Happy Birthday, Ovid: It’s All About Love

Tristia II: 361-376


“I am not the only one who has written tender love tales.
But I am the only one punished for love’s composition.
What, except for the liberal mixing of Venus with wine,
Did the lyric muse of the Tean* bard teach?
What other than loving did Lesbian Sappho teach the girls?
But Sappho was safe and Anacreon was safe.
It didn’t hurt you, Battiades*, that you often confessed
To your reader your dirty desires in your poems.
No story of playful Menander lacks love;
And he is usually read by boys and maidens!
What is the Iliad itself about other than an adultress
On whose behalf husband and lover quarrel?
What happens in the poem before the fire over Briseis
Makes the leaders enraged over a stolen girl?
Or what is the Odyssey about other than a woman sought for love
By many men when her husband is away?”

Denique composui teneros non solus amores:
composito poenas solus amore dedi.
Quid, nisi cum multo Venerem confundere uino,
praecepit lyrici Teia Musa senis?
Lesbia quid docuit Sappho, nisi amare, puellas?
Tuta tamen Sappho, tutus et ille fuit.
Nec tibi, Battiade, nocuit, quod saepe legenti
delicias uersu fassus es ipse tuas.
Fabula iucundi nulla est sine amore Menandri,
et solet hic pueris uirginibusque legi.
Ilias ipsa quid est aliud, nisi adultera, de qua
inter amatorem pugna uirunique fuit?
Quid prius est illi flamma Briseidos, utque
fecerit iratos rapta puella duces?
Aut quid Odyssea est, nisi femina propter amorem,
dum uir abest, multis una petita procis?

*Tean: Anacreaon
*Battiades: Callimachus

Ovid’s Poem is Sad and Completely Serious. Completely: Tristia, Book 3 (Proem, 1-20)

“I come to this city fearfully, sent as an exile’s book.
Reader, my friend, give a calming hand to the weary
and don’t worry that I might shame you in some way.
No line in this manuscript teaches about love.
My master’s fate is such that the miserable man
should not hide it in any jokes
That work which amused him once in his green age
He now condemns—alas, too late—and hates.
Look what I carry: you will find nothing but sorrow here,
a song which matches its own days.
If the lame song breaks off in alternating lines,
then it comes from the meter’s form or the journey’s length.
If I am not bright with cedar nor smooth from pumice,
it is because I turned red at looking better than my master.
If the letters are shapeless, if they are marred by erasure,
it is because the poet wounded the work with his own tears.
If any words seem by chance not to be Latin,
it is because he wrote them in a barbarous land.
Tell me, readers—if it is not too much—where should I go,
What home should I, a foreign book, seek in this city?

Missus in hanc uenio timide liber exulis urbem
da placidam fesso, lector amice, manum;
neue reformida, ne sim tibi forte pudori:
nullus in hac charta uersus amare docet.
Haec domini fortuna mei est, ut debeat illam
infelix nullis dissimulare iocis.
Id quoque, quod uiridi quondam male lusit in aeuo,
heu nimium sero damnat et odit opus.
Inspice quid portem: nihil hic nisi triste uidebis,
carmine temporibus conueniente suis.
Clauda quod alterno subsidunt carmina uersu,
uel pedis hoc ratio, uel uia longa facit;
quod neque sum cedro flauus nec pumice leuis,
erubui domino cultior esse meo;
littera suffusas quod habet maculosa lituras,
laesit opus lacrimis ipse poeta suum
Siqua uidebuntur casu non dicta Latine,
in qua scribebat, barbara terra fuit.
Dicite, lectores, si non graue, qua sit eundum,
quasque petam sedes hospes in urbe liber.