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The Complete Poems of Tibullus An En Face Bilingual Edition

Read the Introduction


Tibullus has left us just sixteen elegies. Their subjects are various: love (of the fickle girls Delia and Nemesis and of the equally fickle boy Marathus), hatred of war, praise of his friend and patron, Messalla Corvinus, the pleasures of rural simplicity, a celebration of Rome. His poems glide easily, some would say dreamily, from theme to theme, moving almost like a slide show through apparently random images and musings. The ancient critic Quintilian considered Tibullus "the most polished and elegant" of the Roman elegists. He is also the most artful. His randomness and dreaminess are carefully created illusions; the elegance and polish so admired by Quintilian are achieved with intention and consummate skill. Tibullus's artistry is more subtle than that of the other elegists-we could almost call it clandestine. Propertius, notoriously difficult, displays his learning and emotional complexity with allusions to Callimachus, jumps in thought, and elaborate mythological exempla. Ovid is smooth and ostentatiously clever-a witty master of language who is self-consciously playful both in and out of season. Tibullus, by contrast, never advertises. He is as learned and witty as either of his fellow elegists, and with emotional depths of his own, but his is the art that conceals, rather than rev