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Ovid, Amores 3.4

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

        You're strict, but your severity is pointless - a woman must be watched
     by her own conscience, or else not at all.
To test her fidelity, call off your guards; chastity under compulsion
     might as well be called adultery.
5You can keep her body under surveillance, but what about her mind?
     no woman can be true against her will.
For that matter, even her body's beyond the reach of your vigilance:
     lock every door; you've locked an adulterer in.
The seeds of transgression grow poorly in the barren soil of liberty;
10     a woman who's free to sin will seldom bother.
Believe me, your prohibitions are only making things worse;
     the only way to win is to give in.
I saw a horse the other day raging against the bridle and bit,
     storming and frenzied, running away, until
15he realized the reins had been dropped, and were lying slack
     across the tangled mane along his neck.
We always strive for the forbidden, long for the out-of-bounds
     like sick men, yearning to disobey just once
our doctor's orders. Argus the watcher had two hundred eyes
20     but he was tricked by Love, time and again;
Danae was shut in a prison of stone and iron, yet she
     went in a virgin and came out a mother;
Penelope, with no one to protect her from the suitors, remained
     inviolate, surrounded by young men.
25Whatever is guarded is desirable; surveillance courts invasion;
     few men can love what they're allowed to take.
Your wife is irresistible, not for her looks, but because ©ou love her:
     she must use good bait, if she caught you.
Security measures just make a woman seem all the more valuable -
30     the sense of danger is really the whole point.
Get as mad as you want: the truth is, there's no woman so exciting
     as one who whispers, "what if we get caught?"
Besides, your wife is a free-born woman; you can't just lock her up
     as if she were some slave or foreigner.
35And what's the big deal, if she staás chaste under lock and key?
     All that means is ßou hired a competent guard.
Here in Rome, getting upset at your wife's infidelity is considered
     provincial, unsophisticated, quaint.
After all, our founding fathers were begotten by Mars out of wedlock:
40     Ilia's son Remus, and Romulus, Ilia's son.
Why did you choose a beautiful wife, if you wanted a faithful one?
     You'll never find a woman who is both.
If you have any sense, you'll take advantage of this situation:
     don't be such a stickler - loosen up!
45Give your wife some latitude, and watch your house fill up
     with interesting young men (no need to take
the trouble of making friends yourself!) and expensive gifts
     for which you didn't have to pay a cent.

Notes by William W. Batstone

In Amores II 19 Ovid complains that his girl's husband does not keep a close enough eye on his girl; the man just makes it too easy. Here the topic is reversed. The underlying argument remains the same: the wise husband should grant his wife maximum freedom -- in II 19 because a watchful caution stimulates the lover; in this poem, because restraint stimulates the wife.

19. Argus: When Io was turned into a cow by Jupiter after he raped her, the jealous Juno sent Argus the all-seeing to guard her. He is variously described as having a third eye in the back of his head, four eyes, or many eyes. Mercury was sent by Jupiter to steal Io away, which he could only do by killing Argus.

21. 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. Jupiter turned himself into a shower of gold to enter the chamber. When Acrisius learned that she had a son, he set her and her son, Perseus, adrift in a chest. The chest floated ashore and the prophecy was eventually fulfilled. See Amores II 19.27.

23. Penelope: Ulysses, one of the Greek warriors of the Iliad and the central character of the Odyssey, was gone from his home in Ithaca for twenty years: the ten years of the Trojan War and ten years of wandering. His wife Penelope faithfully awaited his return, even though her house was filled with young men all vying for her hand in marriage.

32. "what if we get caught?" The familiar Roman mime, known as the adultery mime, in which the lover is caught at the end, seems to be in the background of an allusion like this.

39. our founding fathers: The mother of the twins, Romulus and Remus, whose name was Ilia (a word which in Latin means "groin" or "private parts"), was a Vestal virgin and therefore pledged to chastity for thirty years (see note to Amores III 7.21). When she became pregnant with Romulus and Remus, she claimed that the father of the children was Mars, thereby avoiding punishment for unchastity. The Roman historian Livy has the dry comment: "either she thought it was so or she said it because a god was fairly honorable as the origin of fault" (Livy I 4).

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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