Publius Papinius Statius

Thebaid

Book VI

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


BkVI:1-117 Preparations for the Funeral and the Games

On the footsteps of Rumour, the news swept widely through

The Danaan cities that the sons of Inachus were establishing

Rites at the new tomb, as well as memorial games in which

Brave men in hot competition would ready themselves for war.

A festival in the Greek manner! Pious Hercules first appointed

Such honours for Pelops at Olympia; olive wreath on his dusty

Brow. Then Phocis, free of the serpent’s oppression, celebrated

The Pythian Games to recall the triumph of young Apollo’s bow.

Then came the dark rites observed at Palaemon’s gloomy altars

When brave Leucothea returns to a friendly shore at the Isthmian

Festival, renewing her lament: both shores are loud with mourning

And Echionian Thebes responds with tears. And now the scions

Of kings, those sons of Argos who linked her to heaven, whose

Mighty names Aonia’s land and Tyrian mothers uttered with sighs,

Met there, in Nemea, and roused their naked strength to combat.

They were like sailors about to venture on unknown seas, whether

To meet the Tyrrhene storms, or the wide Aegean, who first test

Helm and rigging and oars, gently, on a placid lake, and learn how

To anticipate real risks, who when they are trained are confident

And strike out far on the waves, without regard to the fading shore.

Bright Dawn’s toil-bearing chariot had risen in the sky, and Night,

And Sleep with his emptied horn, were fleeing that pale goddess’s

Waking course. Now the streets were loud with grief, the tearful

Palace with groans; and far off pathless forests received, distorted

And multiplied the sounds. The father sat stripped of holy ribbons,

His tangled hair and his unkempt beard matted with funereal dust.

Opposite him the bereaved mother, more distraught and grieving

More than the men, set her maids an example, urging, exhorting

Them, despite their willingness, and striving to clasp her child’s

Violated corpse, returning to it whenever she was dragged away.

The father himself restrained her. Then, when the Inachian kings

Arrived at the threshold with sad faces of mourning too, as if this

Tragedy were fresh, and the infant suffering his first wounds, or

The deadly serpent in the very hall, though weary they redoubled

The blows against their breasts, the walls echoing their clamour.

The Pelasgi felt the reproach, and countered the charge with tears.

Adrastus himself, whenever the noise died, and a stunned silence

Gripped the house, yielding him space, with words of unprompted

Solace, consoled the father. He spoke of destiny, of the harshness

Of our human condition, of inexorable fate, or recalled those other

Children who, thanks to Heaven, still lived. Yet while he spoke

The lament began again. Lycurgus was no more quieted with words,

However well-meant, than the fierce Ionian Sea’s wrath by the noise

Of men’s prayers on the deep, or errant lightning by veils of cloud.

Meanwhile the child’s bier, a bed destined for the pyre, was woven

From tender branches of sad cypress. The base was strewn all over

With rustic greenery, then more elaborate wreaths of herbs, topped

By a mound of flowers doomed to die. The final tier heaped high

With Arabian perfumes, the riches of the east, held masses of white

Incense, and long-lasting cinnamon the gift of the aged King Belus.

The summit quivered with gold, a soft curtain of Tyrian purple rose

Above, glittering at every point with cut gems, its centre woven

With acanthus leaves, round the form of Linus and the fatal hounds.

The mother had always hated that wondrous work, and averted her

Eyes from the omen. The love of glory, mixed with pride and pain,

Spread weapons and ancestral trappings, from the afflicted palace,

Round the bier, as though some giant figure was being born to his

Funeral, a mighty corpse for the flames; yet barren and empty fame

Delights the grieving, and the tiny corpse was greater for its funeral.

So endless honour and piteous pleasure graced the tears. Gifts more

Weighty than his years were given to the pyre; for an earlier vow

Of his father’s had caused a miniature quiver and arrows, innocent

Missiles, to be made for him, and horses of proven worth, all bred

From the stables’ famous line, were being reared for him, and shields

And glittering belts were being readied, anticipating growing strength.

Elsewhere, at the command of the learned augur, the army laboured

To raise high the mountainous pyre, with tree trunks, fallen branches

And dark offerings, to expiate their guilt at slaying the serpent, before

Their ill-omened war began. A grove was felled whose ancient foliage

Had never known the axe, richer in its dense shade than all the forests

Of Argolis and Lycaeus, that lifted their crowned summits to the stars.

Sacred in majestic age it stood, said to be older than human ancestry;

And a true witness to the passing of generations of Nymphs and Fauns.

Its pitiful ruin was imminent. Driven by fear the creatures fled, the birds

Flitted from their warm nests. The towering beech, the Chaonian oaks,

The cypress unharmed by winter and spruce-trees fell, to feed the funeral

Fire, rowan and ilex trunks, yews with their poisonous sap, and ash-trees

Fated to drink blood, shed in the accursed war, long-lasting hardwoods.

Then the sea-going fir and pine-boughs, aromatic when cut, were split,

As alder, friend to water, and the vine-bound elm bowed their uncut tips

To the ground. The earth groaned. The forests of Mount Ismara, no more

Swiftly uprooted, are so torn away, when Boreas from his rocky cave,

Lifts his head; nor does fire bring faster ruin to the trees when a southerly

Gale blows. Pales; Silvanus, lord of the shade; and the host of demigods

Leave the places that they love, haunts of ancient peace; and as they go

The woods groan in unison, while clinging Nymphs embrace the oaks.

So, in a captured city, when the enemy general releases his eager men

To plunder, the signal is scarcely given when the whole city is gone;

Without restraint they level everything, drag away, drive and carry off

Whatever they can, with far greater tumult than ever they made in war.

BkVI:118-192 Eurydice mourns her son

Now, shared toil had raised twin altars of like size, one to the sad shades

The other to the gods, when a pipe of curving horn boomed low as a sign

Of grief, the pipe that according to Phrygia’s rites of mourning precedes

The youthful dead. They used to say that Pelops appointed such chanting

And ceremony to mark the passing of children; and Niobe dressed in black

Brought twelve urns so, to Sipylos; of her children slain by the twin bows.

