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14. Amores 1.8: The bad influence

© William Turpin, CC BY

This is the longest of all the Amores, and occupies the central position in Book 1. It is, therefore, an important poem, and it is intriguingly different. The central speech, by far the longest speech Ovid gives to any female character in the Amores, is delivered by an anti-heroine. Dipsas is an old woman and a lena, a stock character of the comic stage variously translated as “bawd,” “procuress,” “brothel-keeper,” or “madam.” A better translation might be “panderess” (if the word were used these days) or perhaps “enabler,” since Dipsas is not actually an employer of prostitutes; she is an aged dependent and confidante of the poet’s girlfriend, presumably a slave or freedwoman, and perhaps originally the girlfriend’s nurse. She is now trying to control the girl’s sex life, for entirely mercenary reasons.

Fig. 17 Drunken old woman. Roman marble copy of third- or second-century B.C. original. Munich, Glyptothek. Kikimedia,

One of the less attractive features of Roman literature, and indeed of Roman society, was its selection of elderly women as the objects of scorn and hostility (Richlin, 1984 provides a good introduction). Poets could be unsparing in their references to wrinkles, bad hair, and worse, and they associated the physical degeneration of such women with sexual dissolution and drinking (the Romans regarded the two vices as closely associated with each other); particularly vivid is the Roman copy of a famous Hellenistic sculpture of a drunken old lady, now in the Munich sculpture museum. Ovid’s character draws from this traditional stereotype: the name Dipsas itself suggests drunkenness, and the first thing we learn about her is that the name is completely appropriate. But Dipsas is also dangerous: the name evokes a snake as well as thirst, and the next thing we learn about her is that she is a witch. Some witches in classical literature are young and beautiful, but others, like Dipsas, are old and ugly.

This is not an easy poem to like. Even if we get past the unpleasant demonization of an elderly female retainer, there remains the problem of subtlety. The poet begins by telling us who Dipsas is: a drunk (lines 3–4), a witch (lines 5–18), and an eloquent corruptor of chaste girls (lines 19–20), and he tells us about overhearing her speech (lines 21–22). Most of the poem is devoted to Dipsas’ speech—we have to imagine that the girl herself never says anything at all—on the subject of rich and generous lovers (lines 23–108). The speech comes to a sudden end when, we are told, Dipsas senses that she has been overheard (line 109). The poem then comes to an end almost as abrupt, with the poet wishing he had beaten Dipsas up (lines 110–112), praying instead that she should be a homeless, cold and drunken pauper in what remains of her old age. As conclusions go, this is certainly clear and definitive, but it is not, at first sight, very interesting, or attractive.

It is the speech of Dipsas that provides the most obvious moments of interest, and even wit. As should be clear by now, Ovid in the Amores is nothing if not rhetorical, and the most surprising thing about Dipsas is that she is too: nec tamen eloquio lingua nocente caret (line 20). The formal rhetorical qualities of her speech have been well discussed by Nicolas Gross (1995–96), who even provides a formal outline (here given with some modifications):

23–26 exordium. Dipsas begins by telling the girl that she has attracted a rich suitor because she is so beautiful (captatio benevolentiae).

27–28 propositio. The basic argument of the speech is that Dipsas would be less poor if her mistress were rich.

29–34 egressio. Dipsas digresses, on reasons why the girl can and should accept a wealthy lover; the right stars are in alignment and the rich suitor is also handsome. (I suggest that this is part of the propositio.)

35–104 argumentatio. How to get the lover you want, and how to control him.

  • 35–38. While pretending to look down modestly, evaluate the present he’s bringing.
  • 39–40. The Sabine women might have been chaste, but they were primitive.
  • 41–48. Chastity now is obsolete (casta est quam nemo rogavit, line 43), and Roman women only pretend to be chaste. Even Penelope wasn’t really chaste: the contest with Odysseus’ bow was really about male sexual endowments.
  • 49–56. Life is short, and girls in particular have only a limited time to profit (literally) from their good looks. In fact they should maximize profits by taking multiple lovers.
  • 57–68. (Gross regards this section as part of the preceding one). This brings us (ecce, line 57) to your lover the poet: poetry is no good, and aristocratic birth is no good, if the lover is poor (pauper amator, line 66). Even being attractive is no good: nobody gets a night with you for free.
  • 69–86. How to get what you want from your lover: start with small requests, then ask for more once you’ve got him hooked. Play hard to get, but not so much that he loses interest; play lovers off against each other; go on the offensive when you quarrel, and don’t let arguments go on too long. Fake tears can be helpful, and lies are acceptable in love affairs.
  • 87–94. (Gross regards this section as part of the preceding one). Your servants and your relatives are all part of the process: they can advise your lover on what presents to give, and if they are subtle about it they can acquire presents for themselves.
  • 95–102. Also, you can invent reasons for your lover to give you presents: you can pretend it’s your birthday, and you can make him jealous; above all, show him the presents you get from his rival, and if there aren’t any go buy them yourself. And, finally, if he’s given you a lot already, you can switch to asking for loans, and simply never pay him back.
  • 103–104. Finally, you should learn the appropriate rhetorical skills.

105–108 conclusio. The girl should listen to Dipsas, and if she does she will be extremely grateful.

Part of the joke here is that of course we do not expect an aged and dissolute retainer to be an expert in rhetoric. It is the same joke, very roughly, as when Cockney ladies in Monty Python argue about the relative merits of French and German philosophers. But Dipsas’ rhetoric also brings her intriguingly close to the poet himself; it is the poet, after all, who relies on his rhetorical skills. Moreover, the arguments with which Dipsas begins (before she gets too preoccupied with presents) are the typical ones of the poet-lover, the famous carpe diem theme: chastity is overrated in general (lines 39–48), and a girl’s beauty does not last long (lines 49–50). Thus Dipsas sounds more and more like a projection of the poet rather than a “real” old woman.

This perhaps suggests that we should read the poem not as a story, but as fantasy, rather like the address to an unresponsive doorkeeper in Amores 1.6. Consider the plight of a poet-lover whose girlfriend is unavailable or uninterested. A young man in this situation might, in theory, assess the situation objectively: he might accept that he is not handsome, or interesting, or even much of a poet. But our bumptious and self-confident poet has an explanation that is much more flattering to his own ego. There is Dipsas talking to the girl, corrupting her with all that talk about money and presents. He might be handsome, and interesting, and a great poet, but he is not rich. The mystery of his failure is solved.

Thus the poem can be read as a study in delusion. Such a reading, I believe, gives more point to the long speech of Dipsas: we are appalled not by Dipsas herself (too easy a target), but by a lover who simply can’t face reality. He should be angry at himself, or perhaps simply at life itself, but he transfers that anger (he is all too human) to his invented nemesis (lines 110–115). And such a reading perhaps gives more point to the elaborate description of Dipsas’ magical powers (lines 5–18). The poet ought to be able to get the girl, because he’s wonderful. If he can’t, it’s not just that Dipsas is persuasive. She’s also a witch.

Suggested reading

Gross, N. “Ovid Amores 1.8: Whose Amatory Rhetoric?” Classical World 89 (1995–96): 197–206.

Meyers, K. S. “The Poet and the Procuress: The Lena in Latin Love Elegy,” Journal of Roman Studies 86 (1996): 1–21.

Richlin, A. “Invective Against Women in Roman Satire,” Arethusa 17 (1984): 67–80.

Amores 1.8

Est quaedam (quīcumque volet cognoscere lēnam,
audiat), est quaedam nōmine Dipsas anus.

ex rē nōmen habet: nigrī nōn illa parentem
Memnonis in roseīs sōbria vīdit equīs.

illa magās artēs Aeaeaque carmina nōvit, 5
inque caput liquidās arte recurvat aquās;

scit bene quid grāmen, quid tortō concita rhombō
līcia, quid valeat vīrus amantis equae.

cum voluit, tōtō glomerantur nūbila caelō;
cum voluit, pūrō fulget in orbe diēs. 10

sanguine, sī qua fidēs, stillantia sīdera vīdī;
purpureus Lūnae sanguine vultus erat.

hanc ego nocturnās versam volitāre per umbrās
suspicor et plūmā corpus anīle tegī.

suspicor, et fāma est; oculīs quoque pūpula duplex 15
fulminat et geminō lūmen ab orbe venit.

ēvocat antīquīs proavōs atavōsque sepulcrīs
et solidam longō carmine findit humum.

haec sibi prōposuit thalamōs temerāre pudīcōs;
nec tamen ēloquiō lingua nocente caret. 20

fors mē sermōnī testem dedit; illa monēbat
tālia (mē duplicēs occuluēre forēs):

“scīs here tē, mea lux, iuvenī placuisse beātō?
haesit et in vultū cōnstitit usque tuō.

et cūr nōn placeās? nullī tua fōrma secunda est. 25
mē miseram! dignus corpore cultus abest.

tam fēlix essēs quam fōrmōsissima vellem:
nōn ego tē factā dīvite pauper erō.

stella tibi oppositī nocuit contrāria Martis;
Mars abiit; signō nunc Venus apta suō. 30

prōsit ut adveniens, ēn aspice: dīves amātor
tē cupiit; cūrae, quid tibi dēsit, habet.

est etiam faciēs, quā sē tibi comparet, illī:
sī tē nōn emptam vellet, emendus erat.

ērubuit! decet alba quidem pudor ōra, sed iste, 35
sī simulēs, prōdest; vērus obesse solet.

cum bene dēiectīs gremium spectābis ocellīs,
quantum quisque ferat, respiciendus erit.

forsitan immundae Tatiō regnante Sabīnae
nōluerint habilēs plūribus esse virīs; 40

nunc Mars externīs animōs exercet in armīs,
at Venus Aenēae regnat in urbe suī.

lūdunt fōrmōsae: casta est quam nēmo rogāvit;
aut, sī rusticitās nōn vetat, ipsa rogat.

hās quoque, quae frontis rūgās in vertice portant, 45
excute, dē rūgīs crīmina multa cadent.

