lecture

Ovid’s Heroines.

Identifications
Ovid’s Heroides
— ancient fan fiction

1. Ovid (1st c. BCE and CE), Tristia 2.361-376. Translated by A. L. WheelerRevised by G. P. Goold.

Moreover, not I alone have written tales of tender love, but for writing of love I alone have been punished. What but the union of love and lavish wine was the teaching of the lyric muse of the aged Tean bard [=Anacreon, 6th c. BCE]? What did Lesbian Sappho teach the girls if not love? Yet Sappho was secure, the Tean also was secure. It did not injure thee, scion of Battus [=Callimachus, 3rd c. BCE] that thou didst often in verse confess to the reader thy wanton pleasures. No play of charming Menander [4th/3rd c. BCE] is free from love, yet he is wont to be read by boys and girls. The very Iliad—what is it but an adulteress about whom her lover and her husband fought? What occurs in it before the flaming passion for Briseis and the feud between the chiefs due to the seizure of the girl? What the Odyssey except the story of one woman sought in her husband’s absence for love’s sake by many suitors?

2a. Peter Knox, Ovid: Heroides. Select Epistles (1995: 86, 87):

“Our evidence for the role of Penelope in post-Homeric accounts of the story is scanty…but it seems clear that it was Ovid who took the imaginative step of representing the events of the Odyssey from her point of view. In so doing, he has taken her character far beyond the traditional role of a paradigm of fidelity.”

“Ovid’s epistle of Penelope is not simply a rhetorical reworking of a Homeric theme, but a masterly exploration of character, making new the material of the oldest literary tradition available to him.”

2b. Fresco from the north interior wall of the Macellum in Pompeii c. 65 CE. Thought to depict Penelope and Odysseus as beggar (cf. Odyssey 19.51-360).

2c. Ovid, Heroides 1.1-12. Translated by Grant ShowermanRevised by G. P. Goold.

These words your Penelope sends to you, O Ulysses, slow of return that you are; writing back is pointless: come yourself! Troy, to be sure, is fallen, hated of the daughters of Greece; but scarcely were Priam and all Troy worth the price to me. O would that then, when his ship was on the way to Lacedaemon, the adulterous lover had been overwhelmed by raging waters! Then had I not lain cold in my deserted bed, nor would now be left alone complaining of slowly passing days; nor would the hanging web be wearying now my widowed hands as I seek to beguile the hours of spacious night. When have I not feared dangers graver than the real? Love is a thing ever filled with anxious fear.

2d. Ovid, Heroides 1.59-63, 66-80:

Whoso turns to these shores of ours his stranger ship is plied with many a question ere he go away, and into his hand is given the sheet writ by these fingers of mine, to render up should he but see you anywhere…[1.66] In what lands are you abiding, or where do you idly tarry? Better for me, were the walls of Phoebus still standing in their place—ah me inconstant, I am wroth with the vows myself have made! Had they not fallen, I should know where you were fighting, and have only war to fear, and my plaint would be joined with that of many another. But now, what I am to fear I know not—yet none the less I fear all things, distraught, and wide is the field lies open for my cares. Whatever dangers the deep contains, whatever the land, suspicion tells me are cause of your long delay. While I live on in foolish fear of things like these, you may be captive to a stranger love (peregrino captus amore potes, 1.76)—such are the hearts of you men! It may be you even tell how rustic a wife you have—one fit only to dress fine the wool. May I be mistaken, and this charge of mine be found slight as the breeze that blows, and may it not be that, free to return, you want to be away!

2e. Ovid, Heroides 1.83-94:

Let him chide on — yours I am, yours must I be called; Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, ever shall I be. Yet is he bent by my faithfulness and my chaste prayers, and of himself abates his urgency. The men of Dulichium and Samos, and they whom high Zacynthus bore—a wanton throng—come pressing about me, suing for my hand. In your own hall they are masters, with none to say them nay; your goods, my very life, are being pillaged. Why tell you of Pisander, and of Polybus, and of Medon the cruel, and of the grasping hands of Eurymachus and Antinous, and of others, all of whom through shameful absence you yourself are feeding fat with store that was won at cost of your blood?

