Georgics: Book III
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.
- BkIII:1-48 Introduction
- BkIII:49-122 Breeding Stock
- BkIII:123-156 Care of the Sire and Dam
- BkIII:157-208 Care of Calves and Foals
- BkIII:209-283 The Dangers of Desire
- BkIII:284-338 The Care of Sheep and Goats
- BkIII:339-383 The Herdsmen of Africa and Scythia
- BkIII:384-439 Tending the Flocks
- BkIII:440-477 The Treatment of Diseases
- BkIII:478-566 The Plague
I’ll sing of you, great Pales, also, and you Apollo, famed shepherd
of Amphrysus, and of you, woods and rivers of Mount Lycaeus.
Now all the other themes are too well known,
that might have charmed an idle mind with song.
Who hasn’t heard of cruel Eurystheus,
or the altars of wicked Busiris?
Who has not told of the boy, Hylas, and Latona’s Delos,
and Hippodame, and Pelops, known for his ivory shoulder,
fearless with horses? I must try a path, by which I too
can rise from the earth and fly, victorious, from men’s lips.
If life lasts, I’ll be the first to return to my country,
bringing the Muses with me from the Aonian peak:
I’ll be the first, Mantua, to bring you Idumaean palms,
and I’ll set up a temple of marble by the water, on that green plain,
where great Mincius wanders in slow curves,
and clothes his banks with tender reeds.
Caesar will be in the middle, and own the temple.
I, the victor, conspicuous in Tyrian purple, will drive
a hundred four-horse chariots by the river, in his honour.
For me, all Greece will leave behind, Alpheus, and the groves
of Molorchus, to compete in races and box with raw-hide gloves.
I’ll bring gifts, my head wreathed in cut olive-leaves.
Even now it’s a delight to lead the solemn procession
to the sanctuary, and watch the sacrifice of the cattle,
or how the scene vanishes as the facade turns,
and how the purple hangings raise high their embroidered Britons.
In gold and solid ivory, on the doors, I’ll fashion battles
with the tribes of Ganges, the weapons of victorious Quirinus,
and the Nile surging with war, in full flow,
and door columns rising up with ships in bronze.
I’ll add Asia’s tamed cities, the beaten Niphates, the Parthian,
trusting to his arrows, fired behind as he flees,
two trophies taken indeed from diverse enemies,
and two triumphs over nations on either seashore.
Parian marbles will stand there too, living statues,
the Trojans, children of Assaracus, and the names of the race
of Jove, and father Tros, and Apollo, founder of Troy.
Wretched Envy will fear the Furies and Cocytus’s
grim river, Ixion’s coiling snakes and massive wheel,
and Sisyphus’s remorseless stone.
Meanwhile let’s off to the Dryads’ woods, the untouched glades,
no easy demand of yours, Maecenas. Without you
my mind attempts no high themes: come then,
end my lingering delay: Mount Cithaeron calls with loud cries,
the hounds of Taygetus, Epidaurus, tamer of horses:
and the sound doubled by echoes rings from the woods.
Soon I’ll prepare myself to speak of Caesar’s fiery battles,
and take his name forward, famous, for as many years
as Caesar’s are far from immortal Tithonus’s first birth.
BkIII:49-122 Breeding Stock
Whether you choose to nurture horses, in admiration
of the prize of Olympia’s palms, or sturdy oxen, for the plough,
select the mother’s stock carefully. The best-shaped cow
is fierce, her head ugly, with plenty of neck,
and dewlaps hanging down from chin to leg:
then there’s no end to her long flanks: all’s large,
even the feet: and there are shaggy ears under crooked horns.
One marked with blotches, and whiteness, wouldn’t displease me,
shirking the yoke, and also fierce with her horns,
and more like a bull in looks, tall overall,
sweeping her hoof prints with the tip of her tail as she walks.
The age for bearing, and regular breeding,
starts after the fourth, and ends before the tenth year: else,
they’re not fit for breeding, or strong enough for the plough.
Let loose the males, then, while fertile youth remains in the herd:
send your cattle to mate first, and produce generation
after generation of offspring, through breeding.
The best day’s of life are always the first to vanish,
for mortal beings: disease and old age creep on, and suffering,
and the harshness of cruel death snatches us away.