Pēnelopē iuvenum vīrēs temptābat in arcū;
quī latus argueret corneus arcus erat.

lābitur occultē fallitque volātilis aetās,
ut celer admissīs lābitur amnis aquīs. 50

aera nitent ūsū, vestis bona quaerit habērī,
cānescunt turpī tecta relicta sitū:

fōrma, nisi admittās, nullō exercente senēscit;
nec satis effectūs ūnus et alter habent.

certior ē multīs nec tam invidiōsa rapīna est; 55
plēna venit cānīs dē grege praeda lupīs.

ecce, quid iste tuus praeter nova carmina vātēs
dōnat? amātōris mīlia multa legēs.

ipse deus vātum, pallā spectābilis aureā,
tractat inaurātae consona fīla lyrae. 60

quī dabit, ille tībi magnō sit māior Homērō;
crēde mihī, rēs est ingeniōsa dare.

nec tū, sī quis erit capitis mercēde redemptus,
despice: gypsātī crīmen ināne pedis.

nec tē dēcipiant veterēs circum ātria cērae: 65
tolle tuōs tēcum, pauper amātor, avōs.

quī, quia pulcher erit, poscet sine mūnere noctem,
quod det, amātōrem flāgitet ante suum.

parcius exigitō pretium, dum rētia tendis,
nē fugiant; captōs lēgibus ūre tuīs. 70

nec nocuit simulātus amor: sine crēdat amārī
et cave, nē grātīs hic tibi constet amor.

saepe negā noctēs: capitis modo finge dolōrem;
et modo, quae causās praebeat, Īsis erit.

mox recipe, ut nullum patiendī colligat ūsum 75
nēve relentescat saepe repulsus amor.

surda sit ōrantī tua iānua, laxa ferentī;
audiat exclūsī verba receptus amans;

et, quasi laesa, prior nonnumquam īrascere laesō:
vānescit culpā culpa repensa tuā. 80

sed numquam dederis spatiōsum tempus in īram:
saepe simultātēs īra morāta facit.

quīn etiam discant oculī lacrimāre coactī,
et faciant ūdās illa vel illa genās;

nec, sī quem fallēs, tū periūrāre timētō: 85
commodat in lūsūs nūmina surda Venus.

servus et ad partēs sollers ancilla parentur,
quī doceant, aptē quid tibi possit emī,

et sibi pauca rogent: multōs sī pauca rogābunt,
postmodo dē stipulā grandis acervus erit. 90

et soror et māter, nūtrix quoque carpat amantem:
fit cito per multās praeda petīta manūs.

cum tē dēficient poscendī mūnera causae,
nātālem lībō testificāre tuum.

nē sēcūrus amet nullō rīvāle cavētō: 95
nōn bene, sī tollās proelia, dūrat amor.

ille virī videat tōtō vestīgia lectō
factaque lascīvīs līvida colla notīs;

mūnera praecipuē videat, quae mīserit alter:
sī dederit nēmō, Sacra roganda Via est. 100

cum multa abstulerīs, ut nōn tamen omnia dōnet,
quod numquam reddās, commodet, ipsa rogā.

lingua iuvet mentemque tegat: blandīre nocēque;
impia sub dulcī melle venēna latent.

haec sī praestiterīs ūsū mihi cognita longō 105
nec tulerint vōcēs ventus et aura meās,

saepe mihi dīcēs vīvae bene, saepe rogābis
ut mea dēfunctae molliter ossa cubent—”

vox erat in cursū, cum mē mea prōdidit umbra;
at nostrae vix sē continuēre manūs 110

quīn albam rāramque comam lacrimōsaque vīnō
lūmina rūgōsās distraherentque genās.

dī tibi dent nullōsque Larēs inopemque senectam,
et longās hiemēs perpetuamque sitim!

Listen to the Amores 1.8

Notes on Amores 1.8

1–2: lēnam < lēna -ae, f., “brothel-keeper, madam, procuress, go-between.” The lēna, who profited financially from arranging sexual liaisons between men and young women, was a stock character in comedy and mime, and also appeared frequently in love elegy. In this poem, a lēna gives advice to a young woman on how to get more gifts out of her lover/clients, as the poet listens from behind a door. Dipsas: “Dipsas by name.” nōmine is ablative of specification (AG §418). Dipsas is derived from the Greek διψάς meaning a small snake, the bite of which supposedly makes its victim extremely thirsty. It indicates the “poisonous” nature of the lēna who makes the puella “thirsty” for monetary rewards, and it points a drinking problem. anus: anus, anūs, f. “old woman.”

3–4: ex rē: “based on fact,” “for good reason.” nigrī  parentem / Memnonis: Dipsas is always drunk at dawn: the mother (parentem) of Memnon, King of Ethiopia (nigrī … / Memnonis), is Aurora, goddess of the dawn, who arrives every morning in a horse-drawn chariot (in roseīs  equīs). sōbria: postponed for emphasis: Dipsas has never seen the dawn sober.

5–18: the narrator describes the magical powers of the lēna, which recall those of similar characters in Tibullus and Propertius.

5–6: magās < magus, -a, -um, “magic” (rare; the usual word is magicus). Aeaeaque < Aeaeus -a -um, “of Aeaea.” Aeaea was the island of the witch Circe, who used her magical powers to turn Odysseus’ men into animals. carmina < carmen, carminis n. “chant, spell, incantation.” caput: “the source” (of a river). recurvat: the ability to reverse the course of rivers was one of the proverbial powers of witches.

