Publius Papinius Statius
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved
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- BkX:1-48 The Thebans set a watch on the Argive camp
- BkX:49-83 Juno resolves to help the Argives
- BkX:84-155 The House of Sleep
- BkX:156-218 Thiodamas the augur is inspired
- BkX:219-295 He leads an attack on the sleeping Thebans
- BkX:296-346 The conclusion of the slaughter
- BkX:347-383 The Argives try to retrieve their champions’ corpses
- BkX:384-448 The deaths of Hopleus and Dymas
- BkX:449-508 Capaneus leads the attack on Thebes
- BkX:509-551 The Argives attack the gates and walls
- BkX:552-627 Tiresias prophesies
- BkX:628-685 Divine Courage inspires Menoeceus
- BkX:686-737 Cleon seeks to dissuade him
- BkX:738-782 Menoeceus sacrifices himself
- BkX:783-826 His mother Eurydice mourns him
- BkX:827-882 Capaneus again assaults the city
- BkX:883-939 The death of Capaneus
BkX:1-48 The Thebans set a watch on the Argive camp
Dewy Night, impelled by Jove’s command, shrouded Phoebus
At the western gate. Jove took no pity on the Argive camp
Nor on the Theban forces, but it saddened him for so many
Foreign warriors, and the innocent, to be thinned by the sword.
The plain was disfigured by the broad patches of shed blood.
There were corpses robbed of their pyres, abandoned limbs;
There were weapons; and the horses that men had ridden so
Proudly: left behind. Now the inglorious armies with battered
Standards disengaged their failing lines. The gates that proved
Too narrow for warriors going to battle seemed wide to those
Returning. The sorrow was equal on both sides; but that four
Danaan squadrons had lost their great captains gave solace
To Thebes, each one straying, like vessels on a swelling sea,
The steersmen gone, guided by the winds, chance and the gods.
The Tyrians were so bold as to stand their sentries down, but
They kept watch solely for the enemy’s flight, if they, content
To turn for home perhaps, should seek Mycenae. Passwords
Were given, and turns of duty set: the leaders of this nocturnal
Warfare being Lycus at his request, and Meges chosen by lot.
Then, their dispositions agreed, they hoisted their weapons,
Food, and means for fire. The king exhorted them as they left:
‘Conquerors of the Danai (tomorrow’s dawn is near, darkness
That intervened to save the cowards will not last forever), be
Of good cheer; bear hearts that are worthy of heaven’s favour.
Lerna’s glory and her greatest warriors are slain. Tydeus has
Gone to vengeful Tartarus. Death stands amazed at Amphiaraus’
Living shade; Ismenos boasts the spoils of stricken Hippomedon;
We are ashamed to count only Parthenopaeus among our trophies.
Victory is in our hands; the noble leaders of their army, the crests
Displayed by their seven squadrons are fallen. Are we to go in fear
Of aged Adrastus; my brother, with his inexperience; or Capaneus’
Crazed threats? Go now; light watch-fires around the besieged.
There is nothing to fear from the foe. You’ll guard wealth, spoils,
Already yours.’ So he encouraged the fierce scions of Labdacus.
They were ready to repeat their exhausting toil, and turned round,
Without respite; dust, sweat and blood mingled on their bodies;
Scarce taking time for those who would meet and talk with them,
Even shaking off their loved ones’ embraces. Then they divided
The watch of the enemy camp between them, front, rear, curved
Flanks, and surrounded the ramparts with hostile fires. So a great
Pack of ravening wolves with gaping jaws will gather at nightfall,
From the surrounding countryside, starved with hunger, despite
Its attendant daring; now they press against the very sheepfolds,
Their bellies tormented by hope denied, by the quavering bleats,
And odour of rich flesh from the pens. All that is left them is to
Blunt their claws and rasp their chests against the solid posts,
And grind their fangs, un-moistened by blood, at the threshold.
BkX:49-83 Juno resolves to help the Argives
But prostrate in the courts of the far-off Argive temple, before
Their native altars, a host of suppliant Pelopean women begged
Sceptred Juno for aid and for their loved ones’ return, pressing
Their faces against the painted doors and cold stones, showing
Their little children how to lie prone in worship. Their prayers
Had already laid day to rest; now night followed with its cares
The heaped altar fires keeping vigil. They had also brought her
A gift in a basket, a robe whose wondrous fabric no barren or
Divorced woman had handled, adornment for the chaste goddess,
And not to be scorned. The rich purple blazed with gold, with
Various embroidered work. There was the goddess herself
Innocent of marriage, betrothed to great Jupiter, timorously
About to change from sister to wife. With downcast eyes she
Tasted the kisses of young Jove, she as yet un-betrayed,
Not knowing a husband’s deceptions. With this garment
The Argive women veiled the holy ivory and made their
Prayers with tears and pleas: ‘Queen of the starry heavens,
Gaze on the sacrilegious towers of Theban Semele, shatter
The paramour’s tomb, and hurl another lightning bolt (as you
Can) against rebellious Thebes.’ What was Juno to do? She
Knew that the Fates and Jove were against her Argives, yet
She would not have the prayers or the gift offered in vain.
Then Fortune helped, and gave her a vital opportunity for aid.
From on high, she saw the city gates closed, and the Greek
Ramparts surrounded by a vigilant guard. She trembled with
The sting of anger; her hair, stirring, shook the sacred diadem.
She’d burned no more fiercely when, deserted among the stars,
She had waxed indignant against Alcmene who bore the burden
Of Hercules; against Jove’s double infidelity. Now she resolved
To plunge the Thebans in the sweetness of an untimely sleep.
And offer them to Death. She ordered her servant Iris to don
Her usual bands of colour, and assigned her the whole task.
That gleaming goddess obeyed her orders, and left the sky,
Descending to earth along the suspended bridge of her bow.
BkX:84-155 The House of Sleep
Beyond the misty regions of western night, and all their dusky
Peoples, lies a still grove no star can penetrate; below it a massy
Cave with porous rocks pierces a hollow hillside, where sluggish
Nature placed the house of idle Sleep, his untroubled dwelling.
