SING, and sing again Io Pæan! The quarry that I was hot upon hath fallen into my toils. Let the joyous lover set the laurel crown upon my brow and raise me to a loftier pinnacle than Hesiod of Ascra or the blind old bard of Mæonia. Thus did Priam’s son, crowding on all sail in his flight from warlike Amyclæ, bear with him his ravished bride; and thus, too, Hippodamia, did Pelops, in his victorious chariot, carry thee far from thy native land.
Young man, why wilt thou haste so fast? Thy vessel sails the open sea, and the harbour to which I am steering thee is still far off. It sufficieth not that my verses have brought thy mistress to thine arms; my art hath taught thee how to win her; it must also teach thee how to keep her. Though it be glorious to make. conquests, it is still more glorious to retain them. The former is sometimes the work of chance, the latter is always the work of skill.
Queen of Cythera, and thou her son, if ever ye looked with kindly eye upon me, ’tis, above all, to-day that of your succour I have need. And thee too, Erato, I invoke, for ’tis, from love thou dost derive thy name. Great is the enterprise I have in mind. I am going to tell how Love, that fickle child, may captured be; Love that is wandering up and down in this wide world of ours. Airy is he, possessed of wings to fly withal. How shall we stay his flight?
Minos had left no stone unturned to prevent the escape of his stranger-guest. Yet he dared, with wings, to cleave himself a way. When Dædalus had imprisoned
the monster half-man, half-bull, that his erring mother had conceived, he spoke to Minos saying, “O thou who art so just, set a term to my exile; let my native land receive my ashes. If the Fates forbid that I should live in my own country, grant at least that I may die there. Grant that my son may return to his home, even if his father beseeches thee in vain. Or if thou hast no pity for the child, let thy compassion light upon the father.” Thus spake Dædalus; but in vain he tried with these and many other words like these, to touch the heart of Minos; inexorable, he was deaf to all his prayers. Seeing his supplications were of no avail, he said to himself, “Behold, here is indeed a chance for thee to prove thy ingenuity. Minos rules the land, and rules the waves; ’tis useless then on sea or land to seek escape. There remains the air; and through the air I’ll cleave me a way. Great Jove, pardon the rashness of my under taking. ’Tis not my aim to raise myself to the skyish dwellings of the gods; but there is for me one means, and one alone, whereby I may escape the tyrant. If there were a way across the Styx, the Stygian waters I would not fear to cross. Grant me then to change the laws that rule my nature.”
Misfortune ofttimes stimulates invention. Who would ever have thought a man could voyage through the air! Nevertheless, ’tis true that Dædalus wrought himself wings with feathers cunningly disposed like oars, and with thread did fix his flimsy work together. The lower part he bound with wax melted by the fire. And now behold the strange and wondrous work is finished! The boy, with a joyous smile, handles the feathers and the wax, witting not that the wings are destined for his own shoulders. “Behold,” cried his father, “the craft that shall bear us to our native land; by its means we shall escape from Minos. Though Minos may have closed all roads to us, he cannot close the highways of the air. Cleave then the air, while still thou mayest,
with this my handiwork. But take heed thou draw not too nigh the Virgin of Tegea, or to Orion, who, girt with his sword, doth bear Boötes company. Shape thy course on mine. I will lead the way; be content to follow me; with me to guide thee, thou wilt have nought to fear. For, if in our airy flight we soared too near the sun, the wax of our wings would never bear the heat, and if we flew too low, the moisture of the sea would weight our wings and make them over-heavy for us to move. Fly then midway between; and O, my son, beware the winds. Whithersoever they may blow, thither let them waft thee.” Thus he spake, and fitted the wings upon his son’s young shoulders and showed him how to move them, even as the mother bird teaches her feeble fledglings how to fly. That done, he fixes wings on to his own shoulders and, half eager, half timid, launches himself on the unfamiliar track. Ere he begins his flight, he kisses his son, and down the old man’s cheeks the tears unbidden flow.
Not far from there, stands a hill, which, though less lofty than a mountain, doth yet command the plain. It was from there that they launched themselves on their perilous flight. Dædalus, as he moves his own wings, gazes back at his son’s, yet nevertheless keeps steadily on his airy course. At first the novelty of their flight enchants them; and ere long, casting all fear aside, Icarus grows more daring and essays a bolder sweet. A fisherman, about to land a fish with his slender rod, perceives them, and straightway lets it fall. Already they have left Samos behind on the left, and Naxos, and Paros, and Delos dear to Apollo. On their right they have Lebinthos, Calymna shaded with woods, and Astypalæa girdled with pools where fish abound; when lo, young Icarus, growing rash with boyish daring, steers a loftier course and leaves his father. The bonds of his wings relax, the wax melts as the sun grows near, and vainly he waves his arms,
they cannot catch the delicate air. Stricken with terror, he looks down from the lofty heavens upon the sea beneath. A darkness born of panic overspreads his eyes. And now the wax has melted, he tosses his naked arms and quakes with fear, for nought is there to upstay him. Down and down he falls, and in his falling cries, “Father, O Father, all is over with me!” And the green waters sealed his mouth for ever. But the unhappy father–a father now no longer–cried, “Icarus, where art thou? Beneath what regions of the sky steerest thou thy flight? Icarus, Icarus,” he cried and cried again, when lo, on the waste of waters he descried his wings. The land received the bones of Icarus; the sea retains his name.
Minos was powerless to stay a mortal’s flight. I am essaying to hold a winged god. If anyone deems there is any virtue in magic or in potions, he sadly errs. Neither the herbs of Medea nor the incantations of the Marsi will make love endure. If there were any potency in magic, Medea would have held the son of Æson, Circe would have held Ulysses. Philtres, too, that make the face grow pale, are useless when administered to women. They harm the brain and bring on madness. Away with such criminal devices! If you’d be loved, be worthy to be loved. Good looks and a good figure are not enough for that. Though you were Nireus, praised long ago by Homer; ay, were you young Hylas, snatched away by the guilty Naiads, if you would hold your mistress and not one day to be taken aback and find she’s left you, add accomplishments of the mind to advantages of the person. Beauty is a fleeting boon; it fades with the passing years, and the longer it lives, the more surely it dies. The violets and wide-cupped lilies bloom not for ever, and, once the rose has blown, its naked stem shows only thorns. Thus, my fair youth, thy hair will soon grow white, and wrinkles soon will line thy face with furrows; so set thy beauty off with
talents that shall mock at time; ’tis they alone will last unto the grave. Study the refinements of life, and enrich yourself with the treasures of the Greek and Latin tongues. Ulysses was not handsome, but he was eloquent, and two goddesses were tortured with love for him. How often Calypso groaned when she beheld him preparing to depart, and how she kept telling him that the waves would not suffer him to set sail. Times without number she asked him to tell her o’er again the story of the fall of Troy, times without number he would retell it in a new form. One day they were standing on the seashore: the fair nymph was begging him to tell her how the king of Thrace met his cruel death. Ulysses, with a twig which he chanced to have in his hand, drew her a plan upon the sand. “See, here is Troy,” he said, tracing the line of the ramparts. “Here runs the Simois. Say this is my camp, farther along is the plain” (and he drew it) “which we stained with the blood of Dolon who tried to steal the horses of Achilles by night. There stood the tents of Rhesus, king of Thrace, and it was along there that I rode back with the horses that had been stolen from him.” And so he was going on with his narrative, when suddenly a wave came and washed away Troy and Rhesus, together with his camp. Then said the goddess, “Seest thou what famous names these waves have swept away, and dost thou hope they will be kind to thee when thou settest sail?”
Well then, whoever you may be, put not too great a trust in the deceptive charm of beauty. Take care to possess something more than mere physical comeliness. What works wonders with the women is an ingratiating manner. Brusqueness and harsh words only promote dislike. We hate the hawk because it spends its life in fighting; and we hate the wolf that falls upon the timid flocks. But man snares not the swallow because it is gentle, and he suffers the dove to make its home in
towers that he has built. Away with all strife and bitterness of speech. Pleasant words are the food of love. It is by quarrels that a woman estranges her husband, and a husband his wife. They imagine that in acting so they are paying each other out in their own coin. Leave them to it. Quarrels are the dowry which married folk bring one another. But a mistress should only hear agreeable things. It is not the law that has landed you in bed together. Your law, the law for you and her, is Love. Never approach her but with soft caresses and words that soothe her ear, so that she may always rejoice at your coming.
’Tis is not to the rich that I would teach the art of Love. A man who can give presents has no need of any lessons I can teach him. He has wit enough, and to spare, if he can say when he pleases, “Accept this gift.” I give him best. His means are mightier than mine. I am the poor man’s poet; because I am poor myself and I have known what it is to be in love. Not being able to pay them in presents, I pay my mistresses in poetry. The poor man must be circumspect in his love-affairs; he mustn’t permit himself to use strong language; he must put up with many things that a rich lover would never endure. Once I remember in a fit of ill-temper I ruffled my mistress’s hair. It was a fit that robbed me of many and many a happy day. I did not notice that I had torn her dress, and I do not believe I had; but she said I had, and I was obliged to buy her another one. Good friends, be wiser than your master; don’t do as he does, or, if you do, look out for squalls. Make war on the Parthians to your heart’s content, but live at peace with your mistress; have recourse to playfulness and to whatever may excite love.
If your mistress is ungracious and off-hand in her manner towards you, bear it with patience; she’ll soon come round. If you bend a branch carefully and gently, it won’t break. If you tug at it suddenly with all your
might, you’ll snap it off. If you let yourself go with the stream, you’ll get across the river in time, but if you try to swim against the tide, you’ll never do it. Patience will soften tigers and Numidian lions; and slowly and surely you may accustom the bull to the rustic plough. What woman was ever more tameless than Atalanta of Nonacris; yet, for all her arrogance, she yielded at length to a lover’s tender assiduities. They say that many a time, beneath the trees, Milanion wept at his mishaps and at his mistress’s unkindness. Often upon his neck he bore, as he was bid, the treacherous toils; and often with his spear he pierced the savage boars. He was even struck by the arrows of Hylæus, but other darts, which were, alas, but too well known to him, had dealt him sorer wounds than that.
