Publius Papinius Statius

Thebaid

Book VIII

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


BkVIII:1-83 Dis objects to the invasion of his realm

When the seer suddenly fell among pallid shadows,

Invading the house of the dead, exposing the secrets

Of the underworld’s king, such that the armoured

Corpse caused turmoil, all were seized with horror.

There by Stygian shores they marvelled at horses,

Weapons, the alien flesh; for his limbs had neither

Been consumed by fire nor came blackened from

The sad urn, but were warm with the sweat of battle,

His shield wet with blood and dust of the split plain.

The Fury had not yet greeted and purified him with

A branch of yew, nor had Proserpina marked him

By the dark gate as one of the company of the dead.

His arrival even surprised the Fates at their spinning,

And only on seeing the augur did the startled Parcae

Snap the thread. Safe in Elysium, the shades looked

Round them at the noise, as did those in the deep pit

Further off whom another night oppresses, a host

Blind with a different darkness. Then stagnant lakes

And scorched marshes groaned aloud, and Charon,

The pale boatman of the ghost-bearing stream, cried

Aloud that Tartarus had been cleft to its depths by

A strange rupture of earth above, and that a shade

Had reached there by another road than his river.

The lord of Erebus was seated there, in his citadel

At the centre of his unhappy realm, and happened

To be interrogating the dead on their life’s ill deeds,

Angered with all shades and pitying nothing human.

The Furies stood around him, the ranks of Death,

And cruel Punishment dangling her jangling chains.

The Fates bring the souls, with an identical gesture

Of the thumb condemn them: the work is onerous.

Close by the virtuous Minos and his revered brother,

Rhadamanthus, grant milder judgement, tempering

That of the bloody monarch; Cocytus, Phlegethon

Are there, swollen with tears and fire respectively,

While Styx pursues the perjuries of the gods. Dis,

When the upper world gave way, though unused

To feeling dread, feared the stars above, and spoke,

Displeased by dancing light: ‘What divine disgrace

Has opened Avernus to a hostile sky? Who shatters

The dark and speaks of life to the silent host? Who

Threatens us? Which of my brothers wars against me?

I’ll join combat: let the boundaries of the realms end!

Who would be best pleased? The third lot drawn cast

Me down defeated from high heaven; left me the world

Of the guilty; yet even that is not mine: entered now

And exposed to the fatal stars. Is then Olympus’ proud

Ruler spying out my strength? The Giant’s chains were

Already rattling, the Titans eager to reach the ethereal

Sky, and attack our unfortunate Father. Why does he,

In his cruelty, deny me my gloomy leisure, a restless

Quiet, loathing the daylight I have lost? If I pleased

I could lay all my kingdom open, and shroud the Sun

With a Stygian veil, prevent Mercury from returning

To the upper regions (what do I care for his errands to

And fro between the worlds?) detain both the Twins.

Why should I torment Ixion with that endless whirling?

Why should the water not wait for Tantalus? Is Chaos

To be profaned by the living and I endure it? Pirithous’

Reckless passion tried my patience, and Theseus sworn

To support his audacious friend, savage Hercules too,

Cerberus’ iron-gated threshold falling silent, with its

Guardian removed. Tartarus was even open to Orpheus’

Thracian song; shamefully (alas!) I saw the Eumenides

Weeping wretched tears at his seductive harmony, while

The Sisters’ re-spun their thread. I too, the harsh violent

Law receiving kinder interpretation, made a single stealthy

Visit, though I scarcely dared to do so, not to the high

Heavens, but to bring my bride from the Sicilian fields.

They claimed I had not the right, even then, and Jupiter

Straight away imposed unjust conditions, and her mother,

Ceres, divided the year in two. But why waste speech?

Tisiphone, go, avenge Tartarus’ realm: now if ever do

Your worst, show new-created monsters, reveal some

Vast unknown abomination, something the world has

Never witnessed, to make me marvel and your sisters

Envious. Or rather let two brothers, (as a preliminary

Omen of our hatred) yes brothers, rush to attack each

Other in ecstatic war. Let a savage warrior there gnaw

His enemy’s skull like a rabid beast, and let another

Deny a dead man his funeral pyre, and pollute the air

With his naked corpse. Let brutal Jove enjoy the sight.

And let this madness not invade my kingdom alone,

Find one who will make war against the gods and repel

The flame of the lightning bolt, and angry Jupiter’s

Smoking shield. Let me witness the whole world more

Afraid to meddle with black Tartarus than pile Pelion

On leafy Ossa!’ While he spoke the gloomy palace

Trembled at his words; his own realm and that pressing

Down from above were shaken. No more powerfully does

Jove move heaven with a frown and twist the starry poles.

BkVIII:84-126 Amphiaraus explains his presence there

‘As for you’ he cried, ‘what death was yours, you who

Rush headlong through the void on your unlawful track?’

Amphiaraus approached the menacing God. He was now

Faint to sight, and on foot, yet still on his head the symbols

Of prophecy that none had plucked from him, the ribbons

On his brow, though faded; and he yet held a dying branch

Of olive. ‘O mighty end of all that is (though to me who

Know the elemental causes, creator too) soften your threats,

I beg you, and your irate heart, deeming a man, and one who

Fears your laws, not worthy of wrath. I enter Lethe to dare

No offence like Hercules’ (how dare I think it?) nor through

Unlawful passion (pay credit to these sacred emblems); no

Need for Cerberus to flee to his cave, nor Proserpine to fear

My chariot. An augur I was, and favoured at Apollo’s altars;

I call Chaos to witness it (for how could Apollo be invoked

Here?). I do not suffer this strange fate because of any crime,

Nor did I deserve to be snatched from the nurturing daylight.

