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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

To Caius Cilnius Mæcenas

By Propertius (c. 50–c. 16 B.C.)

Translation of James Cranstoun

YOU ask me why love-elegy so frequently I follow,

And why my little book of tender trifles only sings:

It is not from Calliope, nor is it from Apollo,

But from my own sweet lady-love my inspiration springs.

If in resplendent purple robe of Cos my darling dresses,

I’ll fill a portly volume with the Coan garment’s praise;

Or if her truant tresses wreathe her forehead with caresses,

The tresses of her queenly brow demand her poet’s lays.

Or if, perchance, she strike the speaking lyre with ivory fingers,

I marvel how those nimble fingers run the chords along;

Or if above her slumber-drooping eyes a shadow lingers,

My trancèd mind is sure to find a thousand themes of song.

Or if for love’s delightful strife repose awhile be broken,

Oh, I could write an Iliad of our sallies and alarms;

If anything at all she’s done—if any word she’s spoken—

From out of nothing rise at once innumerable charms.

But if the Fates had given me the power, beloved Mæcenas,

To marshal hero-bands, I’d neither sing of Titan wars,

Nor Ossa on Olympus piled, that Terra’s brood most heinous,

By aid of Pelion, might scale the everlasting stars;

Nor hoary Thebes, nor Pergamus in Homer’s song undying;

Nor sea to sea by stern decree of haughty Xerxes brought;

The warlike Cimbri, nor the soul of Carthage death-defying;

Nor Remus’s ancient realm, nor deeds of fame by Marius wrought;

But I would sing of Cæsar’s might and Cæsar’s martial glory,

And next to mighty Cæsar would my lyre for thee be strung:

For while of Mutina, or of Philippi fell and gory,

Or of the naval war and rout by Sicily I sung;

Or of Etruria’s ancient hearths in ruin laid forever,

Or Ptolemæan Pharos with its subjugated shore,

Or Egypt and the Nile what time the broad seven-mantled river

In drear captivity to Rome our conquering armies bore;

Or kings with golden fetters bound, in gorgeous-hued apparel,

And trophied prows of Actium, whirled along the Sacred Way,

My Muse would ever twine around thy brow the wreath of laurel—

In time of peace, in time of war, a faithful subject aye.