There is now general consensus amongst scholars that book 3 and 4 of Tibullus’ elegies are by other hands: book 4 by Sulpicia and 3, 1-6 by Lygdamus. Little to nothing is known about Lygdamus, except may be his birthdate: 43 BC., which can be reconstructed from elegy 3.5.17, but this might well be a mystification of the author. A Lygdamus is clearly a pseudonym, as well the name of his wife or mistress Naeara, there is no solution for identifying the real author.
The elegies of book 3 are considered of less literary merit than those by Tibullus himself and were it not that at an early point in the manuscript tradition they were included in the corpus of Tibullus, they would probably not have come down to the present day.
Elegy 1 addresses Naeara at the Matronalia, a festival celebrating motherhood and married women in general. This festival took place at March 1, the original Roman New Year. Processions were all over the town and husbands and daughters gave gifts to their wife and mother. Lygdamus decides to send a book (or rather scroll) to Neaera, containing his poems, though as it is not certain whether this woman is real or just fiction, it need not be that this role contained the present poems. His description of this book has roused the interest of historians, as hardly any book role has survived antiquity. Unfortunately, his description is far from clear as he mainly uses phrases from other poets, giving more authority to poetic embellishment than to clarity.
The text is corrupt and the manuscripts offer a variety of readings. Often such texts are left out in anthologies and curricula, but it can do no harm to include such a text now and then as an illustration of the difficulties of constituting a text.
Note: I have used the edition of Tränkle (Berlin. 1990) and Navarro (Leyden, 1996).
Martis Romani festae uenere kalendae
- exoriens nostris hic fuit annus auis -
et uaga nunc certa discurrunt undique pompa
perque uias urbis munera perque domos.
Dicite, Pierides, quonam donetur honore 5
seu mea, seu fallor, cara Neaera tamen.
Carmine formosae, pretio capiuntur auarae:
gaudeat, ut digna est, uersibus illa meis.
Lutea sed niueum inuoluat membrana libellum,
pumex et canas tondeat ante comas, 10
summaque praetexat tenuis fastigia chartae
indicet ut nomen littera facta tuum,
atque inter geminas pingantur cornua frontes:
sic etenim comptum mittere oportet opus.
Per uos, auctores huius mihi carminis, oro 15
Castaliamque umbram Pieriosque lacus,
ite domum cultumque illi donate libellum,
sicut erit: nullus defluat inde color.
Illa mihi referet, si nostri mutua cura est,
an minor, an toto pectore deciderim. 20
Sed primum meritam larga donate salute
atque haec submisso dicite uerba sono:
"Haec tibi uir quondam, nunc frater, casta Neaera,
mittit et accipias munera parua rogat,
teque suis iurat caram magis esse medullis, 25
siue sibi coniunx siue futura soror;
sed potius coniunx: huius spem nominis illi
auferet extincto pallida Ditis aqua."
venere = venerunt
kalendae: the first day of the month. The kalendae of March was the first day of the year, till under Caesar the beginning of the year was set at the first of January.
exoriens annus: the beginning of a year
avus: grandfather, forefather
et vaga nunc certa = nunc vaga et certa
munera: new year’s gifts
Pierides: the Muses
seu…sue = sive…sive
fallor: to err
tamen: at least
involvo involvi involutum: to envelope
membrana: parchment, covering (here a kind of covering for the libellum protecting the papyrus from damage,)
pumex – icis (m.): pumice-stone (used to shave (tondeo totondi tonsum) the hair (coma) on parchment.)
ante: (adv.) before
summaque praetexat tenuis fastigia chartae indicet ut nomen littera facta tuum = et littera facta praetexat summa fastigia tenuis chartis ut indicet nomen tuum
praetexo –texui –tectum: to border, cover (i.e. a word (littera) is written on the highest top (summa fastigia, poetic plural) of the soft parchment (tenuis chartae)
cornua: (probably) the curved ends of the stick around which books were rolled, usually ornamented with ivory (The word is rare in this context: the normal word for a stick around which a book role was wound is umbilicus.)
atque inter geminas pingantur cornua frontes: a much discussed verse: The frontes are the top and bottom margin, but what to do with inter? And what is meant exactly? The most easy solution is the read geminae (dubble), meaning that both margins are illustrated.
como compsi comptum: ta arrange, adorn
auctores: the Muses
per…Castaliamque umbram Pieriosque lacus: along the Castalian shadow and the Pierian spring (Castellia and Pieria were a wood and a spring at mount Parnassus and sacred to the Muses.)
domum: of Naeara
cultum = comptum
defluat color: i.e. fade away
referet: can’t be right: either referat (so Tränkle in his edition) or referte (the edition of Navarro)
Illa mihi referat/ referte, si nostri mutua cura est, an minor, an toto pectore deciderim: she must tell me (or: you must tell me) whether our love is (still) mutual, or that it is less, or that I have fallen from her (your) whole heart.
meritam: she who deserves it
larga donate salute: difficult phrase: a solemn formula for plurimam salutem dicere ` (say much greeting to her)
submisso sono: in a low voice
haec: with munera parva
uir quondam, nunc frater: i.e. they had no sexual relationship any longer
et accipias munera parua rogat = et rogat: accipias munera parua
teque suis iurat caram magis esse medullis: and he swears that you are more (to him) than his own heart (medulla: marrow, inmost part, heart)
huius spem nominis: i.e. coniunx
huius spem nominis illi auferet extincto pallida Ditis aqua: the pale water of the Underworld will take away the hope for this name from him when he is dead.
Translation by by THEODORE C. WILLIAMS (1908)
THE NEW-YEAR'S GIFT
Now the month of Mars beginning brings the merry season near,
By our fathers named and numbered as the threshold of the year.
Faithfully their custom keeping, through the wide streets to and fro,
Offered at each friendly dwelling, seasonable gifts must go.
O what gifts, Pierian Muses, may acceptably be poured
On my own adored Neaera?—or, if not my own, adored!
Song is love's best gift to beauty; gold but tempts the venal soul;
Therefore, 'tis a song I send her on this amateurish scroll.
Wind a page of saffron parchment round the white papyrus there,
Polish well with careful pumice every silvery margin fair:
On the dainty little cover, for a title to the same
Let her bright eyes read the blazon of a love-sick poet's name.
Let the pair of horn-tipped handles be embossed with colors gay,
For my book must make a toilet, must put on its best array.
By Castalia's whispering shadow, by Pieria's vocal spring,
By yourselves, O listening Muses, who did prompt the song I sing,—
Fly, I pray you, to her chamber, and my pretty booklet bear,
All unmarred and perfect give it, every color fresh and fair:
Let her send you back, confessing, if our hearts together burn;
Or, if she but loves me little, or will nevermore return.
Utter first, for she deserves it, many a golden wish and vow;
Then deliver this true message, humbly, as I speak it now.
'Tis a gift, O chaste Neaera, from thy husband yet to be.
Take the trifle, though a "brother" now is all he seems to thee.
He will swear he loves thee dearer than the blood in all his veins;
Whether husband, or if only that cold "sister" name remains.
Ah! but "wife" he calls it: nothing takes this sweet hope from his soul!
Till a hapless ghost he wanders where the Stygian waters roll.