Flēte meōs cāsūs: trīstēs rediēre tabellae;
īnfēlix hodiē littera posse negat.
ōmina sunt aliquid: modo cum discēdere vellet,
ad līmen digitōs restitit īcta Napē.
missa forās iterum līmen trānsīre mementō
cautius atque altē sobria ferre pedem.
īte hinc, difficilēs, fūnebria ligna, tabellae,
tūque negātūrīs cēra referta notīs,
quam, puto, dē longae collectam flōre cicūtae
melle sub infāmī Corsica mīsit apis.10
at tamquam miniō penitus medicāta rubēbās:
ille color vērē sanguinulentus erat.
prōiectae triviīs iaceātis, inūtile lignum,
vōsque rotae frangat praetereuntis onus.
illum etiam, quī vōs ex arbore vertit in ūsum,15
convincam pūrās nōn habuisse manūs.
praebuit illa arbor miserō suspendia collō,
carnificī dīrās praebuit illa crucēs;
illa dedit turpēs raucīs būbōnibus umbrās,
volturis in rāmīs et strigis ōva tulit.20
hīs ego commīsī nostrōs insānus amōrēs
molliaque ad dominam verba ferenda dedī?
aptius hae capiant vadimōnia garrula cērae,
quās aliquis dūrō cognitor ōre legat;
inter ephēmeridas melius tabulāsque iacērent,25
in quibus absumptās flēret avārus opēs.
ergō ego vōs rēbus duplicēs prō nōmine sēnsī:
auspiciī numerus nōn erat ipse bonī.
quid precer īrātus, nisi vōs cariōsa senectūs
rōdat, et immundō cēra sit alba sitū?30
1.12: Shooting Messengers
This poem, as we have said, forms a pair with Amores 1.11. In the first poem we learned about the tabellae the poet sent to his girl, and in this one we learn that he has failed. [full essay]
1–2: trīstēs: "unhappy in their outcome," "grim," because they have failed in their mission. The tabellae are personified with this modifier. rediēre = rediērunt, perfect tense. infēlix: "ill-fated"; again, this adjective personifies the littera. littera: singular for plural. posse negat: "says that she cannot" (meet).
3–4: aliquid: "something important"; the omens mean something and must be given due consideration. modo: "only recently, just now." discēdere vellet = discessūra esset. digitōs ... īcta: "having been struck with respect to her toes," i.e., having stubbed her toe.
5–6: mementō: ‘remember to’; future imperative, regular with this verb.
7–8: hinc: "hence, from here"; adverb. difficilēs: difficilis can be used of persons (here of a personified object) to mean "difficult, obstinate." fūnēbria ligna: vocative, in apposition to difficilēs ... tabellae. negātūrīs ... notīs: ablative of means with referta; the future active participle negātūrīs indicates intention ("intending to deny").
9–10: puto: from the time of Ovid onwards a final ō of a verb is often shortened, as here, for metrical convenience; see AG §604g, and Raven, Latin Metre, p. 13. longae ... cicūtae: cicūta, -ae, f. "hemlock," a long stalked plant which produced a poison that was often used in ancient times to execute criminals. melle sub infāmī = sub infāmī melle. Honey imported from Corsica was notoriously bitter. The honeycomb (from which the wax came) settled "at the bottom of the notorious honey."
11–12: tamquam ... medicāta: "as if deeply dyed with cinnabar." minium, -(i)ī, n. "cinnabar" (sulphide of mercury, which produces a bright red pigment). ille color: the wax on a writing tablet was usually black or deep red. sanguinulentus: the ill-omened nature of the wax is obvious from this descriptor.
13–14: triviīs: "in crossroads," "in the gutter." iaceātis: hortatory subjunctive (AG §439). inūtile lignum: vocative. vōs: the 2nd person plural pronoun refers back to the plural addressee tabellae (line 7). onus: "weight" of a cart or other passing vehicle.
15–16: illum: accusative subject of the infinitive habuisse (16) in an indirect statement. vōs vertit in ūsum: "converted you into an object of use" (Barsby). vertō can mean "transform" or "undergo physical change." Here in the perfect tense. convincam: "I will prove that," governing an indirect statement. The tone is legalistic. pūrās ... manūs: "clean hands," i.e., the craftsman himself must have done something to bring this "bad mojo" to the wood of the tabellae.
17–18: illa arbor: names of trees in Latin are feminine, regardless of the noun’s declension. praebuit: "supplied" (wood for). suspendia > suspendium, -(i)ī, n. "the act of hanging oneself, a hanging," here "gallows"; plural for singular (unless miserō ... collō is singular for plural). dīrās ... crucēs: "terrifying crosses" for "crucifixion."
19–20: būbōnibus > būbō, -ōnis m./f. "owl"; specifically the horned or eagle owl, a bird of ill omen. voltur: "vulture," also a bird of ill omen. strigis: "screech owl," also ill-omened.
21–22: hīs: i.e. hīs tabellīs; dative indirect object with commīsī. insānus: adjective used adverbially: "was I insane enough to?" ferenda: gerundive expressing purpose or intention, "words to be delivered."