2f. Ovid, Heroides 1.115-116:

As for myself, who when you left my side was but a girl, though you should come straightway, I surely shall seem grown an aged dame.

3. Ovid, Heroides 10.1-16. Go back and reread Catullus 64.

Gentler than you I have found every race of wild beasts; to none of them could I so ill have trusted as to you. The words you now are reading, Theseus, I send you from that shore from which the sails bore off your ship without me, the shore on which my slumber, and you, so wretchedly betrayed me—you, who wickedly plotted against me as I slept. ’Twas the time when the earth is first besprinkled with crystal rime, and songsters hid in the branch begin their plaint. Half waking only and languid from sleep, I turned upon my side and put forth hands to clasp my Theseus—he was not there! I drew back my hands, a second time I made essay, and o’er the whole couch moved my arms—he was not there! Fear struck away my sleep; in terror I arose, and threw myself headlong from my abandoned bed. Straight then my palms resounded upon my breasts, and I tore my hair, all disarrayed as it was from sleep.

4. Dani Bostick (@danibostick), “The Voice of the Heartbroken.” In Medias Res. Nov. 20 2018.

‘How well did Ovid write in the female voice? From the perspective of one 19th-century male, he nailed it. Among Heroides’ merits are “its insights into the female heart,” per Arthur Palmer in 1898. Modern scholarly reception of Heroides tends praise the work’s intertextuality while remaining critical of Ovid’s narrative voice. Ovid has been described as a caricaturist who diminishes female power. Others have accused him of ascribing “verbose powerlessness” to the heroines and creating female characters who use the epistolary genre “in the service of self-marginalization.”

As I read the Heroides, I was struck by how accurately Ovid portrayed the emotions associated with abandonment and unrequited love. Nonetheless, I was not left with the impression that Ovid has special “insights into the female heart.” Ovid did not need special insights because certain experiences transcend both gender and time. Ovid, like Tredget, could relate to the heroine’s experiences and imagine himself in their position.’

5a. Peter Knox, Ovid: Heroides. Select Epistles (1995: 278-279):

“Phaon was a ferryman who worked the route between Lesbos and the mainland. The goddess Aphrodite came to him disguised as an old woman seeking transport, which he provided free of charge. As a reward the goddess endowed Phaon with attractiveness irresistible to any woman. It was almost inevitable that this figure of local lore on the island of Lesbos would eventually be associated with the celebrated female poet who wrote so much about love…It is reasonable to assume that the story of her love for Phaon originated as a speculative reconstruction derived from a reference in her poetry to the local tradition of the ferryman. No fragment of her poetry refers to this, but one ancient mythographical treatise (Palaeph. De incred. 48) explicitly records that Sappho wrote about this Phaon….The author of the Heroides 15, unlike Ovid, struck out on an original path, taking the biographical traditions about a literary figure as the basis for an epistolary fiction.”

5b. Glenn Most, “Reflecting Sappho” (1996: 17): 

“The earliest surviving example of this strategy is Heroides 15, attributed, perhaps correctly, to Ovid*. This poem, in the form of a letter written by Sappho to Phaon, is by far the most influential document in the history of the reception of Sappho: when it was discovered in the early 15th c., it was thought to be a genuine letter by Sappho, translated into Latin; and for centuries after, when its author had been identified as Ovid, its elegance, massive availability, and easy comprehensibility ensured that it would dominate over the few, scattered, difficult genuine fragments in establishing the image of the poetess. Indeed, the text Sappho is clutching in Raphael’s fresco Parnassus [1509-1511] in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican is most likely to be this very epistle.”

*in a note here, Most writes: “I deliberately avoid taking a firm position here on the controversial question of the authenticity of this poem,…; but I will remark that none of the arguments that have been brought against its Ovidian authorship seems to me decisive.”

5c. Raphael’s fresco Parnassus in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican. Image: Wikimedia. The god Apollo, seated at the centre, plays the lyre surrounded by the nine Muses, and by ancient and modern poets, among whom Homer (blind), Virgil and Dante are easily recognisable behind him, as well as the poetess Sappho seated at the bottom left, with her name written on the scroll she holds in her left hand.

1280px-Raffael_072.jpg

Sappho Rafael Parnassus close-up, w Most 1996:17.jpg

6a. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.1-12. Translated by Grant ShowermanRevised by G. P. Goold.

Tell me, when you looked upon the characters from my eager right hand, did your eye know forthwith whose they were—or, unless you had read their author’s name, Sappho, would you fail to know whence these brief words come? Perhaps, too, you may ask why my verses alternate, when I am better suited to the lyric mode. I must weep, for my love —and elegy is the weeping strain; no lyre is suited to my tears. I burn—as burns the fruitful acre when its harvests are ablaze, with untamed east-winds driving on the flame. The fields you frequent, O Phaon, lie far away, by Typhoean Aetna; and I—heat not less than the fires of Aetna preys on me.

6b. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.15-20:

Neither the maids of Pyrrha charm me now, nor they of Methymna, nor all the rest of the throng of Lesbian daughters. Naught is Anactorie to me, naught Cydro, the dazzling fair; my eyes joy not in Atthis as once they did, nor in the hundred other maids I loved here to my reproach; unworthy one, the love that belonged to many maids you alone possess.

6c. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.31-41:

If nature, malign to me, has denied the charm of beauty, weigh in the stead of beauty the genius that is mine. If I am slight of stature, yet I have a name fills every land; the measure of my name is my real height. If I am not dazzling fair, Cepheus’ Andromeda was fair in Perseus’ eyes, though dusky with the hue of her native land. Besides, white pigeons oft are mated with those of different hue, and the black turtledove, too, is loved by the bird of green. If none shall be yours unless deemed worthy of you for her beauty’s sake, then none shall be yours at all. Yet, when I read you my songs, I seemed already beautiful enough.

7. P. Oxy. 1800 fr. 1, Oxyrhynchus papyrus (late 2nd or early 3rd c. CE).

Sappho was a Lesbian by birth, of the city of Mytilene. Her father was Scamander or, according to some, Scamandronymus, and she had three brothers, Erigyius, Larichus and Charaxus, the eldest, who sailed to Egypt and associated with one Doricha, spending large sums on her; Sappho was more fond of the young Larichus. She had a daughter Cleis, named after her own mother. She has been accused by some of being irregular in her ways and a woman-lover. In appearance she seems to have been contemptible and quite ugly, being dark in complexion and of very small stature. The same is true of (Alcaeus?) who was smallish . . .

Standard
lecture

Augustan Rome.

Identifications
— Augustan marriage laws
— Livia
— Ovid’s love poetry

1a. Ara Pacis Augustae, The Altar of Augustan Peace. Pledged 13 BCE, dedicated 9 BCE. The altar, made of Carrara/Luna marble, was erected in the northern Campus Martius, voted in 4th July 13 BCE by the senate (according to Augustus’ Res Gestae 12) to commemorate his safe return from Gaul and Spain, and dedicated 30th January 9 BCE, the birthday of Augustus’ wife, Livia (Ovid Fasti 1.709-722). An acanthus frieze binds the whole design in unity. Image: “Rabax63” (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia.

ara_pacis_sw.jpg

1b. Hypothesized colour light projection. Image: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images, see Bond 2017. See also this video which shows the other sides with colour projected.

Ara Pacis colour

1c. Aerial plan of the Ara Pacis. Text overlay by Čulík-Baird based on Pollini ap. Tuck 2016: 121; base image: “Augusta 89” (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

1d. Detail of frieze on the south side of the Ara Pacis, showing individuals believed to be Agrippa, Livia, and Tiberius. Strong visual connection to the 5th c. BCE Parthenon frieze at Athens. Unprecedented depiction of women and children in a sculptural relief. Image: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

ara_pacis_relieve_roma_01 (1)