Minos could find the truth, the urn of the Cretan judge would

Reveal it. Betrayed for evil gold through my wife’s treachery,

I joined the Argive ranks knowingly (and so a crowd of recent

Shades are here, some by my hand); in a sudden convulsion

Of the earth, your darkness swallowed me (I feel the horror

Still) out of the midst of thousands. Imagine my thoughts as I

Passed through the hollow guts of the earth in long descent,

Twisting in the shrouded air. Ah me! Of me, nothing is left

To comrades or country, or is captive in Thebes. No more

I’ll see the houses of Lerna, or return to my stunned father

Even in the form of ashes. I have no tomb; no pyre, no tears

Alas, of loved ones sent me onwards. I bring to you all there

Was to bury, no use to me these steeds. I will make no demur

At drinking those waters, and forgetting my tripods forever.

What role is there for a prescient seer while the Fates spin

Your bidding? But let your heart relent, I pray, be gentler

Than the gods. If my sinful wife should enter your realm

One day, save your grim punishments for her. She, kind

Lord is more deserving of your wrath.’ Dis, embarrassed by

His own wrath, now accepted the plea. Thus a lion reveals

His anger and his claws when the glitter of Massylian steel

Confronts him, but if his enemy falls he will prove content

To pass the vanquished by, leaving them their life, intact.

BkVIII:127-161 The Argives react to his loss

Meanwhile the warriors sought the chariot noted for its

Ribbons and triumphal laurel, and for its master lately

Formidable in the open field, his weapons glorious; he

Never routed or put to flight. The squadrons retreated

Suspicious of the ground, soldiers by-passing signs

Of the treacherous quake; the melancholy site, a greedy

Pit avoided still, in honour of that infernal burial scene.

Palaemon, scarcely crediting his eyes, ran to Adrastus,

Busy urging on his men elsewhere, to bring the news.

Still trembling (since by chance he had been standing

Near to the falling prophet, and was wretchedly pale

From the sight of the chasm) he spoke: ‘Fly, my lord,

Turn back: let’s see if the Dorian lands are still intact,

If our native city is yet where we left it. What need for

Weapons and bloodshed? Why do we draw swords, in

Vain, against Thebes? This accursed soil swallows all;

Chariots, arms and fighting men. Even this ground on

Which we stand seems fated to subside. I myself saw

The path to nocturnal darkness, and the earth’s depths

Shattered, and Oecles’ son, alas, one dearer than all

To the prescient stars, plunging downwards. In vain

I stretched out my hands and called to him. Do I seem

To speak of marvels? Lord, the horses’ tracks are there,

Where I left them, the dust smoking, and the ground

Wet with their foam. It was no common evil. Earth

Knows its foster-children; the Theban ranks still stand.’

Adrastus, amazed, was slow to believe. But Mopsus

Told the same tale, as did the terrified Actor. Now

Bold Rumour, with fresh alarms, cried that more than

One had been consumed. The troops fled of their own

Will, not waiting for the proper trumpet call. But their

Speed was sluggish, their knees giving way as they ran.

The horses themselves (as if they knew) proved stubborn,

Disobeying, spontaneously, every command to quicken

Pace, or raise their heads from the ground. The Thebans

Redoubled their attack, but shadowy Vesper was already

Leading out the lunar steeds; a brief respite was granted

The warriors, a sad space of rest, a night of growing fear.

BkVIII:162-217 The lament for Amphiaraus

Imagine the scene now that licence was granted to lament.

Helmets loosened; how the tears flowed! Weary they took

No pleasure in familiar concerns. They threw aside their

Blood-drenched shields, and no man wiped his spear or

Praised his mount, or combed and dressed the tall crest

Of his gleaming helm. They scarcely took the time to wash

Deep gashes, or bind life-threatening wounds, so great was

The sorrow everywhere. Not even the toil of battle could

Persuade them to eat and nourish themselves for the fight.

As they wept everything reminded them of your glories,

Amphiaraus, your heart rich in truth; and among the tents

There was talk only of the gods’ departure, and the deities’

Abandonment of the army: ‘Alas, where now is the chariot

And its laurels, the familiar arms, the crested helm twined

With ribbons? Is this the work of Castalian pools or caves,

Or the rites beside the tripod? Is this Apollo’s gratitude?

Who now will speak to us of falling stars; the meaning

Of lightning on the left; or of what divine message lurks

In sacrificial entrails; when to go, when to delay; which

Hour is opportune for savage warfare, or favours peace?

Who now will reveal futurity; to whom shall the flight

Of birds reveal our destiny? You knew the outcome of

This war as well, our fate and your own, and yet (what

Courage your holy heart possessed) you joined us still,

Luckless comrade. And when earth and the fateful hour

Summoned you, you gave yourself still to decimating

The Theban ranks, and felling those hostile standards.

Then even in the midst of death we saw you depart

Spear poised a fearful sight to the enemy. Now what

Realm holds you? Do you possess the power to split

The earth and return from Stygian deeps? Or do you

Sit happily beside the Fates, your divinities; and learn

Or teach, in harmonious speech, of things to come?

