At the halfway point of his five books of Tristia, the exiled Ovid turns to the themes of lyric and contemplates old age, art and the limits of human endeavour. Difficult not to be moved by couplet 47-8, expressing the primacy of the arts in the expansive hexameter, and relegating Caesar, that rex superbus, to his proper place in the foreshortened pentameter.
Andrew James Sillett
ergo desidiae remove, doctissima, causas,
inque bonas artes et tua sacra redi.
ista decens facies longis vitiabitur annis,
rugaque in antiqua fronte senilis erit,
inicietque manum formae damnosa senectus, 35
quae strepitum passu non faciente venit;
cumque aliquis dicet fuit haec formosa dolebis,
et speculum mendax esse querere tuum.
sunt tibi opes modicae, cum sis dignissima magnis:
finge sed inmensis censibus esse pares, 40
nempe dat id quodcumque libet fortuna rapitque,
Irus et est subito, qui modo Croesus erat.
singula ne referam, nil non mortale tenemus
pectoris exceptis ingentique bonis.
en ego, cum caream patria vobisque domoque, 45
raptaque sint, adimi quae potuere mihi,
ingenio tamen ipse meo comitorque fruorque:
Caesar in hoc potuit iuris habere nihil,
quilibet hanc saevo vitam mihi finiat ense,
me tamen extincto fama superstes erit, 50
dumque suis victrix omnem de montibus orbem
prospiciet domitum Martia Roma, legar.
tu quoque, quam studii maneat felicior usus,
effuge venturos, qua potes, usque rogos!’
So, learned girl, reject every reason for idleness,
return to the true arts and your sacred calling.
The long years will spoil those precious looks,
and time’s wrinkles mar your furrowed brow,
Ruinous age that comes with noiseless step
will take possession of all your beauty:
you’ll grieve when someone says: “She was lovely”,
and you’ll complain that your mirror lies.
You have a modest fortune, though worth a great one,
but imagine yours the equal of immense wealth,
still fortune gives and takes away as she pleases:
suddenly he’s Irus the beggar, who was Croesus.
In short, we’ve nothing that isn’t mortal,
except the benefits of heart and mind.
Look at me, my country lost, you two, and my home,
and everything, that could be, taken from me.
still I follow and delight in my genius:
Caesar has no power over that.
Let whoever will end this life with a cruel blade,
yet my fame will survive when I am dead,
and I’ll be read as long as warlike Rome
looks, in victory, from her hills, on all the world.
You also: may a happier use of art await you,
in whatever way you can, evade the future’s flame!’
The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.