21 Propertius 3.11

Why wonder 31 that a woman governs my life, and hauls off a man in bondage to her sway? Why do you frame shameful charges of cowardice against me because I cannot burst my bonds and break the yoke? The sailor best predicts the temper of the winds; the soldier has learned from his wounds to feel fear. Words like yours I used to utter in my bygone youth: learn now from my example to be afraid.

The witch of Colchis forced the fire-breathing bulls under a yoke of adamant, sowed the seed of battle for the soil to produce armed warriors, and shut the fierce jaws of the guardian serpent, that the golden fleece might go to Aeson’s halls. Penthesilea, the fierce maid of Maeotis, once dared from horseback to attack the ships of the Greeks with arrows, and when the golden helm was lifted to reveal her face, her shining beauty conquered her male conqueror. Omphale, the Lydian girl who bathed in Gyges’ lake, won such renown for her beauty that he who had set up his pillars in the world he had pacified plucked with his brute hands soft tasks of wool. Semiramis built Babylon, the Persians’ capital, by rearing a solid edifice with wall of brick such that two chariots might be sent against each other along the ramparts and yet not scrape their sides with an axle’s touch; and she channelled the Euphrates through the middle of the citadel she founded and commanded Bactra to bow its head to her sway. Enough, for why should I bring gods and heroes to trial on this account? Jupiter shames himself and his whole house.

What of her who of late has fastened disgrace upon our arms, and, a woman who fornicated even with her slaves, demanded as the price of her shameful union 32 the walls of Rome and the senate made over to her dominion? Guilty Alexandria, land ever ready for treason, and Memphis, so often blood-stained at our cost, where the sand robbed Pompey of his three triumphs, no day shall ever wash you clean of this infamy, Rome. Better had your funeral processed over the Phlegrean fields, or had you been doomed to bow your neck to your father-in-law! 33 To be sure, the harlot queen of licentious Canopus, the one disgrace branded on Philip’s line, dared to pit barking Anubis against our Jupiter and to force the Tiber to endure the threats of the Nile, to drive out the Roman trumpet with the rattling sistrum 34 and with the poles of her barge pursue the beaks of our galleys, to stretch effeminate mosquito-nets on the Tarpeian rock and give judgement amid the arms and statues of Marius. What profit now is it to have broken the axes of that Tarquin whose proud life gave him a title derived from it, had we been fated to bear a woman’s yoke? Sing out your triumph, Rome, and, saved, pray long life for Augustus. Yet you fled to the wandering outlets of the craven Nile—not that your hands received Roman fetters. You endured the sight of your arms bitten by the sacred asps and your limbs channelling the stealthy route of the numbing poison. ‘Having so great a citizen as this, O Rome, you need not have feared me’ 35 : thus spoke even a tongue drenched in ceaseless toping.

The city set high on seven hills which presides over the whole world stands not to be destroyed by human hand. These walls the gods have founded, and these the gods also protect: whilst Caesar lives Rome should hardly fear Jupiter. So what does Scipio’s armada count for now, what Camillus’ standards, or the recent capture of Bosporus by Pompey’s might? What count the spoils won from Hannibal, the trophies of conquered Syphax, and Pyrrhus’ glory shattered at our feet? Curtius by filling a chasm made himself a lasting memorial; spurring his horse Decius broke the enemy’s line; the path of Cocles still tells of the cutting of the bridge, and there is the hero to whom a raven gave his name: Leucadian Apollo will tell of a host turned in flight: one day put an end to a war of such vast array.

But do you, sailor, whether you enter or leave harbour, remember Caesar over all the Ionian sea.

Quid mirare, meam si versat femina vitam
et trahit addictum sub sua iura virum,
criminaque ignavi capitis mihi turpia fingis,
quod nequeam fracto rumpere vincla iugo?
ventorum melius praesagit navita morem,
vulneribus didicit miles habere metum.
ista ego praeterita iactavi verba iuventa:
tu nunc exemplo disce timere meo.
Colchis flagrantis adamantina sub iuga tauros
egit et armigera proelia sevit humo,
custodisque feros clausit serpentis hiatus,
iret ut Aesonias aurea lana domos.
ausa ferox ab equo quondam oppugnare sagittis
Maeotis Danaum Penthesilea rates;
aurea cui postquam nudavit cassida frontem,
vicit victorem candida forma virum.
Omphale in tantum formae processit honorem,
Lydia Gygaeo tincta puella lacu,
ut, qui pacato statuisset in orbe columnas,
tam dura traheret mollia pensa manu.
Persarum statuit Babylona Semiramis urbem,
ut solidum cocto tolleret aggere opus,
et duo in adversum mitti per moenia currus
nec possent tacto stringere ab axe latus;
duxit et Euphraten medium, quam condidit, arcis,
iussit et imperio subdere Bactra caput.
nam quid ego heroas, quid raptem in crimina divos?
Iuppiter infamat seque suamque domum.
quid, modo quae nostris opprobria nexerit armis,
et, famulos inter femina trita suos,
coniugii obsceni pretium Romana poposcit
moenia et addictos in sua regna Patres?
noxia Alexandria, dolis aptissima tellus,
et totiens nostro Memphi cruenta malo,
tris ubi Pompeio detraxit harena triumphos–
tollet nulla dies hanc tibi, Roma, notam.
issent Phlegraeo melius tibi funera campo,
vel tua si socero colla daturus eras.
scilicet incesti meretrix regina Canopi,
una Philippeo sanguine adusta nota,
ausa Iovi nostro latrantem opponere Anubim,
et Tiberim Nili cogere ferre minas,
Romanamque tubam crepitanti pellere sistro,
baridos et contis rostra Liburna sequi,
foedaque Tarpeio conopia tendere saxo,
iura dare et statuas inter et arma Mari!
quid nunc Tarquinii fractas iuvat esse secures,
nomine quem simili vita superba notat,
si mulier patienda fuit? cane, Roma, triumphum
et longum Augusto salva precare diem!
fugisti tamen in timidi vaga flumina Nili:
accepere tuae Romula vincla manus.
bracchia spectasti sacris admorsa colubris,
et trahere occultum membra soporis iter.
‘Non hoc, Roma, fui tanto tibi cive verenda!’
dixit et assiduo lingua sepulta mero.
septem urbs alta iugis, toto quae praesidet orbi,
non humana deicienda manu.
haec di condiderunt, haec di quoque moenia servant:
vix timeat salvo Caesare Roma Iovem.
nunc ubi Scipiadae classes, ubi signa Camilli,
aut modo Pompeia, Bospore, capta manu?
Hannibalis spolia et victi monumenta Syphacis,
et Pyrrhi ad nostros gloria fracta pedes?
Curtius expletis statuit monumenta lacunis,
admisso Decius proelia rupit equo,
Coclitis abscissos testatur semita pontes,
est cui cognomen corvus habere dedit:
Leucadius versas acies memorabit Apollo:
tanti operis bellum sustulit una dies.
at tu, sive petes portus seu, navita, linques,
Caesaris in toto sis memor Ionio.


Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Rome Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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