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13. Amores 1.7: Violence and love

© William Turpin, CC BY

This poem, like Amores 1.5, plays with a topic about which it is hard for modern readers to be playful: physical abuse. The poet has used violence on his girlfriend, and now expresses his deep remorse. But scholars are divided on the extent to which that remorse is supposed to be sincere. No one doubts that there is some element of playfulness here, and for many readers that playfulness remains problematic. But some scholars have read the poem as expressing an underlying anxiety: the poet has committed assault, and tries to cover up his shame and embarrassment with a pathetic attempt at humor.

The question of what we do with our modern sensibilities about subjects like sexual violence is complicated, and one that readers will have to answer for themselves. Here I will focus on a more preliminary question: what exactly has the poet done? What, in other words, is he apologizing so abjectly for? It is one thing if he has caused real physical harm, and then apologizes and tries to minimize the offense. It is quite another if the pain was trivial and accidental. The poem itself is unclear, and it may be that Ovid is inviting us to make up our own minds about it. At the risk of reading the poem too literally, I believe we should focus on the fact that the poet apologizes not for a serious physical assault on his girlfriend, but for messing up her hair (lines 11 and 49), even if he also scratched her face in the process (lines 40 and 50).

The first eleven lines provide an obvious exploration of Latin sarcasm: the poet describes his offense in dramatic terms: he was insane (lines 2–4), and he committed an offense on a par with assaulting his parents or the gods (lines 5–6). This put him on a par with Ajax in his murderous insanity, and with Orestes pursued by the Furies (lines 7–10). And what did he do that was so terrible? He tore, or tore at, or messed up, her hair: ergō ego dīgestōs potuī laniāre capillōs? (11). If we take laniāre (“tear”) literally, then he has been violent (and oddly unmanly). But his own focus is on the fact that he messed up her elegant hairdo (dīgestōs  capillōs). So either he is downplaying a savage assault by calling it a trivial one, it else he is humorously exaggerating something that, if it was an assault at all, was of a very different kind. In Roman poetry, as we have already seen, the language of sex includes the language of violence.

The messy hair, says the poet, was attractive (line 12). He then elaborates, this time with three learned exempla: Atalanta and Ariadne (neither of whom is actually named), and Cassandra, who were all famous for their disordered hair (lines 13–18). The reasons were different: Atalanta lived in the wild, Ariadne had messy hair at the moment that Theseus abandoned her, and Cassandra was possessed. But all three women were also sex objects: Milanion won Atalanta in the famous footrace, Ariadne was in disarray because she had been asleep with Theseus on Naxos, and Cassandra ended up as the concubine of Agamemnon. We saw in Amores 1.5 (line 10) that Corinna came to bed with her hair down, and it seems clear that the poet is thinking of that kind of intimacy here. This could be a mere passing thought. But it seems more likely that it was a desire for intimacy that prompted him to touch her hair in the first place, and that they weren’t fighting at all. The poet had made a move, not an attack.

If so, the exaggerated remorse makes much more sense: there is an obvious parallelism between seduction and assault, but a seducer, if successful, sees the parallel as rhetorical rather than real. The poet continues with even deeper expressions of remorse: other people would call him names, and she reproached him with silent tears (lines 19–22). The poet cannot forgive himself for his offense: he’d rather lose his arms, what he did was worse than assaulting a Roman citizen, and worse even than sacrilege (lines 23–34). Indeed the assault was a kind of sacrilege, since the girl herself is a goddess (line 32). The remorse is described in terms that suggest serious violence, and it is easy to forget that this all started because of a hairdo.

