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?