Or has the lord of Avernus pitied you, and given you

Blessed groves, and a task observing Elysian birds?

Whatever your fate you’ll be the subject of eternal

Grief to Phoebus, an ever-fresh disaster; long to be

Mourned in silent Delphi. Today the shrine is closed

In Tenedos; at Chryse; in Delos, anchored by a divine

Birth; shut is the sanctuary of long-haired Branchus;

And this dawn no suppliant shall approach the temple

Doors in Claros; or Didyma’s or any Lycian threshold.

Even Jupiter Ammon’s horned oracle shall fall mute,

And the Dodonian oak that speaks for Molossian Jove;

And Trojan Thymbra. Rivers will seek to turn to dust

The laurels wither; and no birds shall haunt the clouds;

The heavens themselves will cease to grant sure omens

From their prophetic cries. The day will soon be here

When you too shall be worshipped in shrines dedicated

To the Fates, and your own priest shall lead the rites.’

Such was the solemn tribute they paid the prophet-king,

As though they granted gifts and sad obsequies to his

Burning pyre, and consigned his spirit to gentle earth.

Now all were down-hearted, with minds averse to war;

Just as when Tiphys, helmsman of the Argo, was lost

To sudden death, quitting the brave Minyae; the tackle

No longer obeyed, the steering-oar refused the waves,

The winds themselves seemed to blow with less force.

Now wearied by lament, their grief exhausted in speech,

Their hearts were eased, and night fell, lightening their

Cares with sleep, which gently overcomes men’s tears.

BkVIII:218-270 The rejoicing in Thebes

But elsewhere, in the Theban city, men passed a different

Night: they spun out the hours with various diversions

Indoors and out; the very sentries on the walls at ease.

Twin cymbals sounded, Idaean drums and boxwood flutes

Modulated by the breath. And everywhere, holy paeans

Hymned the beloved gods, each native divinity in turn;

Everywhere were garlands and wreathed wine-jars. Here

They mock the non-prescient augur’s death and compete

To praise their own Tiresias in fitting contrast; there they

Rehearse their own ancestor’s deeds, and sing of ancient

Thebes from her foundation. Some told of the Sidonian

Waves, the Ocean furrowed by the mighty bull, Jove’s

Horns clasped tightly by weak hands; others of Cadmus

And the weary heifer, and fields ripe with blood-stained

Conflict; yet others of the stones that rose to the music

Of a Tyrian lyre, when Amphion animated living rock.

Some praised the pregnant Semele, others Cytherean

Nuptials when Harmonia was escorted home by many

A brotherly cupid with his torch. No table lacked its

Tale, as if Bacchus with his wand, fresh from ravaging

The jewelled Hydaspes and the countries of the East,

Was displaying to the nations the banners of a dusky

Triumph, and the unknown Indies. They say Oedipus,

Who was ever hidden from sight in his sinister abode,

Came to join the crowd involved in a public banquet;

Cleansed the dark dust from his white hair, cleared

The loose unkempt locks from his countenance, then

Tolerated his fellows’ kind greetings, and the solace

He had previously rebuffed; and even wiped the dried

Blood from his eyes and swallowed food. He listened,

And spoke to everyone, he who was accustomed only

To assail Dis and the Furies and perhaps Antigone his

Helper, with his melancholy complaints. The reason

For his presence was deceptive. It was not the good

Fortune of Thebes in war that pleased him, merely

War itself. He urged his son on, and approved his

Actions, but without the wish to see him victorious;

Rather with silent longing he meditated on the seeds

Of evil and the first clash of swords. So his pleasure

In the feast, and the unusual joy in his face. Thus

Phineus, after the hunger of his long punishment,

Hearing the screeching in the house had ceased,

That the Harpies had been driven away (though

Not quite believing it) sat to table, food, wine-cup

Undisturbed by the flapping of those savage wings.

Meanwhile the rest of the Argive army lay there,

Wearied by anxiety and battle. From the camp’s

High rampart, Adrastus listened with faint heart

To the joyful tumult. Though he suffered the ills

Of old age, sadly power drove him to vigilance.

The clamour of bronze, the bitter-sounding flute,

The noise from Thebes, insolent drunken cries,

Wavering torchlight and temporary fires stung

Him. Thus when at sea the crew falls silent, sunk

In universal sleep, careless of drowning, trusting

Their lives to the helmsman, he stands wakeful,

Lonely at the stern; he and the tutelary divinity

That rides the vessel inscribed with their name.

BkVIII:271-341 Thiodamas prays to Earth

It was the hour before approaching dawn, the hour

When Phoebus’ bright sister, knowing his steeds

Are harnessed, hears the roar of Ocean’s hollow

Breakers heralding the day, and with a flick of her

Whip dispels the stars. The king had summoned

His gloomy council; groaning, they ask who will

Succeed to the tripods, to whom the abandoned

Laurel will pass; the sacred ribbon’s lonely glory.

All want Thiodamas, without delay, the eminent

Son of holy Melampus. Amphiaraus himself

Used to share with him the secrets of the gods;

With him alone, omens from the flight of birds.

