Translated by A. S. Kline © 2004 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
You ask where I think the name of May comes from?
Its origin’s not totally clear to me.
As a traveller stands unsure which way to go,
Seeing the paths fan out in all directions,
So I’m not sure which to accept, since it’s possible
To give different reasons: plenty itself confuses.
The goddesses are in conflict. Polyhymnia begins,
While the others silently consider her speech.
‘After the first Chaos, as soon as the three primary forms
Were given to the world, all things were newly re-configured:
Earth sank under its own weight, and drew down the seas,
But lightness lifted the sky to the highest regions:
And the sun and stars, not held back by their weight,
And you, you horses of the moon, sprang high.
But Earth for a long time wouldn’t yield to Sky,
Nor the other lights to the Sun: honours were equal.
One of the common crowd of gods, would often dare
To sit on the throne that you, Saturn, owned,
None of the new gods took Ocean’s side,
And Themis was relegated to the lowest place,
Until Honour, and proper Reverence, she
Of the calm look, were united in a lawful bed.
From them Majesty was born, she considers them
Her parents, she who was noble from her day of birth.
She took her seat, at once, high in the midst of Olympus,
Conspicuous, golden, in her purple folds.
Modesty and Fear sat with her: you could see
All the gods modelling their expression on hers.
At once, respect for honour entered their minds:
The worthy had their reward, none thought of self.
This state of things lasted for years in heaven,
Till the elder god was banished by fate from the citadel.
Earth bore the Giants, a fierce brood of savage monsters,
Who dared to venture against Jupiter’s halls:
She gave them a thousands hands, serpents for legs,
And said: “Take up arms against the mighty gods.”
They set to piling mountains to the highest stars,
And to troubling mighty Jupiter with war:
He hurled lightning bolts from the heavenly citadel,
And overturned the weighty mass on its creators.
These divine weapons protected Majesty well,
She survived, and has been worshipped ever since:
So she attends on Jove, Jove’s truest guardian,
And allows him to hold the sceptre without force.
Both worshipped her, and so did others in later ages.
She maintains fathers and mothers in due honour,
She keeps company with virgins and young boys,
She burnishes the lictor’s rods, axes, and ivory chair,
She rides high in triumph behind the garlanded horses.’
Mistress of the curved lyre, approved her words.
Urania continued: all the rest were silent,
And hers was the only voice that could be heard.
And wrinkled age was valued at its true worth.
The young waged work of war, and spirited battle,
Holding to their posts for the sake of the gods:
Age, inferior in strength, and unfit for arms,
Often did the country a service by its counsel.
The Senate was only open to men of mature age,
And Senators bear a name meaning ripe in years.
The elders made laws for the people, and specific
Rules governed the age when office might be sought:
Old men walked with the young, without their indignation,
And on the inside, if they only had one companion.
Who dared then to talk shamefully in an older man’s
Presence? Old age granted rights of censorship.
Romulus knew this, and chose the City Fathers
From select spirits: making them the rulers of the City.
So I deduce that the elders (maiores) gave their own title
To the month of May: and looked after their own interests.
To the old men” and his grandson may have yielded.
The following month, June, named for young men (iuvenes),
Gives no slight proof of the honour intended.’
Then Calliope herself, first of that choir, her hair
Unkempt and wreathed with ivy, began to speak:
He who encircles the outspread earth with flowing water.
The story is that their daughter Pleione was united
Among them, Maia’s said to have surpassed her sisters
In beauty, and to have slept with mighty Jove.
She bore Mercury, who cuts the air on winged feet,
On the cypress-clothed ridge of Mount Cyllene.
A land thought older than the moon, rightly worship him.
Evander, in exile from Arcadia, came to the Latin fields,
And brought his gods with him, aboard ship.
Where Rome, the capital of the world, now stands
There were trees, grass, a few sheep, the odd cottage.
When they arrived, his prophetic mother said:
“Halt here! This rural spot will be the place of Empire.”
The Arcadian hero obeyed his mother, the prophetess,
And stayed, though a stranger in a foreign land.
He taught the people many rites, but, above all, those
Faunus half-goat, you’re worshipped by the girded Luperci,
When their strips of hide purify the crowded streets.
