Publius Papinius Statius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
- BkVI:1-117 Preparations for the Funeral and the Games
- BkVI:118-192 Eurydice mourns her son
- BkVI:193-254 The Funeral of Archemorus
- BkVI:255-295 The Funeral Games – The opening procession
- BkVI:296-354 The Funeral Games – Competitors for the chariot-race
- BkVI:355-409 The Funeral Games – Apollo attends the race
- BkVI:410-468 The Funeral Games – The chariot-race begins
- BkVI:469-549 The Funeral Games – The chariot-race ends
- BkVI:550-645 The Funeral Games – The foot-race
- BkVI:646-718 The Funeral Games – The discus competition
- BkVI:719-825 The Funeral Games – The boxing
- BkVI:826-910 The Funeral Games – The wrestling
- BkVI:911-946 Adrastus receives an inauspicious omen
BkVI:1-117 Preparations for the Funeral and the Games
On the footsteps of Rumour, the news swept widely through
The Danaan cities that the sons of Inachus were establishing
Rites at the new tomb, as well as memorial games in which
Brave men in hot competition would ready themselves for war.
A festival in the Greek manner! Pious Hercules first appointed
Such honours for Pelops at Olympia; olive wreath on his dusty
Brow. Then Phocis, free of the serpent’s oppression, celebrated
The Pythian Games to recall the triumph of young Apollo’s bow.
Then came the dark rites observed at Palaemon’s gloomy altars
When brave Leucothea returns to a friendly shore at the Isthmian
Festival, renewing her lament: both shores are loud with mourning
And Echionian Thebes responds with tears. And now the scions
Of kings, those sons of Argos who linked her to heaven, whose
Mighty names Aonia’s land and Tyrian mothers uttered with sighs,
Met there, in Nemea, and roused their naked strength to combat.
They were like sailors about to venture on unknown seas, whether
To meet the Tyrrhene storms, or the wide Aegean, who first test
Helm and rigging and oars, gently, on a placid lake, and learn how
To anticipate real risks, who when they are trained are confident
And strike out far on the waves, without regard to the fading shore.
Bright Dawn’s toil-bearing chariot had risen in the sky, and Night,
And Sleep with his emptied horn, were fleeing that pale goddess’s
Waking course. Now the streets were loud with grief, the tearful
Palace with groans; and far off pathless forests received, distorted
And multiplied the sounds. The father sat stripped of holy ribbons,
His tangled hair and his unkempt beard matted with funereal dust.
Opposite him the bereaved mother, more distraught and grieving
More than the men, set her maids an example, urging, exhorting
Them, despite their willingness, and striving to clasp her child’s
Violated corpse, returning to it whenever she was dragged away.
The father himself restrained her. Then, when the Inachian kings
Arrived at the threshold with sad faces of mourning too, as if this
Tragedy were fresh, and the infant suffering his first wounds, or
The deadly serpent in the very hall, though weary they redoubled
The blows against their breasts, the walls echoing their clamour.
The Pelasgi felt the reproach, and countered the charge with tears.
Adrastus himself, whenever the noise died, and a stunned silence
Gripped the house, yielding him space, with words of unprompted
Solace, consoled the father. He spoke of destiny, of the harshness
Of our human condition, of inexorable fate, or recalled those other
Children who, thanks to Heaven, still lived. Yet while he spoke
The lament began again. Lycurgus was no more quieted with words,
However well-meant, than the fierce Ionian Sea’s wrath by the noise
Of men’s prayers on the deep, or errant lightning by veils of cloud.
Meanwhile the child’s bier, a bed destined for the pyre, was woven
From tender branches of sad cypress. The base was strewn all over
With rustic greenery, then more elaborate wreaths of herbs, topped
By a mound of flowers doomed to die. The final tier heaped high
With Arabian perfumes, the riches of the east, held masses of white
Incense, and long-lasting cinnamon the gift of the aged King Belus.
The summit quivered with gold, a soft curtain of Tyrian purple rose
Above, glittering at every point with cut gems, its centre woven
With acanthus leaves, round the form of Linus and the fatal hounds.
The mother had always hated that wondrous work, and averted her
Eyes from the omen. The love of glory, mixed with pride and pain,
Spread weapons and ancestral trappings, from the afflicted palace,
Round the bier, as though some giant figure was being born to his
Funeral, a mighty corpse for the flames; yet barren and empty fame
Delights the grieving, and the tiny corpse was greater for its funeral.
So endless honour and piteous pleasure graced the tears. Gifts more
Weighty than his years were given to the pyre; for an earlier vow
Of his father’s had caused a miniature quiver and arrows, innocent
Missiles, to be made for him, and horses of proven worth, all bred
From the stables’ famous line, were being reared for him, and shields
And glittering belts were being readied, anticipating growing strength.
Elsewhere, at the command of the learned augur, the army laboured
To raise high the mountainous pyre, with tree trunks, fallen branches
And dark offerings, to expiate their guilt at slaying the serpent, before
Their ill-omened war began. A grove was felled whose ancient foliage
Had never known the axe, richer in its dense shade than all the forests
Of Argolis and Lycaeus, that lifted their crowned summits to the stars.
Sacred in majestic age it stood, said to be older than human ancestry;
And a true witness to the passing of generations of Nymphs and Fauns.
Its pitiful ruin was imminent. Driven by fear the creatures fled, the birds
Flitted from their warm nests. The towering beech, the Chaonian oaks,
The cypress unharmed by winter and spruce-trees fell, to feed the funeral
Fire, rowan and ilex trunks, yews with their poisonous sap, and ash-trees
Fated to drink blood, shed in the accursed war, long-lasting hardwoods.
Then the sea-going fir and pine-boughs, aromatic when cut, were split,
As alder, friend to water, and the vine-bound elm bowed their uncut tips
To the ground. The earth groaned. The forests of Mount Ismara, no more
Swiftly uprooted, are so torn away, when Boreas from his rocky cave,
Lifts his head; nor does fire bring faster ruin to the trees when a southerly
Gale blows. Pales; Silvanus, lord of the shade; and the host of demigods
Leave the places that they love, haunts of ancient peace; and as they go
The woods groan in unison, while clinging Nymphs embrace the oaks.
