Publius Papinius Statius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
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- BkV: Prologue – Statius to his friend Abascantus: Greetings!
- BkV:1 – Consolation on the Death of Priscilla
- BkV:2 – In Praise of Crispinus, the Son of Vettius Bolanus
- BkV:3 – A Lament for His Father
- BkV:4 – Sleep
- BkV:5 – A Lament for His Son
BkV: Prologue – Statius to his friend Abascantus: Greetings!
Every good example should be honoured, as benefiting the public. The devotion you show to your Priscilla is an aspect of your own character and none can withhold their sympathy, no husband certainly. To love a living wife is a delight, a dead one a religion. However I do not present this work as one of the crowd, nor as an obligation. Priscilla loved my wife, and by loving her, confirmed her approval in my eyes; so I would show ingratitude were I to ignore your tears. Moreover, I always do my humble best to oblige any follower of the Divine House, since whoever worships the gods in good faith, loves their priests also. Yet though I have wished for a long while that our friendship could deepen, I would rather this occasion had not presented itself so soon.
BkV:1 – Consolation on the Death of Priscilla
Had I the skill to shape true likenesses in wax,
Impress features and bring life to ivory or gold,
Priscilla, I’d create a work of solace welcome
To your husband. For by his great devotion he
Deserves in his grief to have had Apelles render
Your face in paint, or Phidias to re-create you.
So hard does he seek to bring back your shade
From the pyre, fights a mighty battle with Death,
Wearying artists, trying to love you in every form.
But beauty the skilful hand creates is still mortal:
While, rarest lady of a husband who is praised, I
Attempt with timeless lyre to grant you obsequies
Long-lasting, proof against oblivion, should Apollo
Favour me, and Caesar assent, who always makes
One with him; for you can rest in no better tomb.
This is late treatment indeed for such an affliction,
Since Phoebus’s swift orbit brings the second year.
But when the blow was fresh, and the house dark
With its shock, what then could reach the bereaved
Man’s sad ear? Then his sole consolation was to weep;
Tear his clothes; tire his servants, outdoing their grief;
Berate the Fates, and the unjust gods, with fierce cries.
Even if Orpheus himself had been present, with every
Wood and river, if Calliope and her sisters, and all the
Priests of Bacchus and Apollo, had gathered round him,
That poet’s singing would not have served, nor the lyre
That the gods of Avernus and the snake-haired Furies
Gave ear to; such the grief in this spouse’s stunned mind.
Even now, as I sing, the scar though healed is sensitive
To the touch, and conjugal tears weigh on his heavy lids.
A husband’s sorrow even now in those eyes? Wondrous,
Yet true! Sooner might Niobe’s tears have dried, on Mount
Sipylus; Aurora’s grief for Memnon have failed; or Thetis’s,
She weary of shedding storms of tears by Achilles’ tomb.
Honour to your feelings! The god who grasps the reins
Of the whole world and, closer to us than Jupiter, orders
Men’s tasks, sees you grieving and takes note, and in that
Finds private evidence for the worth of his chosen servant,
In the love you show her shade, and her funeral obsequies.
This is ardour at its most chaste, this is a love that merits
The deepest approval from our Censor and our master.
Nor is it any wonder that unbroken concord joined you
Together by unbroken ties, so linking both your hearts.
She indeed had wed before, known marriage with another
Spouse, yet, like a virgin bride, cherished and embraced
You with all her mind and spirit, just as the elm loves
The vine, sharing its branches, mingling foliage, asking
Autumn’s bounty, glad to be wreathed in the dear stems.
Women without moral virtue are praised for the gift of
Their looks, or their ancestry, possessed of false esteem,
But devoid of the true. Though her birth too was noble,
And her aspect as delightful as any husband might wish,
Greater honour was in her, to know the one bed, cherish
The one flame privately in the very marrow of her bones.
No Trojan rapist could have sullied that love, no Ithacan
Suitor, no seducer of his brother’s wife like that Thyestes,
Who polluted a chaste marriage, to win Mycenae with gold.
If she had been offered the riches of Babylon, or Lydia’s
Mass of treasure, or the potent wealth of India, China, and
Arabia, she’d rather have died untouched in chaste poverty,
Defending her reputation with her life. Yet hers no harsh
And frowning face, no undue severity marring her manner,
But simple cheerful loyalty was hers, all charm with modesty.
And if some great danger had summoned her to a wider role,
She’d happily have confronted armies, braved the fiery bolts
Of lightning, or the hazards of the deep seas, for her husband.
Fortune dictated that no adversity came to prove her wifely
Care, or brought her pallor to match his peril. Instead her
Prayers on his behalf took a happier path, earning the favour
Of the gods, testing their good will day and night, bowing in
Supplication at the altars, worshipping our leader’s mild spirit.
She was heard, and Fortune came with generous step. He saw
The young man’s quiet diligence and devotion, perfect loyalty,
Alertness of mind for business, watchful intelligence, his sober
Judgement fitted to handling great matters as they arose; he who
Knows all around him, surrounds himself with proven ministers.
No wonder since he sees west and east, what the south wind and
Wintry north are doing, probing the counsels of sword and gown,
And the heart itself. On those strong shoulders he placed a mighty
Burden, a weight almost beyond bearing (for no other role in the
Sacred palace is so demanding), transmitting the Roman leader’s
Orders throughout the wide world, handling all the powers and
Responsibilities of empire: what northern victory’s announced;
What wandering Euphrates, or the banks of the Danube, tell of,
Or the legions on the Rhine; how far the limits of our world
Have retreated and Thule, fringed by the roar of ebbing tides;
For every spear comes bearing glad laurels, and never a lance
Is adorned with the infamous feather. His role announcing too,
When our leader grants military promotions, who now qualifies
To command a century (some knight appointed to infantry duty)
Who a cohort, who will occupy the superior and illustrious rank
Of tribune, who is worthy to give a cavalry troop the password;
And anticipating a thousand events, whether the Nile as yet has
Drowned the fields, or the rainy southerly now drenched Libya?