23–25: aptius ... /melius ... : comparative degree adverbs; the narrator suggests ways in which the tabellae could be used "more appropriately" and "better" than as a love missive.
23–24: capiant: "would contain"; potential subjunctive. The present subjunctive means that the reference is to the future (AG §447.3). vadimōnia: "guarantees"; the vadimōnium was a written agreement to appear in court for trial, and (like many legal documents) was typically written on wax tablets. garrula > garrulus -a -um, "talkative, chatty, babbling." Legal documents such as vadimōnia typically seemed wordy. cērae: = tabellae. dūrō ... ōre: ablative of manner; "with an unfeeling expression." cognitor: "attorney, learned counsel." legat: perhaps a relative clause of characteristic (AG §535).
25–26: ephēmeridas > ephēmeris, -idis or -idōs, f., Greek accusative plural; "day-book, account-book." tabulāsque: tabula is regularly used in plural to mean "account-books, ledgers." A tabulārium was the room in a Roman home where the owner’s account-books were kept. iacērent: potential subjunctive; the imperfect subjunctive means that the reference is to present (AG §447.3). flēret: "would be weeping over" (+ acc.), another relative clause of characteristic. Wax tablets are well-attested in business contexts, esepcially from Pompeii, where a famous set of 153 tablets was found documenting the business affairs of the banker Lucius Caecilius Iucundus. A fresco from the House of Julia Felix at Pompeii uses tabellae to symbolize wealth, along with piles of money and a sealed papyrus scroll (perhaps a will?). Note that here there are several tabellae bound together.
27–28: ergo ... sēnsī: "And so, I have realized (sēnsī) that you are ‘double’ in fact (rēbus) as well as in name." Wax tablets were typically bound in pairs, with the wax surface on the inner surfaces of the two tablets for protection. duplex, duplicis adj. has precisely the same double meaning as our "two-faced." auspiciī ... bonī: "was not of good omen"; genitive of quality (AG §345). numerus ... ipse = duo.
29–30: nisi = nisi ut. cariōsa > cariōsus, -a, -um, "decayed," though the original meaning of "rotten" (used of wood etc.) is also important. senectūs: the tabellae are personified as going through the ravages of old age. alba: white (with age). sitū > situs, sitūs, m. "neglect" or "physical deterioration."
tabella -ae f.: flat board, tablet; (pl.) writing tablet
infēlix -īcīs: ill-fated
ōmen -inis n.: omen, augury
digitus -ī m.: finger; toe
resistō -ere -stitī: stand still, halt, stop short
īciō īcere īcī ictum: strike
Napē -ēs f.: Nape ('wooded glen' in Greek)
forās: outside, out of doors5
cautus -a -um: cautious, careful, prudent
sōbrius -a -um: sober, moderate
fūnebris -e: funereal
lignum -ī n.: wood
cēra -ae f.: wax; writing tablet coated with wax; wax bust or figure
refertus -a -um: crammed, bursting with
nota -ae f.: sign, writing
cicūta -ae f.: hemlock
mel mellis n.: honey
infāmis -e: notorious, disreputable
Corsicus -a -um: Corsican
apis -is f.: bee10
minium -ī n.: cinnabar
penitus: adv. utterly, deeply
medicō -āre: treat, medicate (with); dye (with)
rubeō -ēre: redden, blush
sanguinulentus -a -um: accompanied by bloodshed; blood-red
prōiciō -icere iēci -iectum: cast forth, throw out, fling to the ground
trivium -ī n.: (often pl.) a crossroads, gutter
inūtilis -e: useless, unserviceable
rota -ae f.: wheel
praetereō -īre -iī -itum: go by, pass by
convincō -vincere -vīcī -victum: overcome; prove; convict16
pūrus -a -um: clean, pure, innocent
suspendium -ī n.: act of hanging oneself, a hanging; gallows
collum -ī n. : neck
carnifex -icis m.: executioner; butcher
dīrus -a -um: fearful, dire
crux -ucis f.: a cross
raucus -a -um: harsh-sounding, noisy
būbō -ōnis m.: owl
vultur (volt-) vulturis m.: vulture
rāmus -ī m.: branch
strix -gis f.: screech owl
ōvum -ī n.: egg20
insānus -a -um: mad, insane, senseless
vadimōnium -ī n.: guarantee
garrulus -a -um: talkative, chatty, babbling
cognitor: attorney, learned counsel
ephēmeris -idis f.: day-book, account-book
tabula -ae f.: account-book, ledger25
ābsūmō -sūmere -sūmpsī -sūmptum: take away; use up, consume, waste
avārus -a -um: greedy, miserly
duplex -icis: double, folded; deceitful, duplicitous
auspicium -ī n.: omen, sign
cariōsus -a -um: decayed, rotten
senectūs -ūtis f.: old age
rōdō rōdere rōsī rōsum: gnaw, eat away, erode
immundus -a -um: unclean, foul
situs -ūs m.: neglect; physcial deterioration30