This poem is appealing in a number of ways, though marred by a momentary brush with Roman racism. The poet’s situation is one that is easy to sympathize with: dawn is coming, he is in bed, and he has company. He hates the thought of getting up, so he complains to Aurora, goddess of the dawn, and becomes increasingly personal and vicious. In the final couplet we find out whether he has made an impact.
The poet begins by trying to persuade. He is comfortably in bed with his girlfriend, so there’s no need for Aurora to hurry (lines 1–10). Ever the rhetorician, the poet produces a series of arguments: people from very different walks of life all have to get up at dawn, and they hate it (lines 11–24). Normally a poem (or prayer) to a goddess would give a list of the good things for which she is responsible; here we get the exact opposite, because all this early rising is Aurora’s fault.
All these arguments merely support the point important to the poet: the person harmed most by Aurora is the man who’s got a woman in bed with him (lines 25–26). The poet, it turns out, has been in this situation often, and he has often wished that something would keep Aurora away. He has fantasized (absurdly) about changes in the cosmos, and about a heavenly chariot accident (lines 28–30).
At this point things turn nasty, with the poet getting more pointedly personal: Aurora, he says, does what she does out of sheer spite. She is as black-hearted as her son is black-skinned (Memnon was an Aethiopian prince). If the poet were to tell her husband what’s going on, her reputation would be destroyed. Tithonus, her husband, was incredibly old (Aurora had asked that he be made immortal but forgot to mention eternal youth), and so Aurora can’t wait to get away from him; a young man would make her want to slow night down. (Aurora supposedly had a fair number of lovers; the suggestion here may be that she leaves Tithonus to go out looking for them). But none of that is the poet’s fault (lines 31–42).
At this point we get another one of those leaps of logic best explained as a rhetorician’s refutatio (see Elliott, 130). There is an imaginary objection: “But nobody can change the natural order of things.” And mythology offers two responses: Luna put Endymion to sleep forever, and (a much better example) Jupiter doubled the length of the night he spent with Alcumena (lines 43–46). The basic proposition remains: Aurora is bringing in the day out of spite, because her own love life is a mess.
The final couplet brings the poem to an amusing and satisfying conclusion. There is no reason to spoil the joke by explaining it here. But it is important to be aware that the Romans saw blushing as the expected response to insults, as well as to embarrassment.
Elliott, Alison G. “Amores 1.13: Ovid’s Art,” Classical Journal 69 (1973–74): 127–132.
Iam super ōceanum venit ā seniōre marītō
flāva pruīnōsō quae vehit axe diem.
quō properās, Aurōra? manē: sīc Memnonis umbrīs
annua sollemnī caede parentet avis.
nunc iuvat in tenerīs dominae iacuisse lacertīs; 5
sī quandō, laterī nunc bene iūncta meō est.
nunc etiam somnī pinguēs et frīgidus āēr,
et liquidum tenuī gutture cantat avis.
quō properās ingrāta virīs, ingrāta puellīs?
roscida purpureā supprime lōra manū. 10
ante tuōs ortūs melius sua sīdera servat
nāvita nec mediā nescius errat aquā.
tē surgit quamvīs lassus veniente viātor
et mīles saevās aptat ad arma manūs.
prīma bidente vidēs onerātōs arva colentēs, 15
prīma vocās tardōs sub iuga panda bovēs.
tū puerōs somnō fraudās trādisque magistrīs,
ut subeant tenerae verbera saeva manūs,
atque eadem sponsum †cultōs† ante ātria mittis,
ūnius ut verbī grandia damna ferant. 20
nec tū consultō nec tū iūcunda disertō:
cōgitur ad lītēs surgere uterque novās.
tū, cum fēmineī possint cessāre labōrēs,
lānificam revocās ad sua pensa manum.
omnia perpeterer; sed surgere māne puellās 25
quis, nisi cui nōn est ulla puella, ferat?
optāvī quotiens nē nox tibi cēdere vellet,
nē fugerent vultūs sīdera mōta tuōs!