The Greek generals brought funeral gifts, their offerings, to be burned,

Each signed, to testify in piety to the honours his race had won. Later,

Amid wild shouts, the bier itself was raised on the shoulders of young

Men (the leader had chosen them from a host of warriors).The Lernaean

Generals surrounded Lycurgus, a gentler company circled the queen.

Hypsipyle was there, not unattended. The sons of Inachus remembered

And guarded her, her sons supported her by her bruised arms, so their

Mother might lament. But no sooner had Eurydice left her ill-starred

House, than speech rose from her bared throat, and with a prologue

Of blows to her breast, and long drawn out sighs, she began: ‘Not thus,

My son did I hope to follow you, with this long train of Argive women,

Nor did I imagine, in my foolish prayers, that your childhood would end

Like this, my thoughts were not so cruel. How should I dream, in my

Ignorance, that Thebes and conflict were what I should fear? Which god

Chose to begin this war by a sacrifice of our blood? Who dedicated

Your death, sinfully, to its success? Yet your house, Cadmus, grieves

Not; no child is mourned among Thebes’ Tyrian people. It is I who

Suffer the first fruit of tears, untimely death to the sound of trumpets,

The clash of swords; I who thoughtlessly trusted a nurse I thought true,

And handed her my babe. Why not? She had told me how she saved

Her father, by her cleverness, and kept her innocent hands unstained.

Behold her: this woman who alone she says abjured the deadly oath,

Immune to the madness of her fellow Lemnians! This daring woman,

(You believe her yet!) this woman strong in her devotion, abandoned

Not her king or lord but another’s child, disloyally, in a lonely field,

Unthinking, leaving him by a path in a dangerous wood. No fearful

Serpent (what need, alas, for such deadly monsters) but strong winds

Merely, branches blown by the wind, or terror alone might have been

Enough to kill him. Nor, in my sad loss, can I accuse you warriors;

With such a nurse this mother’s tragedy was always inevitable. Yet,

My child, you were fonder of her, it was her you heard and recognised

When she called, ignoring me: your mother had little joy of you. She,

The undutiful, heard your cries and tearful laughter, she knew the lisp

Of your first words. She, while you lived, acted as your mother: I now.

But, alas, I lack even the power to punish her as she deserves! Generals,

Why these vain rites, these gifts for the pyre? I beg you, by the sacrifice

I have made at the commencement of war, deliver her (the shades ask no

Less) deliver her to the ashes and the parent she destroyed. So Theban

Mothers may mourn their child, as I do.’ She tore her hair, repeatedly,

In supplication: ‘Deliver her up: do not call me cruel, eager for blood,

Since I will die along with her, if I can only sate myself with gazing

At that stroke of justice, and we be hurled together on the same pyre.’

Calling out, seeing Hypsipyle lamenting in another more distant place

(For neither was she sparing of hair or breast) and indignant that she

Too was grieving publicly, she cried: ‘Forbid her this, at least, you

Nobles, and you, General, for whose war this pledge of the marriage

Bed has died. Drag that hateful woman from these funeral rites. Why

Does she show her accursed self with his mother? Why is she here,

In our hour of tragedy? For whom does she, who embraces her own

Children, mourn?’ So she spoke, then suddenly ceasing her cries,

She fainted. It was as if a calf, with little strength, his vigour drawn

As yet from the udder, had been cheated of his first milk, carried off

By a wild beast, or sent by a herdsman to the cruel altar. The dam,

Bereft, rouses valley, rivers, trees with her lowing, asks a question

Of the empty fields; she is last to leave the sad meadow, devoid

Of any desire for home, turning unsated from the grass before her.

BkVI:193-254 The Funeral of Archemorus

Lycurgus himself hurled his proud sceptre and Jove’s emblems

On the pyre, and with a blade cut the hair of his beard and head,

Covering the tiny face of the dead child with the severed mass,

And uttered words that mingled with his tears: ‘Perfidious Jove,

I would have consecrated these locks to you for a far different

Reason, if you had granted my son to offer his youthful beard

With them in your temple. But your priest’s words have not been

Endorsed, his prayer was denied. Let this shade, who is far more

Worthy of them, possess them.’ The fire was lit, the flames roared

In the lower branches; it was hard to restrain the maddened parents.

The Danaans stood as ordered, their shields raised, barring the sight

From unlawful view. The ashes glistened; no embers were ever

Richer than they. Gems split, silver fused in a mass, gold melted

From embroidered fabrics. Logs swelled with Assyrian unguents,

Charred honey and pale saffron hissed, and on them were poured

Bowls of foaming wine; cups of dark blood; milk dear to the dead.

Then the Greek kings led out seven squadrons (of a hundred riders

Each) with insignia reversed. According to custom, they circled

The pyre anti-clockwise, the rising flames bowing as they passed.

Three times they traversed the ring, weapons clashed on weapons,

Four times beating on their shields they raised a din, four times

The handmaidens’ palms a softer sound as they beat their breasts.

A second fire received the dying sheep and still-breathing cattle.

But then, at auspices of strange disaster, the prophet commanded

The mourning to cease, though he knew that the omens spoke true.

Clockwise they wheeled retracing their course, spears quivering,

And each threw an offering into the flames, from his equipment,

A bridle, a choice belt, a javelin, or the crest that shaded his helm.

It was over, and already the fires, exhausted, sank to ash. They

Quenched the flames, dousing the pyre with floods of water, till

Their labour ceased at sunset, duty narrowly ended with the dark.

Nine times had Lucifer dismissed the dew-wet stars from the sky,

And as often at night, as Hesperus, heralded the Moon’s light,

(Though the knowing constellations are not deceived, detecting

Him as one, in his rising and his setting) and a wondrous work

Was complete! A building stood there, all of stone, a mighty

Temple for the child’s ashes and, within, a frieze told the story:

Here Hypsipyle pointed out the stream to the weary Danaans;

Here the child crawled, here he slept while the scaled serpent

Dragged its rasping length round the margins of the hill; one

Could almost hear the blood-filled hiss from its dying mouth,

So expertly was the snake shown, coiled round a marble spear.

And now a crowd arrived, from street and field, eager to see

The Games, the mock battles (Rumour had brought them all).

