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.
‘Kindly mother of the twin Cupids, favour me!’ I said.
She glanced back towards her poet: ‘Why do you
Need me?’ she said. ‘Surely, you sing greater themes.
Have you some old wound lingering in your heart?’
‘Goddess, ‘ I replied, ‘you know my wound.’ She laughed,
And the sky immediately cleared in her direction.
‘Hurt or whole have I ever deserted your cause?
You were always my intent and my labour.
As was fitting in my youth, innocently I played,
And now my horses sweep out a wider field:
From ancient texts I sing the days and reasons,
And the star-signs that rise and set, beneath the Earth.
I’ve reached the fourth month, where you’re most honoured,
And you know, Venus, both month and poet are yours.’
The goddess, moved, touching my brow lightly
With Cytherean myrtle, said: ‘Finish what you’ve begun.’
I was inspired, and suddenly knew the origins of days:
Sail, my boat, while you can, while the breezes blow.
If there’s any part of the calendar that might stir you,
Caesar, in April you’ll find what should interest you.
This month you inherit from a mighty lineage,
Yours by adoption into a noble house.
When Romulus established the length of the year,
He recognised this, and commemorated your sires:
And as he granted first place among months to fierce Mars,
Being the immediate cause of his own existence,
So he granted the second month to Venus,
Tracing his descent from her through many generations:
Searching for the roots of his race, unwinding the rolls
Of the centuries, he came at last to his divine kin.
Next was Anchises, with whom Venus
Didn’t disdain to share the name of parent.
From them came Aeneas, whose piety was seen, carrying
Holy things, and a father as holy, on his shoulders, through the fire.
Now at last we come to the fortunate name of Iulus,
Through whom the Julian house claims Teucrian ancestors.
Race, being born in the depth of the woods.
Epytus was next to take your titles Alba.
Epytus gave his son Capys a Trojan name,
And the same was your grandfather Calpetus.
When Tiberinus ruled his father’s kingdom after him,
It’s said he drowned in a deep pool of the Tuscan river.
But before that he saw the birth of a son Agrippa,
And a grandson Remulus, who was struck by lightning.
Took their name. After him the realm passed to Proca.
Lausus fell to his uncle’s sword: Ilia pleased Mars,
You always claimed your parents were Mars and Venus,
And deserved to be believed when you said so:
And you granted successive months to your race’s gods,
So your descendants might not be in ignorance of the truth.
But I think the month of Venus took its title
From the Greek: she was named after the sea-foam.
Nor is it any wonder it was called by a Greek name,
Since the land of Italy was Greater Greece.
Evander had reached here with ships full of his people:
Alcides had arrived, both Greek by race.
(A club-bearing guest fed his cattle on Aventine grass,
And one of the great gods drank from the Albula):
Ulysses, the Neritian leader, also arrived: witness
Telegonus’s walls were already standing, and the walls
Of damp Tibur, constructed by Greek hands.
Halaesus from whom the Faliscan country derives its name.
Add to this, Antenor, who advised the Trojans to make peace,
Aeneas arrived later, after Antenor, bringing his gods
To our country, out of the flames of Ilium.
From whom the walls of Sulmo take their name,
Ah me, how far that place is from Scythia’s soil!
And I, so distant – but Muse, quell your complaints!
Holy themes set to a gloomy lyre are not for you.
Where does envy not reach? Venus, there are some
Who’d grudge you your month, and snatch it away.
They say Spring was named from the open (apertum) season,
Because Spring opens (aperit) everything and the sharp
Frost-bound cold vanishes, and fertile soil’s revealed,
Though kind Venus sets her hand there and claims it.
She rules the whole world too, and truly deserves to:
She owns a realm not inferior to any god’s,
Commands earth and heaven, and her native ocean,
And maintains all beings from her source.
She created the gods (too numerous to mention):
She gave the crops and trees their first roots:
She brought the crude minds of men together,
And taught them each to associate with a partner.
What but sweet pleasure creates all the race of birds?
Cattle wouldn’t mate, if gentle love were absent.
The wild ram butts the males with his horn,
But won’t hurt the brow of his beloved ewe.
The bull, that the woods and pastures fear,
Puts off his fierceness and follows the heifer.
The same force preserves whatever lives in the deep,
And fills the waters with innumerable fish.
That force first stripped man of his wild apparel:
From it he learned refinement and elegance.
It’s said a banished lover first serenaded
His mistress by night, at her closed door,
And eloquence then was the winning of a reluctant maid,
And everyone pleaded his or her own cause.
A thousand arts are furthered by the goddess: and the wish
To delight has revealed many things that were hidden.
Who dares to steal her honour of naming the second month?
Let such madness be far from my thoughts.
Besides, though she’s powerful everywhere, her temples
Crowded, doesn’t she hold most sway in our City?
Venus, Roman, carried weapons to defend your Troy,
And groaned at the spear wound in her gentle hand:
And she defeated two goddesses, by a Trojan judgement,
(Ah! If only they hadn’t remembered her victory!)
And she was called the bride of Assaracus’s son,
So that mighty Caesar would have Julian ancestors.
No season is more fitting for Venus than Spring:
In spring the earth gleams: in spring the ground’s soft,
Now the grass pokes its tips through the broken soil,
Now the vine bursts in buds through the swollen bark.
And lovely Venus deserves the lovely season,
And is joined again to her darling Mars:
In Spring she tells the curving ships to sail, over
Her native seas, and fear the winter’s threat no longer.
Perform the rites of the goddess, Roman brides and mothers,
And you who must not wear the headbands and long robes.