I do not bid thee climb, armed with thy bow, the woody heights of Mænalus, or carry heavy nets upon thy back. I do not bid thee bare thy breast to a foeman’s arrows. If only thou art prudent, thou wilt find my precepts are not over-hard to carry out. If she’s obstinate, let her have her way, and you’ll get the better of her in the end. Only whatever she tells you to do, be sure you do it. Blame what she blames; like what she likes; say what she says; deny what she denies. If she smiles, smile too; if she sheds tears, shed them too. In a word, model your mood on hers. If she wants to play draughts, play badly on purpose and let her win the game. If you’re playing dice, don’t let her be piqued at losing, but make it look as though your luck was always out. If your battle-field’s the chessboard, see to it that your men of glass are mown down by the foe.
Be sure and hold her parasol over her; and clear a way for her if she’s hemmed in by the crowd; fetch a stool to help her on to the couch; and unlace or lace up the sandals on her dainty feet. And then, though you perish with cold yourself, you will often have to
warm your mistress’s icy hands in your bosom. And you mustn’t mind, although it does seem a little undignified, holding up her mirror, like any slave, for her to look in. Why Hercules himself, who performed such mighty feats of bravery and strength, who won a seat in the Olympian realms he had carried on his shoulders, is said to have dwelt among the Ionian maids as one of them, to have held the work-basket and have spun coarse wool. The Tirynthian hero obeyed his mistress’s commands; and will you hesitate to endure what he endured?
If your lady-love arranges to meet you in the Forum, be there well before the appointed time, and wait and wait till the very last minute. If she asks you to meet her somewhere else, leave everything and hurry off; don’t let the crowd hinder you. If, at night, after she’s been dining out, she calls a slave to see her home, be quick, offer your services. If you are in the country, and she writes saying, ” Come at once,” go to her, for Love brooks no delay. If you can’t get a conveyance, then you must foot it. Nothing should stop you: thunder, heat, snow, nothing!
Love is like warfare. “Faint heart never won fair lady”; poltroons are useless in Love’s service. The night, winter, long marches, cruel suffering, painful toil, all these things have to be borne by those who fight in Love’s campaigns. Apollo, when he tended the herds of Admetus, dwelt, so ’tis said, in a humble cottage. Who would blush to do as Apollo did? If you would love long and well, you must put away pride. If the ordinary, safe route to your mistress is denied you, if her door is shut against you, climb up on to the roof and let yourself down by the chimney, or the skylight. How it will please her to know the risks you’ve run for her sake! ‘Twill be an earnest of your love. Leander could often have done without his mistress, but he swam the strait to prove his courage.
Nor must you think it beneath your dignity to ingratiate yourself with her servants, even the humblest of them; greet each of them by name, and take their servile hands in yours. Give them (it will not cost you much) such presents as you can afford; and when the festival of Juno Caprotina comes round, make a handsome present to the lady’s-maid. Get on good terms with the occupants of the servants’ hall, and don’t forget the porter or the slave that sleeps beside your lady’s door.
I don’t advise you to make costly presents to your mistress; offer her a few trifles, but let them be well chosen and appropriate to the occasion. When the country is displaying all its lavish riches, and the branches of the trees are bending beneath their load, set some young slave to leave a basket of fruit at her door. You can say they come from your place in the country, though in reality you purchased them in Rome. Send her grapes or chestnuts beloved of Amaryllis; though the modern Amaryllis is no longer satisfied with chestnuts. Or, again, a present of thrushes or pigeons will prove that you have her still in mind. I know, of course, that this same policy is followed by the expectant legatees of some rich and childless dame. Out on such mean and calculating generosity, say I! Shall I also advise you to send poetry as well? Alas, verses don’t count for much. Verses come in for praise; but they really like gifts that are more substantial than that. Even a barbarian, if only he is rich, is sure to find favour. This is the golden age in very truth. Gold will buy the highest honours; and gold will purchase love. Homer himself, even if he came attended by the nine Muses, would promptly be shown the door if he brought no money to recommend him. Nevertheless, there are some cultured women, but they are rare. There are others who are not cultured but who wish to appear so. You must praise them both in your poetry. Whatever
the quality of your lines, you may make them sound well if you know how to read them with effect. Indeed, if the lines be well composed and well delivered, the ladies will perhaps deign to regard them as a trifling, a very trifling, present.
Now, when you have determined to do something that you think will be of service, persuade your mistress to ask you to do it. If you have made up your mind to free one of your slaves, see that he addresses his petition to her; if you’ve resolved not to punish another slave for some neglect of duty, see that it is she who gets the credit for this act of clemency. You’ll get the benefit, she’ll get the glory. You’ll lose nothing, and she’ll think she can twist you round her little finger.
