Publius Papinius Statius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
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- BkIV: Prologue – Statius to his friend Marcellus: Greetings!
- BkIV:1 – The Emperor Domitian’s Seventeenth Consulship
- BkIV:2 – Gratitude to the Emperor Augustus Germanicus Domitianus
- BkIV:3 – The Via Domitiana
- BkIV:4 – A Letter to Vitorius Marcellus
- BkIV:5 – A Lyric Ode to Septimius Severus
- BkIV:6 – Novius Vindex’s Statuette of Hercules
- BkIV:7 – A Lyric Ode for Vibius Maximus
- BkIV:8 – Congratulations to Julius Menacretes
- BkIV:9 – Joking Hendecasyllables for Plotius Grypus
BkIV: Prologue – Statius to his friend Marcellus: Greetings!
I’ve contrived a book, dearest Marcellus, that I can dedicate to your loyal affection. I don’t think I’ve begun any little work of mine without invoking the divinity of our great Emperor, but this book owns to three such pieces, and what greater tribute to you than that the fourth is by way of honouring you. Firstly, I have celebrated our Leader’s seventeenth consulship. Secondly, I give thanks for the honour of attending his most sacred banquet. Thirdly, I show admiration for the Via Domitiana, by means of which the annoying delays caused by the sandy ground have been eliminated. Thanks to it, you will receive the letter I write to you from Naples in this volume more swiftly. Next there’s an ode to young Septimius Severus, a classmate of yours and, as you know, one of the most distinguished members of the second Order, but besides that a very close friend of mine. As for the statuette of Hercules belonging to our friend Vindex, in addition to the honour he deserves from me, and from literature itself, I can also credit you. I have already borne adequate testimony to my regard for Maximus Vibius, based on his nobility and eloquence, in the letter to him that I published concerning my Thebaid; but here I call on him to hasten his return from Dalmatia. Joined with that is a poem addressed to my fellow townsman Julius Menecrates, a distinguished young man and my friend Pollius’s son-in-law. I congratulate him for having honoured the city of Naples by the number of his children. I intend a worthier tribute to Plotius Grypus, a young man of senatorial rank, but in the meantime I include in this volume some hendecasyllables which caused us some amusement at the Saturnalia.
Why then are there more poems in the fourth book of my Silvae than in its predecessors? Because I don’t want those who condemn my publishing this type of composition to think that their criticisms have had any effect. For in the first place, it is pointless for them to argue over a thing already completed, and in the second, I had already presented a number of these works to our master the Emperor – and that is a more important consideration even than publication! Are we not allowed to exercise our talents in play? ‘Only in private,’ they say. Yet we’re allowed to watch ball games and fencing matches. Anyway, whoever reads anything of mine reluctantly may consider himself my adversary. Why then accept his advice? In conclusion, I am the one exhibited in public; let him be silent and rejoice. As for this book, Marcellus, defend it if you wish; and be done with it. If not, I’ll bear the blame. Farewell.
BkIV:1 – The Emperor Domitian’s Seventeenth Consulship
Caesar’s purple adds one, joyously, to those sixteen entries
In the calendar: Germanicus sees in a memorable new-year,
Rising with the new day, and with the stars in their grandeur,
Shining more brightly than they, and greater than the dawn.
Judges of Latium exult; rejoice you magistrates; let Rome
Sweep the sky more proudly with her seven hills; above all
Let the Palatine, let Evander’s summit triumph over the rest.
The lictors newly-appointed enter the Palace, that twelve-fold
Honour of the Consulship returns. The Senate, their prayers
Heard, delight in having overcome Caesar’s modest reluctance.
Janus himself who presides over the renewal of endless time,
Lifts his arm and gives thanks at either threshold of the Forum.
You have joined his hands with those of his neighbour Peace,
And ordered him to set aside all thoughts of war, and swear
Allegiance to the civic laws of this new Forum Transitorium.
See he raises upturned palms, and with twin mouths declares:
‘Hail, great father of the world, who prepare with me to renew
The century! Rome would ever desire to see you celebrated so
In my new month; so let the times be re-born, so let the years
Make their entrance. Make the calendar continually joyous:
Let the folds bordered with rich purple clothe your shoulders,
The robe, the toga praetexta, fresh from Minerva’s swift hands.
See how temples gleam more brightly, the flames rise higher
On the altars, how the midwinter stars themselves glow warm
For you, matching your mild temperament. Rejoice you knights,
You tribes, you purple-clad senators, every rank draws lustre
From our Consul. Has any former time seen the like of this?
Tell me, mighty Rome if so, I pray; antiquity’s long years
Enumerate them with me, and ignoring trivial examples,
Only recount those that my Caesar has deigned to surpass.
