Elegies, Book 1.3

Propertius and his sleeping beauty

by Propertius

See a charming sleeping beauty in the blog post here, but do not expect a fairy-tale in this poem. Propertius has come home drunk and feeling frisky in the dawn hours and Cynthia has been dreaming about tearing him off a strip. He has stayed out so late that his slaves’ torches have almost burnt out and they have had to shake the stubs to get a flame out of them.

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Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina
languida desertis Cnosia litoribus;
qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno
libera iam duris cotibus Andromede;
nec minus assiduis Edonis fessa choreis
qualis in herboso concidit Apidano:
talis visa mihi mollem spirare quietem
Cynthia non certis nixa caput manibus,
ebria cum multo traherem vestigia Baccho,
et quaterent sera nocte facem pueri.
hanc ego nondum etiam sensus deperditus omnis,
molliter impresso conor adire toro;
et quamvis duplici correptum ardore iuberent
hac Amor hac Liber, durus uterque deus,
subiecto leviter positam temptare lacerto
osculaque admota sumere et arma manu,
non tamen ausus eram dominae turbare quietem,
expertae metuens iurgia saevitiae;
sed sic intentis haerebam fixus ocellis,
Argus ut ignotis cornibus Inachidos.
et modo solvebam nostro de fronte corollas
ponebamque tuis, Cynthia, temporibus;
et modo gaudebam lapsos formare capillos;
nunc furtiva cavis poma dabam manibus;
omniaque ingrato largibar munera somno,
munera de prono saepe voluta sinu;
et quotiens raro duxti suspiria motu,
obstupui vano credulus auspicio,
ne qua tibi insolitos portarent visa timores,
neve quis invitam cogeret esse suam:
donec diversas praecurrens luna fenestras,
luna moraturis sedula luminibus,
compositos levibus radiis patefecit ocellos.
sic ait in molli fixa toro cubitum:
“tandem te nostro referens iniuria lecto
alterius clausis expulit e foribus?
namque ubi longa meae consumpsti tempora noctis,
languidus exactis, ei mihi, sideribus?
O utinam talis perducas, improbe, noctes,
me miseram quales semper habere iubes!
nam modo purpureo fallebam stamina somnum,
rursus et Orpheae carmine, fessa, lyrae;
interdum leviter mecum deserta querebar
Externo longas saepe in amore moras:
Dum me iucundis lapsam sopor impulit alis.
Illa fuit lacrimis ultima cura meis.”

Like drowsy Ariadne lying on the deserted shore
as Theseus’s ship slipped away;
like Andromeda, resting first in sleep
now free from her rugged cliff; or like
a Thracian bacchante spent with long dancing
who has sunk down by the grassy river Apidanus,
so, head on resting hands, did Cynthia
seem to me to breathe sweet repose,
dragging back my drunken steps and load of wine:
my boys had to shake the torches to keep them alight.
Not yet completely senseless, I try to steal
softly to her, leaning on the bed; and though
seized with a double passion, tempted, here by Cupid,
there by Bacchus, rough gods both, to try gently
to slip my arm beneath, attempt a kiss
and try my luck, I did not dare
disturb my lady’s peace, but knowing from experience
the rough end of her tongue and fearing more,
stood rooted, my eyes riveted on her
like Argus goggling at Io’s new horns.
Now I took the garlands from my own brow,
Cynthia, and put them on your temples;
now playfully moulded your flowing hair,
stealthily passed you apples cupped in my hands:
as you slept unaware; gave you all these gifts,
which would slip down to your lap as you lay aslant;
and when now and then you drew a sigh,
I held my breath, believing that the empty omen
might mean seeing something to cause unwonted fears,
or that someone was having you against your will:
until the moon, passing by the parted windows,
constant with her light so soon to fade,
with her gentle rays opened your shut eyes.
Rising on her elbow in her soft bed, Cynthia said
“Finally, has the other woman’s scorn thrown you
out, back to my bed, and locked the door behind you?
Where are you back from spending all this time, worn out,
at crack of dawn, when tonight belonged to me?
Wastrel, I only hope you have nights as miserable
as the ones you keep subjecting me to!
Now I staved off sleep by weaving purple thread,
now, weary, with the songs of my Orphean lyre,
and in between, deserted, softly complained
how long I have to spend waiting while you make love
to other women, until slumber took me, exhausted, with
gentle wings. That was the final care my weeping knew.”