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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sextus Aurelius Propertius was a Latin elegiac poet of the Augustan age. He was born around 50–45 BC in Assisium) and died shortly after 15 BC.

Propertius' surviving work comprises four books of Elegies. He was friends with the poets Gallus and Virgil, and with them had as his patron Maecenas, and through Maecenas the emperor Augustus.


Propertius himself says he was popular and even scandalous in his own day. Horace, however, says that he would have to "endure much" and "stop up his ears" if he had to listen to " please the sensitive stock of poets"; Postgate and others see this as a veiled attack on Propertius, who considered himself the Roman heir to Callimachus. This judgement also seems to be upheld by Quintilian, who ranks the elegies of Tibullus higher and is somewhat dismissive of the poet, but Propertius' popularity is attested by the presence of his verses in the graffiti preserved at Pompeii.

Propertius fell into obscurity in the Middle Ages, but was rediscovered during the Italian Renaissance along with the other elegists. Petrarch's love sonnets certainly show the influence of his writing, and Aeneas Silvius (the future Pope Pius II) titled a collection of his youthful elegies "Cinthia". There are also a set of "Propertian Elegies" attributed to the English writer Ben Jonson, though the authorship of these is disputed. Goethe's 1795 collection of "Elegies" also shows some familiarity with Propertius' poetry.

Propertius is the lyrical protagonist of Joseph Brodsky's poem "Anno Domini" (1968), originally written in Russian.

Modern assessment

In the 20th century Ezra Pound's poem "Homage to Sextus Propertius" cast Propertius as something of a satirist and political dissident, and his translation/interpretation of the elegies presented them as ancient examples of Pound's own Imagist theory of art. Pound identified in Propertius an example of what he called (in "How to Read") 'logopoeia', "the dance of the intellect among words." Gilbert Highet, in Poets in a Landscape, attributed this to Propertius' use of mythic allusions and circumlocution, which Pound mimics to more comic effect in his Homage. The imagist interpretation, the poet's tendency to sustain an interior monologue, and the deeply personal nature of his poetry have made Propertius a favorite in the modern age. Two modern English translations of his work have appeared since 2000, and the playwright Tom Stoppard in his masterwork The Invention of Love suggests the poet was responsible for much of what the West regards today as "romantic love".

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Propertius" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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