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Minos, the son of Jupiter and Europa, offended with the Athenians, because they had murdered his son Androgeos, made war upon them, and obliged them to send yearly seven young men, and as many virgins, to be devoured by the Minotaur. At last the lot fell upon Theseus, who, arriving in Crete, slew the Minotaur; and being instructed by Ariadne how to escape out of the labyrinth, afterwards fled with her to the isle of Naxos. There, admonished by Bacchus, he left Ariadne, and carried Phaedra her sister (whom he had also brought with him,) forward to Athens. She, awaking, and not finding him, writes this epistle, in which she accuses him of perfidy and inhumanity, and endeavours to move him to compassion, by a mournful representation of her misery. Compare the treatment of the same story in Catullus 64.50-266.

Mitius inveni, quam te, genus omne ferarum. This whole epistle is an expostulation with Theseus for his cruelty and ingratitude. She begins therefore with reproaching him as more savage than the fiercest beasts. She felt the effects of his barbarity, in his desertion of her; whereas hitherto the wild beasts had given her no disturbance.

[7] Vitrea quo primùm terra pruina. She begins with taking notice of the season, which, by the description here given, seems to have been autumn. Some commentators refer this rather to the time of the day, viz. early in the morning.

[9] Incertùm vigilans; that is, nescio an vigilarem; 'scarcely awake.'

[10] Thesea; a Greek accusative. Theseus was the son of Aegeus king of Athens.

Prensuras semisupina manus. Some copies have semisopita; but the other is the preferable reading, as it prevents tautology. It is moreover a phrase by no means unusual with our poet. Thus we find,

Purpureo jacuit semisupina thoro;


Cum jacet in dextrum semisupina latus.

[19] Ultroque; “Sursum, deorsum, dextrorsum, sinistrorsum, rursum, prorsum, huc et illuc.” Helvetius.

[20] tardat; for sand, when it is dry, yields to the feet, and fatigues them extremely.

[26] Nunc scopulus. Some copies have hinc; Vossius reads huic. Helvetius prefers nunc, the common reading; explains it as autem, and observes that it is often used in that sense by some of the best Latin poets, who place a particular elegance in it.

Pendet; mari imminet; hangs over the sea, forms a precipice.

Adesus; Corrosus et cavatus; eaten away, undermined.

[30] Praecipiti noto. We may easily conceive that Ariadne's concern would lead her into exaggeration. She was left by herself on an unknown desert island. When she ran to the seacoast, she found the ship had sailed, and was on its way. Her case was then irretrievable, and her imagination multiplied the dangers. She accuses the winds as conspiring against her, and as too favorable to the fatal project; even now they seemed striving with violence, to bear the vessel out of sight.

[36] Numerum non habet illa suum. 'Your ship has not the full number she ought to have; for Ariadne, whom she brought with her from Crete, is not on board.'

[37] Plangore replebam. The unhappy circumstances of Ariadne are here painted with great spirit and life. Our poet has a wonderful talent in representing the violent emotions and transports of the mind arising from a sudden conflict of passions. Her surprise on first missing Theseus, running instantly to the shore, despair upon seeing the ship under sail, accusations of the winds, exclamations, beating of her breast, are all the genuine symptoms of a heart pierced with grief, from the sense of losing what is most dear and valuable.

[48] Ogygio Deo; the Theban Bacchus; so called from Ogyges, who had been king of Thebes. Bacchus was born of Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, who first founded this city and kingdom.

[53] Et tua, qua possum. Nothing could have been more happily conceived than this behaviour of Ariadne. The whole is so natural, and suits so well her present situation, that a reader is apt to think she could not have acted otherwise, and fancies that the same semiments must have occurred to every one on a like subject; a sure sign that the description is according to nature and truth. Horace admirably expresses this effect of just writing in the Art of Poetry. “Ut sibi quivis
Speret idem, sudet multum frustraque laloret
Ausus idem.

[66] aeolus; the God of the winds, who could either let loose or restrain them.

[67] Crete centum digesta per urbes. The hundred cities of Crete are often mentioned in the writings of the ancients. This was what rendered it so famous in antiquity. The notion took its rise from Homer; but we may suppose that the small towns and villages were computed to make up this number.

[71] Tecto morerere recurvo. She means the labyrinth from which These us extricated himself by means of a clue that he received from her.

[77] Fratrem; the Minotaur. Pasiphae, being enamored of a bull, had her desire gratified by the contrivance of Daedalus, who shut her up in a wooden machine resembling a cow. The bull being deceived by this artifice. Pasiphae conceived the Minotaur; a monster, whose upper parts were those of a man, while it resembled a bull in the lower parts. [See the note at the beginning of this epistle.] Servius thus explains the fable: Minos had for his secretary one named Taurus, who being greatly in favor with Pasiphae, she brought forth twins, one of which resembled Minos, the other Taurus.

Mactâsses. Si is understood. Si me interfecisses.

[78] Soluta. Helvetius says, upon this: Quia tantum dum uterque viveret fidem suam dederat Theseus: Ingeniosum vero est istud; quasi tantum nefas ille patraverit, ut, interfecta coniuge, fidem servâsse videretur.

[81] Occurrunt animo pereundi mille figurae. Figurae pereundi, mortis genera. 'Death presents

himself before me in a thousand shapes.' It is certain, that when a person is in distress, the imagination is very fruitful in multiplying dangers. He is industrious in tormenting himself, and collects in his mind all the images of misery with which he can be assaulted. This is exactly the case of Ariadne. She is left in a desert island, without a friend to protect her; and, as she apprehends, surrounded with wild beasts. We are not to wonder, therefore, that she is alarmed with the foresight of imaginary dangers. Such fear is natural, and what might be expected from her in these circumstances.

