Alfred John Church.

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Messala's eldest son, Messalinus, is complimented on
his election into the College of Fifteen, one pic-
ture or episode of rural life describes the festival
of the Pal ilia. This was a very ancient Italian holi-
day, partaking even more than the Ambarvalia of the
character of a lustration, inasmuch as in it fire and
water were used to purify shepherds and sheep, hinds,
herds, and farm-buildings. This festival fell on the
traditionary birthday of the city of Eome, and was
kept in honour of Pales, the tutelary goddess of
shepherds, such as were Eome's founders. To her
were offered prayers, and sacrifices of cakes, millet,
milk, and various eatables, — one solemn preliminary,
according to Ovid, being the composition of the smoke


"vvitli which stalls, sheep, and shepherds were purified.
In the evening, after the lustration, bonfires were
lighted, through the smoke of which the flocks were
driven with their shepherds thrice ; a second purifica-
tion, to which succeeded an open-air feasting on turf
benches. To this festival, which is fully described by
Ovid in his ' Fasti ' (iv. 731, &c.), allusion is made also
in the Elegies of Propertius (v. iv. 75. Paley). The
picture as given by Tibullus may be here represented,
with a note or two, from the version of Mr Cran-
stoun : —

" On Pales' festival, the shepherd, gay
With wine, shall sing : then wolves be far away.
Wine-maddened, he will fire the stubble-heap,
And through the sacred flames with ardour leap.
His wife will bring her boy his heart to cheer.
To snatch a kiss, and pull Ids father's ear.
Nor will the grandsire grudge to tend the boy,
But prattle with the child in doting joy.
The worship o'er, the youths upon the glade
Will lie beneath some old tree's glancing shade ;
Or with their garments screen their rustic bowers,
Fill fidl the bowl, and crown the wine with flowers ;
Each bring his feast, and pile green turf on high,
Turf that shall festive board and couch supply.
Where drunk, the youth his sweetheart will upbraid,
And shortly after wish his words unsaid.
Though bearish now, he'll sober down to-morrow.
Swear he was mad, and shed the tear of sorrow."

-(C, p. 62, 63.)

The italicised epithets have been inserted as more
literal, and the italicised lines as needing illustration.


The custom of leaping tlirough the fire, under the
notion of being purified by the smoke, is alluded to
by Propertius likewise ; and is said by Mr Keightley
to be still kept up in parts of Ireland and Scotland.
The seemingly disrespectful liberty taken by the child
with his father's ears, is explained by the peculiar
and playful kiss, given by a person to another whose
ears he held by w^ay of handles, which Greeks and
Romans occasionally practised, and which was called
bj'' the latter chutra. As to the old tree at the
village centre, the cross-roads, or district boundary, it
belongs to all time, and was the natural trysting-place
for the festival of Pales, as many an ancient oak or
elm discharges a like office, or designates a like tryst,
in our English counties.

The scrupulousness with which Tibullus kept these
rural festivals, observed his dues to Ceres, Silvanus,
and the Lares, and set up a Priapus in his orchard,
accommodated against stress of weather by a shady
grot, might or might not be taken as an argument that
two elegies in the third and fourth books, alluding to
the Matronalia, were from his muse, and not another's.
One so wrapt up in the country may have done all,
when he had discharged his duties to the deities pre-
siding over it ; or, on the other hand, one who made
so much of birthdays and anniversaries, might have
made a point of including among his special feasts the
first day of the first month (]\Iarch) of the sacerdotal
year, the festival Matronalia in honour of Juno, the
goddess of married women, a season when not only
husbands but lovers Avere Avont to present their loves


M'ith gifts, designated strence, tlie etrenues of Xew
Year's Day in Paris. The first elegy of tlie third book
draws a lively picture of the stir and bustle of a day
not unlike St Valentine's morning in its latest develop-
ment ; and the second in the fourth book, an elegant
and erotic performance, commends Sulpicia's beauty
as she appears dressed for this festival. Neither,
however, has the detail and the descriptiveness of
Tibullus's pictures of the rural feasts. Both may well
have emanated from one of Messala's set of proteges ;
but any one imbued with the tone and spirit of his
genuine elegies will hesitate to admit these into that
category. But this same scrupulousness and exact-
ness to which we have referred, besides attesting the
religious spirit, according to the light that was in him,
of Albius Tibullus, extended itself to his civil status
and conduct, in relation to the powers that then were.
Not improbably he was at heart an old-fashioned
waif and stray of the republic, for whom it was
enough to be admitted to the literary circle of that
virtuous representative of the old Eoman nobles, Mes-
sala ; and Avho, while acquiescing in the imperial rule
from inability, and probably disinclination, to take a
prominent or active part in politics or social matters,
made a point of maintaining his independence, by
keeping aloof from the cohort of the bards of the
empire. Though Ovid can elegise his tuneful pre-
decessor in strains which were no more than justly
due to one to whom his own poetry owed not a
little, and imagine him in death associated with
Catullus, Calvus, Gallus, and other poets, we do


