drawing by marguerita
So far, riding her unequal wheels, the Muse has taught you
where you might choose your love, where to set your nets.
Now I’ll undertake to tell you what pleases her,
by what arts she’s caught, itself a work of highest art.
Whoever you are, lovers everywhere, attend, with humble minds,
and you, masses, show you support me: use your thumbs.
First let faith enter into your mind: every one of them
can be won: you’ll win her, if you only set your snares.
Birds will sooner be silent in the Spring, cicadas in summer,
an Arcadian hound turn his back on a hare,
than a woman refuse a young man’s flattering words:
Even she you might think dislikes it, will like it.
Secret love’s just as pleasing to women as men.
Men pretend badly: she hides her desire.
If it was proper for men not to be the first to ask,
woman’s role would be to take the part of the asker.
The cow lows to the bull in gentle pastures:
the mare whinnies to the hoofed stallion.
Desire in us is milder and less frantic:
the male fire has its lawful limits.
Remember Byblis, who burned with incestuous love,
for her brother, and bravely punished herself with the noose?
Myrrha loved her father, but not as a daughter should,
and then was hidden by the covering bark:
oozing those tears, that pour from the tree as fragrance,
and whose droplets take their name from the girl.
Once, in the shady valleys of wooded Ida
there was a white bull, glory of the herd,
one small black mark set between his horns:
it the sole blemish, the rest was milky-white.
The heifers of Cnossos and Cydon longed
to have him mount up on their backs.
Pasiphae joyed in adultery with the bull:
she hated the handsome heifers with jealousy.
I sing what is well-known: not even Crete, the hundred-citied,
can deny it, however much Cretans lie.
They say that, with unpractised hands, she plucked
fresh leaves and tenderest grasses for the bull.
She went as one of the herd, unhindered by any care
for that husband of hers: Minos was ousted by a bull.
Why put on your finest clothes, Pasiphae?
Your lover can appreciate none of your wealth.
Why have a mirror with you, when you seek highland cattle?
Why continually smooth your hair, you foolish woman?
But believe the mirror that denies you’re a heifer.
How you wish that brow of yours could bear horns!
If you’d please Minos, don’t seek out adulterers:
If you want to cheat your husband, cheat with a man!
The queen left her marriage bed for woods and fields,
like a Maenad roused by the Boeotian god, they say.
Ah, how often, with angry face, she spied a cow,
and said: ‘Now, how can she please my lord?
Look, how she frisks before him in the tender grass:
doubtless the foolish thing thinks that she’s lovely.’
She spoke, and straightaway had her led from the vast herd,
the innocent thing dragged under the arching yoke,
or felled before the altar, forced to be a false sacrifice,
and, delighted, held her rival’s entrails in her hand.
The number of times she killed rivals to please the gods,
and said, holding the entrails: ‘Go, and please him for me!’
Now she claims to be Io, and now Europa,
one who’s a heifer, the other borne by the bull.
Yet he filled her, the king of the herd, deceived
by a wooden cow, and their offspring betrayed its breeding.
If Cretan Aerope had spurned Thyestes’s love
(and isn’t it hard to forego even one man?),
the Sun would not have veered from his course mid-way,
and turned back his chariot and horses towards Dawn.
The daughter who savaged Nisus’s purple lock
presses rabid dogs down with her thighs and groin.
Agamemnon who escaped Mars on land, Neptune at sea,
became the victim of his murderous wife.
Who would not weep at Corinthian Creusa’s flames,
and that mother bloodstained by her children’s murder?
Phoenix, Amyntor’s son wept out of sightless eyes:
Hippolytus was torn by his fear-maddened horses.
Phineus, why blind your innocent sons?
That punishment will return on your own head.
All these things were driven by woman’s lust:
it’s more fierce than ours, and more frenzied.
So, on, and never hesitate in hoping for any woman:
there’s hardly one among them who’ll deny you.
Whether they give or not, they’re delighted to be asked:
And even if you fail, you’ll escape unharmed.
But why fail, when there’s pleasure in new delights
and the more foreign the more they capture the heart?
The seed’s often more fertile in foreign fields,
and a neighbour’s herd always has richer milk.