Amores was Ovid’s first complete work of poetry, and is one of his most famous. The poems in Amores document the shifting passions and emotions of a narrator who shares Ovid’s name, and who is in love with a woman he calls Corinna. She is of a higher class and therefore unattainable, but the poems show the progression from infatuation to love to affair to loss. In these excerpts, we see two sides of the affair — a declaration of love, and a hot afternoon spent with Corinna. Our poet here is Jane Alison, author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid, a new translation of Ovid’s love poetry.
It’s only fair: the girl who snared me should love me, too,
or keep me in love forever.
Oh, I want too much: if she’ll just endure my love,
Venus will have granted my prayers.
Please take me. I’d be your slave year after long year.
Please take me. I know how to love true.
I might not be graced with a grand family name,
only knight-blood runs in my veins,
my acres might not need ploughs ad infinitum,
my parents count pennies, are tight—
but I’ve got Apollo, the Muses, and Bacchus,
and Amor, who sent me your way,
plus true fidelity, unimpeachable habits,
barest candor, blushingest shame.
I don’t chase lots of girls—I’m no bounder in love.
Trust me: you’ll be mine forever.
I want to live with you each year the Fates spin me
and die with you there to mourn.
Give me yourself—a subject perfect for poems—
they’ll spring up, adorning their source.
Poems made Io (horrified heifer-girl) famous,
plus that girl led on by a “swan”
and the one who set sail on a make-believe bull,
his lilting horn tight in her fist.
We too will be famous, sung all over the world:
my name bound forever to yours.
Scorching hot, and the day had drifted past noon;
I spread out on my bed to rest.
Some slats of the windows were open, some shut,
the light as if in a forest
or like the sinking sun’s cool glow at dusk
or when night wanes, but dawn’s not come.
It was the sort of light that nervous girls love,
their shyness hoping for shadows.
And oh—in slips Corinna, her thin dress unsashed,
hair rivering down her pale neck,
just as lovely Sameramis would steal into a bedroom,
they say, or Lais, so loved by men.
I pulled at her dress, so scant its loss barely showed,
but still she struggled to keep it.
Though she struggled a bit, she did not want to win:
undone by herself, she gave in.
When she stood before me, her dress on the floor,
her body did not have a flaw.
Such shoulders I saw and touched—oh, such arms.
The form of her breast firm in my palm,
and below that firm fullness a belly so smooth—
her long shapely sides, her young thighs!
Why list one by one? I saw nothing not splendid
and clasped her close to me, bare.
Who can’t guess the rest? And then we lay languid.
Oh, for more middays just so.
Jane Alison is author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid. Her previous works on Ovid include her first novel, The Love-Artist (2001) and a song-cycle entitled XENIA (with composer Thomas Sleeper, 2010). Her other books include a memoir, The Sisters Antipodes (2009), and two novels, Natives and Exotics (2005) and The Marriage of the Sea (2003). She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia.