A Propertius Reader: eleven selected elegies

by P. Lowell Bowditch (ed.), Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers 2014,  Pb XLIV + 186 pages, ISBN 978-0-86516-723-0.

This edition of Propertius consists of an introduction, a selection of poems in Latin, a commentary, two maps and a vocabulary. The introduction discusses the background, elegies and times of Propertius, as well as other issues being gender and genre in Propertius, the influence of Callimachus, Hellenistic and other poetry on him, Augustine elegy, and the Propertian style and metre. It also provides useful and sufficient bibliography on individual elegies and topics being manuscript, commentaries, translations, historical background and Latin meter.

The poems selected are 1.1, 3; 2.1,10, 16, 31, 32; 3.3, 11; 4.8, 9, eleven in all.

The commentary on each elegy starts with background information, providing also a summary and an analysis of the poem being discussed. The notes explain both the grammar and the syntax of the Latin, and refer the reader to both Greek and Latin sources for comparison with Propertian diction.

The vocabulary gives the principal parts of the verbs used in Propertius, the declension and gender of nouns, the type of adjectives and of adverbs and the cases taken after prepositions. The two maps refer to the Mediterranean Sea, with an inset on Central Italy, and to Rome. In addition, the book provides illustrations on Perseus and Andromeda, the sleeping Maenad, Danaid hermsculpture, Apollo Barberini and Apollo fighting with Hercules over the Delphic tripod.

This selection of poems concentrates on the person of Cynthia (1.1, 3; 2.32; 4.8), elegy-writing being a parody of epic (2.1) and of eulogy (2.10), moral commentary (2.16), Rome’s artistic monuments (2.31), the influence of Greek poets on Propertius (3.3), contemporaneous history (3.11) and mythology (4.9). It must be noted here that while Cynthia appears in almost every poem of Propertius, mythological and historical references also appear practically everywhere in his poems. 

This handy book is a pleasure to read even without attached translations. One can actually understand each poem both from the relevant chapters in the introduction, and the generous notes in the commentary and the sufficient vocabulary. The poems, as selected, attract our interests in love matters, Augustine history and Latin language. Above all, these poems illustrate a unique poet’s ambivalence between serious and comic, erotic genre and epic, eulogy and parody. This complex may not have helped Propertius to be read widely in the schools in the past; but thanks to this edition, it makes him now more accessible and readable at least in undergraduate courses.

Prof. Horatio Caesar Roger Vella

Full Professor of Classics,

Department of Classics and Archaeology,

University of Malta,