Publius Papinius Statius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
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- BkII: Prologue – Statius to his friend, Melior, Greetings
- BkII:1 – On Glaucias, favourite of Atedius Melior
- BkII:2 – Pollius Felix’s Villa at Surrentum (Sorrento)
- BkII:3 – Atedius Melior’s Tree
- BkII:4 – And His Parrot
- BkII:5 – The Tame Lion
- BkII:6 – Consolation for Flavius Ursus on the Death of a Favourite Servant
- BkII:7 – An Ode for Polla in Honour of Lucan’s Birthday
BkII: Prologue – Statius to his friend, Melior, Greetings
Such is my friendship with you, in which I delight, dear Melior, who are no less elegant in your literary discernment than in the whole tenor of your life, and such the nature of the little works I dedicate to you, that this whole book of mine would seek your regard even without this letter. For its first theme is our dear Glaucias, who as a charming infant under your roof, one of the unfortunates whose destiny so often turns out to be thus, I embraced and loved, he who is now no longer yours. I sent a poem of consolation, as you know, for this recent loss, so promptly that I felt I owed you an apology for its alacrity. Nor am I boasting of it to you, who know, but am indicating it to others who might otherwise criticise the piece too harshly, coming as it did from a sorrowful writer to a grieving recipient, given that tardy consolation is well-nigh superfluous. My dear Pollius’s Surrentine villa comes next; that piece deserved more diligent composition, to honour his eloquence, but as a friend he has forgiven me. You should know, Melior, that the little pieces regarding that tree and that parrot of yours were written in epigrammatic fashion. The same facility of style was required for the tame lion; the work would have fallen flat if I had not presented it to our most sacred Emperor, while the lion lay dead in the amphitheatre. I added another consolation to this book, addressed to our friend Ursus, a clear-minded and learned lad, who loses no time to idleness. I did so, freely, because besides what I owed to him, he will credit you with the compliment. A birthday ode for Lucan ends the volume, an ode that Polla Argentaria, a treasure among wives, asked as a favour when we happened to discuss that celebratory day. I could not show greater reverence for such a mighty author than by mistrust of my own hexameters in praise of him.
If these writings, such as they are, do not displease you, my dearest Melior, let them find their audience in you; if not, may they return to me.
BkII:1 – On Glaucias, favourite of Atedius Melior
How perverse to even begin to console you, Melior
For your foster-child, abruptly taken, while I yet stand
By the pyre’s glowing embers? As yet the sad wound’s
Open veins gape wide, the treacherous path of the blow.
While I, in my cruelty, make verse and healing words,
You seek out loud lament, and the beating of breasts,
Out of love with the lyre, and turning deaf ears aside.
Song is ill-timed. Sooner would a tigress choose to hear,
Or some bereaved lion and lioness robbed of their cubs.
Not even by the threefold harmony of the Sicilian Siren,
Or that lyre of Orpheus’s, woods and wild beasts knew,
Could your wild cries be calmed. Frantic grief consumes
Your heart, and when you are touched you groan within.
None would forbid it; sate yourself with misery, be free
To conquer bitter pain. Has the need to weep yet gone?
Are you no longer weary, resentful of a friend’s pleas?
Now, shall I sing? See even as I do so, my face swims
With tears, and their sad droplets fall to stain the page.
For I myself, beside you, led the black-garbed funeral
Procession, and the child’s bier (alas how wrong it felt!)
While Rome watched; I saw the cruel heaps of wretched
Incense, and the heartfelt weeping there over his corpse,
And as you outdid a father’s groans, or a mother’s arms
Outstretched to clasp the pyre, ready to eat the flames,
I, likewise, could scarcely restrain you, without offence.
And now, a poet of ill-omen, alas, I doff the ribbons
Honouring my brow, reverse my lyre, beat my breast,
Beside you. Be soothed now, I pray, and if I have felt
And deserved involvement in your mourning, accept
Me as your friend and companion in this raw grief.
Fathers in pain have heard me. I have sung solace
To mothers prostrate by the pyres of dear children,
And solaced myself when, Nature, I, bowed down,
Lamented, oh so dear a father! I don’t say, harshly,
Do not mourn; but share your pain, let us both weep.
For many a long hour; unsure how to begin my praise
Of so deservedly loved a child, I sought some worthy line.
At one moment his age, at the very threshold of life,
Inspired me, then his charms, or precocious modesty,
His sense of honour, his probity riper than his years.
Oh, where is that fine complexion suffused with blushes,
Those star-bright orbs, eyes filled with heavenly radiance,
And the modest compactness of that slender forehead,
The delicate locks of hair above, the soft decorous fringe?
Where’s that melodious voice with its charming plaint,
Those kisses redolent of spring flowers at each embrace,
Those tears blended with laughter, those accents laced
With the sweetness of Hybla’s honey, at which serpents
Ceased to hiss, and cruel stepmothers longed to serve him?
No way I do exaggerate his true charm. Alas, the milk-white
Throat, those arms always clasped about his master’s neck!
Oh where is the burgeoning hope of that coming manhood,
The longed-for grace on those cheeks, the beard he so often
Swore to you was there? A heavy hour, a hostile day turned
Everything to ashes; and all that is left to us is our memories.
