Propertius: The Elegies
Translated by A. S. Kline© Copyright 2002, 2008 All Rights Reserved.
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- Book I.1:1-38 Love’s madness
- Book I.2:1-32 Love goes naked
- Book I.3:1-46 After a night’s drinking
- Book I.4:1-28 Constancy in Love
- Book I.5:1-32 Admonishment to Gallus
- Book I.6:1-36 Love’s bonds
- Book I.7:1-26 In praise of Love Poetry
- Book I.8:1-26 Cynthia’s journey
- Book I.8A:27-46 Cynthia’s journey abandoned
- Book I.9:1-34 Ponticus struck down by Love
- Book I.10:1-30 Educating Gallus
- Book I.11:1-30 Cynthia at Baiae
- Book I.12:1-20 Faithfulness in separation
- Book I.13:1-36 He predicts Gallus’s fate
- Book I.14:1-24 Love’s Delight
- Book I.15:1-42 Cynthia’s infidelities
- Book I.16:1-48 Cynthia’s threshold speaks
- Book I.17:1-28. He goes on a journey.
- Book I.18:1-32 Alone amongst Nature
- Book I.19:1-26 Death and transience
- Book I:20:1-52 The story of Hylas: a warning to Gallus
- Book I.21:1-10 Gallus speaks his own epitaph
- Book I.22:1-10 Propertius’s place of origin.
Book I.1:1-38 Love’s madness
Cynthia was the first, to my cost, to trap me with her eyes: I was untouched by love before then. Amor it was who lowered my gaze of endless disdain, and, feet planted, bowed my head, till he taught me, recklessly, to scorn pure girls and live without sense, and this madness has not left me for one whole year now, though I do attract divine hostility.
Milanion, did not shirk hard labour, Tullus, my friend, in crushing fierce Atalanta, Iasus’s daughter. Then he lingered lovesick in Parthenium’s caves, and faced wild beasts there: thrashed, what is more, by the club of Hylaeus, the Centaur, he moaned, wounded, among Arcadia’s stones. So he was able to overcome the swift-footed girl: such is the value of entreaty and effort in love. Dulled Amor, in me, has lost his wits, and forgets the familiar paths he once travelled.
But you whose trickeries draw down the moon, whose task it is to seek revenge, through sacrifice on magic fires, go change my mistress’s mind, and make her cheeks grow paler than my own! Then I’ll believe you’ve power to lead rivers and stars wherever you wish, with Colchian charms.
Or you, my friends who, too late, would draw me back from error, search out the cure for a sick heart. I will suffer the heat and the knife bravely, if only freedom might speak as indignation wishes. Lift me through furthest nations and seas, where never a woman can follow my track. You, to whom gods grant an easy hearing, who live forever secure in mutual love, you stay behind. Venus, our mistress, turns nights of bitterness against me, and Amor never fails to be found wanting. Avoid this evil I beg you: let each cling to his own love, and never alter the site of familiar desire. But if any hears my warning too late, O with what agony he will remember my words!
Book I.2:1-32 Love goes naked
What need is there, mea vita, to come with your hair adorned, and slither about in a thin silk dress from Cos? Why drench your tresses in myrrh of Orontes, betray yourself with gifts from strangers, ruin nature’s beauty with traded refinements, nor allow your limbs to gleam to true advantage? Believe me nothing could enhance your shape: naked Amor ever hates lying forms. Look at the colours that lovely earth throws out: still better the wild ivy that springs up of itself; loveliest the strawberry tree that grows in deserted hollows; and water knows how to run in untaught ways. The shores convince us dressed with natural pebbles, and birds sing all the sweeter without art.
Phoebe did not set Castor on fire this way: she Leucippus’s daughter; nor Hilaira, her sister, Pollux, with trinkets. Not like this Marpessa, Evenus’s daughter, whom Idas and passionate Phoebus fought for by her father’s shore. Hippodamia did not attract Pelops, her Phrygian husband, with false brightness, to be whirled off on alien chariot-wheels. They did not slavishly add gems to faces of a lustre seen in Apelles’s paintings. Collecting lovers everywhere was never their inclination: to be chaste was beauty fine enough for them.
