CLAUDIAN, PROSERPINE
 

CLAUDIAN was a Latin poet who flourished in the late C4th AD in the court of the Roman emperor Honorius. He was the author of a large number of works including three myth-themed poems: the Rape of Proserpine (De Raptu Proserpine), the Battle of the Giants (Gigantomachia), and the Phoenix. Most of his other non-mythical works can be found on the Lacus Curtius site (which also uses this Loeb translation).

Claudian. Translated by Platnauer, Maurice. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 135 & 136. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Univserity Press. 1922.

The Loeb Claudian volumes are still in print and available new from Amazon.com (click on image right for details). Volume II of this work contains translations of the Rape of Proserpine, The Gothic War, On Stilicho's Consulship, Panegyric on the Sixth Consulship of Honorius, and the various Shorter Poems (including the Gigantomachia and Phoenix), as well as the source Latin texts, Platnaeuer's introduction and footnotes and an index of proper names.


CLAUDIAN INDEX

RAPE OF PROSERPINE

Book 1 Pref
Book 1
Book 2 Pref
Book 2
Book 3

SHORTER POEMS

52. The Battle of the Giants
27. The Phoenix

RAPE OF PROSERPINE, TRANSLATED BY M. PLATNAUER

BOOK I PREFACE

[1] He who first made a ship and clave therewith the deep, troubling the waters with roughly hewn oars, who first dared trust his alder-bark to the uncertain winds and who by his skill devised a way forbidden to nature, fearfully at the first essayed smooth seas, hugging the shore in an unadventurous course. But soon he began to attempt the crossing of the broad bays, to leave the land and spread his canvas to the gentle south wind; and, as little by little his growing courage led him on, and as his heart forgot numbing fear, sailing now at large, he burst upon the open sea and, with the signs of heaven to guide him, passed triumphant through the storms of the Aegean and the Ionian main.


BOOK I

[1] My full heart bids me boldly sing the horses of the ravisher from the underworld and the stars darkened by the shadow of his infernal chariot and the gloomy chambers of the queen of Hell. Come not night, ye unititiate. Now has divine madness driven all mortal thoughts from my breast, and my heart is filled with Phoebus’ inspiration; now see I the shrine reel and its foundations totter while the threshold glows with radiant light telling that the god is at hand. And now I hear a loud din from the depths of the earth, the temple of Cecrops re-echoes and Eleusis waves its holy torches. The hissing snakes of Triptolemus raise their scaly necks chafed by the curving collar, and, uptowering as they glide smoothly along, stretch forth their rosy crests toward the chant. See from afar rises Hecate with her three various heads and with her comes forth Iacchus smooth of skin, his temples crowned with ivy. There clothes him the pelt of a Parthian tiger, its gilded claws knotted together, and the Lydian thyrsus guides his drunken footsteps.

[20] Ye gods, whom the numberless host of the dead serves in ghostly Avernus, into whose greedy treasury is paid all that perishes upon earth, ye whose fields the pale streams of intertwining Styx surround, while Phlegethon, his rapids tossed in spray, flows through them with steaming eddies – do you unfold for me the mysteries of your sacred story and the secrets of your world. Say with what torch the god of love overcame Dis, and tell how Proserpine was stolen away in her maiden pride to win Chaos as a dower; and how through many lands Ceres, sore troubled, pursued her anxious search; whence corn was given to man whereby he laid aside his acorn food, and the new-found ear made useless Dodona’s oaks.

[32] Once on a time the lord of Erebus blazed forth in swelling anger, threatening war upon the gods, because he alone was unwed and had long wasted the years in childless state, brooking no longer to lack the joys of wedlock and a husband’s happiness nor ever to know the dear name of father. Now all the monsters that lurk in Hell’s abyss rush together in warlike bands, and the Furies bind themselves with an oath against the Thunderer. Tisiphone, the bloody snakes clustering on her head, shakes the lurid pine-torch and summons to the ghostly camp the armèd shades. Almost had the elements, once more at war with reluctant nature, broken their bond; the Titan brood, their deep prison-house thrown open and their fetters cast off, had again seen heaven’s light; and once more bloody Aegaeon, bursting the knotted ropes that bound his huge form, had warred against the thunderbolts of Jove with hundred-handed blows.

[48] But the dread Fates brought these threats to naught, and, fearing for the world, gravely laid their hoary locks before the feet and throne of the lord of Hell, and with suppliant tears touched his knees with their hands – those hands beneath whose rule all things are set, whose thumbs twist the thread of fate and spin the long ages with their iron spindles. First Lachesis, her hair unkempt and disordered, thus called out upon the cruel king: “Great lord of night, ruler over the shades, thou at whose command our threads are spun, who appointest the end and origin of all things and ordainest the alternation of birth and destruction; arbiter thou of life and death – for whatsoever thing comes anywhere into being it is by they gift that it is created and owes its life to thee, and after a fixed cycle of years thou sendest souls once more into mortal bodies – seek not to break the stablished treaty of peace which our distaffs have spun and given thee, and overturn not in civil war the compact fixed ‘twixt thee and thy two brothers. Why raisest thou unrighteous standards of war? Why freest the foul band of Titans to the open air? Ask of Jove; he will give thee a wife.”

[68] Scarce had she spoken when Pluto stopped, shamed by her prayer, and his grim spirit grew mild though little wont to be curbed: even so great Boreas armed with strident blasts and tempestuous with congealed snow, his wings all frozen with Getic hail as he seeks battle, threatens to overwhelm the sea, the woods, and the fields with sounding storm; but should Aeolus chance to bar against him the brazen doors idly his fury dies away and his storms retire baulked to their prison-house.

[76] Then he bids summon Mercury, the son of Maia, that he may carry these flaming words to Jove. Straightway the wingèd god of Cyllene stands at his side shaking his sleepy wand, his herald cap upon his head. Pluto himself sits propped on his rugged throne, awful in funereal majesty; foul with age-long dust is his mighty sceptre; boding clouds make grim his lofty head; unpitying is the stiffness of his dread shape; rage heightened the terror of his aspect. Then with uplifted head he thunders forth these words, while, as the tyrant speaks, his halls tremble and are still; the massy hound, guardian of the gate, restrains the barking of his triple head, and Cocytus sinks back repressing his fount of tears; Acheron is dumb with silent awe, and the banks of Phlegethon cease their murmuring.

[89] “Grandchild of Atlas, Arcadian-born, deity that sharest hell and heaven, thou who alone hast the right to cross either threshold, and art the intermediary between the two words, go swiftly, cleave the winds, and bear these my behests to proud Jove. ‘Hast thou, cruel brother, such complete authority over me? Did injurious fortune rob me at once of power and light? Because day was reft from me, lost I therefore strength and weapons? Thinkest thou me humble and cowed because I hurl not bolts forged by the Cyclops and fool not the empty air with thunder? Is it not enough that deprived of the pleasant light of day I submit to the ill-fortune of the third and final choice and these hideous realms, whilst thee the starry heavens adorn and the Wain surrounds with twinkling brilliance – must thou also forbid our marriage? Amphitrite, daughter of Nereus, holds Neptune in her sea-grey embrace; Juno, they sister and they wife, takes thee to her bosom when wearied thou layest aside thy thunderbolts. What need to tell of thy secrete love for Lato or Ceres or great Themis? How manifold a hope of offspring was thine! Now a crowd of happy children surrounds thee. And shall I in this empty palace, sans joy, sans fame, know no child’s love to still instant care? I will not brook so dull a life. I swear by elemental night and the unexplored shallows of the Stygian lake, if thou refuse to hearken to my word I will throw open Hell and call forth her monsters, will break Saturn’s old chains and shroud the sun in darkness. The framework of the world shall be loosened and the shining heavens mingle with Avernus’ shades.’”

[117] Scarce had he spoken when his messenger trod the stars. The Father heard the message and, communing with himself, debated long who would dare such a marriage, who would wish to exchange the sun for the caves of Styx. He would fain decide and at length his fixed purpose grew.

