Elegia IV (n.d.)

A central feature of Roman love elegy is extensive reference to mythology (seen particularly in the elegies of Propertius) and the comparison of the value of love with that of material wealth. The defining feature of this elegy to 'Cynthia' (apart from the obvious homage to Propertius' puella) is the extensive listing of riches that the narrator flatly denies desiring, instead only hoping that Cynthia would grant his wish for a night with her, and then asking (in the closing lines) to be free of his love if she does not comply. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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1Si quis demissi signum lachrymabile vultus
fletibus aspiciens ora rigata meis
scire cupit, quae sint tanti solatia luctus,
vincere qua faelix conditione velim:
5non ego divitias, vanissima gaudia Craesi,
non ego Migdonii quas tenuere rates:
non Arabum gemmas, 1 nec quas Pactolus arenas, 2
nec peto, quod dives India mittit ebur. 3
Nec mihi Caesarei prosunt monumenta triumphi, 4
10solis ab occasu Solis ad usque facem.
Qua Cereris flavae, et generosi munera Bacchi, 5
consita odoriferis floribus arva ferunt. 6
Nec mihi Sydonio vitiatae murice 7 vestes,
vasaque quae Delus, quaeque Corinthus habet:
15non honor, aut celebris celsissima regia montis,
non quae luxuries thura Sabaea 8 colit:
excutere afflicto vigiles de pectore curas,
aut animum possunt restituisse meum.
Una mihi potior cunctis est Cynthia rebus, 9
20Cynthia pars animi charior illa mei.
Cynthia (Di faxint) se a me patiatur amari,
Cynthia cultorem me sinat esse suum.
Me contra argutos venerantem tendat ocellos.
Osculaque interdum carpere rapta sinat. 10
25Gaudeat et blandos mecum alternasse susurros, 11
nudaque tractandos praebeat usque sinus.
Sentiat affectus, facili noctem annuat ore,
et licet insanis dentibus ora notet. 12
Candida subjiciat recubanti brachia collo, 13
30neu fructu lusus hos caruisse sinat.
Tunc ego purpureos prae me nil dicere reges,
Link to an image of this page  [p150] tunc possem fortem non adamasse Iovis.
Forsitan humanis aut si majora petuntur, 14
munera mortali non tribuenda viro:
35at saltem dominae vivam resolutus amore, 15
ah mea libertas illa paterna 16 redi.
Fas mihi quae injecit saevus fera vincla Cupido,
de digitis manicas deposuisse meis. 17
Ille meo gliscens ardor sub pectore cesset,
40neu cogar quod me non amat, illud amem.
Denique votorum brevis haec est summa meorum
(et qua ter faelix conditione forem):
aut Veneris mater flammam restinguat amoris,
44inflammet Venerem vel mea flamma meam.

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Elegy IV

If someone, looking upon the tearful image of my dejected countenance, my face watered with my tears, wants to know what solaces there are for such grief, and on what terms I might be able to overcome them in happiness: I do not seek the completely useless riches of Croesus, a nor the ships which the Trojans had, b nor Arab gemstones, nor the sands which are borne by the Pactolus, c nor the rich ivory that India sends forth; nor are the obelisks of Caesar's triumph, from the setting of the sun to the rising of the sun, any use to me, or the places where the fields sown with sweet-smelling flower bring forth the gifts of golden Ceres and generous Bacchus; nor for me garments stained by Sidonian shell, d and the pottery which Delos and Corinth have; e neither the highest palace of the fabled mount, f nor the opulence which values Sabean incense: none of these things can cast out the anxious cares from my troubled breast, or restore my mind. Cynthia is the one dearer to me than everything, Cynthia, that more cherished part of my soul. May Cynthia (may the Gods make it so) allow herself to be loved by me, may Cynthia permit me to be her worshipper. She casts her shining eyes towards me who reveres her, while she allows me to snatch quick kisses. And let her rejoice to have exchanged whispered sweet nothings with me, and naked let her offer up a bosom which should be fondled without interruption. Let her feel desire, and agree to a night with an accommodating look, and allow my frenzied teeth to mark her face. Let her lay down her snow-white arms beneath my reclining neck, and don't let her allow these games to be devoid of enjoyment. Then I would say that crimsoned kings had nothing in comparison with me, Link to an image of this page  [p150]then I would not earnestly desire the fortune of Jupiter. Or perhaps, if greater things are sought by human creatures, these rewards ought not to be bestowed upon mortal man: or instead let me live, freed from my mistress' love, ah! return that ancestral freedom of mine. It is right that wicked Cupid, who threw hard chains upon me, has let drop the manacles from my fingers. May that passion, blazing up under my breast, cease. Do not let me be compelled to love that thing which does not love me. Finally, this is a brief summary of my prayers (and the terms on which I could be thrice happy): either let the mother of love g extinguish the flame of love, or else let my flame kindle Venus' flame.



1: Echoes Ovid, Heroides XV.74,76

2: Vergil, Aeneid X.142

3: Virgil, Georgics I.57

4: Intertextual reference to Catullus, Carmina XI.10: 'Caesaris visens monumenta magni'

5: Ovid, Metamorphoses IV.765

6: 'odoriferis...floribus', Silius Italicus, Punica XVI.309

7: 'Sidonio murice', Carmina Tibulliana III.3.18

8: 'Sabaeo ture' (again as a marker of wealth), Virgil, Aeneid I.416

9: The next four lines are generally evocative of addresses to Cynthia by Propertius; see (for example) Elegiae I.11.23, 'tu mihi sola domus, tu Cynthia, sola parentes,/ omnia tu nostrae tempora laetitae'.

10: 'oscula rapta': Tibullus, Elegies I.8.58; Ovid, Amores II.4.26

11: Propertius, Elegies I.11.13: 'quam vacet alterius blandos audire susurros'

12: Propertius, Elegies I.6.16: 'Cynthia et insanis ora notet manibus'

13: 'candida...brachia' (same metrical position): Silius Italicus, Punica III.414

14: 'maiora petuntur' (same metrical position): Silius Italicus, Punica XV.489

15: 'resolutus amore': 'Tibullus, Elegies I.9.83

16: Tibullus, Elegies II.4

17: Naso, Nux [sp.] 172: 'quem populus manicas deposuisse vetat'


a: Last king of Lydia in Asia Minor (r.c.560-546BC), renowned for his wealth.

b: The idea of owning a large numbers of ships here being used as a marker of prosperity, not warfare.

c: A river near the Turkish Aegean coast, famed in antiquity for large sedimentary deposits of gold.

d: The murex, a shellfish native to Phoenician Sidon, was used to produce the pigment for a purple dye in antiquity which grew stronger with exposure to sunlight (rather than fading as most ancient dyes did). It was so rare and expensive that it ultimately became associated with royalty.

e: Both Delos (the smallest island of the Cyclades in the Aegean sea) and Corinth were famed for their pottery in antiquity.

f: Presumably Olympus.

g: Literally 'the mother of Venus/sexual passion'.