Translated by A. S. Kline © 2001 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted,
electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
There’s an old wood untouched for many years:
you’d believe a god lives in the place.
There’s a sacred spring at its centre and a cave
of overhanging rock, and birds sing sweetly all around.
While I was walking there privately in the wooded shade –
wondering what project my Muse might be engendering –
Elegy arrived, her perfumed hair in a knot,
and with one foot, I think, shorter than the other.
Her form was lovely, her dress refined, her looks loving,
and even the defect of her foot was a source of charm.
And stormy Tragedy appeared with giant strides:
forehead wild with hair, robe trailing the ground:
her left hand waving a royal sceptre about,
high-soled Lydian boots fastened to her feet.
And she spoke first, saying: ‘O sluggish poet,
will you ever stop taking love as your subject?
They talk of your worthlessness at drunken banquets,
they talk of it passing the crossroads on every street.
Often someone points out the poet as well,
and says: “That’s him, the one wild Love inflames!”
You’re the common talk of the whole city, and don’t see it,
while you tell of your doings, with their past shame.
It’s time you waved your wand to a weightier beat:
you’ve lazed about long enough – start a mightier work!
Your content cramps your genius. Sing the deeds of heroes.
“This gives me scope for my spirit!” is what you’ll say.
Your Muse was playing, singing tender girls,
and the first acts of youth in your verses.
Then I’ll be famous for Roman Tragedy through you!
Your spirit will itself discharge my principles.’
At that, balancing on her ornate shoes,
she nodded her head with its weight of hair.
Then Elegy laughed with sidelong eyes, if I recall it –
and was that a myrtle wand in her right hand?
‘Why crush me with your weighty words, proud Tragedy?’
she said, ‘and why is it you can never take a lighter tone?
All the same you’ve deigned to speak unequal lines:
you’ve used my own metre to attack me.
I’d not compare my things with your high song:
your Imperial palace overshadows my little threshold.
I’m light, and my dear Cupid shares my lightness:
I’m no mightier than my theme itself.
The mother of impudent Amor would be innocent
without me, I appear as her companion and go-between.
What your heavy shoes can’t break down
is an open door to my blandishments:
indeed I’ve earned more than you have by suffering
many things your arrogance would not stand.
Corinna learnt from me how to cheat her guard,
and seduce the loyalty that locks the door,
to slip from her bed clothed in a loose dress
and move in the night with noiseless step.
The times I’ve been left hanging at a hard doorpost,
not afraid to be read aloud by passers-by!
Why I remember hiding between a maid’s breasts,
poor me, until the savage porter left.
And when you sent birthday greetings by me,
and she tore me, wild girl, and drenched me with water.
I inspired the first fruits of your mind:
if she’s after you now, you’ve me to thank.’
She finished. I began: ‘I ask indulgence of you both,
fearful my words will escape your ears.
One honours me with the sceptre and platform shoes:
just now high song rose to the lips at her touch.
The other gives my love eternal fame –
come then, and add the short lines to the long!
Tragedy grant the poet a breathing space!
Your work is endless: what she wants is brief.’
With a gesture she gave permission – while there’s time,
quick, tender Amores: a greater work’s pushing on behind!
I’m not sitting here studying the horses’ form:
though I still pray that the one you fancy wins.
I come to speak to you, and sit with you,
lest you don’t notice how my love’s on fire.
You watch the course, and I watch you: we’ll both
see what delights us, and both feast our eyes.
Happy the charioteer that you fancy!
What’s he got, to make him dear to you?
Let it be me, hurled from the starting gate,
I’d be the brave rider pressing the horses onward,
now I’d give rein, now touch their backs with the whip,
now scrape the turning post with my nearside wheel.
If I caught sight of you as I rushed by, I’d falter,
and the slack reins would fall from my hands.
As when the Pisan’s spear nearly killed Pelops,
when he glanced at your face, Hippodamia!
Of course he still won because of his girl’s favour.
May each of us win through the favour of his lady!
Why edge away, in vain? The rows force us together.
The circus grants something useful from its rules –
you on the right though, whoever you are, be careful
of my girl: the poking of your elbow’s hurting her.
You too, sitting behind us, if you’ve any shame,
draw your legs up, don’t press with your bony knees!
But your dress is trailing on the ground too much.
Gather it up – or I’ll lift it with my fingers!
You’re a jealous dress to hide such lovely legs:
the more you look – you are a jealous dress!
Just like the legs of swift-footed Atalanta,
that Milanion longed to hold in his hands.
Just like the legs of Diana, her dress tucked-up,
chasing the wild beasts, wilder still herself.
I blazed when I couldn’t see them: what shall I do now?
you add fire to the fire, water to the sea.