No greater volume of messages, were I to enumerate them all,
Does that winged messenger with the wand, Mercury, bear from
The stars, nor Iris, Juno’s servant, descending through the moist
Air, spanning the rain-filled atmosphere with her coloured bow,
Nor Fame who bears your laurels, Domitian, outrunning the sun
In her swift flight, outstripping the tardy Bear among the stars,
And leaving Thaumas’ daughter, Iris, behind her in mid-heaven.
How humble you appeared to men and gods, Priscilla, on that
Auspicious day when your spouse acceded to his noble office!
Your joy was almost greater than his own, when pouring out
Your heart, you threw yourself eagerly at the sacred feet of that
Leader to whom you owe so much. Not as the prophetess Apollo
Appoints to guard his secret cave rejoices, on the Aonian peak,
Nor she whom Dionysus grants the right of the foremost thyrsus,
Bestowing on her the standard of his frenzied band of followers.
Hers was a calm not changed by power, a probity never harmed
By good fortune; the tenor of her mind was unchanged, and her
Modest aspect was proof against mounting fortune. She eased
Her husband’s cares solicitously, encouraging work and leisure.
She herself served him, in his habit of frugal meals, sober ways,
Reminding him of his leader’s example, like a thrifty Apulian
Farmer’s wife, or a hardy Sabine, who seeing the stars emerge,
And knowing her husband is about to return from his labours,
Sets out the table, swiftly, and awaits the sounds of his return.
Those are lesser things: she’d have endured the frozen north with
You, Sarmatian winters, the Danube, the pale frosts of the Rhine,
Steeled her spirit to endure the heat with you, and were it allowed
Have borne a quiver, defended her flank with Amazonian shield,
As long as she might be with you in the dust of battle, near to
The lightning bolt of Caesar’s steed, as you waved the god’s
Weapons, spattered by the bloody sweat of his mighty spear.
Thus far the kindly lyre. Now it is time to lay aside your laurel,
Phoebus Apollo, the moment to shroud my hair with sad cypress.
What god linked Envy and Good Fortune together in implacable
Relationship? Who commanded those cruel goddesses to wage
Eternal war? Must the one never mark a house for distinction
But the other must fix it with grim gaze and drive joy away with
Savage hand? This home was flourishing, happy, and untroubled;
Far from sadness. For how could Fortune, false and faithless as
She is, be feared when Caesar was so kind? Yet envious Fate
Found a way for savage hurt to reach this blameless hearth. So
Mature vines are damaged by the malign sirocco, so a ripe crop
Is spoiled by excess rain, so an opposing wind catches a swift
Vessel, darkening the billowing sail. Fate snatched away Priscilla,
Of peerless beauty, as when a tall pine-tree, glory of the forest,
Is wasted, struck by Jove’s lightning, or uprooted from the soil,
And once despoiled returns not a single whisper to the breeze.
What use honesty, or chaste loyalty, or the worship of the gods?
The dark nets of death entangled the poor wretch on every side,
The Sisters’ pitiless skein was tightened, and only a last strand
Of the exhausted thread remained. Her crowd of attendants, her
Doctors’ assiduous skill, achieved no lessening of her illness;
Yet her servants feigned to hope, though she saw her husband’s
Tears. As for him, he asked her life in vain of Lethe’s relentless
Stream, weeping in anguish at every altar, beating at the doors,
And scouring the threshold with his body, then calling on Caesar’s
Merciful godlike power. Oh, fate’s harsh path! Was something
Yet not denied him? What extension might have been added
To her mortal years, if you, our dear Leader, were omnipotent!
Death would have moaned far off in its blind pit, and the Fates,
Would have laid aside, in idleness, their weaving of life’s thread.
Her expression altered once more, her gaze strayed, her hearing
Was dulled, save only when she recognised her husband’s voice.
Reviving from the midst of death, her mind saw him alone, he
It was her failing arms clasped tightly as her unmoving gaze met
His, preferring to sate her vision with a dear spouse than the sight
Of her last sunlight. Then dying she comforted her one true love:
‘Don’t cry, I beg you: you, the part of my self that shall live on,
To whom I long to give the years cruel Atropos steals from me:
Don’t beat your breast in fierce lament, and torment your wife’s
Departing spirit. I leave the marriage bed it’s true, but death
Preserves the order of our ages, I go first. Better the time we had
Than long decrepitude. I have seen you shining in full flower. I
Have seen you draw nearer and nearer to the Leader’s right hand.
Neither the Fates nor any divine power has any mastery over you:
That right I bear away with me. Pursue your path, and willingly,
Love without cease the sacred personage, and his potent genius.
Now, a command that you yourself would wish, give a hundred
Pounds weight in gold to the Capitoline temple, a likeness where
Casear’s sacred face shall shine, showing his own votaress’ love.
Then I shall evade the Furies, and the furthest depths of Tartarus,
And I shall be happy in my admittance to the regions of Elysium.’
So she spoke, as she faded, embracing her husband’s body, and
Without grief transferred a lingering breath to his mouth, then
Allowed her eyes to close beneath the touch of his beloved hand.
