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that set Propertius apart from the other writers in that genre. A century after Ovid, the critic and educator Quintilian revisited the canon of elegists: ‘Of our elegiac poets Tibullus seems to me to be the most terse and elegant. There are, however, some who prefer Propertius. Ovid is more lascivious than either, while Gallus is more severe.’ Quintilian was not often at a loss for words (this quote comes from a work in twelve books), but he seems here to be unable to capture a salient quality for Propertius in one or two adjectives, as he can easily do for the others. He simply says that ‘some prefer Propertius’, without being able to put his finger on quite why they do prefer him. To see what it is that has always made Propertius the choice of a select but discerning readership, it might be useful to contrast the responses of two modern poets in English who were obsessed with his work. Between them they illustrate several of the problems that have always stood in the way of appreciating Propertius and the intense appeal he holds for those who are willing to work through them.

A. E. Housman and Ezra Pound both had significant encounters with Propertius in their youth, though for very different reasons. The two poets may have briefly overlapped in Edwardian London, but they came from different worlds and were on antithetical trajectories. Housman spent his early life as a private scholar working on difficult technical problems in Latin poetry until he had accrued such an international reputation as a classical scholar that he was appointed a senior professor of Latin, first at University College London and later at Cambridge. He always regarded his own verse as a private pursuit which was secondary to his scholarship. Pound, by contrast, gave up a very brief career in academia as quickly as possible in order to cultivate a flamboyant public life as a poet. Both men were attracted by the particular difficulties and beauties of Propertius, which they sought to address in ways that were diametrically opposed.


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