The Amores
Category: Verse
Level 10.44 3:22 h
The Amores is a controversial and humorous book of poetry by Ovid. The story is written in the first person and focuses on the romantic love held by the main character for a high-class girl named Corinna. The story is told through poetic verse but does tell a linear narrative to express love. While the poem is seemingly between the speaker and Corinna, she is not always referred to; therefore, the love verses can be regarded more generally.

The Amores;

Or, Amours


Literally Translated into English Prose, with Copious Notes,
Henry T. Riley


Book the First

An Epigram on the Amours

We who of late were five books of Naso, are now but three: this work our author has preferred to the former one. Though it should now be no pleasure to thee to read us; still, the labour will be less, the two being removed.

Elegy I.

He says that he is compelled by Cupid to write of love instead of battles and that the Divinity insists on making each second Hexameter line into a Pentameter.

I was preparing to write of arms and impetuous warfare in serious numbers, the subject-matter being suited to the measure. The second verse was of equal measure with the first; but Cupid is said to have smiled, and to have abstracted one foot. “Who, cruel boy, has given thee this right over my lines? We poets are the choir of the Muses, the Pierian maids, not thine. What if Venus were to seize the arms of the yellow-haired Minerva, and if the yellow-haired Minerva were to wave the lighted torches of Love? Who would approve of Ceres holding her reign in the woods on the mountain ridges, or of the fields being tilled under the control of the quivered Virgin? Who would arm Phoebus, graceful with his locks, with the sharp spear, while Mars is striking the Aonian lyre? Thy sway, O youth, is great, and far too potent; why, in thy ambition, dost thou attempt a new task? Is that which is everywhere, thine? Is Heliconian Tempe thine? Is even his own lyre hardly safe now for Phoebus? When the new page has made a good beginning in the first line, at that moment does he diminish my energies. I have no subject fitted for these lighter numbers, whether youth, or girl with her flowing locks arranged.”

Thus was I complaining; when, at once, his quiver loosened, he selected the arrows made for my destruction; and he stoutly bent upon his knee the curving bow, and said, “Poet, receive a subject on which to sing.” Ah wretched me! unerring arrows did that youth possess. I burn; and in my heart, hitherto disengaged, does Love hold sway. Henceforth, in six feet let my work commence; in five let it close. Farewell, ye ruthless wars, together with your numbers. My Muse, to eleven feet destined to be attuned, bind with the myrtle of the sea shore thy temples encircled with their yellow locks.

Elegy II.

He says, that being taken captive by Love, he allows Cupid to lead him away in triumph.

Why shall I say it is, that my bed appears thus hard to me, and that my clothes rest not upon the couch? The night, too, long as it is, have I passed without sleep; and why do the weary bones of my restless body ache? But were I assailed by any flame, I think I should be sensible of it. Or does Love come unawares and cunningly attack in silent ambush? ‘Tis so; his little arrows have pierced my heart; and cruel Love is tormenting the breast he has seized.

Am I to yield? Or by struggling against it, am I to increase this sudden flame? I must yield; the burden becomes light which is borne contentedly. I have seen the flames increase when agitated by waving the torch; and when no one shook it, I have seen them die away. The galled bulls suffer more blows while at first they refuse the yoke, than those whom experience of the plough avails. The horse which is unbroken bruises his mouth with the hard curb; the one that is acquainted with arms is less sensible of the bit. Love goads more sharply and much more cruelly those who struggle, than those who agree to endure his servitude. Lo! I confess it; I am thy new-made prey, O Cupid; I am extending my conquered hands for thy commands. No war between us is needed; I entreat for peace and for pardon; and no credit shall I be to thee, unarmed, conquered by thy arms. Bind thy locks with myrtle; yoke thy mother’s doves; thy stepfather himself will give a chariot which becomes thee. And in the chariot so given thee, thou shalt stand, and with thy skill shalt guide the birds so yoked, while the people shout “Io triumphe” aloud. The captured youths and the captive fair shall be led in triumph; this procession shall be a splendid triumph for thee. I myself, a recent capture, shall bear my wound so lately made; and with the feelings of a captive shall I endure thy recent chains. Soundness of Understanding shall-be led along with hands bound behind his back, Shame as well, and whatever beside is an enemy to the camp of Love. All things shall stand in awe of thee: towards thee the throng, stretching forth its hands, shall sing “Io triumphe” with loud voice. Caresses shall be thy attendants, Error too, and Madness, a troop that ever follows on thy side. With these for thy soldiers, thou dost overcome both men and Gods; take away from thee these advantages, and thou wilt be helpless. From highest Olympus thy joyous mother will applaud thee in thy triumph, and will sprinkle her roses falling on thy face. While gems bedeck thy wings, and gems thy hair; in thy golden chariot shalt thou go, resplendent thyself with gold.

