Read Heroines: A Verse Translation by Ovid Daryl Hine Online


The Heroides, written by Ovid some 2000 years ago, consists of a series of imaginary letters by legendary females of antiquity to their hapless lovers or husbands. The verse letters--purportedly penned by such heroines as Helen, Medea, Penelope, Dido & Sappho--are the outpourings of women who have been cruelly victimized, yet they are written in the witty & ironicThe Heroides, written by Ovid some 2000 years ago, consists of a series of imaginary letters by legendary females of antiquity to their hapless lovers or husbands. The verse letters--purportedly penned by such heroines as Helen, Medea, Penelope, Dido & Sappho--are the outpourings of women who have been cruelly victimized, yet they are written in the witty & ironic tone for which Ovid is famous. As a source of inspiration for other poets, as a model for the episotolary novel & the dramatic monologue, & as feminine footnotes to Greek prehistory, the letters have fascinated readers from Ovid's time to the present....

Title : Heroines: A Verse Translation
Author :
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ISBN : 9780300050936
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 175 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Heroines: A Verse Translation Reviews

  • Nikki
    2019-03-22 23:47

    I'd never thought about reading more by Ovid, and then I came across The Heroides while showing someone else the wonders of my city's central library. (Before I knew it, I had a stack of nine books in my arms, despite the fact I'm about to go visit my parents via train, meaning I can't carry that many books.) Anyway, I was delighted to find this, and it's a nice edition too, with explanations of all the myths and extensive notes (which for the most part I don't need, but which were a handy refresher when I couldn't quite remember) and introductions to each poem. The translation seems good to me, in that it's readable and flows well, and doesn't get in the way of experiencing the poems.In a way it seems almost a modern, feminist thing to do, giving these female heroines the space to make their complaints (though some of the poems are 'written' by men, they are the ones paired with a female response). Penelope voices her worries about Odysseus' long absence -- something I remember all the girls in my class being offended about on her behalf, since he spends most of the time in Circe and Calypso's beds. Medea pours out her outrage, Dido her heartbreak; Phaedra tries to manipulate Hippolytus into her arms. Not all of them are exactly wonderful women -- Medea is downright wicked -- but they're all given a chance to speak of their pain and the wrongs done to them.

  • Daniel Chaikin
    2019-04-13 22:54

    31. Heroides by Ovid, translated by Harold Isbelloriginal date: circa 16 bcetranslated 1990format: Paperbackacquired: Half-Price Books in October 2016read: July 8-22rating: 4There are, apparently, many different Ovids, or he was a writer who worked in multiple distinctly independent styles. I would have said that differently if I hadn't started Metamorphoses before reviewing, and I would have had a vastly different impression of this if I hadn't read Amores and The Art of Love beforehand. Ovid's love poems introduced me to a hyper-witty and hyper-clever really knowledgeable but insincere poet. This was not that voice. Heroides is a collection of letters written mainly by spurned heroines in Greek mythology to lovers. Fifteen of the letters come from the likes Penelope, Ariadne or Medea, or more obscure women like Laodamia to Protestilaus or Canace to Marcareus. The sixteenth letter comes from Sappho. And six more are back and forth with lovers. Paris writes Helen to woo her, and Helen writes back with what amounts to something that is not no. And so on.I'm sure the modern ear can find much to make fun of, and any reader in any age will easily pick up the many levels of satire. But, oddly, these aspects don't color these letters. On the surface they are sincere. The heavy satire is mostly in the situations, the set-up if you like. The letters themselves are straightforward... often romantic, even when or because they are bitter. And they are occasionally moving. Laodamia's letter to Protestilaus stands out. In mythology Protestilaus leaves for Troy shortly after their marriage, and becomes the first casualty in the Trojan war. He is brought back to life for three hours to see Laodamia, who afterward commits suicide. She writes this letter as an unknowing widow. I found it a memorable and touching letter of love, bitter in its irony and yet tangible. Phyllus writes to Demophoon who, when she fell for him only to be abandoned, was not only hurt, but ruined. And she writes longingly. A note about the translator, Harold Isbell. There are many oddities about him that give me pause. He was a bank director, not a professor. He provides a summary of each major character, a wonderful resource, but they are iffy and partial summaries. Each is simplified leaving a clean and often appealing impression, but one that may contradict or disregard major versions of these stories. His citations of ancient literature are incomplete and a bit haphazard. And, despite all his notes, he never once brings up anything about the translation or original Latin. But, I really enjoyed reading this. So... ?? Ariadne to TheseusYou would have died in the twisting halls withoutthe string that I gave to be your guide.You said to me, 'I swear by these perils thatas long as we live, you will be mine.'We are alive, Theseus, but I am not yours; ---Laodamia to ProtestilausI'm told the winds detain you at Aulis;where were these winds when you sailed from me?Then the tides should have risen against your oars;then was the time for a raging surf.I could have kissed my lord and given him morerequests, I wanted to say so much.But you were hurried away by a wind yourcrew loved; it was not a lover's wind.---Leander to Hero (across the water)she is so near, but 'almost' starts tears.