Shadowy Rest and lazy Oblivion and torpid Sloth with never
Wakeful face, guard the threshold. In the hallway Ease and
Silence sit mutely with folded wings, keeping blustering winds
From the ceiling, forbidding branches from straying, depriving
Birds of their song. Here is no roar of waves, though all shores
May sound; nor any from the sky. Close by the cavern, even
The stream flowing among rocks and boulders down the steep
Valley is silent. Every sheep of the black herd around lies on
The ground; the new shoots droop; a breath from the earth bows
The grasses. Within, fiery Mulciber’s carved a thousand images
Of the god. Here wreathed Pleasure clings to his side, there his
Comrade Toil sinks to rest; and elsewhere he shares a couch with
Bacchus or Mar’s child, Love. While further on, in the deepest
Recesses of the dwelling, he lies down with Death, though none
Are saddened by that thought. These: the images. He himself rests
In the damp cave, on sheets strewn with soporific flowers. His
Clothes breathe; the covers are warm from his idle body; above his
Couch, dark vapour is exhaled from his gasping mouth. One hand
Supports the hair tumbling from his left temple, the other has let fall
His forgotten horn. Around him, countless dreams of various kinds
Wander, true mixed with false, ardent with sad, the misty hosts of
Night that cling to the rafters and doorposts, or rest on the ground.
The glow that surrounds the cave is dim and faint, and languid lights
That invite the first moments of slumber expire in flickering flames.
Here Iris, the many-coloured maiden hovered in the dark-blue sky.
The woods were bright, the gloomy valleys smiled on the goddess,
And, struck by her gleaming arch, the house awoke. But Sleep was
Untouched by the goddess’ shining rays and the sound of her voice;
He lay there as before until Thaumas’ daughter shed all her light
Upon him, shining deep into his motionless eyes. Then the golden
Source of rain-showers spoke to him: ‘O Sleep, kindest of the gods,
Juno commands you to capture the Theban generals, the people
Of fierce Cadmus, who now elated by the battle’s outcome watch
The Achaean camp and deny your power. Grant her heartfelt prayer:
Rarely could you earn Juno’s goodwill so easily, without offending
Jupiter.’ So saying, she thumped his idle breast with her hand lest
Her words were wasted, admonishing him again and again. With
The sole look on his face of agreement, he assented to the goddess’
Command. Iris left the damp cave, her bow more heavily charged
And she brightened her darkened rays with rich showers of rain.
Sleep too roused his feet and his winged temples to action, filling
His billowing cloak with the chill air of a sombre sky. Silently
He flew through the upper levels of the air and loomed heavily
Over the Theban fields. His influence brought birds, wild creatures,
Cattle to the ground; wherever he flew the waters dropped languidly
From the cliffs, the woodland trees bowed their crowns, and stars
Fell in greater numbers from the drowsy sky. The god’s presence
Was first felt as a sudden darkening of the plain, and the endless
Noise and cries of the warriors were hushed. But when he hovered
On moist wings, entering the camp in the densest of black shadows,
Their eyes drifted and their heads bowed; words were left unfinished
In mid-speech. Soon they let fall their gleaming shields and cruel
Javelins, and their faces sank wearily on their chests. And now all
Was silent: even their war-horses were powerless to stay standing,
And sudden falls of ash extinguished the watch-fires they had lit.
BkX:156-218 Thiodamas the augur is inspired
But Sleep did not lull the Argives to like slumber; the seductive
Powers of the night-wandering god refrained from loosing his
Mists on the neighbouring camp. The armed Argives stood there,
Indignant at the shameful nocturnal effrontery of the watch-fires.
Behold now a sudden ecstasy, a divine madness, gripped the mind
Of Thiodamas, either at Juno’s prompting or kindly Apollo’s rousing
Of his new priest, commanding him with wild disturbance to reveal
The future. Thiodamas leapt into their midst, dreadful to see
And hear, unable to endure the deity’s power that a frail receptive
Mind cannot contain. Its promptings overflowed; the naked frenzy
Filled his visage; the flow of blood alternately swelling and draining
His quivering cheeks. His gaze wandered here and there; tossing
His head, he flailed the wreath about that was entwined in his hair.
So Cybele, the Great Mother of Mount Ida, drives the blood-stained
Phrygian from her dread shrine, unconscious that steel has pierced
His arms, as he beats the sacred torches against his breast, whirls
His gory tresses, and deadens the fresh wounds by his flight, till
All the fields are in dread, spattered the sacred pine-tree of worship,
And the lions that draw her chariot rise up, in their astonishment.
Thiodamas ran to the inner council chamber, the revered house
Of the standards, where Adrastus made ill by their long series
Of cruel disasters deliberated, in vain, on their desperate state.
About him the newly-appointed generals, seconds-in-command
To the dead, stood in those places left empty by the great kings,
Not joyful at such promotion to the heights, but grieving still.
Likewise when a ship has lost her captain, and wanders about
In mid-course, the officer at the prow, or he who guards her
Flanks, takes command of the straying rudder; but the vessel
Is stalled and her tackle slow to respond while the divinity,
Whose figurehead is at the stern, fails to accept a lesser hand.
Now the augur, inspired, filled the Argives with fresh courage:
‘Generals, I bring mighty commands and dreadful admonitions
From the gods: these words come not from my own mind:
Amphiaraus, he who agreed to your calling me to his service,
And entrusting me with his sacred ribbons, he it is that speaks.
A night rich in action and suited to a noble stratagem, is now
Revealed by divine augury. Valour calls to us directly, and
Fortune demands our efforts. The Theban ranks are stupefied,
Sunk in sleep. Now is the moment to avenge our dead kings,
And a wretched day. Grasp your weapons now, open the gates
Without delay: this action will ensure them their funeral pyres,
And us our own. I foresaw it, during the day’s fighting as our
Army was humbled, and, beaten, we turned our backs. I saw it
(I swear, by the tripods and my lost master’s strange fate) and
Around me birds flapped their wings auspiciously. But now I
Am certain: a moment ago, in the silent night, he himself rose,
Rose from the earth that split once more; just as he once was
(The shadows had only veiled his horses) Amphiaraus came
To me, no phantom of idle slumber, no product of mere sleep.
He cried: ‘Will you leave the Inachians to squander this night
In idleness, you degenerate? (If so, give back my Parnassian
Wreaths; return to me my divine powers!) Did I not teach you
The secrets of the heavens, in the flight of birds? Go, at least
Take vengeance for my sake with the sword!’ He spoke, and
He, in his chariot, with raised spear seemed to push me towards
The threshold. To work, then, and make use of the divine; our
Enemies are not lying here: battle is afoot and savage power.
Who will join me, while the Fates allow, eager to raise himself
To the heights? Behold, again the birds of night prove benign;
Even though my comrades in this army hold back, I’ll obey,
I’ll go alone, for he indeed comes with me, shaking the reins.’
