Amores I:8

There’s a certain old woman–if you want to know how a procurer works, listen to me–there’s a certain old woman named Dipsas. She got her nickname from her habits: She’s never been sober to watch Dawn, the mother of Memnon, rise on rosy horses. 

She knows the arts of the Magi and the song that Circe sings on Aeaea; she can make water flow back to its source by her arts. She knows well the uses of herbs and how to twist a thread into a symbol of power and how to extract the elixir of a mare in heat. At her word, clouds gathered over the whole heaven. At her word, the sun shone bright in a pure sky.

She showed me the stars dripping blood, if you can believe that. I saw the face of Luna flushed with blood. I think she flies through the shadows of the night, her wizened body covered with feathers. I think, and so it is rumored, that the pupils of her eyes sparkle and her eyeballs themselves glow. She calls great grandfathers and their forebears from ancient tombs, she splits the solid ground to the depths with her spell.

This is the woman who proposes to foul my chaste relationship, nor does her tongue lack noxious eloquence. Chance made me a witness to her approaches. She said as I listened through a false door, ‘Did you know, dear one, that you’ve impressed a wealthy young heir? Your appearance so struck him that he’s still besotted. And why shouldn’t you strike him? Your body is second to none… though alas, you can’t deck youself out the way you deserve. I’d like to see you as rich as you’re beautiful, for I know that if you’re wealthy I won’t be a pauper myself.

‘Your sign was opposed by Mars, but now Mars has set and favorable Venus is in your house. Listen to me so that you can take advantage of your beauty: a rich lover desires you. He wonders what it might be that you’re lacking. He’s as good-looking as you are; if it weren’t that he wishes to buy you, he’d be bought himself.

‘She blushed! Shame befits a pale complexion–but only if it’s faked. The real thing will betray you. When you look into your lap with downcast eyes, respect each lover to the degree he gives you gifts.

‘Perhaps under the rule of Tatius the uncultured Sabine women didn’t want to be available to many men; now Mars wields his weapons on the borders, and Venus reigns in the city of Aeneas. All the pretty girls play–chastity is for those whom no one asks; and indeed, if she isn’t a hick from the sticks, she asks the man.

‘If you examine even women who carry themselves sternly, you’ll find that those frowning foreheads cover many sins. Indeed Penelope tried the strength of many youths with the bow–and their horny bows tried her loins as well.

‘Time slips away unseen, vanishing like the dew. The year rushes by on galloping horses. Bronze shines from use, and a fine garment begs to be worn. Abandoned dwellings fall mildewed and their grounds grow up in weeds. Unless you put your body to work, it’ll grow old from lack of exercise. It’s not enough to use it now and again!

‘You’ll make more money if you deal with many and your looting won’t really hurt them. Wise old wolves prey on the whole of the flock.

‘Tell me, what does your poet give you except new poems? You can read thousands of poems in your lover’s collection. The god of poets himself is impressive in a golden robe, and he plays a gilded lyre. Trust me–the man who’ll give you things is greater than Homer. Giving is a work of true genius.

‘Nor should you turn up your nose at somebody who’s bought himself out of slavery: nobody now cares who came to Rome with his feet chalked for sale. And don’t let the wax death masks around somebody’s atrium deceive you: take your ancestors off with you, poor lover!

‘Nor let anybody have you for free because he’s good looking. He can get your price from the lover he sells himself to.

‘Don’t push on the price while you’re luring them into the net, lest they flee. When you’ve got them sure, burn them for all they’re worth.

‘Feigned love isn’t a bad thing. Let him believe you love him, but beware lest real love take root in you.

‘Often deny him a night with you: claim to have a headache, or say that the rites of Isis prevent you. Then take him back so that he doesn’t get used to being without you. His oft-repulsed affection will never grow stale.

‘Let your door be deaf to his prayers but open to his offerings. Let the lover you receive listen to the whimpering of the one you exclude. Also rage at your victim occasionally as though he had harmed you: your own sins will vanish when you pretend they’re merely repayment for his.

‘Never give him a long time to become angry, though. Often built-up wrath leads to a serious quarrel. Instead force your eyes to learn to weep, so that either at call can dampen your cheeks.

‘Never fear to foreswear yourself when you have to deceive him. Venus demands that all her fellow deities be deaf when there’s a matter of dalliance involved.

‘You should have a slave and a clever handmaiden prepared to aid you by briefing him on the things he ought to buy you–and while they’re at it, making a few requests of their own. If they get a little from each of many men, they’ll wind up with a huge pile in their personal accounts.

‘Your sister and mother and nurse will also take nibbles. Loot will come quickly when sought by so many hands. When you don’t have a reason for asking for a gift, let a cake stand as witness to your birthday.

‘Beware lest your lover feel secure because he has no rival. Love doesn’t long endure if you avoid arguments. Let him see the outline of a man’s body on your mattress and livid hickies on the side of your neck. Especially let him see the presents that another man has sent you. If nobody else has sent any, visit the shops of the Sacred Way yourself.

‘When you have stripped him of many possessions but he refuses to give you everything he owns, ask him to loan you things which you’ll never return. Your tongue will aid you by hiding your intent. Flatter him and ruin him; let your wicked poisons hide beneath sweet honey.

‘If you properly perform these techniques which I have learned through long experience and don’t let the winds whisk away my words, you will often bless me, you will often pray that when I die my bones rest gently–‘

She stopped in the middle of a sentence when my shadow betrayed me. I could scarcely restrain my hands from rending her white hair, her wine-bleared eyes, and her wrinkled cheeks. May the gods snatch her home from her, may she have poverty in her old age and long winters and a permanent thirst!

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