  • Elie Feng
    2019-04-05 00:07

    A horrible fan fic.

  • Evan Leach
    2019-04-12 18:02

    For mythology buffs, these poems are pure joy. The Heroides are a collection of 21 poems written from the perspective of heroines and heroes of epic and myth (the original "fan fiction?"). Written in the first person, each poem is addressed to the writer’s lover. The literary device most commonly deployed by Ovid is tragic irony. While the characters writing the poems do not know the outcome of the story, the reader (presumably) does. Ovid is able to give each writer their own unique voice, and displays a sharp understanding of human nature throughout the poems.To really get the most out of the poems, a working knowledge of Greek mythology is a must. Most of the poems were published around 15 b.c., so Ovid could safely assume that the stories surrounding these characters were common knowledge to his audience. He therefore wastes little time in setting up backstory between the characters within each poem. The translation contains a glossary & index which provides a brief summary of the relevant mythology, but it's safe to say that you'll probably enjoy a letter from Penelope to Ulysses more if you're familiar with the Odyssey, for example. There's really not a subpar poem in the bunch. V (Oenone to Paris), X (Ariadne to Theseus), XII (Medea to Jason), XIII (Laodamia to Protesilaus), XVI (Paris to Helen) and XVII (Helen to Paris) were some of my personal favorites. The conceit of giving a realistic, human voice to these famous heroes and heroines is a great one, and the execution is top notch. This is a worthy companion to the more famous Metamorphoses, and should not be missed by fans of mythology and Roman literature alike. 4.5 stars.

  • Rebecca
    2019-04-03 00:56


  • ilknur a.k.a. iko ◬
    2019-03-20 21:01

    koskoca ovidius'u heroides (kitabın adı) yapmışsınız asdfasads nys yazıverdim gruba düzeltilmesi için.iyi güldüm gece gece :D

  • Jesse
    2019-03-28 22:54

    The pain that love brings upon separation from a loved one is certainly a theme that resonates with every human being (besides the Stoics who proclaim that true friends and lovers are never separate if they have minds to meet within). Ovid is, here as always, the most penetrating observer of human psychology this side of Shakespeare, and no amount of Freud or Jung will yield to the questing mind the insights the former pair have to offer. These poems are so intimate that I by chance read aloud Dido's letter to Aeneas to an ex-girlfriend of mine, and she became so incensed at how she thought it bore upon her own life that she became hysterical. Such is, and has always been, the reaction of the religious to the humanist looking life in the face.

