Treasure Island

Ovid

(43 BCE - 17 CE / Rome / Italy)

Elegy for Tibullus


If Memnon's mother mourned, Achilles's mother mourned,
and our sad fates can touch great goddesses,
then weep, and loose your hair in grief you never earned,
Elegy, now ah! too much like your name.
That bard whose work was yours, who gave you fame, Tibullus,
burns on the mounded pyre, a lifeless corpse.
See Venus's boy, bearing his quiver upside down;
his bow is broken and his torch is quenched;
look how he goes dejected: his wings trail on the ground;
he smites his naked breast with violent hand;
his tears dampen the curls that fall around his neck,
and heaving sobs keep breaking on his lips.
(Just so he went out, fair Iulus, from your house,
they say, at his brother Aeneas's funeral.)
No less was Venus stunned by her Tibullus's death
than when the fierce boar smote her lover's thigh.
They say we bards are sacred, favorites of the gods,
and even that there's something holy in us,
but that churl Death defiles every sacred thing:
his shadowy hand appropriates us all.
Was Orpheus saved by his father and mother, who were gods,
or by his songs that tamed the astonished beasts?
They say that that same father sang 'Linos! Ai, Linos! '
deep in the woods on his reluctant lyre.
And Homer, too, from whom, as from an endless fount,
bards' lips are moistened with the Muses' waters,
one last day pulled him under Avernus's murky wave:
his songs alone escaped the greedy pyre.
The work of bards endures: Troy's famous sufferings,
and the endless shroud, undone by nightly fraud.
So Nemesis and Delia: both their names will live,
the one his first, the one his latest love.
But what use now your rites? What use the Egyptian rattle?
What use, to have slept alone in an empty bed?
When harsh fate steals away the good (forgive my words!)
I almost want to believe there are no gods.
Live virtuous: you will die. Respect the gods: grim Death
will drag you from their altars to your grave.
Write glorious verse, and see! here Tibullus lies:
one small urn holds the dust of what he was.
Is it you the blazing pyre bears off, O sacred bard,
not dreading to be fed upon your breast?
Flames that dare so great a blasphemy would burn
the golden temples of the blessed gods!
She turned aside her gaze who rules Mt. Eryx's heights,
and some say she could not restrain her tears.
And yet it's better thus than if Phaeacia's land
had strewn mere dirt on your neglected grave.
Here, as you fled life, your mother closed your streaming
eyes, and brought her last gifts to your ashes.
Here your sister joined your mother in her grief
and came with loosened hair all disarrayed.
And with their kisses Nemesis and your first love
joined theirs, and did not leave your pyre forsaken,
and Delia, as she left, said, 'Happier far your love
for me: you lived, while I was still your flame.'
'Why, ' Nemesis replied, 'do you grieve for my loss?
Dying, he clutched me with his failing hand.'
If anything remains of us but name and shade,
Elysium's vale will be Tibullus's home,
and you will greet him, learned Catullus, ivy bound
on your young brow, with Calvus at your side,
and you (if it is false that you betrayed your friend)
Gallus, careless of your blood and soul.
These shades will be your comrades, if any shades there are:
you have joined the blessed, elegant Tibullus.
May your bones find repose within their sheltering urn,
and may earth not lie heavy on your ashes.

- translated from the Latin by Jon Corelis

Submitted: Saturday, December 06, 2003

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