So, in a captured city, when the enemy general releases his eager men
To plunder, the signal is scarcely given when the whole city is gone;
Without restraint they level everything, drag away, drive and carry off
Whatever they can, with far greater tumult than ever they made in war.
BkVI:118-192 Eurydice mourns her son
Now, shared toil had raised twin altars of like size, one to the sad shades
The other to the gods, when a pipe of curving horn boomed low as a sign
Of grief, the pipe that according to Phrygia’s rites of mourning precedes
The youthful dead. They used to say that Pelops appointed such chanting
And ceremony to mark the passing of children; and Niobe dressed in black
Brought twelve urns so, to Sipylos; of her children slain by the twin bows.
The Greek generals brought funeral gifts, their offerings, to be burned,
Each signed, to testify in piety to the honours his race had won. Later,
Amid wild shouts, the bier itself was raised on the shoulders of young
Men (the leader had chosen them from a host of warriors).The Lernaean
Generals surrounded Lycurgus, a gentler company circled the queen.
Hypsipyle was there, not unattended. The sons of Inachus remembered
And guarded her, her sons supported her by her bruised arms, so their
Mother might lament. But no sooner had Eurydice left her ill-starred
House, than speech rose from her bared throat, and with a prologue
Of blows to her breast, and long drawn out sighs, she began: ‘Not thus,
My son did I hope to follow you, with this long train of Argive women,
Nor did I imagine, in my foolish prayers, that your childhood would end
Like this, my thoughts were not so cruel. How should I dream, in my
Ignorance, that Thebes and conflict were what I should fear? Which god
Chose to begin this war by a sacrifice of our blood? Who dedicated
Your death, sinfully, to its success? Yet your house, Cadmus, grieves
Not; no child is mourned among Thebes’ Tyrian people. It is I who
Suffer the first fruit of tears, untimely death to the sound of trumpets,
The clash of swords; I who thoughtlessly trusted a nurse I thought true,
And handed her my babe. Why not? She had told me how she saved
Her father, by her cleverness, and kept her innocent hands unstained.
Behold her: this woman who alone she says abjured the deadly oath,
Immune to the madness of her fellow Lemnians! This daring woman,
(You believe her yet!) this woman strong in her devotion, abandoned
Not her king or lord but another’s child, disloyally, in a lonely field,
Unthinking, leaving him by a path in a dangerous wood. No fearful
Serpent (what need, alas, for such deadly monsters) but strong winds
Merely, branches blown by the wind, or terror alone might have been
Enough to kill him. Nor, in my sad loss, can I accuse you warriors;
With such a nurse this mother’s tragedy was always inevitable. Yet,
My child, you were fonder of her, it was her you heard and recognised
When she called, ignoring me: your mother had little joy of you. She,
The undutiful, heard your cries and tearful laughter, she knew the lisp
Of your first words. She, while you lived, acted as your mother: I now.
But, alas, I lack even the power to punish her as she deserves! Generals,
Why these vain rites, these gifts for the pyre? I beg you, by the sacrifice
I have made at the commencement of war, deliver her (the shades ask no
Less) deliver her to the ashes and the parent she destroyed. So Theban
Mothers may mourn their child, as I do.’ She tore her hair, repeatedly,
In supplication: ‘Deliver her up: do not call me cruel, eager for blood,
Since I will die along with her, if I can only sate myself with gazing
At that stroke of justice, and we be hurled together on the same pyre.’
Calling out, seeing Hypsipyle lamenting in another more distant place
(For neither was she sparing of hair or breast) and indignant that she
Too was grieving publicly, she cried: ‘Forbid her this, at least, you
Nobles, and you, General, for whose war this pledge of the marriage
Bed has died. Drag that hateful woman from these funeral rites. Why
Does she show her accursed self with his mother? Why is she here,
In our hour of tragedy? For whom does she, who embraces her own
Children, mourn?’ So she spoke, then suddenly ceasing her cries,
She fainted. It was as if a calf, with little strength, his vigour drawn
As yet from the udder, had been cheated of his first milk, carried off
By a wild beast, or sent by a herdsman to the cruel altar. The dam,
Bereft, rouses valley, rivers, trees with her lowing, asks a question
Of the empty fields; she is last to leave the sad meadow, devoid
Of any desire for home, turning unsated from the grass before her.
BkVI:193-254 The Funeral of Archemorus
Lycurgus himself hurled his proud sceptre and Jove’s emblems
On the pyre, and with a blade cut the hair of his beard and head,
Covering the tiny face of the dead child with the severed mass,
And uttered words that mingled with his tears: ‘Perfidious Jove,
I would have consecrated these locks to you for a far different
Reason, if you had granted my son to offer his youthful beard
With them in your temple. But your priest’s words have not been
Endorsed, his prayer was denied. Let this shade, who is far more
Worthy of them, possess them.’ The fire was lit, the flames roared
In the lower branches; it was hard to restrain the maddened parents.
The Danaans stood as ordered, their shields raised, barring the sight
From unlawful view. The ashes glistened; no embers were ever
Richer than they. Gems split, silver fused in a mass, gold melted
From embroidered fabrics. Logs swelled with Assyrian unguents,
Charred honey and pale saffron hissed, and on them were poured
Bowls of foaming wine; cups of dark blood; milk dear to the dead.
Then the Greek kings led out seven squadrons (of a hundred riders
Each) with insignia reversed. According to custom, they circled
The pyre anti-clockwise, the rising flames bowing as they passed.
Three times they traversed the ring, weapons clashed on weapons,
Four times beating on their shields they raised a din, four times
The handmaidens’ palms a softer sound as they beat their breasts.
A second fire received the dying sheep and still-breathing cattle.
But then, at auspices of strange disaster, the prophet commanded
The mourning to cease, though he knew that the omens spoke true.
Clockwise they wheeled retracing their course, spears quivering,
And each threw an offering into the flames, from his equipment,
A bridle, a choice belt, a javelin, or the crest that shaded his helm.
It was over, and already the fires, exhausted, sank to ash. They
Quenched the flames, dousing the pyre with floods of water, till
Their labour ceased at sunset, duty narrowly ended with the dark.
