Propertius: The Elegies
Translated by A. S. Kline© Copyright 2002, 2008 All Rights Reserved.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.
- Book III.1:1-38 Invocation
- Book III.2:1-26 Mind endures
- Book III.3:1-52 A dream of Helicon
- Book III.4:1-22 War and peace
- Book III.5:1-48 The poetic life
- Book III.6:1-42 After the quarrel
- Book III.7:1-72 The death of his friend Paetus.
- Book III.8:1-34 His mistress’ fury
- Book III.8A:34-40 Words for a rival
- Book III.9:1-60 He asks for Maecenas’ favour
- Book III.10:1-32 Cynthia’s birthday.
- Book III.11:1-72 Woman’s power
- Book III.12:1-38 Chaste and faithful Galla
- Book III.13:1-66 Money the root of corruption
- Book III.14:1-34 The Spartan Girls
- Book III.15:1-46 He asks Cynthia not to be jealous
- Book III.16:1-30 A letter
- Book III.17:1-42 A Prayer to Bacchus
- Book III.18:1-34 The death of Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew.
- Book III.19:1-28 Female desire
- Book III.20:1-30 A new contract of Love
- Book III.21:1-34 Recipes for quenching love
- Book III.22:1-42 Come home Tullus
- Book III.23:1-24 The lost writing tablets
- Book III.24:1-20 Coming to his senses
- Book III.25:1-18 The End of the Affair
Book III.1:1-38 Invocation
Ghosts of Callimachus, and shrines of Coan Philetas, I pray you let me walk in your grove: I, the first to enter, a priest of the pure fountain, to celebrate Italian mysteries to the rhythms of Greece. Tell me in what valley did you both spin out your song? On what feet did you enter? Which waters did you drink?
Away with the man who keeps Phoebus stuck in battle! Let verse be finished, polished with pumice – because of it Fame raises me high above Earth, and, born of me, a Muse goes in triumph with flower-hung horses, and young Loves ride with me in the chariot, and a crowd of writers hangs there at my wheels. Why struggle, vainly, against me, with slack reins? It was never given us to reach the Muses by a broad road.
Rome, many will add praise to your story, singing that Persia will set a bound to Empire: but my art carries its text down from the Sister’s mountain, so you can read it in peace, on a path that’s undefiled.
Muses grant your poet gentle garlands: a hard crown would never suit my head. But what the envious crowd have stolen from me in life, Honour will pay, once I’m dead, with double interest. The future ages render all things greater once they’re dead: names come dearer to the lips after the funeral. Otherwise who would know of the citadel breached by a Horse of fir; or of how the rivers fought with Achilles the hero, Idaean Simois, and Scamander, Jupiter’s child; or of how the chariot wheels three times stained the ground with Hector’s blood.
Their own soil would scarcely know Deiphobus, Helenus, Pulydamas, or Paris embraced any kind of arms. Yes, there’d be little talk of Ilium, of Troy twice captured by Hercules, god of Oeta. Nor will Homer, himself, who wrote your fall, not find his work made greater by posterity. And Rome will praise me among later generations: I foresee that day myself, after the fire. Apollo, Lycia’s god, accepts my prayers, and ordains that grave will not be scorned whose stone shall mark my bones.
Book III.2:1-26 Mind endures
Let me return, meanwhile, to the world of my poetry: let my girl take delight, stirred by familiar tones. They say Orpheus with his Thracian lyre tamed the wild creatures; held back flowing rivers: Cithaeron’s stones were whisked to Thebes by magic, and joined, of their own will, to form a piece of wall. Even, Galatea, it’s true, below wild Etna, wheeled her brine-wet horses, Polyphemus, to your songs.
No wonder if, befriended by Bacchus and Phoebus, a crowd of girls should cherish my words? Though my house isn’t propped on Taenarian columns, or ivory-roofed with gilded beams, though my orchards aren’t Phaeacia’s woods, nor does Marcian water moisten elaborate grottoes; the Muses are my companions, my songs are dear to the reader, and Calliope never tires of my music.
Happy the girl, who’s famed in my book! My poems are so many records of your beauty. The Pyramids reared to the stars, at such expense; Jupiter’s shrine at Elis that echoes heaven; the precious wealth of the tomb of Mausolus; not one can escape that final state of death. Their beauty is taken, by fire, by rain, by the thud of the years: ruined; their weight all overthrown. But the name I’ve earned, with my wit, will not be razed by time: Mind stands firm, a deathless ornament.
Book III.3:1-52 A dream of Helicon
I dreamt I lay in Helicon’s soft shade, where the fountain of Pegasus flows, and owned the power, Alba, to speak of your kings, and the deeds of your kings, a mighty task. I’d already put my lips to those lofty streams, from which Ennius, thirsting father, once drank, and sang of the Curiatii, the brothers, and the Horatii, their spears; and the royal tokens carried by Aemilius’s boat; Fabius’s victorious delays, the cock-up at Cannae, the gods moved by prayer; the Lares driving Hannibal out of their home in Rome, and Jupiter saved by the voice of geese.
Then Phoebus, spotting me, from his Castalian grove, leant on his golden lyre, by a cave-door, saying: ‘What’s your business with that stream, you madman? Who asked you to meddle with epic song? There’s not a hope of fame for you from it, Propertius: soft are the meadows where your little wheels should roll, your little book often thrown on the bench, read by a girl waiting alone for a lover. Why is your verse wrenched from its destined track? Your mind’s little boat’s not to be freighted. Scrape an oar through the water, the other through sand: you’ll be safe: the big storm’s out at sea.’
He said it then showed me a place, with his ivory plectrum, where a new path had been made in mossy ground. Here was an emerald cavern lined with pebbles, and timbrels hung from its pumice stone; orgiastic emblems of the Muses; a statue of father Silenus made of clay; and your reed-pipes too, Pan of Tegea; and birds, a crowd of doves of my mistress Venus, dipped their red beaks into the Gorgon’s pool; while nine assorted girls busied soft hands in the place given to each of them by fate. This one chose ivy for a wand, that one tuned the strings for a song, and another planted roses with either hand.