Who’ll now soothe your heart with the happy talk you loved,
Who’ll reflect the drift of your cares, your private thoughts?
Who’ll calm you when bile inflames your anger, and you wax
Harsh with your servants, turning you from hot ire to himself?
Who’ll steal the food you’ve just raised, the wine you’ve sipped,
From your lips, wreaking havoc with his sweet plundering?
Who’ll leap on your bed, and murmur to break your morning
Slumber, who’ll delay your leaving with a clinging embrace,
And call you back at the very threshold to receive his kisses?
Who’ll meet you on your return again, and rise to your hands
And lips, embracing your shoulders with his little arms?
Mute is the house, I bear witness, and desolate the hearth,
Neglect pervades the bedroom, sad silence the dinner-hour.
What wonder, Atedius, that your loyal foster-father honoured
You with so grand a funeral? You were your master’s solace,
A haven for his old age, at times his joy, at times his heart’s
Sweet care. You were not spun round on some barbarous
Slaver’s turntable, nor for sale, a child, among the Pharian
Goods there, cracking concocted jokes, speaking made words,
Playfully seeking a master, and all too slow to discover one.
Here was your home, here was your origin, both your parents
Were long dear to your master’s house, freed for your happiness,
Lest you bemoaned your birth. But no sooner were you snatched
From the womb, than your master raised you up, in exultation,
To greet the glittering stars with your first cry, calling you his
In his heart; clasped you to his breast naming you as his own.
By permission of sacred parenthood, and by your leave, Nature,
Who dictate the whole world’s primal laws, may I be allowed
To say: consanguinity and natural descent via a line of offspring,
Are not the only bonds; adopted children are often dearer to us
Than kin. Legitimate sons are a necessity, but those we choose
Are a joy. So Achilles meant more to that kindly centaur Chiron,
Than to Haemonian Peleus. Nor did the aged Peleus accompany
His son to the Trojan War, but Phoenix clung to his dear pupil.
Evander, far away, prayed for his son Pallas’s triumphant return,
While loyal Acoetes, Evander’s armour-bearer, watched the fight.
Among the bright stars, winged Perseus’ father, Jupiter, lingered,
While Perseus was nurtured by the wave-borne fisherman Dictys.
What need to speak of mothers less affectionate than the nurse?
What need to tell of you, Bacchus, lying more safely in Ino’s lap,
After your mother, Semele, tricked by Jove, had turned to ashes?
Ilia, careless of her son, reigned as queen over Tuscan waters,
While Acca, his nurse, grew weary carrying Romulus around.
I have seen twigs grafted on an alien tree grow taller than they do
On their own. And your mind and spirit had already made you
His father, even before his beauty and his ways captured you,
Even then, you loved the sounds that he made though limited
To crying, you loved his innocent wailing and his infant tears.
Like a flower fated to die at the first breath of adverse wind,
Standing far too tall in the tender field, so that child, in looks
And proud steps beyond his years, prematurely outdid his peers.
When he stood firm in a wrestling hold, you might have thought
Him born of some Spartan mother, (Apollo would have been
Ready to exchange him for Hyacinthus, Oebalus’s son, or
Hercules for his favourite Hylas); or when, in Greek costume,
He performed eloquent Menander’s Attic speeches, wanton
Thalia, in delight, would have praised his accents, ruffled
His handsome locks, by placing there her garland of roses;
Or when he recited from Homer, the story of Troy’s toils,
Or the adventures of Ulysses long-delayed homecoming,
His father, teachers even, were amazed at his understanding.
Surely Lachesis touched the child’s cradle with her hand
Of ill fate, and Envy fondled the infant on her lap; the one
Stroked his cheeks and curly hair, the other granted him
Talent and filled him with those accents we now mourn.
Developing year by year he bid fair to equal Hercules’
Labours, and yet he was still not much more than a child;
His step was firm already, his clothes seemed inappropriate
To his stature, he always seemed to be outgrowing them,
And what gear did your tender master not rush to provide?
Not wanting to restrict your breathing with a lined cloak,
Or burden your chest with a constricting winter mantle,
Always selecting clothes to suit your years, with folds
Not too ample, at one time dressing you all in scarlet,
Now in a green like the grass, now in the sweet blush
Of purple; delighting in making your fingers sparkle
With vivid gems. Hosts of servants and gifts unending;
Only the toga of free birth lacking to your modest dress.
Here is the doom of the house. Suddenly a hostile Fate
Raises her hands. Whom do you bare your savage nails
To harm, goddess? Do neither beauty nor piteous youth
Move you? Procne could never have attacked him so,
Nor the cruel Medea have steeled herself to such fierce
Wrath, not even if he had been Jason’s son, by Creusa.
Mad Athamas would have turned his grim bow aside.
Ulysses, though he hated Troy and Hector’s very ashes,
Would have wept, balked at hurling the lad from its walls.
The seventh dawn comes, and his cold eyes are dimmed,
Already Proserpina holds a lock of his hair in her hand.
But even as the Fates curtail his frail years, his dying gaze
Fixes on you and his failing tongue murmurs your name.
All the air left in his empty lungs he breathes towards you;
He remembers your name alone, her hears only your cry,
And moves his lips for you, and speaks his parting words,
Forbidding you to grieve, trying to console your sadness.
