Ovid, Herois 6 (Hypsipyle to Jason)

(Translated by R. Scott Smith)

They say that your ship has brought you back to Thessaly’s
Shores, enriched by the golden ram’s fleece.
I congratulate you on your safe return, as far as you allow me too—
Still, you should have informed me with a letter from you.
For it could have been that, though you wanted to, you just didn’t have the 5
Winds to return home past my kingdom which I pledged to you,
But a letter can be sealed even in the worst winds:
I deserved at least a “Dear Hypsipyle” letter.
So tell me, why was it that rumor reached me before a letter with word
That bulls sacred to Mars went under a curved yoke? 10
That seeds were sown and a crop of men grew,
Felled in a slaughter that did not require your arm?
That though a sleepless serpent guarded the ram’s hide,
The Golden Fleece was stolen by your mighty hand?
Oh, how great it would be if I could only say to those 15
Skeptical of this story, “He wrote me about this himself!”
But why do I complain that my reluctant husband has failed in his duty?
I have won a great indulgence if I am still yours.
It’s rumored that a barbarian witch came home with you
And was given a share of the bed you once promised to me. 20
But love is quick to believe—I hope they’ll say that my accusations
Against my husband were just reckless and untrue.
Just recently I had a Thessalian visitor from Haemonia,
And he had barely gotten his foot inside the door when
“Aeson’s son—,” I said, “How’s my Jason doing?” He hesitated, 25
Embarrassed, his eyes fixed upon the ground before him.
Immediately I leapt up, ripped the tunic from my chest, screaming,
“Is he alive? Or is my destiny calling me as well?”
“He is alive,” he said meekly; I forced him to swear on Jupiter.
Even with a god as my witness I scarcely believed it was true. 30
After I regained my composure, I started asking him about your deeds.
He reported that the bronze-footed bulls of Mars tilled the soil,
Serpent’s teeth were sown in the earth as seed, and
Men suddenly sprang up bearing arms;
That this earth-born race was destroyed in a civil war, 35
Fulfilling the destiny of their lives that lasted but a day.
[The serpent was overcome. I ask again if Jason was
Alive: hope and fear come and go in turns.]
While he tells of each exploit in an excited rush of words,
He inadvertently exposes the wounds you have inflicted on me. 40
Where are your promises? Your marriage vows? That wedding torch,
Better suited to setting fire to my funeral pyre?
I was not some secret love affair; Juno, goddess of marriage, was there
As was Hymen, his head wreathed in festive garlands.
Or was it not Juno or Hymen, but some grim Erinys, covered in blood, 45
Who led our procession, carrying those doomed torches.
What business did I have with the Minyans? With Minerva’s ship, the Argo?
What did you, captain Tiphys, have to do with my country?
There was no ram here with a remarkable golden fleece, nor was
Lemnos the royal seat of venerable Aeetes. 50
At first I was resolved (but my fate was already dragging me against my will)
To repulse the foreign invaders with our female platoon.
The women of Lemnos know all too well how to conquer men;
Our reputation ought to have been protected by such a mighty force.
But I welcomed a man into our widowed city, into my home and heart. 55
Here you stayed as summer and winter twice ran by;
It was the third harvest when you were compelled to set sail and
You supplied tears to fill out these words:
“I am dragged away, Hypsipyle, but may the fates grant that I return,
I leave here your husband, and your husband I shall always be. 60
Be that as it may, let the child of ours that lies hidden in your swollen belly live,
And let each of us both be its parents together.”
This was all you could get out when, I recall, tears began to flow onto your
Deceitful cheeks and you could not finish the rest.
You were the last of your crew to board the sacred Argo; 65
She sped on, the winds keeping your sails full,
And the sea-blue water was drawn beneath your surging ship.
You looked upon the land, and I upon the deep.
A tower commands a view of the sea, unobstructed on every side;
There I rush, tears drenching my cheeks and chest. 70
Through my tears I look out, and my eyes, yielding to my greedy
Mind, see farther than they normally do.
I also make chaste prayers, vows mixed with fear,
Vows which even now I must fulfill since you are safe.
Am I to fulfill my vows? So that Medea can reap their fruits? 75
My heart aches, my love overflows, mixed with rage.
Am I to bring offerings to the temples because Jason lives but is lost to me?
Should a victim be felled by a blow for the losses I’ve suffered?
To be sure, I was insecure, always afraid your father
Would choose your wife from an Argive city. 80
I was afraid of Argive women—but a barbarian mistress was my downfall!
I was wounded by an unexpected enemy.
It is not looks or her help that’s taken you. No, she knows spells