If you want to keep your mistress’s love, you must make her think you’re dazzled with her charms. If she wears a dress of Tyrian purple, tell her there’s nothing like Tyrian purple. If she’s wearing a gown of Coan stuff, tell her that there’s nothing becomes her so enchantingly. If she’s ablaze with gold, tell her that you think gold’s less brilliant than her charms. If she’s clad in winter furs, tell her they’re lovely; if she appears in a flimsy tunic, tell her she sets you on fire, and say you hope she won’t catch cold. If she wears her hair parted on her forehead, say you like that style. If she has it frizzed and fuzzy, say, “How I love it frizzed!” Praise her arms when she dances, her voice when she sings, and when she ceases, say how sorry you are it came to an end so soon. If she admits you to her bed, adore the seat of all your bliss, and in tones trembling with delight tell her what a heaven she makes for you. Why, even if she were grimmer than the terrible Medusa, she would grow soft and docile for her love. Be a good dissembler and never let your face belie your words. Artifice is a fine thing when it’s not perceived; once it’s discovered, discomfiture follows. Confidence is gone for ever.
Often when the autumn is at hand, when the earth is adorned with all its charms, when the ruddy grape swells with its purple juice, when we feel alternately a nipping cold or an oppressive heat, this variation of temperature throws us into a state of languor. May your mistress then retain her health. But if some indisposition should compel her to keep her bed, if she falls a victim to the evil effects of the season, then is the time for you to show her how attentive and loving you can be; then is the time to sow the seeds of the harvest you may gather later on. Be not deterred by the attentions her malady demands. Render her whatever services she will deign to accept; let her behold you shedding tears of compassion; never let her see you do not want to kiss her, and let her parched lips be moistened with your tears; say how you hope she’ll soon be well again, and be sure to let her hear you saying it, and always be prepared to tell her you have had a dream of happy augury. Let some old grandam, with trembling hands, come and sweeten her bed and purify her room with sulphur and the expiatory eggs. She will store up the memory of these kindnesses in her heart. Many a time have people had legacies bequeathed them for such trifling things as that. But be careful not to display too much anxiety. Do not be over-busy. Your affection and solicitude should have their limits. Don’t make it your business to restrict her diet, or tell her she mustn’t eat this or that. Don’t bring her nasty medicine to drink; leave all that to your rival.
But the wind to which you spread your sails when leaving port is not the wind you need when you are sailing the open sea. Love is delicate at birth; it becomes stronger with use. Feed it with the proper food, and it will grow sturdy in time. The bull that frightens you to-day, you used to stroke when it was young. The tree that shelters you beneath its shade was once but a frail sapling. A slender rivulet at its
source, the river gathers size little by little, and, as it flows, is swollen with innumerable tributaries. See to it that thy mistress grows accustomed to thee: nothing is so potent as habit. To win her heart, let no trouble be too great. Let her see you continually; let her hear none but you. Day and night be present to her sight. But when you are sure that she will long for you, then leave her alone, so that your absence may give her some anxiety. Let her repose awhile: the soil that is given a rest renders with usury the seed that’s planted in it, and the ground that is parched greedily soaks in the water from the skies. As long as Phyllis had Demophoön at her side, her love for him was lukewarm. No sooner had he set sail, than she was consumed with passion for him. Ulysses, shrewd man, tortured Penelope by his absence, and with thy tears, Laodamia, didst thou yearn for the return of Protesilaus.
But be on the safe side; don’t stay away too long; time softens the pangs of longing. Out of sight, out of mind. The absent lover is soon forgotten, and another takes his place. When Menelaus had departed, Helen grew weary of her lonely couch and sought warmth and consolation in the arms of her guest. Ah! Menelaus, what a fool wast thou! Alone didst thou depart, leaving thy wife beneath the same roof with a stranger. Fool, ’twas like delivering up the timid dove to the devouring kite, or surrendering the lamb to the hungry wolf. No, Helen was not to blame; her lover was not guilty; she was afraid to lie alone. Let Menelaus think what he will; Helen, in my view, was not to blame; all she did was to profit by her most accommodating husband.
But the fierce boar, in its wildest rage, when, making his last stand, he rolls the fleet hounds over and over; the lioness, when she offers her dugs to the cubs that she is suckling; the viper that the wayfarer has trodden upon with careless foot–all are less redoubtable than
the woman who has caught another woman in her husband’s bed. Her face is distorted with fury. The sword, the firebrand, anything that comes to her hand, she will seize. Casting all restraint aside, she will rush at her foe like a Mænad driven mad by the Aonian god. The barbarous Medea took vengeance on her own children for Jason’s misdeeds and for his violation of the nuptial bond; that swallow that you see yonder was also an unnatural mother. See, her breast still bears the stain of blood. Thus do the happiest, the most firmly welded, unions fail. A cautious lover should beware of exciting these jealous furies.
