Elegia I: Ad Pictorem (n.d.)

A short introduction to Thomas Maitland's life and career, as well as his known writings, can be found in our May 2014 feature. One of the most fascinating aspects of Maitland's surviving poetry is his close emulation of the stock themes and tropes of the elegiac love poetry produced by Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid, the traditional accepted 'canon' of Roman love elegists (though Catullus can also be included in this grouping). In Tibullus and Propertius in particular, the narrator is so completely devoted to his beloved, or puella (Delia and Nemesis in the case of Tibullus, Cynthia in the case of Propertius) that the obsession becomes a form of quasi-slavery (termed boldly by Propertius as nequitiae). Although this specific term is absent from Maitland's poetry, in this opening elegy Glycinna embodies just such an all-consuming passion. Here the poet recounts her intense beauty (a beauty which ultimately cannot be reproduced on something as two-dimensional as a canvas) as he directs a painter to draw her. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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ELEGIA I: Ad Pictorem

1Pictor ades, pictor nitidas animare tabellas
Praxiteleae artis Mentoreaeque potens. 1
Se jubet in tabula pingi formosa Glycinna,
formanda est digitis forma superba tuis.
5Aemula forma Deis, nec terris digna morari;
dignior aetherei scandere regna Iovis.
Ergo age, si menti Veneris quae insedit imago,
oscula Bistonio quo tulit ore Deo; 2
vel cum censa fuit nemorosae in vallibus Idae, 3
10inter tres Phrygio judice prima Deas;
hanc memor ingenio limaque imitare sequaci;
si modo quae Venerem lima referre queat.
Principio undantes auro radiante capillos
pinge, sed ut circum lactea colla fluant.
15Oraque designa nitidis magis alba ligustris, 4
frons micet Alpina candidiorque nive. 5
Finge supercilii sinuato fervida ab arcu
spicula, vulneribus nobilitata meis. 6
Exprime, si potis es, ignitos pictor ocellos,
20Phœbaeis flammis, sideribusque pares.
Lumina conde manu, furit infra flamma medullas,
eho age, quid cessas? Lumina conde manu. 7
Rideat ut blandum diductis illa labellis;
et molles Tyrio tinge rubore genas. 8
25Atque utinam posses imitari basia, donat
quae mihi porrectis insidiosa labris.
Tunc ego sustineam picto dare basia trunco;
qualia non fratri casta dat ulla soror.
Verum, age, sint albi dentes, et eburnea morsu
Link to an image of this page  [p144] 30dentibus insano colla notata meis
sint teretes digiti, sint mollia brachia, naevus
in castigato pectore nullus eat.
Quid geminos globulos ut pingas mando papillas?
Illa est pectoribus forma premenda meis.
35Quoque magis placeat, levem disterminet alvum
linea, sed condat quam juvenile femur.
Pressa sit, et geminis ornatis apta columnis,
candidior Pario marmore forma pedis. 9
Sit placido vultu, sit succi plena suavis,
40nec pinguis nimium, nec macilenta manus.
Denique par Veneri niteat pulcherrima virgo;
nec tua concedat gloria Praxiteli.
Quisquis amatorum pictos spectabit amores,
artificis doctas laudet et ille manus.
45Spectantisque meos cupide ut cum pascat ocellos,
46Interior mentem pascat imago meam.

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Elegy I: to the painter

Painter, o painter, master of the Praxitelean and Mentorean art, a be at hand to breath life onto pristine boards. Shapely Glycinna commands that she be painted in a picture, her proud shape to be shaped by your fingers. Her form rivals the gods, nor is it fit to tarry on earth, but more fit to rise up to the kingdoms of heavenly Jupiter. So come now, if the likeness of Venus which has settled upon your mind is that where she bore kisses from her mouth to the Bistonian God, b or when she had first been assessed by the Phrygian judge in the valleys of well-wooded Ida among three goddesses, c be mindful to imitate this in a similar character with your artistic polish, if there is a form of polish which can truly convey Venus. To start, paint her locks, wavy with shining gold, so that they flow around her milk-white neck. Depict her mouth, whiter than pristine privet, d and let her brow gleam more brightly than Alpine snow. Fashion with a curved arc the fierce barbs of her brows, ennobled by my wounding. e Pick out, painter, if you can, thoses eyes ablaze, equal to solar fires, and to the stars. Capture those eyes with your hand, the flame that rages within her marrow - ho, come now, why are you stopping? Capture those eyes with your hand. So that she laughs with parted lips at flattery, touch up her soft cheeks with Tyrian f blush. And how I wish you could imitate the deceitful kisses which she gives me, with her lips outstretched. Then I might be able to endure giving kisses to a painted trunk, not of the chaste kind any sister gives to her brother. Yes, make it so that her teeth are white, with an ivory smile, Link to an image of this page  [p144]and her neck marked in frenzy by my teeth; so that her fingers are dainty, her arms are soft, and that no blemish appears upon her chaste breast. And what of it that I bid you paint her breasts as little globes? Their outline will be clasped against my breast. And what would be more pleasing: may a crease mark out her smooth womb, but may her youthful thigh hide it. Make sure to sculpt the shape of her feet, more brilliant than Parthian marble, g fitted beneath two shapely legs. h Make her of pleasing face, and full of sweet sap, neither exceedingly fat nor lean of hand. Finally, let this exceedingly beautiful virgin shine forth as the equal of Venus, and do not let your glory be given away to Praxiteles. Whoever among lovers will look upon these painted loves, he will praise your hands, learned with their craft. And as the image feeds my eyes, as they gaze hungrily upon it, may an inward image feed my mind.



1: Martial, Epigrams IV.39.2,5

2: Ovid, Heroides XVI.346 ('Bistonis ora')

3: Ovid, Heroides XVII.115

4: Martial, Epigrams I.115.3

5: Virgil, Eclogues X.47

6: Martial, Epigrams IX.59.16

7: Ovid, Ars Amatoria III.742. In its original context, the term is used by Procris, who has been mistakenly shot by her husband Cephalus after spying on him in the woods, to beseech him to close her eyes as she dies. It is possible that conde is being used to direct the painter to 'close' the eyes of the narrator's beloved as they are so bright that they cannot be looked at, but it has been rendered here as 'capture' to give a broader range of possible meanings.

8: Tibullus, Elegies II.4.28, 30; Virgil, Georgics III.307; Ovid, Ars Amatoria III.170; Metamorphoses VI.222

9: Horace, Odes I.19.6


a: Praxiteles: mid-4th century BC sculptor, who produced a statue of Aphrodite which now exists only in Roman copies. Mentor: Greek silversmith of the early 4th century BC.

b: A reference to Venus' adulterous affair with Mars (the god of the people of Thrace, or Bistonia).

c: A reference to the Judgment of Paris, a contest recounted in Greek mythology (and in Ovid, Heroides V, XVI, and XVII, from where Maitland draws his description) where Paris (the 'Phrygian judge') was chosen by Zeus to decide which of the three goddesses - Juno, Minerva, and Aphrodite - was the most beautiful. The contest supposedly contributed indirectly to starting the Trojan War, as Paris' choice of Aphrodite was influenced by her promise to bestow the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen) upon him as a wife. It also earned him the enmity of Juno, who sided with the Greeks in revenge.

d: A form of shrub with white flowers.

e: i.e., by his love wounds.

f: Scarlet or purple, the colour of the dyes that Tyre was famous for producing.

g: Paros: Greek island in the central Aegean, famed for its marble.

h: 'columnis' being used metaphorically here.