Even those whom youth or weary age had left at home, free

Of the horror of war, appeared. No greater host ever raised

A clamour on Corinth’s shores or beside Oenomaus’s course.

BkVI:255-295 The Funeral Games – The opening procession

A valley, embraced by woods, sat in a circle of green winding

Hills; shaggy ridges stood around, and a solid mound with twin

Shoulders terminated the exit from the plain, whose level lifted

To grassy brows and gentle slopes, that curved with long paths,

Green turf, and no sudden defiles. There when the fields were

Already reddened by the sun, a troop of warriors took their seats.

They took pleasure in the number, the looks, and bearing of their

Comrades in the crowd, and in their confidence in such a host.

There a hundred black bulls, the pride of the herd, were led,

A slow-moving mass; and a like number of heifers and steers

Without horns as yet, of the same colour. Then a procession

Of brave images of ancient ancestors appeared, skilfully done;

The faces seemed alive. First Hercules, crushing the panting

Lion, shattering its bones with hard friction against his chest.

Though it was made of bronze, in their honour, the Inachians

Were still fearful at the sight. Father Inachus came next, leaning

On the crest of his reed-filled bank, and tipping his brimming urn

To the left. Behind him, Io, now four-legged, her father’s grief,

Watched Argus, starred with those eyes that never closed. Jove,

In gentler mood, had exalted her in Egypt and already the Dawn

Was worshipping her as guest. Then father Tantalus, not hung

Above the illusory waters or snatching at the empty air and its

Retreating branches, but the good Tantalus dinner-guest of Jove.

Elsewhere Pelops the victor, in his chariot, grips the reins that

Neptune gave him, while Myrtilos the charioteer, clutches at

Falling wheels, and the spinning axle leaves him far behind.

There too is stern Acrisius, with his daughter the guilty Danae,

And Coroebus the monster-slayer, and sad Amymone beside

The spring Neptune created for her, and Alcmena, triple moons

About her head, taking pride in her babe Hercules. Aegyptus

And Danaus, sons of Belus, clasp right hands in their doomed

Pact, Aegyptus depicted with gentle look; but on Danaus’ face

The marks of deceit, sign of the fatal marriages, of that night

Of murder are plain to see. A thousand other images follow.

Pleasure at last is satisfied: Valour calls the brave to compete.

BkVI:296-354 The Funeral Games – Competitors for the chariot-race

The first event was the chariot-racing. Apollo, recount the names,

Of the horses, and those famous charioteers; for there was never

A nobler set of coursers arrayed. It was as though a swarm of birds

Raced in swift flight; or Aeolus had the wild winds scour the shore.

First came Arion, conspicuous for the flame of his red mane. His

Sire was Neptune, if legend is true, who was the first with bridle

And bit to break a colt on the sandy shore, sparing him the whip;

A colt with insatiable desire for motion, restless as the wintry sea.

In harness with Neptune’s steeds, he’d swim the Ionian and Libyan

Deeps, carrying his ocean father to every shore. Clouds, amazed,

Were left behind; east and west winds chased him in emulation.

He was no less superb on land, carrying Hercules over the deeply

Ploughed fields as he performed labours for Eurystheus; still wild

And unmanageable even for that son of Amphitryon. Later, a gift

Of the gods, he deigned to obey Adrastus, having grown milder

In the intervening years. Now the king, with many an admonition,

Allowed his son-in-law, Polynices, to manage him; telling him how

To soothe the horse when excited, not to handle him harshly, nor

To grant him free rein. ‘Others you urge, with goads and threats.

He will lead, and more swiftly than you may wish.’ So when, with

Tears, the Sun set Phaethon, his child, in his fast chariot, handing

Him the fiery reins, he warned the joyful youth of the dangerous

Constellations, whole regions inimical to passage, and to keep

To the temperate zone between the poles; great love he showed,

Fearful and cautious. But cruel Fate prevented the young man

Heeding his advice. Amphiaraus was close favourite to win

The palm, with his team of Spartan horses, offspring of Cyllarus,

Bred in secret, while Castor was far off, at the mouth of Scythian

Pontus, his Amyclaean reins exchanged for an oar. Amphiaraus

Wore snowy white, and snowy were the coursers that stretched

Their necks beneath the yoke; his helm and ribbons matching

His white plume. Admetus, from Thessaly’s shore, also there

Could barely control his barren mares, the Centaur’s foals they

Say, and I believe it, they so scorn breeding, avoiding mating

For the sake of strength. They were like night and day mingled,

White with dark markings, strong in colouration, worthy to be

Of that herd that ceased to graze on hearing the Castalian reed’s

Piping, when Apollo played as shepherd to fortunate Admetus.

And behold, Jason’s young sons, their mother Hypsipyle’s fresh

Glory, Thoas, named from his grandfather, and Euneos, named

From ‘the good ship’ Argo, riding like chariots. Twins, they

Were identical in all; looks, dress, chariots, teams; and no less

So in their wishes; each desired to win, or be beaten only by his

Brother. Chromis and Hippodamus competed too, one the son

Of Hercules, the other of Oenomaus; such that you might doubt

Which of the two grasped the reins more fiercely. One raced

The team of Getic Diomedes, the other that of his Pisan father.

Both chariots stained with dark blood displayed cruel trophies.

The turning post at one end of the course was a bare oak, long

Naked of its leaves; the other a stone block, the farmers’ mark.

Between lay four javelin-throws, three arrow-flights, of space.

BkVI:355-409 The Funeral Games – Apollo attends the race

Meanwhile Apollo, the lyre in his hands, lulled the noble band

Of Muses with his song, as he gazed at Earth from Parnassus’

Airy summit. First he sang of the gods, for often he would tell

Of Jupiter and the battle at Phlegra, of the serpent he had slain;

And in praise of his brothers. Then he revealed what propels

The lightning bolt; what spirit guides the stars; whence rivers

Derive their animation, the winds their nourishment; from what

Fount the vast ocean pours; what path the sun takes so nights

Shorten or extend; whether the ground sits lowest, or above

And underpinned by another hidden world. He ended, quieting

The Sisters eager for more, and fastening his lyre, with the bright

Leaves of his wreath, to a laurel bush, and untying the embroidery

At his breast, he heard cheering there, and was drawn to the sight

Of Hercules’ Nemea, and what seemed to be a mighty chariot race.

