How old was Sulpicia when she wrote her poems? It is one of the many questions concerning this enigmatic Roman poetess. Almost nothing is known about her, except that she lived at the end of the first century BC. And are these poems autobiographical or images eluding the reader? These questions are important for the historian of literature, but not for the reader, at least not for a reader who reads these texts first of all as poetry. It is like watching a movie, e.g. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. Of course we know that the plot is impossible, but no one would be troubled by that or say in disgust `But that is not really Clementine Kruczynski! It is Kate Winslet!’ And so I am fully prepared to step into image of the poems and believe that Sulpicia was around 20.
In the next two poems Sulpicia complains about her uncle Messalla poem II: he was to take her to the countryside for spending her birthday – away from her lover Cerinthus. He had a villa near Arretium (modern Arezzo, north of Rome). With abhorrence Sulpicia thinks about what to do there: villas are not suited at all for a girl and swimming in the cold river there? No way! Actually the river Arno is not cold, but the simple thought of being without her lover makes her shiver.
Fortunately the trip was cancelled, as she gladly writes to her lover in poem III.
Sulpicia II and III
Invisus natalis adest, qui rure molesto
et sine Cerintho tristis agendus erit.
Dulcius urbe quid est? an villa sit apta puellae
atque Arrentino frigidus amnis agro?
Iam nimium Messalla mei studiose, quiescas,
non tempestivae, saeve propinque, viae!
Hic animum sensusque meos abducta relinquo,
arbitrio quamvis non sinis esse meo.
Scis iter ex animo sublatum triste puellae?
natali Romae iam licet esse suo.
Omnibus ille dies nobis natalis agatur,
qui nec opinanti nunc tibi forte venit.
invisus : hateful
molestus: annoying, boring
Arrentino frigidus amnis agro (aptus puellae)
Iam nimium Messalla mei studiose: vocative
nimium : too much
studiosus (+ gen.): zealous for
quiescas : let it rest
non tempestivae, saeve propinque, viae! So the reading adopted by Anne Mahoney. The manuscripts read: heu tempestivae saepe propinque viae. This reading can’t be right and various emendations have been proposed, depending on whether propinque is taken as a verb – from propinquo `to approach (+ dat.) – or as the noun propinquus `relative . The reading of Mahoney means `not fitting/suitable are the ways, you cruel relative!’
Hic …abducta relinquo = abducta, relinquo hic… taken away, I will leave here etc.
arbitrio quamvis non sinis esse meo : in my opinion you do not allow it be in whatever way (I want it)
iter sublatum triste: the sad journey has been taken away
suo: she refers to herself in the third person (or a corrupt reading for `meo’?)
nec opinanti tibi = tibi nec opinanti
opinator opinatus sum: to think, believe, imagine
forte: by chance
Translations by Anne Mahoney (2000)
My stupid birthday's here, and I'm supposed
to go away and leave Cerinthus here.
What's better than the city? On the farm,
it's cold and rustic — no place for a girl.
Messalla, uncle, you're thinking of me,
but stop it: this is no time for a trip.
Take me away, I'll leave my heart and mind
In Rome: what good's free will? You make the rules.
You know, that trip's been taken off my mind:
your girlfriend gets to spend her day in Rome.
Let's spend the day together, as we hoped:
we've had the good luck you were waiting for.