  • Ana Rînceanu
    2019-04-17 23:51

    Once I found out Ovid wrote an epistolary book from the perspective of such important figures as : Helen, Paris, Leander, Madea, I just had to read it. So we finally know how to woe, to faint modesty, voice despair, threaten as only the ancients could (with a heavy dose of passion and misogyny). This was a good book if you're a fan of Greek mythology, but are not fluent in each protagonist's story since the letters themselves often make notice of the royal lineage and history of the lover so as to give more importance to his/her suit. Depending on the sender, the letter either explores unrequited love, incest, betrayal, the validity of a vow and so much more. This translation makes for a quick read and I look forward to other books by the author.

  • Cassandra Kay Silva
    2019-04-14 19:46

    Ovid you are truly a master. Your poetry always reaches all the places in my heart and touches me deeply. I can absolutely sympathize with the women and men in these works. Love is complicated, love lost leaves much to scorn and curse in this world. Circumstance is the root of so much mischief and so much heartache, this and the fickleness of men. Absolutely beautiful. .

  • Jordan
    2019-03-26 00:11

    One of Ovid's most interesting works; a series of poetic letters written (with a few exceptions) from heroines in Greek myth to men in their lives. Medea to Jason, Penelope to Odysseus, etc. One or two are responses from the men, including the useless Paris.This edition (Penguin Classics) has good, readable translations in good poetry. The introduction, introductory notes, and endnotes are detailed but tedious. The introductions to each poem dwell mostly on form, content, irony, and other critical considerations, but never relate the relevant myth, which would be helpful for some of the more obscure ones.Recommended.

  • spacenaiads
    2019-03-25 17:47

    *fireworks emoji, x100* I'm DONE TRANSLATING THE SAPPHO AGHHHH!!!!!!! 220 lines!! what the hell ovid!! I'm done, Dobby is a free elf! I translated Ariadne, Penelope and Sappho (~500 lines total(!!)) this term, and read the rest of the single Heroides in translation. I'm planning on reading the doubles at a later date, but I didn't want it to interfere with my schoolwork. I'm so happy! It's DONE!!

  • Rea
    2019-03-22 18:46

    Okay but letters from the women who always get left behind in greek myths? YES PLEASE. There are two letters from the men but the majority of them are from them and I didn't know I needed this until I read the first letter from Penelope.

  • Benji
    2019-04-09 19:52

    Pro's : Very accessible, very personalized portraits, genuine emotion and insightful that is missing in most mythology. Even better is the Woman's vantage point in all the lettersCon's : Repetitive after a certain point. A lot of time is spent explaining the myths that the letters touch, which is both bad and good.This book... if you are a person that has a semi-interest in mythology but find much of it too dry, this is the book that rips open the stuffiness, the tight Victorian corset placed on the stories over time but that also had its own dryness in the 2000 year old writing style.When you read this; however, that's all gone. You read in the words of the characters themseves through these epistles, these unbearably earnest and insightful letters between characters. One of them goes like this, for example: How can people call you a hero when you have left me and the life of your own wife to wasted? What glory is that? How can I congratulate you on your courage fighting the three headed dog when I only spend my time imagining how close I came to losing you?Highly recommended, it is especially good because the letters come in small chunks and can be served alone. Previous mythology experience isn't necessary.

  • Roman Clodia
    2019-04-06 01:11

    In the 21 poems of the Heroides, Ovid inserts himself into classical myth and epic by interjecting letters written by the heroines of larger stories. So, for example, he has Penelope write to Odysseus while he is lost on his way back to Ithaka from Troy; Dido to Aeneas after he has left Carthage for Rome; Briseis to Achilles after she has been passed to Agamemnon etc.Usually lauded as giving a `female' voice to masculine epic, the Heroides, I think, is doing something more complex than that - and we should never forget that these `female' voices are as ventriloquised by a male author as their originals.These poems were hugely popular in the Renaissance and gave rise to a large number of translations as well as looser imitations such as Marlowe's superb Hero and Leander, based on Heroides 18 & 19.I think a fairly close acquaintance with the source text(s) is essential to really `get' these poems but for an alternative reading of classical epic in Augustan Rome they are illuminating.