I suspect from these that the rest might please,
what’s well hidden, concealed by your thin dress.
Would you like a quick breeze stirred while you wait?
One I can make with the programme in my hand.
Or is the heat more in my mind than in the air,
my captive heart scorched by love of a girl?
While I spoke, a speck of dust settled on your white dress.
Vile dust, away from her snowy body!
But now the procession comes – silence minds and tongues!
Time for applause – the golden procession comes.
Victory’s in the lead, with outstretched wings –
approach Goddess, and make my love conquer!
Cheer for Neptune, you who trust the waves too much!
No sea for me: my country captivates me.
Soldiers, cheer for Mars! I hate all warfare:
I delight in peace, and to find love in its midst.
Phoebus for the augurs, Phoebe the huntsmen!
Let craftsmen turn their hands to you, Minerva!
Let farmers honour Ceres and tender Bacchus!
Boxers please Pollux: horsemen please Castor!
I cheer for you, charming Venus, and the boy
with the powerful bow: Goddess help this venture
and change my new girl’s mind! Let her agree to be loved!
She nodded, and gave me a favourable sign.
What the goddess promised, I ask you to promise:
don’t talk of Venus, you’ll be a greater goddess.
I swear to you, by the crowd and the gods’ procession,
I want you to be my girl for all time!
But your legs are dangling. Perhaps it would help
to stick your toes on the rail in front.
Now the track is clear for the main event,
the praetor’s started the four-horse chariots.
I can see yours. Let the one you fancy, win.
The horses themselves seem to know what you want.
Oh dear, he’s taking the turning post too wide!
What are you doing? The next chariot’s overtaking.
What are you doing, fool? You’ll lose the girl’s best hopes.
Curses, pull hard on the left rein with your hand!
We’ve backed a nobody – call them back, Citizens,
everyone give the signal by waving their togas!
Yes, they’re recalled! – But don’t let those togas
ruin your hair, hide deep in my cloak, that’s fine.
Now the starting gates are open again:
the horses fly out, a multi-coloured throng.
Now take the lead, and fly into empty space!
Make my hopes, and my girl’s, a sure bet!
My girl’s hopes are certain, mine are unsure.
He wins the palm: my palm’s still to win.
She smiled, and promised something with those bright eyes.
That’s enough now, pay me the rest elsewhere!’
Gods exist, go on, believe it – she broke the promise
she made and is still as lovely as she was before!
The long hair she had when she wasn’t a liar,
is just as long after she’s offended the gods.
Her radiance was whiteness tinged with a rosy blush
before – the blush shines on amongst the snow.
Her feet were slender – her feet are delicately formed.
She was tall and graceful – tall and graceful she remains.
Bright-eyes she had – they are radiant as stars,
with which she so often deceived me with her lies.
No doubt the eternal gods allow girls to swear
falsely too, and beauty has divinity.
I remember she swore by her eyes the other day,
and by mine: look, it is mine that felt the pain!
Tell me, gods, if she cheated you with impunity
why did I deserve punishment instead?
But didn’t innocent virgin Andromeda die by your order,
for her mother’s crime of boastful beauty?
Not enough for you, that I find you worthless witnesses,
but she laughs at me, and you, playful gods, unpunished?
By my punishment do I redeem her lying:
shall I be victim, deceived by the deceiver?
Either a god’s a thing of no account, an idle fear,
stirring the crowd through their foolish credulity:
or if there’s a true god, he loves tender girls,
and allows them all excessive liberties.
For us Mars straps on his deadly sword:
for us the hand of Pallas lifts the unfailing spear.
For us the pliant bow of Apollo’s bent:
for us Jove’s lofty right hand holds the fire.
The gods, offended, are scared to offend these beauties
and, besides, they fear those who don’t fear them.
And who should bother to burn incense on their altars?
We men it’s true need to show more spirit!
Jupiter blasts his own groves and hills with fire,
and neglects to hurl his bolts at perjured girls.
So many deserved it – but poor Semele was burned!
Her punishment was of her own making:
but if she’d withdrawn from her lover’s coming,
no father would have played mother to Bacchus.
Why complain and abuse all of heaven?
The gods too have eyes: the gods have hearts!
If I were a god, I’d let girls with lying lips
deceive my divinity without punishment:
I’d swear, myself, the girls were swearing truly
and I’d not be a god who spoke sourly.
Still, girl, you should use their gift in moderation –
or at least spare these eyes of mine!
Harsh man, it’s no use guarding a tender girl:
your best protection lies in her disposition.
She who’s chaste without dread, is truly chaste:
she who’s not allowed to do it, she does it!
Though you guard the body well: the mind’s adulterous:
you can’t set a guard on what she desires, at all.
Nor can you guard her body, though all doors are barred:
though everyone’s shut out, the adulteress is within.
