From William A. Percy
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Latin elegiac poet. Apart from his own writings, a poor anonymous biography and references in Horace and Ovid furnish the only data on Tibullus' life. In the tradition of poetic lovers that the Latins borrowed from the Greeks, he complained of poverty and failed to gain Maecenas' patronage. Only the first two of the four books ascribed to Tibullus are actually his. Book One celebrates impartially his love for his mistress Delia and for his boyfriend Marathus. Book Two contains poems to another mistress, Nemesis. Occasional pieces in the two books honor his patron Massalla. The third bookcontains six brief poems by Sulpicia and poems about her that are perhaps by Tibullus himself. Quintilian termed Tibullus, who combined deceptive simplicity with refinement, the "most terse and elegant" of Latin elegists.

A frequent subject of Tibullus is the puer delicatus, the boy who, in the Hellenic tradition, would be young, handsome, and even girlish, that is to say, with none of the repellent coarseness of the adult male. But the Roman counterpart, or those of the Hellenistic monarchies, is cruel, unfaithful, and mercenary, closer to the Alexandrian or modem hustler or kept boy than to the classical eromenos. Marathus, Tibullus' love, conforms to type: endowed with beautiful hair and a fair complexion, somewhat femininely preoccupied with his physical appearance and the use of cosmetics. He torments his lovers, lies to them, and is unfaithful to them. At one point Tibullus considers terminating the unhappy affair with its psychologically sado-masochistic overtones. Yet Marathus himself, when he falls in love and is repaid in the same coin, is reduced to childish whining and tearful bewilderment. In all these respects Roman pederasty as depicted by Tibullus, like that of Alexandria, came nearer than did the Hellenic antecedents to certain modern unedifying variants of the homoerotic liaison.

P. Murgatroyd, "Tibullus and the Puer Delicatus," Acta Classics, 20 (19771, 105-19; Amy Richlin, The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

William A. Percy

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