Do not imagine that I am going to act the rigid moralist and condemn you to love but one mistress. The gods forbid. Even a married woman finds it difficult to keep such a vow as that. Take your fill of amusement, but cast the veil of modesty over your peccadilloes. Never make a parade of your good fortune, and never give a woman a present that another woman will recognise. Vary the time and place of your assignations, lest one of them catch you in some familiar place of rendezvous. When you write, be sure and read over what you have written; many women read into a letter much more than it is intended to convey.
Venus, when she is wounded, justly retaliates, gives the aggressor blow for blow and makes him feel, in his turn, the pain that he has caused. So long as Atrides was satisfied with his wife, she was faithful to him; her husband’s infidelity drove her from the narrow path. She learned that Chryses, staff in hand and wearing the sacred fillet on his brows, had begged that his daughter should be restored to him, and begged in vain. She learned, O Briseis, of the abduction that pierced your heart with grief, and for what shameful reasons the war was dragging on. Still all this was only hearsay. But with her own eyes she had seen the daughter of Priam, she had, O sight of shame, seen the victor become the
slave of his captive. From that day forth, the daughter of Tyndarus made Ægisthus free of her heart and bed, and took guilty vengeance for her husband’s crime. Yet if, how well soever you may hide them, your secret amours come to light, never hesitate to deny your guilt. Be neither sheepish nor gushing, for these are sure signs of a guilty conscience. But spare no effort and employ all your vigour in the battle of love. It’s the only way to win peace; the only way to convince her of the unreality of her suspicions. Some people would advise you to stimulate your powers with noxious herbs, such as savory, pepper mixed with thistle-seed or yellow fever-few steeped in old wine. In my view these are nothing more nor less than poisons. The goddess, who dwells on the shady slopes of Mount Eryx, approves not such strained and violent means to the enjoyment of her pleasures. Nevertheless, you may take the white onion that comes from Megara and the stimulating plant that grows in our gardens, together with eggs, honey from Hymettus, and the apples of the lofty pine.
But wherefore, divine Erato, do we wander into these details of the Æsculapian art? Let my chariot return to its own particular track. Awhile ago I was counselling you to hide your infidelities: well, turn about, blazon abroad the conquests you have made. The curved ship is not always obedient to the same wind; she fleets o’er the waves, driven now by the North wind, now by the East. Turn by turn, the West wind and the South will fill her sails. Look at that driver on his chariot there. Sometimes he lets his reins hang loose, sometimes, with skilful hand, he restrains the ardour of his fiery steeds. There are lovers whom a hesitant indulgence ill-befriends. Their mistresses begin to languish if the apprehension of a rival comes not to stimulate their affections. Happiness will sometimes make us drunk and render difficult the way of constancy. A little fire will languish if it be not fed, and disappear
beneath the grey ashes that accumulate upon it. But add a little sulphur, and lo, fresh flames will leap and sparkle with new splendour! Thus when the heart grows dull and torpid, apply, if you would wake it into life, the spur of jealousy. Give your mistress something to torment her, and bring new heat into her chilly heart. Let her grow pale at the evidence of your inconstancy. What happiness, what untold happiness is his, whose mistress’s heart is wrung at the thought of her lover’s infidelity. Soon she hears the tidings of his fault; while yet she is fain to hold the news untrue, she swoons and, hapless one, her cheeks grow pale as death, her lips refuse to speak. Oh, would I were that lover! I, whose hair she tears in her wild frenzy, whose face she fiercely scratches with her nails, at whose sight she bursts into floods of tears, but whom she will not, cannot live without! How long, you say, ought one to leave her in despair? Well, hasten to comfort her lest her wrath in the end should harden into bitterness. Hasten to fling thine arms about her snowy neck, and press her tear-stained cheek against thy breast. Kiss away her tears, and with her tears mingle the sweet delights of love. Soon she’ll grow calm; that is the only way to soothe her wrath. When her rage is at its height, when it is open war between you, then beg her to ratify a peace upon her bed; she’ll soon make friends. ’Tis there that, all unarmed, sweet concord dwells; ’tis there, the cradle of forgiveness. The doves that late were fighting, more tenderly will bill and coo; their murmurs seem to tell how true and tender is their love.
Nature, at first, was but a weltering chaos of sky and land and sea. But soon the heavens rose up above the earth, the sea encircled it with a liquid girdle; and from formless chaos issued forth the divers elements. The woods were peopled with wild things, the air with light-wingèd birds; and the fishes hid themselves beneath the deep waters. In those times men wandered lonely over
the face of the earth, and brute strength was their sole resource. The forest was their dwelling-place, the grass their food, dry leaves their bed, and for a long time each man dwelt in ignorance of his fellows. Then came the sweet delights of love, and softened, so they say, these rugged hearts, bringing together man and woman on a single couch. No tutor did they need to tell them what to do; Venus, without recourse to any art, fulfilled her gentle office. The bird has his beloved mate; the fish beneath the waters finds another fish to share his pleasures; the hind follows the stag; the snake mates with the snake; the dog with the bitch; the ewe and the heifer yield themselves with delight to the caresses of the ram and the bull; the goat, noisome though he be, repels not the caresses of his lascivious fellow; the mare, burning with the frenzy of desire, will speed o’er hill and dale, and even through rivers, to join her stallion. Be of good cheer then and employ this potent remedy to calm the anger of thy mistress; ’tis the only sovran cure for her aching sorrow; ’tis a balm sweeter than the juices of Machaon, and if you happen to have erred a little, it will surely bring you pardon.