Nine times had Lucifer dismissed the dew-wet stars from the sky,
And as often at night, as Hesperus, heralded the Moon’s light,
(Though the knowing constellations are not deceived, detecting
Him as one, in his rising and his setting) and a wondrous work
Was complete! A building stood there, all of stone, a mighty
Temple for the child’s ashes and, within, a frieze told the story:
Here Hypsipyle pointed out the stream to the weary Danaans;
Here the child crawled, here he slept while the scaled serpent
Dragged its rasping length round the margins of the hill; one
Could almost hear the blood-filled hiss from its dying mouth,
So expertly was the snake shown, coiled round a marble spear.
And now a crowd arrived, from street and field, eager to see
The Games, the mock battles (Rumour had brought them all).
Even those whom youth or weary age had left at home, free
Of the horror of war, appeared. No greater host ever raised
A clamour on Corinth’s shores or beside Oenomaus’s course.
BkVI:255-295 The Funeral Games – The opening procession
A valley, embraced by woods, sat in a circle of green winding
Hills; shaggy ridges stood around, and a solid mound with twin
Shoulders terminated the exit from the plain, whose level lifted
To grassy brows and gentle slopes, that curved with long paths,
Green turf, and no sudden defiles. There when the fields were
Already reddened by the sun, a troop of warriors took their seats.
They took pleasure in the number, the looks, and bearing of their
Comrades in the crowd, and in their confidence in such a host.
There a hundred black bulls, the pride of the herd, were led,
A slow-moving mass; and a like number of heifers and steers
Without horns as yet, of the same colour. Then a procession
Of brave images of ancient ancestors appeared, skilfully done;
The faces seemed alive. First Hercules, crushing the panting
Lion, shattering its bones with hard friction against his chest.
Though it was made of bronze, in their honour, the Inachians
Were still fearful at the sight. Father Inachus came next, leaning
On the crest of his reed-filled bank, and tipping his brimming urn
To the left. Behind him, Io, now four-legged, her father’s grief,
Watched Argus, starred with those eyes that never closed. Jove,
In gentler mood, had exalted her in Egypt and already the Dawn
Was worshipping her as guest. Then father Tantalus, not hung
Above the illusory waters or snatching at the empty air and its
Retreating branches, but the good Tantalus dinner-guest of Jove.
Elsewhere Pelops the victor, in his chariot, grips the reins that
Neptune gave him, while Myrtilos the charioteer, clutches at
Falling wheels, and the spinning axle leaves him far behind.
There too is stern Acrisius, with his daughter the guilty Danae,
And Coroebus the monster-slayer, and sad Amymone beside
The spring Neptune created for her, and Alcmena, triple moons
About her head, taking pride in her babe Hercules. Aegyptus
And Danaus, sons of Belus, clasp right hands in their doomed
Pact, Aegyptus depicted with gentle look; but on Danaus’ face
The marks of deceit, sign of the fatal marriages, of that night
Of murder are plain to see. A thousand other images follow.
Pleasure at last is satisfied: Valour calls the brave to compete.
BkVI:296-354 The Funeral Games – Competitors for the chariot-race
The first event was the chariot-racing. Apollo, recount the names,
Of the horses, and those famous charioteers; for there was never
A nobler set of coursers arrayed. It was as though a swarm of birds
Raced in swift flight; or Aeolus had the wild winds scour the shore.
First came Arion, conspicuous for the flame of his red mane. His
Sire was Neptune, if legend is true, who was the first with bridle
And bit to break a colt on the sandy shore, sparing him the whip;
A colt with insatiable desire for motion, restless as the wintry sea.
In harness with Neptune’s steeds, he’d swim the Ionian and Libyan
Deeps, carrying his ocean father to every shore. Clouds, amazed,
Were left behind; east and west winds chased him in emulation.
He was no less superb on land, carrying Hercules over the deeply
Ploughed fields as he performed labours for Eurystheus; still wild
And unmanageable even for that son of Amphitryon. Later, a gift
Of the gods, he deigned to obey Adrastus, having grown milder
In the intervening years. Now the king, with many an admonition,
Allowed his son-in-law, Polynices, to manage him; telling him how
To soothe the horse when excited, not to handle him harshly, nor
To grant him free rein. ‘Others you urge, with goads and threats.
He will lead, and more swiftly than you may wish.’ So when, with
Tears, the Sun set Phaethon, his child, in his fast chariot, handing
Him the fiery reins, he warned the joyful youth of the dangerous
Constellations, whole regions inimical to passage, and to keep
To the temperate zone between the poles; great love he showed,
Fearful and cautious. But cruel Fate prevented the young man
Heeding his advice. Amphiaraus was close favourite to win
The palm, with his team of Spartan horses, offspring of Cyllarus,
Bred in secret, while Castor was far off, at the mouth of Scythian
Pontus, his Amyclaean reins exchanged for an oar. Amphiaraus
Wore snowy white, and snowy were the coursers that stretched
Their necks beneath the yoke; his helm and ribbons matching
His white plume. Admetus, from Thessaly’s shore, also there
Could barely control his barren mares, the Centaur’s foals they
Say, and I believe it, they so scorn breeding, avoiding mating
For the sake of strength. They were like night and day mingled,
White with dark markings, strong in colouration, worthy to be
Of that herd that ceased to graze on hearing the Castalian reed’s
Piping, when Apollo played as shepherd to fortunate Admetus.
And behold, Jason’s young sons, their mother Hypsipyle’s fresh
Glory, Thoas, named from his grandfather, and Euneos, named
From ‘the good ship’ Argo, riding like chariots. Twins, they
Were identical in all; looks, dress, chariots, teams; and no less
So in their wishes; each desired to win, or be beaten only by his
Brother. Chromis and Hippodamus competed too, one the son
Of Hercules, the other of Oenomaus; such that you might doubt
Which of the two grasped the reins more fiercely. One raced
The team of Getic Diomedes, the other that of his Pisan father.
Both chariots stained with dark blood displayed cruel trophies.
The turning post at one end of the course was a bare oak, long
Naked of its leaves; the other a stone block, the farmers’ mark.
Between lay four javelin-throws, three arrow-flights, of space.
