Alfred John Church.

Ovid online

. (page 16 of 21)
Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 16 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and greatest lyric poet of Italy.



TIBULLUS.



CHAPTER I.

THE LIFE OF ALBIUS TIBULLUS.

Although Catullus, as Ave have seen, lays some claim
to the credit of acclimatising the elegy as well as other
Greek types of poetry at Eome, the neatness and finish
of that form of verse may be attributed to Albius
Tibullus, a Eoman of equestrian family, whose birth-
place Avas Pedum, perhaps the modern village of Gal-
licano, and in his day so ruined and insignificant that
it survived rather as the name of a district than as an
ancient and once famous Latin city. Tradition has
not preserved the poet's prtenomen ; but his birth-
date was probably B.C. 54 : and, like the two other
tuneful brethren with whom we associate him, his life
and career Avere brief. He is supposed to have died
B.C. 18, according to an epigram of Domitius Marsus
only a few months later than Virgil. As is the case
with Catullus and Propertius, the data for a life of



94 TIBULLUS.

TibuUus are scant and sliadowy, and consist cliiefly
of an elegy of Ovid, an epistle of Horace, and a less
authoritative life by an old grammarian, with the
internal evidence to be extracted from the poet's ac-
knowledged remains. As he nowhere names his sire,
it is inferred that he died whilst he was yet a youth ;
but there are frequent and loving notices of his mother
and sister. Apparently his family estates had been
confiscated at the time of Caesar's death, and his for-
tunes had undergone the same partial collapse which
befell his poetic contemporaries, Horace and Virgil ;
but, like them, he clearly succeeded in recovering at
least a portion of his patrimony, and this apparently
by the good offices of his great patron, M. Valerius
Messala, a chief of the ancient aristocracy, who, after
the fashion of Maecenas and Agrippa, kept up a
retinue and mimic court of versifiers, and, it must be
allowed, exacted no more of them than was his honest
due. It was at Pedum, on his patrimonial estate
between Tibur and Praneste, some nineteen miles
from Eome, that he passed the best portion of his
brief but mainly placid life, amidst such scenes and
employments as best fitted his rural tastes, indif-
ferent health, and simple, contemplative, affectionate
nature. In his very first elegy, he describes himself
in strict keeping with his eminently religious spirit —
which, it has been well remarked, bade him fold his
hands in resignation rather than open them in hope —
wreathing the god Terminus at the cross-roads, paying
first-fruits to Ceres, setting up a Priapus to scare bird-
pirates from his orchards, and honouring the Lares



THE LIFE OF ALBIUS TIBULLUS. 95

with the offering of a lamhkin, the substitution of
which for the fatted calf of earlier days betrays the
diminution of his fortunes. As Mr Cranstoun tran-
slates, the poet's admission runs thus : —

" Guards of a wealthy once, now poor, domain —
Ye Lares ! still my gift your wardship cheers ;
A fatted calf did then your altars stain,
To purify innumerable steers.

A lambkin now — a meagre offering —

From the few fields that still I reckon mine.

Shall fall for you while rustic voices sing :

' Oh grant the harvests, grant the generous wine ! ' "

— (C. i. 1. 45, &c.)

The probable dates of his allusions to changed for-
tunes, in the first book of elegies, forbid the conjecture
of some of his biographers that these arose from his
lavish expenditure on his mistresses ; and it is cer-
tainly not so much of a dilapidated roue as of one who
lived simply and within his income and means, that
the shrewd-judging Horace wrote in Epistle iv. (Book

I-)-

" No brainless trunk is yours : a form to please,
Wealth, wit to use it. Heaven vouchsafes you these.
What could fond niirse wish more for her sweet pet.
Than friends, good looks, and health without a let,
A shrewd clear head, a tongue to si)eak his mind,
A seemly household, and a purse well lined ] "

— Conington.

Judging of him by his writings, and those of his
friends, Tibulius, then, would strike us as a genial.



