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Heroides by Ovid


by Ovid

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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387343,169 (3.9)11
In the twenty-one poems of the Heroides, Ovid gave voice to the heroines and heroes of epic and myth. These deeply moving literary epistles reveal the happiness and torment of love, as the writers tell of their pain at separation, forgiveness of infidelity or anger at betrayal. The faithful Penelope wonders at the suspiciously long absence of Ulysses, while Dido bitterly reproaches Aeneas for too eagerly leaving her bed to follow his destiny, and Sappho - the only historical figure portrayed here - describes her passion for the cruelly rejecting Phaon. In the poetic letters between Paris and Helen the lovers seem oblivious to the tragedy prophesied for them, while in another exchange the youthful Leander asserts his foolhardy eagerness to risk his life to be with his beloved Hero.… (more)



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31. Heroides by Ovid, translated by Harold Isbell
original date: circa 16 bce
translated 1990
format: Paperback
acquired: Half-Price Books in October 2016
read: July 8-22
rating: 4

There are, apparently, many different Ovids, or he was a writer who worked in multiple distinctly independent styles. I would have said that differently if I hadn't started Metamorphoses before reviewing, and I would have had a vastly different impression of this if I hadn't read Amores and The Art of Love beforehand. Ovid's love poems introduced me to a hyper-witty and hyper-clever really knowledgeable but insincere poet. This was not that voice.

Heroides is a collection of letters written mainly by spurned heroines in Greek mythology to lovers. Fifteen of the letters come from the likes Penelope, Ariadne or Medea, or more obscure women like Laodamia to Protestilaus or Canace to Marcareus. The sixteenth letter comes from Sappho. And six more are back and forth with lovers. Paris writes Helen to woo her, and Helen writes back with what amounts to something that is not no. And so on.

I'm sure the modern ear can find much to make fun of, and any reader in any age will easily pick up the many levels of satire. But, oddly, these aspects don't color these letters. On the surface they are sincere. The heavy satire is mostly in the situations, the set-up if you like. The letters themselves are straightforward... often romantic, even when or because they are bitter. And they are occasionally moving. Laodamia's letter to Protestilaus stands out. In mythology Protestilaus leaves for Troy shortly after their marriage, and becomes the first casualty in the Trojan war. He is brought back to life for three hours to see Laodamia, who afterward commits suicide. She writes this letter as an unknowing widow. I found it a memorable and touching letter of love, bitter in its irony and yet tangible. Phyllus writes to Demophoon who, when she fell for him only to be abandoned, was not only hurt, but ruined. And she writes longingly.

A note about the translator, Harold Isbell. There are many oddities about him that give me pause. He was a bank director, not a professor. He provides a summary of each major character, a wonderful resource, but they are iffy and partial summaries. Each is simplified leaving a clean and often appealing impression, but one that may contradict or disregard major versions of these stories. His citations of ancient literature are incomplete and a bit haphazard. And, despite all his notes, he never once brings up anything about the translation or original Latin. But, I really enjoyed reading this. So... ??

Ariadne to Theseus

You would have died in the twisting halls without
the string that I gave to be your guide.
You said to me, 'I swear by these perils that
as long as we live, you will be mine.'
We are alive, Theseus, but I am not yours;


Laodamia to Protestilaus

I'm told the winds detain you at Aulis;
where were these winds when you sailed from me?
Then the tides should have risen against your oars;
then was the time for a raging surf.
I could have kissed my lord and given him more
requests, I wanted to say so much.
But you were hurried away by a wind your
crew loved; it was not a lover's wind.


Leander to Hero (across the water)

she is so near, but 'almost' starts tears.
  dchaikin | Jul 29, 2017 |
I'd never thought about reading more by Ovid, and then I came across The Heroides while showing someone else the wonders of my city's central library. (Before I knew it, I had a stack of nine books in my arms, despite the fact I'm about to go visit my parents via train, meaning I can't carry that many books.) Anyway, I was delighted to find this, and it's a nice edition too, with explanations of all the myths and extensive notes (which for the most part I don't need, but which were a handy refresher when I couldn't quite remember) and introductions to each poem. The translation seems good to me, in that it's readable and flows well, and doesn't get in the way of experiencing the poems.

In a way it seems almost a modern, feminist thing to do, giving these female heroines the space to make their complaints (though some of the poems are 'written' by men, they are the ones paired with a female response). Penelope voices her worries about Odysseus' long absence -- something I remember all the girls in my class being offended about on her behalf, since he spends most of the time in Circe and Calypso's beds. Medea pours out her outrage, Dido her heartbreak; Phaedra tries to manipulate Hippolytus into her arms. Not all of them are exactly wonderful women -- Medea is downright wicked -- but they're all given a chance to speak of their pain and the wrongs done to them. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (55 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ovidprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bornecque, HenriEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cannon, Harold C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Isbell, HaroldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prévost, MarcelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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