optāvī quotiens aut ventus frangeret axem
aut caderet spissā nūbe retentus equus! 30
invida, quō properās? quod erat tibi fīlius āter, 33
māternī fuerat pectoris ille color. 34
Tīthōnō vellem dē tē nārrāre licēret 35
fēmina nōn caelō turpior ulla foret.
illum dum refugis, longō quia grandior aevō,
surgis ad invīsās ā sene māne rotās;
at sī quem manibus Cephalum complexa tenērēs,
clāmārēs “lentē currite, noctis equī.” 40
cūr ego plectar amans, sī vir tibi marcet ab annīs?
num mē nupsistī conciliante senī?
aspice quot somnōs iuvenī dōnārit amātō
Lūna, neque illīus fōrma secunda tuae.
ipse deum genitor, nē tē tam saepe vidēret, 45
commīsit noctēs in sua vōta duās.
iurgia fīnieram. scīrēs audisse: rubēbat,
nec tamen adsuētō tardius orta diēs.
Listen to the Amores 1.13
Notes on Amores 1.13
1–2: super ōceanum: note that the ocean was, for the ancients, the body of water circling the known world, very different from sea. venit: notice the scansion, and thus the tense: “is coming.” seniōre marītō: the husband of Aurora (Dawn) was Tithonus, an Ethiopian prince. Aurora had obtained the gift of immortality for him, but forgot to ask that he also be granted eternal youth, with the result that he got very old while she stayed young. flāva: “the golden [female] one.” Aurora is not named until line 3, but the description here makes it clear whom the poem is about. pruīnōsō … diem = quae vehit diem pruīnōsō axe. axe = currū (synecdoche, with a part representing the whole).
3–4: quō: “why” or “where to.” manē: the a is short, so this is the imperative of maneō, not māne = “early” (see line 25). sīc … avis: “so to the shades of Memnon may his birds make their annual offering” (Barsby). Memnon, prince of Ethiopia, was the son of Aurora and Tithonus, killed by Achilles in the Trojan War. Each year, according to legend, Memnon’s grave was visited by birds born from his ashes, who then fought among themselves. The blood they shed was thus a sort of offering to their “parent.” sīc: see on 1.6.25. In this case the speaker is hoping that Aurora will do as he orders when he says manē. He says that in that case (sīc) he hopes that the grave of Memnon shall continue to receive its annual sacrifice. annua: either an internal accusative, translated as an adverb, “annually,” or feminine singular nominative modifying avis. sollemnī < sollemnis, -e, “customary.” parentet < parentō -āre, “to make memorial offerings for one’s parents,” + dative (umbrīs) and ablative (sollemnī caede). avis: singular for plural.
5–6: iuvat: impersonal; supply mē. iacuisse: perfect infinitive with iuvat, used aoristically (the aorist use of the perfect indicates that the action has occurred but makes no statement about when, see AG §473). The poets often use perfect forms with this aoristic meaning as metrically convenient substitutes for the present tense. sī quandō: “if ever,” i.e., sī quandō laterī meō puella bene iuncta est.
7–8: somnī < somnus, ī, m. “sleep”; plural for singular. pinguēs: “lazy” or “comfortable”; predicate nominative (understand sunt). frīgidus: predicate nominative (understand est). liquidum: “clearly, melodiously.”
9–10: ingrāta virīs, ingrāta puellīs: the adjective ingrāta takes the dative. Aurora is criticized instead of praised, a reversal of the traditional hymn of praise to a deity. roscida … manū: a “golden line”: adjective A, adjective B, verb, substantive A, substantive B. supprime: “hold back, check.”
11–12: ante tuōs ortūs: “before your risings,” i.e., before you rise. servat: “keeps under observation, watches.” nāvita: a poetic word for nauta. mediā … aquā: ablative of place where (AG §421). errat: errō can mean “go astray, wander.” The point is that sailors can navigate better when they can see the stars; this does not mean that they actually get lost in the daytime.
