Elegies, Book 1.12

A change of fortune

by Propertius

When Cynthia and Propertius are together, he is often suffering from her threats to leave him, her legendary temper and the hard times that she gives him, often deservedly, for his bad behaviour. In this poem, we have another set of problems, this time the ones caused by her absence, possibly among the luxury and temptations of the famous resort town of Baiae, if the preceding Elegy, No. 11, is anything to go by. She is far away; the distance feels enormous; he misses her; his nights are sad and lonely; she no longer loves him and he doesn’t know why; her presence would be something, even if she made him cry. And so on: these are mostly things that we have heard before, and we will hear them again. Finally, though, also not for the first or last time, Propertius declares that Cynthia is the only girl for him, and that he will never give her up.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Quid mihi desidiae non cessas fingere crimen,
quod faciat nobis conscia Roma, moram?
tam multa illa meo divisast milia lecto,
quantum Hypanis Veneto dissidet Eridano;
nec mihi consuetos amplexu nutrit amores
Cynthia, nec nostra dulcis in aure sonat.
olim gratus eram: non ullo tempore cuiquam
contigit ut simili posset amare fide.
invidiae fuimus: num me deus obruit? an quae
lecta Prometheis dividit herba iugis?
non sum ego qui fueram: mutat via longa puellas.
quantus in exiguo tempore fugit amor!
nunc primum longas solus cognoscere noctes
cogor et ipse meis auribus esse gravis.
felix, qui potuit praesenti flere puellae
(non nihil aspersus gaudet Amor lacrimis),
aut, si despectus, potuit mutare calores
(sunt quoque translato gaudia servitio).
mi neque amare aliam neque ab hac desistere fas est:
Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit.

Why don’t you stop your slanders about dereliction of duty because I stay in Rome – where my shame is known? The girl is as many miles away from me and my bed as the river Hypanis in Sarmatia is from the Po in the Veneto. I am so used to my love for her, but Cynthia is no longer feeding it with her embrace, and her sweet voice is no longer in my ear. Once I was in favour: no-one, ever, could have been able to love with such devotion. But we were prey to others’ envy. Surely some god has knocked me down? Or has some magic herb, chosen from the Caucasus up on Prometheus’s ridges, stopped us loving? I am not who I was; the journey is long, and it alters women. So much love, gone in so short a time! Now I must get used to long,lonely nights, and being sick of the sound of my own complaining. Even if a man was crying for his girl, and with good reason, lucky him, if at least she was there – Cupid loves being sprinkled with tears – or, if she snubbed him, if he could switch his passion to someone else: even a change of servitude can have its pleasures. But for me,to love another girl, or stop loving this one, would be sacrilege: it was Cynthia at the start, and Cynthia will be the end.