Translation copyright © 2000 Diane Arnson Svarlien; all rights reserved.
|What good does it do for girls to be exempt from combat, freed
|from all the dangers that our soldiers face,
|if they will suffer self-inflicted wounds far from the front lines,
|and blindly brandish arms against their own
|bodies? The woman who first took aim at her helpless fetus
|should have died by her own javelin.
|Can it be possible that, simply to avoid a few stretch-marks,
|you’d make your womb a bloody battleground?
|What if our forebears had forborne to bear? Without willing mothers
|the world would be unpopulated – again
|someone would have to seed the empty earth with flung stones.
|Priam’s palace wouldn’t have been sacked
|if sea-goddess Thetis had refused to shoulder (so to speak) her load;
|if Ilia, her belly swollen big,
|had terminated her twins in utero, who would have founded
|the City that was bound to rule the world?
|If Venus, in her audacity, had aborted fetal Aeneas
|the Caesars never would have graced our land.
|Even you (though you were meant to be born a beauty) would have died
|if your mother had attempted what you’ve tried.
|I myself (though personally I plan to die of love) would not
|have seen the light of day, had mother killed me.
|Let the swelling grapes grow sweet and purple on the vine,
|leave the unripe apple on the tree.
|All things will come to fruition in their season; let grow
|what has been planted; a life is worth the wait.
|How can you pierce your own flesh with weapons, feed deadly toxins
|to babies still unborn? The world condemns
|the woman of Colchis, spattered with the blood of her young sons,
|and mourns for Procne’s victim, poor Itys.
|Horrible mothers! But at least a kind of dreadful logic moved them
|to spill, from their sons’ throats, their husbands’ blood –
|Tell me, in your case, where’s the Tereus or Jason that could compel you
|to move your outraged hand against yourself?
|The fierce Armenian tigress in her lair, the savage lioness
|show more consideration for their young.
|What wild animals won’t do, young ladies will – but often
|the girl who tries it kills herself as well.
|She dies, and is carried out to the pyre, her hair all loose,
|and everyone who sees cries, “Serves her right!”
|What am I saying? Let my words be carried off by the winds,
|let all ill omens vanish – let her live,
|benevolent gods, let just this one sin go unpunished – but
|let her have it, if she tries again.
Notes by William W. Batstone
Ovid’s catalog of objections to abortion does not include moral objections. Some critics believe that the poet finally bought the official line about abortion; others that he is again mocking the serious pretensions of Augustan reforms. It has been suggested that the speaker here attempts to reassert the male superiority which he found threatened by Corinna’s actions and his response in Amores II 13.
5. The woman who first…: The typical form for introducing a curse; compare the beginning to Amores II 11.
9. our forbears: The conservative appeal on which Augustan reforms were based.
11. to seed: According to Greek myth, after the flood, Deucalion (a kind of Greek Noah) and his wife Pyrrha repopulated the earth by throwing stones over their shoulders. The stones Deucalion threw became men; those Pyrrha threw became women.
12-13. Priam’s palace…: Priam was the leader of Troy when it was besieged by the Greeks under Agamemnon during the Trojan War. The sea-goddess Thetis had married Peleus and given birth to Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors at Troy.
14-16. Ilia…: Ilia, or Rhea Silvia, was the mother of Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome.
17-18. Venus: The Roman goddess of love who gave birth to Aeneas. Aeneas escaped from Troy at the end of the Trojan War and with a small band of followers made it to Latium where, in alliance with the aboriginal Latins, he founded the Latin race. The Caesars, who belonged to the Julian clan, traced their ancestry back to Aeneas’s son Iulus, and so to Aeneas and to Venus. Augustus, who had been adopted by his great-uncle Julius Caesar, claimed and celebrated such a lineage.
27. How can you: This is now a lecture delivered to the plural, “you women.”
29. the woman of Colchis: Medea, when abandoned by Jason in Corinth after having helped him gain possession of the Golden Fleece, killed her own children in revenge.
30. Procne’s victim, poor Itys: Procne’s husband, Tereus, raped her sister, Philomela; to avoid being caught he cut out Philomela’s tongue. Philomela, however, told her story on a robe she embroidered and the two sisters sought revenge by serving Tereus his own son, Itys, for dinner. See Amores II 6.7.
35. Armenia: A country in Asia Minor south of the Black Sea and west of the Caspian Sea. It was the conventional habitat for tigers.
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 Diotíma with permission.