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and not of rivalry in poetry or in love. He could
pay graceful compliments to the iambics of his cor-
respondent Bassus, though not without a feigned or
real suspicion that that poet's design in seeking to
widen the range of his admiration for the fair sex was
an interested motive of stepping into Cynthia's good



142 PROPERTIUS.

graces. As to Virgil, Propertius, in an elegy to a
tragic poet Lynceus (who probably owes the preser-
vation of his name to his having presumed to flirt
with Cynthia at a banquet), commends that great poet
as being more fruitfully and worthily occupied ; and
commemorates his poetic achievements in strains that
liave not the faintest leaven of jealousy or grudge : —

" But now of Phoebus-guarded Actian shore,
And Cpesar's valiant fleets, let Virgil sing,

"Who rouses Troy's ^neas to the fray,

And rears in song Lavinium's walls on high :

Yield, Roman writers — bards of Greece, give way —
A work will soon the Iliad's fame outvie.

Thou sing'st the precepts of the Ascrrean sage,

What plain groAvs corn, what mountain suits the vine —

A strain, Virgil, that might well engage
Apollo's fingers on his lyre divine.

Thou sing'st beneath Gala3sus' pinewood shades
Thyrsis and Daphnis on thy well-worn reed ;

And how ten apples can seduce the maids,

And kid from unnidked dam girls cajitive lead.

Happy with apples love so cheap to buy !

To such may Tityrus sing, though cold and coy :
happy Corydon ! Avhen thou mayst try

To win Alexis fair — his master's joy.

Though of his oaten pipe he weary be.
Kind Hamadryads still their bard adore,

AVhose strains will charm the reader's ear, be he
Unlearned or learned in love's delightful lore."

— (C. III. xxvi.)



LIFE OF PROPERTIUS. 143

Our quotation is from ]Mr Cranstoun's well-considered
version, which in this instance embodies and repre-
sents the rearrangement of the original elegy by Mr
Munro. It gives us allusions in inverted sequence
to the '^neid,' the ' Georgics/ and the 'Eclogues,' and
contains a reference to the neighbourhood of Taren-
tum, which draws from the editor of Lucretius the
remark that Yirgil may have taken refuge thereabouts
in the days when he and his father lost their lands
along with other Mantuans. " "When I was at Taren-
tum some months ago, it struck me how much better
the scenery, flora, and silva of these parts suited many of
the ' Eclogues ' than the neighbourhood of !Mantua." *
It is needless to say that the " precepts of the Ascra?an
Hesiod " refer to Yirgil's imitation of that poet in his
' Georgics,' whilst the names of Thyrsis, Daphnis,
Corydon, and Alexis recall the ' Eclogues,' and Tity-
rus represents Yirgil himself. Galesus, celebrated also
by Horace on account of its fine-fleeced sheej), was a
little river in the neighbourhood of Tarentum, ap-
parently the locahty in which some of the ' Eclogues '
were written.

Amongst other less specially literary friends of Pro-
pertius, to whom his elegies introduce us, were yElius
GaUus, already mentioned as the leader of an iU-starred
expedition to Arabia ; Posthumiis, who, according to
our poet in El. lY. xii., left a faithful wife for another
campaign to the East, and whose wife's laments are
supposed to be described in the pleasing third elegy
of the fifth book, that of Arethusa to Lycotas. Of
* Journal of Philology, vi. 41.



144 PRO PERT I US.

Volcatius Tullus and liis patronage we liave taken
notice above. The poet's elegies to him * affection-
ately speed his parting for the East, and in due
course long to welcome his return to the Rome of
his friends and ancestors. The first supplies, inci-
dentallj', evidence that Propertius had not, up to the
date of it, visited Athens ; and it is very doubtful
whether — though in IV. xxi. lie seems to contemplate
a pilgrimage thither in the fond hope tliat length of
voyage may make him forget his untoward loves, and
though in I. xv. he gives a graphic picture of the
dangers and terrors of a storm at sea — he ever really-
left his native shores, or indulged in foreign travel.
There is much reason to agree with Mr Cranstovm that
the absence of direct testimony on this point negatives
the supposition ; and his periodical threats of taking
wing, and thrilling pictures of perils of waters, may
perhaps be interpreted as only hints to his mistress
to behave herself, and suggestions of desertion, which
she probably valued at a cheap rate from a knowledge
of her influence and attractions. Though full of the
mythic lore of Greece, the poetry of Propertius betrays
no eyewitness of its ancient cities or learned seats;
and it is a more probable conclusion that he was a
stay-at-home, though not unimaginative, traveller.
His continued attachment to Cynthia — a long phase
in his life-history to be treated separately — tends to
this conclusion ; and Ave know so little of him after
the final rupture with her, that silence seems to con-
firm the unlocomotiveness of his few remaining years.
* I. vi. and IV. xxii.