7–8: grāmen < grāmen, grāminis n., “herbs” (a collective singular), especially magical ones. grāmen, līcia and vīrus are all subjects of valeat (line 8). tortō < torqueō, torquēre, torsī, tortum, “to cause to rotate, spin.” rhombō < rhombus, m., a wooden object which, when attached to a string and twirled in the air, produced a loud hissing sound, the volume of which depended on the force of the motion. It was used in the mysteries of Dionysus, Cybele, and Demeter, and as a tool of magic (see Theocritus, Idyll 2.30). Cupid is depicted as employing one in the fresco below, from Pompeii, found in the Casa di Amore Punito. See A. S. F. Gow, “ΙΥΓΞ, ΡΟΜΒΟΣ, Rhombus, Turbo,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 54 (1934), pp. 1–13. quid valeat: “what power… has.” vīrus < vīrus, n., “bodily fluid, secretion,” especially a magical potion or love charm. amantis equae: “of a mare in heat.” Fluid from a mare in heat could be used as a love charm.

Fig. 18 Venus and Mars. Fresco from the Casa dell’Amore Punito, Pompeii. Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Cupid (Amor) is holding a rhombus on a string stretched between his hands. Wikimedia,,_alla_presenza_di_un_amorino_e_ancella,_da_casa_dell’amore_punito_a_pompei,_9249,_02.JPG

9–10: cum voluit: cum (also ubi, ut and quandō, with or without -cumque) can be used as an indefinite relative (“whenever”) and introduce a conditional relative clause, which functions as the protasis of a condition (AG §542). The condition here is present general, with a perfect indicative in the protasis and present indicative in the apodosis (AG §514d1). tōtō … caelō: ablative of place where; the preposition is regularly omitted with tōtus (AG §429.2). pūrō  in orbe: orbis can mean “the vault of heaven.”

11–12: sī qua fidēs: “if there is any trustworthiness (in me),” supply est; see 1.3.16. stillantia < stillō -āre, “to drip with” (+ ablative). purpureus: predicate adjective; purpureus can be used of things stained with blood.

13–14: versam < vertō, vertere, vertī, versum, “to transform” (by magic). volitāre < volitō, -āre, “to fly around.” For the formation of intensive or iterative verbs by adding -tō or -itō, see AG §263.2.

15–16: oculīs: locative, or ablative of place where, often without a preposition poetry (AG §429.4). pūpula duplex < pūpula, -ae, f. “the pupil” (of the eye); certain remote barbarians were thought to have amazing eyesight because of having double pupils. orbe: “eyeball,” contrasted with orbe (10), “vault of heaven.” geminō lūmen ab orbe venit: the Romans spoke of light coming from the eyes, not to them.

17–18: antīquīs … sepulcrīs: ablative of place from which (AG §428g). longō carmine: carmen can mean “magical spell” (cf. line 5); longō indicates that the spell is a long and elaborate one. findit < findō, findere, fidī, fissum “to split apart”; this is presumably another way to bring back the spirits of the dead. humum < humus,, f. “earth,” modified by the feminine adjective form solidam.

19–20: haec … pudīcōs: “this woman has set herself to defile a pure marriage,” ironic because, as emerges from her speech, the “pure marriage” in question is actually a temporary liaison between the narrator, an impecunious poet, and a quasi-prostitute. tamen: take with nocente: “nor did her tongue lack eloquence, harmful though it was.”

21–22: mē … dedit: “gave me the opportunity (to be).” occuluēre occulō, occulere, occuluī, occultum “conceal”; perfect 3rd person plural.

23–24: here: “yesterday,” a colloquial form of herī; adverb. mea lux: vocative; a term of endearment the lēna uses when addressing the puella, similar to our “light of my life.” iuvenī … beātō: “a rich young man,” dative object of placuisse. The rival for the puella’s attentions is a common figure in love elegy, and the fact that this rival is well off financially gives the narrator a real cause for concern. haesit … tuō: “he stood stock-still and fixed his gaze unwaveringly on your face” (Barsby).

25–26: placeās: deliberative subjunctive, here expressing indignation (AG §444). nullī = nullī formae or formae nullīus. mē miseram: accusative of exclamation (AG §397d). corpore: either ablative with dignus (“worthy of”), or ablative of separation with abest (“is lacking from”), or both. cultus: cultus, cultūs, f. here “style of dress, get-up” (OLD 5b).

27–28: tam fēlix essēs = vellem (ut) tam fēlix esses quam fōrmōsissima (es). fēlix here means “wealthy”; for the omission of ut from a substantive clause of purpose with volō, see AG §565a. The personal fortunes of the lēna are tied to those of the puella, i.e., she proposes to be her madam and enrich herself as the puella is enriched.

29–30: stella … contrāria: stella often means “planet”; in astrology Mars was often the bringer of bad luck. tibi: with nocuit (noceō takes a dative), but also with oppositī. oppositī: “hostile, opposed” in the astrological sense. signō nunc Venus apta suō: supply est, “favorable Venus is now established in her own corner of the sky” (Barsby). For the ablative without the preposition see on line 15 above. Venus has now entered one of the signs of the Zodiac (signō) favorable to her—clearly a good sign for the puella.