But you, Mercury, patron of thieves, inventor
Of the curved lyre, gave your mother’s name to this month.
Nor was this your first act of piety: you’re thought
To have given the lyre seven strings, the Pleiads’ number.’
Calliope too ended: and her sisters voiced their praise.
And so? All three were equally convincing.
May the Muses’ favour attend me equally,
And let me never praise one more than the rest.
Let the work start with Jove. The star of her who tended
Jove’s cradle is visible on the night of the first:
Placed in the sky for the gift of milk to him.
Hid Jupiter amongst the woods, they say.
She owned a she-goat noted among the Dictaean flocks,
With lofty horns curved over its back,
The beautiful mother of two kids,
With udders such as Jove’s nurse should have.
It gave milk to the god, but broke a horn
On a tree, and was shorn of half its charm.
The nymph lifted the horn, then wrapped it
In fresh herbs, and carried it to Jove, full of fruit.
When he’d gained the heavens, occupied his father’s throne,
And none was greater than unconquered Jove,
He made his nurse a star, and her horn of plenty
That still keeps its mistress’ name, stars as well.
The Kalends of May saw an altar dedicated
To the Guardian Lares, with small statues of the gods.
Curius vowed them: but time destroys many things,
And the long ages wear away the stone.
The reason for their epithet of Guardian,
Is that they keep safe watch over everything.
They support us, and protect the City walls,
And they’re propitious, and bring us aid.
A dog, carved from the same stone, used to stand
At their feet: why did it stand there with the Lares?
Both guard the house: both are loyal to their master:
Crossroads are dear to the god, and to dogs.
Both the Lar and Diana’s pack chase away thieves:
And the Lares are watchful, and so are dogs.
I looked for statues of the twin gods,
But they’d fallen with the weight of years:
The City has a thousand Lares, and Spirits
Of the Leader, who gave them to the people,
And each district worships the three divinities.
Why say this here, when the month of August
Rightfully owns that subject of my verse?
For the moment the Good Goddess is my theme.
There’s a natural height that gives its name to a place:
They call it The Rock: it’s the bulk of the Aventine.
Remus waited there in vain, when you, the birds
Of the Palatine, granted first omens to his brother.
There the Senate founded a temple, hostile
To the sight of men, on the gently sloping ridge.
It was dedicated by an heiress of the ancient Clausi,
Who’d never given her virgin body to a man:
Livia restored it, so she could imitate her husband
And follow his lead in everything.
Raising her light, behind her horses of dawn,
A cold north-westerly will smooth the wheat-tips,
White sails will put out from Calabrian waters.
And when shadowy twilight leads on the night,
No part of the whole herd of Hyades is unknown.
The radiant head of Taurus glitters with seven flames,
That Greek sailors named the Hyades, from ‘rain’ (hyein):
Some think they nursed Bacchus, others believe
Atlas was not yet standing there, his shoulders weighed
By Olympus, when Hyas, known for his beauty, was born:
Aethra, of Ocean’s lineage, gave birth to him
And the nymphs at full term, but Hyas was born first.
When the down was new on his cheeks, he scared away
The frightened deer, in terror, and a hare was a good prize.
But when his courage had grown with his years, he dared
To close with wild boar and shaggy lionesses,
And while seeking the lair of a pregnant lioness, and her cubs,
He himself was the bloodstained victim of that Libyan beast.
His mother and his saddened sisters wept for Hyas,
And Atlas, soon doomed to bow his neck beneath the pole,
But the sisters’ love was greater than either parent’s:
It won them the heavens: Hyas gave them his name.
‘Mother of the flowers, approach, so we can honour you
With joyful games! Last month I deferred the task.
You begin in April, and pass into May’s span:
One claims you fleeing, the other as it comes on.
Since the boundaries of the months are yours,
And defer to you, either’s fitting for your praise.
This is the month of the Circus’ Games, and the victors’ palm
The audience applauds: let my song accompany the Circus’ show.
Tell me, yourself, who you are. Men’s opinions err:
You’ll be the best informant regarding your own name.’
So I spoke. So the goddess responded to my question,
(While she spoke, her lips breathed out vernal roses):
Of my name, became corrupted in the Latin language.