BkX:219-295 He leads an attack on the sleeping Thebans
So he cried, disturbing the night, and the generals were roused
As though the same god were in all their hearts; they burned
To accompany him in the one cause. He himself was prompted
To choose thirty men, the pick of the army. Round him, other
Warriors protested loudly, asking why they must stay in camp
In vain idleness. Some boasted their noble birth, others their
Ancestral deeds or their own, others call for lots to be drawn,
Then on all sides they demand it. Adrastus rejoiced in their
Protests and his spirits rose. Likewise on Pholoe’s high slopes,
The keeper of swift horses is happy, when foals have swelled
The herd in teeming spring, to see some struggling to climb
The heights, others swimming the torrents, others vying with
Their parents; then he ponders in mind which should be broken
Gently to the harness; which will ride well; which are born for
War and the sound of trumpets; which to win the Elean palm.
Thus the aged leader of the Achaean host. Nor is he absent from
Their enterprise: ‘From where does this sudden inspiration come?
Which of you gods has returned to shattered Argos? Is courage
Here, in misfortune, does the blood of our race still flow, do
The seeds of virtue endure in a time of wretchedness? Now
I commend you, noble warriors, and delight in my comrades’
Glorious sedition. Yet guile, and secret warfare is our plan,
Our movements must be hidden: a crowd is no use for dark
Mischief. Keep your spirits high; behold, dawn will visit
Vengeance on our foes. Then the fight shall be in the open,
And we will attack together.’ After these words, soon
The warriors valour was harnessed and controlled. It was
As though Aeolus, the cave of the winds in uproar, were
To place another rock against the door, and imperiously
Block the exit, just as the winds were eager for the waves.
The prophet added Agylleus, son of Hercules, and Actor
To his strength: the latter skilled in persuasion, the former
Boasting a strength equalling his father’s. Each of the three
Led ten men of the thirty, a formidable force even to face
The Thebans. Thiodamas, new to warfare, adopted a martial
Air, laying sacred twigs aside, Apollo’s emblems; handing
His brow’s adornments to the aged king; and donning helm
And mail, a gift of Polynices in thanks. Fierce Capaneus
Weighed Actor down with a great sword; scorning, himself,
To attack an enemy with guile or follow divine command.
Agylleus exchanged weapons with fierce Nomius: what use
Hercules’ bow and arrows in battles in the deceptive dark?
Then they leapt from the steep battlements to the rampart,
Lest the loud creaking of the bronze gate sound too loud.
It was not long before they saw their prey, scattered over
The ground, seeming as though they were already dead,
And slain by the sword. Now with loud voice the priest
Exhorted them: ‘Forward comrades, wherever the lust
For endless slaughter takes you, favourites of the gods,
I pray you do not fail them! See the cohorts defenceless
In vile languor. Shame on them! Are these the men who
Dared to besiege the Argive camp, and keep guard over
Warriors? So saying he drew his gleaming sword, and
Passed swiftly through the dying host. Who could count
The dead or put names to the lifeless throng? Randomly
He struck at back and chest, leaving the helmets to stifle
Their murmurs, their wandering ghosts bathed in blood.
One man was stretched out carelessly on a couch; one
Had sunk at last with sagging steps onto his shield, barely
Gripping his weapons; others lay grouped among wine cups
And armour’ others leant on their shields where the final mist
Of fatal sleep had overcome each drowsy man where he lay.
Divinity was there, since Juno, armed and brandishing
A torch, bright as the moon, with her bared right arm, lit
The Argives’ way, strengthening their courage and pointing
Out the victims. Thiodamas felt the goddess’ presence, but
Hid his joy in silence. Now his hand slowed, his sword
Grew heavier, and his anger waned at such success.
Thus, a Caspian tigress, who has slaughtered huge steers,
Her rage quenched by endless bloodshed, her jaws weary,
The stripes of her coat smeared with thick foul gore, will
Survey the scene and grieve that her hunger is diminished.
So the exhausted seer wandered amongst the Theban dead.
At times he prayed for a hundred hands and arms for battle,
At times he wearied of draining the blood from torpid flesh
Wishing instead that the enemy might rise up against him.
BkX:296-346 The conclusion of the slaughter
Elsewhere, Actor and Agylleus, great Hercules’ scion, were
Wasting the drowsy Thebans, the troops advancing in a swathe
Of blood. The grass was soaked black with gore, and the tents
Were awash with sanguinary streams. The earth smoked; one
Exhalation of death and sleep together rolled across it. None
Of the prostrate men raised their heads, so dense the darkness
With which the winged god hovered over the wretches, their
Eyes opening only in death. Ialmenus, doomed never to see
Another sunrise had spent his last night’s watch in play and
Music: singing a Theban song of victory, overcome by the god,
His head drooped leftward, now he lay slumped over the lyre.
Agylleus drove his spear through the back and chest, striking
The right hand on the tortoiseshell plectrum setting the fingers
Quivering among the strings. Spilt blood upset the wine-cups.
Water mixed with that dire stream, and Bacchus’ wine too
Revisited the depths of the mixing bowls and dishes. Fierce
Actor killed Thamyris in his brother’s embrace; Tagus stabbed
Wreathed Echeclus from behind; Danaus severed Hebrus’ head,
Snatched unaware by the Fates, his spirit flitting to the shades
With no pain, escaping the torments of a cruel death. Stretched
On the cold ground near his chariot and faithful horses, Calpetus
Disturbed them with his heavy breathing as they cropped their
Native turf. His moist mouth overflowed as inflamed with wine
He tossed and turned in sleep. The Inachian seer slit his throat
Where he lay, and a great gush of blood drove out the wine, as
His fragmentary cry was stifled by the gore. Perhaps his rest
Had been prophetic and in his heavy slumber he had dreamed
Of Thiodamas, and of a Thebes blackened and in mourning.
The fourth watch of the drowsy night remained, with drifting
Cloud and many stars obscured, as Bootes fled at the approach
Of the Sun’s mightier carriage. Now the action had ended, and
Actor called to Thiodamas: ‘This unlooked-for success should
Satisfy the Pelasgi. Few of that host, I think, have escaped
Cruel death; only cowards whom a living shame may conceal
In the bloody depths. Halt this, while good fortune attends us.
Fatal Thebes has her deities too; and perhaps those who have
Favoured us are departing.’ Thiodamas agreed, and raised his
Dripping hands to the stars: ‘Apollo, I assign to you these spoils
Of a night you revealed to me, even though my hands are not yet
Cleansed with water, since I, a fierce warrior of the tripods and
A faithful priest, gave this welcome sacrifice to you. If I have
Responded to your urging, not disgraced the charge you gave,
Come again to me; deign to invade this mind of mine again.
