Translated by A. S. Kline © 2004 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
Ovid’s numerous references throughout the Fasti to the rising and setting of stars and constellations, further detailed in the relevant index entries, have been checked using a computer-based astronomical program (Redshift 4) set to Rome in 8AD. The Kalends, Nones, Ides, and major Festivals of each month are identified in the headings against the relevant days.
I’ll speak of divisions of time throughout the Roman year,
Their origins, and the stars that set beneath the earth and rise.
Germanicus Caesar, accept this work, with a calm face,
And direct the voyage of my uncertain vessel:
Not scorning this slight honour, but like a god,
Receiving with favour the homage I pay you.
Here you’ll revisit the sacred rites in the ancient texts,
And review by what events each day is marked.
And here you’ll find the festivals of your House,
The prizes they won, that illustrate the calendar,
That you and your brother Drusus will also win.
Let others sing Caesar’s wars: I’ll sing his altars,
And those days that he added to the sacred rites.
Approve my attempt to tell of your family honours,
And banish the apprehension from my heart.
Be kind to me, and you’ll empower my verse:
My wit will stand or fall by your glance.
My page trembles, judged by a learned prince,
As if it were being read by Clarian Apollo.
We know the eloquence of your skilful voice,
Taking up civil arms for anxious defendants:
And we know, when your efforts turn to poetry,
How copiously the river of your genius flows.
If it’s right and lawful, a poet, guide the poet’s reins,
So beneath your auspices the whole year may be happy.
When Rome’s founder established the calendar
He determined there’d be ten months in every year.
You knew more about swords than stars, Romulus, surely,
Since conquering neighbours was your chief concern.
Yet there’s a logic that might have possessed him,
Caesar, and that might well justify his error.
He held that the time it takes for a mother’s womb
To produce a child, was sufficient for his year.
For as many months also, after her husband’s funeral,
A widow maintains signs of mourning in her house.
So Quirinus in his ceremonial robes had that in view,
When he decreed his year to an unsophisticated people.
She was the mother of the race, and he its father.
The third month May took its name from the old (maiores),
The fourth, June, from the young (iuvenes), the rest were numbered.
And therefore added two months to the ancient ten.
Yet lest you’re unaware of the laws of the various days,
Know Dawn doesn’t always bring the same observances.
Those days are unlawful (nefastus) when the praetor’s three words
May not be spoken, lawful (fastus) when law may be enacted.
But don’t assume each day maintains its character throughout:
What’s now a lawful day may have been unlawful at dawn:
Since once the sacrifice has been offered, all is acceptable,
And the honoured praetor is then allowed free speech.
There are those days, comitiales, when the people vote:
And the market days that always recur in a nine-day cycle.
The worship of Juno claims our Italy’s Kalends,
While a larger white ewe-lamb falls to Jupiter on the Ides:
The Nones though lack a tutelary god. After all these days,
(Beware of any error!), the next day will be ill-omened.
The ill-omen derives from past events: since on those days
Rome suffered heavy losses in military defeat.
Let these words above be applied to the whole calendar,
So I’ll not be forced to break my thread of narrative.
See how Janus appears first in my song
To announce a happy year for you, Germanicus.
Two-headed Janus, source of the silently gliding year,
The only god who is able to see behind him,
Be favourable to the leaders, whose labours win
Peace for the fertile earth, peace for the seas:
Be favourable to the senate and Roman people,
And with a nod unbar the shining temples.
A prosperous day dawns: favour our thoughts and speech!
Let auspicious words be said on this auspicious day.
Let our ears be free of lawsuits then, and banish
Mad disputes now: you, malicious tongues, cease wagging!
See how the air shines with fragrant fire,
And Cilician grains crackle on lit hearths!
The flame beats brightly on the temple’s gold,
And spreads a flickering light on the shrine’s roof.
Spotless garments make their way to Tarpeian Heights,
And the crowd wear the colours of the festival:
Now the new rods and axes lead, new purple glows,
And the distinctive ivory chair feels fresh weight.