And of this crowd of goddesses one touched me (it was Calliope, I think, by her face), saying: ‘You’ll always be happy pulled by snow-white swans. The sound of the war-horse won’t lead you to fight. It’s not for you to blow war cries from blaring trumpets, staining Boeotia’s grove with Mars; or care in what fields the conflict’s fought beneath Marius’ standard, how Rome repels German force, how barbaric Rhine, steeped with Swabian blood, sweeps mangled corpses through its sorrowing waves.
You’ll sing wreathed lovers at another threshold, and the drunken signals of nocturnal flight so that he who wishes with skill to plunder irksome husbands knows through you how to spirit off captive girls.’
So Calliope said, and drawing liquid from her fount, sprinkled my lips with the waters of Philetas.
Book III.4:1-22 War and peace
Caesar, our god, plots war against rich India, cutting the straits, in his fleet, across the pearl-bearing ocean. Men, the rewards are great: far lands prepare triumphs: Tiber and Euphrates will flow to your tune. Too late, but that province will come under Ausonian wands, Parthia’s trophies will get to know Latin Jupiter. Go, get going, prows expert in battle: set sail: and armoured horses do your accustomed duty! I sing you auspicious omens. And avenge that disaster of Crassus! Go and take care of Roman history!
Father Mars, and fatal lights of sacred Vesta, I pray that the day will come before I die, when I see Caesar’s axles burdened with booty, and his horses stopping often for vulgar cheers, and then I’ll begin to look, pressing my dear girl’s breast, and scan the names of captured cities, the shafts from fleeing horsemen, the bows of trousered soldiers, and the captive leaders sitting beneath their weapons!
May Venus herself protect your children: let it be eternal, this head that survives from Aeneas’ line. Let the prize go to those who earn it by their efforts: it’s enough for me I can cheer them on their Sacred Way.
Book III.5:1-48 The poetic life
Amor’s the god of peace: and it’s peace we lovers worship: the hard fight I have with my lady’s enough for me. My heart’s not so taken with hateful gold; nor does my thirst drink from cut gems; nor is rich Campania ploughed for my gain by a thousand yokes; nor do I buy bronzes from your ruins, wretched Corinth.
O primal earth shaped badly by Prometheus! He set to work on the heart with too little care. He laid the body out with skill, but forgot the mind: the right road for the spirit should have been first.
Now we’re hurled by the wind over such seas, and seek out enemies, weaving new wars on wars. But you’ll take no wealth to the waters of Acheron: carried, naked fool, on the boat of Hell. Conquered and conqueror mingled one in the shadows: Captive Jugurtha, you sit by Marius the Consul: Croesus of Lydia not far from Dulichian Irus: that death’s best that comes the day our part is done.
It pleases me to have lived on Helicon when I was young, and entangled my hands in the Muses’s dance. It pleases me too to cloud my mind with wine, and always weave spring roses round my head. And when the weight of years obstructs Venus, and age flecks the dark hair with white, then let me discover the laws of nature, what god controls this bit of the world by his skill; how the moon rises and how it wanes, and how each month returns, horns merged, to the full; where the winds come from to rule the sea; where the East Wind gets to with his gales; where the unfailing water comes from in the clouds; whether some future day will burrow under the citadels of the world; why the rainbow drinks the rain; why the peaks of Perrhaebian Pindus trembled, and the sun’s orb mourned, his horses black; why Bootes is late to turn his oxen and wain; why the dance of the Pleiades is joined in a crowd of fires; why the deep ocean never leaves its bounds, and why the whole year has four seasons; whether, below ground, gods rule, Giants are tortured; if Tisiphone’s hair is plagued with black snakes, Alcmaeon by Furies, Phineus by hunger; and if there’s a wheel, and a rock to roll, and thirst beside the water; and Cerberus, triple-throated, guarding the cave of Hell, and Tityos’s scant nine acres; or whether an idle tale has come down to wretched mortals, and there’s no fear found beyond the fire.
This is the end of life that waits for me. You to whom war’s more pleasing: you bring Crassus’ standards home.
Book III.6:1-42 After the quarrel
If you want our mistress’ yoke to be lifted from your neck, Lygdamus, tell me truly how you judge the girl. Surely you wouldn’t fool me into swelling with empty joy, telling me things you think I’d like to believe. Every messenger should lack deceit: a fearful servant should be even truer. Now, start to tell it from the first inception, if you can: I shall drink it in through thirsty ears.
So, did you see her weep with dishevelled hair, vast streams pouring from her eyes? Did you see no mirror, Lygdamus, on the covers, on the bed? No rings on her snow-white fingers? And a mourning-robe hanging from her soft arms, and her letter-case closed lying by the foot of the bed. Was the house sad, her servants sad, carding thread, and she, herself spinning among them, and pressing the wool to her eyes, drying their moisture, going over our quarrel in querulous tones?
‘Is this what he promised me, Lygdamus, you’re a witness? There’s punishment for breaking faith, with a slave as witness. How can he leave me here and so wretched (I’ve done nothing) open his house to one of whom I couldn’t speak? He’s glad that I melt away, alone, in an empty bed. If that pleases him, let him mock at my death, Lygdamus. She won not by her morals, but by magic herbs, the bitch: he’s led by the bullroarer whirling on its string. He’s drawn to her by omens, of swollen frogs and toads, and the bones of dried snakes she’s fished out, and the feathers of screech owls found by fallen tombs, and a woollen fillet bound to a murdered man. If my dreams tell no lies (you’re witness Lygdamus) he’ll be punished, in full, if late, at my feet. The spider will weave corruption deep in his empty bed, and Venus will fall asleep, on their nights together.’
If my girl moaned to you with truth in her heart, run back, Lygdamus, the same way again, and carry my message back with lots of tears, that there’s anger but no deceit in my love, that I’m tortured too by the selfsame fires: I’ll swear to be virtuous for twelve days. Then if sweet peace exists, after such war, Lygdamus you’ll be freed by me.
Book III.7:1-72 The death of his friend Paetus.
So money you’re the cause of a troubled life! It’s because of you we go death’s path too soon: you offer human vices cruel nurture: from your source the seeds of sorrow spring. Three or four times with wild seas you overwhelmed Paetus, as he was setting sail towards Pharos’ harbour.
While he was chasing you, the poor man drowned in his prime, and floats an alien food for far-off fish. And his mother can’t give due burial to his pious dust, or bury him among his kinsfolk’s ashes.
Paetus, the seabirds hover above your bones, and you’ve the whole Carpathian Sea for tomb now. Cruel North-Wind whom ravished Orithyia feared how great are the spoils to be won from him? Why do you find joy in shipwreck, Neptune? That ship carried righteous men.
Paetus, why number your years: why as you swim is your dear mother’s name on your lips? The waves have no gods: though your cables were fastened to rocks, the storms in the night fell on them: frayed them: tore them away. Return his body to earth: his spirit is lost in the deep. Worthless sands, of your own will, cover Paetus. And the sailor, as often as he sails past Paetus’s tomb, let him say: ‘You make even the brave man afraid.’
Go, and shape curving keels, and weave the causes of death: these deaths come from the action of human hands. Earth was too small for fate, we have added the oceans: by our arts we have added to the luckless paths of fortune. Can the anchor hold you, whom the household gods could not? What would you say he’s earned, whose country’s too small for him?
Whatever you build is the winds’: no keel ever grows old: the harbour itself belies your faith. Nature lying in wait has paved the watery paths of greed: it can scarcely happen you shall, even once, succeed. There are shores that witnessed Agamemnon’s pain, where Argynnus’ punishment makes Mimas’ waters famous: Atrides wouldn’t allow the fleet to sail, for loss of this boy, and Iphigenia was sacrificed through this delay. The cliffs of Caphareus shattered a triumphant fleet, when the Greeks were shipwrecked drawn down by the salt mass. Ulysses wept for his comrades sucked down one by one: his wiliness was worth nothing confronting the sea.
Yet if Paetus had been content to plough the fields with his father’s oxen, had he accepted the weight of my advice, he would still be alive, a gentle guest, in front of his household gods: a poor man, but on dry land crying only for wealth. Paetus couldn’t bear to hear the shrieking storm, or wound his soft hands with hard ropes: but rested his head on multi-coloured down, among Chian marble, on Orician terebinth wood. From him, still living, the surge tore his nails, and unwillingly, poor man, his throat swallowed the waters: then the wild night saw him borne on a piece of plank: so many evils gathered for Paetus to perish.
Still he gave this command, weeping, with his last moan, as the dark wave closed over his dying breath: ‘Gods of Aegean seas, with power over waters, you winds and every wave that bows down my head, where are you taking the sad years of my first manhood? Are these guilty hands I bring to your seas? Alas for me, the sharp cliffs of the halycon will tear me! The dark-green god has struck me with his trident. At least let the tides hurl me on Italian shores: what is left of me will suffice should it only reach my mother.’ At these words, the flood pulled him down in its whirling vortex.
O you hundred sea-nymphs, Nereus’s daughters, and you Thetis, whom a mother’s indignation once drew from the sea, you should have placed your arms beneath his weary head: he was no heavy weight for your hands. And you, fierce Northern Wind, will never see my sails: I would rather lie indolent at my lady’s portals.
Book III.8:1-34 His mistress’ fury
Our quarrel by lamplight last night was sweet to me and all those insults from your furious tongue, when frenzied with drinking you pushed the table back, and threw full glasses at me, with angry hand. Truly bold, attack my hair, you, and mark my face with your lovely nails, threaten to scorch my eyes, set a flame beneath them, rip my clothes and strip bare my chest!
You grant me the certain signs of love: no woman is in pain unless from deep passion. This woman who hurls abuse with raving mouth, she rolls around at mighty Venus’ feet, she packs guards round her in a crowd, or takes the middle of the road like a stricken Maenad, or demented dreams terrify the frightened girl, or some woman in a painting moves her to misery.
I’m a true augur of the soul’s torments: I’ve learnt these are always the certain signs of love. There is no constant faithfulness that won’t turn to quarrelling: let cold women be my enemies’ lot. Let my friends see the wounds in my bitten neck: let the bruises show my girl has been with me.
I want to suffer with love, or hear of suffering: I’d rather see your tears or else my own, whenever your eyebrows send me hidden messages, or you write with your fingers words that can’t be spoken. I hate those sighs that never shatter sleep: I’d always wish to turn pale at an angry girl.
Passion was dearer to Paris when he cut his way through Greek ranks to bring pleasure to Helen, daughter of Tyndareus. While the Danaans conquered, while savage Hector held them, he fought a nobler war in her lap. I’ll always be fighting with you, or a rival for you: you at peace will never satisfy me.
Book III.8A:34-40 Words for a rival
Be glad, that no one matches your beauty: you’d be sorry if one did: but as of now you’ve a right to your pride.
As for you, Vulcan, who wove a net for our bed, may your father-in-law live forever, and may your house never lack her mother! You who were granted the wealth of one stolen night, it was anger against me, not love of you that yielded.
Book III.9:1-60 He asks for Maecenas’ favour
It’s shameful to carry on your head a weight it can’t bear, and soon sag at the knees, and turn to go. All things are not equally suited to all: the palm’s not won by dragging at the selfsame yoke.
