Book 1, Elegy 1


This is the first of Propertius’s many poems about Cynthia. It seems to be on the conventional theme of the rejected suitor, but is it? He certainly says that his luck has been against him. Or are they an item already and he is having a hard time? That would explain why he says he wants to go far away where no woman can track him.  You could argue it either way. There is more ambiguity in Propertius’s mythological example, Milanion and Atalanta. Is he being sarcastic when he says it shows that “loyalty and good deeds” will get the girl? So far, all they have achieved for Milanion is a whack on the head with a tree-trunk.  Milanion won Atalanta, not by loyalty, but by cheating in a foot race, as Propertius flags up with his reference to her “speediness”. We are only on the first poem, but it already looks as though the narrator’s voice may be a bit unreliable.

The details seem vivid and spontaneous, but many have already been used by Greek poets and by Tibullus, an older Roman contemporary who wrote, like Propertius, in the new form of love elegy composed of a line in the classic metre of epic, paired with a shorter line with a break in the middle. Hylaeus was one of a brace of centaurs who had designs on Atalanta.

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Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis,

contactum nullis ante cupidinibus.

tum mihi constantes deiecit lumina fastus

et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus,

donec me docuit castas odisse puellas

improbus, et nullo vivere consilio.

et mihi iam toto furor hic non deficit anno,

cum tamen adversos cogor habere deos


Milanion nullos fugiendo, Tulle, labores

saevitiam durae contudit Iasidos.

nam modo Partheniis amens errabat in antris,

ibat et hirsutas ille videre feras;

ille etiam Hylaei percussus vulnere rami

saucius Arcadiis rupibus ingemuit.

ergo velocem potuit domuisse puellam:

tantum in amore preces et bene fact valent.

In me tardus Amor non ullas cogitat artis,

nec meminit notas, ut prius, ire vias.

at vos, deductae quibus est fallacia lunae

et labor in magicis sacra piare focis,

en agedum dominae mentem convertite nostrae,

et facite illa meo palleat ore magis!

tunc ego crediderim vobis et sidera et amnis

posse Cytinaeis ducere carminibus.


et vos, qui sero lapsum revocatis, amici,

quaerite non sani pectoris auxilia.

fortiter et ferrum saevos patiemur et ignis,

sit modo libertas quae velit ira loqui.

ferte per extremas gentes et ferte per undas,

qua non ulla meum femina norit iter:


vos remanete, quibus facili deus annuit aure,

sitis et in tuto semper amore pares.

in me nostra Venus noctes exercet amaras,

et nullo vacuus tempore defit Amor.

hoc, moneo, vitate malum: sua quemque moretur

cura, neque assueto mutet amore locum.

quod si quis monitis tardas adverterit auris,

heu referet quanto verba dolore mea!

Cynthia was first to snare me with her eyes,

the worse for me, till then not stricken by desire.

Then Cupid cast down my looks of stubborn pride,

Put his feet on my head and trod it down,

Until the lout had taught me to despise

good girls, and live with no discipline at all.

Now I have had this frenzy the whole year

and had to bear my luck being against me too.

It was by shirking no pains, Tullus, that Milanion

quelled the cruelty of harsh Atalanta.

One moment he was wandering crazy among the caves

of Parthenia, the next looking out bristling wild beasts;

yes, knocked down by Hylaeus’s club he lay

wounded and groaning on the rocks of Arcady.

That’s how he could overcome that speedy young lady:

that’s how much loyalty and good deeds are worth in love.

Cupid is slow, he thinks of no good ideas for me,

and has forgotten the familiar paths he took before.

Witches, with your trick of calling down the moon

and your ceremonious rituals over magical fires,

come on, change my lady’s attitude,

make her turn paler in the face than I am!

Then I would believe you can change the courses

of stars and rivers with your Thessalian spells.

Friends, who call me back too late now I have fallen,

find help for my ailing heart.

I have the resolve to bear the steel and the cruel fire,

if only my anger is free to say what it wants to say.

Carry me beyond all peopled lands and over the seas,

where no woman can track my path:

You, whose wish the god has heard kindly and granted,

stay here, in your safe love may you always be requited.

For me, our passion brings nights of torment

and Cupid never leaves off or stays away.

I warn you, shun this evil: let your devotion hold

you back, each of you, don’t shift in the love you know.

And now you have been warned, if you turn a deaf ear

Ah! may you recall my words with the greatest of pain!