Heifers that grazed the grass on Faliscan plains,
Unbroken to the yoke, bow their necks to the axe.
When Jupiter watches the whole world from his hill,
Everything that he sees belongs to Rome.
Hail, day of joy, and return forever, happier still,
Worthy to be cherished by a race that rules the world.
But two-formed Janus what god shall I say you are,
Since Greece has no divinity to compare with you?
Tell me the reason, too, why you alone of all the gods
Look both at what’s behind you and what’s in front.
While I was musing, writing-tablets in hand,
The house seemed brighter than it was before.
Then suddenly, sacred and marvellous, Janus,
In two-headed form, showed his twin faces to my eyes.
Terrified, I felt my hair grow stiff with fear
And my heart was frozen with sudden cold.
Holding his stick in his right hand, his key in the left,
He spoke these words to me from his forward looking face:
‘Learn, without fear, what you seek, poet who labours
Over the days, and remember my speech.
The ancients called me Chaos (since I am of the first world):
Note the long ages past of which I shall tell.
The clear air, and the three other elements,
Fire, water, earth, were heaped together as one.
When, through the discord of its components,
The mass dissolved, and scattered to new regions,
Flame found the heights: air took a lower place,
While earth and sea sank to the furthest depth.
Then I, who was a shapeless mass, a ball,
Took on the appearance, and noble limbs of a god.
Even now, a small sign of my once confused state,
My front and back appear just the same.
Listen to the other reason for the shape you query,
So you know of it, and know of my duties too.
Whatever you see: sky, sea, clouds, earth,
All things are begun and ended by my hand.
Care of the vast world is in my hands alone,
And mine the governance of the turning pole.
When I choose to send Peace, from tranquil houses,
Freely she walks the roads, and ceaselessly:
The whole world would drown in bloodstained slaughter,
If rigid barriers failed to hold war in check.
I sit at Heaven’s Gate with the gentle Hours,
Jupiter himself comes and goes at my discretion.
So I’m called Janus. Yet you’d smile at the names
The priest gives me, offering cake and meal sprinkled
With salt: on his sacrificial lips I’m Patulcius,
And then again I’m called Clusius.
So with a change of name unsophisticated antiquity
Chose to signify my changing functions.
I’ve explained my meaning. Now learn the reason for my shape:
Though already you partially understand it.
Every doorway has two sides, this way and that,
One facing the crowds, and the other the Lares:
And like your doorkeeper seated at the threshold,
Who watches who goes and out and who goes in,
So I the doorkeeper of the heavenly court,
Look towards both east and west at once.
You see Hecate’s faces turned in three directions,
To guard the crossroads branching several ways:
And I, lest I lose time twisting my neck around,
Am free to look both ways without moving.’
So he spoke, and promised by a look,
That he’d not begrudge it if I asked for more.
I gained courage and thanked the god fearlessly,
And spoke these few words, gazing at the ground:
‘Tell me why the new-year begins with cold,
When it would be better started in the spring?
Then all’s in flower, then time renews its youth,
And the new buds swell on the fertile vines:
The trees are covered in newly formed leaves,
And grass springs from the surface of the soil:
Birds delight the warm air with their melodies,
And the herds frisk and gambol in the fields.
Then the sun’s sweet, and brings the swallow, unseen,
To build her clay nest under the highest roof beam.
Then the land’s cultivated, renewed by the plough.
That time rightly should have been called New Year.’
I said all this, questioning: he answered briefly
And swiftly, casting his words in twin verses:
‘Midwinter’s the first of the new sun, last of the old:
Phoebus and the year have the same inception.’
Then I asked why the first day wasn’t free
Of litigation. ‘Know the cause,’ said Janus,
‘I assigned the nascent time to business affairs,
Lest by its omen the whole year should be idle.
For that reason everyone merely toys with their skills,
And does no more than give witness to their work.’