  • Drew
    2019-03-27 17:42

    I have two translations of Ovid’s Heroides. This is the second one I bought and the first one I read. There’s no drama, it was just that I found the second copy at a great bookstore in Saratoga Springs (Lyrical Ballad) and since I’d been reading so much Greek and Latin lately, I wanted to read this piece of Ovid right away. My first copy was on my to-read bookshelf by my bed at home. Anyway, my state of mind, a need for a book to read and a fantastic cover called out to me. So, out came a few dollars and into my purse the book went.I thoroughly enjoyed reading Harold Cannon’s translation. I enjoyed his introduction and noted his advice that “Pace is everything in reading Ovid; he should be swallowed whole and digested afterward” (p. 10). I’d read a translation of the Metamorphoses awhile back and reflecting on it now, Cannon is spot on. As I read the Heroides, his rule stayed true.I also loved his introduction to each letter, which set the stage. Sometimes I knew the story, other times I didn’t. No matter, I still learned something new and fun with each letter’s introduction and I couldn’t wait to read the translated letter to a mythical love.I had several favorites letters. Oenone’s to Paris (V) was excellent. Hypsipyle’s to Jason was amazing for how she tore into him for not returning to her and their child after he secured the golden fleece. “Perhaps you wanted to return to me / But found yourself denied by winds and sea; / And yet no wind prevents a letter due– / That much, at least, I have deserved from you” (VI.5-8, p. 47). Dido tears into Aeneas regarding how he left Dido now and his wife earlier at Troy. Aeneas only brought out his father and son. Dido writes “Before we met, you were a liar too; / I’m not the first to be deceived by you. / Where is the mother of the son you own? / Her husband left her, and she died alone” (VII.81-84, p. 55).I liked Hermione to Orestes’s (VIII) letter. Ariadne to Theseus is also good in how she calls out his cold heart after he abandoned her: “Like rock or adamant the heart you own; / Its hardness would outdo the hardest stone” (X.109-110, p. 74). Medea’s anger comes out clearly when she says to Jason: “I saved him for another’s warm embrace; / She had the prize, although I ran the race” (XII.173-174, p. 87).The two exchanges between Leander and Hero were amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the backstory and the connection with the Bride of Abydos, from Byron, and the mention of the Hellespont. That ties into Pliny the Elder’s Natural History when he discusses the distance between Sestos and Abydos, where Hero and Leander lived. The distance, if you are interested, is seven stadia (Pliny 4.18). The letter from Leander to Hero was also great for me because I love when astronomy is mixed in with the poetry: “It’s summer now; how will I find the seas / Plagued by Arcturus, Goat, and Pleiades?” (XVIII.187-188)! Interestingly, the one letter that originally drew me to the Heroides, Penelope’s to Odysseus, wasn’t my favorite. It was good but not great for me.Finally, one interesting comment. When I first started reading his translation, I scribbled a small note that said “Heroic couplets never work.” A day later, I scribbled underneath that note “except when they do.”