He chanced to see Admetus and Amphiaraus (heroes known to him)

Standing together in the field, and spoke to himself: ‘What god

Brings together these kings, my most loyal followers, in rivalry?

Both are virtuous, both loved; I could not choose between them.

The former, when I was a servant in Pelion’s fields (so Jupiter

Commanded, the dark Sisters willed) gave incense to me, his

Underling, and would not treat me as his inferior; the latter is

A friend to the oracle, a pious disciple of that divine calling.

The first deserves the preference, yet the other’s end is near.

Admetus shall know the path of old age, but no joy remains

To you, Amphiaraus; Thebes and the dark chasm are at hand.

You know it, unhappy one, long the birds have so prophesied.’

He murmured the words and tears almost staining his inviolable

Face he reached Nemea in one radiant leap, more swiftly than

His father’s lightning or his own arrows. Long present himself

On land, his trace yet lingered in the sky, and a bright trail still

Shone along the breeze. Now Prothous shook lots in a bronze

Helmet, and each competitor knew his place and starting order.

The men, splendid ornaments of earth, and their horses no less

Splendid, both of divine race, waited behind the barrier, while

Hope, fearful courage, pent-up confidence welled within them.

Nothing felt certain at heart: eager to race, they were yet afraid:

The chill before battle seized all their limbs. The horses equalled

Their masters in ardour. Their fiery eyeballs rolled. Champing

At the bits scorched with blood and foam, the posts and bars

Could scarce withstand their pressure, and between them rose

The smoking breath of repressed rage. To stand there motionless

Was torture, heavy hooves struck out prematurely, the energy

Of a thousand pacing movements wasted. The faithful grooms

Combed out the tangled manes, with words of encouragement

And advice. The Tyrrhenian trumpet sounded opposite them,

And all leapt from their place. What sails on the sea fly so,

Missiles in battle, or clouds in the sky? The winter rivers

And the rush of flames are not so swift. Meteors fall more

Slowly, the accumulated rain, and the torrents from the hills.

BkVI:410-468 The Funeral Games – The chariot-race begins

The Pelasgi saw and named them as they shot forward, then

They were snatched from view, shrouded in blinding dust.

Wrapped in the one fog, their faces lost in the tumult, they

Scarcely knew each other amidst the shouts and clamour.

The pack thinned out, staggered according to the quality

Of each, a second circuit trampling over tracks of the first.

Now their chests almost touch the horses’ backs, now

They round the posts, knees straining, reins grasped hard.

The wind combs flowing manes, the neck-muscles swell

Below, and the dry ground drinks white showers of foam.

There’s a thunderous sound of hooves, a hiss of wheels.

Arms are wearied, the air whistles with the crack of whips:

No denser the lash of hail from the ice-bound Bear, the rain

That streams down from the horns of the She-Goat, Capella.

Arion, prescient, sensed another charioteer than his master,

And unknowingly feared Polynices, dread son of Oedipus.

From the very start he was angry, at odds with his burden,

Wilder in his ardour than was his custom. The Inachians

Thought him inflamed with desire for glory, but it was his

Charioteer he fled, he whom he menaced in his wild fury,

As, ahead of them all, he searched the field for his master.

Amphiaraus followed, a distant second, neck and neck

With Thessalian Admetus; the twins, Euneos and Thoas

Ran close; now one in front, now the other, they give way,

They lead again; loving brothers undivided by glory’s rivalry.

Chromis the fierce, and fierce Hippodamus, made up the rear,

No novices, but held back by their ponderous teams of horses.

Hippodamus was ahead, and feeling the breath of the pursuit,

His own shoulders hot with the heavy gasping of those mouths.

Now Apollo’s augur, Amphiaraus, hoped to take the lead,

Dragging on his reins, and running it tight around the post.

Admetus too was on fire with fresh hope, as Arion, unchecked

By his true master, strayed to the right, far out along the bend.

Now Amphiaraus, Oecles’ son, was ahead, and Admetus no

Longer third, but Arion, the horse of Neptune, cutting back

From a wide circuit, pressing both hard, at last overtook them,

Their joy short-lived. A cry rose to the stars, the sky trembled,

And the crowd lifted to their feet, revealing the bare benches.

But Polynices grew pale, the reins loose in his hand, his whip

Idle, just as a helmsman, whose skill fails him, rushes towards

The rocks, driven by the waves, no longer steering by the stars,

Throwing away the power of his art now overcome by chance.

Once more, over the plain, they drove, directly or obliquely,

Swerving and pursuing their course, axle meeting axle, spoke

To spoke; no truce or trust. You’d have thought it a war, cruel

War, but without the clash of steel; so wild were they for glory.

They shudder and threaten death, hooves scraping against rims.

Whips and goads are no longer enough; they urge their teams

On by name. Shouting to Pholoe; Iris; and the trace horse, Thoe;

Admetus calls, while the augur, Amphiaraus chides Aschetus,

And Cycnus, ‘the Swan’, worthy of his name. Strymon hears

Chromis call to him, fiery Aetion hears Euneos; Hippodamas

Taunts the lagging Cydon, Thoas begs his piebald, Podarces,

To fly. Only Polynices, the scion of Echion, is darkly silent

In his errant chariot, fearing to reveal a tremor in his voice.

BkVI:469-549 The Funeral Games – The chariot-race ends

The horses’ effort seemed scarcely begun and already they were

Starting the fourth lap of the dusty course. Exhausted, their limbs

Streamed with sweat, their parched mouths breathed and expelled

A dense hot vapour, their forward rush was no longer at full pace,

And their long drawn-out panting racked their heaving flanks.

Then bold Fortune chose to decide the issue long in doubt.

Thoas crashed, trying eagerly to pass Haemonian Admetus,

Nor could his brother help him, willing though he was, since

Hippodamus, scion of Mars, obstructed him with his chariot.

Then Chromis, rounding the bend of the inward goal, grasped

Hippodamus’ axle, and held it with the whole strength of his

Sire, Hercules; the horses tried vainly to escape, straining

At their bridles and stretching out their necks. In such a way

The tide will hold Sicilian vessels fast, while a southerly gale

Seeks to drive them on; their swollen sails static in mid-ocean.