LIFE OF PROPERTIU.^. 145

In one so wedded to Greek traditions, a treading of
classic soil must have reawakened long-banished song ;
but Propertius died comparatively young, like Catul-
lus and Tibullus, and he probably ceased to write and
to live about the age of thirty-four, or from that to
forty. Though Pliny's gossip credits him with lineal
descendants — which involves a legal union after Cyn-
thia's death — there is everything in his extant remains
to contradict such a story. He doubtless sang his
mistress in strains of exaggeration for which one makes
due allowance in gleaning his slender history ; but
substantially true was his constant averment that
Cynthia was his last love, even as she was his first.
It is irresistible to cling to the belief that the com-
paratively brief space of life he lived without her and
her distracting influences was the period of his finest
Roman poems, and of the philosophic studies to which
his Muse in earlier strains looked forward. He is
supposed to have died about B.C. 15. In his poetry,
he contrasts strongly with his co-mates Catullus and
Tibullus. As erotic as the first, he is more refined
and less coarse without being less fervent. On the
other hand, he can lay no claim to the simplicity and
nature-painting of Tibullus, though he introduces into
his verse a pregnant and often obscure crowding of
forcible thoughts, expressions, and constructions, which
justify the epithet that attests his exceptional learn-
ing. In strength and vigour of verse he stands pre-
eminent, unless it be when he lets this learning have
its head too unrestrainedly. And though the verdict
of critics woixld probably be that he is best in the love
A.C.S.S., vol. iii. K



146 PROPERTIUS.

elegies, and in the less mytliologic portions of these,
Avhere pathos, fervour, jealous passion supply the
changing phases of his constant theme, it may be
doubted if some of the more historic and Eoman
elegies of the fifth book do not supply as fine and
memorable a sample of his Muse, which inherited
from its native mountains what Dean Merivale desig-
nates " a strength and sometimes a grandeur of lan-
guage which would have been highly relished in the
sterner age of Lucretius." His life and morality were
apparently on the same level as those of his own gen-
eration; but if a free liver, he has the refinement to
draw a veil over much that Catullus or Ovid would
have laid bare. And though his own attachment was
less creditable than constant, that he could enter into
and appreciate the beauty of wedded love, and of care-
ful nurture on the elder Eoman pattern, will be patent
to those who read the lay of Arethusa to Lycotas, or
peruse the touching elegy, which crowns the fifth
and last of his books, of the dead Cornelia to ^Emilius
Paullus,



CHAPTER II.



CYNTHIA S POET.



As with Catullus and Tibullus, there would be scant
remains of the poetry of Propertius — scant materials
for a biography of him — if his loves and the story of
them were swept out of the midst. With the poets of
his school Love was the prime motive of song; and he
was truly a sedulous example of his own profession : —

" Many have lived and loved their life away :
Oh, may I live and love, then die as they !
Too weak for fame, too slight for war's stem rule,
Fate bade me learn in only Love's soft school."

—(I. vi. 27.) M.

Yet it must be confessed that, however forcible and
fervid the verse in which he commemorates this love,
the results fail to impress us with the same reality and
earnestness as his predecessors, partly perhaps because
" he makes love by book," and ransacks the Greek
poets and mythologists for meet comparisons with his
mistress ; and partly because occasionally his verses
betray the fickleness of a man of pleasure and gal-
lantry, whose expressions and protestations are to be
taken only at their worth. Famous as the elegies



