Notes to Propertius, Elegiae 3.23

ergo  adverb
therefore.  The poem begins in medias res, suggesting that it is the continuation of a longer story (though the poems before and after it are unconnected).

tam adverb
so, so much, so very.

doceo, -ere, -ui, -tum
teach, inform, tell; doctae: perfect passive participle = learned, educated. In this first of many examples of personification throughout the poem, the poet gives his (nobis = dative of possession) tabellae human attributes; it has been suggested that they are metaphors for slave girls.  

pereo, -ire, -ii, -itum
be lost; perish, die; periere: the contracted form of perierunt.    

quibus: may be understood as the locative ablative with scripta or the dative case after pariter.    

pariter adverb
equally, at the same time; the adverb stresses the loss – both the tablets and their contents  (scripta) are gone.

bonus, -a, -um
competent, expert; effective; virtuous; worthy, excellent; obliging, loyal; sound, reliable. Here, used as a substantive = good things, treasures. The word acquired a multitude of meanings from its common use; the poet uses it twice more (lines 10 and 14). Is the meaning always the same?

has: its antecedent is tabellae.
quondam indefinite adverb
once, formerly.

manus, -us f.
hand, band; manibus: ablative of means.
detero, -terere, -trivi, -tritum
rub away, wear away; polish; i.e. by using the blunt end of the stylus to smooth out the writing impressed in the wax.

qui: its antecedent is usus.
signo (1)
mark, stamp, seal; understand non signatas [tabellas] as the subject of the verb habere.  

iubeo, -ere, iussi, iussum
command, order, bid; followed by indirect statement (signatas . . .  habere).

fides, -ei f.
trustworthiness; belief; guarantee. Fidem is the direct object of habere with ambiguous meaning: did the tablets carry marks that made them recognizable to their recipients and therefore could be trusted to belong to the poet?  Or did the unsealed message, open to all, suggest innocence and therefore trustworthiness? Note the emphatic position of the word at the end of the line, paralleled in line 9 by fideles.

illae: the antecedent is tabellae. 

iam adverb
already; now; indeed; sine me: the tablets no longer need the poet.

nosco, -ere, novi, notum
get to know; learn; in the perfect tense: know; when followed by an infinitive = know how to. Norant is the contracted form of noverant (note the tense).

placo (1)
calm, appease; note the alliteration with puellas. The poet had more than one mistress whose demands the tablets satisfied.

quidam, quaedam, quiddam indefinite pronoun
a certain, sort of, a. One of seven indefinite pronouns or adjectives used throughout the poem in connection with the tabellae; they reinforce the poet’s uncertainty about the whereabouts of his tablets and their current use.

disertus, -a, -um
eloquent, fluent, explicit; this exaggeration heightens the sense of his loss.

 figo, -ere, fixi, fixum
pierce, fix, attach; fixum is the perfect passive participle.
carus, -a, -um
dear, precious, beloved; illas caras refers to the tabellae in terms usually reserved for loved ones. Note the interlocked word order (synchysis) of illas (A) fixum (B) caras (A) aurum (B). The word order not only reinforces the idea of fixum, but also provides a contrast to the parallel construction of the following line: vulgari (A) buxo (A) sordida (B) cera (B).

efficio, -ficere, -feci, -fectum
make, cause to be.    

vulgaris, -e
common; vulgari buxo is a locative ablative.  

buxus, -i m.

sordidus,-a, -um
dirty, squalid; mean, poor.

cera, -ae f.
wax. Note the synchysis of form in the word order: vulgari (A) buxo (B) sordida (A) cera (B). To others the tabellae are shabby wood and wax; to the poet they are treasures. How does this polarity come about?

qualiscumque, qualecumque qualescumque indefinite adjective
such as they are; of whatever kind/sort; understand tabelae, the subject of mansere

semper: repeated in the next line, this adverb reinforces the special virtues of his tablets (fideles), often found lacking in lovers.  

maneo, -ere, mansi, mansurum
remain; mansere is a contracted form of manserunt.

effectus, -us m. from efficio (see above)
performance, effects. 

promereo, -ere, -ui, -itum
earn, merit, deserve; promeruere is a contracted form of promeruerunt.

forsitan (contraction of fors sit an)
perhaps, perchance
mando (1)
entrust; the subject is haec [verba]. Note the tense of fuerunt mandata. The synchysis (interlocked word order) visually places the writings on the tablets: haec (A) illis (B) mandata (A) tabellis (B).

irascor, -i, iratus/a sum
be angry.  Note the change of voice from the male author to his girlfriend. Were these messages from a single puella or several? The broken syntax and rapid language suggest the fervor of the message. 

quoniam adverb
since, seeing as; quoniam’s is colloquial ellipsis for es (as is visast in the next line).