Who allows the crime, lessens the crime: opportunity
makes the seeds of naughtiness less potent.
Leave off, believe me, denial sparks the sin:
your indulgence is more likely to win her over.
I saw just recently a tight-reined mare,
fighting the bit, bolt away like lightning:
as soon as she felt the reins slacken she halted,
and they lay quiet on her flowing mane!
We always strive for what’s forbidden: want what’s denied:
so the sick man longs for the water he’s refused.
Argus had a hundred eyes, at front and back –
but Love alone often deceived them:
Danae in her room of eternal iron and stone,
was imprisoned, a virgin, yet became a mother:
While, however much she lacked guards, Penelope
remained untouched among the young princes.
What’s guarded we want the more, precautions
themselves lure the thief: few love what another allows.
It’s not her beauty pleases, but her husband’s love:
they believe there’s something there that captivates you.
She isn’t made good, whom a husband guards: adultery’s
made costly: fear more than form makes the prize greater.
Like it or not, forbidden passion delights us:
she only pleases if she can say: ‘I’m afraid!’.
Nor is it right to lock up a freeborn girl –
that fear fills the bodies of foreign peoples!
No doubt you want her guard to be able to say: ‘I did it.’
her chastity will be to your slave’s glory?
He’s so provincial who’s hurt by his wife’s adultery,
and he’s not observed the ways of Rome enough,
where Romulus and Remus were born illegitimate,
Ilia’s bastard twins begotten by Mars.
Why have beauty, if only chastity pleases you?
There’s no way they can go together.
If you’re wise, indulge the girl: forgo harsh frowns,
and don’t enforce the rights of an inflexible man,
and cultivate the friends your wife will bring you –
she’ll bring a lot. So great gifts come with little labour:
and you’ll always be able to join the youngsters’ revels,
and see lots of gifts, you didn’t give her, at home.
‘It was night, and sleep drowned my weary eyes:
such a dream it was terrified my mind:
a dense grove of holm-oaks under a sunlit hill,
and many birds hidden among the branches.
a wide lush green space beneath it, grassy meadow,
wet with the sounds of gently dripping water.
I escaped the heat under the leafy trees –
under a leafy tree but it was still burning hot –
Behold! A white heifer appeared in front of my eyes,
searching for grasses among the scattered flowers,
whiter than snow, when it has just fallen,
that lingers, not yet turned to running water,
whiter than milk, that just now was hissing foam,
and in a moment will leave the ewe drained.
A bull was her companion there, her fortunate mate,
and lay beside his bride on the soft earth.
While he lay and slowly chewed the grassy cud
and ate again the food he’d already eaten,
I saw sleep come and steal away his powers,
bowing his horned head to the ground.
Then a light-winged crow slid from the air
and settled cawing on the green turf,
and three times poked the snowy heifer’s front
with impudent beak, tearing away a tuft of white hair.
Lingering a long time, she abandoned bull, and meadow –
but carrying on her chest a black bruise:
and seeing bulls grazing the pasture far away –
bulls do graze rich pastures far away –
she hurried to them, and joined their herd,
and looked for earth with greener grass.
Say now, interpreter of midnight dreams, whoever,
what does this dream mean, if dreams have truth.’
So I spoke: so the interpreter of midnight dreams replied,
pondering over each word in his mind:
‘When you sought shelter under the fickle leaves,
but sheltered uselessly, that was love’s heat.
The heifer is your girl – a fitting colour for your girl:
you were her mate, a bull matched to a heifer.
The crow with sharp beak that pecked her breast,
an old procuress that addled your mistress’s wits.
That your heifer lingered a while then left the bull,
means that you’ll be left cold in your bed.
The bruise and the black blemish on her breast
says that her heart’s not free of adultery’s stain.’
His interpretation done, blood fled from my cold cheeks,
and deepest night stood there before my eyes.
Stop, you reed-filled river with muddy shores,
I’m hurrying to my girl – wait for a little, waters!
You’ve neither a bridge, nor a roped ferryboat,
to carry me across, without a stroke of the oar.
I remember you as little, and didn’t fear to ford you,
and the tops of your waves barely touched my ankles.
Now you rush by, full of melted snow from the mountain,
and your swollen waters roll on, in murky flood.
What use was my haste, the scant hours given to rest,
that merged the night with daylight,
if I still wait here, if there’s no art on offer
to allow me to set foot on the other bank?
Now I need the winged sandals Perseus had,
when he carried the dreadful head wreathed with snakes,
now I want the chariot in which Ceres’s seeds
were first sent to reach the untilled ground.
All marvellous untruths told by ancient poets:
things that never existed and never will.
I’d rather you, flooding river with roomy shores –
may you be such forever - flowed within your bounds!