  • Ellis
    2019-04-03 00:56

    I didn’t think I would get to the Heroides this year, but then Morgan, Sana, and I were discussing Madeline Miller’s upcoming Circe book and I got this sudden urge to read it (Circe, too, of course, but that one is not widely available to the public yet sob). Anyway, consensus: I’m glad I did! The collection consists of three parts. The first two are single letters focusing on heroines of Graeco-Roman mythology and literature, most of whom have been used and screwed over by the so-called heroes they were involved with (with the exception of Phaedra maybe because um). Part I opens with Penelope’s letter to Odysseus, which I wish had been much longer, because Ovid nails the loneliness, resignation, anxiety, and resentment Penelope feels in Odysseus’ absence imo, and I’m glad he explored those feelings rather than her virtuous ~constant patience. It then continues with the letters from Phyllis to Demophoon, Briseis to Achilles, Phaedra to Hippolytus, Oenone to Paris, Hypsipyle to Jason, and Dido to Aeneas (which was also a really good one and would have vindicated a lot of 17-year-old me’s thoughts and feelings on the Aeneis, ha). Part II includes the letters from Hermione to Orestes, Deianira to Hercules, Ariadne to Theseus, Canace to Macareus, Medea (!!) to Jason, Laodamia to Protesilaus, Hypermestra to Lynceus, and Sappho to Phaon. The last part consists are the so-called double letters between Helen and Paris (especially enjoyed how Helen already shreds him with her opening statement lololol), Leander and Hero, and Cydippe and Acontius. I wasn’t familiar with all the myths and characters behind these letters, but even for those I didn’t know, there was enough information in the letters to piece together what’s going on and what made the love story in question so tragic. To be fair, not every letter was as interesting to me, and usually the less intriguing letters involved the characters I didn’t know (or, you know, are Paris of Troy). I think the fact that I didn’t get a lot of the references and, often genius, jibes in those letters contributed to that because, as was to be expected, being familiar with Graeco-Roman mythology and literature in general will greatly improve your reading experience. I also really liked the translation! I can’t immediately find the correct edition for this but I read the A.S. Kline translation and I appreciated that you could still see the Latin original through the English. Not in the sense that the English text sounds awkward or artificial, but rather that, where he could, Kline stayed true to typically Latin phrasing, word order, and sentence structure. Plus, I love how that even with the inclusion of the double letters, the collection is ordered in such a way that the heroine always has the final word.

  • Crito
    2019-03-22 21:02

    This is an interesting and inventive work but I’d warn not to get too caught by the novelty of the idea. While you’d be tempted by the line of “giving the women of mythology a voice” you’d remember that aside from the obvious fact that it’s written by a man, there is more trickery Ovid is pulling poem by poem and nearly everything here requires you to read into the words rather than taking them at face value. An early example of this is the letter of Briseis to Achilles at the point of the Iliad where Agamemnon took her for himself. On one hand there’s the concubine being passed around as chattel, but then there’s the perverse addition of her being in love with Achilles, with most of the letter chiding Achilles for not doing enough to get her back. We read this against the major plot point of the Iliad that Achilles protesting his loss of Briseis is losing the war for the Greeks. But this isn’t enough for Briseis, she’s rather he just behead Agamemnon so they could ignore the war and bang all day. You could read this back into her unfortunate status of concubine but Ovid managed to make even that absurd.Many of the letters are as multifaceted as that, but while many of them are interesting, a chunk of these do manage to be rote and formulaic. He succeeds with slipping into the psychology of the characters fairly consistently, but some he’s better at giving voice to than others. It’s possible that may be a quirk of translation though. But the reality is that characters such as Medea, Dido, or Helen are by simple virtue of their stories automatically more interesting than some of the others. Medea is probably the high point of the Heroides with her swirling and chaotic narration. At its best these have a haunting atmosphere which reads like the laments of spirits, reliving and recounting their saddest moments of which most will never have any closure. That said, this is a work to be read after all the major classics. Ovid has some unique inventions of his own, such as his fictionalized Sappho, and in some others he revitalizes some more obscure corners of mythology. In any case a solid foundation in classics is necessary, and even then Ovid can be a test. But overall it’s interesting seeing Ovid turn familiar subject matter (both in mythology and in his usual fixation on passion) and make something unique of it.

  • Deni
    2019-04-19 22:07

    Con dolor debo decir que si hay una zona discutible de este autor fabuloso, esa vendrían a ser estas Cartas de las Heroínas que, si bien tienen momentos de gran altura, algo inevitable debido a la envergadura literaria de su autor, realmente quedan muy pequeñas a la sombra de otros aspectos de su obra, ya sean las Metamorfosis, o la gracia inagotable de su Ars Amatoria. La realidad es que los visos de monotonía y cierto vicio retórico en el armado de las epístolas van tornando tediosa la lectura con el paso de las páginas.