lentus, -a, -um
slow; sluggish; substantive adjective in the vocative case. The pentameter line is slowed by the double consonant (m) and the following spondee, aurally reflecting her meaning.

moror, -ari, -atus/a sum
delay; loiter.

nescio quis, nescio quid indefinite pronoun (sometimes written as one word)
someone/thing or other. This dismissive reference makes it clear that she finds the idea inconceivable.

visast = visa est (colloquial elision); in the passive videri can mean be seen or seem.

formosior, comparative form of formosus, -a, -um
beautiful, handsome.

crimen, -inis n.
charge, accusation, reproach; what is the effect of the litotes non bona?

fictus, -a, -um
false; translate with crimina or as an adverb.

iacio, -ere, ieci, iactum
cast; mention; let fall; notice the tense.

cesso (1)
relax, be idle, rest. The implication here is that the lovers will ignore their duties; in the following line the non stulta puella may be envisioning something more active.

una adverb

hospitium, -ii, n.
a welcome; hospitality.

tota nocte: ablative of duration.

Amor, oris m.
Venus’ son, the god of love. This is the only use of myth or divinity in the poem; why might the puella speak in these terms?

volens, -entis adjective, present active participle of volo
desiring, being willing. This is a scholarly conjecture, as all the manuscripts (mss.) preserve the more puzzling dolens sorrowing, causing sorrow. Do you agree with the change?

reperio, -ire, repperi, repertum
devise, find, discover; quaecumque (understand verba) is an indefinite pronoun in the neuter plural accusative, the direct object of reperit.

stultus, -a, -um
foolish, silly, stupid. Propertius’ word order creates a playful tension: the object quaecumque is placed beside the subject volens; non stulta, which could modify the subject or the neuter plural object, is placed beside puella.

garrulus, -a, -um
talkative, babbling; the adjective modifies puella.

blandus, -a, -um
flattering, fawning, charming.    

dicitur: a scholarly substitution; the mss. preserve ducitur. Do you agree?

dolus, -i m.
guile, deceit, trick. The poet’s cynical assessment is based on much experience. 

me miserum = accusative of exclamation for emotional effect. 

his: refers to tabellae.    

aliquis, aliquid indefinite adjective
someone, something; modifies avarus. Without warning the poet turns to what he suspects is the sad fate of his tabellae.

ratio, -onis f.
account, calculation, register.

avarus, -a, -um
greedy, miserly, covetous; a substantive adjective. It is a trope of elegy to oppose the lover to the businessman.

durus, -a, -um
miserly, unfeeling, uncultured; one ms. preserves diras: awful, dreadful, the exaggerated  response of the love poet to business. Inter is placed between the adjective and noun, where the poet suspects his tabellae have been set.   

ephemeris, ephemeridis f.
journal, diary; ledger, business record; literally “day-books.”  A rarely used Greek word (see also Ovid, Amores 1.12.24). One suggestion is that the new owner of the tabellae is a Greek merchant; Richardson adds that the tabellae will now be put away until needed.

quas…quis = respectively the tablets and the individual who would return them.  This couplet mirrors the couplet in lines 7-8: line 21 discusses gold in relation to the tablets, line 22 notes their ordinary and common nature. Propertius' un-Roman commitment to love and poetry make them more valuable to him than gold.

refero, -ferre, -tuli, -latum
bring back; give back; this is a condition of fact introduced by si : the perfect subjunctive (rettulerit) in the conditional clause, the future (donabitur) in the conclusion.

dono (1)
remit; present, bestow. The subject is either (ali)quis or the verb is being used impersonally, followed by auro (ablative case). Read the line aloud metrically; what effect does the poet achieve with rhythm and word order?

pro preposition + ablative
instead of; in front of.

divitiae, -arum f. pl.
wealth; riches.

lignum -i, n.
wood, firewood.

retineo, -ere, retinui, retentum
keep, retain; retenta is the perfect passive participle.

eo, -ire, ivi and ii, -itum
go; i is imperative, 2nd person singular.

citus, -a, -um
quick; modifies puer (a common form of address to a Roman slave, regardless of his age); best translated as an adverb here.    

propono, -ponere, -posui,-positum
display; post. The direct object is haec [verba]. Propertius provides verbal evidence (the graffiti at Pompeii visual) that the Romans commonly used public surfaces to advertise (not unlike us).

Esquiliae, -iarum, f. pl.
the Esquiline hill; Esquiliis is locative. One of the original seven hills of Rome, it became a residential area when Augustus extended the pomerium of the city. The Esquiline contained the gardens of Maecenas, a renowned patron of poets including Propertius.   

habito (1)
live in, inhabit; the subject of the verb is dominum, in indirect statement after scribe.