There’ll always be some cattle whose form you want to alter:
always refresh the stock, and lest you look for what’s already lost,
anticipate, and each year sort the offspring from the herd.
The same selection is needed for horses as for cattle.
Only spend special effort, from their earliest age,
on those you decide to rear for the good of the breed.
The foal from a noble line always steps higher
over the ground, and brings his hooves down more gently:
he dares to lead the way, and attempt menacing rivers,
and commit himself to the unknown bridge,
and not start at idle noise. He has a long neck,
a graceful head, a short belly and solid back,
and his spirited chest is muscular. Chestnuts and greys
are handsome, the least desirable are white, and dun.
Again if distant battle sounds he can’t stand still,
he pricks up his ears, and trembles in his limbs,
and snorts the gathered heat from his nostrils.
His mane is dense, tossed back to fall on his right shoulder:
a double ridge runs along his thighs, his hoof scrapes
the ground, and rings deeply with the solid horn.
Such was Cyllarus, tamed by the reins of Pollux
of Amyclae, and those the Greek poets remember,
Mars’s yoked horses, and great Achilles’s team.
Such too was swift Saturn himself flinging his mane,
a horse’s, over his shoulder, at his wife’s arrival,
filling high Pelion with his shrill neighing, as he fled.
Stable a horse too, when he declines, worn with illness,
or slower with age, don’t forgive his wretched senility.
Old, he’s cold in desire, and works uselessly at a thankless task,
and when he comes to the struggle, he rages in vain,
as a great fire does at times, without force, in the stubble.
So note their age and spirit particularly:
then their other virtues and their bloodline,
and the pain each shows in defeat, the pride in winning.
Have you seen the chariots pour from the barrier,
rushing to attack the flat, competing headlong,
when young men’s hopes are roused, and fear throbs,
draining each exultant heart? On they go with writhing whips,
bending forward to loosen the rein, the red-hot axle turns:
Now low, now lifted high, they seem to be carried
through the void, and leap into the air:
no delay, no rest: a cloud of yellow dust rises,
and they’re wet with foam, and the breath of those pursuing:
so strong the desire for glory, so dear is victory.
Ericthonius was the first who dared to yoke four horses
to his chariot, and stand above the swift wheels, victorious.
The Lapiths of Thessaly gave us the bridle, and the circuit,
mounting on horseback, and teaching the armed rider
to taunt the earth, and gather in his proud paces.
Each requires equal breeding, equally the trainers require
young horses, with fiery spirit and eager for the course:
though some older one may often have driven the enemy
to flight, and claims Epirus or noble Mycenae for his birthplace,
and traces his line of ancestry from Neptune himself.
BkIII:123-156 Care of the Sire and Dam
Noting these observations they busy themselves as the time nears,
and are careful to fatten with solid flesh the one they’ve chosen
as leader and named as head of a herd:
They cut ripe grasses for him, and serve him with water and corn,
lest he’s not more than equal to the flattering effort,
or weak offspring repeat the leanness of their sire.
But they keep female cattle thin deliberately,
and when the familiar desire first urges them to mate,
they deny them foliage, and keep them from the founts.
Often too they goad them to run, and tire them in the heat,
while the threshing-floor groans heavily as the grain is flailed,
while the light chaff is tossed on the rising breeze.
They do this so that the advantage of their fertile soil
isn’t dulled by excess, the idle furrows clogged with mud,
but it will seize on the seed thirstily and bury it deep inside.
Care for the sire begins to fade, and be replaced by that of the dam.
When their months are full, and they wander swollen with young,
don’t anyone allow them to endure the yokes of heavy wagons,
or leap around on the roads, or race around madly, scouring
the meadows, or swim a fast-flowing river.
They graze them in open glades, and by brimming streams,
where there’s moss and the banks are greenest with grass,
and caves shelter them, and a rock casts a long shadow.
There’s a gadfly, its Roman name is asilus, but the Greeks call it,
in their tongue, oestrus, that buzzes round the groves of Silacus,
and the green oaks of Alburnus, in great numbers, fierce,
and high-pitched in sound, and whole herds scatter from it,
through the woods, the breeze, the trees, and banks
of dry Tanagra, stunned, in terror, mad with bellowing.