Believe me you’ll not be able to endure the hatred,
if it’s said, torrent, you by chance barred a lover’s way.
Rivers should help young people in love:
rivers themselves have known what love is.
Inachus ran pale for Melie the Bithynian
they say, and his icy waves grew warm.
The ten-year war at Troy was not yet done,
when Neaera dazzled your eyes, Xanthe.
Why? Wasn’t it true love for the Arcadian virgin
that drove Alpheus to flow to alien shores?
You too Peneus, spirited away Creusa,
to Phthian country, she betrothed to Xutho.
Why should I recall Asopus, whom Mars’s daughter Thebe
captivated, Thebe the future mother of five daughters?
If I ask you, Achelous, where your horns are now,
you’ll complain that Hercules broke them off in anger.
Calydon was not worth it, nor all Aetolia,
Deinara alone was worth it, all the same.
Rich Nile that flows through seven mouths,
who hides so well the source of all his waters,
could not conquer the flame Evanthe kindled, they say,
with his swirling flood, she the daughter of Asopus.
Enipeus ordered his waters to abate, to embrace Salmonis,
on dry land: he commanded and the waters receded.
And don’t forget Anio, rolling in his stony bed,
bringing water to the orchards of Tibur,
he was charmed by Ilia, though she was so dishevelled,
hair torn by her nails, cheeks marked by them.
She mourned her uncle’s crime and Mars’s wrongdoing,
wandering barefoot through the wilderness.
Anio saw her from his swift-flowing waters
and lifted himself from the waves, calling loudly:
‘Why wear away my banks so anxiously,
Ilia, child of Laomedon’s Troy?
Why so dishevelled? Why wandering alone,
with no white ribbon to tie back your hair?
Why do you weep, reddening your wet eyes with tears,
and why do you beat your naked breasts in frenzy?
He who can look with indifference at the tears
on your sweet face, has a heart of iron and flint.
Ilia, have no fears! My palace waits for you,
my waves will cherish you. Ilia, have no fears!
You’ll rule over more than a hundred nymphs:
for more than a hundred nymphs live in my waves.
Don’t spurn me so, I beg you, child of Troy:
you’ll have gifts greater than these I promised.’
He spoke. She cast her modest gaze on the ground
and sprinkled a shower of tears on her tender breast.
Three times she tried to run, three times stood rooted,
by those deep waters, fear robbing her of strength to flee.
Then, at last, tearing her hair with angry fingers,
with trembling mouth, she spoke these words of shame:
‘O I wish my bones had been gathered while I was virgin,
and preserved on a bier in my father’s tomb!
Why, am I offered marriage, a Vestal, now
disgraced, and denied by Ilium’s sacred flame?
Why linger, be pointed out as an adulteress by the crowd?
Let the face of infamy die, that carries the mark of shame!’
With that she held her dress against her swollen eyes,
and threw herself, lost, into the swift flood.
They say the river placed his slippery hands on her breast,
and gave her command over his marriage bed.
I believe you also were warmed by some girl:
but woods and groves hide your crime.
Even as I speak your swelling waves spread wider,
your deep bed can’t hold your surging waters.
Why rage at me? Why delay shared delights?
Why rudely interrupt the road I started on?
Why? If you were a true river, if you were a noble stream,
if you were widely known throughout the world –
you’re unknown, a gathering of fallen waters,
neither your source nor your springs are certain!
For springs you have the inflow of rain and melting snow,
the riches that slow winter supplies you with:
if it’s the days of solstice your course flows muddy,
if it’s the arid days you’re pressed into dusty earth.
What thirsty passer-by could drink from you?
What grateful voice, say: ‘Live for ever’?
Your flow’s harmful to herds, more so to farmland.
Perhaps that worries others: I’m worried by my own woes.
Alas for me then! Madly telling the loves of rivers!
A shame to let fall such names disgracefully.
Letting an unknown flood consider Achelous, Inachus,
and, Nile, I’ve even recalled your name!
For your services, I wish you, unclear torrents,
devouring suns, and ever thirsty winters!
Not that I think she isn’t lovely, and so cultured,
not that I haven’t often wished for her in my dreams!
Yet I held her, all in vain, completely slack,
lay there a limp reproach, a burden to the bed:
though I really wanted it, and the girl wanted it too,
I could get no more from my exhausted parts.
She threw her ivory arms around my neck,
arms whiter than the Scythian snows,
struggling, she mingled tongues in eager kisses,
and slipped a wanton thigh beneath my thigh,
and spoke coaxing words, called me her master,
and all those usual words that might help.
Yet my member, as if touched by cold hemlock,
was sluggish and denied my every effort:
I lay an inert body, a sham, a useless weight,
unsure whether I was a body or a ghost.
