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Tibullus (c.55-19 BCE):
Elegies I:4, 8. 9

[Loeb prose translation, 1913, numbers refer to line numbers of Latin text]

I: IV To Priapus

1. " PRIAPUS, tell me - so may the sheltering shade be thine, nor thy head be harmed by sun or snows - what cunning of thine captures the handsome lads ? Sure thou hast no glossy beard nor well-kept hair. Naked thou art all through the cold of stormy winter, naked through the parching season of the Dog-star's heats."

7 Thus I; and thus to me replied the country child of Bacchus, the god armed with the curving billhook:

9 " O beware of trusting thyself to the gentle (turbae) band of boys; for they furnish always some valid ground for love. One pleases, for he keeps a tight hand on his horse's rein; another drives the calm water before a breast of snow. This one has taken you with his brave assurance, that one by the maiden shame that guards his young cheeks.

15 " Perchance at first he will refuse thee; but let not this dishearten thee. Little by little his neck will pass beneath the yoke. Length of time has taught lions to submit to man- with length of time weak water has eaten through rock. The year's flight ripens the grapes on the sunny hillside; the year's flight carries the radiant signs along their unvarying round.

21 " Be not afraid to swear. Null and void are the perjuries of love; the winds bear them ineffective over land and the face of the sea. Great thanks to Jove ! The Sire himself has decreed no oath should stand that love has taken in the folly of desire. Dictynna lets thee without harm assever by her arrows, Minerva by her hair.

27 " But if thou art slow, thou wilt be lost. Youth is gone how quickly ! Time stands not idle, nor returns. How quickly does the earth lose its purple hues! how quickly the tall poplar its beauteous leaves ! How neglected is the horse, when the lot of weak age overtakes him, that once I shot free from the barriers of Elis ! I have seen a young man on whom later years were closing round mourning for his folly in the day that had fled. Cruel gods ! The snake sheds his years, and is young: but the Fates grant no respite to beauty. Only Bacchus and Phoebus have youth everlasting; of either god are unshorn tresses the glory.

39 " Do thou yield to thy lad in aught that he is minded to attempt: love wins most by compliance. Nor refuse to go with him, though far be his purposed journey and the Dog-star bake the land with parching drought, though, threatening the coming storm, the rain-charged bow fringes the sky with hues of purple. Should he wish to fly over the blue waves in a boat, take the oar thyself and drive the light bark through the sea. Nor grieve to undergo rough labour or if thy hands are chafed by tasks to which they are strange. If round the deep glen he would place the ambush, then, so thou canst pleasure him, let thy shoulders not refuse to bear the hunting nets. If he would fence, thou wilt try thy light hand at the sport, and often leave thy side unguarded, that he may win.

53 " Then will he be gentle with thee; then thou mayst snatch the precious kiss: he will struggle, but let thee snatch it. He will let thee snatch at first; but later will he bring it for the asking, and presently even he will be fain to hang upon thy neck.

57 " But now, alas ! our perverse age plies wretched crafts. Now gentle lads have learned to look for gifts. Whoever thou art that first didst teach the sale of love, may an unhallowed stone weigh heavy on thy bones.

61 " Love the Pierid maidens, lads, and gifted oets; to no golden presents let the Pierian maids succumb. Verse keeps the lock of Nisus purple. Were verses not, no ivory would have shone on Pelops' shoulder. He whom the Muses tell of shall live, while earth bears oaks, sky stars, and rivers water. But he who has no ear for the Muses, who sells his love-let him follow the car of Ops of Ida and traverse, a vagabond, three hundred towns and slash the parts he slights to Phrygian measures. Venus herself allows love's blandishments their play. She sides with piteous weeping and suppliant complaints."

73 These things did the god's voice utter for me to sing to Titius; but them doth Titius' wife forbid him to remember. So let him listen to his dear; but do ye throng to my school whom some crafty lad with many wiles treats ill. Each of us has his proper glory. Let slighted lovers seek advice from me; to all my doors are open. A time shall come when round the master of the lore of Venus shall crowd the attentive young and take the old man home.