Juno once worked her terrible anger with this creature,
when she plagued Io, the daughter of Inachus, changed to a heifer.
Keep it away from the pregnant herd, too (since it attacks
more fiercely in the midday heat) by grazing the cattle
when the sun’s newly risen, or the stars are bringing on the night.
BkIII:157-208 Care of Calves and Foals
After their birth all attention’s transferred to the calves:
straight away they brand them, with the mark and name of the herd,
and hold back those they want to rear for breeding, or keep
as sacrifice for the altars, or to plough the soil
and turn rough ground, by breaking the clods.
The rest of the cattle graze on the green grass.
But train those you’ll shape for farm use and duties
as calves, and start them on the path of submission,
while their young minds are adaptable, their age pliant.
First tie loose loops of thin willow round their shoulders:
then when their once free necks are used to servitude,
yoke the bullocks in pairs, joined by the loops themselves,
and force them to take their steps together:
then let them pull empty carts over the ground, often,
and print their tracks on the surface of the dust:
later let the beech-wood axle creak as it strains beneath
its heavy load, a metalled pole dragging the yoked wheels.
Meanwhile don’t feed their untamed youth only on grass
or meagre willow leaves, or marsh plants,
but on the corn crop cut by hand: and your milch-cows
won’t fill the white milking pails after the manner of our fathers
but will dedicate their udders to their sweet calves.
If your efforts are aimed more at war and proud squadrons,
or at gliding by Pisa’s river Alpheus on wheels,
and driving a swift chariot through Jupiter’s grove,
the horse’s first task is to gaze at brave men and warlike weapons,
then endure the trumpets, suffer the groaning of the laden wheels,
and hear the jingling of bridles in the stall:
then to enjoy the trainer’s flattering praise, more and more,
and love the sound of his neck being patted.
And as soon as he’s weaned from his mother’s teats,
let him now and again dare to trust his mouth to soft halters,
while powerless and quivering, still, and ignorant of life.
But when three summers are past and the fourth arrives,
let him start trotting round the ring, his paces falling evenly,
bending his legs in curves alternately, and seeming
as if labouring hard: then let him challenge the wind to race,
and, flying over the open ground, as if free of reigns, let him
barely touch the surface of the sand with the tips of his hooves:
like a dense brooding Northerly from the Hyperborean coasts,
that brings wild weather from Scythia, with rainless cloud:
when the deep wheat-fields and the overflowing plains shiver
to the gentle gusts, the crowns of the trees give out a rustling,
and long waves drive towards the shore:
it blows, sweeping over fields and seas alike in its flight.
Such a horse will either sweat towards the winning post at Elis
over the widest space of ground, flinging bloody foam
from his mouth or better still, with tender neck, will pull
the Belgian war-chariot. But only let colts fatten on coarse mash
when they’re broken in, since before being broken
their spirits will be raised too high, and when caught they’ll balk
at the pliant whip, and refuse to obey the harsh curb.
BkIII:209-283 The Dangers of Desire
But, whether dealing with cattle or horses is more pleasing
to you, no diligence increases their powers as much
as keeping them from desire, and the pangs of hidden passion.
And so the bull’s banished to distant lonely pastures,
behind an opposing hill, and over a wide river,
or he’s kept locked up in a well-provided pen.
Because the sight of a female slowly inflames him
and wastes his strength, and she with her sweet attractions
stops him from recalling grasses and groves, and often
she drives her proud lovers to fight for her with their horns.
The lovely heifer grazes in Sila’s great southern forest:
the bulls in turn do battle, with great force
and frequent wounds, black blood bathes their bodies,
with mighty bellowing their horns are forced against
the sturdy enemy: the woods and the sky echo from end to end.
The belligerents are not accustomed to herding together,
but the defeated one leaves, and lives far off in unknown exile.
He often bemoans his shame and the proud winner’s blows,
and the love he has lost, without yet taking vengeance,
and gazing at his stall he’s abandoned his ancient lands.
So he takes great care of his strength, and rests all night
on a naked bed among hard stones,
with sharp leaves and pointed reeds to eat.
And he tests himself, and learns to attack tree trunks
with angry horns, lashes out at the winds with his blows,
and paws the sand in practice for the fight.
