Propertius: The structure of 1.1

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Propertius: The structure of 1.1

Post by huilen » Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:57 am

I'm puzzled with Propertius' first elegy. Though I can identify clearly defined sections in the poem, I wasn't able to find any satisfactory (or even unsatisfactory) principle of unity. It is supposed to be a programmatic poem, so with more reason I feel so dissapointed that I cannot make any sense of it.

By the way, I've recently being reading a lot of Tibullus, and I'm surprised that it seems a common place in the critic to attribute to Tibullus certain incoherence or lack of unity in his works. I didn't note that really, his ideas flow very smoothly (I mean, it is easy to see the connection from one idea to the next), though it is true that the whole may seem a little rambling, and upon the end of the poem one can say: how did I arrive here? This idea is well expressed by Miller in his Latin Erotic Elegy book (which by the way I found very useful), and I read Tibullus' Book 1 and Book 2 completely and I feel in agreement with his opinion.

Now I'm starting with Propertius, and upon reading this first elegy, I don't understand how the critic says that of Tibullus, when Propertius seems in this sense (well, I can just talk of this first elegy for now) ten thousand times worst!

The commentaries I'm working with are too occupied with textual problems and seem not to pay much attention to other literary aspects, or when they do, they focus on a single and isolated word or expression and do not try to make sense of the whole. (By the way, I didn't have this problem with Tibullus! Critics seem so worried with Tibullus' supposed lack of unity, that they always rack their brains to find some reassuring structure to the whole, and as a result, I've found a lot of paper taking care of that).

Nota bene: please do not take these as firm convictions of mine or anything like that, but just my first humble impressions approaching these poets for the first time.

These are the sections I was able to find:

1-8 about his love
9-16 Milanion mythological exemplum
17-24 petition for magic help
25-30 petition for friends' help
31-38 advertence to his friends

But I couldn't make sense of the whole, I read it again and again, but I can't, I give up.
Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis,
contactum nullis ante cupidinibus.
tum mihi constantis deiecit lumina fastus
et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus,
5donec me docuit castas odisse puellas
improbus, et nullo vivere consilio.
ei mihi, iam toto furor hic non deficit anno,
cum tamen adversos cogor habere deos.
Milanion nullos fugiendo, Tulle, labores
10saevitiam durae contudit Iasidos.
nam modo Partheniis amens errabat in antris,
rursus in hirsutas ibat et ille feras;
ille etiam Hylaei percussus vulnere rami
saucius Arcadiis rupibus ingemuit.
15ergo velocem potuit domuisse puellam:
tantum in amore fides et benefacta valent.
in me tardus Amor non ullas cogitat artes,
nec meminit notas, ut prius, ire vias.
at vos, deductae quibus est pellacia lunae
20et labor in magicis sacra piare focis,
en agedum dominae mentem convertite nostrae,
et facite illa meo palleat ore magis!
tunc ego crediderim Manes et sidera vobis
posse Cytinaeis ducere carminibus.
25aut vos, qui sero lapsum revocatis, amici,
quaerite non sani pectoris auxilia.
fortiter et ferrum saevos patiemur et ignes,
sit modo libertas quae velit ira loqui.
ferte per extremas gentes et ferte per undas,
30qua non ulla meum femina norit iter.
vos remanete, quibus facili deus annuit aure,
sitis et in tuto semper amore pares.
nam me nostra Venus noctes exercet amaras,
et nullo vacuus tempore defit Amor.
35hoc, moneo, vitate malum: sua quemque moretur
cura, neque assueto mutet amore torum.
quod si quis monitis tardas adverterit aures,
heu referet quanto verba dolore mea!

Propertius. Elegies. Lucian Mueller. editor. Leipzig. Teubner. 1898. Machine readable text of this edition was posted on the Latin Library ( by Konrad Schroder.

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Re: Propertius: The structure of 1.1

Post by Hylander » Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:33 pm

The text of Propertius is in deplorable shape. The manuscripts are chaotic, and editors since the Renaissance (as well as the mss.) have offered innumerable conjectures that have in many cases just made matters worse. The famous quip is: quot editores tot Propertii, "there are as many Propertiuses as there are editors."

For example, here are some of the versions of line 12 printed by various editors (and this puzzling line has been explained in various ways by editors desperate to make sense of it):

Primary mss.: ibat et hirsutas ille uidere feras
Mueller 1898: rursus in hirsutas ibat et ille feras
Barber 1960: ibat et hirsutas ille videre feras
Fedeli 1960: ibat et hirsutas ille uidere feras
Goold 1990: rursus in hirsutas ibat et ille feras
Katz: 1995: ibat et hirsutas ille videre feras
Heyworth 2007: ibat et hirsutas ille ferire feras

One minor ms. has saepe for ille; other conjectures for uidere include adire and ciere (Baehrens). ferire is a conjecture of Heinsius.

Housman thought that two lines were missing after 11, since nam modo in that line raises the expectation of et modo at the beginning of a subsequent hexameter. Heyworth in his recent Oxford edition indicates a hiatus after 11, following Housman.

Given the state of the text, it's helpful to read Propertius in an edition with a critical apparatus, and ideally together with a commentary that discusses the textual issues.