Remove the golden necklaces from her marble neck,
Remove her riches: the goddess must be cleansed, complete.
Return the gold necklaces to her neck, once it’s dry:
Now she’s given fresh flowers, and new-sprung roses.
She commands you too to bathe, under the green myrtle,
And there’s a particular reason for her command (learn, now!).
Naked, on the shore, she was drying her dripping hair:
The Satyrs, that wanton crowd, spied the goddess.
She sensed it, and hid her body with a screen of myrtle:
Doing so, she was safe: she commands that you do so too.
Learn now why you offer incense to Fortuna Virilis,
In that place that steams with heated water.
All women remove their clothes on entering,
And every blemish on their bodies is seen:
Virile Fortune undertakes to hide those from the men,
And she does this at the behest of a little incense.
Don’t begrudge her poppies, crushed in creamy milk
And in flowing honey, squeezed from the comb:
When Venus was first led to her eager spouse,
She drank so: and from that moment was a bride.
Please her with words of supplication: beauty,
Virtue, and good repute are in her keeping.
In our forefather’s time Rome lapsed from chastity:
And the ancients consulted the old woman of Cumae.
She ordered a temple built to Venus: when it was done
Venus took the name of Heart-Changer (Verticordia).
Loveliest One, always look with a benign gaze
On the sons of Aeneas, and guard their many wives.
As I speak, Scorpio, the tip of whose raised tail
Strikes fear, plunges down into the green waves.
When the night is past, and the sky is just beginning
To redden, and the birds, wet with dew, are singing,
And the traveller who’s been awake all night, puts down
His half-burnt torch, and the farmer’s off to his usual labours,
They who are said to be seven, but usually are six:
Because it’s true that six lay in the loving clasp of gods
And repents of it, and, alone of the sisters, hides from shame:
Or because Electra couldn’t bear to watch Troy’s destruction,
And so her face now is covered by her hands.
Let the sky turn three times on its axis,
Let the Sun three times yoke and loose his horses,
And the Berecyntian flute will begin sounding
Its curved horn, it will be the Idaean Mother’s feast.
Eunuchs will march, and sound the hollow drums,
And cymbal will clash with cymbal, in ringing tones:
Seated on the soft necks of her servants, she’ll be carried
With howling, through the midst of the City streets.
The stage is set: the games are calling. Watch, then,
Quirites, and let those legal wars in the fora cease.
I’d like to ask many things, but I’m made fearful
By shrill clash of bronze, and curved flute’s dreadful drone.
‘Lend me someone to ask, goddess.’ Cybele spying her learned
Granddaughters, the Muses, ordered them to take care of me.
‘Nurslings of Helicon, mindful of her orders, reveal
Why the Great Goddess delights in continual din.’
So I spoke. And Erato replied (it fell to her to speak about
Venus’ month, because her name derives from tender love):
‘Saturn was granted this prophecy: “Noblest of kings,
You’ll be ousted by your own son’s sceptre.”
The god, fearful, devoured his children as soon as
Born, and then retained them deep in his guts.
Often Rhea (Cybele) complained, at being so often pregnant,
Yet never a mother, and grieved at her own fruitfulness.
Then Jupiter was born (ancient testimony is credited
By most: so please don’t disturb the accepted belief):
A stone, concealed in clothing, went down Saturn’s throat,
So the great progenitor was deceived by the fates.
Now steep Ida echoed to a jingling music,
So the child might cry from its infant mouth, in safety.
Some beat shields with sticks, others empty helmets:
The thing was hidden, and the ancient deed’s still acted out:
The goddess’s servants strike the bronze and sounding skins.
They beat cymbals for helmets, drums instead of shields:
The flute plays, as long ago, in the Phrygian mode.’
The goddess ceased. I began: ‘Why do fierce lions
Yield untamed necks to the curving yoke for her?’
I ceased. The goddess began: ‘It’s thought their ferocity
Was first tamed by her: the testament to it’s her chariot.’
‘But why is her head weighed down by a turreted crown?
Is it because she granted towers to the first cities?’
She nodded. I said ‘Where did this urge to cut off
Their members come from?’ As I ended, the Muse spoke:
‘In the woods, a Phrygian boy, Attis, of handsome face,
Won the tower-bearing goddess with his chaste passion.
She desired him to serve her, and protect her temple,
And said: “Wish, you might be a boy for ever.”
He promised to be true, and said: “If I’m lying
May the love I fail in be my last love.”
He did fail, and in meeting the nymph Sagaritis,
Abandoned what he was: the goddess, angered, avenged it.
She destroyed the Naiad, by wounding a tree,
Since the tree contained the Naiad’s fate.
Attis was maddened, and thinking his chamber’s roof
Was falling, fled for the summit of Mount Dindymus.
Now he cried: “Remove the torches”, now he cried:
“Take the whips away”: often swearing he saw the Furies.
He tore at his body too with a sharp stone,
And dragged his long hair in the filthy dust,
Shouting: “I deserved this! I pay the due penalty
In blood! Ah! Let the parts that harmed me, perish!
Let them perish!” cutting away the burden of his groin,
And suddenly bereft of every mark of manhood.
His madness set a precedent, and his unmanly servants
Toss their hair, and cut off their members as if worthless.’
So the Aonian Muse, eloquently answering the question
I’d asked her, regarding the causes of their madness.
‘Guide of my work, I beg you, teach me also, where She
Was brought from. Was she always resident in our City?