We thank you, Fates, that no lingering illness consumed
His boyish beauty as he lay there, he will descend whole
To the shades, his body inviolate, nothing lost; as he was.
What should I tell of the funeral rites, or the lavish gifts
Given to the flames, the corpse alight with funerary pomp?
Or of how tall your sad pyre rose high in a purple mound,
How Cilician saffron and those tributes of Indian spices,
Arabian, Pharian, Palestinian perfumes drenched the hair
About to burn? Melior rushes to bring all he has to the pyre,
To set a torch, prodigally, to his entire wealth, loathing all
These riches left behind; but the jealous fire refuses to burn,
The flames are stifled, unequal to so great a pile of offerings.
A shudder grips my senses. Melior, calmest of men, how I
Feared for you during the last rites, hard by the funeral pyre!
Was this then the pleasant and friendly face I used to know?
Whence was that passion, wild gestures, strange tremors?
Now flat on the ground you hid from the cruel light of day,
Now you tore at your clothes fiercely, raked the skin beneath,
Pressing your mouth to those beloved eyes and cold lips.
The father and mother of the dead child were both present,
But those parents gazed at you dumbfounded by your grief.
No wonder, all the populace wept for the tragedy, as did
The crowd who had gone on ahead, by the Flaminian Way
Over the MulvianBridge, when the blameless child was lost
To the sad pyre, earning their tears for his beauty and youth.
So drowned Melicertes was carried by sea to an Isthmian
Harbour and, set down there, was laid beside his mother Ino.
So too the greedy flames consumed Opheltes, torn by snakes
As he was playing in Nemea’s serpent-infested meadows.
But lay aside your fears, and cease to fear death’s menace.
Triple-jawed Cerberus will never snarl at him, the Furies
With their torches and writhing snakes never scare him;
Even Charon the surly oarsman of the avid boat will steer
Nearer to the barren bank, closer to the scorched shore,
Lest the lad should find it difficult to clamber aboard.
What is this Mercury, Cyllene’s son, proclaims to me,
So joyously, with his wand? Can anything there bring joy?
Yet the boy would recognise great Blaesus there, his high
Countenance, from statues in your house, when you twined
Fresh garlands, or clasped the waxen images to your breast.
Seeing him as he paces the banks of Lethe’s stream, there
Among the Ausonian noblemen, and among Quirinus’ line,
The lad would walk timidly by his side, approaching silently,
Plucking at the edge of his robe, following him persistently,
Nor would Blaesus spurn him the more he plucked at him,
Merely think the boy some young relation unknown to him.
When later he was made aware that this was his dear friend’s
Darling child, who had consoled that friend for his own death,
He would take him up and clasp him to his mighty breast,
Taking him happily by the arm, showing him all the charms
Of bloodless Elysium, the bare branches and the silent birds,
And the weak and pallid flowers there, nipped in their bud.
Nor would he discourage him from those memories of you,
But heart to heart share the lad’s love for you, yours for him.
Death has him. Surely now you must heal the wound, raise
Your head bowed by grief? All we see is passing or doomed
To pass. The nights vanish and the days, and even the stars,
And its substance can do nothing to preserve the solid earth.
As for human beings they are mortal, and who shall weep
The loss of transient creatures? Some war takes, some the sea,
Some are ruined by love, others by savage greed or madness,
To say nothing of disease. Some await winter’s frozen face,
Others implacable Sirius’ fatal heat, while yet again others
Go to find their fate in pallid autumn’s rain-filled depths.
Whatever has a beginning, fears its end. We shall all, all
Go our way; Aeacus rattles the urn for countless shades.
But happily he for whom we grieve, he will elude both
Men and gods, and doubtful days, and all the dangers
Of blind chance, immune to fate. He did not ask for death,
Nor did he deserve, nor fear, it. We the anxious multitude,
We are wretched, ignorant of when our last day will dawn,
How we shall quit this life, from what star the lightning will
Fall, what cloud thunder our fate. Does this not move you?
Yet you shall be moved, and willingly. Come to us, Glaucias,
Sent from the dark sill, you who alone can win what I ask,
(Neither Charon the ferryman, nor Cerberus chained tight
To the inexorable gate, bar guiltless souls): soothe his heart,
Forbid his eyes to weep; and fill long nights of blessedness
With your sweet speech and the living image of your face;
Deny you have perished; and bring him, as only you can,
Renewed awareness of a bereaved sister, sorrowing parents.
BkII:2 – Pollius Felix’s Villa at Surrentum (Sorrento)
Between the walls whose name they say derives from the Sirens,
And the cliffs that carry Tyrrhene Minerva’s temple at Misenum,
There’s a villa on high that gazes down on the Dicarchaean deep,
Where the countryside’s dear to Bacchus, where the grapes ripen
On the slopes of the hills, without envying the Falernian vines.
Here then I gladly sailed, over my native bay, from my home
Naples, as the quadrennial festival of the Augustalia ended,
When a lazy quiet had settled on the stadium, and the dust lay
White, and the athletes’ thoughts turned to Ambracian laurels.
I was tempted here by the eloquence of gentle Pollius, and by
The youthful grace of shining Polla, though I had been eager
To turn my steps to where the Via Appia, queen of highways,
Carries travellers along the long, familiar track towards Rome.