13–14: tē … veniente: ablative absolute, “when you come,” “as you arrive.” surgit quamvīs lassus … viātor: Ryan and Perkins note the sexual overtones in the language of arousal.
15–16: prīma … vidēs: “you are the first to see.” bidente < bidens, -entis m., “mattock, hoe”; ablative with onerātōs. arva colentēs: “those tilling the fields,” an elegant periphrasis for agricolae. panda < pandus -a -um, “bent, crooked, curved.” Ryan and Perkins see sexual overtones in language used for the soldier and and farmer.
17–18: fraudās: “you cheat of, deprive of” + abl. of separation (AG §400). trādisque: “and hand them over to.” Whacks on the hands were the main memory Roman adults had from primary school.
19–20: eadem: feminine singular, “it is you, the same (female) who.” sponsum < spondeō, spondēre, spopondī, sponsum “to make a solemn promise”; supine with verb of motion to indicate purpose (AG §509). “It is also you who send men into court to pledge themselves, so that they may suffer severe losses which attach to a single word” (Barsby). To initiate a civil suit a litigant had to pledge a certain amount of money (hence sponsum), which he would forfeit if his case was judged to be without merit; making that pledge required just one word, spondeō. †cultōs†: the daggers (obeli) mean that editors cannot make good sense of the manuscript readings, and are reluctant to commit themselves to emendations. Some scholars do accept cultōs, given in the manuscripts, understanding it as “well-groomed, neat in appearance.” Romans often complained about having to wear the uncomfortable toga on formal occasions, such as a visit to the law courts. Others prefer the emendation incautōs: it was well-known that litigation could be ruinuous for the unwary. ātria: “the courts.” The reference here is probably to the ātrium of the Temple of Vesta in the Forum, where lawsuits were typically conducted.
21–22: nec tū … nec tū: understand es. consultō … disertō: these terms refer to the two kinds of lawyers in the Roman world: a iūris consultus would give advice on the substance of the law, while a rhetor (= disertus) would offer his skill in speaking. The distinction is analogous to that of the English legal system, where solicitors do the paperwork and barristers (often called “advocates”) argue in court. Both nouns are dative with the adjective iūcunda. uterque: “each one,” i.e. the rhetor and the iūris consultus. The iūris consultus did not have to be present in court, and thus did not really have to get up early.
23–24: possint: potential subjunctive in a temporal cum clause. cessāre: “be idle, rest.” lānificam … manum: “the wool-working hand,” i.e., women spinning wool, a grand and poetic phrase for a humble, everyday activity. pensa < pensum, -ī, n. “wool” (a pile of unworked wool for spinning or weaving).
25–26: omnia perpeterer: “I would be able to bear all that”; imperfect subjunctive expressing potential in the present. surgere: objective infinitive dependent on ferat in line 26. Its subject is puellās: “Who would endure that girls get up?” māne: note the long a: “early in the morning”; adverb. cui = alicui, dative of possession with non est, “someone for whom there is not,” i.e., “who does not have.”
27–28: tibi: the dawn. nē fugerent … mōta: “that they would not move and flee,” literally, “that they, having been set in motion, would not flee.” vultūs … tuōs: plural for singular; the “countenance” of Aurora is the rising sun.
29–30: frangeret: optō can take a subordinate clause with the subjunctive, without ut. axem = currum as in line 2. spissā nūbe: ”by a thick cloud”; abl. with retentus. retentus: from retineō, “to keep back.” Either the horse as a whole is kept back (blinded?) by the cloud and therefore falls, or his foot is kept back so that he trips.
33–34: lines 31–32 are not printed in the text, since they are seen as a later interpolation. They read: quid sī nōn cephalī quondam flāgrāsset amōre/an putat ignōtam nēquitiam esse suam. invida: supply Aurora; vocative. quod: “because.” fīlius āter: Memnon, Aurora’s son, was Ethiopian. The Romans were not particularly prone to color prejudice, but they certainly made jokes about physical characteristics. fuerat: notice the tense: she had been that way before giving birth to Memnon.
