1.11: Sending a Message
The poet begins by flattering Nape, Corinna’s hairdresser, and asking her to take tabellae that he wrote that morning (lines 1–8). Nape has had a love life of her own, and should be sympathetic. [full essay]
1–2: colligere ... pōnere: the infinitives depend on docta in line 2, "taught to gather up … and to arrange," i.e. skilled in hairdressing. Nape was Corinna’s ornātrix. incertōs: "disarrayed, errant, wayward." neque ... habenda: gerundive showing necessity or worthiness; "(you who) should not be considered." ancillās inter = inter ancillās (anastrophe, the inversion of the usual word order), "among (ordinary) maid servants"; i.e., Nape stands out from the throng of normal maids. Napē: the name of the servant means ‘woodland glen’ in Greek; vocative. Several grave inscriptions survive for Roman slave hairdressers. One, for a certain ancilla called Gnome, dates to near the time of this poem. Not from a wealthy household, to judge by the mediocre quality of the carving, Gnome was nonetheless dear enough to her mistress Pierinis to receive a marble tombstone, precisely dated to January 28, 2 BC. (CIL 6.9730 = ILS 7419; for other ornatrices, see CIL 2.1740, 6.8879, 6.8944, 6.9690, 6.33099, and 12.3061).
3–4: The next two couplets indicate that hairdressing is not Nape’s only skill; she is also adept at serving as a go-between for her mistress and her secret lover. furtīvae: transferred epithet; though in agreement with noctis, it more properly describes the ministeriīs. ūtilis: predicate adjective (esse understood), with cognita in line 3, "known (to be) useful." dandīs ... notīs: "at giving notes." The dative (purpose or reference) can be used with adjectives (here, ingeniōsa) to indicate "that to which the given quality is directed" (AG §383).
5–6: saepe venīre ... hortāta Corinnam = saepe hortāta Corinnam, dubitantem ad mē venīre, ut venīret. dubitantem: give this participle an adversative force, "even though she may be hesitant." labōrantī … mihi: dative of reference in association with the adjective fīda. Translate labōrantī here as "anxious, in trouble, having difficulty." fīda reperta: supply esse; fīda is a predicate nominative with reperta. The construction is similar to cognita … ūtilis above.
7–8: perarātās: "incised" with a stylus. māne: "in the morning"; adverb. Construe with perarātās. perfer: "carry straight through, deliver." sēdula: an adjective translated with adverbial force, "carefully, cautiously." A Hellenistic terra cotta figurine from Libya (Cyrenaica) shows a girl reading a double reading -tablet (tabellae) on her lap. Her dress, hair, and the throne-like chair identify her an upper-class woman. She holds the tablet with the binding perpendicular to her legs, one half the tablet draped down over her knees.
9–10: vēnae ... ferrum: understand tibi sunt (dative of possession). nec tibi simplicitās ordine māior adest = nec simplicitās māior simplicitāte ordinis tuī adest tibi, i.e., "you’re no more unsophisticated than the average ancilla." Ordō here means "rank, station, social standing," and is ablative of comparison (AG §406).
11–12: arcūs: more logically, sagittās, but that would not fit the metrical requirements of the line. in mē: "for me, on my account," i.e., by helping me. signa: here "legionary standards." For the use of military imagery in erotic contexts see Amōrēs 1.9. tuēre: imperative, "protect" (especially in a military sense).
13–14: quaeret: supply Corinna as the implied subject. quid agam: "how I’m doing"; indirect question. spē noctis vīvere: that the only thing keeping him going is the anticipation of a night spent with her. dīcēs: the future indicative can be used as the equivalent of an imperative (AG §449b). fert: "reports, tells"; its direct object is cētera (n. pl.). blandā ... manū: transferred epithet, with blandā more logically describing the cera notāta (or at least the words written on it).
15–16: vacuae: understand dominae; vacuus = "free from other occupations," "at leisure." Take bene with vacuae. vērum: "but, however"; see on 1.4.65. continuō: "forthwith, immediately"; adverb. Construe with legat. fac ... illa legat: For the omission of ut with verbs of commanding, see AG §565.
17–18: aspiciās ... mandō: ut is again omitted with a verb of commanding. legentis: "of her as she reads." et: "even."
19–20: nec mora: supply sit as a jussive subjunctive, "let there be no delay, let no time be lost." The expression is used parenthetically. perlectīs: understand tabellīs; ablative absolute (AG §420). rescrībat ... iubētō: "tell her to write back." lātē splendida cēra: "broadly shining wax," i.e., the wax of the tabella being shiny and bright on its entire surface because nothing has been written on it.
21–22: comprimat: jussive subjunctive, with the softer form of command now directed to Corinna. ordinibus: "in lines" (ablative of place where, AG §421). littera: singular for plural. "Let letters inscribed on the edge of the margin detain my eyes" (Barsby). meōs: modifies oculōs in the preceding line. The distance between the words emphasizes the way his eyes will linger (morētur) over the message. Wax tablets found at Pompeii, as well as Greek-language school exercizes on wax tablet from Roman-period Egypt, suggest that writing would normally be parallel to the binding, "sideways" from the point of view of those used to modern printed books.
23–24: quid ... opus est: "what need is there." lassāre > lassō (1) "tire out, wear out." The infinitive is the subject of opus est. venī: imperative, in apposition to hoc. As seen in examples from Roman Britain in the British Museum, styluses were of metal or bone, with a sharp tip for writing and a flat, wedge-shaped top for smoothing the wax to erase.
25–26: redimīre > redimiō, redimīre, redimiī, redimītum "to encircle" (with a garland). Roman generals announced victories by sending to Rome dispatches wreathed with laurel (litterae laureātae). Redimīre and pōnere (26) are both objective infinitives with nec morer (26, potential subjunctive): "I would not delay to" Veneris ... in aede: inscribed votive tablets were often placed in the temple of a deity as a thank offering. Here, of course, the deity is Venus, the goddess of love.
27–28: FĪDĀS ... MINISTRĀS: earlier in the poem (line 6) the narrator referred to Nape as a loyal servant; now he makes the same assertion, only in reference to the tabellae. NĀSO: the poet himself, P. Ovidius Naso. FUISTIS: 2nd person plural, addressed to the tabellae.