Memnon’s mother and Achilles’ mother both wept over their sons. If such grief could touch great goddesses, then you too, Elegy, shall loose your hair now in unfamiliar grief. Ah, now you must become a funeral elegy: the empty husk of Tibullus, your true bard and your fame, burns on a high-built pyre.
Look how Cupid has broken his bow and put out his torch; he holds his quiver upended. See, he walks with his wings dragging, beating his bare breast with his fists. The hair that falls to his shoulders catches his tears and his mouth gives forth a stricken sob. He says Tibullus is leaving your house, handsome Iulus, and going from the funeral to the hall of his brother Aeneas. Nearby, his mother Venus is as distraught as she was the day the wild boar ripped up Adonis’ groin.
We bards are called ‘sacred’ and thought to be the special care of the gods. There are those who think we have some part of the divine… but death is a boor which violates every sacrament and lays its shadowy hands on everyone.
What did the high lineage of Ismarian Orpheus benefit him? Of what use did he find the song that mastered savage beasts? His father Linon is said to have often heard in the deep forest the sound of his windblown lyre whispering, “Ah, Linon….”
Behold Homer, the bard from whom like a perpetual spring poured the Pierian waters. he too knew a final day which dragged him down to black Avernus. His song alone escaped the greedy pyre.
The words of the bards endure, the slow labor of Troy and the horse the Greeks built to bring doom in the night. Thus Nemesis and Delia will be long remembered: the first Tibullus’ recent love, the other his first.
What good is there in sacrificing to the gods? What value now do you find in the sistrum and rites of Isis? What use was there in lying alone in your chaste bed?
When ill fates swallow good men, those close to them–forgive me if I speak the truth–think there are no gods. Though you live and die a pious life, crushing death will still drag you to the empty tomb from the temple where you worship.
Do you trust instead in your art? Behold: there lies Tibullus. The little that remains of him will fit in a small urn.
Did the flames of the pyre take even you, sacred bard? Did they not fear to devour even your heart? Flames capable of a crime like that could as easily burn the temples of the sacred gods!
Avert your eyes, great Venus, for there are things that would make even you weep; yet it could be worse. What if Tibullus had died of his youthful illness on Corcyra and lay there in an unmarked grave? Here at least his mother could weep a final offering onto the ashes from which his soul has fled, and his sister could join the poor mother in grief, her hair wild and tangled.
Nor did Nemesis nor the girl who earlier joined her kisses with yours desert your pyre, Tibullus. Delia, as she was leaving, said, “I was the luckier in your love, for you lived while I was your flame.” To her Nemesis replied, “Why are you claiming concern at a loss that was mine alone? Dying, he held me with his failing hand.”
If death leaves us anything but a name and a shadow, Tibullus will walk in the Vale of Elysium. Learned Catullus, you and your friend Calvus will meet him there, your youthful temples wreathed with ivy; you too will join him, Gallus, so great in soul and lineage, if the accusation that you betrayed the emperor’s friendship is false. Tibullus, your urbane shade will be comrade to such men and will increase their pious number–if souls have any later existence.
May your bones sleep safely in their urn, and may the earth lie light upon your ashes.