81 Alas! what lingering torture is this love for Marathus: helpless is my skill, and helpless all my cunning. Spare me, I pray thee, boy, lest I become a byword, when folk shall laugh at my useless teaching.

I: VIII To Pholoe on Marathus

1. No one can hide from me the meaning of a lover's nod, nor the message of gentle tones and whispered words. Yet no lots help me, no liver with heaven's will acquainted, nor do birds' notes tell me of the things to come. 'Twas Venus' self that tied my arms with magic knots and taught me all with many stripes.

7 Have done with concealments. God has fiercer fires for those that he sees have fallen to him against their will.

9 What advantage hast thou now in dressing the soft hair or shifting continually the arrangement of the tresses, what in beautifying cheeks with lustrous pigment, in having the nails pared by an artist's cunning hand ? In vain thy gowns, thy shawls are changed, and the tight loop squeezes the feet together. 'Tis the other charms, though she come with face untended and has spent no lingering skill on dressing her sheeny hair.
17 Has some hag bewitched thee with her spells, or with blanching herbs, in the silent night hours? Incantation draws the crops from the neighbour's field; incantation checks the course of the angry snake; incantation seeks to draw the moon down from her car, and would do it but for the blows on the echoing bronze.

23 Why do I complain, alas ! that spells or herbs have worked me woe? Beauty needs no aid from sorcery. 'Tis touching the body does the harm, giving the long kiss, resting thigh by thigh. Yet do thou for thy part see thou art not uncompliant to the lad; Venus visits harsh deeds with punishment.

29 Ask for no presents: these should a hoary lover give, that soft arms may warm his chilly limbs. Gold is less precious than a lad whose face is bright and smooth, with no rough beard to rasp caresses. Under his shoulder place thy radiant arms, and thus look down on all the treasures of a king. Venus will find a way for stealthy commerce with the lad while he quivers, and would draw your tender bosoms ever closer, for giving wet kisses with quickened breath and struggling tongue and printing the teeth's marks on the neck. No stone or pearls will give her joy who sleeps alone and chill, and to no man is desirable.

41. Ah, too late we call back love and youth when hoary eld has bleached the aged head. Then looks are studied. The hair is stained to disguise our years with dye from the nut's green husk. Then we task ourselves to pluck up the white hairs by the root and to carry home a face transformed, with the old skin gone. But do thou while thy life is still in its flowering springtide see that thou use it. Not slow are its feet as it glides away.

49 Nor torture Marathus. What glory is there in discomfiting a boy ? Be hard, my lass, to the effete old. Spare the tender shoot, I pray. Naught ails him gravely; 'tis from excess of passion comes the yellow stain upon his skin. See again, poor wretch, how often he heaps his piteous reproaches on the absent and all around is flooded with his tears.

55 " Why dost thou slight me? " he complains. " The watch might have been baffled. Heaven itself gives the lovesick skill to cozen. I know the secret ways of love, how the breath may be taken gently, and how kisses may be snatched and make no sound. I can steal up e'en in the dead of night, and unseen unbar the door without a sound. But what do arts avail if the girl spurn the hapless swain and, cruel, fly from the very couch of love ? Then again when she promises and suddenly plays false, I must wake through a night of many woes. While I fondly think that she will come to me, in every stir I hear her footfall sounding."

67 Shed tears no more, lad. Her heart is stone, and thy eyes are already worn and swelled with weeping. The gods, I warn thee, Phobe, abhor disdain. 'Twill be vain to offer incense to their holy fires. This is the Marathus that once made mock of wretched lovers, unwitting that behind him stood the god of vengeance. Often, too, we have heard, he laughed at the tears of anguish and kept a lover waiting with pretences for delay. Now he abhors all coyness; now he hates every door that is bolted fast against him. But for thee, girl, unless thou cease to be proud, there is punishment in store. Then how wilt thou long that prayers might bring thee back to-day !