The sarcasm goes up yet another notch as the poet sarcastically imagines himself as a triumphator, proudly celebrating this “assault” (lines 35–40). The girl was his prisoner, complete with the dishevelled hair of a captive (line 39), and, we now learn, with marks of some kind on her face (laesae genae, line 40). If this is anything approaching the bruising of a battered woman, the poet’s sarcasm here is simply grotesque. But we soon learn that what caused the marks (or mark) was only a fingernail (ingenuas ungue notare genas, line 50; see line 64). And the marks (or mark) was a byproduct of the messing up of the hair, not, apparently, an end in itself. Is the joke, then, that the girl is making a fuss about, literally, a mere scratch? This is not an easy conclusion, perhaps; even a scratch inflicted by an ardent lover is not a ready subject for humor.

What follows is perhaps the most difficult and disturbing section of a difficult and disturbing poem, as the poet goes on to describe forms of assault that would have been “better” (lines 41–50). The first alternative he thinks of is love-bites, confirming that it is sex rather than fighting that is uppermost in his mind (lines 41–42). But talk of lovemaking then turns, apparently, into talk about fighting: if he was going to be angry, there were better alternatives; for example, he could simply have yelled at her and threatened her (lines 43–46). But his second possibility reveals that they were not really fighting at all: he could also, he says, have taken off her top (lines 47–48). What he wanted, it turns out, was sex, and he could have threatened her, or he could have stripped her to the waist. What he did was mess with her hair, which was his big mistake.

The poet follows with even more abject apology: he paints a touching picture of a dazed and weeping victim and invites her to take her revenge (lines 51–66). She should scratch him back and go for his eyes as well as his hair (lines 65–66). Is this a final attempt to get what he had wanted all along?

It is striking that in the last couplet the poet begs his victim to fix her hair: doing so will remove all traces of his crime (lines 67–68). Again, we are faced with a choice: either he is spectacularly heartless, ignoring entirely that scratched face, or his offense was indeed a trivial one. We might also wonder when the hair was to be fixed: immediately, or after that final encounter?

Suggested reading

Greene, Ellen. “Travesties of Love: Violence and Voyeurism in Ovid Amores 1.7,” Classical World 92 (1999): 409–418.

Korenjak, Martin and Florian Schaffenrath. “Snowmelt in the Alps: Corinna’s Tears at Ovid, Amores 1.7.59,” Classical Quarterly 62 (2012): 874–877.

Amores 1.7

Adde manūs in vincla meās (meruēre catēnās),
dum furor omnis abit, sī quis amīcus ades:

nam furor in dominam temerāria bracchia mōvit;
flet mea vēsānā laesa puella manū.

tunc ego vel cārōs potuī violāre parentēs 5
saeva vel in sanctōs verbera ferre deōs.

quid? nōn et clipeī dominus septemplicis Aiax
strāvit dēprensōs lāta per arva gregēs,

et vindex in mātre patris, malus ultor, Orestēs
ausus in arcānās poscere tēla deās? 10

ergō ego dīgestōs potuī laniāre capillōs?
nec dominam mōtae dēdecuēre comae:

sīc fōrmōsa fuit; tālem Schoenēida dīcam
Maenaliās arcū sollicitasse ferās;

tālis periūrī prōmissaque vēlaque Thēseī 15
flēvit praecipitēs Crēssa tulisse Notōs;

sīc, nisi vittātīs quod erat, Cassandra, capillīs,
prōcubuit templō, casta Minerva, tuō.

quis mihi nōn “dēmens,” quis nōn mihi “barbare” dīxit?
ipsa nihil: pavidō est lingua retenta metū. 20

sed tacitī fēcēre tamen convīcia vultūs;
ēgit mē lacrimīs ōre silente reum.

ante meōs umerīs vellem cecidisse lacertōs;
ūtiliter potuī parte carēre meī:

in mea vēsānās habuī dispendia vīrēs 25
et valuī poenam fortis in ipse meam.

quid mihi vōbīscum, caedis scelerumque ministrae?
dēbita sacrilegae vincla subīte manūs.

an, sī pulsassem minimum dē plēbe Quirītem,
plecterer: in dominam iūs mihi maius erit? 30

pessima Tȳdīdēs scelerum monimenta relīquit:
ille deam prīmus perculit; alter ego.

et minus ille nocens: mihi quam profitēbar amāre
laesa est; Tȳdīdēs saevus in hoste fuit.