Such was the burden of my song, when on a sudden Apollo appeared to me and touched with his fingers the chords of a golden lyre; in his hand he bore a branch of laurel; a laurel wreath encircled his brow. Prophetic was his mien and prophetic the voice with which he bade me lead my disciples into his temple. “There,” said he,” you will find this inscription famous throughout the whole world, ‘Man, know thyself.’ The man who knows himself follows ever in his love-affairs the precepts of wisdom. He alone hath wit to adapt his enterprises to his powers. If he is endowed with comely looks, if he has a beautiful skin, let him lie, when he is in bed, with his shoulders uncovered; if he is an attractive talker, let him not maintain a glum silence. If he can sing, let him sing; if the wine makes him merry, let him
drink. But whatever he is, orator, babbler, or fine frenzied poet, don’t let him interrupt the conversation in order to declaim his prose or his verse.” Thus spake Phœbus, and, lovers, you will do well to obey him; nought but the truth ever issued from his god-like lips.
But, to my subject. Whosoever loves wisely and follows the precepts of my art is sure to conquer and to attain the object of his heart’s desire. The furrows do not always repay with interest the seed that has been sown therein; the winds do not always waft the bark – on its uncertain course. Few pleasures, many pains–such is the lot of lovers. Harsh are the trials which they must expect to face. As numerous as the hares on Athos, as the bees on Hybla, as the olives on the tree of Pallas, as the shells upon the seashore, are the sorrows that Love engenders. The arrows he aims at us are steeped in gall. Perhaps they will tell you that your mistress is out, when you know very well she’s in, because you’ve seen her. Never mind, make believe she is out and that your eyes have deceived you. She has promised to let you in at night, and you find her door shut; be patient and lie down on the cold damp ground. Peradventure, some lying servant will come, .and looking at you with an insolent stare, say, “What does this fellow want, always besieging our door like this? ” Then you must turn the other cheek to this grim seneschal and speak him fair, and not him only, but the door as well, and on the threshold lay the roses that adorned your brow. If your mistress gives you, leave, haste to her side; if she will none of you, withdraw. A well-bred man ought never to make himself a burden. Would you compel her to exclaim, “Is there no way of getting rid of this pestilent fellow?” Women often take unreasonable whims into their head. Never mind; put up with all her insults; never mind if she kicks you even; kiss her dainty feet.
But why linger over such minor details? Let us turn to more important themes. I am going to sing of lofty things. Ye lovers all, lend me yours ears. My enterprise is fraught with danger; but without danger, where would courage be? The object I aim at is not easy of attainment. If you have a rival, put up with him without a murmur, and your triumph is assured. You will mount, a conqueror, to Jove’s high temple. Believe me, these are not the words of a mere mortal. They are oracles as sure as any that Dodona ever gave. This is the very climax of the art that I impart. if your mistress exchanges meaning glances with your rival–nods and becks and wreathèd smiles–put up with it. If she writes him letters, never scrutinise her tablets; let her come and go as she pleases. Hosts of husbands show this indulgence to their lawful wives, especially when thou, soft slumber, aidest in the deceit. Nevertheless, I confess that, in my own case, I cannot attain this degree of perfection. What am I to do? I cannot rise to the height of my own precepts. If I saw a rival making signs to my mistress before my very eyes, do you think I should put up with it, and not give free rein to my wrath? I remember one day her husband kissed her. How I raved and swore about it! Love is made up of these unreasonable demands. This shortcoming has often been my undoing where women are concerned. It is much cleverer of a man to let others have the entree to his mistress. The really proper course is not to know anything about it. Suffer her to hide her infidelities, lest forcing her to confess them should teach her to control her blushes. Ye youthful lovers, then, take heed not to catch your mistresses in the act, lest, while deceiving you they should imagine you were taken in by,: their fine speeches. Two lovers, who have been found. out, do but love each other the more ardently. When, they share a common lot, they both persist in the conduct that brought about their undoing.
