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.
January is done, and the year advances with my song.
As the second month runs, so let the second book.
For the first time, my verses, sail with more canvas,
Your theme, I recall, has been slight till now.
I found you ready enough servants of love,
When I toyed with poetry in my first youth,
Now I sing of sacred rites and calendar days:
Who’d have thought it would lead to this?
Here’s my soldiering: I bear the weapons I can,
My right hand isn’t useless for every service.
If I can’t hurl the javelin with a mighty throw,
Nor sit astride a war-horse’s back,
No helmet on my head, no sharp sword slung,
(Any man can be handy with those weapons)
Still I promote your titles with a dutiful heart,
Caesar, and your progress towards glory.
Come, then, and cast your eye on my gift awhile,
If pacifying enemies leaves you a moment free.
The fathers of Rome called purification februa
Many things still indicate that meaning for the word.
The high priests ask the King and the Flamen
For woollen cloths, called februa in the ancient tongue.
When houses are cleansed, the roasted grain and salt,
The lictor receives, are called by the same name.
The same name too is given to the branch, cut from a pure
Tree, whose leaves wreathe the priests’ holy brows.
I’ve seen the priest’s wife (the Flaminica) ask for februa,
And at her request she was given a branch of pine.
In short anything used to purify our bodies,
Had that title in the days of our hairy ancestors.
The month is so called, because the Luperci
Cleanse the earth with strips of purifying hide,
Or because the time is pure, having placated the dead,
When the days devoted to the departed are over.
Our ancestors believed every sin and cause of evil
Could be erased by rites of purification.
Greece set the example: she considered the guilty
Could rid themselves of sins by being purified.
Medea, drawn through the air by bridled dragons,
Was undeservedly welcomed by trusting Aegeus.
And he did absolve that son of Amphiarus.
Ah! Too facile, to think the dark guilt of murder
Could be washed away by river water!
Yet (lest you err, through ignorance of their old order)
Though January is the first month, and was before,
February that follows was once last in the ancient year.
And your worship, Terminus, closed the sacred rites.
The month of Janus came first, being the entrance (janua):
This month was last, sacred to the last rites of the dead.
Afterwards the Decemvirs are thought to have brought together
These months that had been parted by a wide interval of time.
At the start of the month they say that Juno the Saviour (Sospita),
Neighbouring the Phrygian Mother, was honoured with new shrines.
If you ask where those temples, dedicated to the goddess
On the Kalends, are now, they are fallen with the lapse of time.
All the rest would have similarly fallen in ruins,
But for the far-sighted concern of our sacred Leader,
Under whose rule the shrines are untouched by age:
Not satisfied with mere men, he also serves the gods.
Pious one, you who build and repair the temples,
May there be mutual care between you and the gods!
May the gods grant you the length of years you grant them,
And may they stand on guard before your house!
On this day too the grove of Alernus is crowded,
Near where Tiber, from afar, meets the ocean waves.
And on the summit of Jove’s citadel, a sheep is sacrificed.
Often the sky, covered with cloud, rains heavily,
Or the earth is hidden under a blanket of snow.
When the next sun looses the jewelled yoke
From his bright horses, before he sinks in the western waves,
Looking up at night towards the stars, someone will say:
‘Where is the Lyre, that shone brightly last night?’
And searching for the Lyre, he will see that the Lion’s back
Has also plunged suddenly into the wide waters.
The Dolphin that you saw lately, studded with stars,
Will escape your gaze on the following night:
He was a happy go-between in love’s intrigues,
Or he carried the Lesbian lyre and its master.
What land or sea does not know of Arion?
He could hold back the running waters with his singing.
Often the wolf seeking a lamb was halted by his voice,
Often the lamb stopped, in fleeing the ravening wolf.
Often hare and hounds rested in the same covert,
And the deer on the rock stood still near the lioness,
And the chattering crow perched with Pallas’ owl,
Without a quarrel, and the dove united with the hawk.
They say that Diana has often stood entranced at your music,
Tuneful Arion, as if it were played by her brother’s hand.
Arion’s fame had filled the cities of Sicily,
And charmed the Italian shores with the sound of his lyre:
Travelling back from there, he boarded a ship
Carrying with him the wealth won by his art.
Unhappy one, perhaps you feared the wind and waves,
But the sea, in truth, was safer for you than your ship.
Since the steersman stood there with naked blade,
And the rest of that crew of conspirators were armed.
Why draw that blade? Seaman, steer the wandering vessel:
That weapon is not appropriate in your hands.
Trembling with fear, Arion said: ‘I don’t plead for life,
But let me take up my lyre and play a little.’
They granted it, laughing at the delay. He took the wreath
That might have graced your tresses, Phoebus:
Put on his robe, twice-stained with Tyrian purple:
And, plucked by his thumb, the strings gave out their music,
Such a melody as the swan’s mournful measures,
When the cruel shaft has transfixed its brow.