ī nunc, magnificōs victor mōlīre triumphōs, 35
cinge comam laurō vōtaque redde Iovī,

quaeque tuōs currūs comitantum turba sequētur,
clāmet “iō, fortī victa puella virō est!”

ante eat effūsō tristis captīva capillō,
sī sinerent laesae, candida tōta, genae. 40

aptius impressīs fuerat līvēre labellīs
et collum blandī dentis habēre notam.

dēnique sī tumidī rītū torrentis agēbar
caecaque mē praedam fēcerat īra suam,

nonne satis fuerat timidae inclāmasse puellae, 45
nec nimium rigidās intonuisse minās,

aut tunicam ā summā dīdūcere turpiter ōrā
ad mediam? (mediae zōna tulisset opem)?

at nunc sustinuī raptīs ā fronte capillīs
ferreus ingenuās ungue notāre genās. 50

astitit illa āmens albō et sine sanguine vultū,
caeduntur Pariīs quālia saxa iugīs;

exanimēs artūs et membra trementia vīdī,
ut cum pōpuleās ventilat aura comās,

ut lēnī Zephyrō gracilis vibrātur harundō 55
summave cum tepidō stringitur unda Notō;

suspensaeque diū lacrimae fluxēre per ōra,
quāliter abiectā dē nive mānat aqua.

tunc ego mē prīmum coepī sentīre nocentem;
sanguis erat lacrimae, quās dabat illa, meus. 60

ter tamen ante pedēs voluī prōcumbere supplex;
ter formīdātās reppulit illa manūs.

at tū nē dubitā (minuet vindicta dolōrem)
prōtinus in vultūs unguibus īre meōs;

nec nostrīs oculīs nec nostrīs parce capillīs: 65
quamlibet infirmās adiuvat īra manūs.

nēve meī sceleris tam tristia signa supersint,
pōne recompositās in statiōne comās.

Listen to the Amores 1.7

Notes on Amores 1.7

1–2: adde manūs: addō can mean “insert”; binding the hands was the traditional treatment for the insane. The poem begins with a request that some friend put the speaker in chains. meruēre = meruērunt. catēnās: whereas vincla are chains or restraints in general, catēnae are long and heavy chains. dum: dum + indicative can mean “until.” sī quis amīcus ades: the second person singular verb makes this hard to put into English: perhaps, “if any of you, my friends, are present.” For the use of indefinite quis, quid with , nisi, and num see AG §310a.

3–4: in dominam: in can mean “against” (OLD 9).

5–6: tunc: tunc can be used to refer to a hypothetical situation: “if I could do X, then.” saeva vel  deos = vel ferre saeva verbera in sanctōs deōs. verbera ferre: a variation of the idiom arma ferre, which means “make war on.”

7–8: clipeī dominus septemplicis: “lord of the seven-layered shield,” a reference to Ajax’s famous “tower” shield of seven ox hides (Homer, Iliad 7.219–223). Aiax: the i is a vowel, and part of the dipthong Ai. Ajax went insane with anger because he had not been awarded the prize in the funeral games held in honor of Achilles; he destroyed a flock of sheep because he mistook them for the Greeks who had done him the (as he saw it) injustice.

Fig. 14 Fresco from Akrotiri, on the island of Thera (modern Santorini), with warriors with “tower shields” (before 1500 BC). Athens, National Archaeological Museum. Wikimedia,

9–10: in mātre: “in the matter of his mother”; in + abl. used in a judicial context (e.g., in rē). patris: objective genitive with vindex (AG §348). malus ultor, Orestēs: Orestes, driven temporarily mad by the Furies, avenged the murder of his father Agamemnon by killing his mother Clytemnestra; the morality of this vengeance was of course highly problematic, hence malus ultor. ausus: understand est. arcānās … deās: the Furies, who were associated with the underworld (i.e. “secret,” “mystical,” or “hidden” from mortal view). poscere tēla: Orestes asked for a bow with which to defend himself from the Furies (Euripides, Orestes 268).