What old age will come, to me, if it does come,
when youth itself fails me
in this way?
Ah, I’m ashamed of my years: why youth and strength
if my girl can’t feel my youth or strength?
She rose like a holy priestess going to the eternal flame,
like an elder sister leaving a beloved brother.
Yet I lately had golden Chlide twice, Pitho
the beautiful and Libas, three times without stopping:
I remember Corinna, in one short night, demanded
I keep it up for her nine times together.
Has some Thessalian poison weakened my cursed body?
Do charms and herbs hurt my poor self now,
some witch transfixes my name in scarlet wax
and sticks fine needles right into my liver?
Charms turn the stricken wheat to barren grasses,
charms stop the stricken waters at their source,
through incantations oaks drop acorns, vines their grapes,
and the apples fall down without being shaken.
Why shouldn’t I be stopped, and my vigour numbed
by magic arts, my body by that made unable to endure?
Add shame to it: the shame itself, of it, hurt me:
that was the secondary cause of my failure.
But what a girl, whom I only saw and touched!
Just as her slip itself touches her.
At her touch Nestor might be made young again,
and Tithonus stronger in old age.
I held her, but she did not hold a man.
What can I think of now to beg for in prayer?
I think the great gods were sorry they gave the gift
that I’ve made use of so shamefully.
I wanted to be welcomed – I was truly welcome:
to kiss – I kissed: to be near her – I was.
What was such good luck worth? Why have and not enjoy?
Why eager for wealth and not possess its power?
I’m parched like Tantalus, silent now, in the midst
of fruit and water, he who can never touch it.
Has anyone ever risen early from his girl
so he can go straight to the gods and pray?
No, she’s seductive: squandered so many kisses on me:
urged me on with every one of her powers!
She could have moved heavy oak-trees,
stirred hard adamant, or the deafest stones.
She’d have moved all men, all living things for sure:
but I was neither man nor living, as once before.
What joy can deaf ears have when Phemis sings?
What joy can blind Thamyras have in painted things?
But what silent delights my mind invented!
What did I not imagine, all the various ways!
But still my sex lay there prematurely dead,
shamefully, limper than a rose picked yesterday –
Look, now, he’s lively at the wrong time, able,
now he’s demanding work and service.
Why can’t you lie down modestly, worst part of me?
You’ve caught me like this with your promises before.
You failed your master: I was left weaponless, through you,
enduring sad hurt and great embarrassment.
Not even this did my girl disdain to try,
to rouse me with her gently moving hand:
but when she couldn’t make me rise, with her art,
and saw it sink down there, ignoring her,
‘Why toy with me, why, if you’re sick,’ she said,
‘did you invite your unwilling body to my bed?
Either some Circean sorceress has bewitched you,
or you come here wearied by another lover.’
With that, she leapt up, veiled by her loose slip –
and how her fleeing naked feet became her! –
And lest her servants thought that all was chaste,
I scattered water there, to cover the disgrace.
Does anyone admire the noble arts these days,
or think that talent’s displayed in tender verse?
Once genius was rated more than gold:
but now to have nothing shows plain stupidity.
Though my lovely girl’s delighted with my books,
where the books can go, I can’t go myself:
While she praised them, her door closed as she praised.
Shamefully, clever, I go here and there.
Look, some newly-rich blood-drenched knight
made wealthy by his wounds grazes my pastures!
Can you hug him in your lovely arms, my sweet life?
Life of mine, can you lie there in his embrace?
If you don’t know, that head once wore a helmet:
there was a sword bound to that thigh that serves you:
that left hand, that new-won gold suits so badly,
held a shield: touch his right – it was stained with blood!
Can you touch that right hand by which others perished?
ah, where is that tender-heartedness of yours?
See the scars, the marks of former battles –
whatever he has, he earned with his body.
Perhaps he’ll tell you how many men he’s murdered!
Avaricious girl, can you touch those revealing hands?
Am I, the pure priest of Apollo and the Muses,
to sing idle songs at unyielding doors?
If you’re wise, learn, not what we sluggards know,
but the dangers of battle and the rough camp,
forming lines of spears instead of good verses!
Homer, the night can be yours, if you wage war.
Jupiter, realising nothing’s more powerful than gold,
turned himself to coinage to seduce a virgin.
Without that wealth, father was harsh, she severe,
the doors were bronze, and the tower was iron.
But when the adulterer knowingly came as cash,
she offered love herself and saying ‘give’, she gave.
Yet when ancient Saturn ruled the heavens,
Earth covered all her wealth in deep darkness.
She stored the copper and silver, gold and heavy iron,
among the shades, there were no ingots then.
She gave better things – crops without curved ploughs,
and fruits, and honey found in the hollow oaks.