The delay was worth it. Curving headlands on either hand
Frame crescent-shaped waters, forming the tranquil bay.
Nature grants space, and the streaming shore separates
The heights, running inland between overhanging cliffs.
The first thing that graces them is a steaming bath-house
With twin domes, where fresh water flows to the briny sea.
Here Phorcus’s nimble choir, and Cymodoce with dripping
Hair, and sea-green Galatea take their pleasure in bathing.
Neptune, the cerulean master of the swelling waves, he
Who is custodian of this innocuous house, keeps watch
Before his temple; his shrine is brine-wet with the benign
Spray. Hercules protects the fortunate fields, and the bay
Rejoices in the protection of its dual deities. Here the land
Is saved from harm, and here the savage waters are tamed.
The sea is wonderfully calm. Here weary waves lay aside
Their fury, and wild southerly winds breathe more gently.
Here the headlong tempest abates, and the pool lies there
Modest and untroubled, imitating the manners of its owner.
From there a colonnade zigzags over the heights, city-work,
Its long spine mastering the rugged cliffs. It’s pleasant now
To wander where dense dust once obscured the sunlight,
Over those places where the track was rough and foul:
It’s like the covered path that leading from Ino’s harbour
At Lechaeum climbs the high slopes of Bacchis’ Corinth.
Not if Helicon granted me the power of both its springs,
Or Pierian Piplea quenched my thirst, or Hippocrene
That sprang from beneath Pegasus’ hooves, or sweet
Castalian Phemonoe pouring out her chaste waters,
Or those disturbed by my dear Pollius when under
Phoebus’ auspices he plunged deep into the urn,
Not even then would my Muse be equal to the task
Of describing the endless sights and the adornments
Of this place. My eyes are wearied by their serried
Ranks, my legs grow weary as I am led from one
To another. What a host of delights! Should I wonder
Most at the place itself or the ingenuity of its owner?
This building faces east, towards Apollo’s first rays,
That one causes him to linger, denies the fading light
As the day tires, and the mountain’s darkening shadow
Meets the sea, and the palace swims in the glassy water.
This one is loud with the sea’s clamour, that one knows
Nothing of sounding waves, preferring inland silence.
Some sites Nature favours, others the developer has
Conquered, where she yields to new and gentler ways.
There was a hill where now is a plain, a wilderness
Where you now shelter; where you see tall trees now
There was once no dry land: the owner has tamed all,
The soil delights to follow where he removes the rock
Or carves it. See how the cliffs fall beneath the yoke,
And buildings cling there, as the hill’s ordered to retreat.
Let Arion, Methymna’s poet, Amphion’s Theban lyre,
And Thracian Orpheus’s plectrum yield you the glory;
May you too move rocks, be followed by tall groves.
What can I say of antique statues in bronze or wax,
As if vivified by Apelles’ delightful colours or shaped
As if by Phidias’ hands, wondrous work, and Olympia
Still unfurnished, or made to exist by Myron or Polyclitus’
Chisel, or bronzes more precious than gold from Corinth’s
Ashes, busts of generals and poets, faces of ancient sages,
Whom it’s your care to study, whom you know by heart,
Free of other cares as you are, with your mind composed
And virtuously calm, ever yourself? What of the thousand
Roofs, the changing views? Each room offers its own delight,
And each a sight of its own sea, and beyond Nereus’ flood
The various windows command their individual landscape.
This one faces Ischia, from that one rugged Procida appears;
There Misenum spreads, named for Hector’s armour-bearer,
And there Nisida, surrounded by the sea, breathes its ill breath;
Over there’s Euploea of fair omen for all wandering vessels,
And there is Megaris jutting seaward into the curling waves,
And your own Limon distressed that its lord rests opposite
As it looks across to your palace at Sorrento, in the distance.
Yet one room of them all, one room surpasses all the others,
Which shows you Naples directly, over the path of the sea.
Here are marbles cut from the depths of the Greek quarries:
Here the product of eastern Syene streaked with veins, here,
Here what Phrygian axes carved in Synnas, among the fields
Where wailing Cybele mourns for her Attis, on its coloured
Stone the areas of white being delineated by purple circles:
Here marble quarried from Amyclaean Taygetus, mountain
Of Lycurgus, green rock imitating the colour of soft grasses;
Here the yellow stone from Numidia, Thasos, Chios glistens,
And that of Carystos delighting to equal the grey-green waves;
All of them salute the turrets of Chalcidian Naples opposite.
Be blessed for favouring that colony of Greece, frequenting
Grecian fields, not allowing Pozzuoli, Diarchus’ city where
You were born its jealousy. The more ours our cultured ward.
How shall I tell of rural riches, farmland claimed from the sea,
And the cliffs awash with grape-juice, the nectar of Bacchus?
Often in autumn when Lyaeus’ crop is ripening on the vine,
Some Nereid climbs the rocks and in night’s secret shadows,
Wiping her sea-wet eyes with a leafing shoot, steals the sweet
Grapes from the slopes; often the crop is drenched with brine
From the spray below, the Satyrs tumble into the shallows,
And the mountain Pans long for Doris, naked in the waves.
