Publius Papinius Statius

Thebaid

Book IX

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

Contents


BkIX:1-85 Polynices’ lament for Tydeus

Reports of Tydeus’ bloodthirsty frenzy exasperated

The Thebans. The Inachians themselves showed little

Grief for the fallen warrior, blaming him, complaining

That he’d exceeded the bounds of hatred. It is even said

That Mars, most turbulent of gods, though then raging

At the forefront of the work of carnage, was offended

By mankind, refusing to look and guiding his frightened

Horse another way. So the Cadmean warriors drove on

To avenge the dead Melanippus, outraged by such savage

Behaviour, roused as though their fathers’ bones had been

Disturbed in their graves, their ashes fed to cruel monsters.

The king himself inflamed them further: ‘Will any man

Now show mercy or humanity to the Argives? They tear

Our bodies apart with their sharp teeth (what madness,

Have they exhausted their weapons?) You would think we

Battled Hyrcanian tigers, or fought with fierce Libyan lions.

Now Tydeus lies there (oh, the lovely solace of death!)

Gripping his enemy’s skull in his mouth, dying, relishing

The unholy gore; where we use ungentle steel and flames,

They show naked hatred: their savagery needs no weapons.

Let them reveal their madness to you, supreme Father, let

Them enjoy their glorious renown. No wonder they were

Left to complain of the gaping void as earth herself fled.

How should the very ground itself support such as they?’

So saying, he led his shouting men in a major onslaught.

All were raging to possess the armour of the hated Tydeus,

And snatch his corpse. In the same way flocks of carrion

Birds veil the stars if a far-off breeze brings a noxious smell

Of bodies left without burial: they fly to them with eager cries,

The high atmosphere is alive with flapping wings, and lesser

Birds flee the sky. Now Rumour’s swift murmur spread wide

Through the Theban plain among the ranks (speedier than ever

Since she brought sad news) until she glided into Polynices’

Apprehensive ear, bringing him a tale of most grievous loss.

The young man’s tears, about to flow, were frozen: he was

Slow to believe the story; Tydeus’ valour that he knew so

Well both urged him to accept the death and to deny it.

But when the disaster was attested on good authority,

A mist clouded his eyes and mind. His blood congealed;

His arms and legs were heavy; his helmet wet with tears;

And his shield, loose in his grasp, snagged on his greaves.

He walked sorrowfully, with feeble steps, trailing his spear

As though he was weighed down with a thousand troubles,

And ached in every limb; his comrades stood apart, marking

His passage with groans. At last he threw aside the weapons

Burdening him, and flung himself unarmed on the lifeless

Body of his noble friend, shedding tears, crying: ‘Is this,

O Son of Oeneus, my foremost champion in battle, is this

Reward, I have rendered you, deserved; that you should lie

Here, a corpse, on Cadmus’ hated field, while I survive?

Now I am exiled indeed, banished forever, since my better

Brother, alas, has been taken from me! I no longer desire

The rule of lot and the perjured crown of guilty kingship.

What do I care for a prize bought so dearly; for a sceptre

That you cannot hand me? Go men, leave me alone with

My warrior brother: no need for further deeds of arms and

Wasted lives. Go, I beg you. What more is there to ask?

Tydeus is lost! What death can atone for this? O Adrastus,

O for Argos and the brave brawl on that night of our first

Meeting, the blows that Tydeus and I traded, brief anger,

And the pledge of eternal friendship! Why did you not

Kill me with your sword, great Tydeus (as you might) on

Our father-in-law’s threshold. In my cause, instead, you

Willingly went to Thebes, to my impious brother’s palace,

From which no other would have returned, as though you

Had gone to win the sceptre and its honours on your own

Behalf. Already Fame no longer speaks of Telamon and

Peleus, of Pirithous and Theseus. How nobly you lie there!

What wound should I first examine? What of this blood is

Yours, what your enemy’s? What host, what countless

Throng laid you low? Or do I err and Mars himself struck

You with the full force of his spear, in jealousy?’ So he

Spoke, and grieving drenched with tears the warrior’s face

Still slippery with gore, repositioning the right hand. ‘Must

You lay down your life in hatred of my enemies, and I yet

Live on? He drew his sword wildly from the scabbard,

And readied it for slaughter. His friends held him back

And Adrastus rebuked him, calming his bursting heart

With counsel on fate and the vagaries of war. Gradually

He drew him away from the beloved dead, from whom

His grief and noble wish to die arose, and silently, as he

Spoke, returned the weapon to its sheath. Polynices was

Led like an ox that has lost the partner of its labours,

Listlessly deserting in mid-field the furrow he started,

And dragging at one side of the unbalanced yoke, with

Bowed neck, as the weeping ploughman lifts the other.

BkIX:86-143 The struggle over Tydeus’ body

Behold, at Eteocles’ urging, a select band of Theban

Warriors advances under his banner, men whom Pallas

Would not scorn in war, or Mars at the end of his spear;

Opposing them stood tall Hippomedon, shield tight

Against his chest, and lance extending far before him,

Like a rock fronting the waves, unmoved under the sky,

On which the breakers shatter; it stands impervious to

Any threat, the sea itself retreating from its harsh face,

While wretched sailors wrecked in its lee know it well.

Eteocles spoke first (choosing a strong spear as he did so)

‘Are you not ashamed, before the gods and the sky above,

To defend this dead man, this corpse that dishonours our

Warfare? A fine thing, a memorable deed to bury this wild

Beast, lest he go to Argos, to be wept for with funeral rite,

Vomiting evil gore on his soft bier. Dismiss your anxiety

For what no carrion bird, impious monster, nor fire itself

Did we allow it, would consume!’ Without more words,

He hurled the long javelin. Blunted by the tough bronze

It still penetrated and stuck fast in the shield’s next layer.

Pheres and fierce Lycus followed him, but Pheres’ spear

Fell back uselessly to earth, while Lycus’ missile grazed

The helmet with the tall and terrifying crest. The plumes,

Severed by the spear point, scattered widely, the metal

Bare of its glory. Hippomedon held fast, refusing, though

Provoked, to charge the opposing ranks but, dancing over

The same piece of ground, thrust and drew back on every

Side, never letting his arm reach out too far. As he moved

He defended the body closely, weaving around and over it.