Thirteen times as the years slid by Augustus bore the Latian
Rods, but many years passed before he truly deserved them.
You were young when you outdid your ancestors, and what
Gifts you refused, honours you reject! Yet you will yield,
And reward the senate’s prayers often with promise of this
Day. A further sequence remains to be fulfilled, many a time
Will fortunate Rome grant you the magistrate’s curule chair.
With me you’ll celebrate a second Secular Games; for you,
The altar of ancient Tarentus shall be renewed. You’ll bear
A thousand trophies; allow the celebration of your triumphs.
Balkh and Babylon have still to be newly trained to tribute,
There are no Indian laurels yet at Capitoline Jove’s breast,
Arabia and the Orient do not yet petition, nor is the year yet
Fully honoured, ten months remain still to be named for you.’
So Janus spoke, and happily withdrew behind his archway.
Then all the gods opened wide their shrines, issuing joyful
Portents from heaven, and Jupiter promised you, our great
Leader, long days of youth, and as many years as his own.
BkIV:2 – Gratitude to the Emperor Augustus Germanicus Domitianus
Virgil, who brought Aeneas to the fields of Laurentium,
Celebrated Elissa’s, great Sidonian Dido’s, royal feast,
While Homer, his Ulysses weary with endless voyaging,
Depicted Alcinous’ banquet in immortal lines of verse:
But how shall I acknowledge my prayers granted, what
Thanks suffice, now that Caesar brings me this new joy,
A place at his sacred banquet, a seat at his imperial feast?
I could not find a fitting utterance, though both Smyrna
And Mantua were to wreathe my happy brow with laurel.
I seem to sit with Jove among the stars, and I seem to sip
Immortal nectar offered me by Trojan Ganymede’s hand.
The years behind were barren; this is the first day of my
Mortal span; behold, here is the true threshold of my life.
Is it you I gaze at, as I sit here, sovereign of all the lands,
Great father of a world conquered, dear to the gods, hope
Of all mankind? Is it given to me, indeed, to look on your
Face nearby at wine and board, allowed to remain seated?
Here is the august building, immense, magnificent and not
With a mere hundred columns but enough to support high
Heaven and the gods above, were Atlas to ease his burden.
The Thunderer’s neighbouring temple views it in wonder,
The gods rejoice to see you installed in a palace equalling
Their own (hasten not to ascend to the heights of the sky);
So wide are its foundations, such is the extent of its halls,
Wider than a spreading plain, embracing much of heaven
Within its roof; you fill the house and weight it with your
Great genius. Here in contention find stone from Libyan
Heights, and the bright stone of Troy, blocks from Syene,
Chios too, rocks to rival the colour of the grey-green sea,
Marble from Carystos, and Luna to support the columns.
Its height challenges vision; your weary eyes can scarce
Find the roof, and you’d think it heaven’s gilded ceiling,
When Caesar asks the great men of Rome and the ranks
Of robed knights all to recline here at a thousand tables,
Ceres herself with tucked-up robe, and Bacchus, labour
To supply them. So Triptolemus scattered her great gift
From the sky, so Dinoysus cast shadow on the bare hills
And sober fields, beneath his covering of clustered vines.
But I’d no time to spare for gazing at citrus wood tables
On ivory legs, or ranks of servants, my eager look was
Towards him, with visage calm, its radiance tempered
By tranquil majesty; he, modestly lowering the banner
Of his good fortune, yet a concealed beauty still shining
In his face. So might barbarian emissaries, or unknown
Peoples, recognise him by the sight. So Mars reclines
In some chill Thracian valley, his war-horses stabled;
So Pollux relaxes gleaming limbs, after some Spartan
Wrestling bout; so Bacchus rests by Ganges, to Indian
Cries; so mighty Hercules, after some dreadful Labour
Delighted in laying his body down on that lion’s skin.
My comparisons are trivial, and your aspect unmatched:
So the leader of the gods looks, when he visits Ocean’s
Shore, at the banquets of the Ethiopians, his sacred
Countenance suffused with nectar, and bids the Muses
Sing arcane songs, Apollo laud victory over the Giants.
May the gods grant (since they say they often listen to
Lesser spirits) that you achieve twice or thrice the sum
Of your father’s years. May you elevate deified spirits
To the stars, found temples, show regard for your family.
May you often open the gate to the year, greeting Janus
With fresh lictors, often mark the quinquennial festival
With lustral crowns. To me, your granting my presence
At your auspicious banquet, at the rituals of your table,
Seems like that day long ago when, below Trojan Alba’s
Mount, I sang now of German battles, now of Dacian,
And your hand granted me Minerva’s golden crown.
