The poems by Tibullus have come to us in manuscripts divided in three or four books: the first two books are certainly by him, but the following poems are almost certainly not by him, but by other poets belonging to his circle. Those who wonder why three or four books: the division was made in the 15th century, but some consider the non-authentic poems as a single book. Book four is mainly about and by Sulpicia, the only Roman female poet whose poems have survived, though be it only some forty lines. She writes her love poetry to and for her friend Cerinthus and it is this Cerinthus whom we meet in the poem below praying to Apollo to drive away some disease from Sulpicia. So is he also the poet? Unlikely as most scholars think his name is not just a pseudonym, but that this whole lover is fictitious. So have we to think of a circle of young men and a woman experimenting with poetry to and by a fictitious character? May be. The poem as it stands in the manuscripts is probably not in the form it has originally been written, hence the transposition of various lines by scholars.
Tibullus 4.4 (or 3.10)
Huc ades et tenerae morbos expelle puellae,
huc ades, intonsa Phoebe superbe coma;
crede mihi, propera, nec te iam, Phoebe, pigebit
formosae medicas applicuisse manus.
Effice ne macies pallentes occupet artus, 5
neu notet informis candida membra color,
et quodcumque mali est et quidquid triste timemus,
in pelagus rapidis euehat amnis aquis.
Sancte, ueni, tecumque feras, quicumque sapores,
quicumque et cantus corpora fessa leuant; 10
neu iuuenem torque, metuit qui fata puellae
uotaque pro domina uix numeranda facit;
interdum uouet, interdum, quod langueat illa,
dicit in aeternos aspera uerba deos.
Pone metum, Cerinthe: deus non laedit amantes; 15
tu modo semper ama: salua puella tibi est;
nil opus est fletu: lacrimis erit aptius uti, 21
si quando fuerit tristior illa tibi. 22
At nunc tota tua est, te solum candida secum 17
cogitat, et frustra credula turba sedet.
Phoebe, faue: laus magna tibi tribuetur in uno
corpore seruato restituisse duos. 20
Iam celeber, iam laetus eris, cum debita reddet 23
certatim sanctis laetus uterque focis;
tunc te felicem dicet pia turba deorum, 25
optabunt artes et sibi quisque tuas.
intonsa Phoebe superbe coma: Apollo is the embodiment of the eternal kouros, the young male. When reaching adulthood hair was cut as a kind of rite de passage, hence intonsa coma `with uncut hair’.
propero: to hasten
pigeo pigui pigitum: to repent (almost only used as an impersonal verb.)
formasae: the beauty is of course Sulpicia
medicas manus: healing hands
macies (f.): leanness, meagreness
pallentes artus: bleak limbs (or prolepsis: so that they grow bleak)
informis color: a colour without distinction
in pelagus rapidis euehat amnis aquis: may a river bring it with rapid waters to the sea (The idea is that illness was the result of some evil spirit. Once transferred into some material object by incantations and magical formulas (cantus), this object was thrown into the sea or in a river flowing to the sea.)
sapores: medical droughts
torqueo torsi tortum: to torture
interdum..interdum: at one time…at another
langueo: to be weary
pone metum: put away your fear
laedo laesi laesum: to hurt, harm
opus est (+ abl.): there is need of
aptius: it is more fitting
candidus: (here) faithful
frustra: in vain
credula turba: the credulous crowd (of other lovers, as opposed to te solum cogitat)
in uno corpore seruato restituisse duos: in one healed body two people having been restored
debita: offerings for Apollo
certatim: in rivalry
Translation by A.S. Kline (2001, He kind be praised enough for providing free translations on internet!)
A Prayer For Sulpicia In Her Illness
Phoebus, come, drive away the gentle girl’s illness,
come, proud, with your unshorn curls.
Trust me, and hurry: Phoebus, you won’t regret
having laid healing hands on her beauty.
See that no wasting disease grips her pale body,
no unpleasant marks stain her weak limbs,
and whatever ills exist, whatever sadness we fear,
let the swift river-waters carry them to the sea.
Come, sacred one, bring delicacies with you,
and whatever songs ease the weary body:
Don’t torment the youth, who fears for the girl’s fate,
and offers countless prayers for his mistress.
Sometimes he prays, sometimes, because she’s ill,
he speaks bitter words to the eternal gods.
Don’t be afraid, Cerinthus: the god doesn’t hurt lovers.
Only love always: and your girl is well.
No need to weep: tears will be more fitting,
if she’s ever more severe towards you.
But now she’s all yours: the lovely girl
only thinks of you, and a hopeful crowd wait in vain.
Phoebus, be gracious. Great praise will be due to you
in saving one life you’ll have restored two.
Soon you’ll be honoured, delighted, when both, safe,
compete to repay the debt at your sacred altar.
Then the holy company of gods will call you happy,and each desire your own art for themselves