‘The Mother Goddess always loved Dindymus, Cybele,
And Ida, with its pleasant streams, and the Trojan realm:
And when Aeneas brought Troy to Italian fields, the goddess
Almost followed those ships that carried the sacred relics.
But she felt that fate didn’t require her powers in Latium,
So she stayed behind in her long-accustomed place.
Later, when Rome was more than five centuries old,
And had lifted its head above the conquered world,
The priest consulted the fateful words of Euboean prophecy:
They say that what he found there was as follows:
‘The Mother’s absent: Roman, I command you: seek the Mother.
When she arrives, she must be received in chaste hands.’
The dark oracle’s ambiguity set the senators puzzling
As to who that parent might be, and where to seek her.
Apollo was consulted, and replied: ‘Fetch the Mother
Of all the Gods, who you’ll find there on Mount Ida.’
Noblemen were sent. Attalus at that time held
The Phrygian sceptre: he refused the Italian lords.
Marvellous to tell, the earth shook with long murmurs,
And the goddess, from her shrine, spoke as follows:
‘I myself wished them to seek me: don’t delay: send me,
Willingly. Rome is a worthy place for all divinities.’
Quaking with fear at her words, Attalus, said: ‘Go,
You’ll still be ours: Rome claims Phrygian ancestry.’
Immediately countless axes felled the pine-trees
Those trees pious Aeneas employed for his flight:
A thousand hands work, and the heavenly Mother
Soon has a hollow ship, painted in fiery colours.
She’s carried in perfect safety over her son’s waves,
And reaches the long strait named for Phrixus’ sister,
And the waves that break on Euboea’s Carystian shoals.
She passed the Icarian Sea, as well, where Icarus shed
His melting wings, giving his name to a vast tract of water.
Then leaving Crete to larboard, and the Pelopian waves
To starboard, she headed for Cythera, sacred to Venus.
And Aemonides forge their red-hot iron,
Then, skirting African waters, she saw the Sardinian
Realm behind to larboard, and reached our Italy.
She’d arrived at the mouth (ostia) where the Tiber divides
To meet the deep, and flows with a wider sweep:
All the Knights, grave Senators, and commoners,
Came to meet her at the mouth of the Tuscan river.
With them walked mothers, daughters, and brides,
And all those virgins who tend the sacred fires.
The men wearied their arms hauling hard on the ropes:
The foreign vessel barely made way against the stream.
For a long time there’d been a drought: the grass was dry
And scorched: the boat stuck fast in the muddy shallows.
Every man, hauling, laboured beyond his strength,
And encouraged their toiling hands with his cries.
Yet the ship lodged there, like an island fixed in mid-ocean:
And astonished at the portent, men stood and quaked.
And her beauty was in no way unequal to her nobility:
She was chaste, but not believed so: hostile rumour
Had wounded her, false charges were levelled at her:
Her elegance, promenading around in various hairstyles,
And her ready tongue, with stiff old men, counted against her.
Conscious of virtue, she laughed at the rumoured lies,
But we’re always ready to credit others with faults.
Now, when she’d stepped from the line of chaste women,
Taking pure river water in her hands, she wetted her head
Three times, three times lifted her palms to the sky,
(Everyone watching her thought she’d lost her mind)
Then, kneeling, fixed her eyes on the goddess’s statue,
And, with loosened hair, uttered these words:
“ Kind and fruitful Mother of the Gods, accept
A suppliant’s prayers, on this one condition:
They deny I’m chaste: let me be guilty if you condemn me:
Convicted by a goddess I’ll pay for it with my life.
But if I’m free of guilt, grant a pledge of my innocence
By your action: and, chaste, give way to my chaste hands.”
She spoke: then gave a slight pull at the rope,
(A wonder, but the sacred drama attests what I say):
The goddess stirred, followed, and, following, approved her:
Witness the sound of jubilation carried to the stars.
They came to a bend in the river (called of old
The Halls of Tiber): there the stream turns left, ascending.
Night fell: they tied the rope to an oak stump,
And, having eaten, settled to a tranquil sleep.
Dawn rose: they loosed the rope from the oak stump,
After first laying a fire and offering incense,
And crowned the stern, and sacrificed a heifer
Free of blemish, that had never known yoke or bull.
There’s a place where smooth-flowing Almo joins the Tiber,
And the lesser flow loses its name in the greater:
There, a white-headed priest in purple robes
Washed the Lady, and sacred relics, in Almo’s water.
The attendants howled, and the mad flutes blew,
And soft hands beat at the bull’s-hide drums.
Claudia walked in front with a joyful face,
Her chastity proven by the goddess’s testimony:
The goddess herself, sitting in a cart, entered the Capene Gate:
Fresh flowers were scattered over the yoked oxen.
Nasica received her. The name of her temple’s founder is lost:
Here Erato ceased. There was a pause for me to ask more:
I said: ‘Why does the goddess collect money in small coins?’
She said: ‘The people gave coppers, with which Metellus
Built her shrine, so now there’s a tradition of giving them.’
I asked why people entertain each other at feasts,
And invite others to banquets, more than at other times.
She said: ‘It’s because the Berecynthian goddess by good luck
Changed her house, and they try for the same luck, by their visits.’
I was about to ask why the Megalesia are the first games
Of the City’s year, when the goddess (anticipating) said:
‘She gave birth to the gods. They yielded to their mother,
And she was given the honour of precedence.’
Why then do we call those who castrate themselves, Galli,
When the Gallic country’s so far from Phrygia?’
‘Between green Cybele and high Celaenae,’ she said,
‘Runs a river of maddening water, called the Gallus.
