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Ovid, Amores 1.13

Translation copyright © 2000 John Svarlien; all rights reserved.

        She's coming. Even now frosty axles whir. Gold-haired Dawn is flying
     over ocean, speeding from her old husband.
"What's your hurry, Aurora? Rest awhile and allow Memnon's shadow
     the honor his battling birds give but once a year.
5Now it's pleasant just to lie here, my darling's soft arms
     around me, her body close against mine.
Now sleep feels slow and lazy and the chill air of early morning is alive
     with the liquid song of soft-throated birds.
What's your hurry? No lover or his girl welcomes your coming --
10     grip the dew-drenched reins; pull back your rosy hand.
Before your arrival sailors can better read the shining map of the stars
     and do not wander blindly in mid ocean.
The moment you appear the road-weary traveler must stumble from bed,
     the soldier again lift sword in his savage hand.
15You are the first to see the farmer in the fields doubled over his hoe,
     you drag the slow oxen under the curved yoke.
You cheat little boys of sleep and pack them off to schoolmasters
     who will take a cane to tender knuckles.
The young dandies you bring to court to bail out some friend
20     will lose a fortune at the drop of a word.
How can the prosecutor or the learned defense welcome you
     when your coming means only more casework ?
It's you, when women might enjoy some rest from daily chores,
     who summon them back to work their looms.
25All this I could put up with, but only a man who hasn't a girl could
     brook the thought of sweethearts up at dawn.
How often I've prayed that night would refuse to yield the sky to you,
     that the stars would not flee before your face;
How often I've prayed the winds to smash your axle to bits
30     or your horses to trip over a thick cloud!
What's your hurry? You're not wanted. Your heart's as black
     as that black son you bore and mothered.
I'd just love to hear Tithonus talk about you, if he could:
     no goddess in heaven would fall so low.
35You're so eager to get away from the dotard that you hop from bed
     and race to mount the hated chariot .
You'd sing a different tune if you lay in the arms of Cephalus.
     Then you'd cry "run slowly, horses of night!"
Must my love-life suffer because old age has drained your husband's sap?
40     Was it I who arranged your marriage?
I'll remind you that the Moon gave her lover the gift of long sleep;
     and the Moon is no less lovely than you.
Even the sire of the gods, when he tired of seeing you so often,
     ran two nights together for a tryst."
45She was blushing when I stopped complaining, so she must have heard.
     Day, nevertheless, arrived right on time.

Notes by William W. Batstone

This kind of poem has a long history. The theme of the lover's desire for dawn to delay its light goes back to Homer's Odyssey and the dawn's delay at the time of Odysseus's reunion with Penelope. Typically, Ovid combines the common sentiment with an ironic perspective. Part of this irony is accomplished by Ovid's reversal of the traditional gestures of a "kletic hymn," or hymn that calls for the presence of a god. The poem may also be read as another rhetorical exercise in persuasion; compare the suasoria, Amores I 8. 20ff.

1. Gold-haired Dawn: Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, was married to Tithonus, a mortal. Ovid plays on this by suggesting that Dawn leaves Tithonus because he is too old to be a satisfactory lover.

3. Memnon's shadow: Memnon was a mythical king of Ethiopia and son of Aurora, the dawn. His name may have been connected by Ovid with the Greek command, "Halt!" [=mimne]. The "birds of Memnon" were said to fly from Africa to Troy each year where as an annual honor they killed each other over Memnon' grave.

11-12. Before your arrival...: A good example of the reversal of traditional formula in kletic hymns where such expressions, often marked by the repetition of the personal pronoun ("you...you...you...") accrue to the praise of the goddess, not to her blame.

15-16. You are the first...: Another formula which typically serves to amplify praise.

37. Cephalus: Ovid plays with several traditions. Aurora was said to have fallen in love with Tithonus, Orion, Cleitus, and Cephalus. Cephalus was an Athenian hero whom Aurora abducted; they had a son, Phaethon, who was Venus's attendant.

41. the moon gave her lover: Luna, the moon goddess, drove her chariot across the sky during the night. When she fell in love with Endymion, a remarkably beautiful young man, Jupiter put him to sleep eternally in a cave in Latmos where the moon visits him.

43. the sire of the gods: Jupiter extended his lovemaking with Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon, by lengthening the night. Alcmena bore Hercules as a result. The claim that Jupiter was "tired of seeing [Aurora]" is a gratuitous insult.

This translation first appeared in Diane J. Rayor and William W. Batstone (edd.), Latin Lyric and Elegiac Poetry: An Anthology of New Translations. New York: Garland, 1995. It has been republished in Diotima with permission.

Permission is hereby granted to distribute for classroom use, provided that both John Svarlien and Diotima are identified in any such use. Other uses not authorized in writing by the translator or in accord with fair use policy are expressly prohibited.

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