Now I bring you only a crude offering, broken weapons and
The blood of soldiers, but if ever, Paean, you grant us to see
Our native country and the shrines we long for, remember
My vow, Lycius, and claim an equal number of rich gifts
For your sacred portals, and as many bulls.’ So he prayed,
And re-called his comrades from their successful action.
BkX:347-383 The Argives try to retrieve their champions’ corpses
Among them, as was fated, were Calydonian Hopleus and Dymas
The Arcadian, both past companions of their leaders, both dear
To them, and both still grieving and indignant at surviving them.
Hopleus the first to speak, challenged Dymas: ‘Noble Dymas,
Have you no thought for your dead king now he is lost? Already
The Theban dogs and carrion birds may have him. What will you
Arcadians take back to your country? Behold his angry mother
Will meet you on your return, asking where his body is. In my
Thoughts, Tydeus, whatever state his body, however un-mourned
His death may be, lacking a grave, rages still. I still wish to go
Search throughout the cruel field, or the very midst of Thebes.’
Dymas replied: ‘I swear by these scattered stars, by the shade of
My leader, a god to me, I am of the same mind. Dejected by grief,
I have waited to find a companion, but now I will lead the way.’
His face turned sadly towards the heavens, he prayed: ‘O Moon,
Mistress of the arcane night, if as they say your divinity appears
In triple form, if you visit the woods with a different face, Diana,
(Gaze upon us now at least) it is your dead companion we seek,
Your own lad, the peerless foster-child of the forests.’ The goddess
Inclining her chariot towards them, brought the arc of her horns
Near, and shed her kindly rays, revealing the bodies. The plain lay
Open to the view, with Thebes and lofty Cithaeron. So, when Jove,
In anger, shatters the night sky with thunder, clouds part, the starry
Flames appear in the lightning flash, the world is suddenly displayed
To sight. Dymas received the rays, and Hopleus, struck by the same
Glow saw Tydeus. They signalled to one another through the dark,
Rejoicing, and each lifted to his shoulders a beloved burden, as
Though restored to life, returned from cruel death. Wordless, not
Daring to weep for long, cruel day being close and the sunrise
Threatening to reveal them, they walked mute through the gloomy
Silence, striding out, grieved to see the dying shadows grow pale.
BkX:384-448 The deaths of Hopleus and Dymas
Fate is hostile to virtue, and Fortune is rarely a friend to great
Actions. Already they could see the camp, and in their minds
Were close and their loads lighter, when a sudden cloud of dust
And noise rose behind them. Brave Amphion led the cavalry,
At his king’s command, to check the guarded camp by night.
He was the first to see something stirring, far off in the plain’s
Pathless regions, unclear to sight (light had not yet dispelled
All the darkness) something indistinct, like bodies in motion.
Suddenly, discerning mischief, he cried out: ‘Halt, whoever
You may be? Clearly they were enemies. The Argives pressed
Ahead: afraid, but not for themselves. Amphion now threatened
The anxious men with death, hurling a spear from some distance,
But aiming high as a warning, pretending to a misdirected throw.
The weapon pierced the ground before Dymas’ eyes, he chancing
To be in front, and checked his step. But great-hearted Aepytus
Had no such thought of losing an opportunity, and transfixed
Hopleus from behind, even grazing the body of Tydeus where
It hung from his shoulders. Hopleus fell, still carrying his noble
Leader, and died still grasping him, happy not to feel the body’s
Subsequent removal, descending unknowing to the cruel shades.
Dymas turned and seeing that the pursuers were close upon him,
Was unsure whether to meet their attack with weapons or prayer.
Anger counselled weapons, Fortune urged him to pray, not fight.
He was uncertain of either course. But anger overcame entreaty.
He set the pitiful corpse at his feet, twisting the huge tiger-skin
That chanced to clothe his back to the left to act as a shield, then
Stood firm, presenting his drawn sword, facing their weapons,
Prepared equally to kill or die. So a lioness with cubs, attacked
In her wild lair by Numidian hunters, standing over her young
Gnashes her teeth in grim and piteous manner, in her confusion;
She could dislodge the men and shatter their weapons in her jaws,
But love for her offspring fills her savage heart and in her fury
She still looks for her cubs. Now Tydeus’ left hand was cut away,
Though Amphion forbade desecration, and Parthenopaeus’ body
Was dragged about by the hair. Only then, too late, Dymas asked
For quarter, and lowering his sword pleaded: ‘By the cradle of
Bacchus born of the lightning, by Ino’s flight, by the tender years
Of your Palaemon, handle him more gently! If any of you delight
In sons at home, if any here is a father, grant the boy his meagre
Handful of dust and a little fire. He asks it, his mute face makes
Request. Give me to the wild beasts; it is more fitting that I am
Food for the carrion crows, since I dared him to fight this war.’
‘Not yet,’ Amphion replied, ‘tell me first, if you are so eager
To bury your king, what battle plan the cowardly Argives make;
What is it, broken and weary as they are, that they intend? Out
With it, and quickly. Then take your leader and your life, go
Freely and inter him.’ The Arcadian shuddered and drove his
Blade, hilt and all, into his breast: ‘That would be all I lacked
To crown my misfortune, that I should turn traitor and dishonour
Argos in her distress! Nothing is worth that price nor would he
Have wished to win burial thus.’ So saying he hurled himself
On the boy’s corpse, bleeding from his deep wound, with these
Last words: ‘Let me grant you this funeral shroud at least!’ So,
A brave and noble pair, Aetolian Hopleus and Arcadian Dymas
That noted warrior, breathed out their mighty spirits embracing
The kings they had loved, and delighting in death. Hallowed,
You too will live in memory throughout the ages, though my
Song rises from a lesser lyre than Maro’s, and perhaps his
Euryalus shall not scorn your company among the shades,
And Phrygian Nisus’ glory shall grant you entrance there.
BkX:449-508 Capaneus leads the attack on Thebes
Now fierce Amphion sent report of the action to the king,
Informing him of the enemy’s guile, restoring the captive
Bodies. He himself went to taunt the besieged Pelasgi,
And flaunt the severed heads of their countrymen. From
Their battlements meanwhile the Argives saw Thiodamas
Returning, and were unable to contain their outburst of joy.
