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Ovid, Amores 2.19

Translation copyright © 2000 Diane Arnson Svarlien; all rights reserved.

        Where's your self-respect? If you won't keep an eye on your wife
     for your own sake, then do it for the sake
of increasing my passion. There's nothing more tiresome than fair game,
     or more exciting than the out-of-bounds.
5The man who could love a licit woman has a heart made of iron.
     Hope thrives on fear, desire on repulse!
What's the point of happiness if it's stable? What's the point
     of love, without the risk of injury?
Corinna, in her wisdom, has seen this weakness in me, and understands
10     how to keep me in captivity.
She's feigned a million headaches, and sent me dragging my heels home
     when she was feeling perfectly all right;
she's taken me to task a million times on trumped-up charges
     when we both knew that I was innocent.
15Then, when she had thus aroused me, prodded my embers into flame,
     she once again submitted willingly.
What words of love she whispered! What sweet talk! And, great gods,
     what kisses! A profusion of delight!
And as for you, my dear, you who have caught my eye just recently:
20     avoid entrapment; when you're asked, say "no";
make sure you lock me out and leave me shivering on your doorstep
     all night long, when there's a heavy frost.
That's the way to keep my love alive and kicking;
     that's the nourishment my spirit craves.
25A cozy, plump, too-compliant love simply turns my stomach
     like too much cake; let love be lean and hungry!
If Danae had never been confined in a bronze tower, she never
     would have been impregnated by Jove.
And Io, transformed and horned, was all the more attractive to Jove
30     when Juno kept her guarded day and night.
If a man desires what is his for the taking, let him pick leaves from the trees,
     gulp river-water by the bucketful!
A woman who wants to stay in power must delude her lovers
     (wait! what am I saying? where does this leave me?)
35I'll say it again, to hell with the consequences: submissiveness is boring;
     I flee when I'm pursued, pursue when fled.
But as for you, absentminded guardian of a gorgeous woman:
     take my advice, and lock her door at night.
Pay attention! Ask questions! What was that rustling sound at her window?
40     What made the dogs begin to bark at midnight?
What are those letters her maid is always carrying back and forth?
     Why does she always ask to sleep alone?
If you took the time to think about it, you'd be sick with worry,
     and there would be some point to my deceit.
45Stealing the wife of an imbecile like you is about as thrilling
     as stealing sand from a deserted beach.
I'm warning you now: if you don't start supervising your wife
     then I'll start losing interest very soon.
I've put up with so much for so long, persisting in the hope
50     that you would open your eyes, so I could pull
the wool over them. But you're so docile, enduring the unendurable!
     Your apathy is killing my appetite.
Am I supposed to just walk right in, with no one blocking the way?
     Sleep all night, untroubled by the fear
55of vengeance, never to wake in terror, gasping for breath?
     Why won't you make me wish that you were dead?
What good is a husband who's so easygoing he's practically her pimp?
     Our pleasure is ruined by this negligence.
Why don't you find yourself another rival, one who can tolerate tolerance;
60     I won't stay unless I'm asked to leave.

Notes by William W. Batstone

Here Ovid gives advice to a cuckolded husband in a poem cleverly dubbed by one critic, "the lament of the unexcluded lover." The poem should be compared with poem III 4. After a brief introduction, the first major section (lines 9-36) of the poem explores the oxymoron that for the lover the husband's defeat is a success that comes too easily. In the second section, the poem offers its oxymoronic advice to the husband (that he should guard his wife so that the lover can really have some fun) with the victorious implication that the advice is useless; the husband is and will be cuckolded. Here the lover's passion is not focused on Corinna or anyone else. The desire is for titillation and danger, a kind of desire that arises from boredom and the loss of eroticism. It is also possible to find in the speaker's description of the amatory life the Callimachean aesthetic program.

21. shivering on your doorstep: Ovid alludes to a major topos and a major sub-genre of erotic lyric: the shut-out lover who sings outside the door a paraclausithyron. See Amores I 6.

27. Danae: The king of Argos, Acrisius, was told that his daughter Danae's son would one day kill him. He therefore kept her shut in a bronze chamber to prevent her ever becoming pregnant. Jove turned himself into a shower of gold to enter the chamber.

29. Io: Jove seduced Io, the daughter of a river god Inachus, and then turned her into a heifer to hide her from Juno. When Juno learned of this, she tormented her with a gadfly and guarded her with Argus, a monster with many eyes.

32. by the bucketful: In programmatic poetry such an image is often used for sloppy, popular writing.

36. flee when I'm pursued: Sappho in her hymn to Aphrodite had been promised by the goddess that "if she [Sappho's beloved] flees, soon she will pursue." Ovid has this passage in mind.

55. to wake in terror: The scene alluded to here was a popular one from shows referred to today as adultery mimes. Typically, at the end, the woman's husband would return, the adulterer would try to hide, and would eventually be caught and beaten.

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 Diane Arnson 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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