Why Did Aeneas Kill Turnus?

Allie Hershey (’25) argues that Vergil subverts our expectations of heroism by not painting Aeneas as a perfectly good Roman. Rather, he portrays him as a realistic role model to Roman citizens. Turnus, on the other hand, while he has many good qualities, represents “force without wisdom.”

Victorious warrior looms over defeated warrior, surrounded by observers.
Giacomo del Po, “The Fight between Aeneas and King Turnus, from Virgil’s Aeneid” (ca. 1700) Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Vergil, Aeneid 10.491-10.497, 10.500-10.505, translated by Allie Hershey:

“Arcadians,” he says, “remember this and take back my words to Evander,
I return Pallas to him in the way that Evander deserves.
Whatever honor there is in a tomb, whatever comfort is in a burial,
I give freely. His hospitality to Aeneas will come at no small price.
And saying that, he pressed on the corpse with his left foot,
seizing the huge weight of Pallas’ belt.”

Oh, how the human mind is unaware of fate and future fortune and how to show restraint when exalted by success! There will be a time for Turnus, when he wishes to purchase Pallas untouched at a great price, and will hate those spoils and the day.

 

The Tragic and Powerful Myth of Queen Dido

Lindsay Werner (’25) explores the powerful and passionate language used by Dido as she confronts her faithless lover Aeneas in Book 4 of Vergil’s Aeneid.

Classical city under construction along the banks of a river.
“Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire,” Joseph Mallord William Turner (1815). National Gallery, London.

Vergil, Aeneid 4.365–370, 373-376, 382-387, translated by Lindsay Werner:

You do not have a goddess as your parent, nor is Dardanus the founder of your line, treacherous man; but the Caucasus teeming with hard crags produced you and the Hyrcanean tigresses moved their breasts towards you. For why do I pretend, or what greater things do I hold myself back for? He has not groaned with (respect for) my weeping, has he? He has not turned his eyes, has he? He hasn’t cried tears having been won over, or pitied his lover, has he?

Trust is safe nowhere. Having been expelled onto the shore, I received the needy man, and I placed him in a part of my kingdom insanely; I brought back (his) lost fleet, I brought back the comrades from death. Oh inflamed I am being carried by frenzy!

Indeed I hope that, if the pious gods have any power, he will drain the cup of punishments in the middle of the rocks, and that he will often call out Dido by name. Being away I will follow with black fires, and, when cold death has severed my limbs from my soul, my ghost will be present in all places. You will pay the price, wicked man. I will hear and this rumor will come to me under the deepest shades (the underworld).

Unraveling Turnus—The Tragic Hero of Vergil’s Aeneid (7.435-463)

Sarah Tessler (’25) examines the scene in the seventh Book of the Aeneid in which the fury Allecto infects Turnus with war frenzy. Through Turnus’ character arc, she argues, Vergil emphasizes the devastating consequences of conflict, including a loss of individual identity, and the inevitable cycle of violence and suffering.

Warrior in Roman armor brandishing sword and shouting
Image generated using AI by Sarah Tessler

Hic iuvenis vatem inridens sic orsa vicissim                    435
ore refert: ‘classis invectas Thybridis undam
non, ut rere, meas effugit nuntius auris;
ne tantos mihi finge metus. nec regia Iuno
immemor est nostri.
sed te victa situ verique effeta senectus,                           440
o mater, curis nequiquam exercet, et arma
regum inter falsa vatem formidine ludit.
cura tibi divum effigies et templa tueri;
bella viri pacemque gerent quis bella gerenda.’

olli somnum ingens rumpit pavor, ossaque et artus
perfundit toto proruptus corpore sudor.
arma amens fremit, arma toro tectisque requirit;           460
saevit amor ferri et scelerata insania belli,
ira super:

At this, the young man, mocking the priestess,
replied in turn: “The news of the fleet having arrived into the Tiber’s waters
has not escaped my ears, as you suppose.
Do not imagine so many fears for me; nor
is Queen Juno forgetful of us.
But old age worries you, worn out by decrepitude and truth
O Mother, it pointlessly occupies [you] with cares
It deceives the priestess with false fears amidst the arms of kings
Men wage wars and peace, by whom wars must be waged.

A huge fright broke his sleep, and sweat
perfused from every limb.
Frenzied, he howled for arms; and looked for the hidden arms in couches;
the love of arms and the wicked madness of war raged,
anger above all. [trans. Sarah Tessler]

 

The Sacrifice of Palinurus (Aeneid 5.851-871)

Lucian Kapushoc (’25) discusses the meaning of the Palinurus episode at the end of the the fifth Book of the Aeneid, assesses two recent translations, those of Robert Fagles (2006 and Sarah Ruden (2021), and provides his own translation.

sketch of a crumbling grave monument overlooking the shore of the Mediterranean
Engraving by Wilhelm Gmelin (1760 – 1820) Cénotaphe de Palinurus

talia dicta dabat, clauumque adfixus et haerens
nusquam amittebat oculosque sub astra tenebat.
ecce deus ramum Lethaeo rore madentem
uique soporatum Stygia super utraque quassat 855
tempora, cunctantique natantia lumina soluit.
uix primos inopina quies laxauerat artus,
et super incumbens cum puppis parte reuulsa
cumque gubernaclo liquidas proiecit in undas
praecipitem ac socios nequiquam saepe uocantem; 860
ipse uolans tenuis se sustulit ales ad auras.
currit iter tutum non setius aequore classis
promissisque patris Neptuni interrita fertur.
iamque adeo scopulos Sirenum aduecta subibat,
difficilis quondam multorumque ossibus albos 865
(tum rauca adsiduo longe sale saxa sonabant),
cum pater amisso fluitantem errare magistro
sensit, et ipse ratem nocturnis rexit in undis
multa gemens casuque animum concussus amici:
‘o nimium caelo et pelago confise sereno, 870
nudus in ignota, Palinure, iacebis harena.’

At the end of the fifth Book of the Aeneid Palinurus, after being assigned by Aeneas to the vital job as helmsman for the lead ship in the fleet, falls victim to sleep and goes overboard. Clutching a fragment of the ship he shouts back in vain as he drifts off. After belatedly realizing that Palinurus has been lost, Aeneas takes the helm himself as he mourns the loss of his pilot. The last description of Palinurus is of his dead body lying unburied on an unknown shore (Virgil 5.852-872). The death concludes the seafaring portion of Aeneas’s journey but Palinurus’s presence in the story is not limited to his finale. His loss at sea fulfills a hidden promise made by Neptune that the fleet would reach Italy safely with only one crew member lost (Virgil 5.814–815). His earthly form did end up making it to shore but he was then knifed by bandits and left for dead (Virgil 6.359–361). His final fate was revealed by the Sibyl in the underworld when Aeneas is trying to cross the River Acheron, and Palinurus shows up on shore among the crowd of unburied souls (Virgil 6.337). He laments his fate and asks for passage across the river, but the Sibyl scolds him and assures him that someone would come and bury him. Palinurus delights when he finds out he will enter the underworld and that the beach he died on will be named after him.

Palinurus’ death occupies a significant place at the midpoint of the story, between land and sea, at an important turning point in Aeneas’s journey (Quint 50). With his sacrifice Virgil both emulates and contradicts Homer (Quint 1993: 91). On the one hand, Palinurus drifts through the open sea just as Odysseus did.On the other hand, Odysseus was the sole survivor of his crew, while Aeneas loses only one crewmember. While Odysseus had to give up his entire crew to get home, Aeneas had to give up Palinurus, and took his place as leader at the helm (Quint 1993: 89). If Palinurus is accepted as a stand-in for Aeneas, it also fulfills a divine plea from Dido that Aeneas be plagued by hardship and die prematurely, “unburied on some desolate beach” (Virgil 4.609–620). Palinurus, Creusa, Anchises, and Dido are some of the losses Aeneas and the Trojans sustain during the transition from Troy to Italy.

We are not meant to blame Palinurus for forsaking his duty but rather asked to see him as a victim of a cosmic fate over which he had no control. His devotion to his post and to Aeneas is shown by the broken fragment of the ship he still clings to in the water. Sacrifices such as this were meant to reaffirm the relationship between gods and humans. They paradoxically serve as reassurance that the gods are still on Aeneas’s side and his journey is still fated (O’Hara 2014: 112).  It’s not all bad for Palinurus, either. He is promised a burial and entrance into the underworld and he delights when The Sybil tells him that the beach he died on will forever be named after him. The place in Italy is still called Capo Palinuro.

Two good contemporary translations are those of Robert Fagles (2006) and Sarah Ruden (2021), who have both published impressive editions of The Aeneid unique in style and tone. In his translation Fagles balances the hopeful fate of the Trojans with sympathy for the native Italians who suffer their invasion. His tone bears strong narrative emphasis, encapsulating the themes of epic poetry and manifesting them in a world where epic poetry is no longer as common and esteemed as it used to be. The most notable aspect of Sarah Ruden’s version of The Aeneid is how she has formatted it to keep each line roughly a complete thought. This forces compression in words and ideas due to the differences between Latin and English (Ruden 2021: xxviii). The shortness helps maintain the elevated tone of The Aeneid that is absent in many other versions. The translation is as versatile as is required for such a story and retains many of the literary themes that Virgil made rich use of such as enjambment and speed. A translator’s style is present throughout the entire work and sets each version apart from the others. The coverage of a segment such as Palinurus will be equally unique.

