IF the mother of Memnon, if the mother of Achilles, mourned for their dead sons; if the mighty goddesses are not insensible to the blows of, Fate, then, plaintive Elegy, unbind thy sorrowing tresses; never, alas, did thy name so well befit thee as at this hour. Tibullus, whom thou didst inspire, Tibullus thy glory, is but a lifeless corpse that the flames of the pyre will soon consume. See how Venus' son goes with his quiver reversed, with broken bow and extinguished torch. Look you how sadly he fares, with drooping wings; and how with cruel hand he strikes his naked breast. The tear-drops fall amid his floating hair; his mouth gives forth the sound of broken sobs. So from thy palace went he forth, gracious Iulus, to mourn for the death of Æneas, his brother. Venus herself grieved no less for the death of Tibullus, than for the death of her young lover, whose groin was pierced by a wild boar, before her eyes.
And yet we poets are called sacred, the favourites of
the gods. And some there are who behold in us a hint of the divine. Nevertheless, inexorable death profanes all hallowed things, and lays on all that lives his unseen hand. What could his mother, what could his father do, for Ismarian Orpheus? What did it avail him that he had tamed and softened with his song the creatures of the wilds? Linus came of the same father, and Apollo is said to have mourned him in the deep forest on his reluctant lyre. Then there is the Mæonian bard, the unfailing spring where the poets ever draw nigh to drink the Pierian spring. For him also came the day of death, the day that hurled him to the depths of dark Avernus. ’Tis poetry alone that 'scapes the all-consuming pyre. The work of the poet knows not death; the story of Troy's siege and all its toils and the unfinished web will ever be remembered. So Nemesis and Delia shall have a lasting name, the one his last, the other his first love.
What now can sacrifices offered to the gods avail thee? What can the sistra of Egypt do for thee now? What boots it to lie apart in a lonely bed? When I see how even the most virtuous are snatched away by cruel fate, forgive me when I say I am tempted to believe that the gods do not exist. Live a holy life; despite your sanctity, you will surely die. Pay service to the gods; for all your piety, death will tear you from the temple and hurry you into the grave. Think you your poetry will save you? See how Tibullus lies low. With all that remains of so great a poet, you scarce could fill a tiny urn.
What, is it thou, O sacred poet, that the flames of the pyre have just consumed? They have not feared to feast upon thy vitals. They might have devoured the gilded temples of the mightiest of the gods, seeing that to thee they were so cruel. Venus turned away her head, and some aver that she could not restrain her tears.
Yet was the poet's lot less lamentable than if he had died among the Phæacians and had been buried unhonoured
and unknown. Here at least a mother closed his misty eyes, and paid him the last sad rites. Here at least a sister shared her unhappy mother's grief, and with dishevelled locks came to sorrow over his grave. Nemesis and Delia both printed on thy lips a final kiss and quitted not thy pyre. Delia, as at length she turned away, said, "’Tis I was made the happier by your love; thou didst live while yet I was the object of your flame!" "What is that thou sayest?" said Nemesis. "What need for thee to bewail my loss? ’Twas me, as he lay dying, he clasped with his failing hand."
Still if aught remains of us but a name and a shadow, Tibullus will live on in the valleys of Elysium. Come forth to meet him, learned Catullus, come with thy Calvus, and wreathe thy youthful brow with ivy. And Gallus come thou too (if they wrong thee who say thou wrongedst a friend), prodigal of thy blood and of thy life. Of these thy shade is the companion, and if a shade be aught, thou hast swelled the blessed throng, gracious Tibullus. Rest ye, his bones, at peace within the quiet urn, and may the earth lie lightly on his ashes.
Memnona si mater, mater ploravit Achillem,