148 PROPERTIUS.

to Cyntliia have become in after-time, and customary
as it is to regard Propertius as the sympathetic friend
of ill - used lovers, we fear that Cynthia had too
much justification for her inconstancy in his be-
haviour ; and that however tragic his threats and
resolutions, his passion for her Avas mucli less absorb-
ing and earnest than that of Catullus for Lesbia, or
TibuUus for Delia. His own confession (IV. xv. 6)
acquaints us with an early love-passage for a slave-girl,
Lycinna, before he was out of his teens ; and though
he assures Cynthia that she has no cause for un-
easiness lest this passion should revive, a number of
casual allusions make it manifest that at no period
was he exclusively Cynthia's, though her spell no
doubt was strongest and most enduring. Who, then,
was this lovely provocative of song, to whom love-
elegy is so much beholden ? It seems agreed that
the name of Cynthia is a complimentary disguise, like
those of Delia and Lesbia : and according to Apuleius,
the lady's real name was Hostia, derived from Hostius,
a sire or grandsire of some poetic repute, and not im-
probably an actor or stage-musician, — an origin which
Avould explain her position as born of parents of
the freedman class. It would be consistent too with
the tradition of her accomplishments and cultiva-
tion, which we find from Propertius to have been
various and considerable, as indeed they had need
to be, to appreciate the compliments of a bard whose
escritoire must have teemed with classical and mytho-
logical parallels for her every whim and humour, for
every grace of her form and every charm of her mind.



CrSTIIIA'S POET. 149

To borrow liis manner of speech, Phoebus had gifted her
with song, Calliope with the Aonian lyre : she excelled
in attractive conversation, and combined the char-
acteristics of Venus and Minerva. It cannot have
been in empty compliment that Propertius styles her
" his clever maid," and prides himself on his success
in pleasing her in encounters of wit and raillery, or re-
gards her appreciation of " music's gentle charms " as
the secret of his favour in her eyes. The whole tone
of his poetic tributes bespeaks a recognition of her
equality as to wit and intellect, and we may fairly
credit her with the mental endowments of the famous
Greek hetserse. Amongst her other attractions was a
skill in music and dancing, commemorated by the poet
in II. iii. 9-22 :—

" 'Twas not her face, tliough fair, so smote my eye
(Less fair the lily than uiy love : as snows
Of Scythia Avith Iberian vermil vie ;
As float in milk the petals of the rose) ;

Nor locks that down her neck of ivory stream.
Nor eyes — my stars — twin lamps with love aglow ;

Nor if in silk of Araby she gleam

(I prize not baubles), does she thrill me so

As when slie leaves the mantling cup to thread
The mazy dance, and moves before my vieM',

Graceful as blooming Ariadne led

The choral revels of the Bacchic crew ;

Or wakes the lute-strings with ^Eolian quill
To music worthy of the immortal Nine,

And challenges renowned Corinna's skill.
And rates her own above Erinna's line." — C.



150 PROPERTIUS.

The quatrains above quoted express the two-fold
charm of intellectual and physical grace, and, with
lover-like caution, weigh warily the preponderance of
compliment to either side of the balance. K Cynthia's
dancing is graceful as Ariadne's, and her music recalls
the chief female names in Greek lyric poetry, Pro-
pertius introduces a subtle and parenthetic make-
weight in praise of her exquisite complexion (which
he likens, after Anacreon and Virgil, to rose-leaves
in contact with milk, or " vermilion from Spain
on snow"), her flowing rmglets, and her star-like
eyes. Elsewhere he sings explicitly of her form and
figure : —

" The yellow hair, the slender tapering hand.
The fonn and carriage as Jove's sister's, grand ; " — D.

or again twits the winged god, Cupid, with the loss
to the world he will inflict if he smite him with his
arrows : —

" If thou shouldst slay me, who is left to hymn
Thy glory, though the champion be but slight,
A^Hio praises now her locks and fingers slim,

Her footfall soft, her eyes as dark as night 1 " — D.

With these and many more hints for a portrait of his
lady-love, to be gleaned from Propertius's impassioned
description, it is no marvel that he was so plain-spoken
in declining solicitations of Maecenas to exchange
the elegy for the epic. To quote Mr Cranstoun on
this subject in his version of the first elegy of the
second book : —



CYNTHIA'S PO^T. 151

" It is not from Calliope, nor is it from Apollo,
But from my own sweet lady - love ray inspiration
springs.

If in resplendent purple robe of Cos my darling dresses,
I'll fill a portly volume with the Coan garment's praise :

Or if her truant tresses wreathe her forehead with caresses,
The tresses of her queenly brow demand her poet's lays.

Or if, perchance, she strike the speaking lyre with ivory
fingers,
I mars-el how those nimble fingers run the chords along ;
Or if above her slumber-drooping eyes a shadow lingers.
My tranced mmd is sure to find a thousand themes of
song.