I was Chloris, a nymph of those happy fields,
Where, as you’ve heard, fortunate men once lived.
It would be difficult to speak of my form, with modesty,
But it brought my mother a god as son-in-law.
It was spring, I wandered: Zephyrus saw me: I left.
He followed me: I fled: he was the stronger,
And Boreas had given his brother authority for rape
By daring to steal a prize from Erechtheus’ house.
Yet he made amends for his violence, by granting me
The name of bride, and I’ve nothing to complain of in bed.
I enjoy perpetual spring: the season’s always bright,
The trees have leaves: the ground is always green.
I’ve a fruitful garden in the fields that were my dower,
Fanned by the breeze, and watered by a flowing spring.
My husband stocked it with flowers, richly,
And said: “Goddess, be mistress of the flowers.”
I often wished to tally the colours set there,
But I couldn’t, there were too many to count.
As soon as the frosted dew is shaken from the leaves,
And the varied foliage warmed by the sun’s rays,
The Hours gather dressed in colourful clothes,
And collect my gifts in slender baskets.
The Graces, straight away, draw near, and twine
Wreaths and garlands to bind their heavenly hair.
I was first to scatter fresh seeds among countless peoples,
Till then the earth had been a single colour.
I was first to create the hyacinth, from Spartan blood,
And a lament remains written on its petals.
You too, Narcissus, were known among the gardens,
Unhappy that you were not other, and yet were other.
From whose wounds beauty springs, through me?
Mars too, if you’re unaware, was brought to birth
By my arts: I pray unknowing Jupiter never knows it.
Her help, when motherless Minerva was born.
She went to Ocean to complain of her husband’s deeds:
Tired by the effort she rested at my door.
Catching sight of her, I said: “Why are you here, Saturnia?”
She explained what place she sought, and added
The reason. I consoled her with words of friendship:
She said: “My cares can’t be lightened by words.
If Jove can be a father without needing a wife,
And contains both functions in a single person,
Why should I despair of becoming a mother with no
Husband, and, chaste, give birth though untouched by man?
I’ll try all the drugs in the whole wide world,
And search the seas, and shores of Tartarus.”
Her voice flew on: but my face showed doubt.
She said: “Nymph, it seems you have some power.”
Three times I wanted to promise help, three times my tongue
Was tied: mighty Jupiter’s anger was cause for fear.
She said: “Help me, I beg you, I’ll conceal the fact,
And I’ll call on the powers of the Stygian flood as witness.”
“A flower, sent to me from the fields of Olenus,
Will grant what you seek,” I replied, “unique, in all my garden.
He who gave it to me said: ‘Touch a barren heifer with this,
And she’ll be a mother too.’ I did, and she was, instantly.”
With that, I nipped the clinging flower with my thumb,
Touched Juno, and as I touched her breast she conceived.
Pregnant now, she travelled to Thrace and the northern shores
Of Propontis: her wish was granted, and Mars was born.
Mindful of his birth that he owed to me, he said:
“You too must have a place in Romulus’ City.”
Perhaps you think I only rule over tender garlands.
But my power also commands the farmers’ fields.
If the crops have flourished, the threshing-floor is full:
If the vines have flourished, there’ll be wine:
If the olive trees have flourished, the year will be bright,
And the fruit will prosper at the proper time.
If the flower’s damaged, the beans and vetch die,
And your imported lentils, Nile, die too.
Wine too, laboriously stored in the vast cellars,
Froths, and clouds the wine jars’ surface with mist.
Honey’s my gift: I call the winged ones who make
Honey, to the violets, clover and pale thyme.
I carry out similar functions, when spirits
Run riot, and bodies themselves flourish.’
I admired her, in silence, while she spoke. But she said:
‘You may learn the answer to any of your questions.’
‘Goddess’, I replied: ‘What’s the origin of the games?’
I’d barely ended when she answered me:
‘Rich men owned cattle or tracts of land,
Other means of wealth were then unknown,
So the words ‘rich’ (locuples) from ‘landed’ (locus plenus),
And ‘money’ (pecunia) from ‘a flock’ (pecus), but already
Some had unlawful wealth: by custom, for ages,
Public lands were grazed, without penalty.