Whoever drinks of it, is crazed: keep far away, all you
Who desire a sound mind: who drinks of it is crazed.’
‘They consider it no shame to set a dish of salad
On the Lady’s table. What’s the reason?’ I asked.
She replied: ‘It’s said the ancients lived on milk,
And on herbs that the earth produced of itself.
Now they mix cream cheese with pounded herbs,
So the ancient goddess might know the ancient food.’
When the stars have vanished, and the Moon unyokes
Her snowy horses, and the next dawn shines in the sky,
He’ll speak true who says: ‘On this day long ago
It was the third day of the games (I recall), and a certain
Elderly man, who was sitting next to me at the show, said:
‘This was the day when Julius Caesar crushed proud
Juba’s treacherous army, on the shores of Libya.
Caesar was my leader, under whom I’m proud
To have been a tribune: he ordered me so to serve.
I won this seat in war, and you in peace
Because of your role among the Decemvirs.’
We were about to speak again when a sudden shower
Parted us: Libra balanced there shed heavenly waters.
But before the last day completes the spectacle,
Orion with his sword will have sunk in the sea.
When the next dawn gazes on victorious Rome,
And the fleeing stars have given way to the Sun,
The Circus will be thronged with a procession of many gods,
And horses swift as the wind will compete for the winner’s prize.
Next, the Games of Ceres, there’s no need to say why:
Obvious: the bounteous promise and gifts of the goddess.
The bread of primitive humans was made of plants,
That the earth produced without being asked:
They sometimes plucked wild grasses from the turf,
Sometimes tender leaves from the treetops made a meal.
Later the acorn was known: its discovery was fine,
Since the sturdy oak offered a rich horde.
Ceres was first to summon men to a better diet,
Replacing their acorns with more nourishing food.
She forced bulls to bow their necks to the yoke:
So the deep-ploughed soil first saw the light.
Copper was prized then, iron was still hidden:
Ah! If only it could have been hidden forever.
Ceres delights in peace: pray, you farmers,
Pray for endless peace and a peace-loving leader.
Honour the goddess with wheat, and dancing salt grains,
And grains of incense offered on the ancient hearths,
And if there’s no incense, burn your resinous torches:
Ceres is pleased with little, if it’s pure in kind.
You girded attendants lift those knives from the ox:
Let the ox plough, while you sacrifice the lazy sow,
It’s not fitting for an axe to strike a neck that’s yoked:
Let the ox live, and toil through the stubborn soil.
Now, this part requires me to tell of a virgin’s rape:
You’ll recognise much you know, but part is new.
The Trinacrian land took its name from its shape:
It runs out in three rocky capes to the vast ocean.
It’s a place dear to Ceres. She owns, there, many cities,
Among them fertile Enna, with its well-ploughed soul.
Cool Arethusa gathered together the mothers of the gods:
And the yellow-haired goddess came to the sacred feast.
Her daughter, Persephone, attended by girls, as ever,
Wandered barefoot through Enna’s meadows.
In a shadow-filled valley there’s a place,
Wet by the copious spray from a high fall.
All the colours of nature were displayed there,
And the earth was bright with hues of various flowers.
On seeing it she cried: ‘Come here to me, my friends,
And each carry back, with me, a lapful of flowers.’
The foolish prize enticed their girlish spirits,
And they were too busy to feel weary.
One filled baskets woven from supple willow,
Another her lap, the next loose folds of her robe:
One picked marigolds: another loved violets,
And one nipped the poppy-heads with her nails:
Some you tempt, hyacinth: others, amaranth, you delay:
Others desire thyme, cornflowers or clover.
Many a rose was taken, and flowers without name:
Proserpine herself plucked fragile crocuses and white lilies.
Intent on gathering them, she gradually strayed,
And none of her friends chanced to follow their lady.
Dis, her uncle saw her, and swiftly carried her off,
And bore her on shadowy horses to his realm.
She called out: ‘Oh, dearest Mother, I’m being
Carried away!’ and tore at the breast of her robe:
Meanwhile a path opened for Dis, since his horses
Can scarcely endure the unaccustomed daylight.
When her crowd of friends had gathered their flowers,
They shouted: ‘Persephone, come for your gifts!’
But silence met their call: they filled the hills with their cries,
And sadly beat their naked breasts with their hands.
Ceres was startled by their grief (she’d just now come from Enna),
And cried instantly ‘Ah me! Daughter, where are you?’
She rushed about, distracted, as we’ve heard
The Thracian Maenads run with flowing hair.
As a cow bellows, when her calf’s torn from her udder,
And goes searching for her child, through the woods,
So the goddess groaned freely, and ran quickly,
As she made her way, Enna, from your plains.
There she found marks of the girlish feet, and saw
Where her familiar form had printed the ground:
Perhaps her wandering would have ended that day,
If wild pigs hadn’t muddied the trail she found.
And your grassy banks, Acis, on her way:
And you, Gelas, with whirlpools to be shunned.
And the place where the sea receives Symaethus’ waves,
And the caves of Cyclopes, scorched by their forges,
And the place who’s name’s derived from a curving sickle,
And the Mylae, that rich pasture for sacred cattle.
And where Eryx stands, ever open to the Western winds.
Those three projecting horns of her land.
Wherever she set foot, she filled the place with sad cries,
Like the bird mourning for her lost Itys.
Alternately she cried: ‘Persephone!’ and ‘My daughter’,
Calling and shouting both the names in turn,
But Persephone heard not Ceres, nor the daughter
Her mother, and both names by turns died away:
If she spied a shepherd or farmer at work,
Her cry was: ‘Has a girl passed this way?’