Now Chromis hurled the charioteer from his shattered chariot,

And sought to drive ahead. But when the Thracian horses saw

Hippodamus on the ground, their old hunger returned, in their

Fury they would have torn him trembling limb from limb, had

Chromis, the Tirynthian hero, heedless of the race, not dragged

The team away, and to loud applause withdrawn from the race.

Meanwhile Apollo had long desired for you the honour that he

Promised, Amphiaraus. Thinking the time ripe at last to show

His favour, he entered the churned spaces of the dusty course,

As the race was ending, when final victory was in the balance.

A monstrous phantom with snakes for hair, and fearful looks,

He either raised from Erebus, or conjured for a brief moment,

With cunning art; certain it is that he revealed the abomination,

Adorned with innumerable terrors, to the heavens above. Not

Even the gatekeeper of dark Lethe could eye it without fear,

Nor the Eumenides themselves, without the deepest horror; it

Would have troubled the horses of the Sun or Mars, in flight.

Golden Arion saw it and his mane sprang erect, his shoulders

Reared, and he hung there, his fellow and their partners either

Side, suspended in mid-air. The Theban exile, Polynices, fell

And landed on his back, sprawling till he could free himself

From the reins; the chariot released from control, swept away.

As he lay there on the sand, Amphiaraus, Thessalian Admetus,

And Euneus, the Lemnian hero, flew past, swerving as best

They could to avoid him. At last his friends approached; he

Lifted his head, sunk in darkness, from the ground, raising

His bruised limbs, and returned unexpectedly to Adrastus.

How close death came, Theban, if harsh Tisiphone had not

Prevented it! What a mighty war would have been averted!

Thebes, and your brother, would have mourned, publicly;

Argos and Nemea; while, for you, Lerna and Larisa would

Have dedicated their shorn locks, in prayer; and your grave

Would have known more worshippers than Archemorus’.

Now Amphiaraus, Oecles’ son, though certain of the prize

Had he simply followed the masterless Arion in front of him,

Still burned with desire to overtake the now empty chariot.

The god gave renewed strength. Swifter than the East Wind

He flew, as though from the starting gate when first emerging

Onto the track, while he chided swift Achetos, and snowy

Cycnus, plying reins and whip across their back and mane.

Now at last, no one ahead, the fiery wheels drew the axle on,

The sand was churned and scattered in the air; yes, even then

The earth groaned and threatened angrily! Perhaps Cycnus

Might have drawn ahead and Arion lost, but his sire Neptune

Would not allow it. So, in a fair result, the horse retained his

Glory while victory went to Amphiaraus, the seer. Two young

Men brought him a reward for victory, the bowl of Hercules,

Which the Tirynthian used to carry in one hand and, victorious

Over monsters or in war, tilt it foaming into his upturned mouth.

It showed Centaurs fiercely moulded, terrifyingly shaped in

Gold, and on its surface torches, stones, other bowls hurled

Amidst the slaughter of the Lapithae, the powerful anger

Of the dying everywhere; while he himself was holding wild

Hylaeus, twisting the Centaur’s beard and plying his club.

For Admetus a cloak was the reward, with a flowing Maeonian

Border, dyed repeatedly to a deep purple. Here Leander was

Depicted, swimming Phrixus’ sea, gleaming bluish in watery

Hue. Scorning the waves, his hands seemed to sweep apart,

He about to change stroke with his arms, and the very fabric,

Showing his wet hair, seemed moist. Opposite Hero of Sestos

Sat, watching anxiously from the summit of her tower, yet

In vain: with the lamp nearby, her accomplice, about to fail.

Adrastus ordered these rich gifts to be granted the winners.

His son-in-law he consoled with an Achaean serving-girl.

BkVI:550-645 The Funeral Games – The foot-race

Next Adrastus invited the runners to compete for fine prizes:

In a test of agility, where valour plays little part, a peaceful

Activity in the service of the rites, yet not unavailing in war

If the right arm fails. First Idas emerged, his brow recently

Wreathed with Olympian leaves; and the men of Pisa and Elis

Greeted him with cheers. Alcon of Sicyon followed; and then

Phaedimus, twice proclaimed victor on the Isthmian sands;

And Dymas who once ran faster than wing-footed horses,

But of late followed them, slowed by age. And many others,

From here and there, unknown to the crowd, came forward

In silence. Now there are calls from the packed stands for

Arcadian Parthenopaeus; they murmur his name, his mother

Atalanta famed for her speed. Who does not know of her

Matchless Maenalian beauty, and her flying feet no suitor

Could overtake? The mother’s glory weighed on the son,

Already known far and wide for slaying the deer on foot

In the open glades of Lycaeus, for catching a speeding

Javelin as he ran. At last he leapt lightly from the ranks,

To a roar of expectation, dashing from the crowd, as he

Unpinned the gold clasp of his cloak. His limbs gleamed,

Their splendour revealed, his fine shoulders and naked

Chest no less delightful than his face, and yet his visage

Eclipsed by his body. He himself, though, deflected praise

Of his beauty, and kept admirers at bay. Then, no novice,

He concentrated on oiling his flesh with the rich pressings

Of Athene, while Idas, Dymas, and others did the same.

Just so, when the heavens shine over the tranquil ocean,

And reflections of the starry sky tremble on the waves,

Though all are bright Hesperus shines more brightly,

Glowing as deeply in dark water as in the heights above.

Idas was second to him in beauty and not greatly slower

In speed, close to him in age but a little older; the oil

Of the wrestling ground had already encouraged a faint

Growth of down on his cheek, a hint of shadow below

The cloud of his uncut hair. Now they flexed muscles,

Testing, and exercising, their languid limbs in various

Ways, putting themselves artificially in motion. Now

They sank on their bended knee, now slapped their oily

Chests with the flat of their hand, now raised an eager

Leg, or brought a brief sprint to an end in a sudden halt.

