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THERE is an age-old forest which for many a year the axe has never touched. They say that it is sacred to a god. In its midst is a sacred well sheltered by a grotto, hewn out of the rock; and all around, birds sing their sweet complaint. One day, as I was sauntering in its shady groves, I fell to wondering what task should occupy my Muse.

And making her way towards me I beheld Elegy. All perfumed was her hair and right cunningly braided, and, if I saw aright, one of her feet was longer than the other. Her mien was staid, her form was comely; her dress of thinnest gauze, and, in her eyes, the light of love, and even her maimèd foot lent her an added charm. And Tragedy also I beheld, advancing wit h measured strides and vehement gesture, her hair dishevelled, her mantle sweeping the ground. In her left hand she proudly bore the royal sceptre, and on her feet she wore the Lydian buskin.

First of the twain she spake to me and said, "When wilt thou have finished with thy loves, O poet, heedless of thy great calling? At drunken revels they talk of thy wild doings, and at the crossways, too, thou art a byword. Often, as you pass by, men point you out and say, 'There goes the man whom cruel Love consumes.' Knowest thou not thou art the talk of the whole town, thou who with shameless tongue vauntest thy exploits in the lists of love? High time it is to essay a higher theme. Long enough hast thou been idle; take up a loftier argument.

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The subject-matter of thy songs hampers thy genius; sing the noble deeds of war. 'This,' wilt thou say, 'is the field that befits my genius.' The songs the fair may sing, thy Muse has gaily told, and to such wanton trifles thy early youth didst thou devote. But now to me thy genius consecrate, so unto thee my name of Roman Tragedy I may owe. Thy genius is equal to this lofty task." She spake, and leaning proudly on her broidered buskins, thrice, nay four times, she shook her head, shadowed with cloudy hair.

Elegy, if my memory serves me, gave me a sidelong glance and smiled. She had--or do I dream?--a branch of myrtle in her hand. "Why, haughty Queen," she said, "dost thou rebuke me with such weighty words? Canst thou never lay aside thine austere air? For the nonce, at least, thou hast deigned to combat me in verses of unequal length, and with the measure that belongs to me. Not that I dare compare thy stately verse with mine; thy lofty palace quite o’erwhelms my lowly dwelling. Light as the air am I, and just as light is Cupid with whom I love to sport. I'm just as airy as the subject-matter of my song. Were it not for me, even Cupid's mother would lack something of her charm. I am the helpmeet and confederate of that goddess. The door that would never open for thy buskin, swings wide at the gentle accents of my voice; still, if in this respect my power is mightier than thine, I owe it to the patience with which I suffer many things which thou wouldst be too haughty to endure. It was from me that Corinna learned to hoodwink her guard, to force the lock of a well-fastened door, to steal quietly from her bed clad in a short chemise and to find her way noiselessly in the darkness of night.

"How often have I beheld myself hung on an unfriendly door, caring not a whit whether I was read by the passersby. Nay more; I remember that Corinna's maid received me and kept me hidden in her bosom till her

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mistress's grim guardian had turned his back on us. Shall I remind thee how, to celebrate thy fair one's birthday, thou didst send me to her as a present, and how she tore me into fragments and cast me pitilessly into the water? ’Twas I who first made stir within thee the fertile seeds of poetry; to me thou owest the happy talent which my rival would claim for herself."

At length the Muses both were silent, and in these words I addressed them: "By your own selves," I said, "I conjure you. With friendly ears, I pray, list to my faltering words. Thou offerest me, thou, the sceptre and the stately buskin, and even now from contact with thy lips, accents sublime have issued from my mouth; whilst thou, even thou, upon my loves bestowest immortality. Hear then my prayers and suffer me to wed the greater with the lesser verse; grant me, proud Tragedy, a little respite. Thy service needeth years, thy rival's, merely hours. She was not deaf to my regrets; now may the tender loves make haste to profit by the time thus granted me; for, in my rear, a far more weighty task is pressing on."


Stat vetus et multos incaedua silva per annos;
    credibile est illi numen inesse loco.
fons sacer in medio speluncaque pumice pendens,
    et latere ex omni dulce queruntur aves.
Hic ego dum spatior tectus nemoralibus umbris--
    quod mea, quaerebam, Musa moveret opus--
venit odoratos Elegia nexa capillos,
    et, puto, pes illi longior alter erat.
forma decens, vestis tenuissima, vultus amantis,
    et pedibus vitium causa decoris erat.
venit et ingenti violenta Tragoedia passu:
    fronte comae torva, palla iacebat humi;
laeva manus sceptrum late regale movebat,
    Lydius alta pedum vincla cothurnus erat.
Et prior 'ecquis erit,' dixit, 'tibi finis amandi,
    O argumenti lente poeta tui?
nequitiam vinosa tuam convivia narrant,
    narrant in multas conpita secta vias.
saepe aliquis digito vatem designat euntem,
    atque ait "hic, hic est, quem ferus urit Amor!"
fabula, nec sentis, tota iactaris in urbe,
    dum tua praeterito facta pudore refers.
tempus erat, thyrso pulsum graviore moveri;
    cessatum satis est--incipe maius opus!
materia premis ingenium. cane facta virorum.
    "haec animo," dices, "area facta meo est!"
quod tenerae cantent, lusit tua Musa, puellae,
    primaque per numeros acta iuventa suos.
nunc habeam per te Romana Tragoedia nomen!
    inplebit leges spiritus iste meas.'
Hactenus, et movit pictis innixa cothurnis
    densum caesarie terque quaterque caput.
altera, si memini, limis subrisit ocellis--
    fallor, an in dextra myrtea virga fuit?
'Quid gravibus verbis, animosa Tragoedia,' dixit,
    'me premis? an numquam non gravis esse potes?
inparibus tamen es numeris dignata moveri;
    in me pugnasti versibus usa meis.
non ego contulerim sublimia carmina nostris;
    obruit exiguas regia vestra fores.
sum levis, et mecum levis est, mea cura, Cupido;
    non sum materia fortior ipsa mea.
rustica sit sine me lascivi mater Amoris;
    huic ego proveni lena comesque deae.
quam tu non poteris duro reserare cothurno,
    haec est blanditiis ianua laxa meis;
et tamen emerui plus quam tu posse, ferendo
    multa supercilio non patienda tuo.
per me decepto didicit custode Corinna
    liminis adstricti sollicitare fidem,
delabique toro tunica velata soluta
     atque inpercussos nocte movere pedes.
a quotiens foribus duris infixa pependi,
    non verita a populo praetereunte legi!
quin ego me memini, dum custos saevus abiret,
    ancillae miseram delituisse sinu.
quid, cum me munus natali mittis, at illa
    rumpit et adposita barbara mersat aqua?
prima tuae movi felicia semina mentis;
    munus habes, quod te iam petit ista, meum.'
Desierat. coepi: 'per vos utramque rogamus,
    in vacuas aures verba timentis eant.
altera me sceptro decoras altoque cothurno;
    iam nunc contacto magnus in ore sonus.
altera das nostro victurum nomen amori--
    ergo ades et longis versibus adde brevis!
exiguum vati concede, Tragoedia, tempus!
    tu labor aeternus; quod petit illa, breve est.'
Mota dedit veniam--teneri properentur Amores,
    dum vacat; a tergo grandius urguet opus!

Next: Elegy II: The Circus.