  • Dmk
    2019-04-05 19:43

    Do rukou se mi dostal Fišerův překlad který k mému naštvání zahrnuje jen třetinu listů a v zájmu minimalizace knížečky je hodně veršů přes dva řádky protože se prostě na stránku nevešli...Co se samotných Listů týče rozhodně nepřekonávají lepší pasáže z Proměn, nicméně sami o sobě jsou to velice čtivé, zajímavé sondy do duše heroin a některé na mě překvapivě silně emočně zapůsobili.

  • Justin Holiman
    2019-04-13 00:02

    The majority of Ovid's letters are wonderful insights into "minor" characters, even if they are pushing for Roman conservatism in gender roles. That said, his emphasis on discrediting Sappho's lesbianism and her poetic mastery was nothing but petty. I only gave it three stars because of the other letters, but Sappho's was truly disheartening.

  • Antonio
    2019-03-20 20:53

    Estoy con los críticos que consideran que las cartas son poco más un ejercicio retórico y, en fin, palabrería.Sirven para repasar, eso sí, algunas historias, puesto que cada carta incluye un inventario de la historia de quien recibe la carta. Lo cual, por cierto, muestra que estas cartas siguen centrándose en los hombres, y no en las mujeres.

  • Chiara 🌱🌖
    2019-03-24 02:10

    "Non si stringe tanto l'olmo alla vite vicina quanto le tue braccia si avvinsero attorno al mio collo" Ovidio, Heroides. Una delle frasi più belle di questo meraviglioso libro che non potevo non adorare dato il mio amore per la mitologia.

  • Padmin
    2019-04-14 23:57

    E io che pensavo che gli esercizi di stile li avesse inventati Queneau e che le interviste impossibili fossero nate alla radio (e successivamente pubblicate da Bompiani). Mi manca una bella fetta dei fondamentali, c'è poco da fare...

  • Darío
    2019-04-18 22:58

    Me han gustado más las primeras y la de Safo, porque es gay como yo xd. Algunas ya al final me las he saltado, como la de Hero, porque no tenía ni repajolera idea de quiénes eran. Overall de alguna manera Ovidio se ha puesto en la piel de mujeres y ha sido accurate. Guau.

  • Warren
    2019-03-24 22:42

    "I strained my eyes to see by moonlight, there was nothing to see but the ocean's shore. Running back and forth without a plan,the loose sand slowed my young feet and all that whileI screamed 'Theseus' along the shore and only the rocks returned my cry. Each timeI called to you, the place itself felt my great grief and tried to ease my misery."