No one scarred the earth with a strong blade,
no measurer of the ground marked out limits.
no dipping oars swept the churning waves:
then the longest human journey ended at the shore.
Human nature, you’ve been skilful, against yourself,
and ingenious, in excess, to your own harm.
What use to you are towns encircled with turreted walls?
What use to you to add the discord of arms, at hand?
When was the sea yours – land should have contented you!
Why not seek out a third region then in the sky?
Though you honour the sky too – Romulus,
Bacchus, Hercules, Caesar now have temples.
We dig the earth for solid gold not food.
Soldiers possess the wealth they get by blood.
The Senate’s shut to the
poor – money buys honours:
here a grave judge, there a sober knight!
Let them have it all: let arena and forum serve them,
let them conduct merciless war or manage peace.
So long as they don’t bid greedily for our lovers,
and – it’ll do – if something’s left for the poor!
Now, though she may be as sour as a Sabine,
he, who can give much, rules her like a slave.
The porter shuts me out: for me, she fears her husband:
but if I gave, those two would quit the house!
O if only some god, avenger of neglected lovers,
would turn their ill-gotten wealth to dust!
If his mother grieved for Memnon: his mother for Achilles,
and sad fate thus can touch the great goddesses,
weep, Elegy, and loose your tight-bound hair!
ah, only too truly from this was your name taken! –
Tibullus, your own poet, your own glory,
burns, a worthless corpse, on the tall pyre.
Look, Venus’s boy carries an upturned quiver,
his bow is broken, his torch without its flame:
see, how he goes sadly with drooping wings,
and how he beats his naked breast with fierce hand!
His tears are caught in the hair scattered about his neck,
and break in resounding sobs from his mouth.
So he looked, they say, at his brother Aeneas’s funeral,
when it left your palace, glorious Iulus:
and Venus is no less grieved by Tibullus’s death,
than when the wild boar gashed Adonis’s thigh.
And poets are called sacred, and beloved of the gods:
there are also those who grant us divine inspiration.
Yet greedy death profanes all sacred things:
of all things his shadowy hands take possession!
What help were his divine parents to Thracian Orpheus,
or his songs that overcame the astonished creatures?
And Apollo, father of Linus also, in the deep woods,
cried ‘aelinon!’ they say, as he struck the reluctant lyre.
And Homer, by whom poet’s mouths are moistened
as if by an eternal stream from the Muse’s fountains –
he also at day’s end sank down to dark Avernus.
Poetry alone escapes the greedy pyre:
The poets works survive, the tale of Troy’s sufferings
and the nocturnal guile that un-wove the tardy web.
So Nemesis, and Delia, will have a name forever,
the last your recent worship, the other your former love.
What use are your rituals? What use the Egyptian
sistrum? What use those nights sleeping in an empty bed?
When evil fate drags down the good – forgive my words! –
it incites me to believe there are no gods.
Live piously – you die: obey the rites piously, obeying
death drags you from the temple’s echo to the hollow tomb:
Place your faith in poetry’s truth – look, there, Tibullus lies:
of all there hardly remains what might fill a little urn!
Did the funeral fires consume you, sacred poet,
that had no fear of feeding on your heart?
Flames that could commit such wickedness
would burn the golden shrines of the sacred gods!
Venus, who holds the heights of Eryx turned away her face:
some say she could not hold back her tears.
But still it is better so, than that Corfu’s earth
had covered you, unknown, with common soil.
Here, your mother closed your wet eyes in death
and paid the last rites to your ashes:
Here your sister, with torn and unkempt hair,
came to share her sorrowing mother’s grief,
Your Delia said: ‘I am lucky, to have been loved by you,’
stepping from the pyre: ‘you lived when I was your flame.’
while Nemesis said: ‘Why is my hurt your grief?
His failing hand held me as he died.’
Yet if anything is left of us but a shadow and a name
Tibullus lives in some valley of Elysium.
You come to meet him, ivy wreathing your young brows,
learned Catullus, with your Calvus:
and you, also, Gallus, too free with your blood and life,
if that charge is false of violating Caesar’s friendship.
Your spirit will accompany them: if the body ends as spirit,
gracious Tibullus, added to the numbers of the blessed.
I pray that your bones rest, at peace, in their protecting urn,
and that the earth lies lightly on your grave!
Here comes the annual festival of Ceres:
my girl lies alone in an empty bed.
Golden Ceres, fine hair wreathed with ears of wheat,
why must your rituals spoil our pleasure?
All peoples, wherever, speak of your bounty, Goddess,
no other begrudges good to humanity less.
Before you, the bearded farmers parched no corn,
the word threshing-floor was unknown on the Earth,
but oak-trees, the first oracles, carried acorns:
these and tender herbs in the grass were our food.