There is a story well known throughout Olympus: ’tis the story of Mars and Venus caught in the act by Vulcan’s cunning ruses. Mars, having fallen madly in love with Venus, changed from the grim warrior to the submissive lover. Venus (and never was there a goddess with a heart more tender), Venus showed herself neither awkward nor unfeeling. How many and many a time, they say, the wanton woman laughed at her husband’s shambling gait, and at his hands made horny by the heat of the forge and by hard toil. How charming Mars thought her when she imitated the old blacksmith, and how her graceful motions set off her loveliness. To begin with they took the utmost care to conceal their intrigue, and their guilty passion was full of modesty and reserve. But the Sun (nothing ever eludes his glance), the Sun revealed to Vulcan the conduct of his spouse. Ah, Old Sol, what a bad example you set! Demand the favours of the goddess; make her acquiescence the price of your silence; she has the wherewithal to pay you. All around and about his bed Vulcan cunningly stretches a network invisible to every eye. Then he pretends to set out for Lemnos. The two lovers hie them to the familiar spot, and both of them, naked as Cupid himself, are enveloped in the traitorous toils. Then Vulcan calls on the gods to gather round and bids them gaze upon the imprisoned lovers. Venus, so ’tis said, could scarce keep from. weeping. They could not hide their faces in their hands, nor cover their nakedness. One of the onlookers thus spoke jeeringly to Mars: “Valiant Mars,” quoth he, if thy chains are too heavy for thee, hand them on to me.” At length, yielding to the prayers of Neptune, Vulcan set the two captives free. Mars withdrew to Thrace; Venus to Paphos. Say now, Vulcan, what didst thou gain thereby? Erstwhile they hid their loves; now they freely and openly indulge their passion; they have banished all shame. You’ll soon be sorry that you were such a
prying fool! Indeed they say that even now you regret that you ever gave way to your anger.
No traps! I forbid you to use them; and Venus herself, who was caught by her spouse, forbids you to make use of tricks, whereof she was the victim. Don’t go laying snares for your rival. Don’t try and intercept love-letters. Leave such devices, if they think it well to employ them, to lawful husbands whose rights are hallowed by sacred fire and water. As for me, I proclaim it yet again, I only sing of pleasures which the law permits.
Who would dare divulge to the profane the mysteries of Ceres and the pious rites instituted in Samothrace? It redounds but little to our credit to keep silence when we are commanded so to do; but to blurt out things we ought to know should be kept secret is a most grievous thing. Rightly was Tantalus punished for his indiscretion, rightly was he debarred from reaching the fruits that hung above his head; it served him right that he should parch with thirst with water all around him. Cytherea, especially, forbids that her mysteries should be revealed. I give thee warning, no babbling knaves should ever draw near her altars. If the sacred emblems of her worship are not concealed in mystic baskets; if no brazen cymbals are beaten at her festivals; if she opens the doors of her temple to all, it is on condition that none shall divulge her mysteries. Venus herself never putteth off her veil, but with modest hand she covereth her charms. The beasts of the field abandon themselves, in any place and in the sight of all, to the delights of love, and often at the spectacle a young girl will turn away her head; but for our loves we must have a secret bower, closed doors, and we must needs cover with vesture the secret places of our body. Even if we seek not for darkness, we like a certain dimness, at all events something a little less than broad. daylight. Thus when men and women still went unprotected
against the sun and the rain, when the oak provided them with food and shelter, ’twas not in the open, but in caves and woods, that they enjoyed the sweet pleasures of love, so great was the respect which mankind, though still uncouth, entertained for the laws of modesty. Now we make a parade of our nocturnal exploits, and people it seems, would pay a high price for the pleasure of divulging them. Nay, isn’t it the fashion nowadays to stop and talk to a girl everywhere one goes, so as to be able to say, “You saw that girl, she’s another one I’ve had!” It’s all because they want to have someone to point at; so that every woman who is the object of these attentions becomes the talk of the town. But there’s nothing really in it. There are men who invent stories which, if they were true, they would repudiate. To hear them talk, you would think that no woman ever resisted them. If they can’t touch their person, they at least attack their good name, and though their body be chaste, their reputation is tarnished. Go, thou hateful warder, and shut the doors upon thy mistress; bolt her in with a hundred bolts. What avail such precautions against the slanderer who brags with lying tongue of the favours he has failed to obtain? Let us, on the other hand, speak sparingly of our real amours, and hide our secret pleasures beneath an impenetrable veil.
Never speak to a woman about her defects; many a lover has had occasion to congratulate himself on having observed this very profitable reticence. The wingèd-footed hero, Perseus, never found fault with Andromeda for her swarthy skin. Andromache was, in everyone’s opinion, far too tall; Hector was the only one who considered her of the average height. Accustom yourself to the things you don’t like; you’ll learn to put up with them; habit makes a lot of things acceptable. At first, Love will be put off by the merest trifle. A freshly-grafted branch that is just beginning to draw the sap
from the green bark will fall off if the slightest breath of wind disturbs it; but if you give it time to grow strong, it will soon resist the winds and, developing into a sturdy branch, enrich the tree that bears it with its alien fruit. Time effaces everything, even bodily defects, and what we once looked upon as blemishes will one day cease to seem so. At first, our nostrils cannot bear the smell of the hides of bulls; they grow used to it in time and bear it without distress.