At once, he plunged, fully clothed into the waves:
The water, leaping, splashed the sky-blue stern.
Then (beyond belief) they say a dolphin
Yielded its back to the unaccustomed weight.
Sitting there, Arion gripped the lyre, and paid his fare
In song, soothing the ocean waves with his singing.
And ordered its constellation to contain nine stars.
Now I wish for a thousand tongues, and that spirit
While I sing the sacred Nones in alternating verse.
This is the greatest honour granted to the calendar.
My wit deserts me: the burden’s beyond my strength,
This special day above all I am to sing.
Why did I wish, foolishly, to lay so great a task
On elegiac verse? This was a theme for the heroic stanza.
Sacred Father of the Country, this title has been conferred
On you, by the senate, the people, and by us, the knights.
Events had already granted it. Tardily you received
Your true title, you’d long been Father of the World.
You have on earth the name that Jupiter owns to
In high heaven: you are father of men, he of gods.
Romulus, give way: Caesar by his care makes your walls
Mighty: you made such as Remus could leap across.
Knew you: under this Leader all the sun sees is Roman.
You owned a little patch of conquered land:
Caesar possesses all beneath Jupiter’s heavens.
You raped married women: under Caesar they are ordered
To be chaste: you permitted the guilty your grove: he forbids them.
Force was acceptable to you: under Caesar the laws flourish.
You had the title Master: he bears the name of Prince.
Remus accused you, while he pardons his enemies.
Already Aquarius shows himself to the waist,
And pours the gods flowing nectar mixed with water,
And you who shrink from the north wind, be pleased,
A softer breeze is blowing from the West.
Five days later, the Morning Star has lifted its brightness
From the ocean waves, and these are the first days of spring.
But don’t be misled: cold days are still in wait for you,
Departing winter leaves sharp traces behind.
On the third night, you will see straight away
That the Bear Keeper Bootes’ feet have emerged.
The sacred band of the huntress Diana.
She laid her hand on the goddess’ bow, saying:
‘Bear witness, bow I touch, to my virginity.’
Cynthia praised the vow: ‘Keep faith with that
And you will be first among my companions.’
She’d have kept her vow, if she’d not been beautiful:
She was wary of men, but sinned with Jupiter.
Phoebe had hunted many creatures through the woods,
And was returning home at noon, or shortly after.
As she reached a grove (a dense grove dark with holm-oak
With a deep fount of cool water at its centre),
She said: ‘Arcadian virgin, let’s bathe here in the woods.’
The girl blushed at the false title of virgin.
Diana spoke to the nymphs, and they undressed.
Callisto was ashamed, and gave bashful signs of delay.
Removing her tunic, her swollen belly
Gave clear witness to the burden she carried.
The goddess spoke to her, saying: ‘Daughter of Lycaon,
Oath-breaker, leave the virgin band, do not defile pure waters.’
Ten times the moon completed her full orb,
When she, thought to be virgin, became a mother.
Juno, wounded, raged, and altered the girl’s form.
What would you? Jupiter had ravished her against her will.
And seeing in his victim a shameful animal face,
Juno said: ‘Let Jupiter enjoy her embraces now!’
She who had been loved by highest Jove,
Roamed the wild mountains as a shaggy she-bear.
The boy she conceived furtively was adolescent
When the mother met the child she had born.
She reared, wildly, and growled, as if she knew him:
Growling was his mother’s only mode of speech.
The boy, unknowing, would have pierced her with his sharp spear,
But they were both caught up into the heavenly mansions.
They shine as neighbouring constellations: first the Bear,
Then the Bear-keeper takes shape behind her back.
Never to wash the Maenalian Bear with her waters.
The altars of rustic Faunus smoke, on the Ides.
There, where the island breaks Tiber’s waters.
This was the day when three hundred and six
A single family assumed the burden and defence of the city:
Their strong right arms volunteered their swords.
Noble soldiers they marched from the one camp,
And any one of them was fitted to be the leader.
The nearest way was the right hand arch of Carmentis Gate
Let no one go that way: it is unlucky.
Tradition says that the three hundred Fabii passed through:
The gate is free of blame, but is still unlucky.
When they had quickly reached the rushing Cremera,
(It was flowing darkly with winter rain)
They pitched their camp there, and with naked swords
Broke the Etruscan ranks with their valour,
Just like Libyan lions attacking the herds
Scattered over the fields, far and wide.
The enemy fled, receiving the wounds of shame
In their backs: the earth red with Tuscan blood.
So again, and as often, they fall. When open victory
Was denied them, they set armed men in ambush.
There was a plain, bounded by hills and forests,
Where the mountain creatures could make a lair.
The enemy left a few men and a scattering of cattle
In its midst, the rest of their army hid in the thickets.
