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Claudian, Gigantomachia

CLAUDIAN was a Latin poet who flourished in the late C4th A.D. 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), Battle of the Giants (Gigantomachia), and 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, various shorter poems (including Gigantomachia and The Phoenix), as well as the source Latin texts, Platnaeuer's introduction and footnotes and an index of proper names.



[1] Once upon a time mother Earth, jealous of the heavenly kingdoms and in pity for the ceaseless woes of the Titans, filled all Tartarus with a monster brood, thus giving birth to that which proved a very bane. Her womb swollen with this monstrous birth she opened Phlegra’s side and brought forth foes against heaven. With a noise as of thunder they burst forth in profusion and, scarce born, prepare their hands for war, as with twofold trail1 they writhe their hissing course. Suddenly the stars grow pale, Phoebus turns his rosy steeds and, impelled by fear, retraces his steps. The Bear takes refuge in the Ocean, and the unsetting Triones learned to endure setting. Then their angry mother stirred up her sons to war with words such as these:

[14] “Children, ye shall conquer heaven: all that ye see is the prize of victory; win, and the universe is yours. At last shall Saturn’s son feel the weight of my wrath; shall recognize Earth’s power. What! can any force conquer me? Has Cybele born sons superior to mine? Why has Earth no honour? Why is she ever condemned to bitter loss? Has any form of injury passed me by? There hangs luckless Prometheus in yon Scythian vale, feeding the vulture on his living breast; yonder, Atlas supports the weight of the starry heavens upon his head, and his grey hair is frozen stiff with cruel cold. What need to tell of Tityus whose liver is ever renewed beneath the savage vulture’s beak, to contend with his heavy punishment? Up, army of avengers, the hour is come at last, free the Titans from their chains; defend your mother. Here are seas and mountains, limbs of my body, but care not for that. Use them as weapons. Never would I hesitate to be a weapon for the destruction of Jove. Go forth and conquer; throw heaven into confusion, tear down the towers of the sky. Let Typhoeus seize the thunderbolt and the sceptre; Enceladus, rule the sea, and another in place of the sun guide the reins of dawn’s coursers. Porphyrion, wreathe thou thy head with Delphi’s laurel and take Cirrha for they sanctuary.”

[36] This exhortation filled their minds with vain hopes. They think themselves already victors o’er the gods, imagine they have thrown Neptune into chains and dragged him a prisoners from Ocean’s bed. One thinks to lay Mars low, one to tear Phoebus’ locks from his head; one assigns Venus to himself, another anticipates in thought his marriage wit Diana, and another is all aflame to do violence to chaste Minerva.

[41] Meanwhile Iris, messenger of the gods, summons the immortal council. There come the deities of river and lake; the very ghosts were there in heaven’s defence. Hell’s shady portals could not hold Proserpine afar; the king of the silent himself advances in his Lethaean chariot. His horses fear the light which hitherto their astonished eyes have never looked upon and, swerving this way and that, they breathe forth thick vapour from their soot-black nostrils. As, when an enemy’s siege-engine affrights a town, the citizens run together from all sides to defend their citadel, so gods of all shapes and forms came together to protect their father’s home. Them Jove thus addressed: “Deathless army, whose dwelling-place is, and must ever be, the sky, ye whom no adverse fortune can ever harm, mark ye how Earth with her new children conspires against our kingdom and undismayed has given birth to another brood? Wherefore, for all the sons she bore, let us give back to their mother as many dead; let her mourning last through the ages as she weeps by as many graves as she now has children.”

[60] The clouds echo the blast of heaven’s trumpets; on this side Heaven, on that Earth, sounds the attack. Once more Nature is thrown into confusion and fears for her lord. The puissant company of the giants confounds all differences between things; islands abandon the deep; mountains lie hidden in the sea. Many a river is left dry or has altered its ancient course. One giant brandishes Thessalian Oeta in his mighty hand, another gathers all his strength and hurls Pangaeus at the foe, Athos with his snows arms another; this one roots up Ossa, that tears out Rhodope and Hebrus’ source, dividing the waters that before were one; Enipeus, gathered up with its beetling crags, scatters its waters over yon giant’s shoulders: robbed of her mountains Earth sank into level plains, parted among her own sons.

