In 22 BC a certain Postumus was about to enter the army for an expedition to Armenia. Augustus wanted to confront the Persians there and hope for booty made men join the army. Propertius wrote a poem warning him not to go. His young wife Aelia Galla would be in constant fear about him and what when she gave way to the enticements of Rome? Fortunately she is chaste, a rare quality in Rome if we may believe some writers.
But the question remains: did Postumus go or not?
Maybe the whole question is irrelevant and this couple is just fictitious. We will never know…
Propertius, Elegy 3, 12
Postume, plorantem potuisti linquere Gallam,
miles et Augusti fortia signa sequi?
tantine ulla fuit spoliati gloria Parthi,
ne faceres Galla multa rogante tua?
si fas est, omnes pariter pereatis avari, 5
et quisquis fido praetulit arma toro!
tu tamen iniecta tectus, vesane, lacerna
potabis galea fessus Araxis aquam.
illa quidem interea fama tabescet inani,
haec tua ne virtus fiat amara tibi, 10
neve tua Medae laetentur caede sagittae,
ferreus armato neu cataphractus equo,
neve aliquid de te flendum referatur in urna:
sic redeunt, illis qui cecidere locis.
ter quater in casta felix, o Postume, Galla! 15
moribus his alia coniuge dignus eras.
quid faciet nullo munita puella timore,
cum sit luxuriae Roma magistra suae?
sed securus eas: Gallam non munera vincent,
duritiaeque tuae non erit illa memor. 20
nam quocumque die salvum te fata remittent,
pendebit collo Galla pudica tuo.
Postumus alter erit miranda coniuge Ulixes:
non illi longae tot nocuere morae,
castra decem annorum, et Ciconum mons, Ismara capta, 25
exustaeque tuae mox, Polypheme, genae,
et Circae fraudes, lotosque herbaeque tenaces,
Scyllaque et alternas scissa Charybdis aquas,
Lampeties Ithacis veribus mugisse iuvencos
(paverat hos Phoebo filia Lampetie), 30
et thalamum Aeaeae flentis fugisse puellae,
totque hiemis noctes totque natasse dies,
nigrantisque domos animarum intrasse silentum,
Sirenum surdo remige adisse lacus,
et veteres arcus leto renovasse procorum, 35
errorisque sui sic statuisse modum.
nec frustra, quia casta domi persederat uxor.
vincit Penelopes Aelia Galla fidem.
miles: as soldier
tantine ulla fuit spoliati gloria Parthi: was it some glory of a Parthian being plundered that much?
Galla multa rogante tua? Abl.abs.
si fas est (dicere)
pariter: at the same time, together
praefero praetuli praelatum: to prefer something (acc.) above something else (dat.)
fido toro: the faithful cushion
vesanus: insane, mad
iniecta lacerna: (covered by) a military cloak
poto potavi potatum: to drink
(ex) galea: from your helmet
Arexes: river in Armenia
tabesco tabui: to waste away
fama inani: by empty rumour
fiat amara: may turn out bitter
lines 11-14 are pathetic: Postumus could be killed and Persian arrows rejoice in his death or some soldier does, and he could be brought back in an urn! Now that must be a real comfort for Galla, suppose she read this poem too…
ferreus armato neu cataphractus equo (laetetur tua caede): or a soldier mailed in iron with in armoured horse (the Persians had a kind of heavy cavalry equipped like knight in the Middle Ages, with rider and horse both covered with armour.
cecidere = ceciderunt
dignus + abl.
nullo munita timore: not protected by any fear (i.e. when Postumus is away, Galla could do what she wants. Rome was far from a chaste city.)
puella: by poets also used as a word for young and married women, who were in fact still puellae, as the age of marrying for girls could be as young as 14.)
duritia: hardness, insensibility
From line 23 till the end Propertius compares Postumus with Odysseus
(cum) miranda coniuge
nocuere = nocuerunt
castra decem annorum, et Ciconum mons, Ismara capta: enumeration of Odysseus adventures after the destruction of Troy. After a siege of ten years, Odysseus first went to the land of the Cicones, A tribe in Thraciao with Ismara as their city. They were associates of the Trojans and all were killed by Odysseus and his men, except a priest.