BkIV:3 – The Via Domitiana
What vast cacophony, of tough flints
And solid steel, filled stony Appia,
On the side that borders on the sea?
Not the sound of Hannibals’ cavalry;
No wandering foreign general shakes
Campania’s fields in perfidious war.
Nor is it Nero disturbing the waters,
Cleaving hills, creating murky swamps.
Rather it is he who surrounds Janus’s
Threshold with a Forum and just laws,
And so restores her virgin acres to Ceres,
Sober fields long denied her; as Censor
Forbids emasculation and grown males
To fear the punishment of sexless form;
Who restores the Capitoline Thunderer,
And returns Peace to her own dwelling;
Who consecrates an everlasting temple
To his father’s tribe, with Flavian deities;
Who impatient of tracks that limit men,
Plains that obstruct their every journey,
Eliminates long diversions, and paves
Over, in solid form, the clinging sand,
Happy to make the Euboean Sibyl’s cave,
The slopes of Gaurus, and steaming Baiae,
More accessible to Rome’s Seven Hills.
Here the slow traveller gripped the swaying
Pole of his two-wheeled cart as malignant
Ground sucked at his wheels, here Latian
Folk feared their journey through the plain.
No swift passage; glutinous ruts slowed
Tardy travel, while weary beasts crawled
Along, under the weight of their high yoke,
And baulked at their over-heavy burdens.
Yet now a task, that wore away a whole
Day, scarcely takes a couple of hours.
No vessel, no outstretched wings of a bird,
Speeding under the stars, consume less time.
The first labour was to mark out trenches,
Carve out the sides, and by deep excavation
Remove the earth inside. Then they filled
The empty trenches with other matter,
And prepared a base for the raised spine,
So the soil was firm, lest an unstable floor
Make a shifting bed for the paving stones;
Then laid the road with close-set blocks
All round, wedges densely interspersed.
O what a host of hands work together!
These fell trees and strip the mountains,
Those plane beams and smooth posts;
Some bind stones, consolidate the work,
With baked clay and tufa mixed with dirt;
Others toil to drain waterlogged ditches,
And divert the lesser streams elsewhere.
Such hands might carve Mount Athos,
And bridge the mournful Hellespont
With a solid causeway, unlike Xerxes’.
Subject to them, Ino’s Isthmus might
See waters mingle if the gods allowed.
Shores are roused, and swaying woods.
The din travels the towns along the road,
And vine-girt Mount Massicus returns
Faintly-heard echoes to Mount Gaurus.
Peaceful Cumae, the Liternian marsh,
The slow Savone, wonder at the sound.
But Volturnus lifts his face, tawny head
And mass of dripping hair close-tangled
With soft rushes, then leaning against
The mighty arch of Caesar’s bridge he
Pours out words from his hoarse throat:
‘O beneficent landscaper of my plains,
Who seeing me spread over far valleys,
Not knowing how to keep within limits,
Bound me by rule in a straight channel,
Behold how I, threatening and turbulent,
Once barely letting boats pass, riskily,
Now bear a bridge, trampled underfoot!
I that once carried earth and trees away
Now flow (shamefully) between banks.
But I give thanks, my servitude is just,
As I yield to your power and command,
Men shall read of you as the great leader,
And the eternal conqueror of my shores.
Now you tend to my gushing channel,
Free me of silt, wipe away the shame
Of barren soil on every side; the wave
Of the Tyrrhene sea no longer breaks
Against my sandy, mud-laden current,
(As the Cinyphian Bagrada crawls by
Silent shores midst Carthaginian fields.)
Rather I run so as to challenge the calm
Sea with my shining flow, and contend
Against the Liris with my clear stream.’
So the river spoke; as he did so, a stretch
Of marbled roadway reared its mighty back.
Its gateway, auspicious entrance, arched
Gleaming with the output of all Liguria’s
Quarries and the warlike leader’s trophies,
Vast as the bow that crowns the rain-cloud.
There the hastening traveller makes a turn,
There Appia grieves at being left behind.
Then the journey is swifter and livelier,
Then even the horses enjoy their speed,
As when a rising breeze fills all the sails,
Just as the oarsmen’s arms grow wearied.
Come then, all you peoples of the East,
Who owe allegiance to Rome’s Emperor,
Flow along in your unimpeded journey,
Arrive more swiftly, you Oriental laurels!
Nothing obstructs your wish, no delays.
Let whoever leaves Tivoli at daybreak
Sail the Lucrine Lake in early evening.
But who is this at the end of the new road,
With white hair and sacred ribbons, where
Apollo’s shrine marks out ancient Cumae?