11–12: ergō: introduces an indignant rhetorical question. Despite the mythological precedents just mentioned, the speaker is shocked at his own actions. dīgestōs: “carefully arranged.” nec  dēdecuēre: “were not unbecoming to” + acc. (litotes). motae  comae: “her locks having been moved,” i.e., her disheveled hair.

13–14: sīc fōrmōsa fuit: sīc points to an action or a situation: “she was lovely thus” (= “in the way that I have just described her, with her hair messed up”). The narrator now proceeds to describe several women from mythology (Atalanta, Ariadne, and Cassandra) who were beautiful despite their messy hair; the tone shifts from self-reproach to a clueless romanticism. Schoenēida: Atalanta, literally “the daughter of Schoeneus,” a king of Boeotia. For the Greek form of the accusative case, see AG §81. dīcam: potential subjunctive (AG §447.1). Maenaliās < Maenalius, -a, -um “of Mount Maenalus1 (a range of mountains in Arcadia), “Arcadian.” sollicitasse: syncopated form of sollicitāvisse, perfect active infinitive in an indirect statement: “I would say that she were such a one as the daughter of Schoeneus (i.e., Atalanta), who harassed….”

15–16: tālis  Notōs = tālis Cressa flēvit praecipitēs Notōs prōmissaque vēlaque periūrī Thēseī tulisse (eam). tālis  Cressa: tālis is an adjective, but in English we need to supply extra words, e.g. “such a one (was) the Cretan (maiden, when she) lamented.” flēvit (“wailed, lamented”) introduces an indirect statement. The Cretan princess Ariadne fell in love with Theseus when he came to face her brother the Minotaur, and helped him kill the Minotaur and escape from the Labyrinth; Theseus then abandoned her on the island of Naxos. See especially the description of Ariadne in Catullus 64.63–70, where much is made of the disordered state of her hair and clothes as she watches Theseus sailing away. prōmissaque vēlaque: zeugma: these two nouns are subjects of tulisse, which applies to each in a different sense. An English example would be, “she gave him her heart and her purse.” Thēseī: two syllables, by synizesis (the running together of two vowels in different syllables without full contraction) (AG §603c).

17–18: sīc: i.e. with hair similarly messy. nisi  quod: “except for the fact that.” vittātīs … capillīs < vittātus -a -um, “bound up by a fillet”; the vitta was a headband worn by priestesses; ablative of description (AG §415). Cassandra: Cassandra, a daughter of Priam, was a priestess of Athena (Minerva), from whose temple she was taken at the fall of Troy; she was an inspired prophetess (cursed with being always accurate and always ignored) and was therefore often depicted as having messy hair. templō  tuō: ablative of place where (AG §421). casta Minerva: vocative.

Fig. 15 Emma, Lady Hamilton, as Cassandra, by George Romney (1734–1802). Wikimedia,,_as_Cassandra,_by_George_Romney.jpg

19–20: dixit: note the tense. ipsa nihil: understand dīxit.

21–22: vultūs: nominative plural; vultūs here has its original meaning of “facial expression, look.” ēgit mē … reum: reum agere means “to accuse, prosecute, put on trial”; the subject is inferred from ipsa (line 20). ōre silente: a concessive ablative absolute, “even though her mouth was silent” (AG §420).

23–24: ante: “beforehand” (adverbial). umerīs: ablative of separation (AG §400). vellem: potential subjunctive, AG §447.1 (first person singular expressions of cautiously saying, thinking or wishing), = utinam lacertī cecidissent. carēre: “to be without, lack,” regularly construed with the ablative of separation (here parte). meī: partitive genitive (AG §346a1).