not find Tibullus cultivating or even naming Au-
gustus or his ministers, or the members of his literary
coteries. Ho^y much or little Horace knew of him
depends upon the genial Venusian's evidence in a
single ode and a single epistle ; and that evidence does
not go for much. There is nothing to prove that
his goodwill was warmly reciprocated ; whilst Ovid,
who was much junior to Tibullus, did not enjoy his
personal friendship. There is, at all events, consider-
able negative evidence that our poet valued and cher-
ished his independence ; and good ground for believ-
ing that he maintained it. "Whether there is enough
to justify Dean Merivale's theory, " That he pined
away in unavailing despondency in beholding the sub-
jugation of his country," it would be hard to pro-
nounce, in the face of his slightly unpatriotic and
un-Roman deprecation of military service, his fondness
for ease and rustication, and his undeniable life of some-
what Anacreontic self -pleasing; but on the other
hand, there is ample ground for the idea, broached
and shadowed forth by the same eminent historian,
that Tibullus " alone of the great poets of his day
remained undazzled by the glitter of the Ctesarian
usurpation." * Akin to this independence of principle
is Tibullus's exceptional independence in literary
style : Avhilst all his contemporaries were addicting
themselves to Greek mythology and Alexandrine
models, he stood alone in choice of themes and scenes
best suited to his purely Italian genius. His terse,

* History of Eome uiuler tlie Empire, iv. 602.
A.C.S.S., vol. iii. I


clear, simple language, as well as thought, distinguish
him equally from the learning and imagination of
CatuUus, and the artificial phraseology and constantly-
involved constructions of Propertius. He deserves the
meed of natural grace and unrestrained simplicity, and
ranks amongst his elegiac contemporaries as par excel-
lence the poet of nature. In some respects his genius
might compare with that of Burns, though in others
the likeness fails ; and perhaps it is oiwing to his
limited range of subjects that he has not been more
translated into English. Dart's translation, as well
as that of Grainger, is almost forgotten ; the partial
translations of Major Packs and Mr Hopkins quite so.
A few neat versions of TibuUus which occur in ' Speci-
mens of the Classic Poets,' are due to Charles Abraham
Elton, the scholarly translator of Hesiod ; but it is
to Mr James Cranstoun that the English reader who
wishes to know more of this poet than can be learned
in a comparatively brief memoir and estimate, must
incur a debt such as we have incurred in the fore-
going pages.




Of the youngest raember of the elegiac trio it is not
hard to approximate the birth-date and estabhsh the
birthplace. "With reference to his full designation it
"will suffice to say that the name of Sextus rests on
fair authority, whilst there is nothing but a copyist's
blunder and confusion of oiu" poet with Prudentius
to account for the second name of " Aurelius" some-
times erroneously given to him. As to the date of
our poet's birth, Ovid tells us in his " Tristia " *
that he was younger than Tibullus, but older than
himself, so that whereas with Tibullus he had little
time for intimacy, with Propertius he enjoyed a tol-
erably close literary acquaintance. This would ena-
ble us to place his birth somewhere betwixt B.C. 54
and 44, and there is a probability that it was about

* IV. X. 51-54.


B.C. 49. Like his predecessors in Roman elegy, he
was country born and bred : nursed in the Umbrian
town of Asisium in Upper Italy, amidst the pastures
of Mevania, near the source of the Clitumnus, unless
in preference to his own evidence we choose to credit
the comparatively modern story which connects the
poet and his villa with " Spello," the modern repre-
sentative of the ancient town of Hispellum in the
same neighbourhood. Propertius, indeed, is tolerably
circumstantial on the subject where in his fifth book *
he makes the old Babylonish seer, who dissuades him
from attempting archaeological poems about "early
Rome " and the like, evince a knowledge of his ante-
cedents by telling him —

" Old Umbria gave thee birth — a spot renowned —
Say, am I right ? is that thy native ground ? —
Where, dewy-moist, lie low Mevania's plains,
Where steams the Umbrian lake with summer rains,
AVliere towers the wall o'er steep Asisium's hill,
A wall thy genius .shall make nobler still."

This account, it should be observed, is consistent with
the poet's direct answer to the queries of his friend
Tullus concerning his native place at the end of the
first book, that —

" Umbria, whose hill-border crowns
The adjacent underlying do^\^ls,
Gave biilh to me — a land renowned
For rich and finely-watered ground."

