In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Propertius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies, History of Scholarship, Repertories
  • Handbooks
  • Concordances
  • Critical Editions
  • Translations
  • Text and Transmission
  • Latin Love Elegy
  • Origins of Latin Love Elegy
  • Propertius and His Greek Models
  • Latin Love Elegy and its Neoteric and Augustan Background
  • Interpretation of Single Books or Poems
  • Women and Sexuality
  • Politics
  • The Elegy Book
  • Language, Style, and Meter

Classics Propertius
Hans-Christian Günther
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0109


The scarce information we possess of Propertius’s life must be deduced almost completely from what the poet himself tells us in his works. His praenomen Sextus is attested by Suetonius in his vita of Virgil (31.3 Brugnoli/Stok). The date of his birth (50 BCE, or rather some years before) can be deduced mainly from the fact that the poet tells us (4.1.131) that he received the toga virilis soon (mox) after he lost part of his family’s property in the land distributions of 41 BCE. He himself names Umbria as his birthplace (1.22.9 and 4.1.63, 121ff.) and Assisi as his hometown, though the latter in a verse of doubtful authenticity (4.1.125). Yet there is epigraphic evidence that his family ranked among the local aristocracy of the city. He lost his father at an early age (4.1.127ff.). Though obviously destined from his family background for a political career, he chose to become a poet, and although his family fortunes were seriously impaired by the redistribution of land, he appears to have been able to lead a comfortable life among the jeunesse dorée of Rome. His first collection of poems appears to have been published in 29 BCE and is dedicated to a certain Tullus, the nephew of L. Voilcatius Tullus, consul in 33 BCE and proconsul in Asia in 30/29 BCE. He later joined the circle of Maecenas, to whom Books 2 and 3 are dedicated. What is transmitted as Book 2 is probably a conflation of fragments from what were originally two books, published in the years 27 and 26 BCE. Whereas Books 1 and 2 are almost exclusively dominated by love poetry dedicated to a pseudonymous women Cynthia (referring to the epithet Cynthius of Apollo; according to Apuleius’s Apologia 10, her real name was Hostia). Book 3, published not before 23 BCE, opens up to a wider spectrum of topics—in particular, reference to Hellenistic models such as Callimachus and Philetas becomes more explicit. A profound influence of Horace’s Odes is also apparent. Propertius’s last book (4) must have been published after a considerable lapse of time. It contains poems composed probably between 20 and 16 BCE. The poet announces in the introductory elegy that he is entering new terrain by composing etiological poetry and, in fact, the book—at first sight, a curious but well-arranged mixture of love poems and poems on Roman mythology and national topics.

General Overviews

Boucher’s exhaustive monograph (Boucher 1965) marks a milestone of Propertian scholarship that remains a basis even today; Reitzenstein 1936—mainly directed against major textual interference—though dubious in many respects, keeps its value as a first attempt at seriously understanding the transmitted text without major changes. Of the earlier period, mainly Wilamowitz-Moellendorff’s penetrating remarks on Propertius and Greek elegy and on the poet’s art will always remain of interest (Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1913). Hubbard 2001 offers a concise and sober account of Propertius’s work; Newman 1997 and Cairns 2006 are worthy supplements, but the most authoritative general account in every respect is now Syndikus 2010.

  • Boucher, J. P. 1965. Études sur Properce: Problèmes d’inspiration et d’art. Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 204. Paris: de Boccard.

    A wide-ranging, learned, and sensitive account of all aspects of Propertius’s art.

  • Cairns, F. 2006. Sextus Propertius: The Augustan elegist. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A major contribution on Propertius’s aesthetics and his place in Augustan poetry.

  • Hubbard, M. 2001. Propertius. Bristol, UK: Bristol Classical Press.

    A good concise and comprehensive introduction. Originally published 1974.

  • Newman, J. K. 1997. Augustan Propertius: The recapitulation of a genre. Spudasmata 63. Hildesheim, Germany: G. Olms.

    A highly original, large-scale interpretation with due regard to the broad range of Propertius’s poetical aims in comparison with his Greek models.

  • Reitzenstein, R. 1936. Wirklichkeitsbild und Gefühlsentwicklung bei Properz. Philologus Supplement 29.2. Leipzig: Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

    Textually extremely conservative, Reitzenstein attempts a psychologizing interpretation that, although outdated, is still worth reading for occasionally penetrating remarks on single problems.

  • Syndikus, H. P. 2010. Die Elegien des Properz: Eine Interpretation. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    A paraphrastic commentary on every poem (as in the same author’s work on Horace and Catullus); the modern standard overview on Propertius’s work by one of the most eminent authorities on Augustan poetry. The introductory chapters on Propertius’s life, work, and reception give a concise yet magisterial picture of the main aspects of the poet’s art and personality.

  • Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. von. 1913. Mimnermos und Properz. In Sappho und Simonides: Untersuchungen über griechische Lyriker. By U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, 276–304. Berlin: Weidmann.

    Important remarks on Propertius and ancient Greek elegy and the originality of his art.

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