"Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop." - H.L. Mencken
One choice Ovid had to make in Heroides 16 and 17 was how to have Paris's immediate challenge -- the seduction of Helen -- resonate within the overarching story in which the lovers play so key a role.
The poet weaves the larger mythical structure within fine details of Paris and Helen's letters. When Paris ponders whether he should speak, he speaks of fire:
Shall I then speak out? Or is it unnecessary to point to a flame that betrays itself? Hasn't my love already stood out more than I would wish? I'd prefer it to lie latent till time permits sheer joy unmixed with fear. But I dissemble poorly; for who can conceal a flame betrayed by its own light? If you nonetheless expect that I add voice to acts -- I am burning. You now have the words that herald my heart.Paris has no choice. To ask whether he should speak, he must speak. In voicing his question and its implications, he gives away the store. Not surprising that eloquar, the root of "eloquence," can be read here as a rhetorical question.
This eliding of the confession of love with the act of loving is consonant with the elisions we looked at earlier, involving space, time, giving, and self. Not all articulation works that way. I can say "I am going to the gas station" many times over, but it doesn't get me there. Saying "I love you," however, does what it says. The delicate relation of speech to action here makes it essential that we explore Paris's statement in relation to the larger mythic structure in which it plays an essential part.
For the author of this letter, passion and love are embodied in flammae. The paradox of fire is that it cannot be concealed, since it produces light, the very thing that enables things to appear. If I burn, you will necessarily see it, he says, even if I wish to keep my love hidden. Paris burning is the thing, the rebus; "I burn" are verba added to the unspoken. To say "I burn" is to "shed light" -- the light of language, of pointing (indice) -- upon light. Saying "I burn" makes patent and explicit what was latent, implicit. Indeed the very word for latent, lateat, lies hidden within the word laetitiae, the explicit consummated delight of Paris and Helen. Ovid, like Freud, loved puns.
Fire is of course a key motif that runs throughout the mythic tapestry behind this tale. Pardon the compression here, but it's necessary: