Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Challenging Gender Roles: The Women of Sparta, Propertius, Eleg. III.14

Multa tuae, Sparte, miramur iura palaestrae,
    sed mage virginei tot bona gymnasii,
quod non infamis exercet corpore ludos
    inter luctantis nuda puella viros,
cum pila velocis fallit per bracchia iactus,
    increpat et versi clavis adunca trochi,
pulverulentaque ad extremas stat femina metas,
    et patitur duro vulnera pancratio:
nunc ligat ad caestum gaudentia bracchia loris,
    missile nunc disci pondus in orbe rotat,
et modo Taygeti, crinis aspersa pruina,
    sectatur patrios per iuga longa canes:
gyrum pulsat equis, niveum latus ense revincit,
    virgineumque cavo protegit aere caput,
qualis Amazonidum nudatis bellica mammis
    Thermodontiacis turba lavatur aquis;
qualis et Eurotae Pollux et Castor harenis,
    hic victor pugnis, ille futurus equis,
inter quos Helene nudis capere arma papillis
    fertur nec fratres erubuisse deos.
lex igitur Spartana vetat secedere amantes,
    et licet in triviis ad latus esse suae,
nec timor aut ullast clausae tutela puellae,
    nec gravis austeri poena cavenda viri.
nullo praemisso de rebus tute loquaris
    ipse tuis: longae nulla repulsa morae.
nec Tyriae vestes errantia lumina fallunt,
    est neque odoratae cura molesta comae.
at nostra ingenti vadit circumdata turba,
    nec digitum angustast inseruisse via;
nec quae sit facies nec quae sint verba rogandi
    invenias: caecum versat amator iter.
quod si iura fores pugnasque imitata Laconum,
    carior hoc esses tu mihi, Roma, bono.

--Propertius, Eleg. III.14

Sparta, I admire your customs, but most of all,
I like the benefits of your ladies' gyms.
Because it's not a problem for a lady to exercise her naked body
in front of wrestling men.
She can reach out her arms to catch a flying ball
(whether she can catch it or not),
she can clang that basketball hoop when contact is made.
A woman can stand, sweaty, at the end of a racetrack
or bruise up her pretty little face in the boxing ring.
She can bind up her hands with her favorite pair of boxing gloves,
or twist her curves to send forth a discus,
or whiten her hair with dewy frost by chasing
her family's hunting dogs over the vast Taygetan lands.
She can train her horses to barrel race,
She can gird her snow-white midriff with a sword
or protect her pretty little face with an iron helmet,
the kind that the race of the Amazons would wear
when they would bathe--topless!--in the Thermodon River.
Just like Castor and Pollux would do,
the one about to be victorious in the ring,
the other about to be victorious on horseback,
and, arm-in-arm with her godly brothers,
Helen herself (it is said) fought by their side,
topless and unashamed.
And Spartan law forbids lovers to be kept apart.
They can remain side-by-side in public,
There's no curfew or forbidden dates for a girl,
She won't be "grounded" by a harsh father or husband.
You don't need to call ahead, you don't need anyone's permission:
You can date whomever you wish; there's no delay or wasted time.
Women don't wear Tyrian purple, they don't deceive you with what their clothes are hiding,
they don't doll up their hair with too much hairspray or perfume.
But here in Rome, my girl is surrounded by her adoring public
and I can't even reach her with a fingertip.
I can't catch a glimpse of her face,
I can't even ask her to spend a minute to speak with me,
a lover's path is blocked and blind.
So Rome, if you could change your ways
and imitate Sparta--you'd really help me out.

Name:  Sextus Propertius
Date:  50 – 15 BCE
Works:  Elegies

Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans

  Propertius was an Italian-born Roman lyric poet whose love poetry provides insight into the mores of Augustan Rome. Like Catullus and Tibullus, Propertius used a pseudonym for the object of his attention; many of his love poems were addressed to “Cynthia.”
Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE