Crossing Over (To The Afterlife)" by Vincent Katz

Primarily, for Propertius’ purposes here, as elsewhere, he uses the two implied boats to indicate two classes of women: unfaithful and the faithful (the latter accompanied by Cybele’s wild band).  At the end of the poem, Cynthia concludes her list of demands like this:

Don’t spurn the dreams which come through the portals of truth:

when true dreams come, they have weight.

By night, uncertain, we are borne.  Night frees the shut-in shades,

and Cerberus himself, the bar thrown aside, wanders loose.

By daylight, the laws decree our return to the Lethaean pools:

we are conveyed, the pilot counts his load of passage.

For now, let other girls possess you: I alone will hold you soon:

you’ll be with me, and I’ll rub my bones against yours, enmeshed.


In Propertius’ mind, the two portals of dreams, familiar to us from the Odyssey (19.562-7) and Aeneid (6.893-6), may have suggested two different “waters” leading to different fates after life.  Here, as often in Propertius, there is an element of vagueness that I have attempted to preserve in my translation.  I have translated gemina sedes as “separate resting places”; the “vile stream” (turpem amnem) refers to Styx.  The obscurity is in diversa aqua, which I have translated as “different waters.”  Does this mean two different rivers, or simply two different spots at the same river, leading to different zones of the underworld?  It does not really matter; only that Propertius wishes to distinguish between the good girls and the bad girls and to importune, through Cynthia’s voice, the bad, though of course he would be bored silly with the good girls he often praises as a way of reprimanding his girlfriend.

I notice that my “count his load” from “Barge” comes directly from my translation (“the pilot counts his load of passage”) of vectum nauta recenset onus in Propertius’ poem 4.7.  This pleases me, for I believe that this is how poetry is written and handed down from generation to generation.  I conclude with the idea that death for Propertius, as for me, is not really the issue.  It is rather a metaphor, to be handled lightly, for something that puts life into context.


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