Elegia V (n.d.)

One of Maitland's most intertextual poems, Elegy V opens with a direct quotation from the opening lines of both Propertius II.1.1 and III.13.1. Propertius II.1 celebrates Maecenas as patron and avows that he would celebrate both his and Augustus's deeds if he could write epic (but alas he cannot). The real link here is to 3.13, which condemns the corrupt morals of Rome and the fact that women now expect lavish treatment ('avidis nox sit pretiosa puellis'), while in the rustic past they would have been happy with bucolic treats, such as quinces, violets, and lilies, 'and to carry grapes clothed in their own leaves and some speckled bird of rainbow plumage' ('et portare suis vestitas frondibus uvas | aut variam plumae versicoloris avem', l. 31-2, the latter line paraphrased here at line 6). The first half of the poem inverts this idea, where instead of greedy girls seeking gold, pearls, dyed cloth and spices, the focus is turned on the narrator, spending money on garish and tri-coloured clothing (white, yellow and red) to impress Glycinna, and making a fool of himself in the process. The second half is an extended paraphrase and play on Tibullus I.1.69-74, which beseeches the reader to pursue life and love while he is young. Continuing his clothing metaphor, Maitland notes that the time will come soon enough in life to be serious, but for now gaudy and outlandish clothing and the pursuit of love are sufficient ends in themselves for a young man. There are numerous textual parallels between the two texts ('interea', 'iungamus/agitemus amores', 'Venus dum/dum Venus') as well as thematic ones (the image of old age accompanied by white and thinning hair, the pursuit of love), and Maitland's reference to adopting the more sober style of the 'unbending' ('rigidos') Catos draws on Martial XI.2.1, where he praises Nerva for restoring the Saturnalia. The final part of the poem returns to the stock theme of the harsh puella, who Maitland again describes in terms of a slave obeying his mistress (l.37-8), but it ends with a biting pointe (a recurring feature in Maitland's poems, and which again shows a general intellectual debt to Martial) where he reminds the reader that while he might look stupid, he still gives the prurient mob something to gawp at. Metre: elegiac couplets.

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1Quaeritis unde mihi varia tot veste nitores, 1
tegmina cur triplici tincta colore feram?
Anne ego propterea traducor fabula vulgo,
et nimium tota dicor in urbe levis:
5pallia Daedalia quod pictas arte tabellas,
et referunt plumae versicoloris avem? 2
Me curare putas, quid de me fama loquatur?
Dum mores nostros pulchra Glycinna probet.
Non ego mi populum regemve ascisco patronum,
10in nos imperium sola puella tenet. 3
Utque solent pueros dominorum ornare colores,
quos varius servos arguit esse nitor:
sic quos alma dedit dominae natura colores,
non alios prae se tegmina nostra ferunt.
15Quod bene compositis flavis nitet illa capillis, 4
quos optat capiti flava Minerva suo:
candida quod cutis est, et eburnea brachia splendent, 5
collaque Sithonia sint magis alba nive:
labraque quod roseo rubeant suffusa pudore,
20purpurat et leves flamma pudica genas:
non ego propterea quovis fero tincta colore
pallia, delegi candida, flava, rubra.
Quam bene conveniunt cum flavis alba rubrisque?
Simplicior fuerit vestis inempta mihi.
Link to an image of this page  [p151] 25At levis est, 6 levitas teneros non dedecet annos:
qui leve contemnunt, hos grave vexat onus.
Vita senes ornat posita levitate severa,
est aetas teneris haec tribuenda jocis.
Post mea cum sparsis albescent tempora canis,
30venerit et tardo curva senecta pede:
tunc mihi stet rigidos imitari cura Catones, 7
arguet et vitam nigra lacerna gravem.
Interea liceat molles agitemus amores,
ventilat accensas dum Venus alma faces. 8
35Sed tamen, heu! miseros quis non fateatur amantes, 9
queis justi semper causa doloris adest?
Non satis iratae vultum subiisse minacem,
et dominae in famulum jura superba pati;
urgeat innocuos ni vitae infamia vates,
40dicenda est populo judice causa reis.
Verum ego dum dominae placeam, contemno susurros,
nil populi voces crimina falsa movent. 10
Cui videor fatuus, poterit non picta videre
tegmina, ni videas, invidus esse nequis.
45Haec quoque ni placeant levibus mandata tabellis
46carmina, te nemo cogit ut illa legas.

