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Corinna and Cypassis Compare Notes on Ovid’s Elegies

‘Thank you, Cypassis; leave the poems there.
We’ll plan his downfall while you do my hair.
Unspeakable, a poet’s vanity!
What do you think? My letter, as you see,
is just a ragbag of the usual stuff:
he, injured innocent, has had enough
harsh treatment — a refrain I’ve heard before.
A whingeing lover is a frightful bore.
But then, to threaten you in yours, for shame!
It’s time we stopped his shabby little game.
The things he says about you are not nice.
He thinks he’s fooled us once; he won’t do twice…
How was he when he came to you last week?’

‘Madame, the gentleman of whom we speak,
who used to please me just as much as you,
is sadly changed. It’s more than I can do
to coax a good light from an untrimmed lamp
or start a bonfire when the wood is damp.
His ardour now leaves much to be desired.
He says — poor thing — he’s overworked and tired.
Do you suspect he knows I know you know?’

‘It’s hard to say, my dear. It may be so.
The hubris of these educated men!
Next time he visits you, refuse him. Then
he’ll run to me to carry out his threat,
imagining the whipping that you’ll get.
I’ll hide you in a cupboard so you’ll hear,
and when he’s finished blabbing, you appear.
He’ll be amazed. We’ll tell him we’ve discussed
his multiple betrayals of our trust,
his faltering performances of late,
and, though we’re sympathetic to his state
of lassitude and limpness, shall we say,
he’d better pull his socks up right away
or Rome will get a laugh at his expense.
Against derision he has no defence.
A little gossip normally gives pause
to peacocks who survive on men’s applause.
And then I’ll hint at something that he’ll dread:
there’s no exclusive access to my bed,
or yours; he’s there by favour, not by right.
A woman may indulge her appetite.

Now, could you give my fringe an extra curl?
A little more… That’s it, you clever girl.’

See ‘The Mistress and the Maid’ in section 6.