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Propertius: Elegy on war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Sextus Propertius
From Elegies, Book III, 12
Translated by J.P. McCulloch

Postumus, can you leave her, tears in her face,
Galla, your wife,
and follow the soldier’s trade,
behind Caesar’s flags?
What good is Parthian plunder,
you wife’s prayerful cry unheeded?
If the law allows it,
let them all be damned equally,
who go abroad looking for gold,
along with any man who prefers
the arms of the camp
to those awaiting him in his bed.
You must be unhinged,
to drink from distant rivers
at day’s end,
helmet for a bucket, mantle thrown over your arm,
while she, meanwhile,
will toss in her bed with each hollow rumor,
afraid your manly valor
will bring you to a bitter end;
afraid the Median arrows will sing
at your riddled death,
or that you will fall by iron
at the hand of some cataphract
on a gold-trimmed horse;
afraid you will be brought back in a jar,
something to cry over;
and that is how they bring them home.

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