Translated by Melinda Smith
V: From my sick bed
Sulpicia 5 (Tibullus 3, 17)
Cerinthus, will you keep faith with your girl
now fever’s struck this tired body down?
I can’t beat back this dismal thing unless
you too want me to fight it, and to win.
If you can watch me suffer, and stay calm,
what is the point in getting up again?
VI: Remorse at my lack of candour
Sulpicia 6 (Tibullus 3, 18)
Last week we stoked each other up so high
you saw me incandescent — yet, last night,
afraid to show you I was still on fire
I went and left you all alone, my light.
Of all the clueless things I’ve ever done,
may I regret this most — or lose this flame.
Sulpicia, a rare woman poet writing in Latin, lived in the reign of Augustus (27 BC — AD 14), and was the daughter of Servius Sulpicius Rufus. Her uncle and guardian was Messalla Corvinus, an important patron of literature. She is believed to be the author of six short poems (some 40 lines in all) included in the corpus of Tibullus’s poetry (poems 3.13-18). Some argue these poems were written by Tibullus using a female persona — but many scholars agree Sulpicia is actually the likely author. The poems are addressed to a lover called Cerinthus, but this was most likely a pseudonym, in the style of the day (like Catullus’s Lesbia and Propertius’s Cynthia). These translations were presented as part of a public program of Latin poetry at the National Museum of Australia’s ROME: City and Empire exhibition, Nov-Dec 2018. Many thanks to Michael Teece for his word-for-word translations. I also consulted Anne Mahoney’s translations of the same poems.
Original Latin of Sulpicia 5 (Tibullus 3, 17=4.11):
Estne tibi, Cerinthus, tuae pia cura puellae,
quod mea nunc vexat corpora fessa calor?
A ego non aliter tristes evincere morbos
optarim, quam te si quoque velle putem.
At mihi quid prosit morbos evincere, si tu
nostra potes lento pectore ferre mala?
Original Latin of Sulpicia 6 (Tibullus 3, 18=4.12) :
Ne tibi sim, mea lux, aeque iam fervida cura
ac videor paucos ante fuisse dies
si quicquam tota commisi stulta iuventa
cuius me fatear paenituisse magis,
hesterna quam te solum quod nocte reliqui,
ardorem cupiens dissimulare meum