Elegia 2: Ad Morpheum (n.d.)

This poem addresses itself to Morpheus, god of sleep, who can take any form and create any vision of his choosing, and who is described in depth in Ovid's Metamorphoses (XI.585ff). The poem opens with the poet cursing Morpheus for allowing him to sleep through the night and miss an arranged liaison with Glycinna, and then he imagines his beloved lying abandoned in her own bed, drawing in a range of mythological comparisons to underscore the level of betrayal that his lack of care has caused. The final part of the poem gives a vivid account of the arrangement of their liaison and evokes the symposiastic setting of drink and revelry among friends that would usually frame a paraclausithyron, or 'poem addressed to the lover outside their door'. This situational trope has its origin in literary treatments of the Greek symposium, where young men would come from the revels of the assembly and attempt to gain access to their lover, usually with garlands and song, and would often spend the night in their lover's doorway (on the paraclausithyron, see V. Canter, 'The paraclausithyron as a literary theme', American Journal of Philology 41 (1920), 355-368; Francis O. Copley, Exclusus Amator: a Study in Latin Love Poetry (Madison, WI, 1956); Francis Cairns, Generic Composition in Greek and Roman Poetry (Edinburgh, 1972)). The Roman elegists took this stock theme and reworked it in novel ways, with Propertius (I.16) making the narrator of his poem the door which the lover is standing outside, while Ovid's version (Amores I.8) addresses the doorkeeper (lena) who blocks his way. Tibullus' contribution to this theme (I.2) has generated considerable debate as the narrator appears to be away from the door, either at home or in a tavern, where he is served wine after failing to secure entrance. Maitland appears to be paying homage to the Tibullan situation, but inverts the idea of the trope by making his narrator fail to even attend the door of his puella, becoming drunk and falling asleep after agreeing his liaison. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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ELEGIA 2. Ad Morpheum.

1Di tibi cum spectris tristissima mortis imago, 1
exitium, Morpheu, desidiose ferant.
Qui me praeterita licet ultro nocte vocatum,
ad dominam non es passus abire meam.
5Cernimus obstruso sensus titubare meatu, 2
qua patet ex cerebro corpus in omne via.
Cernimus, ut jaceant cineres sine luce sepulti,
et nigro clausos carcere fœdifragos. 3
Sic ego compositus somno cum nocte jacerem,
10sustinui dominae perdere delitias.
Transfuga de septis sine jussu vita recessit,
nullus in exanimi corpore sensus erat.
Nunc postquam tenebras rediens aurora fugavit,
frustra promissa nocte carere queror. 4
15Scilicet implicitis circum mea colla lacertis,
suaviolum presso corpore dulce tulit, 5
et mihi tam blando optatam noctem annuit ore 6
(et 'rediture modo', dixit, 'amice vale'),
ut ferus insomnem paterer traducere noctem, 7
20cerneret ut teneris spectra timenda animis.
Link to an image of this page  [p145] Saepe ubi se versans sterilis complexibus umbras
sensit, et expertem corporis esse locum:
clamavit mœsto ducens suspiria corde,
'in mea spes lingua ludificata tua est'.
25Heus ubi pacta fides, num nostrae oblivio flammae
cœpit, et invisus te tenet alter amor? 8
Forsitan alternos miscens cum pellice risus,
plurima de nostra credulitate refers.
Haec, et plura quidem de me reor esse 9 loquutum;
30plenus ut est querulae suspicionis amor.
Et quisquam posthac promissis ducere amantes 10
formosis vitio vertat ut, alter erit?
Et morem ulla geret posthac, cum credula sensit
non sibi servatam pulchra Glycinna fidem?
35Mitior Oenones Nymphae sylvestris amorem
sprevit, Tyndaridos captus amore Paris:
non magis indigne Colchis, quam duxit Iason;
a superinducta pellice laesa fuit:
non mage crudelis Theseus, qui Gnosside spreta,
40sustinuit saevis pandere vela Notis:
quam cujus sterili promisso falsa Glycinna,
versabat vacuo frigida membra thoro. 11
His ego me similem fateor, nisi dira voluntas
obstitit his, error me facit esse reum.
45Et cum crudeles saeclis venientibus illi
dicentur, dicar desidiosus ego. 12
Quippe ubi mi argutis noctem promisit ocellis, 13
praestituit certis tempus et illa notis, 14
'non', ait, 'ante veni, vertat quam plaustra Bootes, 15
50et tota strepitus cesset in urbe pedum.'
Ergo ubi subducta mensa, sociisque remotis,
in thalamum solus praecipitanter eo:
dumque horam operior, quae optatae gaudia noctis
ferret, non toto commemoranda die:
55arctior invitos somnus contraxit ocellos,
et domina ex animo nox ceciditque meo.
Ah male lascivi Morpheu delusor amoris,
ah tibi pro meritis Di mala multa 16 ferant.
Quis tibi mortali dedit hoc in corpore juris,
Link to an image of this page  [p146] 60ut sine te vitam ducere nemo queat?
Tempora sint cœnis, sint rebus plura gerendis,
at mage nos longo tempore somnus habet.
Somnus habet vanis turbans praecordia spectris,
enecat et trepido pectora fessa metu. 17
65Sic sine nos sensu tristissima mortis imago,
constrictos vinclis detinet illa suis?
Deinde ut nocturnas Phœbus fugat ocyor umbras,
et renovant curas mane rubente dies:
mens hebet, et cerebrum sopivit plurimus humor,
70fluxit et ex oculis humor utrinque meis.
At quis te Morpheu livor furialis agebat,
unde fuit solito tum magis arcta quies?
Compedibus vincti duris teneantur ocelli:
languida sint molli membra soluta thoro: 18
75debuit at saltem vanis consueta voluptas,
mens pasci spectris debuit et solitis.
Forte etenim spectris animus agitatus ad aedes
duxisset, qua tunc mi comes isset Amor.
Quem Phœbaea soror juvenem complexa maritum est,
80saepius in somnis dulce peregit opus.
At tu parce precor 19 mœsta incusare querela,
da veniam culpae chara puella meae. 20
Non me lanipedes 21 somni duntaxat inerti
immemorem dominae detinuere thoro.
85Contra etenim somnum pro me Venus arma tulisset,
ipse manus pro me conseruisset Amor.
Tempora sed multo Bacchus madefacta Lyaeo
pressit, et oppressit lumina fessa sopor. 22
Desidiosa quies tenuit, pater ipse Lyaeus 23
90cumque suis uvis insidiosus erat.
Nec mirum, nec crimen inest, 24 nec gloria magna,
mortalis gemino numine victus homo est.
Error erat, veniamque fides illaesa meretur,
insuper hoc error commoditatis habet:
95fortior ad Veneris veniet certamina Bacchus,
96quum resicit placidus detinuitque sopor.