I think your impression that 1.1 and other poems jump around from idea to idea without apparent structure or coherence is accurate. You should be aware that you're not the first reader of Propertius to register this impression, as attested by the abundance of conjectures accumulated since the middle ages attempting to make Propertius more readily intelligible and coherent. To some extent, this may just be an artifact of the chaotic condition of the text. On the other hand, it may be a deliberate choice of the poet intended to convey the chaos of his emotions.

You might take a look at G.P. Goold's Loeb edition. He divides up many of the poems into shorter stanzas or paragraphs, each consisting of a few couplets, and this may be the right approach.

But persevere with Propertius, despite the difficulties. Even when he seems barely intelligible, he is often the equal of Vergil. Tibullus is more intelligible and easier to read, to be sure, but in my opinion, he's a vastly inferior poet, who has three or four rather conventional ideas which he hammers over and over again in trite language. At least part of the difficulty of Propertius, like that of other poets who rise above mediocrity, lies in his novel and unexpected use of language and images, and many of the conjectures probably represent spurious attempts to smooth out the text into something more conventional and less striking.

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Re: Propertius: The structure of 1.1

Post by Timothée » Mon Nov 06, 2017 4:37 pm

Butrica’s article Editing Propertius (the Classical Quarterly, vol. 47 [1997], p. 176—208) can be recommended. He even opens his article with this adage quot editores, tot Propertii. He bases his article mainly on the notion that Propertius cannot be edited without constantly interpreting the text. He takes the adjectives Propertius was described with in the antiquity (e.g. by Ovid & Quintilian, e.g. “soft”, “witty”, “elegant”, “eloquent”, “polished”) and deems that wherever in the text those words don’t apply, those places are at the very least suspect.

Save to say that one’s Latin has to be quite good so that these aspects can be judged in the transmitted text. Sometimes this process is open to criticism, as people’s understanding of, say, elegant may differ—and do those descriptive words hold true thoroughly, throughout the whole Propertian corpus, without exception? But there mayn’t be that many other feasible approaches. The estimate is grim: Butrica extrapolates roughly 2000 corruptions.

Butrica also mentions a few graffiti which quote Propertius, and, per excellentiam, actually, can be used in critical editions. For instance, manuscript archetype gives for 3,16,13—14
quisquis amator erit Scythicis licet ambulat oris
nemo deo ut noceat barbarus esse uolet
In a graffito we have
quisquis amator erit Scythiae licet ambulet oris
nemo adeo ut feriat barbarus esse uolet
The verdict? Graffito is most likely correct.

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Re: Propertius: The structure of 1.1

Post by Hylander » Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:56 am

Goold's Loeb, in addition to presenting a thoughtful text (though not a conservative one), begins with a succinct but very informative introduction that you might want to look at if you can get ahold of a copy.

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Re: Propertius: The structure of 1.1

Post by huilen » Wed Nov 08, 2017 2:30 am

Thank you very much for the recommendations. I've started by reading
Butrica's article, which I've found very enlightening indeed.

I'm almost finishing now with Book 1. I love it! The first elegy
wasn't maybe the best starting point, but I didn't find the same
difficulties in the rest of Book 1 (actually I've almost hadn't
to resort either to the commentary or the critical apparatus in order
to understand or appreciate them). I'm using Richardson's commented
edition (till I can get Goold's), and old Lachmann's critical
apparatus (which is available online), since Richardson's edition
doesn't include one.

I've definitely found Propertius very very different from Tibullus
(though I love Tibullus' style and his repetitions!), but I see what you say about
their poetic ideas. Propertius' are certainly richer, I agree. And I
feel he is more elegant in the sense that each poem goes always round
a single idea, whereas Tibullus is much more chaotic and seems to me
more like a symphony, with a main theme that reappears all the time, and a
lot of secondary themes going around (I've read some critics that for this reason
find Tibullus' poetry more similar to contemporary poetry).
To some extent, this may just be an artifact of the chaotic condition of the text. On
the other hand, it may be a deliberate choice of the poet intended to
convey the chaos of his emotions.
The Monobiblos left me the impression that Propertius doesn't proceed in
the same way as Tibullus. There is always an idea, and a very coherent
and definite structure in each poem. I know things
will get bad in Book 2, but after having observed this fact in all
these poems, I'm sure (in my humble sureness :D) that there must
be certainly some problem in the transmission where I don't see that
same elegant internal coherence, as for example in 1.1. So I think I'm with
the old school here, and I don't agree for example with Miller, who
suggests that maybe Propertius looked more like Tibullus, attributing
then all the difficulties in his poetry to Propertius himself instead
of considering these actual textual problems.

By the way, I've got Brill's Companion to Propertius, which is an
anthology of articles about Propertius', I've just started reading,
but it seems very useful, it includes for example Butrica's article. ... edir_esc=y

It also includes this article which I liked very much as an introduction: The History of Propertian Scholarship, by Paolo Fedeli.

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Re: Propertius: The structure of 1.1

Post by Hylander » Mon Dec 04, 2017 2:00 pm

How is your reading of Propertius progressing? Your posts of a month ago got me started reading him myself, but I'm going very slowly. I'm trying to collect my thoughts and hope to post something soon.

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