Publius Papinius Statius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved
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- BkVIII:1-83 Dis objects to the invasion of his realm
- BkVIII:84-126 Amphiaraus explains his presence there
- BkVIII:127-161 The Argives react to his loss
- BkVIII:162-217 The lament for Amphiaraus
- BkVIII:218-270 The rejoicing in Thebes
- BkVIII:271-341 Thiodamas prays to Earth
- BkVIII:342-372 The armies advance
- BkVIII:373-427 Battle is joined
- BkVIII:428-479 The first encounter
- BkVIII:480-535 Tydeus overcomes Haemon
- BkVIII:536-553 The deaths of Prothous and Corymbus
- BkVIII:554-606 The wounding of Atys
- BkVIII:607-654 The dying Atys is carried to Thebes
- BkVIII:655-766 The death of Tydeus
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