Amores I:14

I said, “Stop dyeing your hair,” but now you no longer have hair to dye. Whoever had thicker hair than you when you let it fall free? And it touched the backs of your knees!

What have you done to hair which was so fine you might fear even to pin it up? It was like the fabrics which the yellow Chinese make or the strands which the spider’s delicate foot stretches, weaving gossamer from the beam of a ruin. 

Your hair was neither black nor golden; it was a color mixed of both and yet neither, like the trunk of a tall cedar stripped of its bark in the deep, dew-drenched vales of Mount Ida. Besides that, it was supple and easily thrown into a hundred curls; never ever was it a cause of trouble for you. That hair didn’t break pins nor the teeth of combs: your hairdresser never had to worry about being beaten. I’ve seen her dress your hair, and never did you snatch a pin and jab her arm with it.


Often in the earliest morning I watched my mistress asleep with her hair spread on the dawn-lit couch. Without any adornment she was perfect, like a Thracian Bacchante lying where she fell on the green grass, exhausted by frenzy.

How sheer was her hair, the image of finest down–and alas, how terrible was the fate which that tortured hair has borne! How patiently they bore themselves when they were twisted into a mass of tight curls by steel and flame.

I shouted, “It is a crime, a crime, to sear those locks! They’re beautiful by their own will. Spare your own head, woman of iron! Your hair doesn’t deserve to be burned. Why, it can teach the hairpin where to lie!”

But that lovely head of hair perished; that hair that Apollo might have wished, that Bacchus would’ve loved to have adorning his own head. I could have gathered them up, just as nude Venus was once painting supporting her hair with a hand dripping seafoam.


Why do you now wail the loss of your ill-dressed hair? Why do you foolishly hold a mirror in your wretched hand? You’re making a mistake by looking at yourself with eyes which remember the past; that your appearance may please you, forget what you were.

The harm was not done by the poison of a jealous rival nor did an old witch woman bathe you in a potion from haunted Thessaly. It was not disease that harmed you (let my words not be an omen!) nor did envious tongues cause your hair to drop out. It was by your act and your decision that the deed was done. You mixed the venom for your own head.

Now Germany sends you the hair of its captives; you will be preserved by the tribute of conquered people. Oh how often will you blush as someone marvels at your hair and you have to say, “Now I’m being congratulated for something I bought. He’s praising not me but some Sygambrian woman or other. But I can remember a time when my own beauty was famed.”


Woe is me! I have to wipe my hand across my eyes to hide the tears when I see the blush staining her lovely cheeks. She holds her own hair in her lap and stares at it; oh woe, it did not deserve to have this end.

Nevertheless, compose your mind and your visage: the loss is reparable. In good time your natural hair will reappear.

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