Look, as a torrent swollen by rain and snow
That the warm West wind has melted, flows
Over the cornfields and roads, not as normal,
Enclosed by the margins of its banks,
So the Fabii, widely deployed, filled the valley,
Felling whatever they saw, filled with no other fear.
Where are you rushing to, noble house? Don’t trust the enemy:
Noble simplicity, beware of treacherous blades!
Valour is destroyed by fraud: the enemy leap out
Into the open plain, and take the ground on all side.
What can a few brave men do against thousands?
What help remains for them in time of danger?
As a wild boar driven far from the deep woods
By the hounds, scatters the swift pack with roaring maw,
But is soon killed, so they do not die un-avenged,
Dealing and receiving wounds alternately.
One day sent all the Fabii to war:
All that were sent to war, one day destroyed.
Yet we might think that the gods themselves took council,
To save the seed of the Herculean house:
For a boy too young to bear weapons
Was left behind of all the Fabian house,
No doubt so that you, Maximus, might be born
To save the state, one day, by your delaying.
Three constellations lie together, Corvus the Raven,
On the Ides they’re hidden at twilight, but risen the following night.
I’ll tell why the three as so closely linked together.
It happened that Phoebus prepared a solemn feast for Jove,
(This tale of mine will not take long to tell):
‘Go, my bird,’ he said, ‘so nothing delays the sacred rites,
And bring a little water from the running stream.’
The Raven caught up a gilded Cup in his claws,
And flew high into the air on his way.
There was a fig tree thick with unripe fruit:
The Raven tried it with his beak: but it wasn’t fit to eat.
Forgetting his orders, it’s said he perched by the tree,
To wait till the fruit should sweetly ripen.
When at last he’d taken his fill, he grasped a long Water-Snake
In his black talons, and returned to his master with a lying tale:
‘This snake caused my delay, it blocked the running water:
It prevented the stream’s flow, and my errand.’
‘Will you add to your fault with lies,’ said Phoebus,
And cheat the god of prophecy with words?
As for you, you’ll drink no cool water from the springs,
Until the ripened figs cling to the trees.’
So he spoke, and as an eternal reminder of this ancient tale,
Snake, Bird and Cup, as constellations, gleam side by side.
This third morning after the Ides sees the naked Luperci,
And the rites of two-horned Faunus enacted.
Pierian Muses, tell the origin of the rites,
And where they were brought from to our Latin home.
The god of cattle, he of the mountain heights.
And Ladon that runs its swift course to the sea:
The ridges of the Nonacrine grove circled with pines:
Pan was the god of cattle there, and the mares,
He received gifts for guarding the sheep.
Evander brought his woodland gods with him:
There where Rome stands there was merely a site.
So we worship the god, and the priest performs
The rites the Pelasgians brought in the ancient way.
Why, you ask, do the Luperci run, and since it’s their custom,
This running, why do they strip their bodies naked?
The god himself loves to run swiftly on the heights,
And he himself suddenly takes to flight.
The god himself is naked, and orders his servants naked,
Since anyway clothes were not suited to that course.
They say the Arcadians had their land before the birth
Of Jove, and their race is older than the moon.
They lived like beasts, lives spent to no purpose:
The common people were crude as yet, without arts.
They built houses from leafy branches, grass their crops,
Water, scooped in their palms, was nectar to them.
No bull panted yoked to the curved ploughshare,
No soil was under the command of the farmer.
Horses were not used, all carried their own burdens,
The sheep went about still clothed in their wool.
People lived in the open and went about nude,
Inured to heavy downpours from rain-filled winds.
To this day the naked priests recall the memory
Of old customs, and testify to those ancient ways.
But why Faunus, especially, shunned clothing,
Is handed down in an old tale full of laughter.
His mistress, and Faunus saw them from a high ridge.
He saw and burned. ‘Mountain spirits,’ he said,
‘No more of your company: she will be my passion.’
As the Maeonian girl went by her fragrant hair streamed
Over her shoulders, her breast was bright with gold:
A gilded parasol protected her from warm sunlight,
One Herculean hands, indeed, held over her.
While dew-wet Hesperus rode his dusky steed.
She entered a cave roofed with tufa and natural rock,
And there was a babbling stream at its entrance.
While her attendants were preparing food and wine,
She clothed Hercules in her own garments.
She gave him thin vests dyed in Gaetulian purple,
Gave him the elegant zone that had bound her waist.
The zone was too small for his belly, and he unfastened
The clasps of the vests to thrust out his great hands.
He fractured her bracelets, not made for such arms,
And his giant feet split the little shoes.
She took up his heavy club, and the lion’s pelt,
And those lesser weapons lodged in their quiver.
So dressed, they feasted, and gave themselves to sleep,
Resting on separate couches set next to one another,
Because they were preparing to celebrate the rites
Of the discoverer of the vine, with purity, at dawn.
It was midnight. What will unruly love not dare?
