Propertius, Sextus in Harpers Dictionary

A Roman elegiac poet born at Asisium (Assisi), in Umbria (Prop.i. 22, 9, 65-66121-126, and v. 1). The date of his birth is uncertain. He was somewhat older than Ovid, and was probably born about B.C. 50. He lost his parents at an early age; and, through the general confiscation of land in 42, was deprived of the greater part of his paternal estate. Still, he possessed enough to live a typical poet's life at Rome, whither he had proceeded soon after coming of age, about B.C. 34. He there associated with his patron Maecenas and with other poets, such as Vergil and Ovid. To complete his studies he afterwards went to Athens. When he was still quite young, the poet's spirit woke within him, and expanded through his attachment to the beautiful and witty Hostia. Under the name Cynthia, she henceforth was the subject of his love-poems. For five years (B.C. 28-23) this attachment lasted, though often disturbed by the jealousy of the sensitive poet and the capriciousness of his mistress. When it had come to an end, and even after Cynthia's death (probably before B.C. 18), the poet could not forget his old passion. He himself died young. He often expresses forebodings of an early death; there is no indication in his poems that any of them were written later than B.C. 16. They have come down to us in four books, but some scholars are of opinion that the poet himself had divided them into five, and that the original second and third books have been united, perhaps through the oversight of friends at the publication of the last. Propertius himself seems to have only published the first. In the first four books amatory poems preponderate. The fifth book, the confused order of which may well be referred to the poet's untimely death, deals mainly with subjects taken from Roman legends and history, in the same way as Ovid subsequently treated them in the Fasti. Propertius possesses a poetical genius with which his talent is unable to keep pace. Endowed with a nature susceptible of passion as deep as it was strong, as ardent as it was easily evoked, and possessed of a rich fancy, he strives to express the fulness of his thoughts and feelings in a manner modelled closely on that of his Greek masters; and yet in his struggle with linguistic and metrical form, he fails to attain the agreeable in every instance. His expression is often peculiarly harsh and difficult, and his meaning is frequently obscured by far-fetched allusions to unfamiliar legends, or actual transcripts of them. Herein he follows the example of his models, the Alexandrian poets, Callimachus and Philetas. Nevertheless he is a great poet, and none of his countrymen has depicted the fire of passion so truly and so vividly as he. The personality of Propertius seems not to have been altogether agreeable, but to have been characterized by a certain conceit and youthful bumptiousness; and editors have argued with some probability that he is the person whom Horace had in mind in depicting the famous bore in the ninth satire of the First Book, though there are some chronological difficulties in the way of this theory. See Palmer's notes on this satire. The principal manuscript of Propertius is the Codex Neapolitanus, now at Wolfenbüttel, which dates from the fifteenth century, though long regarded as older. See the introduction to L. Müller's critical edition (Leipzig, 1880). The editio princeps of Propertius appeared at Venice in 1472. Propertius is edited by Hertzberg, with Latin notes, 3 vols. (1845); Keil (Leipzig, 1850); Palmer, with English notes (Dublin, 1880); Paley (1872); and Postgate (London, 1881). There is an English rendering by Cranstoun (1875). See Jacob, Propertius (Lübeck, 1847); on his style, the Prolegomena in Hertzberg's edition; and on his versification, Eschenburg, Observationes Criticae in Propertium, pp. 1-28 (Bonn, 1864); also Gruppe, Die röm. Elegie, i. pp. 274 foll.

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