Propertius: The Elegies
Translated by A. S. Kline© Copyright 2002, 2008 All Rights Reserved.
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- Book II.1:1-78 To Maecenas: His subject matter
- Book II.2:1-16 Her beauty
- Book II.3:1-54 Her qualities and graces.
- Book II.4:1-22 His mistress’s harshness.
- Book II.5:1-30 Sinful Cynthia
- Book II.6:1-42 His jealousy
- Book II.7:1-20 Lifting of the law that bachelors must marry
- Book II.8:1-12 She’s leaving him
- Book II.8A:13-40 Propertius scorned
- Book II.9:1-52 Cynthia’s new lover
- Book II.10:1-26 A change of style needed.
- Book II.11:1-6 ‘Let other men write about you’
- Book II.12:1-24 A portrait of Amor
- Book II.13:1-16 His wish for Cynthia’s appreciation of his verse
- Book II.13A:17-58 His wishes for his funeral
- Book II.14:1-32 Reconciliation
- Book II.15:1-54 Joy in true love
- Book II.16:1-56 Cynthia faithless
- Book II.17:1-18 His faithfulness, though ignored
- Book II.18:1-4 Lover’s Stoicism
- Book II.18A:5-22 Youth and Age
- Book II.18B:23-38 Painted Lady
- Book II.19:1-32 Cynthia is off to the country
- Book II.20:1-36 His loyalty
- Book II.21:1-20 Cynthia deceived by Panthus
- Book II.22:1-42 His philandering
- Book II.22A:43-50 False promises
- Book II.23:1-24 The advantage of a bought woman
- Book II.24:1-16 Propertius’s book well-known
- Book II.24A:17-52 Recriminations
- Book II.25:1-48 Constancy and Inconstancy
- Book II.26:1-20 A dream of shipwreck
- Book II.26A:21-58 Faithful love
- Book II.27:1-16 Fate and Love
- Book II.28:1-46 Cynthia is ill
- Book II.28A:47-62 Transience
- Book II.29:1-22 Drunk and out late
- Book II.29A:23-42 Waking Cynthia
- Book II.30:1-40 No escape from Love
- Book II.31:1-16 The New Colonnade
- Book II.32:1-62 Cynthia talked about
- Book II.33:1-22 Cynthia performing the rites
- Book II.33A:23-44 Cynthia drinking late
Book II.1:1-78 To Maecenas: His subject matter
If you would have her move in a gleam of Cos, this whole book will be Coan silk: if ever I saw straying hair cloud her forehead, she joys to walk, pride in her worshipped tresses: or if ivory fingers draw songs from the lyre, I marvel what fingering sweeps the strings: or if she closes eyelids, calling on sleep, I come to a thousand reasons for verse: or if naked she wrestles me, free of our clothes, then in truth we make whole Iliads: whatever she does or says, a great tale’s born from nothing.
Maecenas, even if fate had given me the strength to lead crowds of heroes to war, I’d not sing Titans; Ossa on Olympus, with Pelion a road to Heaven; or ancient Thebes; or Troy that made Homer’s name; or split seas meeting at Xerxes’s order; Remus’s first kingdom, or the spirit of proud Carthage, or the German threat and Marius’s service. I’d remember the wars of your Caesar, his doings, and you, under mighty Caesar, my next concern.
As often as I sang Mutina; Philippi, the citizens graveyard; the sea-fights in that Sicilian rout; the ruined Etruscan fires of the former race; Ptolemy’s Pharos, its captive shore; or sang of Egypt and Nile, when crippled, in mourning, he ran through the city, with seven imprisoned streams; or the necks of kings hung round with golden chains; or Actium’s prows on the Sacred Way; my Muse would always weave you into those wars, mind loyal at making or breaking peace.
Achilles gave witness of a friend’s love to the gods, Theseus to the shades, one that of Patroclus, son of Menoetius, the other of Pirithous, Ixion’s son. But Callimachus’s frail chest could not thunder out Jupiter’s struggle with the giant Enceladus, over the Phlegrean Plain, nor have I the strength of mind to carve Caesar’s line, back to Phrygian forebears, in hard enough verse.
The sailor talks of breezes: the ploughman, of oxen: the soldier counts wounds, the shepherd counts his sheep: I in my turn count sinuous flailings in narrowest beds: let every man spend the day where he can, in his art. Glorious to die in love: a further glory, if it’s given, to us, to love only once: O may I enjoy my love alone!
If I’m right, she finds fault with dubious women, and disapproves of the whole Iliad because of Helen.
Though it be for me to taste Phaedra’s chalice, from which Hippolytus took no harm; or for me to die of Circe’s herbs; or for Medea to heat the Colchian cauldron over Iolcus’s fire; yet since one woman alone has stolen my senses, it’s from her house my funeral cortege shall go.
Medicine cures all human sorrows: only love likes no doctor for its disease. Machaon healed Philoctetes’ limping feet; Chiron, Phillyra’s son, the eyes of Phoenix; Asclepius, the Epidaurian god, returned Androgeon to his father’s hearth, by means of Cretan herbs, and Telephus, the Mysian warrior, from Achilles’s Haemonian spear by which he had his wound, by that self-same spear, knew relief.
If any one can take away my illness, he alone can put apples in Tantalus’s hand: he’ll fill urns from the virgin Danaids’ jars, lest their tender necks grow heavy with unloosed water; he’ll free Prometheus’s arms from Caucasian cliffs, and drive the vulture from his heart.
So, whenever the Fates demand my life, and I end as a brief name in slight marble, Maecenas, the hope and envy of our youth, true glory of my death or life, if by chance your road takes you by my tomb, halt your British chariot with chased yoke, and as you weep, pen these words in the silent dust: ‘A hard mistress was this wretch’s fate.’
Book II.2:1-16 Her beauty
I was free, and thought to enjoy an empty bed: but though I arranged my peace, Amor betrayed me. Why does such human beauty linger on Earth? Jupiter I forgive you your rapes of old. Yellow her hair, and slender her hands, her figure all sublime, and her walk as noble as Jupiter’s sister, or Pallas Athene, going to Dulichian altars, her breasts covered by the Gorgon’s snaky locks.
She is lovely as Ischomache, the Lapith’s demi-goddess, sweet plunder for the Centaurs at the marriage feast, or Hecate by the sacred waters of Boebeis, resting, a virgin goddess, it is said, by Mercury’s side. And you Goddesses yield whom shepherd Paris once saw, when you laid your clothes aside for him on Ida’s mountain slopes! I wish that the years might never touch that beauty, yet she outlast the ages of the Sibyl of Cumae.
Book II.3:1-54 Her qualities and graces.
You who said that nothing could touch you now, you’re caught: that pride of yours is fallen! You can hardly find rest for a single month, poor thing, and now there’ll be another disgraceful book about you.
I tried whether a fish could live on dry sand it has never known before, or a savage wild boar in the sea, or whether I could keep stern studies’ watch by night: love is deferred but never destroyed.
It was not her face, bright as it is, that won me (lilies are not more white than my lady; as if Maeotic snows contended with the reds of Spain, or rose-petals swam in purest milk) nor her hair, ordered, flowing down her smooth neck, nor her eyes, twin fires, that are my starlight, nor the girl shining in Arabian silk (I am no lover flattering for nothing): but how beautifully she dances when the wine is set aside, like Ariadne taking the lead among the ecstatic cries of the Maenads, and how when she sets herself to sing in the Sapphic style, she plays with the skill of Aganippe’s lyre, and joins her verse to that of ancient Corinna, and thinks Erinna’s songs inferior to her own.
When you were born, mea vita, did Love, dressed in white, not sneeze a clear omen for you, in your first hours of daylight? The gods granted you these heavenly gifts: in case you think your mother gave them to you: such gifts beyond the human are not inborn: these graces were not a nine-month creation. You are born to be the unique glory of Roman girls: you’ll be the first Roman girl to sleep with Jove, and never visit mortal beds amongst us. The beauty of Helen returns a second time to Earth.