When he’s collected his strength and renewed his powers,
he shows intent, and runs headlong at his careless enemy:
just as when a wave starts to whiten in mid-ocean,
it raises its breaker out of the furthest depths,
and, rolling towards the shore, echoes savagely against the rocks,
and falls like nothing less than a mountain: and the water boils
from the deep in vortices, and churns up black sand.
Every species on earth, man and creature, and the species
of the sea, and cattle and bright-feathered birds,
rush about in fire and frenzy: love’s the same for all.
At no other time does the lioness forget her cubs so,
or wander the plain more fiercely, nor does the rumpled bear
wreak death and destruction more widely in the woods:
then the wild boar is savage, and the tigress at her worst:
ah it’s dangerous to wander then in Libya’s deserted fields.
Do you see how a tremor seizes the stallion’s whole body
if so much as an odour rises on the familiar breeze?
The rider’s reins and the savage whip won’t hold him,
or rocks, or hollowed cliffs, or rivers in his way,
that carve the hills away with their whirling waves.
The great Sabine boar himself rushes in, whetting his tusks,
and paws the ground in front, rubs his sides against a tree,
hardening his shoulders here and there against wounds.
What of Leander, through whose bones harsh love
winds the great flame? See how he swims the straits
in a confusion of steep waterspouts, late in the dark of night.
Heaven’s might doorway thunders above him, and the waves
striking the cliffs re-echo: his unlucky parents cannot stop him,
nor the girl who’ll die because of his cruel fate.
What of Bacchus’s spotted lynxes, and the fierce wolf species,
and dogs? What of the battles waged by peaceful stags?
Surely the frenzy of mares is conspicuous among them all:
Venus herself endowed them with passion, at that time
when the four Potnian horses tore Glaucus apart with their teeth.
Love leads them over Mount Gargarus, and the roaring Ascanius:
they climb mountains and swim rivers. And as soon as
the flame has crept deep into their eager marrow,
(in spring above all, because spring revives the heat in their bones)
they all take to the high cliffs, faces towards the west winds,
catching the light air, and often without union,
made pregnant by the breeze (a marvellous tale)
they run over rocks and crags and through low-lying valleys,
not towards your rising, East wind, nor the sun’s, but north
and north-west, or where the darkest southerlies rise
and cloud the skies with freezing rain.
Only then does the poisonous hippomanes, the horse-madness,
as the shepherds rightly call it, drip slowly from their sex,
hippomanes that evil stepmothers often collect
and mix with herbs and not un-harmful spells.
BkIII:284-338 The Care of Sheep and Goats
But meanwhile time flies, flies irretrievably,
while, captivated by passion, I describe each detail.
Enough of the herds: a second part of my subject remains,
the tending of woolly flocks and hairy goats.
Here’s labour: sturdy farmers place your hope of praise in this.
I’m in no doubt how hard it is to capture it in words,
and so add honour to a humble theme:
But sweet love seizes me and carries me over the empty heights
of Parnassus: a delight to roam the ridges, where no
other track runs down to Castalia over the gentle slopes.
Now, revered Pales, now we must sing higher.
Firstly I say that sheep should crop the grass
in comfortable pens, until leafy summer quickly returns,
and the hard ground under them should be covered
with straw and handfuls of fern, so the chill ice doesn’t harm
the tender flock, bringing mange and ugly foot-rot.
Moving on, I tell you to feed the goats on leafy arbutus,
provide them with fresh water, place their pens
out of the wind, facing the winter sun, and midday heat,
while cold Aquarius sets, moistening the vanishing year.
We must guard the goats as well with no less care,
and the profit will be no less, though the fleeces of Miletus
dyed in Tyrian purple may change hands for a higher price.
These produce more offspring, a large supply of milk:
the more the milking pail foams from the drained udders,
the richer the streams will flow when the teats are squeezed.
No less do herdsmen clip the grey beards on the chins
of Cinyphian goats, and their hairy bristles, for the use
of the camps, and as coverings for wretched sailors.
They graze in the woods and on the heights of Lycaeus,
among bristling briars, and thorn-bushes that love the heights.
