Sextus Propertius: Two Poems

Book 2 Poem 22A

You know that recently many girls have pleased me equally;
you know, Demophoon, many torments have come to me.

Everywhere I go, I get lucky;
o theaters so suited to my destruction,
whether one spreads brilliant arms in soft
gesture, or sings varying styles on her lips!
Meanwhile my eyes seek a hit on their own,
if some fantastic chick sits so I can see her tits,
or stray curls, held at the crown by an Indian gem,
wander down unblemished foreheads.

You ask, Demophoon, why I’m so willing?
Since you ask, love has no “why.”
Why does a man mutilate his arms with sacred knives
and fall to the insane rhythms of the Phrygian?
To every human being nature has given a vice:
to me fortune granted that I always have affairs.
Even if the fate of the singer Thamyras should befall me,
never, old boy, will I be blind to the babes.

If you think my limbs are too thin and puny,
you’re wrong: Venus is never worshipped by work.
It’s okay you ask: often a girl has realized
that my service lasts all night.
If by chance a certain toughy has denied me something with a
a cold sweat was soon pouring down her face.

Jupiter put to sleep the twin bears of Alcmene,
and the heavens were without their king for two nights;
he was no laggard, though, when it came time to shoot his bolts:
no amount of sex sapped his strength.

What? When Achilles was coming from Briseis’ embrace
did the Phrygians flee any less his Thessalian spears?
What? When savage Hector rose from Andromache’s bed
did the Mycenaean fleets not fear the conflict?
This one or that could wreck ships or walls:
here I am Pelides, here I’m savage Hector.
Look how the sky is tended now by the sun, now by the moon:
it’s the same with me—one girl’s not enough.

Let this girl hold and caress me with desirous arms
if that girl won’t make room;
or if maybe she’s become angry with my servant,
knowing she’s just “another,” who wants to be “mine!”

Two cables hold the ship better,
and the anxious mother raises twins more calmly.

Book 2 Poem 27

Do you mortals seek to know death’s unfixed
hour and by what path the end may arrive?
On a clear night, do you study Phoenician science, as to
which star may be favorable and which destructive?
Whether we pursue Parthians on foot or Britons by boat,
on sea and on land, the way holds hidden perils.
Our head again tossed into the tumult, we moan,
when Mavors jumbles both camps’ uncertain hands,
and what’s more, the flame and ruin to our homes,
we moan, lest the black cups approach our lips.

Only the lover knows when he will die and from what
cause, and he fears neither Boreas’ blast nor war.
Though the oarsman already sits in the Stygian reeds,
and he sees the gloomy sails of the infernal bark:
if only the whisper of his girlfriend calling would summon him,
he would make the journey back, obedient to no law.

Translated by Vincent Katz

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