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13 December 2020


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Barbara Ann

Thanks for posting this Colonel, it is a shame the complete work did not come down to us.

This is the poem of a gentle man and reluctant soldier. It is tempting to blame war on the arrival of "opulent gold" or any number of other externalities. That it is as innate a part of human nature as love is hard on the ego, but the sentiment is welcome enough in romantic poetry.

I guess we may never know how the author segways from war between armies into the more personal, but no less intense warfare described in the third and final section. Perhaps the farmer has returned from war bitter and angry. And who cannot empathize with the following wonderful lines:

"Provoking Love stokes the quarrel with angry words,
then sits indifferent between the raging pair."

I should very much like to have read Richard Sale's thoughts on this work.


Going through the modern US public school system I was fortunate enough to have taken 4 semesters of Latin. Of course I was also unfortunate in that this great instruction in the humanities was supplemented with ~8 semesters of Martin Luther King History and 5 semesters of The Holocaust, etc.

The Twisted Genius

This translation produced an echo from my ancient past. I studied four years of Latin which included a year of Latin poetry. I dug out my copy of "A First Book of Latin Poetry" and found a mimeographed sheet folded into quarters with another translation of this elegy from Tibullus. It strays from the more literal translation offered by Dr. Willett, but it has a clear, concise message for modern English speakers. This translation is by George Gilbert Ramsay, professor of humanity in the University of Glasgow, MDCCCC (1900).

Who was it that first forged the sword, and brought battle and slaughter upon earth?
There were no wars on earth, no towers or ramparts, till men lusted after gold: had those days been mine!
But now I am dragged off to war: keep me safe, ye Lares of my fathers: ye have ever been duly honoured, and ye shall be honoured ever.
Not for me to boast of arms and victories: what madness is it to quicken the stealthy foot of Death!
For below there is no corn, no wine, no calm old age, with family and flocks around, but only Styx, and Cerberus, and pallid grief-worn shades.
Then be it mine to live till age; to see arms lie rusted, and ploughshares busy; and to behold field, and vine, and countryman made glad by the fair face of Peace.

I still remember a few lines from my little book of Latin poetry full of my penciled notes of poetic metre, parsed and diagramed sentences and tortured literal translations. The course was a wonderful window into the Roman mind.

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