[73] On all sides a horrid din resounds and only the air divides the rival armies. First impetuous Mars urges against the horrid band his Thracian steeds that oft have driven in rout Getae or Geloni. Brighter than flame shines his golden shield, high towers the crest of his gleaming helmet. Dashing into the fray he first encounters Pelorus and transfixes him with his sword, where about the groin the two-bodied serpent unites with his own giant form, and thus with one blow puts an end to three lives. Exulting in his victory he drives his chariot over the dying giant’s limbs till the wheels ran red with blood.

[85] Mimas ran forward to avenge his brother. He had torn Lemnos and with it Vulcan’s fiery house from out the foaming main, and was on the point of hurling it when Mars’ javelin prevented him, scattering the brain from his shattered skull. What was giant in him died, but the serpent legs still lived, and, hissing vengeance, sought to attack the victor after Mimas’ death.

[91] Minerva rushed forward presenting her breast whereon glittered the Gorgon’s head. The sight of this, she knew, was enough: she needed not to use a spear. One look sufficed. Pallas drew no nearer, rage as he might, for he was the first to be changed into rock. When, at a distance from his foe, without a wound, he found himself rooted to the ground, and felt the murderous visage turn him, little by little, to stone (and all but stone he was) he called out, “What is happening to me? What is this ice that creeps o’er all my limbs? What is this numbness that holds me prisoner in these marble fetters?” Scarce had he uttered these few words when he was what he feared, and savage Damastor, seeking a weapon wherewith to repel the foe, hurled at them in place of a rock his brother’s stony corpse.

[104] Then Echion, marveling, all ignorant, at his brother’s death, even as he seeks to assail the author of the deed, turned his gaze upon thee, goddess, whom alone no man may see twice. Beaten audacity well deserved its punishment and in death he learned to know the goddess. But Palleneus, mad with anger, turning his eyes aside, rushed at Minerva, striking at her with undirected sword. Nigh at hand the goddess smote him with her sword, and at the same time the snakes froze at the Gorgon’s glance, so that of one body a part was killed by a weapon and a part by a mere look.

[114] Impious Porphyrion, carried by his serpents into the middle of the sea, tried to uproot trembling Delos, wishing to hurl it at the sky. The Aegean was affrighted; Thetis and her aged sire fled from their watery caverns; the palace of Neptune, regarded with awe by all the denizens of the deep, lay deserted. The summit of Cynthus rang with the cries of the gentle nymphs who had taught Phoebus’ unpractised hand to shoot at the wandering beasts with his bow, they who first had prepared the bed for weeping Latona when, in labour with the lights of heaven, she blessed the world with twin offspring. Delos in terror called her lord Phoebus to help her and begged him for aid: “In remembrance of the time when Latona entrusted thine infant life to my care, help me who thus call upon thee. Behold, once more they seek to uproot me . . . “ 2

1. They were twiform [with two serpents for legs]; cf. 1. 81.
2. Like the De Raptu Proserpinae, the Gigantomachia was probably never completed. S. Jerome in his commentary on Isaiah (viii.27) quotes from a Gigantomachia, not giving the name of its author. It is possible that the lines, which do not occur in Claudian’s poem as we possess it, belong to a final portion which has been lost. But it is more likely that they come from some other poet’s work and that the abrupt end of Claudian’s poem is due not to loss but to the poet’s sudden death.


[1] There is a leafy wood fringed by Ocean’s farthest marge beyond the Indes and the East where Dawn’s panting coursers first seek entrance; it hears the lash close by, what time the watery threshold echoes to the dewy car; and hence comes forth the rosy morn while night, illumined by those far-shining wheels of fire, casts off her sable cloak and broods less darkly. This is the kingdom of the blessèd bird of the sun where it dwells in solitude defended b the inhospitable nature of the land and immune from the ills that befall other living creatures; nor does it suffer infection from the world of men. Equal to the gods is that bird whose life rivals the stars and whose renascent limbs weary the passing centuries. It needs no food to satisfy hunger nor any drink to quench thirst; the sun’s clear beam is its food, the sea’s rare spray its drink – exhalations such as these form its simple nourishment. A mysterious fire flashes from its eyes, and a flaming aureole enriches its head. Its crest shines with the sun’s own light and shatters the darkness with its calm brilliance. Its legs are of Tyrian purple; swifter than those of the Zephyrs are its wings of flower-like blue dappled with rich gold.

