Classical Texts Library >> Statius, Thebaid >> Book 12




Exile of Polynices & Tydeus


Bridal of the Adrastides
Embassy of Tydeus to Thebes


The Winds of War;
Prophecy of Amphiaraus


Army of the Seven
Necromancy of Tiresias
Drought of Nemea


Hypsipyle & the Lemnians
Death of Opheltes


Funeral of Opheltes
The First Nemean Games


Thebes Preparing for War
Battle & Demise of Amphiaraus


Amphiarus Swallowed by Earth
Battle & Death of Tydeus


Battle & Death of Hippomedon
Battle & Death Parthenopaeus


Night-time Foray
Sacrifice of Menoeceus
Battle & Death of Capaneus


Deaths of Polynices & Eteocles
Creon & Exile of Oedipus


Antigone & Argia
Theseus & Burial of the Dead


[1] Not yet had the wakeful dawn put all the stars to flight from heaven, and the moon was beholding the approach of day with facing horn, what time Tithonia1 scatters the clouds in hurrying rout, and prepares the wide firmament for the return of Phoebus: already Dircean bands stray forth from their scanty dwellings, complaining of the tardy night; although not till then had they rested, or gained their first sleep after battle, yet a troubled peace forbids repose, and victory still remembers the horrors of war. Scarce at first dare they to step forth and destroy the rampart works, scarce wholly to unbar the gates; the old fears rise before them, and the dread of the deserted plain: just as to men long tossed on ocean earth heaves at first, so are they spellbound and amazed that nought assails them, and fancy that the slain hosts rise up again. So when Idalian birds2 have seen a tawny snake climbing the threshold of a conspicuous tower, they drive their little ones within and wall the nestling brood behind their talons, and stir their unwarlike wings to battle; and though he soon retreat, yet the white flock fears the empty air, and when at last they venture flight they thrill with terror and still look back from the mid-vault of heaven.

[22] Forth they go to the bloodless multitude and the remnants of the fallen host, wherever grief and indignation, blood-stained guides, impel them; some behold the weapons, some the bodies, others but the faces of the slain, with strangers’ limbs near by; some mourn their chariots, and address – all they can do – the widowed steeds; others imprint kisses on gaping wounds, and bewail the valour of the dead. They sort out the cold heaps of slain: severed hands appear with lances and sword-hilts in their grip, and arrows fixed in eyes; many find no traces of their dead, and rush about, with grief ever ready and on the verge. But around the unsightly corpses a pitiable strife arises, who shall perform the rites and make their funeral. Often too were they deceived – Fortune mocking them awhile – and wept for foemen; nor was it easy to tell what carnage to avoid and what to trample. But those whose homes have suffered not, and who are spared all anguish, either stray around the deserted tents of the Danaans and set them afire, or – so far as they can after battle – search where lies the dust-bespattered Tydeus, whether the chasm of the ravished augur still be gaping, where is the enemy of the gods, and whether the heavenly embers still glow among his limbs. Already the daylight faded upon their tears, nor did late Vesper drive them away; in their misery they love their lamentation and feast upon their sorrow. Nor return they to their homes, but sit all night about the corpses, and bewailing them by turns ward off the beasts by fires and sounds of woe; nor did their eyes close yielding to the sweet influence of the stars, nor through constant weeping. For the third time Aurora strove with the Morning Star, and already the mountains are despoiled, and mighty trunks of Teumesus, the glory of the groves, and the timber of Cithaeron, friend of the funeral pyre, is come; on high-wrought piles blaze the bodies of the ruined race: the Ogygian ghosts rejoice at the last tribute; but the unburied troop of Greeks raise pitiable lament, and moaning flit about the forbidden fires. Nor does the cruel spirit of fierce Eteocles receive the honours of a prince; his brother by command is held an Argive still, and his outlawed shade is driven away.

