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"[Sophonisba Masinissae. Epistola]"

"[Sophonisba Masinissae. Epistola]"


1 Egregium accipio promissi Munus amoris,
2     Inque manu mortem jam fruitura fero:
3 Atque utinam citius mandasses, luce vel una;
4     Transieram Stygios non inhonesta lacus.
5 Victoris nec passa toros, nova nupta, mariti,
6     Nec fueram fastus, Roma superba, tuos.
7 Scilicet haec partem tibi, Masinissa, triumphi
8     Detractam, haec pompae jura minora suae
9 Imputat, atque uxor quod non tua pressa catenis,
10     Objecta et saevae plausibus urbis eo:
11 Quin tu pro tantis cepisti praemia factis,
12     Magnum Romanae pignus amicitiae!
13 Scipiadae excuses, oro, si tardius utar
14     Munere. Non nimium vivere, crede, velim.
15 Parva mora est, breve sed tempus mea fama requirit:
16     Detinet haec animam cura suprema meam.
17 Quae patriae prodesse meae Regina ferebar,
18     Inter Elisaeas gloria prima nurus,
19 Ne videar flammae nimis indulsisse secundae,
20     Vel nimis hostiles extimuisse manus.
21 Fortunam atque annos liceat revocare priores,
22     Gaudiaque heu! quantis nostra repensa malis.
23 Primitiasne tuas meministi atque arma Syphacis
24     Fusa, et per Tyrias ducta trophaea vias?
25 (Laudis at antiquae forsan meminisse pigebit,
26     Quodque decus quondam causa ruboris erit.)
27 Tempus ego certe memini, felicia Poenis
28     Quo te non puduit solvere vota deis;
29 Moeniaque intrantem vidi: longo agmine duxit
30     Turba salutantum, purpureique patres.
31 Foeminea ante omnes longe admiratur euntem
32     Haeret et aspectu tota caterva tuo.
33 Jam flexi, regale decus, per colla capilli,
34     Jam decet ardenti fuscus in ore color!
35 Commendat frontis generosa modestia formam,
36     Seque cupit laudi surripuisse suae.
37 Prima genas tenui signat vix flore juventas,
38     Et dextrae soli credimus esse virum.
39 Dum faciles gradiens oculos per singula jactas,
40     (Seu rexit casus lumina, sive Venus)
41 In me (vel certe visum est) conversa morari
42     Sensi; virgineus perculit ora pudor.
43 Nescio quid vultum molle spirare tuendo,
44     Credideramque tuos lentius ire pedes.
45 Quaerebam, juxta aequalis si dignior esset,
46     Quae poterat visus detinuisse tuos:
47 Nulla fuit circum aequalis quae dignior esset,
48     Asseruitque decus conscia forma suum.
49 Pompae finis erat. Tota vix nocte quievi:
50     Sin premat invitae lumina victa sopor,
51 Somnus habet pompas, eademque recursat imago;
52     Atque iterum hesterno munere victor ades. [...]

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0 "[Sophonisba Masinissae. Epistola]" 1 Explanatory

Title/Paratext] "[Prose translation by J. R. [...]" H.W. Starr/J.R. Hendrickson, 1966.

"[Prose translation by J. R. Hendrickson:]
"Sophonisba to Masinissa. An Epistle."