Far from jealous of such arts, he was delighted

For Thiodamas to be called his peer, or his near

Equal. The magnitude of the honour astounds

Thiodamas now, the unexpected glory amazes

Him; humbly he reveres the proffered laurel,

Denying he’s fitted for the burden, so worthy

To be coerced. Thus, a son of the Persian king

For whom it were better if his father had lived,

Chancing to inherit the throne and its power,

Weighs the joy against his anxiety and doubt:

Are his nobles loyal, will the people oppose his

Rule, to whom shall he entrust the Euphrates’

Shore, the Caspian Gate? So he is reluctant

To accept fealty and mount his own father’s

Steed, thinking his hand too immature to hold

The sceptre, his brow too slight for the crown.

Once his hair was adorned with twists of wool,

And he was fit for the gods, Thiodamas walked

In triumph through the camp to a joyful tumult,

Preparing, as his first act as priest, to appease

Earth, the mourning Danai no less approving.

So he ordered two altars constructed of living

Timber and turf, adding numerous flowers for

The goddess, her own gifts returned, heaped

Fruit and whatever the fertile year had brought.

Sprinkling the hearths with pure milk, he began:

‘O eternal womb of divinities and men, you who

Yield rivers and forests, and all the seeds of life,

Prometheus’ handiwork and Pyrrha’s stones; you

Who first nurtured hungry men, and developed

Them; you who surround and bear the sea; to you

Belong the gentle herds of cattle, the aggression

Of wild beasts, the calm of birds: firm, enduring

Strength of a world that has no setting, round you

The swift substance of the sky, and the chariots

Of sun and moon circle, as you hang in empty air,

O centre of all things, undivided by the great gods!

So your gifts alone suffice the many nations, races

And lofty cities on your surface; bearing Atlas

Who shoulders the sky, labouring to support those

Starry abodes on high without your help. We, alone

Goddess do you refuse to bear; are we too weighty?

What crime, I pray, do we expiate, unaware? Is it

That we come here from the lands of Inachus, we,

An alien folk? Every soil is man’s home and it ill

Becomes you, noble one, to distinguish, by so harsh

And arbitrary a boundary, between peoples, who

No matter where they are or hail from, are yours.

Be common ground to all, bear both sides’ arms.

Grant us, I pray, to gasp away our spirits, fighting

In these battle ranks, and return them to the sky.

Do not drag living bodies into the grave so hastily,

Be not so sudden. We will come to you by the road

All take, the path approved. Only hear our prayer,

Make firm the wavering plain for the Pelasgi, let

The swift Fates be not forestalled. And you, so dear

To the gods, Amphiaraus, whom no hand, no Theban

Sword slew, but whom great Nature clasped to her

Naked breast, and enfolded, as though she buried

You in Cirrha’s cave as you deserved, grant me,

I pray, knowledge of your rites, and commend me

To heaven and the truth-speaking altars, and teach

Me what you were about to tell the people. I will

Carry out your prophetic work, and invoke you;

Ambassador for your god, in Phoebus’s absence.

The place where you were lost will be more sacred

Than Delos or Cirrha, to me; better than any shrine.’

So saying, he interred black sheep and dusky cattle

In the earth, heaping undulating piles of sand over

Their living bodies, paying the seer a tithe of death.

BkVIII:342-372 The armies advance

So things were among the Argives when the war-horns

Sounded opposite them, and the bronze clamour stirred

Cruel swords. Tisiphone, from Teumesos’ peak, gave

Her support, shaking her locks, rousing the trumpets,

Adding her cries and hisses. Mount Cithaeron rang

With the alien sounds; as did the stones, once rising

To a different music. Now Bellona pressed against

The quivering doors and armed portals, and now

Thebes went forth through many a gateway. Cavalry

Disrupted infantry; chariots blocked warriors, running

As though the Danai were driving hard at their back.

So the jostling squadrons crowded through the Seven

Gates. Creon, by lot, left through the Ogygian; Eteocles

Through the Neistan; Hamon took the lofty Homoloian;

Hypsus and tall Dryas went by the Proetian and Electran;

Eurymedon’s men shook the Hypsistan, as Menoeceus,

The great-hearted, claimed all the Dircaean’s ramparts;

So, when the hidden Nile drinks Ethiopian snow, product

Of an alien climate, at his great delta, the divided flow

Carries the gifts of winter to the sea over seven plains,

The Nereids fleeing in rout to their deeps, afraid to meet

With a sea free of brine. But yonder the Inachian army

Advanced slowly and sadly, especially the ranks of Elis

And Lacadaemon, and the warriors of Pylos. They, bereft

Of their augur, Amphiaraus, follow the newly-appointed

Thiodamas, but rally to him loyally as their commander.

It was not only your own men who missed you, master

Of the tripods, but the whole phalanx felt your loss.

Less prominent the seventh crest among the squadrons.

Thus if an envious cloud, in the liquid air, veils a star

Of the Great Bear the constellation’s glory is marred,

The icy pole is no longer the same with one fire veiled,

And mariners, confused, count the unfamiliar luminaries.

BkVIII:373-427 Battle is joined

But battle summons me now: now let Calliope lend anew

Fresh strength, and Apollo more mightily direct my lyre.

A dark day brought to all the fatal hour they themselves

Had demanded. Issuing from Stygian shades, Death joyed

In the open sky, flying he covered the plain, inviting men

Towards his black maw; never choosing the rank and file,

But those victims most worthy of life, marking those in

The prime of years, the brave, with a blood-stained claw.