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Elegy 2. To Morpheus

Sleep-causing Morpheus, most baleful image of death, may the gods bring destruction upon you and your apparitions. For it was you who called me, although the night was far past, and did not allow me to go to my mistress. I see my senses falter, their motion suppressed, and from where the way lies opens, from my brain, into my whole body. I see that the ashes lie half-buried without light, and the oath-breakers lie closed up in a black prison. a And so, because I lay through the night after settling down for sleep, I have suffered losing out on the delights of my mistress. Life, a deserter, fled its post unbidden, while there had been no sense in my lifeless body. Now dawn, returning after the darkness, has fled, and I grieve in vain at being deprived of the night promised. Indeed, with her arms intertwined around my neck and her body pressed to mine, she gave a sweet kiss, and with her alluring mouth she promised me the night so longed for (and said 'farewell, my love - return soon') that I, in a frenzy, suffered through a sleepless night, and she saw apparitions that should terrify delicate minds.Link to an image of this page  [p145]Often, when turning herself in their empty embraces, she felt the shadows, and that the place was lacking a body: heaving out sighs, she cried out with a heavy heart, 'your expectation, long trifled with, is on my tounge'. Alas, now the promise has been secured, surely the forgetting of our passion hasn't started, and some other cursed love holds you? Perhaps, as you mingle jokes shared with my replacement, you repay a great many things concerning my trustfulness. And I suppose, indeed, that these things and many others are said of me, so that love is full of the suspicion of complaint. And will there ever be another man such as may denounce as a vice the leading on of lovers to fair promises, when he treats them with contempt? And will any woman oblige him, when credulous beautiful Glycinna has realised that the promise to her has not been kept? Paris was gentler when, seized by his love of the daughter of Tyndareus, he spurned the love of the woodland nymph Oenone; b no more unworthily was the Colchean woman, whom Jason married; c she was wounded by a mistress set in place over her; no more cruel was Theseus who, having abandoned the daughter of Cnossos, undertook to unfurl the sails against the cruel south wind; d none were worse than he whose empty promise and lies left Glycinna turning her ice-cold limbs in an empty bed. I confess that I am like these examples, except that evil intent stood in their way, a mistake made me a criminal. And when these cruelties are spoken of in times to come, I shall say that I was full of sleep. Because when she promised me a night of shining kisses, and when she fixed the time in advance with definite signs, she said: 'do not come earlier than when Bootes turns the constellation, e and the din of feet has ceased throughout the whole town.' So when the table had been cleared, and friends had departed, I went hastily to bed, and while I was waiting for the hour, which would bring the joys of the longed-for night, and which should never be thought on during the day, deeper sleep drew together my unwilling eyes, and night and my mistress fell from my mind. Ah, Morpheus! You deceiver of frolicsome love! Ah, may the Gods bring you many evils as your just rewards. Link to an image of this page  [p146] Who gave you this power over mortal bodies, so that no one can seek to lead a life without you? There may be times for sordidness, and times when business should be attended to, but sleep holds us for a longer time. Sleep, disturbing our vitals with empty shades, deadens bodies already fatigued with anxious fear. Why does this most-baleful image of death imprison us, without sense, bound in its chains? So that finally swifter Phoebus puts flight to night-time shadows, and renews daily labours with the reddening dawn: the mind is dull, and liquid excess has deprived the brain of sense, and liquid has streamed from both my eyes. But what, Morpheus, livid like the Furies, drove you to have made my repose so much more deep than usual? So that my eyes, conquered, are being held fast by hard shackles: my flopping limbs are dissolved by the soft bed: and as my pleasure owed the usual obligations to empty apparitions, so my mind was obliged to supply them with what they were accustomed to. Perhaps, even if my mind, disturbed by apparitions, had led to home, then Love would have there been my companion. The youth whom the sister of Pheobus embraced in marriage often completed the sweet labour in his sleep. f But I beg you, stop finding fault in my sad complaints, give my dear girl remission from my sins. At any rate, the players did not divert me, unmindful of sleep, from the cold bed of my mistress. For if Venus had bore arms for me against sleep, Love himself would have taken up the struggle for me. But Bacchus urged on times soaked in much wine, and sleep oppressed my tired eyes. Indolent repose held me, and father Dionysius himself was cunning with the vine's fruit. There can be no wonder, nor crime, nor great glory in this, when a mere man is conquered by two gods. There was a mistake, and a promise unbroken is deserving of favour, and the error above has this to its advantage: Bacchus will come mightier to a battle of Venus, when peaceful sleep has checked and renewed him.



