Propertius Elegy I.16
Translated by Steven J. Willett
Note: The paraklausithyron (παρακλαυσίθυρον) is a motif in Hellenistic Greek elegies and especially in Augustan love poetry. The literal meaning is “lament besides a door,” from παρακλαίω, “lament beside”, and θύρα, “door”. It describes a supplicating lover who’s been lockedout from the home of his mistress. There are two rhetorical forms in the motif: either the lover pleads for access through the doorgate to his mistress or the door itself responds to all the trouble caused by drunken rages outside or constant noisy pleas and banging for an entrance. Tibullus in Elegy I.2 addresses the locked door of his mistress.
An Ancient Greek Door from Rhodes
‘I’m one who once was thrown open to mighty triumphs,
a doorway famed for Tarpeian modesty;
their gold-inlaid chariots have celebrated my threshold,
damp with the supplicating tears of captives;
now I, bruised by the nocturnal brawls of drunkards,
so often struck by shameful fists complain,
and over me repulsive garlands never fail to hang
and always torches lie as shut out signs.
Yet I cannot defend my mistress from notorious nights,
once noble, now betrayed by obscene poems;
(she’s still not yet swayed to abstain from her fame,
and dwell in fouler rankness of the age.)
Between these, I’m forced to mourn gravid complaints,
a suppliant gloomier lying long outside.
He never suffers to give my doorposts any consolation,
repeating poems grated with their flatteries:
“Doorway, more deeply cruel than my mistress herself inside,
who’re you so silent, hard gates closed to me?
Why unlocked do you never give access to my passions,
unknowing furtive pleas to give if moved?
Will there never be an end conceded to my grief,
and foul on tepid lintel sleep will be?
Me the midnights, me the brilliant stars grieve prostrate,
and frigid Eastern blast torments with ice:
you alone never commiserate any human grieving,
you give an answer mute with silent hinges.
O would that my feeble voice pierced a hollow crack
percussing then to ply my mistress’ ears!
She may be far more stubborn than Sicilian crags,
may be much harder than iron or steel,
but for all that she won’t have power to curb her eyes,
and through unwanted tears a sigh will surge.
Now she lies propped in another’s auspicious arms,
and my words fall with breezes of the night.
But you alone, you are the major cause of my grief,
defeated never, doorway, by my gifts.
You aren’t assailed by any petulance from my tongue,
so used to speak my anger when I’m wronged,
that you provoke me hoarse with such long complaining,
anguished to watch at crossroads all the night.
But I have often brought you poems in quite new verse forms,
and bowed to print my kisses on your steps.
How often before your posts, traitor, have I turned my back,
and offered votive gifts with covered hands.”
So here he speaks—what all you wretched lovers know—
and now outclamors all the morning birds.
Thus by my mistress’ vices and always by her lover’s
weeping I’m defamed with endless scorn.’
Thoroughly enjoyable. The interposition of an anthropomorphic barrier between lovers is a clever literary device, as is the door as sole dramatis persona and narrator. Propertius exploits the comic potential well here.
The sentient door’s wearied & indignant complaints of its treatment and its own suffering are juxtaposed with the shut out paramour (presumably inebriated) reduced to directing his laments at an inert & unyielding wooden structure. It is clear the current frustrated lover is merely the latest going through a familiar, shameful nocturnal ritual – all told from the door’s POV. And of course it is left entirely to our imagination what is going on inside as “she lies propped in another’s auspicious arms”. Brilliant.