

[31] So, then, ‘tis on your account that I am so many times uncertain of health, and ‘tis for your lying tricks that I am and have been punished? Is this the reward that falls to my beauty, proud in your praise? Must I suffer for having pleased? If I had seemed misshapen to you – and would I had! – you would have thought ill of my body, and now it would need no help; but I met with praise, and now I groan; now you two with your strife are my despair, and my own beauty itself wounds me. While neither you yield to him nor he deems him second to you, you hinder his prayers, he hinders yours. I myself am tossed like a ship which steadfast Boreas drives out into the deep, and tide and wave bring back, and when the day longed for by my parents dear draws nigh, at the same time unmeasured burning seizes on my frame – ah me, at the very time of marriage cruel Persephone knocks at my door before her day! I already am shamed, and in fear, though I feel no guilt within, lest I appear to have merited the displeasure of the gods. One contends that my affliction is the work of chance; another says that my destined husband finds not favour with the gods; and, lest you think yourself untouched by what men say, there are also some who think you the cause, by poisonous arts. Their source is hidden, but my ills are clear to see; you two stir up fierce strife and banish peace, and the blows are mine!

[55] Tell me now, and deceive me not in your wonted way: what will you do from hatred, when you harm me so from love? If you injure one you love, ‘twill be reason to love your foe – to save me, I pray you, will to wish my doom! Either you care no longer for the hoped-for maid, whom with hard heart you are letting waste away to an unworthy death, or if in vain you beseech for me the cruel goddess, why boast yourself to me? – you have no favour with her! Choose which case you will; you do not wish to placate Diana – you have forgotten me; you have no power with her – ‘tis she has forgotten you!

[65] I would I had either never – or not at that time – known Delos in the Aegean waters! That was the time my ship set forth on a difficult sea, and I entered on a voyage in ill-omened hour. With what step2 I came forth! With what step I started from my threshold! The painted deck of the swift ship – with what step I trod it! Twice, none the less, my canvas put about before an adverse wind – ah, senseless that I am, I lie! – a favouring wind was that! A favouring wind it was that brought me back from my going, and hindered the way that had little happiness for me. Ah, would it had been constant against my sails – but it is foolish to complain of fickle winds.

[77] Moved by the fame of the place, I was in eager haste to visit Delos, and the craft in which I sailed seemed spiritless. How oft did I chide the oars for being slow, and complain that sparing canvas was given to the wind! And now I had passed Myconos, now Tenos and Andros, and Delos gleamed3 before my eyes. When I beheld it from afar, “Why doest thou fly from me, O isle?” I cried; “Art thou afloat in the great sea, as in days of yore?”

[85] I had set foot upon land; the light was almost gone, and the sun was making ready to take their yokes from his shining steeds. When he has likewise called them once more to their accustomed rising, my hair is dressed at the bidding of my mother. With her own hand she sets gems upon my fingers and gold in my tresses, and with her own hand places the robes about my shoulders. Straightway setting forth, we greet the deities to whom the isle is consecrate, and offer up the golden incense and the wine; and while my mother stains the altars with votive blood, and piles the solemn entrails on the smoking altar-flames, my busy nurse conducts me to other temples also, and we stray with wandering step about the holy precincts. And now I walk in the porticoes, now look with wonder on the gifts of kings, and the statues everywhere; I look with wonder, too, on the altar built of countless horns,4 and the tree that stayed the goddess in her throes,5 all things else that Delos holds – for memory would not serve, nor mood allow, to tell of all I looked on there.

[103] Perhaps, thus gazing, I was gazed upon by you, Acontius, and my simple nature seemed an easy prey. I return to Diana’s temple, with its lofty approach of steps – ought any place to be safer than this? – when there is thrown before my feet an apple with this verse that follows – ah me, now again I almost made oath to you! Nurse took it up, looked in amaze, and “Read it through!” she said. I read your treacherous verse, O mighty poet! At mention of the name of wedlock I was confused and shamed, and felt the blushes cover all my face, and my eyes I kept upon my bosom as if fastened there – those eyes that were made ministers to your intent. Wretch, why rejoice? or what glory have you gained? or what praise have you won, a man, by playing on a maid? I did not present myself before you with buckler in hand, like Penethesilea on the soil of Ilion; no sword-girdle, chased with Amazonian gold, was offered you for spoil by me, as by some Hippolyte.6 Why exult if your words deceived me, and I, a girl of little wisdom, was taken by your wiles? Cydippe was snared by the apple, an apple snared Schoeneus’ child7; you now of a truth will be a second Hippomenes! Yet had it been better for you – if that boy really held you captive who you say has certain torches – to do as good men are wont, and not cheat your hope by dealing falsely; you should have won me by persuasion, not taken me whether or no!

[129] Why, when you sought my hand, did you not think worth declaring those things that made your own hand worth my seeking? Why did you wish to compel me rather than persuade, if I could be won by listening to your suit? Of what avail to you now the formal words of an oath, and the tongue that called on present deity to witness? It is the maid that swears, and I have taken no oath with that; it alone can lend good faith to words. It is counsel and the prudent reasoning of the soul that swear, and, except the bonds of the judgment, none avail. If I have willed to pledge my hand to you, exact the due rights of the promised marriage-bed; but if I have given you naught but my voice, without my heart, you possess in vain but words without a force of their own. I took no oath – I read words that formed an oath; that was no way for you to be chosen to husband by me. Deceive thus other maids – let a letter follow an apple! If this plan holds, win away their great wealth from the rich; make kings take oath to give their thrones to you, and let whatsoever pleases you in all the world be yours! Your are much greater in this, believe me, than Diana’s self, if your written word has in it such present deity.