31–32: prōsit ut adveniens, ēn aspice = ēn aspice, ut prōsit adveniēns, “see now, how she helps you by her coming.” For ut as an exclamatory adverb (“how!”) see OLD 2b. prōsit < prōsum, prōdesse, prōfuī “to be beneficial”; subjunctive in an indirect question. cūrae, quid tibi dēsit, habet = habet cūrae quid tibi dēsit; cūrae is dative of purpose (“as a care,” see AG §382), used instead of a predicate accusative; the object is quid tibi dēsit.

33–34: est … illī: illī is a dative of possession (AG §373). faciēs: faciēs can mean “good looks.” comparet: potential subjunctive (AG §447.3). sī tē nōn emptam vellet: “if he did not wish to buy your favors.” volō in the sense of “want something to be done” can take a perfect passive participle as well as the more usual accusative and infinitive. vellet is imperfect subjunctive in the protasis of a present contrary to fact condition. emendus erat: “he would have to be bought”; i.e., if he wasn’t willing to pay for you, you would be willing to pay for him. We would expect emendus esset, but if the verb in the apodosis of a contrary to fact condition implies a future it can be in the indicative (AG §517 n.1).

35–36: ērubuit!: “she blushed!” spoken as an aside. pudor: the modesty manifested by blushing, which looks good (decet) on a pale complexion. iste = pudor. vērus: i.e., vērus pudor. obesse < obsum, obesse, obfuī, “to be a disadvantage” (here used absolutely), i.e., it is a detriment to the trade.

37–38: bene: here “decorously, becomingly.” gremium: supply tuum. Downcast eyes are a sign of modesty. quantum quisque ferat: either “you will have to look to see how much each one is bringing,” or “however much each one might bring, to that extent (understanding a tantum, implied by quantum) he will have to be esteemed.” The first option better preserves the antithesis between deiectīs ocellīs (37) and respiciendus (38). respiciendus erit: supply tibi (AG §196).

39–40: immundae  Sabīnae: the Sabine1 women, from Rome’s remote past, were famous for their old-world chastity; they are also famous for being raped by the followers of Romulus, but that is not the point here. For Dipsas chastity was merely a lack of sophistication, just as Tacitus suggests that Romans in his day called adultery “modern” (saeculum, Tac. Germ. 19). Tatiō regnante: “in the reign of Tatius” (ablative absolute). Titus Tatius was a king of the Sabines, who became king along with Romulus following the rape of the Sabine women; the story is told in Livy, History of Rome 1.10–11. nōluerint habilēs … esse: “did not wish to offer themselves,” literally, “be easy to handle.” nōluerint: potential subjunctive, as regularly with forsitan (AG §447.3a). habilēs: there are no obvious parallels for this use of the word, which has physical and sexual overtones at Amores 1.4.37 (habilēs  papillae).

41–42: externīs … in armīs: “for wars abroad”; Dipsas regards the wars of the time of Romulus and Titus Tatius as internal ones, since the Sabines had for so long been incorporated into the Roman state. animōs exercet: either “is occupying his energies” (Barsby), or perhaps “is giving brave men some practice” or “is keeping their minds busy.” In other words, the husbands are so busy preparing themselves for war that they are paying no attention to their wives’ extramarital activities. exerceō traditionally has associations with military training. Aenēae … suī: Aeneas was Venus’ son; according to Dipsas that apparently makes sexual freedom all the more appropriate for the Rome of her day; Augustus, who traced his lineage back to Venus and Aeneas, would have been shocked by this deduction.

43–44: lūdunt: lūdō can have an explicitly sexual meaning, “to sport amorously,” “to be promiscuous.” nēmo: the o is normally long, but Ovid sometimes shortens it; see McKeown ad loc. rogāvit: here with an explicitly sexual meaning, “to proposition.” rusticitās: “lack of sophistication,” with an allusion to the simple country living of the Sabine women. ipsa: i.e. (illa) quam nēmo rogāvit.

45–46: hās: understand fēminās, object of excute. frontis … in vertice portant: “on the tops of their their foreheads” (singular for plural). rūgās: “wrinkles”; prudish ladies (not necessarily old ones) would make wrinkly judgemental faces. excute: “shake out” the prudish ladies, like someone shaking out a garment—a bold metaphor. For the use of an imperative as the equivalent of a protasis in a condition, see AG §521b. crīmina: “many a guilty thought” (Barsby) or “many (sexual) misdeeds.” Given the outrageous rewriting of the story of Penelope in the next couplet, the second option is probably meant.

47–48: Pēnelopē: The wife of Odysseus is normally considered a paragon of wifely chastity, but Dipsas gives a much racier and more cynical version of her relationship with her suitors. vīrēs: the plural of vīs, f., which can refer to sexual prowess. temptābat < temptō, -āre, “to test, try out.” Since in the Odyssey there was only a single archery contest, this may be an inceptive imperfect, indicating that the action has begun but not been completed (AG §471c); but the imperfect also makes sense in the racier alternative version, given the sexual sense of vīrēs, since Penelope could be seen as working through the long list of suitors. in arcū: “with the bow,” though arcus can also mean “penis,” cf . McKeown ad loc.; in + ablative can mean “bearing” a weapon. qui latus … arcus erat = arcus qui latus arguerat erat corneus. latus < latus, lateris, n. “side, flank,” but here “physical strength, vigor,” sometimes in the sexual sense of “prowess.” arguerat < arguō, arguere, arguī, argūtum, “demonstrate, prove.” corneus: “made of horn”; in Homer, the bow of Odysseus was made of horn (a composite bow), but corneus also has an explicitly sexual connotation (McKeown ad loc.)