Next I said: ‘Why, while I placate other gods, Janus,
Do I bring the wine and incense first to you?’
He replied: ‘So that through me, who guard the threshold,
You can have access to whichever god you please.’
‘But, why are joyful words spoken on the Kalends,
And why do we give and receive good wishes?’
Then leaning on the staff he gripped in his right hand,
He answered: ‘Omens attend upon beginnings.’
Anxious, your ears are alert at the first word,
And the augur interprets the first bird that he sees.
When the temples and ears of the gods are open,
The tongue speaks no idle prayer, words have weight.’
Janus ended. Maintaining only a short silence
I followed his final words with my own:
‘What do the gifts of dates and dried figs mean’,
I said, ‘And the honey glistening in a snow-white jar?’
‘For the omen,’ he said, ‘so that events match the savour,
So the course of the year might be sweet as its start.’
‘I see why sweet things are given. Explain the reason
For gifts of money, so I mistake no part of your festival.’
He laughed and said: ‘How little you know of your age,
If you think that honey’s sweeter to it than gold!
I’ve hardly seen anyone, even in Saturn’s reign,
Who in his heart didn’t find money sweet.
Love of it grew with time, and is now at its height,
Since it would be hard put to increase much further.
Wealth is valued more highly now, than in those times
When people were poor, and Rome was new,
When a small hut held Romulus, son of Mars,
And reeds from the river made a scanty bed.
Jupiter complete could barely stand in his low shrine,
And the lightning bolt in his right hand was of clay.
They decorated the Capitol with leaves, not gems,
And the senators grazed their sheep themselves.
There was no shame in taking one’s rest on straw,
And pillowing one’s head on the cut hay.
Cincinnatus left the plough to judge the people,
And the slightest use of silver plate was forbidden.
But ever since Fortune, here, has raised her head,
And Rome has brushed the heavens with her brow,
Wealth has increased, and the frantic lust for riches,
So that those who possess the most seek for more.
They seek to spend, compete to acquire what’s spent,
And so their alternating vices are nourished.
Like one whose belly is swollen with dropsy
The more they drink, they thirstier they become.
Wealth is the value now: riches bring honours,
Friendship too: everywhere the poor are hidden.
And you still ask me if gold’s useful in augury,
And why old money’s a delight in our hands?
Once men gave bronze, now gold grants better omens,
Old money, conquered, gives way to the new.
We too delight in golden temples, however much
We approve the antique: such splendour suits a god.
We praise the past, but experience our own times:
Yet both are ways worthy of being cultivated.’
He ended his statement. But again calmly, as before,
I spoke these words to the god who holds the key.
‘Indeed I’ve learned much: but why is there a ship’s figure
On one side of the copper as, a twin shape on the other?’
‘You might have recognised me in the double-image’,
He said, ‘if length of days had not worn the coin away.
The reason for the ship is that the god of the sickle
Wandering the globe, by ship, reached the Tuscan river.
I remember how Saturn was welcomed in this land:
Driven by Jupiter from the celestial regions.
From that day the people kept the title, Saturnian,
And the land was Latium, from the god’s hiding (latente) there.
But a pious posterity stamped a ship on the coin,
To commemorate the new god’s arrival.
I myself inhabited the ground on the left
Passed by sandy Tiber’s gentle waves.
Here, where Rome is now, uncut forest thrived,
And all this was pasture for scattered cattle.
My citadel was the hill the people of this age
Call by my name, dubbing it the Janiculum.
I reigned then, when earth could bear the gods,
And divinities mingled in mortal places.
Justice had not yet fled from human sin,
(She was the last deity to leave the earth),
Shame without force, instead of fear, ruled the people,
And it was no effort to expound the law to the lawful.
I’d nothing to do with war: I guarded peace and doorways,
And this,’ he said, showing his key, ‘was my weapon.’
The god closed his lips. Then I opened mine,
Eliciting with my voice the voice of the god:
‘Since there are so many archways, why do you stand
Sacredly in one, here where your temple adjoins two fora?