[151] Nevertheless, after saying this, after firmly refusing myself to you, after having finished pleading the cause of my promise to you, I confess I fear the anger of Leto’s cruel daughter and suspect that from her comes my body’s ill. For why is it that, as oft as the sacraments for marriage are made ready, so oft the limbs of the bride-to-be sink down in languor? Thrice now has Hymenaeus come to the altars reared for me and fled, turning his back upon the threshold of my wedding-chamber; the lights so oft replenished by his lazy hand scarce rise again, scarce does he keep the torch alight by waving it. Oft does the perfume distil from his wreathèd locks, and the mantle he sweeps along is splendid with much saffron. When he has touched the threshold, and sees tears and dread of death, and much that is far removed from the ways he keeps, with his own hand he tears the garlands from his brow and casts them forth, and dries the dense balsam from his glistening locks; he shames to stand forth glad in a gloomy throng, and the blush that was in his mantle passes to his cheeks.

[169] But for me – ah, wretched! – my limbs are parched with fever, and the stuffs that cover me are heavier than their wont; I see my parents weeping over me, and instead of the wedding-torch the torch of death is at hand. Spare a maid in distress, O goddess whose joy is the painted quiver, and grant me the health-bringing aid of thy brother! It is shame to thee that he drive away the causes of doom, and that thou, in contrast, have credit for my death. Can it be that, when thou didst wish to bathe in shady pool, I without witting cast eyes upon thee at thy bath? Have I passed thy altars by, among those of so many deities of heaven?8 Has thy mother been scorned by mine?9 I have sinned in naught except that I have read a false oath, and been clever with unpropitious verse.

[183] Do you, too, if your love is not a lie, offer up incense for me; let the hands help which harmed me! Why does the hand which is angered because the maiden pledged you is not yet yours so act that yours she cannot become? While still I live you have everything to hope; why does the cruel goddess take from me my life, your hope of me from you?

[189] Do not believe that he whose destined wife I am lays his hand on me to fondle my sick limbs. He sits by me, indeed, as much as he may, but does not forget that mine is a virgin bed. He seems already, too, to feel in some way suspicion of me; for his tears oft fall for some hidden cause, his flatteries are less bold, he asks for few kisses, and calls me his own in tones that are but timid. Nor do I wonder he suspects, for I betray myself by open signs; I turn upon my right side when he comes, and do not speak, and close my eyes in simulate sleep, and when he tries to touch me I throw off his hand. He groans and sighs in his silent breast, for he suffers my displeasure without deserving it. Ah me, that you rejoice and are pleased by that state of my will! Ah me, that I have confessed my feelings to you? If my tongue should speak my mind, ‘twere you more justly deserved my anger – you, for having spread the net for me.

[207] You write for leave to come and see me in my illness. You are far from me, and yet you wrong me even from there. I marvelled why your name was Acontius; it is because you have the keen point that deals a wound from afar.10 At any rate, I am not yet well of just such a wound, for I was pierced by your letter, a far-thrown dart. Yet why should you come to me? Surely but a wretched body you would see – the mighty trophy of your skill. I have wasted and fallen away; my colour is bloodless, such as I recall to mind was the hue of that apple of yours, and my face is white, with no rising gleam of mingled red. Such is wont to be the fairness of fresh marble; such is the colour of silver at the banquet table, pale with the chill touch of icy water. Should you see me now, you will declare you have never seen me before, and say: “No arts of mine e’er sought to win a maid like that.” You will remit me the keeping of my promise, in fear lest I become yours, and will long for a goddess to forget it all. Perhaps you will even a second time make me swear, but in contrary wise, and will send me words a second time to read.

[227] But none the less I could wish you to look upon me, as you yourself entreated – to look upon the languid limbs of your promised bride! Though your heart were harder than steel, Acontius, you yourself would ask pardon for my uttered words.11 Yet, that you be not unaware, the god who sings the fates at Delphi is being asked by what means I may grow strong again. He, too, as vague rumour whispers now, complains of the neglect of some pledge he was witness to. This is what the god says, this his prophet, and this the verses I read – surely, the wish of your heart lacks no support in prophetic verse! Whence this favour to you? – unless perhaps you have found some new writing the reading whereof ensnares even the mighty gods. And since you hold bound the gods, I myself follow their will, and gladly yield my vanquished hands in fulfilment of your prayers; with eyes full of shame held fast on the ground, I have confessed to my mother the pledge my tongue was trapped to give. The rest must be your care; even this, that my letter has not feared to speak with you, is more than a maid should do. Already have I wearied enough with the pen my weakened members, and my sick hand refuses longer its office. What remains for my letter, if I say that I long to be united with you soon? nothing but to add: FAREWELL.

1. The chaste favourite of the goddess, courted by Phaedra, who compassed his death because of his refusal. See iv.
2. Eager and spirited.
3. The Greek islands are masses of limestone.
4. A great wonder in its time; built by Apollo of the horns of his sister’s sacrificial victims.
5. Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana.
6. Penthesilea and Hippolyte were queens of the Amazons; the former was slain by Achilles at Troy, the latter’s sword-belt was won by Heracles as his sixth labour, and she was given by him in marriage to Theseus for his aid.
7. Atalanta, who lost the race by stopping for the golden apples dropped by Hippomenes.
8. A reference to Oeneus, whose neglect of Diana caused the coming of the Calydonian boar.
9. Niobe’s boast of her children to Leto.
10. Akontion, a javelin, iaculum.
11. i.e. pray for the remission of my oath.