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Kellan Stanner
Professor Troyano
Ancient Roman History
20 April 2017
A Roman Rejection of Riches: Analyzing Tibulluss 1.10

Tibullus, a contemporary of Vergil and Ovid, lived from 55 to 19 BC. However, his fame

and subject matter is unlike theirs. With much less recognition, Tibullus deals with romantic

themes apart from war, honor, and empire. Living through the Octavian civil wars and later the

Augustan Empire, Tibullus draws on the same pastoralism Vergil employs in his eclogues. A

thorough reading of Tibullus reveals the new and profound distaste for war certain Romans

found during the Pax Romana. In the first poem of his first book, these sentiments are obvious

and perhaps persuasive, as he claims in the title that his anti-imperial mindset is The True Life.

This essay will primarily seek to place Tibulluss 1.10 in literary context amongst other Latin

authors, as well offer potential influences from the time period in which it was written.

Tibullus begins his poem speaking of the gold and land many men pursue, along with the

suffering that eternal plight brings them. He purports that he is removed from this lifestyle,

instead opting for the love of his companion Delia. As the poem progresses, Tibullus establishes

himself as a pastoral figure, asking that If only I might now be happy to live with little . . . but

avoid the rising Dog-stars summer heat in the shade of a tree by a stream of running water

(Tib. 1.1.9-10). Using words like these to humbly describe his agrarian profession as a noble one

would immediately call to mind Vergil and Theocritus before him. Perhaps after seeing the

success of Vergils Eclogues, Tibullus reappropriated the genre for his own romantic poetry.

More generally, pastoralism possibly came about under the reign of Augustus in that the stability

of the empire afforded some of its residents a life as pleasant as those fictitious herders whose

only concern was to roam and graze their animals. Indeed, with bountiful patronage and the
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blessing of the emperor to produce their works, poets and authors alike lived in a certain kind of


The piece shares semblance with another famous Latin work written a few decades

before. The Dream of Scipio by Cicero provides a very similar minimization of the importance of

Rome and its conquests. Cicero describes the world and attempts to geographically explain the

minor role of Rome globally and cosmically. This is the same criticism penned by Tibullus, who

stresses his deference to the posturing of the Roman state. However, they arrive at different

conclusions. The Dream of Scipio decidedly holds that statesmanship is the only way to reach the

furthest ring of heaven. Obviously, this keeps with Ciceros persona as one of the leading figures

of the Republic. After the decline of these democratic institutions, Tibullus does not seem to hold

the same value for political participation and leadership. Instead, he is content to idle at the bank

of a river and contemplate his love for Delia.

As The True Lifes dichotomous elegy progresses through various criticisms of Roman

militarism, it grapples with the unending nature of war, its ravishing destruction and greed, and

purports that it is inherently at odds with romantic pursuits. Augustuss rise to power came after

more than a decade of escalating tensions, domestic and foreign. The public naturally tired of

war and its toll on the land and workforce. Hostilities again rose as Augustus attempted to house

all of his veterans in the countryside. The emperor recognized this dissatisfaction within his

territories and shifted the focus of his reign from expansion into foreign lands to domestic

productivity and fertility. Whether Tibulluss poetry was advocatory for this shift or was a

laudatory response to it is difficult to say. However, this is certainly the context in which it was

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Tibullus is an easy Latin poet to overlook. His contemporaries were grand and

unforgettable, leaving him with few mentions. Those looking for a refreshing departure from

glorifications of military might and recitations of ancient mythology find repose. Tibulluss

writings can be taken for their simple merit of being satisfying pieces of poetry, or they can be

analytically examined in their historical and literary contexts. Either way, Tibullus is deserving

of more leisurely and scholarly attention.

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Works Cited

Kline, A.S. "I. The True Life." Tibullus and Sulpicia - The Poems. Poetry in Translation, 2001.

Web. 12 Apr. 2017.

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