When the signal fell, offering an equal start, they soon

Devoured the course, and the naked runners gleamed

Over the field. It even seemed the swift horses had run

Less swiftly earlier over the same terrain. You might

Have though them so many arrows loosed by a Cretan

Host, or by retreating Parthians. So, fleet-footed stags

In the Hyrcanian wilds, hearing, or thinking they hear,

The roar of a hungry lion in the distance, will blindly

Run, swept on by panic, and crowded together in fear,

Their horns clashing loud and long in mingled flight.

The Maenalian lad fled from sight, faster than the wind,

Shaggy Idas pressed after him, panting heavily at his

Shoulder, his breath and shadow falling on his back.

Next came Dymas and Phaedimus straining in rivalry,

With Alcon quick on their heels. Parthenopaeus’ blond

Uncut tresses flowed behind his head: the Arcadian

Had tended it from his earliest years, promising it as

A gift to Diana Trivia, dedicating it boldly (in vain)

To his native altar should he return a winner from war.

Now untied and pouring freely over his back, it flew

Behind him in the breeze, hindering him and flying

In the face of Idas threatening his footsteps. Idas now

Saw the chance to commit a foul, and near the finish

As Parthenopaeus was about to cross the winning line,

Idas seized his hair, and dragging him back, passing

Him by, reached the finish gate, leading by a distance.

The Arcadians roared in anger, and called for weapons,

Then, armed, ran to support their king should the stolen

Prize and honour won not be restored, pouring onto

The track; others applauded Idas’ cunning. Meanwhile

Parthenopaeus covered his face with the dust and wept;

The grace of tears adding to his beauty. In his distress

He tore with blood-stained nails now at his chest, now

At his face and hair, undeserving of this shame; on all

Sides, discordant clamour raged, while aged Adrastus

Unsure, delayed his judgement. At last he spoke: ‘Lads.

End your quarrel. Your skill must be tried a second time.

But not in each others’ tracks: Idas, keep to this side,

Parthenopaeus take the other; let there be no cheating.’

They heard and obeyed. Then Parthenopaeus of Tegea

Addressed the goddess, silently, in supplication: ‘Lady

Of the Forests, since these locks are dedicated to you,

And my vow has led to this disgrace, I beg, if my mother,

And myself have deserved any favour from you through

Our hunting, I beg that this ill-omen not accompany me

To Thebes, nor this shame to Arcady remain.’ The proof

He was heard was that the track scarce felt his passage,

The air barely moved between his legs, and his swift feet

Hung above the dust, leaving it untouched. With a shout

He burst from the gate, with a shout returned to the king,

Grasped the palm, and put to an end to sighing. The race

Was done, the prizes were ready. Arcadian Parthenopaeus

Received a horse, shameless Idas claimed a shield, all

The rest departed content with gifts of Lycian quivers.

BkVI:646-718 The Funeral Games – The discus competition

Now Adrastus invited any strong man, who wished, to try

His skill at the discus, and proudly demonstrate his strength.

Pterelas responded, yet, arching his whole body, he was only

Able to land the slippery mass of bronze nearby. The scions

Of Inachus watched in silence, pondering the task. Then a host

Of competitors appeared, two Achaeans, three sons of Ephyre,

A Pisan, and an Acarnanian the seventh. Hope of glory would

Have brought still more, had not the tall Hippomedon appeared

Among them, spurred on by the spectators, and carrying another

Solid discus in his right hand, crying: ‘Try this one, men, instead,

You who go to shatter walls with rocks and to demolish Tyrian

Towers, try this: as for that other weight, who could not throw it?’

He caught it up, effortlessly, hurling it to one side. They moved

Away amazed, declaring themselves outmatched. Only Phlegyas,

And ardent Menestheus (shame and their ancestry alone kept

Them in the contest) reluctantly chanced their arms. The rest

Of the young men willingly conceded, and bowing to the discus,

Withdrew ingloriously. So in Thracian fields the shield of Mars

Strikes Mount Pangaeus with an evil glare, and gleaming terrifies

The sun, and booms deeply when the god beats it with his spear.

Phlegyas of Pisa began the competition, drawing all eyes to him;

Such power his body-shape promised. First he coated his hand

And the discus with soil, then shaking off the dirt turned the disk

Round and round to determine which side best suited his grip,

And then his forearm. He possessed no lack of skill. This sport

Had ever been his passion, not only when he attended the rites

That glorified his land, but when he would measure the Alpheus

From bank to bank, sending a discus over the river at the widest

Part, and never landing it in the water. So, confident in his skill,

He began by measuring the heavens with his arm not the rough

Acres of ground, and bending alternate knees he gathered his

Strength and whirled the discus above him to reach the clouds.

Swiftly it sought the heights, accelerating as if it was falling,

Till at length, with less velocity, it returned exhausted to earth,

And plunged into the ground. So the eclipsed sister of the Sun

Falls, when drawn down from the astonished stars, and people

Beat bronze to aid her, in vain fear, while Thessalian witches

Their spells heard, laugh in victory to view her panting steeds.

The Greeks applauded now, to a dark look from Hippomedon,

And the crowd hoped for an even mightier throw over the plain.

But evil Fortune came to him, she who loves to destroy reckless

Expectations. How many of us can compete against the gods?

He was aiming already to cover a vast distance, his neck was

Already swivelling, his flank withdrawing, when the discus

Slipped and fell in front of him, frustrating his throw, leaving

Him empty-handed. The crowd groaned, only a few enjoyed

The sight. Then Menestheus with trepidation approached to try

His skill. Cautiously, and with many a prayer to you, Mercury,

He roughened the surface of the heavy discus with dust. Hurled

By his powerful arm, with greater fortune, it sailed out, landing

A good way down the track. The crowd applauded and an arrow

Was set to mark the spot. Hippomedon threw third, approaching

That test of strength with slow and ponderous tread. And he took

To heart the message implied by Phlegyas’ fate and Menestheus’

Good fortune. He felt the familiar weight in his hand, and raised

It high, testing his rigid flanks and powerful arms, then swung

The burden with a tremendous whirl, himself following through.

The discus took to the air with a fearsome leap and already far on

Preserving the impetus from the hand that flung it, kept its flight,

Passing the mark of Menestheus by a long way, as was certain,

And falling far beyond the rival throw, with a crash like a great

Mass of falling masonry, setting the green flanks and summits

Of the arena hill trembling. It was like that rock Polyphemus

Hurled, blindly, from smoky Aetna, hearing it fall in the wake

Of the departing vessel, and not far from his enemy, Ulysses.