Folk had no one to defend the common rights:
Till at last it was foolish to use private grazing.
This licence was pointed out to the Publicii,
The plebeian aediles: earlier, men lacked confidence.
The case was tried before the people: the guilty fined:
And the champions praised for their public spirit.
A large part of the fine fell to me: and the victors
Instituted new games to loud applause. Part was allocated
To make a way up the Aventine’s slope, then steep rock:
Now it’s a serviceable track, called the Publician Road.’
I believed the shows were annual. She contradicted it,
And added further words to her previous speech:
‘Honour touches me too: I delight in festivals and altars:
We’re a greedy crowd: we divine beings.
Often, through their sins, men render the gods hostile,
And, fawning, offer a sacrifice for their crimes:
Often I’ve seen Jupiter, about to hurl his lightning,
Draw back his hand, when offered a gift of incense.
But if we’re ignored, we avenge the injury
With heavy penalties, and our anger passes all bounds.
Remember Meleager, burnt up by distant flames:
The reason, because Diana’s altar lacked its fires.
Remember Agamemnon: the same goddess becalmed the fleet:
A virgin, yet still she twice avenged her neglected hearth.
When your terrified horses were tearing you apart.
It would take too long to tell of neglect punished by loss.
I too was once neglected by the Roman Senate.
What to do, how to show my indignation?
What punishment to exact for the harm done me?
Gloomily, I gave up my office. I ceased to protect
The countryside, cared nothing for fruitful gardens:
The lilies drooped: you could see the violets fade,
And the petals of the purple crocus languished.
Often Zephyr said: ‘Don’t destroy your dowry.’
But my dowry was worth nothing to me.
The olives were in blossom: wanton winds hurt them:
The wheat was ripening: hail blasted the crops:
The vines were promising: skies darkened from the south,
And the leaves were brought down by sudden rain.
I didn’t wish it so: I’m not cruel in my anger,
But I neglected to drive away these ills.
The Senate convened, and voted my godhead
An annual festival, if the year proved fruitful.
I accepted their vow. The consuls Laenas
And Postumius celebrated these games of mine.
I was going to ask why there’s greater
Wantonness in her games, and freer jests,
But it struck me that the goddess isn’t strict,
And the gifts she brings are agents of delight.
The drinker’s brow’s wreathed with sewn-on garlands,
And a shower of roses hides the shining table:
The drunken guest dances, hair bound with lime-tree bark,
And unaware employs the wine’s purest art:
The drunken lover sings at beauty’s harsh threshold,
And soft garlands crown his perfumed hair.
Nothing serious for those with garlanded brow,
No running water’s drunk, when crowned with flowers:
While your stream, Achelous, was free of wine,
No one as yet cared to pluck the rose.
Bacchus loves flowers: you can see he delights
In a crown, from Ariadne’s chaplet of stars.
The comic stage suits her: she’s never: believe me,
Never been counted among the tragic goddesses.
The reason the crowd of whores celebrate these games
Is not a difficult one for us to discover.
The goddess isn’t gloomy, she’s not high-flown,
She wants her rites to be open to the common man,
And warns us to use life’s beauty while it’s in bloom:
The thorn is spurned when the rose has fallen.
Why is it, when white robes are handed out for Ceres,
Flora’s neatly dressed in a host of colours?
Is it because the harvest’s ripe when the ears whiten,
But flowers are of every colour and splendour?
She nods, and flowers fall as her hair flows,
As roses fall when they’re scattered on a table.
There’s still the lights, whose reason escaped me,
Till the goddess dispelled my ignorance like this:
‘Lights are thought to be fitting for my day,
Because the fields glow with crimson flowers,
Or because flowers and flames aren’t dull in colour,
And the splendour of them both attracts the eye:
Or because the licence of night suits my delights,
And this third reason’s nearest to the truth.’
‘There’s one little thing besides, for me to ask,
If you’ll allow,’ I said: and she said: ‘It’s allowed.’
‘Why then are gentle deer and shy hares
Caught in your nets, not Libyan lionesses?’