I: IX To Marathus

WIIY, if thou wast to wrong my helpless love, didst thou pledge thy faith to me before the gods but to break it privily ? Unhappy ! even if at first we hide the perjury, yet in the end comes Punishment on noiseless feet. Still spare him, powers above. 'Tis not unjust if for one sin against your godhead beauty should pay no forfeit.

7 'Tis in quest of gain the countryman yokes his bulls to his good plough and plies his hard work on the land; it is gain that the swaying ships pursue when the sure stars guide them through seas that the winds control. And by gifts has my lad been captured. But may God turn them to ashes and running water.

13 Ere long he will make me full amends; his comeliness will be lost amid the dust and the winds that roughen his hair; his face, his curls will be burned by the sun, and long travel will disable his tender feet.
17 How many times have I warned him: " Let not gold sully beauty; under gold there often lurks a multitude of ills. Whosoever has let wealth tempt him to outrage love, with him is Venus fierce and obdurate. Rather burn my head with fire, stab my body with steel, and cut my back with the twisted scourge. And have no hope of concealment when thou art planning wrong. God knows of it, and lets no treachery stay hid. God himself has set [wine] within the reach of a tongue-tied servant, that with much strong drink his speech might flow free. Heaven itself has bidden the lips that slumber had sealed to open and to speak unwillingly of deeds that should have lain in the dark."

29 So used I to say to thee. Now I am ashamed that I wept as I spoke, that I fell at thy tender feet. Then thou wouldst swear to me that for no weight of precious gold or for pearls wouldst thou sell thy faith, nay, not if Campania's land were given thee as the price, or Falernum's fields that Bacchus tends. Such words could have robbed me of my certainty that stars shine in skies and that rivers run downward. Nay, more, thou wouldst weep; but I unversed in deceit would ever fondly wipe the water from thy cheeks.
39 What should I have done hadst thou not thyself been in love with a maid? May she be fickle-fickle, I pray, taking pattern by thee. Oh, how oft in the late night, that none should be privy to thy wooing, did I myself attend thee with the light in my hand ! Often, when thou didst not hope for her, she came through my good of ices, and stood hid, a veiled figure, behind the fast shut door. Then, poor wretch, was my undoing; I fondly trusted to Love: I might have been warier of thy snares. Nay, in my craze of mind I made verses in thy honour; but now I am ashamed for myself and the Muses. May the Fire-god shrivel those verses with devouring flame, or the river wash them out in its running waters. Go thou far hence whose aim is to sell thy beauty and to return with a great wage filling thy hand.

63 And thou who durst corrupt the boy with thy gifts, may thy wife unpunished make a constant jest of thee by her intrigues; and when the gallant is spent with her furtive dalliance, let her lie by thee lax with the coverlet between. Let there be always stranger tracks upon thy bed, and thy house be always free and open to the amorous. Nor let it be said that her wanton sister can drain more cups or exhaust more gallants. She, folk say, often prolongs her wine-bibbing revels till the wheels of the Light-bringer rise to summon forth the day. Than she could none 'Way out the night hours better, or arrange the different modes of love.

65 But thy spouse has learned it all, and yet thou, poor fool, dost notice naught when she moves her limbs with an unaccustomed art. Dost thou think that it is for thee that she arranges her hair and through her fine tresses passes the close-toothed comb? Is it thy beauty prompts her to clasp gold on her alms and come forth arrayed in Tyrian drapery? Not thee, but a certain youth would she have find her charming. For him she would consign to ruin thee and all thy house. Nor does she this out of depravity; but the dainty girl shrinks from limbs that gout disfigures and an old man's arms.

75 Yet by him has my own lad lain. I would believe that he would mate with a savage beast. Didst thou dare, mad youth, to sell caresses that belonged to me and to take to others the kisses that were mine ? Thou wilt weep, then, when another lad has made me his captive and shall proudly reign in thy realm.

81 In that hour of thy punishment I shall rejoice, and a golden palm-branch shall be put up to Venus for her goodness, with this record of my fortunes:



HTML. Paul Halsall


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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]