35–36: Tīthōnō vellem … licēret = vellem ut Tīthōnō licēret. For the omission of ut from a substantive clause of purpose with volō, see AG §565. Tīthōnō is dative because governed by licēret. (It is tempting to take Tīthōnō as dative with dē tē nārrāre: “I could wish it were permitted (for me) to tell Tithonus about you.” But the story was that Aurora kept Tithonus prisoner; see McKeown ad loc.) caelō: ablative of place where. nōn … turpior ulla foret: the point is that if Tithonus heard about what Aurora was doing, he would spread the tale and thus ruin her reputation. foret is a regular alternative to esset (AG §170a).
37–38: grandior: understand ille, i.e. Tithonus, who was much older than his wife (see on line 1 above). aevō: ablative of degree of difference (AG §414) or cause (AG §404). ad invīsās … rotās: rotās = currum. Aurora’s chariot is hated by Tithonus (because he hates it when she leaves), or by all humankind (who hate it when she arrives). ā sene: “from the old man,” or “by the old man.”
39–40: sī … tenērēs/clāmārēs: present contrary to fact condition, “if you were holding … you would shout.” quem … Cephalum: “some Cephalus, someone like Cephalus.” For the use of indefinite quis, quid with sī nisi, nē, and num, see AG §310a. Cephalus was a handsome young man, married to Procris, with whom Aurora fell in love. manibus = bracchiīs. noctis equī: better printed Noctis equī, since the owner of the horses is the goddess Nox. Several artists have protrayed Aurora in the throes of passionate desire for the young and handsome Cephalus, who makes such a contrast with her aged husband Tithonus.
41–42: cūr ego plectar: “why should I be punished?”; deliberative subjunctive. A question implying doubt or indignation can become a simple exclamation (AG §444a). vir tibi: “your husband,” literally, “the husband for you.” nupsistī … senī: nūbō is the normal word for marriage by a woman; it takes a dative. conciliante < conciliō -āre, “to advise”; mē … conciliante is ablative absolute, “with me advising,” i.e., “I wasn’t the one who advised you to marry an old man!”
43–44: somnōs: “(nights of) sleep.” dōnārit = dōnāverit (perfect subjunctive in an indirect question). For the contracted perfect forms, see AG §181a. dōnō is stronger than dō, and means “present, make a present of, reward someone with.” Lūna = Selene, who fell in love with Endymion, while he was asleep on a hillside. She caused him to sleep forever, so that she could always admire his beauty. The poet is suggesting that Aurora, too, could reasonably change the natural order of things if she had a handsome young lover. Roman sarcophagi often depict Selene and the sleeping Endymion. neque … tuae = neque fōrma illīus (= fōrma Lūnae) secunda est (fōrmae) tuae.
45–46: ipse deum genitor: deum = deōrum (AG §49g). The phrase is intended to remind us of the formulaic description of Zeus/Jupiter in Homer and Vergil. The reference in this couplet is to Jupiter’s rape of Alcmene, the wife of Amphitryon, by assuming the features of her husband. In order to take full advantage of this trick, he ordered that the night be doubled in length. commīsit: “joined together, made continuous.” in sua vōta: “for his desires”; in + acc. expresses purpose.
47–48: iurgia fīnieram: “I had finished my rant.” scīrēs: potential subjunctive. The second person singular is probably indefinite (“one might know”); see AG §447.2 for this meaning of the second person singular subjunctive (present or imperfect) of verbs of saying, thinking, etc. audisse = syncopated form of audīvisse or audiisse; the understood subject is eam (= Aurōram). rubēbat < rubeō, rubēre “to be or become red” and/or “to blush,” as a sign of shame or modesty. There is a pun here, and the whole poem depends on it: the arrival of Aurora makes everything pink. Note also the imperfect tense. adsuētō tardius: “later than the accustomed (time)”; ablative of comparison (G §406). orta: understand est.