[122] Ceres, whose temple is at Henna, had but one youthful daughter, a child long prayed for; for the goddess of birth granted no second offspring, and her womb, exhausted by that first labour, became unfruitful. Yet prouder is the mother above all mothers, and Proserpine such as to take the place of many. Her mother’s care and darling is she; not more lovingly does the fierce mother cow tend her calf that cannot as yet scamper over the fields and whose growing horns curve not yet moonwise over her forehead. As the years were fulfilled she had grown a maiden ripe for marriage, and thoughts of the torch of wedlock stir her girlish modesty, but while she longs for a husband she yet fears to plight troth. The voice of suitors is heard throughout the palace; two gods woo the maiden, Mars, more skilled with the shield, and Phoebus, the mightier bowman. Mars offers Rhodope, Phoebus would give Amyclae, and Delos and his temple at Claros; in rivalry Juno and Latona claim her for a son’s wife. But golden-haired Ceres disdains both, and fearing lest her daughter should be stolen away (hoe blind to the future!) secretly entrusts her jewel to the land of Sicily, confident in the safe nature of this hiding-place.

[142] Trinacria was once a part of Italy but sea and tide changed the face of the land. Victorious Nereus brake his bounds and interflowed the cleft mountains with his waves whereby a narrow channel now separates these kindred lands. Nature now thrusts out into the sea the three-cornered island, cut off from the mainland to which it once belonged. At one extremity the promontory of Pachynum hurls back with jutting crags the furious waves of the Ionian main, round another roars the African sea that rises and beats upon the curving harbour of Lilybaeum, at the third the raging Tyrrhenian flood, impatient of restraint, shakes the obstacle of Cape Pelorus. In the midst of the island rise the charred cliffs of Aetna, eloquent monument of Jove’s victory over the Giants, the tomb of Enceladus, whose bound and bruisèd body breathes forth endless sulphur clouds from its burning wounds. Whene’er his rebellious shoulders shift their burden to the right or left, the island is shaken from its foundations and the walls of tottering cities sway this way and that.

[160] The peaks of Aetna thou must know by sight alone; to them no foot may approach. The rest is clothed with foliage but the summit no husbandman tills. Now it sends forth native smoke and with pitch-black cloud darkens and oppresses the day, now with awful stirrings it threatens the stars and feeds its flame with the dread fruit of its own body. But though it boils and bursts forth with such great heat yet it knows how to observe a truce with the snow, and together with glowing ashes the ice grows hard, protected from the great heat and secured by indwelling cold, so that the harmless flame licks the neighbouring frost with breath that keeps its compact. What huge engine hurls those rocks; what vast force piles rock on rock? Whence flows forth that fiery stream? Whether it be that the wind, forcing its way past hidden barriers, rages amid the fissured rocks that seek to bar its passage and, seeking a way of escape, sweeps the crumbling caverns with its wandering blasts in its bid for freedom, or that the sea, flowing in through the bowels of the sulphurous mountain, bursts into flame when its waters are compressed and casts up great rocks, I know not.

[179] When the loving mother had entrusted her charge to the secret keeping of Henna she went freed from care to visit tower-crowned Cybele in her Phrygian home, driving a car drawn by twining serpents which cleave the pervious clouds on their wingèd course and fleck the bit with harmless poison. Their heads are crested and spots of green mottle their backs while sparkling gold glints amid their scales. Now they swim circling through the air, now they skim the fields with low-driven course. The passing wheels sow the plough-land with golden grain and their track grows yellow with corn. Sprouting stalks cover their traces and attendant crops clothe the path of the goddess.

[190] Now is left behind Aetna, and all Sicily sinks lessening into the distance. Ah, how often, foreknowing of coming ill, did she mar her cheek with welling tears; how often look back upon her home with words like these: “Be happy, dear land, dearer than heaven to me, into thy safe keeping I commend my daughter, my sole joy, loved fruit of my labour. No despicable reward shall be thine, for thou shalt suffer no hoe nor shall the cruel iron of the ploughshare know thy soil. Untilled thy fields shall bear fruit, and though thine oxen plough not, a richer husbandman shall view with wonder the self-sown harvest.” So spake she and reached Mount Ida, drawn by her yellow serpents.

[202] Here is the queenly seat of the goddess and in her holy temple the sacred statue, o’ershadowed by the thick leaves of the pine wood which, though no storm wind shakes the grove, gives forth creakings with its cone-bearing branches. Within are the dread bands of the initiate with whose wild chantings the shrine rings; Ida is loud with howlings and Gargarus bends his woods in fear. As soon as Ceres appears the drums restrain their rattle; the choirs are silent and the Corybantes stay the flourish of their knives. Pipes and cymbals are still, and the lions sink their manes in greeting. Cybele1 rejoicing runs forth from the shrine and bends her towered head to kiss her guest.

[214] Long had Jove seen this, watching from his lofty seat, and to Venus he thus enfolded the secrets of his heart: “Goddess of Cythera, I will impart to thee my hidden troubles; long ago I decided that fair Proserpine should be given in marriage to the lord of Hell; such is Atropos’ bidding, such old Themis’ prophecy. Now that her mother has left her is the time for action. Do thou visit the confines of Sicily, and armed with thy wiles, lead Ceres’ daughter to sport in the level meads what time to-morrow’s light has unfolded the rosy dawn; employ those arts with which thou art wont to inflame all things, often even myself. Why should the nether kingdoms know not love? Let no land be free and no breast even amid the shades unfired by Venus. At last let the gloomy Fury feel the sting of passion and Acheron and the steely heart of stern Dis grow tender with love’s arrows.”

[229] Venus hastes to do his bidding; and at their sire’s behest there join her Pallas and Diana whose bent bow affrights all Maenalus’ slopes. Neath her divine feet the path shone bright, even as a comet, fraught with augury of ill, falls headlong, a glowing portent of blood-red fire; no sailor may look on it and live, no people view it but to their destruction; the message of its threatening tail is storm to ships and enemy’s attack to cities. They reached the place where shone Ceres’ palace, firm-built by the Cyclopes’ hands; up tower the iron walls, iron stand the gates, and steel bars secure the massy doors. Neither Pyragmon nor Steropes e’er builded a work with toil so great as that, nor ever did bellows breathe forth such blasts nor the molten mass of metal flow in a stream so deep that the very furnaces were weary of heating it. The hall was walled with ivory; the roof strengthened with beams of bronze and supported by lofty columns of electron.

[246] Proserpine herself, soothing the house with sweet song, was sewing all in vain a gift against her mother’s return. In this cloth she embroidered with her needle the concourse of atoms and the dwelling of the Father of the gods and pictured how mother Nature ordered elemental chaos, and how the first principles of things sprang apart, each to his proper place – those that were light being born aloft, the heavier ones falling to the centre. The air grew bright and fire chose the pole as its seat. Here flowed the sea; there hung the earth suspended. Many were the colours she employed, tricking the stars with gold and flowing the sea with purple. The shore she embossed with precious stones and cunningly employed raised threadwork to imitate the swelling billows. You might have thought you saw the seaweed dashed against the rocks and heard the murmur of the hissing waves flooding up the thirsty sands. Five zones she added; indicating it with red yarn: its desert confines are parched and the thread she used was dried by the sun’s unfailing heat. On either side lay the two habitable zones, blessed with mild climate fit for the life of man. At the top and bottom she set the two frozen zones, portraying eternal winter’s horror in her weaving and the gloom of never-ceasing cold. Further she embroidered the accursèd seat of her uncle, Dis, and the nether gods, her destined fellows. Nor did the omen pass unmarked, for prophetic of the future her cheeks grew wet with sudden tears.

[269] Next she began to trace Ocean’s glassy shallows at the tapestry’s farthest edge, but at that moment the doors opened, she saw the goddesses enter, and left her work unfinished. A glowing blush that mantled to her clear cheeks suffused her fair countenance and lit the torches of stainless purity. Not so beautiful even the glow of ivory which a Lydian maid has stained with Sidon’s scarlet dye.