Why should I marvel now that our youths are on fire with her? It would have been more glorious for you, Troy, to have perished because of this. I used to marvel a girl could have caused so mighty a war, Asia versus Europe at Pergama. But Paris, and Menelaus, you were wise, Menelaus demanding her return, Paris slow to reply. That face was something: that even Achilles died for: even to Priam a proven cause for war. If any man wants to outdo the fame of ancient paintings, let him take my lady as model for his art: If he shows her to the East, to the West, he’ll inflame the West, and inflame the East.
At least let me keep within bounds! Or if it should be a further love comes to me, let it be fiercer and let me die. Just as the ox at first rejects the plough, but later accepts the yoke and goes quiet to the fields, so spirited youth frets at first, in love, but takes the rough with the smooth later, tamed. Melampus the prophet, accepted shame in chains, convicted of stealing Iphiclus’s cattle, but Pero’s great beauty drove him not profit, she his bride to be in Amythaons’ house.
Book II.4:1-22 His mistress’s harshness.
First you must often grieve, at your mistress’s wrongs towards you, often requesting something, often being rejected. And often chew your helpless fingernails between your teeth, and tap the ground nervously with your foot, in anger!
My hair was drenched with scent: no use: nor my departing feet, delaying, with measured step. Magic roots are worth nothing here, nor Colchian witch of night, nor herbs distilled by Perimede’s hand, since we see no cause or visible blow anywhere: still, it’s a dark path such evils come by.
The patient needs no doctor, no soft bed: it’s not the wind or weather hurts him. He walks about – yet suddenly his funeral startles his friends. Whatever love is, it’s unforeseen like this. What deceitful fortune-teller have I not been victim of, what old woman has not pondered my dreams ten times?
If anyone wants to be my enemy, let him desire girls: yet delight in boys if he wants to be my friend. You slide down the tranquil stream in a boat in safety: how can such tiny waves from the bank hurt you? Often his mood alters with a single word: she will scarcely be satisfied with your blood.
Book II.5:1-30 Sinful Cynthia
Is it true all Rome is talking of you, Cynthia, and you live in unveiled wantonness? Did I expect or deserve this? I’ll deal punishment, faithless girl, and my breeze will blow somewhere else. I’ll find one of all those deceitful women who want to be made famous by my songs, one who won’t taunt me with such harsh ways: she’ll insult you: ah, so long loved, you’ll weep, yet it’s too late.
Now my anger’s fresh, now’s the time to go: if pain returns, believe me, love will too. The Carpathian waves don’t change in the northerlies as swiftly, nor the black cloud in a shifting southwest gale, as lovers’ anger alters at a word. While you can, take your neck from the unjust yoke. Then you won’t grieve at all, except for the very first night. All love’s evils are slight, if you are patient.
But, by the gentle laws of our lady Juno, mea vita, stop hurting yourself on purpose. It’s not just the bull that strikes with a curving horn at its aggressor, even a sheep, it’s true, opposes the foe. I won’t rip the clothes off your lying flesh, or break open your closed doors, or tear your plaited hair in anger, or dare to bruise you with my hard fists. Let some ignoramus look for quarrels as shabby as these, a man whose head no ivy ever encircled. I’ll go write: what your lifetime won’t rub away: ‘Cynthia, strong in beauty: Cynthia light in word.’ Trust me, though you defy scandal’s murmur, this verse, Cynthia, will make you pale.
Book II.6:1-42 His jealousy
There was never so much crowding round Lais’s house in Corinth, at whose doors all of Greece knelt down, never such a swarm for Menander’s Thais with whom the Athenians once amused themselves. Nor for Phryne, so rich from many lovers, she might have rebuilt the ruined walls of Thebes.
Why, you even invent false relatives, and don’t lack for those who’ve the right to kiss you. The faces of young men in your paintings, and their names, annoy me, even the tender voiceless boy in the cradle. I’m wounded if your mother smothers you in kisses, your sister, or the girlfriend you sleep with. Everything hurts me: I’m afraid: (forgive my fear) and, wretched, suspect a man under every shift.
Once, so the tale is, wars occurred for jealousies like these: see here the origins of Troy’s destruction. The same madness made the Centaurs smash wine-cups, violently fighting Pirithous. Why seek Greek examples? You were the author of that crime, Romulus, reared on a she-wolf’s savage milk: you taught them to rape Sabine virgins, and go free: through you, Love dares what he pleases now in Rome.
Admetus’s wife, Alcestis, was blessed, and Ulysses’s bed-mate, Penelope, and every woman who loves her husband’s home! What use is it girls, building temples in honour of Chastity, if every bride’s allowed to do what she wants?
The hand that first painted obscene pictures and set up disgraceful things to view in innocent homes corrupted the unknowing eyes of young girls, and denied them ignorance of sin itself. Oh, let him groan who sent abroad, through art, the trouble latent in silent pleasures! Once, they’d not deck their houses with those images: then, the walls weren’t painted with sin. Not without cause cobwebs wreathe the shrines, and rank weeds clothe neglected gods.
What guards shall I set for you, then, what lintel that no hostile foot shall ever cross? For a sad prison will achieve nothing against your will. She’s only safe, Cynthia, who’s ashamed to sin. No wife or mistress will ever seduce me: you’ll always be my mistress, and my wife.
Book II.7:1-20 Lifting of the law that bachelors must marry
Cynthia was overjoyed, of course, when that law was repealed: we’d wept for ages in case it might divide us. Though Jupiter himself can’t separate two lovers against their will. ‘But Caesar’s mighty.’ But Caesar’s might’s in armies: conquered people are worth nothing in love.
I’d sooner suffer my head being parted from my body than quench this fire to humour a bride, or as a husband pass by your sealed threshold, and, having betrayed it, look back with streaming eyes. Ah, what sleep my flute would sing you to then, a flute sadder than a funeral trumpet!
Is it for me to supply sons for our country’s triumphs? There’ll be no soldiers from my line. But if I follow the true camp of my mistress, Castor’s horse will not be grand enough for me. It was in fact through this my glory gained such a name, glorious as far as the wintry Dneiper. You’re the only one who pleases me: let me please you, Cynthia, alone: that love will be more to me than being called ‘father’.
Book II.8:1-12 She’s leaving him
She’s being torn away from me, the girl I’ve loved so long, and, friend, do you stop me shedding tears? No enmities are bitter but those of love: cut my throat indeed and I’ll be a milder enemy. Can I watch her leaning on another’s arm, she, no longer called mine, called mine a moment ago?
All things may be overturned: surely, love’s affairs may be so: you win or lose: this is the wheel of love. Often, great leaders, great tyrants have fallen: and Thebes stood once, and there was noble Troy. Many as the gifts I gave, many as the songs I made: yet she, the cruel one, never said: ‘I love.’
Book II.8A:13-40 Propertius scorned
So, cruel girl, through all the years now, have I, who supported you and your household, have I ever seemed a free man to you? Perhaps you’ll always hurl scornful words at my head?
So, will you die, like this, Propertius, you who are still young? Then die: let her rejoice at your death! Let her disturb my ghost, and harass my shade, insult my pyre, and trample on my bones! Why! Didn’t Haemon of Boeotia, his flank wounded by his own sword, fall by Antigone’s tomb, and mingle his bones with those of the luckless girl, not wishing to return to the palace of Thebes without her? But you, also, man, will not escape: you should die with me: both our blood will trickle from this same blade. However much my coming death shames me, shameful though it be indeed, you will die it too. The Theban princes fell in no less dire a war for a kingdom, their mother torn between them, than if we fought, my girl between us, I, not fleeing my own death if I could achieve yours.
Even Achilles, left alone, his mistress taken, let his sword rest there in his tent. He saw the Achaeans fleeing, then mangled on the beach, the Dorian camp ablaze with Hector’s torch: he saw Patroclus hideous with sand, stone dead, blood in his outspread hair: and he suffered that because of fair Briseis. Grief rages, so deeply, when love is torn away. Then when his captive girl was given back in retribution, he dragged that same brave Hector behind his Thessalian steeds.
