Monday, 4 November 2013

Propertius 2,11: a severe warning!



Apparently Propertius and Cynthia had again some fall out in their not quite trouble-free relationship. In this short poem Propertius threatens her not spend a single line of poetry on her anymore. Actually we are even not halfway his four books, so they must have made peace again. I will not copy all the notes Max Rothstein made in his edition (Propertius Sextus, Elegien, Berlin 1920), who devoted 3 columns of small print to this poem.
As for me, if I had a girlfriend writing poems about me, I won’t mind if in her anger she would write this kind of poems, as long as it is good poetry!

Propertius, Elegies, book 2 poem XI

Scribant de te alii vel sis ignota licebit:
    laudet, qui sterili semina ponit humo.
omnia, crede mihi, tecum uno munera lecto
    auferet extremi funeris atra dies;
et tua transibit contemnens ossa viator,
    nec dicet 'Cinis hic docta puella fuit.'

alli: other poets (Of course Propertius knew that there was not so much choice concerning good poets.)
ignotus: unknown
licebit: this word has often no syntactical relation to the rest of the sentence. Literally it means `it shall be allowed’ but the meaning is `I don’t care a damn’.
sterilli humo: on sterile ground
semina: the whole idea is of wasting time and effort, but it could be that a sexual allusion is meant too.  
munera: talents (they idea of the whole sentence is that she will have no one to immortalize her talents in poetry.)
uno lecto: i.e. the bed on which she will be put down for her cremation.
aufero abstuli ablatum: to carry away
extremi: syntactically with funeris, but it must be understood with dies. This is called enallage and is not uncommon in Latin poetry.
funus funeris (n.): funeral
ater atra atrum: black (notice that dies is feminine here.)
os ossis (n.) bone
transeo -ii/ivi -itum: to pass by
comtemno contempsi contemptum: to contemn, despise (Forms without the p occur too.)
viator –is (m.) traveller (Tombs were often place along the street side and many can still be seen today alongside the Via Appia.)
cinis cineris (m.): ashes
docta puella: apposition to cinis.

Translation by A.S. Klyne:

Let others write of you, or be without a name.
   Find praise from one who sows a sterile ground.
The bleak day of your funeral shall surely bear
   you off on one small couch with all your gifts,
and the traveller passing by will scorn your bones, nor say,
   “These ashes used to be a learned girl.”

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