Ceres first taught the seeds to swell in the fields,
and first with sickles cut the ripened sheaves:
first bowed the necks of oxen under the yoke,
and scarred the ancient earth with curved blade.
Can anyone believe she delights in lovers’ tears
that right worship lies in torment and lonely beds?
Still, though she loves fertile fields, she’s no rustic,
nor does she have a heart bereft of love.
The Cretans are witness – Cretans’ don’t always lie.
Crete was proud to nurse the infant Jove.
There, he who steers the world’s starry courses,
sucked milk, with tender mouth as a little child.
Proof from a mighty witness: witnessed by his praise.
I think Ceres might confess to the charge I make.
She saw Iasus on the slopes of Cretan Mount Ida,
slaughtering the game with unerring hand.
She saw him, and flames pierced her to the marrow,
from there, love, partly drove out her shame.
Shame quelled by love: you could see parched furrows
and the sowing itself gave the least of returns.
Though the fields were struck with well-aimed mattocks,
and the soil was broken with the curving plough,
and the seed scattered evenly over wide acres,
the farmers were cheated of their useless prayers.
Deep in the woods the goddess of fertility lingered:
the garland of wheat-ears slipping from her long hair.
Only Crete was enriched by a fruitful year:
Wherever the goddess showed herself, there was harvest:
Ida itself, home of forests, was white with crops,
and the wild boars reaped corn in the woods.
Minos the law-giver prayed for more such years:
he should have wished for Ceres’s love to last forever.
Because you were sad on lonely nights, golden goddess,
why should I be forced now to endure your rites?
Why should I be sad, when your daughter’s found again,
her fate to rule a kingdom second only to Juno’s?
This festive day calls for loving, and poetry, and wine:
these are the gifts it’s right to carry to the gods.
I’ve endured too much, too long: my patience is defeated
by her offences: heart dead with weariness, vile love!
There’s no doubt I’m free now and have slipped my chain,
and what I wasn’t ashamed to bear, I’m ashamed I bore.
I’ve won and love is tamed, trampled under my feet:
at last true horns have appeared on my head.
Endure it and stand firm! This pain in the end will help you:
often bitter medicine brings strength to the weary.
So why did I endure it, so often shut out from your gate,
laying my delicate body on the hard floor?
So why did I keep watch, for him you held in your arms,
like a slave outside your closed door?
I saw, when your lover appeared weary, at your door,
found wanting, and his body all exhausted:
but it’s still worse that I was seen by him –
let that shame happen to my enemies!
When did I not cling patiently to your side,
your true guardian, your lover, friend?
And of course you pleased people through my friendship:
my love was the reason for your many lovers.
What, shall I say now, of your vile lies, your idle tongue,
and the gods perjured to harm me?
What of the silent nods of youths at parties,
and the deceptive words of secret messages?
They told me she’s ill – I ran, in a hurry, a madman:
I arrived, and she wasn’t too ill for my rival!
I’m hardened by this: by things unsaid I’ve often suffered:
find someone instead of me, who can endure it.
Now my vessel’s crowned with votive wreaths
calmly braving the ocean’s swelling waves.
Leave off your flatteries and your once powerful words,
forget them – now I’m not the fool I used to be!
I struggle, and my fickle heart is pulled both ways,
now by love, now hate, but I think love wins.
I’ll hate if I can do: if not, I love unwillingly.
No ox loves the yoke: yet he still suffers what he hates.
I flee your wickedness – your beauty draws me back:
I loathe your guilty ways – I love your body.
So I can’t live with you or without you,
and don’t seem to know my own mind.
I wish you were less beautiful or less wanton:
such a lovely form doesn’t go with such bad ways.
Actions worthy of hatred, a face that begs for love –
ah me, she’s worth so much more than her vices!
Oh, spare me, by the shared promises of our bed,
by all those gods who so often let you cheat them,
by your face that to me approaches the divine,
by those eyes of yours that ravished mine!
Be what you will, you will be mine for ever:
you choose then, shall I love freely too or be constrained!
Let me spread sail and enjoy the flowing breezes,
or, if I may not, to want what I’m forced to love.
What day was it, dark bird, when you sounded
your omen for this eternally melancholy lover?
What star should I believe has opposed my destiny,
what god should I complain of, warring against me?
She who was once spoken of as mine, whom I loved,
first, alone, I fear, along with many others, I consider mine.
Am I mistaken, or have my books made her famous?
so it shall be – she’ll be advertised by my art.
And it serves me right! For didn’t I trumpet her beauty?
It’s my fault if the girl’s been rendered marketable.
It pleased me to be go-between, guide to lovers I attracted,
the entrance was thrown open by my hand.
And I doubt the use of verse that’s always harmed me:
it made men envious of my success.