[276] Now the sun was dipped in Ocean, and misty Night scattering sleep had brought for mortals ease and leisure in her black two-horsed chariot; when Pluto, warned by his brother, made his way to the upper air. The dread fury Allecto yokes to the chariot-pole the two fierce pairs of steeds that graze Cocytus’ banks and roam the dark meads of Erebus, and, drinking the rotting pools of sluggish Lethe, let dark oblivion drip from their slumberous lips – Orphnaeus, savage and fleet, Aethon, swifter than an arrow, great Nycteus, proud glory of Hell’s steeds, and Alastor, branded with the mark of Dis. These stood harnessed before the door and savagely champed the bit all eager for the morrow’s enjoyment of their destined booty.


BOOK II PREFACE

[1] When Orpheus sought repose and, lulling his song to sleep, had long laid aside his neglected task, the Nymphs complained that their joy had been reft from them and the sad rivers mourned the loss of his tuneful lays. Nature’s savagery returned and the heifer in terror of the lion looked in vain for help from the now voiceless lyre. The rugged mountains lamented his silence and the woods that had so often followed his Thracian lute.

[9] But after that Hercules, setting forth from Inachian Argos, reached the plains of Thrace on his mission of salvation, and destroying the stables of Diomede, fed the horses of the bloody tyrant on grass, then it was that the poet, o’erjoyed at his country’s happy fate, took up at once more the tuneful strings of his flute long laid aside, and touching its idle chords with the smooth quill, plied the famed ivory with festal fingers. Scarce had they heard him when the winds and waves were stilled; Hebrus flowed more sluggishly with reluctant stream, Rhodope stretched out her rocks all eager for the song, and Ossa, his summit less exalted, shook off his coat of snow. The tall poplar and the pine, accompanied by the oak, left the slopes of treeless Haemus, and even the laurel came, allured by the voice of Orpheus, though erstwhile it had despised Apollo’s art. Molossian dogs fawned playfully on fearless hares, and the lamb made room for the wolf by her side. Does sported in amity with the striped tiger and hinds had no fear of the lion’s mane.

[29] He sang the stings of a step-dame’s ire2 and the deeds of Hercules, the monsters overcome by his strong right arm; how while yet a child he had shown the strangled snakes to his terrified mother, and had laughed, fearlessly scorning such dangers. “Thee nor the bull that shook with his bellowing the cities of Crete alarmed, nor the savagery of the hound of Hell; thee not the lion, soon to become a constellation in the heavens, nor the wild boar that brought renown to Erymanthus’ height. Thou hast stripped the Amazons of their girdles, shot with thy bow the birds of Stymphalus, and driven home the cattle of the western clime. Thou hast o’erthrown the many limbs of the triple-headed monster and returned thrice victorious from a single foe. Vain the falls of Antaeus, vain the sprouting of the Hydra’s new heads. Its winged feet availed not to save Diana’s deer from thy hand. Cacus’ flames were quenched and Nile ran rich with Busiris’ blood. Pholoë’s slopes reeked with the slaughter of the cloud-born Centaurs. Thee the curving shoe of Libya held in awe; thee the mighty Ocean gazed at in amaze when thou laidst the world’s bulk on they back; on the neck of Hecules the heaven was poised more surely; the sun and stars coursed over thy shoulders.”

[49] So sang the Thracian bard. But thou, Florentinus, art a second Hercules to me. ‘Tis thou causest my quill to stir, ‘tis thou disturbest he Muses’ cavern long plunged in sleep and leadest their gentle bands in the dance.


BOOK II

[1] Not yet had bright day with herald beams struck the waves of the Ionian main; the light of dawn shimmered on the waters and the straying brilliance flickered over the deep blue sea. And now bold Proserpine, forgetful of her mother’s jealous care and tempted by the wiles of Venus, seeks the stream-fed vale. Such was the Fates’ decree. Thrice did the doors sound a warning note as the hinges turned; thrice did prophetic Aetna rumble mournfully with awful thunders. But her can no portent, no omen detain. The sister goddesses bore her company.

[11] First goes Venus exulting in her trickery and inspired by her great mission. In her heart she takes account of the coming rape; soon she will rule dread Chaos, soon, Dis once subdued, she will lead the subject ghosts. Her hair, parted into many locks, is braided round her head and secured by a Cyprian pin, and a brooch cunningly fabricated by her spouse Vulcan supports her cloak thick studded with purple jewels.

[18] Behind her hasten Diana, fair queen of Arcadian Lycaeus, and Pallas who, with her spear, protects the citadel of Athens – virgins both; Pallas, cruel goddess of war, Diana, bane of wild creatures. On her burnished helmet the Triton-born goddess wore a carved figure of Typhon, the upper part of his body lifeless, the lower limbs yet writhing, part dead, part quick. Her terrible spear, piercing the clouds as she brandished it, resembled a tree; only the Gorgon’s hissing neck she hid in the spread of her glittering cloak. But mild was Diana’s gaze and very like her brother looked she; Phoebus’ own one had thought her cheeks and eyes, her sex alone disclosed the difference. Her shining arms were bare, her straying locks fluttered in the gentle breeze, and the chord of her unstrung bow hung idle, her arrows slung behind her back. Her Cretan tunic, gathered with girdles twain, flows down to her knees, and on her waving dress Delos wanders and stretches surrounded by a golden sea.

[36] Between the two Ceres’ child, now her mother’s pride, so soon to be her sorrow, treads the grass with equal pace, their equal, too, in stature and beauty; Pallas you might have thought her, had she carried a shield, Diana, if a javelin. A brooch of polished jasper secured her girded dress. Never did art give happier issue to the shuttle’s skill; never was cloth so beautifully made nor embroidery so life-like. In it she had worked the birth of the sun from the seed of Hyperion, the birth, too, of the Moon, though diverse was her shape – of sun and moon that bring the dawning and the night. Tethys affords them a cradle and soothes in her bosom their infant sobs; the rosy light of her foster-children irradiates her dark blue plains. On her right shoulder she carried the infant Titan, too young as yet to vex with his light, and his encircling beams not grown; he is pictured as more gentle in those tender years, and from his mouth issues a soft flame that accompanies his infant cries. The Moon, his sister carried on Tethys’ left shoulder, sucks the milk of that bright breast, her forehead marked with a little horn.

[55] Such is the wonder of Proserpine’s dress. The Naiads bear her company and on either side crowd around her, those who haunt thy streams, Crinisus, and Pantagia’s rocky torrent and Gela’s who gives his name to the city; those whom Camerina, the unmoved, nurtures in her shallow marshes, whose home is Arethusa’s flood or the stream of Alpheus, her foreign lover; tallest of their company is Cyane. So move they as the beauteous band of Amazons, brandishing their moon-shaped shields what time the maiden warrior Hippolyte, after laying waste the regions of the north, leads home her fair army after battle, whether they have o’erthrown the yellow-haired Getae or cloven frozen Tanais with the axe of their native Thermodon; or as the Lydian Nymphs celebrate the festivals of Bacchus – the Nymphs whose sire was Hermus along whose banks they course, splashed with his golden waters: the river-god rejoices in his cavern home and pours forth the flooding urn with generous hand.

[71] Henna, mother of blossoms, had espied the goddess’ company from her grassy summit and thus addressed Zephyrus, lurking in the winding vale: “Gracious father of the spring, thou who ever rulest over my meads with errant breeze and bringest rain upon the summer lands with thine unceasing breath, behold this company of Nymphs and Jove’s tall daughters who deign to sport them in my meadows. Be present to bless, I pray. Grant that now all the trees be thick with newly-grown fruit, that fertile Hybla may be jealous and admit her paradise surpassed. All the sweet airs of Panchaea’s incense-bearing woods, all the honied odours of Hydaspes’ distant stream, all the spices which from the furthest fields the long-lived Phoenix gathers, seeking new birth from wished for death – spread thou all these through my veins and with generous breath refresh my country. May I be worthy to be plundered by divine fingers and goddesses seek to be decked with my garlands.”

[88] So spake she, and Zephyrus shook his wings adrip with fresh nectar and drenches the ground with their life-giving dew. Wheresoe’er he flies spring’s brilliance follows. The fields grow lush with verdure and heaven’s dome shines cloudless above them. He paints the bright roses red, the hyacinths blue and the sweet violets purple. What girdles of Babylon, meet cincture of a royal breast, are adorned with such varied jewels? What fleece so dyed in the rich juice of the murex where stand the brazen towers of Tyre? Not the wings of Juno’s own bird display such colouring. Not thus do the many-changing hues of the rainbow span young winter’s sky when in curved arch its rainy path glows green amid the parting clouds.

[101] Even more lovely than the flowers in the country. The plain, with gentle swell and gradual slopes, rose into a hill; issuing from the living rock gushing streams bedewed their grassy banks. With the shade of its branches a wood tempers the sun’s fierce heat and at summer’s height makes for itself the cold of winter. There grows the pine, useful for seafaring, the cornel-tree for weapons of war, the oak, friendly to Jove, the cypress, sentinel of graves, the holm filled with honeycombs, and the laurel foreknowing of the future; here the box-tree waves its thick crown of leaves, here creeps the ivy, here the vine clothes the elm. Not far from here lies a lake called by the Sicani Pergus, girt with a cincture of leafy woods close around its pallid waters. Deep down therein the eye of whoso would can see, and the everywhere transparent water invites an untrammeled gazes into its oozy depths and betrays the uttermost secrets of its pellucid gulfs. Hither came their company well pleased with the flowery climb.

[119] Venus bids them gather flowers. “Come, sisters, while yet the morning sun shines through the moist air, and while Lucifer, my harbinger of dawn, yet drives his dewy steeds and waters the bright field.” So spake she and gathered the flower that testified to her own woe.3 Her companions ranged the various vales. You could have believed a swarm of bees was on the wing, eager to gather its sweetness from Hyblaean thyme, where the king bees lead out their wax-housed armies and the honey-bearing host, issuing from the beech-tree’s hollow bole, buzzes around its favourite flowers. The meadows are despoiled of their glory; this goddess weaves lilies with dark violets, another decks herself with pliant marjoram, a third steps forth rose-crowned, another wreathed with white privet. Thee also, Hyacinthus, they gather, thy flower inscribed with woe, and Narcissus too – once lovely boys, now the pride of flowering spring. Thou, Hyacinthus, wert born at Amyclae, Narcissus was Helicon’s child; thee the errant discus slew; him love of his stream-reflected face beguiled; for thee weeps Delos’ god with sorrow-weighted brow; for him Cephisus with his broken reeds.

[137] But beyond her fellows she, the one hope of the corn-bearing goddess, burned with a fierce desire to gather flowers. Now she fills with the spoil of the fields her laughing baskets, osier-woven; now she twines a wreath of flowers and crowns herself therewith, little seeing in this a foreshadowing of the marriage fate holds in store for her. E’en Pallas herself, goddess of the trumpets and of the weapons of war, devotes to gentler pursuits the hand wherewith she o’erwhelms the host of battle and throws down stout gates and city walls. She lays aside her spear and wreaths her helmet with soft flowers – strange aureole! The iron peak is gay, o’ershadowed the fierce martial glint, and the plumes, erstwhile levin bolts, now nod with blossoms. Nor does Diana, who scours Mount Parthenius with her keen-scented hounds, disdain this company but would fain bind her free-flowing tresses with a flowery crown.

[151] But while the maidens so disport themselves, wandering through the fields, a sudden roar is heard, towers crash and towns, shaken to their foundations, totter and fall. None knows whence comes the tumult; Paphus’ goddess alone recognized the sound that set her companions in amaze, and fear mixed with joy fills her heart. For now the king of souls was pricking his way through the dim labyrinth of the underworld and crushing Enceladus, groaning beneath the weight of his massy steeds. His chariot-wheels severed the monstrous limbs, and the giant struggles, bearing Sicily along with Pluto on his burdened neck, and feebly essays to move and entangle the wheels with his weary serpents; still o’er his blazing back passes the smoking chariot. And as sappers seek to issue forth upon their unsuspecting enemy and, following a minèd path beneath the foundations of the tunneled field, pass unmarked beyond the foe-infested alls of the city to break out, a victorious party, into the citadel of the outwitted enemy, seeming sprung from earth, even so Saturn’s third son scours the devious darkness whithersoever his team hurries him, all eager to come forth beneath his brother’s sky. No door lies open for him; rocks bar his egress on every side and detain the god in their escapeless prison. He brooked not the delay but wrathfully smote the crags with his beam-like staff. Sicily’s caverns thundered, Lipare’s isle was confounded, Vulcan left his forge in amaze and the Cyclops let drop their thunderbolts in fear. The pent-up denizens of the frozen Alps heard the uproar and he who then swam thy wave, father Tiber, thy brows not as yet graced with the crown of Italy’s triumphs; there heard it he who rows his bark down Padus’ stream.

[179] So when the rock-encircled lake, ere Peneus’ wave rolled seaward, covered all Thessaly and allowed not its submerged fields to be tilled, Neptune smote the imprisoning mountain with his trident. Then did the peak of Ossa, riven with the mighty flow, spring apart from snowy Olympus; a passage was made and the waters were released, whereby the sea won back her feeding streams and the husbandman his fields.

[186] When Trinacria beneath Pluto’s stroke loosed her rocky bonds and yawned wide with cavernous cleft, sudden fear seized upon the sky. The stars deserted their accustomed courses; the Bear bathed him in forbidden Ocean; terror hurried sluggish Boötes to his setting; Orion trembled. Atlas paled as he heard the neighing coursers; their smoky breath obscures the bright heavens and the sun’s orb affrighted them, so long fed on darkness. They stood biting the curb astonied at the brighter air, and struggle to turn the chariot and hurry back to dread Chaos. But soon, when they felt the lash on their backs and learned to bear the sun’s brightness, they gallop on more rapidly than a winter torrent and more fleet than the hurtling spear; swifter than the Parthian’s dart, the south wind’s fury or nimble thought of anxious mind. Their bits are warm with blood, their death-brining breath infects the air, the polluted dust is poisoned with their foam.

[204] The Nymphs fly away in all directions; Proserpine is hurried away in the chariot, imploring aid of the goddesses. Now Pallas unveils the Gorgon’s head, Diana strings her bow and hastes to help. Neither yields to her uncle’s violence; a common virginity compels them to fight and engages them at the crime of the fierce ravisher. Pluto is like a lion when he has seized upon a heifer, the pride of the stall and the herd, and has torn with his claws the defenceless flesh and has sated his fury on all its limbs, and so stands all befouled with clotted blood and shakes his tangled mane and scorns the shepherds’ feeble rage.

[214] “Lord of the strengthless dead,” cries Pallas, “wickedest of thy brothers, what Furies have stirred thee with their goads and accursed torches? Why hast thou left thy seat and how darest thou pollute the upper world with thy hellish team? Thou hast the hideous Curses, the other deities of Hell, the dread Furies – any of them would be a worthy spouse for thee. Quit thy brother’s realm, begone from the kingdom allotted to another. Get thee hence; let thine own night suffice thee. Why mix the quick with the dead? Why treadest thou our world, an unwelcome visitant?”

[223] So exclaiming she smote with her threatening shield the horses who sought to advance and barred their way with the bulk of her targe, thrusting them back with the hissing snake-hair of Medusa’s head and o’ershadowing them with its outstretched plumes. She poised for throwing her shaft of ash whose radiance met and illumed Pluto’s black chariot. Almost had she cast it had not Jove from heaven’s height hurled his red thunderbolt on peaceful wings, acknowledging his new son; mid the riven clouds thunders the marriage-paean and attesting fires confirm the union.

