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Ovid, Amores 1.14

Translation copyright © 2000 John Svarlien; all rights reserved.

        How many times did I tell you -- "Stop dyeing your hair!"
     Now there's nothing left to color.
If only you'd left it alone. No one had hair like yours.
     It tumbled down full to your hips.
5Your curls were so fine that you feared to dress them;
     fine as the silk the tan Chinese wear,
delicate as the thread a spider spins from her thin leg,
     weaving her gossamer from a lonely beam.
Your tresses were not sable, they were not golden;
10     but in each hair both colors blended;
like the hue of a tall cedar's skin stripped of bark
     in the steep dewy vales of Ida.
Not to mention its manageability. Have you ever winced
     as you arranged it in a hundred styles?
15Did hairpins or the teeth of your comb ever tear a single
     strand? Your hairdresser was safe.
I often watched her fixing your hair and not once saw you grab
     a brooch to stab her in the arm.
In the mornings you loved to lounge on your purple-spread bed,
20     your hair down and still uncombed.
It was lovely loose and wild. You looked like a Thracian maenad
     sprawled exhausted on green grass.
Just think of the horrible tortures those poor down-soft curls
     had to suffer at your hands.
25How patiently they endured the rack of hot curling irons
     as you twisted them into ringlets.
Again and again I cried -- "It's a crime, a crime to singe them!
     Is your heart cast-iron? Have mercy
on your own head. Don't force the beauty nature gave you.
30     What a perm couldn't learn from your natural wave!"
Now you've destroyed all that gorgeous hair. Hair Apollo or Bacchus
     would have loved to call his own;
full and heavy as the hair I once saw nude Dione lift aside
     with dripping fingers in a painting.
35What's the point of complaining now that those abused bangs are gone?
     Why cry, silly, and hide your mirror?
Are your eyes shocked by what they see? Better get used to it.
     Forget how you looked before.
A rival didn't do that to you with a pack of enchanted herbs;
40     no hag rinsed your hair with Haemonian water.
It wasn't the work of a wasting illness -- thank the gods --
     no envious tongue made your hair fall out.
You alone bear the blame for the loss you feel. Your own hand
     poured the poisonous lotion on your head.
45Now the spoils of our triumphant armies will save you;
     you'll wear braids captured in Germany.
But you'll blush every time someone raves about your new look;
     "I'm upstaged by a wig!" you'll cry.
"It's some Sygambrian woman he's praising. I remember when
50     those compliments were truly mine."
Oh dear-- she can hardly keep back the tears. Her hands try
     to hide the flaming red her cheeks confess.
She just stares at the ruins of her hair lying in her lap;
     a sacrifice, alas, so misplaced.
55Now, dry your eyes. Compose yourself. The loss can be repaired.
     You'll soon be showing off your own hair again.

Notes by William W. Batstone

Corinna has botched a hair treatment and her hair has fallen out. Many critics find the tone of the poem cruel and heartless, but it is not clear that we should imagine every word spoken directly to Corinna. If Amores III 2 is best understood as a fantastic inner monologue, one may find a precursor of the style in this poem. In any event, the dyeing of hair and the wearing of wigs was common in Augustan Rome, and this poem may be taken as a general reflection of fashion. As an elaboration of fashion and taste, however, the poet cannot help but use language that recalls the poetic virtues of his own craft and art. After the first couplet introduces the situation, Ovid expands on the virtues of the hair that is no more: fine as silk, delicately spun, of blended color, readily managed, adaptable to a hundred styles, and best with an air of loose and wild negligence (3-21-22). The poet then imagines and laments the hair's forced and unnatural elaboration in a style that recalls the elevated diction of tragedy while describing the elevated curls of a high coiffure (23-24). The poem's last extended section turns lament for the lost hair into blame for the false artifice Corinna sought and mockery of the spectacle she will become (35-50). At this point the poet notices that Corinna is crying as she looks at the ruins of her hair, and he abruptly tries to offer consolation: time will repair the losses.

5-8. fine, delicate, spins, weaving: All these terms are used in the Callimachean program to refer to the aesthetic values of Alexandrian art.

6. fine as silk: Silk imported from China was extremely expensive in the ancient world. Because of its fineness and transparency it was often considered not befitting a proper Roman.

12. vales of Ida: A reference to the hills near Troy; it is thought that the metaphor is original and the product of personal observation.

14. a hundred styles: The arrangement of a woman's hair was extremely important and was performed by a specially trained hairdresser. See the note on Propertius II 1.7 for further details.

16. Your hairdresser was safe: The young woman who flies into a rage at her hairdresser was a common topos in literature.

21. Thracian maenad: Women in worship of the god Bacchus indulged in orgiastic rites which alternated between peaceful scenes of oneness with nature, like that alluded to here, and wild, frenzied activities that culminated in the eating raw of a young animal. See the notes on Amores III 1. 23 and III 15. 17 for the poetic implications of the cult of Bacchus.

31. Apollo or Bacchus: The two gods were both young and had unshorn hair; they are generally taken as representative of youthful beauty.

33. Dione: The name for Venus's mother, Dione, was often used for Venus herself. Ovid here refers to a famous picture of Venus painted by the fourth century Greek, Apelles, and called Aphrodite Anadyomene. The picture was brought to Rome by Augustus and is mentioned elsewhere by Ovid; see The Art of Love III 223-224.

39-42. Ovid refers to the world of magic, popular in literary and especially elegiac contexts. The four kinds of spells he mentions are 1) poison herbs sent by a rival mistress; 2) poison water from Haemonia, the poetic name for Thessaly, a place famous for its witches; 3) illness caused by misfortune; and 4) the evil spells of an antagonist.

45. triumphant armies: Ovid again turns a mocking glance on the imperial achievements of Rome. It is not certain what German conquest he has in mind.

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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