Then too, (if well I know thee) wilt thou influence not a few; then too, as thou passest by, wilt thou inflict many a wound. Thy arrows (even shouldst thou thyself desire it) cannot be at rest. A glowing flame ever injures by the propinquity of its heat. Just such was Bacchus when the Gangetic land was subdued; thou art the burden of the birds; he was that of the tigers. Therefore, since I may be some portion of thy hallowed triumph, forbear, Conqueror, to expend thy strength on me. Look at the prospering arms of thy kinsman Cæsar; with the same hand with which he conquers does he shield the conquered.

Elegy III.

He entreats his mistress to return his affection, and shows that he is deserving of her favour.

I ask for what is just; let the fair who has so lately captivated me, either love me, or let her give me a cause why I should always love her. Alas! too much have I desired; only let her allow herself to be loved; and then Cytherea will have listened to my prayers so numerous. Accept one who will be your servant through lengthened years; accept one who knows how to love with constant attachment. If the great names of ancient ancestors do not recommend me, or if the Equestrian founder of my family fails to do so; and if no field of mine is renewed by ploughs innumerable, and each of my parents with frugal spirit limits my expenditure; still Phoebus and his nine companions and the discoverer of the vine may do so; and Love besides, who presents me as a gift to you; a fidelity, too that will yield to none, manners above reproach, ingenuousness without guile, and modesty ever able to blush.

A thousand damsels have no charms for me; I am no rover in affection; you will for ever be my choice, if you do but believe me. May it prove my lot to live with you for years as many as the threads of the Sister Destinies shall grant me, and to die with you sorrowing for me. Grant me yourself as a delightful theme for my verse; worthy of their matter my lines will flow. Io, frightened by her horns, and she whom the adulterer deceived in the shape of the bird of the stream have a name in song; she, too, who, borne over the seas upon the fictitious bull, held fast the bending horns with her virgin hand. We, too, together shall be celebrated throughout all the world; and my name shall ever be united with thy own.

Elegy IV.

He instructs his mistress what conduct to-observe in the presence of her husband at a feast to which he has been invited.

Y our husband is about to come to the same banquet as ourselves: I pray that it may be the last meal for this husband of yours. And am I then only as a guest to look upon the fair so much beloved? And shall there be another, to take pleasure in being touched by you? And will you, conveniently placed below, be keeping warm the bosom of another? And shall he, when he pleases, be placing his hand upon your neck? Cease to be surprised that the beauteous damsel of Atrax excited the two-formed men to combat when the wine was placed on table. No wood is my home, and my limbs adhere not to those of a horse; yet I seem to be hardly able to withhold my hands from you. Learn, however, what must be done by you; and do not give my injunctions to be borne away by the Eastern gales, nor on the warm winds of the South.

Come before your husband; and yet, I do not see what can be done, if you do come first; but still, do come first. When he presses the couch, with modest air you will be going as his companion, to recline by him; then secretly touch my foot. Keep your eye on me, and my nods and the expression of my features; apprehend my secret signs, and yourself return them. Without utterance will I give expression to words by my eyebrows; you shall read words traced by my fingers, words traced in the wine. When the delights of our dalliance recur to your thoughts, press your blooming cheeks with your beauteous finger. If there shall be anything, of which you may be making complaint about me silently in your mind, let your delicate hand reach from the extremity of your ear. When, my life, I shall either do or say aught which shall give you delight, let your ring be continually twisted on your fingers. Take hold of the table with your hand, in the way in which those who are in prayer take hold of the altar, when you shall be wishing many an evil for your husband, who so well deserves it. The cup which he has mixed for you, if you are discreet, bid him drink himself; then, in a low voice, do you ask the servant for what wine you wish. I will at once take the cup which you have put down; and where you have sipped, on that side will I drink. If, perchance, he shall give you any morsels, of which he has tasted beforehand, reject them thus touched by his mouth. And do not allow him to press your neck, by putting his arms around it; nor recline your gentle head on his unsightly breast. Let not your bosom, or your breasts so close at hand, admit his fingers; and especially allow him to give you no kisses. If you do give him any kisses, I shall be discovered to be your lover, and I shall say, “Those are my own,” and shall be laying hands upon him.

Still, this I shall be able to see; but what the clothing carefully conceals, the same will be a cause for me of apprehension full of doubts. Touch not his thigh with yours, and cross not legs with him, and do not unite your delicate foot with his uncouth leg. To my misery, I am apprehensive of many a thing, because many a thing have I done in my wantonness; and I myself am tormented, through fear of my own precedent.