    Distinguished is this gift that I now receive, the reward of plighted love; and as I prepare to enjoy it, I hold death in my hand. Ah, would that you had given it to me just one day sooner: then surely I would have crossed the Stygian waters with my honour unsullied: I would neither have allowed myself, a bride fresh from the altar, to share the bed of the conqueror who became my husband, nor would I have suffered your arrogance, haughty Rome. No doubt Rome will charge it to your account, Masinissa, that a portion of triumph has been snatched away, that the prerogatives of her triumphal parade have been lessened because I, your wife, am not going to march laden with chains and exposed to the exultant howls of the savage city: what rewards you have received for so many great deeds! A magnificent token of Roman friendship! Beg the pardon of Scipio, I pray, if I use your gift too slowly; I assure you, I would not wish to live too long. The delay will be short, but my reputation demands a brief time: concern for this, the last concern I shall ever feel, is all that keeps my soul from departing.
    I should not wish that I, who used to be considered of some worth to my native land when I was queen, the foremost glory of the daughters of Elisa, should seem to have indulged too eagerly in a second passion or to have been overmuch terrified by the violence of my enemies. Let me recall the good fortune of past years and my joys, purchased (alas!) at the cost of so much misfortune.
    Do you remember your first victory and the rout of Syphax's troops and the trophies of victory borne through Tyrian streets? (But perhaps you will be ashamed to remember your former praise, and what was once a glorious distinction will become a cause for blushing.) As for me, I clearly remember the time when you were not ashamed to fulfil the vows you made to the gods of Carthage, when your prayers had been granted. I saw you as you entered the city: the multitude of those who came to hail you stretched in a long line, and the purple-clad elders were there. As you strode along, a noisy throng of women gazed at you with far more admiration than all the others, and every one of them kept her eyes fixed upon you. How becoming your hair flowing to your shoulders, a royal badge of honour; how becoming the dark colour of your glowing face! Well-bred modesty heightens the beauty of your person, and wants to slip unobtrusively away from the praise it has itself aroused. The beginning of young manhood just barely adorns your cheeks with a slight bloom, and we believe that you are a man solely because of what your hand has wrought. As you advanced, glancing quickly at each sight in turn, (whether accident or Venus took control of your eyes) I sensed (or so at least it surely seemed to me) that your eyes lingered when you turned them on me; a blush of virgin modesty suffused my face. I was sure that your expression softened a little as you gazed and that your feet advanced more slowly. I asked myself if there was any other woman near me who might have been more worthy of attracting and holding your gaze; there was not one who might be more worthy around me, and consciousness of beauty declared that the attention was its own.
    The triumphal procession came to an end. All night I found hardly any rest: even if sleep overcame me and closed my eyes against my will, the procession would continue in my dreams, and the same sight would come back; once more you were with me as a conqueror, acting just as you had the day before."

The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited by Herbert W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966, 154-156.

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1 Egregium accipio promissi Munus amoris,
2     Inque manu mortem jam fruitura fero:
3 Atque utinam citius mandasses, luce vel una;
4     Transieram Stygios non inhonesta lacus.
5 Victoris nec passa toros, nova nupta, mariti,
6     Nec fueram fastus, Roma superba, tuos.
7 Scilicet haec partem tibi, Masinissa, triumphi
8     Detractam, haec pompae jura minora suae
9 Imputat, atque uxor quod non tua pressa catenis,
10     Objecta et saevae plausibus urbis eo:
11 Quin tu pro tantis cepisti praemia factis,
12     Magnum Romanae pignus amicitiae!
13 Scipiadae excuses, oro, si tardius utar
14     Munere. Non nimium vivere, crede, velim.
15 Parva mora est, breve sed tempus mea fama requirit:
16     Detinet haec animam cura suprema meam.
17 Quae patriae prodesse meae Regina ferebar,
18     Inter Elisaeas gloria prima nurus,
19 Ne videar flammae nimis indulsisse secundae,
20     Vel nimis hostiles extimuisse manus.
21 Fortunam atque annos liceat revocare priores,
22     Gaudiaque heu! quantis nostra repensa malis.
23 Primitiasne tuas meministi atque arma Syphacis
24     Fusa, et per Tyrias ducta trophaea vias?
25 (Laudis at antiquae forsan meminisse pigebit,
26     Quodque decus quondam causa ruboris erit.)
27 Tempus ego certe memini, felicia Poenis
28     Quo te non puduit solvere vota deis;
29 Moeniaque intrantem vidi: longo agmine duxit
30     Turba salutantum, purpureique patres.
31 Foeminea ante omnes longe admiratur euntem
32     Haeret et aspectu tota caterva tuo.
33 Jam flexi, regale decus, per colla capilli,
34     Jam decet ardenti fuscus in ore color!
35 Commendat frontis generosa modestia formam,
36     Seque cupit laudi surripuisse suae.
37 Prima genas tenui signat vix flore juventas,
38     Et dextrae soli credimus esse virum.
39 Dum faciles gradiens oculos per singula jactas,
40     (Seu rexit casus lumina, sive Venus)
41 In me (vel certe visum est) conversa morari
42     Sensi; virgineus perculit ora pudor.
43 Nescio quid vultum molle spirare tuendo,
44     Credideramque tuos lentius ire pedes.
45 Quaerebam, juxta aequalis si dignior esset,
46     Quae poterat visus detinuisse tuos:
47 Nulla fuit circum aequalis quae dignior esset,
48     Asseruitque decus conscia forma suum.
49 Pompae finis erat. Tota vix nocte quievi:
50     Sin premat invitae lumina victa sopor,
51 Somnus habet pompas, eademque recursat imago;
52     Atque iterum hesterno munere victor ades. [...]

Works cited

  • The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited by Herbert W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966.

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Contractions, italics and initial capitalization have been largely eliminated, except where of real import. Initial letters of sentences have been capitalized, all accents have been removed. The editor would like to express his gratitude to library staff at Pembroke College, Cambridge, at the British Library, and at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for their invaluable assistance.