2. Portraits of Livia (b. 58 BCE, d. 29 CE), wife of Augustus (r. 27 BCE – 14 CE).

2a. Mid to late 30s BCE, marble. Livia is represented with “a new coiffure with no precursors in the ancient world — the nodus hairstyle — in which a section of hair is arranged in a nodus or roll over the forehead. The rest of the hair is brushed back in loose waves over the ears and fastened in a bun at the back of the head” (Diana Kleiner I, Claudia 1996: 53). Image: Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery.

baltimore-walters-art-gallery-23-211.jpg

Diana Kleiner (I, Claudia 1996: 53): “In these portraits, Livia is depicted as a serene beauty with almond-shaped eyes and a small rounded mouth. Her prominent aquiline nose is also accentuated. There is in these portraits little indication, even in Livia’s later years, of the aging process. This was in keeping with the Augustan ideal of an eternal youthfulness for portraiture of men and women that was based on the images of youthful male athletes and goddesses.”

2b. Siân Phillips as Livia in the 1976 BBC television adaptation of I, Claudius.

sian-phillips-livia.jpg

3. Suetonius (2nd c. CE), Life of Augustus 62-63

Shortly after that he married Scribonia…He divorced her also, “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition,” as he himself writes, and at once took Livia Drusilla from her husband Tiberius Nero, although she was with child at the time; and he loved and esteemed her to the end without a rival. [63] By Scribonia he had a daughter Julia, by Livia no children at all, although he earnestly desired issue. One baby was conceived, but was prematurely born.

4a. Suetonius (2nd c. CE), Life of Augustus 34:

He revised existing laws and enacted some new ones, for example, on extravagance, on adultery and chastity, on bribery, and on the encouragement of marriage among the various classes of citizens. Having made somewhat more stringent changes in the last of these than in the others, he was unable to carry it out because of an open revolt against its provisions, until he had abolished or mitigated a part of the penalties, besides increasing the rewards and allowing a three years’ exemption from the obligation to marry after the death of a husband  or wife. When the knights even then persistently called for its repeal at a public show, he sent for the children of Germanicus and exhibited them, some in his own lap and some in their father’s, intimating by his gestures and expression that they should not refuse to follow that young man’s example. And on finding that the spirit of the law was being evaded by betrothal with immature girls and by frequent changes of wives, he shortened the duration of betrothals and set a limit on divorce.

4b. Women in the Classical World, p302-303:

“The Augustan laws, designed to penalize those citizens who remained unmarried or childless (women between 20 and 50 and men after the age of 25) and those who committed adultery or married women or men of the “wrong” social rank or status, had as their goals the moral revitalization of the upper class, the raising of the birth rate among citizens, and the policing of sexual behaviour  in the attempt to reintroduce conservative social values and control the social conduct of an upper class seen as more interested in pleasure and autonomy than in duty and community…The laws, first issued probably in 18 BCE, and amended by supplementary legislation more than 25 years later in 9 CE as the Lex Papia Poppaea, are today known mainly in fragmentary and sometimes distorted from in the writings of later jurists and historians who cite them. Issues of marriage and reproduction that once had been mainly under the control of families now became, at least on paper, public and the purview of the community as a whole. The laws penalized people who did not marry or have children by attacking their eligibility to inherit wealth.”

5. Julia and Julia. 

  • Julia the Elder (daughter of Augustus) in 2 BCE was charged with multiple adulteries and sent into exile (Velleius Paterculus 2.100.3; Pliny NH 7.149) — Velleius gives a list of five adulterers, all with noble Republican names, including Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony); Julia was initially sent to the island of Pandateria, an island less than 2 miles long (Tacitus Annales 1.53Dio Cassius 55.10.14), later Reggio.
  • Julia the Younger (daughter of Julia) was also exiled for adultery in 8 CE, suspected of an affair with D. Silanus (Tacitus Annales 3.24.5); Julia was sent to the island of Trimerus. Augustus refused to allow Julia’s child, born in exile, to be raised (Suet. Aug. 65). The poet, Ovid, who was also exiled in 8 CE, writes that it was because of carmen (poem) and error (a mistake), Tristia 2.207. Tristia 2.103ff. claims he saw something unwittingly.

6a. Ovid, Amores 1.5. Translated by John Svarlien. 

