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ELEGY VIII

HE CURSES A CERTAIN OLD WOMAN OF THE TOWN WHOM HE OVERHEARS INSTRUCTING HIS MISTRESS IN THE ARTS OF A COURTESAN.

THERE exists (give ear, all ye who are fain to know a prostitute), there exists a certain old hag named Dipsas. Her name she deriveth from her calling. Never, in a sober state, does she behold dark Memnon's daughter with her steeds of roseate hue. Learned in magic and in the Ææan arts, she hath power to turn the swiftest rivers and make them flow backwards towards their sources. Skilled is she in the virtues of herbs, of linseed twisted on the cabalistic wheel, and of hippomanes. She needeth but to wish, and lo, the heavens grow dark with heavy clouds; to wish again, and lo, the heavens shine in purest splendour. I have seen, Wouldst thou believe it, blood drip from the stars. I have seen red blood overspread the face of the moon.

I suspect that she, living though she be, flies through the shadows of the night, and that her hag's body is covered with feathers. That is what I suspect, and such is the report. In her eyes shines a double pupil whence rays of fiery light dart forth. She calleth forth the dead from the graves, our grandsires and great-grandsires. At the sound of her incantations, the solid earth doth open. She delighteth to profane the chastity of the marriage bed, and her poisoned tongue is not lacking in eloquence. Chance, on a day, made me a witness of her lessons. I was able, thanks to our double doors, to hear unseen. Thus, then, she spake:

"Dost know, my fair one, that yesterday thou didst

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please the eye of one of our young favourites of fortune? He spied thee and his eyes never wandered from thy face. And whom, indeed, wouldst thou fail to attract? Thou yieldest in loveliness to none. But, alas, thy raiment is not worthy of thy beauty. Would thou wert rich as thou art fair. Win thou riches, and I shall no more be poor. The star of Mars in opposition hath been unkindly to thee; but Mars hath departed; and now Venus, the protectress of thy sex, hath taken his place. See how favourable to thee his advent is. A wealthy lover desireth thee and is fain to know what thou dost lack. His face and figure as thine own are fair, and if he fain would buy thy charms, so shouldst thou purchase his."

The girl blushed as she heard this. "Modesty," the crone went on," becometh a fair cheek, but ’tis useless, save when feigned. Real modesty is nearly always harmful. When, with downcast eyes, thou gazest modestly on thy bosom, look at none save in proportion to the price he offereth. Maybe, when Tatius was king, the heavy Sabine dames refused to give themselves to more men than one. Nowadays Mars employs our gallants in foreign wars; but Venus reigns in the City of her beloved Æneas. Enjoy yourselves, my pretty ones. She is chaste whom none hath courted. Or, if coyness doth not hold her back, she herself maketh the first advances. Come now, efface these frowns that delve their lines upon thy brow; with those wrinkles many a failing will be removed. ’Twas with a bow that Penelope tested the strength of her young lovers; and that bow, the index of their prowess, was of horn. Time hurries on, by us unheeded. It fleets away even as a river whose waters ever flow. Bronze is made bright by rubbing; what availeth fair apparel, if it be not worn. The palace that is tenantless decays beneath the moss that moulders it. So beauty, if there be none to enjoy, waxeth swiftly old. Nor do one or two lovers suffice. The more there be, the greater is the pay, and the more readily obtained.

Rich is the booty that falls to the hoary wolves who seek their prey from a whole flock. Now tell me, what dost thou get from this poet of thine save his latest verses? A few thousand verses, such is the coin in which thy lover payeth. The god of poesy himself, robed in a mantle gold inwrought, touches the chords of a golden lyre. Let him who hath gold to give thee be greater in thy sight than great Homer himself. Mark my words, it does a man good to give. Scorn not the slave who has bought his freedom. ’Tis no crime to have thy foot marked with chalk, nor shouldst thou suffer thyself to be dazzled with the lordly display of a long line of ancestors. Begone and take thy forefathers with thee, thou needy lover. And how now? Here is another who would fain lie a night with thee, because he is comely. Ah, no indeed! Let him go and beg some money for thee from his own admirer.

"Be not over-exacting whilst thou art spreading thy nets, for fear lest the prey should escape thee; but once he is in thy power, fleece him as thou wilt. Simulated love is often no bad thing. Let him think thou lovest. But see thou love not for nothing. Sometimes withhold thy favours. As for a pretext, why, maybe thy head doth ache, or else the festival of Isis compels thee to abstain; but hold not thyself too long aloof, lest he grow used to the lack of thee, or lest love, by dint of being rebuffed, at length grow cold. Let thy door, closed to the needy, be open to the rich. Let the laments of the rejected reach the ears of the favoured lover. If thou woundest thy lover, be wroth with him as if he had hurt thee first. Forestall his upbraidings with thine own; but indulge not over-long thine anger. Anger too far prolonged hath oft engendered hate. Let thine eyes learn the secret of shedding tears at will and moistening thy cheek. If thou wouldst deceive, fear not to forswear thyself. Venus makes the gods deaf to the plaints of the deceived lover. Take into thy service a clever

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man and maid who may indicate what presents you would welcome. Let them also beg a few things for themselves. If they ask a little of many, each separate ear of corn will soon make up a rick. Let thy sister and thy mother and thy nurse lay thy lover under contribution. There will soon be a goodly heap of booty, when several hands labour at the task. Thou lackest a pretext for soliciting a present? Show him a cake and say it is thy birthday.

"Above all, never let thy lover think that he hath no rival; love, without rivalry, endureth not. Let him see upon thy bed the traces of another possessor of thy charms, and on thy neck the marks of his lascivious embraces; and above all, let him behold the gifts his rival hath bestowed on thee. If he brings nought with him, tell him of the novelties they are showing in the Via Sacra. When thou hast dragged from him a goodly tale of presents, bid him not despoil himself entirely, but ask him for a loan--that thou wilt ne'er repay. Let thy tongue beguile him, to conceal thy scheming; caress him, the more surely to lure him to his doom. Sweet honey hides the subtlest poison. If thou followest my lesson, which long experience has taught me, if thou tossest not my words to the winds, how oft, when I am dead, wilt thou pray the gods to let the earth lie lightly upon me."

Thus she was speaking, when my shadow betrayed me. ’Twas with difficulty I kept myself from tearing her last grey hairs, her eyes that were shedding drunken tears, and her cheeks furrowed all over with wrinkles. "May the gods," I said, "reject thee, and send thee a miserable old age, endless winters and an everlasting thirst."