49–50: lābitur … aetās: Dipsas changes her subject here (adversative asyndeton, cf. on 1.3.19). Poets, in Latin elegy and throughout western literature, have used the transitory nature of youth as an argument in seduction; the tradition is encapsulated in Horace’s carpe diem poem (Odes 1.11), and Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress.” occultē: “without being noticed” (adverb). fallitque < fallō, fallere, fefellī, falsum “to trick, deceive” but also “elude, be unnoticed.” admissīs … aquīs: admittō can mean “to release, let loose.” Some manuscripts and some editors read admissīs … equīs.

51–52: aera: “(pieces of) bronze,” i.e. money. ūsū: “from use,” i.e., bronze becomes dull if it is not handled. habērī: “to be worn.” cānescunt: “to become white” with dust etc., but here the allusion to the human body, which grows white-haired with age, is even more obvious than in the previous line. turpī  sitū < situs, ūs, m. “neglect.”

53–54: admittās: admittō can have the specific meaning of “receive a lover.” The form can be explained as a generalizing second person singular in an indefinite subjunctive (Barsby), or as the protasis of a future less vivid condition, the apodosis of which is in the present indicative (AG §516b); in the latter case, Dipsas is addressing her mistress directly. nullō exercente: ablative absolute (AG §420); exerceō here means “to employ, put to use.” Just as bronze loses its sheen when it isn’t handled and used (51), so beauty (according to Dipsas) loses its youthful appeal if no one puts it to use sexually. satis effectūs < effectus, effectūs, m., “result, outcome”; satis is an indeclinable substantive, here accusative, with a partitive genitive (AG §346). ūnus et alter: “(just) one or two.” Supply amātor with both adjectives. rapīna < rapīna, ae, f. “plunder” (of property but also “abduction” (especially of a woman); here the primary meaning is “plunder,” as an exaggerated way of talking about profit. Having only two lovers is not enough; one should have many (multīs, 55) to keep one’s sexual prowess keen and to make a more reliable profit.

55–56: Dipsas now turns to her interest in the financial profitability of having lovers. cānīs  lupīs: both “to gray wolves” and “to white-haired prostitutes.” cānus, -a, -um means “white, gray”; lupīs is either from lupus (“wolf”) or lupa (“she-wolf” or “prostitute”). dē grege: “from a (whole) flock”; this is the point.

57–58: iste tuus … vātēs: “that poet of yours.” It is finally revealed that the narrator and the puella are lovers, and it is clear that the narrator has been more than simply a casual eavesdropper. The pejorative sense of iste underscores the lēna’s scornful contempt for a poet (presumably a man of few financial resources). amātōris mīlia multa legēs: legō here means either “collect” (Barsby) or “read” (McKeown). If “collect” is right, the point is both repetitive and unclear: her mistress will get lots of money (mīlia nummōrum) from a lover, who is different from the poet under discussion. If “read” is right, it comes as a surprise: we expect that a sentence beginning with “many thousands of a lover’s things” (possibly mīlia nummōrum) will conclude with “you’ll receive as presents,” but “the lover’s things” turn out to be something that, according to Dipsas, her mistress will reading: all the poet has to offer is lots of poetry.

59–60: ipse deus vātum: Apollo. The point of this couplet seems to be that a really good poet, like Apollo, would display obvious signs of worldly success, comparable to Apollo’s golden cloak and lyre, and would thus be worthy of attention. pallā: “cloak”; ablative of cause (AG §404) or specification (respect) (AG §418). aureā: here two syllables by synizesis (AG §603c). tractat … fīla: “plucks the strings.” The chiasmus reflects an actual lyre: the consona fīla are tucked inside inaurātae  lyrae.

61–62: quī dabit: “he who will give” gifts; the amātor dīves who will give gifts and money to his lover. tibi: dative of reference, expressing point of view: “as far as you are concerned” (AG §378); the second i of tibi is usually short, but it can be lengthened to accomodate the meter. mihi: as with tibi, the second i can be long. rēs est ingeniōsa dare = dare est rēs ingeniōsa; dare is a subjective infinitive with est (AG §461b). Dipsas has no use for the talents of a poets, only for the “talent” of gift-giving.

63–64: nec tū …/ despice = nōlī despicere. “Don’t despise the man who has bought his freedom at the price of his head,” refers to a former slave who grew rich enough to purchase his freedom. In Ovid’s circles, this would be a somewhat disreputable class. capitis: caput can mean “the status of a free citizen.” mercēde < mercēs, mercēdis f., “price”; ablative of price (AG §416). redemptus < redimō, redimere, redēmī, redemptum “buy back,” especially “buy out of slavery.” gypsātī crīmen ināne pedis: supply est; “the accusation of (having had) a foot whitened with gypsum is pointless,” i.e., “the taint of slavery is pointless.” When foreign slaves were put up for sale for the first time their feet were whitened with gypsum. The genitive is perhaps best described as appositional (AG §343d), or genitive with words suggesting accusation (AG §352).