BkVI:719-825 The Funeral Games – The boxing

Then Adrastus ordered the emblem of a tiger presented

To the winner: it shone with a surround of yellow gold,

And the claws were likewise tipped. Menestheus received

A Cretan bow and quiver of arrows. ‘But to you, Phlegyas,’

He said, ‘foiled by mischance, I give this sword to wear,

Once Pelasgus’ pride and defence, nor will Hippomedon

Grudge you this, I think. Now, time for greater courage,

Raise the boxing gloves face to face. Here valour is close

To that needed for the heat of battle.’ Capaneus, the Argive

Took his place, massive to view, a source of massive fear,

Fitting the rawhide gloves, blackened with lead, on hands

As hard as himself. ‘Stand up, one of you many thousands

Of warriors, and let it be one of Aonian race, one whom

It would be no sin to send to his death, so my valour might

Not be stained with my countrymen’s blood.’ Their minds

Were numbed, and terror kept them silent. At length then,

Unexpectedly, Alcidamas, from Sparta of naked athletes,

Leapt up. The followers of the Dorian kings felt wonder,

But his friends knew that he trusted in his teacher, Pollux,

And had been nurtured beside the sacred wrestling floors.

The god himself had held him in his hands, moulding his

Arms (seduced by love of the material) and often placed

Him opposite, marvelling at him as he stood aggressive

As himself, then lifting him high in triumph and pressing

Him to his breast. Capaneus, thinking him of no account,

Scorned his challenge, as if in pity, demanding a different

Opponent. But at last he was forced to take position, his

Languid neck already swelling at the provocation. Poised,

On their toes, they raised hands like lightning bolts. Heads

Well back they watched each other carefully, barring every

Approach. Capaneus showed the breadth of his limbs from

Every angle, his large-boned stance like Tityos’ looming

Large from the Stygian fields, if that is the grim vultures

Had allowed it. Alcidamas was scarcely out of boyhood,

But his strength was more mature than his years suggested,

And youthful energy gave such promise of a mighty future

That none wished to see him beaten or savagely bloodied,

And they watched the spectacle with anxiety and prayers.

The two men measured each other with their gaze, both

Hoping for a first opening. There was no immediate blow,

Or show of anger. For a while they planned their move,

In hidden wrath and fear. They merely sparred with raised

Arms, and tried their gloves, dulling them with rubbing.

Alcidamas, the better boxer, delayed his charge, held back,

Husbanding his strength, and fearful of a lengthy contest.

Capaneus, seeking to do harm and careless of his defence,

Went all out, working both arms without restraint, grinding

His teeth uselessly, surging forward then checking himself.

But the Spartan, with sharp foresight, watchful in accord

With his native skill, parried the blows or evaded them;

Sometimes, with a swift indulgent nod of the head, he

Emerged unscathed, then he would smother the others

Weapons with his hands, or advanced his feet while

Drawing back his head. Often he engaged his opponent

Whose strength was greater than his own, attacking him

Boldly (so sharply honed his skill, so practiced his aim),

Moving inside him, overshadowing him, leaping in the air.

As a wave gathers, and rushes at the menacing rocks, then

Breaks, then ebbs, so he circled round his angry adversary,

Then stormed his defence. Behold he raises rigid fore-arms,

Steadily, threatening the flanks, the eyes. As Capaneus

Defended against them, he distracted him, and cleverly

Slipped in a sudden blow between the hands, so gashing

The middle of the brow; now the blood flowed, a warm

Stream staining the temples. Capaneus was not yet aware

Of the wound, and wondered at the crowd’s sudden shout,

But chancing to draw a weary hand over his face, seeing

Blood-spots on his glove, he was more indignant than ever

A lion or a tiger is at the javelin’s stroke. In a passion,

He drove the retreating youth over the ground, pushing

Him backwards, bending his spine; and he ground his

Teeth violently, doubling, multiplying, his whirling blows.

Many landed in thin air, some struck his opponent’s gloves.

With quick footwork the Spartan evaded the thousand

Deaths that hovered round his hollow temples; he recalled

His skill, and facing his foe retreated with counter-blows.

Now both, breathing heavily from their efforts, wearied.

The one attacked more slowly, the other was less agile

In defence. Both trembled at the knees, forced to rest.

So when high waves have wearied the rowing sailors,

At a signal from the stern, they will lower their oars,

But have scarcely rested for a while when a second

Order rouses them again. See how Alcidamas ducks

His opponent’s furious onslaught, evading him now by

Deliberately plunging his shoulders forwards. Capaneus

Then tumbled headlong, and as he rose again, the bold

Lad struck him, and then turned pale at his own success.

The scions of Inachus raised a shout, louder than the sea

Or the wind in the forest. When Adrastus saw Capaneus

Struggling from the ground, raising his arms intent on

Unacceptable revenge, he cried: ‘Go friends, I beg you,

He’s maddened; run swiftly, he’s in a fury, grip him tight!

He’ll not stop till he mingles shattered bone and brains;

Bring the palm and the prizes; take the Spartan away, or

He’ll be killed.’ Without delay, Tydeus rushed forward,

Hippomedon not far behind. By a joint effort they drew

Capaneus’ arms behind him, restraining him, with much

Persuasion: ‘Leave off, you’ve won. It’s better to spare

The loser’s life. He’s one of us, too, a comrade in battle.’

The hero was unmoved, pushing away the palm-branch

And the gift of armour offered, bellowing: ‘Leave me

Be! I’ll gouge those cheeks with which the half-breed

Won favour, mark them with dust and gore, and send

His marred body to the grave, for his Oebalian master

To mourn.’ He spoke: but his friends steered him away,

Swollen with anger, and contesting the result, while

All the Spartans praised the foster-child of renowned

Taygetus, and from a safe distance mocked the threats.

