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Propertius 2.7 - A comparison of two translations

Seminararbeit 2006 7 Seiten

Klassische Philologie - Latinistik - Literatur


The first translation I used is the one of G.P.Goold. Propertius. Elegies. Loeb Classical Library. London 1990. The second translation is the one from John Warden. The poems of Propertius. Indianapolis 1972.

I attach copies both of Warden’s and Goold’s translation, but the counting of the lines in the Latin text I took from Camps’ edition.

The second book of Propertius Elegies is a problematic one. The manuscripts of Propertius were divided into four books, but we know from notes of the antique that Propertius wrote in fact five books of elegies, so one book is missing. It has now being established that book two is a collection of at least two of the original ancient books. Goold argues that poem 2.10 ends the original second book of Propertius, and poem 2.13 is the beginning of the original third book of Propertius Elegies, and so the poems 11 and 12 are simply disordered.[1] So the poem I have to write about would belong to the original second book of the Elegies.

I choose the translation of John Warden because it is in meter, unlike the most of the recent translations. The one from the Loeb Classical Library I choose because it seems to me the most accurately translation I have seen.

Goold in his work gives names and titles to the different poems, which are not originally from Propertius and not even from the medieval times when the work of Propertius was copied. He entitles the poem 2.7 with “A threat removed”. On the contrary Warden does not give titles or headline to his translated poems, he just numbers them and divided the poem in four parts. Goold divides the Latin text into three parts, when in the edition of Camps the poem is undivided.

The Latin poem has a length of 20 lines, divided into 8 couplets. It contains a reference to a very specific law from the time short before Actium (32-31 BC), when Caesar Octavian, in desperate need of money, decided to impose on bachelors a substantial tax. It seems that Propertius at that time was not able to pay the tax and therefore considered to get married in avoiding the tax, which of course would have infected his relationship to his mistress Cynthia. Fortunately for Propertius and Cynthia and of course for a bunch of bachelors the law was repealed in 28 BC.[2]

The joy and relief about the annulations of the law, clearly showed in lines 3-4 of the Latin text, is combined with critics to Octavian-Augustus, who is compared with Jove but his power is restricted to military resort, and he has no influence on the relationships between human beings (lines 7-8). Depending on when one set the time of the writing of the poems in book 2 these words might be considered also as opposition to the later Augustan’ laws on marriage and moral from 18 / 17 BC (Lex Iulia de Maritandis Ordinibus - limiting marriage across social class boundaries and Lex Iulia de Adulteriis Coercendis - describes penalties for adultery).

The first two lines of the Poem were translated by Goold almost literally: ‘ Never shall wife, never shall mistress part us: you shall ever be mistress, ever be wife’, but his Latin text of Poem 7 starts with the last two lines of Poem 6 in Camps edition. John Warden skips these first two lines completely (because he might have used the same Latin text then Camps), and starts with his translation on line 1 (gauisa’s certe sublatam …) with a kind of a question: ‘ You were happy, Cynthia, weren’t you, when you heard they’d drop the bill ’. He uses the word ‘ bill’ as translations for the Latin word ‘ lex” which I think is incorrect, not necessarily as a translation for the word ‘lex’ generally but in this case. Because here we have to deal with a law which was proclaimed around 31 BC, was in use then for around three years and was repealed then.

The translation by Goold of the Latin text lines 2-3 indicates that Cynthia and her lover cried because of the law, but the main fear was that the law might divert them and their love. This indication is not found in Warden’s translation, he only decode the Latin text in: ‘ Oh the tears we shed when it (that is the law) was introduced.’ So from his translation we can not imagine the contents of the law nor the effect it might have on the two lovers and their relationship, which on the contrary can be indicated from the translation by Goold (‘ … whose erstwhile issuance caused us to weep for many an hour in case it parted us! ’).


[1] Goold, p.17

[2] For the law see Ernst Badian. A phantom marriage law. Philologus 129 (1985) 82-98


ISBN (eBook)
370 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Indiana University – Department for Classical Studies
Sehr Gut (A)




Titel: Propertius 2.7 - A comparison of two translations