For reasons still not quite known, Ovid was banished by Augustus from Rome to Pontus at the Black Sea in 8 AD. The once happy and light-hearted poet went into hardship, but fortunately turned this hardship into poetry: the Tristia and the Epistulae ex Ponto. In Tristia 1.4 , Ovid describes the beginning of his travel to Pontus. He went by ship, a means of transport not much favoured by Romans, as they feared storms. And indeed there was a storm… Nevertheless, am I wrong in seeing irony in this poem too?
Ovid, Tristia, book 1, IV
Tingitur oceano custos Erymanthidos ursae,
aequoreasque suo sidere turbat aquas.
nos tamen Ionium non nostra findimus aequor
sponte, sed audaces cogimur esse metu.
me miserum! quantis increscunt aequora uentis,
erutaque ex imis feruet harena fretis!
monte nec inferior prorae puppique recuruae
insilit et pictos uerberat unda deos.
pinea texta sonant pulsu, stridore rudentes,
ingemit et nostris ipsa carina malis.
nauita confessus gelidum pallore timorem,
iam sequitur uictus, non regit arte ratem.
utque parum ualidus non proficientia rector
ceruicis rigidae frena remittit equo,
sic non quo uoluit, sed quo rapit impetus undae,
aurigam uideo uela dedisse rati.
quod nisi mutatas emiserit Aeolus auras,
in loca iam nobis non adeunda ferar.
nam procul Illyriis laeua de parte relictis
interdicta mihi cernitur Italia.
desinat in uetitas quaeso contendere terras,
et mecum magno pareat aura deo.
dum loquor et timeo pariter cupioque repelli,
increpuit quantis uiribus unda latus!
parcite caerulei uos parcite numina ponti,
infestumque mihi sit satis esse Iouem.
uos animam saeuae fessam subducite morti,
si modo, qui periit, non periisse potest.
tingo tinxi tinctum: to wet (ab oceano, i.e. sinks in the sea)
custos Erymanthidos ursae: the constellation Bootes, not far from the constellation Ursa Maior. Bootes disappears in November, so it is winter and stormy.
suo sidere turbat: as if Bootes’ sinking in the sea causes storms
Ionium aequor: the Ionian Sea
findo - fissus: to cleave
non nostra sponte: not by our free will
sed audaces cogimur esse metu: oxymoron: through fear we are forced to be brave
ex imis fretis: form the deep seas (fretum)
eruo erui erutum ( -ere): to root up
ferveo: to boil, rage
monte nec inferior unda
prora: bow (of a ship)
puppis –is (f.): stern
insilio insilui (here + dat.) to leap up
pictos deos: painted images of gods on the stern, thought to protect the ship
verbero: to beat, strike
pinea texta: the wooden structure of a ship made from pinewood
stridor –oris (m.): hissing sound
rudo (-ere): to roar, creak
ingemo ingemui (-ere): to bewail, groan
carina: keel, (pars pro toto) ship
navita = nauta
gelidus: very cold
pallor – oris (m.): paleness
victus: conquered (i.e. he can’t keep his ship strait in the storm, as the next line tells us.)
ratis –is (f.): float, ship
utque: and like
parum: too little, insufficient
non proficientia frena: non effective reigns
rector -oris (m.) : steersman (here said of a charioteer (auriga, this word is used for steersman in line 16)
remittit: relaxes (the reins ) for a horse with a stiff neck (cervicis rigidae, gen. qual.)
rapio rapui (-ere): to seize
vela dare: to set sail, to steer
quod nisi: when not
Aeolus: god of the winds
loca non adeunda: places not to be approached (i.e. Italy)
procul Illyriis laeua de parte relictis: Iliyria being left far behind at the left side (Ovid is sailing to the South.)
cerno crevi cretum: to perceive, see
desino desii: to cease (subject aura.)
contendo contendi contendum: to aim, strive
quaeso: I pray, please! (it is an interjection not influencing the construction of a sentence.)
magno deo: Augustus
pareo parui (+ dat.): to submit, yield
pariter: as well
repello reppulli: to drive back
increpo increpui increpitum (-are): to sound, cause resound
latus lateris (n.): side (here of the ship)
parco peperci parsum: to stop cease
caerulei vos numina ponti: you gods of the bleu sea
infestumque mihi sit satis esse Iouem = satis sit Iovem (= Augustum) mihi infestum
subduco subduxi (something (acc.) from (dat.): to lead away
si modo: if only
pereo perii: to be lost, die (si modo, qui periit, non periisse potest: if only, who has died (i.e. has lost all hope) can’t have died. The first use of pereo is metaphorically, the last literally. Though Ovid feels as being dead, he asks to be saved from death.)
Translation by A.S. Klyne,
Bootes, the guardian of the Erymanthian Bear, touches
the Ocean and stirs the salt-waters with his stars.
I still plough the Ionian Sea, not by my will,
but forced to bravery through my fear.
Ah me! What winds swell the waves,
and throw up boiling sand from the deep!
The breaker leaps mountain-high on prow
and curving stern, and strikes the painted gods.
The pine planks echo, the rigging’s whipped by the wind,
and the keel itself groans with my troubles.
The sailor, confessing cold fear by his pallor,
defeated, obeys his boat, doesn’t guide it by skill.
As a weak rider lets the useless reins,
fall loosely on his horse’s stubborn neck,
so, I see, our charioteer has given the ship her head,
where the wave’s force drives, not where he wishes.
Unless Aeolus alters the winds he’s sent
I’ll be carried to a place I must not visit.
Now Illyria’s shores are far behind, to larboard,
and forbidden Italy shows herself to me.
I pray the wind ends its effort towards a land
denied me, and obeys, with me, a mighty god.
While I speak, fearful and yet eager to be driven back,
with what power the waves pound at her sides!
Mercy, you gods of the blue-green sea, mercy,
let it be enough that Jove is angry with me.
Rescue my weary spirit from a cruel death,
if one already lost may be un-lost.