In the second poem of Propertius’ fourth book, the form-shifting deity Vertumnus claims that he is suited to any role that he is associated with because he can appear convincingly as a girl or a man: indue me Cois: fiam non dura puella; / meque uirum sumpta quis neget esse toga? (‘dress me in Coan silk, I shall be a gentle maiden: and who would say that I am not a man when I don the toga?’, 4.2.23–4). Later in Propertius 4.9, another gender ambiguous character, Hercules, while trying to gain entry into the shrine of the Bona Dea, boasts that he had woven and performed a handmaiden's service (4.9.47–50):
idem ego Sidonia feci seruilia palla
officia et Lydo pensa diurna colo;
mollis et hirsutum cinxit mihi fascia pectus,
et manibus duris apta puella fui.
I have also done the tasks of a slave-girl in a Sidonian gown
and worked at the daily burden of the Lydian distaff.
A soft breastband has surrounded my shaggy chest,
and with my hard hands I was a fitting girl.
Scholars have noted that the language used by Propertius to depict gender inversion in these episodes has profound implications for understanding the generic complexity of the poet's new, more aetiological, fourth book. DeBrohun points out that, when Hercules recalls the soft (mollis
) breastband on his hairy (hirsutum
) chest – a contrast further substantiated by his claim that he had become a puella
with rough hands (manibus duris
) – the hero ‘softens’ his appearance in terms that resonate strongly with the Augustan poets’ expression of the terminology of Callimachean poetics, thus allowing readers to interpret this scene as an act of generic realignment that symbolizes Book 4's attempt to accommodate both grand topics and erotic narratives.