By means of this unusual art form, Ovid personalizes and brings to life many of the outstanding women of classical myth, such as Penelope, Dido and Ariadne. The final "double letters" of the book allow legendary heroes such as Paris to initiate the correspondence and their lovers to respond to their pleas. All the letters are alive with the tension between private love and public law; each is written in the urgency of a moment of crisis, the writer impressing his or her own character on love's irrationality, fury, tenderness, despair and longing. And while Ovid's verse-letter form, so slyly perfect to convey the follies of love, makes the Heroides rich in irony, it is richer still in poetry and desire. Harold Isbell's translation and metre perfectly capture the lightness and nuances of Ovid's original.
In the twenty-one poems of the Heroides, Ovid gave voice to the heroines and heroes of epic and myth. These deeply moving literary epistles reveal the happiness and torment of love, as the writers tell of their pain at separation, forgiveness of infidelity or anger at betrayal. The faithful Penelope wonders at the suspiciously long absence of Ulysses, while Dido bitterly reproaches Aeneas for too eagerly leaving her bed to follow his destiny, and Sapphothe only historical figure portrayed heredescribes her passion for the cruelly rejecting Phaon. In the poetic letters between Paris and Helen the lovers seem oblivious to the tragedy prophesied for them, while in another exchange the youthful Leander asserts his foolhardy eagerness to risk his life to be with his beloved Hero.
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Ovid (43 BC-AD 17) was born in central Italy. He was sent to Rome where he realised that his talent lay with poetry rather than with politics. His first published work was 'Amores', a collection of short love poems. He was expelled in A.D. 8 by Emperor Augustus for an unknown reason and went to Tomis on the Black Sea, where he died.
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