Should I not fear now, that I may be worth less than these? If she pleases one man a girl has enough refinement: and Phoebus grants, to you above all, his gifts of song, and Calliope, gladly, her Aonian lyre, and your happy words never lack unique grace, all that Minerva and Venus approve of. If only those wretched luxuries wearied you, you would always be dearest to my life for these.
Book I.3:1-46 After a night’s drinking
Just as Ariadne, the girl of Cnossus, lay on the naked shore, fainting, while Theseus’s ship vanished; or as Andromeda, Cepheus’s child, lay recumbent in her first sleep free now of the harsh rock; or like one fallen on the grass by the Apidanus, exhausted by the endless Thracian dance; Cynthia seemed like that to me, breathing the tender silence, her head resting on unquiet hands, when I came, deep in wine, dragging my drunken feet, while the boys were shaking the late night torches.
My senses not yet totally dazed, I tried to approach her, pressing gently against the bed: and though seized by a twin passion, here Amor there Bacchus, both cruel gods, urging me on, to attempt to slip my arm beneath her as she lay there, and lifting my hand snatch eager kisses, I was still not brave enough to trouble my mistress’s rest, fearing her proven fierceness in a quarrel, but, frozen there, clung to her, gazing intently, like Argus on Io’s new-horned brow.
Now I freed the garlands from my forehead, and set them on your temples: now I delighted in playing with your loose hair, furtively slipping apples into your open hands, bestowing every gift on your ungrateful sleep, repeated gifts breathed from my bowed body. And whenever you, stirring, gave occasional sighs, I was transfixed, believing false omens, some vision bringing you strange fears, or that another forced you to be his, against your will.
At last the moon, gliding by far windows, the busy moon with lingering light, opened her closed eyes, with its tender rays. Raised on one elbow on the soft bed, she cried: ‘Has another’s hostility driven you out, sealing her doors, bringing you back to my bed at last? Alas for me, where have you spent the long hours of this night, that was mine, you, worn out now, as the stars are put away? O you, cruel to me in my misery, I wish you the same long-drawn-out nights as those you endlessly offer to me. Till a moment ago, I staved off sleep, weaving the purple threads, and again, wearied, with the sound of Orpheus’s lyre. Until Sleep impelled me to sink down under his delightful wing I was moaning gently to myself, alone, all the while, for you, delayed so long, so often, by a stranger’s love. That was my last care, amongst my tears.’
Book I.4:1-28 Constancy in Love
Why do you urge me to change, to leave my mistress, Bassus, why praise so many lovely girls to me? Why not leave me to spend the rest of my life in increasingly familiar slavery? You may praise Antiope’s beauty, the daughter of Nycteus, and Hermione of Sparta, all those the ages of beauty saw: Cynthia denies them a name. Still less would she be slighted, or thought less, by severe critics, if she were compared with inferior forms. Her beauty is the least part of what inflames me: there are greater things I joy in dying for, Bassus: Nature’s complexion, and the grace of many an art, and pleasures it’s best to speak of beneath the silent sheets.
The more you try to weaken our love, the more we both disappoint with acknowledged loyalty. You will not escape with impunity: the angry girl will know of it, and be your enemy with no unquiet voice. Cynthia will no longer look for you after this, nor entrust me to you. She will remember such crimes, and fiercely denounce you to all the other girls: alas, you’ll be loved on never a threshold. She will deny no altar her tears, no stone, wherever it may be, and however sacred.
No loss hurts Cynthia so deeply as when the god is absent, love snatched from her: above all mine. Let her always feel so, I pray, and let me never discover cause in her for lament.
