Hans-Christian Günther

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

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The scarce information we possess of Propertius’s life must be deduced almost completely from what the poet himself tells us in his works. His praenomen Sextus is attested by Suetonius in his vita of Virgil (31.3 Brugnoli/ Stok). The date of his birth (50 bce, or rather some years before) can be deduced mainly from the fact that the poet tells us (4.1.131) that he received the toga virilis soon (mox) after he lost part of his family’s property in the land distributions of 41 bce. He himself names Umbria as his birthplace (1.22.9 and 4.1.63, 121ff.) and Assisi as his hometown, though the latter in a verse of doubtful authenticity (4.1.125). Yet there is epigraphic evidence that his family ranked among the local aristocracy of the city. He lost his father at an early age (4.1.127ff.). Though obviously destined from his family background for a political career, he chose to become a poet, and although his family fortunes were seriously impaired by the redistribution of land, he appears to have been able to lead a comfortable life among the jeunesse dorée of Rome. His first collection of poems appears to have been published in 29 and is dedicated to a certain Tullus, the nephew of L. Voilcatius Tullus, consul in 33 bce and proconsul in Asia in 30/29 bce. He later joined the circle of Maecenas, to whom Books 2 and 3 are dedicated. What is transmitted as Book 2 is probably a conflation of fragments from what were originally two books, published in the years 27 and 26 bce. Whereas Books 1 and 2 are almost exclusively dominated by love poetry dedicated to a pseudonymous women Cynthia (referring to the epithet Cynthius of Apollo; according to Apuleius’s Apologia 10, her real name was Hostia). Book 3, published not before 23, opens up to a wider spectrum of topics—in particular, reference to Hellenistic models such as Callimachus and Philetas becomes more explicit. A profound influence of Horace’s Odes is also apparent. Propertius’s last book (4) must have been published after a considerable lapse of time. It contains poems composed probably between 20 and 16 bce. The poet announces in the introductory elegy that he is entering new terrain by composing etiological poetry and, in fact, the book—at first sight, a curious but well-arranged mixture of love poems and poems on Roman mythology and national topics.

Article.  4348 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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