Fagles’ style puts the reader right next to Palinurus using ecce as the imperative watch (Virgil 5.854). This creates a more personal tone that invests the reader into the fate of Palinurus with a natural buildup of suspense. The natural phenomenon of sleep is personified as a god and Palinurus’s fall happens as fast and as suddenly as one would pass out from exhaustion. The tragic undertones of the episode are realized with the direct translation of nudus as naked to complete the indecent and pitiful picture of Palinurus’ fate (Virgil  5. 872). Fagles does a good job of creating sympathy for Palinurus and then compensating equally with his eventual happy ending. Ruden provides a similar bystander perspective of the event in line for line verse which results in a more broken up sequence as to keep each line similar to its counterpart in The Aeneid and to stay within the meter. Her sentences start and stop as abruptly as one’s thoughts when battling fatigue. She discards ecce for a more impersonal tone fitting an independent reader (Virgil  5.854). Nudus turns into unburied to further lament Palinurus’s state, deprived of the proper rites and treatments of a valued member of Aeneas’s crew (Virgil 5.872). Changes in tone between versions likewise change the atmosphere and feeling in episodes like Palinurus without changing the core subject matter. Translations can make the experience more personal like Fagles or emphasize or more stoic and mythic like Ruden.

I translate as follows:

Thus he spoke to himself and Palinurus kept his hands stuck to the helm and his feet planted to the deck, rooted in place with his gaze fixed on the stars.

Hark, Sleep descends upon from on high wielding a sleepy branch, dripping with Lethaean dew and twilight power, which he waves over the temples of our oblivious helmsman; who struggled in vain as his swimming eyes began to ease.

Unanticipated weariness had already relaxed his body when Sleep, leaning over him, loosened his arms from the helm and pushed him headfirst over the rail into the rolling sea. Clutching hard onto the part of the stern he ripped off with him, Palinurus shouts in vain to his comrades back on the ship as Sleep flies off into the thin breeze.

The unaffected fleet runs its unchanged course over the sea just as Neptune had promised.

Here, the Sirens’ Rocks, once dangerous and stained white with the bones of countless sailors, now ring far and wide with the unending surf; And Father Aeneas, feeling his ship to float freely with no pilot, grabs the wheel, and guides the fleet across the midnight sea. He groans, shaken by the death of his comrade.

‘Oh Palinurus, you trusted too much in the sea and stars, and now your body will lie bare and unburied on an unnamed shore.’

My version aims to retain the personal and narrative tone that I like in Fagles with increased alliteration. The maritime nature of the episode is likewise emphasized with the use of Hark for ecce (Virgil 5.854) and sailors supplied with multorum (Virgil 5.65). Sleep is personified to a further extent and the elements of the sea and the Sirens’ rocks are played up to complete the tone.

Works Cited

Quint, David. Epic and Empire. Princeton 1993.

O’Hara, J. “Palinurus,” in Richard Thomas and Jan M. Ziolkowski, eds., The Virgil Encyclopedia, 3 vols. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).

Virgil, Aeneid, Translated by Robert Fagles. Penguin Books, 2006.

Virgil, Aeneid, Translated by Sarah Ruden, Introduction by Susanna Braund. Yale University Press 2021.

 

Translating Rumor (Vergil, Aeneid 4.173-197)

Virginia Hargraves (’27) discusses the Rumor passage in Book 4 of the Aeneid, examining the recent translations of Shadi Bartsch and Sarah Ruden, then offers an adaptation of her own, based on “Rumor Has It” by Adele.

Sculpture of bird like figure wearing a Venetian style mask
Lindsey M Dillon, “Venetian Rumor”

Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes,
Fama, malum qua non aliud uelocius ullum:
mobilitate uiget uirisque adquirit eundo,                                       175
parua metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras
ingrediturque solo et caput inter nubila condit.
illam Terra parens ira inritata deorum
extremam, ut perhibent, Coeo Enceladoque sororem
progenuit pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis,                              180
monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui quot sunt corpore plumae,
tot uigiles oculi subter (mirabile dictu),
tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit auris.
nocte uolat caeli medio terraeque per umbram
stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno;                                  185
luce sedet custos aut summi culmine tecti
turribus aut altis, et magnas territat urbes,
tam ficti prauique tenax quam nuntia ueri.
haec tum multiplici populos sermone replebat
gaudens, et pariter facta atque infecta canebat:                        190
uenisse Aenean Troiano sanguine cretum,
cui se pulchra uiro dignetur iungere Dido;
nunc hiemem inter se luxu, quam longa, fouere
regnorum immemores turpique cupidine captos.
haec passim dea foeda uirum diffundit in ora.                         195
protinus ad regem cursus detorquet Iarban
incenditque animum dictis atque aggerat iras.

“Immediately Rumor goes through the great cities of Libya, Rumor, an evil than which no other is swifter: she thrives with speed and gains strength by going, small with fear at first, soon she lifts herself into the air and walks on the ground and hides her head among the clouds. The Earth, provoked by anger against the gods, so they say, gave birth to her last as the sister of Coeus and Enceladus, quick on her feet and with nimble wings, a horrible monster, huge, who has as many feathers on her body, as there are  watchful eyes beneath (amazing to say), as many tongues, as many mouths are speaking, as many pricked up ears. She flies at night in the middle of the sky and the earth shrieking though the dark, her eyes do not close with sweet sleep; by day she sits as a guard either on the top of the highest roofs or on high towers, and alarms the great cities, holding on as much to false and evil things as to being a messenger of the truth. Now rejoicing she keeps filling the nations with various rumors, and she keeps singing true and untrue things equally: that Aeneas born from Trojan blood has come, beautiful Dido deigns to join herself to that man; now they are keeping the long winter warm together in luxury, forgetful of their kingdoms and captive to their shameful desire. The foul goddess spreads this on the mouths of men everywhere. At once she turns her course to King Iarbas and sets fire to his spirit with her words and increases his anger.”

In the fourth book of the Aeneid, following the metaphorical marriage between the Carthaginian queen and the Trojan hero, Vergil includes an extended depiction of Rumor personified as the goddess Fama. Rumor, described more specifically as a “foul goddess,” dea foeda, gleefully spreads the news of Dido and Aeneas’s private relationship through the city streets, inciting anger and unrest among their own people (4.195). As a result of Rumor’s wild and erratic behavior, Aeneas eventually comes to see Dido as a distraction and is reminded by the gods of his fate in Italy. Departing in secret from Carthage, Aeneas leaves behind Dido, who is so distraught from heartbreak that she abandons her role as queen and commits suicide while the Trojan fleet sails away from the Carthaginian shores.

Vergil opens this symbolic passage straightaway with a sense of urgency, using the Latin word extemplo, “immediately,” setting a frantic tone for the passage to follow (173). This is further emphasized in the next line with the comparative adjective velocius, “swifter.” Nothing one can match Rumor’s speed (174). Here, Vergil is already beginning to paint the image of Rumor as an uncontrollable creature who cannot be tamed. This portrayal of the goddess might also foreshadow the unfortunate future of Queen Dido, as both are compared to a female follower of Bacchus later in the epic. After Dido learns of Aeneas’s plan to leave Carthage in secret, she “runs wildly,” bacchatur through the city before confronting Aeneas (4.301). When Dido finally succumbs to her miserable state, Rumor is said to have similarly “run wildly,” bacchatur through the city, spreading the mournful news, acting as a dramatic echo of the dead queen’s actions (4.666).

Vergil also stresses the power of Fama as a deity, specifically noting her apparent omnipresence in the “skies,” auras and on the “ground” solo and among the “clouds” nubila (176-177). The polysyndeton in this line is what draws the reader’s attention to Rumor’s ability to seemingly be in a multitude of places at once because of her impressive speed and agility. Vergil uses various poetic devices throughout his entire epic, but this passage in particular is full of repetitions, most notably alliteration and anaphora, in addition to this example of polysyndeton. Not only does the phrase ira inritata almost exactly repeat in translation, meaning either “provoked by anger” or “angered by anger,” but it is also alliterated, producing a repetitive rhythm and tonal effect when spoken aloud (178). The repetition of tot, “so many,” or totidem, “as many,” in the list of Rumor’s descriptive traits, tot vigiles oculi…tot linguae, totidem ora…tot subrigit auris, is an example of anaphora in epic verse (182-183). These literary techniques and poetic devices, which are all repetitive in nature, stress the rhythmic pattern and verse of the epic while drawing attention to these specific phrases, many of which highlight the disturbing characteristics and actions of Rumor.

Vergil creates a suspenseful atmosphere to emphasize the direness of Aeneas’s situation in Carthage, where he is sidetracked from his fated journey to Italy. Rumor’s act of “shrieking,” stridens creates a palpable, almost audible sense of horror for the reader, distinguishing Rumor from mere gossip, which a contemporary audience might understand it as (185). This terrifying tone is also seen in Vergil’s direct description of Rumor as a “horrible monster,” monstrum horrendum, with the goddess personified as a female winged creature (181). In contrast, however, the other female figure present in this scene, Dido, is described as pulchra, “beautiful,” although to a Roman audience, her actions would perhaps seem like a distraction keeping Aeneas from his Trojan duty (4.192). Vergil therefore creates a connection between Rumor and Dido for the reader based on their egregious actions, despite the contrast in their outward appearances.

Vergil seems to be using personified Rumor to propel the storyline of his epic foreword, literally with the goddess’s speed. This section comes directly after what Dido understands to be her marriage to Aeneas, and already the goddess is polluting the streets of Carthage with this fact mixed with her own exaggerated “lies,” infecta (190). Although this relationship has somewhat just begun, Vergil is already alluding to its imminent collapse. While she may revel in falsehoods, Rumor eventually represents reality for both Dido and Aeneas when her deceitful behavior plagues both lovers by the end of book four. While attempting to leave Carthage in secret, Aeneas manipulates and deceives Dido, sending the heartbroken queen into a frenzy. Incited by Aeneas’s impious act, Dido similarly deceives Anna before taking her own life. This passage, therefore, ultimately builds the tension of the epic and creates a reference of what is to come with Rumor’s terrifying description and dishonest conduct.

