Propertius Elegy I.14 to Tullus on Triumph of Love

Translated by Steven J. Willett

Propertius and Cynthia at Tivoli, Auguste Jean Baptiste Vinchon

Note: This elegy concludes the sequence I.6~14 that deals with opposition to a true lover’s ratio vitae based on the poet’s own experience. The conventional wealth of a rich young man like Tullus, whose political and military career provides no room for love, is placed in sharp contrast to a relatively poor young man who has dedicated his life to the joys of love. Elegy I.14 is unique in expounding the full triumph of love. Through the development of Elegies I.6~14, Propertius gives us a comparison of false and true amores.

It’s quite alright, sprawling easily by the Tiber’s water

    you drink the Lesbian wine in Mentor’s cup,

 and marvel sometimes how rapid little skiffs rush along 

    and sometimes how slow barges go on ropes;

 and all your orchard arch its planted woods over head

    with just as many trees that weigh the Caucasus;

 yet none of those would stand to strive against my love:

    she knows not, love, a yield to massive wealth.

 For whether she prolongs with me the longed for night,

    or guides the whole day long in willing love,

 then come under my house the waters of the Pactolus,

    and gems extracted underneath the Red Sea;

 then my delights pledge me that the kings will concede:

    may these endure, till fate wants me to die!

 For who takes joy from riches with love adverse to him?

    No gain if Venus shows her wrath to me.

 She has the power to wreck the heroes’ mighty strength.

    She even is a grief to hardy minds.

 She neither is afraid to overstep the Arabian threshold

    nor fears, Tullus, to slide onto a purple couch,

 and a miserable youth to thresh about in his bedding:

    what mitigate the silken textured brocades?

 For while she’s by me well appeased, then I’ll not care

    to overlook all realms or gifts of Alcinous.
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2 Responses to Propertius Elegy I.14 to Tullus on Triumph of Love

  1. Deap says:

    Romans were a worldly lot: wine from Lesbos; Red sea gems (the purple dye conches for the couches); fruits from the Caucasus; silken brocades possibly from India; the exotic lure of Araby.

  2. EEngineer says:

    To live in an age where people still though and living in an unrushed manner…

    To drink in the fleeting reality of now…

    The computer has become modern digital LSD.

    A mind expanding tool of immense power few can master.

    But enslaves many, particularly in the kiddie toy (binky) version known as the “cell phone”.

    Will “Armageddon” for those so enraptured only be brought on by something as lovely as a return to the absolute tranquility our forebears had to seek out in their quiet times?

    One can hope…

    PS: my first attempt at anything approaching poetry.

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