She replied that gardens not woodlands were her care,
And fields where no wild creatures were allowed.
All was ended: and she vanished into thin air: yet
Her fragrance lingered: you’d have known it was a goddess.
Scatter your gifts, I beg you, over my breast,
So Ovid’s song may flower forever.
In less than four nights, Chiron, the semi-human
Joined to the body of a tawny horse, reveals his stars.
Pelion is a mountain facing south in Haemonian Thessaly:
The summit’s green with pines, the rest is oak.
Chiron, Philyra’s son, lived there. An ancient rocky cave
Remains, inhabited once, they say, by that honest old one.
He’s thought to have exercised those hands, that one day
Sent Hector to his death, in playing on the lyre.
Hercules visited him, most of his labours done,
Only the last few tasks remaining for the hero.
You could have viewed Troy’s twin fates, together:
One the young scion of Aeacus, the other Jove’s son.
Chiron received young Hercules hospitably,
And asked him the reason for his being there.
He replied, as Chiron viewed his club and lion-skin, saying:
‘The man is worthy of these weapons, the weapons of the man!’
Nor could Achilles, daringly, restrain his hands,
From touching that pelt shaggy with bristles.
While the old one handled the arrows, encrusted with poison,
A shaft fell from the quiver and lodged in his left foot.
Chiron groaned, and drew its blade from his body:
Hercules, and the Thessalian youth groaned too.
Though the Centaur himself mixed herbs culled
From Pagasean hills, treating the wound with ointments,
The gnawing venom defied his remedies, and its evil
Penetrated his body, to the marrow of his bones.
The blood of the Lernean Hydra fused with
The Centaur’s blood, giving no chance for aid.
Achilles, drenched in tears, stood before him as before
A father, just as he would have wept for Peleus dying.
Often he caressed the feeble fingers with loving hands,
(The teacher had his reward for the character he’d formed),
And he kissed him, often, and often, as he lay there, cried:
‘Live, I beg you: don’t leave me, dear father!’
The ninth day came, and you, virtuous Chiron,
Wrapped your body in those fourteen stars.
Curved Lyra would follow Centaurus, but the path’s
Not clear: the third night will be the right time.
Scorpio’s mid-part will be visible in the sky
When we speak of the Nones dawning tomorrow.
When Hesperus, the Evening Star, has shown his lovely face
Three times, from that day, and the defeated stars fled Phoebus,
It will be the ancient sacred rites of the Lemuria,
When we make offerings to the voiceless spirits.
The year was once shorter, the pious rites of purification, februa,
Were unknown, nor were you, two-faced Janus, leader of the months:
Yet they still brought gifts owed to the ashes of the dead,
The grandson paid respects to his buried grandfather’s tomb.
It was May month, named for our ancestors (maiores),
And a relic of the old custom still continues.
When midnight comes, lending silence to sleep,
And all the dogs and hedgerow birds are quiet,
He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods,
Rises (no fetters binding his two feet)
And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers,
Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence.
After cleansing his hands in spring water,
He turns and first taking some black beans,
Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing:
‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’
He says this nine times without looking back: the shade
Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen.
Again he touches water, and sounds the Temesan bronze,
And asks the spirit to leave his house.
When nine times he’s cried: ‘Ancestral spirit, depart,’
He looks back, and believes the sacred rite’s fulfilled.
Why the day’s so called, and the origin of the name,
Escapes me: that’s for some god to discover.
Potent wand: you’ve often seen Stygian Jove’s halls.
The caduceus-bearer came, at my prayer. Learn then,
The reason for the name: the god himself revealed it.
When Romulus had sunk his brother’s spirit in the grave,
And justice was done to the over-hasty Remus,
Sprinkled the calcined bones with their tears.
Then at twilight they returned home grieving,
And flung themselves on the hard couch, just as it lay.
The bloodstained ghost of Remus seemed to stand
By the bed, speaking these words in a faint murmur:
‘Behold, I who was half, the other part of your care,
See what I am, and know what I was once!
If the birds had signalled the throne was mine,
I might have been highest, ruling over the people,
Now I’m an empty phantom, gliding from the fire:
That is what remains of Remus’ form!