So a cow protects her first-born defenceless calf, fending

Away a prowling wolf, wheeling, and sweeping her horns

About, uncertainly, in a circle; showing no fear for herself,

She rages forgetting her gender, a female imitating mighty

Bulls. At length a pause in the hail of darts allowed return

Fire. Now Alcon of Sicyon had come to Hippomedon’s aid,

And swift Idas’ Pisaean squadron arrived to form a wedge.

Heartened by their presence, Hippomedon launched a huge

Lernaean shaft, himself, against the enemy. It flew like an

Arrow unchecked, ran Polites through, and unrelentingly

Pierced the shield of Mopsus nearby. Then Hippomedon

Speared Cydon of Phocis, Phalantus of Tanagra, and Eryx

As he turned to grasp a weapon, through his head with

Its mop of hair. Eryx wondered as he died at the presence

Of the blade in his hollow throat that had not arrived via

His mouth; his teeth, expelled by the point, and his last cry,

Bubbling blood, emerged together. Leonteus, concealed

Behind lines of weapons, dared to stretch out his arm

Stealthily, and clutch Tydeus’ prostrate body by the hair:

Hippomedon saw him and, despite the threat on all sides,

Severed that presumptuous hand, with his cruel sword,

Chiding him as he did so: ‘Tydeus himself it is, Tydeus

Who robs you of your hand: fear even the lifeless corpses

Of warriors in future and beware, you wretch, of touching

The mighty dead!’ Three times the Theban phalanx pulled

The grim carcase away, three times the Danai retrieved it.

So in the straits of Messina where the Sicilian Sea fights

Itself, a ship will hover despite the anxious helmsman’s

Efforts, driven back along her course with flapping sails.

BkIX:144-195 Tisiphone intervenes

Theban hands would not have had the strength to drive

Hippomedon from his ground, nor would catapults have

Moved him from his station with their missiles; blows

Ruinous to high towers, would have tested his shield

And rebounded, but impious Tisiphone remembered

The orders of the king of darkness, and considered

Tydeus’ crime. Craftily, she entered the field of war.

The armies felt her in their midst, and a sudden sweat

Poured from men and horses, though with bland face

She appeared as Inachian Halys, the unholy brand of

Fire and her whip absent, her snaky hair silent at her

Command. Armed, she approached fierce Hippomedon,

Her eyes and voice calm, yet he feared her face as she

Spoke, and wondered at his fear. Weeping she said:

‘Famed warrior, you protect your dead friend in vain,

The corpse of an unburied Greek (are our fears then

For the dead, is it our business now to build tombs?);

Adrastus himself has been captured by a Theban band,

And is being dragged away, asking aid, with voice and

Hand, above all from you; I see him slipping in blood,

His white hair, alas, stripped of its shattered diadem!

He is not far; among that knot of men in the dust-cloud.’

The hero stood there anxiously weighing his fears, for

Some time. The harsh maiden roused him: ‘Why do

You hesitate? Shall we go on? Or does this corpse hold

You, and are the living of less account?’ He entrusted

The sad work of his own struggle to his comrades, and

Went, deserting his close friend but looking back, ready

If they chanced to call him. Then following the weaving

Footsteps of the fierce goddess he ran this way and that,

Seemingly without clear direction, till the impious Fury

Throwing away her shield, a host of asps bursting from

Her helmet, disappeared darkly from his view. The mist

Dispersed and the unhappy hero saw the sons of Inachus

At rest, and the chariot of Adrastus who was quite safe.

Now the Thebans had the corpse. Loud cries attested to

Their joy, shouts of victory reached Hippomedon’s ear,

And filled his heart with private grief. Tydeus’ body was

Dragged over enemy soil (by the harsh power of fate!)

That Tydeus for whom of late a great space had been left

On either side as he chased the men of Thebes, whether

On foot, unchecked, or behind the reins. His weapons

Gone, his hands at peace, his savagery no more, the foe

Were pleased to abuse his features rigid in death, his

Fearsome countenance, with impunity. This is the wish

Brave and cowardly alike pursue, ennobling their hands,

Keeping the bloodstained weapons to show their wives

And children. So when a lion, that has long ravished

The Moorish countryside, causing all the flocks to be

Penned, and their owners to keep watch, has been

Battled to the ground by bands of weary shepherds,

The land rejoices, the farmers with loud clamour,

Approach the place where he now glares, impaled,

From a roof-beam or hung to adorn an ancient grove:

Tug at his mane; open his huge jaws; tell their losses.

BkIX:196-265 The battle at the Ismenos

Though fierce Hippomedon saw that the battle for

The corpse was lost, the body taken, and his toil in

Vain, he pursued relentlessly all the same, barely able

To distinguish friend from foe, wielding his sword

Blindly, as long as nothing slowed his onrush. But

Now the ground was slippery with fresh carnage;

And corpses, weapons, shattered chariots slowed

His progress, as did the wound in his left thigh

Made by Eteocles’ spear; in his passion he had

Either feigned to be unharmed, or ignored the hurt.

At last he saw the sorrowing Hopleus, the faithful

Comrade of great Tydeus, and his armour-bearer

In the battle though he had failed to save him. Now

He held the reins of Tydeus’ charger that ignorant

Of its master’s fate, neck bowed, was chafing only

At its idleness, at Tydeus venturing more attacks

On foot. The hero mounting grasped him tightly,

He being irked by a strange weight on his proud back

(Having known one master only since he was tamed)

And spoke to him: ‘Unhappy steed, oh why refuse

Your destiny? No more for you the sweet burden

Of your proud master. No more shall you stride

The Aetolian plain, or rejoice to trail your mane in

The pools of Achelous. As to what remains, come

Avenge the beloved dead, at least: then follow him

And do not as a captive hurt Tydeus’ exiled shade,

By carrying some haughty rider.’ The horse heard

And seemed to take fire, sweeping the hero away

Tempestuously, less chary at a like touch on the rein.

