Don’t Hurt A Lady Like Diomedes Did (Ovid, Amores 1.7, 31-34)

“The son of Tydeus left the worst example of crimes—
He struck a goddess first—but I did it second!
And he was less to blame: The one I profess to love
I hurt; Tydeus’ son was a beast with an enemy.”

pessima Tydides scelerum monimenta reliquit.
ille deam primus perculit—alter ego!
et minus ille nocens. mihi, quam profitebar amare
laesa est; Tydides saevus in hoste fuit.

In this poem, Ovid starts out by asking to be handcuffed because he struck his girlfriend. He compares himself to insane Ajax or Orestes, before spending some time speaking of Diomedes. Of course, a lot of this ‘play’ is just part of the self-mockery and generic-gaming of the Amores where our poet starts out by mentioned the “arms and violent wars” he was preparing (arma gravi numero violentaque bella parabam, 1.1.); but from a modern perspective, the conceit of writing a poem about the temporary “madness” that made one strike a lover, seems a bit less than funny. Indeed, it seems, well, primitive and, as Ovid puts it, saevus.

And, though Ovid at first appears to make light of Diomedes’ wounding of Aphrodite in the Iliad (book 5), he certainly knew (as evidenced by the Metamorphoses 14.460-510) that Diomedes’ act had some grave consequences. According to some authors, Diomedes came home to find his wife Aigialea shacked up with his own relative Kometes. He must shelter in the temple of Athena and then flee his own land. According to some accounts, he makes it to Italy where he marries the daughter of Daunos and gets a kingdom. According to others, he is killed on a hunting expedition, either on purpose, or by accident.

So, perhaps wounding Aphrodite was a mistake to begin with…but I do wonder how much Ovid wants us to think about this when singing of Diomedes.

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