Ah, where is Mars, my father? If you once spoke
The truth, it was he who sent us the she-wolf’s teats.
The rash hand of a citizen undid what the wolf saved.
O how gentle she was in comparison!
Savage Celer, wounded, may you yield your cruel spirit,
And bloodstained as I am, sink beneath the earth.
My brother never wished it: his love equals mine:
He offered, at my death, all he could, his tears.
Beg him by your weeping, by your nurturing,
To signal a day of celebration in my honour.’
They stretched out their arms at this, longing to embrace him,
But the fleeting shade escaped their clutching hands.
When the phantom fleeing dispelled their sleep,
They both told the king of his brother’s words.
Romulus, complying, called that day the Remuria,
When reverence is paid our buried ancestors.
Over time the harsh consonant at the beginning
Of the name, was altered into a soft one:
And soon the silent spirits were called Lemures too:
That’s the meaning of the word, that’s its force.
And the ancients closed the temples on these days,
As you see them shut still at the season of the dead.
It’s a time when it’s not suitable for widows or virgins
To wed: she who marries then won’t live long.
And if you attend to proverbs, then, for that reason too,
People say unlucky women wed in the month of May.
Though these three festivals fall at the same time,
They are not observed on three consecutive days.
You’ll be disappointed if you look for Boeotian Orion,
On the middle of these three days. I must sing of those stars.
Were journeying together, with Mercury.
It was the hour when yoked oxen drag back the plough,
And the lamb kneels down to drink the full ewe’s milk.
By chance, an old man, Hyrieus, farmer of a tiny plot,
Saw them, as he stood in front of his meagre dwelling:
And spoke to them: ‘The way’s long, little of day is left,
And my threshold’s welcoming to strangers.’
He stressed his words with a look, inviting them again:
They accepted his offer, hiding their divinity.
They entered the old man’s cottage, black with smoke:
There was still a flicker of fire in yesterday’s log.
He knelt and blew the flames higher with his breath,
And drew out broken brands, and chopped them up.
Two pots stood there: the smaller contained beans,
The other vegetables: each boiling beneath its lid.
While they waited, he poured red wine with a trembling hand:
The god of the sea accepted the first cup, and when
He’d drained it, he said: ‘Let Jupiter drink next.’
Hearing the name of Jupiter the old man grew pale.
Recovering his wits, he sacrificed the ox that ploughed
His meagre land, and roasted it in a great fire:
And he brought out wine, in smoke-streaked jars,
That he’d once stored away as a young boy.
Promptly they reclined on couches made of rushes,
And covered with linen, but still not high enough.
Now the table was bright with food, bright with wine:
The bowl was red earthenware, with cups of beech wood.
Jupiter’s word was: ‘If you’ve a wish, ask it:
All will be yours.’ The old man said calmly:
‘I had a dear wife, whom I knew in the flower
Of my first youth. Where is she now, you ask?
An urn contains her. I swore to her, calling
On you gods, “You’ll be the only wife I’ll take.”
I spoke, and kept the oath. I ask for something else:
I wish to be a father, and not a husband.’
The gods agreed: All took their stand beside
The ox-hide – I’m ashamed to describe the rest –
Then they covered the soaking hide with earth:
Ten months went past and a boy was born.
Hyrieus called him Urion, because of his conception:
The first letter has now lost its ancient sound.
He grew immensely: Latona took him for a friend,
He was her protector and her servant.
Careless words excite the anger of the gods:
He said: ‘There’s no wild creature I can’t conquer.’
The Goddess, who bore the twins, with its curved dart:
Orion opposed it. Latona set him among the shining stars,
And said: ‘Take now the reward you’ve truly earned.’
But why are Orion and the other stars rushing to leave
The sky, and why does night contract its course?
Why does bright day, presaged by the Morning Star,
Lift its radiance more swiftly from the ocean waves?
Am I wrong, or did weapons clash? I’m not: they clashed,
Mars comes, giving the sign for war as he comes.
The Avenger himself descends from the sky
To view his shrine and honours in Augustus’ forum.
The god and the work are mighty: Mars
Could not be housed otherwise in his son’s city.
