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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
abandoned women

The Heroides (Her.) (The Heroines), or Epistulae Heroidum (Letters of Heroines), are a collection of fifteen epistolary poems composed by Ovid in Latin elegiac couplets, and presented as though written by a selection of aggrieved heroines of Greek and Roman mythology, in address to their heroic lovers who have in some way mistreated, neglected, or abandoned them.

A further set of six poems—widely known as the Double Heroides and numbered 16 to 21 in modern scholarly editions—follows these individual letters and presents three separate exchanges of paired epistles: one each from a heroic lover to his absent beloved and from the heroine in return.

Arguably some of Ovid's most influential works (see below), one point that has greatly contributed to the mystique of the Heroides—and to the reverberations they have produced within the writings of later generations—is directly attributable to Ovid himself.  In the third book of his Ars Amatoria, Ovid makes the claim that, in writing these fictional epistolary poems in the personae of famous heroines—rather than from a first-person perspective—he created an entirely new literary genre.  Recommending parts of his poetic output as suitable reading material to his assumed audience of Roman women, Ovid wrote of his Heroides, uel tibi composita cantetur Epistola uoce: | ignotum hoc aliis ille nouauit opus (A.A. 3.345-6: “Or let an Epistle be sung out by you in practiced voice: unknown to others, he [sc. Ovid] originated this sort of composition”).  The full extent of Ovid's originality in this matter has been a point of scholarly contention: E. J. Kenney (University of Cambridge), for instance, notes that “nouauit is ambiguous = either ‘invented’ or ‘renewed’, cunningly obscuring without explicitly disclaiming O[vid]'s debt to Propertius' ‘Arethusa’ (4.3) for the original idea.”<ref>Kenney (1996) 1, n. 3.</ref>  In spite of various interpretations of Propertius 4.3, consensus nevertheless concedes to Ovid the lion's share of the credit in the thorough exploration of what was, in its time, a highly innovative poetic form. Template:TOCleft


Dating and authenticity

The exact dating of the Heroides, as with the overall chronology of the Ovidian corpus, remains a matter of debate.  As Peter E. Knox (University of Colorado at Boulder) notes, “[t]here is no consensus about the relative chronology of this [sc. early] phase of O[vid]'s career,” a position which has not advanced significantly since that comment was made.<ref>Knox (1995) 3.</ref>  Exact dating is hindered not only by a lack of evidence, but by the fact that much of what is known at all comes from Ovid's own poetry.  One passage in the second book of Ovid's Amores (Am.) has been adduced especially often in this context:

quod licet, aut artes teneri profitemur Amoris
   (ei mihi, praeceptis urgeor ipse meis)
aut quod Penelopes uerbis reddatur Ulixi
   scribimus et lacrimas, Phylli relicta, tuas,
quod Paris et Macareus et quod male gratus Iason
   Hippolytique parens Hippolytusque legant,
quodque tenens strictum Dido miserabilis ensem
   dicat etAoniae Lesbis amata lyrae.†

-- Am. 2.18.19-26

I do what I may—either profess the arts of tender love
   (Alas! I'm beset by my own teachings!)
Or write what's rendered in the words of Penelope to her Ulysses,
   And your tearful tale too, forsaken Phyllis—
That which Paris and Macareus, and that also which oh-so-ungrateful Jason,
   And Hippolytus's sire, and Hippolytus himself may read—
And what pitiable Dido, holding now the blade unsheathed,
   Might say, and so too †that woman of Lesbos, beloved of the Aonian lyre.†

<ref>The reader is to understand that the letters read by Paris, Macareus, Jason, Hippolytus's father, and Hippoltyus himself were written by (respectively) Oenone, Canace, Hypsipyle (and possibly also Medea), Ariadne, and Phaedra. The "woman beloved of the Aonian lyre" refers to Sappho.</ref>