No wonder that Amor triumphs over me, since I am so much the lesser in birth or arms.
Book II.9:1-52 Cynthia’s new lover
That which he is, I was, often: but perhaps one day he’ll be thrown away, and another dearer to you.
Penelope was able to live un-touched for twenty years, a woman worthy of so many suitors. She evaded marriage by her cunning weaving, cleverly unravelling each day’s weft by night: and though she never hoped to see her Ulysses again, she waited, growing old, for his return. Briseis, too, clutching dead Achilles, beat at her own bright face with frenzied hands, and, a weeping slave, she bathed her bloodstained lord, as he lay by the yellow waters of Simois, besmirched her hair, and lifted the mighty bones and flesh of great Achilles with her weak hands. Peleus was not with you then Achilles, nor your sea-goddess mother, nor Scyrian Deidamia, bereaved in her bed.
So it was that Greece, then, was happy in its true daughters: then honour was respected even in the camps. But you, you, impious girl, can’t stay free a single night, or remain alone a single day! Why, you both drink from the cup, laughing away: and perhaps there are wicked words about me. You even chase after him, who left you once before. The gods grant you may enjoy being slave to that man!
Were they for this, the vows I undertook for your health, when the waters of Styx had all but gone over your head, and we friends stood, weeping, round your bed? Where was he, by the gods, faithless girl, what on earth was he then to you?
What if I was a soldier, detained in far-off India, or my ship was stationed on the Ocean? But it’s easy for you to weave lies and deceits: that’s one art that women have always learned. The Syrtes’ shoals don’t change as swiftly in shifting storms: the leaves don’t tremble as fast in the wintry South-west gale, as a woman’s given word fails in her anger, whether the cause is weighty, or whether the cause is slight.
Now, since this wilfulness pleases you, I concede. I beg you, Boys, bring out your sharper arrows, compete at shooting me, and free me of my life! My blood will prove great honour to you.
The stars are witnesses, girl, and the frost at dawn, and the doors that opened secretly for unhappy me that nothing in my life was ever as dear to me as you: and you will be, forever, too, though you’re so unkind to me. No woman will leave a trace in my bed: I’ll be alone, since I can’t be yours. And I wish, if perhaps I’ve lead a pious life, for that man, in the midst of love, to turn to stone!
Book II.10:1-26 A change of style needed.
Now it’s time to circle Helicon to other metres; time to give the Thessalian horse its run of the field. Now I want to talk about squadrons brave in fight, and mention my leader’s Roman camp. But if I lack the power, then surely my courage will be praised: it’s enough simply to have willed great things.
Let first youth sing of Love, the end of life of tumult: I sing war now my girl is done. Now, I want to set out with more serious aspect: now my Muse teaches me on a different lute. Surge, mind: vigour now, away from these low songs, Muses: now this work will be large-voiced, thus:
‘Euphrates now rejects Parthian cavalry protection, and mourns that he reduced Crassus’s presence. Even India, Augustus, bows its neck to your triumph, and Arabia’s virgin house trembles at you; and if any country removes itself to the furthest ends of the earth, let it feel your hand later, once it’s captive.’
I’m a follower of camps like this: I’ll be a great poet singing of your camp: let the fates oversee that day!
When we can’t reach the head of some tall statue, and the garland is set before its lowly feet, so now, helpless to embark on a song of praise, I offer cheap incense from a poor man’s rites. My verses as yet know not Hesiod’s founts of Ascra: Love has only washed them in Permessus, Apollo’s stream.
Book II.11:1-6 ‘Let other men write about you’
Let other men write about you, or yourself be all unknown. Let the man who sows his seed in barren soil praise you. All your gifts, believe me, that dark funeral day will be borne away with you, on the one bed: and he’ll despise your dust, the man who passes by: he’ll not say: ‘This ash was once a learned maid.’
Book II.12:1-24 A portrait of Amor
Whoever he was who first depicted Amor as a boy, don’t you think it was a wonderful touch? He was the first to see that lovers live without sense, and that great good is lost in trivial cares. Also, with meaning, he added the wings of the wind, and made the god hover in the human heart: true, since we’re thrown about on shifting winds, and the breeze never lingers in one place.
And it’s right that his hand should grip barbed arrows, and the Cretan quiver hang across his shoulders, since he hits us before we safely see the enemy, and no one escapes unwounded from his hurt.
His darts remain with me, and his form, a boy, but surely he must have lost his wings, since he never stirs anywhere but in my heart, and, oh, wages endless war in my blood.
What joy is it for you, Amor, to inhabit my thirsty heart? If you know shame, transfer your war elsewhere: better to try those innocent of your poison. It’s not me you hit: it’s only my tenuous shadow.
If you destroy me, who’ll be left to sing like this? (This slender Muse of mine is your great glory.) Who will sing the face, the hands, or the dark eyes of my girl, or how sweetly her footsteps are accustomed to fall.
Book II.13:1-16 His wish for Cynthia’s appreciation of his verse
Erythra’s not armed with as many Persian shafts, as the arrows Love has fixed in my chest. He ordered me not to despise the lesser Muses and told me to live like this in Ascra’s grove: not so that the oaks of Mount Pierus would follow my sweet words, or so I could lead wild creatures down to Ismara’s valley, but more that Cynthia might wonder at my verse. Then I’d be better known in my art than the Argive, Linus.
I’m not merely an admirer of beauty and virtue, or the fact a woman says her ancestors are famous. It’s my joy to have read in the arms of a learned girl, and to have my writing proved by her discerning ear. Sampling that goodbye to the muddled talk of the people: since I’ll be secure with my lady as my judge.
If, perhaps, she turned her mind to peace with kindness, I might then withstand Jupiter’s enmity.
Book II.13A:17-58 His wishes for his funeral
When death closes my eyes at last, then, hear what shall serve as my funeral. No long spread-out procession of images for me: no empty trumpeting to wail my end. Don’t smooth out a bed there on ivory posts for me then, no corpse on a couch, pressing down mounds of Attalic cloth of gold. Forget the line of perfumed dishes for me: include the mundane offerings of a plebeian rite.
Enough for me, and more than enough: if three little books form my procession, those I take as my greatest gift to Persephone.
And surely you’ll follow: scratches on your bare breasts; and never weary of calling my name; and place the last kiss on my frozen lips, when the onyx jar with its Syrian nard is granted. Then when the fire beneath turns me to ashes let the little jar receive my shade, and over my poor tomb add a laurel, to cast shadow on the place where my flame died, and let there be this solitary couplet:
HE WHO LIES HERE, NOW, BUT COARSE DUST,
ONCE SERVED ONE LOVE, AND ONE ALONE.
So the fame of my tomb will be no less than that of the grave of blood, of Achilles the hero. And when you too approach your end, remember: come, grey-haired, this way, to the stones of memory. For the rest, beware of being unkind to my tomb: earth is aware and never wholly ignorant of truth.
How I wish any one of the Three Sisters had ordered me to give up my breath at the first, and in my cradle. Why is the spirit preserved, yet, for an unknown hour? Nestor’s pyre was seen after three generations: yet, if some Phrygian soldier, from the walls of Troy, had cut short his fated old age, he would have never have seen his son, Antilochus, buried, or cried out: ‘O Death, why come so slowly?’
Yet you, when a friend is lost some time, will weep: it’s a law of the gods, this care for past men. Witness the fierce wild boar that once felled white Adonis, as he hunted along the ridge of Ida; there in the marsh, they say, his beauty lay, and you, Venus, ran there with out-spread hair. Yet you’ll call back my voiceless shade in vain, Cynthia: what power will my poor bones have to speak?