[23] Never was this bird conceived nor springs it from any mortal seed, itself is alike its own father and son, and with none to recreate it, it renews its outworn limbs with a rejuvenation of death, and at each decease wins a fresh lease of life. For when a thousand summers have passed far away, a thousand winters gone by, a thousand springs in their course given to the husbandmen that shade2 of which autumn robbed them, then at last, fordone by the number of its years, it falls a victim to the burden of age; as a tall pine on the summit of Caucasus, wearied with storms, heels over with its weight and threatens at last to crash in ruin; one portion falls by reason of the unceasing winds, another breaks away rotted by the rain, another consumed by the decay of years.

[36] Now the Phoenix’s bright eye grows dim and the pupil becomes palsied by the frost of years, like the moon when she is shrouded in clouds and her horn beings to vanish in the mist. Now his wings, wont to cleave the clouds of heaven, can scarce raise them from the earth. Then, realizing that his span of life is at an end and in preparation for a renewal of his splendour, he gathers dry herbs from the sun-warmed hills, and making an interwoven heap of the branches of the precious tree of Saba he builds that pyre which shall be at once his tomb and his cradle.

[45] On this he takes his seat and as he grows weaker greets the Sun with his sweet voice; offering up prayers and supplications he begs that those fires will give him renewal of strength. Phoebus, on seeing him afar, checks his reins and staying his course consoles his loving child with these words: “Thou who art about to leave thy years behind upon yon pyre, who, by this pretence of death, art destined to rediscover life; thou whose decease means but the renewal of existence and who by self-destruction regainest thy lost youth, receive back thy life, quit the body that must die, and by a change of form come forth more beauteous than ever.”

[55] So speaks he, and shaking his head casts one of his golden hairs and smites willing Phoenix with its life-giving effulgence. Now, to ensure his rebirth, he suffers himself to be burned and in his eagerness to be born again meets death with joy. Stricken with the heavenly flame the fragrant pile catches fire and burns the aged body. The moon in amaze checks her milk-white heifers and heaven halts his revolving spheres, while the pyre conceives the new life; Nature takes care that the deathless bird perish not, and calls upon the sun, mindful of his promise, to restore its immortal glory to the world.

[65] Straightway the life spirit surges through his scattered limbs; the renovated blood floods his veins. The ashes show signs of life; they begin to move though there is none to move them, and feathers clothe the mass of cinders. He who was but now the sire comes forth from the pyre the son and successor; between life and life lay but that brief space wherein the pyre burned.

[72] His first delight is to consecrate his father’s spirit by the banks of the Nile and to carry to the land of Egypt the burned mass from which he was born. With all speed he wings his way to that foreign strand, carrying the remains in a covering of grass. Birds innumerable accompany him, and whole flocks thereof throng in airy flight. Their mighty host shuts out the sky where’er it passes. But from among so vast an assemblage none dares outstrip the leader; all follow respectfully in the balmy wake of their king. Neither the fierce hawk nor the eagle, Jove’s own armour-bearer, fall to fighting; in honour of their common master a truce is observed by all. Thus the Parthian monarch leads his barbarous hosts by yellow Tigris’ banks, all glorious with jewels and rich ornament and decks his tiara with royal garlands; his horse’s bridle is of gold, Assyrian embroidery embellishes his scarlet robes, and proud with sovereignty he lords it o’er his numberless slaves.

[89] There is in Egypt a well-known city celebrated for its pious sacrifices and dedicated to the worship of the Sun. Its temples rest on a hundred columns hewn from the quarries of Thebes. Here, as the story tells, the Phoenix is wont to store his father’s ashes and, adoring the image of the god, his master, to entrust his precious burden to the flames. He places on the altar that from which he is sprung and that which remains of himself. Bright shines the wondrous threshold; the fragrant shrine is filled with the holy smoke of the altar and the odour of Indian incense, penetrating even as far as the Pelusiac marshes, fills the nostrils of men, flooding them with its kindly influence and with a scent sweeter than that of nectar perfumes the seven mouths of the dark Nile.

[101] Happy bird, heir to thine own self! Death which proves our undoing restores thy strength. Thine ashes give thee life and though thou perish not thine old age dies. Thou hast beheld all that has been, hast witnessed the passing of the ages. Thou knowest when it was that the waves of the sea rose and o’erflowed the rocks, what year it was that Phaëthon’s error devoted to the flames. Yet did no destruction overwhelm thee; sole survivor thou livest to see the earth subdued; against thee the Fates gather not up their threads, powerless to do thee harm.

1. Claudian follows Herodotus (ii. 73) fairly closely.
2. i.e. given leaves which in turn supply shade.