In her 2021 translation of the Aeneid, Shadi Bartsch seeks to construct a “parallel experience” to Vergil’s epic poem in English (Bartsch 57). She believes that Latin “gives each translator a choice,” and she chooses to stay truthful to the original language, tempo, tone, metaphors, and verse of Vergil (52). The poetic device she seems most concerned with is alliteration, which she replicates frequently in her translation and uses to emphasize certain aspects of the analogy in English as Vergil does in Latin. Early in the passage she uses alliteration to contrast Rumor’s initial fear with her growing power, beginning as “small and scared” but building “speed” and “strength” as she flies (Vergil 175-176). This also resembles the typical course of daily gossip, which begins as an individual rumor but increases and strengthens as it spreads.

Another example of alliteration is Bartsch’s description of the goddess as “fast of foot and fleet of wing” while simultaneously being a “huge, horrific monster” (180-181). While “fast of foot” is very direct in word choice and meaning, “fleet of wing” is more ornate and complex. Already having used the word “fast,” Bartsch finds an alternate translation for speed while still fitting it into the alliteration of the phrase. Although Vergil does not alliterate the phrase monstrum horrendum, ingens, the Latin does have a rhythmic beat, especially in the first two words, which Bartsch retains by inverting the word order and alliterating the phrase, translating it as “a huge, horrific monster” (181).

Bartsch is also dedicated to preserving a similar tone of panic and alarm as Vergil, which she accomplishes through her animalistic word choice in this passage. Rather than the common meaning “lifts” or “raises” for attollit, Bartsch translates the phrase sese attollit in auras as “she rears to the skies” (176). The English verb “rears” typically only refers to animals, specifically horses, but in this case fits the actions of a wild bird. Another possible translation inferred from attollit could be “soars,” which offers a more bird-like quality to the passage (176). Bartsch returns to more characteristic descriptions of a winged creature with the verbs “screeching” for stridens and “perches” as a more specialized translation for the common Latin verb sedet (185-187). Although Vergil does not classify his comparison of Rumor to a specific bird species, his description of the goddess almost seems like that of a vulture or a similar bird of prey, exploiting and feeding on the secrets of Dido and Aeneas. By attempting to replicate the original meaning and meter of the poem directly into English, Bartsch successfully fosters a terrifying atmosphere almost identical to that of Vergil’s, which only intensifies the fear for the reader of the events to come later in the epic.

In contrast, Sarah Ruden’s methodology for her 2021 Aeneid translation seems to be taking each of Vergil’s lines or phrases and reimagining them in poetic English. She states that the most effective aspect of Vergil’s writing is its “Roman epic style,” but because English works very differently to Latin, she makes some alterations in her translation (Ruden 7). While Vergil frequently repeats the same Latin words as a common thread throughout the epic, Ruden believes this would come across as boring and monotonous in English, so instead she chooses to “vary the vocabulary,” using different translations for the same Latin word (8). Although the Aeneid is written in dactylic hexameter, Ruden uses iambic pentameter in her translation as it is more flexible with the English language (9). She seeks to embrace the sense of the Latin and the “flavor” of the Aeneid, rather than default to a word-for-word translation (10). By doing this, she is able to leave behind the expected, and often awkward, English translations for a more interpretive and aesthetic style reminiscent of Vergil’s extraordinary poetic abilities.

She too utilizes an abundance of alliteration in her translation with phrases such as “tiny and timid” and “sweet sleep,” as well as word repetition with phrases such as “quick-footed, quick-winged,” which resemble the alliteration of the original Latin: pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis (4.176–179, 185). But for the most part, Ruden seeks to completely reinterpret the Latin, like in the phrase “Her claws hold both true news and evil lies” for tam ficti pravique tenax quam nuntia veri (188), while the original Latin might literally translate to “holding on as much to false and crooked things as to being a messenger of the truth.” Ruden uses her liberty as a translator to alter the Latin to fit the grandiose style of her translation. In this phrase, Ruden’s most notable modification is translating the adjective tenax with the noun “claws,” adding to the passage’s bird-like imagery, rather than simply as “tenacious” (188). This rearrangement of the original passage displays Ruden’s frequent decision to completely depart from Vergil’s word choice and verse.

Ruden prefers a loftier, more exaggerated translation, often opting for rare or unusual word choices rather than the expected English translations. “A blaring mouth” for ora sonant not only alters the number from plural “mouths” to singular, but the verb becomes an adjective describing the one “mouth” (183). “Blaring” is also a slightly jarring translation for sonant, which is typically understood to mean either “speaking” or simply “making a sound.” Similarly, for the Latin word populos, with its clear English cognate “people,” she chooses the more mythical and outdated word “realms” (189). While Shadi Bartsch uses her liberty as a translator to remain as faithful as possible to the original Latin, emulating Vergil’s tone by attempting to directly copy his words into English without losing his meter or meaning, Sarah Ruden disregards the details of Vergil’s Latin to reproduce the magnificent style and heroic design of the Aeneid in reimagined English. With her over-the-top, dramatic translations, Ruden creates an atmosphere of fantasy and magnificence suitable for an epic poem full of legends, battles, and fated destinies.

Re-written Verse Translation – Aeneid 4.173-197

[Based on “Rumour Has It” by Adele from the perspective of Italy, personified]

“Now Rumor has it” that you’ve forgotten your path,

You’re giving into Dido and her beautiful wrath.

“Haven’t you heard the rumors” that are filling the streets?

They know you as Aeneas, a hero despite the Greeks.

“Now Rumor has it” that “you’ve got your head in the clouds,”

That you’ve forgotten your kingdom, that’s what’s heard in the crowds.

That Dido wants to marry you, says Rumor flying swiftly,

But please don’t forget, Aeneas, that “you and I have history.”

“Now Rumor” sings these tales (so amazing to say),

But “she is a stranger,” boy, don’t give your fate away.

“All these words” the quick goddess does “whisper in my ear,”

Although her image makes it hard to have faith in what I hear.

“Now Rumor has it” that “she made a fool out of you,”

Exposing all your winter plans madly as she flew.

Speeding ‘round at night, all I see is gleaming eyes,

But when it comes to gossip, well, “she’s got it all” in the skies.

“Now Rumor has it” Dido melts your heart, “cold to the core”

Now Rumor reaches Iarbas and she brings the heat some more.

Although she has the beauty, and I guess that’s why you “strayed,”

“Is that really what you want,” Aeneas, what of the Trojan name?

Works Cited

Bartsch, Shadi, translator. The Aeneid. By Vergil, Random House, 2021.

Ruden, Sarah, translator. The Aeneid. By Vergil, Yale University Press, 2021.

Metrics and Style in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Haydon Alexander (’24) argues that the relative quickness of Ovid’s hexameter lines is a key aspect of his style.

Towards the end of his life, Ovid wrote letters to friends in Rome describing the misery of his exile on the frontier of the empire in what is now Romania. In a letter addressed to Cornelius Severus Ovid considers the reasons why he no longer gets any enjoyment out of writing poety (Epistulae ex Ponto 4.2.33–34):

or because composing a poem with no one to recite it to

is just the same as dancing [lit. “making rhythmical gestures”] in the dark.

 sive quod in tenebris numerosos ponere gestus,

quodque legas nulli scribere carmen, idem est.

Ovid doesn’t mean that he is sad that his poems aren’t being read (in fact, his exilic poetry was sent to Rome and was read). Rather, he sees his writing as joyless without a live audience to spur him on. The way Ovid describes dancing (“making rhythmical gestures”) is significant, since numerosus can refer to both rhythmical movements of the body and rhythmical speech, and Ovid himself in a famous passage uses the word numerus to mean “poetic meter” (Amores 1.1.1).  Ovid’s letter from exile gets at the joy of performing Ovid’s work live, and one of the principal reasons for this is because of Ovid’s deep mastery of meter. The importance of meter is easily lost when we read silently, so to that end, we will explore below some of the special qualities of Ovid’s metrics, and the way in which he discusses meter directly in his work.

In his surviving corpus Ovid wrote in only two meters . In the Metamorphoses, the nominally epic poem which describes the history of the world told in myth, he wrote in dactylic hexameter, in which each line has six feet of either a long and two short syllables (a dactyl) or two long syllables (a spondee). This is the meter of Homer, Hesiod, and Vergil, among other writers of epic poems, and it is first discussed critically by Aristotle, who considers it to be the proper meter of epic poetry (Poetics 1459b. See Morgan 2000: 99–120, esp. 99-100). For a more in-depth look at how the meter looks in practice with visuals and video accompaniment, look here and here.

Perhaps his most famous (in infamous) work, the Ars Amatoria, “The Art of Love,” a supposedly didactic but also highly unserious set of poems on seduction, was composed, like the rest of his works apart from the Metamorphoses, in elegiac couplets: lines are in pairs, the first of which is metrically identical to a dactylic hexameter, and the second of which is a dactylic pentameter, i.e., a hexameter line with five rather than six feet (See Claasen 1989 and Herr 1937). This is a meter which was also pioneered by Ancient Greeks, and was commonly used for love poetry in the first century B.C. Rome by Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid himself. The ways in which Ovid uses meter in tandem with a vast array of poetic devices is the subject of many complete books, so we will focus here on some of the most distinguishing ways that Ovid plays with meter, and also some of the unique flair that come from his metrical self-awareness in his own writing.