Discerning the shields and drawn swords red with blood
From the recent slaughter, fresh cries rose to the mighty
Heavens, and the warriors leaned from the upper ramparts,
Each man eager to greet his friends. Likewise when a nest
Of fledglings spy their mother in the air flying homewards,
They long to reach her, hang from the rim, gaping, about
To fall, did she not spread her feathers to prevent them,
And rebuke them with her careful wings. While the men
Told their tale of the covert action, and summarised their
Silent killing, their joyous embraces granting satisfaction
To their friends, and awaited Hopleus, and complained
At Dymas’ delay, behold, the leader of the Theban troops,
Amphion, arrived on swift wings. He was not pleased by
His tally of dead for long, seeing the field drenched by
The warm blood of Thebes’ countless host and their army
Expiring in ruin. A trembling seized him, such as grips those
Touched by a fire from heaven and, shuddering, his voice
Sight and strength failed as one. His horse, of its own free
Will, turned about, as he groaned, and the squadron fled
Kicking up dust behind it. They had not yet reached Thebes’
Gates when the Argive cohort, buoyed by the night’s success,
Charged onto the field. Over the limbs and weapons of those
Fallen, over earth fouled by blood, over mounds of the dying,
The horses thundered, while a bloody rain bathed and clogged
The chariot wheels. The warriors relished taking that path, as
Though in their pride they trampled Thebes and Sidonian roofs
In the pools of blood. Capaneus urged them on: ‘Your valour
Has been hidden long enough, Pelasgians. Now, now will
The victory this day shall witness be glorious to me; come,
Openly with me, through dust and clamour, before all eyes.
I too bear prescient omens in the dread fury of my drawn
Sword.’ So he spoke, and King Adrastus and his son-in-law,
Polynices, burned with ardour, and the augur followed now
More sadly. Soon they were near the walls (while Amphion
Was still relaying the new disaster) and would have entered
The unfortunate city there and then, if Megareus, on a high
Watchtower, had not shouted in an instant: ‘Close every gate,
Men, the enemy is approaching, barricade the gates all round.’
Sometimes excess of fear grants strength: swiftly every gate
Was barred; except the Ogygian where Echion was slow to
Close it and the bold Spartan warriors broke through,
Only to fall at the threshold: you Panopeus, who lived on
The slopes of Taygetus; and you Oebalus, a swimmer in
The chill Eurotas; and you O Alcidamas, victor on every
Wrestling ground and lately a winner in the Nemean dust,
Whose first gloves were tied by Pollux, Tyndareus’ son,
Himself, eyes seeking your mentor’s bright constellation;
Though the god himself has set; his star deserting you all.
One the Oebalian forest shall mourn; one the Spartan girl’s
Deceptive shore by that river where Jove played the swan;
One Diana’s Amyclaean Nymphs, that one whose mother,
That taught him the rules and wise precepts of battle, shall
Complain that he learned his lesson only too well. So Mars,
Raged at the vulnerable threshold of Echionian Thebes.
BkX:509-551 The Argives attack the gates and walls
At length Acron, shoving with his shoulders, Ialmenides
Thrusting with the full force of his body, turned the timber
Of the bronze-clad gate on its hinges, both straining like
The groaning bullocks that plough Pangaea’s fallow soil.
Their efforts achieved both gain and loss, enemy soldiers
Trapped inside, but their own comrades shut out. Greek
Ormenus fell within. As Theban Amyntor stretched out
His hands in a flood of entreaties, his neck was severed,
And his head, its tongue still moving, fell to the ground,
His fine necklet, drenched with blood, falling from his
Throat onto the hostile sand. Meanwhile the ramparts
Were breached, the first ranks of the defenders lacking
Courage and retreating. The Argive infantry reached
The walls, but horses balked at leaping the wide moat;
They halted trembling fearing the gap, startled at being
Urged forward: now they make to plunge from the lip,
Now of their own accord they rear against the harness.
Some men tore away defensive lines set in the ground,
Others toppled barriers in front of the gates, or sweated
To remove iron palisades and push stones from their
Base with rams tipped by echoing bronze. Some hurled
Torches at the roofs, exulting when they lodged firmly,
Some mined the foundations, or tested the hollow towers
Blindly from beneath the linked shields of their testudo.
But the Thebans occupied every high point on the walls,
And, as their only course of action, hurled fire-blackened
Stakes against the enemy; bright steel javelins; fire-balls
That ignited as they flew through the air; even the stones
From the walls. The battlements poured out a fierce hail
While the windows, defended, emitted whistling darts.
Like gales that lurk in the clouds above Malea, or high
Ceraunia, and gather over the darkened hills to burst
Against ships’ sails, the Theban weapons overwhelmed
The Argive troops. But the warriors refused to avert their
Faces or chests from the dreadful onslaught, and faced
The walls, oblivious to danger, pre-occupied with their
Weapons alone. Antheus was circling the walls in his
Scythed chariot when the plunging weight of a Theban
Spear struck him from above. The reins were torn from
His hand, and thrown backwards he was caught by his
Greaves encasing dying flesh. A mischance in battle,
Astounding to behold, his shield dragged on the ground,
The dust was ploughed by the smoking wheels, as
His spear traced a third furrow, while the lolling head
Followed making a long trail in the dust, the broad wake
Marked by his backward-streaming hair showing plain.
BkX:552-627 Tiresias prophesies
Now the trumpet’s mournful clangour batters at the city,
Breaking through blocked portals with its piercing bray.
Covering the approaches, at each gateway, stands a fierce
Ensign-bearer, displaying to all their disasters and victories.
Within, the scene is dire. Mars himself scarcely delighted
In the sight. The frenzied city was maddened by terror:
Grief, Madness, Panic and blind Flight encompassed by
Darkness tore it apart in a chaos of discord. You would
Have thought the battle was within. The heights seethed
With movement, the streets were confused with cries,
And in their minds they saw fire and sword on every
Side, and themselves weighed down by cruel chains:
Fear consumes the future. Now they thronged the roofs
And temples, the unyielding altars surrounded by lament.
The same terror gripped all ages. Old men summoned
Death, the young turned red then pale, hallways shook
To the cries of women wailing. Children wept without
Understanding, troubled, and frightened simply by their
Mothers’ tears. Driven by love, the women’s despair
Showed no shame: they handed their husbands’ weapons,
Roused anger and courage in them, exhorted them, ran
Alongside, and never ceased to point, groaning, to their
Houses and their little children. So, when a shepherd has
Disturbed wild bees, while plundering their hive in some
Stony cavern, the savage swarm hum loudly, exciting
Each other with their buzzing, and fly at the enemy’s
Face; then, wings failing, they lament, surrounding
The golden nest with its honeyed cells, pressing their
Bodies against the combs that cost them so much labour.
The crowd’s sentiments were divided, a conflict sowing
The seeds of discord: some called (not quietly, but openly
With loud shouts) for the restoration of Polynices as king,
Losing, in their fear, all respect for Eteocles: ‘Let the exile
Return and reign for his year as agreed: let the unfortunate
Man revisit his Cadmean home and his father’s blindness.
