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

That Sickness Which Has No Cure

Propertius, Elegies 2.1.57–66

“Medicine may help all human pains—
Love alone responds to no doctor in its sickness.
Machaon healed Philoktetes’ twisted limbs;
Chiron the son of Phillyra saved Phoenix’ eyes
And the Epidaurian god with herbs from Crete
Returned dead Androgeon to his father’s home.
Even the Mysian who felt the wound from the Haemonian spear
Also found restoration from the same blade.
Anyone who is able to relieve me of this
Will be the only person to place fruit in Tantalus’ hand.”

omnis humanos sanat medicina dolores:
solus amor morbi non amat artificem.
tarda Philoctetae sanavit crura Machaon,
Phoenicis Chiron lumina Phillyrides,
et deus exstinctum Cressis Epidaurius herbis
restituit patriis Androgeona focis,
Mysus et Haemonia iuvenis qua cuspide vulnus
senserat, hac ipsa cuspide sensit opem.
hoc si quis vitium poterit mihi demere, solus
Tantaleae poterit tradere poma manu

Image result for medieval manuscript love
1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 C 1, f. 33r


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

Happy Birthday, Ovid: It’s All About Love

Tristia II: 361-376


“I am not the only one who has written tender love tales.
But I am the only one punished for love’s composition.
What, except for the liberal mixing of Venus with wine,
Did the lyric muse of the Tean* bard teach?
What other than loving did Lesbian Sappho teach the girls?
But Sappho was safe and Anacreon was safe.
It didn’t hurt you, Battiades*, that you often confessed
To your reader your dirty desires in your poems.
No story of playful Menander lacks love;
And he is usually read by boys and maidens!
What is the Iliad itself about other than an adultress
On whose behalf husband and lover quarrel?
What happens in the poem before the fire over Briseis
Makes the leaders enraged over a stolen girl?
Or what is the Odyssey about other than a woman sought for love
By many men when her husband is away?”

Denique composui teneros non solus amores:
composito poenas solus amore dedi.
Quid, nisi cum multo Venerem confundere uino,
praecepit lyrici Teia Musa senis?
Lesbia quid docuit Sappho, nisi amare, puellas?
Tuta tamen Sappho, tutus et ille fuit.
Nec tibi, Battiade, nocuit, quod saepe legenti
delicias uersu fassus es ipse tuas.
Fabula iucundi nulla est sine amore Menandri,
et solet hic pueris uirginibusque legi.
Ilias ipsa quid est aliud, nisi adultera, de qua
inter amatorem pugna uirunique fuit?
Quid prius est illi flamma Briseidos, utque
fecerit iratos rapta puella duces?
Aut quid Odyssea est, nisi femina propter amorem,
dum uir abest, multis una petita procis?

*Tean: Anacreaon
*Battiades: Callimachus

Euripides, Fr. 462 (Cretan Women): Only Death is Friend to the Poor

With the US presidential primary right around the corner, it might do some good to start up a debate about poverty–which will likely be mentioned far more here than by the candidates….

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Euripides, obviously, might disagree with Tibullus (1.1-6):

“Let someone else pile up gleaming gold
And hold as many lots of well-plowed land,
Let constant labor frighten him when an enemy’s near
As war’s clarion blasts send his sleep to flight.
But may my poverty guide me through a settled life
as long as my hearth shines with a tireless light.”

Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
Et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
Quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
Me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti, 5
Dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus.

Although, in a different fragment, Euripides notes the corrupting force of wealth:

Euripides, fr. 54 (Alexander): On the Educational Merits of Poverty?

“Wealth and too much luxury
Are the wrong lessons for manly men.
Poverty is wretched but at least it raises up
Children better at working and getting things done.”

κακόν τι παίδευμ’ ἦν ἄρ’ εἰς εὐανδρίαν
ὁ πλοῦτος ἀνθρώποισιν αἵ τ’ ἄγαν τρυφαί·
πενία δὲ δύστηνον μέν, ἀλλ’ ὅμως τρέφει
μοχθεῖν τ’ ἀμείνω τέκνα καὶ δραστήρια.

The fabulously wealthy Seneca might agree:

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

Knock, Knock, Knocking on [Delia’s] Door

Tibullus, I.2 1-6:


“Fill up my drink: suppress new pains with wine
So that sleep may take eyes held by exhaustion;
May no one interrupt a man concussed by great Bacchus,
But let a barren love rest.
A savage guard has been set for my girl:
She is locked inside and the doors are bolted closed.”

Adde merum vinoque novos conpesce dolores,
Occupet ut fessi lumina victa sopor,
Neu quisquam multo percussum tempora baccho
Excitet, infelix dum requiescit amor.
Nam posita est nostrae custodia saeva puellae, 5
Clauditur et dura ianua firma sera.

This poem had me until the locked door…This is an example of a motif of a lover sitting outside a locked door, called paraklausithyron. (I can only imagine that a depressed graduate student made the Wikipedia entry). When I first learned about this, the name and the phenomenon’s specificity disturbed me. But, I guess I understand the motif’s attraction–we’re all on the side of some door or another, right?

Sing it Bob…

Well, that didn’t do it. Ok, sing it Axl…

Tawdry Tuesday: Martial Turns a “Butter Face” Joke into a Poem

Epigram XI, 102


“He didn’t lie when he told me, Lydia,
That you have a beautiful body but not a face.
It’s like this, if you are quiet and lie back silent
As a picture in wax or in paint.
But every time you speak you ruin your flesh too,
No one’s tongue inflicts as much self-harm as yours.
Make sure that the aedile neither sees nor hears you.
It is a bad omen whenever a statue breaks into speech.