Ovid is often self-referential and metaliterary. At the start of the Amores, Ovid’s poetic collection depicting a love affair with a woman he calls Corinna, he argues with Cupid concerning his meter (Amores 1.1.–2 trans. Slavitt 2011):

Arms and the violent deeds of men fighting in battle …

Those are the noble subjects I would address

in the grave meters suited to grave matters, but no,

Cupid appeared to trim my lines by a foot.

Arma gravi numero violentaque bella parabam

edere, materia conveniente modis.

par erat inferior versus—risisse Cupido

dicitur atque unum surripuisse pedem.

In the first place, he puns on the meter, writing that Cupid steals his “foot,” referencing the fact that the elegiac couplet has one fewer foot than the equivalent 2 lines of dactylic hexameter. But more than this, it is clear that he gives particular weight to the thought of meter, opening the work with the “grave meter” he is talking about is dactylic hexameter. Conversely, he calls his elegiac couplets “Rather more informal, playful even­­­–despite my serious aims” (nec mihi materia est numeris levioribus apta, 1.19–20 trans Slavitt).  He writes as if he is trapped by his metrical choice. Of course, he makes that choice himself, but this is an instance where Ovid is close to talking to his audience about how important meter is to him.

So, Ovid uses meter as a shortcut to let his reader know what to expect, and he uses the history of both his meters to prime his readers for what his works will contain. Indeed, the Amores all deal with love, and as he promises, not in a particularly serious way. Ovid writes a ridiculous scene (1.6) that has him lying outside the door of his love, begging the doorman to let him in. Another reads like a limerick about “an over-the-hill playgirl” (1.8).

In the Metamorphoses, Ovid plays around with expectation. Because the work is written in hexameters, we are asked to consider it an epic. However, it skirts many of the “rules” to which earlier epics adhere. Most obviously, it does not have a unified narrative in the way that the works of Homer or others have. Moreover, Ovid does not adhere to his own statement in the Amores about “grave meters,” because like the rest of his works, Ovid is often deeply unserious in tone. An example is when he tells the story of how Tiresias is blinded in a short story that talks about Jupiter and Juno arguing about who gets more pleasure from sex (3.316–38). This is hardly the stuff of grand stories, but it is in Ovid’s “epic.”

Metrically, Ovid’s epic differs from that of his slightly earlier contemporary, Vergil. Metrical analysis shows that Vergil’s Aeneid is relatively dominated by spondees, the feet which have two long syllables. This means that his work encourages the speaker to slow down and to luxuriously take in each line. The Metamorphoses has more dactylic lines, with many feet consisting of a long followed by two short syllables (see Ben Johnson’s online tutorials on the metrical composition of Ovid and of Vergil; and Herr 1937: 5). This results in a poem which gallops along relatively quickly, contrasted with Vergil’s statelier pace. One of many illustrative instances is when he tells of Apollo’s chase of Daphne (Met. 1.525-39). During the lead up to the chase, as Apollo realizes that his words will not convince her to be with him, the lines move slowly, but as the chase commences and reaches its climax, the lines become more dactylic, making the poetry move faster and faster. This is one instance where Ovid uses speed to evoke the content of his verse. This results in a tone which matches the tenor of Ovid’s writing which is opposed (though neither superior or inferior) to Vergil: where Vergil feels grand and momentous, Ovid does something else: his writing is foremost pure, unadulterated entertainment that moves. A visualization of a typical passage in which spondees are coded green (courtesy of the website Hypotactic) shows the extent of the tendencies.

Scanned Ovid
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.525-40. Scanned passages of Metamorphoses and the Aeneid show the difference in scansion between the works. Dactyls are shown in orange and Spondees in green.
Scanned Vergil
Vergil, Aeneid 1.525-540. Particularly in the middle of Ovid’s passage, at the height of Apollo’s chase of Daphne, note the differences in dactyls and spondees. Graphics courtesy of hypotactic.

But it is not merely in the Metamorphoses where Ovid is uniquely dactylic. In a study of the elegiac couplets of Ovid, Propertius, and Tibullus, Maurice Plautner (1951: 36–37) found that the line type with four dactyls (the most “galloping” line) occurs 6.7% of the time in Ovid’s elegiac work, more than three times as often as that of Tibullus and over five times as often as in Propertius (see Greenberg 1987). Conversely, lines with four spondees (the type of line which most encourages slowing down) are far less likely to occur in Ovid, about five time less likely than in Tibullus and more than eight times less likely than in Propertius. So, it is not only in the Metamorphoses that Ovid uses the mechanics of meter in ways different from his contemporaries and those who came before him.

Why did Ovid make his poetry move more quickly than that of his contemporaries? Why, when he says his opinion on what hexameters should be in his early works, does he contradict himself when he writes without the “epic grandeur” (Jones 2007: 10–11) for which he himself advocates? Does he actually believe in a “proper” meter for each type of poetry? And indeed, why is he self-referential about him poems in his own work? Peter Jones (2007: 11–15) suggests that Ovid is keenly aware that he shouldn’t (and probably can’t) recreate the spark of his epic predecessors when he writes the Metamorphoses, and that this is what inspires him to write such a unique epic. Applying this insight to meter, we can see why Ovid was so intentional and unique about meter. He attempts to modernize the poetic form by removing what he perhaps saw as the dust and stuffiness from Vergil and providing something modern and entertaining in a new way. He might get at the entertainment from mere subject matter, but as the saying goes, “it’s all in the delivery.” By galloping along through his poetry, Ovid brings new life into old stories in the Metamorphoses, and similarly, he brings new levity to much of the scenes of his elegiac works, and through self-reference, he almost begs his audience to notice the difference. Moreover, where Vergil and other predecessors focus on the epic, yet inherently distant and even somewhat sanitized, grand old scenes to elicit reactions from his audience, Ovid takes all the little absurd scenes and jolts his audience through them, making them feel a range of emotions: a range which can only occur to full effect with the speed and inevitability of a live poem, sung in its unique galloping meter.

Meter is just one of the things that make Ovid’s poetry unique, but it is reasonable to suspect that it might have been the thing that Ovid thought most unique about his work. Thus, in a moment in his later poems which reads in a “sad clown” sort of way, he puns on his meter by saying (Tristia 1.15-6):

Go, book, and greet places dear with my words:

I will touch them with what ‘foot’ I may.

vade, liber, verbisque meis loca grata saluta:

contingam certe quo licet illa pede

He goes on to ask forgiveness if his work is not as good for his not being in Rome to write and present it (1.35–49). Even towards the end of his life, he is still self-conscious and self-referential concerning meter. He seems to think that in exile he has lost control of his work because he cannot express himself in meter. So, unlike the modern argument that meter constrains poetry, for Ovid, meter is essential to the character of his work. Without his intense attention towards and self-awareness of his meter, the unique attitude which Ovid achieves in his work would lack its enduring strength.

References

Claasen, Jo-Marie. 1989. “Meter and Emotion in Ovid’s Exilic Poetry,” Classical World 82.5: 351–365.

Greenberg Nathan A. 1987. “Metrics of the Elegiac Couplet,” Classical World 80.4: 233-41.

Herr, Margaret Whilldin. 1937. “The Additional Short Syllables in Ovid,” Language 13.2: 5–31

Jones, Peter. 2007. Reading Ovid: Stories from the Metamorphoses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morgan, Llwellyn. 2000. “Metre Matters: Some Higher-Level Metrical Play in Latin Poetry,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 2000.6: 99–120.

Plautner, Maurice. 1951. Latin Elegiac Verse: A Study of the Metrical Usages of Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Slavitt David R. 2011. Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ovid and the Female Experience

Ovid’s mythological heroines can display heightened reactions to their situations which everyday women can still relate to, argues Kimberly Tyson (’25)

Heroides (“Heroines”) by the Roman poet Ovid is a series of verse letters written in the voices of mythological women. Each character composes a letter to her lover, airing grievances that both her lover and the reader might disregard as inconsequential. But Ovid explored these intense emotions of mythological women towards their romantic partners to highlight the experiences of women in real life. Ovid illustrated the universal themes of abandonment, honor, and agency through the amplified frustrations of mythological women to make the reader understand these experiences through a female lens.

woman's hand writing a letter
Portrait of Penelope, detail from Héroïdes ou épitres d’Ovide, traduites par Octavien de Saint Gelais. Huntington Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Ovid emphasized the range of emotions from fear to fury in the heroines’ reactions to abandonment. Abandonment defines the Heroides but affects each character differently. Penelope, Queen of Ithaca, worries that her husband Odysseus, absent for the past twenty years, “could be captive now to a foreign love” (1.76). Phyllis laments to Demophoon that “like a madwoman I even had your damaged ships rebuilt…ready for your desertion” (2.45–49), and Aeneas similarly abandons Dido once her usefulness ended (7.9–10.) Briseis is no queen, but a slave who feels “contemptible, forsaken,” with “fear shak[ing her] bones” at her fate if Achilles leaves her behind (3.81–82). The cause of their worries vary: some fear for their own security, or what their lover himself will suffer. The heroines struggle to cope with the loss, suffering at home unlike their ambitious lovers. They often have little say in their lover’s departure, even when they wield vast societal power otherwise.

The heroines’ own dignity—as well as the honor they bestow upon their lovers—are united in their righteous anger. Phyllis cries to Demophoon, “The lover and the woman were deceived by your words: may the gods let this be the one thing you are known for!” (2.55–56). Dido tells Aeneas she hopes “the image of the wife you cheated would stand before your eyes” (7.63–64). Queen Hypsipyle curses Jason and his new wife Medea to “‘live man and bride in an accursed bed!’” for his infidelity (6.163–164). The heroines’ wrath is completely justified: their lovers were the first to break the heroines’ trust. Even when they can do nothing about it, the women fully express the truth of their own experience.