Thus a Centaur, part-human, leaps from airy Ossa

To the valley, the tall forests trembling at his face,

The plain below at his hooves. Alarmed the Thebans

Crowded together in breathless flight, while the hero

Pressed on them with his mount, slicing through their

Necks with his steel blade, leaving their fallen bodies

In his wake. So, they reached the River Ismenos, its

Channel fuller than usual (ill omen) and moving as

A swollen mass. Here was a brief respite for the fearful

Men weary from their flight over the plain. The stream,

Host now to the conflict, amazed by warriors, glittered

With clear reflections of their armour. Into the waves

They leapt, and the bank collapsed with a mighty splash,

Shrouding the opposite shore in dust. Hippomedon also,

With no time to loose the reins, spurred a mightier leap,

And rushed on his panicked enemies through the hostile

Flow, leaving only his javelins behind, fixed in the green

Turf and entrusted to a poplar tree. The Thebans terrified

Let the rushing current take their weapons. Some doffed

Their helmets and the cowards hid as long as they could,

Holding their breath underwater. Many now tried to swim

The river, waists hampered by their belts, chests dragged

Under by their soaked corselets. Such is the panic that

Seizes silvery fish beneath the swollen flood when they

See a dolphin searching the slopes of the hidden deep;

The whole shoal flees to the bottom, they crowd afraid

Among green seaweed, nor re-appear until the dolphin

Leaps again from the surface preferring to race the ships

He has spied. So Hippomedon drove fleeing Thebans;

He used his arms and the reins together in mid-stream,

Pushing the horse on with blows from his feet; the light

Hooves accustomed to the plain flailed through the water

Seeking the sand below. Theban Chromis felled Ion,

Antiphos in turn slew Chromis, Hypseus slew Antiphon,

Astyages also and Linus, he leaving the river on the verge

Of escaping, had not the Sisters forbidden it, his first

Threads of fate ordaining that he would not die on land.

Hippomedon pressed on the ranks of Thebes, while

Asopian Hypseus harried the Danai, the river terrified

Of both. Both dyed the water with blood, and neither

Was destined to survive the river. Now mangled heads

And limbs rolled downstream, severed arms floated

With their trunk, the flood carrying spears and light

Shields, and unstrung bows, plumes hampering helms

From following the flow. The surface of the water was

Thickly strewn with loose weapons, its depths with

Bodies; of warriors struggling in their death-throes,

And of the living men thrust backwards by the river.

BkIX:266-314 Slaughter in the flood

Young Argipus had grasped the branch of a riverside

Elm as the flood swept him away: fierce Menoeceus

Now severed his well-formed arms with his sword.

Argipus fell, his efforts lost, gazing in shock at his

Shorn limbs clutching the tall tree above. Hypseus’

Spear dealt Sages a mighty wound; he sank beneath

The wave, blood rising from the depths in place of

A corpse. Agenor leapt from the bank to help his

Brother and clutched him, but the wretched man

Dragged him down in a close embrace: Agenor

Might have broken free, but refused to escape

Without his brother. Capetus’ right hand rose in

Menace, but a spiralling eddy sucked him into its

Whirling core: his face vanished, his hair; and last

The hand clutching his sword disappeared beneath

The fast-flowing waters. Death came to the wretched

In a thousand guises: a Mycalesian spear from behind

Buried its blade in Agyrtes’ back. He looked around,

But its source was unseen: thrust forward by the force

Of the current, the spear had run loose and tasted blood.

Tydeus’ Aetolian steed, stabbed in its mighty shoulder,

Reared high with its dying strength, and hanging there

Beat the air. But Hippomedon was not dislodged by

Shock. Pitying the horse, groaning, he drew the blade

From the wound, and of his own will loosed the reins.

Then on foot he re-entered the fray, more sure of his

Aim and footing, and slew one warrior after another

With his sword: sluggish Nomius and brave Mimas;

Thisbaean Lichas, Anthedonian Lycetus, Thespiades,

One of twins, his brother Panemus begging for a like

Fate, but Hippomedon replied: ‘Live on, and go alone

To the walls of cursed Thebes, your parent’s sole son.

Thank the gods that Bellona with blood-stained hand

Placed the fight in this rapid stream. The waters drive

You cowards onwards on your native flood, nor shall

Unburied Tydeus’ naked shade cry mournfully above

Your pyre. Earth bears him and will dissolve him into

His elements; you shall make raw food for the fishes.’

Thus he bore down on his foes salting their wounds

With words. Now he raged with his sword, now he

Snatched floating javelins and returned them. He

Slew Theron, a follower of virgin Diana, and Gyas

A farmer, and wave-wandering Erginus, unshorn

Herses, and Cretheus scornful of the sea’s power

Who had often run before the Euboean tempests

In a tiny boat, daring Caphereus’ stormy headland.

Such are the ironies of fate. His chest pierced by steel,

He rolled in the waves, shipwrecked, alas, on strange

Waters! You too, Pharsalus, a Dorian spear felled you

As you crossed the river in your tall chariot to rejoin

Your comrades, felled you and lost you your horses,

Drowned, being yoked, by the force of the cruel flood.

BkIX:315-403 The death of Crenaeus

Come now, learned Sisters: of your indulgence, tell me

Whose efforts vanquished great Hippomedon in those

Swollen waters, and how Ismenos himself was roused

To battle. Your task is to work backwards and dispel

Years of fame. Young Crenaeus, the son of Faunus

And the Nymph Ismenis, delighted in making war

In his mother’s stream, he whose first sight was that

Faithful flow, whose cradle was its green shores and

Natal waters. Deeming the Furies powerless there, he

Happily traversed his grandfather’s embracing flood,

From bank to bank. The waves lifted his feet whether

He went downstream or across, and when he breasted

Its current, the river, no obstruction, retreated for him.