Does sight deceive, or does the Sibyl bring
Chalcidian laurels from her sacred cavern?
Withdraw lyre, set your song aside: a holier
Chant begins, and we must fall silent. See!
She twists her head about, raging widely
Over the new extent, occupying the way!
Then she gives utterance from virgin lips:
‘I prophesied: “He shall come (fields and
Rivers, wait) by heaven’s favour he shall
Come, he will nullify the dark woods and
Powdery sand with a high bridge and road.”
Behold he is a god, Jupiter commands him
To rule the fortunate earth in his place; no
Man worthier has held the reins of power
Since Aeneas, eager to learn of his future,
Was able to penetrate and leave Avernus’
Prescient grove, with me to conduct him.
He’s a friend to peace, formidable in war;
Were he to command the blazing heavens,
More powerful and effective than Nature,
India would be damp, with copious cloud,
Libya be watered, and Haemus grow warm.
Hail, leader of men, and father of new gods,
A divinity foreseen and attested to by me!
No need to read my words as they unroll
On disintegrating parchment to the solemn
Prayers of the Fifteen, but listen, as you
Deserve to, close beside me, while I sing.
I have seen the thread of everlasting ages
The white-robed Sisters weave for you.
A long sequence of centuries awaits you.
Longer lived than your sons, than their
Great-grandsons, you’ll pass such years
Of peace, in endless youth, as Nestor did,
Or such, they say, as Tithonus attained,
As many as I myself once asked of Apollo.
The snowbound north already obeys you,
Now the east will win you great triumphs.
You will go where Bacchus and Hercules
Went, beyond the stars and blazing sun,
And the Nile’s source, and Atlas’ snows,
And, a warrior blessed with every crown
Of glory, ascend triumphal chariots and
Refuse them, while Vesta’s Trojan fire
Burns, Capitoline Jupiter thunders in his
Renascent halls, you ruling earth, until
This road’s as old as ancient Appia now.
BkIV:4 – A Letter to Vitorius Marcellus
Speed, my letter, over the Euboean plains, brook no delay;
Take the road that now branches from the noble Via Appia,
And whose solid mass presses down the soft sands beneath.
And when you have made your way, swiftly, to Rome’s hills,
Take the nearest road to the right bank of the yellow Tiber,
Where the Etruscan shore pens in the lake for naval vessels,
And the deep waters are fringed with suburban garden villas.
There you will find Marcellus, he of the noble mind and form,
And will recognise him by his conspicuous height and stature.
First you must greet him in the customary everyday manner,
But then be sure to relay to him this poetic message of mine:
‘Already the passing of rainy spring has rendered the earth
And turning sky weary, now Sirius burns in the heavens.
Already people forsake the tall buildings of crowded Rome.
Some, sacred Palestrina, or Diana’s wooded hills at Nemi,
Or the cold of Mount Algidus, or Tusculum’s shade, protect;
Others, head for the groves of Tivoli and the Anio’s coolness.
And you, what gentler clime draws you from the clamorous
City? In what cooling breeze do you elude the summer sun?
And what above all of your Gallus, who is your greatest care,
Whom I too love (is it more for his gifts of character or mind)?
Does he summer on Latium’s shores, or revisit quarried Luna,
And the walls of his Tyrrhene home? Yet if he is close to you,
It is certain I will not be long absent from your conversations:
That must be why the sound of them is buzzing in my ears!
But while the fearful mane of Leo’s constellation is alight with
The presence of the over-powerful sun, ease your heart of care,
And steal yourself away from endless toil. For now the Parthian
Seals his quiver and unstrings his guilty bow, and the charioteer
Allows his horses, driven hard in the labours of Elis, to bathe
In the Alpheus, and even my lyre grows weary, its strings slack.
Times of leisure nurture our strength and restore it; our energy
Is greater after rest. So Achilles, fiercer after singing of Briseis,
Laying the pen aside, took up arms aggressively against Hector.
You too, idleness, if you’ll seek it for a little while, will silently
Set on fire, and you’ll return refreshed to your customary labour.
Surely, for now, that wrangling over Latium’s laws can lessen,
The season of leisure delights in peace; the time of harvest has
Discharged the courts; defendants no longer crowd your rooms,
No querulous clients demand your presence; the spear is idle
That marks the Court of a Hundred, from which your eloquence
Flows far and wide, so famously celebrated, beyond your years.
