A Deep Breath of Clean Air

Seneca, Oedipus 1042-60

“I reject you, speaker of fate, divine protector of truth.
I am in debt only to my father.
I am a double-parricide, more guilty, I fear, since
I killed my mother. She was done in by my crime.
Apollo, you liar, I have outdone my evil destiny.

I pursue lying paths with a trembling step.
Pulling myself away with each slowed print,
I guide my dark sight with a shaking right hand.
I move forward, unsure foot after slipping foot,
Go, flee, disappear. But, stop, don’t fall on mother.

Any who are tired at heart and overcome with sickness,
Lugging around a half-dead body, look at me: I am leaving.
Lift up your gaze to see, a lighter sky follows
My back. Whoever lies in isolation
And still breathes can now take a deep breath
Of clean air. Go, go and help those cast aside.

I take the deadly sicknesses away from this land with me.
Brutal Fate, terrible shaking of Disease,
Starvation and dark Death, maddening Sickness,
Leave with me, Come with me. These are the guides who please me.”

Fatidice te, te praesidem veri deum
compello: solum debui fatis patrem;
bis parricida plusque quam timui nocens
matrem peremi: scelere confecta est meo.
o Phoebe mendax, fata superavi impia.
Pavitante gressu sequere fallentes vias;
suspensa plantis efferens vestigia
caecam tremente dextera noctem rege.
—ingredere praeceps, lubricos ponens gradus,
i profuge vade—siste, ne in matrem incidas.
Quicumque fessi pectore et morbo graves
semianima trahitis corpora, en fugio, exeo:
relevate colla, mitior caeli status
post terga sequitur. quisquis exilem iacens
animam retentat, vividos haustus levis
concipiat. ite, ferte depositis opem:
mortifera mecum vitia terrarum extraho.
Violenta Fata et horridus Morbi tremor,
Maciesque et atra Pestis et rabidus Dolor,
mecum ite, mecum. ducibus his uti libet.

Oedipus at Colonus, by Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust.

Sulpicia’s Song, At Last

The poems of Sulpicia are translated on Diotima. Note: in a particularly characteristic treatment, the Loeb digital library does not have a separate author entry for Sulpicia. Here is a nice summary about her with a few bibliographical links.

Sulpicia 13 (= Tib. 3.13)

 “At last, love is here—and the story I might have told to hide it
Would have caused me more shame than laying it bare.
Cytherea brought him right to me once I overwhelmed her
with my songs. Then  she put him right in my lap.

She promised it and she did it. Let anyone tell the tale of my laughter
if they happen to have none of their own
I would never want to trust notes to anyone to sealed tablets,
Just in case someone else reads them before my love.

Ah, it is a pleasure to ‘sin’ and exhausting to hide my face
For rumor’s sake. Let me be known as a worthy woman with her worthy man.”

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
attulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
dicetur si quis non habuisse sua.
non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus componere famae
taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

Martial, 10.35

“All girls who desire to please one man
Should read Sulpicia.
All husbands who desire to please one wife
Should read Sulpicia.
She doesn’t write the rage of the Colchian woman
Or repeat the dinners of dire Thyestes.
She doesn’t believe there ever was a Scylla, or Byblis
But she teaches chaste and honest love,
And games, both sweet and a little naughty.
Anyone who judges her poems well
Will say that there never was a cleverer girl,
There never was a girl more reverent!
I think that the jokes of Egeria
In Numa’s dark cave were something like this.
You would have been more humble and learned
With Sulpicia as a teacher or a peer, Sappho:
But if he had seen her by your side,
Harsh Phaon would have loved Sulpicia.
Uselessly: for she would not be wife of the Thunderer
Nor girlfriend to Bacchus or Apollo
Should she live after her Calenus was taken away.”

