(Translated by R. Scott Smith)
Are you reading this through? Or is your new wife preventing
Read it through—it hasn’t been written by the hand of a Mycenean.
No, the fountain-nymph Oenone, well-known to Phrygia’s forests,
Complains that she has been injured by you who are, if you permit, mine.
What god has used his powers to oppose my prayers? 5
What accusation against me prevents me from remaining yours?
Suffering, if deserved, must be accepted without complaint;
But punishment that comes upon the undeserving comes painfully.
You were not so important when I contented myself to marry you,
Though I am a nymph sprung from a mighty river. 10
Though you are Priam’s son now, with all due respect,
You were a slave. I, a nymph, consented to marrying a slave.
Often we took our rest beneath the cover of a tree amidst our flocks;
Grass mixed with foliage provided us a bed.
Often we lay upon a cot made of deep hay, 15
Protected from the hoary frost by only a humble cottage.
Who was it who showed you what woods were great for hunting
Or where wild animals sheltered their young beneath a rocky ledge?
I often helped you set out your widely-meshed nets;
Often I spurred on the dogs, drove them along the broad ridges. 20
The beech-tree carved by you preserves my name.
“Oenone” it reads, cut by your pruning knife.
[It is a poplar tree, I recall, situated on the bank of a flowing rivulet
Where an inscription commemorates our love.]
As the trunk grows, so too does my name— 25
Grow! Rise upward to remember my place of honor!
I pray that you live on, o poplar, that stand beside the river,
And bear this poem on your wrinkled bark:
when Paris shall be able to breathe without Oenone,
Xanthus’ waters shall turn and flow upstream. 30
Xanthus, make haste upstream! Waters, turn and flow backwards!
Though Oenone is forsaken, Paris lives on.
That day sealed my pitiful fate; on that day
Began the darkest winter of scorned love,
When Venus, Juno and a nude Minerva (she’d be more pleasing 35
With armor on) came to your judgment.
When you told me, I was stunned, my heart began to flutter,
An icy chill raced through my hard bones.
I consulted (my fears were not slight) both old women and
Elderly men—all agreed it did not bode well. 40
Fir trees were felled, hewn into timbers, and the fleet was readied.
The dark-hued waters received the wax-caulked ships.
You wept as you left—spare your denials of this, at least.
Your current love is more embarrassing than ours of the past.
You wept and looked into my eyes as I wept. 45
Both of us entwined our tears and grief.
You clasped your arms around my neck more closely than
Clinging vines embrace elm trees.
When you kept griping that you were being detained by the wind—ah,
How often your comrades laughed, for the wind was blowing out! 50
How often you, after dismissing me, called me back for more kisses,
How hard it was for your tongue to say ‘farewell’!
Then a light breeze lifted the sails that hung from unbending mast;
Churned by the oars, the waters grew white.
Unhappily I followed with my eyes the departing sails as long as I was able, and 55
The sand beneath my feet grew wet with tears.
I prayed that the sea-green Nereids would bring you back quickly;
Of course, to bring you back quickly to my ruin.
Did you return in answer to my prayers only to come back for another?
Alas, I won over the gods, all for your awful lover! 60
A natural breakwater looks out over the boundless deep,
The size of a mountain, and resists the powerful breakers from the sea.
From here I was the first to recognize the sails of your ship, and
I felt the urge to wade through the waves to you.
As I checked my step, I caught a glimpse of purple on deck. 65
I was horrified—that was not your manner of dress!
The ship approached under a swift wind and came onto dry land;
With trembling heart I espied a young woman’s cheeks.
Hadn’t I seen enough? What mad reason kept me from leaving?
That loathesome girlfriend clung to your chest! 70
I tore at my dress and beat my breast, and
With hard fingernails I marred my dripping cheeks,
I filled sacred Ida with wailing howls of lamentation and
Then I took my tears away to the rocks I haunt.
Thus may Helen one day lament as I do and grieve after losing her husband. 75
May she endure what she first brought upon me.
Those sorts of women who follow you over the open seas,
Who desert their lawfully wedded hubsands may suit you now,
But you were poor once, a simple herdsman driving flocks around—
You had no wife except Oenone in your days of poverty. 80
I do not admire wealth; your royal house does not impress me,
Nor would I be addressed as one of Priam’s many daughters-in-law.
Not, mind you, that Priam would refuse to be related to a nymph,
Nor would I be the sort of kin Hecuba would wish to deny.
I am a wife who is worthy of a sovereign; 85
In my hands a scepter naturally belongs.
So don’t despise me because I used to lie with you upon beech-leaves;
I am better suited to lie on a purple-strewn bed.
Finally, my love is safe—over me no one prepares for
War; no avenging ships sail across the seas for me. 90
But Tyndareus’ runaway daughter is sought back with hostile arms;
It is with this dowry that your proud wife comes into your bedchamber.
Perhaps you should ask your brother Hector, or Polydamas or Deiphobus
Whether she ought to be returned to the Greeks.
Ask what solemn Antenor or what Priam himself might advise— 95
Experience has been their teacher over many years.
Your first venture in life was a disgrace, putting booty before your country!
Your cause is shameful; the war her husband incites is just.
And, if you’ve got any sense, you won’t count on that Spartan girl remaining
Faithful—think how quickly she turned from his to your embraces! 100
Just as Atreus’ younger son bewails the violation of his marriage bed,
As he grieves in outrage over his wife’s love for another,
You too shall wail. Chastity once betrayed cannot be
Repaired by any means. It is lost once and for all.
She burns with love for you, does she? She once felt the same for Menelaus. 105
Now he, all too naive, lies in a deserted bed.
Lucky Andromache: she is in a good marriage with a steadfast husband.
I should have married someone like your brother.
But you are more inconstant than the leaves fluttering in the shifting
Winds, weightless and withered dry. 110
You are as insubstantial as a stalk of wheat that stands stiff,
Scorched light and dry by countless days of sun.
I remember! This is what your sister’s song foretold,
When she was in a prophetic trance, her hair let loose:
“What are you doing? Why do you consign seed to sand? 115
You are plowing with oxen beaches that will come to naught!
A Greek heifer comes who will be your ruin, and that of your house and
Homeland! Hark! keep her off! The Greek heifer comes!
While you can, plunge that abominable ship into the deep—
Alas, how much Phrygian blood does she import!” 120
She was still speaking when her attendants siezed her in her frenzy;
But my golden hair bristled straight up on end.
Ah, you were all too true a prophet for a miserable wretch like me—
Behold! That heifer has seized possession of my pastures!
However comely she may be in appearance, she is still an adulteress; 125
Seduced by her guest, she deserted her kindred gods.
A certain Theseus—unless I am mistaken of the name—
Theseus once before stole her from her homeland.
You don’t think that a young and lusty man returned her a virgin, do you?
You wish to know how I know all this so well? I’m in love. 130
Though you may call it rape and conceal her fault under some name,
A woman abducted so many times has offered herself up to be abducted.
But Oenone remains faithful to you, her deceitful husband,
Though you too could have fallen victim to the rules by which you play.
When I was hiding under the forest’s awning, I was the object of 135
A frantic hunt by swift-hooved Satyrs—brazen mob of beasts—and
Faunus, his horn-bearing head ringed with prickly pine,
Along the massive ridges of high-surging Ida.
I was the object of Troy’s builder, the one known by his lyre.
He took and owns the spoils of my virginity, 140
And with a struggle at that! I managed to claw and tear out his hair.
My fingers made his face rough with scratches.
I did not demand compensation for ravishing me, no gems or gold
(It is disgraceful for a free-born body to be bought with presents).
No, he thought I was worthy of learning his medicinal skills. 145
He was the one who placed my hands on his gifts.
If anywhere on this wide world grows a plant with the power to aid,
Or a root potent in a healer’s hand, it falls beneath my power.
All the worse for me! Love cannot be cured by any plant.
I have been deserted by a skill which I know all too well. 150
[The inventor of the skill (they say) feared Pheraean heifers,
And was driven to be lovesick by our fire.]
But the cure that neither the fruitful earth, for all its fertile powers,
Nor god could produce, you can bring to me.
You can, and I have earned it. Take pity on a girl who deserves it. 155
I do not bring bloody arms along with Greeks—
Yours I am; with you I stood in our childhood days.
Yours I pray that I remain forevermore.
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