Stroking the beard falling on his chest with his hand,
And how the treacherous keeper, Tarpeia, bribed with bracelets,
Led the silent Sabines to the heights of the citadel.
‘Then,’ he said, ‘a steep slope, the one by which you
Now descend, led to the valleys and the fora.
Even now the enemy had reached the gate, from which
Saturn’s envious daughter, Juno, had removed the bars.
Fearing to engage in battle with so powerful a goddess,
I cunningly employed an example of my own art,
And by my power I opened the mouths of the springs,
And suddenly let loose the pent-up waters:
But first I threw sulphur intro the watery channels,
So boiling liquid would close off that path to Tatius.
This action performed and the Sabines repulsed,
The place took on its secure aspect as before.
An altar to me was raised, linked to a little shrine:
Here the grain and cake is burnt in its flames’
‘But why hide in peace, and open your gates in war?’
He swiftly gave me the answer that I sought:
‘My unbarred gate stands open wide, so that when
The people go to war the return path’s open too.’
I bar it in peacetime so peace cannot depart:
And by Caesar’s will I shall be long closed.’
He spoke, and raising his eyes that looked both ways,
He surveyed whatever existed in the whole world.
There was peace, and already a cause of triumph, Germanicus,
The Rhine had yielded her waters up in submission to you.
Janus, make peace and the agents of peace eternal,
And grant the author may never abandon his work.
Now for what I’ve learned from the calendar itself:
The senate dedicated two temples on this day.
The island the river surrounds with divided waters,
Jupiter too shares it: one place holds both, and the temples
Of the mighty grandfather and the grandson are joined.
What prevents me speaking of the stars, and their rising
And setting? That was a part of what I’ve promised.
Happy minds that first took the trouble to consider
These things, and to climb to the celestial regions!
We can be certain that they raised their heads
Above the failings and the homes of men, alike.
Neither wine nor lust destroyed their noble natures,
Nor public business nor military service:
They were not seduced by trivial ambitions,
Illusions of bright glory, nor hunger for great wealth.
They brought the distant stars within our vision,
And subjected the heavens to their genius.
So we reach the sky: there’s no need for Ossa to be piled
Following these masters I too will measure out the skies,
And attribute the wheeling signs to their proper dates.
So, when the third night before the Nones has come,
And the earth is drenched, sprinkled with heavenly dew,
You’ll search for the claws of the eight-footed Crab in vain:
It will plunge headlong beneath the western waves.
Should the Nones be here, rain from dark clouds
Will be the sign, at the rising of the Lyre.
Add four successive days to the Nones and Janus
Must be propitiated on the Agonal day.
The day may take its name from the girded priest
At whose blow the god’s sacrifice is felled:
Always, before he stains the naked blade with hot blood,
He asks if he should (agatne), and won’t unless commanded.
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because
The sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur).
Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia,
‘Of the lambs’, dropping a letter from its usual place.
Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water,
The day might be so called from the creature’s agony?
It may also be that the day has a Greek name
From the games (agones) that were held in former times.
And in ancient speech agonia meant a sheep,
And this last reason in my judgement is the truth.
Though the meaning is uncertain, the king of the rites,
Must appease the gods with the mate of a woolly ewe.
It’s called the victim because a victorious hand fells it:
And hostia, sacrifice, from hostile conquered foes.
Cornmeal, and glittering grains of pure salt,
Were once the means for men to placate the gods.
No foreign ship had yet brought liquid myrrh
Extracted from tree’s bark, over the ocean waves:
Euphrates had not sent incense, nor India balm,
And the threads of yellow saffron were unknown.
The altar was happy to fume with Sabine juniper,
And the laurel burned with a loud crackling.
He was rich, whoever could add violets
To garlands woven from meadow flowers.
The knife that bares the entrails of the stricken bull,
Had no role to perform in the sacred rites.
