(No shame to say so: more to cover up.)
My Camenae called on her in prayer,
and Cytherea brought him to my heart.
Venus kept her promise: now she can tell
my tale of joy to those who don’t believe.
I hardly want to give this letter up
so no one else sees it before he does.
I’m glad I did it—why wear a prudish mask,
as if he wasn’t good enough for me!
-Sulpicia, Tibullus 3.13, translated by Anne Mahoney, Source
Sulpicia, daughter of Servius Sulpicius, probably lived during the reign of Emperor Augustus. We don’t have much evidence of her life other than what is in her poems, but we do know some things. Her father died sometime before she started writing poetry and she became the ward of her uncle, Messalla Corvinus. As her uncle fancied himself a patron of the arts, he gathered around him a circle of authors and poets. As a result, Sulpicia had access to Tibullus, Horace, possibly Ovid, and several others and eventually became part of what is known as “the Messalla circle.”
All of Sulpicia’s poems make some reference to love or her beloved. Like many other Roman poets, she did not use her beloved’s real name, but gave him the name Cerinthus. She directs most of her poems to her beloved, though as we know, these would have been written for a wider audience. Her poems describe the strength of her love, her joy at getting to spend her birthday in Rome with Cerinthus instead of out in the country, her concern that she cared more for him than he for her, and her frustration when he fell for a prostitute.
Unsurprisingly, several scholars argued that these poems were actually the work of a man writing in a woman’s voice, because a woman clearly couldn’t be learned enough to make all of those obscure references or write poetry well. They have by now mostly been discredited. In fact, one scholar, Judith Hallett, has made the argument that an additional five poems should be considered her work.
*There is a single fragment [link] attributed to another female poet who lived 100-150 years later whose name was also Sulpicia. Other than this fragment, we know of this Sulpicia (known as Sulpicia II in contrast to Sulpicia I) through references to her in the works of others, Martial in particular. She seems to have celebrated the sexual love between herself and her husband while also being a strict moralist.
Judith Hallett, "The Eleven Elegies of the Augustan Poet Sulpicia," in Women Writing Latin: Women Writing in Latin in Roman Antiquity, Late Antiquity, and the Early Christian Era, edited by Laurie J. Churchill, Phyllis Rugg Brown, and Jane E. Jeffrey
Translations of Sulpicia's Poetry:
Sulpicia - Wikipedia