BkVI:355-409 The Funeral Games – Apollo attends the race
Meanwhile Apollo, the lyre in his hands, lulled the noble band
Of Muses with his song, as he gazed at Earth from Parnassus’
Airy summit. First he sang of the gods, for often he would tell
Of Jupiter and the battle at Phlegra, of the serpent he had slain;
And in praise of his brothers. Then he revealed what propels
The lightning bolt; what spirit guides the stars; whence rivers
Derive their animation, the winds their nourishment; from what
Fount the vast ocean pours; what path the sun takes so nights
Shorten or extend; whether the ground sits lowest, or above
And underpinned by another hidden world. He ended, quieting
The Sisters eager for more, and fastening his lyre, with the bright
Leaves of his wreath, to a laurel bush, and untying the embroidery
At his breast, he heard cheering there, and was drawn to the sight
Of Hercules’ Nemea, and what seemed to be a mighty chariot race.
He chanced to see Admetus and Amphiaraus (heroes known to him)
Standing together in the field, and spoke to himself: ‘What god
Brings together these kings, my most loyal followers, in rivalry?
Both are virtuous, both loved; I could not choose between them.
The former, when I was a servant in Pelion’s fields (so Jupiter
Commanded, the dark Sisters willed) gave incense to me, his
Underling, and would not treat me as his inferior; the latter is
A friend to the oracle, a pious disciple of that divine calling.
The first deserves the preference, yet the other’s end is near.
Admetus shall know the path of old age, but no joy remains
To you, Amphiaraus; Thebes and the dark chasm are at hand.
You know it, unhappy one, long the birds have so prophesied.’
He murmured the words and tears almost staining his inviolable
Face he reached Nemea in one radiant leap, more swiftly than
His father’s lightning or his own arrows. Long present himself
On land, his trace yet lingered in the sky, and a bright trail still
Shone along the breeze. Now Prothous shook lots in a bronze
Helmet, and each competitor knew his place and starting order.
The men, splendid ornaments of earth, and their horses no less
Splendid, both of divine race, waited behind the barrier, while
Hope, fearful courage, pent-up confidence welled within them.
Nothing felt certain at heart: eager to race, they were yet afraid:
The chill before battle seized all their limbs. The horses equalled
Their masters in ardour. Their fiery eyeballs rolled. Champing
At the bits scorched with blood and foam, the posts and bars
Could scarce withstand their pressure, and between them rose
The smoking breath of repressed rage. To stand there motionless
Was torture, heavy hooves struck out prematurely, the energy
Of a thousand pacing movements wasted. The faithful grooms
Combed out the tangled manes, with words of encouragement
And advice. The Tyrrhenian trumpet sounded opposite them,
And all leapt from their place. What sails on the sea fly so,
Missiles in battle, or clouds in the sky? The winter rivers
And the rush of flames are not so swift. Meteors fall more
Slowly, the accumulated rain, and the torrents from the hills.
BkVI:410-468 The Funeral Games – The chariot-race begins
The Pelasgi saw and named them as they shot forward, then
They were snatched from view, shrouded in blinding dust.
Wrapped in the one fog, their faces lost in the tumult, they
Scarcely knew each other amidst the shouts and clamour.
The pack thinned out, staggered according to the quality
Of each, a second circuit trampling over tracks of the first.
Now their chests almost touch the horses’ backs, now
They round the posts, knees straining, reins grasped hard.
The wind combs flowing manes, the neck-muscles swell
Below, and the dry ground drinks white showers of foam.
There’s a thunderous sound of hooves, a hiss of wheels.
Arms are wearied, the air whistles with the crack of whips:
No denser the lash of hail from the ice-bound Bear, the rain
That streams down from the horns of the She-Goat, Capella.
Arion, prescient, sensed another charioteer than his master,
And unknowingly feared Polynices, dread son of Oedipus.
From the very start he was angry, at odds with his burden,
Wilder in his ardour than was his custom. The Inachians
Thought him inflamed with desire for glory, but it was his
Charioteer he fled, he whom he menaced in his wild fury,
As, ahead of them all, he searched the field for his master.
Amphiaraus followed, a distant second, neck and neck
With Thessalian Admetus; the twins, Euneos and Thoas
Ran close; now one in front, now the other, they give way,
They lead again; loving brothers undivided by glory’s rivalry.
Chromis the fierce, and fierce Hippodamus, made up the rear,
No novices, but held back by their ponderous teams of horses.
Hippodamus was ahead, and feeling the breath of the pursuit,
His own shoulders hot with the heavy gasping of those mouths.
Now Apollo’s augur, Amphiaraus, hoped to take the lead,
Dragging on his reins, and running it tight around the post.
Admetus too was on fire with fresh hope, as Arion, unchecked
By his true master, strayed to the right, far out along the bend.
Now Amphiaraus, Oecles’ son, was ahead, and Admetus no
Longer third, but Arion, the horse of Neptune, cutting back
From a wide circuit, pressing both hard, at last overtook them,
Their joy short-lived. A cry rose to the stars, the sky trembled,
And the crowd lifted to their feet, revealing the bare benches.
But Polynices grew pale, the reins loose in his hand, his whip
Idle, just as a helmsman, whose skill fails him, rushes towards
The rocks, driven by the waves, no longer steering by the stars,
Throwing away the power of his art now overcome by chance.
Once more, over the plain, they drove, directly or obliquely,
Swerving and pursuing their course, axle meeting axle, spoke
To spoke; no truce or trust. You’d have thought it a war, cruel
War, but without the clash of steel; so wild were they for glory.
They shudder and threaten death, hooves scraping against rims.
Whips and goads are no longer enough; they urge their teams
On by name. Shouting to Pholoe; Iris; and the trace horse, Thoe;
Admetus calls, while the augur, Amphiaraus chides Aschetus,
And Cycnus, ‘the Swan’, worthy of his name. Strymon hears
Chromis call to him, fiery Aetion hears Euneos; Hippodamas
Taunts the lagging Cydon, Thoas begs his piebald, Podarces,
To fly. Only Polynices, the scion of Echion, is darkly silent
In his errant chariot, fearing to reveal a tremor in his voice.
BkVI:469-549 The Funeral Games – The chariot-race ends
The horses’ effort seemed scarcely begun and already they were
Starting the fourth lap of the dusty course. Exhausted, their limbs
Streamed with sweat, their parched mouths breathed and expelled
A dense hot vapour, their forward rush was no longer at full pace,
And their long drawn-out panting racked their heaving flanks.
Then bold Fortune chose to decide the issue long in doubt.
