Sextus Propertiustrans. Alan Marshfield
disce, quid Esquilias hac nocte fugarit aquosas,
cum uicina nouis turba cucurrit agris.
Lanuuium annosi uetus est tutela draconis,
hic, ubi tam rarae non perit hora morae,
qua sacer abripitur caeco descensus hiatu,
qua penetrat (uirgo, tale iter omne caue!)
ieiuni serpentis honos, cum pabula poscit
annua et ex ima sibila torquet humo.
talia demissae pallent ad sacra puellae,
cum temere anguino creditur ore manus.
ille sibi admotas a uirgine corripit escas:
uirginis in palmis ipsa canistra tremunt.
si fuerint castae, redeunt in colla parentum,
clamantque agricolae "fertilis annus erit."
huc mea detonsis auecta est Cynthia mannis:
causa fuit Iuno, sed mage causa Venus.
Appia, dic quaeso, quantum te teste triumphum
egerit effusis per tua saxa rotis!
(turpis in arcana sonuit cum rixa taberna;
si sine me, famae non sine labe meae.)
spectaclum ipsa sedens primo temone pependit,
ausa per impuros frena mouere locos.
serica nam taceo uulsi carpenta nepotis
atque armillatos colla Molossa canis,
qui dabit immundae uenalia fata saginae,
uincet ubi erasas barba pudenda genas.
cum fieret nostro totiens iniuria lecto,
mutato uolui castra mouere toro.
Phyllis Auentinae quaedam est uicina Dianae,
sobria grata parum: cum bibit, omne decet.
altera Tarpeios est inter Teia lucos,
candida, sed potae non satis unus erit.
his ego constitui noctem lenire uocatis,
et Venere ignota furta nouare mea.
unus erat tribus in secreta lectulus herba.
quaeris concubitus? inter utramque fui.
Lygdamus ad cyathos, uitrique aestiua supellex
et Methymnaei Graeca saliua meri.
Nile, tuus tibicen erat, crotalistria phillis,
haec facilis spargi munda sine arte rosa,
nanus et ipse suos breuiter concretus in artus
iactabat truncas ad caua buxa manus.
sed neque suppletis constabat flamma lucernis,
reccidit inque suos mensa supina pedes.
me quoque per talos Venerem quaerente secundos
semper damnosi subsiluere canes.
cantabant surdo, nudabant pectora caeco:
Lanuuii ad portas, ei mihi, solus eram;
cum subito rauci sonuerunt cardine postes,
et leuia ad primos murmura facta Laris.
nec mora, cum totas resupinat Cynthia ualuas,
non operosa comis, sed furibunda decens.
pocula mi digitos inter cecidere remissos,
palluerantque ipso labra soluta mero.
fulminat illa oculis et quantum femina saeuit,
spectaclum capta nec minus urbe fuit.
Phyllidos iratos in uultum conicit unguis:
territa uicinas Teia clamat aquas.
lumina sopitos turbant elata Quiritis,
omnis et insana semita nocte sonat.
illas direptisque comis tunicisque solutis
excipit obscurae prima taberna uiae.
Cynthia gaudet in exuuiis uictrixque recurrit
et mea peruersa sauciat ora manu,
imponitque notam collo morsuque cruentat,
praecipueque oculos, qui meruere, ferit.
atque ubi iam nostris lassauit bracchia plagis,
Lygdamus ad plutei fulcra sinistra latens
eruitur, geniumque meum protractus adorat.
Lygdame,nil potui: tecum ego captus eram.
supplicibus palmis tum demum ad foedera ueni,
cum uix tangendos praebuit illa pedes,
atque ait "admissae si uis me ignoscere culpae,
accipe, quae nostrae formula legis erit.
tu neque Pompeia spatiabere cultus in umbra,
nec cum lasciuum sternet harena Forum.
colla caue inflectas ad summum obliqua theatrum,
aut lectica tuae se det aperta morae.
Lygdamus in primis, omnis mihi causa querelae,
ueneat et pedibus uincula bina trahat."
indixit leges: respondi ego "legibus utar".
riserat imperio facta superba dato.
dein, quemcumque locum externae tetigere puellae,
suffiit, at pura limina tergit aqua,
imperat et totas iterum mutare lucernas,
terque meum tetigit sulpuris igne caput.
atque ita mutato per singula pallia lecto