Ceres was first to delight in the blood of the greedy sow,
Her crops avenged by the rightful death of the guilty creature,
She learned that in spring the grain, milky with sweet juice,
Had been uprooted by the snouts of bristling pigs.
The swine were punished: terrified by that example,
You should have spared the vine-shoots, he-goat.
Watching a goat nibbling a vine someone once
Vented their indignation in these words:
‘Gnaw the vine, goat! But when you stand at the altar
There’ll be something from it to sprinkle on your horns.’
Truth followed: Bacchus, your enemy is given you
To punish, and sprinkled wine flows over its horns.
The sow suffered for her crime, and the goat for hers:
But what were you guilty of you sheep and oxen?
Aristaeus wept because he saw his bees destroyed,
And the hives they had begun left abandoned.
His azure mother, Cyrene, could barely calm his grief,
But added these final words to what she said:
‘Son, cease your tears! Proteus will allay your loss,
And show you how to recover what has perished.
But lest he still deceives you by changing shape,
Entangle both his hands with strong fastenings.’
The youth approached the seer, who was fast asleep,
And bound the arms of that Old Man of the Sea.
He by his art altered his shape and transformed his face,
But soon reverted to his true form, tamed by the ropes.
Then raising his dripping head, and sea-green beard,
He said: ‘Do you ask how to recover your bees?
Kill a heifer and bury its carcase in the earth,
Buried it will produce what you ask of me.’
The shepherd obeyed: the beast’s putrid corpse
Swarmed: one life destroyed created thousands.
Death claims the sheep: wickedly, it grazed the vervain
That a pious old woman offered to the rural gods.
What creature’s safe if woolly sheep, and oxen
Broken to the plough, lay their lives on the altar?
Persia propitiates Hyperion, crowned with rays,
With horses, no sluggish victims for the swift god.
Because a hind was once sacrificed to Diana the twin,
Instead of Iphigeneia, a hind dies, though not for a virgin now.
Whose homes border on your snows, Mount Haemus.
A young ass too is sacrificed to the erect rural guardian,
Priapus, the reason’s shameful, but appropriate to the god.
Greece, you held a festival of ivy-berried Bacchus,
That used to recur at the appointed time, every third winter.
There too came the divinities who worshipped him as Lyaeus,
And whoever else was not averse to jesting,
And the goddesses of rivers and lonely haunts.
And old Silenus came on a hollow-backed ass,
And crimson Priapus scaring the timid birds with his rod.
Finding a grove suited to sweet entertainment,
They lay down on beds of grass covered with cloths.
Liber offered wine, each had brought a garland,
A stream supplied ample water for the mixing.
There were Naiads too, some with uncombed flowing hair,
Others with their tresses artfully bound.
One attends with tunic tucked high above the knee,
Another shows her breast through her loosened robe:
One bares her shoulder: another trails her hem in the grass,
Their tender feet are not encumbered with shoes.
So some create amorous passion in the Satyrs,
Some in you, Pan, brows wreathed in pine.
You too Silenus, are on fire, insatiable lecher:
Wickedness alone prevents you growing old.
But crimson Priapus, guardian and glory of gardens,
Of them all, was captivated by Lotis:
He desires, and prays, and sighs for her alone,
He signals to her, by nodding, woos her with signs.
But the lovely are disdainful, pride waits on beauty:
She laughed at him, and scorned him with a look.
It was night, and drowsy from the wine,
They lay here and there, overcome by sleep.
Tired from play, Lotis rested on the grassy earth,
Furthest away, under the maple branches.
Her lover stood, and holding his breath, stole
Furtively and silently towards her on tiptoe.
Reaching the snow-white nymph’s secluded bed,
He took care lest the sound of his breath escaped.
Now he balanced on his toes on the grass nearby:
But she was still completely full of sleep.
He rejoiced, and drawing the cover from her feet,
He happily began to have his way with her.
Suddenly Silenus’ ass braying raucously,
Gave an untimely bellow from its jaws.
Terrified the nymph rose, pushed Priapus away,
And, fleeing, gave the alarm to the whole grove.