Oft by joining hands beneath the cloth, have my mistress and I forestalled our hurried delights. This, I am sure, you will not do for him; but that you may not even be supposed to do so, take away the conscious covering from your bosom. Bid your husband drink incessantly, but let there be no kisses with your entreaties; and while he is drinking, if you can, add wine by stealth. If he shall be soundly laid asleep with dozing and wine, circumstances and opportunity will give us fitting counsel. When you shall rise to go home, we all will rise as well; and remember that you walk in the middle rank of the throng. In that rank you will either find me, or be found by me; and whatever part of me you can there touch, mind and touch.

Ah wretched me! I have given advice to be good for but a few hours; then, at the bidding of night, I am separated from my mistress. At night her husband will lock her in; I, sad with my gushing tears, will follow her as far as I may, even to her obdurate door. And now will he be snatching a kiss; and now not kisses only will he snatch; you will be compelled to grant him that, which by stealth you grant to me. But grant him this (you can do so) with a bad grace, and like one acting by compulsion; let no caresses be heard; and let Venus prove inauspicious. If my wishes avail, I trust, too, that he will find no satisfaction therein; but if otherwise, still at least let it have no delights for you. But, however, whatever luck may attend upon the night, assure me in positive language to-morrow, that you did not dally with him.

Elegy V.

The beauties of Corinna.

Twas summer time, and the day had passed the hour of noon; when I threw my limbs to be refreshed on the middle of the couch. A part of the window was thrown open, the other part shut; the light was such as the woods are wont to have; just as the twilight glimmers, when Phoebus is retreating; or as when the night has gone, and still the day is not risen. Such light should be given to the bashful fair, in which coy modesty may hope to have concealment.

Behold! Corinna came, clothed in a tunic hanging loose, her flowing hair covering her white neck.

Beauteous Semiramis is said to have entered her chamber, and Lais, beloved by many a hero. I drew aside the tunic; in its thinness it was but a small impediment; still, to be covered with the tunic did she strive; and, as she struggled as though she was not desirous to conquer, without difficulty was she overcome, through betrayal of herself. When, her clothing laid aside, she stood before my eyes, throughout her whole body nowhere was there a blemish. What shoulders, what arms I both saw and touched! The contour of her breast, how formed was it to be pressed! How smooth her stomach beneath her faultless bosom! How full and how beauteous her sides! How plump with youthfulness the thigh! But why enlarge on every point? Nothing did I behold not worthy of praise; and I pressed her person even to my own.

The rest, who knows not? Wearied, we both reclined. May such a midday often prove my lot.

Elegy VI.

He entreats the porter to open to him the door of his mistress’s house.

P orter, fastened (and how unworthily!) with the cruel fetter, throw open the stubborn door with its turning hinge. What I ask, is but a trifle; let the door, half-opened, admit me sideways with its narrow passage. Protracted Love has made my body thin for such an emergency, and by diminishing my bulk, has rendered my limbs quite supple. ’Tis he who shows me how to go softly amid the watches of the keepers; ‘tis he directs my feet that meet no harm. But, at one time, I used to be afraid of the night and imaginary ghosts; and I used to be surprised if any one was about to go in the dark: Cupid, with his graceful mother, laughed, so that I could hear him, and he softly said, “Thou too wilt become bold.” Without delay, love came upon me; then, I feared not spectres that flit by night, or hands uplifted for my destruction.

I only fear you, thus too tardy; you alone do I court; you hold the lightning by which you can effect my destruction. Look (and that you may see, loosen the obdurate bars) how the door has been made wet with my tears. At all events, ‘twas I, who, when, your garment laid aside, you stood ready for the whip, spoke in your behalf to your mistress as you were trembling. Does then, (O shocking thought!) the credit which once prevailed in your behalf, now fail to prevail in my own favour? Give a return for my kindness; you may now be grateful. As you wish, the hours of the night pass on; from the door-post strike away the bar. Strike it away then may you one day be liberated from your long fetters and may the water of the slave be not for ever drunk of by you. Hard-hearted porter! you hear me, as I implore in vain; the door, supported by its hard oaken posts, is still unmoved. Let the protection of a closed gate be of value to cities when besieged; but why, in the midst of peace are you dreading warfare? What would you do to an enemy, who thus shut out the lover? The hours of the night pass on; from the door-post strike away the bar.

I am not come attended with soldiers and with arms; I should be alone, if ruthless Love were not here. Him, even if I should desire it, I can never send away; first should I be even severed from my limbs. Love then, and a little wine about my temples, are with me, and the chaplet falling from off my anointed hair. Who is to dread arms such as these? Who may not go out to face them? The hours of the night pass on; from the door-post strike away the bar.

Are you delaying? or does sleep (who but ill befriends the lover) give to the winds my words, as they are repelled from your ear? But, I remember, when formerly I used to avoid you, you were awake, with the stars of the midnight. Perhaps, too, your own mistress is now asleep with you; alas! how much superior then is your fate to my own! And since ‘tis so, pass on to me, ye cruel chains. The hours of the night pass on; from the door-post strike away the bar.