Knox notes that “[t]his passage . . . provides the only external evidence for the date of composition of the Heroides listed here.  The only collection of Heroides attested by O[vid] therefore antedates at least the second edition of the Amores (c. 2 BC), and probably the first (c. 16 BC) . . .”<ref>Knox (1995) 6. He also provides (p. 6, n. 9) a cautionary note, with references, on the the use of modern terminology such as publication to refer to “the circumstances of ancient book production and circulation.”</ref>  On this view, the most probable date of composition for at least the majority of the collection of single Heroides ranges between c. 25 and 16 BCE, if indeed their eventual publication predated that of the assumed first edition of the Amores in that latter year.<ref>Like many other aspects of Ovidian studies, what is known about the publication of multiple editions of the Amores is derived almost solely from Ovid himself, who opens those early poems with the epigrammatic preface qui modo Nasonis fueramus quinque libelli, | tres sumus; hoc illi praetulit auctor opus. | ut iam nulla tibi nos sit legisse uoluptas, | at levior demptis poena duobus erit (“We who were (not so long ago) the five little books of Naso | Are now three; their author preferred his work this way over that. | Though even now you may take little pleasure in reading us, | With two books swept away your pain will be lighter”). With Ovid's word as the only viable evidence on the matter, the existence of a second edition of the Amores is widely regarded as potentially questionable (cf. the arguments of, e.g., Holzberg [1997]).</ref>  Regardless of absolute dating, the evidence nonetheless suggests that the single Heroides represent some of Ovid's earliest poetic efforts.

Questions of authenticity, however, have often inhibited the literary appreciation of these poems.<ref>For a fuller overview of the authenticity debate than can be offered here, see, among others, Lachmann (1876), Palmer (1898), Courtney (1965) and (1998), Anderson (1973), Reeve (1973), Jacobson (1974), Knox (1986), (1995, esp. the introduction), and (2002), and Kennedy (2002).</ref>  Joseph Farrell (University of Pennsylvania) identifies three distinct issues of importance to the collection in this regard: (1) individual interpolations within single poems, (2) the authorship of entire poems by a possible Ovidian impersonator, and (3) the relation of the Double Heroides to the singles, coupled with the authenticity of that secondary collection.<ref>Farrell (1998).</ref>  Discussion of these issues has been a focus, even if tangentially, of many treatments of the Heroides in recent memory.

As an example following these lines, for some time scholars debated over whether this passage from the Amores—corroborating, as it does, only the existence of Her. 1-2, 4-7, 10-11, and very possibly of 12, 13,<ref>Am. 2.18.38 reads et comes extincto Laodamia viro (“and Laodamia, companion to her deceased husband”), which could refer solely to a subject of the poetry of Macer, who is addressed in Am. 2.18, or could as easily be relating Macer's works to Ovid's own compositions, serving as evidence, therefore, for the authenticity of Her. 13.</ref> and 15—could be cited fairly as evidence for the inauthenticity of at least the letters of Briseis (3), Hermione (8), Deianira (9), and Hypermnestra (14), if not also those of Medea (12), Laodamia (13), and Sappho (15).<ref>Some critics have argued that the passage in cruces in line 26—together with its partner at line 34 (det votam Phoebo Lesbis amata lyram — “the woman of Lesbos, loved in return, might offer Phoebus the promised lyre”)—is in fact an interpolation.</ref>  Stephen Hinds (University of Washington) argued, however, that this list constitutes only a poetic catalogue, in which there was no need for Ovid to have enumerated every individual epistle.<ref>Hinds (1993) 30 f., a suggestion cited by scholars since almost as a matter of reflex. Cf. also, on Her. 12, Knox (1986) and Heinze (1991-93). For a more recent discussion of the broad implications of this passage from the Amores, see Knox (2002) 118-21.</ref>  This assertion has been widely persuasive, and the tendency amongst scholarly readings of the later 1990s and following has been towards careful and insightful literary explication of individual letters, either proceeding under the assumption of, or with an eye towards proving, Ovidian authorship. Other studies, eschewing direct engagement with this issue in favour of highlighting the more ingenious elements—and thereby demonstrating the high value—of individual poems in the collection, have essentially subsumed the authenticity debate, implicating it through a tacit equation of high literary quality with Ovidian authorship.  This trend is visible especially in the most recent monographs on the Heroides.<ref>Cf. in particular the recent dissertations-turned-published-monographs of Lindheim (2003), Spentzou (2003), and Fulkerson (2005).</ref>