Happy in your pursuits, caring nothing for Helicon’s garlands,
Or the peaceable laurels from the summits of Parnassus, your
Vigorous mind, ready for great tasks, shoulders whatever comes,
While I find solace in an idle life of song, and seek the fickle
Joys of literary fame. Behold, seeking rest and the happy shore
Where sea-borne Parthenope found refuge in the Ausonian bay,
I listlessly strike trembling strings, seated on the steps of Virgil’s
Tomb; I take heart; I sing at the shrine of the immortal master.
But if Atropos grant you long life (which I pray she does) so
Latium’s divine leader will advance you (it being your study
To worship him next to the Thunderer; he who has added to
Your praetorship a new task of straightening the Via Latina)
Perhaps you will be sent to lead the Ausonian cohorts, either
To guard the peoples of the Rhine, or the shores of dark Thule,
Or the banks of the Danube and the threshold of the formidable
Caspian Gates. For your power of eloquence is not your only
Strength: those limbs are well-suited to warfare that are slow
To don the heavy breastplate. In the line of march your crest
Would wave above the ranks, if you were to handle the jingling
Reins, the fieriest horse would obey. I will drift into old age
Singing the deeds of other men; while you handsome in arms
Perform acts worthy of song, and set a magnificent example
For little Geta, whose great ancestor already demands of him
Noble feats, and acquaints him with the triumphs of his house.
Up then, boy, get moving, and catch up with your young father,
Fortunate in your mother’s lineage, and your father’s courage!
Already the Senate is happy to nurture you fondly in its robes
Fringed with purple, joys in promising you every curule chair.
I sing this to you, my dear Marcellus, on the Chalcidian shore,
Where Vesuvius rears his broken summit in anger, pouring out
Flames to rival the Sicilian fires. Marvellous to believe! Will
Future generations, when the crops have grown again and this
Wilderness shows green once more, credit that people and cities
Are buried beneath, that an ancestral countryside has vanished,
In a mundane act of fate? Nor does that crater cease its deadly
Eruptions. May your Chieti be far from such a destiny, may
No such like madness possess your Marrucinian mountains!
Now if you’d like to know a little of what occupies my Muse,
Her Sidonian labours on my Thebaid have been completed,
And her sails are furled once more in the long-awaited haven.
She has offered incense, and the entrails of a virginal heifer,
To the festal flames, on the ridges of Parnassus, and among
The woods of Helicon, hung ribbons for me on the votive tree.
Now a different chaplet comes to be entwined in my idle hair:
I attempt a tale of Troy itself, and mighty Achilles, although
The father who wields the bow now summons me elsewhere,
Showing me the Ausonian leader’s mightier arms. Impulse
Has long been drawing me that way, but fear holds me back.
Will my shoulders sustain so great a weight, or will my neck
Sink beneath the vast burden? Will they bear it, Marcellus?
Or can my vessel, which is accustomed to sail the lesser seas,
Not yet be trusted to endure the greater perils of the Ionian?
But now farewell, and do not let that affection for the poet
You know so intimately vanish from your heart. For Hercules
Himself was not chary of nurturing amity. The glory of loyal
Theseus, faithful in friendship, shall yield to yours, and that
Of Achilles who dragged the battered corpse of Priam’s son
Around the walls of Troy to bring solace for his dead friend.
BkIV:5 – A Lyric Ode to Septimius Severus
Blessed by the bounty of a small estate,
Where Alba once worshipped Teucrian Lares,
I salute, and in no common metre,
The brave and eloquent Severus.
Now harsh winter conquered by the higher sun,
Flees to the North and the Great Arcadian Bear,
Now the sea and land are smiling once more,
As the northerlies turn to soft zephyrs.
Now all the trees are dressed in the soft leaves,
Of a fresh year’s spring, now the new plaintive songs
Of birds arise, and un-attempted trills,
That seemed lost for good in silent winter.
To me a patch of soil, an undying fire,
And a roof darkened by the smoke of lamps,
Bring comfort, with wine poured from the jar
In which it only lately fermented.
No bleating here of a thousand woolly sheep,
No lowing of the cow for her sweet lover,
The fields are silent save when they echo
To the music of their owner’s singing.
But this place is dear to me, first of my loves
After my native land; here the virgin queen
Of battle, the goddess Minerva, crowned
My singing with Caesar’s golden prize,
While you strove with all your might to support
Your friend in his sweet struggle, just as Castor
Supporting his brother Pollux, trembled
At every sound from Lampsacus’ arena.
Was it really Lepcis, in distant Libya,
That saw your birth? Soon she will be bearing
An Indian harvest and forestall perfumed
Sabaeans with mounds of rare cinnamon.
Who would have thought that sweet Septimius
Had other than crawled on every hill of Rome?
Who would have said he did ought when he quit
The breast but drink from Juturna’s fountain?