It was hot – the day already more than half gone.
I lay where I’d dropped on the bed.
It happened a window was half-open. Light filtered in
like light falling in a forest;
like the afterglow of twilight or when it’s dawn
but the night hasn’t quite faded.
That’s the kind of dim light shy girls like – it gives
their modesty some cover.
The door opens. In comes Corinna, her dress half buttoned,
her hair fixed to show off that lovely neck.
She looked as lovely as Semiramis on her wedding night
or Lais in anyone’s bed.
I tore off the dress. To make it more fun she fought
to keep the flimsy thing half on.
We struggled; I won! Her protests betrayed
the truth: she had wanted to lose.
Clothes littered the room. There stood Corinna nude.
God, what a masterpiece she was!
Looking was not enough; I had to touch those shoulders, those arms;
mold my hands round each round breast.
Her belly’s subtle curves coaxed my fingers on. Soon I felt
the supple swell of hips and thighs.
But why catalogue the store of pleasure her body held?
I held her naked in my arms.
You can fantasize the rest. We were exhausted and slept.
May many afternoons be so well spent.

6b. Ovid, Amores 1.8.35-54. Translated by John Svarlien.

Does that make you blush? Hmm, a little color adds tone to your complexion;
but dab on some rouge; don’t rely on nature.
Keep your eyes leveled on your lap; gear your fetching glances
to the price a customer’s gift will bring.
Maybe in Tatius’ time the Sabine girls went unadorned and
refused service to any but a husband.
Now Mars leads our boys around the world to test their courage;
but Venus rules the city of her Aeneas.
The fun’s non-stop for sexy girls; the chaste are those no one asks out.
Only a hick wouldn’t ask the man herself.
As for prim matrons, take another look – those venerable wrinkles hide
tales of debauchery that would shock you.
Penelope knew how to try the strength of young men: she had them
straining to arch the bow’s bone.
Time slips by unnoticed – it goes spinning along out of control;
a year has raced by before you know it.
Bronze is polished bright by use; a lovely dress is made to show off,
if a house stands empty, it rots.
The same goes for beauty: you have to use it. You can’t save it for rainy days.
Don’t think one lover makes a spring.

6c. Ovid, Amores 2.13. Diane Arnson Svarlien.

For trying to unseat the burden crouched in her swelling womb,
for her audacity, Corinna lies near death.
I should be furious: to take such a risk! And without telling me!
But anger fails me — I’m so afraid.
You see, I’m the one who got her that way, or so I believe;
I might as well be, since I could have been.
Isis! Great queen of Paraetonium, of Canopus’ joyful plains,
of Memphis, and of Pharos, rich in palm-trees,
of the broad delta where the swift Nile spreads, and pours
his waters to the sea through seven mouths,
I pray, by your sacred rattles, by the venerated face of Anubis —
may faithful Osiris forever love your rites!
may the unhurried snake glide always amid your offerings,
and horned Apis travel at your side! —
come here, look kindly upon her, and save two lives in one:
for you’ll give life to her, and she to me.
She’s been devout: performed each service on your festival days,
observed the Gallic laurel ritual.
And you, who comfort laboring women in their time of distress, when
the lurking burden strains their bodies hard,
come gently now, and smile upon my prayers, Ilithyia —
she’s worthy of your intervention — please!
I myself, in white robes, will bring incense to your smoking altar;
I myself will offer votive gifts
and lay them at your feet with the inscription, “For Corinna’s Life.”
Goddess, give occasion for those words!
Corinna, listen, if you’re out of danger:
please don’t ever go through this again!

6d. Ovid, Amores 2.14.1-22. Translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien.