Book I.5:1-32 Admonishment to Gallus
Envious man, quiet your irksome cries at last and let us travel the road we are on, as one! What do you wish for, madman: to feel my passion? Unhappy man, you’re hastening to know the deepest hurt, set your footsteps on hidden fire, and drink all the poison of Thessaly. She’s not like the fickle girls you collect: she is not used to being mildly angered. Even if she does not reject your prayers, by chance, how many thousand cares she’ll bring you! She’ll not let you sleep, now, or free your eyes: she’s the one to bind the mind’s uncivilized forces. Ah, how often, scorned, you’ll run to my door, your brave words turning to sobs, a trembling ague of bitter tears descending, fear tracing its hideous lines on your face, and whatever words you wish to say, lost in your moaning, you, you wretch, no longer able to know who or where you are.
Then you’ll be forced to know my mistress’s harsh service, and what it is to return home excluded. You’ll not marvel at my pallor any more, or at why I am thin all over. Your high birth will do you no good in love. Love does not yield to ancient faces. But if you show the smallest sign of guilt, how quickly your good name will be hearsay! I’ll not be able to bring you relief when you ask, while there’s no cure for my malady: rather, companions together in love and sorrow, we’ll be forced to weep on each other’s offered breast.
So stop asking what my Cynthia can do, Gallus, she comes not without retribution to those who ask.
Book I.6:1-36 Love’s bonds
I’m not afraid to discover the Adriatic with you, Tullus, or set my sail, now, on the briny Aegean: I could climb Scythian heights, or go beyond thepalace of Ethiopian Memnon. But, clinging there, my girl’s words always hinder me, her altering colour: her painful prayers. All night she goes on about passion, and complains there are no gods, since she’s forsaken. Though mine, she denies herself to me, she threatens, as a hurt lover does a man she’s angry with.
I’ll not live an hour among such complaints: O let him perish who can make love, with them, at his ease! What use is it for me to discover wise Athens, or see the ancient treasures of Asia, only for Cynthia to cry out against me when the ship’s launched, and score her face with passionate hands, and declare she owes kisses to the opposing winds, that nothing is worse than a faithless lover?
You can try and surpass your uncle’s well-deserved power, and re-establish our allies’ ancient rights, since your youth has never made room for love, and you’ve always loved fighting for your country. Let that Boy never burden you with my labours, and all the marks of my tears! Let me, whom Fate always wished to level, give up this life to utter worthlessness. Many have been lost, willingly, in wearisome love: earth buries me also among that number. I’m not born fitted for weapons or glory: this is the war to which the Fates would subject me.
But whether you go where gentle Ionia extends, or where Pactolus’s waters gild the Lydian fields, your feet on the ground, or striking the sea with your oars, you’ll be part of the accepted order: then, if some hour comes when I’m not forgotten, you’ll know I live under cruel stars.
Book I.7:1-26 In praise of Love Poetry
While you write of Cadmus’s Thebes, and the bitter struggle of that war of brothers, and (bless me!) contest Homer’s primacy (if the Fates are kind to your song) I, Ponticus, as usual, follow my passions, and search for a means to suffer my lady. I’m forced more to serve sadness than wit, and moan at youth’s hard times.
This, the way of life I suffer, this is my fame. Let my praise be simply that I pleased a learned maid, Ponticus, and often bore with her unjust threats. Let scorned lovers, after me, read my words with care, and benefit from knowing my ills. You, as well, if the Boy strikes home, with his sure shaft (something I wish the gods did not allow) will cry out in pain for that ancient citadel, the lost armies of the seven, thrown down in eternally silent neglect, and long helplessly to compose sweet verses. Love come late will not fill your song.
Then you’ll often admire me, not as a humble poet: then you’ll prefer me to the wits of Rome: and the young men will not be silent round my tomb, crying: ‘There shall you lie, great singer of our passions.’ Take care, in your pride, not to condemn my work. When Love comes late the cost is often high.
Book I.8:1-26 Cynthia’s journey
Are you mad, then, that my worries do not stop you? Am I less to you than chilly Illyria? Does he seem so great to you, whoever he is, that you’ll go anywhere the wind takes your sails without me? Can you hear the roar of the furious seas unmoved; take your rest on the hard planks; tread the hoarfrost under your tender feet? Cynthia, can you bear unaccustomed snow? Oh, I wish the days to the winter solstice were doubled, and the Pleiades delayed, the sailors idle, the ropes be never loosed from the Tyrrhenian shore, and the hostile breezes not blow my prayers away! Yet may I never see such winds drop when your boat puts off, and the waves carry it onwards, leaving me rooted to the desolate strand, repeatedly crying out your cruelty with clenched fist.