Book II.14:1-32 Reconciliation
Agamemnon did not joy like this over his triumph at Troy, when Laomedon’s great wealth went down to ruin: Ulysses was no happier, when, his wanderings done, he touched the shore of his beloved Ithaca: nor Electra, on finding Orestes safe, when she’d cried, as a sister, clasping what she thought his ashes: nor Ariadne, Minos’ daughter, seeing Theseus return unharmed, with her guiding thread, out of Daedalus’s maze: as I with the joys I gathered last night. I’ll be immortal if there’s another like it. Yet when I used to go with a suppliant’s hanging head, she spoke of me as worth less than a dried up pond.
She doesn’t try to oppose me now, with unjustified disdain, and can’t rest indifferent to my moans. I wish her peace terms had not been made known to me so late! Now the medicine’s wasted on the ashes. The path was under my feet and I was blind: no one of course can see when crazed with love.
This attitude I have found the best: lovers, show disdain! She comes today, who yesterday said no.
Others, frustrated, knocked, and called my lady’s name: the girl, at ease, laid her head by mine. This victory’s more than conquering far Parthia to me: she’s my spoil: my chariot: my riches. I’ll add rich gifts to your sanctuary’s columns Cytherea, and this will be the verse below my name:
GODDESS, PROPERTIUS SETS THESE SPOILS BEFORE YOUR TEMPLE: HE WAS RECEIVED AS A LOVER FOR ONE WHOLE NIGHT
Now, mea lux, shall my ship preserved come to your shores, or sink, fully laden, in the shallows? For if you change towards me, perhaps through some fault of mine, let me lie down dying at your threshold!
Book II.15:1-54 Joy in true love
O happy me! O night that shines for me! And O you bed made blessed by delights! How many words thrashed out when the light was near us, what striving together when light was taken away! Now with naked breasts she struggles against me, now, tunic gathered, demands delay. She, with her lips, opening my eyelids weary with sleep, and saying: ‘Is this how you lie here, laggard?’
Our arms were varied in how many changing embraces! How long my kisses lingered on your lips!
No joy in corrupting Venus to a blind motion: know, if you do not, the eyes are the guides of Love. They say Paris himself was ruined by the Spartan, Helen, as she rose naked from the bed of Menelaus. And Endymion, they say, was naked: arousing Diana, he lay beside the naked goddess.
But if you insist from pride in lying there dressed, you’ll feel my hands ripping your clothes: what’s more if anger provokes me any further, you’ll be showing bruised arms to your mother. Sagging breasts don’t stop you from toying yet: let them think of it that childbirth’s already shamed.
While the fates allow, we’ll sate our eyes with love: the long night comes, the day does not return. And I wish you’d bind us like this, clinging together, in chains that no day might ever unloose! Let doves coupled together in love prove your image: male and female wholly joined. He’s wrong who looks for an end to love’s madness: true love has no knowledge of limits. Earth will sooner taunt farmers with false spring; Sol the sun-god drive with black horses; streams call their waters backwards to their fountains; fish be stranded, and the deep dry land; sooner than I transfer my pangs to another: hers am I living, hers will I be in death.
But if she’ll grant me such nights with her as this, one year will seem as long as a lifetime. If she gives me many, I’ll be immortalised by them: even one night might make a man a god. If all men longed to pass their lives like this, and lay here, bodies held by draughts of wine, there’d be no vicious swords, or ships of war, nor would our bones be tossed in Actium’s deep, nor would Rome racked so often by rounds of private quarrels, be weary and grieving with loosened hair. This, at least, those who come after us should rightly praise: our cups of wine offended none of the gods.
You while the light lasts, then, don’t leave off life’s joys! Though you give all your kisses, they’ll prove all too few. As the leaves fall from dried garlands: as you see them scatter in cups and float there: so we, now, the lovers, who hope for great things, perhaps fate, tomorrow, will end our day.
Book II.16:1-56 Cynthia faithless
A praetor came, just now, from the land of Illyria: the greatest prize for you, the greatest worry for me. Why couldn’t he lose his life on the Ceraunian rocks? O, Neptune, what gifts I’d have given you!
Now banquets are given, tables burdened without me: now the door’s open all night, but not for me. Well, if you’re wise, don’t neglect the harvest on offer: strip the stupid animal of his whole fleece; then, when he’s but a pauper, his gifts all spent, tell him to sail to new Illyrias!
Can anybody buy her love with gifts, then? The shameful girl, she’s undone by money. She’s always sending me off to sea to look for jewels, and orders gifts from Tyre itself. I wish that no one in Rome was wealthy, that our Leader himself would live in a thatched cottage. Mistresses wouldn’t be saleable for a gift, and a girl would grow grey-haired in the one house. You’d never lie seven nights apart, your gleaming arms round so vile a man, and not because I’ve sinned (you’re the witness) but because everywhere lightness was always beauty’s friend. Excluded by birth, a barbarian stamps his foot, and now, suddenly blessed, he occupies my kingdom!
See what bitterness Eriphyla found in gifts, and with what misfortunes Creusa burned as a bride. Is there no insult sufficient to quench my tears? Surely this grief cannot be far behind your sins? So many days have gone by since any desire for the theatre or the arena stirred me, and food itself gives me no joy. I should be ashamed, oh, ashamed! But perhaps as they say sinful love is always deaf.
See Antony, that general, who a moment ago, filled Actium’s waves with the vain cries of lost soldiers: infamous love commanded him to recall his ships, turn his back, and run to the furthest corner of the globe. That is Caesar’s power and his glory: he who conquered sheathed the sword.
But, that man, whatever clothes he gave you, whatever emerald, or yellow-glowing topaz, I’d like to see swift-moving hurricanes whirl them to the void: I wish they were merely earth or water to you.
Jupiter won’t always smile at lovers’ faithlessness or turn deaf ears to their prayers. You’ve heard the thunderclap rumble through the sky, and the lightning bolt leap down from its airy home. Neither the Pleiades nor rainy Orion do these things: it’s not for nothing the angry lightning falls. It’s then the god chooses to punish deceitful girls, since he, himself, wept when he was once deceived.
So don’t let clothes from Sidon count so much that you’re frightened whenever the South wind bears a cloud.
Book II.17:1-18 His faithfulness, though ignored
To lie about the night, to lead a lover on with promises, that’s to own hands dyed with his blood! I’m the poet of these things, so often whiling away bitter nights alone, tossing from side to side in bed.
Whether you’re moved by Tantalus’s fate beside the water, parched as the liquid ebbs from his thirsty mouth, or whether you admire Sisyphus’s labour, rolling his awkward burden up all the mountain side: nothing in the world lives more harshly than a lover, nor, if you’re at all wise, is there anything that you’d wish less to be.
I whom envious admiration once considered happy, I too am hardly allowed entrance, now, one day in ten. Now by comparison, impious girl, I’d enjoy hurling my body from some hard rock, or taking powdered drugs in my fingers. I can’t even sleep at the crossroads under the clear moon, or send my words through the crack in the door.
But though it’s fact I’ll take care not to change my mistress: then she’ll cry, when she senses loyalty, in me.
Book II.18:1-4 Lover’s Stoicism
Continual complaints cause dislike in many: a woman is often moved by a silent man. If you’ve seen something, always deny you’ve seen! Or if anything happens to pain you, deny the pain!
Book II.18A:5-22 Youth and Age
What if my youth were white with age’s white hair and sagging wrinkles furrowed my brow? At least Aurora didn’t reject Tithonus, old, didn’t allow him to lie there lonely in the House of Dawn. She often fondled him, descending into her waters, before she bathed her yoked horses with care. She, when she rested in his arms, by neighbouring India, lamented that day returned too soon.
Climbing into her chariot she spoke of the gods’ injustice, and offered her services, unwillingly, to the world. Her joy was greater that old Tithonus was alive, than her grief was heavy at the loss of Memnon. A girl like that was not ashamed to sleep with the old, or press so many kisses on its white hair.
But you even hate my youth, unfaithful girl, though you’ll be a bowed old woman yourself, on a day not so far away. Still, I let care go, since Cupid is oft inclined to be harsh on the man to whom he once was kind.