[60] But Menoeceus is not suffered by Thebes or the king his father to burn upon a vulgar pyre, no heap of logs forms a common, customary mound, but a warlike pile of chariots and shields and all the weapons of the Greeks is raised; on the massed trophies of the foe he himself like a conqueror is laid, his locks adorned with peace-bringing laurel and woollen fillets: just as when the Tirynthian, summoned by the stars, laid him down with joy on kindled Oeta. Thereon did his sire sacrifice yet living victims, Pelasgian captives and bridled steeds, a solace to his warlike valour; upon them the towering flames quiver, and at last his father’s groans burst forth: “Ah! had not overmastering desire of noble praise possessed thee, my son, thou hadst been revered alike with me, ay, even ruled Echion’s city, but now thou embitterest my coming joys and the ungrateful burden of a realm. Though thy unfailing virtue dwell in heaven amid the companies of the gods – as I verily believe – yet, I shall ever mourn thee, deity as thou art: let Thebes build altars and dedicate lofty fanes; suffer thy sire alone to lament thee. And now, alas, what worthy rites, what funeral pomp can I lavish on thy tomb? I could not, even had I power to mingle baneful Argos and stricken Mycenae with thy ashes, and fling myself upon them, who have gained life – ah! horror! – and royal state by the blood of my son! Hath one day, one same unhallowed war sent thee, boy, and those dread brothers to Tartarus together? Are Oedipus now and I in equal plight of sorrow? Like indeed are the shades we mourn O righteous Jove! Receive, my son, new offerings to grace thy triumph, receive this ruling sceptre of my right hand and this haughty crown that binds my brow, thy gifts unto thy sire – small joy indeed to him! As king, ay, king let the sullen shade of Eteocles behold thee!”

[92] So speaking he strips head and hand, and with wrath inflamed continues in more violent strain: “Come then, let them call me fierce and heartless, if I forbid the Lernaean dead to burn with thee; would I could put lingering life within their bodies and drive their guilty souls from heaven and Erebus, and myself, ay myself go search for wild beasts and birds with hooked mouths, and show them the accursed limbs of the princes! Woe is me, that the kindly earth and the lapse of time will resolve them where they lie! Wherefore again and again I repeat my stern decree: let none venture to give the aid of final fire to the Pelasgians, or he will atone his deed by death, and fill up the tale of corpses: by the gods above and by great Menoeceus I sear it!” He spoke, and his companions dragged him away and bore him to the palace.

[105] Meanwhile a sorrowful band of Inachian women, widowed and bereaved – drawn, hapless ones, by the sad tidings – were hastening, like a captive throng, from desolate Argos; each had her own wounds, all were in similar plight, with hair hanging down upon their bosoms and high-girt raiment; their faces torn by their cruel nails were streaming, their tender arms were swollen with beating. First of her stricken sisters, helpless Argia, queen of the sable-clad company, seeks her path, sinking upon her sorrowing maidens and anon struggling to her feet; no thought has she of her sire or royal home; one devotion fills her heart, one name, that of her beloved Polynices, is on her lips; she would fain forget Mycenae and make Dirce and Cadmus’ ill-starred city her abode. Next Deipyle, as eager as her sister, brings Calydonian women mingling with the train of Leran to Tydeus’ obsequies; she had heard, unhappy one! of her husband’s crime and impious gnawing, but love in affliction forgives the slain one all. After her Nealce, wild of aspect, yet rousing tearful compassion, bewails Hippomedon with the grief that is his due. Then comes the seer’s unrighteous spouse, doomed alas! to build an empty pyre. The bereft comrade of Maenalian Diana leads the rearmost companies of the mourners, and Evadne, bitter at heart: the one in querulous sorrow for the exploits of her daring boy, the other mindful of her mighty lord goes fiercely weeping and in wrath against high heaven. Hecate beheld them from her Lycean groves and bore them tearful company, and as they approached the double shore the Theban mother lamented from her Isthmian tomb; the Eleusinian,3 though sorrowing for herself, wept for the night-wandering multitude, and showed her mystic fires to guide their errant course. The Saturnian4 herself leads their going, lest her own folk should meet them and forbid them passage, and the glory of their great enterprise be lost. Moreover, Iris is bidden cherish the dead bodies of the princes, and laves their decaying limbs with mysterious dews and ambrosial juices, that they may resist the longer and await the pyre, nor perish before the flames have seized them.