The waves cover the thighs of Glaucus, its guest from

Anthedon, no more fawningly; Triton rises no higher

From a summer sea, nor does Palaemon, hurrying back

To his mother’s fond embrace, spurring on his tardy

Dolphin. Crenaeus’ armour adorned his shoulders; his

Fine shield gleamed with gold, on which was engraved

The origins of the Theban people. There Europa, the girl

From Sidon, riding the white back of the seductive bull,

And trusting now in the waves, no longer held the horns

In her tender hand, and the water played around her feet;

You’d have thought the bull on that shield was alive as it

Cut the billows. And the river lent credence to the scene,

The Ismenos of like colour to the sea. Now Crenaeus

Boldly sought Hippomedon with his weapons and with

Provocative words as well: ‘This is not Lerna, ripe with

Poison; no Herculean serpents drink these waters. This

Is a sacred river that you enter, sacred waters (as you

Will find, you wretch!) that nurture gods.’ Hippomedon

Made no answer but attacked, though the river massed

Itself against him, slowing his hand that still executed

The stroke though hindered and penetrated life’s inner

Sanctums. The water shuddered at the outrage; the woods

On both shores wept; and the hollowed banks gave out

A deeper murmur. In death, a last cry issued from Crenaeus’

Mouth: ‘Mother!’ he called and the river closed over her

Unfortunate son’s last words. She, stricken by the blow,

Surrounded by a host of her grey-green sisters leapt from

The glassy depths in frenzy, her hair dishevelled, and tore

At her face and her green dress, wildly, beating her breast

Again and again. As she burst from the water she called

His name, over and over, in a quivering voice. Crenaeus

Was nowhere to be seen, but his shield lay floating on

The surface, speaking death only too clearly to his mother.

He himself floated far off, where the Ismenos is changed

In its final outflow by its first contact with the sea. She

Lamented as Halycone does for her wave-borne home

And salt-drenched nest when cruel Auster and hostile

Thetis have robbed her of her children, her shivering

Nestlings. Bereaved she sank again and, hidden deep

Beneath the river, searched in vain for the body of her

Poor son, through many a current still making moan.

Where the liquid path shone before her as she went,

Often the harsh river opposed her, and her eyes dimmed

With a film of blood. Nonetheless, she swam swiftly,

Thrusting away javelins and swords, searching helmets

And bending back prone bodies with her hands. Not even

The ocean deterred her and she was entering the brine,

When a compassionate band of Nereids pushed his corpse,

Now possessed by the tall breakers, to his mother’s breast.

Embracing him as if he were alive she drew him back, laid

Him on the shore’s bed and dried his wet face with her soft

Hair. Adding to her cries of pain, she spoke: ‘Is this the gift

Your parents those demigods, and Ismenos, your immortal

Grandfather, grant you? Is this the way you shall reign over

Our flood? This sounding, alien shore is gentler, alas, to the

Wretched; and gentler the waves that mingling with the river

Returned your body, seemingly awaiting your sad mother?

Are these my looks; are these the eyes of your wild father?

Are these the tresses of your wave-revolving grandfather?

You were once known as the glory of woods and water;

While you lived I was treated as a greater goddess, queen

Beyond comparison of the Nymphs. Alas where is that host

Now that haunted your mother’s threshold, nymphs of the

Dell begging to be your slaves? Why do I bear you in my

Sad embrace, Crenaeus, I who had better have remained in

The cruel deep, not for myself but as my tomb? Ah, harsh

Father have you no shame, no pity for such ruin? What deep

Ineluctable marsh in the innermost recesses of your flow,

Hides you, where neither news of your grandson’s dreadful

Fate or my lament can reach you? See how Hippomedon

Rages, more powerfully than before, swaggering through

Your flood, the banks and waves trembling before him,

The water drenched with our blood at every blow. You

Prove sluggish, prepared to serve the fierce Pelasgi. Come,

At least to the funeral and the ashes of your own. Not his

Pyre alone, but mine too you shall kindle here.’ With this

She beat her breast, staining its innocence with her blood.

Her cerulean sisters echoed her lament. So in a haven of

The Isthmus, they say, Leucothea, not yet a Nereid, wailed

As her chill gasping son Melicertes spewed, on her, cruel brine.

BkIX:404-445 The river-god learns of his grandson’s fate

Father Ismenos was ensconced in his secret cave, from which

The wind and clouds drink, which nourishes the rainbow, so that

Richer harvests grace Tyrian fields. When, above the sound of

His own waters, he heard the distant lament, his daughter’s

Fresh grief, he lifted his neck coated with moss, his hair heavy

With ice, and the full-grown pine fell from his loosened grasp,

His urn, relinquished, rolled away. Along his banks the groves

And tributaries wondered as his head emerged, mired with

Ancient silt. So he rose from his swollen flood lifting his face,

Foam-covered, and his chest down which the streams from his

Cerulean beard coursed in sounding flow. One of the Nymphs

Greeted her father and told him of his grandson’s fate, their

Family tragedy, and taking his hand named the blood-stained

Culprit. Ismenos, towering above the deep river, struck at his

Face, shook his horns entwined with green sedge, and spoke

In sombre tones: ‘Ruler of the gods, is this my reward, I who

Have often played host and confidant to your doings (nor am

I afraid to recount them): those Satyrs’ horns on a deceptive

Brow; that night when the moon was forbidden to unyoke

Her chariot; that pyre as a dowry, lightning elicited by a trick;

And I nurturing the mightiest of your sons, or do they too

Hold my services of little worth: Hercules crawling by my

Shore; Bacchus’ flames extinguished for you by my waters.

See the carnage, what corpses I carry in my flood dense

With weapons and covered in a second layer. A series of

Battles occupies my whole channel, all my waves breathe

Horror, and new shades stray below, and above where my

Banks are linked by darkness. I, a river that echoed with

Sacred cries, I who am used to bathing Bacchus’ horns

And tender thyrsi with my pure spring, I am choked with

Corpses, and seek a narrowed passage to the sea. Strymon’s

Impious pools brim with less gore, foaming Hebrus is dyed

No redder when Mars makes war. Do my nurturing waters

Not admonish you and your company, Bacchus, forgetful

Now of your childhood? Or are you happier subduing

Hydaspes’ eastern streams? As for you, Warrior, who now

Exult in the blood and spoils of an innocent youth, unless

I prove mortal and your blood divine you will not return

From me to mighty Inachus, to cruel Mycenae, in victory.’

BkIX:446-491 The Ismenos rises against Hippomedon

So he spoke, and gnashed his teeth, signalling to the raging

Waters. Chill Cithaeron sent help from his mountain slopes,

Commanding ancient snows, that feed the wintry winds, to

Melt. His brother Asopus added voiceless power to his flow,

Contributing streams from earth’s open veins. Ismenos too

Explored the bowels of the hollow earth, rousing the pools,

The settled lakes, and sluggish marshes; and, lifting his eager

Face to the stars, absorbed the mists and dried the moist air.

