IS she not fair, is she not accomplished? Have I not long hungered to possess her? Yet she, yes, she of all women in the world, I have held in my arms and to no purpose. To my shame I confess it, I have lain like a lifeless hulk upon her couch, strengthless and still. Despite my longings, despite my loved one's longings, I could not stir myself into life. In vain about my neck she twined her ivory arms, dear arms, more white than Thracian snows. In vain her tongue she thrust and thrust against my tongue, and slipped her amorous thigh beneath my own; vainly she lavished on me all her sweetest names, called me her conqueror and said the things that women ire wont to say in such a pass; it was as though my members had been rubbed with chilling hemlock and knew no more the way to do their duty. Like to a trunk I lay, like to a lifeless statue, a useless mass, so that indeed she might have doubted whether I were in sooth a man, or but the simulacrum of a man.
What shall I do when I am old, supposing that I live so long, if I fail so lamentably now that I am young? Alas, I blush for my youth. I am young, I am a man, and I could not prove to my mistress that I was either. She left her bed, even as the holy priestess that watches the everlasting flame of Vesta, or as a chaste sister saying farewell to a beloved brother. Howbeit, it was but lately that I paid my debt twice over with the fair-haired Chloe; thrice with the white-skinned Pitho; thrice again with Libas; and, by Corinna urged, nine times in one short night I fought with honour in the lists of love.
Was it some magic philtre that benumbed my limbs to-day? Was it some incantation, or some poisonous herb that put me in such a sorry plight? Was it some witch that wrote my name on the crimson wax and plunged a needle into my liver? The corn, stricken by a witch's curse, soon dwindles into sterile grass, the springs run dry, the acorn falls from the oak, the grape from the vine and the fruit drops from the tree, though no one shake the bough. Since this is so, why should not magic numb the nerves? Perchance ’twas magic that turned me into ice. And then, think on the shame of the thing! Yes, my very shame robbed me of my strength. Shame was the secondary cause of my undoing.
How fair, withal, was she on whom I was free to look, and whom I was free to touch, for I touched her, even as the shift she wore. At that sweet contact the King of Pylos would have grown young again, Tithonus would have felt strange promptings for his years. In her I found a woman; she found not in me a man. To what fresh vows, to what new prayer shall I have recourse to-day? Doubtless the gods regret they ever gave me such a prize, seeing the shameful use I made of it.
I longed with feverish longing to be admitted to her house; I was admitted; to kiss her, and I kissed her; to lie with her, I lay with her. What availed me my good fortune? To be a king and wield no sceptre? Like a
miser in the midst of wealth, I owned my riches, but I could not use them. Thus was the prying Tantalus consumed with thirst, with water all around; thus saw the fruit on which he ne'er could lay his hand; thus in the morning, the husband leaves his wife in order to go stainless to the altar of the gods.
Maybe, you'll say, she did not shower on me kisses most passionate and most sweet; she did not do her utmost to excite me. The stoutest oaks, the hardest adamant, the sternest rocks would have been moved by her caresses. She would have moved any living thing, anything you could dub a man. But then, alas, I was neither living nor a man. What pleasure would the songs of Phemius bring to ears that could not hear? What pleasure would a picture give to sightless Thamyris?
What delights, withal, I had secretly promised myself, what different ways of enjoying her had I imagined. And yet my body, shame on it, was like a dead thing, more drooping than a rose of yesterday. And look at it now, and high time it is, see how it is coming back to life again; see how it is asking to be up and doing, to get to work once more. Why are you not overcome with shame, thou vilest part of me? That was how you made a fool of me before, promising what you did not fulfil. Through you my mistress was deceived, through you I found myself a defaulter, through you I suffered the most painful affront, the most grievous damage.
And yet my mistress disdains not to incite me with her dainty hand. But seeing that all her arts were vain, that my body, forgetful of its former prowess, would give no sign of life, cried, "Why do you play the fool with me? Who asked you, madman that you are, to come to bed with me against your will? Or has some enchantress of Ææa, with her needle and her wool, bewitched you? Or have you been spending your strength on some other woman?"
So saying, she leapt from the bed with nothing on but
her flimsy shift, and fled away bare-footed. And, as she would not have her servants know she had come unscathed from the combat, she went and laved herself with water to dissemble the affront.
At non formosa est, at non bene culta puella,