Monday, May 12, 2008

Translations from Ovid- Two Selections from My Senior Thesis

Thomas Banks

Selections from Ovid’s Heroides in English Verse

Prof. Gary Williams

Penelope Ad Ulixes

Upon my bed I send this message forth:

Although no word of yours reach us, come back

To me! Troy, hateful to Danaan maids

In ashes lies; Old Priam is no more.

O would that wretched Paris, when the fleet

Of Sparta sought him fast, had perished deep

Beneath the tossing waves, and I not left

To shiver on a cold and empty couch;

Nor had I grown embittered at long days,

Wherein I weave upon a tired loom.

Fears not so real as fancied plague my thoughts;

My love is harried with the stings of fright.

I picture you torn by the Trojan steel,

And ghost-pale turn when Hector’s name I hear.

When tales of death reach me of Antilochus,

Or of Menoetius’ son, slain bearing arms

Not his, I cry; for clever tricks could not

Save these. They told to me the awful tale

Of Tlepolemus, of his death, of how

He stained the Lydian spear with gushing blood;

Likewise I saw you, and my fears redoubled.

Whichever of the Graecian host happened

To fall, eyes darkening and throat sliced through,

My heart, for loving you so terribly

Would shiver as if frozen with cruel ice.

But then the god of maidens cheered my heart;

Troy has to smoldering cinders been reduced,

And you, I hope, come safe to port of rest.

The princes of this war to peaceful homes

Return, and incense from reverent altars burns

To heaven. The holy temples of the gods

Grow rich with spoils of sacked Ilium.

Danaan wives heap thanks on thanks to god

For their unwounded husbands, and each man

Sings to his children tales of war, and shrifts

Of vanquished Troy. The aged, formal men

And shy maidens hear out his song in silence,

And his wife enraptured hangs on every word.

The warrior traces on the trenching-board

A map of Troy, the savage combats there,

And with his finger, wet with unmixed wine

He scrawls the battlements of Pergamum;

Here Sigeum, here Simois lies;

Old Priam’s tower rises prominent.

Here strains Achilles on the battlefield,

With you beside, the while the frightened steeds

Weave a furrow with Hector’s trailing corpse.

I know this much, for to inquire I sent

Telemachus, and Nestor answered all,

Which news your son brought back to me in kind.

He told of Rhesus and of Dolon slain,

The one in sleep, the other by your guile.

I own you dared much in your deeds, but why

Must it befall that you neglect your own?

It was your courage led you in the camp

Of Thracian lords, in the slaughter of the same,

With but a single comrade at your side.

But were you careful first to think of me?

Until I heard of you victorious,

By Rhesus’ stolen horses carried back

In safety through the lines to Graecian tents,

My heart in terror leapt within my throat.

Of what is all this reaped glory worth,

Of Troy undone and leveled by your arms

While you, dear above all, are absent yet?

Perhaps for other ladies Ilium fell;

It still stands in my thoughts and in my fears.

Her new inhabitant with captive oxen

Plows in the fields where his crops thrive, where once

Stood Troy; its ground is rich with Phrygian blood;

From it half buried bones of fallen men

Are by the plow hooks here and there exhumed,

And on the ruined ramparts mosses grow.

You are far off in this your triumph, why

I do not know; what cruelty keeps you

In foreign lands? Whoever to this shore

His vessel steers, him I importune

With inquiries of you till he should go

His way. I give him letters writ to you, should

He chance upon you on the open sea.

When I had asked news from rich Neleus’ son,

No certain word of your fate came to me;

I sent to Sparta, whence came no report.

What land is become your home, O husband mine,

And in whose bed do you take pleasant rest?

I would the Apollonian walls unbreached

Yet stood, alas, and all my foolish prayers

For victory had died within my mouth.

Then had I known where you partook of brawls,

The size and scope of the war, and what to fear.

My anguish, were this so, would be no worse

Than other wives’. But what I fret upon,

I know not; and tormented thus, I cringe

As from all evils. The brood expanse wherein

My fright and cares subsist admits of much.

I brood upon the dangers of the sea

And of the land, and which delays your journey.

But while I worry, foolish as I am,

I ask if it be by your own desire

You are detained. Is it not possible

That you grow wanton in your wanderings?

Perhaps you speak me for a rustic dame,

A lady unaccomplished at the loom.

Please, let me be mistaken, and this charge

Hold no more weight than does the passing breeze,

And that you do not linger by your will!

Icarius, my father, thinks it foolish

That I should wait upon a widow’s bed,

And bids me leave it. However he should scold,

Let it be known that I am yours; thy wife

Penelope shall ever be. They soften him,

My shows of precious faith, and then in turn

His harsh demands decrease in forcefulness.