  • Brad Hodges
    2019-03-25 01:54

    I've long been interested in Greek and Roman myths, but the complexity of the tales is forbidding. The family trees and the names (which over time have taken on the quality of parody) are so hopelessly intertwined it's difficult to keep it all straight. But I'm rolling up my sleeves and reading a few volumes, including the Heroides, by Ovid, who was one of the great Roman poets.Ovid's more famous recitation of myth was Metamorphoses, but Heroides has its own pleasure. Told in epistolary form, it's a series of 22 letters from one character of myth to another, almost entirely from female to male, which is itself unusual. Some of these pairings are more familiar to us than others--Penelope and Ulysses, Medea to Jason, Paris back to Helen and Helen back to Paris, Leander to Hero. But others were completely alien to me. I had never heard of Hypsiple, for example, or Canace and Macareus.I was fortunate to read the translation and introductory remarks by Harold Isbell. Not only are the poems extremely readable to the common ear (the word "slut" makes more than one appearance), the intros and footnotes are elucidating. In the intro to Acontius to Cydippe, a pair that is new to my knowledge, he sums up the letters: "The idea of law has never been far from any of these letters, whether it be a code deduced from self-perception or a law imposed by statute. And certainly the suggestion that the beloved ought to be bound suggests not only being tied with ropes but also the idea of a bond or a surety given to guarantee the performance of some act. The letters of the Heroides...are concerned with a great variety of deceits that tailor objective facts to subjective desires. In each of these letters there is some failure of imagination to effect a correspondence between the mind and the reality it hopes for."Some of these letters are pretty juicy, too. In the Acontius/Cydippe example, the former blames the latter for being too beautiful and thus causing him to pursue her:"Had you been one of the lesser beauty you wouldBe sought more modestly. By your charmI am driven to boldness. All of thishas been caused by you:"So "blaming the victim" goes back thousands of years.Other fun letters are Phaedra to Hippolytus. She was perhaps the original cougar, as she tried to seduce her stepson:"Do not worry that our love must be concealed,only ask the help of Venus andshe will hide us in the mantle of kinship;we will be praised for our embracesand I will seem to be a good stepmother."This is the plot of several adult films.In Helen's letter to Paris (we are reminded that Paris abducted Helen, which started the Trojan War), Helen begins in a pissed off mode:"Since my eyes have been outraged by your letter,there is now no glory in silence.You, an alien, have broken the sacred lawof hospitality so that youmight trifle with a lawful wife's faithfulness."Isbell makes some interesting interpretations. Of Ariadne, who helped Theseus escape the Labyrinth only to be dumped on an island, Isbell says that she's really just having a prolonged sulk. Medea, who has been studied every which way, and differently in feminist views, is described by Isbell: "Medea is a woman of deep and abiding emotions, but as swiftly as they are felt they are as swiftly out of control. Such a person living always on the edge of madness cannot be tolerated in a society which prizes the rule of law, in both the state and its individual citizens." Sort of a, "we know Jason did you wrong, but you went overboard."This is a pretty good introduction to Roman myths, in that the poems are short and a lot of the major actors are here. I recommend this Penguin Classics edition for the outstanding head and footnotes.

  • Rick
    2019-03-30 18:48

    Clare Pollard’s brilliant version of Ovid’s Heroides led me to this more academic translation of Ovid’s epistolary set of poems. If Pollard’s version was revelatory, Isbell’s is useful companion. Actually useful is not quite fair. It is more than that. Ovid in Isbell’s hands is still fresh and entertaining reading. And it is the complete set of poems, including the later six poems that represent three exchanges between men and women, and the initial sequence that are all one way, letters from women to men. The final section is an apparently later addition, and each pair begins with a letter from the male correspondent before the female response. The three exchanges are between Paris and Helen, Leander and Hero, and Acontius and Cydippe. (There are also introductions, footnotes and an appendix with notes on the principal characters in the poems. All very helpful.)Taken together the poems are an examination of love—in its extremes, its virtues, its passions, its consequences, particularly, though not exclusively, when passion overrules reason, but also when loyalties are betrayed, when circumstances (such as war) intervene, and when the motives of seduction become irrelevant—love dies, quest accomplished, social pressures prevail. Ovid understands love and at least two things about women in ancient times: one, the men had them at a disadvantage, even women of rank and royalty, and, two, women were not powerless despite this disadvantage.In his notes, Isbell sometimes seems to take some things at face value when Ovid may not. By turning his attention to the woman’s perspective in these classic myths and legends, Ovid appears to be questioning the prevailing understanding on some level or why write from a radically different perspective? There is monstrous behavior galore but only Medea is described in the notes as a monster. Ovid seems a little more on her side than Isbell allows. Jason throws her over for a more strategic and culturally acceptable wife and does so with utmost indifference, belying the idea that she was literally and sincerely viewed, in brutal times, as a witch and monster. If it was a motive, don’t you take precautions against the monster’s response? If it was an excuse, then maybe you just turn her and your children out and start the wedding festivities before she’s gone. The betrayal is shattering and Ovid’s Medea is a woman driven mad and she is a dangerous woman to drive mad. Ovid is not excusing her response but explaining it. Isbell seems unwilling to let the explanation stand. But this is a quibble because his translation lets Ovid argues his points. Heroides is of the same stature and importance as Ovid’s other masterpieces and should be more broadly available and more widely read.