25–26: in mea … dispendia < dispendium, -(i)ī, n. “loss”; with in + acc. it means “so as to produce my own loss,” i.e., at a cost to myself. et  meam = et ipse, fortis, valuī in poenam meam: “and I was (physically) powerful, strong (enough) for my own punishment myself,” i.e., strong enough to punish myself. The contorted word order foregrounds ipse, which accentuates the paradox. For fortis in + acc. = “strong (enough) for” a task, see Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.149–50 and OLD in 20.

27–28: quid mihi vōbīscum: apostrophe (the poet addresses his hands); quid mihi (est) cum? means “what have I to do with…?” mihi is dative of reference (AG §376). caedis scelerumque: objective genitives (AG §348). ministrae: vocative. sacrilegae … manūs: vocative. subīte: imperative, “endure, submit to.”

29–30: an: an is a particle used to introduce questions, often with a sense of surprise or indignation (AG §335b). pulsassem = pulsāvissem, syncopated form of the pluperfect subjunctive. minimum: minimus can be used of social status to mean “least important, lowest, humblest.” Quirītem < Quirīs, Quirītis, m. the formal term for a Roman citizen, used particularly in legal situations to emphasize civic rights. plecterer < plectō, plectere, “to beat, punish” (occurs only in the passive); a mixed contrary to fact condition (AG §517a). He would have been beaten as punishment for striking a Roman citizen. in dominam: “over my mistress”; in + acc. is used with words indicating power or control over someone. Note the asyndeton. Note also the paradox produced by the double meaning of domina: the poet may have power over his girlfriend, but he should not have rights over a domina (in the original meaning of the word). maius: the a is long by position; see AG §11d: “a syllable whose vowel is a, e, or or u, followed by the consonant i, is long whether the vowel itself is long or short.”

31–32: Tȳdīdēs: Tȳdīdēs, -ae, m. “the son of Tydeus,” i.e. Diomedes, who wounded Aphrodite/Venus when she took part in the battle before Troy (Homer, Iliad 5.334–351). monimenta: “reminders, examples,” perhaps also with overtones of “warning” (the word is derived from moneō). In the Aeneid (11.275–280) and the Metamorphoses (14.477–495) Diomedes tells of the punishment he suffered for his violence to Venus. ille  ego: antithesis and chiasmus. alter ego: understand deam perculī. alter means “the second of two.”

Fig. 16 Venus (Aphrodite), supported by Iris, complaining to Mars, and showing the wound she has received from Diomed in her attempt to rescue Aeneas, by George Hayter (1792–1871). Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. Wikimedia,,_complaining_to_Mars_1820.jpg

33–34: nocens: “guilty.” mihi  / laesa est = laesa est mihi (ea) quam profitēbar amāre. mihi: dative of agent, with laesa est (AG §375). profitēbar < profiteor, profitērī, professus (+ inf.), here “to claim.” in hoste: “when dealing with an enemy” as at line 9 above.

35–36: ī nunc, magnificōs victor molīre triumphōs: the poet sarcastically addresses himself as if he were a victorious general celebrating a triumph. victor: here used as an adjective or in apposition to the subject. molīre: imperative singular. vōtaque redde: vōtum reddere means “to discharge a vow”; in a triumph the victorious general would offer prayers and sacrifices in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline.

37–38: quaeque  sequētur = quaeque turba comitantum tuōs currūs sequētur. quaeque = et quae, the antecedent of quae being turba. tuōs currūs: plural for singular. comitantum = comitantium (see McKeown); substantivized participle of comitor (1) “accompany.” clamet: hortatory subjunctive. io  est!: a parody of the kinds of ritual cries made by the crowds at triumphal processions. fortī  virō is dative of agent (AG §375).

39–40: ante eat: “let her go before you” (in the triumphal procession). eat is hortatory subjunctive (AG §439). effūsō < effūsus, -a, -um “flowing.” capillō: capillus, though more commonly plural, can be a collective noun, “the hair.” candida tōta: in apposition to trīstis captīva. The protasis of the condition is replaced by a hortatory subjunctive (AG §521b): ante eat … candida tōta, sī sinerent laesae … genae, i.e., “Let her go before you… all white, if her wounded cheeks permitted it.”

