Propertius’s Poems Posted by on Jun 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

The ancient Roman poet Propertius was a contemporary of Virgil, and was a reputable poet in his own time. However the modern age has venerated Virgil virtually over all other poets. Propertius is making a comeback and some critics go so far as to say he was responsible for our modern concept of “romantic love”. Catallus had Lesbia, Ovid had Corinna and Propertius had Cynthia as his muse. There is still an uncertainty as to who this ‘Cynthia’ was. She might have been a courtesan or a noblewoman whose real name was Hostia. She may not have been a real woman at all, and possibly a fictional character that was used as the object of his affection. Whomever this Cynthia woman may or may not have been, she was the dominant focus of his poems. There are a total of three books dedicated to her. Let’s look at some of the lines that were written about her:

This line is Poem 1 of Book I:

(1) “Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis, contactum nullis ante cupidinibus.”

The translation of this line can be found below this page. For those of you want a chance to translate this on your own, and compare it with the translation at the bottom, please feel free to do so!

This line is from Poem 2 of Book 1:

(2) “naturaeque decus mercato perdere cultu, nec sinere in propriis membra nitere bonis? Crede mihi, non ulla tuaest medicina figurae:

When I first read this line, I thought it could have been an insult, but from reading the entire poem, he’s (Propertius) trying to say that his Cynthia doesn’t need to doll herself up and that she’s a natural beauty. That’s sweet!

Now the jealousy begins! Book 1 Poem 8a

(3) “et tibi iam tanti, quicumquest, iste videtur, ut sine me vento quolibet ire velis?”

His relationship with Cynthia apparently had its ups and downs… Book 1 Poem 8b

(4) “Cynthia rara meast!
nunc mihi summa licet contingere sidera plantis:
sive dies seu nox venerit, illa meast!”

Now the book ends, but with such a memorable line… Book 1 Poem 12

(5) “Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit.


(1) Cynthia was the first. She caught me with her eyes, a fool who had never before been affected by desires.

(2) You lose your natural charm with storebought sophistication, you don’t allow your limbs their native splendor. Believe me, there’s no way to remedy your figure:

(3) And is he, whatever-his-name, already so important to you that you’ll go wherever the wind blows, without me?

(4) Rare Cynthia is mine! Now I touch the highest stars with the soles of my feet.
Whether day or night, she is mine!

(5) Cynthia was the first, Cynthia will be the last.”





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