Thoas crashed, trying eagerly to pass Haemonian Admetus,
Nor could his brother help him, willing though he was, since
Hippodamus, scion of Mars, obstructed him with his chariot.
Then Chromis, rounding the bend of the inward goal, grasped
Hippodamus’ axle, and held it with the whole strength of his
Sire, Hercules; the horses tried vainly to escape, straining
At their bridles and stretching out their necks. In such a way
The tide will hold Sicilian vessels fast, while a southerly gale
Seeks to drive them on; their swollen sails static in mid-ocean.
Now Chromis hurled the charioteer from his shattered chariot,
And sought to drive ahead. But when the Thracian horses saw
Hippodamus on the ground, their old hunger returned, in their
Fury they would have torn him trembling limb from limb, had
Chromis, the Tirynthian hero, heedless of the race, not dragged
The team away, and to loud applause withdrawn from the race.
Meanwhile Apollo had long desired for you the honour that he
Promised, Amphiaraus. Thinking the time ripe at last to show
His favour, he entered the churned spaces of the dusty course,
As the race was ending, when final victory was in the balance.
A monstrous phantom with snakes for hair, and fearful looks,
He either raised from Erebus, or conjured for a brief moment,
With cunning art; certain it is that he revealed the abomination,
Adorned with innumerable terrors, to the heavens above. Not
Even the gatekeeper of dark Lethe could eye it without fear,
Nor the Eumenides themselves, without the deepest horror; it
Would have troubled the horses of the Sun or Mars, in flight.
Golden Arion saw it and his mane sprang erect, his shoulders
Reared, and he hung there, his fellow and their partners either
Side, suspended in mid-air. The Theban exile, Polynices, fell
And landed on his back, sprawling till he could free himself
From the reins; the chariot released from control, swept away.
As he lay there on the sand, Amphiaraus, Thessalian Admetus,
And Euneus, the Lemnian hero, flew past, swerving as best
They could to avoid him. At last his friends approached; he
Lifted his head, sunk in darkness, from the ground, raising
His bruised limbs, and returned unexpectedly to Adrastus.
How close death came, Theban, if harsh Tisiphone had not
Prevented it! What a mighty war would have been averted!
Thebes, and your brother, would have mourned, publicly;
Argos and Nemea; while, for you, Lerna and Larisa would
Have dedicated their shorn locks, in prayer; and your grave
Would have known more worshippers than Archemorus’.
Now Amphiaraus, Oecles’ son, though certain of the prize
Had he simply followed the masterless Arion in front of him,
Still burned with desire to overtake the now empty chariot.
The god gave renewed strength. Swifter than the East Wind
He flew, as though from the starting gate when first emerging
Onto the track, while he chided swift Achetos, and snowy
Cycnus, plying reins and whip across their back and mane.
Now at last, no one ahead, the fiery wheels drew the axle on,
The sand was churned and scattered in the air; yes, even then
The earth groaned and threatened angrily! Perhaps Cycnus
Might have drawn ahead and Arion lost, but his sire Neptune
Would not allow it. So, in a fair result, the horse retained his
Glory while victory went to Amphiaraus, the seer. Two young
Men brought him a reward for victory, the bowl of Hercules,
Which the Tirynthian used to carry in one hand and, victorious
Over monsters or in war, tilt it foaming into his upturned mouth.
It showed Centaurs fiercely moulded, terrifyingly shaped in
Gold, and on its surface torches, stones, other bowls hurled
Amidst the slaughter of the Lapithae, the powerful anger
Of the dying everywhere; while he himself was holding wild
Hylaeus, twisting the Centaur’s beard and plying his club.
For Admetus a cloak was the reward, with a flowing Maeonian
Border, dyed repeatedly to a deep purple. Here Leander was
Depicted, swimming Phrixus’ sea, gleaming bluish in watery
Hue. Scorning the waves, his hands seemed to sweep apart,
He about to change stroke with his arms, and the very fabric,
Showing his wet hair, seemed moist. Opposite Hero of Sestos
Sat, watching anxiously from the summit of her tower, yet
In vain: with the lamp nearby, her accomplice, about to fail.
Adrastus ordered these rich gifts to be granted the winners.
His son-in-law he consoled with an Achaean serving-girl.
BkVI:550-645 The Funeral Games – The foot-race
Next Adrastus invited the runners to compete for fine prizes:
In a test of agility, where valour plays little part, a peaceful
Activity in the service of the rites, yet not unavailing in war
If the right arm fails. First Idas emerged, his brow recently
Wreathed with Olympian leaves; and the men of Pisa and Elis
Greeted him with cheers. Alcon of Sicyon followed; and then
Phaedimus, twice proclaimed victor on the Isthmian sands;
And Dymas who once ran faster than wing-footed horses,
But of late followed them, slowed by age. And many others,
From here and there, unknown to the crowd, came forward
In silence. Now there are calls from the packed stands for
Arcadian Parthenopaeus; they murmur his name, his mother
Atalanta famed for her speed. Who does not know of her
Matchless Maenalian beauty, and her flying feet no suitor
Could overtake? The mother’s glory weighed on the son,
Already known far and wide for slaying the deer on foot
In the open glades of Lycaeus, for catching a speeding
Javelin as he ran. At last he leapt lightly from the ranks,
To a roar of expectation, dashing from the crowd, as he
Unpinned the gold clasp of his cloak. His limbs gleamed,
Their splendour revealed, his fine shoulders and naked
Chest no less delightful than his face, and yet his visage
Eclipsed by his body. He himself, though, deflected praise
Of his beauty, and kept admirers at bay. Then, no novice,
He concentrated on oiling his flesh with the rich pressings
Of Athene, while Idas, Dymas, and others did the same.
Just so, when the heavens shine over the tranquil ocean,
And reflections of the starry sky tremble on the waves,
Though all are bright Hesperus shines more brightly,
Glowing as deeply in dark water as in the heights above.
Idas was second to him in beauty and not greatly slower
In speed, close to him in age but a little older; the oil
Of the wrestling ground had already encouraged a faint
Growth of down on his cheek, a hint of shadow below
The cloud of his uncut hair. Now they flexed muscles,
Testing, and exercising, their languid limbs in various
Ways, putting themselves artificially in motion. Now
They sank on their bended knee, now slapped their oily
Chests with the flat of their hand, now raised an eager
Leg, or brought a brief sprint to an end in a sudden halt.