But the over-expectant god with his rigid member,
Was laughed at by them all, in the moonlight.
The creator of that ruckus paid with his life,
And he’s the sacrifice dear to the Hellespontine god.
You were chaste once, you birds, a rural solace,
You harmless race that haunt the woodlands,
Who build your nests, warm your eggs with your wings,
And utter sweet measures from your ready beaks,
But that is no help to you, because of your guilty tongues,
And the gods’ belief that you reveal their thoughts.
Nor is that false: since the closer you are to the gods,
The truer the omens you give by voice and flight.
Though long untouched, birds were killed at last,
And the gods delighted in the informers’ entrails.
So the white dove, torn from her mate,
Is often burned in the Idalian flames:
Nor did saving the Capitol benefit the goose,
Who yielded his liver on a dish to you, Inachus’ daughter:
The cock is sacrificed at night to the Goddess, Night,
Because he summons the day with his waking cries,
While the bright constellation of the Dolphin rises
Over the sea, and shows his face from his native waters.
The following dawn marks the mid-point of winter.
And what remains will equal what has gone.
Quitting his couch, Tithonus’ bride will witness
Where shall I find the cause and nature of these rites?
Who will steer my vessel in mid-ocean?
Advise me, Carmentis, you who take your name from song,
And favour my intent, lest I fail to honour you.
Arcadia, that’s older than the moon (if we believe it),
From there came Evander, though of noble lineage on both sides
Nobler through the blood of Carmentis, his sacred mother:
She, as soon as her spirit absorbed the heavenly fire,
Spoke true prophecies, filled with the god.
She had foretold trouble for her son and herself,
And many other things that time proved valid.
The mother’s words proved only too true, when the youth
Banished with her, fled Arcady and his Parrhasian home.
While he wept, his mother said: ‘Your fortune must
Be borne like a man (I beg you, check your tears).
It was fated so: it is no fault of yours that exiles you,
But a god: an offended god expelled you from the city.
You’re not suffering rightful punishment, but divine anger:
It is something in great misfortune to be free of guilt.
As each man’s conscience is, so it harbours
Hope or fear in his heart, according to his actions.
Don’t mourn these ills as if you were first to endure them:
Such storms have overwhelmed the mightiest people.
Cadmus endured the same, driven from the shores of Tyre,
Remaining an exile on Boeotian soil.
And others whom it would take too long to speak of.
To the brave every land is their country, as the sea
To fish, or every empty space on earth to the birds.
Wild storms never rage the whole year long,
And spring will yet come to you (believe me).’
Encouraged by his mother’s words, Evander
Sailed the waves and reached Hesperian lands.
Then, advised by wise Carmentis, he steered
His boat into a river, and stemmed the Tuscan stream.
She examined the river bank, bordered by Tarentum’s shallows,
And the huts scattered over the desolate spaces:
And stood, as she was, with streaming hair, at the stern,
And fiercely stopped the steersman’s hand:
Then stretching out her arm to the right bank,
She stamped three times, wildly, on the pine deck:
Evander barely held her back with his hand,
Barely stopped her leaping swiftly to land.
‘Hail, you gods of the land we sought’ she cried,
‘And you the place that will give heaven new gods,
And you nymphs of the grove, and crowds of Naiads!
May the sight of you be a good omen for me and my son,
And happy be the foot that touches that shore!
Am I wrong, or will those hills raise mighty walls,
And from this earth all the earth receive its laws?
The whole world is one day promised to these hills:
Who could believe the place held such fate in store?
Soon Trojan ships will touch these shores,
And a woman, Lavinia, shall cause fresh war.
Pallas, dear grandson, why put on that fatal armour?
Put it on! No mean champion will avenge you.
Conquered Troy you will conquer, and rise from your fall,
Your very ruin overwhelms your enemy’s houses.
Conquering flames consume Neptune’s Ilium!
Will that prevent its ashes rising higher than the world?