Faunus came through the dark to the dewy cave,
And seeing the servants lost in drunken slumber,
Had hopes of their master also being fast asleep.
Entering, as a reckless lover, he roamed around,
Following his cautious outstretched hands.
He reached the couches spread as beds, by touch,
And this first omen of the future was bright.
When he felt the bristling tawny lion-skin,
However, he drew back his hand in terror,
And recoiled, frozen with fear, as a traveller, troubled,
Will draw back his foot on seeing a snake.
Then he touched the soft coverings of the next couch,
And its deceptive feel misled him.
He climbed in, and reclined on the bed’s near side,
And his swollen cock was harder than horn.
But pulling up the lower hem of the tunic,
The legs there were bristling with thick coarse hair.
The Tirynthian hero fiercely repelled another attempt,
And down fell Faunus from the heights of the couch.
At the noise, Omphale called for her servants, and light:
Torches appeared, and events became clear.
Faunus groaned from his heavy fall from the high couch,
And could barely lift his limbs from the hard ground.
Hercules laughed, as did all who saw him lying there,
And the Lydian girl laughed too, at her lover.
Betrayed by his clothing: so the god hates clothes
That trick the eye, and calls the naked to his rites.
Add Roman reasons, my Muse, to foreign ones,
And let my charger race his own dusty course.
A she-goat was sacrificed to cloven Faunus, as usual,
And a crowd had been invited to the scanty feast.
While the priests prepared the entrails, on willow spits,
The sun being then at the zenith of it course,
Exercised their naked bodies on the sunlit plain:
Trying the strength of their arms in sport,
With levers, javelins, or hurling heavy stones.
A shepherd shouted from the heights: ‘Romulus, Remus,
Thieves are driving the bullocks off through the wasteland.’
It would have taken too long to arm: they took opposite
Directions: and meeting them Remus re-took their prize.
Returning he drew the hissing entrails from the spits,
Saying: ‘No one but the victor shall eat of these.’
As he said, so he and the Fabii did. Romulus returned,
Unsuccessful, finding the empty table and bare bones.
He laughed and grieved that Remus and the Fabii,
Should have conquered, where his own Quintilii could not.
The tale of that deed endures: they run stark naked,
And the success achieved enjoyed a lasting fame.
You might also ask why that cave is called the Lupercal,
And the reason for giving the day such a name.
At the time when her uncle held the throne.
He ordered the infants taken and drowned in the river:
What was he doing? One of the two was Romulus.
Reluctantly his servants obeyed the sad command
(Though they wept) and took the twins to the appointed place.
Drowned in its waves, was swollen with winter rain:
You could see boats drifting where the fora are,
And there in the vale of the Circus Maximus.
When the servants arrived there (since they were
Unable to go further), one of them said:
‘How alike they are, how beautiful each of them is!
Yet of the two this one is the more vigorous.
If nobility is seen in the face, unless I’m wrong,
I suspect that there’s some god within you –
Yet if some god were the author of your being,
He’d bring you aid at such a perilous time:
Your mother would surely bring help if she could,
Who has borne and lost her children in one day:
Born together, to die together, pass together beneath
The waves!’ He finished and set them down.
Both squalled alike: you’d have thought they knew.
The servants returned with tears on their cheeks.
The hollow trough, where the boys were laid, floated
On the water, how great a fate the little ark carried!
It drifted onwards towards a shadowy wood,
And gradually settled where the depth lessened.
There was a tree: traces remain, which is now called
A she-wolf, newly delivered, (miraculously!) found the abandoned twins,
Who would have thought the creature would not harm them?
Far from harming them she helped them: and a wolf fed those
Whom their kin would have allowed to perish.
She stayed, caressed the tender infants with her tail,
And licked their bodies with her tongue.
You might know they were sons of Mars: without fear
They sucked her teats, and the milk not meant for them.
She gave her name to the place: and the place to the Luperci.
The nurse has a great reward for the milk she gave.
Why shouldn’t they be named from the Arcadian peak?
Lycaean Faunus has temples in Arcadia.
Bride, why linger? No potent herb, or prayer
Or magic spell can make you a mother:
Be patient under the blows of a fruitful hand,
And soon your husband’s father will be a grandfather.
For there was a day when harsh fate decreed
Wives rarely gave their mates gifts from their womb.
Romulus (since it was when he ruled) cried:
‘What was the use of raping the Sabine women,
If that wrong has brought war instead of strength?
It would have been better if our sons were unwed.’
A grove below the Esquiline Hill, untouched
For many years, was sacred to great Juno.
When they had gathered there, husbands and wives
Bowed their knees, alike, in supplication,
And suddenly the tree tops moved and trembled,
And the goddess spoke strange words in her grove:
‘Let the sacred he-goat pierce the Italian wives’.
The crowd stood, terrified, at the troubling words.
