Sextus Propertius trans. Michael Smith

Quid iuvat ornato procedere, vita, capillo
    et tenuis Coa veste movere sinus,
aut quid Orontea crines perfundere murra,
    teque peregrinis vendere muneribus,
naturaeque decus mercato perdere cultu,   
    nec sinere in propriis membra nitere bonis?

crede mihi, non ulla tua est medicina figurae:
    nudus Amor formam non amat artificem.
aspice quos summittat humus non fossa colores,
    ut veniant hederae sponte sua melius,      
surgat et in solis formosior arbutus antris,
    et sciat indocilis currere lympha vias.
litora nativis praefulgent picta lapillis,
    et volucres nulla dulcius arte canunt.

non sic Leucippis succendit Castora Phoebe,
    Pollucem cultu non Helaira soror;
non, Idae et cupido quondam discordia Phoebo,
    Eueni patriis filia litoribus;
nec Phrygium falso traxit candore maritum
    avecta externis Hippodamia rotis: 
sed facies aderat nullis obnoxia gemmis,
    qualis Apelleis est color in tabulis.

non illis studium fuco conquirere amantes:
    illis ampla satis forma pudicitia.
non ego nunc vereor ne sis tibi vilior istis:  

    uni si qua placet, culta puella sat est;
cum tibi praesertim Phoebus sua carmina donet
    Aoniamque libens Calliopea lyram,
unica nec desit iucundis gratia verbis,
    omnia quaeque Venus, quaeque Minerva probat.

his tu semper eris nostrae gratissima vitae,
    taedia dum miserae sint tibi luxuriae.

What sense, my love, coquettish bustle,
your hair to tint, your silks to rustle,
to lave your locks in Orontean myrrh,
parade in base exotic gear,
frustrate the glory nature nurtures
with cosmetician's arty tortures,
and, affectation's dearest bought,
conceal your glistening limbs in cloth.

Believe you me, you are not able
to cure the irremediable.
And why? when Love himself
despises all but natural pelt!
See how of all the hues of earth
wild ivy spring the fairest forth;
the arbutus rise more lovely still
though in the hollows of the hill;
how happily a stream enforce
its unpremeditated course;
shores with mere indigenous pebbles
beguile our eyes that see them jewels;
and birds more sweetly sing their song
because beyond contriving wrong.

Phoebe did not Castor take up,
Hilaira, Pollux, with their make-up;
Idas, Phoebus, saw no deceit,
for Evenus' daughter did not cheat;
nor did Hippodamia hide
to lure a lover to her side ...
In fact her face complected pure
as colours in an Apelles' picture.

Nor were these maidens keen on finding
ubiquitous lovers for the binding.
Ah! Have I not reason, woman,
to fear you think me lover common,
since these you take such pains to find
and use all arts to try to bind.
But the girls on whom I have commented
with purity were well contented.

To please one lover is sufficient
to prove a girl is not deficient;
and especially when to her as you
Phoebus give of songs not few,
and Calliope the Aonian lyre;
and all her thoughts have sweet attire;
and she be rich in everything
Venus and Minerva bring.

Thus graced with beauty's, wisdom's gifts,
leave finery to foolish wits;
let worthless wrappings go to hell,
your own sweet beauty has the spell.

Trans. Copyright © Michael Smith 2007

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