Sextus Propertius (fi. 25 b.c.) is one of the three elegiac poets of the Augustan age whose work survives, the others being his contemporary, Tibullus, and Ovid, who was slightly younger. These poets wrote in elegiac couplets, which very often had a love theme. Propertius and Tibullus wrote elegiac verse exclusively, but Ovid used other meters.
Many of Propertius' elegies are concerned with his love for a woman he calls Cynthia. (Apuleius gives her real name as Hostia. Propertius was observing the convention of using a metrically equivalent pseudonym for his mistress; see the introduction to Catullus' "Love and Rejection," page 27.) Propertius and Cynthia's torrid relationship was punctuated by the unfaithfulness of each. In the poem whose beginning is given here, Propertius describes how, in an advanced state of drunkenness, he visited the sleeping Cynthia after a period of estrangement.
Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina languida desertis Cnosia litoribus; qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno libera iam duris cotibus Andromede;
text Propertius Elegies, ed. G. P. Goold (Loeb Classical Library, 1990) meter elegiac couplet [§m 2]
quâlxs I Thësë|à || iâcû|îtcë|dèntëcâ|rïnà lànguïdâ I dësër|tïs || Cnôsïâ | lîtôrï|bûs if. Propertius makes three learned comparisons to describe the sleeping Cynthia. Each is introduced by the relative adjective of quality quâlis (of u)hat sort), and these are taken up by talis (of such a sort) in 1. 7—in an idiomatic translation, we can say just as ... even so ...); the subject of the first clause is Cnôsia (-ae f. the Cnosstan [woman], i.e., Ariadne of Cnossos in Crete, who was abandoned by Theseus on the Aegean island of Naxos (cf. Catullus Carmina 64.52®, page 46)); Thësëà ... cëdente carina abl. absolute [§G49], lit., the Thesean keel going away (Thësëà adj. of Thëseus; carina -ae f. keel, here ship by synecdoche [§098])— trans, when the ship of Theseus was going away; take languida (exhausted) with Cnôsia—Ariadne collapses on the beach as she sees Theseus has forsaken her; dësertis ... litoribus abl. of place where [§g 38J on the abandoned (dëserô -ere) shore (pi. for sg. [§G53]). 3f. The second comparison is to Andromedë (Andromedës f. Andromeda), who had been chained to a cliff to be eaten by a sea monster but was freed by Perseus; et is postponed [§g 3]; the subject of accubuit (accumbô -ere lie down) is Cëphèia ... Andromedë Cepheian Andromeda, i.e., Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus nec minus assiduis Edonis fessa choreis 5
qualis in herboso concidit Apidano: talis visa mihi mollem spirare quietem
Cynthia consertis nixa caput manibus, ebria cum multo traherem vestigia Baccho et quaterent sera nocte facem pueri, 10
hanc ego, nondum etiam sensus deperditus omnis, molliter impresso conor adire toro;
(Cepheia adj. of Cepheus); primo ... somnd abl. of time when [§G37] in first sleep; take libera iam together, now free; duris cotibus abl. of place from which [§g 39] from the hard rocks (cos cotis f.).
5f. nec minus ... qualis trans, nor less like—the third comparison is no less applicable than the first two; Edonis (Edonidos f. an Edonian woman (the Edoni were a tribe in Thessaly celebrated for their frenzied Bacchic rites)) is assiduis ... fessa choreis exhausted from continual dances (chorea -ae f.; abl. of cause [§G48]); the relative qualis is postponed [§G4]; in herboso ... Apidano by (lit., on) the grassy Apidanus (a river in Thessaly, whose banks are being referred to as grassy); concidit (concidd -ere) collapses—Propertius uses the present tense because Bacchic dances were still conducted in Thessaly.
7f. The subject, Cynthia, is qualified by the phrase consertis nixa caput manibus (resting (nixa (perf. pple. of nitor niti) is used in a present sense [§G74]) [her] head on joined (consero -ere) hands (abl. of place where [§G38]))—unlike the English verb rest, which can be transitive or intransitive, nitor is only intransitive, and consequently caput is an accusative of respect [§g 15]; the main verb, visa [est] (seemed), is followed by mihi (to me) and mollem spirare quietem (to breathe gentle sleep).