Be fertile, earth, for your master and mistress, through all
The years of Mygdonian Tithonus, and Pylian Nestor, nor
Alter your noble allegiance, nor let the courts of Hercules
Be better cultivated, nor they be better pleased by Pozzuoli
Bay, or the seductive vineyards of Galaesus by Tarentum.
Here my Pollius exercises the Pierian arts of the Muses,
Whether considering the teachings of Gargettian Epicurus,
Or plucking the lyre, or weaving the unequal elegiac lines,
Or unleashing instead his menacing veins of iambic satire.
From this cliff the Siren swoops down towards finer songs
Than hers; from that Minerva listens, nods her plumed crest.
Then swift winds fall, the waves themselves are ordered not
To roar, delightful dolphins leap from the water, drawn now
To his skilled harp-playing, and roam here beneath the cliffs.
Long life to you, who own riches greater than Midas’ treasure,
Croesus’ gold, happy beyond the thrones of Troy and Persia,
Untroubled by transient emblems of power, the fickle crowd,
Laws or armies, whose great soul is master of hope and fear,
Above desire, immune from Fate, denying unworthy fortune;
Your last day will not find you trapped in the dubious whirl
Of circumstance, but replete with living, and ready to depart.
We, the wretched crew, forever eager to serve passing joys,
Ever in hope of more, we are scattered to the chance breeze:
While you from the high citadel of mind regard our errant
Ways, and smile at human pleasures. There was a time
When the approval of two countries pulled you this way
And that, and you were carried on high through two cities,
Venerated here by Pozzuoli, by the people of Dicharchus,
Adopted there by mine, Naples; generous to both equally,
Proud with the fires of youth, unsure as to the right path.
But now the mists of circumstance are blown away, you
See the truth. Others are still tossed about on those deeps,
But your ship has found safe harbour, and a tranquil calm,
Where it remains unshaken. Continue so, and never send
Your ship among our tempests, her weary journey over.
And you, his wife, most accomplished by far among
Latin ladies, of equal mind, no anxieties have ever altered
Your heart, no threats your brow, rather bright joy is ever
In your face and looks, and all delight free of every care:
No unfruitful treasure-chest strangles the use of secret
Wealth, no loss of interest torments a grasping spirit:
Your riches are on view which you enjoy in cultivated
Temperance. No hearts, as one, are more blessed by all
The gods, and no other minds has Concord better taught.
Learn on, untroubled: may the flames in your two hearts
Mingle and merge for ever, and sacred love serve chaste
Friendship’s laws. Go on through the years and through
The centuries, surpassing in fame those ancient glories.
BkII:3 – Atedius Melior’s Tree
There’s a tree casts its shade on illustrious Melior’s
Limpid waters, embracing the pool; from its base
Curves down towards the pond then rises on high,
Its crown erect, as though re-born from the waves,
And founded with secret roots in the glassy flood.
Why ask Apollo for the tale? Naiads, tell the story,
Obliging Fauns (no others needed) grant me a poem.
Once a band of tender Nymphs were fleeing Pan.
He chased after as if he desired them all, yet it is
One, Pholoe he wanted. Through woods and streams
She evaded now the hairy legs, now shameless horns.
Past Janus’ warlike grove she flew, and Cacus’ dark
Aventine, Quirinus’ fields to reach the Caelian waste.
Then drained by the effort and wearied by her fear,
She drew her flowing garment about her and, where
Placid Melior’s harmless dwelling stands exposed,
Sank down on the margin of the whitened shore.
The god of the herds followed swiftly, thinking
The consummation his. Already his burning lungs
Had ceased their panting, already he loomed close
Above his prey. But, lo! Diana turned her swift step
That way, while roaming the Seven Hills, tracking
The spoor of a deer that had crossed the Aventine.
Angered by what she saw, she turned to call to her
Loyal band: ‘Shall I never prevent the raids of this
Greedy, vile, lascivious brood? Is the number
Of my chaste companions, doomed to dwindle?’
So crying, she took a short bolt from her quiver;
Held back from a full shot with its singing flight,
Content to hurl it one-handed; and touched, they
Say, the sleeping Naiad’s left hand with its vanes.
She in turn woke to light and her insolent enemy,
And to hide her snow-white limbs plunged, just
As she was, fully clothed, into the deep; thinking
Pan followed her far underwater, she wrapped
Herself in the weeds at the bottom of the pool.
Suddenly thwarted what was her pursuer to do?
He was afraid to trust his body to the depths,
Conscious of his shaggy hair, and from a child
Never taught to swim. He complained bitterly
Of Diana, the invidious arrow and the waters.
Then he laboured to plant a plane-tree sapling
Beside them, long-stemmed, of countless shoots,
With a slender tip that would leap to the heavens,
And heaped fresh silt around it, and sprinkled it
With the water of longing, and commanded it, so:
‘Tree, live long, a token in memory of my desire;
May you at least reach down and show affection
For that hidden resting-place of the cruel Nymph,
And press your foliage against the watery surface.
Let her not feel the heat above, or be struck by
Harsh hail, though she has deserved it; remember
Merely to ripple and stir the water with your leaves.
Then I’ll hold in mind, both you and its mistress,
Protect you, the place benign, in inviolate old age,
So Jupiter’s and Apollo’s trees, variegated poplars,
And my own pines may marvel at your flourishing.’