  • Marc Gerstein
    2019-03-20 18:55

    I'm about halfway done in connection with a Greek-Roman classics book club that is doing this over several months. I've developed my own theory about this that so far seems to be holding up.The conventional wisdom on this, as far as I've been able to gather, is that Ovid was doing some sort of exercise writing in the voice of specific characters. And it is interesting to see these "secondary" female characters get such profound voices.But I think there was something else going on. Start with the notion that many Romans suffered from a bit of culture envy when it came to the Greeks. The Romans were top dog; the Greeks were subservient. But the Roman's couldn't help but grudgingly acknowledge that when it came to culture, the Greeks were really where it was at. (Heck, Augustus commissioned Virgil to write the work we know of as the Aeneid in order to give Rome a national epic of Homerian stature). Stir in the fact that Ovid was a world-class wise-ass. The result, i think, was a serious intent to write something that would demean the living daylights out of the greatest Greek heroes; to turn them from noble leaders, warriors, etc. into a bunch of selfish sniveling jackasses.I wondered if this would hold up with the Dido to Aeneas letter (Ovid can't really trash Aeneas, or he'd have wound up banished a lot sooner than was actually the case). And interestingly, he sort-of does let Aeneas off the hook: He isn't abandoning Dido because he's got the hots for some other gal, or something like that. She acknowledged Aeneas is ditching her because he's got important work to do (found a new nation). She wishes he wouldn't bother and that he wouldn't subject himself to all the dangers involved in doing that, but she never belittles him the way the other ladies belittle the guys that dumped them. I'll be interested to see how the rest of the letters play out.

  • Jordan
    2019-04-10 19:52

    Ovid's Heroides by itself deserves four stars, and one off for this translation. Mainly because I just really dislike when Latin poetry gets translated into rhyming verse. It just seems so hokey, and I feel like the need to work everything so it rhymes warps the translation a lot. Also, at one point in the preface, the translator "pleads guilty to having spiced these ladylike letters with the salt of neologism and the sauce of slang." Ugh. "Sauce of slang"? Really? In addition he takes the letters out of their traditional order and puts them in chronological order. Which for the most part does nothing for the collection. The only time I thought it was advantageous was when Hypsipyle and Medea's letters to Jason were placed next to each other. One positive about this translation was that a short explanation of the characters and myths was included before each letter to set the stage. This was definitely useful with a couple of the myths that I had either not heard or didn't recall well.Anyways, about the Heroides in general, translation aside. They are amazing. They are basically ancient fanfiction. Ovid takes heroines that previous authors have written about and fills in the gaps in their stories with letters. Which is a cool idea, and generally well executed. Some of the characters included are fairly well known, such as Helen and Penelope, and some are a bit more obscure. Several of the poems are of suspect authorship, particularly the second half (in the traditional order). Which explains the oddness of Sappho's letter. It really felt out of place to me, not only in the fact that she's the only historical figure included, but also in the overall feel of the letter.

  • Zee
    2019-04-07 00:47

    Very interesting in how Ovid wanted to give these mythological ladies a voice of their own in what is essentially epic tales dominated by men and their heroic deeds. It's quite repetitive in that they all essentially end up whining about how cruelly they've been slighted, cast aside or forgotten by their men. One side of me feels sorry for them because it was a time where women didn't have any say in their fate. Yet the repetitive nature of the whining got on my nerves a little. Overall I believe Ovid gave it his best shot in giving life to what was essentially characters that were at times mere sketches in the myths they featured in. There were some really beautiful passages too, and the epistolary style also won me over (love stories told in letter form!) So I can safely say that the task of taking obscure mythical female characters and spinning a story around them begun quite firmly with Ovid's 'Heroides'. This is recommended to anyone who enjoyed Ursula le Guin's 'Lavinia' pr Margaret Atwood's 'Penelopiad', which run in a similar vein.