EPIGRAM: We who once were five books by Naso now are three. The author himself has trimmed us. Now even if you don’t like what you read, at least you’re spared the punishment of two more books.
I started to write of arms and bloody wars in hexameters, suiting my subject to the meter, but each second verse came out crippled: Cupid had laughed and snatched away one foot.
“Who are you, unruly boy, to tell me what to write? We bards are subject to the Muses, not to you!” I cried.
“What if Venus snatched the weapons from blond Minerva and blond Minerva waved the torches of passion? Who would want Ceres to rule in the mountain glades while the fields lay under the laws of quiver-bearing Diana? Who would array shining Phoebus with a spear and give Mars an Aonian lyre to play?
“These subjects are too great for you, boy! Why do you get in over your head? Or–is everything subject to you? Do you also rule Helicon in Tempe? Is not even Phoebus’ lyre safe from you? For when I start a new page, the first verse is fine but the next forces me to write it shorter–and my subject isn’t suitable for lighter meters! I’m not writing about a boy nor a girl dressing her long hair.”
Thus I complained, but Cupid chose from his quiver the shaft that doomed me. Curving his bow he cried, “Here is the work I give you to sing, bard!”
Poor me. Cupid’s arrows are certain. I am afire, and Love rules my empty breast. My verses start on six feet but end in five.
Farewell, iron war and war’s meters. Bind my temples with white flowering the seashore’s myrtle, Muse who must be sung on eleven feet.
Why, I ask, does the bed seem so hard? I keep throwing off the bedclothes, and I’m sleepless through nights that seem interminable. I toss and turn till my tired bones ache. I might feel this way if I were being tried by Love. Has the clever god slipped in and made a secret attack on me?
Aye, so it is! Love’s slender shafts feather my heart, and he twists my emotions in a savage gyre. Shall I surrender, or shall I fan the unexpected fire brighter by struggling against it? Ah, I’ll surrender; for a burden feels lighter if borne willingly.
I’ve seen flames leap higher as a torch is whipped through the air, and I’ve seen them die when no one stirs them. Oxen who’ve learned to like the plow aren’t beaten like the animals who jerk away from the first touch of the yoke. The skittish horse is broken with a toothed bit, but the veteran warhorse doesn’t feel the reins.
Love goads the unwilling more sharply and viciously than it does those who admit they are enslaved. All right, then–I admit I’m your latest conquest, Cupid. I raise my conquered hands to accept your will. There’s no point in fighting: I only ask your mercy and your peace. You would gain little honor from destroying an unarmed victim like me.
Bind myrtle in your hair, yoke the doves of your mother Venus, and borrow a chariot from your stepfather Mars. Let the yoked birds draw you in that chariot past the crowd cheering your triumph. Captive youths and maids will follow you; such will be the pomp of your splendid triumph. Because I am newly captured, I still show my wounds and bear the marks of recent fetters on my mind.
You drag along Good Sense with her hands tied behind her back, and with her goes Shame and anyone else who dares oppose the forces of Love. All peoples fear you; the mob raises its hands to you and cries, “Hail, Thou Triumphant!” to you.
Flattery, Mistake, and Lust are your comrades, and they bring a horde of victims to your throng. With these champions you conquer men and gods; without their help you would be disarmed.
Your joyful mother applauds your triumph from the top of Olympus, sprinkling roses on your cheeks. Gems glitter on your wings and in your hair. Golden yourself, you ride in a golden chariot.
You have had your own many affairs, if truth be told, and you’ve not escaped wounding yourself many times. Your arrows fly whether you wish them to or not, and heat from your bubbling flames burns without favor.
You are as splendid as Bacchus after he’d conquered the region of the Ganges, you in winged splendor and him riding on tigers. Therefore spare me after I accompany your sacred triumph. Follow the happy custom of your kinsman Caesar, who protects the conquered with the same hand that conquered them.
I ask for justice! May the woman who recently stole my heat either love me or give me reason to love her forever.
Ah, that is too much to ask, for merely to be allowed to love is a great thing. Still I believe that Cytherean Venus will hear my repeated prayer. Receive me, for I will serve you throughout the long years to come.
Receive me, for I know how to love in faithful purity. I lack the commendation of a noble lineage, for the founder of my house was a knight. My lands are not so spacious that plows without number are needed to turn them, for both my parents lived frugally.
Nonetheless Apollo, the nine Muses, Bacchus the father of wine, and Love himself who gives me to you are my sponsors. Besides their testimony I bring unfailing faithfulness, a stainless personal life, simple purity, and shining decency.
I’m no juggler of love who seeks a thousand women. I will be yours forever if you are faithful to me. With you I will spend as many years as the Fates’ thread grants me. I will live with you, and I will die leaving you to mourn me.
Give yourself to me to become an ideal source of my poetry, for my songs cannot fail to be worthy with you as their subject. Already I have brought fame to frightened Io, wandering as a cow. I’ve shown adulterous Jupiter sporting in the guise of a of a swan and how, pretending to be a bull, he bore the maiden over the seas as she held his crooked horn with her delicate hand.
I will sing your praises through the whole world, and your name will always be joined with mine!