So he spoke. The tree vivified by the god’s ancient
Power, with slanting stem, leaned on the brimming
Waters, and probed them with its affectionate shade.
It longs for an embrace, but the nature of the water
Repels it, will not be touched. At last, struggling in
The air, and retreating from the depths, it cleverly
Raises its smooth tip erect, as though ascending
From the pool’s depths, born from another root.
Now Diana’s Naiad no longer even dislikes it,
Welcoming the branches excluded from the deep.
Such the little gift I make you on your birthday,
Small but fated perhaps to survive many years.
Honour that delights and serious yet lively virtue
Have made their home in your tranquil breast.
Idle repose is not for you, nor the inequitable
Exercise of power, nor unrestrained ambition,
But the middle way of integrity and kindness.
Unwaveringly loyal, and free of mental turmoil,
Private, yet ordering your life for anyone to see,
Despising gold, yet using wealth to advantage:
Letting the light play over your riches, go on
And flourish, with youthful spirit and manners,
Equal the Ilian ancients, Priam and Tithonus,
Exceed the years that your father and mother
Took to Elysium. This they have won by their
Entreaty from the harsh Fates, this, the sublime
Fame of noble Blaesus, which evidenced in you
Shall escape silent neglect, and grow green again.
BkII:4 – And His Parrot
Parrot, king of birds, your owner’s eloquent delight,
Talented imitator, Parrot, of the human tongue, what
Cut short your lisping with the suddenness of fate?
Yesterday, sad bird, while we dined, you were about
To die, though we watched you sampling the table’s
Gifts with pleasure, wandering from couch to couch
Past midnight. And you talked to us, spoke the words
You’d learned. Now our entertainer possesses Lethe’s
Eternal silence. No more tales of Phaethon and Cycnus:
Swans are not the only birds given to celebrating death.
What a fine cage you owned, with a bright red cupola,
With those sides barred with silver wedded to ivory,
Its gates and perches sounding to your beak’s clatter,
Now, making their own sad creak. Empty that happy
Prison, your narrow dwelling’s clamour is no more.
Let that school of birds crowd round to whom Nature
Grants the noble skill of mimicry; let Apollo’s raven
Beat its breast; the starling who repeats from memory
Words it has heard; those girls changed to magpies
In Aonian contest; the partridge that replies linking
Repeated sounds, and sad Philomela the nightingale
Who moans in her Thracian room. Bring your grief
Here, lament as one, and together carry your dead
Kinsman to the fire, while all rehearse this dirge:
‘Dead is the renowned glory of the airborne race,
Parrot, the green sovereign of the Eastern climes,
Whose looks not even Juno’s peacock with its
Jewelled tail, nor the pheasants of icy Colchis,
Nor the guinea fowl Numidians trap in a humid
Southerly, matched: he, who saluted kings, uttered
Caesar’s name, would act as a sympathetic friend,
Or a light-hearted guest at dinner, was always
Ready to echo the given words. So that when he
Was released from his cage, dear Melior, you
Were never alone. Yet he is not sent to the shades
Ingloriously: his ashes steam with Assyrian spice,
While his fragile feathers smell of Arabian incense,
And Sicilian saffron. Unwearied by slow ageing,
He mounts the perfumed pyre, a brighter Phoenix.
BkII:5 – The Tame Lion
What benefit to you to quench your rage, be tamed;
Unlearn destructiveness and the slaughter of men;
Suffer orders, obey a master less powerful than you;
Grow used to going to and from your prison cage;
And to leave your captive prey of your own will;
To loose your jaws, to release the hand set inside?
You are dead, trained adversary of taller creatures,
Not trapped by a Numidian band in a cunning net,
Nor surmounting the spears with a formidable leap,
Nor deceived by the empty depths of a hidden pit,
But undone by a wild beast in flight. Open on its
Hinges is the cage-door of the unlucky, while behind
Closed gates tame lions roar at the outrage allowed.
Their manes fell when he was dragged back, they
Contracted their brows and shrouded their eyes.
Yet the sudden shame of being toppled by that
First blow failed to overwhelm you: your courage
Held, brave in death, as you fell, not turning tail,
Still menacing. As a dying soldier aware of his
Fatal wound still attacks the enemy before him,
Raising his arm, threatening with falling blade,
So you, with slow strides, stripped of all dignity,
Open-jawed, focused your gaze, seeking the foe.
Though defeated, there is solace for your sudden
Death, since the crowd, the city fathers, groaned
At your fate, as if you were a famous gladiator
Felled on the harsh sand, and Caesar was moved,
Among the loss of so many beasts whose sacrifice
Is cheap, out of Scythia, or Libya, or the Rhine
Or Alexandria, moved, for the loss of a single lion.
BkII:6 – Consolation for Flavius Ursus on the Death of a Favourite Servant
Whoever grades grief or sets limits to mourning is all
Too cruel! It is tragic when parents must carry young
Children, or (vile!) their adolescent sons, to the pyre,
Harsh too to bemoan the empty half of the bed when
A wife is snatched away; and wretched a sisters’ cry,
A brother’s lament. Even a lesser blow may yet stir
Feelings as deep, or deeper, surpassing those aroused
By greater wounds. A slave (for so does Fate ascribe
Names blindly, and yet knows not the heart), a slave
It is you mourn for, faithful Ursus, who by his love
And loyalty earned tears, to whom freedom of thought
Was dearer than lineage. Don’t leave off weeping, feel
No shame. Let grief be unrestrained before the gods,
If such pain delights them; you mourn a human being
(woe to me who myself light the pyre!) your Ursus,
Who welcomed such sweet bondage, resented nothing,
And, demanding of himself, did all that he did freely.