Now the Furies snatched the threads from the Fates, now

The Sisters’ spinning of those wretches’ lives was ruined.

The Lord of War standing amidst the plain, his spear-blade

Still un-wet, turned his shield towards now these, now those,

Stirring weapons, effacing thoughts of wife, children, home.

Away went love of country and, last to flee, the love of life.

Anger maintained their grip on hilt and spear, panting breath

Tried to burst from their armour, helms shook with risen hair.

What wonder that men burned? The very horses were on fire

Against the foe, showering the dusty ground with white foam,

As though their bodies were at one with their masters owning

Their rider’s rage: so fiercely they champ the bit, and neigh

For battle, rearing high, shifting their horsemen backward.

Now they charged, and the front ranks met in a cloud of dust.

Both sides rushed equally swiftly towards each other seeing

The space between them diminish. Now shield struck shield,

Boss beat on boss, foot met foot, and spear encountered spear;

Thus the two armies strained against each other, their breath

Smoked as one, while plumes on alien helms mingled. The face

Of war was still fair: the crests erect, riders atop their mounts,

No chariot driverless, armour in place, shields gleaming, belts

And quivers splendid, their gold as yet not marred with blood.

But a skill careless of life lets valour loose, more furiously

Than when the Bear lashes airy Rhodope with layers of snow

As the Kids are setting; or when Jove thundering from the sky

Makes all Ausonia echo; or Syrtis is shaken by the dense hail,

When dark Boreas brings Italian rains to Libya. The day was

Blackened with missiles, and clouds of steel hung in the sky,

The air too crowded for fresh darts. Some died from enemy

Spears, some from their own javelins returned on them, shafts

Clashed in the air, losing direction failing to wound, blades too,

Slings rained a shower of whistling stones, swift shot; arrows,

Poisoned, threatening dual death, imitated the lightning bolts.

Earth has no space for more missiles, and each strikes a target.

Often they fall and kill by accident, chance does valour’s work.

The armies now press forward, now retreat, gaining and losing

Ground by turns. So, when Jove menacingly gives rein to gusts

And storms, heaven’s hosts in conflict afflict the earth below

With opposing tempests, now a southerly gale blows strongest,

Now a northerly, till in the battle of the winds either the one

Conquers with an excess of rain or the other clears the sky.

BkVIII:428-479 The first encounter

Asopian Hypseus was first into battle, repulsing the Oebalian

Squadrons (since with the great pride of their race they were

Breaking the Euboean line, using their solid shield-bosses),

Killing Menalcas, leader of the vanguard. He was Laconian

In mind as well as race, a foster child of the Spartan river;

Nor did he disgrace his ancestors. He pulled the spear, that

Had penetrated chest and back, from flesh and bone, lest

He be shamed, and with failing grip returned it to his enemy

Streaked with blood. Dying, Taygetus, that beloved stream

Flashed before his eyes, the battles, his lash-marks as a boy,

Which his mother had praised. Now Theban Amyntas aimed

An arrow at Phaedimus, Iasus’ son. Oh, swift Fate! Already

Phaedimus twitched on the ground and Amyntas’ bow-string

Was surely still humming. Calydonian Agreus lopped Phegeus’

Right arm from his shoulder; still on the ground, grasping its

Sword and thrusting. Acoetes, passing before it where it lay

Struck at it in fear, severed though it was. Savage Acamas

Conquered Iphis; fierce Hypseus slew Argus; while Pheres

Felled Abas. Bleeding from various wounds they lay there,

Iphis the horseman, and Argus the foot-soldier, and Abas

The charioteer. Now Inachian twins slew twins of Theban

Blood (masked by their helmets in the cruel fog of war!)

And as they stripped the corpses of their armour, they saw

The horror; the brothers looked at each other and together

Grieved over their mistake. Ion, a worshipper of Jupiter

At Pisa, brought down Daphneus worshipper of Phoebus

At Cirrha, and threw his horses into confusion. Jupiter

From the heights praised the former, while Apollo, slow

To bring aid, showed pity for the latter, though in vain.

Fortune brought glory to mighty warriors on both sides,

Drenched in enemy blood. Theban Haemon harried and

Killed Danai, while Tydeus in fury pursued the Theban

Forces. Minerva inspired the former, Hercules the latter.

So you might think two rivers bursting from mountain

Slopes and falling, a dual catastrophe on the plain, are

Competing, in spate, as to which should toss earth, trees

Higher, or drown bridges deeper; and whenever a single

Valley contains both and they might meet, each proudly

Goes its own way, refusing to reach the ocean together.

Onchestian Idas shook a smoking torch as he disrupted

The Argive ranks, forging a fiery path amongst them.

Tydeus, with a mighty blow of his spear, from close

Quarters, stabbed him, splitting his helmet, the huge

Warrior falling on his back, the blade in his forehead.

The brand fell and the flames licked at his temples.

Tydeus cried: ‘Call Argos merciful: we grant you your

Pyre: burn Theban in your own flames!’ Then as a tiger

Rejoicing in its first kill goes through the whole flock,

He killed Aon with a stone, Pholus and Chromis with

His sword, and ran the two Helicaones through with

His spear. Maera, the priestess of Aegean Venus, was

Their mother, though the goddess forbade her to bear

A child: now, though prey to you blood-stained Tydeus,

That mother was praying for them at Venus’ cruel altar.

