WHILST in your verse you are depicting the wrath of Achilles, and are investing with their first arms the heroes who are bound by their oaths, I, Macer, am tasting the sweets of repose in the shade of Venus, and tender love restrains the
daring flight of my genius. More than once I have said to my mistress, "Enough of this, now go thy ways." And forthwith she would seat herself on my knees. Often I have said to her, "Verily, I grow ashamed," and she, scarce able to restrain her tears, would cry, "Oh, hapless me! Art thou ashamed of me already?" Then, flinging her arms about me, she would shower kisses upon me, kisses that are my undoing. Then it is all over with me. My mind is occupied with anything but fighting. The things I sing are deeds performed within four walls, my private wars.
Howbeit I have handled the sceptre; high tragic themes my pen has dared essay, nor did my powers prove too weak for that emprise. But Love did laugh to see my splendid cloak, my painted buskin and my sceptre wielded with such address by hands ne'er made to grasp it. Again did my mistress' needs drag me from these labours, and the buskined poet by Cupid was undone.
Since, then, it is my lot, the art of love I'll sing and try no other themes. Behold I am urged on amain by the force of my own precepts. Either I tell what Penelope wrote to Ulysses or paint thy tears, Phyllis, when thou knewest thyself abandoned. I write to Paris and to Macareus, to the churlish Jason, to the father of Hippolytus, to Hippolytus himself. I sing the lamentations of the hapless Dido, armed with her threatening sword; I sing the sighs of the Lesbian heroine that loved the Aonian lyre.
With what speed has my friend Sabinus hastened o’er the world and brought from countless divers places the answer to these letters! The chaste Penelope recognised Ulysses' seal, and the step-mother of Hippolytus hath scanned the reproaches which he addresses to her. Jason's sad adieux have reached Hypsipyle, and Sapho, lover of Apollo, has but to lay at the feet of the lyre which she consecrated to him.
But you, too, Macer, who, sing of battles and the deeds
of Mars, you, too, have told, so far as thy task allowed, of love and its treasures. Paris in thy poem hath a place, and the fair adulteress whose crime made such a bruit in the world, and Laodamia, who quitted not her slaughtered lord. If I know thee well, thou treatest of these subjects as freely as thou singest of battles, and from thine own camp often strayest into mine.
Carmen ad iratum dum tu perducis Achillen