Ovid: The Poet’s Gift

Like the woman carried by the ships from Eurotas
to Troy, the cause of war between two husbands:
like Leda to whom the adulterous god made love,
craftily hidden, disguised in white plumage:
like Amymome wandering through arid fields,
with a water-pot on top of her head –
such were you: I feared eagles and bulls, for you,
and whatever else great Jupiter might make love as.
Now all fear’s gone, my mind is healed of error,
now your beauty can’t captivate my eyes.
Why am I changed, you ask? Because you want gifts.
That’s the cause that stops you from pleasing me.
Once you were innocent, I loved you body and soul:
now your beauty’s flawed by this defect of mind.
Love is a child and naked: without the shabbiness of age
and without clothing, so he’s all openness.
Why tell Venus’s son to sell himself for cash?
Where can he keep cash, he’s got no clothes!
Neither Venus nor Venus’s son carry arms –
unwarlike gods don’t merit soldier’s pay.
Even the whore who’s buyable for money,
and seeks alas to command wealth with her body:
nevertheless curses a grasping pimp’s orders,
and is forced to do, what you do by choice.
Think about unreasoning creatures for example:
it’s a disgrace, if the beasts are better natured than you.
Mares don’t ask gifts of stallions, cows of bulls:
rams don’t capture pleasing ewes with gifts.
Only a woman delights in taking spoils from her mate,
only she hires out her nights, comes for a price,
and sells what this one demands, what that one seeks,
or gives it as a gift, to please herself.
When making love pleases both partners alike,
why should she sell and the other buy?
When a man and a woman perform a joint act
why should the pleasure hurt me and profit you?
It’s wrong for witnesses to perjure themselves for gain,
it’s wrong to open the purse of the chosen judges.
It’s a disgrace to defend the accused with a bought tongue:
a disgraceful court makes itself wealthy:
it’s wrong to swell family wealth with the bed’s proceeds,
or prostitute your good looks for money.
un-purchased, things deserve our thanks, on merit:
no thanks for the evil of a bought bed.
The buyer loosens all bonds: freed by payment
he no longer remains a debtor in your service.
Beware, you beauties, bargaining gifts for a night:
you’ll have no good outcome from sordid presents.
Sabine bracelets weren’t worth so much
when weapons pressed down on the sacred virgin’s head:
and Eriphyle died, her son’s sword through her body,
a necklace the reason for her punishment.
Still there’s nothing unworthy in asking gifts of the rich:
those who can give have presents demanded of them.
Pick your grapes from the most loaded vines:
Alcinous’s fruitful orchard offers its apples!
Count on a poor man for duty, loyalty, devotion:
what a man has, let him gather it all for his lady.
My gift then’s to celebrate worthy girls in my song:
those that I wish, are made famous by my art.
dresses crumble, gold and gems are worn down:
but the tribute of song brings eternal fame.
It’s not giving, it’s being asked for a gift I loathe and scorn:
Stop wanting what I refuse to supply, and I’ll give!


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