Books June 1986
Propertius, our contemporary
A review of Propertius: The Poems translated from the Latin by W. G. Shepherd.
So many centuries and so many revolutions stand between us and the ancient world that in the present age we are apt to cast about restlessly for any spirit of those earlier days who might conveniently be hauled back, like Alcestis or Proserpine, into the light of the living. There are, of course, the perennial classics, the Virgils and the Homers of that time, to be cherished as eternal beacons who have said what will always need to be said. With such as these we may sympathize, but we cannot identify; for there is something about them which, in transcending everything, transcends us as well. Conversely, there are the many lesser poets of that time, like Triphiodorus and Silius Italicus, who, by so thoroughly summing up the fashions and the vanities of their eras, remind us rather unflatteringly of our own, and these we are only too happy to send back into their accustomed oblivion. But there are certain poets who manage to...
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