Tibullus: Faithlessness

to lead me on, but later you’re wretchedly sad and bitter.
Cruel power, what have you to do with me? What glory
is it for a god to set out snares for a man?
For the net’s spread for me: now cunning Delia
fondles someone secretly in the dead of night.
Of course she denies it, swears it, but it’s hard to believe:
she’s always denying me in that way to her husband.
I myself, wretch, taught her, the means of eluding
her guards: alas, now I’m crushed by my own art.
Then she learnt how to make excuses for sleeping alone,
then how to turn the door on its hinges silently:
then I gave her juices and herbs to erase the bruises
that mutual lovemaking makes out of teeth-marks.
But you, deceived husband of a faithless wife,
watching me too, that she might never sin,
be careful she doesn’t sit talking much with young men
or recline with loose dress and throat bared,
or deceive you with nods, or wet her finger with wine
and trace messages over the table’s surface.
Fear, when she goes out often, or says she’ll go see
the rites of the Good Goddess that no man can go near.
But trust her to me, I’ll follow her to that altar alone:
then I’ll have no reason to fear for my sight.
Often, I remember touching her hand, as if I were
examining her jewel’s design, an excuse.
Often, I sent you to sleep with wine, while I, the winner,
drank from a sober glass of counterfeit water.
I’m not aware I harmed you: forgive, now I confess,
Love told me to. Who takes up weapons against a god?
It was me, and I’m not ashamed to tell the truth now,
at whom your dog barked the whole night through.
What use is a tender wife to you? If you don’t know
how to guard your goods, the key for the lock’s in vain.
She holds you, she sighs for other absent lovers
and suddenly she pretends to a raging headache.
But trust her to my keeping: then I’ll not refuse
blows, or shrink from chains on my ankles.
Away from me then, you who dress your hair with skill,
and whose roomy togas flow with loosened folds:
and whoever meets us, so that he might be sinless,
let him stand far off, or go by on another road.
The god himself orders it done, this the great priestess
prophesied to me, with a voice divine.
She, when she’s inspired by Bellona’s power, fears
no fierce flames, in her madness, nor the twisted lash:
she slashes her arms fiercely with the double-axe
and, unharmed, sprinkles the goddess with flowing blood,
stands there with a spear in her side, wounds on her breast,
and chants the fate that the great goddess proclaims:
“Beware lest you harm the girl whom Love protects,
and regret being taught a harsh lesson afterwards.
Who touches her, his wealth will drain away, like blood
from a wound, as these ashes are scattered by the wind.”
And she named a punishment for you, my Delia:
if you still sin, I beg she’ll be merciful.
I don’t spare you for yourself, but your old mother
moves me and her lovely old-age overcomes anger.
She brings me to you in the darkness, and fearfully
joins our hands together, secretly, silently:
she waits for me, glued to the door, at night
and knows the sound of my nearing feet far off.
Live long for me, sweet lady: I’d give you my years
to add to your own if that were allowed.
I’ll love you always, and your daughter for your sake:
whatever she does, she’s still of your blood.
Teach her to be chaste, though no headband tied there
constrains her hair, nor a long robe her feet.
And for me let the rules be harsh, let me never be able
to praise anyone without the girl going for my eyes:
and if I’m thought to have sinned, let me be led by the hair
and dragged face down in the middle of the street.
I wouldn’t wish to strike you Delia, and if such a madness
came to me, I’d rather choose to have no hands.
Don’t be chaste from cruel fear, but a loyal mind:
let mutual love guard you for me in my absence.
But she who was loyal to none, when age has conquered,
helpless, draws out the twisted thread with trembling hand
and ties the fastenings tight to the loom, for hire,
and counts what’s pulled and drawn from the snowy fleece.
The crowd of youths see her with joyful hearts,
and say her old age deserves to bear such suffering.
Venus, sublime, looks down from high Olympus
at her weeping, and warns how fierce she is to the faithless.
Let these curses fall on others, Delia: let us two
be a pattern for lovers when our hair is white.


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