Now the colours faded, and the darkness hid
Everything. Now the wakeful dogs fell silent.
Who scorches the earth with his fiery breath:
There the goddess lit twin pine branches as torches:
And since then there are torches handed out at her rites.
There’s a cave, its interior carved from sharp pumice,
A place not to be approached by man or beast:
Reaching it she yoked serpents to her chariot,
And roamed the ocean waves above the spray.
And you, hounds of Scylla, wrecking monsters,
Shunned the wide Adriatic, and Corinth between two seas:
And so came to your harbour, country of Attica.
Here she sat for the first time, mournfully, on cold stone:
That stone the Athenians named the Sorrowful.
She lingered many days under the open sky,
Enduring both the moonlight and the rain.
Every place has its destiny: What’s now called
He was bringing acorns home, and berries he’d picked
From the briars, and dry wood for the blazing hearth.
His little daughter was driving two she-goats from the hill,
While confined in his cradle was a sickly son.
‘Mother!’ the girl said (the goddess was moved
By that word mother) ‘Why are you alone in the wilderness?’
The old man stopped too, despite his heavy load,
And begged her to shelter under his insignificant roof.
She refused. She was disguised as an old woman, her hair
Covered with a cap. When he urged her she replied:
‘Be happy, and always a father! My daughter’s been
Stolen from me. Ah, how much better your fate than mine!’
She spoke, and a crystal drop (though goddesses cannot weep),
Like a tear, fell on her warm breast. Those tender hearts,
The old man and the virgin girl, wept with her:
And these were the righteous old man’s words:
‘Rise, and don’t scorn the shelter of my humble hut,
And may the lost daughter you mourn be safe and sound.’
The goddess said: ‘Lead on! You’ve found what could persuade me’
And she rose from the stone and followed the old man.
Leading, he told his follower, how his son was sick
Lying there sleepless, kept awake by his illness.
About to enter the humble house, she plucked
A tender, sleep-inducing, poppy from the bare ground:
And as she picked it, they say, unthinkingly, she tasted it,
And so, unwittingly, eased her long starvation.
And because she first broke her fast at nightfall,
Her priests of the Mysteries eat once the stars appear.
When she crossed the threshold, she saw all were grieving:
Since they’d lost hope of the child’s recovery.
Greeting the mother (who was called Metanira)
The goddess deigned to join her lips to the child’s.
His pallor fled, his body suddenly seemed healthier:
Such power flowed out of the goddess’ mouth.
There was joy in the house, in the father, mother
And daughter: those three were the whole house.
They soon set out a meal, curds in whey,
Apples, and golden honey on the comb.
Kind Ceres abstained, and gave to the boy
Poppy seeds in warm milk to make him sleep.
It was midnight: silent in peaceful slumber,
The goddess took Triptolemus on her lap,
Caressed him with her hand three times, and spoke
Three spells, not to be sounded by mortal tongue,
And she covered the boy’s body with live embers
On the hearth, so the fire would purge his mortal burden.
His good, fond, foolish mother, waking from sleep,
Crying: ‘What are you doing?’ snatched him from the coals,
To her the goddess said: ‘Though sinless, you’ve sinned:
My gift’s been thwarted by a mother’s fear.
He will still be mortal, but first to plough,
And sow, and reap a harvest from the soil.’
Ceres spoke, and left the house, trailing mist, and crossed
To her dragons, and was carried away in her winged chariot.
She left Sunium’s exposed cape behind, and Piraeus’ safe harbour,
And all that coast that lies towards the west.
From there she crossed the Aegean, saw all the Cyclades,
Skimmed the wild Ionian, and the Icarian Sea,
And, passing through Asia’s cities, sought the long Hellespont,
And wandered her course, on high, among diverse regions.
Now she gazed at incense-gathering Arabs, now Ethiopians,
Beneath her Libya now, now Meroe and the desert lands:
Then she saw the western rivers, Rhine, Rhone, Po,
And you, Tiber, parent of a stream full of future power.
Where, now? Too long to tell of the lands she wandered:
No place on earth remained unvisited by Ceres.
She wandered the sky too, and spoke to the constellations
Those near the chilly pole, free of the ocean waves:
‘You Arcadian stars (since you can see all things,
Never plunging beneath the watery wastes)
Show this wretched mother, her daughter, Proserpine!’
She spoke, and Helice answered her in this way:
‘Night’s free of blame: Ask the Light about your
Stolen daughter: the Sun views, widely, things done by day.’
The Sun, asked, said: ‘To save you grief, she whom you seek
Is married to Jupiter’s brother, and rules the third realm.’
After grieving a while, she addressed the Thunderer:
And there were deep marks of sorrow in her face:
‘If you remember by whom I conceived Persephone,
Half of the care she ought to be shown is yours.
Wandering the world I’ve learnt only of her wrong:
While her ravisher is rewarded for his crime.
But Persephone didn’t deserve a thief as husband:
It’s not right to have found a son-in-law this way.
How could I have suffered more, as captive to a conquering
Gyges, than now, while you hold the sceptre of the heavens?
Well, let him escape unpunished, I’ll suffer it, un-avenged,
If he returns her, amending his old actions by the new.’
Jupiter soothed her, excusing it as an act of love,
‘He’s not a son-in-law who’ll shames us,’ he said,
‘I’m no nobler than him: my kingdom’s in the sky,
Another owns the waters, another the empty void.