Ovid explored the women’s lack of agency in their relationships, sometimes contrasting it with their agency in other parts of their lives. Dido furiously asks Aeneas “Who’d give possession of his fields to an unknown?” like she did. (7.17–18). She reminds him of her accomplishments: “[I] endured harsh journeys, pursued by enemies…and I won this shore, I founded Carthage…a cause of envy” (7.113–122). She desperately promises, “If your mind’s eager for war…we’ll have no lack of enemies to offer” (7.157–159). In contrast, Briseis is a non-Greek slave with zero agency who relies on the love and mercy of her superior Achilles, whose decisions control her future (3.1–2, 59–62, 99–102). The queens exert agency separate from their lovers, through their own station and merit, which initially lets them choose to assist their lovers. But their lack of agency in their relationships consumes them, lovers robbing them of power.

Penelope’s frustrations with Odysseus represent those of real-life women who must intelligently manage their lovers’ absence. Penelope berates Odysseus for making her “fear everything, insanely, [with] my anxieties…open to wide speculation” (1.71–72). Penelope uses her demure fidelity against the suitors who have besieged her home, making her an unwilling hostess in Odysseus’s absence. (1.84–86, 91–95). Ovid demonstrated her quiet, effective intelligence and strong internal motivations despite the arrogant men around her. Penelope’s complicated feelings about Odysseus are a nuanced representation of women’s real-life concerns. Phyllis, however, cannot cope with being exploited by Demophoon.

Ovid used Phyllis to explore the bleaker experiences of women who suffer betrayal by men they trusted after offering their support. She is the most pitiful of all the women in the Heroides, reflecting the depression of well-meaning women who undeserving men take advantage of, and for whom the women remain desperate. Phyllis gave everything to Demophoon and received nothing but heartbreak. Phyllis is a warning against naivete, wasting away as she pines for Demophoon’s unlikely return (2.99–102). Her suffering is passive and desolate, but the images she conjures of suicide—“The tide will carry me, abandoned, to your shore” —are almost dream-like (2.131–144). Through Phyllis, Ovid represents the fallacy of naïve trust and romanticism, which results in the exploitation of a woman with a good heart.

Dido, in contrast, is much angrier about her turmoil. Ovid uses Dido’s unhinged emotional perspective to demonstrate the terrifying extent of women’s anger toward traitorous lovers. Queen Dido is a powerful character, but her love for Aeneas has reduced her to unbecoming, dramatic behavior. She desperately wants Aeneas to marry and rule alongside her, even declaring, “If you are ashamed of me being your wife, let me be called not bride, but host; as long as she is yours, Dido will endure to be whatever you wish” (7.167–169). Dido’s anger and desperation at his betrayal is deranged, but Ovid validated her fury. He acknowledged women’s full, unpretty breakdowns, and licensed not being strategically subdued like Penelope, nor weepy like Phyllis. Ovid took Dido seriously as a complex, powerful woman who demands both his and the reader’s attention.

He treated Briseis with similar care, though her situation requires a different degree of understanding. Ovid portrayed Briseis’s enslavement with nuance to highlight her unique suffering and elaborate on her marginalization. Briseis lost her livelihood to the Greeks in the Trojan War but feels that her master Achilles “alone made up for them,” (3.51) even though she worries he will “reject and shun [her]” (3.55-56). Briseis has the least societal power of all the heroines, particularly when Greek commander-in-chief Agamemnon takes her away from Achilles, who is “idle, and slow to anger” in recovering her, for which he has absolutely no obligation (3.21–24, 3.39–42). Ovid explored her unique position at the bottom of society to demonstrate the full female experience. The reader feels uncomfortable and hopeless on her behalf as shares her confusion about the future state of her life. These mythological characters enabled Ovid to exaggerate and dramatize their problems which are relevant and understandable to his audience.

Ovid used the inherently dramatized stories of these mythological women to emphasize the universal struggles they portray. Because they are mythological characters, the heroines can display heightened reactions to their situations which everyday women can still relate to. The suffering of being abandoned by a lover has transcended women’s lives throughout history. Even when one’s lover is gone because of duty or necessity, anger and frustration arise from the fear of loss, infidelity, and abandonment. Terrifying questions persist: What will happen to my lover? Why can’t he stay safe with me? Will someone else take advantage of me? Though Ovid was not necessarily unique among his contemporaries in depicting well-developed female characters, by exclusively dedicating the Heroides to female characters, Ovid demonstrated their perspectives to a higher degree.

Ovid examined his chosen themes through a lens that illuminates the nuances of female suffering. Ovid refrained from demeaning the women’s experiences and fleshed them out with their own motivations, emotions, and actions without the distraction of male perspectives. He filled in a gap in his own storytelling and brought forth a necessary set of poems that voiced all female perspectives on the themes of abandonment, honor, and agency. Even though some of the heroines exert astounding political and social power, all experience their world in a distinctly female way. Men do not take the heroines seriously and treat the women’s desires as trivial in contrast to their own heroic goals. If the heroines were men, their lovers would not treat them with such callous disrespect.

Ovid used the mythological women of the Heroides to explore the full range of women’s experiences with abandonment, honor, and agency. He contrasted the characters both against each other and the freedom and dominance of their lovers. Penelope conveys the intelligent tact that women must display when their lover’s absence has made them lose agency in their lives. Phyllis’s desolate emotions represent the depression of kind, exploited women, though Dido’s reaction to the same situation is much more furious. Through Briseis, Ovid explored an enslaved women who is keenly aware of her lack of agency. The characters’ dramatic stories let Ovid illuminate real women’s suffering for his audience and validate women’s experiences throughout time.

Ovid’s Thank You to Roman Women

Lindsay Werner (’25) examines the roles of women in Roman religion, as seen in Ovid’s Fasti

How did ancient Roman women participate in religious rituals and pray to the gods? How did Roman religion reflect the values of Roman women? We can find partial answers to these questions in Ovid’s Fasti, sometimes translated as “The Book of Days” or “On the Roman Calendar,” a long Latin poem published in AD 8. The Fasti explains the origins and practices of Roman religious festivals, as well as the origins of constellations, for the first six months of the year. Ovid uses these celebrations to show the role of Roman women in religion, in which he states, in the case of the Matronalia, what the women say in their prayers, which shows the significance of their words to the gods. During Book 4 of the Fasti, which covers the month of April, women separately honored Venus, the Phrygian mother goddess Cybele, and Ceres (goddess of grain). For Venus, Ovid tells us how the women would bathe the statue after taking off her jewelry (4.133–39). He also explains how Cybele came to Rome. A woman named Claudia Quinta prays to Cybele, asking the goddess to help her move the boat and prove that she is a virgin, and Claudia manages to move the boat (4.255–328). Each of these festivals reflected the values of women within Roman culture and religion. While the festivals of Lupercalia and Matronalia focused on piety and fertility, as well as them being married, the festival of Cybele emphasizes the importance of chastity for Roman women.

Watchcase cover: Alcyone Praying to Juno
Watchcase cover: Alcyone Praying to Juno. Jean II Reymond French, Limoges, ca. 1615–25. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To understand women in Roman religion, however, we first need to explore how this religion differs from others. Roman religion didn’t have one sacred text. The Romans worshiped many gods, sacrificed animals or dedicated votives such as statues or temples to these gods, and they were accepting of other gods from different pantheons by associating the other gods with their own. The Egyptian goddess Isis, for example, was very popular in ancient Rome and was associated with the Roman goddesses Ceres and Venus. Modern religions such as Christianity differ from Roman religion in many ways, such as in having one sacred text and worshiping one God. Some might assume that women are treated similarly in ancient and modern religions. True, both religions are patriarchal, but there are significant differences when it comes to gender. The Catholic Church doesn’t allow women to be a part of the higher ranks within the church, like becoming priests or the Pope. Ancient Roman religion, by contrast, had both male and female priests. Female priests in Rome show that some parts of their religion weren’t completely male dominated. There were many female priests in Roman religion (DiLuzio 2016: 79). A few among many in Rome would be the Vestal Virgins, as well as another priest named Alexandria who served the gods Bacchus and Isis, as recorded on her tombstone (Lefkowitz and Fant 2005: 302). Although Rome was a patriarchal society, the presence of female priestesses conveyed how women would show their piety to the gods.

Some modern religions try to control the lives of women, telling them what they can’t wear, or what they can’t do, because it goes against their sacred texts. In Roman religion, women weren’t being fully controlled in the same way as they are in some monotheistic religions. Monotheistic religions pray to one male god, while polytheistic religions, such as the Romans, pray to several female deities, such as Diana and Juno. These goddesses are both respected and feared in the same way as the male gods. This switch from multiple female goddesses to one male God could be seen as a lack of respect towards women in certain monotheistic religions.

In the Fasti Ovid reflects women’s concerns and tells them what they want to hear. Namely, if they want to have a good marriage, a good reputation, and kids, then they should pray to the gods. Additionally, women didn’t want to die in childbirth, which was more common before modern medicine, so he recommended that they pray to the goddess Lucina for an easy and safe delivery (2.449–452, 3.253–58). As scholar Elaine Fantham puts it, “…some of the most important aspects of religion in women’s lives in the books … [are] marriage, chastity, fertility, and childbirth” (Fantham 2002: 28).