Who would curb the tears shed at such a death? Even
Parthians grieve for a horse killed in battle, Molossians
For loyal hounds, birds have pyres, Silvia’s stag Virgil.
What if he had not been born a slave? I myself knew his
Character, and noted how he obeyed you, yet his spirit
Ran visibly high, the fire evident in his young veins.
Many a Grecian mother would wish, many a Latin
Desire, to produce such a son. Not even Theseus would
Have matched him, whom the clever Cretan girl drew
By a fragile thread back to her side, nor shepherd Paris,
Soon to behold Helen, his Spartan lover, when he
Launched that unwilling pine-keel into the waves.
I tell no shadow of a lie, sing with no thoughtless
Freedom: I saw him, see him still: nor even Achilles
Whom Thetis hid on a virgin shore as he cried war,
Nor Troilus who was caught by a Thessalian lance
As he fled round the Trojan walls cruel Apollo built.
How handsome you were! More so by far than all
Other men and boys, less so only than your master.
He alone surpassed you, just as the bright moonlight
Outshines lesser lights, and Venus lessens other fires.
There were no womanish charms in your looks, no
Unmanly graces, like those from whom the charge
Of ambiguous beauty demands a change of sex:
You were stern and virile, no impudent looks but
Glances fine, austere, as handsome as the helmeted
Parthenopaeus. Your hair rough, unadorned and yet
Becoming, your cheeks bright with new down yet
Not smothered; such youths Eurotas rears, Leda’s
Stream, such pure lads of tender age go to Olympia,
To prove the powers of their early years before Jove.
As for the modesty of your noble mind, your calm,
Temperate ways, spirit riper than your tender age,
What words could show them? Often your criticism
Of your lord was welcomed; your thoughtfulness;
A deep understanding; with him you were sad, happy,
His mood was yours, taking your expression from his,
Your loyalty worthy to outdo in fame that of Patroclus
Or Pirithous. Yet, let the limits of praise be as Fortune
Allows; Eumaeus was no more faithful, in his sad
Mind, as he hoped for Ulysses’ long-delayed return.
What god or circumstance determined so terrible
A blow? Why was the baleful hand of fate so sure?
O how much better for you, Ursus, if you had been
Free of your opulent wealth and ample fortune! If
Rich Locri had belched Vesuvian fire in smoking
Ruin, or water had drowned the Pollentian glades,
Or the Lucanian Acir or Tiber had directed their
Deep waters to the north; or if whatever place from
Which generous Fortune returned her bounty, say
Kindly Crete, or Cyrene, denied its promised harvest,
You might have faced the gods with untroubled brow.
But unhappy Envy expert in injury, found your spirit’s
Vital core, the path to hurt. Sad Nemesis with a frown,
Marked him out, on maturity’s very threshold, about to
Join three years to three lustres, first filling out his form,
Brightening his eyes, raising his head higher than before;
Ah, a deadly favour to the wretched lad! Tormented by
Gazing and envy, she clasped him, cast the net of death
Over him, plucked at the face she should have revered,
With merciless talons. Venus was barely at its fifth rising,
Harnessing the dripping steed, when you, Beloved, saw
The cruel shores of fatal Acheron, and ancient Charon.
How your master cried your name! Had your mother
Lived not even she could have bruised her arms more
Cruelly, blackening them in grief, nor your father; for
Sure, your brother who witnessed your funeral was
Ashamed to be outdone. No slave’s pyre for the dead.
The flames consumed harvested Sabaean and Cilician
Perfumes; cinnamon stolen from the Pharian phoenix;
Those flowing juices extracted from the Assyrian bud;
Your master’s tears; these alone the ashes consumed,
These the fire endlessly drank. But to your sad shade
Not the wine of Setia that quenched your grey embers,
Nor the smooth onyx that clasped your bones, proved
More welcome than the grief. Yet you yourself forbid it.
Why, Ursus, should we give way to sorrow? Why nurse
The loss, perversely love the wound? Where is all that
Eloquence of yours, defendants hauled to justice know?
Why torment the dear shade with such wild mourning?
Peerless though he was, and worthy of your grief, you
Have grieved. He has joined the blessed, he now enjoys
Elysium’s peace, finds perhaps illustrious ancestors there.
Or among Lethe’s pleasant silences, it may be, the Naiads
Of Avernus flow from all around to dally with him there,
While Proserpine takes note of him with sidelong glance.
Cease your moans, I beg. Perhaps the Fates or perhaps
You yourself will grant you another Beloved, and you
May cheerfully show him decorous ways and manners,
And teach him, likewise, how to show you affection.
BkII:7 – An Ode for Polla in Honour of Lucan’s Birthday
Whoever on Venus’ hill, Acrocorinth,
Has drunk Pirene’s Pegasean waters,
With heart moved by poetic frenzy,
Let them attend: it is Lucan’s birthday.