Lysippus’ glory is to carve with the stamp of life: Calamis’ I consider is perfect at horses. Apelles claims highest place for paintings of Venus: Parrhasius deserves his for art in miniature. Mentor’s theme is rather in sculpted groups: through Mys, acanthus winds its brief way. For Phidias, Jupiter clothes himself in an ivory statue: the marble of Cnidos, Triop’s city, gives praise to Praxiteles. Some race their four-horse chariots for the palms of Elis: glory is born in others’ fleetness of foot: this man’s made for peace, that one for camps and war: every man pursues the seeds of his nature.
But I’ve yielded to your rule of life Maecenas, and I’m forced to counter you with your own example. Though an officer of the Roman state, allowed to set up the axes of law, and play judge in the midst of the Forum; though you pass through the fierce spears of the Medes, and burden your house with weapons on nails; though Caesar grants you power to achieve things, and easy money slithers in all the time; you hold back, humbly, and crouch in the lowly shadows: you draw your bellying sails in yourself.
Trust me such judgement will equate you with great Camillus, and you’ll also be on men’s lips, and your steps will be bound to Caesar’s glory: Maecenas’ loyalty will be his true memorial.
I don’t plough the swollen sea in a sailing boat: my whole dalliance is close by a little stream. I won’t weep for Cadmus’s city sunk in its native embers, nor of the seven equally fateful battles: I won’t tell of the Scaean Gate, Pergama, Apollo’s stronghold, or how the Danaan fleet came back at the tenth Spring, how the Wooden Horse, by Athene’s art, was victor, driving walls that Neptune built under the Greek plough. Enough to have given satisfaction, amongst Callimachus’ slim volumes: and to have sung, Philetas, Dorian poet, in your style. Let these poems inflame our youths, and our girls: let them celebrate me as a god, and bring me sacrifice!
Lead me on, and I’ll sing of Jupiter’s weapons, and Coeus threatening Heaven, and Eurymedon on Phlegra’s hills: and I’ll bring on the pair of kings from a she-wolf’s teat, the strong walls built at Remus’s death, and the high Palatine Hill cropped by the Roman bulls, and my ingenuity will rise at your command!
I’ll honour your chariot’s minor triumphs from either wing, the shafts of the Parthian’s cunning flight when they’re taken, the camp of Pelusium demolished by the Roman sword, and Antony’s hands heavy with his fate.
Seize, gentle patron, the reins of my fresh undertaking, and give the sign with your right hand when my wheels are let loose. Concede this praise to me Maecenas, and of you they’ll testify, that I was of your party.
Book III.10:1-32 Cynthia’s birthday.
I wondered what the Muses had sent me, at dawn, standing by my bed in the reddening sunlight. They sent a sign it was my girl’s birthday, and clapped their hands three times for luck. Let this day pass without a cloud, let winds still in the air, threatening waves fall gently on dry land. Let me see no one sad today: let Niobe’s rock itself suppress its tears. Let the halcyons’ cries be silent, leaving off their sighing, and Itys’s mother not call out his loss.
And oh, you, my dearest girl, born to happy auguries, rise, and pray to the gods who require their dues. First wash sleep away with pure water, and dress your shining hair with deft fingers. Then wear those clothes that first charmed Propertius’ eyes, and never let your brow be free of flowers.
And ask that the beauty that is your power may always be yours, and your command over my person might last forever. Then when you’ve worshipped with incense at wreathed altars, and their happy flames have lit the whole house, think of a feast, and let the night fly by with wine, and let the perfumed onyx anoint my nostril with oil of saffron. Submit the strident flute to nocturnal dancing, and let your wantonness be free with words, and let sweet banqueting stave off unwelcome sleep, and the common breeze of the neighbouring street be full of the sound.
And let fate reveal to us, in the falling dice, those whom the Boy strikes with his heavy wings. When the hours have gone with many a glass, and Venus appoints the sacred rites that wait on night, let’s fulfil the year’s solemnities in our room, and so complete the journey of your natal day.
Book III.11:1-72 Woman’s power
Why do you wonder if a woman entwines my life and brings a man enslaved under her rule? Why fabricate charges of cowardice against my person, because I can’t break the yoke and snap my chains? The sailor can best foretell his future fate, the soldier is taught by his wounds to nurture fear. I once boasted like you when I was young: now let my example teach you to be afraid.
The witch of Colchis drove the fiery bulls in a yoke of steel, and sowed civil war in the warrior-bearing soil, and closed the serpent guard’s fierce jaws, so the Golden Fleece would come to Aeson’s halls. Amazon Penthesilea once dared to attack the Danaan fleet with arrows fired from horseback: she whose bright beauty conquered the conquering hero, when the golden helmet laid bare her forehead.
Omphale the Lydian girl bathing in Gyges’ lake gained such a name for beauty that Hercules who had established his pillars in a world at peace, drew out soft spinner’s tasks with hardened hands. Semiramis built Babylon, the Persian city, so that it rose a solid mass with ramparts fashioned of baked brick, and twin chariots might round the walls, in contrary directions, without their axles touching or sides scraping: she diverted the River Euphrates through the centre of the city she founded, and commanded Bactra to bow its head to her rule.
Why should I seize on heroes, why gods, who stand accused? Jupiter shames himself and his house. Why Cleopatra, who heaped insults on our army, a woman worn out by her own attendants, who demanded the walls of Rome and the Senate bound to her rule, as a reward from her obscene husband? Noxious Alexandria place so skilled in deceit and Memphis so often bloody with our grief where the sand robbed Pompey of his three triumphs? Rome, no day will ever wipe away the stain. Better for you Pompey, ill at Naples, if your funeral procession had crossed the Phlegraean Plain or that you’d bowed your neck to Caesar, your father-in-law.
Truly that whore, queen of incestuous Canopus, a fiery brand burned by the blood of Philip, dared to oppose our Jupiter with yapping Anubis, and forced Tiber to suffer the threats of Nile, banished the Roman trumpet with the rattle of the sistrum, chased the Liburnian prow with a poled barge, spread her foul mosquito nets over the Tarpeian Rock, and gave judgements among Marius’ weapons and statues.
The city, high on its seven hills, that directs the whole Earth, was terrified of a woman’s power and fearful of her threats. What was it worth to have shattered Tarquin’s axes, whose life branded him with the name of ‘Proud’, if now we had to endure this woman? Celebrate a triumph Rome, and saved by Augustus beg long life for him! You fled then to the wandering mouths of frightened Nile: your hands received Romulus’ chains. I saw your arms bitten by the sacred asps, and your limbs draw sleep in by a secret path. And your tongue spoke overpowered by endless wine: ‘This is not as much to be feared, Rome, as is your fellow-citizen!’
Curtius closing the Forum’s chasm, created his own monument, and Decius’ cavalry charge shattered the line, Horatius’ Way attests to the holding of the bridge, and there’s one to whom the raven, Corvus, has given a name. The gods founded them, may the gods protect these walls: with Caesar alive,Rome scarcely need fear Jove.
Where are Scipio’s ships now, where are Camillus’ standards, or Bosphorus lately captured by Pompey’s might, or Hannibal’s spoils, or conquered Syphax’ Libyan trophies, or Pyrrhus’ glory trampled under our feet?
Apollo of Actium will speak of how the line was turned: one day of battle carried off so great a host. But you, sailor, whether leaving or making for harbour, be mindful of Caesar through all the Ionian Sea.
Book III.12:1-38 Chaste and faithful Galla
Postumus, how could you leave Galla crying, to follow Augustus’ brave standard, as a soldier? Was the glory of Parthia’s spoils worth so much to you, with Galla repeatedly begging you not to do it? If it’s permitted may all you greedy ones perish equally, and whoever else prefers his weapon to a faithful bride!
You, you madman, wrapped in your cloak for a covering, weary, will drink Araxes’ water from your helm. She in the meantime will pine away at each idle rumour, for fear your courage will cost you dear, or the arrows of Medes enjoy your death, or the armoured knight on a golden horse, or some bit of you be brought back in an urn to be wept over. That’s how they come back, those who fall in such places. O Postumus you are three or four times blessed by Galla’s chastity! Your morals deserve a different wife! What shall a girl do with no fear to guard her, with Rome to instruct her in its voluptuousness? But rest secure: gifts will not win Galla, and she will not recall how harsh you were.
On whatever day fate sends you safely home, modest Galla will hang about your neck. Postumus will be another Ulysses with a wifely wonder: such long delay did him no harm: ten years of war; the Cicones’ Mount Ismara; Calpe; then the burning of your eye-socket Polyphemus; Circe’s beguilement; the lotus, its binding spell; Scylla and Charybdis, separated by alternate tides; Lampetie’s oxen bellowing on Ithacan spits (Lampetie his daughter grazed them for Phoebus); then fleeing the bed of Calypso, Aeaea’s weeping girl, swimming for so many nights and wintry days; entering the black halls of the silent spirits; approaching the Sirens’ waters with deafened sailors; renewing his ancient bow at the death of the suitors; and so making an end of his wanderings.
Not in vain, since his wife stayed chaste at home. Aelia Galla will outdo Penelope’s loyalty.
Book III.13:1-66 Money the root of corruption
You ask why a night with eager women is expensive, and why our exhausted powers bemoan Venus’s losses. The reason for such ruin is clear and certain: the path to voluptuousness has been made too easy.
The Indian ants bring gold from the vaulted mine, and Venus’s conch, the nautilus, comes from the Red Sea, and Cadmus’ Tyre sends purple dyes, and the Arabian shepherd strong scented cinnamon. These weapons take sheltered modesty by storm: even those who show disdain like yours Penelope. Wives go out dressed in a spendthrift’s fortune, and drag the results of disgrace before our faces. There’s no respect shown in asking or supplying, or if there is, money dispels reluctance.
Happy that singular custom at the funerals of Eastern husbands that the reddening dawn colours with her chariot! For when the last brand is thrown on the dead man’s bier, his dutiful crowd of wives stand round with spreading hair, and compete in a fatal contest, as to who shall follow the husband while alive: it is shame for them not to be allowed to die. The winners are enflamed and offer their breasts to the fire and rest their scorched faces on their husband. Here the race of brides is treacherous: here no girl has Evadne’s loyalty or Penelope’s sense of duty.
Happy were the young country folk once, and peaceful: whose wealth was in orchards and harvests. Their gifts were Cydonian apples shaken from the branches, and they gave punnets full of blackberries, now took violets in their hands, now brought back shining lilies mingled together in the virgins’ baskets, and carried grapes wrapped in their own leaves, or some multi-coloured bird of various hue.
With such blandishments as these the kisses of girls were won, given to sylvan youths in secret hollows. The skin of a roe deer sufficed to cover lovers, and the tall grass grew as nature’s bed. The pine leaned over them and threw its rich shadows round them: and it was not a sin to see the goddesses naked. The horned ram, head of the flock, led back his sated ewes himself to the empty fold of Pan the shepherd god. All the gods and goddesses, by whom the land’s protected, offered kindly words to our hearths: ‘Stranger, whoever you are, you may hunt the hare on my paths, or the bird if perhaps you seek it: and whether you hunt your quarry with dogs or with limed sticks, call on me, from the crag, for Pan to be your companion.’
But now the shrines decay in deserted groves: all worship money, now piety is vanquished. Money drives out loyalty, justice is bought for money, money rules the law, and, without the law, then shame.
Scorched thresholds testify to Brennus’ sacrilege, attacking the Pythian kingdom of Apollo, the unshorn god: and then Parnassus shook its laurel-crowned summit, and scattered fearful snow over the army of Gaul. For money, vile Polymestor of Thrace, reared you, Polydorus, in impious hospitality. Amphiaraus is lost, and his horses swallowed up, so that you Eriphyla can cover your shoulders with gold.