Omnes Sulpiciam legant puellae,
Uni quae cupiunt viro placere;
Omnes Sulpiciam legant mariti,
Uni qui cupiunt placere nuptae.
Non haec Colchidos adserit furorem 5
Diri prandia nec refert Thyestae;
Scyllam, Byblida nec fuisse credit:
Sed castos docet et probos amores,
Lusus, delicias facetiasque.
Cuius carmina qui bene aestimarit, 10
Nullam dixerit esse nequiorem,
Nullam dixerit esse sanctiorem.
Tales Egeriae iocos fuisse
Udo crediderim Numae sub antro.
Hac condiscipula vel hac magistra 15
Esses doctior et pudica, Sappho:
Sed tecum pariter simulque visam
Durus Sulpiciam Phaon amaret.
Frustra: namque ea nec Tonantis uxor
Nec Bacchi nec Apollinis puella 20
Erepto sibi viveret Caleno.

Martial is not referring to the first Sulpicia (whose poetry is recorded with that of Tibullus, book 3) but a second Sulpicia from the time of Domitian.

 

Français 599, fol. 72

Cold-Hearted Love

Propertius, Elegies 2.8.7–12

“Everything transforms; loves certainly change too—
You are overcome by those you’ve conquered, this is fortune’s wheel in love.
Great leaders, great tyrants often fall,
Thebes has fallen and high Troy now merely was.
How many gifts I gave; How many songs I made!
But that cold-hearted girl never even said “I love you”.

omnia vertuntur: certe vertuntur amores:
vinceris a victis, haec in amore rotast.
magni saepe duces, magni cecidere tyranni,
et Thebae steterunt altaque Troia fuit.
munera quanta dedi vel qualia carmina feci!
illa tamen numquam ferrea dixit ‘amo.’

Cupid and Psyche, Pompeii

Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Cold-Hearted Love

Propertius, Elegies 2.8.7–12

“Everything transforms; loves certainly change too—
You are overcome by those you’ve conquered, this is fortune’s wheel in love.
Great leaders, great tyrants often fall,
Thebes has fallen and high Troy now merely was.
How many gifts I gave; How many songs I made!
But that cold-hearted girl never even said “I love you”.

omnia vertuntur: certe vertuntur amores:
vinceris a victis, haec in amore rotast.
magni saepe duces, magni cecidere tyranni,
et Thebae steterunt altaque Troia fuit.
munera quanta dedi vel qualia carmina feci!
illa tamen numquam ferrea dixit ‘amo.’

Cupid and Psyche, Pompeii

A Predator and His Council: A Fable for Our Times

Phaedrus 2.6: The Eagle and the Crow

“Against those in power, no one has enough defense
If a wicked adviser also enters the scene
His power and malice ruins their opposition.
An eagle carried a tortoise on high,
When he pulled his body in his armored home to hide,
And rested hidden untouched by any attack,
A crow came on a breeze flying near them:

“You have well seized a precious prize with your talons,
But, if I don’t show what you need to do,
It will pointlessly wear you out with its heavy weight.”

Promised a portion, the crow instructs the eagle to drop
The hard shell from the stars upon a cliff’s rock.
It would be easy to feed on the broken flesh!

The eagle followed up these wicked instructions
And also split the feast with her teacher.
Just so, the tortoise who was safe by nature’s gift.
Was ill-matched to those two and died a sad death.”

Contra potentes nemo est munitus satis;
si vero accessit consiliator maleficus,
vis et nequitia quicquid oppugnant, ruit.
Aquila in sublime sustulit testudinem:
quae cum abdidisset cornea corpus domo,
nec ullo pacto laedi posset condita,
venit per auras cornix, et propter volans
“Opimam sane praedam rapuisti unguibus;
sed, nisi monstraro quid sit faciendum tibi,
gravi nequiquam te lassabit pondere.”
promissa parte suadet ut scopulum super
altis ab astris duram inlidat corticem,
qua comminuta facile vescatur cibo.
inducta vafris aquila monitis paruit,
simul et magistrae large divisit dapem.
sic tuta quae naturae fuerat munere,
impar duabus, occidit tristi nece.

Image result for medieval manuscript eagle and crow and tortoise

Sulpicia’s Song, At Last

The poems of Sulpicia are translated on Diotima. Note: in a particularly characteristic treatment, the Loeb digital library does not have a separate author entry for Sulpicia. Here is a nice summary about her with a few bibliographical links.