And they remember to return home, themselves, leading their kids,
and with udders so full they can scarcely mount the threshold.
So because they need man’s attention less, protect them
with all due care, from the ice and snowy winds,
happily bringing them fodder and twigs as food,
and don’t close up your hay-lofts through the winter.
But when joyful summer, at the west-wind’s call,
sends sheep and goats to the pastures and the glades,
let’s run to the cool fields while Lucifer is setting,
while the day is new, while the grass is still white,
and the dew on the tender blades is sweetest to the flocks.
Then when day’s fourth hour has brought thirst on,
and the plaintive cicadas trouble the trees with their noise,
I’ll order the flocks to drink the running water
from oak troughs, at the side of wells or deep pools:
but in noon heat let them find a shadowy valley,
wherever Jupiter’s vast oak with its ancient trunk
stretches huge branches, or wherever a grove broods,
its sacred shade black with dense elm-trees:
then give them trickling water again and graze them
again till sunset, when the cool evening tempers the air,
and the moon, shedding dew, now feeds the glades,
the shores echoing with halcyons, thorn bushes with finches.
BkIII:339-383 The Herdsmen of Africa and Scythia
Why tell you in verse of the shepherds of Lybia,
their pastures and huts where they live under meagre roofs?
Often day and night for months on end, the flocks wander
and graze deep in the desert with no shelter:
so large are the plains. The African herdsman
carries everything with him, his roof and home,
his weapons, his ‘Spartan’ dogs and ‘Cretan’ quiver:
no differently than the brave Roman, with his country’s weapons,
when he hurries on his road, under a heavy load, and halts
in column, and pitches camp, before his enemy expects him.
But not so where the Scythian tribes are, and Maeotis’s waters,
and where the wild Danube throws up its yellow sand,
and where vast Thracian Mount Rhodope touches the sky.
There they keep the herds penned in, and no grass
is visible on the plains, or leaves on the trees:
but the land far and wide lies formless under mounds of snow
and heaps of ice rising seven metres high.
It’s always winter, always North winds breathing cold.
There the Sun never disperses the pale mists,
neither when he finds high heaven, carried by his team,
nor when he drenches his chariot headlong in Ocean’s red waters.
Ice-floes form suddenly on the running rivers,
and the water soon carries metalled wheels on its back,
once greeting boats and now broad wagons:
Everywhere bronze cracks, clothes freeze as they’re worn,
and they cut out the liquid wine with axes,
whole lakes turn to solid ice, and bristling icicles
harden on their straggling beards.
Meanwhile it snows as well over the whole sky:
cattle die, the vast bodies of the oxen are cased in frost,
and the crowded herds of deer are stunned by the strange weight,
and the tips of their horns barely rise above it.
They hunt these, not by releasing dogs, or with nets, nor by driving
the terrified creatures with their fear of the crimson-feathered ropes,
but men kill them with knives, close to, as they struggle with the
hill of snow against their chests, slaughter them
as they bellow loudly, and carry them home with shouts of joy.
The people live at leisure secure in dugouts, hollowed
from the deep earth, rolling piles of logs to the hearths,
and setting fire to whole elm trunks.
Here they spend the nights at ease, and joyfully imitate
our cups of wine with beer and acidic service-berries.
Such is the wild Hyperborean race living beneath
the seven stars of the Plough, buffeted by Rhipaean Easterlies,
their bodies covered in the tawny pelts of beasts.
BkIII:384-439 Tending the Flocks
If wool’s your object, first clear the rough growth
of burs and thistles: avoid rich pastures,
and start by choosing flocks with soft white fleeces.
But even if a ram’s fleece is of the whitest, if he has so much
as a dark tongue in his moist palate, reject him,
in case he taints the wool of the lambs with dusky spots,
and look for another in the richness of your fields.
It was with such a gift of snowy wool, if it’s to be believed,
that Pan, god of Arcady, charmed and beguiled you, O Moon,
calling you into the deep woods: nor did you reject his call.
But he who desires milk, let him bring clover and lotus
and briny grasses, often, in his own hands, to the pens.
So they’ll desire more water, and stretch their udders more,
and they’ll carry a slight taste of salt in their milk.
Many keep kids from the mothers when they are born,
and at first fasten iron muzzles over their mouths.