[232] All unwilling the goddesses yielded, and weeping Diana laid aside her weapons and thus spake: “Fare well, a long farewell; forget us not. Reverence for our sire forbade our help, and against his will we cannot defend thee. We acknowledge defeat by a power greater than our own. The Father hath conspired against thee and betrayed thee to the realms of silence, no more, alas! to behold the sisters and companions who crave sight of thee. What fate hath reft thee from the upper air and condemned the heavens to so deep mourning? Now no more can we rejoice to set Parthenius’ steep with nets nor wear the quiver; at large as he lists let the wild boar raven and the lion roar savagely with none to say him nay. Thee, Taygetus’ crest, thee Maenalus’ height shall weep, their hunting laid aside. Long shalt thou be food for weeping on sorrowing Cynthus’ slopes. E’en my brother’s shrine at Delphi shall speak no more.”

[247] Meanwhile Proserpine is borne away in the winged car, her hair streaming before the wind, beating her arms in lamentation and calling in vain remonstrance to the clouds: “Why has thou not hurled at me, father, bolts forged by the Cyclopes’ hands? Was this thy will to deliver thy daughter to the cruel shades and drive her for ever from this world? Does love move thee not at all? Hast thou nothing of a father’s feeling? What ill deed of mine has stirred such anger in thee? When Phlegra raged with war’s madness I bore no standard against the gods; ‘twas through no strength of mine that ice-bound Ossa supported frozen Olympus. For attempt of what crime, for complicity with what guilt, am I thrust down in banishment to the bottomless pit of Hell? Happy girls whom other ravishers have stolen; they at least enjoy the general light of day, while I, together with my virginity, lose the air of heaven; stolen from me alike is innocence and daylight. Needs must I quit this world and be led a captive bride to serve Hell’s tyrant. Ye flowers that I loved in so evil an hour, oh, why did I scorn my mother’s warning? Too late did I detect the wiles of Venus. Mother, my mother, whether in the vales of Phrygian Ida the dread pipe sounds about thine ears with Lydian strains, or thou hauntest mount Dindymus, ahowl with self-mutilated Galli, and beholdest the naked swords of the Curetes, aid me in my bitter need; frustrate Pluto’s mad lust and stay the funereal reins of my fierce ravisher.”

[273] Her words and those becoming tears mastered e’en that rude heart as Pluto first learned to feel love’s longings. The tears he wiped away with his murky cloak, quieting her sad grief with these soothing words: “Cease, Proserpine, to vex thy heart with gloomy cares and causeless fear. A prouder sceptre shall be thine, nor shalt thou face marriage with a husband unworthy of thee. I am that scion of Saturn whose will the framework of the world obeys, whose power stretches through the limitless void. Think not thou hast lost the light of day; other stars are mine and other courses; a purer light shalt thou face marriage with a husband unworthy of thee. I am that scion of Saturn whose will the framework of the world obeys, whose power stretches through the limitless void. Think not thou hast lost the light of day; other stars are mine and other courses; a purer light shalt thou see and wonder rather at Elysium’s sun and blessed habitants. There are richer age, a golden race has its home, and we possess for ever what men win but once. Soft meads shall fail thee not, and ever-blooming flowers, such as they Henna ne’er produced, breathe to gentle zephyrs. There is, moreover a precious tree in the leafy groves whose curving branches gleam with living ore – a tree consecrated to thee. Thou shalt be queen of blessed autumn and ever enriched with golden fruit. Nay more; whatsoe’er the limpid air embraces, whatever earth nourishes, the salt seas sweep, the rivers roll, or the marsh-lands feed, all living things alike shall yield them to thy sway, all, I say, that dwell beneath the orb of the moon that is the seventh of the planets and in its ethereal journey separates things mortal from the deathless stars. To thy feet shall come purple-clothed kings, stripped of their pomp, and mingling with the unmoneyed throng; for death renders all equal. Thou shalt give doom to the guilty and rest to the virtuous. Before thy judgement-throne the wicked must confess the crimes of their evil lives. Lethe’s stream shall obey thee and the Fates be thy handmaidens. Be thy will done.”

[306] So speaking he urges on his triumphant steeds and enters Tartarus in gentler wise. The shades assemble, thick as the leaves the stormy south wind shakes down from the trees, dense as the rain-clouds it masses, countless as the billows it curls or the sand it scatters. The dead of every age throng with hastening foot to see so illustrious a bride. Soon Pluto himself enters with joyful mien submitting him to the softening influence of pleasant laughter, all unlike his former self. At the incoming of his lord and mistress huge Phlegethon rises; his bristly beard is wet with burning streams and flames dart all o’er his countenance.

[317] There hasten to greet the pair slaves chosen from out the number. Some put away the lofty chariot, take the bits from the mouths of the toil-freed horses and turn them to graze in their accustomed pastures. Some hold back the curtains, others decorate the doorway with branches and fasten broidered hangings in the bridal chamber. In chaste bands the matrons of Elysium throng their queen, and with sweet converse banish her fear; they gather and braid her disheveled hair and place the wedding-veil upon her head to hide her troubled blushes.

[326] Joy fills that grey land, the buried throng holds high festival, and the ghosts sport them at the nuptial feast. The flower-crowned Manes sit at a joyous banquet and unwonted song breaks the gloomy silence; wailing is hushed. Hell’s murk gladly disperses and suffers the darkness of age-long night to grow less impenetrable. Minos’ urn of judgement throws no ambiguous lots; the sound of blows is still, for punishments are intermitted. No longer is Ixion tortured by the ever-turning wheel to which he is bound; from Tantalus’ lips no more is the flying water withdrawn. Ixion is freed, Tantalus reaches the stream, and Tityus at length straightens out his huge limbs and uncovers nine acres of foul ground (such was his large size), and the vulture, that burrows lazily into the dark side, is dragged off from his wearied breast sore against its will, lamenting that no longer is the devoured flesh renewed for it.

[343] The Furies, forgetful of crimes and dread wrath, make ready the wine-bowl and drink therefrom for all their snaky hair. Nay, with gentle song, their threatenings are laid aside, they stretch out their snakes to the full cups and kindle the festal torches with unusual flame. Then, too, the birds flew unhurt over the now appeasèd stream of poisonous Avernus, and Lake Amsanctus checked his deadly exhalations; the stream was stayed and the whirlpool grew still. They say that then the springs of Acheron were changed and welled up with new milk, while Cocytus, enwreathed with ivy, flowed along in streams of sweet wine. Lachesis slit not the thread of life nor did funeral dirge sound in challenge to the holy chant. Death walked not on earth and no parents wept beside the funeral pyre. The wave brought not destruction to the sailor nor the spear to the warrior. Cities flourished and knew not Death, the destroyer. Charon crowned his uncombed locks with sedge and singing plied his weightless oars.

[361] And now its own evening-star had shone upon the underworld. The maiden is led into the bridal chamber. Night, clad in starry raiment, stands by her as her brideswoman; she touches the couch and blesses the union of marriage with a bond that cannot be broken. The blessed shades raise their voices and beneath the palace roof of Dis thus being their song with sleepless acclaim: “Proserpine, queen of our realm, and thou, Pluto, at once the brother and the son-in-law of Jove, the Thunderer, be it yours to know the alliance of conjoined sleep; pledge mutual troth as ye hold each other in intertwining arms. Happy offspring shall be yours; joyous Nature awaits gods yet to be born. Give the world a new divinity and Ceres the grandchildren she longs for.”


BOOK III

[1] Meanwhile Jove bids cloud-girt Iris go gather the gods from the whole universe. She, outstripping the breezes in her rainbow flight, calls to the sea-deities, chides the Nymphs for their delay, and summons for the river-gods from their moist caverns. Out they haste in doubt and fear what this disturbance of their peace may signify or what has caused so great an upheaval. The starry heaven is thrown open and the gods are bidden take their seats as merit, not chance, dictates. The first places are accorded to the heavenly powers, next come the ocean-deities, calm Nereus and grey-haired Phorcus, last twiform Glaucus and Proteus, for once of unvarying shape. The agèd river-gods, too, are privileged to take their seats; the other rivers, a thousand strong, stand as stands the youth of an earthly assembly. Dripping water-nymphs lean on their moist sires and Fauns in silence marvel at the stars.

