Love Has Finally Arrived: My Translation of Sulpicia

Euterpe, Muse of Music and Poetry

Since it is Women in Translation month, I thought that it would be interesting to write a little post and offer my own translation of the only female  poet from Ancient Rome whose work has survived.  Sulpicia, born during the Augustan period and a contemporary of Horace, Ovid and Vergil,  wrote six love elegies which were not published on their own, but instead appended to the volume of poetry penned by Tibullus.  Even nowadays her poems can only be found in the Loeb, for instance, as part of the Corpus Tibullianum.  For many years scholars have denied the fact that a woman could have written these poems but it is now widely accepted that it was the daughter of upper class Roman citizens, connected to Augustus’s inner circle, who composed these elegies.  Unfortunately, more recent studies have criticized Sulpicia’s poems and judged them as inferior to her contemporaries because they are missing the literary allusions that are prevalent in other elegiac poets.

After translating Sulpicia’s poems, however, it is evident that she was keenly aware of the elegiac forms of her fellow Roman poets.  Regardless of what one might think of their literary merit, Sulpicia’s six poems, addressed to her lover Cerinthus, are the only opportunity for us to sneak a glimpse into the mind and heart of a Roman female from her own perspective.

I offer my translation of Sulpicia Poem XIII in which she confirms that the rumors about her love are more than just rumors and she wishes to cast aside all veils and embrace her joys and affections:

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
Exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
adtulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
Exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
dicetur siquis non habuisse sua.
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus conponere famae
taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

Love has finally arrived, and a rumor that I tried to conceal
this kind of love would bring me much more shame than
revealing it openly. I begged Venus with my poems and
she brought him right to me and placed him in my lap.
Venus has kept her promises.  If anyone is said to be lacking
in his own happiness, then let him speak about my joys.
I wouldn’t wish to entrust anything to wax tablets for fear
that someone else might read about my feelings before my
love. It pleases me to have engaged in this transgression;
I am tired of wearing a mask because of this rumor.
Let it be said that we have been together,
each of us equally worthy of the other.

I love the tone of this poem, that Sulpicia doesn’t care about rumors and she wants to free herself of societal expectations placed on her.  The digno and digna in the last line is my favorite part of the elegy—both she and her lover are “worthy of” and “fitting for” one another.

What is everyone else reading for #WITMonth?

9 Comments

Filed under Classics, Opinion Posts, Poetry

9 responses to “Love Has Finally Arrived: My Translation of Sulpicia

  1. How wonderful to translate this, and what a modern woman for Ancient Rome, thank you for sharing this with us, perfect for celebrating Women in Translation!

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  2. Lovely, thank you for sharing! I haven’t got to WIT yet but I hope to before the end of the month.

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  3. Thanks for sharing, I bet I would have enjoyed my schoolgirl Latin much more if we’d had a love poem to translate instead of war prose.
    For WIT Month, (so far) I’ve read an exciting development in Australian writing: it’s called The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofer Azar, and it’s a book set in Iran, but written in Persian from here in Australia. (https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/08/01/the-enlightenment-of-the-greengage-tree-by-shokoofeh-azar-translated-by-adrien-kijek/) As far as I know this is the first time this has happened in Australia since the middle 1980s with a book penned in a migrant’s language, and then translated. Of course, it should happen more often in a multicultural country like ours.
    As a prelude to WIT Month and because it was Spanish Lit Month at Winston’s Dad, I read The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda, translated by Martha Tennent, (https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/07/16/the-selected-stories-of-merce-rodoreda-translated-by-martha-tennent/) so my next book is going to be her Death in Spring.

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  4. Lovely poem and so interesting to hear the back history. I love that you have tabled your own translation for WIT Month, what a wonderful tribute!

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  5. Thanks for sharing her poem and bringing her to our attention.

    For WIT month, I’ll be reading Les mémorables by Lídia Jorge. She’s Portuguese and I’m afraid this book is not available in English.

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  6. Kat

    Oh, I’m thrilled! I absolutely loved it! What a good idea for Women in Translation Month.

    (From one Latinist to another…I shall have to mention this soon in a “literary Link” at my blog)

    Liked by 1 person

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