When the signal fell, offering an equal start, they soon
Devoured the course, and the naked runners gleamed
Over the field. It even seemed the swift horses had run
Less swiftly earlier over the same terrain. You might
Have though them so many arrows loosed by a Cretan
Host, or by retreating Parthians. So, fleet-footed stags
In the Hyrcanian wilds, hearing, or thinking they hear,
The roar of a hungry lion in the distance, will blindly
Run, swept on by panic, and crowded together in fear,
Their horns clashing loud and long in mingled flight.
The Maenalian lad fled from sight, faster than the wind,
Shaggy Idas pressed after him, panting heavily at his
Shoulder, his breath and shadow falling on his back.
Next came Dymas and Phaedimus straining in rivalry,
With Alcon quick on their heels. Parthenopaeus’ blond
Uncut tresses flowed behind his head: the Arcadian
Had tended it from his earliest years, promising it as
A gift to Diana Trivia, dedicating it boldly (in vain)
To his native altar should he return a winner from war.
Now untied and pouring freely over his back, it flew
Behind him in the breeze, hindering him and flying
In the face of Idas threatening his footsteps. Idas now
Saw the chance to commit a foul, and near the finish
As Parthenopaeus was about to cross the winning line,
Idas seized his hair, and dragging him back, passing
Him by, reached the finish gate, leading by a distance.
The Arcadians roared in anger, and called for weapons,
Then, armed, ran to support their king should the stolen
Prize and honour won not be restored, pouring onto
The track; others applauded Idas’ cunning. Meanwhile
Parthenopaeus covered his face with the dust and wept;
The grace of tears adding to his beauty. In his distress
He tore with blood-stained nails now at his chest, now
At his face and hair, undeserving of this shame; on all
Sides, discordant clamour raged, while aged Adrastus
Unsure, delayed his judgement. At last he spoke: ‘Lads.
End your quarrel. Your skill must be tried a second time.
But not in each others’ tracks: Idas, keep to this side,
Parthenopaeus take the other; let there be no cheating.’
They heard and obeyed. Then Parthenopaeus of Tegea
Addressed the goddess, silently, in supplication: ‘Lady
Of the Forests, since these locks are dedicated to you,
And my vow has led to this disgrace, I beg, if my mother,
And myself have deserved any favour from you through
Our hunting, I beg that this ill-omen not accompany me
To Thebes, nor this shame to Arcady remain.’ The proof
He was heard was that the track scarce felt his passage,
The air barely moved between his legs, and his swift feet
Hung above the dust, leaving it untouched. With a shout
He burst from the gate, with a shout returned to the king,
Grasped the palm, and put to an end to sighing. The race
Was done, the prizes were ready. Arcadian Parthenopaeus
Received a horse, shameless Idas claimed a shield, all
The rest departed content with gifts of Lycian quivers.
BkVI:646-718 The Funeral Games – The discus competition
Now Adrastus invited any strong man, who wished, to try
His skill at the discus, and proudly demonstrate his strength.
Pterelas responded, yet, arching his whole body, he was only
Able to land the slippery mass of bronze nearby. The scions
Of Inachus watched in silence, pondering the task. Then a host
Of competitors appeared, two Achaeans, three sons of Ephyre,
A Pisan, and an Acarnanian the seventh. Hope of glory would
Have brought still more, had not the tall Hippomedon appeared
Among them, spurred on by the spectators, and carrying another
Solid discus in his right hand, crying: ‘Try this one, men, instead,
You who go to shatter walls with rocks and to demolish Tyrian
Towers, try this: as for that other weight, who could not throw it?’
He caught it up, effortlessly, hurling it to one side. They moved
Away amazed, declaring themselves outmatched. Only Phlegyas,
And ardent Menestheus (shame and their ancestry alone kept
Them in the contest) reluctantly chanced their arms. The rest
Of the young men willingly conceded, and bowing to the discus,
Withdrew ingloriously. So in Thracian fields the shield of Mars
Strikes Mount Pangaeus with an evil glare, and gleaming terrifies
The sun, and booms deeply when the god beats it with his spear.
Phlegyas of Pisa began the competition, drawing all eyes to him;
Such power his body-shape promised. First he coated his hand
And the discus with soil, then shaking off the dirt turned the disk
Round and round to determine which side best suited his grip,
And then his forearm. He possessed no lack of skill. This sport
Had ever been his passion, not only when he attended the rites
That glorified his land, but when he would measure the Alpheus
From bank to bank, sending a discus over the river at the widest
Part, and never landing it in the water. So, confident in his skill,
He began by measuring the heavens with his arm not the rough
Acres of ground, and bending alternate knees he gathered his
Strength and whirled the discus above him to reach the clouds.
Swiftly it sought the heights, accelerating as if it was falling,
Till at length, with less velocity, it returned exhausted to earth,
And plunged into the ground. So the eclipsed sister of the Sun
Falls, when drawn down from the astonished stars, and people
Beat bronze to aid her, in vain fear, while Thessalian witches
Their spells heard, laugh in victory to view her panting steeds.
The Greeks applauded now, to a dark look from Hippomedon,
And the crowd hoped for an even mightier throw over the plain.
But evil Fortune came to him, she who loves to destroy reckless
Expectations. How many of us can compete against the gods?
He was aiming already to cover a vast distance, his neck was
Already swivelling, his flank withdrawing, when the discus
Slipped and fell in front of him, frustrating his throw, leaving
Him empty-handed. The crowd groaned, only a few enjoyed
The sight. Then Menestheus with trepidation approached to try
His skill. Cautiously, and with many a prayer to you, Mercury,
He roughened the surface of the heavy discus with dust. Hurled
By his powerful arm, with greater fortune, it sailed out, landing
A good way down the track. The crowd applauded and an arrow
Was set to mark the spot. Hippomedon threw third, approaching
That test of strength with slow and ponderous tread. And he took
To heart the message implied by Phlegyas’ fate and Menestheus’
Good fortune. He felt the familiar weight in his hand, and raised
It high, testing his rigid flanks and powerful arms, then swung
The burden with a tremendous whirl, himself following through.
