Elegies Book 1.6

No thank you, Tullus

The situation, real or imaginary, is that Propertius has been invited by a friend to accompany him to Asia on the staff of the new governor, his uncle (also Tullus, who was consul in 30 BCE). The contrast that Propertius makes in refusing between the lives of lovers and men of action appears in other, contemporary poetry and was probably a stock theme. Paying a compliment to Tullus and his uncle for their public service and renown is probably the most important purpose of the piece. The fasces were an object, composed of rods and axes, carried by attendants to symbolise an office-holder’s authority. Mark Antony has only recently ceased to be the master of the eastern Empire, and the terms Propertius uses about Tullus senior’s appointment reflect this. As in earlier poems, Propertius makes it very clear that involvement with Cynthia has major ups and downs.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Non ego nunc Hadriae vereor mare noscere tecum,
Tulle, neque Aegaeo ducere vela salo,
cum quo Rhipaeos possim conscendere montis
ulteriusque domos vadere Memnonias;
sed me complexae remorantur verba puellae,
mutatoque graves saepe colore preces.
illa mihi totis argutat noctibus ignis,
et queritur nullos esse relicta deos;
illa meam mihi iam se denegat, illa minatur,
quae solet ingrato tristis amica viro.
his ego non horam possum durare querelis:
a pereat, si quis lentus amare potest!
an mihi sit tanti doctas cognoscere Athenas
atque Asiae veteres cernere divitias,
ut mihi deducta faciat convicia puppi
Cynthia et insanis ora notet manibus,
osculaque opposito dicat sibi debita vento,
et nihil infido durius esse viro?
tu patrui meritas conare anteire securis,
et vetera oblitis iura refer sociis.
nam tua non aetas umquam cessavit amori,
semper at armatae cura fuit patriae;
et tibi non umquam nostros puer iste labores
afferat et lacrimis omnia nota meis!
me sine, quem semper voluit fortuna iacere,
hanc animam extremae reddere nequitiae.
multi longinquo periere in amore libenter,
in quorum numero me quoque terra tegat.
non ego sum laudi, non natus idoneus armis:
hanc me militiam fata subire volunt.
at tu seu mollis qua tendit Ionia, seu qua
Lydia Pactoli tingit arata liquor;
seu pedibus terras seu pontum carpere remis
ibis, et accepti pars eris imperii:
tum tibi si qua mei veniet non immemor hora,
vivere me duro sidere certus eris.

It’s not that I’m afraid to travel with you to the Adriatic, Tullus, or set sail over the Aegean – you with whom I could scale the mountains of Scythia or voyage beyond Ethiopia and the halls of Memnon – it’s the words that my girl uttered in my embrace and the pleas she made again and again, the more effective for the wanness of her face, that hold me back. She talks on and on the whole night long about her love, complains she’s abandoned, that the Gods don’t exist, she says she is no longer mine, makes the threats that any unhappy lover will make to her man when he’s out of favour. Against complaints like those, I can’t hold out for an hour: rot any man who can love cold-heartedly! Could getting to know learned Athens and the ancient riches of Asia mean as much to me, as Cynthia screaming at me when the ship was launched and ready, scratching my face with crazy fingers, saying that I was only still there to kiss her because the wind was unfavourable, and that there’s nothing crueller than a faithless man? But you, prepare to walk before your uncle’s well-earned fasces, and bring back ancient rights to fellow citizens who had forgotten them, for you never had leisure for Cupid at any age, your concern has always been for the preparedness of your fatherland, and the boy Cupid can never bring you his misfortunes and all his tell-tale signs, stained with my tears. Fortune always intended me to lie idle: allow me to devote my life to utter worthlessness! Many have been content to die in the toils of a long, hard love: may I stay one of them until earth covers me. I was not born for renown, nor for battles: this is the kind of soldiering that the fates want me to do. But you, whether you go where gentle Ionia extends, or where the water of the Pactolus laps the ploughlands of Lydia, whether on foot by land or under oars by sea, you will be a part of the welcome authority of Rome. Then, if a moment comes when you think of me, you will know for certain that I am living under a cruel star.