96 TIBULLUS.

cheery, refined, but not foppish Eoman knight ; not
overbearing, from having been very early his own
master, but, for a Eoman in his condition, of a singu-
larly domestic character. It is clear that the court
and livery of Augustus had no charms for him in com-
parison with the independence of his Pedan country-
life, although an introduction to the former might
have been had for the asking. His tone is that of
an old-fashioned Conservative, disinclined to violent
changes, holding the persuasion that "the old is
better," and prepared to do battle for the good Satur-
nian times, before there Avere roads or ships, imple-
ments of husbandry or weapons of war. Nothing
in his poems justifies the impression that his own
meddling in politics had to do with whatever amount
of confiscation befell him : indeed it may reasonably
be assumed that, in pleading for restitution or com-
pensation, his patron may have found his manifest
aversion to politics as well as war very much in his
favour. With jNIessala, who had fought against the
Triumvirs under Cassius at Philippi, but had dis-
tinguished himself eminently at Actium on the side
of Augustus, Tibullus had been early intimate, though
he declined to accompany him to this decisive war in
B.C. 31. Less than a year later, however, he did
accompany him | as aide-de-camp, or perhaps more
probably as the bard of his prospective exploits, on
a campaign to Aquitania, and was present at the
battle of Atax (Ande in Languedoc), in which the
rebel tribes were effectually quelled. In the seventh
elegy of his first book, on the subject of Messala's



THE LIFE OF ALBIUS TIBULLUS. 97

birthday, the jjoet gives, partly from eyewitness and
partly from report (for he did not get further than
Corcyra in B.C. 30, on his voyage with his patron on
his Asiatic expedition), a sketch of the localities of
Messala's victories, which may thus be represented in
English : —

" Share in thy fame I boast ; be ■\\-itness ye,
Pyrene's heights, and shore of Santon sea :
Arar, swift Rhone, Garunma's mighty stream.
Yellow Carnutes, and Loire of azure gleam :
Or shall calm Cydnus rather claim my song.
Transparent shallows smoothly borne along 1
How peaks of Taurus into cloudland peer,
Nor yet its snow the rough Cilicians fear ?
Why need I tell how scatheless tlirough the sky
O'er Syrian towns the sacred white doves fly 1
How Tyre, with barks the first to trust the breeze,
Keeps from her towers an outlook o'er the seas 1
Or in what sort, when Sirius cracks the fields.
The plenteous Nile its summer moisture yields."

—(Book I. C. vii. 9-22.) D.

It was ill-health of a serious kind, if we may judge
from his misgivings in the opening of the third elegy
of the first book, which cut short his second campaign
at Corc}Ta; and there may probably have been as
much justification for his step in a natural delicacy of
constitution, as predisposition to it in his singularly
unwarlike tendencies. At any rate, when he turned
his back upon Corcyra, it was to say adieu for ever to
the profession of arms ; and thenceforth, though men-
tally following his patron's fortunes with affectionate
interest, which often finds vent in song, he seems to have
A.C.S.S., vol. iii. G



98 TinULLUS.

given up all campaigns, except in the congenial fields
of love and literature. N'o doubt, he had no objection
on occasion to fight his few battles over again ; and, as
the broken soldier in Goldsmith's ' Deserted Village,'

" Shouldered his crutch and showed how fields were
won," —

so our poet was quite at home in telling as well as hear-
ing the soldier's tale, with the aid of the wine-flask to
map out the battle-fields with niiost finger on the
table. But Peace approved herself so much more to
his mind that we find him constantly attributing to it
the whole cycle of blessings; amongst others —

" Peace nursed the vine, and housed the juice in store,
That the sire's jar his offspring's soul should cheer ; "

and it i« with perhaps more heartfelt enthusiasm than
that which he bestowed on the Gallic or Asiatic cam-
paigns that he commemorates on Messala's birthday,
already referred to, the peaceful services of that general
to his country in reconstructing a portion of the Fla-
minian way out of the spoils which he had captured
from the enemy. The lines in the original indicate
that this great work was in coiirse of construction
when the seventh elegy was written ; and it is not an
uninteresting note that, as in our day, so of old, the
road-maker was esteemed a public benefactor and the
pioneer of civilisation. " Be thine," ends the poet —

" Be thine a race to crown each honoured deed.
And, gathering round thine age, swell honour's meed.
Frascati's j'outh and glistening Alba's son
Tell out the civil work thine hand hath done.



THE LIFE OF ALBIUS TIBULLUS. 99

Thy wealtli it is the gritty rock conveys,
The gravel strews, the jointed stones o'erlays :
Hence, since no more he stumbles home from town,
Hence, of thy road oft brags belated clo"wn.
Come then for many a year, Ijlest birthday, come.
And brighten each year more Messala's home !" — D.