And reaps herbs of dreadful power with an enchanted knife.
She strives to draw down the reluctant moon from her course 85
And bury the sun’s horses in shadows.
She curbs the flow of water, brings sloping rivers to a standstill.
She moves the forests and living rock from their place.
Through the graveyards she wanders, hair and dress hanging loose,
Collecting designated bones from the still-warm pyres. 90
She hexes men from afar, fashioning wax images of them and
Pushing sharp needles into their suffering livers,
And other things I’d be better off not knowing about. It’s wrong to seek love
By magical herbs—it should be won by character and looks.
Can you stomach embracing this woman? Can you, left alone in the same room, 95
Get a good night’s sleep in the stillness of night, unafraid?
Obviously she compelled you to bear the yoke just as she did the bulls, and
Charms you with the same spells she charms savage serpents with.
She’s also taking credit for your and your band of heroes’ exploits!
Your wife is a bar to her husband’s glory. 100
And someone from Pelias’ faction ascribes these deeds to magic
And has a following who believes him:
“It wasn’t Aeson’s son who did this feat; no, the Colchian daughter of
Aeetes removed the fleece of Phrixus’ ram.”
Neither your mother Alcimede—go ask her—nor your father 105
Approves of a daughter-in-law from the icy tundra.
Let her go find a husband from the Tanais, the marshy fen of
Scythia, the place where the river Phasis begins to flow.
Son of Aeson, more fickle and inconstant than springtime breezes,
Why do your words lack their promised weight? 110
You left here my husband, so why did you not return as my husband?
Now that you are back, I should be your spouse just as I was when you left!
If high birth and noble titles move you, look,
I am said to be the daughter of Thoas, the grandson of Minos.
[My grandfather is Bacchus; Bacchus’ wife wears a crown, 115
Her stars outshining the lesser constellations.]
You will have Lemnos as my dowry, a land that farmers find fertile;
You can count me as part of the dowry as well.
I have given birth, too; be happy for the both of us, Jason:
Sweet was the burden of pregnancy given to me by the father. 120
I was fortunate in the number, too; by Lucina’s favor I had
Twin offspring, two children to bind us.
If you ask who they look like, well, your features are seen in them.
They know not how to deceive, but they their father’s other traits.
I almost had them carried to you to plead on behalf of their mother, 125
But then the thought of their savage stepmother stopped me in my tracks.
I feared Medea. Medea is more than just a stepmother.
Medea’s hands are suited for every crime.
Is the woman who could scatter over the earth her brother’s mangled
Body likely to spare my children? 130
You witless man, whose judgment has been stolen away by Colchian magic,
This is the women men will later say you preferred to Hypsipyle’s bed!
This maiden shamefully had her first romp with a married man!
It was a chaste marriage that gave me to you and you to me.
She betrayed her father; I saved my father Thoas from slaughter. 135
She abandoned Colchis; I still live on my native Lemnos.
But what does all of this matter, if a wicked woman has beaten a devoted wife,
If her dowry is the very crime by which she won her husband’s affection?
I do not condone the Lemnian women’s crime, but I understand it, Jason:
Resentment will drive even the weakest to pick up arms. 140
Come now, tell me: if you and your companion had been driven by
Unfriendly winds into my harbor—as should have been the case—
And if I had gone out to meet you with my twin boys in tow,
No doubt you would have asked the earth to open up beneath you!
What look, villain, would you have worn when you saw me and my children? 145
What would have been a suitable death for your treachery?
I would have spared you, allowed you to live safe and sound,
Not because you deserved it, but because I am merciful.
But as for your mistress—with her blood would I have glutted my eyes
And those eyes of yours that she stole away with her magic. 150
I would have been Medea to Medea! But if great and just Jupiter
Gives some answer to my prayers from on high,
I pray that, as Hypsipyle now mourns, the usurper of her bed
May grieve herself and lose at her own game,
And, just as I, a wife and a mother of two, am abandoned, 155
After two children may she too be robbed of her husband.
May she not long hold on to her ill-gotten gains but lose them more miserably;
May she be exiled and seek refuge throughout the world.
May she be as harsh to her children and husband as she was once
A sister to her brother, a daughter to her suffering parent. 160
And when she has exhausted the earth and sea, let her try the sky;
May she wander helpless, hopeless, bloodied by her slaughter.
These curses I, Thoas’ daughter, cheated out of her husband, call down.
Live on you two, bride and husband—in your cursed bed!


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