Authors: Sextus Propertius

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Roman poet

Author Works


Monobiblos, wr. c. 30 or 29 b.c.e.

Elegies, c. 24-after 16 b.c.e. (first printed version, 1472; English translation, 1854)

Propertius Elegies: Book I, 1961, Book II, 1967, Book III, 1966, Book IV, 1965 (W. A. Camps, editor)


Sextus Propertius (proh-PUR-shee-uhs) was born in the province of Umbria, probably in the town of Assisi. Both his birth and death dates are conjectural. Propertius was born into a family of equestrian rank. While still a young child he lost his father, and his patrimony was considerably diminished when some of his family’s land was confiscated in the great distribution of land to the veterans of Octavian and Antony in 41 and 40 b.c.e. As a youth he was destined by his mother to study law, but he early turned to poetry. Around the age of eighteen, he fell in love with one Lycinna. Two years later, however, he met and fell in love with Cynthia, whose real name was Hostia. Cynthia was the great passion of Propertius’s life, and she was the most important subject of his poetry. Their affair, as it is reflected in the poetry, was tempestuous and marked by mutual infidelities and recrimination; it lasted about five years, when Propertius finally broke with her (probably before 21 b.c.e.). Cynthia died before 16 b.c.e., and Propertius’s fourth and last book of elegies mentions her death. There is no information regarding the poet’s life after his rupture with Cynthia. He may have married and had children, however; according to Pliny the Younger (61-112 c.e.), the poet Passennus Paullus claimed Propertius as an ancestor. Paullus was a resident of Assisi, where there is an inscription containing his name.{$I[AN]9810000455}{$I[A]Propertius, Sextus}{$S[A]Sextus Propertius;Propertius, Sextus}{$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Propertius, Sextus}{$I[tim]0057 b.c.e.;Propertius, Sextus}

Propertius left four books of elegies. The first, probably published about 26 b.c.e., is almost wholly concerned with Cynthia. It was a great success and opened the way for the poet to enter the circle of Maecenas, the great Roman patron of letters and the unofficial propaganda minister of the emperor Augustus. As a member of Maecenas’s group, Propertius became acquainted with Horace, who did not like his style of composition. The younger poet Ovid, however, knew and respected Propertius. Book 2 of the elegies was published about 24 or 23 b.c.e., and book 3 about 22 or 21 b.c.e. Book 4 must have been written not earlier than 16 b.c.e., for some of the poems mention events that occurred that year.

Further Reading:Greene, Ellen. The Erotics of Domination: Male Desire and the Mistress in Latin Love Poetry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Chapter 3 is a feminist critique of gender roles and ideology in the Monobiblos. Greene sees Cynthia not as a true subject but rather as being reduced to materia, an object of Propertius’s male fantasy.Günther, Hans Christian. Quaestiones Propertianae. New York: Brill, 1997. A comprehensive study dealing with the major critical problems of one of the most difficult authors of Latin literature. A systematic examination of the two major factors which have been assumed to be responsible for the state of the transmitted text of Propertius: dislocation and interpolation. Günther covers a large number of cases of verbal corruption and discusses problems of the manuscript tradition on the basis of the most recent research.Highet, Gilbert. Poets in a Landscape. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Contains an evocative discussion of Propertius and other Roman poets that concentrates on the poets’ biographies and societies. Well written, providing background information but no interpretation.Janan, Micaela Wakil. The Politics of Desire: Propertius IV. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Reassesses Propertius’s last elegies using psychoanalytic theory. Includes bibliography and index.Luck, G. The Latin Love Elegy. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1981. A useful study of some of the techniques and concerns of the Roman love poem. It is quite good on the literary tradition but not much of a guide to individual poems.Propertius, Sextus. The Poems of Propertius. Edited by Ronald Musker. London: J. W. Dent, 1972. A brief and adequate introduction to the poetry of Propertius, with an excellent translation. Good introduction to Propertius for readers without knowledge of Latin.Stahl, Hans-Peter. Propertius: Love and War, Individual and State Under Augustus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. A superb study of Propertius’s ambiguous relationship with Augustus and the themes of love and war. It is written primarily for an academic audience, but other readers will find it clear and informative.Williams, Gordon. Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. A scholarly treatment of many aspects of Propertius’s thought and interests. The book is very good on the background and tradition of the poems but assumes knowledge of Latin.
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