In truth, the lot of TibuUus w\as fitter to be cast in
such peaceful surroundings than in the "wars and battle-
fields of Eome, for empire far renowned. And there-
fore, with the exception of the sole warlike episode we
have noticed, his subjects are mostly peaceful, and
the poems, Avhich are the chronicle of his life, pretty
equally divided between praise of the country and
commemoration of rustic festivals and holidays, and
the praises or reproaches which he pours forth to
his mistresses ; for it does not seem that he exactly
parallels his co-mates Catullus and Propertius in ex-
alting his Delia to the same unapproached throne
as Lesbia or Cynthia. Still the history of his loves
demands quite as distinct a commemoration and illus-
tration as that of those of his fellows ; and it will there-
fore be convenient to reserve it to another chapter,
gathering up into this present sketch what little
remains to tell of the poet's biography distinct from
these. If we may take Ovid's contributions to the
record, it wiU be found in his " Tristia " that the fates
allowed them no time for intimacy, but that Tibullus
was read and known and popular in the reign of
Augustus, — not, however, through any special culti-
vation of an imperial patron, whom he invariably
ignores, though not because he had had no overtures



100 TIBULLUS.

to become a bard of tlie empire. Enougli for liim to
be stanch to an independent Eoman noble, the most
virtuous of his class, and to watch his opportunities of
a well-timed poetical compliment to him or his. Thus
when a rural feast is kept, and all are drinking healths
and making merry, the health of the absent hero, !Mes-
sala, is the toast he passes as an excuse for the glass
(El. lib. ii. 1). Another special and appropriate poem
(ii. 5) is written in honour of the eldest son of Mes-
sala, Marcus Valerius Messalinus, and of his election
into the College of Fifteen to guard and inspect
the Sibylline books in the Capitol, of which books
he maintains the credit by jDointing to the predicted
eruption of Mount iEtna and eclipse of the sun in the
fated year of Julius Caesar's assassination. We hear
very little indeed of our poet from his contemporaries,
and next to nothing from him of them, out of the
range of the Messaline family, — a proof of that addic-
tion to rural pursuits and privacy, which, along with
his loves, formed the staple of his muse. Even his
death, as pictured by Ovid, looks exceedingly like a
cento made up out of his own elegies ; for that poet
(Amor., iii. 9) makes his mother close his eyes, his
sister hang over his couch and watch his pyre with
dishevelled hair, and his mistresses lay claim to his
preference at that sad last ceremony, in language that
may well have been framed upon a study of the lan-
guage of Tibullus, when, in El. i. Ill, he anticipates
death afar from these last tributes at Corcyra. In
the absence of testimony we may infer that he died
peacefully at home — peacefully, though somewhat



THE LIFE OF ALBIUS TIBULLUS. 101

immaturely. Domitius Marsus reappears in Mr Crans-
toun's quatrain —

" Thee, young Tibullus, Death too early sent
To roam with Virgil o'er Elysium's plains,
That none might longer breathe soft love's hrment,
Or sing of royal wars in martial strains ; "

and it is but fair to add, from Professor Nichol's ad-
mirable version of the " Mors Tibulli," Ovid's graceful
asseveration that " Albius is not dead ; " but that, if
aught remains beyond the Stygian flood —

" Eefined Tibullus ! thou art joined to those
Living in calm communion mth the blest ;
In peaceful urn thy quiet bones repose :

May earth Ke lightly where thine ashes rest ! "

—(Am. iii. 9.)

The present may be a convenient place for stating
briefly that that portion of the Elegies attributed to
Tibullus which is unquestionably authentic is limited
to the first and second books; and that the first alone,
in all probability, liad the advantage of his own revi-
sion and preparation for the press. Amongst the argu-
ments against the authenticity of the third and fourth
books, there are some which can hardly be met by
the cleverest special pleading, though we confess that
Mr Cranstoun has shown considerable ingenuity in
his conservative view of the question. It is, however,
more probable that the elegies of the third book,
which treat of the loves of Lygdamus and Xeaera for
the most part, and which perceptibly lack the spirit
of Tibullus, whilst they evince quite a different talent,



102 TIBULLUS.

where they exhibit any, were the work of some other
poet in Messala's circle, "whose name, or else nom de
2)hime, may have been Lj'gdamus. As to the elegies
of the fourth book (apart from the first poem, which is
epic or heroic, and is panegyrical of Messala, though,
for the most part, a raw and juvenile production, not
Avorthy of Tibullus's genius), the general view is that
they are worthier of Tibullus than the third book, but
more probably the work of a female hand ; and with
one or two exceptions, that of the Sulpicia, a woman
of noble birth, and of IMessala's circle, whose love for
Cerinthus or Cornutus is their chief feature. One
thing is certain, that the range of the two earlier
books will furnish abundant samples of each charac-
teristic vein of the genuine Tibullus, who, though Dr
Arnold coupled him as a bad poet with Propertius,
and ^Niebuhr charged him with sentimentality, is
nevertheless a poet of singular sweetness of versifica-
tion, though unequal to his later elegiac brother in
force and strength. Perhaps the adverse criticisms
made upon him are due to the narrow range of liis
themes ; but he is worth a study, no less for the in-
dependence of his mind and muse, than for the almost
utter absence of any Alexandrine influence on his
style, syntax, and language. Of pure taste and great
finish, his genius is Italian to the core ; and whilst he
may lack the various graces of other poets of the em-
pire before and after him, he is second to none in a
tender simplicity and a transparent terseness, which are
peculiarly his own. It may not be amiss to close this
chapter with the just eulogium of this poet by Mr Grans-



