Sunday, January 9, 2022

I'll Be Your Anything: The Genderfluid God Vertumnus, Propertius, E. IV.2

Quid mirare meas tot in uno corpore formas,

    accipe Vertumni signa paterna dei.

Tuscus ego Tuscis orior, nec paenitet inter

    proelia Volsinios deseruisse focos.

Haec me turba iuuat, nec templo laetor eburno:

    Romanum satis est posse videre Forum.

Hac quondam Tiberinus iter faciebat, et aiunt

    remorum auditos per vada pulsa sonos:

at postquam ille suis tantum concessit alumnis,

    Vertumnus verso dicor ab amne deus.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Seu, quia vertentis fructum praecepimus anni,

    Vertumni rursus credidit esse sacrum.

Prima mihi variat liventibus uva racemis,

    et coma lactenti spicea fruge tumet;

hic dulcis cerasos, hic autumnalia pruna

    cernis et aestiuo mora rubere die;

insitor hic soluit pomosa vota corona,

    cum pirus invito stipite mala tulit.

Mendax fama, noces: alius mihi nominis index:

    de se narranti tu modo crede deo.

Opportuna mea est cunctis natura figuris:

    in quamcumque voles verte, decorus ero.

Indue me Cois, fiam non dura puella:

    meque virum sumpta quis neget esse toga?

da falcem et torto frontem mihi comprime faeno:

    iurabis nostra gramina secta manu.

Arma tuli quondam et, memini, laudabar in illis:

    corbis et imposito pondere messor eram.

Sobrius ad lites: at cum est imposta corona,

    clamabis capiti vina subisse meo.

Cinge caput mitra, speciem furabor Iacchi;

    furabor Phoebi, si modo plectra dabis.

Cassibus impositis venor: sed harundine sumpta

    fautor plumoso sum deus aucupio.

est etiam aurigae species Vertumnus et eius

    traicit alterno qui leve pondus equo.

Suppetat hic, piscis calamo praedabor, et ibo

    mundus demissis institor in tunicis.

Pastorem ad baculum possum curvare vel idem

    sirpiculis medio pulvere ferre rosam.

Nam quid ego adiciam, de quo mihi maxima fama est,

    hortorum in manibus dona probata meis?

Caeruleus cucumis tumidoque cucurbita ventre

    me notat et iunco brassica vincta levi;

nec flos ullus hiat pratis, quin ille decenter

    impositus fronti langueat ante meae.

at mihi, quod formas unus vertebar in omnis,

    nomen ab eventu patria lingua dedit;

et tu, Roma, meis tribuisti praemia Tuscis,

    (unde hodie Vicus nomina Tuscus habet),

tempore quo sociis venit Lycomedius armis

    atque Sabina feri contudit arma Tati.

Vidi ego labentis acies et tela caduca,

    atque hostis turpi terga dedisse fugae.

Sed facias, diuum Sator, ut Romana per aeuum

    transeat ante meos turba togata pedes.

Sex superant versus: te, qui ad vadimonia curris,

    non moror: haec spatiis ultima creta meis.

Stipes acernus eram, properanti falce dolatus,

    ante Numam grata pauper in urbe deus.

At tibi, Mamurri, formae caelator aenae,

    tellus artifices ne terat Osca manus,

qui me tam docilis potuisti fundere in usus.

    Unum opus est, operi non datur unus honos.  

--Propertius El. IV.2

 Why are you surprised by my many shapes in my one body? 

Just accept that I, Vertumnus, am a god.

I’m Tuscan born, and I’m native of Tuscany,

And I’m not ashamed to have abandoned the Volsinian side in battle.

This is my kind of crowd; I’m not too fond of ivory temples,

I’m ok with just watching over the Roman Forum.

This is where the Tiber River once made its way;

It is said that the sound of oars was heard splashing here.

And after Father Tiber granted this land to his offspring, 

I, Vertumnus was named after the “Bend in the Stream.” [pun on his name]

 Or, maybe I’m named that way because I receive first fruits after the “turning of the year,”

 [another pun] and you believe this is sacred rite to Vertumnus.

The grape in its cluster ripens for me; the wheat heads grow heavy;

In me, you see the sweet cherry, the autumn plums, and the mulberry deepen in color on a summer day.

You see the grafter dedicate a crown of fruit to me, after an unwilling pear tree begins to sprout apples.

Ok, stop talking about me: there’s another reason to my name.

Believe me, a god, as I tell you about myself:

Nature made me fit for every figure,

I can change into any shape you want.

Clothe me in Coan clothes and I’ll be a flirty girl;

If I put on a toga, who will deny that I’m a man?

Give me a scythe and put a knot of hay upon my forehead, and you’d swear I was the reaper who cut the grain myself.

 There was I time that I remember when I took up arms, and I was renowned for it; and I was a reaper bearing a load of baskets.

I’m serious as a lawyer, but if you put a garland on my head, you’d swear I was a drunkard.  Put a Phrygian cap on my head, and I will rave like a bacchant; I’ll play Apollo, if you give me a lyre. Give me hunting supplies, and I’ll be a hunter; but, with other supplies, I’ll only hunt birds.

And I’ve also been a charioteer, as well as a warrior who can leap from horse to horse. Give me a rod, and I’ll be a fisherman; or give me a long tunic, and I’ll be a fastidious merchant. I can pose like a shepherd with his crook; I can carry a basket of roses through the dusty streets.

What else should I add to heighten my fame, that puts the first fruits of the garden into my hands? Dark cucumbers and fat gourds and cabbages tied with a garland of rushes give away my identity; no flower blossoms in the fields that doesn’t also rest upon my forehead.

But since I alone can change into every shape, I was named for this in my country’s language. [yet another pun on his name]

You, Rome, have given tribute to my Tuscans (this is where the Tuscan Way got its name), when Lycomedius came with armed reinforcement, when he defeated cruel Tatius’ Sabine forces.  I myself saw the broken ranks, the falling weapons, the enemy forced into a shameful retreat.

Blessed Jupiter, see to it that the toga wearing race of Rome stay in my sight forever.

Only six lines left: you are off to court, go on your way, I won’t keep you, don’t bother to read the rest.

I used to be a trunk of a maple tree,

But then I was carved by an ax.

Before Numa’s reign, I was a humble god in a humble city.

But Mamurrius, the artist sculpted me in bronze,

May the Oscan earth never harm your hands, Mammurius,

since you created me for such a pleasant purpose!

There is only one sculpture of me, but more than one honors for such a sculpture.



Name:  Sextus Propertius

Date:  50 – 15 BCE

Works:  Elegies





 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.”


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