BkVIII:480-535 Tydeus overcomes Haemon

No less did random slaughter drive Herculean Haemon;

His insatiable blade carried him through the host of men,

Now humbling Calydon’s proud forces, now Pylene’s

Grim ranks, now the foster-children of grieving Pleuron,

Until with an already wearied arm he reached Olenian Butes,

Whom he attacked as he turned to forbid his troops to flee.

He was a boy, a boy with cheeks unshaven, locks unshorn.

Before he was aware, the Theban axe poised in mid-flight

Had sliced his helm and split his temples, severed tresses

Falling onto his shoulders: with no time for fear, he leapt

From this life by an unanticipated path. Then Haemon slew

Blond Hypanis and blond Polites, the former had dedicated

His beard to Apollo, the latter his tresses to Bacchus, yet

Both gods proved unkind. To their corpses Haemon added

Hyperenor; and Damasus, who turned to flee but received

Haemon’s spear between the shoulders, through the chest

So that the spear-point sent the shield flying from his grasp.

Ismenian Haemon would still have been killing his Inachian

Foes, Amphitryon’s son Hercules guiding his aim, granting

Him strength, but now Pallas sent cruel Tydeus to meet him.

Face to face the divinities came, each favouring an adversary,

And Hercules spoke gently: ‘My faithful sister, what chance

Brings us together in the mist of war? Has Queen Juno forged

This evil? Sooner would I (what madness!) oppose our great

Father’s lightning bolts and war against him. Haemon’s race –

Well I’ll disavow it, since you favour his enemy, as I would

If your Tydeus’ threatened my son, Hyllus, in close conflict,

Or my father, Amphitryon, returned from the Stygian depths.

I will always remember, goddess, how your hand and aegis

Worked for me, when I wandered the earth, a slave to cruel

Mischance. Ah, you yourself would have accompanied me

To pathless Tartarus, did Acheron not deny access to the gods.

You granted me a father and the heavens – who could speak

Worthily of these things? Take Thebes if you are minded

To destroy her. I yield for my part, and ask your pardon.’

With these words he withdrew. Minerva was moved by his

Respect, and her countenance was once more as it had been,

The ardour lessened, the snakes erect at her breast subsiding.

Theban Haemon felt the goddess leave him. His darts flew

Less fiercely, and he failed to realise his previous skill.

His strength and courage waned more and more, and he felt

No shame in retreating. Tydeus attacked him as he withdrew,

And balancing a javelin only he could hurl aimed at the point

Where the helm’s lower rim rests on the shield’s edge, where

The vital parts of the throat showed white. Nor did his hand

Fail him. The spear would have killed Haemon, but Minerva

Forbade it, deflecting it to wound the left shoulder slightly, as

A favour to her worthy brother, Hercules. Haemon, however,

Feared to remain and face the blood-stained Tydeus in battle.

His mind was troubled, confidence and willpower dispelled.

So a wild boar whose bristling temples have been grazed by

Some Lucanian spear (the thrust not reaching into the brain,

The arm not following through) deflects its anger, swerves

To one side, seeks to stop the spear penetrating once more.

BkVIII:536-553 The deaths of Prothous and Corymbus

Behold Tydeus, Oeneus’ son, indignant that Prothous, leader

Of a band of men, should happily send missiles against them

With sure aim, pierced two bodies in his fury, horse and man,

With a single pine-wood spear. Prothous fell beneath his mount,

And as the rider sought the reins that had slipped from his hand,

The wounded creature trampled his face and chest beneath his

Helm and shield, until it loosed the bridle with its dying breath,

And lay with its neck across its master. So, an elm and a vine

Fall on Mount Gaurus, a dual loss to the farmer, though the elm

Is the sadder, longing for the forest lost to both, not so much

Lamenting its own boughs in the fall than the companion grapes

It loathed to crush. Corymbus of Helicon, who was formerly

A friend of the Muses, had taken arms against the Danai. Aware

Of what the Stygian Fates had spun, one Muse, Urania, had long

Foretold his death from the stars’ alignments. Yet he longed for

War and warriors, so as to sing them perhaps. Long to be praised

In song himself, he lay there, as the Sisters silently wept his loss.

BkVIII:554-606 The wounding of Atys

Young Atys had been betrothed from a tender age to Agenorian

Ismene. Cirrha was his home yet he was no stranger to Thebes

And its army. He had not shunned her parents despite knowing

Their sad history, rather her chaste desolation and the courtesy

Due to innocent affliction commended the girl to her lover. He

Was no ordinary man, and the girl’s heart was at one with his,

Each would joy in the other if fate allowed. War prevented

Their marriage, fuelling the young man’s anger against the foe.

He was among the first to charge, harrying the hosts of Lerna,

Now on foot with flickering sword, now mounted with the reins

In his hand, as though the spectators’ eyes were following him.

His mother had clad his slender shoulders and smooth chest

In triple purple. Then, lest he be dressed less well than his

Beloved, she gilded his arrows, belt, sleeves, and horse’s

Trappings, and added scrolls of gold to his helm. Trusting,

Alas, to such finery he challenged the Argives to battle. First

He attacked the weaker squadrons with his spear; returning

To his friends in the lines with the spoils on killing his man.