Now the young man’s heart was inflamed by cruel sorrow, now
He filled the desolate house with savage cries, now sought to draw
His sword, now climbed to high places (his friends could barely
Restrain him), now mouth against mouth, bent over his lost one,
He fiercely vented the sorrow deep in his heart: just as Thracian
Orpheus at the sight of his wife’s pyre laid down his lyre beside
Strymon’s shore, and stunned, song-less, wept at the sad flames.
Abascantus would even have taken his own despised life, so you
Priscilla might not have gone down to Tartarus unaccompanied,
But his thoughts precluded it, out of loyalty to the leader, out of
Sacred duty, and the greater love. Who could give true account
Of the rites and gifts of the funeral procession? There, crowded
Together in a long train, flow the spring produce of Arabia and
Cilicia, Sabaean flowers and the flame-feeding Indian harvests,
Incense carried from Palestinian shrines, and Hebrew essences,
Corycian saffron and myrrh; her body lies on a high bier, veiled
By silk, and Tyrian purple. But her husband alone of all the train
Draws the spectator’s gaze. On him mighty Rome turns her eyes,
As though he was bearing his young sons to the grave, such is the
Grief apparent in his face, such is the dust on his cheeks and hair.
Her they call free, her end calm and happy: their tears are for him.
There is a place outside the City, where the Appian Way begins,
Where Cybele’s grief is ritually washed away in the Italian Almo,
Ida’s streams no longer recalled. Here your peerless consort laid
You to rest, Priscilla, beneath a dome, gently covering you with
Rich Sidonian purple (since he could not tolerate the sound and
Smoke of a pyre). Age will no longer wither you, nor will the
Effects of the years do you harm: such care is taken of your body,
Such are the riches that the venerable marble breathes. Soon your
Features are evoked by various effigies: here is a Ceres in bronze,
There Ariadne the Cnossian, here Maia in clay, here a chaste Venus
In stone. Those powers take on your lovely features without demur:
Servants stand round as usual, the crowd accustomed to obey you,
Then tables and couches are regularly set out. It’s a house, a home!
Who dare call it a sad sepulchre? Seeing the husband’s just devotion,
One might readily exclaim: ‘Yes, I see that this is a minister of one
Who lately created a shrine for his eternal race, and set new stars
In another heaven.’ So, when a tall ship, her mainmast’s wide yards
Fully rigged for sail, begins a fresh voyage from the Pharian shore,
And sets out on her course, a narrow ship in the same waters will
Claim a small part of the measureless southerly breeze for herself.
Why now, noble youth, still cherish overflowing grief in your heart,
Preventing endless sorrow from departing? Perhaps you fear lest
Priscilla tremble at Cerberus’s clamour? He’s silent for the virtuous.
Or lest the ferryman is tardy and thrusts her from the brink? Yet he
Conveys those of merit swiftly, seating their shades quietly in his
Hospitable barque. Moreover if some soul, praised by a devoted
Husband, arrives, Proserpine has joyful torches lit: she summons
The heroines of ancient times from their holy cells, and brightens
The sad darkness with radiant light, scattering Elysian flowers
And garlands before that ghost. So Priscilla has joined the shades.
There she entreats the Fates for you, with suppliant hands; so that
When you are old, and your term of mortal life is ended, you may
Leave your Leader behind still young, and bringing peace on earth.
And, there, the unerring Sisters vow they will honour her prayers.
BkV:2 – In Praise of Crispinus, the Son of Vettius Bolanus
My friend Crispinus seeks Tyrrhenian fields and Etruscan
Glades; though his stay will not be long, nor does he go far,
Yet a hidden pain tugs at my heart, and tears swell from my
Damp eyes, as though I were watching his ship wearily from
A high cliff, his departing sails among Aegean storm-clouds,
And bemoaning my vision, conquered by that airy distance.
What if it were the fair beginnings of first military service,
My glorious boy, if the camp’s sweet auspices summoned
You now? How joyfully my tears would flow, how close
Would be my embrace! Should friends pray for sadness?
You have only attained sixteen, and yet your spirit belies
Your young age, your body is weighed down by a mind
Beyond its years. No wonder. You are from no plebeian
Ancestry, no unknown line of obscure ancestors lacking
Former glory. You were not of equestrian blood, not fresh
From the knights’ robes and narrow stripes, no newcomer
Knocking at the doors of that august sanctuary, at the seat
Of the Roman Senate: a crowd of your kin preceded you.
Just as when in the Circus the audience awaits a stallion,
Handsome to view, and glorying in some noble pedigree,
One of the happy matings of parents of worthy ancestry,
And applause erupts for him; the very dust and marker
Posts rejoice to recognise his presence as he speeds by;
Even so, noble lad, the Senate feels you are born to join
Its ranks; have the patrician crescent adorn your shoes.
Your shoulders early knew the formal Tyrian folds, and
The mantle of power. Indeed your father has shown you
His example to follow on your road to glory. As soon as
He had crossed manhood’s threshold he waged war, by
The Araxes, against the Armenian bowmen who refused
To make submission to cruel Nero. Corbulo headed that
Strict campaign, but that fine soldier Bolanus, your father
Admired, became the comrade and partner to his labours.
Only to Bolanus would he confide his deepest anxieties,
And share with him his doubts: what occasion favoured
Deception; which the right moments for open warfare;
When to be suspicious of the bold Armenians, and when
Their flight was real. Bolanus would reconnoitre some
Dangerous route, or find a safe ridge to make camp on;
Bolanus would survey the ground, circumvent malignant
Obstacles of forests or torrents, implement the clear will
Of his revered commander, and handle his demanding
Requests alone. Thus the barbarian regions learnt of him;
His was the second helmet in the war, the nearest plume.