The steaming waters, which are called the Umbrian
* El. i. ad fin.


lake in the first passage, are doubtless the same which
are credited with fertUising power in the second :
the same sloping river (as the derivation imports) of
CHtumnus, which a scholiast upon the word in the
second book of Virgil's ' Georgics ' declares to have
been a lake as well as a river. The locale is of some
importance, seeing that it enhances our interest if
we can trace the lifelike scenes of Propertius's more
natural muse to his recollections of the Umbrian
home, from which he had watched the white herds
of Clitumnus wind slowly stall-ward at eve, had heard
the murmurs of the Apennine forests, and gazed with
delight on the shining streams and pastures of moist
Mevania. Scarcely less so, if Ave can account for the
exceptionally rugged earnestness of his muse by the
reference to his Umbrian blood, and the grave and
masculine temperament peculiar to the old Italian
races. In parentage, Propertius was of the middle
class, the son of a knight or esquire who had joined
the party of Lucius Antonius, and to a greater or less
extent shared the fate of the garrison of Perusium,
when captured by Octavius. A credible historian
limits the massacre tliere to senators of the town and
special enemies ; but the ekler Propertius, if he came
off with his life, was certainly mulcted in his property;
for whilst there are some expressions of the poet to
show that his sire's death was peaceful, though prem-
ature, it is certain that a large slice of his patrimony
had to go as a sop and propitiation to the veterans of
Augustus. The poet's reminiscences of his early home
must, like those of Tibullus, have been associated


with tlie hardships of proscription and confiscation ;
with early orphanage and forfeited lands ; with such
shrunken rents and decimated acreage, as made a
young man all the keener to bring his wits into the
market, and perchance to develop talents which would
have " died uncommended," had the stimulus of stern
necessity not existed. In the same elegy* already
alluded to, allusion is made to the sweeping en-
croachments of the ruthless " government measuring-
rod," -which made him fain, when he assumed the
manly toga, and laid aside the golden amulet worn "by
the children of the freeborn or " ingenui," to relieve
his widowed mother of the burden which his father's
premature death had devolved on her, and to repair
to Eome with a view to completing his training for
the bar. That he was obliged to content himself with
an ordinary preparation, and to forego the higher
Attic polish, is clear from an admission to his friend
Tullust that he has yet at a much later period to
see Athens ; but further, we may guess that his
keeping terms at the bar soon became only his osten-
sible occupation in life, and that like young Horace
the treasury clerk, and Virgil the suitor, and Tibullus
the claimant, the channel which led to real fame and
competence was — poetry,

" Then Phoebus charmed thy poet-soul afar
From the fierce thvmderings of the noisy bar."

Of how many modern divines, and essayists, and lit-
* V. i. 129-134. 1 1- vi. 13.


terateurs has not the original destination been similar,
and similarly diverted ! It was essential, doubtless, to
Propertius's success in this divergent occupation and
livelihood that he should find a patron, to become to him
what Maecenas was to Horace, and Messala to Tibullus.
Later on, he got introduced to the great commoner,
prime minister, and patron, whose inner circle on the
Esquiline assured distinction in letters to all its mem-
bers : but his first patron Avas Volcatius Tullus, the
nephew of L. Volcatius Tullus, consul in b.c. 33 and
proconsul in Asia, who was of the poet's o\yjx age, and
probably his uncle's lieutenant. To this Tullus are
addressed several of the elegies of the first book, and
it is reasonable to think that the link between patron
and client was one of equal friendship. A little of
the proper pride of the Umbrian rhymer comes out in
what he writes to Maecenas, at a subsequent period,
deprecating public station and prominence, and deli-
cately suggesting that in eschewing these and loftier
themes he does but imitate the retiring modesty of
his patron.

Before, however, we discuss his relations with patrons
and contemporary poets, it were well to glance at the
sources and subjects of his trained and erudite muse.
If ever epithet was fitted to a proper name, it is the
epithet of " doctus " or " learned " in connection with
that of Propertius. More than Catullus, infinitely more
than Tibullus, Propertius was imbued with and bathed
in the Alexandrian poetry and poets. Again and again
he calls himself the disciple of the Coan Philetas,
and his ambition was to be, what Ovid designates

136 PRO PERT J us.

liim, the " Eoraan Callimachus." That this ambition
was detrimental at times to his originality and true
genius, there is abundant proof in the perusal of his
elegies. His too much learning, his stores of Alex-
andrian archaeology, overflow upon his love-elegies in
such wise as to impress the reader with the unreality
of the erudite wooer's compliments, and to make him
cease to wonder that Cynthia jilted him for a vulgar
and loutish praetor. And this was not confined to his
love-poems. Where he deals with Eoman and Italian
legends, he is apt to overcumber them with parallels
from foreign mytliland : and it may be said without
controversy that where he fails in perspicuity, and
induces the most irrepressible tedium, is in his un-
measured doses of Greek mythology.

