The Love of Boys—A Poem about Men & Love from The Poems of Tibullus & Sulpicia, ca. 55-19 BC

23DE93B9-2C25-4FE8-93EB-14C5B92A99BD

(trans. by AS Kline)

IV The Love of Boys

“So the protective shadows might be yours,
and your head not be harmed by sun or snow,
Priapus, what skill of yours captivates lovely lads?
For sure, you’ve no shining beard, or well-groomed hair:
naked you fulfil your role in the cold of cloudy winter,
naked too in the dry time of the Dog-Star’s heat.”
So I: then the rustic child of Bacchus answered me, so,
the god who’s armed with the curving hook.
“Oh beware of trusting the crowd of tender boys:
since they always offer a true cause for love.
This one pleases, that keeps a tight rein on his horse:
that one breaks the still waters with his snowy breast:
this one for his audacious bravery: while that one’s
virgin modesty mantles his tender cheeks.
But don’t let boredom seize you, if at first he denies you
fiercely: gradually his neck will yield to the yoke.
Length of time has taught lions to comply with man,
with length of time soft water wears away rock:
time ripens the grapes on the sunny slopes,
time drives the bright constellations on their sure course.
Don’t be afraid to swear: the winds bear vain oaths of love
over the lands and over the surface of the sea.
Huge thanks to Jove: the Father himself denied their power,
so that foolish Love might swear anything in passion:
and Diana lets you swear by her arrows with impunity
and Minerva lets you swear by her hair.
But if you linger you’re lost: how swift time flies!
The day does not stand idle or return.
How quickly the earth loses its rich purple hues,
how quickly the high poplar its lovely leaves.
How the horse is despised when weak old age’s fate
arrives, he who once shot from the starting gate at Elis.
I’ve seen a young man on whom later years now pressed
mourning his foolishness in days gone by.
Cruel gods! The snake renewed sheds his years:
but fate grants no delays to beauty.
Only for Bacchus and Phoebus is youth eternal:
and unshorn hair is fitting for both those gods.
You’ll yield to your boy in whatever he wants to try:
love always wins the most by deference.
You’ll not refuse to go, though he intends long journeys,
and the Dog-Star bakes the earth with parching drought,
though the brimming rainbow, threatens coming storm,
painting the heavens with its purple hues.
If he wants to sail the blue waves in a boat, with the oar
drive the light vessel through the waves yourself.
Don’t complain at submitting yourself to hard labour
or roughening your hands unused to work:
while you still please, if he wants to trap deep valleys,
don’t let your shoulders refuse to bear the hunting nets.
If he wants to fight, try to play at it with a light hand:
often leave your flank exposed so he can win.
Then he’ll be gentle with you, then you may snatch
that precious kiss: he’ll struggle but let you take it.
At first he’ll let you snatch it, later he’ll bring it himself
when asked, and then even want to hang about your neck.
Sadly alas these times now produce wretched arts:
now tender boys are accustomed to wanting gifts.
You, whoever you are, who first taught the sale of love
may a fateful stone press down on your bones.
Boys, love the Muses and the learned poets,
let no golden gifts outweigh the Muses.
Through poetry Nisus’s lock of hair’s still purple,
without verse no ivory gleams on Pelop’s shoulder.
He the Muses name, shall live, while earth bears oaks,
while heaven bears stars, while rivers carry water.
But he who cannot hear the Muses, he who sells love,
let him follow the chariot of Idaean Ops, and traverse
three hundred cities with his wanderings,
and cut at his worthless limbs, in the Phrygian way.
Venus wants room for blandishments: she favours
complaining suppliants and wretched weeping.”
These things the god’s mouth told me, to sing to Titius:
but Titius’s wife forbids him to remember them.
Let him listen to her: but you praise me as master,
you whom sadly a wily boy possesses, by wicked art.
Each has his own glory: let despised lovers consult me:
my doors are open wide to everyone.
A time will come when a loyal crowd of young men
shall lead my aged self along, carrying the laws of Venus.
Alas how Marathus torments me with love’s delay!
…’

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