1: Ovid, Tristia I.3, 1; Vergil, Aeneid II.368-9

2: Variation on Ovid, Metamorphoses III.608

3: 'foedifragos' (rare), Cicero, De Officiis I.38.12; Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae XIX.7.5.1

4: 'promissa...nocte', Ovid, Ars Amatoria II.523

5: Catullus, Carmina XCIX.2,14

6: 'blando...ore', Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII.533; from here until line 24 the text may possibly be corrupted.

7: 'insomnem...noctem', Virgil, Aeneid IX.166-167; Statius, Thebaid II.74

8: Propertius, Elegies, II.3.46, III.18.30

9: A phrase used frequently in Ovid: see (for example) Heroides XVII.148, XVIII.132; Metamorphoses XI.438, XII.505, XIII.14.

10: Propertius, Elegies II.17, 1

11: Tibullus, Elegies, I.8.30.

12: Martial, Epigrammata XII.292, but also VIII.3.12, I.107.2; see also Ovid, Amores, I.9.46, Remedia Amoris 162.

13: Ovid, Amores III.2.83

14: Ovid, Amores 2.5.20

15: Propertius, Elegies III.5.35

16: Propertius, Elegies II.25.48, but also a common phrase

17: This line and the preceding echo Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII.83-84

18: Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto III.3.8

19: Tibullus, Elegies I.8.51; Horace, Odes IV.1.2; Lucan, Bellum Civile VI.773, VII.540. The construction is used extensively throughout Ovid's works.

20: Propertius, Elegies II.8.1, III.4.15; Carmina Tibulliana III.6.12; Martial, Epigrammata II.48.6

21: A corruption of 'planipedes'.

22: Ovid, Heroides IX.56

23: A form of the name used by Statius, Martial, and Ovid (among others), and once in the Carmina Priapea (XXXIX.3).

24: Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto IV.1.20, but the conceit of innocence of a crime ('crimen') or fault ('error') is seen in several of Ovid's works, notable the Epistulae as a whole.


a: The ashes of the night-time fire; the narrator is imagining himself as one of many 'oath-breakers' who have made a promise to meet their beloved during the night and not kept it.

b: Oenone was a nymph on Mount Ida, who was Paris' wife before he met Helen (the daughter of Tyndareus). When Paris was wounded by Philoctetes with one of Heracles' poisoned arrows towards the end of the Trojan War, she refused to help him. Soon after she repented, but Paris had already died. In her grief she hanged herself.

c: Medea, who Jason married after using Medea to help him steal the golden fleece from her father, King Aeëtes, and then abandoned for the daughter of King Creon of Corinth; in the later version of the story made famous by Euripides, Medea murders her sons to gain revenge against their father.

d: Cruel because they blew Theseus north to Athens, from the island of Naxos, where he had left the sleeping Ariadne. Our thanks to Roger Green for this observation.

e: The constellation known today as Charles's Wain. See OLD, 'plaustrum', b.

f: A reference to Endymion, king of Elis and an exceptionally beautiful youth who the moon-goddess Selene fell in love with. He was granted immortality on the condition that he spend it in eternal sleep, and in this state he fathered fifty children with Selene.