What good does it do for girls to be exempt from combat, freed
from all the dangers that our soldiers face,
if they will suffer self-inflicted wounds far from the front lines,
and blindly brandish arms against their own
bodies? The woman who first took aim at her helpless fetus
should have died by her own javelin.
Can it be possible that, simply to avoid a few stretch-marks,
you’d make your womb a bloody battleground?
What if our forebears had forborne to bear? Without willing mothers
the world would be unpopulated – again
someone would have to seed the empty earth with flung stones.
Priam’s palace wouldn’t have been sacked
if sea-goddess Thetis had refused to shoulder (so to speak) her load;
if Ilia, her belly swollen big,
had terminated her twins in utero, who would have founded
the City that was bound to rule the world?
If Venus, in her audacity, had aborted fetal Aeneas
the Caesars never would have graced our land.
Even you (though you were meant to be born a beauty) would have died
if your mother had attempted what you’ve tried.
I myself (though personally I plan to die of love) would not
have seen the light of day, had mother killed me.

7a. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.451-466. Translated by A. D. Melville.

In entered Philomela, richly robed
In gorgeous finery, and richer still
Her beauty; such the beauty of the nymphs,
Naiads and Dryads, as we used to hear,
Walking the woodland ways, could one but give
The nymphs such finery, such elegance.
The sight of her set Tereus’ heart ablaze
As stubble leaps to lame when set on fire,
Or fodder blazes, stored above the byre.
Her looks deserved his love; but inborn lust
Goaded him too, for men of that rough race
Are warm for wenching: Thracian villainy
Joined flaring with his own. An impulse came
To bribe her retinue, suborn her nurse,
Even assail the girl herself with gifts,
Huge gifts, and pay his kingdom for the price —
Or ravish her and then defend the rape
In bloody war. Nothing he would not do…

7b. Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.669-80. Translated by G. P. Goold.

After kisses how much was lacking to your vow’s fulfilment? ah! that was awkwardness, not modesty. You may use force; women like you to use it; they often wish to give unwillingly what they like to give. She whom a sudden assault has taken by storm is pleased, and counts the audacity as a compliment. But she who, when she might have been compelled, departs untouched, though her looks feign joy, will yet be sad.

7c. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.553-557. Translated by A. D. Melville.

…and Philomela, seeing the sword,
Offered her throat and hoped she would have died.
But as she fought, outraged, for words and called
Her father’s name continually, he seized
Her tongue with tongs and, with his brutal sword,
Cut it away.

7d. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.576-586. Translated by A. D. Melville.

On clumsy native loom
She wove a clever fabric, working words
In red on a white ground to tell the tale
Of wickedness, and, when it was complete,
Entrusted it to a woman and by signs
Asked her to take it to the queen; and she
Took it, as asked, to Procne, unaware
What it contained. The savage monarch’s wife
Unrolled the cloth and read the tragic tale
Of her calamity — and said no word
(It seemed a miracle, but anguished locked
Her lips.) Her tongue could find no speech to match
Her outraged anger; no room here for tears;
She stormed ahead, confusing right and wrong,
Her whole soul filled with visions of revenge.

8a. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.709-713. Translated by A. D. Melville.

Iphis, a name that gave its mother joy:
It meant no fraud — it could be a girl or boy.
So long the lie that love began lay hid.
She dressed her as a boy, and, whether judged
As boy or girl, the child was beautiful.

8b. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.722-728. Translated by A. D. Melville.

Ianthe longed to fix the wedding day,
To be a wife and take to be her man
Her Iphis, whom she took to be a man.
Poor Iphis loved a girl, girl loving girl,
And knew her love was doomed and loved the more.
Almost in tears, ‘What will become of me?’
She said, ‘possessed by love unheard of, love
So monstrous, so unique?’

8c. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.786-797. Translated by A. D. Melville.

Walked Iphis, as she went, with longer strides
Than usual, her cheeks of darker hue,
Her features firmer, limbs more powerful,
Her hanging tresses shorter and her strength
Greater than woman’s wont. She who had been
A girl a moment past was now a boy.
Rejoice, rejoice, with fearless faith! Go, bring
Your offerings to the holy shrine! They brought
Their offerings and beside them placed a plaque,
And on the plaque a couplet was inscribed:
“These offerings, vowed by Iphis as a maid,
By Iphis, now a man, are glady paid.”
The morning’s radiance revealed the world;
Venus, Juno, and Hymen joined to bless
The wedding rite; their love was sanctified
And Iphis gained Ianthe, groom and bride.

Standard