Decimus Magnus Ausonius (310 Bordeaux – 393/4) was the most famous poet and teacher of rhetoric of his time. He was summoned to Rome to become the teacher Gratian, son of Valentian 1 and spent the years between 365 and 388 mostly at Rome or at campaign with Gratian. His final years he spent at his home town Bordeaux, writing poems and enjoying his estate.
He is best known from his poem Mosella, which he wrote around 370, in which gives an idyllic picture of the river Moselle. Apart from this poem he wrote lots of other poems amongst them this epigram for his wife in which he imagines that at old age they will still be youthful. Alas, she died when she was 28, leaving him three children of which one died in infancy. Though in later life he married a girl captured from the Alamanni, the loss of his first wife would cast a shadow over the rest of his life.
This epigram was probably written a year before her death:
Uxor, vivamus quod viximus et teneamus
nomina quae primo sumpsimus in thalamo ;
nec ferat ulla dies, ut commutemur in aevo,
quin tibi sim iuvenis tuque puella mihi.
Nestore sim quamvis provectior aemulaque annis
vincas Cumanam tu quoque Deiphoben,
nos ignoremus quid sit matura senectus,
scire aevi meritum, non numerare decet.
quod: most manuscripts read quod and one family ut. quod has been suspected and the emendation ceu by Heyne is accepted by most editors. However N. M. Kay has defended quod, pointing out that quod in Late Latin is used for sicut.
nomina: names showing affection, cuddling names
thalamus: bedroom and by extension: marriage
in aevo: in old age
quin = ut non
Nestore provectior: more advanced (in age) than Nestor
Cumana Deiphobe: The Cumaean Sybille, proverbial for old age of women
matura senectus: old age
scire aevi meritum, non numerate decet: It is proper to know the merits of the years, not to count them
Translation by Helen Waddell:
To his Wife
LOVE, let us live as we have lived, nor lose
The little names that were the first night's grace,
And never come the day that sees us old,
I still your lad, and you my little lass.
Let me be older than old Nestor's years,
And you the Sibyl, if we heed it not.
What should we know, we two, of ripe old age?
We'll have its richness, and the years forgot.