Why should we pay in blood for a deceitful and perjurious
Crime perpetrated by the king?’ Others cried: ‘It is too late
To invoke their pact. Polynices will seek total victory now.’
Others again, a suppliant throng, begged Tiresias, tearfully,
As the sole consolation in time of trouble, to read the future.
He kept the gods’ decrees suppressed, concealed in his heart:
‘Did our leader credit my advice and warnings before when
I opposed this treacherous warfare? Yet, wretched Thebes,
Doomed to perish if I am silent, I shall endure the sound of
Your destruction, feeling the Argive flames warm my empty
Sockets. Piety; let me concede; ready the altars, girl, let us
Make enquiry of the gods.’ Manto obeyed, and her keen
Vision reported to him that the crimson flame of the altar
Fire split in two, yet a bright tip rose clearly in the midst;
Then she described to him how it twisted in a double spiral,
In the phantom image of a snake, wavering with fragmentary
Redness: and thus Manto illuminated her father’s darkness.
Tiresias embraced the wreathed flames a while, breathing
The prophetic vapours, his face filled with passion. His hair
Rose in dread and dismay, wild tresses lifting the trembling
Ribbons. You might have thought his blind orbs had vision,
That the long-exhausted colour had returned to his cheeks.
At length he gave voice to his seething frenzy: ‘Listen,
O guilty scions of Labdacus, to the final sacrifice the gods
Require. Sweet salvation comes, but by a harsh road. Mars’
Serpent demands a cruel offering, and the rites for the dead.
Whoever is the youngest of the people of the snake let him
Die. Only in this way will victory be granted. Happy is
The man who shall leave this life to win so great a prize.’
Creon stood beside the prophetic seer’s cruel altar, saddened
But until now only mourning his country’s and the common
Fate: suddenly he felt Tiresias’ words as an immense lightning
Bolt, stricken, as though a flying javelin had pierced his breast,
Knowing that his son Menoeceus was the one required, for
Deep dread turned the father’s heart to ice, and fear persuaded.
He stood there anguished and in shock, as the Sicilian shore
Receives the waves thrown back by the Libyan surge. Now
He begged in vain for the seer, filled with Apollo’s power
As he was and demanding action, to be silent; now grovelling
At his feet, now clasping his mouth tight shut as he chanted.
Already Rumour grasping the sacred utterance flew with it
In her embrace, and soon all of Thebes proclaimed the oracle.
BkX:628-685 Divine Courage inspires Menoeceus
Clio, come now, since the ages and the annals of antiquity
Are in your keeping, recount the tale that is in your memory:
Tell how the youth was inspired to delight in glorious death
(Since such ardour is not stirred in men except by the gods).
Divine Courage, attendant on Jupiter’s throne, from which
She is only rarely granted to the world so Earth may know her,
(Either when the almighty Father gifts her to us, or she herself
Deigns to enter the mind that can receive her as she did then)
Leapt down rejoicing from the celestial regions – the bright
Stars gave way for her as she fell, the heroic fires she herself
Has placed in the sky; and now she trod the earth, although
Her gaze is never far from the heavens. She thought it well
To alter her looks, and appear as prophetic Manto, so that
Her words might be believed entire; and cunningly shed
Her former aspect. The power and severity left her eyes,
But something of the beauty remained, with softer aspect.
She laid aside her sword, replacing all with a seer’s robe,
Whose folds descend, while a sacred ribbon is bound about
Her formal tresses (replacing victory’s laurels), though her
Austere countenance, and long stride, yet betray her divinity.
So Omphale, Hercules’ Lydian wife, smiled to see him bereft
Of his bristling hides, huge shoulders bursting the Sidonian
Robes as he broke the distaffs and ruined the beaten drums.
Courage found you, Menoeceus, standing near the Dircaean
Gate; not unfit for the sacrifice required; worthy of the deed.
The entrance to the massive gateway was unbarred, and you
And warlike Haemon were laying the Danaans low, though
You took the lead despite both being of one blood, brothers
In all things. The dead were piled around. Every dart found
Its mark, every blow wrought slaughter (even though Divine
Courage had not yet appeared); neither mind nor heart rested.
His eager weapons had no respite, the very Sphinx, guardian
Emblem of his helmet, seemed maddened; her image seemed
Alive, roused by the sight of blood, glittering as the spattered
Bronze gleamed. But the goddess stayed his hand and sword
As he fought: ‘O, great-hearted youth, whom Mars would know,
Above all others, to be of Cadmus’ warlike seed, leave these
Petty skirmishes; not such is the due your courage owes you.
The stars summon you: think more nobly, and you shall raise
Your spirit to the heavens! For this my Tiresias has raved at
The blessed altars; flames and entrails will it; Apollo urges.
They demand an earth-born hero to save our country’s blood.
Rumour chants the prophecy, the people of Cadmus rejoice,
Trusting in you: feel the god’s inspiration: grasp a noble fate.
Go hasten, I beg, before Haemon, behind, takes your place.’
So she spoke and, as he hesitated, stroked his chest, silently
With her great hand and left her influence in his heart. No
More swiftly does a cypress tree blasted by lightning feel
The angry flames from root to tip, than that youth possessed
By divine power; spirit exalted; felt the love of glorious death.
Seeing her walk and bearing as she turned away; how ‘Manto’
Rose from earth to the sky; he cried, wonderingly: ‘Whichever
Deity you are that summons me, I follow; I hasten to obey.’
Even as he went, he stabbed Agreus of Pylos who threatened
The rampart. The armour-bearers relieved him of his burden.
A delighted crowd at his entry hailed him now as their saviour,
A bringer-of-peace, and their god, filling him with noble fire.
BkX:686-737 Cleon seeks to dissuade him
Now, breathlessly, he was making his way to the battlements,
Pleased to have avoided his parents in their distress, when
He met Cleon, his father, and both stood still, eyes downcast,
Neither speaking. Cleon was the first to begin: ‘What event
Brings you from the battle? What do you seek more urgent
Than the war? Tell me, son, I pray you. Why so grim, why
This pallor in your cheeks? Why do your ferocious eyes
Not meet your father’s gaze? You’ve heard the seer’s utterance,
That’s plain. Son, I beg you, by your years and mine, by your
Unhappy Mother’s breast, my son, do not believe the prophet!
Would the gods deign to inspire an impious old man with
Empty sockets in his hollow face, a punishment like that of vile
Oedipus? What if this is treachery, a cunning ruse of the king,
Who in his desperate state fears our nobility, and your courage,
Notable among the generals? Perhaps the words thought to be
The god’s are his; and his, the command. Rein in your hot mood,
Grant time, exercise a brief delay; impulse is ever a bad master.