I will speak: – and I wish I might be my country’s true prophet! – Proud Rome is being destroyed by wealth. I speak truth, but no one will believe me. Since, neither was Cassandra, the Trojan Maenad, believed to speak true in Pergama’s ruins: she alone cried out that Paris was forging Phrygia’s doom, she alone that the deceitful horse was entering her house. Her frenzies were fitting for her father and her house: in vain her tongue experienced the true gods.
Book III.14:1-34 The Spartan Girls
I admire many of the rules of your training, Sparta, but most of all the great blessings derived from the girls’ gymnasia, where a girl can exercise her body, naked, without blame, among wrestling men, when the swift-thrown ball eludes the grasp, and the curved rod sounds against the ring, and the woman is left panting at the furthest goal, and suffers bruises in the hard wrestling.
Now she fastens near the glove the thongs that her wrists delight in, now whirls the discus’ flying weight in a circle, and now, her hair sprinkled with hoar frost, she follows her father’s dogs over the long ridges of Taygetus, beats the ring with her horses, binds the sword to her white flank, and shields her virgin head with hollow bronze, like the crowd of warlike Amazons who bathe bare-breasted in Thermodon’s stream; or like Helen, on the sands of Eurotas, between Castor and Pollux, one to be victor in boxing, the other with horses: with naked breasts she carried weapons, they say, and did not blush with her divine brothers there.
So Sparta’s law forbids lovers to keep apart, and lets the man walk by her side in the crossways, and there is no fear for her, no guardians for captive girls, no dread of bitter punishment from a stern husband. You yourself can speak about things without a go-between: no long waiting rebuffs you. No Tyrian garments beguile roving eyes, no affected toying with perfumed hair.
But my love goes surrounded by a great crowd, without the slimmest chance of my sticking an oar in: and you can’t come upon how to act, or what words to ask with: the lover’s forever in a blind alley.
Book III.15:1-46 He asks Cynthia not to be jealous
So, let me have no more storms in love, now, and let no night come when I lie awake without you! When the modesty of my boyhood’s purple-bordered toga was hidden from me, and I was given freedom to know the ways of love, she, Lycinna, was my confederate: oh not one to be taken with gifts, she initiated my inexperienced spirit on its first nights.
While three years have passed (it is not much less) I can barely remember ten words between us. Your love has buried everything, no woman, since you, has thrown a sweet chain about my neck.
Dirce’s my evidence, made jealous by a true reproach that Antiope had slept with her Lycus. Ah, how often the queen tore at Antiope’s lovely hair, and pierced her tender cheeks with ungentle fingernails! How often she loaded the servant girl with unreasonable tasks, and ordered her to sleep on the hard ground! Often she suffered her to live in filth and darkness; often she refused her foul water for her thirst. Jupiter can you not help Antiope’s deep trouble? Heavy chains scar her wrists. If you’re a god, your girl’s slavery’s a shame on you: whom but Jupiter should Antiope cry to when fettered?
Yet, by herself, with whatever strength was in her body, she broke the royal manacles with both hands. Then with frightened step she ran to Cithaeron’s heights. It was night, and her sad couch sprinkled with frost. Often troubled by the echoing sound of the rushing Asopus, she thought that her mistress’ steps were behind her. Driven from her house, their mother tested her hard-hearted son Zethus, and her son Amphion easily moved to tears.
And as the sea ceases its vast heaving, when the East wind leaves its assault on the South-West, and the coast is quiet, and the sounds of the shore diminish, so the girl sank on her bended knees. Still piety came though late: her sons knew their error. Worthy old shepherd who reared Jupiter’s sons, you restored the mother to her boys, and they bound Dirce, to be dragged to death beneath the wild bull’s horns. Antiope, know Jupiter’s power: Dirce is your glory, dragged along to meet death in many places. Zethus’ fields are bloodied, and Amphion sings the Paeans from your cliffs, Aracynthus.
But be careful of tormenting Lycinna who does not deserve it: your headlong anger knows no retreat. May no story, about us, strike your ear: you alone will I love though burned in the funeral pyre.
Book III.16:1-30 A letter
Midnight, and a letter comes to me from my lady ordering me, without delay, to Tibur, where the white peaks show their twin towers, and Anio’s water falls in spreading pools. What to do? Commit myself to covering darkness, fearing audacious hands on my members? Yet if I ignore her message out of fear, her weeping will be worse than an enemy in the night. I sinned once, and suffered a year’s exclusion: her hands on me show no mercy.
Yet no one would hurt a sacred lover: he could go like this down the middle of Sciron’s road. Whoever’s a lover might walk on Scythia’s shore, with no one there so barbarous as to harm him. The Moon helps him on his way; the stars light the ruts; Love shakes the blazing torch up ahead; raging wild dogs avert their gaping jaws. The road’s safe at any time for such as him. Who’s so cruel as to scatter the impoverished blood of a lover and one whom Venus herself befriends?
But if I knew my certain death followed the event, perhaps such a fate would be worth more to me. She’ll bring perfumes and deck my tomb with garlands, and sit by my bust and guard it. You Gods don’t let her stick my bones in a crowded place, where the vulgar make a busy track of the highway! Lovers’ tombs, after death, are dishonoured by it. Let a leafy tree hide me in quiet ground, or bury me entrenched in unknown sands: it would give me no joy for my name to mark the street.
Book III.17:1-42 A Prayer to Bacchus
Now, O Bacchus, I prostrate myself humbly in front of your altars: father, give me tranquillity: prosper my passage. You can restrain the disdain of angry Venus, and there’s a medicine for sorrows in your wine. Lovers are joined by you, by you set free. Bacchus, cleanse this trouble from my soul. That you also are not innocent of love, Ariadne bears witness, drawn through the sky by lynxes of yours to the stars.
This disease that has kept the flame in my bones from of old, the funeral pyre or your wine will heal. A sober night is always a torment for lonely lovers, and hope and fear strain their spirits this way and that.
