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Ovid: Sabine peace


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Ovid: Selections on war and peace


From The Fasti
Translated by James G. Frazer

Cried Romulus (for this befell when he was on the throne), “What boots it me to have ravished the Sabine women, if the wrong I did has brought me not strength but only war? Better it were our sons had never wed.”

“quid mihi” clamabat “prodest rapuisse Sabinas,”
Romulus (hoc illo sceptra tenente fuit)
“si mea non vires, sed bellum iniuria fecit?
utilius fuerat non habuisse nurus.”


The earth of old was tilled by men unlearned: war’s hardships wearied their active frames. More glory was to be won by the sword than by the curved plough; the neglected farm yielded its master but a small return.

non habuit doctos tellus antiqua colonos:
lassabant agiles aspera bella viros.
plus erat in gladio quam curvo laudis aratro:
neglectus domino pauca ferebat ager.


“Cures and all who suffered the same wrong were furious: then for the first time did a father wage war upon his daughters’ husbands. And now the ravished brides could claim the style of mothers also, and yet the war between the kindred folks kept lingering on, when the wives assembled by appointment in the temple of Juno. Among them my son’s wife thus made bold to speak; ‘O wives ravished alike – for that is a trait we have in common – no longer may we dawdle in our duties to our kin. The battle is set in array, but choose for which side ye will pray the gods to intervene: on one side stand your husbands in arms and on the other side your sires: the question is whether ye prefer to be widows or orphans. I will give you a piece of advice both bold and dutiful.’ She gave the advice: they obeyed, and unbound their hair, and clad their bodies in the sad weeds of mourners. Already the armies were drawn up in array, alert for carnage; already the bugle was about to give the signal for battle, when the ravished wives interposed between their fathers and husbands, bearing at their bosoms the dear pledges of love, their babes. When with their streaming hair they reached the middle of the plain, they knelt down on the ground, and the grandchildren stretched out their little arms to their grandfathers with winsome cries, as if they understood. Such as could cried ‘Grandfather!’ to him whom then they saw for the first time; such as could hardly do it were forced to try. The weapons and the passions of the warriors fall, and laying their swords aside fathers-in-law and sons-in-law grasp each other’s hands. They praise and embrace their daughters, and the grandsire carries his grandchild on his shield; that was a sweeter use to which to put the shield.”

“intumuere Cures et quos dolor attigit idem:
tum primum generis intulit arma socer.
iamque fere raptae matrum quoque nomen habebant,
tractaque erant longa bella propinqua mora:
conveniunt nuptae dictam lunonis in aedem,
quas inter mea sic est nurus ausa loqui:
‘o pariter raptae (quoniam hoc commune tenemus)
non ultra lente possumus esse piae.
stant acies, sed utra di sint pro parte rogandi,
eligite: hinc eoniunx, hinc pater arma tenet,
quaerendum est, viduae fieri malitis an orbae:
consilium vobis forte piumque dabo.’
consilium dederat: parent crinesque resolvunt
maestaque funerea corpora veste tegunt.
iam steterant acies ferro mortique paratae,
iam lituus pugnae signa daturus erat:
cum raptae veniunt inter patresque virosque,
inque sinu natos, pignora cara, tenent.
ut medium campi passis tetigere capillis,
in terram posito procubuere genu,
et, quasi sentirent, blando clamore nepotes
tendebant ad avos bracchia parva suos:
qui poterat clamabat avum tum denique visum,
et qui vix poterat posse coactus erat.
tela viris animique cadunt, gladiisque remotis
dant soceri generis accipiuntque manus,
laudatasque tenent natas, scutoque nepotem
fert avus: hie scuti dulcior usus erat.”

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