One main goal in Ovid’s Fasti is explaining why they perform these rituals and festivals, and he adds the female perspectives to these festivals, especially the ones from February 15th (Lupercalia) and March 1st (Matronalia). He not only tells the audience what they do during those festivals, but he also explains the origins of the holidays. For the Lupercalia and Matronalia, these origins are especially important because Ovid is acknowledging the importance of these women’s needs by saying that they were there at the beginning of Rome itself, referring in both cases to the myth of the abduction of the Sabine women. An interpretation of this idea is that Ovid says nothing can get done without women, whether that is in the past or the present. In this way, he could be imagining this book being read to a female audience.

The Lupercalia was one of the important festivals for Roman women. During this festival, two men, chosen by priests, would run down the streets nude and they would strike women lightly with strips of the dead goat hide as they ran; since it was believed to give the women fertility, the woman would want to get hit by the goat hide (Shelton 1998: 381–82). The origin of the Lupercalia centers around the Sabine women who were taken from their home by Romulus, the son of Mars and Rhea Silvia, and the founder of Rome. He took these women by force because he needed to populate his new city, and since the Sabine men said no to having their women marry Roman men. After the woman had adjusted to their new homes and new husbands, they tried having children, but nothing worked. Both the men and the women prayed to Juno, the goddess of marriage, and for an answer. Juno came and told them that they had to let a goat “mount” the women (Fasti 2.441. “Let a sacred billy-goat mount Italian matrons,” as translated by Nagle 1995:69). A prophet understood what the goddess had meant. He killed a goat, and the women turned their backs so that they could be hit by the goat skin, and nine months later, the women had children (2.425–452). This myth also shows the importance of female fertility for Rome’s origins. According to Fantham, “fertility was even more vital to society and to the woman’s self‐respect than fidelity” (Fantham 2002: 29).

Although the women prayed to the gods for things that would help themselves, they would also pray for their household and community. As Fantham writes, “When the women supplicated, it was… for the whole community, not just for themselves, and … their private devotions [were] … made on behalf of their whole household, rather than just their personal needs” (Fantham 2002: 27).

Another important religious festival for women in Ovid’s Fasti is the Matronalia, which took place on March 1st. This festival honored the goddess Juno Lucina. During this festival, married women gave sacrifices and asked for help with childbirth. Men asked the goddess for their wives to continue having good health. There would also be gift giving between husband and wife, along with friends and special others (Dolansky 2011: 191–194). The origins of this holiday return to the Sabine women, since Ovid writes about how they were forcibly taken from their families, and about what happened after they had their kids. The Sabine men and Romans were going to war with each other because the Sabine men were still mad about their women being without their permission. The woman stopped the two sides, since they didn’t want to lose their fathers nor their husbands. They took their children and stood in between the two armies, and it worked (3.179–234). This festival relates back to the Lupercalia, since Roman women also prayed to the goddess Lucina for a fast and healthy delivery on both holidays (2.449–452, 3.253–58). During the Matronalia, the women dedicated flowers to Juno Lucina, put flowers in their hair, and prayed to the goddess saying the following, as recommended by Ovid: “ [Say] ‘Lucina, you have brought us all to light.’/ Say, ‘Come answer the prayers of a woman in labor.’/But if any of you is pregnant, let her loosen her hair and pray/ that the goddess gently ease her delivery” (3.255-58, trans. Nagle 1995: 87–88).

These prayers give us insight into what the women were asking the goddess for during the festival, which relates to their duties as mothers. With this origin myth, Ovid seems to focus on how these Sabine women brought unity to Rome, and the Matronalia celebrated that continued unity. The importance of motherhood is also shown in this story, since the women were able to stop the war by showing both sides their children, who were both Roman and Sabine. In addition, while referencing the role of women in Roman society from the Lupercalia, Fanny Dolansky points out the connection between childbirth and the state: “Childbirth was also … the vital service married women provided for the family, which ultimately benefited the state” (Dolansky 2011: 199). Women, however, weren’t only considered mothers in ancient Rome. They could be poets, gladiators, painters, actresses and singers, dressmakers, and doctors (Lefkowitz and Fant 2005: 1, 213–15, 216, 218, 219, 264–65).

From all of this, we could ask one question, “Why?” Why did Ovid choose to not only write about religious festivals, but also make a point of showing a representation of women, not just in some of the festivals, but also in the origins themselves? He may have wanted to recognize the significance of women within their religion, in which they would have their voices heard by others. Being a woman in ancient Rome was not easy. When Ovid acknowledges these women, from both the past and present, and in connection to their religion, one could interpret this as his way of saying to all these women, “Thank you.”

References

DiLuzio, Meghan J.  2016. “Salian Virgins, Sacerdotes, and Ministrae.” In A Place at the Altar: Priestesses in Republican Rome. Princeton University Press

Dolansky, Fanny. 2001. “Reconsidering the Matronalia and Women’s Rites,” Classical World (2011)

Fantham, Elaine. 2002. “The Fasti as a Source for Women’s Participation in Roman Cult.” In Geraldine Herbert-Brown, ed., Ovid’s Fasti: Historical Readings at its Bimillennium. Oxford University Press.

Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. Fant. 2005. Women’s life in Greece and Rome: a source book in translation (Third edition). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nagle, Betty Rose. 1995 Ovid’s Fasti: Roman Holidays. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Shelton, Jo-Ann. 1998. As the Romans Did: A Source Book in Roman Social History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jocelyn Wright: Elizabeth Jane Weston, The Lion and the Frog

Elizabeth Jane Weston (1582-1612) was one of the most accomplished Latin poets of the early modern period. Among her published works is a collection of Aesopic fables rendered into Latin elegiac couplets. Jocelyn Wright (Dickinson ’23) edits, translates, and discusses one of them here, “The Lion and the Frog,” comparing it to Greek and Medieval Latin versions of the same fable.

Leo et Rana (The Lion and the Frog)

From Elizabeth Jane Weston, Parthenica (Prague: Paulus Sessius, ca. 1606) vol. 2, fol. B6a.

Vox Ranae fuerat delapsa Leonis ad aures,

ranae, quae in pigro garrit inepta lacu.

Ille diu attonitus, nescit quae bestia rauco

quodve animal tantos evomat ore sonos.

Exserit at tandem faucem ambitiosa loquacem;

saltat, et in sicco voce coaxat agro.

Quam Leo cum voltu spectarat forte superbo,

advolat et querulam protinus ungue terit.

Adapted from Cheney et al., 2000, p. 146, II.85

English Translation

The voice of a Frog had fallen to the ears of a Lion;

of a frog who croaks, tasteless, in a still lake.

He, terrified for a long time, does not know what beast or what animal

is vomiting forth such great sounds from a hoarse mouth.

But finally she thrusts out her croaking throat, ostentatious;

she hops, and croaks with her voice in a dry field.

When the Lion by chance had seen her, with a proud face,

he approaches and crushes the chattering one at once with a claw.

Vocabulary & Notes

1 rāna rānae 1f. frog

dēlābor dēlābī dēlāpsus fall. Take this together with fuerat

leo leonis 3m. lion

2 piger pigra pigrum still, slow-moving. Agrees with lacu

garriō garrīre chatter, croak

ineptus inepta ineptum impertinent, tasteless. Agrees with the subject of the sentence

lacus lacūs 4m. lake, pond

3 attonitus attonita attonitum terrified. Participle from attono (ad + tono) thunder at

bestia bestiae 1f. beast

raucus rauca raucum hoarse. Agrees with ore

4 ēvomō ēvomere ēvomuī ēvomitum spew out, vomit forth

fauces faucium 3f. pl. throat, gullet. Usually only plural, but here is singular accusative

ambitiōsus ambitiōsa ambitiōsum ostentatious

loquāx loquācis croaking

6 saltō, saltāre dance, hop

in governs agro

siccus sicca siccum dry. Agrees with agro

coaxō coaxāre croak. Note the onomatopoeia

8 advolō advolāre (ad + volō) run to

querulus querula querulum croaking

unguis unguis 3m. claw

terō terere trīvī trītum crush

SimilarAesopic Fables:

Λέων καὶ Βάτραχος

Greek text from K. Halm, Fabulae Aesopicae Collectae (Leipzig: Teubner, 1854), p. 121, #248

Λέων, ἀκούσας ποτὲ βατράχου μέγα βοῶντος, ἐπεστράφη πρὸς τὴν φωνὴν, οἰόμενος μέγα τι ζῶον εἶναι. Προσμείνας δὲ μικρὸν, ὡς εἶδεν αὐτὸν προελθόντα τῆς λίμνης, προσελθὼν αὐτὸν κατεπάτησεν.

Ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ, ὅτι οὐ δεῖ πρὸ τῆς ὄψεως δι’ ἀκοῆς μόνης ταράττεσθαι.

A lion, once hearing a frog croaking loudly, turned himself towards the sound, supposing it to be some great beast. But having waited a little, as he saw him coming out of the lake, advancing he trampled him underfoot.

The story makes clear, that one must not be troubled by only a sound before the sight.

Alternate Version

Greek text from K. Halm, Fabulae Aesopicae Collectae (Leipzig: Teubner, 1854), p. 121, #248b

Λέων ἀκούσας βατράχου κεκραγότος, ἐπεστράφη πρὸς τὴν φωνὴν, οἰόμενος μέγα τι ζῶον εἶναι· προσμείνας δὲ μικρὸν χρόνον, ὡς ἐθεάσατο αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς λίμνης ἐξελθόντα, προσελθῶν κατεπάτησεν, εἰπών· “μηδένα ἀκοὴ ταραττέτω πρὸ τῆς θέας.”

Ὁ λόγος εὔχαιρος πρὸς ἄνδρα γλωσσώδη, οὐδὲν πλέον τοῦ λαλεῖν δυνάμενον.