Yet whatever you deserve from me, you who renounce me: may Sicilian Galatea not frown on your journey: pass with happy oars Epirus’s Acroceraunian cliffs, and be received by Illyrian Oricos’s calm waters. No other girl will seduce me, mea vita, from bitterly uttering complaints of you at your threshold, nor will I fail to question the impatient sailors: ‘Say in what harbour my girl is confined?’ crying ‘Though she lives on Thessaly’s shore, or beyond the Scythian, yet she’ll be mine.’
Book I.8A:27-46 Cynthia’s journey abandoned
She’s here! She stays, she promised! Discontent, vanish, I’ve won: she could not endure my endless entreaties. Let eager Envy relinquish illusory joy. My Cynthia’s ceased to travel strange roads. I’m dear to her, and she says Rome’s best because of me, rejecting a kingdom without me. She’d rather be in bed, though narrow, with me, and be mine, whatever its size, than have the ancient region that was Hippodamia’s dowry, and the riches that the horses of Elis won. She did not rush from my breast, through avarice, though he’s given a lot, and he’d give her more.
I could not dissuade her with gold or Indian pearls, but did so by service of flattering song. I rely, like this, on the Muses in love, nor is Apollo slow to help us lovers. Cynthia, the rare, is mine! Now my feet tread the highest stars: night and day come, she’s mine! No rival steals my certain love from me: this glory will crown my furthest age.
Book I.9:1-34 Ponticus struck down by Love
I told you love would come to you, Derider, and words of freedom would not be ever yours. Behold, you’re down and come, a suppliant, at a mistress’s behest, and now some girl, bought a moment since, commands you. Dodona’s oracular doves can’t outdo me in prophesying what young men each girl will tame. A service of pain and tears has made me expert: though I wish I could forgo knowing, be called an innocent in love!
What use is it now, you wretch, to recite your serious poem, or weep for the Theban citadel of Amphion’s lyre? Mimnermus’s lyrics are worth more than Homer in love. Gentle Love seeks out sweet song.
I beg you, go put away those learned books, and sing what every girl wants to know! What if access to her wasn’t so easy? Yet you, you madman, seek for water mid-river. You are still not pale, even, truly untouched by the fire: this is only the first spark of evil to come. Then you’ll prefer to seek Armenian tigers, or feel the bonds of the infernal wheel, than know the frequent darts of the Boy in your marrow, and be powerless to deny your angry one a single thing.
Love grants no one an easy passage, driving them back with either hand. And don’t be deceived if she’s ready to satisfy you: if she’s yours, Ponticus, she’ll attack you more fiercely. Love won’t let you remove your gaze at leisure, nor keep watch in another’s name, Love, who doesn’t appear till he’s touched you to the bone.
Whoever you are, flee those endless charms! Flint and oak would yield to them, more so you, yourself a frail spirit. So, if there’s honour, confess your error quick as you can. In love it often helps to spell out whom it is you die for.
Book I.10:1-30 Educating Gallus
O sweet dream, when I saw your first love: witness, there, to your tears! O what sweet pleasure for me to recall that night, O the one so often summoned by my longing, when I saw you dying, Gallus, in your girl’s arms, uttering words between long pauses! Though sleep pressed on my weary lids, though the Moon blushed, drawn through mid-heaven, I still could not draw back from your play; there was so much ardour in your exchanges.
But, since you weren’t afraid to allow it, accept your reward for the joy of trust. I’ve not only learnt to be silent about your pain, there’s something greater in me, my friend, than loyalty. I can join parted lovers again, and open a mistress’s reluctant door. I can heal a lover’s fresh wounds: the power of my words is not slight. Cynthia repeatedly taught me what one should look for or beware of: Love has not been idle.