Or if for love's delightful strife repose awhile be broken,
Oh ! I could write an Iliad of our sallies and alarms ;

If anything at all she's done — if any word she's spoken —
From out of nothing rise at once innumerable charms."

A charmer with so perfect a tout enacmhle was cer-
tain to command the passionate admiration of so
inflammable a lover ; and hence the history of his
erotic poetry consists in an alternation of his rap-
tures, his remonstrances, his despairs, according as
Cynthia was kind, or volatile, or cruel. And to tell
the truth, a lover of Cynthia could have had little
smooth sailing on a sea where the winds of jealousy
were evermore rising to a hurricane. He may not
have been Avorthy of ideal fidelity, but certainly from
the traits we have of Cynthia's faulty character, she
must have given her bard and lover only too much
cause for uneasiness. Fitful in her fancies, alike jeal-
ous and inconstant, she was expensive in her tastes.



152 PROPERTIUS.

extravagant in her addiction to dress, unguents, and
oruaments ; and a victim to the indulgence of tlie
wine-cup, though the poet does not seem to have
found so much fault with this, as with her partiality
for the foreign worship of Isis, for which it will be
recollected that Delia also had a weakness. All these
proclivities suggest the costliness of such a union as
that which, as far as we can judge, subsisted between
Propertius and Cynthia, — not a union recognised by
law, but a connection occupying the borderland be-
tAveen recognised respectability and open vice. Whilst
a touching elegy (II. vii.) congratulates Cynthia on
the throwing out or postponement of a law which
Avould have obliged Propertius to take a wife and to
desert his mistress, it is obvious that he enjoyed his
immunity at a very costly price, to say nothing of her
keen eye to the main chance, which made him justly
fearful of the approach of richer admirers. Mr Crans-
toun infers from the twentieth elegy of the fourth
book " that a marriage of some sort existed between
Propertius and Cynthia, in which the rights and
duties of the contracting parties were laid down and
ratified ; " and doubtless such compacts were really
made at Rome, even where, as in this case, legal matri-
mony was out of the question. But the bond was of a
shifting and elastic nature ; and if Propertius hugged
his chain, it must have been with a grim sense at
times of the cost and disquiet which it entailed upon
him. Cynthia was dressy and extravagant, and if
she took the air, loved to tire her hair in the newest
fashion, wear the diaphanous silk fabrics of Cos, and



CYNTHIA'S POET. 153

to indulge ill perfumes from tlie banks of tlie Syrian
Urontes. Her poet perhaps may have had a doubt
wliether these adornments were all for his single sake,
and this may have given a point to the praises of
simplicity and beauty unadorned, which in several
elegies gem his poetry. Thus in El. ii., B. I. : —

" With purchased gauds why mar thy native grace,

Xor let thy form on its own charms depend ?
Xo borrowed arts can mend thy beauteous face :

No artist's skill will naked Love befriend.
See of all hues the winsome earth upsends,

How ivy with no training blooms the best!
How rarest grace and growth the arbute blends

In mountain d»^lls remotest, loneliest !
And streams that glide in wild unstudied ways.

And shores with native pebbles glistering,
Outvie tlie attempts of art : no tutored lays

Sound half so .swect as wild bird's carolliug."- — D.

It is indeed hardly to be wondered that poetrj'^ of
so didactic a strain had slight influence upon a lady
of Cynthia's proclivities. Whilst there were others,
if Propertius failed her, who, if they could not dower
her with song or elegy, had purse-strings to relax at
her bidding, when

" For fan a peacock's tail she now demands,
Now asks a crystal ball to cool her hands ;
Begs me, grown wroth, to cheapen ivory dice.
And Sacra Via's glittering trash " —

and were fain to win her smiles by lavish presents
from the fancy-ware shops of that frequented lounge,



154 ' PROPERTIUS.

— it was laToour lost in the poet to preacli to one, who
weighed her lovers by their purses, of Eomulean sim-
plicity, or to sigh —

" Would none were rich in Rome, and Caesar's self
Could be content in straw-built hut to dwell !
Our girls would then ne'er barter charms for pelf,
But every home of hoary virtue tell."

—(III. vii.) C.