There was an augur (his name is lost with the years,
But he had lately arrived, an exile from Tuscany),
He killed a he-goat and, at his command, the wives
Offered their backs, to be beaten by thongs from its hide.
When the moon renewed her horns in her tenth orbit,
The husband became a father, and the wife a mother.
Thanks be to Lucina! Goddess you took that name
From the grove (lucus), or as yours is the source of light (lucis).
Gracious Lucina, spare women heavy with child, I beg you,
And bring the ripe burden tenderly from the womb.
When this day dawns, no longer trust the winds:
The breezes are faithless at this season:
The gales are fickle, and for six days the door
Of the Aeolian cavern stands open wide.
Now nimble Aquarius of the tilted urn, is hidden:
Pisces, you next receive the sky-borne horses.
They say that you and your brother (for you glitter
Together as stars) mounted two gods on your backs.
When Jupiter took up arms to defend the heavens,
And sat by the brink of the waters of Palestine.
Reeds and poplars grew by the banks,
And willows too gave hope of shelter there.
While she hid, the grove rustled in the wind:
She turned pale with fear, and thought enemies nearby.
So, holding the child in her lap, she cried:
‘Help, you Nymphs, and aid two divine beings!’
She leapt in, without delay. Twin fishes bore her:
For which, a worthy gift, they were made stars.
And so the pious Syrians hold it wrong to serve them
At their table: their mouths are not defiled with fish.
The next day is not notable, but the third is Quirinus’,
(He was Romulus before), who is so called
Either because a spear was curis among the ancient Sabines,
(By his spear that warlike god won his place among the stars),
Or because the Quirites gave their name to their king,
Or because he united the city of Cures to Rome.
For when the father, lord of weapons, saw the new walls
And the many wars waged with Romulus’ hands,
He said: ‘Jupiter, Roman power possesses strength:
It doesn’t need the services of my people.
Return the son to his father. Though one is dead,
The one who remains is enough for himself and Remus.
You said to me: “There’ll be one you’ll raise
To the azure sky.” Let Jupiter keep his word.’
Jupiter nodded his agreement. Both the poles trembled
At his nod, and Atlas shifted the weight of the sky.
There’s a place the ancients called the She-goat’s Marsh:
You chanced to be judging the people there, Romulus.
The sun vanished, and rising clouds obscured the sky,
And a heavy shower of torrential rain fell.
Then it thundered. Then the sky was split by lightning:
All fled, and the king rose to the stars behind his father’s horses.
There was mourning, senators were falsely charged with murder,
And perhaps that belief might have stuck in people’s minds,
With the moon shining, and having no need of a torch,
When suddenly the hedge to his left moved and shook:
So that he drew back a step, his hair bristling.
It seemed to him that Romulus, handsome, more than human,
And finely dressed, stood there, in the centre of the road,
Saying: ‘Prevent the Quirites from mourning me,
And profaning my divinity by their tears:
Let the pious crowds bring incense and propitiate
The new god Quirinus, and cultivate their father’s art of war.’
So he commanded and vanished into thin air:
Proculus gathered the people and reported the command.
Temples were built for the god, the hill named for him,
And on certain days the ancestral rites are re-enacted.
Learn too why this day is called the Feast of Fools.
The reason for it is trivial but fitting.
The earth of old was farmed by ignorant men:
Fierce wars weakened their powerful bodies.
There was more glory in the sword than the plough:
And the neglected farm brought its owner little return.
Yet the ancients sowed corn, corn they reaped,
Offering the first fruits of the corn harvest to Ceres.
Taught by practice they parched it in the flames,
And incurred many losses through their own mistakes.
Sometimes they’d sweep up burnt ash and not corn,
Sometimes the flames took their huts themselves:
The oven was made a goddess, Fornax: the farmers
Pleased with her, prayed she’d regulate the grain’s heat.
Now the Curio Maximus, in a set form of words, declares
And round the Forum hang many tablets,
On which every ward displays its particular sign.
Foolish people don’t know which is their ward,
So they hold the feast on the last possible day.
And the grave must be honoured. Appease your fathers’
Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built.
Their shades ask little, piety they prefer to costly
Offerings: no greedy deities haunt the Stygian depths.
A tile wreathed round with garlands offered is enough,
A scattering of meal, and a few grains of salt,
And bread soaked in wine, and loose violets:
Set them on a brick left in the middle of the path.
Not that I veto larger gifts, but these please the shades:
Add prayers and proper words to the fixed fires.
This custom was brought to your lands, just Latinus,
By Aeneas, a fitting promoter of piety.
He brought solemn gifts to his father’s spirit:
From him the people learned the pious rites.
But once, waging a long war with fierce weapons,
They neglected the Parentalia, Festival of the Dead.
It did not go unpunished: they say from that ominous day
Rome grew hot from funeral fires near the City.