Beware of picking a fight with your girl when she’s angry, don’t speak in pride; don’t stay silent for long: and if she asks something, don’t say no while frowning, and don’t let kind words shower on you in vain. She’ll come in a temper when she’s ignored and, wounded, she won’t remember to drop her justified threats. But the more you are humble, and subject to love, the more you’ll enjoy a fine performance. He’ll be able to endure one girl gladly, who is never found wanting, or free of feeling.
Book I.11:1-30 Cynthia at Baiae
While you idle at Baiae’s heart, Cynthia, where Hercules’s causeway hangs by the shore, now gazing at waves that washed Thesprotus’s kingdom, now at the waters by noted Misenum, does any thought find entrance, oh, that brings you nights mindful of me? Is there a place where the least of love remains? Or has some unknown rival, with false pretence of passion, drawn Cynthia away from my songs?
I would much rather some little craft, relying on feeble oar, entertained you on Naple’s Lucrine Lake, or the waters easily parting, stroke after stroke, held you enclosed in the shallow waves of Teuthras, than free to hear another’s flattering whispers, settled voluptuously on some private shore! Far from watching eyes a girl slides into faithlessness, not remembering the gods we share. Not that your reputation is not well known to me, but in that place every desire’s to be feared.
So, forgive me if my writings have annoyed you: my fears are to blame. I do not guard my mother now with greater care, nor without you have I any care for life.
You’re my only home, my only parents, Cynthia: you, every moment of my happiness. If I am joyful or sad with the friends I meet, however I feel, I say: ‘Cynthia is the reason.’ Only leave corrupt Baiae as soon as you may: that coast will bring discord to many, coast fatal to chaste girls: O let the waters of Baiae vanish: they’re an offence to love!
Book I.12:1-20 Faithfulness in separation
Why don’t you stop inventing charges of apathy, Rome, the ‘knowing’, saying it grips me? She’s separated from my bed by as many miles as Russia’s rivers from Venice’s River Po. Cynthia doesn’t nourish familiar love in her arms, nor make sweet sounds in my ear. Once I pleased: then there was no one to touch us who could compare for loyalty in love. We were envied. Surely a god overcame me, or some herb picked from Promethean mountains shattered our bond?
I am not who I was: distant journeys alter girls. How quickly love flies! Now I’m forced to endure long nights alone, for the first time, and be oppressive to myself. He’s happy who’s able to weep where his girl is: Love takes no small joy in a sprinkling of tears. Or he who, rejected, can change his desire: there is joy in a new slavery as well. But it is impossible for me ever to love another, or part from her. Cynthia was love’s beginning: Cynthia will be its end.
Book I.13:1-36 He predicts Gallus’s fate
You’ll laugh at my downfall, as you often do, Gallus, because I’m alone and free, love flown away. But I’ll never echo your words, faithless man. May no girl ever let you down, Gallus. Even now with your growing reputation for deceit, never seeking to linger long in any passion, you begin to pale with desperation in belated love, and fall back, tripped, at the first step. She’ll be your torment for despising their sorrow: one girl will take revenge for the pain of many. She’ll put a stop to your roving desires, and she’ll not be fond of your eternal search for the new.
No wicked rumour, or augury, told me this: I saw it: can you deny me, as witness, I pray? I saw you, languishing, arms wound round your neck, and weeping for ages, in her hands, Gallus, yearning to breathe your life out in words of longing: and lastly, my friend, a thing shame counsels me to hide: I couldn’t part your clinging, such was the wild passion between you. That god Neptune disguised as the Haemonian River Enipus didn’t squeeze the obliging Tyro so readily; Hercules’s love was never so hot for celestial Hebe, when he first felt delight on the ridge of Oeta. One day can outrun all lovers: she lit no faint torch in you, she’ll not let disdain reappear in you, or you be seduced. Desire spurs you on.
I’m not surprised, since she rivals Leda, is worthy of Jupiter, and alone lovelier than Leda’s three children by him. She has more charm than the demi-goddesses of Greece: her words would force Jupiter to love her. Since you’re sure to die of love, once and for all, no other threshold was worthy. May she be kind to you, now new madness strikes, and, whatever you wish, may she be the one for you.