Yet he could not forbear to address her ever and anon
in verses, now complimentary, now spiteful, and not
seldom a mixture of both in pretty equal proportions.
One of his complaints against her is that she dyes
her hair and paints her face ; for which causes, in an
exaggerated strain of fault-finding, he likens her to
the " woad-stained Britons."* Where in the same
passage he vows vengeance against those "who dye
their own or wear another's hair," he testifies to the
prevalence of a mistaken resort to hair-dyes on the
part of the fair sex in all ages, as well as, we may
add, to the consensus of the lords of the creation
against such disfigurement of nature's gifts ; yet it is
just possible, from several hints here and there in the
Elegies, that Cynthia was driven by the inroads of
time to these resorts. According to one reading of
El. xxiv. 6 in the third book, her poet represents
her as " treading with aging foot the Appian Way ; "
and there are several other passages which render it
probable that she was older than Propertius, whom
we know that she predeceased : if so, it was in

* III. ix. 6.



CYNTHIA'S POET. 155

keeping with lier character and avocations that she
should repair the ravages of time, and seek to disguise
her grey hairs and her crow's-feet. "Whatever her
years, however, her spell must have been more than
commonly lasting ; for seldom have a lover's verses
recorded so many and diverse endeavours to win,
retain, or recover his mistress's good graces, as the
first four books of the Elegies of Propertius. And
this in spite of several drawbacks which usually
estrange or impair love. Though he had saws and
instances by the score to quote against the abuse of
wine, Cynthia is an exception to the general rule : —

" Though beauty fades, and life is wrecked by wine,
Though wine will make a girl her love forget.
Ah ! how unchanged by cups this maid of mine !
Unspoilt ! unliurt ! drink on, thou'rt beaiiteous yet !

Whilst low thy garments droop towards the bowl.
And with unsteady voice thou read'st ray lay,

Still may the ripe Falernian glad thy soul,
And froth in chalice mellower everj' day."

—(III. XXV.) D.

Though he is ever more or less a prey to jealousy
not without foundations, and suffers no slight pangs
from stumbling upon her in company with those
convenient " cousins " whom all flirts from time im-
memorial have " loved in a sisterly way " —

" Sham cousins often come, and kiss thee too.
As cousins always have a right to do ; "

-(TI. vi. 7, 8.)



156 PROPERTIUS.

or, Avorse still, from learning that he is excluded for
the sake of a rich and stupid prtetor from Illyria, of
whom he writes —

" From the lUyrian land the other day

Your friend the praetor has returned, I learn,
To you a fruitful source of welcome prey.
To me of inexpressible concern.



Yet reap the prtjffered harvest, if you're wise —
And fleece, while thick his wool, the silly sheep ;

And when at last in beggary he lies.

For new Illyrias bid him cross the deep — "

—(HI. vii.) C.

iu spite of these provoking rebuffs and infidelities, the
poet still courts and sighs for his inconstant charmer ;
and whether she be near or far, follows her in fancy and
with the breath of cultivated song. Allowance must
of course be made for the change of winds in the
course of a love which could not be said even by
courtesy to run smooth. It is a rare phenomenon to
find Propertius in such bliss and rapture as the fol-
lowing lines betoken : —

" With me if Cynthia sink in longed-for sleej),
Or spend the livelong day in dalliance fam,
I see Pactolus' waters round me sweep,
And gather jewels from the Indian main.

;My joys then teach me kings must yield to me ;

May tliese abide till Fate shall close my day !
Who cares for wealth, if love still adverse be ]

If Venus frown, be riches far away ! "



CYXTHIA'S POET. 15"

Much oftener he is (if we are to believe him, and not
to set down his desperate threats and bemoanings to
an appeal for pity) on the eve of a voyage, to put
the sea between himself and the faithless one. There
is strong reason to suspect that these voyages never
came off, and that the poet's lively pictures of ship-
wreck were drawn from imagination rather than ex-
perience. But it was a telling appeal to herald his
dejjarture, picture his perils, and reproach the fair
one with her indifference : —

" As airily thou trmim'st thy locks as thou didst yester-

mom,
And leisurely with tireless hands thy person dost

adorn ;"

and not less effective to return to the subject, after
the supposed disaster had occurred, with a slight in-
fusion of generous blame towards himself. There
Avould have been infinite pathos in the elegy which
follows, if only it had been founded on facts. But
it was a dissuasive to Cynthia's fickleness, not the
description of a fait accompli : —

" Rightly I'm served, who had the heart to fly !
To the lone halcyons here I make my moan :
Nor shall my keel its Avonted port draw ni


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