Book II.18B:23-38 Painted Lady
Do you even imitate the Britons, now, stained with woad, you crazy girl, and play games, with foreign glitter on your face? Everything’s proper form is as Nature made it: Belgian colour looks foul on Roman cheeks. May there be many an evil for that girl, in the underworld, who, false and foolish, dyes her hair! Be rid of it: I’ll still see you as beautiful, truly: your beauty’s sufficient for me, if only you’ll come often. What! If some girl stains her forehead blue, does that mean dark blue beauty’s fine?
Since you’ve no brother left you and no son, I’ll be brother and son in one for you. Let your couch itself always guard you: and don’t desire to sit with your face over-painted.
I believe what rumour tells me: so refuse to do it: bad news leaps land and sea.
Book II.19:1-32 Cynthia is off to the country
Even though you’re leaving Rome against my wish, I’m glad, Cynthia, since you’re without me, you’re in the country, off the beaten track. There’ll be no young seducer in those chaste fields, one whose flatteries stop you being true; no fights will begin beneath your window; your sleep won’t be troubled by being called aloud.
You’ll be alone, and you’ll gaze, alone, Cynthia, at mountains, herds, the fields of poor farmers. No games will have power to corrupt you there, no sanctuary temples giving you countless opportunities for sin. There you’ll watch the oxen’s endless ploughing, vines losing leaves to the pruning-hook’s skill: and you’ll carry a little offering of incense to some crude shrine, where a goat will die in front of the rustic altar: and you’ll imitate their choral dance bare-legged: but only if all is safe from strange men.
I’ll go hunting: I’ll take pleasure now, at once, in accepting the rites of fair Diana, and dropping my former vows to Venus. I’ll start chasing wild creatures, and fasten horns to fir trees, and control the audacious dogs myself. Yet I’ll not try great lions, or hurry to meet wild boar face to face. It’s daring enough to take the gentle hare, or pierce a bird with a trim rod, where Clitumnus clothes the beautiful stream with woodland tangles, and his wave bathes the snow-white heifers.
You, mea vita, if you venture anything, remember I’ll be coming there for you, in a few days time. So, solitary woods and vagrant streams, in mossy hills, won’t stop me trying your name on my tireless tongue. Everyone wishes to hurt those who are absent.
Book II.20:1-36 His loyalty
Why cry more than Briseis when she was led away? Why weep more sadly than Andromache, the anxious prisoner? Why do you weary the gods, crazy girl, with tales of my deceit? Why complain my faithfulness has ebbed away? Attica’s night-owl never cries as loud in funereal mourning in Athenian trees, nor does Niobe, with a dozen monuments to her pride, pour as many tears down sorrowing Sipylus’s slopes.
Though my arms were fastened with bronze links: though my members were enclosed by Danae’s tower: I would break chains of bronze for you, mea vita, and leap over Danae’s iron tower. My ears are deaf to whatever they say of you: only don’t doubt my seriousness. I swear by my mother’s bones and the bones of my father (if I deceive, oh let the ashes of both weigh heavy on me!) that I’ll be yours, mea vita, to the final shadows: one day, one faith will carry both away.
And if your name or your beauty could not hold me, the gentleness of your demands would indeed. Now the orbit’s traced of the seventh full moon since never a street corner’s been silent about us, while your threshold has frequently been kind to me, and I’ve frequently had access to your bed. But I’ve not bought a single night with costly presents: whatever I’ve been, it’s through the great grace of your spirit.
Many men sought to be yours, you have sought me only: can I fail to remember your qualities? If I do let the tragic Furies torment me, or Aeacus damn me with infernal justice, and I be spread-eagled amongst Tityus’s vultures, and bear rocks with Sisyphus’s labour, myself.
And don’t entreat me with pleading letters: my loyalty at the last will be such as it was at the start. This is the whole of my law, that alone among lovers, I don’t leave off in a hurry; I don’t begin without thought.
Book II.21:1-20 Cynthia deceived by Panthus
So many nights wasted? Aren’t you ashamed? See, he’s free, he sings: you, far too credulous, lie alone. And now you’re a conversation piece between them: He says arrogantly you were often at his house against his will. Let me be ruined, if he seeks anything else but glory from you: he, the husband gains praise from this.
So Jason, the stranger, once deceived Medea of Colchis: she was thrown out of the house (and Creusa gained it next). So Calypso was foiled by Ulysses, the Ithacan warrior: she saw her lover spread his sails. O girls, too ready to lend an ear to your lovers: once you’ve been dropped learn not to be thoughtlessly kind!
You’ve long been looking for someone else who’ll stay: the lesson you had at first, foolish girl, should teach you to be careful. I, whatever the place, am yours in every moment, whether I am in sickness or in health.
Book II.22:1-42 His philandering
You know that before today many girls have equally pleased me: you know, Demophoon, many troubles come my way. No crossroad’s traversed by my feet in vain. O, and the theatre was made to be my constant downfall. Whether some girl spreads her white arms in tender gesture, or whether she sings in various modes! And then, our eyes search out their own wound, if some beauty sits there, her breast not veiled, or if drifting hair strays over a chaste forehead, hair that an Indian jewel clasps at the crown: such that, if she says no to me, perhaps with a stern look, cold sweat falls from my brow.
Demophoon, do you ask why I’m so soft for them all? Love has no answer to your question: ‘Why?’
Why do some men slash their arms with sacred knives, and are cut to pieces to frenzied Phrygian rhythms? Nature at birth gave every man his fault: fate granted that I’d always desire someone. Even though the fate of Thamyris the bard came upon me, I’d never be blind to beauty, my jealous friend.
And you’re wrong if I seem small to you, thin bodied: worshipping Venus has never been a trouble. It’s all right to ask: often a girl has found my attentions effective all night long. Jupiter, for Alcmene, halted both the Bears, and the heavens went two nights without their king: yet he still didn’t take up his lightning wearily, even so. What about when Achilles left Briseis’s arms? Did the Trojans flee the Greek javelins less? When fierce Hector rose from Andromache’s bed, did the Mycenaean fleet not fear the battle? One and the other destroyed ships or walls: in this I am Achilles, in this I am fierce Hector.
See how now the sun, and now the moon serve in the sky: well one girl’s not enough for me. Let another girl hold and fondle me in passion’s embrace: yes, another, if she will not grant me space: or if by chance she’s made angry by my attentions to her, let her know there’s another who would be mine!
For two cables protect a ship at anchor better, and an anxious mother’s safer rearing twins.
Book II.22A:43-50 False promises
Say either no, if you’re cruel or, if you’re not cruel, come! Why take pleasure dealing in pointless words? This one pain, above all others, is sharpest for a lover, if she suddenly refuses to come as he’d hoped.
What vast sighs hurl him round his whole bed, as he throttles some unknown man, who’s been admitted! And wearies the boy asking about what he’s already heard, and orders him to ask about the fate he fears to know.
Book II.23:1-24 The advantage of a bought woman
I was persuaded to keep away from the streets, yet water fetched from the lake now tastes sweet to me. Should any freeborn man have to give bribes for another man’s slave to bring him the message his mistress promised? Or ask so many times: ‘What colonnade shades her now?’ or: ‘Which direction did she take on the Plain of Mars?’
Then when you’ve carried through the Labours the story tells of, for her to write ‘Have you any little thing for me?’ so you can face a surly guard, or often, imprisoned, lurk in some vile hole. What it costs us, the night that comes just once in a whole year! Let them perish, those who take pleasure in closed doors!
In contrast, isn’t she pleasing, that girl who goes with her cloak thrown back, not fenced in by a threatening guard, who often abrades the Sacred Way in dirty slippers, and brooks no delay if any want to approach her: she never puts you off, nor chatters aloud, demanding what your stingy father often complains at having given you, nor will she say: ‘I’m scared, get up, be quick, I beg you, wretched man: my husband comes to day, to me, from the country.’ Let the girls Iraq and Syria have sent delight me. I can’t bear shamefaced robbery in bed. Now that no freedom’s left to any lover, he who’d be free let him wish for no more love.
