As lovely as Helen who had two husbands, while she was being borne by Phrygian ships from the Eurotas Strait to be the cause of war; as lovely as Leda, to whom cleverly adulterous Zeus made love clad as a bird in white feathers; as lovely as Amymone when she carried an urn on her piled-up hair through parched Argos–so were you to me. I feared you’d be carried off by an eagle or a bull or whatever creature great Jupiter formed himself into for love.
Now I’m no longer afraid. The mad love that gripped my soul has healed and your face no longer holds my eyes.
You ask how I come to be changed? Because you asked me for gifts. For that reason alone I can no longer find you attractive. While you were innocent, I loved your soul with your body; now your figure is scarred by the disfigurement of your mind.
Love is nude and a boy. He is of an age without sin, and he has no garments so he can remain completely candid. Why do you want Venus’ son to sell himself for money? He doesn’t even have a tunic in whose bosom he could carry the payment!
Fierce arms befit neither Venus nor her son. It isn’t right for these unwarlike gods to become mercenaries.
The whore puts herself out at a given price, available to anyone who pays it; she seeks a wretched return by letting her body take orders. Though she curses the commands of her greedy madam, nevertheless she does by compulsion what you do by your own choice.
Heed the example of the dumb beasts: it would be disgraceful to show less intelligence than the animals. The mare doesn’t demand a gift from the stallion or the heifer of the bull, nor does the ram mount the ewe of his choice for a price. Woman alone prides herself on the spoils she strips from a man. Only she lets out contracts on her nights, and only she comes as contracted to sell that which pleases both parties and which both want. She makes her profit the arbiter of her pleasure.
When love delights both parties equally, why does one sell it and the other buy? Why should desire be costly to me but profitable to you, since its couplings are mutual between man and woman?
It’s bad when bought witnesses sell perjured testimony and when the sitting judge’s cash box stands open for contributions. It’s shameful to hire out your tongue to defend miserable defendants, and a tribunal which creates great wealth is shameful. So too it’s shameful to increase your net worth by the earnings of your couch and to sell your beauty for money.
A grateful return is owed for tasks done well voluntarily: no gratitude is required for a couch let out for hire. The lessee’s responsibility ends with his payment; he owes her nothing more.
Cease, pretty ones, to bargain for the price of a night. Wealth gained this sordid way doesn’t lead to good results: the gold brassards of the Sabine soldiers weren’t of such value that they equalled the weight of the shields thrown with them to crush the head of the priestess who betrayed the Citadel. Similarly it was because Eriphyle had been bought with a necklace that her son ran a sword through the womb from which he’d entered the world.
Now, I’m not saying it’s unworthy to ask money from a rich man: he’s able to give anything he wants in response to a request. You may pluck grapes from vines hanging heavy from the vine, and the orchard of Alcinous willingly offers fruit.
A poor man pays in service and attentiveness and faith: he bestows these, all the valuables he owns, on his mistress. My additional gift is to be able to celebrate worthy girls with my verses: when I wish it, a girl becomes famous by my art. Clothes become torn, and jewels and gold are broken, but the fame which my songs bestow will be eternal.
Nor am I unwilling to give gifts: I only hate and disdain to be wheedled for them. What I refuse to your asking, I will give when you cease to beg.