Book I.14:1-24 Love’s Delight
Though, you drink Lesbos’s wine, from Mentor’s cups, abandoned, in luxury, by Tiber’s waves, now amazed how quickly the boats slip by, now how slowly the barges are towed along: while the wood spreads its ranks over all the summits, thick as Caucasus’s many trees: still these things have no power to rival my love. Love refuses to bow to great riches.
If she spins out sleep with me as desired, or draws out the whole day in easy loving, then the waters of Pactolus flow beneath my roof, and the Red Sea’s coral buds are gathered below the waves, then my delight says I am greater than kings: and may it endure, till Fate demands I vanish. For who can enjoy wealth if Love’s against him? No riches for me if Venus proves sullen!
She can exhaust the strong powers of heroes: she can even give pain to the toughest minds: she’s not fearful of crossing Arabian thresholds, nor afraid to climb on the purple couch, Tullus, and toss the wretched young man all over his bed. What comfort is dyed silk fabric? When she’s reconciled, and near me, I’ll not fear to despise whole kingdoms, or King Alcinous’ gifts.
Book I.15:1-42 Cynthia’s infidelities
Cynthia I often feared great pain from your fickleness, yet still I never expected treachery. See with what trials Fortune drags me down! Yet you still respond slowly to those fears, and can raise calm hands to last night’s tresses, and examine your looks in endless idleness, you go on decking out your breast with Eastern jewels, like a lovely woman preparing for some new lover.
Calypso did not feel so when Odysseus, the Ithacan, left, when she wept long ago to the empty waves: she sat mourning for many days with unkempt hair, pouring out speech to the cruel brine, and though she might never see him again, she grieved still, thinking of their long happiness. Hypsipyle, troubled, did not stand like that in the empty bedroom while the winds snatched Jason away: Hypsipyle never felt pleasure after, melting, once and for all, for her Haemonian stranger. Alphesiboea was revenged on her brothers for her husband Alcmaeon, and passion severed the bonds of loving blood. Evadne, famous for Argive chastity, died in the pitiful flames, raised high on her husband’s pyre.
Yet none of them influence your mode of existence, so that you might also be known in story. Cynthia, cease now revoking your words by lying and refrain from provoking forgotten gods. O reckless girl, there’ll be more than enough grief in my misfortune if it chances that anything dark happens to you! Long before love for you alters in my heart, rivers will flow back from the vast ocean, and the year shall reverse its seasons: be whatever you wish, except another’s.
Don’t let those eyes seem so worthless to you, in which your treachery was so often believed by me! You swore by them, that if you’d ever been false, they’d vanish away when your fingers touched them. Can you then raise them to the vast sun, and not tremble, aware of your guilty sins? Who forced on you the pallor of your shifting complexion: who drew tears from unwilling eyes? Those are the eyes I now die for, to warn lovers such as me: ‘No charms can ever be safely trusted!’
Book I.16:1-48 Cynthia’s threshold speaks
Now I’m bruised in night quarrels with drunkards, moaning often, struck by shameful hands, I, who used to open to great triumphs, Tarpeia’s entrance, honoured for chastity, whose threshold was crowded with golden teams, wet with the suppliant tears of captives. Disgraceful garlands aren’t lacking, hung on me, and always torches rest there, symbols of the excluded.
Nor can I save my lady from infamous nights, honour surrendered in obscene singing. Nor does she repent as yet, or cease her notoriety: cease living more sinfully than this dissolute age. And, complaining, I’m forced to shed worse tears, made sadder by the length of some suppliants’ vigil. He never allows my columns to rest, renewing his sly insinuating song:
‘Entrance, crueller than my mistress’s depths, why are your solid doors closed now, and mute, for me? Why do you never open to admit my desire, unable to feel or tell her my secret prayers? Will there be no end assigned to my sadness, and sleep lie, unsightly, on your cool threshold? Midnight, the stars sinking to rest, and the icy winds of chill dawn, grieve for me. You alone never pity man’s grief, replying with mutually silent hinges.