Sulpicia 13 (= Tib. 3.13)

 “At last, love is here—and the story I might have told to hide it
Would have caused me more shame than laying it bare.
Cytherea brought him right to me once I overwhelmed her
with my songs. Then  she put him right in my lap.

She promised it and she did it. Let anyone tell the tale of my laughter
if they happen to have none of their own
I would never want to trust notes to anyone to sealed tablets,
Just in case someone else reads them before my love.

Ah, it is a pleasure to ‘sin’ and exhausting to hide my face
For rumor’s sake. Let me be known as a worthy woman with her worthy man.”

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
attulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
dicetur si quis non habuisse sua.
non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus componere famae
taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

Martial, 10.35

“All girls who desire to please one man
Should read Sulpicia.
All husbands who desire to please one wife
Should read Sulpicia.
She doesn’t write the rage of the Colchian woman
Or repeat the dinners of dire Thyestes.
She doesn’t believe there ever was a Scylla, or Byblis
But she teaches chaste and honest love,
And games, both sweet and a little naughty.
Anyone who judges her poems well
Will say that there never was a cleverer girl,
There never was a girl more reverent!
I think that the jokes of Egeria
In Numa’s dark cave were something like this.
You would have been more humble and learned
With Sulpicia as a teacher or a peer, Sappho:
But if he had seen her by your side,
Harsh Phaon would have loved Sulpicia.
Uselessly: for she would not be wife of the Thunderer
Nor girlfriend to Bacchus or Apollo
Should she live after her Calenus was taken away.”

Omnes Sulpiciam legant puellae,
Uni quae cupiunt viro placere;
Omnes Sulpiciam legant mariti,
Uni qui cupiunt placere nuptae.
Non haec Colchidos adserit furorem 5
Diri prandia nec refert Thyestae;
Scyllam, Byblida nec fuisse credit:
Sed castos docet et probos amores,
Lusus, delicias facetiasque.
Cuius carmina qui bene aestimarit, 10
Nullam dixerit esse nequiorem,
Nullam dixerit esse sanctiorem.
Tales Egeriae iocos fuisse
Udo crediderim Numae sub antro.
Hac condiscipula vel hac magistra 15
Esses doctior et pudica, Sappho:
Sed tecum pariter simulque visam
Durus Sulpiciam Phaon amaret.
Frustra: namque ea nec Tonantis uxor
Nec Bacchi nec Apollinis puella 20
Erepto sibi viveret Caleno.

Martial is not referring to the first Sulpicia (whose poetry is recorded with that of Tibullus, book 3) but a second Sulpicia from the time of Domitian.

 

Français 599, fol. 72

Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Tawdry Tuesday: The Way to a Man’s Heart

Martial 11.29

“Phyllis, when you begin to stroke my flaccid pieces
with your wrinkled hand, I am just wrecked by your thumb.
Oh, when you say I am your “mouse” or “your shining lights”,
I don’t think I can be firm again for ten hours.

You’re ignorant of pillow-talk. Say, “I will give you a hundred thousand
acres of good Setine land
Here, have some wine, a home, boys, gold dishes and tables.
You don’t need your fingers at all–turn me on like this, Phyllis.”

Languida cum vetula tractare virilia dextra
coepisti, iugulor pollice, Phylli, tuo.
iam cum me murem, cum me tua lumina dicis,
horis me refici vix puto posse decem.
blanditias nescis: ‘dabo’ dic ‘tibi milia centum
et dabo Setini iugera certa soli;
accipe vina, domum, pueros, chrysendeta, mensas.’
nil opus est digitis: sic mihi, Phylli, frica.

11.64

“Faustus–what you write to so many girls, I do not know.
I do see that no girl writes to you though.”

Nescio tam multis quid scribas, Fauste, puellis:
hoc scio, quod scribit nulla puella tibi.

Image result for Roman tableware gold archaeology
Roman Silver from Berthouville

A Fine Poem on Friendship

Martial 12.40

“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”

Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.

Image result for medieval manuscript friendship
Royal 19 C II f. 59v