Soon pious Aeneas will bring the sacred Penates, and his
Sacred father here: Vesta, receive the gods of Troy!
In time the same hand will guard the world and you,
And a god in person will hold the sacred rites.
The safety of the country will lie with Augustus’ house:
It’s decreed this family will hold the reins of empire.
So Caesar’s son, Augustus, and grandson, Tiberius,
Divine minds, will, despite his refusal, rule the country:
And as I myself will be hallowed at eternal altars,
When she had brought her tale to our own times,
Her prescient tongue halted in mid-speech.
Landing from the ships, Evander the exile stood
On Latian turf, happy for that to be his place of exile!
After a short time new houses were built,
And no Italian hill surpassed the Palatine.
See, Hercules drives the Erythean cattle here:
Travelling a long track through the world:
And while he is entertained in the Tegean house,
The untended cattle wander the wide acres.
It was morning: woken from his sleep the Tyrinthian
Saw that two bulls were missing from the herd.
Seeking, he found no trace of the silently stolen beasts:
Fierce Cacus had dragged them backwards into his cave,
Cacus the infamous terror of the Aventine woods,
No slight evil to neighbours and travellers.
His aspect was grim, his body huge, with strength
To match: the monster’s father was Mulciber.
He housed in a vast cavern with deep recesses,
So hidden the wild creatures could barely find it.
Over the entrance hung human arms and skulls,
And the ground bristled with whitened bones.
Jupiter’s son was leaving, that part of his herd lost,
When the stolen cattle lowed loudly.
‘I am recalled” he said, and following the sound,
As avenger, came through the woods to the evil cave,
Cacus had blocked the entrance with a piece of the hill:
Ten yoked oxen could scarcely have moved it.
Hercules leant with his shoulders, on which the world had rested,
And loosened that vast bulk with the pressure.
A crash that troubled the air followed its toppling,
And the ground subsided under the falling weight.
Cacus at first fought hand to hand, and waged war,
Ferociously, with logs and boulders.
When that failed, beaten, he tried his father’s tricks
And vomited roaring flames from his mouth:
You’d think Typhoeus breathed at every blast,
And sudden flares were hurled from Etna’s fires.
Hercules anticipated him, raised his triple-knotted club,
And swung it three, then four times, in his adversary’s face.
Cacus fell, vomiting smoke mingled with blood,
And beat at the ground, in dying, with his chest.
The victor offered one of the bulls to you, Jupiter,
And invited Evander and his countrymen to the feast,
And himself set up an altar, called Maxima, the Mightiest,
Where that part of the city takes its name from an ox.
Evander’s mother did not hide that the time was near
When earth would be done with its hero, Hercules.
But the felicitous prophetess, as she lived beloved of the gods,
Now a goddess herself, has this day of Janus’ month as hers.
Offers to the flames the entrails of a gelded ram:
All the provinces were returned to our people,
And your grandfather was given the name Augustus.
Read the legends on wax images in noble halls,
Such titles were never bestowed on men before.
Here Africa named her conqueror after herself:
Another witnesses to Isaurian or Cretan power tamed:
This makes glory from Numidians, that Messana,
While the next drew his fame from Numantia.
Drusus owed his death and glory to Germany –
Alas, how brief that great virtue was!
If Caesar was to take his titles from the defeated
He would need as many names as tribes on earth.
Some have earned fame from lone enemies,
Pompey the Great, your name reflects your deeds,
But he who defeated you was greater still.
No surname ranks higher than that of the Fabii,
Their family was called Greatest for their services.
Yet these are human honours bestowed on all.
Augustus alone has a name that ranks with great Jove.
Sacred things are called august by the senators,
And so are temples duly dedicated by priestly hands.
From the same root comes the word augury,
And Jupiter augments things by his power.
May he augment our leader’s empire and his years,
And may the oak-leaf crown protect his doors.
By the god’s auspices, may the father’s omens
Attend the heir of so great a name, when he rules the world.