O I wish that my soft voice might pass through some hollow cleft, and enter my lady’s startled ears! Then she would never be able to check herself, and a sigh would surface amongst reluctant tears, though she seems more unyielding than flint or Sicilian stone, harder than iron or steel.
Now she rests in another man’s fortunate arms, and my words fail on the nocturnal breeze. But to me, threshold, you’re the one, great cause of my grief, the one who is never conquered by gifts. No petulant tongue of mine ever offended you, in calling out angry drunken jests, that you should make me hoarse with endless complaining, guarding the crossroads in anxious waiting. Yet I have often created new lines of verse for you, and printed deep kisses on your steps. How often before now have I turned from your columns, treacherous one, and with hidden hands produced the required offering.’
So with this and whatever else you helpless lovers invent, he drowns out the dawn chorus. And I’m condemned to eternal infamy, for my mistress’s failings now, for her lovers’ tears forever.
Book I.17:1-28. He goes on a journey.
Since I managed to flee the girl, now it’s right that I cry to the lonely halcyons: Cassiope’s harbour’s not yet had its accustomed sight of my boat, and all my prayers fall on a heartless shore. Yes, even in your absence, Cynthia, the winds promote your cause: hear with what savage threats the sky resounds. Will good fortune ever come to calm the storms? Will that little beach hold my ashes?
Change your fierce complaints to something kinder and let night and hostile shoals be my punishment. Could you, dry-eyed, require my death, never to clasp my bones to your breast? O, perish the man, whoever he was, who first made ships and rigging, and ploughed the reluctant deep! Easier to change my mistress’s moods (however harsh, though, she’s still a rare girl) than to gaze at shores ringed with unknown forests, and search in the sky for the long-lost Twins.
If the Fates had buried my grief at home, and an upright stone stood there to my last love, she would have given dear strands of hair to the fire, and laid my bones gently on soft rose-petals: she would have cried my name, over the final embers, and asked for earth to lie lightly on me.
But you, the sea-born daughters of lovely Doris, happy choir, loosen our white sails: if ever love glided down and touched your waves, spare a friend, for gentler shores.
Book I.18:1-32 Alone amongst Nature
Truly this is a silent, lonely place for grieving, and the breath of the West Wind owns the empty wood. Here I could speak my secret sorrows freely, if only these solitary cliffs could be trusted.
To what cause shall I attribute your disdain, my Cynthia? Cynthia, what reason for my grief did you give me? I, who but now was numbered among the joyous, now am forced to look for signs of your love. Why do I merit this? What spell turns you away from me? Is some new girl the root of your anger? You can give yourself to me again, fickle girl, since no other has ever set lovely foot on my threshold. Though my sorrow’s indebted to you for much grief my anger will never be so fierce with you that rage could ever be justified in you or your weeping eyes be disfigured with falling tears.
Is it because I show few signs of altered complexion, and my faith does not cry aloud in my face? Beech-tree and pine, beloved of the Arcadian god, you will be witnesses, if trees know such passions. Oh, how often my words echo in gentle shadows and Cynthia is carved in your bark!
Oh! How often has your injustice caused me pains that only your silent threshold knows? I am used to suffering your tyrannous orders with diffidence, without moaning about it in noisy complaint. For this I win sacred springs, cold rocks, and rough sleep by a wilderness track: and whatever my complaint can tell of must be uttered alone to melodious birds.
Yet whatever you may be, let the woods echo ‘Cynthia’ to me, and let not the wild cliffs be free of your name.
Book I.19:1-26 Death and transience
I fear no sad shadows, now, my Cynthia, or care that death destines me for the final fires: but one fear is harder to bear than funeral processions, that perhaps my lonely corpse would lack your love. Cupid has not so lightly clung to my eyelids, that my dust could be void, love forgotten.
That hero, Protesilaus, could not forget his sweet wife even in the dark region: the Thessalian came as a shade to his former home, longing with ghostly hands to touch his joy. Whatever I am there, I will ever be known as your shadow: a great love crosses the shores of death.