But if your mind is really so set against alteration,
And you’re determined to break firm marriage bonds,
Let’s make the attempt, but only if she’s kept her fast:
If not, she’ll remain the wife of her infernal spouse.’
And, back sooner than expected, told what he’d clearly seen:
‘The ravished girl,’ he said ‘broke her fast with three seeds
Concealed in the tough rind of a pomegranate.’
Her gloomy mother grieved, no less than if her daughter
Had just been taken, and was a long time recovering even a little.
Then she said: ‘Heaven’s no place for me to be, either:
Order that I too may be received by the Taenarian vale.’
And so it would have been, if Jupiter hadn’t promised,
That Persephone should spend six months each year in heaven.
Then, at last, Ceres recovered her countenance and spirits,
And set garlands, woven from ears of corn, on her hair:
And the tardy fields delivered a copious harvest,
And the threshing-floor barely held the heaped sheaves.
White is fitting for Ceres: dress in white clothes for Ceres’
Festival: on this day no one wears dark-coloured thread.
Jupiter, titled the Victor, keeps the Ides of April:
A temple was dedicated to him on this day.
And if I’m not wrong, on this day too, Liberty
Began to occupy a hall worthy of our people.
On the next day, you sailors, seek safe harbours:
The westerly wind will blow mixed with hail.
Be that as it may, it was on this day, a day of hail,
That a Caesar, armed, clashed shields at Modena.
When the third day after the Ides of April dawns,
You priests, offer a pregnant (forda) cow in sacrifice.
Forda is a cow in calf and fruitful, from ferendo (carrying):
They consider fetus is derived from the same root.
Now the cattle are big with young, and the ground’s
Pregnant with seed: a teeming victim’s given to teeming Earth.
Some are killed on Jupiter’s citadel, the Curiae (wards)
Get thirty cows: they’re drenched with plenty of sprinkled blood.
But when the priests have torn the calves from their mother’s womb,
And thrown the slashed entrails on the smoking hearth,
The oldest Vestal burns the dead calves in the fire,
So their ashes can purge the people on the day of Pales.
In Numa’s kingship the harvest failed to reward men’s efforts:
The farmers, deceived, offered their prayers in vain.
At one time that year it was dry, with cold northerlies,
The next, the fields were rank with endless rain:
Often the crop failed the farmer in its first sprouting,
And meagre wild oats overran choked soil,
And the cattle dropped their young prematurely,
And the ewes often died giving birth to lambs.
There was an ancient wood, long untouched by the axe,
He gave answers, to calm minds, in night silence.
Here Numa sacrificed twin ewes.
The first fell to Faunus, the second to gentle Sleep:
Both the fleeces were spread on the hard soil.
Twice the king’s unshorn head was sprinkled with spring water,
Twice he pressed the beech leaves to his forehead.
He abstained from sex: no meat might be served
At table, nor could he wear a ring on any finger.
Dressed in rough clothes he lay down on fresh fleeces,
Having worshipped the god with appropriate words.
Meanwhile Night arrived, her calm brow wreathed
With poppies: bringing with her shadowy dreams.
Faunus appeared, and pressing the fleece with a hard hoof,
From the right side of the bed, he uttered these words:
‘King, you must appease Earth, with the death of two cows:
Let one heifer give two lives, in sacrifice.’
Fear banished sleep: Numa pondered the vision,
And considered the ambiguous and dark command.
His wife, Egeria, most dear to the grove, eased his doubt,
Saying: ‘What’s needed are the innards of a pregnant cow,’
The innards of a pregnant cow were offered: the year proved
More fruitful, and earth and cattle bore their increase.
Cytherea once commanded the day to pass more quickly,
And hurried on the Sun’s galloping horses,
So this next day young Augustus might receive
The title of Emperor sooner for his victory in war.
And when you see the fourth dawn after the Ides,
The Hyades will set in the sea at night.
When the third dawn from the vanishing of the Hyades
Breaks, the horses will be in their stalls in the Circus.
So I must explain why foxes are loosed then,
Carrying torches fastened to scorched backs.
The land round Carseoli’s cold, not suited for growing
Olives, but the soil there’s appropriate for corn.
I passed it on the way to my native Pelignian country,
A small region, yet always supplied by constant streams.
There I entered, as usual, the house of my former host:
Phoebus had already unyoked his weary horses.
My host used to tell me of many things, including this,
As a preparation for my present work:
‘In that plain,’ he said (pointing at the plain),
A thrifty peasant woman and her sturdy husband had a small
Plot, he tilled the land himself, whether it needed ploughing,
Or required the curving sickle or the hoe.
They would sweep the cottage, set on timber piles,
She’d set eggs to hatch under the mother hen’s feathers,
Or collect green mallows or gather white mushrooms,
Or warm the humble hearth with welcome fire,
And still worked her hands assiduously at the loom,
To provision them against the threat of winter cold.
She had a son: he was a playful child,
Who was already twelve years old.
In a valley, he caught, in the depths of a willow copse,
A vixen, who’d stolen many birds from the yard.
He wrapped his captive in straw and hay, and set fire
To it all: she fled the hands that were out to burn her:
In fleeing she set the crops, that covered the fields, ablaze:
And a breeze lent strength to the devouring flames.
The thing’s forgotten, but a relic remains: since now
There’s a certain law of Carseoli, that bans foxes:
And they burn a fox at the Cerialia to punish the species,
Destroyed in the same way as it destroyed the crops.
Next dawn when Memnon’s saffron-robed mother,
With her rosy horses, comes to view the wide lands,
The sun leaves the Ram, Aries, leader of the woolly flock,
Betrayer of Helle, and meets a nobler victim on leaving.
