lecture

Sulpicia.

Identifications
— Sulpicia

1. Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “The Favourite Poet” 1888.

Favourite_Poet.jpg

2. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 96-97):

“This mischievous insistence on the equality of relations between the sexes informs all of Sulpicia’s poetry, providing an invaluable and precious glimpse into the emotional consciousness of Roman women, seen elsewhere only through the distorted mirror of the male elegists’ often sub-pornographic characterisations. Her sexual honesty, her witty sensuality and teasing innuendo, too, present an image of womanhood far from the traditional ‘silent women’ of Rome.”

3a. Sulpicia no. 86 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Thwarted”:

Hateful birthday, here again, and I must pass a tedious
tearful trip to the country — all without Cerinthus.
For what’s more charming than the city? Is a draughty villa
fit for the girl about town? Arno’s freezing river?
Too much now, Messalla, you’re stifling me — give this girl a rest,
since travel, uncle, does not broaden every mind.
For if my body’s carried off, then I’ll leave my thoughts behind,
since you won’t let me judge what I know — or love — the best.

3b. Sulpicia no. 87 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Saved”:

Have you heard, I’ve been released? Yes, the weight of that dull journey
has been lifted from your girl, freed from rural humdrum
to celebrate her birthday in Rome; a treat for all which comes
to you by surprise, my love — and with it, of course, me.

3c. Sulpicia no. 88 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Angry”: 

Here’s a pleasant thought: now you’ve become so careless over me
there’s no sad chance that I might take a sudden tumble.
So take more trouble for some rag-bag tart in tatty toga
than for Sulpicia, Servius’ non-servile daughter;
there are those who trouble about me, those whose greatest grumble
is that I might now let it slip — and for nobody.

3d. Sulpicia no. 89 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Sick”: 

Have you no respect, Cerinthus, no concern for your sweetheart
now fever fires up my feeble frame, allows no rest?
Oh, but I don’t desire a cure, an end to torrid torment
if you don’t want it too, won’t play your own willing part.
For what good are cures, why conquer cares, if you could not care less,
can bear this heat so coolly, all your compassion spent?

3e. Sulpicia no. 90 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Sorry”: 

Don’t carry a burning torch for me, my love, my fierce bright light,
— as I thought perhaps you might have done these past few days —
if I have ever done anything more foolish in my life,
anything I could confess to you that might outweigh
this grievous greatest crime of leaving you alone late last night
desiring only to disguise my own red-hot blaze.

3f. Sulpicia no. 91 (Balmer): “Sulpicia’s Advice to a Lover on His Birthday”:*
*Sulpicia or auctor de Sulpicia?

This festive day, Cerinthus, this day which delivered you to me,
will be sacred forever, our own blazing portent.
For when you were born the cruel Fates cried down fresh slavery
on women, made you harsh overseer, searing torment.
And I burn more than most. But I’ll take my pleasure on these coals,
Cerinthus, if my fierce fires can somehow fire you too;
on our tender tinder love, and to your own slow sparking soul,
I’m praying that this same desire will catch hold in you.

So I’ll make the sacrifice, birth spirit, fan his dying flame;
you turn his thoughts to mine, make his body yearn for mine.
But if by chance he’s smouldering at the sound of some new name,
then leave his hearth-fires smoking, desert that faithless shrine.
And you, Venus, play us fair; either forge us both together
slave to branded slave, or release me from my bondage —
no better make it together, and with your strongest fetter,
the links not even time can corrode or disengage.

You see, the man has his wants but still says silent as he’s wont,
too shamed (so far) to speak those three small words out loud.
But in my brazen birthday suit, my love, here’s my binding vow:
you’ll be damned if you do, but damned (by me) if you don’t.

3g. Sulpicia no. 92 (Balmer): “To Cerinthus at the Hunt”:
*Sulpicia or auctor de Sulpicia

Don’t toy with my boy, ugly boar, as your roam the great outdoors,
poring over crooked paths, your hidden mountain lairs —
and please, don’t think to sharpen those tough old tusks; this isn’t war:
Love, protect him for me, just return him unimpaired;
for he’s been captured for the chase, and Diana’s all the rage
(oh those dark woods can pine away, hounds go to the dogs).
What frenzy’s this, what sort of scheme, to use forests for a cage
or wound those oh so supple hands, give self-harm the nod?
And what pleasure’s here, among wild beasts, to penetrate their hides,
brand with thorns those milk-white thighs, endure such stinging barbs?
So here’s the plan, Cerinthus, clear: let me wander by your side,
bear your tangled, twisted webs along such shady paths;
yes, I can rake the cooling traces, track down your own fast deer,
slip the leash, unchain the dog, swoon at the scent of hare
(oh these dark woods can give such pleasure, if you, my light, stay near).
So let’s make love — to prove the point — by the sets and snares;
and we’ll let wild beasts walk by our mesh, retire again intact
(crashing boars could never jolt the joy of our caress).
But don’t play Venus without me, make Diana’s virgin pact:
be chaste, not chased, my own true boy, cast your purest nets.
And if some girl should stalk my love, mark him our for secret prey,
then let the beasts tear out her heart, you just cut her charms;
the chase’s thrill is not for you, leave your father to the fray,
except, of course, for this charge — into my waiting arms.

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