And you, Mercury, Arcadian inventor
Of the sounding lyre; and you Bacchus
Of the whirling Bassarids; you Apollo;
And you Muses, the Hyantian sisters;
All who own the grace of poetic song,
Adorn your hair, put on new purple
Ribbons, in your joy, and let fresh
Ivy cling all round your white robes.
Let rivers of poesy flow more freely,
The woods of Aonia shine greener;
If their shade is pierced by the sun
Let soft garlands fill their spaces.
Now set a hundred fragrant altars
In Thespiae’s groves, with a hundred
Victims Dirce bathes, Cithaeron feeds:
Hush now: for it’s Lucan we celebrate;
And favour us Muses, this is your day,
When he is honoured who honoured
You in both the arts free and chained,
Verse, prose; priest of the Roman choir.
Happy, too happy land, and blessed,
You that see Hyperion’s westward
Setting, beneath the deep Ocean wave,
Hear the hiss of his descending arc;
Your oil-presses rivalling Athens,
Soil fertile with Minerva’s olives.
Andalusia, unroll your rich carpets:
You can boast of Lucan’s birthplace,
More so even than giving us Seneca,
Or producing honey-tongued Gallio.
Let the Guadalquivir, more renowned
Than Homer’s Meles, flow upstream,
Lifting its flowing waters to the stars.
Let Virgil’s Mantua provide no rival.
As he lay there, at first, on that soil,
A sweet cry his earliest murmuring,
Calliope took him on her kind lap.
Then setting mourning aside at last,
Eased of long lament for Orpheus,
She spoke: ‘Dedicated to the Muse,
Soon to surpass the immortal bards,
It is not Thracian trees or creatures
That you will move with your quill,
But Seven Hills, Mars’ own Tiber,
In eloquent song, cultured knights,
And their senators in purple robes.
Let others tell of Troy’s nocturnal
Ruin, Ulysses’ long voyage home,
Or of Minerva’s bold ship, Argo:
Born to Latium, mindful of the race,
You, yet bolder, will sing of Rome.
And first, while still of tender years,
You’ll toy with Hector; a chariot
From Thessaly; King Priam’s golden
Ransom; unbar the infernal gates.
Our Orpheus, ungrateful Nero
You’ll recite to kind audiences.
You’ll tell of a guilty emperor’s
Monstrous fires sweeping Rome.
Next a little thing for chaste Polla,
Bestowing honour and ornament.
Then, more nobly, in manhood,
You will thunder of Philippi,
White with the bones of Romans,
And the battles there at Pharsalia;
Caesar, godlike martial lightning;
Cato grave with the public good;
And Pompey courting popularity.
You’ll shed pious tears at crime,
Pompey’s murder at Alexandria,
Build a nobler tomb than Pharos.
All this you’ll sing when young,
Before the time of Virgil’s ‘Gnat.’
Daring Ennius’ untaught Muse
Will yield and the high ardour
Of learned Lucretius, and Varro
And his wave-borne Argonauts,
Ovid and metamorphosed forms.
A greater thing indeed I’ll utter,
The Aeneid itself shall give way,
When you shall sing to Latium.
I’ll not grant bright poesy alone,
But with marriage torches give
A wise girl to grace your genius,
One kindly Venus or Juno might
Grant, of beauty, simplicity, birth,
Grace, charm, elegance, and riches,
And I will sing the wedding song,
Before your door in festive chant.
Oh you Fates, too harsh and cruel,
Ever denying the noblest long life!
Why is the highest chance’s toy,
Greatness, doomed to die young?
So Babylon holds the narrow tomb
Of great Alexander, Ammon’s son,
Whose lightning ran east and west.
So Thetis moaned at Achilles’ fall,
He shot by Paris’ trembling bow.
So once I followed Orpheus’ head
That sang by Hebrus’ murmuring.
So you, doomed by a crazed Nero,
Ordered to plunge towards Lethe,
While you sang of war, and nobly
Gave solace to grand sepulchres,
(Oh wicked crime!) are silenced.’
So she spoke, with shining quill,
Brushing away her falling tears.
But you, soaring in heaven’s vault,
Riding the noble chariot of Fame,
Where mighty spirits rise, and view
The earth below, beyond the tomb;
Or dwelling within Elysium’s gates,
In earned retreat, in groves of peace,
Where the dead of Pharsalia throng,
Pompeys, Catos keep you company,
As you sound out your noble song;
Or, blessed, proud, your great shade
Knowing Tartarus, hearing from afar,
The guilty scourged, watching Nero
Pallid at his mother’s vengeful torch;
Be here in splendour at Polla’s call,
Beg a day, pray, from those gods
Of the silent; their gate may open
For a husband’s return to his bride.
She does not worship you as a false
Image, boldly in some wanton dance,
But reveres you as yourself, meets
With you there in her deepest being.
Nor is it vain solace that your face,
Imitated in delineating gold, affords,
Shining over her bed, granting calm
Sleep to her. Be far from here, Death!
Here is life’s birth, here is its origin.
Let dark mourning yield, eyes be wet,
Let sweet tears flow, and festal grief
Celebrate all that for which it wept.
End of Book II