So a young Caspian lion in Hyrcanian shade, lacking as yet

A terrifying yellow mane, or history of bloodshed, will raid

At leisure a flock not far from the fold, while the shepherd is

Absent, and sate its hunger on a tender lamb. He even showed

No fear of Tydeus, not knowing him by his armour and, taking

Measure only of his size, dared to provoke him again and again,

With slender darts, while Tydeus gnashed his teeth and pursued

Other foes. At last the Aetolian turned his eyes to the source of

These feeble blows, and with a dreadful laugh cried: ‘Perverse

Man, I perceive you desire great fame from death.’ With this

He carelessly launched a lightweight javelin, not considering

This audacious adversary worth his sword or spear. And yet

The missile still pierced the hidden arteries of the groin, as

Though he had hurled it with all his might. Tydeus swept by,

Atys’ death assured, disdaining to take the spoils, crying:

‘We’ll not hang such trophies on your walls, Mars, or yours

Warlike Minerva. May shame prevent me carrying such arms

Myself. If Deipyle had left her bower and followed me to war,

I’d scarcely have given her them to play with.’ So he spoke,

And his thoughts drew him on to greater battle prizes. Thus,

A lion after countless killings, ignores frail calves and soft

Heifers, mad to plunge in blood on the neck of a mighty bull,

Leader of the herd. But Menoeceus heard Atys’ fall and his

Dying cry and, turning his horses, leapt from his speeding

Chariot. The men of Tegea were advancing on Atys’ corpse

Where he lay; while the Thebans feigned indifference. He

Called out: ‘For shame, you Theban youth, belying your

Ancestors born of the earth! Where are you heading for,

You degenerates? Shall Atys, a friend, defending our blood,

Lie here? As such a friend still, the unhappy champion

Of a wife not yet his: do we ignore such pledges?’ Filled

Then with a proper sense of shame, the troops stood taller,

While each man’s thoughts returned to his own beloved.

BkVIII:607-654 The dying Atys is carried to Thebes

Meanwhile in a private inner chamber, the sisters, Antigone

And Ismene, of a different character than their two brothers,

Innocent daughters of unhappy Oedipus, talked of their ills

Together, not those of the present but those far back destined

By fate. One laments their mother’s second marriage, the other

Their father’s ruined eyes; one the reigning brother the other

The exiled; and both the war. Hence a weighty meditation on

What sad prayer to make: fear points both ways. Whom to

Wish vanquished in the struggle, whom victorious? The exile

Silently tips the scale. So Pandion’s birds, the nightingales,

Returning to their familiar site, the home they left when winter

Drove them out, perch on the nest, tell to the place their tale

Of ancient woe; their sad, broken utterance is mistaken for

Speech, and yes, their murmurs seem not dissimilar to words.

Now after tears and long silence, Ismene began again: ‘What

Mortal illusion is this? What breach of trust? Can it be our

Cares keep vigil while we rest, and clear images of our

Thoughts return in sleep? Behold, I who should knowingly

Have no concern with marriage chambers even if profound

Peace reigned, I saw, in the night (alas, for shame!), nuptials

Sister: how did mindless slumber bring me my betrothed, he

Barely known to me by sight? Not of my own will, dreaming,

I gazed at him, sister, while my loyalty was somehow pledged.

At once everything seemed in turmoil, a sudden fire interposed,

And his mother was pursuing me with frantic cries, demanding

That Atys return to her. Is this a vague prophecy of disaster?

Not that I fear, while our home is safe, and the Dorian army

Are here, and we can forge a peace between our brothers.’

They were still speaking, when in an instant a confused din

Filled the palace, and Atys, rescued by a mighty effort, was

Carried in yet living, barely a drop of blood in his veins.

His hand covered the wound, his head overhung the rim

Of his shield, his hair streamed backwards from his brow.

Jocasta met him first and called in a trembling voice for his

Beloved Ismene; since her son-in-law’s fading voice asked

Only for her, her name alone fell from his chill lips. Women

Wept, Ismene raised her hands to her face, cruelly restrained

By shame; yet she must go, Jocasta granting this last request

Of the dying youth; showing her; beckoning the girl forward.

On the point of death, four times, he bravely raised his head

And failing eyes at her name. He gazed only at her, the light

Of day neglected, not sated by the sight of her beloved face.

Then, since his mother was absent, and his father had found

Peace in death, his betrothed had the pitiful task of closing his

Eyes. Then finally the witnesses distant she confessed her

Sorrowful affection, and bathed his wound with her tears.

BkVIII:655-766 The death of Tydeus

While this was happening in Thebes, Bellona, bristling with

Fresh snakes and torch, was renewing the conflict. Warriors

Longed to fight, as if they had only just raised their hands

In conflict and every sword were still newly burnished.

Tydeus was foremost. Though Parthenopaeus bent a sure

Bow, though Hippomedon on his furious steed trampled

The faces of the dying, though Capaneus’ pine spear flew

Seen by the Theban squadrons from afar, the day belonged

To Tydeus, it is him they feared and fled, as he shouted:

‘Where are you off to? Behold, now you can avenge your

Dead comrades and repay me for that sad night. I am he

Insatiable in slaughter who took those fifty lives. Come,

Bring me as great a host again! Where are their fathers?