It is the general opinion of scholars that the essen-
tially Roman poems of Propertius were his first at-
tempts in poetry, and that he took the lost "Dreams,"
as he styles that poet's epic, of Callimachus for his
model of their style. If so, it is no less probable that
the self -same themes occupied his latest muse, the
mean space being given up to his erotic, and, par ex-
cellence, his Cynthian elegies. From his own showing,
the brilliant and fascinating mistress who bewitched
him, as Lesbia and Delia (we call all three by tlieir
poets' noms de plume) had bewitched Catullus and
TibuUus, was the fount and source, the be-all and
end-all, of his poetic dreams and aspirations. Never-
theless, it may be doubted whether Propertius did
not give, in some of his poems on early Eome,
earnests of a more erudite, if a less attractive, bal-


ladic gift, than tlie more facile Ovid, whose ' Fasti '
have cast into shade his predecessor's experiments in
turning the Eoman Calendar into poetry. Reserving
the story of his loves for another chapter, it will be
advisable that in the present we should confine our-
selves to the record of his life and career, indepen-
dently of that absorbing influence. It was no doubt
a turning-point for bim, when Propertius gained in-
troduction and acceptance into the literary coterie of
^Icecenas. Although his difference in age, and bis
probably less courtly manners and temper, interfered
Avitb his admission to the same close intimacy as the
lively Venusian in the minister's villa and gardens
on the Esquiline, there is abundant internal evidence
that he was welcomed there not only for his merit as
a poet, but also for the special purpose of all the in-
troductions to that brilliant circle — namely, to nurse
and raise up a meet band of celebrants of the vic-
tories and successes of Augustus. In an elegy * which
evinces the depth and breadth of his archaeological and
mythologic lore, the poet is found excusing his in-
ability to write epics or heroics, though he adds that,
could he essay such themes, it should be to commem-
orate the deeds of the victor at Actium, the triumphs
in which golden -fettered kings were led along the
Via Sacra, and the praise of his stanch friend and
servant —

'■ In time of peace, in time of war, a faitliful subject

II. i.


In the same spirit is breathed the address to the same
patron in the ninth elegy of the fourth book, where,
deprecating heroic poetry, Propertius gracefully pro-
fesses his readiness to rise to the height of that high
argument, if jNIa^cenas will set him an example of
conquering his own innate dislike to prominence, and
assume his proper rank and position. If it is true of
the patron that —

" Though Caesar ever gives the ready aid.

And wealth profusely proffered never fails —
Thou shrink'st, and humbly seek'st the gentle shade,
And with thine own hand reef st thy bellying sails" —

the poet-client insinuates that it ought to be enough
for himself —

" Enough, with sweet Callimaclms to please.
And lays like thuie, Coan poet, weave :
To thrill the youth and fire the fair with these,
Be hailed divine, and homage meet receive."

Indeed, if ever his instinctive conviction of his proper
metier is shaken by the importunities of those who
would have won him over to the laureateship of the
imperial eagles, he speedily and wisely recurs to his
first and better judgment. It may be he had discovered
that to cope with such a task he needed greater plasti-
city of character than accorded with his Umbrian origin
— that he would have to smooth over defects, and mag-
nify partial successes. Even where in the first elegy
of the third book he seems to be qualifying for the
office, and preluding his task by graceful compliments
to Augustus, not only do the spectres of the slaughtered


Crassi come unbidden across the field of compliment
ojiened by the emperor's successes in the East, but
chronology satisfies the reader that poetic flourishes
about vanquished India, and about " Arabia's homes,
untouched before, reeling in grievous terror," could
not rearrange or unsettle the order of fate, that not
very long, probably, after the composition of this elegy
the expedition sent against Arabia under the command
of ^lius GaUus should come to unlooked-for defeat
and disaster. Propertius's sounder mind falls ever
back upon themes that involve no such risk of mis-
adventure from flattery or false prophecy ; and if he
plumes himself for a higher flight, it is in the strain
of undisguised deprecation of his daring —

" As when we cannot reach the head of statues all too

"We lay a chaplet at the feet, so now perforce do I,
Unfit to cUmb the giddy heights of epic song divine,
111 humble adoration lay poor uicense on thy shrine :
For not as yet my Muse hath knowTi the wells of Ascra's

grove :
Permessus' gentle wave alone hath laved the limbs of

Love. — (III. i. ad fin.)

It is hard to conceive with -what justice, when such
was the poet's deprecation of the court laureate's task
(to say nothing of other inconsistencies in the theory),
it can have occurred to some critics and speculators to
identify Proj^ertius with the " bore " who pestered
Horace through the streets and ways, as he describes
in his satire.* The weight of Dean Meri vale's name

* Hor., Sat. I. ix. 2>

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