Ovid: Heroides

V. Oenone to Paris

The Nymph sends words you ordered her to write,
from Mount Ida, to her Paris, though you refuse her as yours.

Will you read them? Or does your new wife forbid it?
Read! This is not a letter created by a Mycenean hand.

I, Oenone, the fountain-nymph, famous in Phrygian woods,
wounded, complain of you, who are my own if you allow it.

What god opposes my prayers with his divine will?
Might I be suffering from some crime of yours that harms me?

Whatever one deserves to suffer should be borne lightly:
what comes undeservedly, comes as bitter punishment.

You were not important as yet, when I was happy
with you as my husband, I, a nymph born of a mighty river.

You who now are a son of Priam, (let fear of the truth be absent)
were a slave: the nymph endured marriage with a slave!

We often rested our flocks, hidden among the trees,
leaves, mingled with grass, offered us a bed.

Often lying on straw, and in the deep hay,
a humble roof sheltered us from the hoar frost.

Who showed you the glades that suit the quarry,
and where the wild beast hides her cubs among the rocks?

Often, as your companion, I’ve set the wide-meshed nets,
often I’ve led swift hounds over the long slopes.

The beech trees guard my name, cut there by you,
and I read ‘Oenone’, written there by your knife:

And as the trunk grows, my name grows the same:
grow, and rise straight, in honour of my name!

I remember, a poplar, rooted by a flowing stream,
on which letters are carved, testaments to us.

Live, poplar, I pray, which rooted on the edge of the bank,
that holds this verse in your wrinkled bark:

‘If Paris breathed while Oeneone were forsaken,
Scamander’s waters would flow backwards to their source.’

Scamander, rush backwards, turn your streams around!
Paris allows Oenone to be deserted.

That day spoke my miserable fate, on that evil day
winter began to transform our love,
when Venus and Juno, and Minerva, who is more comely armed,
came, naked, to receive your judgement.

My stunned heart trembled, and a cold tremor,
ran through solid bone, as I heard that being told.

I took council (not afraid of much as yet) with old women
and age-old men: they agreed it was wrong.

Fir-trees were felled, and timbers cut, a fleet prepared,
and the blue waves received the new-caulked vessels.

You wept on leaving. Don’t deny that, at least:
your love is more shameful to you than in the past.

You wept and saw my eyes filled with tears:
we both mixed our grief and tears together.

The elm’s not smothered, by the vine, more closely
than I, your arms entwined with my neck.

Ah how many times, when you complained the wind
was feeble, your companions laughed — it was fine.

How many times you dismissed me repeatedly!
How your tongue could scarcely bear to say: ‘Farewell!’

The light breeze stirred slack sails on the firm mast
and the oars whitened the swirling water.

Unhappy I followed the departing sail with my eyes,
as is right, and my tears wet the sand,
and I begged the sea-green Nereids that you might come back soon —
so, no doubt, you could return quickly to my harm.

Did you return at my prayers, returning with another?
Ah me, my flattering speech was for a rival!

A vast natural cliff looks down onto the deep,
(once part of the mountain) and meets the ocean tide:
Here I was first to recognise the sails of your ships
and I desired to rush into the waves.

While I hesitated, I became afraid of royal-purple robes
that gleamed towards me from the height of the prow:
to wear that was no fashion of yours.
It grew nearer, and the boat touched shore with the swift breeze:
with trembling heart I saw a female face.

As if that was not enough — why did I still wait there madly? —
your vile mistress clung to your chest!

Then truly I tore my clothes, and beat my breast
and scratched my wet cheeks with sharp nails,
and filled sacred Ida with howls of complaint
I carried my tears there among the rocks.

So may Helen grieve and weep, abandoned by her lover,
let her suffer what she first brought me!

Now those women suit you, who leave their rightful husbands
to follow you over the open sea.

When you were a poor man, and a shepherd driving the flock,
the poor man had only his wife Oenone.

I’m not amazed by wealth, nor does your palace move me,
nor to be spoken of as one of Priam’s many daughters:
however Priam would not refuse to be father-in-law to a nymph,
nor would that daughter-in-law be concealed by Hecuba.

I am worthy, and wish, to become the wife of a powerful man:
I have hands that might grace a sceptre.

Don’t despise me, because I lay with you among the beech leaves:
I’m more suited to a bed of royal purple.

In the end my love is safe: here no war’s prepared
the waves carry no vengeful ships.

The fugitive daughter of Tyndareus needs dangerous weapons:
she comes to your bed with a magnificent dowry.

Ask your brother Hector, or Deiphobus or Polydamas,
whether she should be returned to the Greeks:
consult as to what grave Antenor, or Priam himself, would urge,
who have been in command for many years.

It’s shameful to start preferring a stolen woman to your country.
It’s a cause of shame to you: a just husband takes up arms.

Don’t expect the Spartan to be loyal to you, if you’re wise,
she who fell so quickly into your embrace.

Like Menelaus who cries out at the desecration of his marriage bed,
and wounded grieves at this love for a stranger,
you will also cry. Wounded chastity is restored
by no art: it remains lost for ever.

She’s on fire with your love: just so, she loved Menelaus;
now, too trusting, he lies there in an empty bed.

Happy Andromache is truly married to a good husband:
take your brother’s wife as an example.

You are lighter than leaves, without weight of sap,
flying along, dried by the fickle winds.

And there’s less weight in you than a fragile ear of wheat,
that stiffens, parched by the continual sun.

Your sister Cassandra once chanted, (now I recall)
prophesying to me, with her hair unbound:

‘What are you doing, Oenone? Why sow seed in the sand?
Ox, you plough the shore in vain!
The Greek heifer comes, who will destroy your house and lands!

Oh prevent her! The Greek heifer’s coming!
While you can, sink the obscene vessel in the sea!
Alas! How much Trojan blood she carries!’

She spoke: her servants led her away, her madness in full flight,
but my yellow hair stood on end.

Ah, prophetess, you were only too right about my woes:
see, the Greek heifer occupies my field!

Though her beauty is distinguished, she’s truly adulterous:
captivated by a guest, abandoning her husband’s gods.

Theseus (unless the name’s wrong, I’m unsure which Theseus)
stole her away from her country before.

A young man, and passionate, do we believe she returned a virgin?
How did I learn all this, you rightly ask? I love!

You might call it violence, and hide her crime, by a word:
but she who gets raped so often, offers herself to rape.

Oeonone remains chaste, though betrayed by her husband —
and you might have been betrayed yourself, by your rules:

The swift Satyrs, with hasty foot, an insolent crowd,
searched for me (I hid secretly in the woods)
and horned Faunus, his head crowned with bristling pine,
there, where Mount Ida swells up in vast ridges.

Noble Tros, who built Troy, loved me truly:
he took the prize of my virginity.

By a struggle too: all the same, his hair was torn,
and his face was scratched, by my fingernails.

I didn’t ask gold and gems for the price of my unchastity:
it’s shameful for gifts to buy a free-born body.

He entrusted me with his arts of medicine, certain I was worthy,
and allowed my hands to use his gifts.

I know every useful herb, with power to aid,
and every healing root, growing in the world.

Alas for me, that love’s not curable with herbs!
The skill in that art’s lacking from my arts.

The creator of these gifts himself they say herded
Thessalian cattle: and was wounded by my passion.

What neither the fruitful earth with its herbs, nor a god,
can create, that help you can bring to me.

You can and I deserve it. Pity this worthy girl!
I don’t bring Greeks and bloodstained weapons.

But I am yours, and I was yours in our tender years,
and I pray I might be yours, while time endures.

[Source: Poetry in Translation]