Sextus Propertius Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Propertius (proh-PEHR-shee-uhs) seems to have come to Rome from Asisium, but little more is known. His Elegies (after 16 b.c.e.; first printed version, 1472; English translation, 1854) were published in four books; they cover a variety of amatory, literary, and patriotic topics. The first book, the so-called Monobiblos (wr. c. 30-29 b.c.e.), sets the tone for the remainder of the collection. This book largely explores the poet’s relationship with his lover Cynthia, who plays the role in Propertius’s poetry that Lesbia does in Catullus’s or Corinna in Ovid’s. During the course of the collection, many ups and downs take place in the relationship and the lives of the two lovers; by the end, Cynthia is dead, and the poet has somewhat callously moved on.

Propertius’s poetry is both passionate and deeply learned. His description of emotions often touches on the darker, almost pathological aspects of erotic love. The poems are laden with numerous references to mythology and to the Greek poetic tradition.


Propertius’s work is the best example of Roman love elegy, and his portrayal of Cynthia was particularly important to Ovid’s elegiac works. Although his fame dimmed for a time, he became influential again in the Renaissance. His influence can be seen in the works of many later authors, including the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the American poet Ezra Pound.


(The entire section is 608 words.)