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 . . .

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lecture

The Singer. Sappho.

Identifications
— Sappho
— papyrus
— Greek lyric
— textual transmission

1. Attic red-figure vase (kalathos), c. 470 BCE from Sicily, currently in the Munich Staatliche Antikensammlungen. Attributed to Brygos Painter. Two lyric poets of Lesbos: left, Alcaeus (7th c. BCE); right, Sappho (7th c. BCE). Both names inscribed (ΑΛΚΑΙΟΣ; ΣΑΦΟ—sic). Out of Alcaeus’ mouth the letters: Ο Ο Ο Ο Ο, indicating song. Each holds a musical instrument known as the barbiton (similar to a lyre), and each holds a plectrum. The Suda says that Sappho invented the plectrum. Care is given to indicate each figure’s sexual features (Alcaeus’ genitals; Sappho’s breasts). Image: Munich Antikensammlungen. For more, see Nagy 2011.

sappho and alcaeus bayern.jpg

2. Anne Carson, Introduction to If not, winter (2002), p ix:

“Sappho was a musician. Her poetry is lyric, that is, composed to be sung to the lyre. She addresses her lyre in one of her poems (fr. 118) and frequently mentions music, songs, and singing. Ancient vase painters depict her with her instrument. Later writers ascribe to her three musical inventions: that of the plectron, an instrument for picking the lyre (Suda); that of the pektis, a particular kind of lyre (Athenaios Deipnosophistai 14.635b); and the mixolydian mode, an emotional mode also used by tragic poets, who learned it from Sappho (Aristoxenos cited by Plutarch On Music 16.113c). All Sappho’s music is lost.”

3. Sappho fragment 102*, translated by Anne Carson (2002). See Page duBois Sappho is Burning 1995: 11. *transmitted by 2nd c. CE Hephaestion (Ench. 10.5).

sweet mother I cannot work the loom
I am broken with longing for a boy (παῖς) by slender Aphrodite

4a. Sappho fragment 1*, translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st c. BCE) On Literary Composition 23; + a papyrus fragment (P. Oxy. 2288) gives scraps of this poem.

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child (παῖς) of Zeus, who twists lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart

but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father’s
golden house and came,

yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
through midair–

they arrived. But you, O blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out

and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart. Whom should I persuade (now again)
to lead you back into her love? Who, O
Sappho, is wronging you?

For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
even unwilling.

Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

4b. P. Oxy. 2288 = fragmentary papyrus from Oxyrhynchus from 2nd c. CE. Containing parts of lines Sappho fragment 1.

POxy.v0021.n2288.a.01.hires.jpg

5. Sappho fragment 31,* translated by Anne Carson (2002). 
*transmitted by the 1st c. CE On the Sublime 10.1 + P.S.I. 15 1470.

He seems to me equal to the gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking (φωνείσας)

and lovely laughing (γελαίσας) — oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead — or almost
I seem to me.

But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty

6. Sappho fragment 5,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by papyri (P. Oxy. 7 = P. Lond. Lit. 43 + P. Oxy. 2289).

O Kypris and Nereids, undamaged I pray you
grant my brother to arrive here.
And all that in his heart he wants to be,
make it be.

And all the wrong he did before, loose it.
Make him a joy to his friends,
a pain to his enemies and let there exist for us
not one single further sorrow.

May he willingly give his sister
her portion of honor, but sad pain
] grieving for the past
]
] millet seed
] of the citizens
] once again no
]
]
] but you Kypris
] setting aside evil [
]

7. P. Oxy. 7 = P. Lond. Lit. 43. Fragmentary papyrus from Oxyrhynchus from 3rd c. CE. Containing parts of lines Sappho fragment 5.

8. Sappho fragment 16,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by papyrus (P. Oxy. 1231 + 2166(a) + P.S.I. 123.1-2)

Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth. But I say it is
what you love.

Easy to make this understood by all.
For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
left her fine husband

behind and went sailing to Troy.
Not for her children nor her dear parents
had she a thought, no —
] led her astray

] for
] lightly
] reminded me now of Anaktoria
who is gone.

9. Sappho fragment 44,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by papyrus (P. Oxy. 1232 + 2076). 

Kypros
herald came
Idaos     swift messenger
]
and of the rest of Asia      imperishable fame.
Hektor and his men are bringing a glancing girl
from holy Thebe and from onflowing Plakia
delicate Andromache on ships over the salt
sea. And many gold bracelets and purple
perfumed clothes, painted toys,
and silver cups innumerable and ivory.
So he spoke. And at once the dear father rose up.
And news went through the wide town to friends.
Then sons of Ilos led mules beneath
fine-running carts and up climbed a whole crowd
of women and maidens with tapering ankles,
but separately the daughters of Priam        [
And young men led horses under chariots  [
] in great style
] charioteers
]
] like to gods
] holy all together
set out                for Ilios
and sweetflowing flute and kithara were mingled
with the clip of castanets and piercingly then the maidens
sang a holy song and straight up the air went
amazing sound                       [
and everywhere in the roads was [
bowls and cups                      [
myrrh and cassia and frankincense were mingled.
And all the elder women shouted aloud
and all the men cried out a lovely song
calling on Paon farshooting god of the lyre,
and they were singing a hymn for Hektor and Andromache
like to gods.

Quotations of or allusions to Homer in this poem underlined: Idaos = herald in Troy (Il. 3.248), “swift messenger” (Od. 15.526), “glancing girl” (Il. 1.98), “from holy Thebe” (Il. 3.66), Plakia (Il. 6.395), “salt sea” (Od. 4.551), “the wide town” (Od. 24.468), “horses under chariots” (Il. 24.279), “straight up the air went” (Il. 13.837).

10. Sappho fragment 48,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
*transmitted by 4th c. CE Julian ‘the Apostate’ (Letter 77).

you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing

11.  Sappho fragment 49,* translated by Anne Carson (2002).
* line 1 transmitted by 2nd c. CE Hephaestion (Ench. 7.7); line 2 by 1st/2nd c. CE Plutarch (Amat. 5). A third source (2nd/3rd c. CE Terentianus Maurus) quotes them together, “suggesting that the lines are consecutive, however unlikely that my seem” (Campbell 1990: 95).

I loved you, Atthis, once long ago

a little child (παῖς) you seemed to me and graceless

–> Plutarch (Amat. 5): “Addressing a girl who was still too young for marriage, Sappho says: ‘You seemed to me a small, graceless child.'”

12. Sappho fragment 96*, translated by Anne Carson (2002).
* transmitted by a 6th c. CE parchment (P. Berol. 9722).

] Sardis
often turning her thoughts here

]
you like a goddess
and in your song most of all she rejoiced.

But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women
as sometimes at sunset
the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
stretches over salt sea
equally and flowerdeep fields.

And the beautiful dew is poured out
and roses bloom and frail
chervil and flowering sweetclover.

But she goes back and forth remembering
gentle Atthis and in longing
she bites her tender mind

But to go there
]much
talks [

Not easy for us
to equal goddesses in lovely form

]

]

]desire
and [                  ] Aphrodite

] nectar poured from
gold
] with hands of Persuasion

]
]
]

] into the Geraistion
] beloveds
] of none

] into desire I shall come

13. Sappho fragments 177 and 179, translated by Anne Carson (2002).

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