When the third sun looks back on the past Ides,
Formerly the Ausonian mothers drove in carriages (carpenta)
Radiant one, the next day places you in your snow-white shrine,
Near where lofty Moneta lifts her noble stairway:
Concord, you will gaze on the Latin crowd’s prosperity,
Now sacred hands have established you.
Camillus, conqueror of the Etruscan people,
Vowed your ancient temple and kept his vow.
His reason was that the commoners had armed themselves,
Seceding from the nobles, and Rome feared their power.
This latest reason was a better one: revered Leader, Germany
Offered up her dishevelled tresses, at your command:
From that, you dedicated the spoils of a defeated race,
And built a shrine to the goddess that you yourself worship.
A goddess your mother honoured by her life, and by an altar,
She alone worthy to share great Jupiter’s couch.
And take your course through the sign of the Water-Bearer.
Seven days from now when the sun sinks in the waves,
The Lyre will no longer shine in the heavens.
After Lyra vanishes into obscurity, the fire that gleams
At the heart of the Lion will be sunk in the sea at dawn.
I have searched the calendar three or four times,
But nowhere found the Day of Sowing:
Seeing this the Muse said: ‘That day is set by the priests,
Why are you looking for moveable days in the calendar?’
Though the day of the feast’s uncertain, its time is known,
When the seed has been sown and the land’s productive.’
You bullocks, crowned with garlands, stand at the full trough,
Your labour will return with the warmth of spring.
Let the farmer hang the toil-worn plough on its post:
The wintry earth dreaded its every wound.
Steward, let the soil rest when the sowing is done,
And let the men who worked the soil rest too.
Let the village keep festival: farmers, purify the village,
And offer the yearly cakes on the village hearths.
Propitiate Earth and Ceres, the mothers of the crops,
With their own corn, and a pregnant sow’s entrails.
Ceres and Earth fulfil a common function:
One supplies the chance to bear, the other the soil.
‘Partners in toil, you who improved on ancient days
Replacing acorns with more useful foods,
Satisfy the eager farmers with full harvest,
So they reap a worthy prize from their efforts.
Grant the tender seeds perpetual fruitfulness,
Don’t let new shoots be scorched by cold snows.
When we sow, let the sky be clear with calm breezes,
Sprinkle the buried seed with heavenly rain.
Forbid the birds, that prey on cultivated land,
To ruin the cornfields in destructive crowds.
You too, spare the sown seed, you ants,
So you’ll win a greater prize from the harvest.
Meanwhile let no scaly mildew blight its growth,
And let no bad weather blanch its colour,
May it neither shrivel, nor be over-ripe
And ruined by its own rich exuberance.
May the fields be free of darnel that harms the eyesight,
And no barren wild oats grow on cultivated soil.
May the land yield rich interest, crops of wheat
And barley, and spelt roasted twice in the flames.’
I offer this for you, farmers, do so yourselves,
And may the two goddesses grant our prayers.
War long gripped mankind: the sword was more useful
Than the plough: the ox yielded to the warhorse:
Hoes were idle, mattocks made into javelins,
And heavy rakes were forged into helmets.
Thanks to the gods, and your house, under your feet
War has long been bound in chains.
Let the ox be yoked, seed lie beneath ploughed soil:
Brothers of the divine race founded it
For those divine brothers, by Juturna’s lakes.
My song has led to the altar of Peace itself.
This day is the second from the month’s end.
Come, Peace, your graceful tresses wreathed
With laurel of Actium: stay gently in this world.
While we lack enemies, or cause for triumphs:
You’ll be a greater glory to our leaders than war.
May the soldier be armed to defend against arms,
And the trumpet blare only for processions.
May the world far and near fear the sons of Aeneas,
And let any land that feared Rome too little, love her.
Priests, add incense to the peaceful flames,
Let a shining sacrifice fall, brow wet with wine,
And ask the gods who favour pious prayer
That the house that brings peace, may so endure.
Now the first part of my labour is complete,
And as its month ends, so does this book.