[87] Expellere. In siccum eiicere; in siccum mittere. Helvetius says, upon this passage: In terra vivere, spirare, prae aliis etiam omnibus animalibus gravissimo somno dormire, phocas dicuntur, auctore Plinio.

[91] Filia Phoebi; Pasiphae, who was the wife of Minos. Slavery then was what she dreaded most. It appeared shameful for her, the daughter of a king, a descendant of Phoebus, and above all, one who had promised herself to Theseus, to be made a captive, and subjected to the imperious humour of a mistress, who, without regard to her birth, might require the most servile submission and attendance.

[95] Coelum restabat; Quod contra me non esset. Helvetius. [Timeo simulacra; Figuras in quas Dii se dicuntur mutare.

[98] Externes didici laesa timere viros. 'The ill usage which I have received from strangers, makes me suspicious and distrustful.' This reflection is intended chiefly against Theseus, who was a stranger to her native country, and had deceived and forsaken her.

[99] Androgeos. The unhappy fate of Androgeos was the source of Ariadne's misfortunes. He was one of the sons of Minos, and had been treacherously slain by Aegeus, the father of Theseus. This was the cause of the war that afterwards ensued, and of the penalty imposed upon the Athenians, of sending yearly seven young noblemen to Crete; in consequence of which Theseus arrived.

[100] Funeribus; the funerals of the seven young men and virgins who were sent yearly to be devoured by the Minotaur.

Cecropi terra; Attica, so called from Cecrops, one of its kings. Cecropi is a Greek vocative, from the patronymic Cecropis.

[101] Nodoso stipile. So she terms the club of which Theseus made use in fighting against the Minotaur.

[106] Strataque Cretaeam bellua tinxit humum. So we read in many editions; others have stravit humum. Heinsius seems to give the preference to planxit, and endeavours to confirm it by similar passages in which this word is used. Thus, in the Epistle to Paris, we find, “Caesaque sanguineam victima plangit humum:

In the Met. de Terrigenis, “Sanguineam trepido plangebant pectore matrem;

Fast. IV. “Atque indignanti pectore plangit humum.

[107] Cornu; that of the Minotaur.

[108] Ut te non tegeres. Ut is here put for quamvis.

[112] At semel aeterna. Helvetius. Correctio ingeniosa; quasi dicat, 'imo in aeternum debuissem dormire.' Nothing can be more natural, than to introduce her thus inveighing against the sleep, during which Theseus took the opportunity of retiring.

[114] Flamina; Ventorum flatus.

[119] Ergo. This particle is not here introduced as drawing towards a conclusion, but because she was full of indignation. She cannot without horror reflect upon her desolate situation. It brings back all her miseries to her mind, and occasions a sorrowful remembrance of those agreeable enjoyments of which she is now deprived.

[121] Peregrinas ibit in auras. Helvetius fancies, that this manner of speaking in Ariadne proceeds from an innocent simplicity; as if she thought that by thus dying at a distance from her friends, her soul must wander through regions of strange air.

[126] Cum steteris urbis celsus in arce tuae. In some manuscripts we read, Turbae celsus in aure. But the first is preferable; as it is, moreover, a way of speaking not unusual with Ovid. Thus, in the Epistle of Dido, the heroine says, “Et videas populos altus ab arce tuos.

[131] Nec pater Aegeus. This is suggested by her rage, which prompts her to believe him of another race than what he pretended to. It is an insinuation that he dishonors his ancestors, and behaves not as might be expected from one so descended. Rage is very apt to produce this sentiment; and we find the best poets give a sanction to it. Thus Virgil makes Dido say of Aeneas: Nec tibi diva parens, generis nec Dardanus auctor, Perfide. aen. lib. iv.

Pillheidos aethrae; for aethra, the mother of Theseus, was the daughter of Pittheus.

[134] Moesta figura; 'the mournful, disconsolate figure I made;' Movisset; 'must have softened, and moved you to compassion.'

[136] Haerentem; that is, Suppose me standing upon the brink of a precipice, beaten by the dashing waves, and eagerly hanging over, as if I intended to throw myself into the sea and swim after you.

[140] Literaque articulo pressa tremente labat. Pressa, that is, signata scripta; Articulo, digito; Labat, vacillat, non habet tectum ordinem.

[143] Sed nec poena quidem; viz. Sit facto meo. The meaning is, If you will make no return to my kind offices, if you think them not worthy of a recompence, yet they are far from meriting that you should thus neglect and barbarously abandon me.

[147] Hos tibi, qui svperant. Ariadne is eagerly endeavouring to move Theseus to pity, and, if possible, to prevail upon him to return. For this reason she here paints, in the strongest colors, her distressed situation, her fears and anxieties, and the mischief which she had committed upon herself in her despair. The whole forms such a lively picture of misery and distress, that we cannot enough admire the happy imagination of the poet, in being thus able to assemble a set of ideas so well fitted to answer his aim of exciting sympathy and compassion. With her bitterest reproaches she mingles tenderness and affection. One may easily perceive, that love is deeply looted in her heart, while her invectives proceed from a sense of injury. She concludes in the most affecting manner: 'Return, if it be only to pay me the last duties, and collect my scattered bones.' For the

ancients thought it a great misfortune to go without a burial. We have different accounts given us of the fate of Ariadne. The most commonly received opinion makes her to have afterwards become the wife of Bacchus, by whom Theseus had been advised to desert her, as we have before observed in the arguments.

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  • Commentary references from this page (3):
    • Catullus, Poems, 64
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoria, 3
    • Ovid, Amores, 1.14
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