respondi, et toto soluimus arma toro.
Something tonight has scared the paludal Esquiline;
the neighbourhood ran amok through the New Fields.
Lanuvium’s tutelar presence is an ancient serpent -
a rare hour loitering there will not be wasted.
There a sacred descent is torn down a dark gully
where offerings come to the scrawny-gutted snake
(virgins, beware such tracks) when he claims his annual
food-tribute, wrenching his hiss from earth’s insides.
Girls sent down to these sacraments turn anaemic when
their rash hand entrusts itself between his fangs.
Whatever titbit the virgin pokes at him he snatches
and the basket jitters in the virgin’s hand.
If they’ve been chaste they’ll return, hugging their parents’ necks,
and the farmers cry, "It’ll be a good year now."
To this place my Cynthia was led by tonsured ponies,
respecting Juno - she should have said for Venus.
Tell me, Appian Way, how much triumph, to your knowledge,
she drove in, splattering her wheels along your cobbles?
Then an ugly punch-up in a furtive bar got noisy -
I wasn’t hurt, but my reputation was.
She was a marvellous sight as she crouched across the shaft-butts,
daring to give rein through the dirty slums.
Though I’ll not detail the equipage, the Molossian dogs,
and the Chinese silks of that creep she had in tow.
Soon he will sell his future for a vile circus feed
when a shameful beard smudges his pampered cheeks.
And it was because she had so often wronged our bed
I made up my mind to strike tent and couch elsewhere.
There’s a Phyllis along the Aventine near Dian’s temple -
I don’t like her sober: drunk, she’s fanciable.
And there’s Teia: she lives by the Tarpeian sacred clearing;
she’s a blonde, and slewed, one lover’s not enough.
They would soothe the night away. I made a stand: invite them,
and renovate my affairs with some untried tricks.
There was a bunk for three on a secluded lawn.
Do you ask how we had it off? I lay between.
A service of glass for the summer, Lygdamus at ladle,
and the Methymnaean taste of neat Greek wine.
An Egyptian flute-player! Castanets, Phyllis twisting -
no make-up but pretty, pleased to have a rose tossed!
And Magnus himself, with short arms, truncated legs,
clapping his maimed hands to the boxwood flute.
But the flame was unsteady from the lamp, though filled with oil,
and the tray fell face-down on its pedestal.
While I rooted for sixes from the next dice and the next
the losing singles kept on bumping out.
They bared their tits, I was blind; they sang, but I was deaf;
at Lanuvium’s gates, indeed, I stood alone.
Then suddenly a door-hinge grated, and a murmur
was made in the forecourt of my sacred home!
Suddenly, Cynthia! Both doors were flung against the wall:
her hair uncared for, becoming in her frenzy.
My fingers loosened, let the goblet in them fall;
my lips, though eased with wine, lost all their red.
Her eyes electric, she lashed out with all the woman in her -
no less a spectacle than a sacked city.
Her angry fingernails lacerated Phyllis’ face;
scared Teia shrieked across the near canals,
Lifted torches disturbed the groggy citizens
and every footway rang with the loud night.
They were swallowed by the first pub in that shady
sidestreet, their blouses undone, their hairstyles torn to rags.
Cynthia, victrix, pleased with these shreds of war, returned,
bruising my face perversely with her palm,
inflicting on my neck her mark, biting the blood out,
and above all making my eyes jog - they’d deserved it.
When pummelling me had tired her, she jerked out Lygdamus,
who was to the left somewhere, hiding under
the bed. Exposed, he called on my protecting geist:
Lygdamus, I was useless - captured too.
At last, with supplicatory hands, I met her terms,
though she’d scarcely show her foot for me to hold.
She said: "If you want me to overlook your little faults,
hear what the format of my law’s to be.
Never stroll about in Pompey’s Arcade in your best,
nor in the lecherous Forum when the sand’s strewn.
Don’t twist your neck, at the play, to gawk at the top circle;
and when a litter’s unveiled, don’t lurk around.
Above all, let the whole cause of my sorrow, Lygdamus,
be sold, and drag from his feet a brace of chains."
And so she laid down her law. "I will stick to it," I said.
She laughed, elated with the power I’d given.
Then she fumigated with scent each place the other girls
had touched, and washed down the doorstep with clear water.
She ordered me to change into other outdoor clothes
and touched my head three times with burning sulphur;
and when every sheet on the mattress had been changed too,
I matched her:
we sheathed the sword on the familiar bed.

Trans. Copyright © Alan Marshfield 2001

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