Grant your father this request, I beg you. Then your brow may
Be marked by old age’s grey hairs, and you yourself become
A parent, and live, brave boy, to fear as I do. Do not leave us
A house bereft. Do other fathers and their children move you?
For shame! First have pity on your own. That is piety, that is
True honour: the rest is only glory, vain honours, reputation
Wrapped in death. I am no coward that seeks to dissuade you.
Go, make war; pierce the Danaan ranks; brave their swords;
Make yourself a target: I will not restrain you. But let me wash
Away your streaming blood with my tears and let me heal your
Quivering wounds, and send you time and again into cruel battle.
Such is what Thebes requires.’ He clasped his son’s neck then
Held his hands, but neither words nor tears moved the young
Man, pledged to the gods. Rather, at their prompting, he chose
To keep his own counsel, and deceive his father, allay his fears:
‘Ah, good father, you are mistaken, you are ignorant of what we
Should truly fear. The commands or utterances of frenzied seers
Trouble me not nor move me with their untruths (let the cunning
Tiresias sing them to himself and his daughter) no not if Apollo
Himself were to ope his shrine and rave in my face. But my dear
Brother’s grievous mischance brings me back to the city of my
Own free will. Haemon groans, between their lines and ours,
Barely out of the dust of battle, Argos almost had him – but I
Delay. Go, comfort him in his uncertain state, tell the bearers
To take care, and carry him gently. I go to find Aetion, skilled
In healing wounds and calling back a life that is ebbing away.’
Cutting short his speech, he hurried onwards; Creon’s mind was
Immersed in a dark fog, his thoughts confused. His duty seemed
Uncertain, his fears in conflict; the Fates urging him to believe.
BkX:738-782 Menoeceus sacrifices himself
Meanwhile warlike Capaneus drove the host emerging from
The open gates over the level field; now cavalry squadrons,
Now infantry, now chariots trampling on their driver’s bodies.
His men batter at the high towers too with a continuous hail
Of rocks, routing the enemy bands, with their blood on fire.
Now Capaneus inflicts fresh wounds with swift whirling lead,
Now spins a javelin high with his outstretched arm. No spear
Reaches the battlements but brings down its man, returning
Wet with slaughter. The Pelopean phalanx no longer believe
Tydeus or Hippomedon, Amphiaraus or Parthenopeus, dead:
Rather that the spirits of his friends have merged together in
The one body, so well does Capaneus fill the void they left.
No man’s age or rank or beauty move him. He rages against
Those who fight and those who plead alike. No one opposes
Him for long or hopes for some perverse eventuality of battle.
Far off men dread the frenzied weapons, the fearful plumes
And visor. But pious Menoeceus now took his chosen stand
On the battlement. Holy his looks, more majestic than his
Usual aspect, as though he had descended suddenly from
The heavens. Doffing his helmet, recognizable to all, he
Gazed down on the ranks of warriors and with a loud cry
Called attention to himself and brought silence to the field.
‘Deities of battle, and you O Phoebus, who grant me so noble
A death, grant Thebes the joy I have pledged and bought with
The gift of my blood. Drive back the enemy, and thrust their
Vile remnants on captive Lerna. Let Father Inachus reject his
Inglorious foster-children as they tend their lacerated backs.
But let the price of my death restore temples, land, homes,
Wives and children to the Thebans. If I am pleasing to you
As sacrifice, if my ears heard the prophet’s utterance without
Dismay, and accepted when Thebes still disbelieved, grant
What is due to Amphion’s walls, in exchange for my life,
And appease, I beg you, the father I deceived.’ So he spoke,
And with glittering blade dealt himself a solitary blow, that
Pierced the flesh and freed a noble spirit that disdained its
Body, and grieved to be confined. Bespattering the tower
And walls with blood so purifying them, he plunged into
The midst of the warriors below, still grasping the sword,
His corpse aimed at the fierce Achaeans. But Valour and
Piety seized his body in their arms and carried it gently
To the earth. For his spirit had long since sped to Jupiter’s
Feet, and claimed for itself a place among the noblest stars.
BkX:783-826 His mother Eurydice mourns him
Now, recovering the body without effort, since the Argives
Withdrew in reverence, of their own accord, the people bore
The hero within the walls, with ritual celebration. Carried
On the shoulders of the Theban warriors, in long procession,
All the folk accorded him grateful honour, calling him their
Guardian spirit, above Amphion and Cadmus their founder.
Some heaped his corpse with garlands, some with scattered
Flowers of the spring. His body placed in the ancestral tomb
And their praises done, they returned to battle, while Creon
Mourned with tears, his anger forgotten: and then the mother,
Eurydice, had her chance to lament: ‘Did I nurture you, noble
Boy, as a sacrifice for fierce Thebes, a pious scapegoat, as
Though I was some worthless creature’s mother? What sin
Have I committed? Which of the gods hates me so? I saw
No son return to me in monstrous union. I bore no grandchild,
Through a fatal marriage with my own child. And yet, see you,
Jocasta has her sons, and beholds them still captains and kings.
Must I make cruel offering in war (was such your pleasure, god
Of the lightning bolt?) so that those brothers, sons of Oedipus,
Might take turns with the crown? Why do I complain though
Of gods and men? It was you, cruel Menoeceus, who, above all,
Hastened to kill your unhappy mother. Why such love of death?
What cursed madness seized your mind? What did I conceive?
What did I bear? A child so unlike myself. Surely it was Mars’
Serpent and the earth flowered with our ancestor’s new-born
Weapons – hence that wretched courage, and all too much of
That war-god’s fire in your heart, nothing of your mother. See,
Destroyed of your own free will, you go to the shades, without
The Fates so wishing. I feared Capaneus’ weapons and the Danai,
But this hand I should have feared, this and the weapon I gave
You in my foolishness. See how deeply the blade entered his
Throat? The Danai themselves could not have struck deeper.’
The unhappy woman would have gone on speaking, filling
The world with her complaint, but her companions led her
Away and her maids, comforting her regardless, kept her to
Her chamber, where she sat, her cheeks scarred by her nails.
She took no note of daylight or words of entreaty nor, bereft
Of mind and voice, turned her distraught gaze from the ground.
So a fierce tigress whose cubs have been taken lies alone in her
Scythian lair, and licks the paw-prints on the still-warm stone;
Her rage gone, the wilderness quiet, her rabid hunger stilled,
Flocks and herds pass unafraid, as she lies there and watches;
Where are those for whom she stored nourishment in her body,
Those to whom she, long awaited, might bring her rich prey?
