Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/454

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PROPELLANTS—PROPERTIUS

slips (propagines) of plants for the purpose of reproduction, hence to generate, reproduce and generally to extend or increase. It is in this sense that “propagation ” is used of the spreading or dissemination of doctrines, ideas, opinions, &c. The term “ propaganda, ” often wrongly used as a plural word, means properly an organization or association for the spreading of particular beliefs or opinions, and is an adaptation of the name of that committee of cardinals in the Roman curia which supervises foreign missions, the full title being Congregatio de propaganda fide.


PROPELLANTS, a generic name for explosives used for propelling projectiles from guns and other firearms, in order to distinguish them from the more violent explosives used in shells, mines, &c., to produce a blasting effect. Some explosive substances can be used both as propellants and as bursters, as for example gunpowder, and some of the ingredients of a propellant may be similar, though differently proportioned and combined, to those of a “high explosive;” (For details see Exvrosrvns; GUNPOWDER; CORDITE, &c.)


PROPERTIUS, SEXTUS (fl. 30-15 B.C.), the greatest of the elegiac poets of Rome, was born of a well-to-do Umbrian family at or near Asisium (Assisi), the birthplace also of the famous St Francis. We learn from Ovid that Propertius was his senior, but also his friend and companion; and that he was third in the sequence of elegiac poets, following Gallus, who was born in 69 B.C., and Tibullus, and immediately preceding Ovid himself, who was born in 43 B.C. We shall not then be far wrong in supposing that he was born about 50 B.C. His early life was full of misfortune. He lost his father prematurely; and after the battle of Philippi and the return of Octavian to Rome, Propertius, like Virgil and Horace, was deprived of his estate to provide land for the veterans, but, unlike them, he had no patrons at court, and he was reduced from opulence to comparative indigence. The widespread discontent which the confiscations caused provoked the insurrection generally known as the bellum perusinum from its only important incident, the fierce and fatal resistance of Perugia, which deprived the poet of another of his relations, who was killed by brigands while making his escape from the lines of Octavian. The loss of his patrimony, however, thanks no doubt to his mother's providence, did not prevent Propertius from receiving a superior education. After, or it may be, during its completion he and she left Umbria for Rome; and there, about the year 34 B.C., he assumed the garb of manly freedom. He was urged to take up a pleader's profession; but, like Ovid, he found in letters and gallantry a more congenial pursuit. Soon afterwards he made the acquaintance of Lycinna, about whom we know little beyond the fact that she subsequently excited the jealousy of Cynthia, and was subjected to all her powers of persecution (vexandi). This passing fancy was succeeded by a serious attachment, the object of which was the famous “ Cynthia.” Her real name was Hostia, and she was a native of Tibur. She was a courtesan of the superior class, somewhat older than Propertius, but, as it seems, a woman of singular beauty and varied accomplishments. Her own predilections led her to literature; and in her society Propertius found the intellectual sympathy and encouragement which were essential for the development of his powers. Her character, as depicted in the poems, is not an attractive one; but she seems to have entertained a genuine affection for her lover. The intimacy began in 28 and lasted till 23 B.C. These six years must not, however, be supposed to have been a period of unbroken felicity. Apart from minor disagreements an infidelity on Propertius's part excited the deepest resentment in Cynthia; and he was banished for a year. The quarrel was made up about the beginning of 25 B.C.; and soon after Propertius published his first book of poems and inscribed it with the name of his mistress. Its publication placed him in the first rank of contemporary poets, and amongst other things procured him admission to the literary circle of Maecenas. The intimacy was renewed; but the old enchantment was lost. Neither Cynthia nor Propertius was faithful to the other. The mutual ardour gradually cooled; motives of prudence and decorum urged the discontinuance of the Connexion; and disillusion changed insensibly to disgust. Although this separation might have been expected to be hnal, it is not certain that it was so. It is true that Cynthia, whose health appears to have been Weak, does not seem to have survived the separation long. But a careful study of the seventh poem of the last book, in which Propertius gives an account of a dream of her which he had after her death, leads us to the belief that they were once more reconciled, and that in her last illness Cynthia left to her former lover the duty of carrying out her wishes with regard to the disposal of her effects and the arrangements of her funeral. Almost nothing is known of the subsequent history of the poet. He was alive in 16 B.C., as some allusions in the last book testify. And two passages in the letters of the younger Pliny mention a descendant of the poet, one Passennus Paullus. Now in 18 B.C. Augustus carried the Leges Juliae, which offered inducements to marriage and imposed disabilities upon the celibate. Propertius then may have been one of the first to comply with the new enactments. He would thus have married and had at least one child, from whom the contemporary of Pliny was descended. Propertius had a large number of friends and acquaintances, chiefly literary, belonging to the circle of Maecenas. Amongst these may be mentioned Virgil, the epic poet Ponticus, Bassus (probably the iambic poet of the name), and at a later period Ovid. We hear nothing of Tibullus, nor of Horace, who also never mentions Propertius. This reciprocal silence is probably significant. In person Propertius was pale and thin, as was to be expected in one of a delicate and even sickly constitution. He was very careful about his personal appearance, and paid an almost foppish attention to dress and gait. He was of a somewhat voluptuous and self-indulgent temperament, which shrank from danger and active exertion. He was anxiously sensitive about the opinion of others, eager for their sympathy and regard, and, in general, impressionable to their influence. His over-emotional nature passed rapidly from one phase of feeling to another; but the more melancholy moods predominated. A vein of sadness runs through his poems, sometimes breaking out into querulous exclamation, but more frequently Venting itself in gloomy reflections and prognostications. He had fits of superstition which in healthier moments he despised.

The poems of Propertius, as they have come down to us, consist of four books containing 4046 lines of elegiac verse. The first book, or Cynthia, was published separately and early in the poet's literary life. It may be assigned to 25 B.C. The dates of the publication of the rest are uncertain, but none of them was published before 24 B.C., and the last not before 16 B.C. The unusual length of the second one (1402 lines) has led Lachmann and other critics to suppose that it originally consisted of two books, and they have placed the beginning of the third book at ii. ro, a poem addressed to Augustus, thus making five books, and this arrangement has been accepted by several editors.

The subjects of the poems are threefold: (rv) amatory and personal, mostly regarding Cynthia-seventy-two (sixty Cynthia elegies), of which the last book contains three; (2) political and social, on events of the day-thirteen, including three in the last book; (3) historical and antiquarian-six, of which five are in the last book.

The writings of Propertius are noted for their difficulty and their disorder. The workmanship is unequal, curtness alternating with redundancy, and carelessness with elaboration. A desultory sequence of ideas, an excessive vagueness and indirectness of expression, a peculiar and abnormal latinity, a constant tendency to exaggeration, and an immoderate indulgence in learned and literary allusions-all these are obstacles lying in the way of a study of Propertius. But those who have the will and the patience to surmount them will find their trouble well repaid. For power and range of imagination, for freshness and vividness of conception, for truth and originality of presentation, few Roman poets can compare with him when he is at his best. And this is when he is carried out of himself, when the discordant qualities of his genius are, so to say, fused together