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The Heroides or Epistulae Heroidum ("heroines" or "letters from heroines") are considered to be the early work of the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso , along with the Amores and the lost tragedy Medea . These are fictional letters from mythical women to their absent husbands. Letters 16 and 18, as well as 20 deviate from this, because they are letters from men to their wives, followed by a reply from the woman. The Heroides consist of 15 individual letters and three pairs of letters that were probably created later (Her. 16-21). Meter is the elegiac distich .


The characters of the heroines mostly come from the Greek myth . The poet not only let his most famous protagonists have their say, but also secondary characters: Figures like Canace , Cydippe, Oinone or Hypsipyle may not have been familiar to many ancient readers either. In doing so, the author followed the Hellenistic style ideal of the poeta doctus , the "learned poet", who impresses his readers with his erudition and lets them participate in it with allusions.

The letters are addressed to lovers or husbands, whose infidelity is mostly lamented. Often they pretend to be a last-ditch, desperate attempt to change your lover's mind after all. Medea writes to Jason , Ariadne to Theseus, and Dido to Aeneas . In other elegies the heroines hope their husbands will return soon and lament their absence and separation. Examples of this can be found in the letters of Penelope or Laodamia. The 15th letter ( Sappho to Phaon), which is the only one that allows a historical personality to speak, has a special position . Whether the Greek poet actually longed for the beautiful young man Phaon is rather doubtful , since the concept of lesbian love goes back to her place of residence in Lesbos and may have sprung from the poet's imagination.

A broad spectrum of love and passion is dealt with in the Heroides. From the faithful love Penelope to her husband about the consuming fire of unrequited love Dido to the incestuous love Phaedra that her stepson Hippolytus loves and him unintentionally very fact falls into ruin, or the deplorable fate Canaces, who has a child of their own brother . Finally, in the three pairs of letters (Heroides 16-21), the men are also discussed: Paris and Helena , Hero and Leander and Acontius and Cydippe.

letter Author and recipient Verses
I. Penelope to Odysseus 116
II Phyllis to Demophon 148
III Briseis to Achilles 154
IV Phaedra to Hippolytus 176
V Oinone to Paris 158
VI Hypsipyle to Jason 164
VII Dido to Aeneas 196
VIII Hermione to Orestes 122
IX Deianira to Hercules 168
X Ariadne to Theseus 152
XI Canace to Macareus 128
XII Medea to Jason 212
XIII Laodameia to Protesilaos 166
XIV Hypermestra to Lynceus 132
XV Sappho to Phaon 220
XVI Paris to Helena 378
XVII Helena to Paris 268
XVIII Leander to Hero 218
XIX Hero to Leander 210
XX Acontius to Cydippe 242
XXI Cydippe to Acontius 248


The Heroides were repeatedly accused of monotony, since the letters always revolve around very similar topics. However, they were not intended to be read in one go. Rather, depending on your mood or temperament, you chose a different letter to read. Since each heroine has her own tone and you read aloud, you could slip into different roles such as Medea or Penelope at will. So the poet could justifiably claim to have created a completely new genre that can be compared with the inner monologue that is widespread today . The fact that female (marginal) characters in the legendary story take the floor and thus let well-known events appear in a new, unfamiliar light has proven to be completely new. For the first time, abandoned women who have been passed over by fate receive a voice in the Heroides .

Question of authenticity

Ovid's authorship is no longer certain for any of the 21 poems. The Sapphobrief (Her. 15), which has been controversial for centuries, is undoubtedly unauthorized by many researchers, as are the pairs of letters (Her. 16–21), which in some details are strikingly different from the individual letters. But arguments have also been put forward against the authenticity of most of the individual letters. It has long been known in many cases that all poems contain numerous formulations that do not correspond to Ovid language usage; however, these cases have long been viewed as transmission errors, which has earned the Heroides the reputation of being the worst transmitted work of Ovid (although the Heroides have essentially the same transmission history as the Amores, who are unproblematic in terms of text and authenticity). The most recent investigations have made it probable in a number of places that if there are close relationships between passages in the Heroides and those in certain authentic works by Ovid (including the latest poems), the Heroides passages are derived from the latter and not vice versa. The fifteen individual letters are likely to have come from a single author and were written a few years after Ovid's death at the latest; Seneca already seems to know her and take her to be a real Ovid. The pairs of letters go back to a second Ovid imitator, but were also written no later than the middle of the first century AD.

However, the authenticity debate has only just been reopened and is still far from reaching a general consensus; in many publications the poems are assumed to be genuine without discussion (in some cases also the long controversial poems Her. 15 and 16-21).

Text editions and translations

  • Publius Ovidius Naso: Epistulae Heroidum. Published by Heinrich Dörrie . de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-084313-2 (reprint of the Berlin / New York 1971 edition).
  • Ovid: Heroides and Amores. Translated by Grant Showerman. Edited by George P. Goold . Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) Et al. 2002, ISBN 0-674-99045-5 (Latin and English; reprint of the Cambridge et al. 1977 edition).
  • Publius Ovidius Naso: Love Letters. Edited and translated by Bruno W. Häuptli. Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1995, ISBN 3-7608-1685-1 .
  • Ovid: Heroides. Letters from the heroines. Latin / German. Translated and edited by Detlev Hoffmann. Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-001359-5 .
  • Ovid: The erotic poetry. Transferred from Viktor von Marnitz. With an introduction by Wilfried Stroh . 3. Edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-520-26303-3 .
  • Ovid: Epistulae Heroidum. Letters from heroines. Translated and commented by Theodor Heinze, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-534-18163-6


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. For example Richard J. Tarrant, The Authenticity of the Letter of Sappho to Phaon , Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 85, 1981, pp. 133-153 or Peter E. Knox, Ovid, Select Epistles, ed. With commentary, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1995.
  2. See Marcus Beck, Die Epistulae Heroidum XVIII and XIX des Corpus Ovidianum. Authenticity-critical investigations, Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 1996.
  3. See Wilfried Lingenberg : The first book of Heroidenbriefe. Authenticity-critical investigations , Paderborn 2003, and the articles cited there on p. 17 note 1.
  4. See Lingenberg Das first book, pp. 153/154.
  5. See Lingenberg Das first book, pp. 253-274.
  6. See Marcus Beck, Die Epistulae Heroidum XVIII and XIX des Corpus Ovidianum. Authenticity-critical investigations , Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 1996, p. 318.