Amores, Book 3.14

Ovid’s broad-minded advice to his mistress

by Ovid

A characteristically broad-minded Ovidian take on “carpe diem”. The metre in this extract is the elegiac couplet – one line in the classic epic metre going back as far as Homer, followed by a shorter one with a pause in the middle. This metre and erotic themes were both established parts of Greek poetry, but using them together in love poetry is thought by scholars to be something new and distinctly Roman, and to have first happened only quite soon before Ovid was writing. Now back to the action …

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Sit tibi mens melior, saltemve imitare pudicas,
teque probam, quamvis non eris, esse putem.
Quae facis, haec facito; tantum fecisse negate,
nec pudeat coram verba modesta loqui.
Est qui nequitiam locus exigat; omnibus illum
deliciis inple, stet procul inde pudor.
Hinc simul exieris, lascivia protinus omnis
absit, et in lecto crimina pone tuo.
Illic nec tunicam tibi sit posuisse pudori
nec femori impositum sustinuisse femur;
illic purpureis condatur lingua labellis,
inque modos Venerem mille figuret amor;
illic nec voces nec verba iuvantia cessent,
spondaque lasciva mobilitate tremat.
Indue cum tunicis metuentem crimina vultum,
et pudor obscenum diffiteatur opus;
da populo, da verba mihi; sine nescius errem
et liceat stulta credulitate frui!

Think better of it, and at least imitate chaste women –
then I could think you virtuous, though you wouldn’t be.
What you do, do: just deny that you’ve done it,
don’t be ashamed to speak to me chastely face-to-face.
There is indeed a place that calls for wantonness: fill it
with every refinement: there, let modesty be far away.
As soon as you get out of bed, no more hanky-panky,
And leave all your goings-on behind there.
But in there, don’t be ashamed you doffed your tunic,
nor to have borne the weight of other thighs on yours:
there, take a tongue between your rosy lips,
and let passion give your lovemaking a thousand forms:
there, let provocative sounds and words never cease
and let the bedstead shake with your wanton movements.
Along with your tunic, put on a prudish expression,
modestly deny the lewd things you have done;
to people, to me, give just words; if I am dumb enough
to be taken in, let me enjoy my stupid credulity!