The front of the creature appears: the rest’s concealed.
But whether the sign’s a bull or whether it’s a heifer,
It enjoys that reward for its love, against Juno’s wishes.
The night has gone: dawn breaks. I’m called upon to sing
Kindly Pales, if I respect your festival,
Then aid me as I sing of pastoral rites.
Indeed, I’ve often brought ashes of a calf, and stalks
Of beans, in chaste purification, in my full hands:
Indeed, I’ve leapt the threefold line of flames,
And the wet laurel’s sprinkled me with dew.
The goddess, moved, blesses the work: my ship
Sets sail: may favourable winds fill my sails.
Go, people: bring fumigants from the Virgin’s altar:
Vesta will grant them, Vesta’s gift will purify.
The fumigants are horse blood and calf’s ashes,
And thirdly the stripped stalks of stringy beans.
Shepherd, purify your sated sheep at twilight:
First sprinkle the ground with water, and sweep it,
And decorate the sheepfold with leaves and branches,
And hide the festive door with a trailing garland.
Make dark smoke with pure burning sulphur,
And let the sheep bleat, in contact with the smoke.
Burn male-olive wood, and pine, and juniper fronds,
And let scorched laurel crackle in the hearth.
Let a basket of millet keep the millet cakes company:
The rural goddess particularly loves that food.
Add meats, and a pail of her milk, and when the meat
Is cut, offer the warm milk, pray to sylvan Pales,
Saying: ‘Protect the cattle and masters alike:
And drive everything harmful from my stalls.
If I’ve fed sheep on sacred ground, sat under a sacred tree,
While they’ve unwittingly browsed the grass on graves:
If I’ve entered a forbidden grove, or the nymphs
And the god, half-goat, have fled at sight of me:
If my knife has pruned the copse of a shady bough,
To fill a basket of leaves for a sick ewe:
Forgive me. Don’t count it against me, if I’ve sheltered
My flock, while it hailed, in some rustic shrine,
Don’t harm me for troubling the pools. Nymphs,
Forgive, if trampling hooves have muddied your waters.
Goddess, placate the springs, and placate their divinities
On our behalf, and the gods too, scattered in every grove.
Nor on Faunus, as he lies in the fields at noon.
Drive off disease: let men and beasts be healthy,
And healthy the vigilant pack of wakeful dogs.
May I drive back as many sheep as dawn revealed,
Nor sigh returning with fleeces snatched from the wolves.
Avert dire famine: let leaves and grass be abundant,
And water to wash the body, water to drink.
May I press full udders, may my cheeses bring me money,
May the wicker sieve strain my liquid whey.
And let the ram be lusty, his mate conceive and bear,
And may there be many a lamb in my fold.
And let the wool prove soft, not scratch the girls,
Let it everywhere be kind to gentle hands.
Let my prayer be granted, and every year we’ll make
Huge cakes for Pales, Mistress of the shepherds.’
Please the goddess in this way: four times, facing east,
Say these words, and wash your hands with fresh dew.
Then set a wooden dish, to be your mixing bowl,
And drink the creamy milk and the purple must:
Then leap, with nimble feet and straining thighs
Over the crackling heaps of burning straw.
I’ve set forth the custom: I must still tell of its origin:
But many explanations cause me doubt, and hold me back.
Greedy fire devours all things, and melts away the dross
From metals: the same method cleans shepherd and sheep?
Or is it because all things are formed
Of two opposing powers, fire and water,
And our ancestors joined these elements, and thought fit
To touch their bodies with fire and sprinkled water?
Or did they think the two so powerful, because they contain
The source of life: denied to the exile, it makes the new bride?
I can scarce believe it, but some consider it refers
Some say, too, that once when shepherds struck
Stones together, a spark suddenly leapt out:
The first died, but the second set fire to straw:
Is that the basis for the fires of the Parilia?
Or is the custom due rather to Aeneas’ piety,
To whom the fire gave safe passage, in defeat?
Or is this nearer the truth, that when Rome was founded,
They were commanded to move the Lares to their new homes,
And changing homes the farmers set fire to the houses,
And to the cottages, they were about to abandon,
They and their cattle leaping through the flames,
As happens even now on Rome’s birthday?
That subject itself is matter for a poet. We have come
To the City’s founding. Great Quirinus, witness your deeds!
Amulius had already been punished, and all
The shepherd folk were subject to the twins,
Who agreed to gather the men together to build walls:
The question was as to which of them should do it.
Romulus said: ‘There’s no need to fight about it:
Great faith is placed in birds, let’s judge by birds.’
That seemed fine. One tried the rocks of the wooded Palatine,
The other climbed at dawn to the Aventine’s summit.
Remus saw six birds, Romulus twelve in a row.
They stuck to the pact, and Romulus was granted the City.
A day was chosen for him to mark out the walls with a plough.
The festival of Pales was near: the work was started then.
They trenched to the solid rock, threw fruits of the harvest
Into its depths, with soil from the ground nearby.
The ditch was filled with earth, and topped by an altar,
And a fire was duly kindled on the new-made hearth.
Then, bearing down on the plough handle, he marked the walls:
The yoke was borne by a white cow and a snowy ox.
So spoke the king: ‘Be with me, as I found my City,
And all you gods, whom piety summons, take note.
Let my work be done beneath your auspices.
May it last long, and rule a conquered world,
All subject, from the rising to the setting day.’
Jupiter added his omen to Romulus’ prayer, with thunder
On the left, and his lightning flashed leftward in the sky.