The milk obtained at dawn or in daylight hours
they press into cheese at night: what they get in the evening
and at sunset they transport in baskets at dawn (when a shepherd
goes to town): or add a touch of salt and store it for winter.
Don’t let the dogs be your last concern, but feed swift Spartan pups,
and fierce Molassians both, on rich whey. With them as guards
you’ll never fear midnight thieves in the stables, attacks
of wolves, or aggressive robbers behind your back.
Often too you’ll set the timid wild ass running,
and hunt the hare with hounds, with hounds the deer.
Often you’ll raise the wild boar from his woodland lair,
routing him out with the baying pack, and with loud shouts,
through the high hills, drive a huge stag into the nets.
Learn also, to burn perfumed cedar in your stalls,
and drive off offensive water-snakes with Syrian fumes.
Often a viper, deadly to the touch, has lurked
under un-fumigated stalls, coiling there in fear of the light,
or the snake (a bitter plague on the oxen) is used to sliding along
in secret and in shadows, and spraying venom on the cattle,
hugging the ground. Shepherd grip stones in your hands,
grasp sticks, and kill him as he lifts in menace, and, hissing,
swells his neck. Now he’s lowered his timid head deep, in flight,
while he loosens the knot of his coils, and the tip of his long tail,
and the last fold slowly draws away in a sinuous curve.
There’s also that vile water-snake in Calabria’s glades,
writhing its scaly back with erect front,
its length of belly marked with large blotches,
and, while any streams gush from their source,
while the ground’s wet with moisture and rainy southerlies,
he lives in the pools, and, cruelly haunting the banks,
fills his dark jaws with fish and croaking frogs:
when the marsh is dry, and the ground splits with the heat,
he slithers to firm land, and rolling his blazing eyes,
rages in the fields, fierce from thirst, and afraid of the heat.
Don’t let me snatch sweet sleep then under the sky,
or lie stretched out on the grass of some grove,
when, casting his skin, fresh and gleaming with youth,
he slithers along, leaving his eggs and young in the nest,
tall in the sun, flickering a three-forked tongue from his mouth.
BkIII:440-477 The Treatment of Diseases
I’ll teach you about the causes and signs of disease as well.
Vile scabies attacks sheep, when cold rain, and winter
bristling with white frost, sink deep into the quick,
or when unwashed sweats cling to the shorn flock,
and sharp briars tear at their flesh. Therefore
the shepherds immerse the whole flock in the stream,
and the ram with dripping fleece is plunged in the pool,
and released to float down with the current.
Or they smear the body with bitter olive oil lees, after shearing,
and blend silvery foam, and natural sulphur,
with pitch from Ida, rich oily wax, squill,
strong hellebore, and black bitumen.
But no effort is more readily useful to them
than when courage is able to cut open the tip
of an ulcer with a blade: the problem feeds and lives
by being hidden, when the shepherd refuses to set
his healing hand to the wound, and sits there
praying the gods will make all well.
Indeed when the pain slips to the marrow of the bleating victim
raging there, and a dry fever feeds on the limbs,
you do well to avert the fiery heat, and lance a vein,
throbbing with blood, deep in the foot,
as the Bisaltae do by custom, and the eager Scythian
when he flees to Mount Rhodope and the Thracian wilds,
and drinks milk curdled with horses’ blood.
If you see a sheep often drift away into the soft shade,
or crop the tips of the grass-blades listlessly,
or follow at the back, or sink down in the middle of the field
while grazing, or move apart alone late at night,
check the mischief straight away with your knife,
before the deadly infection spreads through the careless crowd.
A hurricane from the sea’s not as thick with driving winds,
as the herds with disease. Sickness doesn’t seize single victims,
but suddenly seizes a whole summer’s effort,
the flock and its promise, and the whole race at the root.
He knows, who sees, even now after so long, the high Alps,
and the forts on the hills by the Danube, and the fields
of Illyrian Timavus: the region empty of shepherds,
and the woodland glades unoccupied, far and wide.
BkIII:478-566 The Plague
Once, wretched weather, from the diseased sky,
visited them, glowing with late summer’s full heat,
and it killed every type of herd, and every wild creature,
poisoned the lakes, and infected the pastures with plague.
