Sunday, 26 May 2013

Propertius 3.xvi: Cynthia orders him to come deep in the night.

Propertius (50-45 BC till shortly after 15 BC) was a Roman elegiac poet. Unlike Catullus he has not survived as a school author. I dare to bet that in the last 20 years or more no secondary school pupil here has read him. Like Catullus, Propertius too had a mistress about whom he wrote poems. She is known as Cynthia. It could be a purely literary person, but it could also be a real woman and then she is identified with Hostia, probably a courtesan. This identification depends only on one later source. In this poem Propertius got a letter from Cynthia urging him to come immediately. It is already deep in the night and he is pondering if it is not too dangerous to go at the late hour. He is then saying to himself that lovers are sacred and therefore protected. He does not say by whom, but fate or the gods are probably meant. As for myself, I am not quite sure if this still is the case. Propertius isn’t sure either, because he imagines what will happen when he is killed on his way to her. He is sure that Cynthis will take care of his body and grave: `but please Cynthia, I want to be buried at some quiet place!’ It is quite romantic and even sentimental. At the end one question remains: did he go or not? I think he did. I at least would do the same, but thus far I have never received a letter from a lady in distress in the middle of the night…

Propertius book 3 XVI

Nox media, et dominae mihi venit epistula nostrae:
    Tibure me missa iussit adesse mora,
candida qua geminas ostendunt culmina turres,
    et cadit in patulos nympha Aniena lacus.
quid faciam? obductis committam mene tenebris
    ut timeam audaces in mea membra manus?
at si distulero haec nostro mandata timore,
    nocturno fletus saevior hoste mihi.
peccaram semel, et totum sum pulsus in annum:
    in me mansuetas non habet illa manus.
nec tamen est quisquam, sacros qui laedat amantes:
     Scironis medias his licet ire vias.
quisquis amator erit, Scythicis licet ambulet oris,
    nemo adeo ut feriat barbarus esse volet.
sanguine tam parvo quis enim spargatur amantis
    improbus, et cuius sit comes ipsa Venus?
luna ministrat iter, demonstrant astra salebras,
    ipse Amor accensas praecutit ante faces,
saeva canum rabies morsus avertit hiantis:
    huic generi quovis tempore tuta viast.
quod si certa meos sequerentur funera cursus,
    tali mors pretio vel sit emenda mihi.
afferet haec unguenta mihi sertisque sepulcrum
    ornabit custos ad mea busta sedens.
di faciant, mea ne terra locet ossa frequenti
    qua facit assiduo tramite vulgus iter!
post mortem tumuli sic infamantur amantum.
    me tegat arborea devia terra coma,
aut humer ignotae cumulis vallatus harenae:
    non iuvat in media nomen habere via.

nox media: in the depth of the night (not midnight.)
Tibure: at the Tiber, modern Tivoli. This city was built on both sides of the river Anio and was a summer resort for rich Romans.
missa mora: without delay
candida culmina: the hills were white because of the marble.
geminas turres: (a) double (row of) towers/villas
cadit the Anio has a famous waterfall.
patulus: broad, wide 
nympha Aniena: the water of the Anio.
obduco: to spread
mene = me ne
audaces manus: of robbers. Rome and its surroundings were far from safe!
differo – distuli – dilatum: to postpone
fletus: the weeping of his girlfriend
et totum sum pulsus in annum: and I was pushed away (pulsus = expulsus) by her for a full year. (What terrible thing Propertius has done? And why not take a new girlfriend?)
mansuetas manus gentle/soft hands (mansuesco: to make tame)
nec tamen est quisquam: and besides there is no one
sacros: as lovers are sacred, no one would harm then,
Sciro –onis: a legendary robber who threw travellers in sea till he was stopped by Theseus
his: the amantes
Scythicis oris: the Scythes were proverbial for their barbarous behaviour
nemo adeo ut feriat barbarus esse volet = nemo adeo barbarus esse volet, ut feriat
ferio: to strike, knock
sanguine….Venus: some editors place these lines tuta viast. The textual transmission of the poems of Propertius is rather rambling.
spargo sparsi sparsum: to sprinkle
comes comitis (m and f): comrade
ministro: to lead
salebra: a jolting place, roughness
percutio –cussi –cussum: to shake, wave, or brandish before or in front
saeva canum rabies morsus avertit hiantis: the wild raging of dogs turns away is gaping bits (hiantis  = hiantes)
huic generi: for this sort of people
certa funera: a certain death
tali mors pretio vel sit emenda mihi: death has indeed to be bought by my for such a price (other editors read talis mors.)
haec: Cynthia
unguenta: before being cremated the body was anointed
serta: garland
custos custodis (m and f): guard
bustum: tomb
locet: Cynthia
terra frequenti: at a crowded place
assiduo tramite on a busy road (tremes – itis (m)
infamo: disgrace
arborea coma (abl!) with leafs of trees
devia terra: a place away from the road (tombs were often built at roadsides.)
humo (humare): to burry
vallatus: surrounded
cumulus: heap


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