Delighted by this, the citizens laid foundations,
And the new walls were quickly raised.
The work was overseen by Celer, whom Romulus named,
Saying: ‘Celer, make it your care to see no one crosses
Walls or trench that we’ve ploughed: kill whoever dares.’
Remus, unknowingly, began to mock the low walls,
saying: ‘Will the people be safe behind these?’
He leapt them, there and then. Celer struck the rash man
With his shovel: Remus sank, bloodied, to the stony ground.
When the king heard, he smothered his rising tears,
And kept the grief locked in his heart.
He wouldn’t weep in public, but set an example of fortitude,
Saying: ‘So dies the enemy who shall cross my walls.’
But he granted him funeral honours, and couldn’t
Hold back his tears, and the love he tried to hide was obvious.
When they set down the bier, he gave it a last kiss,
And said: ‘Farewell, my brother, taken against my will!’
Her hair loosened in mourning, did as he did.
Then the as yet unnamed Quirites wept for the youth:
And finally the pyre, wet by their tears, was lit.
A City arose, destined (who’d have believed it then?)
To plant its victorious foot upon all the lands.
Rule all, and be ever subject to mighty Caesar,
And may you often own to many of that name:
And as long as you stand, sublime, in a conquered world,
May all others fail to reach your shoulders.
I’ve spoken of Pales’ festival, I’ll speak of the Vinalia:
There’s only a single day between the two.
You prostitutes, celebrate the divine power of Venus:
Venus suits those who earn by your profession.
Offer incense and pray for beauty and men’s favour,
Pray to be charming, and blessed with witty words,
Give the Mistress myrtle, and the mint she loves,
And sheaves of rushes, wound in clustered roses.
Now’s the time to crowd her temple near the Colline Gate,
One that takes its name from a Sicilian hill:
And captured that hill of Eryx, too, in the war,
Prophecy, preferring to be worshipped in her children’s City.
Why then, you ask, is the Vinalia Venus’ festival?
And why does this day belong to Jupiter?
Should be Latin Amata’s son-in-law: Turnus begged help
From Etruscan Mezentius, a famous and proud fighter,
Mighty on horseback and mightier still on foot:
Turnus and the Rutuli tried to win him to their side.
The Tuscan leader replied to their suit:
‘My courage costs me not a little: witness my wounds,
And my weapons that have often been dyed with blood.
If you seek my help you must divide with me
The next wine from your vats, no great prize.
No delay is needed: yours is to give, mine to conquer.
How Aeneas will wish you’d refused me!’
The Rutulians agreed. Mezentius donned his armour,
And so did Aeneas, and addressed Jove:
‘The enemy’s pledged his vine-crop to the Tyrrhenian king:
Jupiter, you shall have the wine from the Latin vines!’
The nobler prayer succeeded: huge Mezentius died,
And struck the ground, heart filled with indignation.
Autumn came, dyed with the trodden grapes:
The wine, justly owed to Jupiter, was paid.
So the day is called the Vinalia: Jupiter claims it,
And loves to be present at his feast.
When six days of April remain,
The Spring season will be half-over,
The rains will be your sign, when the Dog’s mentioned.
On this day, returning to Rome from Nomentum,
A white-robed throng blocked my road.
A priest was going to the grove of old Mildew (Robigo),
To offer the entrails of a dog and a sheep to the flames.
I went with him, so as not to be ignorant of the rite:
Your priest, Quirinus, pronounced these words:
‘Scaly Mildew, spare the blades of corn,
And let their tender tips quiver above the soil.
Let the crops grow, nurtured by favourable stars,
Until they’re ready for the sickle.
Your power’s not slight: the corn you blight
The grieving farmer gives up for lost.
Wind and showers don’t harm the wheat as much,
Nor gleaming frost that bleaches the yellow corn,
As when the sun heats the moist stalks:
Then, dreadful goddess, is the time of your wrath.
Spare us, I pray, take your blighted hands from the harvest,
And don’t harm the crop: it’s enough that you can harm.
Grip harsh iron rather than the tender wheat,
Destroy whatever can destroy others first.
Better to gnaw at swords and harmful spears:
They’re not needed: the world’s at peace.
Let the rural wealth gleam now, rakes, sturdy hoes,
And curved ploughshare: let rust stain weapons:
And whoever tries to draw his sword from its sheath,
Let him feel it wedded there by long disuse.
Don’t you hurt the corn, and may the farmer’s
Prayer to you always be fulfilled by your absence.’
He spoke: to his right there was a soft towel,
And a cup of wine and an incense casket.
He offered the incense and wine on the hearth,
Sheep’s entrails, and (I saw him) the foul guts of a vile dog.
Then the priest said: ‘You ask why we offer an odd sacrifice
In these rites’ (I had asked) ‘then learn the reason.
There’s a Dog they call Icarian, and when it rises
The dry earth is parched, and the crops ripen prematurely.
This dog is set on the altar to signify the starry one,
And the only reason for it is because of the name.’
And raised her light three times in the vast heavens,
A goddess comes framed in a thousand varied garlands
Of flowers: and the stage has freer license for mirth.
The rites of Flora also stretch to the Kalends of May:
Then I’ll speak again, now a greater task is needed.
Vesta, bear the day onwards! Vesta’s been received,
At her kinsman’s threshold: so the Senators justly decreed.
Phoebus takes part of the space there: a further part remains
For Vesta, and the third part that’s left, Caesar occupies.
Long live the laurels of the Palatine: long live that house
Decked with branches of oak: one place holds three eternal gods.
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