The female perspective is often not far away in Ovid’s poetry and this is especially true for his Heroides: imaginary letters from heroines in classical mythology to their husbands and lovers who have betrayed them. Of course it would be nonsense to portray Ovid as a feminist – after all Ovid’s voice is that of a Roman living during the time of Augustus - but still I think Ovid sympathizes with his heroines.
A famous example of a woman betrayed by a man is the story of Ariadne and Theseus. Theseus left her behind at the island of Lesbos while she was still asleep and now she describes how she searched for him in vain.
Ovidius, Heroides X, Ariadne Theseo 25-58.
Mons fuit; apparent frutices in vertice rari;
hinc scopulus raucis pendet adesus aquis.
adscendo; vires animus dabat; atque ita late
aequora prospectu metior alta meo.
inde ego—nam ventis quoque sum crudelibus usa—
vidi praecipiti carbasa tenta Noto.
aut vidi aut fuerant quae me vidisse putarem;
frigidior glacie semianimisque fui.
nec languere diu patitur dolor. Excitor illo,
excitor et summa Thesea voce voco.
"quo fugis?" exclamo "scelerate revertere Theseu!
flecte ratem! numerum non habet illa suum!"
Haec ego. quod voci deerat, plangore replebam;
verbera cum verbis mixta fuere meis.
si non audires, ut saltem cernere posses:
iactatae late signa dedere manus.
candidaque imposui longae velamina virgae
scilicet oblitos admonitura mei.
iamque oculis ereptus eras. tum denique flevi;
torpuerant molles ante dolore genae.
quid potius facerent, quam me mea lumina flerent,
postquam desieram vela videre tua?
aut ego diffusis erravi sola capillis,
qualis ab Ogygio concita Baccha deo;
aut mare prospiciens in saxo frigida sedi,
quamque lapis sedes, tam lapis ipsa fui.
saepe torum repeto qui nos acceperat ambos,
sed non acceptos exhibiturus erat
et tua, quae possum pro te, vestigia tango
strataque quae membris intepuere tuis.
incumbo lacrimisque toro manante profusis
"pressimus" exclamo "te duo, redde duos!
venimus huc ambo; cur non discedimus ambo?
perfide, pars nostri, lectule, maior ubi est?"
frutex fruticis (m.): shrub, bush
vertex verticis (m.): top
hinc: from there
scopulus: a projecting point of rock, crag
adedo adedi adesum: to wear away
late: far and wide, (line 40) to and fro
prospectus –us (m.): gaze
metior mensus: to measure, scan
utor usus (+ abl.): (here) to find, experience
vidi praecipiti carbasa tenta Noto: I your sails (carbassa) stretched out by the swift (praeceps) Southern wind
vidi…putarem: the reading of this line varies in the various manuscripts. This text is taken from the Latin Library site. The readings in other manuscripts are problematic too and many attempts have been made by scholars to emend this line. As it stands, it must mean something like: either I saw (the sails) or I thought I had seen (the sails) (as?) they were. Many attempts have been made to emend this line and that of A.J. Housman has found some favour: Ut vidi dignam quae me vidisse putarem `I saw a thing (ea), quae) such as I thought I did not deserve to see’. I wonder though
semianimis: half-alive (scanned four-syllabic: semanimis)
langueo: to be faint, languid
excitor illo (dolore) excito: to rouse
quo: where to
sceleratus: impious, wicked
numerum non habet illa suum: she (the ship) has not the full number of passengers
ratis –is (f.): raft, boat
quod voci deerat, plangore replebam: what lacked (desum + dat.) in voice, I filled with beating of the breast (plangor)
verber verberis (n.): stroke, blow
fuere = fuerant
ut saltem cernere posses: that you could at least see
iacto (-are): to wave
dedere = dederant
velaman velaminis (n.): cloth
scilicet oblitos admonitura mei: namely to remind (litt. (the clothes) willing remind) those who forgot me. Oblivos is poetic plural, as only Theseus was on board.
torpesco torpui: to become dull
ante: adv. before
genae: cheeks, but in poetic language `the eyes’ (lumina)
quid potius facerent, quam me mea lumina flerent = quid mea lumina potius facerent, quam me flerent
desino desesii : to cease
difussis capillis: with dishevelled hair (as a sign of grieve)
Ogygio deo: Dionysus (Ogyges was a king of Thebes, where Dionysus’ mother Semele came from)
Baccha: a Bacchante, a maenad
quamque lapis sedes, tam lapis ipsa fui = et tam lapis ipsa fui, quam lapis sedes: I was as much a stone as was the stone that was my seat
torus: cushion, bed
repeto repetivi repitum: to seek again
exhibeo exhibui exhibitum: to show, reveal
quae possum pro te: which I can touch instead of you
strata stratorum (n. pl.): bed
intepesco intepui: to become lukewarm (intepuere = intepuerunt)
incumbo incubui incubitum: to lay oneself
lacrimisque toro manante profusis: and while the cushion was drenched (mano) by my shed tears
reddo reddidi redditum: to give back
perfide lectule: either Ariadne curses in her despair the bed, or it is a kind of enallage with Theseus as the real perfide.
pars nostri maior: my greater part, i.e. my better part
Honoré Daumier - the abandoned Ariadne
Translation by A.S. Klyne
There was a hill: a few bushes were visible on its summit:
a crag hangs there hollowed out by the harsh waves.
I climbed it: courage gave me strength: and I scanned
the wide waters from that height with my gaze.
Then I saw now the cruel winds were also felt
your ship driven before a fierce southerly gale.
Either with what I saw, or what I may have thought Id seen:
I was frozen like ice and half-alive.
But grief allowed no time for languor. I was roused by it,
and roused, I called to Theseus at the top of my voice.
Where are you going? I shouted turn back, wicked Theseus!
Work your ship! Youre without one of your number!
So I called. When my voice failed I beat my breast instead:
my blows were interspaced with my words.
If you could not hear at least you might still see:
I made widesignals with my outstretched hands.
I hung a white cloth on a tall branch,
hoping those whod forgotten would remember me.
Now you were lost to sight. Then finally I wept:
till then my cheeks were numb with grief.
What could my eyes do but weep at myself,
once they had ceased to see your sails?
Either I wandered alone, with dishevelled hair,
like a Maenad shaken by the Theban god:
or I sat on the cold rock gazing at the sea,
and I was as much a stone as the stones I sat on.
Often I seek again the bed that accepted us both,
but it shows no sign of that acceptance,
and I touch what I can of the traces of you, instead of you,
and the sheets your body warmed.
I lie there and, wetting the bed with my flowing tears,
I cry out: We two burdened you, restore the two!
We came here together: why shouldnt we go together?
Faithless bed, wheres the better part of me now?