But if your gifts by heating my brain summon sleep to my bones, then I’ll sow vines and plant the hills in rows, watching, myself, to see no creature harms them. If only I can crown my vats with purple unfermented wine, and the new grape stain my trampling feet, then what’s left of my life I’ll live by you and your horns, and Bacchus, they’ll say I’m the poet who sang your worth.
I’ll tell how your mother gave birth from Etna’s lightning bolt; of the Indian warriors routed by Nysa’s dancers; of Lycurgus raging vainly at the new-found vine; of Pentheus’s death pleasing to the three-fold Maenads; and the Tuscan sailors in the curved bodies of dolphins sliding into the depths from the vine-tangled ship; and sweet-smelling streams for you through the midst of Dia, from which the Naxian people drank your wine.
Your white neck burdened with trailing clusters of ivy-berries, Bassareus, a Lydian turban crowns your hair. Your smooth throat glistening with scented oil, the flowing robe will brush your naked feet. Dircean Thebes will beat the soft drums, and goat-footed Pans will play on unstopped reeds. Nearby the Great Goddess, Cybele, with turreted crown, will clash harsh cymbals in the Idaean dance. The mixing bowl will stand by your temple doors, to pour wine on your sacrifice from the golden ladle.
These I’ll tell of not humbly, but in elevated style, in such a breath as sounded from Pindar’s lips. Only do you set me free from this despotic servitude, and overcome this anxious mind with sleep.
Book III.18:1-34 The death of Marcellus, Augustus’s nephew.
Where the sea, barred from shadowy Lake Avernus, plays by Baiae’s steamy pools of water; where Misenus, trumpeter of Troy, lies in the sand, and the road built by Hercules’s effort sounds; there, where the cymbals clashed for the Theban god when he sought to favour the cities of men – but now Baiae hateful with this great crime, what hostile god exists in your waters? – there, burdened, Marcellus sank his head beneath Stygian waves, and now his spirit haunts your lake.
What profit did he get from birth, courage, or the best of mothers, from being embraced at Caesar’s hearth? Or, a moment ago, the waving awnings in the crowded theatre, and everything fondled by his mother’s hands? He is dead, and his twentieth year left ruined: so bright a day confined in so small a circle.
Go now, indulge your imagination, dream of your triumphs, enjoy the whole theatre’s standing ovation, outdo Attalus’s cloths of gold, and let the great games be all a glitter: you’ll yet yield them to the flames. All must still go there, high or low of station: though evil, this road’s frequented by all: the triple-headed baying hound, Cerberus, must be entreated, the grim old boatman Charon’s common ferry must be boarded. Though a cautious man sheathe himself in iron or bronze, death will still drag down his hidden head.
No beauty saved Nireus, no courage Achilles, no wealth Croesus, produced from Pactolus’s streams. This was the sadness that unknowingly ravaged the Achaeans, when Agamemnon’s new passion cost them dear.
Let them carry this body void of its soul, to you, Boatman, that ferries across the dutiful shades: where Marcus Claudius conqueror of Sicily’s land, and Julius Caesar are, he leaves mankind, takes the path to the stars.
Book III.19:1-28 Female desire
You often taunt me with my passion: believe me, it controls you more. You, when you’ve snapped the reins of that modesty you despise, can set no limits to your mind ensnared. A fire in burning corn will sooner be quenched, the rivers return to the founts where they were born, the Syrtes offer quiet harbour, and Cape Malea offer the sailor a kind welcome on its wild shore, than any man be able to restrain your course, or curb the spurs of your impetuous wantonness.
Witness Pasiphae who suffered the disdain of the Cretan bull and wore the deceptive horns of the wooden cow; witness Tyro, Salmoneus’s daughter, burning for Thessalian Enipeus, longing to yield completely to the river-god. Myrrha too is a reproach, on fire for her aged father, buried in the foliage of a new-created tree. Why need I mention Medea, who, in her time as a mother, satisfied her fury by the murder of her children? Or Clytemnestra through whom the whole House of Mycenean Pelops remains infamous for her adultery?
And you Scylla, oh, sold on Minos’ beauty, shore off your father’s kingdom with his purple lock of hair. That was the dowry the virgin pledged his foe! Nisus, treacherous love opened your city gates. And you, unmarried ones, burn torches of happier omen: the girl clutched the Cretan ship and was dragged away.
Still Minos does not sit as a judge in Hell without reason: though he conquered, he was merciful to his foe.
Book III.20:1-30 A new contract of Love
Do you think the man you’ve seen set sail from your couch remembers your beauty now? Cruel the man who could exchange his girl for riches! Was all Africa worth as much as those tears? But you, foolish girl, think idle words are gods. Perhaps he wears out his heart on another passion.
Beauty is your power, the chaste arts that are Minerva’s, and brilliant glory reflects on you from your grandfather’s learning. Your house is fortunate, if only your lover is true. I’ll be true: run, girl, to my bed!
First the terms must be laid out, and the pledges sealed, and the contract written for my new love. Amor with his own seal binds these tokens: the witness, the whirling crown of Ariadne, starry goddess.
How many hours must give way to my discourse, before Venus urges sweet battle on us! For, if the bed’s not bound round with certain terms, nights without sleep have no gods to avenge them, and passion soon loosens the chains it imposed. Let the first omens keep us loyal.
So then, who breaks the pledges sworn on the altars, and dishonours the nuptial rites on a strange bed, let him know all the miseries love is used to: may he offer his person to sly gossip, and may his mistress’ window not open to his weeping at night: may he love forever, and forever lack love’s fruition.
Book III.21:1-34 Recipes for quenching love
I’m compelled to set out on the long route to learned Athens, so the journey’s distance might free me of love’s burden. For love for my girl grows with constant gazing: love offers itself as its greatest nourishment.
I’ve tried every way, by which love can be put to flight: but the god himself presses on every side. Still she’ll barely ever admit me, often denies me: or if she comes sleeps fully clothed at the edge of the bed. There’s only one solution: changing countries, love will travel as far from my mind, as Cynthia from my eyes.