Non est mentitus qui te mihi dixit habere
formosam carnem, Lydia, non faciem.
Est ita, si taceas et si tam muta recumbas
quam silet in cera vultus et in tabula.
Sed quotiens loqueris, carnem quoque, Lydia, perdis
et sua plus nulli quam tibi lingua nocet.
Audiat aedilis ne te videatque caveto:
portentum’st, quotiens coepit imago loqui.



If you need something a little simpler or less mean as a palate cleanser after that, might we suggest the following couplet?

Epigrams, XI, 97


“I can perform four times in one night, but I’ll be damned
If I can manage once in four years with you, Telesilla.”


Una nocte quater possum: sed quattuor annis
si possum, peream, te Telesilla semel.

Tibullus, Elegies Book 1, 10: 33-44: Life is Short Enough, War is F***ing Crazy

“What insanity is it to hurry dark death along with wars?
It is already imminent, coming secretly with a quiet foot.
There aren’t any fields below nor cultured vines, but only
Bold Cerberus and the foul boatman beside Stygian waters.
There with crushed eyes and burned hair
A pale crowd wanders toward murky lakes.
Instead, we should praise the man whom old age finds
In his small stocked house once his children are prepared.
He follows his sheep as his son cares for the lambs
And his wife heats cold water for the tired man.
May I be like him; may the hair on my head grow grey
As I recall the good old days in the way of an elderly man.”

Quis furor est atram bellis accersere mortem?
Inminet et tacito clam venit illa pede.
Non seges est infra, non vinea culta, sed audax 35
Cerberus et Stygiae navita turpis aquae;
Illic percussisque genis ustoque capillo
Errat ad obscuros pallida turba lacus.
Quam potius laudandus hic est, quem prole parata
Occupat in parva pigra senecta casa. 40
Ipse suas sectatur oves, at filius agnos,
Et calidam fesso conparat uxor aquam.
Sic ego sim, liceatque caput candescere canis,
Temporis et prisci facta referre senem.

Tibullus, 1.2 35-42: On Keeping Control of Wandering Eyes

Tibullus has timeless advice for men who leer and catcall.

“Be sparing with your eyes, whether it is a man or a woman
In your path: Venus prefers her secrets to stay hidden.
Don’t frighten with pounding feet or ask for names
Or bring some shining light close to shine on a face.
If anyone’s gaze has lingered without caution,
May he hide it and deny to the gods what he remembers.
For any man who comes loose of tongue shall find
That Venus is by blood as mutable as the sea in kind.”

Parcite luminibus, seu vir seu femina fiat               35
Obvia: celari volt sua furta Venus.
Neu strepitu terrete pedum neu quaerite nomen
Neu prope fulgenti lumina ferte face.
Siquis et inprudens adspexerit, occulat ille
Perque deos omnes se meminisse neget:               40
Nam fuerit quicumque loquax, is sanguine natam,
Is Venerem e rapido sentiet esse mari.

Last year this time, my confession that I preferred Tibullus to Propertius prompted not dismissal from Palaiphron but what I now read as tacit permissiveness from Quintilian:

“We can challenge the Greeks in Elegy, too. Tibullus seems to me the most neat and elegant author in that genre; but there are those who prefer Propertius. Ovid is raunchier than either one, just as Gallus is more stern.”

elegia quoque Graecos provocamus, cuius mihi tersus atque elegans maxime videtur auctor Tibullus. sunt qui Propertium malint. Ovidius utroque lascivior, sicut durior Gallus.

(Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.1.93)

Ovid’s Poem is Sad and Completely Serious. Completely: Tristia, Book 3 (Proem, 1-20)

“I come to this city fearfully, sent as an exile’s book.
Reader, my friend, give a calming hand to the weary
and don’t worry that I might shame you in some way.
No line in this manuscript teaches about love.
My master’s fate is such that the miserable man
should not hide it in any jokes
That work which amused him once in his green age
He now condemns—alas, too late—and hates.
Look what I carry: you will find nothing but sorrow here,
a song which matches its own days.
If the lame song breaks off in alternating lines,
then it comes from the meter’s form or the journey’s length.
If I am not bright with cedar nor smooth from pumice,
it is because I turned red at looking better than my master.
If the letters are shapeless, if they are marred by erasure,
it is because the poet wounded the work with his own tears.
If any words seem by chance not to be Latin,
it is because he wrote them in a barbarous land.
Tell me, readers—if it is not too much—where should I go,
What home should I, a foreign book, seek in this city?

Missus in hanc uenio timide liber exulis urbem
da placidam fesso, lector amice, manum;
neue reformida, ne sim tibi forte pudori:
nullus in hac charta uersus amare docet.
Haec domini fortuna mei est, ut debeat illam
infelix nullis dissimulare iocis.
Id quoque, quod uiridi quondam male lusit in aeuo,
heu nimium sero damnat et odit opus.
Inspice quid portem: nihil hic nisi triste uidebis,
carmine temporibus conueniente suis.
Clauda quod alterno subsidunt carmina uersu,
uel pedis hoc ratio, uel uia longa facit;
quod neque sum cedro flauus nec pumice leuis,
erubui domino cultior esse meo;
littera suffusas quod habet maculosa lituras,
laesit opus lacrimis ipse poeta suum
Siqua uidebuntur casu non dicta Latine,
in qua scribebat, barbara terra fuit.
Dicite, lectores, si non graue, qua sit eundum,
quasque petam sedes hospes in urbe liber.