Am I mistaken? Or did the door-posts creak with the turning hinge, and did the shaken door give the jarring signal? Yes, I am mistaken; the door was shaken by the boisterous wind. Ah me! how far away has that gust borne my hopes! Boreas, if well thou dost keep in mind the ravished Orithyia, come hither, and with thy blast beat open this relentless door. ‘Tis silence throughout all the City; damp with the glassy dew, the hours of the night pass on; from the door-post strike away the bar.

Otherwise I, myself, now better prepared than you, with my sword, and with the fire which I am holding in my torch, will scale this arrogant abode. Night, and lore, and wine, are persuasive of no moderation; the first is without shame, Bacchus and Love are without fear.

I have expended every method; neither by entreaties nor by threats have I moved you, O man, even more deaf yourself than your door. It becomes you not to watch the threshold of the beauteous fair; of the anxieties of the prison, are you more deserving. And now Lucifer is moving his wheels beset with rime; and the bird is arousing wretched mortals to their work. But, chaplet taken from my locks joyous no longer, be you the livelong night upon this obdurate threshold. You, when in the morning she shall see you thus exposed, will be a witness of my time thus thrown away. Porter, whatever your disposition, good bye, and one day experience the pangs of him who is now departing; sluggish one, and worthless in not admitting the lover, fare you well. And you, ye cruel door-posts, with your stubborn threshold; and you, ye doors, equally slaves, hard-hearted blocks of wood, farewell.

Elegy VII.

He has beaten his mistress, and endeavours to regain her favour.

Put my hands in manacles (they are deserving of chains), if any friend of mine is present, until all my frenzy has departed. For frenzy has raised my rash arms against my mistress; hurt by my frantic hand, the fair is weeping. In such case could I have done an injury even to my dear parents, or have given unmerciful blows to even the hallowed Gods. Why; did not Ajax, too, the owner of the sevenfold shield, slaughter the flocks that he had caught along the extended plains? And did Orestes, the guilty avenger of his father, the punisher of his mother, dare to ask for weapons against the mystic Goddesses?

And could I then tear her tresses so well arranged; and were not her displaced locks unbecoming to my mistress? Even thus was she beauteous; in such guise they say that the daughter of Schoeneus pursued the wild beasts of Mænalus with her bow. ‘Twere more fitting for her face to be pale from the impress of kisses, and for her neck to bear the marks of the toying teeth.

In such guise did the Cretan damsel weep, that the South winds, in their headlong flight, had borne away both the promises and the sails of the forsworn Theseus. Thus, too, chaste Minerva, did Cassandra fall in thy temple, except that her locks were bound with the fillet.

Who did not say to me, “You madman!” who did not say to me, “You barbarian!” She herself said not a word; her tongue was restrained by timid apprehensions. But still her silent features pronounced my censure; by her tears and by her silent lips did she convict me.

First could I wish that my arms had fallen from off my shoulders; to better purpose could I have parted with a portion of myself. To my own disadvantage had I the strength of a madman; and for my own punishment did I stoutly exert my strength. What do I want with you, ye ministers of death and criminality? Impious hands, submit to the chains, your due. Should I not have been punished had I struck the humblest Roman of the multitude? And shall I have a greater privilege against my mistress? The son of Tydeus has left the worst instance of crime: he was the first to strike a Goddess, I, the second. But less guilty was he; by me, she, whom I asserted to be loved by me, was injured; against an enemy the son of Tydeus was infuriate.

Come now, conqueror, prepare your boastful triumphs; bind your locks with laurel, and pay your vows to Jove, and let the multitude, the train, that escorts your chariot, shout aloud, “Io triumphe! by this valiant man has the fair been conquered!” Let the captive, in her sadness, go before with dishevelled locks, pale all over, if her hurt cheeks may allow.

In short, if, after the manner of a swelling torrent, I was impelled, and if impetuous anger did make me its prey; would it not have been enough to have shouted aloud at the trembling girl, and not to have thundered out my threats far too severe? Or else, to my own disgrace, to have torn her tunic from its upper edge down to the middle? Her girdle should, at the middle have come to its aid. But now, in the hardness of my heart, I could dare, seizing her hair on her forehead, to mark her free-born cheeks with my nails. There she stood, amazed, with her features pale and bloodless, just as the marble is cut in the Parian mountains. I saw her fainting limbs, and her palpitating members; just as when the breeze waves the foliage of the poplars; just as the slender reed quivers with the gentle Zephyr; or, as when the surface of the waves is skimmed by the warm South wind. Her tears, too, so long repressed, flowed down her face, just as the water flows from the snow when heaped up.

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