If I have any friends present, clamp manacles on my hands (for they deserve to be chained) before the madness returns: for madness moved my arms to strike my mistress. My injured darling weeps from my woeful hand!
After that deed I might’ve attacked my dear parents or lashed out savagely at the holy gods. Why not? Did not Ajax, the hero with the seven-layered shield, slaughter the flock he found wandering in the broad meadows [thinking they were his comrades]? Did not Orestes, the evil avenger of his father’s murder on his mother, dare to demand weapons against the Furies? So might I, having disarranged my mistress’ high-piled hair!
Though she was still beautiful. Such I think Schoeneus’ daughter Atalanta must have looked when she hunted the Maenalian beasts with her bow; so looked Cretan Ariadne as she watched the South Winds blow away the sails and the promises of perjured Theseus; thus looked Cassandra (though her hair was in a priestess’ fillet) when she flung herself before your temple, chaste Minerva.
Who would not have called me a madman? Who would not shout, “Barbarian!” to me? But she said nothing: shuddering fear froze her tongue.
Nonetheless her silent features accused me; the tears on her silent face indicted me. Would that my arms had fallen from my shoulders instead; I’d be better off mutilated! I’ve used my vicious strength to my own loss, struggled violently to my own punishment!
Why don’t you come for me, Furies, avengers of slaughter and crimes? Lay on my hands the bonds of a sacrilege! Or do you claim that though I would be punished for striking the lowest plebian citizen, I have a right to strike my mistress?
Diomedes provided a horrible example of crime: he was the first man to strike a goddess. I was another. Yet he was less in the wrong than I: I struck one whom I claimed to love, while Diomedes attacked an enemy.
Go now, conqueror–arrange your splendid triumph, bind a wreath of laurel in your hair, and sacrifice to Jupiter for your deliverance. Let a throng of companions follow your chariot, crying, ‘Hallelujah! This brave man has conquered a girl!’
Let the weeping captive go before me with her hair loose, her skin gleaming white save for the red of my hand on her cheek. Her neck glows, more suitable for gently pressing lips or the touch of caressing teeth.
Even if I was driven like the plunging torrent because blind wrath had made me its prey, wouldn’t it have been enough to have shouted at the poor frightened girl and not besides those blood-curdling threats to have torn her tunic from throat to waist where her girdle stopped me? But I, iron-hearted, proceeded after disarranging the hair from her forehead to slap her face besides.
She stared at me in terror, her face as white and bloodless as the fine marble quarried from the cliffs of Paros. I saw her joints slacken and her limbs tremble like aspen trees when the breeze blows their leaves… as the slender reed vibrates at the touch of the West Wind… as the wave-tip is scattered by the warm South Wind.
The pent-up tears flowed down her cheeks the way water flows out of snow. Then for the first time I realized the crime I had committed. Those tears she shed were my blood. Thrice I tried to throw myself a suppliant at her feet; thrice she drove me back with fearful hands.
Do not hesitate–for punishment will diminish my grief–to claw my face with your nails, nor spare my eyes and hair: may wrath strengthen your womanly hands. And lest the sad evidences of my crime remain, comb your hair and put it back in place.