The end of the road

One of the things that doesn’t immediately seem obvious about this poem is how fun it is to translate. After all, who but a bitter old harridan could find pleasure in translating a break-up poem – not just a break-up poem, but one that also contains programmatic references (referring to the art of poetry itself) that imply Propertius might lay down his pen?

Strangely enough, it really is fun. It’s one half of a slanging match carried out by a man who trained in law (if you’ve ever read Cicero, you’ll know there was a large component of “elaborate slanging match” in Roman courts), was highly educated, and was perhaps a little too unafraid of showing it – and so there’s a lot of spite in the original Latin that classy English sadly doesn’t translate particularly well.

Risus eram positis inter convivia mensis,
et de me poterat quilibet esse loquax.
quinque tibi potui servire fideliter annos:
ungue meam morso saepe querere fidem.
nil moveor lacrimis: ista sum captus ab arte;
semper ab insidiis, Cynthia, flere soles.
flebo ego discedens, sed fletum iniuria vincit:
tu bene conveniens non sinis ire iugum.
limina iam nostris valeant lacrimantia verbis,
nec tamen irata ianua fracta manu.
at te celatis aetas gravis urgeat annis,
et veniat formae ruga sinistra tuae!
vellere tum cupias albos a stirpe capillos,
iam speculo rugas increpitante tibi,
exclusa inque vicem fastus patiare superbos,
et quae fecisti facta queraris anus!
has tibi fatalis cecinit mea pagina diras:
eventum formae disce timere tuae!
When the tables were put in place among the guests I was mocked,
and anyone who wanted to could gossip about me.
I could serve you faithfully for five years:
your nails bitten, you’ll often grieve for my loyalty.
I am moved by no tears: I was captured by that art;
Cynthia, weep forever through guile alone.
I will weep as I leave, but your abuse overcomes my weeping:
you don’t let a yoke fit you well.
Now the weeping thresholds bid farewell to my words,
but not the door shattered by an angry hand.
But may heavy age weigh down upon you with hidden years,
and may unlucky wrinkles crease your beauty!
Then may you burn to tear out your white hairs by the root,
as already the mirror derides your wrinkles,
and may you, excluded in turn, suffer proud haughtiness,
and, changed into an old woman, you have done these things; may you regret them!
My page sang of these dire things, fated for you:
learn to fear your beauty’s destiny!

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