THE LIFE OF ALBIUS TIBULLUH. 103

toun, the most appreciative, and, on the whole, the
most successful of Tibullus's translators. " His love
of home and friends, his enjoyment of the country, of
hills and dales, of shepherds and sheepfolds, of smil-
ing meadows and murmuring rivulets, of purple ^dne-
yards and yellow corn-fields, and of the innocence and
simplicity of earlier days, combined with that tender
melancholy which ever, cloud-like, threw a shadow
o'er his brow, gives him an almost romantic interest
in the eyes of modern readers ; and will always secure
for him, with lovers of rural scenes, one of the most
enviable positions among the sons of ancient song."



CHAPTEE 11.



TIBULLUS AND HIS LOVES.



With his domestic qualities, his plaintive tone, and
predisposition to contented enjoyment of rural happi-
ness, Tibullus, under other conditions and another
creed, might have found the ideal which he sought; hut
subjected to the caprices and inconstancy of one mis-
tress after another, his life was alloyed by a series of
unprosperous loves. If the third book, as has been
stated, is in all probability the Avork of another hand,
the sole attachment that promised a consummation
in marriage, that with the compatible but uncertain
I^esera, did not come upon the list of his loves. It
was Delia, or, as her true name appears to have been,
Plania (which the poet altered to affect the Greek),
who first seriously engaged Tibullus's affections, and
secured the tribute of his most perfect elegies. In
condition, she appears to have been, like the Cynthia
of Propertius, a hetsera, but of respectable parentage ;
and in some passages she is spoken of as if a married
woman. The poet, at any rate, found a bar to mar-
riage with her of some kind ; and probably the in-
ducement of a richer as well as a more permanent



TIBULLVS AND HIS LOVES. 105

connection, induced her to transfer lierself to the
wealthy spouse whom Tibullus pictures in his sixth
elegy (Book i.) as deceived and outraged by her infidel-
ities. But we ought to take Delia's self as painted in
our poet's first and happiest colours. The first six
elegies of the first book (with the exception of the
fourth) tell more or less of his love for her, and are
amongst the highest developments of his poetic power.
His allusion in the fifth elegy to the beginning of her
influence affords, at the same time, some clue to her
personal charms. In declaring that her spell is so
potent that, though they have quarrelled, he cannot
forget DeHa amidst other charmers, he analyses the
nature of her ascendancy. Was it —

" By spells 1 No, by fair shoulders, queenly charms.
And golden locks, she lit this witcliing flame ;
Lovely as to Haemonian Peleus' arms,
Ou bridled fish the Nereid Thetis came."

There are indications, too, that she could be kindly
and affectionate, and possessed such influence over him
through her tenderness, albeit short-lived and incon-
stant, as to make him sit light on hopes of advancement
from a patron, and rather disposed to spend his days
with her in silken dalliance and in rural quietude.
Eece signum : —

" How sweet to lie and hear the wild ■SA'inds roar,
"While to our breast the one beloved we strain ;
Or, when the cold Soutli's sleety torrents pour.
To sleep secure, lulled by the plashing rain !



106 TIBULLUS.

This lot be mine : let him be rich, 'tis fair,

Who braves the wrathful sea and tempests drear ;

Oh, rather perish gold and gems, than e'er
One fair one for my absence shed a tear !

Dauntless, Messala, scour the earth and main

To deck thy home with warfare's spoils — 'tis well ;

Me here a lovely maiden's charms enchain.
At her hard door a sleepless sentinel.

Delia, I court not praise, if mine thou be ;

Let men cry lout and clown — I'll bear the brand :
In my last moments let me gaze on thee,

And dying, clasp thee with my faltering hand."

— (i. 45-60.) C.