Book II.24:1-16 Propertius’s book well-known
‘You would say that: now you’re common talk because of that notorious book, now your Cynthia’s viewed by the whole Forum?’ Who wouldn’t bead with sweat at those words in the circumstances, whether from honest shame, or wishing to keep quiet his affairs? But if my Cynthia still breathed on me good-naturedly, I wouldn’t be known as the source of evil: I wouldn’t be paraded, infamous, through all the city, and, though not alight with goodness, I’d deceive.
So may it be no surprise to you, my seeking common girls: they bring me into less disrepute: surely no trivial reason?
And just now she wanted a proud peacock’s tail for a fan, and to hold a crystal ball in her cold hand, and, angering me, longs to ask for ivory dice, or whatever glitters on the Sacred Way. O, perish the thought that the expense bothers me, but I’m ashamed to be a laughing-stock through my deceitful lady, now.
Book II.24A:17-52 Recriminations
Is this what, at first, you made me take delight in? Aren’t you ashamed, being lovely, to be so wayward? We’ve hardly spent one night or more of passion, and now you say I’m a burden in your bed. A moment ago you praised me, read my poetry: does your love so rapidly avert its wings?
Let that man contend with me in ingenuity, contend in art: let him be taught how to love in one place first. If it pleases you, let him fight with Lernean Hydras, and bring you apples from the dragon of the Hesperides: let him gladly drink foul poisons, or shipwrecked, taste the water, and never decline to be miserable because of you (I wish, mea vita, you’d try me with labours like these!).
Then this insolent man will be one of the cowards for you, who comes now officiously swollen with honour: next year there’ll be discord between you.
But the Sibyl’s whole lifetime will not change me: nor Hercules’s labours: nor death’s black day. You’ll gather them and say: ‘These are your ashes, Propertius. Alas, you were true to me, you indeed were true, though your ancestors’ weren’t noble, and you weren’t as rich others.’ There’s nothing I won’t suffer, injuries won’t change me: I don’t consider it pain to endure a lovely girl.
I believe that not a few have been undone by your figure, and I know that many men have not been true. Theseus took delight for a while in Ariadne, Demophoon in Phyllis: both unwelcome guests. Now Medea is seen on Jason’s boat, and in a moment left alone by the man she saved.
The woman who acts out simulated love for many must be hard: she, whoever she is, who prepares herself for more than a single man. Don’t seek to compare me with the noble, or rich: they’ll scarcely come gathering your ashes on your last day. I’ll do it for you: but I’d rather, this I beg, that, with unbound hair, you’ll beat your naked breasts instead for me.
Book II.25:1-48 Constancy and Inconstancy
Unique woman, born to beauty, you, the object of my pain, since fate excludes me from your saying: ‘Come, often’: your form will be made most famous by my books: with your permission, Calvus: and Catullus, peace to you, with yours.
The aged soldier sleeps by his grounded weapons; ancient oxen refuse to pull the plough; the rotting ship rests on empty sands; and the warrior’s ancient shield idly hangs on some temple wall. But no old age would lead me away from loving you, not even if I was Nestor, or Tithonus.
Wouldn’t it be better to serve a cruel tyrant, and groan in your brazen bull, savage Perillus? Wouldn’t it be better to harden at the Gorgon’s gaze, or even suffer those Caucasian vultures? Yet I shall still endure.
The iron blade’s eaten away by rust and the flint by drops of water: but love’s not worn away by a mistress’s threshold if it stays to suffer and hear threats undeserved. More: the lover pleads, when despised: and when wronged confesses sins: and then returns himself with reluctant step.
You as well, credulous man, waxing proud when love’s at the full: no woman stays firm for long. Does anyone perform his vows in mid-storm, when often a ship drifts shattered in the harbour? Or demand his prize before the race is run, and the wheel has touched the post seven times? The favourable breeze plays us false in love: when it’s delayed great is the ruin that comes.
You, meanwhile, though she still delights in you, close imprisoned joy in your silent heart. For, I don’t know why, but in his love pact, it is always his boastful words that seem to harm the lover. Though she often calls for you, remember, go but once: that which is envied often fails to last.
Yet were there to be times like those that pleased the girls of old, I would be again what you are now: I’m vanquished by time. But age shall still not change my habits: let each man be allowed to go his own way.
And you, that recall service to many loves, if so, what pain afflicts your eyes! You see a tender girl of pure white, you see a dark: either colour commands you. You see a form that expresses the Greek, or you see our beauties, either aspect grips you. Whether she’s in common dress or scarlet, one or the other’s the road to a cruel wound. Since one girl can lead your eyes to sufficient sleeplessness, one woman, whoever’s she is, is plenty of trouble.
Book II.26:1-20 A dream of shipwreck
I saw you, in my dreams, mea vita, shipwrecked, striking out, with weary hands, at Ionian waters, confessing the many ways you lied to me, unable to lift your head, hair heavy with brine, like Helle, whom once the golden ram carried on his soft back, driven through the dark waves.
How frightened I was, that perhaps that sea would bear your name, and the sailors would weep for you, as they sailed your waters! What gifts I entertained for Neptune, for Castor and his brother, what gifts for you Leucothoe, now a goddess! At least, like one about to die, you called my name, often, barely lifting your fingertips above the deep.
Yet if Glaucus had seen your eyes, by chance, you’d have become a mermaid among Ionian seas, and the Nereids would have chided you, from envy, white Nesaee and sea-green Cymothoe. But I saw a dolphin leap to aid you, who once before, I think, bore Arion’s lyre. And already I was about to dive myself from a high rock, when fear woke me from such visions.
Book II.26A:21-58 Faithful love
Let them admire the fact, now, that so lovely a girl serves me, and that they talk of my power throughout the city! Though Cambyses, and the golden rivers of Croesus, should return, she’ll not say: ‘Poet, depart my bed.’ While she reads to me, she says she hates rich men: no girl cherishes poetry with such reverence. Loyalty is great in love: constancy greatly serves it: he who can give many gifts let him have his many lovers.
If my girl thinks of travelling the wide sea, I’ll follow her and one breeze will blow the faithful pair onward. One shore will rest us, one tree overspread us, and we will often drink at a single spring. And one plank will do for a pair of lovers, whether the prow’s my bed, or the stern.
I’ll patiently endure it all: though the savage East Wind blows; or the chill South drives our sails in uncertainty; or whatever winds vexed unhappy Ulysses, and the thousand ships of Greece by Euboea’s shore; or the one that separated those two coasts, when a dove led a ship, the Argo, into an unknown sea.
Let Jupiter himself set our boat on fire, so long as she is never absent from my eyes. Surely we’ll both be hurled on one shore, naked, together: the wave can carry me off, so long as earth protects you.
Yet Neptune’s not so cruel to great love: Neptune matches his brother Jove in loving. Amymone’s a witness, taken in the fields, seeking water, Lerna’s marshes struck by the trident. The god redeemed his pledge for that embrace, and the golden urn poured out a celestial stream. And Orithyia, though raped, denied that Boreas was cruel: while this god tames the earth and deep oceans.
Believe me Scylla will be gentle to us and huge Charybdis who never ceases her rhythmic flow: no shadows will hide from us the stars themselves: Orion will show clear, as will the Kids. What matter if my life’s laid down for your body? It would be no dishonourable death.
Book II.27:1-16 Fate and Love
You mortals, then, ask after the uncertain funeral hour, and by what road your death will come to you: you enquire of the cloudless sky, by Phoenician art, which stars are good for man, and which are evil!
Whether we chase the Parthians on foot, the Britons at sea, the dangers of earth’s and ocean’s paths are hidden. You weep again that your head is threatened by war, when Mars joins the wavering ranks on either side: beside your burning house, by your house in ruins: and no cup of darkness to lift to your lips. Only the lover knows when he will perish, by what death, and fears no weapons, blasts of the North Wind.
Though he sits at the oar among the Stygian reeds, and views the mournful sails of the boat of Hell, should the breath of his mistress’s voice but recall him, he’ll return by a road acknowledged by no known law.