41–42: aptius: neuter singular comparative of aptus, -a, -um, “appropriate.” fuerat = fuisset; the indicative is used in certain expressions where we might expect a potential subjunctive, e.g. satius erat, “it would have been better” (AG §437a). līvēre < līveō, līvēre “to be livid, to be black and blue with bruises”; the subject is collum in the next line. labellīs: the Roman poets speak often of love bites. collum: subject of līvēre in the preceding line and of habēre. blandī dentis: oxymoron.

43–44: dēnique: “at least” (adverb). rītū: rītus, -ūs, m. in the ablative singular can mean “in the manner of, like” (+ genitive).

45–46: fuerat = fuisset; see on line 41. inclāmasse: “to shout abuse” + dat. For the form of the perfect infinitive (inclāmasse = inclāmāvisse), see AG §184. nec nimium rigidās … minās = et minās nōn nimium rigidās; rigidus here means “stern, strict.”

47–48: turpiter: “in a way that brings discredit”; the primary reference is apparently to the discredit that such an act would bring on the woman, but there may also be an implication that it would bring discredit to the perpetrator as well. ōrā < ōra, ōrae, f. here in its original sense of “edge, border” (including the border of a piece of clothing). mediae zōna tulisset opem: “her belt would have come to the rescue at the middle”; mediae is dative of end of motion (Ryan and Perkins), or perhaps locative (AG §43c).

49–50: at nunc: “but as it is,” nunc can have an adversative sense introducing a fact contrary to previous possibilities. sustinuī < sustineō, sustinēre, sustinuī, “to allow oneself to, be cruel enough to” + infin. ingenuās < ingenuus -a -um, “tender, delicate.” Notice the play on words with genās.

51–52: albō  vultū: “her face white and bloodless”; abl. of description (AG §415). Pariīs < Parius, -a, -um “of Paros”; the island of Paros2 was famous for its marble; the puella was as white (albō  vultū, 51) as a statue made of Parian marble.

53–54: exanimēs < exanimis -e “scared stiff, frightened out of one’s wits.” ut cum: “as when,” introducing a simile.

55-56: stringitur < stringō, stringere, strinxī, strictum ”draw tight”; here “graze, scratch” (OLD 5).

57–58: suspensaeque diū: “long pent up.” abiectā < abiciō, abicere, abiēcī, abiectum, “to throw down”; the text has been suspected, but if correct abiecta dē nive means “from snow that has been thrown down into a pile,” i.e., “piled up.” Martin Korenjak and Florian Schaffenrath have recently suggested reading Alpina de nive manat aqua. Classical Quarterly 62 (2012), 874–877.

59–60: sanguis erat lacrimae … meus: we would say “the tears were my blood,” but Ovid reverses the predicate nominative for emphasis, “it was my blood that those tears were.”

61–62: tamen: the reading has been suspected, since there is no obvious contrast with what precedes; an obvious alternative is tandem. If tamen is right the point seems to be “it took me a long time to feel any pity (tunc ego mē prīmum coepī sentīre nocentem), at which point her tears were my blood, but nevertheless (I eventually did).”

63–64: at tū: the poet now addresses his girlfriend directly for the first time. nē dubitā: “do not hesitate” = nōlī dubitāre; the use of  + present imperative in prohibitions is poetic (AG §450a), but also legal. vindicta: “vengeance, punishment.” prōtinus: “at once, immediately” (adverb). in vultūs … meōs: plural for singular.

65–66: parce < parcō, parcere, pepercī + dative, “to act forbearingly towards, show consideration for.” quamlibet: modifies infirmās, i.e., “weak though they are.”

67–68: in statiōne < statiō, statiōnis, f. “position”; the word is often used in military contexts for guard duty, garrisons, etc.