The discus took to the air with a fearsome leap and already far on
Preserving the impetus from the hand that flung it, kept its flight,
Passing the mark of Menestheus by a long way, as was certain,
And falling far beyond the rival throw, with a crash like a great
Mass of falling masonry, setting the green flanks and summits
Of the arena hill trembling. It was like that rock Polyphemus
Hurled, blindly, from smoky Aetna, hearing it fall in the wake
Of the departing vessel, and not far from his enemy, Ulysses.
BkVI:719-825 The Funeral Games – The boxing
Then Adrastus ordered the emblem of a tiger presented
To the winner: it shone with a surround of yellow gold,
And the claws were likewise tipped. Menestheus received
A Cretan bow and quiver of arrows. ‘But to you, Phlegyas,’
He said, ‘foiled by mischance, I give this sword to wear,
Once Pelasgus’ pride and defence, nor will Hippomedon
Grudge you this, I think. Now, time for greater courage,
Raise the boxing gloves face to face. Here valour is close
To that needed for the heat of battle.’ Capaneus, the Argive
Took his place, massive to view, a source of massive fear,
Fitting the rawhide gloves, blackened with lead, on hands
As hard as himself. ‘Stand up, one of you many thousands
Of warriors, and let it be one of Aonian race, one whom
It would be no sin to send to his death, so my valour might
Not be stained with my countrymen’s blood.’ Their minds
Were numbed, and terror kept them silent. At length then,
Unexpectedly, Alcidamas, from Sparta of naked athletes,
Leapt up. The followers of the Dorian kings felt wonder,
But his friends knew that he trusted in his teacher, Pollux,
And had been nurtured beside the sacred wrestling floors.
The god himself had held him in his hands, moulding his
Arms (seduced by love of the material) and often placed
Him opposite, marvelling at him as he stood aggressive
As himself, then lifting him high in triumph and pressing
Him to his breast. Capaneus, thinking him of no account,
Scorned his challenge, as if in pity, demanding a different
Opponent. But at last he was forced to take position, his
Languid neck already swelling at the provocation. Poised,
On their toes, they raised hands like lightning bolts. Heads
Well back they watched each other carefully, barring every
Approach. Capaneus showed the breadth of his limbs from
Every angle, his large-boned stance like Tityos’ looming
Large from the Stygian fields, if that is the grim vultures
Had allowed it. Alcidamas was scarcely out of boyhood,
But his strength was more mature than his years suggested,
And youthful energy gave such promise of a mighty future
That none wished to see him beaten or savagely bloodied,
And they watched the spectacle with anxiety and prayers.
The two men measured each other with their gaze, both
Hoping for a first opening. There was no immediate blow,
Or show of anger. For a while they planned their move,
In hidden wrath and fear. They merely sparred with raised
Arms, and tried their gloves, dulling them with rubbing.
Alcidamas, the better boxer, delayed his charge, held back,
Husbanding his strength, and fearful of a lengthy contest.
Capaneus, seeking to do harm and careless of his defence,
Went all out, working both arms without restraint, grinding
His teeth uselessly, surging forward then checking himself.
But the Spartan, with sharp foresight, watchful in accord
With his native skill, parried the blows or evaded them;
Sometimes, with a swift indulgent nod of the head, he
Emerged unscathed, then he would smother the others
Weapons with his hands, or advanced his feet while
Drawing back his head. Often he engaged his opponent
Whose strength was greater than his own, attacking him
Boldly (so sharply honed his skill, so practiced his aim),
Moving inside him, overshadowing him, leaping in the air.
As a wave gathers, and rushes at the menacing rocks, then
Breaks, then ebbs, so he circled round his angry adversary,
Then stormed his defence. Behold he raises rigid fore-arms,
Steadily, threatening the flanks, the eyes. As Capaneus
Defended against them, he distracted him, and cleverly
Slipped in a sudden blow between the hands, so gashing
The middle of the brow; now the blood flowed, a warm
Stream staining the temples. Capaneus was not yet aware
Of the wound, and wondered at the crowd’s sudden shout,
But chancing to draw a weary hand over his face, seeing
Blood-spots on his glove, he was more indignant than ever
A lion or a tiger is at the javelin’s stroke. In a passion,
He drove the retreating youth over the ground, pushing
Him backwards, bending his spine; and he ground his
Teeth violently, doubling, multiplying, his whirling blows.
Many landed in thin air, some struck his opponent’s gloves.
With quick footwork the Spartan evaded the thousand
Deaths that hovered round his hollow temples; he recalled
His skill, and facing his foe retreated with counter-blows.
Now both, breathing heavily from their efforts, wearied.
The one attacked more slowly, the other was less agile
In defence. Both trembled at the knees, forced to rest.
So when high waves have wearied the rowing sailors,
At a signal from the stern, they will lower their oars,
But have scarcely rested for a while when a second
Order rouses them again. See how Alcidamas ducks
His opponent’s furious onslaught, evading him now by
Deliberately plunging his shoulders forwards. Capaneus
Then tumbled headlong, and as he rose again, the bold
Lad struck him, and then turned pale at his own success.
The scions of Inachus raised a shout, louder than the sea
Or the wind in the forest. When Adrastus saw Capaneus
Struggling from the ground, raising his arms intent on
Unacceptable revenge, he cried: ‘Go friends, I beg you,
He’s maddened; run swiftly, he’s in a fury, grip him tight!
He’ll not stop till he mingles shattered bone and brains;
Bring the palm and the prizes; take the Spartan away, or
He’ll be killed.’ Without delay, Tydeus rushed forward,
Hippomedon not far behind. By a joint effort they drew
Capaneus’ arms behind him, restraining him, with much
Persuasion: ‘Leave off, you’ve won. It’s better to spare
The loser’s life. He’s one of us, too, a comrade in battle.’
The hero was unmoved, pushing away the palm-branch
And the gift of armour offered, bellowing: ‘Leave me
Be! I’ll gouge those cheeks with which the half-breed
Won favour, mark them with dust and gore, and send
His marred body to the grave, for his Oebalian master
To mourn.’ He spoke: but his friends steered him away,
Swollen with anger, and contesting the result, while
All the Spartans praised the foster-child of renowned
Taygetus, and from a safe distance mocked the threats.