Where are the loving brothers of the fallen? Why so

Forgetful of the loss? How ashamed I am to have left

For Inachian Mycenae so content! Is this what remains

Of Thebes? Are these the king’s men? And where, I

Wonder is that noble leader?’ As he spoke he saw

Eteocles himself urging on the left wing of his army,

Conspicuous by the gleam of his proud helm. Tydeus

Attacked him ardently, as eagerly as a fiery eagle above

A snowy swan, shrouding the frightened creature with

Its vast shadow. He was the first to call out: ‘O King,

Most just ruler of the Theban people, shall you fight

In armour and show your sword at last, or would you

Not rather wait for night and the darkness you love?’

The other spoke no reply, but sent a spear, in answer,

Whistling towards his enemy. The watchful hero swept

It aside at the end of its trajectory and hurled a missile

Furiously himself with a greater force than ever. The

Lance sped savagely on its way bent on ending the war.

(Theban and Argive gods, on either side, favoured its

Passage), but a cruel Fury deflected it, leaving Eteocles

To his errant brother. The spear flew awry and struck

Phlegyas the armour-bearer. A vast melee ensued for

Tydeus attacked more furiously still with naked sword,

While the Theban host defended their retreating leader.

So in the depths of night a strong band of cowherds

Will drive a wolf away from the steer he has caught:

He leaps at them obstinately, and disdains to attack

Those who bar his path and charge at him, but only

The creature he has first assaulted. So Tydeus ignored

The ranks of lesser men s ranged against him, passing

Them by. Yet he pierced Thoas’ face, Deilochus’ chest,

Clonius’ flank and grim Hippotades’ groin. Sometimes

He severed limbs from their trunks, and sent helmet

And head whirling to the sky. Eventually his path was

Choked with the corpses and the armour of the fallen.

The Theban army expended its strength on him alone,

And at him alone all missiles were aimed. Some clung

To his frame, others fell uselessly; some Minerva tore

Free, many stood proud from his shield, its boss dense

With spears, a quivering forest of steel, while the boar

Hide on his back and shoulders was ripped and torn.

Now the tall crest on his helm was shorn, and the image

Of Mars crowning its grim peak plunged to the ground,

An unhappy omen for the wearer: now the bare bronze

Was welded to his temples, while stones resound against

It, and thud onto his shield. His helmet filled with blood,

And a dark flow of gore, mixed with sweat, bathed his

Wounded chest. He looked back at his comrades urging

Him on, and at loyal Minerva who, far off, hid her eyes

Behind her shield, on her way to move her divine father

With her tears. Behold, an ash spear sliced the air, bearer

Of wrath and a mighty doom; though its wielder was not

Apparent, it was Melanippus, the son of Astacus. He

Did not claim the deed, and hoped his hand in it might

Stay hidden, but his troops’ delight revealed him where

He trembled. Now Tydeus, letting his round shield fall,

Bowed to one side, while Theban shouts and Pelasgian

Groans mingled, as the latter stretched their arms out

To protect him, defending him despite himself. But he

Had seen that detestable son of Astacus, far off through

The intervening ranks; with all his remaining strength

He willed himself to strike, hurling a spear that Hopleus

Had handed him. A stream of blood was forced from him

By the effort. Then his sorrowing comrades dragged him

Away, although he still longed to fight (what ardour!),

Begging for a spear and, on the verge of death, refusing

To expire. They set him down at the edge of the field,

Propped up by a shield on either side on which he leant,

Promising him, amidst their tears, that he would return

To Mars’ cruel conflict. But he himself felt the light

Receding, and the final cold gripping his heart; leaning

On the ground he cried: ‘A favour, sons of Inachus, not

That my bones be taken back to Argos or my Aetolian

Home: I care nothing for funeral rites. I despise limbs

Whose strength has failed, a body that refuses to obey

My will. But oh, that head of yours Melanippus, oh if

Someone would bring me that! For I doubt not you are

Writhing on the ground, my skill remaining to the last.

Go, Hippomedon, I beg you, if you possess one drop

Of Atreus’ blood; go, young Arcadian glorying in your

First war, and you, Capaneus, now the greatest warrior

Of this Argive host! All were moved at this, Capaneus

The first to leave. He found Astacus’s son, lifted him

From the dust, and carried him over his left shoulder,

(Still breathing, staining his captor’s back with blood

From his open wound) like Hercules returning from

The Arcadian cave with the captive boar, to Argive

Acclaim. Tydeus raised himself and turned his head

To see him, wild with joy and wrath, contemplating

The gasping mouth, the savage eyes, and recognised

Himself in the other. He commanded the enemy’s

Head be severed and brought to him. Holding it in his

Left hand, he glared at it fiercely, proud to feel it

Cool, and see those grim eyeballs, still trembling,

Grow still. But though the unhappy man was content,

Tisiphone the avenger demanded more. As Pallas

Appeared, having swayed her father’s emotions,

Bearing immortal glory to the wretched Tydeus,

Gazing at him, she saw his jaws drenched with fluid

From the shattered skull, polluted with the matter

From a human brain (his comrades could not wrest

It away). The bitter Gorgon on her shield stood tall,

With flailing snaky locks; the asps rearing before

The goddess’ face and masking it. Turning away

From the prostrate Tydeus, she fled, not returning

To the stars until the mystic torch and the waters

Of the guiltless river, Ilissos, had purged her eyes.


End of Book VIII