I scarcely believe it, but they say that ancestral spirits
Came moaning from their tombs in the still of night,
And misshapen spirits, a bodiless throng, howled
Through the City streets, and through the broad fields.
Afterwards neglected honour was paid to the tombs,
And there was an end to the portents, and the funerals.
But while these rites are enacted, girls, don’t marry:
Let the marriage torches wait for purer days.
And virgin, who to your mother seem ripe for love,
Don’t let the curved spear comb your tresses.
Hymen, hide your torches, and carry them far
From these dark fires! The gloomy tomb owns other torches.
And hide the gods, closing those revealing temple doors,
Let the altars be free of incense, the hearths without fire.
Now ghostly spirits and the entombed dead wander,
Now the shadow feeds on the nourishment that’s offered.
But it only lasts till there are no more days in the month
Than the feet (eleven) that my metres possess.
This day they call the Feralia because they bear (ferunt)
Offerings to the dead: the last day to propitiate the shades.
See, an old woman sitting amongst the girls performs the rites
Of Tacita, the Silent (though she herself is not silent),
With three fingers, she sets three lumps of incense
Under the sill, where the little mouse makes its secret path:
Then she fastens enchanted threads together with dark lead,
And turns seven black beans over and over in her mouth,
And bakes the head of a sprat in the fire, mouth sewn up
With pitch, pierced right through with a bronze needle.
She drops wine on it too, and she or her friends
Drink the wine that’s left, though she gets most.
On leaving she says: ‘We have sealed up hostile mouths
And unfriendly tongues’: and the old woman exits drunk.
You’ll ask at once, who is the goddess Muta?:
Hear of what I’ve learned from the old men.
Suffered many things a god ought not to bear.
Now she would hide in the woods among the hazels,
Now she would dive into her sister waters.
The god called the nymphs who lived in Latium,
And spoke these words in the midst of their throng:
‘Your sister is an enemy to herself, and shuns a union
With the supreme god that would benefit her.
Take counsel for both: for what would delight me greatly
Would be a great advantage to your sister.
When she flees, stop her by the riverbank,
Lest she plunges her body into the waters.’
He spoke: all the nymphs of the Tiber agreed,
Those too who haunt your spaces, divine Ilia.
There was a naiad, named Lara: but her old name
Was the first syllable twice-repeated, given her
To mark her failing. Almo, the river-god often said:
‘Daughter, hold your tongue,’ but she still did not.
As soon as she reached the pools of her sister Juturna,
She said: ‘Flee these banks’, and spoke Jupiter’s words.
She even went to Juno, and showing pity for married women
Said: ‘Your husband loves the naiad Juturna.’
Jupiter was angered, and tearing that tongue from her mouth
That she had used so immoderately, called Mercury to him:
‘Lead her to the shadows: that place is fitting for the silent.
She shall be a nymph, but of the infernal marshes.’
Jove’s order was obeyed. On the way they reached a grove:
Then it was they say that she pleased the god who led her.
He prepared to force her, with a glance instead of words
She pleaded, trying to speak from her mute lips.
Heavy with child, she bore twins who guard the crossroads,
The Lares, who keep watch forever over the City.
The next day has its name, Caristia, from our dear (cari) kin,
When a throng of relations gathers to the family gods.
It’s surely pleasant to turn our faces to the living,
Once away from our relatives who have perished,
And after so many lost, to see those of our blood
Who remain, and count the degrees of kinship.
Let the innocent come: let the impious brother be far,
Far from here, and the mother harsh to her children,
He whose father’s too long-lived, who weighs his mother’s years,
The cruel mother-in-law who crushes the daughter-in-law she hates.
Ino who gave parched seeds to the farmers:
And whoever has gathered wealth by wickedness.
Virtuous ones, burn incense to the gods of the family,
(Gentle Concord is said to be there on this day above all)
And offer food, so the robed Lares may feed from the dish
Granted to them as a mark of esteem, that pleases them.
Then when moist night invites us to calm slumber,
Fill the wine-cup full, for the prayer, and say:
‘Health, health to you, worthy Caesar, Father of the Country!’
And let there be pleasant speech at the pouring of wine.
When night has passed, let the god be celebrated
With customary honour, who separates the fields with his sign.
Terminus, whether a stone or a stump buried in the earth,
You have been a god since ancient times.
You are crowned from either side by two landowners,
Who bring two garlands and two cakes in offering.
An altar’s made: here the farmer’s wife herself
Brings coals from the warm hearth on a broken pot.
The old man cuts wood and piles the logs with skill,
And works at setting branches in the solid earth.
Then he nurses the first flames with dry bark,
While a boy stands by and holds the wide basket.
When he’s thrown grain three times into the fire
The little daughter offers the sliced honeycombs.
Others carry wine: part of each is offered to the flames:
The crowd, dressed in white, watch silently.
Terminus, at the boundary, is sprinkled with lamb’s blood,
And doesn’t grumble when a sucking pig is granted him.