65–66: ātria: “atrium” (the main reception room in a Roman house); the plural is regularly used for the singular in poetry. cērae: “wax portrait busts,” but here a reference to the imāginēs, wax masks of distinguished ancestors placed in the atrium of an aristocratic Roman house; to say that a Roman had imāginēs was to say that he was a member of the senatorial aristocracy. tolle … tēcum: “pick up and take with you (as you leave).” Note the harsh alliteration of the “t” sounds, emphasizing the lēna’s contempt for potential suitors who offer a lover nothing more than an illustrious ancestry. avōs: a reference to the ancestors (65, veterēs circum ātria cērae) in whom an aristocrat would put so much stock.

67–68: quī = (ille) quī. quia pulcher erit: Dipsas now turns to the suitor who is so good-looking that he thinks he doesn’t need to offer presents (or payment) for a night with the girl. quod det, amātōrem flāgitet ante suum: “let him first demand something from his own lover to give (to you).” flāgitet < flāgitō -āre, “to ask for repeatedly”; it can take a double accusative, “ask someone for something” (AG §396); hortatory subjunctive. The lēna makes the assumption that, if the potential lover is pulcher, he must have a (male) lover of his own (amātōrem  suum), from whom he can wheedle the money he needs to pay his mistress; she should never give away her favors for free.

69–70: parcius: “rather sparingly”; comparative of parcē. exigitō: “demand payment”; future imperative (from the language of Roman law and religion). dum rētia tendis: a hunting metaphor; hunters regularly stretched out nets to catch anything from birds to boar and deer. lēgibus ūre tuīs: “torment them on your own terms.” lēgibus is probably ablative of specification (respect), which can include expressions indicating that in accordance with which a thing is done (AG §418). Smitten Roman lovers were often said to be subject to the lēgēs of their mistresses. ūrō is used especially of passion.

71–72: nocuit: gnomic perfect, used sometimes to indicate that what has been true in the past is always true; translate as a present or present perfect (AG §475). sine crēdat amārī = sine (ut) crēdat (sē) amārī: “permit him to believe he is loved.” cave: imperative of caveō, here as often with a short e (iambic shortening, a feature of colloquial speech). Prohibition can regularly be expressed by cave + present subjunctive, but cave nē sometimes occurs (AG §450 n.2). nē grātīs hic tibi constet amor: “lest this love be worth nothing to you,” “lest you charge nothing for this love.” grātīs is the ablative plural of grātia, usually occurring in this syncopated form (instead of gratiīs), and means “without payment, for nothing.” For the ablative of price, see AG §416.

73–74: capitis … dolōrem: “a headache.” modo  / modo: “now X, now Y.” causās: “excuses” (for not having sex). praebeat: subjunctive in a relative clause of purpose (AG §531.2) “to provide excuses.” Īsis: the cult of the Egyptian goddess was popular in Rome, and was particularly associated with women; devotees were required to abstain from sex for a period of time each year.

75–76: recipe: supply eum. Here the word means, specifically, “receive as a lover.” ut nullum patiendī colligat ūsum: “so that he does not get in the habit of enduring (getting rejected).” colligat: colligō here means “acquire” (by natural processes). ūsum < ūsus, ūsūs, m. “frequent practice nēve =  -ve. relentescat < relentescō, -ere, “slacken, become less ardent” (rare). saepe: take with repulsus.

77–78: ōrantī … ferentī: understand amātōrī with both participles; dative of reference or, more specifically, dative of disadvantage (ōrantī) and dative of advantage (ferentī) (AG §376). ferentī: understand a direct object, such as dōna. exclūsī = amantis exclūsī, i.e. the failed rival of the successful lover, described as an exclūsus amātor (on which see Amores 1.6.1–2). amans < amans, amantis, m. “lover” (not the participle).

79–80: et quasi … laesō: “sometimes, when he is has been wronged, be angry with him, as if you have been wronged.” īrascere: imperative. laesō < laedō, laedere, laesī, laesum “harm, hurt” but here “wrong in love” (see OLD 3b), i.e. “betray, cheat on”; here = amantī laesō, dative, with īrascere. culpā culpa: polyptoton, or repetition of a word in a different form. Translators treat culpa as though it meant “accusation,” which produces clearer English, but the point is really that the sense of guilt (which the woman would otherwise feel) disappears when balanced by the man’s sense of guilt that she should create (hence tuā). repensa < rependō, rependere, rependī, repensum, “to make up for, balance.”

81–82: numquam dederis: prohibition can be expressed by  + the perfect subjunctive, and other negatives can be used instead (AG §450 n.4). in īram: in with a verb of spending can mean “upon.” saepe … facit: “prolonged anger often creates bitterness” (Barsby). simultātēs < simultās –tātis, f. “state of animosity, a feud”; Dipsas does not want the quarrel to get out of hand. morāta < moror, morārī = “dwell on in thought or utterance” (OLD 11c).

83–84: quīn etiam: “and in fact”; when used to introduce a statement confirming what has just been said, quīn is often strengthened by etiam. coactī: “on demand,” literally, “when compelled,” from cogō. illa vel illa: supply (alia) puella for both adjectives. She is supposed to act as though the man’s other girlfriends were making her cry.