A lion, hearing a frog croaking, turned himself towards the sound, supposing it to be some great beast; but having waited a short time, as he saw him coming out of the lake, approaching he trampled him underfoot, saying: “Let no one be troubled by a sound before the sight.”

The story is timely for a talkative man, able to do nothing more than babble.

Rana et Leo

Latin text from Laura Gibbs, Mille Fabulae et Una: 1001 Aesop’s Fables in Latin (Morrisville, NC: Lulu Publishers, 2010), #600, p. 191 Gibbs translated this from the Greek in Fabulae Aesopicae, ed. F. De Furia. 1810 (De Furia 90). This fable is Perry index #141.

Ranam magna vi crocitantem cum leo olim audisset, ad eam vocem protinus sese convertit, magnum aliquod animal esse arbitratus. Paulisper itaque cum substitisset, ubi illam ex palude prodeuntem adspexit, accedens illico proculcavit, haec intra se aiens, “Neminem, re nondum perspecta, vox audita conturbet; nec quispiam, antequam viderit, ab ullo deterreatur.”

Once when a lion had heard a frog croaking with great vigor, right away he turned himself to her voice, supposing it to be some great beast. And so after he had stopped for a little while, when he caught sight of her appearing out of the marsh, approaching he immediately trampled her, saying these words to himself, “No one should be disturbed by a voice having been heard, the thing not yet having been seen; nor should anyone be frightened off by anything, before he has seen it.”

Discussion

Elizabeth Jane Weston was a notable poet of the Neo-Latin tradition and the only female Neo-Latin poet to have a collection of her writings published. Though she has since faded into relative obscurity, her writing was well-known in her lifetime (Cheney et al. 2000: xi). One collection of her works, entitled the Parthenica, was published in the early seventeenth century and included several Latin translations of a much older tradition, the ancient Greek Aesopic fables. The fable featured here, “Leo ac Rana,” tells the story of a lion who is frightened by a frog’s loud croaking, until he sees that the sound is only coming from a frog and crushes it underfoot. The moral as stated by the lion in the fable is to not be frightened by a sound alone before seeing the thing for itself. In other words, first appearances can be deceiving, and often the things we fear turn out in the end to not be so bad after all.

The original ancient Greek Aesopic fable actually had two different versions. Both tell the same story as Weston’s version, but the intended recipient of the overall message is different. The first version (Halm, 1852, p. 121, #248) is addressed to the lions of the world, telling them not to be bothered by the voices of tasteless critics. The second version (Halm, 1852, p. 121, #248b), however, is written to the frogs, men who can do nothing more than babble (note the rare word γλωσσώδη, “talkative” or “babbling,” and λαλεῖν, “babble” or “speak childishly”). The overall message does remain the same, but this version serves as a warning to the “frogs” instead of reassurance to the “lions.”

With a choice between two existing versions of the same story, Weston chose that aimed towards the “lions” or powerful people of the world. This may seem surprising at first, given Weston was not a powerful person and grew up in poverty (Cheney et al. 2000: xi-xiii). Her father was in prison for killing a member of the royal court in Prague, and throughout the course of her writings her beloved brother and mother both passed away. However, she did have close connections with many powerful people, including aristocrat Georg Martinius von Baldhoven. Baldhoven was a tireless supporter of Weston and her work and was responsible for the publication of her works. She also had connections with the royal court for whom her father once worked, including King Rudolf himself. Many of her writings were addressed directly to members of this court, who often helped to support her and her family after her father’s imprisonment. “Leo ac Rana” may have been written not only to keep the Aesopic tradition alive through her own Neo-Latin writing, but also as a message of reassurance to one or some of the powerful people with whom she was affiliated. This could have been Baldhoven, a member of the royal court, or perhaps even Rudolf.

One should also consider the possibility that Weston chose this particular fable to translate because of all the hardships she had to endure throughout her life. She wrote poems and letters describing her poverty, the death of her brother and mother, and her father’s stay in prison. Throughout these terrible circumstances, she found comfort in her writing and in her religion. Perhaps to her, these things were adjacent to the lion’s realization that the awesome noise was only coming from a frog. She initially feared and despaired of her fate, but was able to reassure herself with the knowledge that everything would be okay in the end. For example, she wrote after her brother’s death that she must say farewell “forever […] until I follow with my mother through the heavenly summits” (Cheney et al. 2000: 56–57, Parthenica I.28). Despite using the word “forever,” she acknowledged immediately after that this separation from her brother was impermanent. While she would undoubtedly mourn, his death was not as horrible to her as it would first appear, because she knew she would be reunited with him eventually.

Along with choosing one of two morals presented in the original Greek versions of the fable, Weston made certain word choices which emphasized her own unique take on the story and its meaning. Her translation can be compared not only with the Greek but also with an alternative Medieval Latin, as collected by Laura Gibbs (2010). First, Weston added new adjectives and verbs characterizing the frog which were not present in the Greek or in Gibbs’ version, including garrit (“chattering”), inepta (“impertinent” or “tasteless”), evomat (“spewing out” or “vomiting forth”), and ambitiosa (“ostentatious”) (Cheney et al. 2000: 146, II.85). The frog in the first Greek version of the fable (Halm, 1852, p. 121, #248) and in Gibbs’ translation was given essentially no characterization, and this addition subtly but quite dramatically changes the tone of the story and therefore its moral. In the Greek and Gibbs’ translation, the frog is simply loud but not a threat. In Weston’s version, however, the frog is depicted as tasteless and an annoyance, chattering away stupidly. This is more similar to the alternative version of the Greek (Halm, 1852, p. 121, #248b) which directly points out the comparison of the frog to a babbling man or someone who is all talk.

Second, Weston described the lion as proud (Latin superbus), a detail which all three other versions of the fable left out. This could be a compliment to Baldhoven or Rudolf or whichever powerful person Weston may have presented this to, or a reminder to that person to maintain their pride even when confronted with a loud and obnoxious critic. This could also potentially refer to Weston herself, having to maintain her pride as an ambitious woman and poet as she crushed seemingly insurmountable obstacles on her way to self-sufficiency and fame. She knew all about overcoming challenges while remaining proud, and her fierce drive enabled her to look past the initial appearance of her difficulties and find ways to overcome them and reach the success she knew she was capable of.

Third, Weston makes it clear in her translation that the lion is originally terrified (Latin attonitus) by the frog’s croaking, while this is never outright specified in Gibbs’ or the Greek. This further magnified the distinction between the lion’s initial response (shock or fear) and final action (trampling the frog), and emphasized the lion’s first reaction to the noise. At first encounter, a critic or obstacle can seem much worse than it actually is.

Finally, Weston makes one type of word choice which does not change the meaning of the story but does emphasize her own unique flair for storytelling. Weston’s translation is sprinkled with onomatopoeia, adding a whimsical feel to the story with words describing the frog’s croaking: garrit, loquacem, coaxat. She also adds the playful word saltat (“hops”) to describe the frog’s movement.

Overall, whether it was meant for the lions or the frogs of the world, whether it was written to Baldhoven or royalty or herself, Weston’s “Leo ac Rana” has a message applicable to all of us today: don’t be deterred when something seems insurmountable at first, and don’t be bothered by tasteless, babbling critics. (Alternatively, don’t be a tasteless, babbling critic yourself.)

References

Cheney, D., Hosington, B. M., & Money, D. (2000). Elizabeth Jane Weston: Collected writings. University of Toronto Press.

Gibbs, L. (2010). Mille fabulae et una: 1001 Aesop’s fables in Latin. Lulu Publishers.

Halm, Karl. (1852). Aisōpeiōn mythōn synagōge: Fabulae Aesopicae collectae. Lipsiae: Sumptibus et Typis B.G. Teubneri.

This edition was completed as the final project for Latin 234: Ovid, taught by Christopher Francese in Spring 2021. Prof. Francese modernized the Latin orthography.

Lexi Chroscinski: Elizabeth Jane Weston, The Captured Lark

Elizabeth Jane Weston (1582-1612) was one of the most accomplished Latin poets of the early modern period. Among her published works is a collection of Aesopic fables rendered into Latin elegiac couplets. Lexi Chroscinski (Dickinson ’23) edits, translates, and discusses one of them here, “The Captured Lark,” comparing it to Greek version of the same fable.

Cassita Sola (The Captured Lark)

From Elizabeth Jane Weston, Parthenica (Prague: Paulus Sessius, ca. 1606) vol. 2, fol. B6a.

Aucupis insidiis haerens Cassita dolosis,

miratur, quaenam sit sibi causa necis.

Hei mihi, flens clamat, quae tanti causa doloris?

Hei mihi, quam me sors exitialis habet?

Num quia per vetitas furtim irrepsisse fenestras,

aut soleo alterius me satiare bonis?

Hoc praeter nihil est, si haec quidquam culpa meretur:

Dignave quis Cereris granula morte putat.

 

A lark, clinging in the crafty traps of the fowler,

Wondered what might be the cause of death for her.

“Alas for me,” weeping, she cries out,

“What [is] the cause of this great pain?

Alas for me, how destructive fate holds me!

Is it because I am accustomed to have crept secretly through forbidden windows,

or [because I am accustomed] to satisfy myself with the goods of others?

There is nothing except this, unless this fault deserves anything,

or someone supposes that the small grains of food are worthy of death.”

