Scanned from Joseph J. Mooney (tr.), The Minor Poems of Vergil: Comprising the Culex, Dirae, Lydia, Moretum, Copa, Priapeia, and Catalepton (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1916).

The Female Tavern Keeper

THIS piece is an invitation by a woman who keeps an inn and pleasure grounds to come in and eat and drink and spend the day merrily. Though not mentioned in the list of Vergil's minor works given by Donatus in his life, it is included in the list given by Servius; the MSS. ascribe it to Vergil and it is quoted as his by Charisius and Priscian, and Mico Levita (A.D. 825-853), the author of a Latin prosody, quotes line 17, as by Vergil. Such places of entertainment were common in the neighbourhood of Rome. Suetonius (Nero, 27) says: "As often as he dropped down the river to Ostia or sailed past the bay of Baiae, the inns set here and there along the banks and shores were got ready, and were notable from their eating-house brothel and the what-we-can-supply-you-with cry of matrons imitating female tavern keepers, and from different directions inviting him to put in to them."

THE hostess, Syrian woman she, her head
With Grecian head-band bound and skilled to move
Her pliant waist beneath the castanet,
Is dancing lewd and drunken in her inn
Ill-famed, at elbow shaking creaking reeds.
"How doth it please a wearied man to be
Away in summer dust in preference
To lying here upon my drinking couch?
For here are gardens, cells, and drinking cups,
With roses, flutes, guitars, and arbour cool
With shady thatch. And see! beneath a grot
Arcadian is a girl who sweetly chats;
In shepherd's mouth a rustic pipe doth sound.
And flattish wine there is, but lately poured
From pitch-cemented cask, and, rustling by,
A stream of water runs with murmur hoarse.
And violets as well there are and wreaths
Of golden flowers, and purple garlands twined
With yellow rose, and lilies gathered from
Her virgin river which the daughter of
A river god in wicker baskets brought.
And cheeses small there are, which baskets made
Of rushes dry. And waxen are the plums
From autumn days. And chestnuts, nuts as well,
And apples blushing sweetly; Ceres here
Is dainty, so is Bacchus, so is Love.
And ruddy mulberries there are, and grapes
In heavy bunches, from its stalk as well
The greenish cucumber doth hang. The hut
Has got a guardian armed with willow scythe,
With monstrous groin, but terrible he's not.
Then come thou hither, frequenter of cells,
Thy wearied little ass is sweating now,
So spare him, for the ass is Vesta's pet.
With frequent song the crickets now do burst
The trees, and now in varied cool retreat
The lizard lieth hid: if thou art wise,
Reclining swill from summer glasses now,
Or if thou art disposed to lift them, drain
Successive cups of crystal. Hither come,
Thou wearied man, and rest beneath the shade of vine,
Thy heavy head with rosy garland twine,
A tender damsel's lovely body with
Her face enjoying. Let him perish, him
To whom doth ancient prudishness belong!
Why sweetly smelling chaplets dost thou keep
For thankless clay? I Or dost thou wish those bones
To be o'erlaid by wreathèd stone? Then set
The wine and dice, and let him perish who
Doth care about to-morrow. Death your ear
Demands and says, 'I come, so live to-day.'" Last modified 31 May 1998. This page maintained by David Wilson-Okamura. Email your comments to