The shrine is worthy of trophies won from Giants:
From it the Marching God initiates fell war,
When impious men attack us from the East,
Or those from the setting sun must be conquered.
The God of Arms sees the summits of the work,
And approves of unbeaten gods holding the heights.
He sees the various weapons studding the doors,
Weapons from lands conquered by his armies.
Here he views Aeneas bowed by his dear burden,
And many an ancestor of the great Julian line:
There he views Romulus carrying Acron’s weapons
And famous heroes’ deeds below their ranked statues.
And he sees Augustus’ name on the front of the shrine,
And reading ‘Caesar’ there, the work seems greater still.
He had vowed it as a youth, when dutifully taking arms:
With such deeds a Prince begins his reign.
Loyal troops standing here, conspirators over there,
He stretched his hand out, and spoke these words:
Gives due cause for this war, if I avenge for both,
Come, Mars, and stain the sword with evil blood,
And lend your favour to the better side. You’ll gain
A temple, and be called the Avenger, if I win.’
So he vowed, and returned rejoicing from the rout.
Nor is he satisfied to have earned Mars that name,
But seeks the standards lost to Parthian hands,
That race protected by deserts, horses, arrows,
Inaccessible, behind their encircling rivers.
The nation’s pride had been roused by the deaths
Of the Crassi, when army, leader, standards all were lost.
The Parthians kept the Roman standards, ornaments
Of war, and an enemy bore the Roman eagle.
That shame would have remained, if Italy’s power
Had not been defended by Caesar’s strong weapons.
He ended the old reproach, a generation of disgrace:
The standards were regained, and knew their own.
What use now the arrows fired from behind your backs,
Your deserts and your swift horses, you Parthians?
You carry the eagles home: offer your unstrung bows:
Now you no longer own the emblems of our shame.
Rightly the god has his temple, and title twice of Avenger,
And the honour earned has paid the avowed debt.
Quirites, celebrate solemn games in the Circus!
Though that stage scarcely seems worthy of a mighty god.
You’ll catch sight of the Pleiades, the whole throng together,
When there’s one night still left before the Ides.
Then summer begins, as I find from reliable sources,
And spring’s tepid season comes to an end.
The day before the Ides is marked by Taurus lifting
His starry muzzle. The sign’s explained by a familiar tale.
Jupiter, as a bull, offered his back to a Tyrian girl,
And carried horns on his deceptive forehead.
Europa grasped his hair in her right hand, her drapery
In her left, while fear itself lent her fresh grace.
The breeze filled her dress, ruffled her blonde hair:
Sidonian girl, like that, you were fit to be seen by Jove.
Often girlishly she withdrew her feet from the sea,
Fearing the touch of the leaping billows:
Often the god knowingly plunged his back in the waves,
So that she’d cling to his neck more tightly.
Reaching shore, the god was no longer a bull,
Jupiter stood there, without the horns.
The bull entered the heavens: you, Sidonian girl, Jove
Impregnated, and now a third of the world bears your name.
Others say the sign is Io, the Pharian heifer,
Turned from girl to cow, from cow to goddess.
On this day too, the Vestals throw effigies made of rushes,
In the form of men of old, from the oak bridge.
Some accuse our ancestors of a wicked crime,
Putting to death men over sixty years of age.
There’s an old story, that when the land was ‘Saturnia’,
Jove, prophetically, said something like this:
‘Throw two people into the Tuscan river,
As a sacrifice to the sickle-bearing Ancient.’
Until Tirynthian Hercules came to our fields,
The sad rite was performed each year, as at Leucas:
He threw Quirites of straw into the water:
And now they throw effigies in the same way.
Some think that the young men used to hurl
Feeble old men from the bridges, to steal their votes.
Tell me the truth, Tiber. Your shores pre-date the City,
You should know the true origin of the rite.
Tiber, crowned in reeds, lifted his head from mid-stream,
And opened his mouth to speak these words, hoarsely:
‘I saw this place when it was grassland, without walls:
Cattle were scattered grazing on either bank,
And Tiber whom the nations know and fear,
Was disregarded then, even by the cattle.
Arcadian Evander is often named to you:
A stranger, he churned my waters with his oars.