[18] Then the grave Father from his seat on high Olympus thus began: “Once more the affairs of men have won care from me, affairs long neglected since I looked upon the repose of Saturn’s reign and knew the torpor of that stagnant age, when I had fain urged the race of man, long sunk in lethargy by reason of my sire’s sluggish rule, with the goads of anxious life, whereby their crops should no more grow to maturity of their own accord in the untilled fields nor yet the forest trees drip with honey nor wine flow from springs nor every stream course sounding into cups. ‘Twas not that I grudged their blessings – gods may not envy nor hurt – but because luxury is a foe to a godly life, and plenty dulls the minds of men; therefore I bade necessity, invention’s mother, provoke their sluggish spirits and little by little search out the hidden tracks of things; bade industry give birth to civilization and practice nourish it.

[33] “Nature now with ceaseless complaint bids me succour the race of man, calls me cruel and implacable tyrant, calls to mind the centuries of my sire’s empery and dubs me miser of her riches, for that I would have the world a wilderness and the land covered with scrub and would beautify the year with no fruits. She complained that she, who was erstwhile the mother of living things, had suddenly taken upon her the hated guise of a stepmother. ‘Of what avail that man derived his intelligence from above, that he has held up his head to heaven, if he wander like the beasts through trackless places, if with them he crushes acorns for food? Can such a life as this bring him happiness, hid in the forest glades, indistinguishable from the life of animals?’ Since I bore so often such complaints from the lips of mother Nature, at length I took pity on the world and decided to make man to cease from his oak-tree food; wherefore I have decreed that Ceres, who now, ignorant of her loss, lashes the lions of Mount Ida, accompanying her dread mother, should wander over sea and land in anxious grief, until, in her joy at finding the traces of her lost daughter, she grant man the gift of corn and her chariot is borne aloft through the clouds to scatter among the peoples ears before unknown and the steel-blue serpents submit them to the Attic yoke.4 But if any of the gods dare inform Ceres who is the ravisher, I swear by the immensity of mine empire, by the firm-established peace of the world, be he son or sister, spouse or one of my band of daughters, vaunting her birth as from mine own head, that one shall feel afar the wrath of mine arms, the thunderbolt’s blow, and be sorry he was born a god and pray for death. Then, sore wounded, he shall be handed over to my son-in-law, Pluto himself, for punishment in those regions he had fain betray. There he shall learn whether Hell is true to her own monarch’s cause. Such is my will; thus let the unchangeable fates fulfil my decree.” He spake and shook the stars with his dread nod.

[67] But, far from Sicily, no uncertain suspicions of the loss she had suffered alarmed Ceres, where long she had dwelt peaceful and secure beneath the rocky roof of the cave resounding with arms. Dreams doubled her dread and a vision of Proserpine lost troubled her every sleep. Now she dreams that an enemy’s spear is piercing her body, now (oh horror!) that her raiment is changed and is become black, now that the infecund ash is budding in the midst of her house. Moreover, there stood a laurel, loved above all the grove, that used with maiden leaf to o’ershadow the virgin bower of Proserpine. This she saw hewn down to the roots, its straggling branches fouled with dust, and when she asked the cause of this disaster the weeping Dryads told her that the Furies had destroyed it with an axe of Hell.

[80] Next her very image appeared in the mother’s dreams, announcing her fate in no uncertain manner. She saw Proserpine shut in the dark confines of a prison-house and bound with cruel chains. Yet not so had she entrusted her to the fields of Sicily, not so had the wondering goddesses beheld her in Etna’s flowery meadows. Foul was now that hair, more beauteous erstwhile than gold; night had dimmed the fire of her eyes and frost banished the roses from her pale cheeks. The gracious flush of her skin and those limbs whose whiteness matched the hoar-frost are alike turned to hell-tinctured grain. When, therefore, she was at last able to recognize her daughter, albeit with doubtful gaze, she cried: “What crime hath merited these many punishments? Whence comes this dreadful wasting away? Who hath power to wreak such cruelty upon me? How have thy soft arms deserved fetters of stubborn iron, scarce fitted for beasts? Art thou my daughter or does a vain shadow deceive me?”

[97] Thus she answered: “Cruel mother, forgetful of thy daughter’s fate, more hard of heart than the tawny lioness! Could’st thou be so heedless of me? Didst thou hold me cheap for that I am thy sole daughter? Dear indeed to thee must be the name of Proserpine who now, shut in this vast cavern, as thou seest, am plagued by torment! Hast thou heart to dance, cruel mother? Canst thou revel through the cities of Phrygia? If thou hast not banished the mother from thy breast, if thou, Ceres, art really my mother and ‘twas no Hyrcanian tiger gave me birth, save me, I pray thee, from this prison and restore me to the upper world. If the fates forbid my return come thou down at least and visit me.”

[108] So spake she and strove to hold out her trembling hands. The iron’s ruthless strength forbade it, and the clangour of the chains awoke her sleeping mother. Ceres lay stiff with terror at the vision, rejoices that it was not true, but grieves that she cannot embrace her daughter. Maddened with fear she rushes out of the cavern and thus addresses Cybele: “No longer now will I tarry in the land of Phrygia, holy mother; the duty of protecting my dear daughter calls me back after so long an absence, for she is of an age that is exposed to many dangers. I put not complete trust in my palace, though built with iron from the Cyclopes’ furnace. I fear lest rumour disclose her hiding-place and Sicily too lightly guard my trust. The fame of that place too widely bruited abroad alarms me; needs must I find elsewhere some obscurer abode. Our retreat must be on all men’s tongues by reason of the groanings of Enceladus and the neighbour flames. Ill-omened dreams, too, with diverse visions often give me pause, and no day passes but brings some inauspicious hap. How often has my crown of golden ears fallen of itself! How often blood flowed from my breast! In mine own despite streams of tears course down my cheeks and unbidden my hands beat my astonished breast. Would I blow up the flute, funereal is the note; do I shake the cymbals, the cymbals echo a sound of mourning. Alas! I fear there is some trouble in these portents. This long sojourn has wrought me woe.”

[133] “May the wind carry far away thy vain words,” replies Cybele; “not such the Thunderer’s want of care that he would not hurl his bolt in his daughter’s defence. Yet go and return, dismayed by no evil hap.”

[137] This said, Ceres left the temple; but no speed is enough for her haste; she complains that her sluggish dragons scarce move, and, lashing the wings now of this one and now of that (though little they deserved it), she hopes to reach Sicily e’er yet out of sight of Ida. She fears everything and hopes nothing, anxious as the bird that has entrusted its unfledged brood to a low-growing ash and while absent gathering food has many fears lest perchance the wind has blown the fragile nest from the tree, lest her young ones be exposed to the theft of man or the greed of snakes.

[146] When she saw the gate-keepers fled, the house unguarded, the rusted hinges, the overthrown doorposts, and the miserable state of the silent halls, pausing not to look again at the disaster, she rent her garment and tore away the shattered corn-ears along with her hair. She could not weep nor speak nor breathe and a trembling shook the very marrow of her bones; her faltering steps tottered. She flung open the doors and wandering through the empty rooms and deserted halls, recognized the half-ruined warp with its disordered threads and the work of the loom broken off. The goddess’ labours had come to naught, and what remained to be done, that the bold spider was finishing with her sacrilegious web.

[159] She weeps not nor bewails the ill; only kisses the loom and stifles her dumb complaints amid the threads, clasping to her bosom, as though it had been her child, the spindles her child’s hand had touched, the wool she had cast aside, and all the toys scattered in maiden sport. She scans the virgin bed, the deserted couch, and the chair where Proserpine had sat: even as a herd, whose drove the unexpected fury of an African lion or bands of marauding beasts have attacked, gazes in amaze at the vacant stall, and, too late returned, wanders through the emptied pastures, sadly calling to the unreplying steers.