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Elegy V

You ask me why I have so many sheens in my patchwork garment, and why I wear clothing stained with three colours? And whether or not I am ridiculed by the mob on account of gossip, and spoken of in exceedingly light tones throughout the whole town? Why, with the skill of Daedalus, a do my clothes bring to mind painted pictures, and a bird of multi-coloured plume? You seek to cure me, and ask what the rumour is spoken about me: let beautiful Glycinna judge my behaviour. I do not take up the people or the king as my patron: the girl alone holds dominion over me. As colours are used to mark out the slaves of great men, whose varied splendour makes it clear that they are slaves, so our clothes do not bear other colours beyond those which dear nature gave to my mistress. Because she shines so brightly with her blonde hair arrayed, which blonde Minerva desires for her own head: because her skin is clear, and her ivory arms shine, and her neck is whiter than the snow of Thrace; because her lips, flushed with rosy blush, redden, and a bashful glow makes her soft cheeks crimson; for these reasons I do not bear cloaks stained with whatever colour: I love whites, yellows, reds. How well do white garments go with yellow and red? I would have a plainer, natural garment. b Link to an image of this page  [p151]For levity, which is light, is unbecoming to tender years, those who scorn lightly a heavy burden curses. A harsh life, with levity set aside, adorns old men, and this age should be given up to tender sport. Later, when my temples grow white with scattered gray hairs, and bent old age comes with heavy gait, then will it be my concern to copy the unbending Catos, c and a black cloak will prove my serious way of life. Meanwhile, let us chase soft love while we are allowed, while dear Venus fans our kindled torches. But yet, alas, who may not admit wretched lovers, for whom the cause of a just sorrow is always at hand? Not enough that I have suffered in her service to be subject to the threatening sight and the haughty commands of my wrath-filled mistress: lest infamy of life may drive on innocent prophets, the cause of these matters to be discussed by the people as judge. While I may truly please my mistress, I spurn whispered voices, made-up accusations by people change nothing. The man to whom I seem stupid cannot see my painted clothes; unless you look, you cannot be envious. And if these songs given over to trifling compositions do not please, no one is forcing you to read them.



1: Propertius, Elegies II.1.1 ('Quaeritis unde mihi'); also (without 'mihi', but in same metrical position) Elegies III.13.1; Ovid, Fasti V.1

2: Propertius, Elegies III.13.32

3: 'sola puella': Propertius, Elegies III.3.20; Tibullus, Elegies II.1.76

4: Manilius, Astronomicon IV.58: 'cum bene compositis victor civilibus armis'

5: This line and next: Ovid, Amores III.7.8

6: Tibullus, Elegies I.1.73; what follows is an extended play on Tibullus, Elegies, I.69-74.

7: Martial, Epigrammata, XI.2.1

8: Ovid, Amores I.1.8: 'ventilet accensas flava Minerva faces?'

9: 'miseros...amantes', Tibullus, Elegies I.8.71

10: 'crimina falsa' (in same metrical position): Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto III.1.126


a: Athenian craftsmen who, in the service of King Minos of Crete, built the Labyrinth of the Minotaur at Cnossos. He also produced wings held together with wax for his son Icarus, which melted when the latter flew too close to the sun.

b: In other words, he would prefer to be naked. However, this could also be translated as 'I would leave a plainer garment unbought'.

c: Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149BC), and his great-grandson of the same name ('the Younger', 95-46BC) were both renowned for their unflinching moral and political conduct in defence of Republican values.