The road to death wasn’t simple: but once a fiery thirst,
running through all the veins, had shrivelled the body,
a watery fluid welled up in turn, and absorbed all the bones
into itself, as bit by bit they dissolved with disease.
Often at the moment of honouring the gods, the victim,
standing by the altar, fell dying among the hesitant attendants,
just as the sacred band of white wool encircled it.
Or if the priest had killed the sacrifice before with a knife,
then the altars didn’t blaze when the entrails were placed there,
and the seer when consulted couldn’t give a response:
and the knife beneath it was barely tinged with blood,
and the surface of the sand darkened with a meagre stain.
Then the calves died everywhere in the pleasant grass,
and gave up their sweet spirits beside the full pen:
then madness comes to fawning hounds, and a fierce coughing
shakes the diseased pigs, and chokes them, their throats swelling.
The once victorious horse, wretched in his failing efforts,
and neglectful of the grass, turns from spring water,
and often paws the ground: his ears droop, and a dubious sweat
appears, cold in fact with approaching death: the skin
is dry and hard to the touch, resistant to being stroked.
These are the signs they show before dying in the early days,
but as the plague begins to take its course,
then the eyes blaze and the breath is drawn deeply,
at times with heavy groans, the depths of the chest
strained by long sobs, black blood flows from the nostrils,
and the coarse tongue chokes the blocked throat.
It helped to pour wine juice in through a horn:
this seemed the only assistance for the dying:
Soon even this was fatal: they burned with renewed fury,
and sick to the point of death (may the gods be kinder
to the good, and such delusions be for our enemies!)
they mangled their torn bodies with their bare teeth.
See, the ox falls smoking under the plough’s weight.
and spews blood mixed with foam from his mouth,
and heaves his last groans. The ploughman goes sadly
to unyoke the bullock that grieves for its brother’s death,
and leaves the blade stuck fast in the middle of its work.
No shadows of the deep woods, no soft meadows
can stir its spirits, no stream purer than amber
flowing over the stones, as it seeks the plain: but the depths
of his flanks loosen, and stupor seizes his listless eyes,
and his neck sinks to earth with dragging weight.
What use are his labour and his service? What matter that he turned
the heavy earth with the blade? And yet no gifts of Massic wine
or repeated banquets harmed these creatures:
they graze on leaves and simple grass, for sustenance,
their drink is from clear fountains, and rivers racing
in their course, and no cares disturb their healthy rest.
At that time, and no other, they say they searched the land
for bullocks for Juno’s rites, and the chariot was pulled
by unmatched wild oxen to her high altar.
So they scratch the ground with harrows, painfully,
and bury the seed with their own fingernails, and drag
the creaking wagons, with straining shoulders, over the high hills.
The wolf tries no tricks around the sheepfold,
and doesn’t prowl by night among the flocks: a stronger
concern tames him. Timid deer and swift stags
wander among the dogs now, and around the houses.
Now the wave washes up the children of the vast deep,
and all swimming things, like shipwrecked corpses, at the edge
of the shore: strange seals swim into the rivers.
The viper dies, defended in vain by her winding nest,
and the water-snake, his scales standing up in terror.
Even the air is unkind to the birds, and they fall headlong,
leaving their lives behind high in the clouds.
Even a change of pasture no longer helps, and the remedies
looked for cause harm: the masters of medicine die,
Chiron, Phillyra’s son, and Melampus, son of Amythaon.
Pale Tisiphone rages, and, sent to the light from the Stygian dark,
drives Disease and Fear in front of her, while day by day
raising herself higher, she lifts her greedy head.
The rivers and dry banks and sloping hills resound
to the bleating of flocks and the endless lowing.
And now she wreaks havoc in the herds, and the bodies
pile up in the very stalls, decaying with vile disease,
until men learn to cover them with earth and bury them in pits.
As the hides cannot be used, nor can the meat
be cleansed with water, or be cooked on the fire.
They couldn’t even shear the fleeces, consumed
by plague and filth, nor touch the decaying yarn:
truly if anyone handled their hateful clothing,
feverish blisters and foul sweat would cover
his stinking limbs, and he’d not long to wait
before the accursed fire was eating his infected body.
End of Book III