Now taller than either bank he overran his shores; Hippomedon

Mid-river who had stood chest and shoulders above the waters

Wondered at their sudden increase as he sank lower. On every

Side swift gusts and swollen waves rose like the sea when rain

Drains the Pleiades, or dark Orion falls upon frightened sailors;

So the Teumesian river tossed the hero, lifted by the flat of his

Buckler, on the sea-like flood; leaping and foaming, to overtop

The hero’s shield with a dark tide, then falling back, in breaking

Waves, to return with greater volume. Not content with his liquid

Mass, Ismenos snatched at trees that bound the crumbling banks,

Whirling away the ancient boughs, and rocks loosed from his bed.

The unequal fight of man and water now hung poised, and the god

Grew indignant; for the hero, undaunted by his threats, refused to

Flee. He met and entered the oncoming waves, cleaving the flow

With his outstretched shield. Standing firm, as the ground eroded

Beneath him, legs tensed against the slippery rocks, Hippomedon

Strained with his knees, clung to his foothold in the treacherous

Mud undermining him, rebuking the river: ‘Ismenos, why this

Sudden anger? From what deeps do you draw this strength, slave

Of an unwarlike god, free from all blood except in female orgies,

When Bacchus’ pipes call and maddened women stain the triennial

Festival.’ He spoke and the god came against him, his visage wet

With a cloud and rain of floating sand. The god raged wordlessly,

Rising with an oak tree’s trunk and striking his adversary’s chest

With all the power of wrath and deity. At last Hippomedon was

Forced to retreat, the shield shaken from his hand, and slowly

Turning his back he reversed his steps. The waters bore down

On him; the river following in triumph as he stumbled onwards.

The Thebans assailed him too with a shower of stones and steel,

And drove him back from the banks on either side. What was he

To do, attacked by weapon and wave? There was neither chance

Of fleeing the flood, nor an opportunity there for glorious death.

BkIX:492-539 The death of Hippomedon

A standing ash tree jutted from the edge of the grassy bank, whether

Rooted in earth or water was uncertain, but friendlier to the water,

Occupying the flood with its outspread shade. He clutched at it for

Help (how else could he reach the shore?) hooking it with his right

Arm, but it could not withstand his weight. Overcome by a burden

Greater than its strength, it gave way. Detached from its roots in

The waves and those on dry land, the trunk brought itself and the bank

Down on the anxious hero, who was now at the end of his endurance,

And in its sudden collapse enclosed him with its mass. Here the waters

Combined in an inescapable pit filled with mud, and with whirlpools

Ebbing and flowing. Now the winding eddies encircled the general’s

Shoulders, then his neck. Confessing at last to his defeat, foreseeing

Death, he cried: ‘Great Mars (for shame!) will you drown me here,

To vanish beneath sluggish pools and marsh, like a shepherd caught

In the angry waters of a sudden torrent? Was I so unworthy of death

By the blade?’ Juno, roused at last by his prayer, accosted Jupiter:

How far will you go, great father of the gods, how far, in oppressing

The Inachians? Already Minerva has been brought to loathe Tydeus;

Delphi has fallen silent, her prophet lost. Now shall my Hippomedon,

Who is of Mycenean race, whose home is Argos, whose deity am I,

Above all (is this how loyalty is repaid?), be prey for the cruel beasts

Of the ocean? Did you not once grant tombs and funeral pyres to all

Those vanquished? Where are the Cecropian flames after battle; how

Shall Theseus grant him the final fire?’ Jupiter listened to his consort’s

Just plea, and cast his gaze readily towards Cadmus’ walls; seeing his

Nod, the river subsided. The hero’s bloodless shoulders and pierced

Chest appear to view, as a rockbound shore the sailors sought appears

When a storm raised by the high wind has abated, the waves retreating

From the jagged cliffs. What use in being so near the shore? Theban

Warriors attacked him on all sides with a shower of weapons. Nothing

Protected his limbs, he was defenceless before death. His wounds open.

The blood no longer held beneath the river is released to the naked air,

And looses the contents of his veins. He stumbled, chilled by the water,

His footing unsure, and fell forward as an oak tree falls on Getic Haemus

Toppled by the fury of the north wind or by its own decay, its foliage

Once touching the sky, now leaving behind a vast void of air; forest

And mountain trembling as it totters, as to what direction it will drop,

Which trees it will overwhelm in sequence. None was so daring as to

Touch his sword or helm. Approaching closely with locked shields,

The Thebans viewing the mighty dead could scarce believe their eyes.

BkIX:540-569 The death of Hypseus

At last Boeotian Hypseus approached and pulled the sword from

Hippomedon’s cold grasp, loosening the helm from the grim face.

Then he went through the Theban ranks displaying the helmet high

On the point of his gleaming blade, and boasting loudly: ‘Here’s

Fierce Hippomedon, here’s the formidable avenger of the dreadful

Tydeus and the conqueror of the blood-stained river.’ Great-hearted

Capaneus saw him from afar and repressed his sorrow. Aiming a huge

Spear he cried: ‘Help me, right arm, my only all-powerful and present

Deity in battle, I call on you; I, the scorner of gods, adore you alone.’

So saying he himself fulfilled the prayer. The pinewood shaft passed

Quivering through the shield, the corselet’s bronze mail, and finally

Found the heart deep in Hypseus’ mighty chest. He fell with a crash

Like a tall tower that collapses, shaken to the depths by countless

Blows, opening a breach to the city’s conquerors. Capaneus stood

Over him: ‘I shall not deny the glory of your death; behold, I

It was gave you your wound; die happy, and boast more loudly

Than other shades!’ Then he seized sword and helmet, snatched

Hypseus’ shield, and holding them above Hippomedon’s corpse,

Cried: ‘Receive your spoils and the enemy’s together, mighty

General. A funeral will be granted your ashes, and due honours

To your shade; meanwhile, until we can render you your pyre,

Capaneus, your avenger, clothes your limbs with this sepulchre.’

