The Roman form of love elegy may be traced back to Catullus who was among a group of poets who had emerged from the patriotic epic and dramatic tradition to write poetry on topics of personal significance. Catullus was one of the neoteric poets -- a group of young people whom Cicero criticized. Typically, of independent means, they avoided the customary political career and, instead, spent their time devoted to poetry.
Other names mentioned by later writers in the formation of the elegy tradition are Calvus and Varro of Atax, but it's Catullus' work that survives. [Source: Latin Love Elegy, by Robert Maltby]
The Lovers in Roman Love Elegy
Don't expect to read only maudlin sentiments from love-struck would-be lovers. There are some vicious attacks and other shocking surprises in store for you. You can learn a lot about Roman customs from the Roman love elegy poets. Much biographical information about the poets comes from these personal poems, although there is a constant danger of assuming the persona of the poem is the same as the poet.
Douglas Galbi's "understanding Ovid's satirical Roman love elegy" mentions that the elegy writers have been described as "beta" males -- vs. alpha males, who are "whiny, submissive, sexually desperate." The woman the poet seeks is a dura puella 'hard (-hearted) girl' whom the poet wants to see share his torment. [See: "Her Turn to Cry: The Politics of Weeping in Roman Love Elegy," by Sharon L. James; TAPhA (Spring, 2003), pp. 99-122.]
Cornelius GallusQuinitilian lists Gallus, Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid -- only, as writers of Latin love elegy. Only a few lines of Gallus' material have been found. Gallus didn't just write poetry, but after involvement in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C, he served as prefect of Egypt. He committed politically-motivated suicide in 27/26 B.C. and his works were burned.
PropertiusPropertius and Tibullus were contemporaries. Propertius was probably born around 57 B.C., in or around the Umbiran area of Assisi. His education was the normal one for an equestrian, but instead of following a political career, Propertius turned to poetry. Propertius joined the circle of Maecenas, along with Virgil and Horace. Propertius died by A.D. 2.
Propertius' main love interest is Cynthia, a name thought to be a pseudonym for Hostia. [Source: Latin Love Elegy, by Robert Maltby]