Hercules came here too, with a crowd of Greeks,
(My name was Albula then, if I remember true)
Evander, hero from Pallantium, received him warmly,
And Cacus had the punishment he deserved.
The victor left, taking the cattle, his plunder from Erythea
With him, but his friends refused to go any further.
Most of them had come from deserted Argos:
They established their hopes, and houses, on our hills.
Yet sweet love for their native land often stirred them,
And one of them, in dying, gave this brief command:
“Throw me into the Tiber, that carried by Tiber’s waves
My spiritless dust might journey to the Inachian shore.”
That funeral duty laid on him, displeased his heir:
The dead stranger was buried in Italian ground,
And a rush effigy thrown into the Tiber instead,
To return to his Greek home over the wide waters.’
Tiber spoke, entering a moist cave of natural stone,
While you, gentle waters, checked your flow.
Arbiter of war and peace to gods on high, and those below:
You who make your way with winged feet: who delight
In the sounding lyre, and the gleaming wrestling:
You through whose teaching the tongue learnt eloquence:
On the Ides, the Senate founded for you, a temple facing
The Circus: since then today has been your festival.
All those who make a living trading their wares,
Offer you incense, and beg you to swell their profits.
There’s Mercury’s fountain close to the Capene Gate:
It’s potent, if you believe those who’ve tried it.
Here the merchant, cleansed, with his tunic girt,
Draws water and carries it off, in a purified jar.
With it he wets some laurel, sprinkles his goods
With damp laurel: those soon to have new owners.
And he sprinkles his hair with dripping laurel too,
And with that voice, that often deceives, utters prayers:
‘Wash away all the lies of the past,’ he says,
‘Wash away all the perjured words of a day that’s gone.
If I’ve called on you as witness, and falsely invoked
Jove’s great power, hoping he wouldn’t hear:
If I’ve knowingly taken the names of gods and goddesses,
In vain: let the swift southerlies steal my sinful words,
And leave the day clear for me, for further perjuries,
And let the gods above fail to notice I’ve uttered any.
Just grant me my profit, give me joy of the profit I’ve made:
And make sure I’ll have the pleasure of cheating a buyer.’
Mercury, on high, laughs aloud at such prayers,
Remembering how he himself stole Apollo’s cattle.
But, I beg you, Mercury, to respond to a better prayer,
And tell me when Phoebus enters Gemini, the Twins.
He said: ‘When you see as many days remaining
In the month as the labours Hercules completed.’
‘Tell me,’ I replied, ‘the origin of the sign.’
The god explained its origin, eloquently:
‘The Tyndarides, brothers, one a horseman, the other
Their own, both sworn to be Leucippus’ sons-in-law.
Love urges one set of twins to demand restitution,
The other to refuse it: each fights for a common cause.
The Oebalids could have escaped by taking flight,
But it seemed dishonourable to conquer by their speed.
There’s a spot clear of trees, a good place for a fight:
They took their stand there (its called Aphidna).
Pierced in the chest by Lynceus’ sword, a wound
He’d not expected, Castor fell to the ground.
Pollux rushed to avenge him, and with his spear
Ran Lynceus through, where neck meets shoulder.
Idas attacked him then, and was only repulsed by Jove’s
Lightning, yet without, they say, his weapon being torn from him.
And the heights of heaven were opening for you,
Pollux, when you cried: ‘Father, hear my words:
That heaven you grant me alone, share between us:
Half will be more, then, than the whole of your gift.’
He spoke, and redeemed his brother, by their changing
Places alternately: both stars aid the storm-tossed vessel.
Though they’ve a place in the calendar here as well.
Tonight the stars of Erigone’s dog set: the origin
Of the constellation’s explained elsewhere.
The next dawn belongs to Vulcan: they call it
Tubilustria: when trumpets he makes are purified.
The next date’s marked by four letters, QRCF, which, interpreted,
Signify either the manner of the sacred rites, or the flight of the king.
I’ll not neglect you either, Fortuna Publica, of a powerful nation,
To whom a temple was dedicated on this following day.
When the sun’s been received by Amphitrite’s rich waters,
The coming dawn will hide Bootes from your sight,
And next day the constellation of Hyas will be seen.