Still worse, a throng of prowd and preening men

From Samos, Dulichium, and far Zachynthos

Hold sway in this your house sans courtesy.

Our very vitals, all your stored wealth

Are set upon and piecemeal eaten up.

I grieve to say how these- Antinoos,

Eurymachus and the barbaric Madon,

Polybus and Pisande, how with hands

Of greed they wax fat on those riches won

By your dear blood and your longsuffering.

Your bondsmen Irus and Melanthius

Lead in your flocks to feed the dining hall,

And shame on shame is added to your plight.

We three are helpless against this insolence,

A wife without a husband, an old man

And our young son, our own Telemachus.

The same was nearly lost to their device,

When he to Pylos sailed against their will.

I pray the gods shall grant that he survive

To close our eyes in death, when we are gone.

As matters stand, three servants yet remain

Faithful to us, your aged nurse, and two

That tend our herds. But your father Laertes

Is of the age as does not show great strength

With sword or spear- but let a braver age

Soon find our son Telemachus- let it come.

I would there was a man to sew his strength,

But there is none, not one, to rid our halls

Of these despicable rapacious men.

Come back to me, my haven and my home!

There is a son awaits you, that through his youth

Has grown in knowledge of our ancestral works;

Look to Laertes, that you may close his eyes;

They cannot long look open against fate.

And I, that was a girl when last we touched,

Shall withered be, unless you soon return.

Ariadne Ad Theseo

O thou less civil than the savage beasts,

Not one of these could have abused me so.

These words you read I send you from the shore

Of my abandonment, the very beach

Whence you were born away by rapid sails.

Confederate with you in my betrayal

Was treasonous sleep, whose dark persuasion

I had not any strength to strive against.

It was the season where the early frost

Coats lightly the cool ground, and hidden birds

Within their leafy enclosure stir with song;

I was but half awake and half asleep,

When languidly I turned upon my side

And reached my hand to clasp you close to me,

But nothing found. My empty hand drew back,

And I a second time reached out for you,

Searching our bed with both my frantic arms,

But of you it was empty. Fear like a blade

Tore through my peaceful rest. Afrighted I rose;

At once I struck my breast with heavy blows

And wildly tore my sleep-disheveled hair.

The moon came out; by its faint light I sought

Along the shores far as my eyes could see,

But the shore provided me no sign of you.

All order in my search fled as the wind,

While I ran hither and thither, reason gone,

My girl’s feet slipping in the deepened sand.

My cries of “Theseus” filled the wide shore,

Your name resounded in the hollow rocks.

Each time I cried to you, so did the place

Cry to itself, as though it felt my hurt,

And so called out that I be not alone.

There is a mountain on the isle, on whose peaks

Grows scattered foliage; from the mount’s face

There juts a cliffside carved by crashing waves;

My strength returning, I climbed up the rocks

Till I could see across the sea’s expanse;

Standing against the cold, uncivil winds

I saw your sails, far out at sea, filled with

The same. I told myself my eyes had lied,

But all was as I saw, and I grew cold.

I felt half of my spirit exit me.

My sorrow stayed with me many an hour,

And made my to cry out, and rouse my voice

To its loudest pitch: “Where are you, Theseus,

Whither do you fly in your evil haste?

Turn back! Retrace your way, your vessel lacks

One of her numbered souls!” Thus shouted I.

When my voice grew hoarse with wailing, I smote myself

To mix dark bruises in my argument.

Perhaps you could not hear, but must have seen

Me wave to you across that latitude

And hang my maiden’s veil upon a tree

That you oblivious, might remember me.

You did not see, and the horizon stole

You from my eyes, thereafter filled with tears.

Till then my eyes had been sealed by their pain.

In no other way could those lights serve me

Than to shed tears after your stolen sails.

I wandered lonely, my hair about my shoulders,

As though I were a maenad roused for revel;

Elsewise I sat upon the freezing rocks,

Myself as cold as any one of these,

And stared out over the unshining sea.

Sometimes I sit upon the couch that held us,

That shall no longer see us thus again.

I trace the outline of your body there

Where once the sheets were warm about your limbs.

Nought else of you remains. Then I recline

Upon the bed where my tears fall profuse

And it beseech, saying, “We pressed you as

A pair, render both back! Why did not two

Arise, when two together lay in love?

Where is my vanished half, O faithless bed?”

Where shall I take myself? What shall I do?

I see no man, no woman, and no beast.

This isle remote is vacant of all life,

Imprisoned by the broad surrounding sea,

In which no sail nor prow adventures near.

And did I find a company, a fleet

And favoring winds, where might I take myself?

I am an outcast from my father’s lands.