Ismara capta: urbs condita construction `the capture of Ismara’
exustaeque tuae mox, Polypheme, genae: and soon, Polyphemus , your eyes burnt out. (genae can mean eyes, though normally it means cheeks.)
Circae fraudes: The goddess Circe turned Odysseus’ men into swine, when they inspected her isle Aeaea. Odysseus forces her to undo the magic, but then he stays with his men for a year, feasting every day.
lotosque herbaeque tenaces: it seems that Propertius is mixing up the story of the Lotus-eaters with the story of Circe, as now her frauds consisted in using this plant together with persistent herbs. Persistent because they take possession of the person who eats them.
lotos: a Greek nominative
Scyllaque et alternas scissa Charybdis aquas: Scylla and Charybdis, being divided with regard to alternating waters (acc. of respect) = divided by tidal waters. (Grammatically scissa belongs to Scylla, but logically it refers to both.)
Lampeties Ithacis veribus mugisse iuvencos: mugisse is the subject of the sentence (as are the following infinitives) and iuvencos is accusative of respect.
Lampetie, daughter of the Sun (= Apollo), was herding her father’s young bullocks (iuvencus). Unaware of whom the owner of these animals was, Odysseus men slaughtered them and put them on spits (veru, -us , n.) to roast. The gods were displeased with this action and made the animals lowing (mugio) on the spits.
pasco pavi pastum: to pasture
Aeaeae puellae: Calypso (In Homer she lives on the isle Ogygia, but Circe and Calypso were confused in later times. Needless to say that Odysseus had fun with her too. Calypso was weeping when he left her after seven years.)
nato: to flow
nigrantisque domos animarum intrasse silentum: Odysseus’s journey to the underworld
nigrantis = nigrantes = nigras
surdo remige: with deaf rower (remex –igis. Of course there were more than one.)
veteres arcus: the ancient bows (But there was only one.)
errorisque sui sic statuisse modum: and so having made an end of his wandering
frustra: in vain
Translation by A. S. Kline © 2002, 2008
Postumus, how could you leave Galla crying, to follow Augustus’ brave standard, as a soldier? Was the glory of Parthia’s spoils worth so much to you, with Galla repeatedly begging you not to do it? If it’s permitted may all you greedy ones perish equally, and whoever else prefers his weapon to a faithful bride!
You, you madman, wrapped in your cloak for a covering, weary, will drink Araxes’ water from your helm. She in the meantime will pine away at each idle rumour, for fear your courage will cost you dear, or the arrows of Medes enjoy your death, or the armoured knight on a golden horse, or some bit of you be brought back in an urn to be wept over. That’s how they come back, those who fall in such places. O Postumus you are three or four times blessed by Galla’s chastity! Your morals deserve a different wife! What shall a girl do with no fear to guard her, with Rome to instruct her in its voluptuousness? But rest secure: gifts will not win Galla, and she will not recall how harsh you were.
On whatever day fate sends you safely home, modest Galla will hang about your neck. Postumus will be another Ulysses with a wifely wonder: such long delay did him no harm: ten years of war; the Cicones’ Mount Ismara; Calpe; then the burning of your eye-socket Polyphemus; Circe’s beguilement; the lotus, its binding spell; Scylla and Charybdis, separated by alternate tides; Lampetie’s oxen bellowing on Ithacan spits (Lampetie his daughter grazed them for Phoebus); then fleeing the bed of Calypso, Aeaea’s weeping girl, swimming for so many nights and wintry days; entering the black halls of the silent spirits; approaching the Sirens’ waters with deafened sailors; renewing his ancient bow at the death of the suitors; and so making an end of his wanderings.
Not in vain, since his wife stayed chaste at home. Aelia Galla will outdo Penelope’s loyalty.