85–86: commodat  nūmina surda Venus: either “Venus turns a deaf ear” when lovers swear falsely (literally, “a deaf Venus lends her divinity”); or “Venus lends her deaf divinity”—a play on “lends an ear,” (aurem commodāre); or “Venus arranges that the gods be deaf to” lovers’ perjuries (taking commodāre in the sense of “provide” a witness at a trial, etc. in lūsūs: “for the games of love.”

87–88: ad partēs … parentur: ad partēs parāre means “to prepare one’s part/role” (in a play). sollers: “clever, skilled”; construed with servus as well as with ancilla. quī doceant: the subjects are the servus and the ancilla; as object understand illum (i.e. her boyfriend); relative clause of purpose. tibi: dative of advantage (AG §376).

89–90: rogent  rogābunt: the subjects are servus and ancilla. multōs: rogō can take an accusative of the person asked for a thing, as well as an accusative of the thing asked for. stipulā < stipula, -ae, f. “stubble,” i.e., what is left over after the grain harvest. acervus: “heap, pile,” esp. a pile of money. Dipsas is looking at the situation from the slaves’ point of view: if the servus and the ancilla get a little bit from a lot of boyfriends (multōs), it mounts up.

91–92: carpat < carpō, carpere, carpsī, carptum normally “to pluck, harvest,” but here “despoil, fleece.” fit cito per multās praeda petīta manūs = praeda petīta per multās manūs cito fit; fit cito here means “quickly accumulates” or “is quickly produced.” The whole process of plundering the boyfriend by servants and relatives alike will be successful when there are a lot of people involved.

93–94: nātālem: supply diem; “birthday.” lībō < lībum, ī, n. “cake,” usually offered as a sacrifice, especially on birthdays; hence, not quite our “birthday cake.” testificāre < testificor -ārī, here “give proof of.” Singular imperative: “indicate by a cake that it is your birthday.”

95–96: nē … cavētō = cavētō nē nullō rīvāle sēcūrus amet. The subject of amet is ille, i.e. the boyfriend. rīvāle < rīvālis, -is, m. and f. “rival” (in love). nullō rīvāle: ablative absolute (AG §420). cavētō nē is a variant of cavē nē, for which see on line 72 above. nōn bene, sī tollās proelia, dūrat amor: this has the ring of a proverbial truism. proelia: “battles.” For military imagery in love poetry see especially the next poem.

97–98: tōtō … lectō: suggesting that their sexual activities had been particularly energetic. factaque  notīs = (et videat) colla (tua) facta (esse) līvida lascīvīs notīs: he should see that her neck has been bruised by “sexually unrestrained marks,” i.e. by love bites.

99–100: mīserit: future perfect. Sacra roganda Via est = Sacra Via roganda est; the Via Sacra was the principal street of the Roman Forum, but it was also notable for jewelry shops.

101–102: ut nōn tamen = ita tamen ut nōn “but without its happening that,” “yet not with the result that”; for the use of a result clause in a restrictive sense, see AG §537b. Dipsas now has advice on what to do if the man won’t give everything he has. quod numquam reddās, commodet, ipsa rogā = ipsa rogā ut commodet id quod numquam reddās. For the omission of ut with verbs of commanding, etc., see AG §565a. Here commodō has its original sense of “lend”: ask him to lend you things that you have no intention of returning.

103–104: lingua … tegat: “let your tongue assist and conceal your intentions.” blandīre nocēque: imperatives. impia sub dulcī melle venēna latent: another terse sentiment with the authority of a proverb.

105–106: praestiterīs: “bring to bear, apply”; for the long final syllable see on 1.4.31. nec tulerint: supply ; a continuation of the protasis of the preceding line.

107–108: mihi dīcēs vīvae bene: “you will speak well of me (or kindly to me) while I am alive.” benedīcō is a verb taking the dative, and Ovid here splits it into its parts, perhaps to emphasize the key word vīvae; for the scansion of mihi see 61–62 above. dēfunctae: “when I have died,” parallel to vīvae in the previous line. molliter … cubent: where we say “rest in peace” the Romans said “rest comfortably”; the formula sit tibi terra levis was common on tombstones, often abbreviated s.t.t.l.

109–110: in cursū: “in full flow” (Barsby). Probably the metaphor is of a river, but the word was often used of speech (OLD 3d). prōdidit < prōdō, prōdere, prōdidī, prōditum, here “betray” (OLD 8); the narrator’s lurking presence has been discovered. vix sē continuēre manūs: the narrator reacts angrily but with restraint to the advice Dipsas has been giving to his girlfriend. continuēre = continuērunt; followed by the quin clause below.

111–112: quīn  / … distraherentque: “from ripping apart”; quīn here is a conjunction introducing a clause of hindrance (AG §558). rāram comam: “thin/sparse hair.” vīnō: ablative of cause with lacrimōsa (AG §404).

113–114: dī tibi dent: the narrator puts a curse on Dipsas; dent is hortatory subjunctive. nullōsque Larēs < Lār, Laris, m. “Lar, household god”; in the plural it often (as here) means “home”; the use of -que … -que (instead of et … que) is poetic; i.e., “may the gods render you homeless.” sitim < sitis, sitis f. “thirst”; probably the worst part of this curse, since she is an alcoholic.