Thus the startled Phrygians knew the weapons of Nemea,
And Cleonae’s bow, decimating their ranks, yet feared
Telamon too, not merely Hercules, in battle. Learn, my boy,
(Since you’ve no need to find love of valour from some
Foreign tutor: let the glory of your family teach courage,
Let the Decii, or Camillus returning from his exile, serve
As examples), learn from your father: how magnificently
He reached Thule, the sun setting on its darkened wave,
That wearied orb bearing his commission; how expertly
He governed mighty Asia’s thousand cities, in his year,
With moderate rule. Drink in such matters, attentively.
May your family strive to commend these things to you,
And your father’s old companions praise such precepts.
Now you prepare to make a journey, ready for a swift
Departure. Though the signs of manhood are not there
On your cheeks, and your whole life’s course not yet set,
Nor is your father at your side; he is dead, swallowed by
Cruel Fate, leaving you two children without a guardian.
It was not even he who removed the boyhood purple
From your tender arms, clothed your shoulders anew.
What youth is not seduced by uncurbed freedom and
The liberty of his new robes, like an un-pruned sapling,
Flourishing its leaves, and wasting its fruit as foliage?
But thoughts of poetry were in you, and chaste reticence,
And a character trained to rule itself; from that there came
Light-hearted honesty, a tranquil brow, and elegance shy
Of its borders with indulgence, and affection dispensed in
All its forms: your family fortunes obliged you to give way
To a brother whose age equalled yours; admire your father;
Forgive your wretched mother. How could she compound
Those evil essences in that deadly glass, aimed at you, who
Should by your voice deflect the snake’s attack, and by a look
Defuse a stepmother’s enmity? I would seek to vex her shade,
Denying her grave peace, with the curses she merits. But you,
The best of lads, I see you turn away with thoughtful words:
‘I beg you, spare her ashes. It was Fate and the guilty Parcae’s
Wrath, the fault of the gods who perceive human intent too late,
Who fail to halt wicked acts at their first inception, and deter
The fledgling attempts of minds in planning the unspeakable.
May that day be blotted from history, and no future generation
Give it credence. Let us at least maintain a silence, and allow
Accusations against our own to be interred in deepest night.
Our Leader, who cares for his people, exacted retribution, by
Which actions Piety, that every evil fears, reappeared on earth.
That vengeance is enough, and we must bemoan it. Would
That I might implore the savage Furies to keep Cerberus far
From her timid shade, and speed her ghost to Lethe’s waters!’
Hail to your depths of soul, youngster! But your mother’s guilt
Is all the greater. And high courage, not merely virtue was your
Aspiration from the first. Not long ago a friend paled at a false
Accusation of unmerited ill-fame, and the Lex Julia stirred up
The Forum, in the form of many a juryman, brandishing her
Lightning bolt, in chastity. You’d no experience of stern courts
Of law, hidden as you were in the cool silence of your studies,
But you appeared, and averted danger from your anxious friend,
And a mere novice, unarmed, you repelled the hostile missiles.
Never did the statues of Romulus and Aeneas witness so young
A combatant amongst those conflicts of lawyers in the Forum.
The judges were amazed at such boldness, and enterprise, and
Even the culprit himself was afraid of you. Your limbs possess
No less vigour, your strength eager for brave action, matches
Your spirit, and obeys its challenging demands. I myself saw,
Not long ago, on Tiber’s bank, where the Tyrrhene waters mix
With the Laurentian, how you galloped there, beating the flanks
Of your fiery horse with bare heels, in a threatening manner.
Believe me, I thought you were the god Mars. So fair Ascanius,
On his African steed, hunted Dido’s lands, setting the poor girl
On fire for his father, Aeneas; so Troilus, in swift flight, tried to
Evade the menacing pursuit, so Parthenopaeus whom the Theban
Women, watched, with no inimical gaze, from the walls, as he
Wheeled his Arcadian squadrons about in that Ogygian dust.
Act now (since the Leader’s indulgence is striking, and your
Brother happily leaves a sure trail for your wishes to follow),
Take heart, then, and think the brave thoughts of a soldier.
Mars, and Athene the Attic maiden, will show you battle array,
Castor how to wheel cavalry, Quirinus how to flourish a shield,
With that same shoulder that felt Mars’ ‘shield from the sky’
Against your young neck, among the Salii with virgin weapons.
To which lands should one go, to which of Caesar’s worlds?
Would you swim Arctic rivers, or the Rhine’s forking flow,
Or sweat in Libya’s torrid fields? Or will you startle nomadic
Sarmatians, and Pannonian ridges? Or will the Danube with
Its seven mouths see you, and Peuce encircled by her spouse’s
Shadowed flow? Or will you tread Jerusalem’s ashes, Edom’s
Subject palm-groves, the fertile groves not planted for her use?
But if some place which your mighty father helped to govern,
Welcomed you, how Armenia’s turbulent river Araxes would
Rejoice, what glory might exalt Caledonia’s plains! Then some
Aged dweller in that wild land may tell you: ‘Here your father
Used to hand out justice, harangue the army from this mound.
The forts and watchtowers (there, you can see) he scattered far
And wide, and lined these walls with a ditch; these gifts he
Dedicated to the war-gods (you’ll read the inscriptions); this
Breastplate he wore himself in battle, that he captured from
A British king.’ Just as Phoenix told Pyrrhus about Achilles,
Who was unknown to him, planning victories against Troy.
Happy are you, Optatus, tireless friend and comrade, loyal
To Crispinus in the manner of Pylades, or like Patroclus,
In the war at Troy; you, who trusting in youthful powers,
Will travel all roads with him, mount every rampart, sword
At your side perhaps (may our divine Leader so assist you);
For such is the harmony between you, such is the affection;
And so, I pray, may it continue. As for me, bodily strength
Already wanes; I can only help you with vows and prayers.