Book II.28:1-46 Cynthia is ill
Jupiter, be merciful, at last, to the poor girl: such a beauty’s death would be a crime. That time has come when the scorching air burns, and Earth begins to blaze beneath the torrid Dog-star. But it’s not the heat that’s guilty, or heaven to blame, it’s her, so often failing to hold the gods sacred. It undoes girls, it’s undone them before: what they promise the winds and the waves carry away.
Was Venus annoyed that you were compared to her? She’s jealous of those who vie with her in beauty. Or did you slight Pelasgian Juno’s temple, or dare to deny Athene’s eyes were fair? You beauties have never learned to be sparing of words. Your tongue was a harmful thing to you in this: your beauty gave it to you. But vexed as you have been by so many of life’s dangers there comes the gentler hour of a final day.
Io lowed in her youth with altered forehead: she’s a goddess now, she who drank the Nile as a heifer. Ino strayed as a girl over the earth: she the wretched sailors call on, as Leucothoe. Andromeda was given to the sea-monster: even she became Perseus’ honoured wife. Callisto, a she-bear, wandered Arcadian pastures: now she rules sails at night by her star.
But if the Fates by chance hurry their silence on you, the Fates, blessed, of your tomb, you can tell Semele about the dangers of beauty, and she’ll believe you, a girl taught by her ills: and you’ll be first among all of Homer’s heroines, without question. Now, as best you can, comply, stricken, with fate: the god and the harsh day itself may alter. Juno, the wife, might even forgive you: even Juno is moved if a young girl dies.
The chanting of magic, the whirling bullroarers cease, and the laurel lies scorched in the quenched fires. Now the Moon refuses as often to descend from heaven, and the dismal night bird sounds its funeral note. One raft of fate carries both our loves, setting dark-blue sail to the lake of Hell. But take pity on us both, not just on one! I will live if she lives: and die, if she should die.
I bind myself with a sacred verse against this wish: I write: ‘By Jupiter, the Mighty, the girl is saved’: having taken such pains, she herself can sit at your feet, and, sitting there, tell you all her troubles.
Book II.28A:47-62 Transience
Persephone, let your mercy endure: Dis, why set out to be crueller than her? There are so many thousands of lovely girls among the dead: if allowed, leave one beautiful one up here! Down there with you is Iope; with you shining Tyro; with you Europa, and wicked Pasiphae; and whatever beauty old Troy and Achaia bore, the bankrupt kingdoms of ancient Priam and Apollo; and whoever among their number was a Roman girl, perished: every one of them the greedy fire possesses. No one has endless fortune, eternal beauty: sooner or later death awaits us all.
Since you’ve escaped, mea lux, from great danger pay Diana the gift of song and dance you owe her, and keep vigil as well for that heifer, now a goddess; and, for my sake, grant her the ten nights you vowed.
Book II.29:1-22 Drunk and out late
While I wandered last night, mea lux, in drink, and with never a servant’s hand there to guide me, a crowd of I don’t know how many tiny boys came against me (it was fear alone stopped me counting them); some held little torches, and some held arrows, and some seemed ready to drape me with chains. But all were naked, and one more lascivious than the rest, said: ‘Take him, you all know him well, already: this is the one the angry woman has given us.’
Saying this, in a flash a rope was round my neck. Another one ordered me thrust into their midst, and a third cried: ‘Let him die, if he thinks we’re not gods! She’s waited up all hours for you, wretched man, while you searched for who knows what door: you fool. When she’s loosed the windings of her Sidonian turban, and flickers her heavy eyelids, it won’t be Arabian perfumes will breathe on you, but the ones Love made himself with his own fingers.
Stop, now, brothers, now he promises true love, and look, now, we’ve come to the house as ordered.’ And so they led me back to my lover’s roof, saying: ‘Go, now, learn how to stay home of nights.’
Book II.29A:23-42 Waking Cynthia
It was dawn; I wanted to see if she slept alone: and alone she was there, in her bed. I was stunned: she’d never looked lovelier to me, not even when she went, in her purple shift, and told her dreams to virginal Vesta, lest they threatened harm to her or me. So she looked to me, shedding recent sleep. Oh, how great is the power of beauty in itself! ‘Why,’ she said: ‘you’re an early spy on your mistress, do you think my morals then are yours? I’m not so easy: it’s enough for me, one man, either you, or someone who’ll be truer. There are no traces deep in the bed, signs of writhing about, or mutual slumber. Look, no breath panting from my whole body, confessing to some adultery.’ Speaking, she pushed my face away with her hand, and leapt up, loosened sandals on her feet. Thus I ceased my spying on such chaste love: since then I’ve had not one happy night.
Book II.30:1-40 No escape from Love
Now, you’re ready to go to Phrygia, cruel one, now, across the waves and seek by ship the shore of Hyrcanian seas. Where are you going, O, mad one? There’s no escape: though you head for Tanais, Love will pursue you there. Not even if coursing the air on Pegasus’s back, nor if the wings of Perseus moved your feet. Even if winds, divided, snatch you on winged sandals, the highways of Mercury will do you no good. Love always flies overhead, follows lovers, and sits heavy himself on the neck that was free. He’s the shrewd spy who watches, he’ll never let you raise your captive eyes from the ground. But then if you sin, he’s a sympathetic god, if only prompt prayer is forthcoming.
Let harsh old men denounce the revels: mea vita, let us wear out the path we chose. Their ears are filled with ancient laws: yet this is the place where the skilled pipe should play that which floated in Maeander’s shallows, hurled there unjustly swelling Minerva’s cheeks, to make her ugly.
Should I be ashamed to serve but one mistress? If it’s a crime, well, it’s a crime of Love. Don’t reproach me with it. Cynthia, delight to lie with me, in caves of dew, by mossy hills. There you’ll see the Muses cling to cliffs, singing Jove’s sweet thefts in ancient times, how he burned for Semele, was ruined for Io, and flew, at last a bird, to the roofs of Troy. (Though if no one exists who withstood the Winged One’s power why am I the only one charged with a common crime?) Nor will you trouble the Virgins’ decorous faces: their choir is not unknowing of what Love is, given a certain one lay entwined on the rocks of Bistonia, clasped by Oeagrus’ form.
Then, when they set you in the front rank of the circling dance, and Bacchus there in the middle with his cunning wand, then will I let the sacred ivy berries hang about my head: since without you my genius has no power.
Book II.31:1-16 The New Colonnade
You ask why I came so late? Phoebus’s gold colonnade was opened today by mighty Caesar; such a great sight, adorned with columns from Carthage, and between them the crowd of old Danaus’s daughters. There in the midst, the temple reared in bright marble, dearer to Phoebus than his Ortygian land. Right on the top were two chariots of the Sun, and the doors of Libyan ivory, beautifully done. One mourned the Gauls thrown from Parnassus’s peak, and the other the death, of Niobe, Tantalus’s daughter. Next the Pythian god himself was singing, in flowing robes, between his mother and sister. He seemed to me more beautiful than the true Phoebus, lips parted in marble song to a silent lyre. And, about the altar, stood four of Myron’s cattle, carved statues of oxen, true to life.
Book II.32:1-62 Cynthia talked about
He who sees you sins: so he who can’t see you can’t desire you: the eyes commit the crime. O Cynthia, why else do you search out dubious oracles at Praeneste, or the walls of Aeaean Telegonus? Why do chariots take you to Herculean Tibur? Why the Appian Way, so often, to Lanuvium? Cynthia, I wish you’d walk here when you’re free! But the crowd tell me to put no trust in you, when they see you rush faithfully, carrying a torch on fire, to the sacred grove, bearing light to the goddess Trivia.
No wonder Pompey’s Portico with its shady colonnade, famed for its canopy of cloth of gold, seems worthless, and its rising rows of evenly planted plane-trees, and the waters that fall from slumbering Maro, lightly bubbling liquid through the city, till Triton buries the stream again in his mouth.