BkX:827-882 Capaneus again assaults the city
So much for the war of weapons, trumpets, steel and wounds:
Now Capaneus must be brought to battle with the starry sky.
I may no longer sing in that manner poets so often adopt;
I must ask a more exalted inspiration of the Aonian groves.
Goddesses dare all with me! Did a frenzy, out of the depths
Of night grip the warrior? Did the Stygian Sisters take arms
Against Jupiter, following Capaneus’ banner? Or was he
Filled with courage beyond all bounds, a reckless thirst for
Renown, and the fame that a glorious death may bring? Or
Was his previous success the mere harbinger of disaster,
The gods in their anger, enticing mortals to their doom?
Now Capaneus scorned the ground, tiring of that slaughter
On the plain. His and the Argives’ missiles were exhausted
Long since, and his arm was weary. He gazed up at the sky,
Then with a grim look took the measure of the high towers,
And had a long wooden scaling ladder with countless rungs
Brought forward. Terrible from afar he brandished a blazing
Torch of flaring oak, that reddened his arms, reflecting fire
From his shield. ‘This is the gateway to Thebes,’ he cried,
‘This is the way my rising courage commands me to go, here
Where the walls are slippery still with Menoeceus’ blood.
I will test what his sacrifice achieved, and whether Apollo
Deceives.’ So saying he mounted the ladder step by step,
To gain the besieged city. So the giants appeared amongst
The clouds, when impious earth was piled high as though
To overtop the gods, with Jove anxious since Ossa almost
Reached him before vast Pelion had been heaped upon it.
Then the Thebans, truly terrified by this ultimate act of fate,
(Thinking the city faced final ruin and Bellona had arrived
With blood-stained brand to level its towers to the ground)
Vied to launch huge stones and stakes from every rooftop,
And whirl loaded slings – how ineffective javelins proved
And cloud-wandering arrows! – eagerly winding catapults,
And hurling iron masses. The missiles flung, from above
Or behind, failed to bring him down. Balanced in thin air,
As though he were treading firmly on the level ground,
Capaneus climbed upwards despite that mighty avalanche.
Thus a river will batter against a bridge with endless waves,
Piling against the ancient timbers, till gaps appear between
Its stones and beams fall; all the more violently the river,
Sensing success, hammers away and drags at the failing
Mass with its powerful surge until its swift flow loosens
All the bolts, and, victorious, runs smoothly, its course free.
At last Capaneus towered above the long-sought summit,
And standing erect gazed at Thebes fearful below, terrified
By his vast shadow. Now he threw taunts at Amphion’s
Turrets, their defendants cowering in dismay: ‘For shame!
Are these frail things the walls that danced to his lyre’s
Unwarlike song, in that oft-told lying fable of Thebes?
How hard can it be to level walls raised by gentle music?’
With which he attacked the blocks of stone with hands
And feet, demolishing wooden tiers and flooring in his
Path. The bridging planks flew apart, the stone ties of
Roof coverings gave way, the battlements were dismantled.
Re-utilising them, he hurled broken fragments onto houses
And temples below crushing the city with its own defences.
BkX:883-939 The death of Capaneus
But now the gods who favoured Thebes or Argos gathered
Round Jove, shouting their various complaints; the Father,
Trying to be fair to all, witnessing their mighty outbursts
Of temper, knew that only he himself could control them.
Bacchus groaned as his stepmother watched, and looking
Askance at his father, cried: ‘Where is your fierce hand,
And the flames that, sadly, formed my cradle? Where, oh,
Where is the lightning-bolt?’ Apollo, whose oracle helped
Found Thebes, grieved for the city; Hercules, weighing
Lerna against it, stood there irresolute, with strung bow;
Perseus, Danae’s winged son, lamented for his mother’s
Argos. Venus wept for Harmonia’s people, and fearful
Of her husband Vulcan, stood apart from him, gazing
At Mars in silent anger. Bold Minerva rebuked the Aonian
Gods, while Juno stood there, mute, tormented with fury.
Yet none of this troubled Jupiter’s calm. The noise had
Subsided when, behold, Capaneus’ voice was heard in
The heavens: ‘Do none of the gods defend trembling
Thebes? Where are those idle foster-children of this
Accursed land, where are Bacchus and Hercules? I am
Tired of attacking weaklings; come then (for who is
Worthier to face me?) See, I hold Semele’s tomb and
Ashes. Come, battle against me with your fires, Jupiter!
Or are you only brave when terrifying a frightened girl
With your thunder, or razing her father Cadmus’ towers?
The gods, lamenting his words, groaned. Jupiter himself,
Merely laughing at the madman, shook his sacred locks:
‘If the giants’ audacity at Phlegra failed, what can a man
Expect? Must I strike you, too?’ The crowd of deities urge
Their patient leader on, from every side, grinding their
Teeth and demanding militant retaliation, nor does Juno,
Subdued, dare any longer to thwart the Fates. Now even
The heavenly region thundered of its own accord, without
Jove’s signal; clouds gathered without a wind, and the rain
Rushed forth. You might have thought giant Iapetus had
Slipped his Stygian chains, or Ischia and Aetna, overcome,
Had released their prisoners to the sky above. The gods
Were ashamed of such apprehensions, but when they saw
Capaneus stand amidst the whirling globe, wildly demanding
Battle, they silently turned pale, astonished, unsure if Jove
Would launch his lightning-bolt. Over the Ogygian tower’s
Summit, the clouds began to rumble darkly and the heavens
To veil themselves in gloom. Yet Capaneus still clung there,
On the now shrouded heights, crying out as lightning flared
From the heart of the restless storm: ‘These, yes these flames
I should deploy against Thebes now, re-lighting my torch,
Re-kindling its smouldering oak-wood.’ At these very words
The lightning struck him, hurled with Jupiter’s full strength.
First the plumes on his helm were charred and the scorched
Boss of his shield fell away; then all his limbs were aglow.
The ranks fell back, both armies terrified, anticipating his
Plunge from the heights wondering whom his fiery corpse
Might strike. He felt the fire hiss, in his helm and hair, then
Within him, and trying to clutch the chain-mail with his
Hand, touched the glowing remains at his breast. Yet still he
Stood there expelling his last breath towards the stars, his
Smoking frame pressed to the stones he hated. Nor would
He have fallen if his earthly powers had not deserted him,
His spirit freed. Had his body failed him a moment later,
He would even have greeted Jove’s second lighting-bolt.
End of Book X