No wonder your worth: not knowing African
Shallows, you reached our Ausonian harbour,
And immediately, an adopted child,
Learned at once to swim in Tuscan waters.
Then you were raised among the Senators’ sons,
Content with the brilliance of the twin narrow
Stripes of purple, but patrician by nature,
Your character seeking endless labours.
Not Punic your speech, nor foreign in your dress,
Or in your mind: Italian, Italian!
There are in the City and in Rome’s squadrons,
Those worthy of being Libya’s sons.
Your voice is cheerful though the Forum roars,
While your eloquence itself is not for sale,
And your sword sits quietly in its sheath
Unless your friends summon you to draw it.
But peace and the countryside are more often
To your taste, now at your father’s place at Veii,
Now on the leafy heights of the Hernici
People, now in ancient Sabine Cures.
Here, most of your work is in prose, in free
Words and measure; but remember me sometimes,
And now and again strike the sounding lyre
That hides modestly in your grotto there.
BkIV:6 – Novius Vindex’s Statuette of Hercules
By chance as I wandered idly in the Saepta Julia
At sunset, my labours set aside, my mind freed
From the day, kindly Vindex took me off to dine.
That dinner remains in the depths of my memory,
Perpetually in progress: we swallowed nothing to
Mock the digestion, no cuisine from distant clime,
No wine as ancient as our never-ending calendar.
And wretched are they who desire to know how
The pheasant of Phasis differs from Rhodope’s
Wintry crane; which goose contains more offal;
Why Tuscan boar is so much finer than Umbrian;
Which seaweed is slippery shellfish’s softest bed!
Rather true affection, and words from the heights
Of Helicon, and happy laughter helped us exhaust
A winter’s night, banish sweet sleep from our eyes,
Until the next Twin emerged from the Underworld,
And Tithonia smiled at yesterday’s bedraggled table.
O, what a night, worth a Tyrinthian double moon!
To be marked forever with Thetis’ Red Sea pearls,
Long-remembered, while its spirit lives on forever.
It was then and there that I learned of the thousand
Forms of antique ivory and bronze, and wax statues
That almost speak. Who could rival Vindex’s eyes
For recognising the work of old masters, attaching
The true maker’s name to some un-attributed statue?
He’ll reveal to you which bronzes cost Myron many
A sleepless night, which living marbles a labouring
Praxiteles chiselled, which ivories Phidias smoothed,
To which works Polyclitus’ furnace summoned breath,
What outlines proclaim the ancient Apelles from afar:
For this is his study when he sets the lyre aside, this
The passion that summons him from Aonian grottoes.
Of all it was Hercules, Amphitryon’s son, guardian
Spirit of the modest table, that captivated my heart.
My eyes were not satisfied with any swift appraisal.
Such was the nobility of the work, the majesty caught
In narrow limits. The god himself, the god, who let
You behold him, Lysippus; small to view, but large
To the appreciation; and though he’s no more than
Twelve inches tall, yet if your gaze travels his limbs
You’ll be tempted to say: ‘This was the breast that
Crushed the Nemean predator; these were the arms
That bore the deadly club, and broke Argo’s oars.’
So great the illusion that renders a small form large.
What precision in the work, what daring in the art
Of a skilled master, fashioning a table ornament yet
Conceiving the power of a giant in his imagination!
Neither the Telchine’s in Ida’s caverns, nor stolid
Brontes, nor the Lemnian who forges the god’s arms,
Could in sport have made such a perfect little work.
The figure’s not severe, not unfitting for a banquet,
But looks as the hero seemed in Molorchus’ humble
Home; or to Auge, the priestess, in Alea’s groves;
Or, risen to the stars from Oeta’s flames, drinking
Nectar happily with the gods, though Juno scowled.
This is the gentle countenance which, as though
Joyous at heart, encourages the diners. One hand
Holds Bacchus’ mellow cup, the other remembers
That club; a rough seat supports him, and its stone
Is finely adorned with the hide of the Nemean lion.
This sacred work has a noble history. Alexander,
Pella’s ruler, venerating him as a deity, showed it
On his cheerful table, taking it about east and west.
He would grasp it happily with that hand that gave
And removed crowns, and overthrew great cities.
He sought courage from it for the next day’s fight,
And victorious would tell it of his glorious battles,
Whether he had robbed Bacchus of chained Indians,
Or had shattered gated Babylon with his great spear,
Or had conquered Pelops’ land and Greek liberty;
Only omitting from the long list of glorious deeds,
It’s said, his triumph over Hercules’ native Thebes.
And when the Fates were bringing his life to an end,
When he drank the fatal draught, and death’s dark
Cloud veiled him, he feared the altered look of his
Beloved deity, its bronze sweating at his final meal.
