Thursday, 19 July 2018

Prologue, addressed to Tullus - Sextus Propertius

Cynthia was the first. She caught me with her eyes, a fool
who had never before been touched by desires.
I really hung my head in shame
when Love pressed down on it with his feet.
He taught me to hate chaste girls!
He was cruel when he told me to live without plan.
It's already been a whole year that the frenzy hasn't stopped.
Even now, the gods are against me.

Milanion1 wasn't afraid of anything, Tullus2,
when he crushed hard Atalanta's3 savagery.
He wandered mad in Parthenian caves,
face to face with hairy beasts.
Another time, shocked by a wound from Hylaeus'4
stick, he groaned loudly on the Arcadian cliffs.
That's how he was able to dominate that brilliant girl:
in love, you've got to pray a lot and do a lot.

But in me Love is slow, does not stimulate any art,
and he forgets to go on ways he used to know
You who do that trick with the moon,
who perform rites on magic altars,
change my mistress' mind,
make her face more pale than my own!
Then I'll believe in you, that you can lead stars
and Medea's5 streams from their paths with songs.

But you, who called me too late as I was slipping, friends,
get help for the insane.
Bravely will I endure knife and savage fires,
just let me say whatever I want in my rage.
Take me to exotic peoples, across the waves,
where no woman may know my path.
You stay, to whom the god has easily consented,
stay equal always, throughout your love.
On me old Venus works bitter nights,
and Love is at no time absent.

Don't do what I do, I'm warning you. Keep to yourself,
don't move from an accustomed love.
Because if anyone should turn slow ears to my warnings,
you'll see how they'll come back to haunt him!

Sextus Propertius (c45 - c15 BC) Italy (Ancient Rome)
Translated by Vincent Katz
Source: Sextus Propertius: Elegies, edited by Vincent Katz, Sun & Moon Press. 1995

  1. Milanion - successful suitor of Atalanta (also called Hippomenes) - he won the race against her by dropping golden apples which she couldn't resist.
  2. Tullus - Tullus Hostilius was the legendary third king of Rome, 710-642 BC
  3. Atalanta - skilled hunter who lived in Arcadia, extremely swift of foot. Atalanta challenges her suitors to a race; whoever should first defeat her gets to marry her.
  4. Hylaeus - a centaur who tried to rape Atalanta - she killed him.
  5. Medea - a sorcerer from Cytaea in Colchis, on the Black Sea.

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