Although dame fortune blessed my every step

And Aeolus god of winds made calm the gales

Still I would exile be. O Crete, thou isle

Of a hundred cities, I cannot gaze on you

Again, O island blessed by youthful Jove,

And by my father governed- So dear, alas,

Was he whom I betrayed. But never victor

Would you have come from out the labyrinth

Without the string I gave you as a guide.

You said to me, “I swear to you, by these

Close perils that long as it be granted us

To live, so long am I yours, and you mine.”

Life yet remains to us, but you have left.

Within the barrow dug by your deceit

I bide. It had been better had you slain

Me with the club that killed my monstrous brother,

Whereby you were a free man, and I slain.

Of more than these my sufferings I make record,

Pains such as any so abandoned knows:

Death thousand-figured lingers in my thoughts;

To die means less a trial than delay.

In my imaginings, ferocious wolves

With their remorseless jaws feed on my flesh.

Or is the fearsome lion fostered here,

Or raging tiger native to these shores?

Are sea beasts cast up on this fearful strand?

Who can defend me from the fatal sword,

‘Gainst which my side has no protection?

But death is better than the heavy chain,

The captivity of the spinner’s toil;

Better for me, whose sire is King Minos,

My royal mother daughter to the Sun;

I, who was betrothed you in our mutual vow,

That stands a monument in memory.

I look over the lands, over the sea:

These elements threat me with many ills.

Yet would the sky remain to me, but it

Grows overcast with heaven’s vengeance.

I am one destitute, fit spoil and food

For starved creatures. Or should men arrive

And pitch tents at this place, them I would shun.

Well have I learned from you the fear of men

Unknown to me. I wish this had not passed:

I would my brother Androgeos drew breath,

That Cecrops’ sons had not payed for their sin

With children’s lives; nor that you, Theseus

Had stolen life away from the man-bull;

I would I had not given you the string

That led you back to me, the selfsame thread

That through your fingers glided, guiding you on.

It is no wonder to me that you won

The day, and left the Minotaur dead on

Cretan ground: his horns could not pierce through

A heart so hard. Even without a shield

You took no wound. Of adamantine stone

You were composed, you showed yourself harder

Than any flint. You, evil sleep, why do

You hold me here? I had fared better had

The weight of endless night crushed down on me.

You two as well, O wind and wicked breeze,

Rife in your eagerness to bring me tears!

And your right hand, twice barbarous to bring

Death to me and my brother; evil was

Thy vow, and all the words you offered me.

This and the wind and sleep conspired, three

Allied against me, one girl betrayed by all.

So shall I, near my death, not see the tears

Of her my mother, nor shall anyone’s

Compassionate fingers close my eyes in death?

Must my unhappy soul be sojourner

In far off lands, and shall no friendly hand

Lay sweet oils on me in my death?

Must my bones unburied lie to feed the birds?

Is this indecent grave all that I gain

By duties I have done you? You return,

You journey home, back unto Cecrops’ gate,

Met at your home with pomp and accolade,

Where you shall skillfully unwind the tale

Of the death of the Minotaur, slain by you

In dark and winding passages of stone.

When you speak of these glories, mention me,

By you abandoned on this desert isle.

This is no deed unworthy of your honor.

Your parents cannot be whom you have said,

King Aegeus and Pithean Aethra.

You are no son of theirs. The sea and rocks

Authored your bastardizing, be you sure!

O that the gods saw fit that you had seen me

While you sailed away, that this my sad figure

Had moved you in your will. Now look you forth,

Not with your eyes, but rather in your thoughts

Depict me clinging to this cliffside, where

Dark waters dash themselves. Look on my hair,

Loose flowing, as though I a widow were;

See these my garments, laden with my tears

As from a downpour; I shudder as if I

Were crops blown over by the northern wind.

These leaves I write you tremble with my hand.

I ask not what is owed me, because evil

Deeds already do forbid it. So count

Yourself under no debt for what I did.

But let not punishment for me continue more.

If I had been for you no cause of good

Even then it had been no equal justice

That you should be the author of such hurt.

My hands are tired from the many blows

They have inflicted on my punished flesh,

But still I stretch them to you across the sea,

And show the tragic remnant of my hair

And pray you through the tears wept for your crime:

Turn back your prow, O Theseus, reverse your course!

Though I should die before you come to me,

To you I trust my bones and burial.


Selected Bibliography:

  1. Mackail, J.D. Latin Literature. Scribners, New York. 1915.
  2. Ulinowski, Carl. Thoughts on the Heroides of P. Ovidius Naso. Harvard University Press. 1972.
  3. Waterleigh, V.S. Female Perspectives in Ovid. University of Nebraska Press. 1984.

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