Sulpicia: indiscretion has its charms

Roman fresco (c. 53-79 CE) of a young woman with stylus and wax tablets, from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Found in Pompeii.

Roman fresco (c. 53-79 CE) from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Found in Pompeii. Probably not the poet Sulpicia, but an ancient woman with a writing implement, nonetheless.

Many women wrote poetry in ancient Rome, but the works of only one have survived. Six short poems written by Sulpicia, the daughter of the jurist and orator Servius Sulpicius Rufus, and the niece of the statesman and patron of the arts Valerius Messalla Corvinus, have survived, handed down as part of the Corpus Tibullianum, a collection of poems by Tibullus and other poets affiliated with Messalla. Sulpicia lived during the time of Augustus.

The above description adapted from Diatoma and The Handbook to life in Ancient Rome, by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins.


At last. It’s come. Love,
the kind that veiling
will give me reputation more
than showing my soul naked to someone.
I prayed to Aphrodite in Latin, in poems;
she brought him, snuggled him
into my bosom.
Venus has kept her promises:
let her tell the story of my happiness,
in case some woman will be said
not to have had her share.
I would not want to trust
anything to tablets, signed and sealed,
so no one reads me
before my love–
but indiscretion has its charms;
it’s boring
to fit one’s face to reputation.
May I be said to be
a worthy lover for a worthy love.

From Sulpicia: Six Poems. Translation copyright Lee Pearcy; all rights reserved.




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