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Ovid — The Mistress and the Maid

Amores 2, elegies VII and VIII

To the Mistress

So! Must I evermore stand trial for new crimes?
I’m tired of this. I’ve fought and won my case so many times.

We’re at a show, let’s say. I turn around to see
who’s sitting in the top rows of the balcony.
At which, from that whole crowd of women in the place,
your stare picks out one unsuspecting female face
to justify your jealousy! Or if, by chance,
a pretty lady casts my way a wordless glance,
you claim to recognise unspoken signals there.

I praise some girl; your fingernails assault my hair.
I criticise the same girl’s faults, and you decide
that she and I have secret sins of lust to hide.
My colour’s good: my former ardour has turned cold.
I’m pale as death: I’m in another woman’s hold.

If only I could know what wrong I’ve done to you!
The guilty calmly take the punishment they’re due,
but me you blindly hasten to incriminate
on baseless rumour, so your anger bears no weight.
Look at the long-eared donkey; see how slow he goes,
poor wretched beast, borne down by never-ending blows!

And now, the latest charge you catapult my way:
Cypassis, she who nicely does your hair. You say
that she has soiled her mistress’ bed. Great gods above,
if I’d a mind to sin, I’d choose a nobler love
than company like that — the meanest of the low.
What free man deigns to mate a slave, I’d like to know?
Embrace some chit whose back bears markings of the whip?
Besides, her skilful hands delight your ladyship.
Why would I interfere with such a faithful maid
unless I wished to be rejected and betrayed?
By Venus, here I swear: I’m innocent of every charge you’ve laid!

To the Maid

You know a thousand perfect ways of dressing hair
(though only goddesses deserve your touch, your flair).
Cypassis serves her mistress well; me better still.
In furtive love play, hardly rustic is your skill.
But who’s the blabber who has made our coupling known?
How did Corinna hear of it? Could I have shown,
in blushes, or some simple indiscreet remark,
a signal of the carnal pleasures we’ve kept dark?

‘A man who loves a slave is mad. His wits have turned.’
Did I say that? And yet with love Achilles burned
for Briseis, a slave. Cassandra, late of Troy,
as slave and concubine brought Agamemnon joy.
I am a greater man than neither, you’ll agree.
Why should a dish served up for kings not do for me?

But when Corinna fixed on you her angry stare,
I saw the blushes spread across your cheeks. And there,
if you recall, how much more self-possessed was I;
in mighty Venus’ name I swore fidelity!
Great goddess, pray command the warm wind from the south
to waft away a harmless heart’s deceitful oath
across the Aegean sea!

                                              Come lie with me today,
my own brown girl, Cypassis; this sweet forfeit pay
for my good offices… You won’t? Ungrateful maid,
why shake your head? Why find new cause to be afraid?
One master’s favour ought to be enough for you.
But if you’re silly and say no, here’s what I’ll do.
I’ll tell your mistress everything I once denied:
how many times we met, and where. And I’ll confide
to her, Cypassis, all the details of the ways of love we’ve tried!

Ovid, Amores 2, elegies VII and VIII


Ergo sufficiam reus in nova crimina semper?
    ut vincam, totiens dimicuisse piget.
sive ego marmorei respexi summa theatri,
    eligis e multis, unde dolere velis;
candida seu tacito vidit me femina vultu,
    in vultu tacitas arguis esse notas.
siquam laudavi, misero petis ungue capillos;
    si culpo, crimen dissimulare putas.
sive bonus color est, in te quoque frigidus esse,
    seu malus, alterius dicor amore mori.
Atque ego peccati vellem mihi conscius essem!
    aequo animo poenam, qui meruere, ferunt;
nunc temere insimulas credendoque omnia frustra
    ipsa vetas iram pondus habere tuam.
adspice, ut auritus miserandae sortis asellus
    adsiduo domitus verbere lentus eat!
Ecce novum crimen! sollers ornare Cypassis
    obicitur dominae contemerasse torum.
di melius, quam me, si sit peccasse libido,
    sordida contemptae sortis amica iuvet!
quis Veneris famulae conubia liber inire
    tergaque conplecti verbere secta velit?
adde, quod ornandis illa est operata capillis
    et tibi perdocta est grata ministra manu –
scilicet ancillam, quae tam tibi fida, rogarem!
    quid, nisi ut indicio iuncta repulsa foret?
per Venerem iuro puerique volatilis arcus,
    me non admissi criminis esse reum!


Ponendis in mille modos perfecta capillis,
    comere sed solas digna, Cypassi, deas,
et mihi iucundo non rustica cognita furto,
    apta quidem dominae, sed magis apta mihi —
quis fuit inter nos sociati corporis index?
    sensit concubitus unde Corinna tuos?
num tamen erubui? num, verbo lapsus in ullo,
    furtivae Veneris conscia signa dedi?
Quid, quod in ancilla siquis delinquere possit,
    illum ego contendi mente carere bona?
Thessalus ancillae facie Briseidos arsit;
    serva Mycenaeo Phoebas amata duci.
nec sum ego Tantalide maior, nec maior Achille;
    quod decuit reges, cur mihi turpe putem?
Ut tamen iratos in te defixit ocellos,
    vidi te totis erubuisse genis;
at quanto, si forte refers, praesentior ipse
    per Veneris feci numina magna fidem!
tu, dea, tu iubeas animi periuria puri
    Carpathium tepidos per mare ferre Notos!
Pro quibus officiis pretium mihi dulce repende
    concubitus hodie, fusca Cypassi, tuos!
quid renuis fingisque novos, ingrata, timores?
    unum est e dominis emeruisse satis.
quod si stulta negas, index anteacta fatebor,
    et veniam culpae proditor ipse meae,
quoque loco tecum fuerim, quotiensque, Cypassi,
    narrabo dominae, quotque quibusque modis!