It is a characteristic of Tibullus, beyond almost any
other of his elegiac brotherhood, that a tender melan-
choly breathes constantly through his poetry, and that
the most pleasing pictures of serene content are anon
overclouded by a tinge of sad forecast. Indeed, he
makes the uncertain but lowering future an argument
for using the present opportunities of enjoyment.
Thus, in the close of the elegy from which we have
just quoted, he mingles gay and grave : —

" Join we our loves while yet the fates allow :

Gloom-shrouded Death will soon draw nigh our door.
Dull age creeps on. Love's honeyed flatteries grow
Out of all season, where the locks are hoar" — D.

but seemingly in the end allows the gay spirit to
predominate, l^ext apparently in order to the above
elegy comes one composed by Tibullus on his sickbed
in Corcyra (El. iii., bk. I), and nominally addressed
to Messala, though the burden of it first and last is



TIBULLUS AND HIS LOVES. 107

Delia, and Delia only. Out of it we glean not a few
notices of Roman customs — e.g., the resort of Delia to
the luck of the dice-box to ascertain, before he started,
the prospects her lover had of safe return, in spite of
the favourable nature of which she had wept oft and
ominously ; the misgivings of the poet himself, based
on ill omens; and the procrastination of his voyage, of
which he laid the fault on the Jew's Sabbath being
ill-starred for beginning a journey. Delia too con-
sulted, we find, the fashionable goddess of Eoman
ladies of her period, Egyptian Isis, and clanged the
brazen sistra, wherewith she was worshipped, with as
much devout enthusiasm as the best of them. The
poet assures himself that if her vows are heard, and
the goddess answers her prayers, homage, and offer-
ings, he shall rise from this bed of sickness, and,
better than all, eschew w^ar and its fatigues and alarms
for the rest of his life-span. These, he suggests, are
the indirect cause of his present serious illness ; and
some fine couplets contrast, in Tibullus's own view,
the reigns of peaceful Saturn and his war-and-death-
loving son. In a strain of mild depression he goes on
to write his own epitaph as prefatory to an unfavour-
able termination to his malady ; but it is amusing to
note that he counts upon Elysium in the after-world
on the score of his true love and stanchness in the
present life : —

" But me, the facile child of tender Love,

Will Venus waft to blest Elysium's plains,
Where dance and song resound, and every grove
Rings with clear-throated warblers' dulcet strains.



108 TIBULLUS.

Here lands ixntilled their richest treasures yield —
Here sweetest cassia all untended grows —

"With lavish lap the earth, in every field,
Outpours the blossom of the fragrant rose.

Here hands of youths and tender maidens chime
In love's sweet lures, and pay the untiring vow ;

Here reigns the lover, slain in youthhood's prime.
With myrtle garland round his honoured brow."

—(El. iii.) C.

It does not become directly obvious why after this
happy prospect the poet goes off at a tangent to an-
other and less inviting portion of the after- world, the
abode of the guilty in Tartarus, where Tisiphone
shakes her snaky tresses, and Ixion, Tityos, Tantalus,
and the daughters of Danaus atone their treasons
against Juno, Jove, and Venus. But the clue to the
riddle is a little jealousy on the poet's part. He un-
disguisedly suggests that with these " convicts under-
going sentence " is the best place for a certain lover
of Delia's, who took an undue interest in TibuUus's
foreign service, and wished in his heart that it might
be of long duration (iii. 21, 22). Too polite and too
affectionate to hint that such ought to be her desti-
nation also, if untrue to her vows to himself, the poet
adroitly bids her fence about her chastity with the
company of her trusty duenna or nurse, to teU her
stories, and beguile the hours of lamplight with the
distaff and the thread. Taking heart from this pretty
picture, which his fancy has wrought upon a pattern
of Lucretian precedent, not out of date it would seem
in good Eoman houses, though it might be imagina-



TIBULLUS AND HIS LOVES. 109

tive to connect it with Delia's, TibuUus seems to change
his mind about leaving his bones in Corcyra, or wing-
ing his spirit's flight to Elysium, and to prej^are his
mistress for his unexpected retiu-n : —

" So may I, when thy maids, with working spent,
And prone to sleep, their task by turns remit,
Upon thee, as by Heaven's commission sent.
Come suddenly, with none to herald it.

And thou, in dishabille, thy locks astray,
Barefoot to meet thy lover, Delia, run !

Goddess of morn, with rosy steeds, I pray,
Bring on betimes that all-auspicious sun." — D.

Whether thus unheralded or not, Tibullus certainly
realised his desire of a safe return to home and Delia.
The second elegy in the printed order appears to suit
the date of the year after this return — b.c. 29, and
discovers our poet in anything but the happiest rela-
tions with his mistress. Shut out, as was too often
the lover's portion in the experience of the writers of
Latin elegy, from his mistress's doors, and forestalled,
it should seem, by a lover more favoured for the
moment, he describes himself as solacing his chagrin


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 16 of 21)