So Mars, impartially, devised similar wounds for the Argives

And the Thebans alike, in the harsh exchanges of the battlefield.

Here fierce Hippomedon, there Hypseus, no less active in the war,

Are lamented, and the mourning on both sides gives them solace.

BkIX:570-636 Atalanta prays to Diana

Meanwhile stern Atalanta the Tegean mother of Parthenopaeus,

The young archer, was troubled by gloomy visions in her sleep.

Before dawn, she took her way to the chill waters of Ladon, her

Hair flying in the wind, feet bare as usual, to purge her sinister

Thoughts in the living waters. In the night, oppressed by a weight

Of cares, she’d repeatedly seen spoils she had dedicated falling

From the walls of shrines; and she herself, exiled from the forests,

Banished from the Dryads, wandering among unknown sepulchres;

Or her son’s triumphs, after the war, his companions and weapons,

His usual steed, but never he himself; or again her quiver sliding

From her shoulder, and her familiar images and portraits consumed

By fire. But that night above all seemed to portend danger, rousing

Maternal feelings in the poor woman’s breast. There was an oak

Rich in growth, known throughout Arcadia’s forests, which she

Had chosen from the many others in those groves, and consecrated

To Diana Trivia, rendering it numinous by her worship. There she

Would lay aside her bow, wearily, and there she hung the boars’

Curving tusks, and the hides stripped from lions, and antlers large

As great branches. The boughs were scarcely visible it was so hung

With rustic trophies all around, the glint of steel dispelling the shade.

She saw herself, in dream, tired from the hunt, returning proudly from

The mountains carrying the freshly severed head of an Erymanthian

Boar, only to find the tree on the ground dying, ravaged by wounds,

Its leaves scattered, its limbs dripping blood. The Nymphs replied

To her questions by telling of blood-stained Maenads and Bacchus’

Hostile cruelties. As she groaned and beat her breast with phantom

Blows, her eyes had opened to the darkness; leaping from her sad

Couch she examined her face for the signs of those imagined tears.

Now, when she’d bathed her hair three times in the river to expiate

The horror, and added words of solace for a mother’s anxious cares,

She ran through the morning dew to armed Diana’s shrine, joyful

To see the oak and the familiar ranks of trees. Then standing there

At the goddess’ threshold, she prayed, though in vain: ‘Powerful

Virgin of the forests, whose ungentle banner and fierce campaigns

I follow, scornful of my gender and in no Greek fashion (nor have

The harsh folk of Colchis or the troops of Amazons worshipped

You with greater ardour) the dances and the wanton sport of night

Were never mine, and though violated by a hateful union I never

Bore smooth thyrsi or soft wool but even afterwards, even then,

Remained a huntress in the gloomy wilds, a virgin at heart, nor

Did I choose to hide my fault in some secret cave, but showed

My son and, confessing, placed him trembling at your feet; nor

Was he unworthy of my blood; for the boy soon crept towards

My bow and, with tears and lisping speech, asked for weapons;

Grant, I pray, that I may see him victorious in battle (for what

Do these nights of fear, these dreams threaten?), he who went

To the war brave and hopeful, trusting too much, alas! in you;

Or if I ask too much, grant me at least to see him, once more.

Let him labour here and bear your arms. Suppress the dire

Signs of evil. Why in our groves, Diana of the Woods, must

Hostile Maenads and Theban deity reign? Ah me! Why deep

Within (may I prove an augur ignorant of futurity!) why so

Deeply do I interpret a mighty omen from this oak-tree? Alas,

If sleep sends me true presage of what comes; by your mother’s

Labour, gentle Diana, and your brother’s glory; pierce this

Luckless womb with your arrows. Let him know of the death

Of his unhappy mother first.’ She spoke and saw that even

Snowy Diana’s altar stone was moist with the flow of tears.

BkIX:637-682 Diana journeys to Thebes

The fierce goddess left her lying there at the sacred threshold,

And sweeping the cold altar with her tresses. Diana leapt

Leafy Maenalus, among the stars, where the sky’s far paths

Shine for deities alone, and steered her high course towards

The walls of Thebes, viewing all the earth from the heights.

Now midway on her journey, passing over the leafy ridges

Of Parnassus, she saw her brother, in a gleaming cloud, his

Face sadder than was his habit, returning from the Theban

Battlefield, mourning Amphiaraus’ death in Earth’s abyss.

That region of the sky reddened as the two shining ones met,

At their sacred conjunction a light burning on both sides,

Their bows joining and quivers responding. He spoke first:

‘Sister, I know: you are seeking the troops of Labdacus

And the Arcadian who braves a fight beyond his strength.

His faithful mother has asked it of you: and would that

The Fates might let you grant her prayer! Consider my

Feelings! Helpless to intervene I saw my votary’s face,

(For shame!) turned towards me, sacred fronds, and weapons,

Sink into Tartarus’ void. Nor, cruel that I proved, unworthy

Of worship, could I halt his chariot and close death’s chasm.

You see my sacred cave in mourning, sister, and my oracle

Mute: such the sole gifts with which I reward my loyal seer.

Do not try to bring useless help, a vain and mournful effort.

The lad’s end is nigh, his fate unalterable: your prophetic

Brother shall not deceive you: there is no room for doubt.’

With consternation, the virgin goddess replied: ‘Yet at least

I can seek honour for him at the last, and the solace in

Death that is mine to grant; nor shall he who impiously

Stains his wicked hands with the innocent youth’s blood

Escape punishment. My arrows too have the right to fly

In anger.’ So saying she flew on, grudgingly allowing her

Brother’s kiss, and in her wrath sought the fields of Thebes.

And now that leaders on both sides had been slain the fight

Grew fiercer, vengeance rousing mutual anger. Here roared

The squadrons of Hypseus, troops robbed of their general,

There the orphaned cohorts of dead Hippomedon. They

Offered their straining bodies to the steel with the same

Mad eagerness to drain alien blood as to shed their own.

Neither side had advanced a step, but ranked in a wedge,

Were laying down their lives before the savage foe, face

Forwards, when Latona’s swift daughter glided down

From the air and stood on the summit of Dirce’s peak.