Let’s go then, my friends, launch our ship on the sea, and draw lots in pairs for your turn at the oars. Hoist happy sails to the tops of the masts: now the wind favours the sailor’s watery path. Towers of Rome, and you, my friends, farewell, and farewell you too, girl, whatever you meant to me!
So now I’ll be carried off, the Adriatic’s untried guest, and now be forced to approach with prayers the gods of the sounding wave. Then when my boat has crossed the Ionian Sea and dropped its sails in Lechaeum’s placid waters, hurry feet, to endure the task that’s left, where the fields of the Isthmus keep back either sea. Then, where the shores of Piraeus’s harbour greet me, I’ll climb the long reaches of Theseus’ road.
There will I mend my soul in Plato’s School, or in your Gardens, learned Epicurus; or pursue Demosthenes’ weapon, the study of oratory; the salty wit of your books, learned Menander; or ornate pictures will captivate my eyes; or what hands have finished in ivory, or more frequently in bronze.
Either the passage of years, or the long spaces of the deep will heal the wounds in my silent breast: or if I die, fate will crush me, not shameful love: and the day of death will be an honour to me.
Book III.22:1-42 Come home Tullus
Tullus has cool Cyzicus pleased you all these years, where the isthmus flows with Propontus’ waters? And Cybele of Dindymus fashioned from carved tusks; and the path run by the horses of Dis the rapist? Though the cities of Helle, daughter of Athamas, delight you, perhaps, Tullus, you’ll still be moved by my longing.
Though you gaze at Atlas holding up the sky; or the head of Medusa severed by Perseus’s hand; the stables of Geryon; or the marks, in the dust, of Hercules and Antaeus, or of the Hesperides’ dances: though your oarsmen drive back the Colchian River Phasis, follow the whole route of those timbers cut on Pelion, a rough pine tree cut to the form of a new prow, sailed through the rocks led by Argos’ dove: though Ortygia is to be seen and the shores of Cayster, and the Nile water governing seven channels: all these miracles give way to Roman lands: here nature has placed all that has ever been. It’s a land better fitted for defence than for attack: Fame is not ashamed of your history Rome. Since our power is established by loyalty as much as weapons, our wrath restrains victorious hands.
Here flows Tibur’s Anio; Clitumnus from Umbrian tracks; and Marcius’s works with eternal water; Alba’s lake and Nemi thick with leaves, and the healing spring Pollux’s horse drank. But no horned snakes slither on scaly bellies: Italian waters are not seething with strange monsters. Here Andromeda’s chains do not clink for her mother’s sin; no Phoebus flees Ausonian banquets in terror; no distant fires have burned a single person, as Althaea brought about her son Meleager’s ruin. No savage Bacchantes hunt Pentheus through the trees, nor are Greek ships set free by the substitution of a doe. Juno has no power to curve horns from her rival’s brow, or disfigure her beauty with a cow’s ugliness. No torturing trees of Sinis, nor rocks that gave no welcome to the Greeks; nor beams curved to one’s fate.
This place gave you birth, Tullus, this is your sweetest home, here is honour to seek, worthy of your people. Here are citizens for your oratory: here is ample hope of offspring, and the fitting love of a future wife.
Book III.23:1-24 The lost writing tablets
So, my cunning writing-tablets are lost, then, and so are many good texts too! They were worn away by my hand’s former usage, and they sought good faith by not being sealed. Moreover they knew how to pacify girls, without me, and how without me to utter eloquent words. No gold fittings made them precious: they were dingy wax on ordinary boxwood. Such as they were they stayed ever-faithful to me, and always produced a good effect.
Perhaps the tablets were entrusted with these words: ‘I am angry because you were late yesterday, you laggard. Or did someone else seem lovelier to you? Or did you spread some unkind slander about me?’ Or she said: ‘Come today, we’ll rest together: all night, Love has been preparing a welcome.’ And whatever else a willing and talkative girl invents when she sets a time, with flattering wiles.
Oh well, now some miser writes his accounts on them, and places them with his dire ledgers! Whoever gives me them back can have gold: who would keep pieces of wood and not have money? Go boy, and quickly stick these words on some column, and write that your master lives on the Esquiline.
Book III.24:1-20 Coming to his senses
Woman the faith you place in your beauty is mistaken: for a while now my eyes have made you far too proud. My love has paid such tributes to you Cynthia it shames me that you’re honoured by my verse.
I often praised the many beauties combined in you, because love thought you were what you are not. Your aspect was often compared with rosy Dawn, though the beauty of your face was all done by hand: my father’s friends couldn’t divert me from it, nor any Thessalian witch, with the wide sea, wash it away. This I confess, in truth, not compelled by knife or flame, wrecked on Aegean waters, I was seized and seethed in Venus’s cruel cauldron: I was bound, my hands twisted behind my back.
Behold, my wreathed boats reach harbour, the Syrtes are past, and I cast anchor. I come to my senses now at last, weary of the wild surge, and my wounds are closed and healed.
Book III.25:1-18 The End of the Affair
I was laughed at among the guests seated for the banquet, and whoever wished was able to gossip of me. I managed to serve you faithfully for five years: you’ll often grieve for my loyalty with bitten nails.
Tears have no effect on me: I was ensnared by those wiles: Cynthia you only ever wept with guile. I will weep, in departing, but insult overcomes tears: you would not allow the yoke to move in harmony.
Now goodbye to the threshold weeping at my words: to the entrance never hurt by my hand in anger. But let age’s weight burden you with secret years and luckless lines furrow your features! May you long then to tear out your white hairs by their roots, ah, when the mirror rebukes you with your wrinkles, and may you in turn, rejected, suffer proud arrogance, and, changed to an old woman, regret your deeds!
These are the dread events my pages prophesy: learn to fear the fate of your beauty!
End of Book III