Alas, and should I chance to gather the usual crowd together,
And the Roman elders come to listen to my songs, then you,
Crispinus, will not be there, and my Achilles will look for
You on every bench and find you absent. But (poets’ omens
Are never idle) you will return fitter than ever, and he who
Opens the life of legions and camps to you, will allow you
To rise swiftly through the civil ranks too, and surrounded
By the rods, sit there proudly in your father’s curule chair.
But who is this messenger from Trojan Alba’s high hills.
From which our local god views the walls of his Rome?
Swifter than Rumour he enters, your house, Crispinus,
And fills it. Did I not say: ‘a poet’s auguries are never idle’.
Lo, mighty Caesar unbars the gates to office for you, he
Entrusts Italy’s military duties to you. Go, my boy, strive
To be equal to a gift so great. Happy are you, who now
Take service under our great Leader and receive your first
Sword from Caesar’s hand. No less is this than if the Lord
Of Battle himself showed the legions to you and set the stern
Helm on your brow. Go bravely, and expect greater things.
BkV:3 – A Lament for His Father
You, my most learned father, gave me unfortunate powers,
An impulse for the ill-omened lyre, and the song of lament
From the Elysian fount. Without you how shall I stir Delian
Haunts, or move Cirrha as I once used to do? I’ve unlearned
Whatever Apollo once taught me in the Corycian shade, all
That Bacchus showed me on Ismarian hills. The Parnassian
Votive ribbons vanish from my hair. To my terror the fatal
Yew has stolen over my ivy, and the tripod’s laurel (shame!)
Has withered. Surely I am one whose noble inspiration might
Exalt the deeds of great-hearted kings, and evoke their battles.
Who has clouded my mind with barren neglect, Apollo sunk
Deep, who has condemned my spirit to the chill shadows?
The Muses encircle their poet in dismay, creating not one
Sweet sound of hand or voice. Their leader leans her head
On her silent lyre, as if by the Hebrus after Orpheus’ death,
Seeing the motionless trees, and the host of creatures now
Deaf to the song that had been snatched away from them.
Do you, free of your body now and soaring to the heights,
Do you scan the shining spaces, and the elements of things:
What a god is, where fire derives from, what guides the sun,
What causes the moon to wane and what renews her from
The darkness – giving continuance to Aratus’ starry music;
Or in the secluded meadows of Lethe’s plain, among hosts
Of heroes and blessed spirits do you mix with Hesiod and
Old Homer, yourself no less industrious a shade, making
Music one after another, and mingling your songs together:
Give voice, my father, lend your skill to my great sadness.
Three times has the face of the moon waxed and waned
In the sky, found me listless, and not solacing my woes
Among the Muses. Since the flames of your pyre reddened
My visage, and I breathed your ashes with streaming eyes,
Poetry seems worthless. I can scarcely exercise my mind
Again, to perform this rite, and begin to brush the dust
From the silent strings, with damp eyes and faltering hand,
Leaning here on the tomb in your own fields where you
Rest quiet, where after Aeneas’ death, starry Ascanius set
Alba on the Latian hills, loathing the sites yet soaked with
Trojan blood, and an ill-omened stepmother’s royal dowry.
Here I (and no softer an air breathes from Sicilian saffron,
Nor rare cinnamon gathered by rich Sabeans, nor scented
Harvest of Arabia), I, alas, make offering and praise you
In Pierian lament; receive your son’s moans, pain, and tears,
Such tears as few fathers have ever received! May it be my
Good fortune to build an altar to your shade, a work equal
To some great temple, raised high, an airy mass outmatching
Cyclopean cliffs, or the daring granite blocks of the Pyramids,
And to encircle your tomb with a mighty grove. There I would
Hold games to surpass those beside Anchises’ Sicilian grave,
Opheltes’ in Nemea’s grove, or maimed Pelop’s at Olympia.
There, no Grecian athlete, in his naked strength, would cleave
The air with a Spartan discus, no sweat from horses sprinkle
The ground, and no hooves echo over some crumbling trench;
Behold, Apollo’s choir, wreathing your lauded brow, my father,
With the poet’s leafy prize! Moist-eyed I would lead the dirge
Myself, as priest of the altar and your shade. Not Cerberus
With his jaws, nor Orphean rules, could deter your presence.
And perhaps, as I sang your actions and virtues, Piety would
Rank me no lower than eloquent Homer in poetic skill, and
Would seek to compare me favourably to the immortal Virgil.
Why must the mother, bereaved, seated by her son’s cooling
Pyre, have more reason to rail against the gods, and the Fates’
Iron thread, or the wife gazing at her young husband’s ashes,
Who escapes the restraining hands of the crowd to reach her
Spouse’s corpse as he burns, there to die if she is allowed to?
It may be they might heap greater reproaches on the gods,
So that even strangers would grieve to see the funeral cortege.
But Nature and Piety have rightly appointed me to lament you.
You seem to me, father, to have entered cruel Tartarus’ gates,
At destiny’s first threshold, as if torn from life’s springtime.
Erigone, the virgin of Marathon, mourned Icarius, murdered
By a crowd of savage countrymen, no less bitterly than did
Andromache her Astyanax, hurled from the towers of Troy;
And the noose stifled Erigone’s last moans, while Andromache
Shamefully served Thessalian Neoptolemus on Hector’s death.