Let the choir of lovely women of old, come to greet me there, those whom the spoils of Troy yielded to Argive men, none of whose beauty could mean more to me than yours, Cynthia, and (O allow this, Earth, and be just) though old age destined keeps you back, your bones will still be dear to my sad eyes. May you, living, feel this when I am dust: then no place of death can be bitter to me. How I fear lest you ignore my tomb, Cynthia, and some inimical passion draws you away from my ashes, and forces you, unwillingly, to dry the tears that fall!
Constant threats will persuade a loyal girl. So, while we can, let there be joy between lovers: no length of time’s enough for lasting love.
Book I:20:1-52 The story of Hylas: a warning to Gallus
For your loyal love, Gallus, take this warning (Don’t let it slip from your vacant mind): ‘Fortune often attacks the imprudent lover’: so might the River Ascanius, harsh to the Argonauts, tell you.
You have a lover, like Hylas, Theodamas’s son, no less handsome, not unequal in birth. Take care if you walk by sacred rivers in Umbrian forests, or the waters of Anio touch your feet, or if you wander the edge of the Phlegrean plain, or wherever a river gives wandering welcome, always defend your loving prey from the Nymphs (the Ausonian Dryads’ desire is no less) lest rough hills and cold rocks are yours, Gallus, and you enter eternally untried waters. The wretched wanderer Hercules suffered this misery, and wept by the wild River Ascanius, on an unknown shore.
They say that the Argo sailed long ago from Pagasa’s shipyard, and set out on the long voyage to Phasis, and, once the Hellespont’s waves slid past, tied her hull to Mysia’s cliffs. Here the band of heroes landed on the quiet shore, and covered the ground with a soft layer of leaves. But the young unconquered hero’s companion strayed far, searching for the scarce waters of distant springs.
The two brothers, Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind, chased him, pursued him, both above him, with hovering grasp, to snatch kisses, and alternately fleeing with a kiss from his upturned face. But he hangs concealed beneath the edge of a wing and wards of their tricks in flight with a branch. At last the sons of Orithyia, Pandion’s daughter, cease: ah! Sadly, off goes Hylas, off to the Hamadryads.
There lay the well of Pege, by the peak of Mount Arganthus, the watery haunt dear to Thynia’s Nymphs, over which moistened apples hung from the wild fruit-trees, and all around in the water-meadows white lilies grew, mixed with scarlet poppies, which he now picked with delicate fingers, childishly preferring flowers to his chosen task, and now bent innocently down to the lovely waves, prolonging his wandering with flattering reflections.
At last with outstretched palms he prepared to drink from the spring, propped on his right shoulder, lifting full hands. Inflamed by his whiteness, the Dryad girls left their usual throng to marvel, easily pulling him headlong into the yielding waters. Then, as they seized his body, Hylas cried out: to him Hercules replied, again and again, from the distance, but the wind blew his name back, from the far waters.
O Gallus warned by this, watch your affairs, entrusting handsome Hylas to the Nymphs.
Book I.21:1-10 Gallus speaks his own epitaph
‘You who rush to escape the common fate, stricken soldier from the Etruscan ramparts, why turn your angry eyes where I lie groaning? I’m one of your closest comrades in arms. Save yourself then, so your parents might rejoice, don’t let my sister know of these things by your tears: how Gallus broke through the midst of Caesar’s swordsmen, but failed to escape some unknown hand: and whatever bones she finds strewn on Etruscan hills, let her never know them for mine.’
Book I.22:1-10 Propertius’s place of origin.
You ask, always in friendship, Tullus, what are my household gods, and of what race am I. If our country’s graves, at Perusia, are known to you, Italy’s graveyard in the darkest times, when Rome’s citizens dealt in war (and, to my special sorrow, Etruscan dust, you allowed my kinsman’s limbs to be scattered, you covered his wretched bones with no scrap of soil), know that Umbria rich in fertile ground bore me, where it touches there on the plain below.
End of Book I