BkVI:826-910 The Funeral Games – The wrestling
Meanwhile great-hearted Tydeus, tormented by others’
Achievements and the awareness of his own prowess,
Was goaded into action. He was skilled with the discus,
And at running, no less so with the gloves, but above
All other sports he loved the wrestling. Thus he would
Spend his moments of respite from the wars, and, oiled,
Ease battle tensions, challenging mighty opponents in
The sports arena and along the banks of Achelous, happy
To have the river-god as teacher. So, when brave ambition
Drew warriors to the wrestling, the Aetolian stripped his
Fearsome native boar-hide from his back. Agylleus set
His long limbs against him, a man of Cleonaean stock,
No less in stature than Hercules, his huge shoulders
Ever towering above other men. But lacking vigour,
His father’s strength of body, he ran to fat, his limbs
Flowing, loose and lax. Hence Tydeus’ bold confidence
Of beating so huge an opponent. Though he himself
Seemed small, he was heavy-boned, with firm knotted
Muscle. Never had Nature sought to frame so great
A spirit nor such immense power in so small a body.
After they had rubbed oil into their flesh, both jogged
To the centre of the field and drenched themselves in
Handfuls of sand, dusting each others’ gleaming limbs
All over, flexing their shoulders, stretching their arms.
Now skilful Tydeus cleverly bends Agylleus down
To the ground, stooping his own back, knees close
To the sand. Like the cypress-tree, queen of the Alps,
Bowed to the earth by a southerly wind, and scarcely
Clinging on by the roots, though destined to return
To the same heights as before, so towering Agylleus
Spontaneously bent double, inclining his huge limbs,
And groaning at his smaller foe. Now with their hands
Each tried for a grip, on head, neck, shoulder, chest,
Flanks or elusive legs. Sometimes they hung a long
While grasping each others’ arms, and then fiercely
Broke a finger-grip. No less savagely do two bulls,
Potential leaders, struggle grimly while the fair herd
Awaits the winner mid-meadow; furiously they strain
Heaving breasts, while desire goads them on, easing
The pain of wounds. So boars with lightning tusks,
And shambling bears with shaggy grasp, give battle.
Tydeus proved resilient; unwearied by sun and sand
His limbs retained their power, his flesh was firm
His sinews tightened by harsh toil. Agylleus though
Slackened, snatching his breath, exhausted, he gaped
In distress, sand flowing from his body in a stream
Of sweat, as he touched the earth furtively to support
Himself. Tydeus was on him, harrying and, feinting
At the neck, caught at the legs, but in vain, his arms
Too short to gain their objective. His tall adversary
Fell upon him, smothering him from sight beneath
His vast collapsing mass. Like the worker in some
Spanish mine, who going below, leaving daylight
And the living behind him, feels the suspended
Roof tremble, sees the fractured rock crumbling,
Till, with a sudden crash, he is buried beneath it,
Covered by the fall of earth, his body all crushed
And broken, unable to return its indignant spirit
To the stars above. But the more vigorous Tydeus,
Superior in heart and spirit, slipped, at once,
From beneath the iniquitous mass, and circling
The other as he moved uncertainly, clung to his
Back then twined around his sides and stomach,
In a firm swift hold. Next, squeezing his knees
Between Agylleus’ thighs as he struggled in vain
To escape the grip, and clutch at Tydeus’ side,
That irrepressible opponent (wonderful and terrible
To see) lifted him in the air. So, as the tale tells,
Antaeus, the Libyan son of Earth, bathed in sweat,
Struggled in Hercules’ arms once he had been
Lifted from the sand; and with no hope of release,
Unable to touch his mother Earth even with the tips
Of his toes, revealed the source of his strength.
A roar of pleased applause rose from the crowd.
Balancing Agylleus’ on high, Tydeus suddenly
Released him to fall sidelong, following him
As he descended, simultaneously grasping his
Neck with his right hand, his thighs with his feet.
Thus trapped, Agylleus weakened, only the shame
Prompting him to struggle. At length he sprawled
On the ground, flat on his front, and after a long
Pause rose dejected, leaving rough furrows marked
On the ground. Tydeus took the palm in his right
Hand, and the gift of shining armour in his left,
Saying: ‘This I won even though no small part of my
Blood was left on Dirce’s plain (as you have heard)
Where I gained these scars, my pledge to Thebes –’
And here he showed the wounds, handing the prize
His glory had won to his comrades, while Agylleus
In turn received an unvalued armoured breastplate.
BkVI:911-946 Adrastus receives an inauspicious omen
Warriors now came forward to fight with naked swords:
Epidaurian Agreus and the Theban exile, Polynices, he
Whose doom was not yet upon him, already stood there
Armed, but the royal scion of Iasus, forbade their duel:
‘O, you young men! Death has victims enough in store!
Save your brave spirits and mad eagerness for the blood
Of your enemies. Polynices, for whom we have deserted
Our ancestral lands, our beloved cities, do not, I beg you,
Before war begins, allow chance and your brother’s wish
(May the gods defend us) to have so much power over us.’
So saying he gifted both with a gilded helmet, ordering
That his son-in-law’s noble brow be wreathed, lest he
Lack glory, and that the Theban be loudly proclaimed
Victor: and the dark Fates echoed that cry as an omen.
His generals then urged him to honour the festal games
With some action of his own, so paying his last respects
To the tomb. And lest the leaders lack outright victory,
They asked him to shoot Cretan arrows from his bow
Or send a light javelin towards the clouds. Cheerfully
He complied, and surrounded by the foremost warriors,
He descended from the green hill to the plain, ordering
His armour-bearer to bring his light quivers and bows.
He intended to traverse the wide arena from a distance
With a shot, and transfix a given ash-tree with a wound.
Who can deny that omens arise from the hidden causes
Of events? Fate is revealed to men, and yet they disdain
To see, so prior notice of the future is largely wasted.
Thus we call omens mere chance, and Ill-Fortune gains
The power to harm us. Swiftly covering the ground, that
Fateful shaft struck the tree then (dreadful to witness!),
Flew back through the air it had traversed reversing its
Path to the target, and falling close to the quiver’s edge.
The leaders speculated to no purpose: some said winds
In the low clouds had turned the arrow, others that it
Was repulsed by the shock of striking the trunk. Deep
Lay its mighty import, yet its evil was still apparent:
A war was promised from which the arrow’s master
Would return alone, to a melancholy homecoming.
End of Book VI