I shall not bring the offering to my father’s pyre, that the swan,
Knowing its fate, sends before it at its tuneful death; nor that
Sweetest of all threatening seductive songs those Sirens sing
To mariners from their black rock in the Tyrrhenian waters;
Nor the murmur of mutilated Philomela’s moans, as she vents
Her complaint to her pitiless sister. These, poets know too well.
Who has not told of Helios’ daughters turned to trees, shedding
Amber tears at their brother’s burial; of the Phrygian knife that
Flayed Marsysas, who dared to compete with Apollo’s playing,
And Minerva’s delight at the downfall of that boxwood flute?
No, let Piety, forgetful of mankind, mourn for you, and Justice
Recalled to heaven, and Eloquence, in both tongues, and Pallas
And Apollo the poet’s Heliconian cohort, who labour to forge
Verse in hexameters, who fit their poetry to the Arcadian lyre,
Its tortoiseshell their care and skill; those whom noble Wisdom
Take credit for, in sevenfold glory, in every clime; those who
On tragic stilts thunder of Furies, royal palaces and the stars
Turning backwards in the heavens; and those whose delight
It is to squander their powers on wanton Thalia, or to maim
The heroic metre in elegiac couplets. For your mind dealt in
All of these, a creator in all, wherever the wide road of speech
Runs, whether choosing to confine yourself to Aonian rhythms,
Or to extend your words to free running prose, and matching
The showers of rain in their unrestrained powers of utterance.
Naples, lift your half-buried countenance from the violent
Ash-shower, Parthenope, set locks of your hair, singed by
Vesuvius’ breath, on the body and tomb of your great foster
Son, than whom Athen’s heights, learned Cyrene, and brave
Sparta, created nothing finer. If you, my Naples, were lacking
In pedigree, and were unknown to fame, or devoid of heritage,
His citizenship proved you Greek, born of Euboean ancestry,
So often did his brow bear your garlands, at the quinquennial
Festival, when he sang in praiseworthy verse, and surpassed
The eloquence of Pylian Nestor, and Ulysses, Dulichium’s ruler,
To take both prizes, and wreathe his hair with the dual reward.
Father, not of low birth, nor obscure blood, nor a race without
Worth, nevertheless your parents’ wealth was lessened by your
Needs. There was the rich ceremony when Youth had you lay
Aside your purple-bordered gown and the gold locket at your
Breast, which had been granted you in honour of your birth.
The Muses smiled on you at your entry into life, and Apollo
In your boyhood, placing a lyre in your hands, and bathing
Your face in his sacred stream, was gracious to you even then.
As for your homeland the issue is fraught; your native place
Is undecided between two contesting countries. Grecian Velia,
Founded by Latians, where Palinurus the drowsy helmsman
Fell from the ship, and wretchedly woke, in the watery deep,
Claims you by race; Naples claims you hers by long residence,
As different cities, different birthplaces share Homer’s titles,
And all of them make a case; he in truth can never belong
To them all, yet the hope of glory nourishes false pretenders.
And while you were still growing, still greeting life’s dawn,
Yet eager for glory, bold in wit, you were quickly entered
In your native city’s contests, those that adults can barely
Entertain. The Euboean audiences were stunned by your
Youthful song, and parents pointed you out to their sons.
From then on your voice was heard in many a competition,
And glorious in festival. Verdant Laconia applauded Castor
Less often on the race-course, and Pollux in the boxing ring.
If victory here at home was simple, what of your winning
Prizes in Greece, wreathing your brow now with Apollo’s
Delphic laurel, now with Nemean parsley, Isthmean pine,
When Victory, who often wearies of the victor, never left
Your side, or snatched away her garlands, crowned another?
Hence your parent’s hopes were vested in you, and noble
Youths guided by you, as they learned of the ways and deeds
Of bygone peoples: the tale of Troy and Ulysses’ wanderings;
Of Homer’s power to parade heroes’ horses, battles, in verse;
Of the riches Hesiod and Epicharmus showed honest farmers;
Of what governs the recurring strophes of Pindar’s subtle lyre;
Of Ibycus, who prayed to those birds, and Alcman, sung in
Strict Laconia, bold Stesichorus and rash Sappho, without
Feminine fear, who leapt to her death at Leucas; as well as
Others worthy of the lyre. You were skilled at interpreting
Callimachus’ verse, the obscurities concealed in Lycophron,
Sophron’s entanglements, and Corinna’s hidden subtleties.
But why mention these? You would yoke yourself to Homer,
And match his hexameters in prose, never at a loss or outrun.
What wonder that men left their homes to see you? Lucania
Sent them, stern Apulia’s fields, Pompeii mourned by Venus,
Herculaneum that Alcides neglected, Minerva who gazes from
Sorrento’s heights at the Tyrrhene deeps, or Misenum on the
Nearby bay, marked by trumpet and oar, Cumae that long ago
Received Ausonia’s household gods, or Puteoli’s harbour, or
Baiae’s shore, where fires deep in the sea exhale, and hidden
Conflagrations fail to harm the houses. They come as they
Used to come to Avernus’ crags, and the Sibyl’s dark cave,
To ask their questions (and she would sing of the menacing
Gods, and the actions of the Fates, no idle prophetess though
She tricked Apollo). Soon too you taught the young Roman
Noblemen, never ceasing to guide them in their father’s steps.
Under your direction was the Pontifex Maximus, the inspector
Of the hidden Trojan flame, who conceals the sanctuary that
Hides Minerva’s statue Diomedes stole; who yet a boy learned
The ritual. You approved the Salii and showed them their arms;
The Augurs the day that grants them foreknowledge; and who
Is authorised to unroll the Sibylline books; and why the hair
Of Cybele’s priest is covered; and the girt Luperci feared your
Whip. Now one of that host may deal law to the Eastern nations,
Another controls the Iberians, or at Zeugma holds Achaemenian
Persians back. Some govern the rich folk of Asia, or the Pontic
Region; as civil magistrates guide the courts; command the army
At some loyal station. All their great glories commenced with you.
