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king.
And caused the Greeks their dead in heaps on greedy pyres

to fling ;



176 PROPERTIUS.

Or -when he scotclied the Python-snake, and all the might

disarmed
Of those huge serpent coils, which erst the imwarlike

Muse alarmed." —(V. vi. 15-36.) P.

Here, as in the address of Phoebus from the stern of
Augustus's galley, the poet is quickened to a fire and
enthusiasm which befits his subject, and of which the
accomplished scholar from Avhom we have quoted is not
insensible. In one line of it, the sentiment,

" It is the cause that overawes or lends the soldier might,"

is an anticipation of Shakespeare's adagial lesson,

" Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just ; "

and the bard's conclusion takes the form of pervading
festivity, whilst it merely glances at the principal
military exploits of Augustus, and hints that he
should leave some " fields to conquer " to his sons.

Yet after the taste of this beroic vein already given,
it would be hard to part with Propertius upon ground
where there is little room for his rare gift of pathos.
And so two beautiful elegies which exhibit him at
bis best, and in his tenderest mood, have been kept to
the last. The one is the letter of Arethuse to her hus-
band Lycotas on a campaign ; the other the imaginary
appeal of the dead Cornelia to her husband, Paullus.
The first is proof positive that Ovid does not deserve
the credit which he claims in bis ' Art of Love ' of
having originated the style of poetry which we know
as Epistles ; and Ovid never wrote anything so really
pathetic and natural. Of both we are fortunate in
having free yet adequate translations in graceful verse



NATIONAL ANNALS AND BIOGRAPHY. 177

by a late scholar and man of affairs and letters, Sir
Edmund W. Head, to which -we give the preference
in presenting them to English readers. For "Are-
thuse to Lycotas " it has been suggested with pro-
bability that we might read in plain prose " ^lia
Galla to Postumus," since in the twelfth elegy of
the fourth book Propertius has addressed verses to
the latter on his leaving his wife for an expedition
against the Parthians. The question is unimportant.
It suffices that the love-letter in the fifth book is a
copy of the lorn bride's heart-pourings, very true to
nature in its struggle between the pride of a soldier's
wife and the love and jealous misgivings of a doting
woman : —

" ]\Ien tell me that the glow of youtliful sheen
No longer on thy pallid face they see :
I only pray such changes in thy mien

JNIay mark the fond regret thou feel'st for me.

When twilight wanes and sinks in bitter night,
I kiss thy scattered arms, and restless he,

And toss complaining till the tardy light

Hath waked the birds that sing of morning nigh.

The scarlet fleece, when winter evenings close,
I wind on shuttles for thy warlike weeds ;

Or study in what course Araxes flows,
And how the Parthians press their hardy steeds.

I turn the map, and struggle hard to learn

Where God hath placed the land and where the sea,

What climes are stift' with frost, what summers bum,
And guess what wind may waft thee home to me."

A.C.S.S., vol. iii. M



178 PROPERTIUS.

The simple expression of her lonely days, and the
little lap-dog that whines for its master sharing her
bed by night, — of her dread lest her lord should rashly
provoke some single combat with a barbarian chief,
and of her delight could she see him return safe,
triumphant, and heart-whole, — are unmatched by any-
thing in Propertius, unless it be the elegy on the
premature death of Cornelia, in which she is supposed
by the poet to console her widower husband, yEmilius
PauUus, the censor and friend of Augustus. The
theme had elements of grandeur in Cornelia's ancestry
(she was daughter of P. Cornelius Scipio and Scrib-
onia), and in the vindication, as from the dead, of her
fair fame and due place among honoured elders, which
had seemingly been unjustly assailed. Cornelia died
in 16 B.C. ; and if the poet's death occurred in B.C. 15,
we may take this elegy, as it would be pleasant to do,
as his swan's song. It is not, like many poems of Pro-
pertius, prodigal of mythology and Eoman annals, yet
it appeals to both with force and in season. Where
the speaker proclaims her blameless life and high
descent before the infernal judges, she opens with
the boast —

" If any maid could vaunt her sires in Eome,
Ancestral fame was mine on either side :
For Spain and Carthage decked with spoil the home,
Where Scipio's blood was matched with Libo's pride."

— E. W. H.

And afterwards she pleads her readiness to have sub-
jected her character and innocence to such tests as



iXATIOXAL ANNALS AND BIOGRAPHY. 179

those of the famous Vestals, Claudia and Emilia (tlie
former the mover of a vessel that had foundered in
Tiber, the latter rekindler of Vesta's fire with her
linen robe), if it needed

" Judge or law to guide
•One in whose veins the blood of all her race
Swelled with the instinct of a conscious pride,
And bade maintain a Roman matron's place.'

In other stanzas breathes the distinctive pride of a
mother who has borne sons to inherit an ancient
lineage, and of a wife, who, even in death, has
cherished her ambition of winning honour. But the
climax of pathos is in the last verses, where she
addresses her husband and children in order : —

" Be careful if thou e'er for me shalt weep

That they may never mark the tears thus shed :
Let it suffice thyself to mourn in sleep
The Avife whose spirit hovers o'er thy bed :

Or in thy chamber, if thou wilt, aloud
Address that wife as if she could reply :

Dim not our children's joys with sorrow's cloud,
But dry the tear, and check the rising sigh !

You too, my children, at your father's side

In after years a step-dame if you see.
Let no rash word offend her jealous pride,

Nor intliscreetly wound by praising me.

Obey his will in all : and should he bear

In widowed solitude the ills of age.
Let it be yours to prop his steps with care,

And mth your gentle love those woes assuage.



180 • PROPERTIUS.

I lost no child : 'twas mine in death to see

Their faces clustered round: nor should 1 grieve

If but the span of life cut off from me

Could swell the years in store for those I leave."

— E. W. H.

It is meet to part from Propertius with this lay on his
lips, which might make us fain to believe what, in
truth, the facts and probabilities appear to forbid —
the story of Pliny that, after Cynthia's death, the poet
contracted a lawful union, and transmitted to a lawful
issue the inheritance of his name and genius. It is
pretty certain that the poems to Cynthia are the chief
memorial and representatives of these ; and indeed
the sole, if we were to except the two exquisite poems
last quoted, one or two others to his patrons, and
a song apropos of his " Lost Tablets." His compara-
tively early death allows us, by the light of a brief but
brilliant life, to conceive what he might have been.
His extant books, and the loving pains bestowed on
them by commentators and translators, have been of
use in picturing, in some measure, the man and the
poet as he was.



THE END.



rniN-TED BT V7ILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SO"S.



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