The collection

Template:Expand-section The paired letters of the Double Heroides are not outlined here: see the relevant section of that article for the double epistles (16-21). The single Heroides are written from the viewpoints of the following heroines (and heroes). The quotations highlighted are the opening couplets of each poem, by which each would have been identified, in medieval manuscripts of the collection:

I. Penelope to Ulysses

        haec tua Penelope lento tibi mittit, Ulixe;
           nil mihi rescribas attinet: ipse veni!
This your Penelope sends to you, too-slow Ulysses;
    A letter in return does me no good; come yourself!

Penelope writes to her famed husband, Odysseus, a hero of the Trojan War, towards the end of his long absence (the subject of Homer's Odyssey).<ref>See esp. Kennedy (1984) and Hinds (1999).</ref>


II. Phyllis to Demophoon

        hospita, Demophoon, tua te Rhodopeia Phyllis
            ultra promissum tempus abesse queror!
I, your hostess, Demophoon—I, your Phyllis of Rhodope—
    Complain: you're gone far longer than you promised!

Phyllis, the daughter of Lycurgus, writes to her lover Demophoon, the son of Theseus, king of Athens, after he fails in his promised return from his homeland.


III. Briseis to Achilles

                quam legis, a rapta Briseide littera venit,
                     vix bene barbarica Graeca notata manu.
What you're reading—this letter came from your ravished Briseis,
    The Greek painstakingly copied out by her uncivilised hand.

Briseis, the daughter of Brises, writes to Achilles, the central hero of the Trojan War and focal character of Homer's Iliad, urging him to accept her as part of a package-deal from Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces at Troy, and to return to battle against the Trojans.


IV. Phaedra to Hippolytus

        quam nisi tu dederis, caritura est ipsa, salutem
             mittit Amazonio Cressa puella viro.
What well-being she herself will lack unless you give it her
    The Cretan maiden sends to the man born of an Amazon.

Phaedra, wife of Theseus, writes to her stepson, Hippolytus, confessing her semi-incestuous and illicit love for him.


V. Oenone to Paris

        perlegis? an coniunx prohibet nova? perlege—non est
             ista Mycenaea littera facta manu!
Are you reading? Or perhaps your new wife forbids it. Read—it's no
      Letter made by any Mycenaean hand!

The nymph Oenone, by Hellenistic tradition Paris' first wife, writes to Paris, son of Priam King of Troy, after he abandoned her to go on his famed journey to Sparta, and then returned with the abducted Helen of Sparta as a wife.

VI. Hypsipyle to Jason

VII. Dido to Aeneas

VIII. Hermione to Orestes

IX. Deianira to Hercules

X. Ariadne to Theseus

  • X. Ariadne to Theseus after he abandoned her on the island of Naxos on his way back to Athens. He does not marry Phaedra until later (see Epistle IV).

XI. Canace to Macareus

  • XI. Canace, daughter of Aeolus, to her brother and lover, Macareus, before killing herself following the death of their baby at the hands of their father

XII. Medea to Jason

  • XII. Medea to Jason, after he abandoned her to marry Creusa (also known as Glauce)

XIII. Laodamia to Protesilaus

XIV. Hypermnestra to Lynceus

XV. Sappho to Phaon



Template:Expand-section A translation was made of this work at the end of the fifteenth century by the French poet Octavien de Saint-Gelais, who later became Bishop of Angoulême. In the same century, Juan Rodríguez de la Cámara wrote his Bursario, a partial translation of the Heroides.

The Loeb Classical Library combines the Heroides with Amores in Ovid I. Penguin Books first published Harold Isbell's translation in 1990. Isbell's translation uses unrhymed couplets that generally alternate between eleven and nine syllables. A translation in rhymed couplets by Darryl Hine appeared in 1991.


All notes refer to works listed in the Bibliography, below.

<references />

Selected bibliography

For references specifically relating to that subject, please see the relevant bibliography of the Double Heroides.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Heroides" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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