Mentor would not have matched you for shaping youthful minds,
Nor Phoenix, he the guide to Achilles his indomitable foster-son,
Nor Chiron who moved that same lad with a gentler song, when
He would rather have heard the sound of bugles and war-trumpets.
Such was your labour when civil Fury raised her torch of a sudden
On the Tarpeian Mount, and stirred up conflict like the giants at
Phlegra. The Capitol was afire with sacrilegious torches, Latian
Cohorts displaying Gallic rage. Scarce had the flames died down,
While the temple pyres yet burned, when swifter than those flames
Themselves, you ran to bring solace for the shattered shrines, with
Pious cries, to bemoan the extinguished lightning bolts. Latium’s
Nobles and Caesar, vengeance of the gods, were all dumbfounded,
And Jupiter himself nodded approval in the midst of conflagration.
Then it was your destiny to mourn Vesuvius’ fires in pious song,
And shed tears for the losses in your native place, when Jupiter
Lifted the summit of the mountain and raised it to the stars, only
To hurl it on the wretched cities, wreaking havoc far and wide.
The goddesses admitted me, when I sought the groves of song
And Boeotia’s valleys, I who claimed descent from your stock.
It was not simply the sea, land and sky, you granted me, every
Son’s debt to his father, but this lyrical grace, however unworthy,
Language beyond the common, hope of fame beyond the grave.
How you gazed when I soothed the Latian elders with my songs,
While you were present, a happy spectator of your own gifts!
Ah what a confusion of joy and loving tears, mingled with fear
And prayer and delighted modesty! How much yours, that day!
How little greater my own glory! So, when a father watches his
Son in Olympia’s arena, it is rather he who fights and is fought,
Each blow to his heart; him who the benches watch, the Greeks
Seem to gaze at, he who covers his brow with handfuls of sand,
He who prays to die if only he might grasp the wreath of victory.
Alas, when you were here to witness it, I only won local wreaths,
Neapolitan crowns, made of Ceres’ corn! Alba’s Trojan fields
Would scarcely have contained you, if you had carried away
The Alban garland granted to me by Caesar. What strength that
Day might not have granted you, lifted so many years from you!
And when the Capitoline wreath of oak and olive failed to adorn
My brow, and the honour I had hoped eluded me, how calmly
You’d have accepted Tarpeian Jupiter’s ritual jealousy! With
You as my master, my Thebaid came near the works of ancient
Poets. You inspired my song, you showed me how to pen heroic
Deeds, rites of war, and places. Without you my course falters,
The way’s uncertain, and my orphaned vessel sails through fog.
I was not the only one you showed your great affection for: you
Cherished your wife too; one torch lit your marriage, one love.
I cannot prise my mother from your cold tomb now; at sunset
And dawn she feels you there, possesses you, sees you once more,
As other women in ritual devotion observe the laments for Attis
And Osiris, play Cybele and Isis, mourning the deaths of deities.
What should I say of your character and ways, open but serious;
Of your loyalty, your contempt for wealth, your sense of honour,
Your love of rectitude? Or again, the charm of your conversation
When you relaxed, your mind and spirit untouched by the years?
For these values the gods’ protection granted you fame, generous
Praise, untouched by any misfortune. You were snatched away,
My father, at sixty-five, your years neither slender nor excessive,
But love and grief forbid me numbering them, oh you who were
Worthy of transcending the age of Nestor, Priam and Tithonus,
Worthy of seeing me alive at that age! Yet the gates of death held
No pain for you: your death was easy, no lingering age sent your
Body, senile in decay, to the approaching tomb; lethargic torpor,
Death disguised as sleep, led you to Tartarus in slumber’s arms.
What moans and lamentations did I raise then (my friends were
Witness, my mother noted the piety I showed with satisfaction)!
Allow me to say it, rightfully, shade; my father, you could have
Done no more for me. Happy was Aeneas, clasping his sire again,
In vain, in his arms, there in the Elysian Fields, carrying him once
More among Greek shadows; that Aeneas who descended living
To Tartarus, led by the aged Sibyl, seer of Hecate, when he went
Down there seeking knowledge of the fate awaiting his posterity.
If a more private matter led Orpheus and his lyre down to sluggish
Avernus; if Admetus could rejoice in Thessaly to see his wife again;
If the spirit of Protesilaus could return once more to life for a day;
Why then should your lyre or mine, father, not earn a like gift, of
The shades? Only let me be allowed to touch my father’s face, only
Let me clasp his hand, and whatever sentence might be may follow.
But you, rulers of the shades, you, Proserpine of Enna, if prayers
Are valued, ward off the torches of the snake-haired Furies, close
The three mouths of Cerberus, the harsh guardian, let distant vales
Hold back the Centaurs, the Hydra’s and Scylla’s monstrous swarm
Of heads, and let Charon, ferryman of the dead, scatter the crowd,
Beckon his aged Spirit to the brink, set him gently on the far shore.
Come, ghosts of the virtuous, come you host of Greek poets, strew
The illustrious shade with Lethe’s garlands, show him the groves
No Fury invades, whose light and air are those of the skies above.
Then come to me, on the path by which that gate of kindly horn
Bests the malign gate of ivory, and in my sleep counsel me as you
Once did. As a gentle nymph Egeria, in the Arician cave, instructed
Numa in the sacred rites and lore; as the elder Scipio experienced
Dreams full of the presence of Latian Jupiter, or so the Ausonians
Claim; as Sulla was never without his image of protecting Apollo.
BkV:4 – Sleep
For what crime, youthful Sleep, gentlest of the gods,
For what error, do I, wretched, alone lack your gift?
The cattle, and the wild birds and beasts fall silent,
The nodding tree-tops seem as if in weary slumber,
The raging torrents cease their roar; now the tremor
Of the waves subsides, the sea is calm on the shore.
And for the seventh time the sun-god sees my eyes
Glazed in sickness, as the star of dawn and twilight
Visits me, and Tithonia passes me and, in compassion,
Sprinkles me with the cold dew from her starry whip.
How could I endure it even if I had blessed Argos’
Thousand eyes, opening in turn, never all at the one
Time. Alas now, if there’s a man clasped in his girl’s
Twining arms who denies you all night long, Sleep,
Leave him, come to me. Nor do I even ask that you
Cover my eyes with your wings (such is the prayer
Of the more fortunate); touch me with the tip of your
Wand (it is enough) or pass by lightly, knees in air.
BkV:5 – A Lament for His Son
What misery! I can begin with no customary words,
Hateful as I am now to the Castalian waves of song,
Offensive to Apollo. What altar or mystery of yours
Have I profaned, Pierian Sisters? Tell me, punish me
And let me confess to the crime. Have I trespassed in
Some sacred cavern, or drunk from some forbidden
Spring? What was the fault, or the error, for which
I pay so dearly? See my child is torn away, reaching
For me, heart and soul, with failing arms; not, it’s true
Of my race or bearing my name or features; no I was
Not his father, but see my tears and bruised flesh, give
Credit to my grief, you bereaved: for bereaved am I.
Let fathers come here, mothers with dress torn open:
Let she who with full breasts and faltering step, bore
Her new-born to the pyre, beat her wet chest, then
Quenched the dying embers with her milk, let her
Eyes endure the sight of the ashes and the tragedy.
Whoever has plunged a lad still dressed in the bloom
Of youth into the coals, and seen the cruel flames
Lick the first down on his cheeks as he lies there,
Let him weary himself with me in alternate moan:
He’ll be defeated by tears; and Nature, you’ll be
Ashamed, so fierce and so wild is my mourning.
Even though, after thirty days, I make this effort
Leaning on his tomb, turning my pain to poetry,
I create discordant metre, and in words like sobs.
There’s the power of the lyre, an angry impatience
With silence, but my head’s devoid of accustomed
Laurels, no sacred ribbons grace my brow. Fronds
Of yew wither, behold, in my hair, and branches
Of funereal cypress, excluding the cheerful ivy. I
No longer strike the strings with an ivory plectrum,
But with errant fingers pluck madly at the tuneless
Lyre. I love, alas, I love to pour out a song no one
Could praise, and clumsily ease the wretched pain.
Have I deserved this? Shall the gods see me thus,
Ill-omened in song and dress? Shall Thebes and
Achilles, my new theme, be shamed? Shall nothing
Pleasing flow from my lips again? I who so often
Gently soothed fathers’ and mothers’ pain, widows’
Grief, I the mourners’ mild comfort, heard by tombs
After untimely deaths, as the shade descends, I falter
And seek myself healing hands and the bandages
To bind my wound. Now, my friends, is the moment
For you whose flowing tears and wounded breasts
I stanched, to return my aid, pay gratitude’s savage
Debt. Yes, I rebuked you in your sad bereavements:
‘You, unhappy man, who go lamenting another’s loss,
Restrain your tears, and be sparing of your sad songs.’
That was right. For my own strength is now exhausted,
My store of words, my mind finds nothing equal to this
Lightning-stroke. All speech falls short, language itself
Is useless. Forgive me, lad, you’ve buried me in deepest
Darkness. Oh, Orpheus were unfeeling, if he had seen
His dear wife’s wound yet found a song that rang sweet;
And Apollo, if he had broken the silence at Linus’ tomb.
Perhaps I am excessive, eager for lament, weeping past
The bounds of decency, but who are you to criticise my
Tears and moans? He is fortunate indeed; cruel; ignorant,
Fortune, of your power, who dares to make laws against
Sorrow, and decree there should be boundaries to grief!
Alas, he inspires more! You might more readily restrain
The flowing river that breaks its banks, or halt devouring
Flames, than forbid the bereaved to mourn. And let this
Critic, in his severity, understand the reasons for my pain.
I did not love some loquacious favourite bought from an
Egyptian boat, taught the invective of his native Nile from
Infancy, glib of tongue, insolent of wit; no, he was mine;
Mine. I caught him as he fell to the earth, anointing him
With the essence of rich oils, cherishing him as he sucked
At this air new to him, with tremulous wails, I made him
A part of my life. What more could his parents have given?
Surely I gave you a second birth, little one, when I gave you
Freedom, and you still at the breast, though all unknowing
You laughed at my gift. Swift to act perhaps my love seemed,
But swift with good reason, lest something so small should
Lose a day of freedom. Should I not heap my reproaches
On the gods, and on Tartarean injustice? Should I not weep
For you, dear lad? I wanted no son while you were alive.
From the first moment of your birth, you seized my heart,
And fixed yourself there. I taught you sounds and words,
Saw to your complaints and hidden hurts, stooped down
And raised you to my lips as you crawled along the ground,
And in my loving lap saw you close your drooping eyelids,
As I summoned sweet sleep. My name was your first speech,
My games your pretty laughter: in my features was your joy.
End of Book V and the Silvae