Neighbours gather sincerely, and hold a feast,
And sing your praises, sacred Terminus:
‘You set bounds to peoples, cities, great kingdoms:
Without you every field would be disputed.
You curry no favour: you aren’t bribed with gold,
Guarding the land entrusted to you in good faith.
If you’d once marked the bounds of Thyrean lands,
Three hundred men would not have died,
Nor Othryades’ name be seen on the pile of weapons.
O how he made his fatherland bleed!
What happened when the new Capitol was built?
The whole throng of gods yielded to Jupiter and made room:
But as the ancients tell, Terminus remained in the shrine
Where he was found, and shares the temple with great Jupiter.
Even now there’s a small hole in the temple roof,
So he can see nothing above him but stars.
Since then, Terminus, you’ve not been free to wander:
Stay there, in the place where you’ve been put,
And yield not an inch to your neighbour’s prayers,
Lest you seem to set men above Jupiter:
And whether they beat you with rakes, or ploughshares,
Call out: “This is your field, and that is his!”’
There’s a track that takes people to the Laurentine fields,
The sixth milestone from the City, there, bears witness
To the sacrifice of a sheep’s entrails to you, Terminus.
The lands of other races have fixed boundaries:
The extent of the City of Rome and the world is one.
Now I have to tell of the Flight of the King:
The sixth day from the end of the month has that name.
Tarquin the Proud held the last kingship of the Roman people,
A man of injustice, but powerful in might.
He had taken cities, and overthrown others,
And made Gabii his, by base trickery.
For the youngest of his three sons, Sextus, clearly a child
Of Tarquin, entered the midst of his enemies in the still of night.
They drew their swords: he said: ‘Don’t kill the unarmed!
That’s what my brother, and father, Tarquin, desire,
He who lacerated my back with a cruel scourge.’
So he could make his plea, he had suffered a beating.
There was a moon: seeing a youth they sheathed their swords
And saw the scars on his back when he drew back his robe.
They even wept, and begged to fight with them in the war:
The cunning youth complied with the unwary men.
Once in place he sent a friend to ask his father
To show him the means of destroying Gabii.
Below lay a garden full of fragrant plants,
Where a gentle stream of splashing water cut the soil:
There Tarquin the Proud received his son’s secret message,
And then slashed the heads of the lilies with a stick.
When the messenger returned and spoke of the broken flowers,
The son said: ‘I understand my father’s orders.’
He killed Gabii’s chief citizens, without delay,
And surrendered the walls, now naked of leaders.
See, a dreadful sight, a snake appeared between the altars,
And snatched the entrails from the dead fires.
The oracle of Phoebus was consulted: it replied:
‘He who first kisses his mother will win.’
Not understanding the god, each of the throng
Believing it, quickly ran to kiss his mother.
Wise Brutus pretended to be foolish, to be safe
From your snares, dread Tarquin the Proud:
Throwing himself down he kissed Mother Earth,
Though they thought he had stumbled and fallen.
Meanwhile the Roman standards ringed Ardea,
And the city endured a long lingering siege.
While they were idle, and the enemy feared to fight,
They enjoyed themselves in camp: the soldiers at ease.
Young Tarquin entertained his friends with food and wine,
And among them the king’s son spoke out:
‘While Ardea troubles us with this sluggish war,
And stops us bearing our weapons to our fathers’ gods,
How is the marriage bed served? And are we
As dear to our wives as they are to us?’
Each praised his own: in their eagerness dispute raged,
And tongues and hearts grew heated with much wine.
Then Tarquinius who took his famous name from Collatia
Rose, and said: ‘Words are not needed: trust in deeds!
Night still remains: take horse and head for the City!’
The words pleased them: the horses were bridled,
And carried off their masters. They first sought
The royal palace: there was no guard at the door.
See, they found the king’s daughters-in-law, garlands
Round their necks, keeping vigil over the wine.
From there they swiftly sought Lucretia,
Before whose couch were baskets of soft wool.
By a scant light her servants were spinning their yarn,
Amongst them the lady spoke with a quiet voice:
‘The cloak our hands have made (hurry now, girls, hurry!)
Must be sent to the master straight away.
What news is there? Since you hear more of things:
How much more of the war do they say is left to run?
Perverse Ardea, after this you’ll be conquered and fall,
You resist your betters, who force our husbands’ absence.
If only they return! But mine is thoughtless,
And rushes everywhere with his drawn sword.
I faint, I die, as often as the image of my warrior
Comes to mind, and chills my heart with cold.’
She ended in tears, letting fall the stretched yarn,
And buried her face in her lap.
It became her: becoming, were her modest tears,
And her face was a worthy equal to her heart.
Her husband cried out: ‘Fear not, I come!’ She revived,
And hung, a sweet burden, on her husband’s neck.