9f, ebria... multo... vestigia Baccho steps (vestigium -(i)i n.) [made] drunk with much wine (abl. of cause [§048]; Bacchus -1 m.)—Bacchus, the god of wine, is used by metonymy [§g97] for wine itself; cum (when) is postponed [§g4]; the subject in 1, 10 is pueri (here slaves); quaterent ... facem were shaking (quatio -ere) [their] torches (fax facis f.; sg. for pi. [§053])—since there were no streetlights in ancient Rome, it was normal for a person going out at night to be accompanied by slaves carrying pine torches; when the night was advanced (here sera nocte (abl. of time when [§037] in the late night)) and torches had burned down, the slaves rekindled them by shaking.
xif. hanc (i.e., Cynthia) is the object of adire (adeo adire approach); nondum etiam not even yet; deperditus (lost; deperdo -ere) is qualified by an accusative of respect [§gi5], sensus ... omnis (lit., with respect to all [my] senses), trans, deprived of all my senses; molliter impresso ... toro abl. absolute [§g49] the couch (torus -i m.) having been gently pressed (imprimo -ere), i.e., having gently pressed (or gently pressing) the couch—Propertius is so drunk he must support himself by leaning against the couch where Cynthia is sleeping; conor historic pres. [§g6o].
et quamvis duplici correptum ardore iuberent hac Amor hac Liber, durus uterque deus, subiecto leviter positam temptare lacerto 15
osculaque admota sumere tarda manu, non tarnen ausus eram dominae turbare quietem, expertae metuens iurgia saevitiae,* sed sie intentis haerebam fixus ocellis,
Argus ut ignotis cornibus Inachidos. 20
f. Propertius Elegies 1.3.1-20
13f. In the quamvis clause, the subject of iuberent is hac Amor hac Liber (on this side Love, on that side Liber (another name for Bacchus, the god of wine)), with a phrase in apposition [§g52], durus uterque deus (each a pitiless god); the object of iuberent is [me] duplici correptum ardore [me,] seized (corripid -ere) by a double (duplex (duplicis)) passion (ardor arddris m.)—the double passion is that inspired by the two gods.
15f. The two infinitive phrases express what Propertius was being ordered to do; the first is to touch (temptd -are) [her,] having been lightly (leviter) placed (positam) on [my] put-underneath (subiecto perf. pple. of subicid -ere) arm (lacerto abl. of place where [§g38]; lacertus -I m.), i.e., [after] putting my arm underneath her to place her lightly on it and touch her; the second infinitive phrase is to take slow (tardus) kisses (osculum -I n.), [my] hand having been moved up (admota... manu abl. absolute [§g49]; admota perf. pple. of admoveo -ere), i.e., moving my hand up to take slow kisses—Propertius presumably wants to use his free hand to hold Cynthia's mouth as he kisses it.
17 ausus eram (1 sg. pluperf. ind. audeo -ere) I had dared; dominae ... quietem the sleep of [my] mistress (domina -ae f.); turbo -are disturb.
18 In the participial phrase, which goes with the subject of 1.17 (I, i.e., Propertius), the object of metuens is expertae ... iurgia saevitiae (the abuse (iurgium -(i)l n.; pi. for sg. [§<3 53]) of [her] having-been-experienced (expertae) violence (sae-vitia -ae f.), i.e., the abuse [that was the result] of her violent nature [and] that I had experienced)—expertus (perf. pple. of experior -Irl) here has a passive sense, having been experienced; it normally means having experienced.
19 Propertius' solution to his dilemma is simply to stare at Cynthia; he compares his action to that of Argus (for the legend, see the note to 11. nff. of Statius, "Insomnia," page 184)—this comparison is expressed by sic ... ut (in such a way as ...; for purposes of translation, sic can be ignored); intentis ... ocellis abl. of manner [§G4s] with straining (lit., stretched; intendo -ere) eyes (ocellus -I m.); haerebam (haereo -ere) lit., I was clinging [to her], but trans. I stared [at her]; fixus perf. pple. of figo -erefasten, i.e.,fixed to the spot.
20 Argus -I M. the thousand-eyed guardian of Io; haerebam (1. 19) governs the dative ignotis cornibus (at the strange horns (cornu -us n.)); Inachidos Greek gen. of Inachis daughter oflnachus, i.e., Id.
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