 Vocabulary & Notes

1 auceps cupis 3m. bird-catcher, fowler

insidiae arum 1f. pl. artifice, crafty device, plot, snare

haereo 2 haesi haesum hang, stick, catch, cling

Cassita ae 1f. crested lark, tufted lark

dolosus a um crafty, cunning, deceitful

2 quaenam: ‘nam’ is intensive

sit: subjunctive with indirect question

nex necis 3f. death

3 hei alas! woe!

clamo 1 to call, cry out, shout

4 exitialis e destructive, fatal, deadly

5 num: introduces direct question

furtim by stealth, secretly, privily

irrepo 3 irrepsi irreptum to creep in, into, upon, or to a place

fenestra ae 1f. a window

6 satio 1 to fill, satisfy, satiate

7 hoc praeter: note the unusual inversion between these two words. Most of the time it is written as praeter hoc, “except this,” “besides this,” etc.

8 dignabilis e worthy

granulum i 2n. a small grain (Late Latin)

Ceres eris 3f. food, bread, fruit, corn, grain; the figurative use of this word stems from Ceres, mother of Proserpina, who is also the goddess of agriculture, specifically of wheat cultivation and fruit growth

Discussion

The first two lines narrate and provide the context before the lark’s dialogue, stating that the bird has been captured by a fowler, and now she is wondering what of her actions have caused her this death. Weston’s word choice is vital to understanding our lark’s situation, and one very important word here is miratur. Because the bird is wondering what warrants her death, it shows immediately that she hasn’t considered her actions, up to this point, worthy of death. Thus, she questions what on earth she could have possibly done to deserve this, the tone of which is conveyed with flens, clamat, and tanti in line 3. At this point, we, the reader, begin to understand what the cause may be. The lark suggests that it could be because she broke into someone’s house (per vetitas furtim irrepsisse fenestras), or that she fills her own needs by taking the goods of someone else (soleo alterius me satiare bonis)? There are a few other keywords that provide a sense of the moral this fable is implying. The two verbs soleo and satiare give the reader insight into the lark’s character and her actions. She is accustomed to sneaking into people’s houses and stealing food, and she is satisfying herself with the goods of other people. Since it is a pattern for the lark to do this, and because satio can also mean to satiate or gorge, implying a sense of greed, it is possible that the reader is not supposed to feel sympathy for the lark. The lark is also completely clueless, as stated before, and as shown again with the verbs meretur and putat. She doesn’t consider her actions deserving of death, and is incredibly upset at her situation, as is underscored by the repeated phrase, Hei mihi. This theme of cluelessness is also highlighted by the word sors. While it can mean “fate,” it can also mean “luck,” suggesting that the lark thinks everything that is happening to her is a result of bad luck when the reader knows that this was to be her fate based upon her pattern of thievery (soleo). The other verb, putat (“suppose”) demonstrates the lark’s misguided judgment, as she doesn’t understand how anyone could be upset with her actions. This is a very interesting word choice as puto takes on a more ironic meaning of “suppose,” instead of a verb of intellectual thinking, such as “cogito” or “credo,” suggesting that the lark’s conclusion is unjustified. So, perhaps, at this point, we may agree that stealing is wrong and the lark deserves her fate; however, the last line could change our stance. The lark proposes a question: does stealing a small grain of bread truly warrant death (dignave quis Cereris granula morte putat)? While some may decide that the lark does deserve to die for her actions, I would argue that some would be sympathetic to her plea, and I believe that is one way to interpret this fable. Even though the lark stole something of seemingly small significance, and perhaps had good reason to do so, she stole, nonetheless.

A similar moral can be taken from the Greek version collected in Carl Halm’s Fabulae Aesopicae Collectae as fable 209 (p. 104), titled Κορυδαλλός:

Κορυδαλλὸς, εἰς πάγην ἁλοὺς, θρηνῶν ἔλεγεν, “Οἴμοι τῷ ταλαιπώρῳ καὶ δυστήνῳ πτηνῷ· οὐ χρυσὸν ἐνοσφισάμην τινὸς, οὐκ ἄργυρον, οὐκ ἄλλο τι τῶν τιμίων·κόκκος δὲ σίτου μικρὸς τὸν θάνατόν μοι προὐξένησεν.”

Ὁ μῦθος πρὸς τοὺς διὰ κέρδος εὐτελὲς μέγαν ὑφισταμένους κίνδυνον.

A Lark, having been caught in a trap, said, wailing, “Oh! What a sad and unfortunate bird I am! I did not steal anyone’s gold or silver, or any other thing of value, but a small cup of grain has brought death upon me.

The story is directed at those who run large risks for small gains.

Similar to Weston, the Greek version gives the account of the lark, who argues that she didn’t steal anything of value, such as gold or silver, from anyone, but a small grain of bread is going to be the cause of her death. While the Greek version is nearly identical to that of Weston’s, the former explicitly states the moral. Here, there is a different moral suggested. This one would have us understand that sometimes the reward is not worth the risk. All the lark wanted was to steal a little grain, but her punishment was death, so one might argue that the lark shouldn’t have even bothered stealing the grain since it wasn’t worth risking her life. One important comparison between Halm’s version and Weston’s is the words “ταλαιπώρῳ” and “δυστήνῳ” with “exitalis sors.” Both these phrases highlight the lark’s predicament, making for an accurate comparative fable, aside from the near-identical plot. With Halm’s fable almost paralleled to Weston’s, it seems that this is the moral Weston is emphasizing, and this is further evidenced by looking at her life.

When Weston’s stepfather, Edward Kelley, died, he left her and her family completely destitute. In turn, Weston became reliant on her circle of friends and benefactors – relationships most likely forged by her stepfather – and because of her status, she learned not to take for granted those who were supporting her in life, unlike the lark, who became greedy. In the book Elizabeth Jane Weston: Collected Writings, the editors state, “There is a certain irony in the fact that Weston, young, foreign, helpless, and destitute, as she likes to describe herself, can nevertheless call upon a circle of such rich and powerful men.” (Cheney et al. 2000: xx). I’d suggest that this is not ironic, but rather a result of respect for the patron-client relationship. With this, one can see that Elizabeth has learned the value of taking only what is needed from those who are willing to give it, which is a value the lark did not learn. While this interpretation of “Cassita Sola” seems to line up well with Weston’s life, there is another strong possible interpretation that also ties into Weston’s life. The lark’s actions, although habitual, were seemingly harmless. All she stole were small grains to feed herself, and her punishment is death. I’d argue that most would think that the punishment does not fit the crime in this scenario, and I’d further contend that neither did Weston. The most evident case for this interpretation would be in Book II in her poem modeled after Ovid’s Tristia: “She [Weston] identifies with Ovid in his exile but is able to inject a further personal note into the poem by alluding specifically to her loss of father and family in England, the theft of her goods, her innocence and unjust punishment, and her inability to move Rudolf’s heart” (Cheney et al. 2000: xxii). This passage can be applied directly to “Cassita Sola” – the lark was seemingly innocent, she is being put to death for stealing a grain of wheat, which most would view as an unjust punishment, and as far as we can tell, the lark was unable to move the fowler’s heart enough to release her. Cheney and Hosington also demonstrate Weston’s anger “at the ‘excessive savagery’ of death” and how that played a huge role “in her perception of her young life as one of unhappiness, and it contributes to her sense of injustice” (xxii). Given Weston’s strong sense of injustice in this fable, one can see how this “Cassita Sola” demonstrates this, as it pertains to Weston’s life as well.

Samuel Croxall, an Anglican who published an edition of Aesop’s Fables, interpreted “The Fowler and the Lark” similarly (Fables of Aesop, and Others: With Instructive Applications [14th edition, London, 1789], #97, p. 166v). He argues that justice is unfair in the world – a poor man might go to jail and die for stealing some food to feed his family, but some of the major CEOs who swindled millions of people out of money in 2008 are still up in the corporate world, making even more money. In Croxall’s world, the little guy gets a harsh punishment for a small crime, but the big guy who affects more than just those around him gets off scot-free.

This lesson is seen and experienced throughout our lives as well. In the 2012 film adaptation of the musical Les Misérables, the audience sees a man named Jean Valjean finally released from prison after nineteen years. To someone who has never seen the film before, one might be asking themselves, “Nineteen years seems like a long time to be in prison. He must have committed a bad crime.” Yet, the story we are told is that he stole a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Here, Jean Valjean had an arguably very just reason for stealing, but even so, he was in prison because he stole, similar to the lark’s stealing of a small grain of wheat. Another example would be if a woman were to break into a rich person’s house and steal one diamond necklace out of hundreds. This same woman is working three jobs and has a family that needs to be fed and cared for – this necklace is the solution to their problems. She was arrested and now sits in jail. Are we not sympathetic to her plea? Unfortunately, Weston gives us no background as to where this lark is or whose grain she is stealing from. For all one knows, the fowler could live in a mansion, and might not have even noticed the lark steal the grain had she not been caught. If this were the case, that the fowler had so much, we might even be more sympathetic to the lark’s situation, but even then, it still does not change the fact that the lark stole. This is the ethical dilemma about which Weston could be writing. This is not to say that the interpretation offered by the Greek version is incorrect or doesn’t apply to Weston’s fable, but rather this is another way to interpret “Cassita Sola.” We are not supposed to steal, but there are certainly multiple scenarios where we would argue that it is justified, or if not justified, we may side in favor of the offender. Sure, the examples given are either fictional or inventive, but that does not mean they did not and/or do not happen. Did Jean Valjean truly deserve to spend nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread? Did that woman deserve to go to jail for trying to care for her family? Did the lark truly deserve to die for stealing one grain of wheat? While we may not be able to have a uniform answer, we can certainly turn to Elizabeth Jane Weston’s life to determine her answer, and in turn, perhaps find answers to our own ethical dilemmas that we face.

This edition was completed as the final project for Latin 234: Ovid, taught by Christopher Francese in Spring 2021. Prof. Francese modernized the Latin orthography.