Meanwhile the royal youth, Sextus, caught furious fire,
And raged about, captured by blind love.
Her form please him, her white skin and yellow hair,
And added to that her grace, owing nothing to art:
Her voice and speech pleased him, her incorruptibility,
And the less his hope, the more he desired her.
Now the bird had sung that heralds the dawn,
When the young men took their way back to camp.
Meanwhile the image of the absent one captivated
His stunned senses. In memory, she pleased more and more.
‘She sat so, was dressed so, so spun her yarn,
So her hair spilled loose about her neck,
That was her look: those were her words,
That was her colour, her form, her lovely face.’
As the flood subsides after a great gale,
But the waves heave from the dying wind,
So though the presence of that pleasing form was absent,
Love remained, which its presence had given form.
He burned, and driven by the goad of sinful love,
He plotted force and deceit to an innocent bed.
He said: ‘The issue is doubtful: we’ll dare extremes!
Let her beware! God and fate favour the bold.
By daring we took Gabii as well.’ So saying,
He strapped on his sword, and mounted his horse.
Collatia’s bronze gate received the young man
As the sun was preparing to hide its face.
An enemy entered Collatinus’s home, as a friend:
He was welcomed courteously: he was of their blood.
How her mind was deceived! Unknowingly,
The wretched woman prepared a meal for her foe.
The meal was done: the hour demanded rest:
It was night, and the whole house was without light:
He rose, and drew his sword from his gilded scabbard,
And, chaste wife, he entered your bedroom.
As he touched the bed, the king’s son said:
‘Lucretia I have a blade, and I, a Tarquin, speak!’
She said nothing: she’d no voice or powers of speech
Nor any capability for thought in her whole mind.
But she trembled like a little lamb, caught straying
From the fold, brought low by a wolf’s attack.
What could she do? Fight? In battle a woman loses.
Cry out? But the sword in his right hand restrained her.
Fly? His hands pressed down hard on her breast,
A breast that had never been touched by a stranger’s hand.
The hostile lover pursues her with prayers, bribes, threats,
But prayers and bribes and threats cannot sway her.
He said: ‘My accusation will rob you of your life:
The adulterer will bear false witness to adultery:
I’ll kill a slave, they’ll say you were caught with him.’
Overcome by fear for her reputation, the girl was conquered.
Why, rejoice, victor? This victory will destroy you.
Alas, how a single night cost you your kingdom!
Now day had dawned: she sat with hair unbound,
Like a mother who must go to her son’s funeral.
She called her aged father and her loyal husband
From the camp, and both came without delay.
Seeing her condition, they asked why she mourned,
Whose rites she prepared, what ill had befallen her?
She was silent for a long time, and hid her face in her robe
Out of shame: her tears flowed in a running stream.
Her father here, her husband there comforted her tears
And begged her to tell, wept, and trembled in blind fear.
Three times she tried to speak, three times desisted,
And a fourth time, gaining courage, still couldn’t raise her eyes.
She said: ‘Must I owe this to a Tarquin too? Must I speak,
Speak, poor wretch, my shame from my own mouth?’
What she could, she told. The end she suppressed:
She wept, and a blush spread over a wife’s cheeks.
Her husband and her father forgave her being forced:
She said: ‘I deny myself the forgiveness that you grant.’
Then she stabbed herself with a blade she had hidden,
And, all bloodied, fell at her father’s feet.
Even then she took care in dying so that she fell
With decency, that was her care even in falling.
See, the husband and father throw themselves on her body,
Regardless of appearances, grieve for their mutual loss.
Brutus approached, and at last, with spirit, belied his name,
Snatching the weapon from the dying body,
Holding the blade dripping with noble blood,
Fearlessly he uttered these menacing words:
‘I swear by this chaste blood, so courageous,
And by your spirit that will be a divinity to me,
I will be revenged on Tarquin the Proud and his lost brood.
I have concealed my virtue for too long.’
At these words, lying there, she moved her sightless eyes,
And seemed to witness the speech by a stirring of her hair.
They carried her to her funeral, a woman with a man’s courage,
And tears and indignation followed after her.
The gaping wound was seen. Brutus, with a shout,
Gathered the Quirites, and told of the king’s evil act.
Tarquin the Proud and his children fled, a consul took up the rule
For the year: That day was the last day of kingship.
Am I wrong, or has the swallow come, herald of the Spring:
Does she not fear lest winter should turn back, return again?
Often, Procne, you’ll complain that you’ve been too swift,
And your husband, Tereus, rejoice in the cold you feel.
Now two nights of the second month remain,
And Mars urges on his chariot’s swift horses.
The day has retained the name Equirria,
From the horse races the god views on his Fields.
Rightly you’re here, Gradivus, Marching God: your season
Demands its place, the month marked by your name is near.
We’ve reached harbour: the book ends with the month:
Now, from here, my vessel can sail through other waters.