Moreover, there are words you can employ to palliate defects. If a woman’s skin is blacker than Illyrian pitch, tell her she’s a brunette. If she squints a little, tell her she’s like Venus. If she’s carroty, tell her she’s like Minerva. If she’s so skinny you would think she was at death’s door, tell her she has a graceful figure. If she’s short, so much the better, she’s all the lighter. If she’s thick-waisted, why she’s just agreeably plump. Similarly, you must disguise every defect under the name of its nearest quality. Never ask her how old she is, or who was consul when she was born. Leave it to the Censor to perform that uncomfortable duty, especially if she has passed the flower of her youth, if the summer of her days is over, and if she is already compelled to pull out her grey hairs. My young friends, that age, and even an older one than that, is not without its pleasures. It is a field that you should sow and one day You will reap your harvest. Labour while your strength and your youth allow. All too soon tottering eld, with noiseless tread, will be upon you. Cleave the waters of the ocean with your oar, or the glebe with your slough; wield with warlike arm the deadly sword, or devote to women your vigour and your care. ’Tis but another kind of military service, and in it, too, rich trophies may be won.
Nor should it be forgotten that women, who are getting on in years, have experience, and it is only experience that sets the seal of perfection on our natural
gifts. They repair by their toilet the ravages of time, and by the care they take of themselves manage to conceal their age. They know all the different attitudes of Love and will assume them at your pleasure. No pictured representation can rival them in voluptuousness. With them pleasure comes naturally, without provocation, the pleasure which is sweeter than all, the pleasure which is shared equally by the man and the woman. I hate those embraces in which both do not consummate; that is why boys please me but little. I hate a woman who offers herself because she ought to do so, and, cold and dry, thinks of her sewing when she’s making love. The pleasure that is granted to me from a sense of duty ceases to be a pleasure at all. I won’t have any woman doing her duty towards me. How sweet it is to hear her voice quaver as she tells me the joy she feels, and to hear her imploring me to slacken my speed so as to prolong her bliss. How I love to see her, drunk with delight, gazing with swooning eyes upon me, or, languishing with love, keeping me a long while at arms’ length.
But these accomplishments are not vouchsafed by nature to young girls. They are reserved for women who have passed the age of thirty-five. Let who will hasten to drink new and immature wine. Let me have a rich mellow vintage dating back to one of our elder consuls. It is only after many years that the plane tree affords a shelter from the scorching sun, and fields but newly reaped hurt the naked foot. What! do you mean to tell me you would put Hermione before Helen? And would Althaea’s daughter outrival her mother? If you would enjoy the fruits of love in their maturity, you will obtain, if only you persevere, a reward worthy of your desires.
But already the bed, the minister of their pleasures, has received our two lovers. Stay thy steps, my Muse, at the closed door. They will know well enough, without
thy aid, what words to say to one another, and their hands within the bed will not be idle. Their fingers will find the way to those secret places in which Love is wont to proclaim his presence. ’Twas even thus that the valiant Hector, whose skill was not confined to battle, bore himself with Andromache. Thus too the great Achilles fondled his fair captive when, weary of fighting, he lay beside her on the downy couch. Thou didst not fear, Briseis, to yield thyself to the caresses of those hands that bore upon them still the stains of Trojan blood. Was there aught to compare, voluptuous girl, with the pleasure of feeling the pressure of those victorious hands?
If you listen to my advice, you will not be in too great a hurry to attain the limits of your pleasure. Learn, by skilful dallying, to reach the goal by gentle, pleasant stages. When you have found the sanctuary of bliss, let no foolish modesty arrest your hand. Then will you see the love-light trembling in her eyes, even as the rays of the sun sparkle on the dancing waves. Then will follow gentle moanings mingled with murmurings of love, soft groans and sighs and whispered words that sting and lash desire. But now beware! Take heed lest, cramming on too much sail, you speed too swiftly for your mistress. Nor should you suffer her to outstrip you. Speed on together towards the promised haven. The height of bliss is reached when, unable any longer to withstand the wave of pleasure, lover and mistress at one and the same moment are overcome. Such should be thy rule when time is yours and fear does not compel you to hasten your stolen pleasures. Nevertheless, if there be danger in delay, lean well forward, and drive your spur deep into your courser’s side.
My task draws toward its end. Young lovers, show your gratitude. Give me the palm and wreathe my brow with the fragrant myrtle. As Podalirius was famous among the Greeks for his skill in curing disease,
[paragraph continues] Pyrrhus for his valour, Nestor for his eloquence; as Calchas was famed for his skill in foretelling the future, Telamon for wielding weapons, Automedon for chariot-racing, so do I excel in the art of Love. Lovers, laud your Poet, sing my praises, so that my name may resound throughout the world. I have given you arms. Vulcan gave arms to Achilles. With them he was victorious. Learn ye too to conquer with mine. And let every lover, who shall have triumphed over a doughty Amazon with the sword I gave him, inscribe on his trophies, “Ovid was my Master.”
But now the girls, look you, want me to give them some lessons. You, my dears, shall be my instant care.