[170] And there, lying in the innermost parts of the house, she saw Electra, loving nurse of Proserpine, best known among the old Nymphs of Ocean; she who loved Proserpine as did Ceres. ‘Twas she who, when Proserpine had left her cradle, would bear her in her loving bosom and bring the little girl to mighty Jove and set her to play on her father’s knee. She was her companion, her guardian, and could be deemed her second mother. There, with torn and disheveled hair, all foul with grey dust, she was lamenting the rape of her divine foster-child.

[179] Ceres approached her, and when at length her grief allowed her sighs free rein: “What ruin is here?” she said. “Of what enemy am I become the victim? Does my husband yet rule or do the Titans hold heaven? What hand hath dared this, if the Thunderer be still alive? Have Typhon’s shoulders forced up Inarime or does Alcyoneus course on foot through the Etruscan Sea, having burst the bonds of imprisoning Vesuvius? Or has the neighbouring Etna oped her jaws and expelled Enceladus? Perchance Briareus with his hundred arms has attacked my house? Ah, my daughter, where art thou now? Whither are fled my thousand servants, whither Cyane? What violence ahs driven away the winged Sirens? Is this your faith? Is this the way to guard another’s treasure?”

[192] The nurse trembled and her sorrow gave place to shame; fain would she have died could she so escape the gaze of that unhappy mother, and long stayed she motionless, hesitating to disclose the suspected criminal and the all too certain death. Scarce could she thus speak: “Would that the raging band of Giants had wrought this ruin! Easier to bear is a common lot. ‘Tis the goddesses, and, though thou wilt scarce credit it, her own sisters, who have conspired to our undoing. Thou seest the devices of gods and wounds inflicted by sisters’ jealousy. Heaven is a more cruel enemy than Hell.

[202] “All quiet was the house, the maiden dared not o’erstep the threshold nor visit the grassy pastures, close bound by thy commands. The loom gave her work, the Sirens with their song relaxation – with me she held pleasant converse, with me she slept; safe delights were hers within the halls. Then suddenly Cytherea came (who showed her the way to our hid abode I know not), and, that she might not rouse our suspicions, she brought with her Diana and Minerva, attending her on either side. Straightway with beaming smiles she put on a pretence of joy, kissed Proserpine many a time, and repeated the name of sister, complaining of that hard-hearted mother who chose to condemn such beauty to imprisonment and complaining that by forbidding her intercourse with the goddesses she had removed her far from her father’s heaven. My unwitting charge rejoiced in these evil words and bade a feast be spread with plentiful nectar. Now she dons Diana’s arms and dress and tries her bow with her soft fingers. Now crowned with horse-hair plumes she puts on the helmet, Minerva commending her, and strives to carry her huge shield.

[220] “Venus was the first with guileful suggestion to mention fields and the vale of Henna. Cunningly she harps upon the nearness of the flowery mead, and as though she knew it not, asks what merits the place boasts, pretending not to believe that a harmless winter allows the roses to bloom, that the cold months are bright with flowers not rightly theirs, and that the spring thickets fear nor there Boötes’ wrath. So with her wonderment, her passion to see the spot, she persuades Proserpine. Alas! how easily does youth err with its weak ways! What tears did I not shed to no purpose, what vain entreaties did my lips not utter! Away she flew, trusting to the sisters’ protection; the scattered company of attendant Nymphs followed after her.

[231] “they went to the hills clothed with undying grass and gather flowers ‘neath the twilight dawn, when the quiet meads are white with dew and violets drink the scattered moisture. But when the sun had mounted to higher air at noon, behold! murky night hid the sky and the island trembled and shook beneath the beat of horses’ hoofs and the rumble of wheels. Who the charioteer was none might tell – whether he was the harbinger of death or it was Death himself. Gloom spread through the meadows, the rivers stayed their courses, the fields were blighted, nor did aught live, once touched by those horses’ breath. I saw the bryony pale, the roses fade, the lilies wither. When in his roaring course the driver turned back his steeds the night it brought accompanied the chariot and light was restored to the world. Proserpine was nowhere to be seen. Their vows fulfilled, the goddesses had returned and tarried not. We found Cyane half dead amid the fields; there she lay, a garland round her neck and the blackened wreaths faded upon her forehead. At once we approached her and inquired after her mistress’s fortune, for she had been a witness of the disaster. What, we asked, was the aspect of the horses; who their driver? Naught said she, but corrupted with some hidden venom, dissolved into water. Water crept amid her hair; legs and arms melted and flowed away, and soon a clear stream washed our feet. The rest are gone; the Sirens, Achelous’ daughters, rising on rapid wing, have occupied the coast of Sicilian Pelorus, and in wrath at this crime now turned their lyres to man’s destruction, tuneful now for ill. Their sweet voices stay ships, but once that song is heard the oars can move no more. I alone am left in the house to drag out an old age of mourning.”

[260] Ceres is still a prey to anxiety; half distraught she fears everything as though all were not yet accomplished. Anon she turns her head and eyes to heaven and with raging breast inveighs against its denizens; even as lofty Niphates shakes to the roaring of the Hyrcan tigress whose cubs the terrified horseman has carried off to be the playthings of Persia’s king. Speedier than the west wind that is her paramour5 rushes the tigress, anger blazing from her stripes, but just as she is about to engulf the terrified hunter in her capacious maw, she is checked by the mirrored image of her own form.6

[269] So the mother of Proserpine rages over all Olympus crying: “Give her back; no wandering stream gave me birth; I spring not from the Dryad rabble. Towered Cybele bare me also to Saturn. Where are the ordinances of the gods, where the laws of heaven? What boots it to live a good life? See, Cytherea dares show her face (modest goddess!) even after her Lemnian7 bondage! ‘Tis that chaste sleep and a loverless couch have given her this courage! This is, I suppose, the reward of those maidenly embraces! Small wonder that after such infamy she account nothing disgraceful. Ye goddesses that have known not marriage, is it thus that ye neglect the honour due to virginity? Have ye so changed your counsel? Do ye now go allied with Venus and her accomplice ravishers? Worthy each of you to be worshipped in Scythian temples and at altars that lust after human blood. What hath caused such great anger? Which of you has my Proserpine wronged even in her slightest word? Doubtless she drove thee, Delian goddess, from they loved woods, or deprived thee, Triton-born, of some battle thou hadst joined. Did she plague you with talk? Break rudely upon your dances? Nay, that she might be no burden to you, she dwelt far away in the solitudes of Sicily. What good hath her retirement done her? No peace can still the madness of bitter jealousy.”

[292] Thus she upbraids them all. But they, obedient to the Father’s word, keep silence or say they know nothing, and make tears their answer to the mother’s questionings. What can she do? She ceases, beaten, and in turn descends to humble entreaty. “If a mother’s love swelled too high or if I have done aught more boldly than befitted misery, oh forgive! A suppliant and wretched I fling me at your feet; grant me to learn my doom; grant me at least this much – sure knowledge of my woes. Fain would I know the manner of this ill; whatsoever fortune ye have visited upon me that will I bear and account it fate, not injustice. Grant a parent the sight of her child; I ask her not back. Whosoever thou art, possess in peace that thine hand has taken. The prey is thine, fear not. But if the ravisher has thwarted me, binding you by some oath, yet do thou, at least, Latona, tell me his name; to thee mayhap Diana hath confessed her knowledge. Thou hast known childbirth, the anxiety and love for children; to offspring twain hast thou given birth; this was mine only child. So mayest thou ever enjoy Apollo’s locks, so mayest thou live a happier mother than I.”

[311] Plenteous tears then bedewed her cheeks. She continued: “Why these tears? why this silence? Woe is me; all desert me. Why tarriest thou yet to no purpose? Seest thou not ‘tis open war with heaven? were it not better to seek again thy daughter by sea and land? I will gird myself and scour the world, unwearied I will penetrate every corner, nor ever stay my earth, nor rest nor sleep till I find my reft treasure, though she lie whelmed in the Spanish Ocean bed or hedged around in the depths of the Red Sea. Neither ice-bound Rhine nor Alpine frosts shall stay me; the treacherous tides of Syrtes shall not give me pause. My purpose holds to penetrate the fastnesses of the South and to tread the snowy home of Boreas. I will climb Atlas on the brink of the sunset and illumine Hydaspes’ stream with my torches. Let wicked Jove behold me wandering through towns and country, and Juno’s jealousy be sated with her rival’s ruin. Have your sport with me, triumph in heaven, proud gods, celebrate your illustrious victory o’er Ceres’ conquered daughter.”