The hills knew her and the woods trembled to recognise

The goddess, there where bare-breasted she had once

Slain Niobe’s brood, with cruel arrows and tireless bow.

BkIX:683-775 She intervenes to aid Parthenopaeus

Parthenopaeus meanwhile, now the slaughter had begun

Swept through the ranks on a stallion new to the bridle,

To whom war and suffering were previously unknown.

The horse was adorned with a striped tiger-skin, those

Gilded claws tapping at the shoulders. The mane was

Knotted, flat, curtailed; and a crescent necklet of white

Boar-tusk, a mark of the forest, bounced at his chest.

Parthenopaeus himself wore a cloak twice-steeped in

Oebalian dye, and a tunic bright with gold (the only

Garment his mother had woven) gathered round his

Loins with a slender band. He had allowed his shield

To rest on the horse’s left shoulder, while his sword,

Too large for him, weighed heavily. A golden brooch

With a polished clasp to the belt that hung around his

Strong flanks, was his delight. And he loved the rattle

Of scabbard and quiver, and of the chain-mail falling

From his helm to touch his back; and to give sometimes

A joyous toss of his horse-hair crest and let the shining

Gems on his helmet glitter: though when his brow was

Hot with battle, he freed it and rode with his head bare.

Then his hair gleamed handsomely; handsome his eyes

With tremulous rays, and cheeks whose lack of downy

Beard annoyed him with their tardiness. Nor was he

Made vain by praise of his beauty, marring his looks

With many threatening frowns, though his angry brow

Maintained a seemly aspect. The Theban warriors,

Remembering their own sons, freely gave way to him,

Withdrawing their levelled spears, but he charged on,

Flinging cruel javelins at those who showed him pity.

Even the Sidonian Nymphs on the Teumesian ridges

Praised him as he fought, winning their favour in

Sweat and dust; and they sighed with silent longing.

As Diana watched the spectacle, tender sorrow melted

Her heart’s depths and she marred her cheeks with tears:

‘What refuge from approaching death can your faithful

Goddess find for you now? Did you then rush to battle

Of your own free will, fierce boy, who one must pity?

Alas, it was raw courage and impatience drove you,

And the love of glory exhorting valorous death! Long

Have Maenalus’ forests seemed too small for you, lad,

As age prompted; and those paths to wild beasts’ dens

Barely safe there without your mother whose woodland

Javelins and bow your precociousness lacked the strength

To manage. Now she offers lament and many a reproach

At my altars, wearying doors and thresholds deaf to her.

You happily rejoice at the fine noise of the trumpets and

The shouts of battle, only your poor mother foreseeing

Your death.’ Then lest she be there as a helpless witness

To the dying youth’s final glory, she entered the ranks

Of warriors, hidden by a dark mist. First she stole light

Arrows from the brave lad’s quiver and filled it with

Celestial darts, none of which falls without taking blood.

Then she sprinkled ambrosial liquid over his limbs, over

His horse too, so that his body might be unmarred by any

Wound before the end, accompanying this with sacred

Chants and words of secret knowledge that she herself

Teaches Colchian women by night in the hidden caves,

Or in pointing out wild herbs to them as they search.

Now with outstretched bow he spurs here and there, fierily,

Beyond reason, forgetting his native land, his mother, self;

Spending the heavenly arrows too swiftly. So a young lion

Scorns the gory food his Gaetulian mother brings, feeling

The mane rising on his neck and savagely examining his

Adult claws and, exercising his freedom at last, delights

In the open plains, all thought gone of returning to the den.

Reckless lad, whom do you not slay with your Parrhasian

Bow? Your first arrow caught Coroebus of Tanagra: fired

Through the narrow slit between the helmet’s lower edge

And the rim of his shield, it suffused his throat with blood,

And his face flushed with the fire of divine poison. Eurytion

Met a crueller fate; the point of the wicked triple barb buried

Itself in his left eyeball. Pulling out the arrow with the ruined

Orb at its end, he ran at the archer, but what can the powerful

Shafts of the gods not accomplish? The wound brought twin

Darkness to the other eye, completing its effect: foolishly he

Still pursued his tormentor in thought, until he stumbled over

The prostrate Idas and fell: there he lay, poor wretch, gasping

Among the corpses of that savage battle, praying to friends

And foe alike for death. Parthenopaeus added to his victims

Abas; Argus notable for his tresses; and his brother Cydon

Loved incestuously by his unfortunate sister. Cydon was

Pierced through his groin, and Argus through his temples

With a slanting shaft, the steel tip visible on the one side,

The sleek fletches on the other, blood flowed from both.

The sharp arrows show no mercy. Lamus was not saved

By his beauty, Lygdus by his sacred ribbon, or Aeolos

By his youth. Lamus was pierced through the face, Lygdus

Groaned at a wound in the thigh, Aeolos at a deep gash

In his pale forehead. One, steep Euboea nurtured; one,

White Thisbe sent; one, green Erythrae will not see again.

Parthenopaeus aim never misses, no missile flies without

Divine help, his right hand knows no rest and every arrow

Joins its whirring flight to its precursor. Who would believe

A single hand and bow was at work? Now he aimed ahead,

Now at random launched an attack on one side or the other,

And then fled his assailants, looking back only to aim his bow.

BkIX:776-840 Mars banishes her from the field

And now the Thebans were united in wonder and indignation.

Amphion, of Jupiter’s illustrious race, spoke first, unaware

As yet of the carnage Parthenopaeus had dealt: ‘How long

Can you stave off fate, lad, who richly deserve to bereave

Your parents? Your pride and audacity run high only because

No one deigns to fight you, thinking it not worth battling you

For so little, considering you beneath their anger. Go back to

Arcadia, and wrestle with your peers, while Mars works off

His rage here on the real battlefield. Yet, if the melancholy

Glory of the grave tempts you we’ll grant you a man’s death!’