BkVI:826-910 The Funeral Games – The wrestling

Meanwhile great-hearted Tydeus, tormented by others’

Achievements and the awareness of his own prowess,

Was goaded into action. He was skilled with the discus,

And at running, no less so with the gloves, but above

All other sports he loved the wrestling. Thus he would

Spend his moments of respite from the wars, and, oiled,

Ease battle tensions, challenging mighty opponents in

The sports arena and along the banks of Achelous, happy

To have the river-god as teacher. So, when brave ambition

Drew warriors to the wrestling, the Aetolian stripped his

Fearsome native boar-hide from his back. Agylleus set

His long limbs against him, a man of Cleonaean stock,

No less in stature than Hercules, his huge shoulders

Ever towering above other men. But lacking vigour,

His father’s strength of body, he ran to fat, his limbs

Flowing, loose and lax. Hence Tydeus’ bold confidence

Of beating so huge an opponent. Though he himself

Seemed small, he was heavy-boned, with firm knotted

Muscle. Never had Nature sought to frame so great

A spirit nor such immense power in so small a body.

After they had rubbed oil into their flesh, both jogged

To the centre of the field and drenched themselves in

Handfuls of sand, dusting each others’ gleaming limbs

All over, flexing their shoulders, stretching their arms.

Now skilful Tydeus cleverly bends Agylleus down

To the ground, stooping his own back, knees close

To the sand. Like the cypress-tree, queen of the Alps,

Bowed to the earth by a southerly wind, and scarcely

Clinging on by the roots, though destined to return

To the same heights as before, so towering Agylleus

Spontaneously bent double, inclining his huge limbs,

And groaning at his smaller foe. Now with their hands

Each tried for a grip, on head, neck, shoulder, chest,

Flanks or elusive legs. Sometimes they hung a long

While grasping each others’ arms, and then fiercely

Broke a finger-grip. No less savagely do two bulls,

Potential leaders, struggle grimly while the fair herd

Awaits the winner mid-meadow; furiously they strain

Heaving breasts, while desire goads them on, easing

The pain of wounds. So boars with lightning tusks,

And shambling bears with shaggy grasp, give battle.

Tydeus proved resilient; unwearied by sun and sand

His limbs retained their power, his flesh was firm

His sinews tightened by harsh toil. Agylleus though

Slackened, snatching his breath, exhausted, he gaped

In distress, sand flowing from his body in a stream

Of sweat, as he touched the earth furtively to support

Himself. Tydeus was on him, harrying and, feinting

At the neck, caught at the legs, but in vain, his arms

Too short to gain their objective. His tall adversary

Fell upon him, smothering him from sight beneath

His vast collapsing mass. Like the worker in some

Spanish mine, who going below, leaving daylight

And the living behind him, feels the suspended

Roof tremble, sees the fractured rock crumbling,

Till, with a sudden crash, he is buried beneath it,

Covered by the fall of earth, his body all crushed

And broken, unable to return its indignant spirit

To the stars above. But the more vigorous Tydeus,

Superior in heart and spirit, slipped, at once,

From beneath the iniquitous mass, and circling

The other as he moved uncertainly, clung to his

Back then twined around his sides and stomach,

In a firm swift hold. Next, squeezing his knees

Between Agylleus’ thighs as he struggled in vain

To escape the grip, and clutch at Tydeus’ side,

That irrepressible opponent (wonderful and terrible

To see) lifted him in the air. So, as the tale tells,

Antaeus, the Libyan son of Earth, bathed in sweat,

Struggled in Hercules’ arms once he had been

Lifted from the sand; and with no hope of release,

Unable to touch his mother Earth even with the tips

Of his toes, revealed the source of his strength.

A roar of pleased applause rose from the crowd.

Balancing Agylleus’ on high, Tydeus suddenly

Released him to fall sidelong, following him

As he descended, simultaneously grasping his

Neck with his right hand, his thighs with his feet.

Thus trapped, Agylleus weakened, only the shame

Prompting him to struggle. At length he sprawled

On the ground, flat on his front, and after a long

Pause rose dejected, leaving rough furrows marked

On the ground. Tydeus took the palm in his right

Hand, and the gift of shining armour in his left,

Saying: ‘This I won even though no small part of my

Blood was left on Dirce’s plain (as you have heard)

Where I gained these scars, my pledge to Thebes –’

And here he showed the wounds, handing the prize

His glory had won to his comrades, while Agylleus

In turn received an unvalued armoured breastplate.

BkVI:911-946 Adrastus receives an inauspicious omen

Warriors now came forward to fight with naked swords:

Epidaurian Agreus and the Theban exile, Polynices, he

Whose doom was not yet upon him, already stood there

Armed, but the royal scion of Iasus, forbade their duel:

‘O, you young men! Death has victims enough in store!

Save your brave spirits and mad eagerness for the blood

Of your enemies. Polynices, for whom we have deserted

Our ancestral lands, our beloved cities, do not, I beg you,

Before war begins, allow chance and your brother’s wish

(May the gods defend us) to have so much power over us.’

So saying he gifted both with a gilded helmet, ordering

That his son-in-law’s noble brow be wreathed, lest he

Lack glory, and that the Theban be loudly proclaimed

Victor: and the dark Fates echoed that cry as an omen.

His generals then urged him to honour the festal games

With some action of his own, so paying his last respects

To the tomb. And lest the leaders lack outright victory,

They asked him to shoot Cretan arrows from his bow

Or send a light javelin towards the clouds. Cheerfully

He complied, and surrounded by the foremost warriors,

He descended from the green hill to the plain, ordering

His armour-bearer to bring his light quivers and bows.

He intended to traverse the wide arena from a distance

With a shot, and transfix a given ash-tree with a wound.

Who can deny that omens arise from the hidden causes

Of events? Fate is revealed to men, and yet they disdain

To see, so prior notice of the future is largely wasted.

Thus we call omens mere chance, and Ill-Fortune gains

The power to harm us. Swiftly covering the ground, that

Fateful shaft struck the tree then (dreadful to witness!),

Flew back through the air it had traversed reversing its

Path to the target, and falling close to the quiver’s edge.

The leaders speculated to no purpose: some said winds

In the low clouds had turned the arrow, others that it

Was repulsed by the shock of striking the trunk. Deep

Lay its mighty import, yet its evil was still apparent:

A war was promised from which the arrow’s master

Would return alone, to a melancholy homecoming.


End of Book VI