Elegies, Book 1.5

Back off, Gallus!

by Propertius

As in his previous poem, Propertius is trying to put a stop to interference by someone wanting to intervene between him and Cynthia. Last time, Bassus was trying to get him to look elsewhere: now it is Gallus, who seems to be thinking of trying his luck with Cynthia himself. In both instances, Propertius’s argument is that she is dangerous and volatile: she will make both men’s lives a misery. With Bassus, Propertius made a lot of her compensating attractions: with Gallus, a rival, the message is that an affair with Cynthia is no fun at all, and there is no mention of compensating factors. Indeed, if this is what involvement with her is like, one can’t help but wonder why Propertius is so committed. This is not the only poem in which a whiff of masochism is in the air. Rebuffs to would-be meddlers in love-affairs occur in other poets including Catullus, and seem to have been a conventional theme.

Who Gallus was is not clear: the commentator W A Camps tells us that neither of two historical Galluses that we know of shared this Gallus’s aristocratic origin.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Invide, tu tandem voces compesce molestas
et sine nos cursu, quo sumus, ire pares!
quid tibi vis, insane? meos sentire furores?
infelix, properas ultima nosse mala,
et miser ignotos vestigia ferre per ignis,
et bibere e tota toxica Thessalia.
non est illa vagis similis collata puellis:
molliter irasci non solet illa tibi.
quod si forte tuis non est contraria votis,
at tibi curarum milia quanta dabit!
non tibi iam somnos, non illa relinquet ocellos:
illa feros animis alligat una viros.
a, mea contemptus quotiens ad limina curres,
cum tibi singultu fortia verba cadent,
et tremulus maestis orietur fletibus horror,
et timor informem ducet in ore notam,
et quaecumque voles fugient tibi verba querenti,
nec poteris, qui sis aut ubi, nosse miser!
tum grave servitium nostrae cogere puellae
discere et exclusum quid sit abire domum;
nec iam pallorem totiens mirabere nostrum,
aut cur sim toto corpore nullus ego.
nec tibi nobilitas poterit succurrere amanti:
nescit Amor priscis cedere imaginibus.
quod si parva tuae dederis vestigia culpae,
quam cito de tanto nomine rumor eris!
non ego tum potero solacia ferre roganti,
cum mihi nulla mei sit medicina mali;
sed pariter miseri socio cogemur amore
alter in alterius mutua flere sinu.
quare, quid possit mea Cynthia, desine, Galle,
quaerere: non impune illa rogata venit.

You envious fool, for goodness’ sake stop your annoying chatter and let the two of us carry on as we are now! What do you want? To feel the same frenzy as I do? You misguided misery, you’re rushing into problems of the worst kind, trailing your footsteps over hidden fires and drinking all the poisons Thessaly can offer. Cynthia is not like one of those easy-going girls: it’s not her way to be angry with you mildly. If even so she does not put you off, what endless problems she will give you! She won’t allow you to sleep, or look about you: on her own, she binds strong men to her will! Oh, how often you will come running to my door, spurned, strong words tumbling out of you in sobs, and the shivers and shakes will well up with your tales of woe, and terror leave its ugly mark on your face, and whatever words of complaint you grasp for will fail you, and you won’t be able in your misery to tell who or where you are! Then you will be forced to realise how heavy servitude to my Cynthia is, and what it is to be shut out and sent home, and you will not so often think it a wonder that I am pale, or a total physical wreck. Your nobility will be of no help to you as a lover, either: the love god never defers to ancestral portraits. And if you let the least sign of your guilty affair drop, how quickly, with your great name, you will be a prey to gossip! I won’t be able to offer you comfort then if you ask me, when I have no remedy at all for my own trouble – both of us, as partners in love, will be reduced to crying on one another’s shoulders. So stop asking, Gallus, what my Cynthia can do: if you proposition her, and she says yes, then you will pay the price.