Meanwhile Atalanta’s fierce son, deeply stung, was seething

And before the other had finished replied: ‘I am too old to take

Up arms against Thebes if this is her army! Who is so young

He would refuse to fight the likes of these? You see Arcadian

Not Theban stock before you, the seed of a warlike race. No

Maenad woman, slave to Echionian Bacchus, gave birth to me

In the silence of night. I never set an unsightly turban on my

Brow or brandished a shameful spear. I learned from the cradle

How to crawl over frozen rivers, and enter the dreadful lairs

Of wild beasts; and (what more to say?) my mother always

Has bow and blade about her, while your ancestors ever beat

Hollow drums.’ This was too much for Amphion, who hurled

A mighty javelin at the speaker’s mouth. But Parthenopaeus’

Horse, scared by the fatal brightness of the steel, swerved aside,

And, as he turned, the eager missile passed his master by. All

The more fiercely Amphion, with drawn sword, was seeking

The youth when Latona’s daughter appeared suddenly amidst

The battle, and stood before his eyes, full face, opposing him.

Maenalian Dorceus was often at his side. Atalanta, in her anxiety,

Had entrusted him, bound as he was to the youth by innocent

Affection, with protecting the lad’s tender years in battle. Diana,

Masked with his features, spoke: ‘Enough, Parthenopaeus, you

Have harried the Ogygian troops enough! Now think of your

Unhappy mother and whoever of the gods may wish you well.’

Unafraid he replied; ‘Most loyal Dorceus, all I ask is that you

Allow me to stretch him on the ground, this man who carries

Weapons to compete with my weapons and boasts my armour

And sounding reins. The reins I’ll grasp, the adornments I’ll

Hang from Diana’s high lintel, the captured quiver will be my

Gift for my mother.’ Diana heard and smiled amid her tears.

Meanwhile Venus in a distant region of the sky watched all

This, embracing Mars. Speaking to her dear lord of Thebes,

Of Cadmus, and of the descendants of their dear Harmonia,

She opportunely stirred the resentment hid in his silent heart.

‘Mars do you not see how Diana, flaunting her virginity, shows

Herself among the warrior host, how boldly she governs armies

And martial banners? See how many of our race she supplies

As gifts for slaughter? Are valour and wrath now deemed hers;

And you left to hunt the deer? The Lord of War, roused to battle

By her just complaint, now plunged into the fray, anger alone his

Companion as he plummeted through the outstretched void, his

Other Frenzies labouring in the fight. Swiftly now he came to

Leto’s sorrowing daughter, and reprimanded her with a harsh

Warning: ‘These are not the battles that the Father of the Gods

Allotted you. Unless you leave the field of arms now, shameless

One, you will find that even Pallas is unequal to this right hand.’

What could she do? Mars’ spear on the one hand, the youth’s

Fatal thread full-spun on the other; and, far off, Jove’s frowning

Countenance. She went, defeated at last by her shame alone.

BkIX:841-876 Dryas wounds Parthenopaeus

But Mars surveyed the Theban army and roused dread Dryas,

Whose blood derived from turbulent Orion, and whose hatred

Of Diana’s companions was hereditary (hence his rage). He

Fell on the routed Arcadians with his sword, leaving their

Leader defenceless. In serried ranks he slew the people

Of Cyllene; the men of shadowy Tegea, Aepytian generals

And the Telphusian troops, trusting to kill Parthenopaeus,

Whose hand grew weary, his strength expended. For, tired

Now, Parthenopaeus switched squadrons, here and there.

A thousand presages of doom oppressed him, black mists

Of death went before him. Now, alas, he found few friends

Remained, saw the true Dorceus, felt his strength ebbing

Gradually, felt his quiver exhausted; his shoulder lighter.

Now it was harder and harder to raise his weapons, even

To himself he seemed but a boy – then fierce Dryas flamed

Before him, his shield glittering dreadfully. A sudden pang

Gripped the Arcadian’s face and body. As a white swan,

Seeing above him an eagle, bearer of the lightning bolt,

And folding his quivering wings to his breast, longs for

Strymon’s bank to open; so the youth, beholding the form

Of savage Dryas, was seized not with anger but a shudder

Presaging death. Pallid he still raised his shield, and praying

In vain to Diana and the gods, readied his unresponsive bow.

About to shoot, straining both arms, the bow-tips meeting

The arrow’s point; the cord, his chest; suddenly Dryas’ spear,

Hurled towards him with great force, cut the tense vibrating

String in two; his shot was lost, the arrow fell idly from his

Useless hand, and the bow-tips sprang erect. Then, in turmoil,

The luckless youth dropped reins and shield, unable to endure

The wound the spear had made piercing the fabric covering

His right shoulder and the flesh beneath. A second spear

Hamstrung his horse, halting its flight. Then Dryas himself

Fell (wonderfully strange!) unconscious of any wound;

The weapon’s sender and the cause to be revealed some day.

BkIX:877-905 The death of Parthenopaeus

The youth meanwhile was carried by his friends to a quiet

Corner of the field. Dying, he wept (alas, the innocence of

Youth) for his fallen horse! His helm unloosed, his features

Sank, and there in his flickering eyes failing beauty faded.

Time and again they gripped his hair, and lifted his head

That would not stay erect, while (a tragedy to make Thebes

Herself weep) blood ran purple from his snow-white breast.

At length he cried, his sobbing breath interrupting speech:

‘I die, Dorceus; go comfort my poor mother. If anxiety

Delivers true presentiments, she has already seen for sure

This sad hour of evil in sleep or through some omen. But

With honourable cunning you must keep her fears at bay,

And long deceive her. Do not approach her suddenly or

When she has weapons in her hands. And when at last

You must confess; tell her that my last words were these:

‘Mother, I have deserved this; punish me, though it may be

Against your will. A mere lad I took up arms, and refused

To stay even when you restrained me; nor even in battle

Did I spare you fear. Live; and be angered rather by my

Brave pride. Now lay fear aside; you will gaze in vain

From Lycaeus’ hill, hoping for a distant sound through

The mist, and for the dust raised by my troops. Cold I lie

On the naked earth, and you not here to touch my face

Or receive my parting breath. But this lock of hair,

My bereaved mother (and with his hand he offered it

To the blade) this lock of hair, you used to comb to

My disdain, you’ll possess in place of my whole body.

To it grant burial, and duly ensure that no novice blunts

My arrows, my beloved hounds are led no more among

The glades. As for this bow, unlucky in its first campaign,

Burn it, or hang it high as a reproach to ungrateful Diana.’


End of Book IX