Despite Thebes, and Troy, and Caesar’s actions,
only Corinna inspired my genius.
I wish a hostile Muse had struck my verse,
that Apollo had forsaken my works’ beginnings!
Yet it’s not the custom to listen to poets as witnesses:
I’d rather less weight was given to my words.
Through us Scylla stole her father’s precious lock of hair,
and set rabid dogs at her thighs and groin:
we granted feet wings, and hair snakes:
and Perseus, the hero, a winged horse.
Tityus too we stretched out over vast spaces,
and made the snaky Cerberus three-headed:
we made thousand handed Enceladus throw spears,
captured heroes with the songs of bird-footed virgins.
We shut the winds of Aeolus in Ulysses’s bag:
showed Tantalus parched in the midst of water.
Made a bear of a girl, a rock out of Niobe.
A bird, once Thracian Philomela, sang for Itys:
Jupiter transformed himself to bird or gold,
or cut the waves, as a bull, with a girl on his back.
Shall I speak of Proteus, the teeth the Theban sowed:
bulls there were breathing
flames from their mouths:
Charioteer, your sisters with eyes weeping amber:
what were once ships, now sea goddesses:
the sun turning away from Atreus’s vile feast,
and solid stones following the sounding lyre?
The poet’s creative licence embraces everything,
nor are his words obliged to be true to history.
and you ought to have seen that my praise of the woman
was fiction: now your credulity has hurt me.
My wife and I came to fruitful Falerii, where she was born,
the town you conquered once, Camillus.
Priests were preparing Juno’s chaste festival,
the celebrated games, and sacrifice of a local heifer:
despite the difficult mountain ways this road offers
to witness the rites was worth the delay.
There stood the ancient gloomy grove dense with trees:
look at it – and you’ll agree there’s a goddess in the place.
The altar receives prayers and votive incense from the pious
an altar made by ancient hands, without high art.
Here the annual procession passes through garlanded ways,
where the flute sounds out, with solemn chants:
white heifers are led by, to the crowd’s applause,
that browse Falerian grass in their own fields,
and horned bullocks, whose foreheads don’t threaten yet,
and lesser victims, pigs from humble sties,
and rams, with curving horns on their solid brows.
Only the she-goat’s hateful to the great goddess:
They say one came upon her in the deep woods,
and betrayed her, aborting her incipient flight.
Now the informer’s attacked by boys with spears,
and she’s given as a prize to the one who wounds her.
When the goddess comes, youths and timid girls
go before her, with robes that sweep along the streets.
The girls’ hair is burdened with gold and jewels,
and noble gowns brush their gilded feet:
Veiled in white clothes in the ancient Greek fashion
they carry the sacred vessels on their heads.
The crowd is hushed when she comes with golden pomp,
drawn along behind her priestesses.
The style of the procession is from Argos: Halaesus fled
from sin, and his father’s wealth, at Agamemnon’s murder,
then wandering in exile, over land and sea,
he founded these high walls, with fortunate hand.
He taught the rites of Juno to his Falerians.
Let her always be a friend to her people, and to me!
I don’t say ‘don’t sin’, since you’re beautiful,
but there’s no need for me, poor fool, to know:
and no censure of mine demands that you’re chaste,
it only asks that you try and conceal it.
She didn’t sin, if she can deny she sinned,
only confession makes crimes notorious.
What madness to expose, by day, what midnight hides:
why make what’s secret into a well-known fact?
Some whore who couples with a nameless citizen
moves away from the crowd before it’s too late.
Will you prostitute your sins for worthless fame
and talk about what you’ve done to fuel opinion?
Improve your ways: at least pretend you’re chaste,
and I can approve, thinking you what you’re not.
What you do, keep doing it: just deny it,
and don’t be ashamed to speak modestly in public!
If there’s a place demands naughtiness: then fill it
with all delights, let shame be far away!
Likewise when you leave off, straightaway forget
all lasciviousness: leave the sin there, in your bed.
There, don’t let your slip make you over-shy,
or not allow your thigh to press against a thigh:
there, let my tongue be buried between your rosy lips,
and let desire shape a thousand ways to love:
there, don’t let your words and sounds of delight cease,
let the naughty bed tremble at your agility!
Then, with your dress, put on the face that fears sin,
and let shame disown the works of obscenity:
Tell me, tell people anything: let me err without knowing,
and let me enjoy a fool’s credulity!
Why do I see so many notes received and given?
Why are the pillow and the
Why do I have to see such obvious love-bites on your neck,
and your hair disturbed by more than sleep?
Horned Bacchus rebukes me with his weightier rod:
there’s a greater space beaten by greater steeds.
Unwarlike elegies, joyful Muse, farewell,
this work that will still stand forever, when I’m dead.
End of The Amores