[330] So spake she and glides down upon Etna’s familiar slopes, there to fashion torches to aid her night-wandering labours.

[332] There was a wood, hard by the stream of Acis, which fair Galatea oft chooses in preference to Ocean and cleaves in swimming with her snowy breast – a wood dense with foliage that closed in Etna’s summit on all sides with interwoven branches. ‘Tis there that Jove is said to have laid down his bloody shield and set his captured spoil after the battle. The grove glories in trophies from the plain of Phlegra and signs of victory clothe its every tree. Here hang the gaping jaws and monstrous skins of the Giants; affixed to trees their faces still threaten horribly, and heaped up on all sides bleach the huge bones of slaughtered serpents. Their stiffening sloughs smoke with the blow of many a thunderbolt, and every tree boasts some illustrious name. This one scarce supports on its down-bended branches the naked swords of hundred-handed Aegaeon; that glories in the murky trophies of Coeus; this bears up the arms of Mimas; spoiled Ophion weighs down those branches. But higher than all the other trees towers a pine, its shady branches spread wide, and bears the reeking arms of Enceladus himself, all powerful king of the Earth-born giants; it would have fallen beneath the heavy burden did not a neighbouring oak-tree support its wearied weight. Therefore the spot winds awe and sanctity; none touches the aged grove, and ‘tis accounted a crime to violate the trophies of the gods. No Cyclops dares pasture there his flock nor hew down the trees, Polyphemus himself flies from the hallowed shade.

[357] Not for that did Ceres stay her steps; the very sanctity of the place inflames her wrath; with angry hand she brandishes her axe, ready to strike Jove himself. She hesitates whether to cut down pines or lay low knotless cedars, scans likely trunks and lofty trees and shakes their branches with vigorous hand. Even so when a man, fain to carry merchandise over distant seas, builds a ship on dry land and makes ready to expose his life to tempest, he hews down beech and alder and marks the diverse utility of the yet growing forest; the lofty tree he selects as yard-arms for the swelling sail; the strong he prefers as a helm; the pliant will make good oars; the water-proof is suitable for the keel.

[370] Two cypresses in the grass hard by raised their inviolate heads to heaven; Simois looks not on such in amaze amid the crags of Ida, nor does Orontes water their like, Orontes that feeds Apollo’s grove and harbours rich cities on his banks. You would know them for sisters for they tower equal in height and look down upon the wood with twin tops. These she would have as her torches; she attacks each with vigorous blows, her gown girt back, her arms bared and armed with the axe. First one she strikes, then the other, and rains blows upon their trembling trunks with might and main. Together they crash to the ground, lay their foliage in the dust and lie upon the plain, wept of Fauns and wood-nymphs. She seizes both just as they are, uplifts them and, with hair out-streaming behind her, climbs panting the slopes of the mountain, passes beyond the flames and inaccessible precipices, and treads the lava that brooks no mortal footstep: even as the grim Megaera hastens to kindle yew-trees to light her to crime, speeding her journey to the walls of Cadmus’ city or meaning to work her devilment in Thyestean Mycenae; darkness and the shades give her passage, and Hell rings to her iron tread, till she halts beside Phlegethon’s wave and fires her torch from its brimming waves.

[392] When she had climbed to the mouth of the burning rock, straightway, turning aside her head, she thrust the kindling cypresses into its inmost depths, thus closing in the cavern on all sides and stopping up the blazing exit of the flames. The mountain thunders with repressed fire and Vulcan is shut in a grievous prison; the enclosed smoke cannot escape. The cone-bearing tops of the cypresses blaze and Etna grows with new ashes; the branches crackle, kindled with sulphur. Then, lest their long journey should cause them to fail, she bids the flames never die nor sleep and drenches the wood with that secret drug8 wherewith Phaëthon bedews his steeds and the Moon her bulls.

[404] Silent night had now in her turn visited upon the world her gift of sleep. Ceres, with her wounded breast, starts on her long journey, and, as she sets out, speaks as follows: “Little thought I, Proserpine, to carry for thee such torches as these. I had hoped what every mother hopes; marriage and festal torches and a wedding-song to be sung in heaven – such was my expectation. Are we divinities thus the sport of fate? does Lachesis vent her spleen on us as on mankind? How lofty was but now mine estate, surrounded with suitors innumerable for my daughter’s hand! What mother of many children but would have owned her my inferior by reason of my only daughter! Thou wast my first joy and my last; I was called prolific for that I bare thee. Thou wert my glory, my comfort, dear object of a mother’s pride; with thee alive I was goddess indeed, with thee safe I was Juno’s equal. Now am I an outcast, beggared. ‘Tis the Father’s will. Yet why make Jove answerable for my tears? ‘Twas I who so cruelly undid thee, I confess it, for I deserted thee and heedlessly exposed thee to threatening foes. Too deeply was I enmeshed in careless enjoyment of shrill-voiced revel, and, happy amid the din of arms, I was yoking Phrygian lions whilst thou wast being carried off. Yet see the punishment visited upon me. My face is seared with wounds and long gashes furrow my bloody breast. My womb, forgetful that it gave thee birth, is beaten with continual blows.

[428] “Where under heaven shall I find thee? Beneath what quarter of the sky? Who shall point the way, what path shall lead me? What chariot was it? Who was that cruel ravisher? A denizen of earth or sea? What traces of his wingèd wheels can I discover? Whithersoever my steps lead me or chance direct, thither will I go. Even so may Dione be deserted and seek for Venus!

[434] “Will my labours be successful? Shall I ever again be blest with thine embrace, my daughter? Art thou still fair; still glows the brightness of thy cheeks? Or shall I perchance see thee as thou cam’st in my nightly vision; as I saw thee in my dreams?”

[438] So spake she and from Etna first she drags her steps, and, cursing its guilty flowers and the spot whence Proserpine was ravaged, she follows the straying tracks of the chariot wheels and examines the fields in the full light of her lowered torch. Every rut is wet with her tears; she weeps at each trace she espies in her wanderings over the plain. She glides a shadow o’er the sea and the farthest ray of her torches’ gleam strikes the coasts of Italy and Libya. The Tuscan shore grows bright and the Syrtes gleam with kindled wave. The light reaches the distant cave of Scylla, of whose dogs some shrink back and are still in dumb amaze, others, not yet horrified into silence, continue to bark.9

THE END

1. Cybele and Cybebe are alternative forms in Latin. The normal English form is Cybele.
2. Juno is called the stepmother of Hercules.
3. Traditionally said to be the anemone, which is supposed to have sprung up red from the spot where Adonis was killed by the boar.
4. Attic, because Ceres in her wanderings came to Eleusis where she instructed Triptolemus, son of Celeus, King of Eleusis, in the art of agriculture.
5. marito Zephyro (ll. 265, 266) refers to the theory of impregnation by wind commonly accepted by the ancients (see Arist. H.A. vi. 19; Verg. Georg. iii. 275, etc.).
6. It was supposed that the robbed tigress on being confronted with a convex mirror supposed the reduced image to be her cub and contentedly retired with the mirror in her mouth. Another story makes the tigress vent her anger on an ordinary (not convex) mirror.
7. A reference to the binding by Hephaestus (to whom Lemnos was sacred) of Ares and Aphrodite whom he had surprised in adulterous intercourse. The story is told by Homer (Od. 8. 266 et sqq). Statius (Silv. i. 2. 60) uses this very phrase “Lemnia vincula.”
8. A magic drug or herb on which the sun is said to have fed his horses in order to render them non-inflammable. Ovid tells how Phaëthon was treated by his father in a like way (Met. ii. 122).
9. Poem ends unfinished.

  SHORTER POEMS >>
 
RELATED BOOKS