You betray yourself: these trips show some furtive passion: mad girl, it’s our eyes you flee, and not the city. It won’t do, you plot mad schemes against me: you spread familiar nets for me with scant skill. But I’m the least of it: losing your good name will bring you the pain that you deserve. Lately a rumour spoke evil in my ear, and nothing good was said of you in the city.
But give no credence to hostile tongues: the tales have always punished beauties. Your name’s not been tarnished by being caught with drugs: Apollo bears witness that your hands are clean. If a night or two has been spent in lengthy play, well, such petty crimes don’t move me. Helen abandoned her country for a foreign lover, and was brought home again alive without being judged. They say that Venus herself was corrupted by libidinous Mars, but was always honoured, nevertheless, in heaven. Though Ida’s mount tells how a nymph loved shepherd Paris, sleeping with him among the flocks, the crowd of Hamadryad sisters saw it, and Silenus, head of the ancient troop of Satyrs, with whom, in the hollows of Ida, Naiad, you gathered falling apples, catching them below in your hands.
Contemplating such debaucheries, surely no one asks: ‘Why’s she so rich? Who gave her wealth? Where did the gifts come from?’ O great your happiness Rome, these days, if a single girl swims against the stream. Lesbia did all these things before, with impunity: anyone who follows her is surely less to blame. He’s only lately set foot in this city who asks for the ancient Tatii or the strict Sabine. You’ll sooner have power to dry the waves of the sea, or gather the stars in a human hand, than change things so our girls don’t want to sin: that was the custom no doubt in Saturn’s age, and when Deucalion’s waters flooded the globe: but after Deucalion’s ancient waters, who could ever keep a chaste bed, what goddess could live alone with a single god?
The snow-white shape of a savage bull corrupted great Minos’s wife once, they say, and Danae enclosed in a tower of bronze, was no less unable, in her chastity, to deny great Jove. So if you imitate Greek and Roman women, I sentence you to be free for life!
Book II.33:1-22 Cynthia performing the rites
The wretched rites are back again: Cynthia’s been occupied these ten nights. And I wish they’d end these sacraments that Inachus’s daughter sent from tepid Nile to Italy’s women! This goddess, whoever she was, who so often separates lovers, was always ill-natured. Surely Io you learnt from hidden couplings with Jove, what it is to wander, when Juno ordered you, a girl, to wear horns, and lose your speech to the harsh sound cows make.
Oh, how often you galled your mouth on oak-leaves, and chewed, in your stall, on once-eaten strawberry leaves! Surely it’s not because Jupiter removed the wild aspect from your face, you’ve for that reason been made a proud goddess? Surely you’ve enough swarthy acolytes in Egypt? Why take such a long journey to Rome? What good’s it to you to have girls sleep alone? Believe me, your horns shall appear again, and we’ll chase you, savage one, from our city: there was never friendship between Tiber and Nile.
But you, for whom my sorrows prove far too calming, let’s make the journey three times, those nights when we’re free.
Book II.33A:23-44 Cynthia drinking late
You don’t listen; you let my words rattle around, though Icarius’s oxen now draw their slow stars downward. You drink, indifferent: are you not wrecked by midnight, and is your hand not weary throwing the dice? Perish the man who discovered neat wine, and first corrupted good water with nectar! Icarius you were rightly killed by Cecropian farmers, you’ve found how bitter the scent is of the vine. You, Eurytion the Centaur, also died from wine, and Polyphemus, you by Ismarian neat. Wine kills our beauty, and corrupts our youth: often through wine a lover can’t recognise her man.
Alas for me, much wine doesn’t change you! Drink then: you’re lovely: wine does you no harm, though your garland droops down, and dips in your glass, and you read my verse in a slowing voice. Let your table be drenched with more jets of Falernian, and foam higher in your golden cup.
No girl ever willingly goes to bed alone: something there is desire leads us all to search for. Passion is often greater in absent lovers: endless presence reduces the man who’s always around.
Book II.34:1-94 His poetic role, and his future fame
Why should any man trust his girl’s beauty to Amor, now? Mine was nearly stolen away like that. I speak as an expert: no one’s to be trusted in love: it’s rare that anyone doesn’t aim to make beauty his own. The god corrupts families, separates friends; issues sad calls to arms to those in happy agreement. The stranger who came in friendship to Menelaus, he was an adulterer though, and didn’t the Colchian woman go off with an unknown man?
Lynceus, you traitor, then, how could you lay hands on my darling? Why didn’t your hands let you down? What if she hadn’t been so constant and true? Could you have lived then with the shame? Kill me with daggers or poison: but take yourself off, leave my mistress alone. You can be a companion in life and body: I will make you the lord of my fortune, my friend, it’s merely the bed, the one bed, I beg you to shun. I can’t accept Jove as a rival. I’m jealous of my shadow even, a thing of nothing, a fool who often trembles with fear. Still there’s one excuse for which I’d forgive such crime, that your words were astray from too much wine. But the frown of strict morality can’t fool me: all know by now how good it is to love.
My Lynceus, himself, insane at last with love! I’m only glad you’ve joined our god. What use now the wisdom of Socratic works, or being able to talk ‘on the nature of things’? What use to you are songs on Aeschylus’s lyre? Old men are no help with a grand affair. You’d do better to imitate Coan Philetus, and the dreams of diffident Callimachus.
Now though you speak again of Aetolian Achelous’s water flowing weakly with vast love; and how Maeander’s deceptive flood wanders across the Phrygian plain, confusing its course; and how Arion, Adrastus’s victorious stallion, was vocal in grief at Archemorus’s funeral: yet the fate of Amphiarus’s four-horse chariot’s no use to you, nor Capaneus’s downfall, pleasing to mighty Jove. Stop composing tragic Aeschylean verse, cease; let your limbs go in soft choric dancing. Begin to turn your verse on a tighter lathe, and come at your own flames, hardened poet. You shall not go more safely than Homer, or than Antimachus: a virtuous girl even looks down on the gods.
However the bull’s not yoked to the heavy plough until his horns are caught in a strong noose. Nor will you be able to suffer harsh love on your own. First, your truculence must be quelled by me.
Of all these girls none will ask the source of the universe, or why the Moon eclipses her brother’s course, or if there’s really a judge beyond the Stygian waters, or if the lightning crashes down on purpose. Look at me, with hardly any wealth left my family, with no ancestral triumphs long ago, but here I rule the fun, among the crowd of girls, by means of the intellect you disparage!
Let me, whom the god has surely struck to the marrow, languish set among last night’s wreaths. Virgil can sing of Actium’s shores that Phoebus watches over, and of Caesar’s brave ships: he, who brings to life the battles of Aeneas of Troy, and the walls that he built on Lavinium’s coast. Give way you Roman authors! Give way you Greeks! Something more than the Iliad’s being born.
Under the pine-trees of shadowed Galaesus, you sing, of Thyrsis and Daphnis, with practised flute, and how the gift of ten apples, or an un-weaned kid, can corrupt a girl. Happy who buys their love cheaply with apples! Tityrus herself, the unkind, might sing for that. Happy that Corydon who tries to snatch virgin Alexis, delight of his master, the farmer! Though he rests, exhausted, from playing his pipe, he’s praised by the loose Hamadryads. And you sing the precepts of old Hesiod the poet, what plains crops grow well on, which hills grow vines. You make such music as Apollo mingles, fingers plucking his cunning lyre.
Yet, my songs will not be unwelcome to one who can sing them, whether he’s expert in love or a total novice. The swan dies, melodious, with no less spirit, though with less effrontery than the ignorant song of the goose.
So, Varro amused himself, when he’d done with Jason: Varro, Leucadia’s hottest lover. So sing the writings of lustful Catullus, whose Lesbia’s known more widely than Helen. So even the pages of learned Calvus confessed, when he sang of wretched Quintilia’s death. And but now, drowned in the waters of Hell, dead Gallus washed multiple wounds, from lovely Lycoris!
End of Book II