The marvellous treasure soon passed to Hannibal:
The Carthaginian leader, brutal, proud, and with a
Treacherous sword, made his libation to the valiant
God, who hated him, though he offered him food
And wine, steeped as Hannibal was in the blood
Of the Italian race, bringing fatal flame to Roman
Roofs. Sadly, the god accompanied that foul army,
Even when sacrilegious torches fired the god’s own
Turrets, defiling the houses and temples of innocent
Saguntum, and filling her people with noble outrage.
After the Carthaginian leader’s death, no ordinary
House gained possession of the matchless bronze.
Always used to entering famous homes, and happy
In its succession of owners, it adorned Sulla’s feasts.
Fortunate now, too, if the gods weigh human hearts
And virtues, since its master’s soul is innocent and
Free of fault: loyalty of old is his, and once begun
His friendship is perennial, as Vestinus knew who,
In the flower of life, equalled his mighty ancestors;
Vestinus, whose spirit Vindex breathes night and day,
Living, embraced by the arms of that beloved shade.
Here then, Hercules, bravest of gods, you know happy
Rest, gazing not at wars and fierce battles, but the lyre
And sacred ribbons, and song-loving sprays of laurel.
In solemn verse shall be recounted how you terrorised
The Ilian and Getic dwellings, and snowy Stymphalos
And the flowing ridges of Erymanthos; how you dealt
With the Iberian herd, and Busiris of the savage altar;
The gates of Death will be sung, which you entered
To despoil; the Hesperides and the Amazons in tears.
Neither the Macedonian king, nor barbarous Hannibal,
Nor the harsh voice of savage Sulla could ever have
Celebrated you thus. Surely, Lysippus, its creator, you
Would not have wished to be judged by any other eyes.
BkIV:7 – A Lyric Ode for Vibius Maximus
Brave Muse, Erato, long have you wandered
The widening plain, now set aside heroic
Labours, and restrict your mighty efforts to
A smaller circuit.
And you, Pindar, leader of the lyric host,
Allow me to grasp a different pen awhile,
If I have now rendered your Thebes sacred,
In Latian song.
For Maximus I will attempt such verse,
Now my garlands must be of untouched myrtle,
Now my thirst is greater yet I must drink
Of a purer stream.
When will you be summoned to sweet Latium
From Dalmatian mountains, where the miner
Returns from seeing Dis, pale as the colour
Of the gold he mines?
Behold me, born in a much less distant land,
Yet idle Baiae does not hold me by its
Pleasant shore, nor the trumpeter Misenus who
Bore Hector’s armour.
My Muse is torpid without you; Apollo
Himself comes to me less often than he did,
And behold my Achilles is obstructed
At the first real turn.
For it was with you as loyal counsellor,
That, much tortured by editing, my Thebaid
Attempted with daring lyre the delights
Of Mantuan fame.
Yet I forgive you your delay since you’ve filled
Your empty hearth with kindly progeny.
O joyful day! Behold there is a
Childlessness is to be avoided at all cost,
The perverse heir would summon it in prayer,
Begging (ah shame!) for death to overtake
His dear relative.
The childless are buried without a tear:
While the greedy inheritor occupies
The house, hovering over death’s spoils, even
Costing the last pyre.
Long life to the noble child, may he grow
To inherit his father’s virtues, travel
The path few tread, challenge his grandfather
With his achievements!
You shall tell the little lad of the sword
You carried to the East, to the Orontes,
Commanding the standard of the cavalry
That Castor favours.
His grandfather will relate how he followed
Unconquerable Caesar’s lightning bolt, imposed
Harsh terms on the fleeing Sarmations; they must
Live under one sky.
But first let the boy learn all your skill, by which
You retrace the world’s ancient times, give us
Once more the writings of terse Sallust, and Livy,
Once Padua’s son.
BkIV:8 – Congratulations to Julius Menacretes
Parthenope, fling wide the doors of the gods, and fill
The garlanded temples with clouds of Sabaean incense,
And the pulsating sacrificial entrails. Menecrates’ line
Has acquired a third scion. Your crowd of nobles grows,
A solace for those losses inflicted by raging Vesuvius.
And let not Naples gather round the festal altars alone,
Let neighbouring harbours, too; lands loved by gentle
Dicaearchus, and Sorrento dear to Bacchus, the shores
Where his maternal grandfather lives, circled by a throng
Of children vying to express his features; deck the altars.
And may their uncle rejoice, distinguished by Libyan spear,
And Polla who considers them her own, hug them benignly
To her breast. Hail, young man, who grant so many shining
Offspring to your worthy country! Behold the house shakes
To sweet tumult, clamorous with so many masters. Let dark
Envy be gone, turning her malicious heart elsewhere: white
Atropos promises them long years, and the glory of extended
Achievement, and promises their country’s Apollo his laurels.
Thus it proved an omen that the most august Father of Rome,
Granted you the joyful privileges earned by triple offspring.
Lucina came as often, entering your pious house repeatedly.
Thus fruitful be your house, I pray, its sacred gifts unaltered.
Hail, that your line has more frequently acquired sons, too!
Yet a girl brings happiness to a young father (achievement
Belongs to the sons, but she will grant grandsons swiftly),
Like to fairest Helen, crawling among her Spartan brothers,
Ready for the gymnasium, and its sanded wrestling-ground;
Or as on the face of the heavens, when in some clear night,
Two radiant stars will appear, one either side of the moon.
Yet I have a grievance, oh rarest of young men, and it’s not
A slight one, I am even angry, as angry as we may be with
Those we love. Was it right I heard of it by common gossip?
When this third child gave cry, why did no letter come swiftly
To bring me word, telling me to heap hot coals on the altar fire,
Garland my lyre, and adorn my doorposts, bring out a jar dark
With Alban smoke, and mark the day with chalk? Only now,
Late and tardily, I sing the fulfilment of my prayers. Yours is
The fault, yours the shame. But I’ll not prolong my complaint
Further; behold a merry throng of children, yours, surrounds
You, to defend their father! With them, you can conquer all.
Gods of our native land, whom a Euboean fleet, with great
Augury, carried over the waves to Italy’s shore; and you,
Apollo, guide to a far-wandering people, whose dove on
Your left shoulder fortunate Eumelus, Parthenope’s father,
Fondly eyes and adores; and you, Actaean Ceres, for whom
We silent devotees wave votive torches, in breathless course;
And you, twin sons of Tyndarus, to whom Lycurgus’s grim
Taygetus, and shaded Therapnae, gave no more devout worship;
Protect this house and its children on behalf of our country.
May they serve our city with wealth and eloquence, weary
As she is with time and much labour, keeping her name green.
Let their father teach them gentle ways, and their grandfather
Teach them liberal splendour; both the pursuit of lovely virtue.
For surely wealth and birth will bring this girl within patrician
Doors, on her first marriage, and if only unconquerable Caesar
Show the virtuous divine favour, surely these brothers when
Manhood’s first achieved, will knock on the Senate’s doors.
BkIV:9 – Joking Hendecasyllables for Plotius Grypus
To be sure it’s a jest, Grypus, to send me
A little book in return for my little book!
Yet it could only be thought amusing
If you sent me a proper one to follow.
For if you persevere in joking, Grypus,
It’s no joke! Look, let’s consider both.
Mine is purple, on fresh parchment,
Adorned with a pair of knobs at the ends.
Beside my time, it cost me a denarius:
Yours, moth-eaten, putrid with mould,
Like the sheets that drain Libyan olives,
Or hold incense, or pepper from the Nile,
Or serve when cooking Byzantine tunny.
And they’re not even your own speeches,
Those you thundered as a youngster there,
In the triple Forum, or to the Hundred,
Before Caesar made you his controller
Of the supply train, general overseer
Of relay stations on every highroad;
No, you send me Brutus’ boring stuff,
Bought by you, for a Caligulan penny,
From some wretched bookseller’s bag.
Were there no caps for sale, stitched
Out of cloak trimmings, no towels, no
Yellowed napkins, writing paper, dates
From Thebes, or figs from Caria? No
Handful of plums or Syrian prunes
Gathered together in a crumbling cone?
No dry wicks, no peeled onion-skins?
Not even eggs, no oats, no rough meal?
No slimy shell of some creeping snail,
That has wandered the Libyan plains?
No lump of bacon or mouldy ham?
No Lucanian sausage, no little Faliscans,
No salt, no honeyed-dates, no cheese?
No bread made with washing soda,
Or raisin wine boiled with its lees,
Or muddied dregs of sweet wine?
Why not give me stinking candles,
A knife, or some thin letter-paper?
Or how about a little jar of grapes,
Dishes turned on a Cuman wheel,
Or a set (what’s to be afraid of?)
Of white cups and white saucers?
But as though you were balancing
Scales, you give the same, tit for tat.
What! If I greet you in the morning
With my loud after-breakfast belch,
Must you do likewise in my house?
Or if you treat me to a sumptuous
Feast, must you expect the same?
Grypus, I’m angry with you, so
Farewell; only please don’t send
Me now, with your customary wit,
Your own hendecasyllables in reply!
End of Book IV