[141] Lo! Ornytus, haggard of face and pale from a gaping wound – he had lost his friends and was hampered by a recent blow – feebly picks his way in timid stealth through pathless deserts, leaning upon a broken spear. When in amaze he beheld the solitudes stirred by strange tumult and the train of women, all that he sees surviving of the host of Lerna, he inquires not of their journey or its cause – ‘tis clear enough – but in mournful accents thus accosts them: “Whither, hapless ones, whither are ye journeying? Do ye hope for funeral fires for your dead heroes? A sentinel of the slain stands there unsleeping, and keeps count of the unburied corpses for the king. Tears are there nowhere, all men that venture nigh are driven far away; only beasts and birds are suffered to approach. Will the just Creon pay respect to your grief? Sooner may one prevail upon the merciless altars of Busiris or the ravening Odrysian stall or the Sicilian deities5; perchance he will carry off the suppliants, if I know his mind, nor will he slay you upon the bodies of your lords, but far from the spirits ye love. Nay, flee, while your road is safe, return to Lerna and carve – this ye yet can do – the names of your lost ones on empty sepulchres, and call the absent ghosts to untenanted tombs. Or implore Cecropian succour – they say that Theseus draws nigh, returning in triumph from victory on Thermodon’s banks.6 By force of arms alone will Creon learn humanity.” So he spoke, but they were horrified amid their tears, and their great zest of going was struck with dismay, and all their faces were frozen in one pallor. Even so when the hungry roar of a Hyrcanian tigress comes wafted on the wind to gentle heifers, at the sound terror seizes the countryside, and all are filled with mighty fear, which shall please her, whose shoulders shall feel the ravening beast7 upon them.

[173] Straightway opinion is divided by many a discordant impulse: some wish to supplicate Thebes and haughty Creon, others to see if the clemency of the Attic folk will grant them aught; return seems cowardly and is last in their thoughts. Hereupon Argia conceives a sudden passion for more than womanly valour, and neglecting her sex designs a mighty emprise: she purposes – cruel expectation of unequalled peril! – to come to grips with the law of the impious realm, whither no maid of Rhodope, no child of snowy Phasis ringed round by virgin cohorts would go.8 Then she devises a cunning ruse whereby to separate herself from her faithful train, and in contempt of her life and in the rashness of overpowering grief to challenge the merciless gods and the cruel king; devotion and chaste passion urge her on. He himself too appears before her eyes, manifest in every act, now as her guest, unhappy girl! now pledging his hand at the first holy rites, now her kindly spouse, and now grimly helmed and mournful in her embrace and oft looking back fro the outer threshold of the gate: but no image more frequently haunts her mind that that which comes, stripped of its armour, from the blood of the Aonian battle-field and cries for burial. Her soul fretted with such frenzy she sickens and with purest passion woos the grave; then, turning to her Pelasgian comrades, “Do you,” she says, “call forth the Attic hosts and Marathonian9 arms, and may Fortune favour your devoted toil: suffer me to penetrate the Ogygian abodes, who was the sole cause of ruin, and endure the first terrors of the monarch; nor shall I beat at the city’s doors in vain; the parents and the sisters of my lord are there: not as a stranger shall I enter Thebes. Only call me not back: my keen desire urges me thither, and gives me good omen.”

[204] Without more words she selects Menoetes alone – once the guardian and counsellor of her maiden modesty – and though without experience of knowledge of the country, hurries on with headlong speed by the way that Ornytus had come. And when she seemed to have left afar the comrades of her woes, “Could I wait,” she cried, “for the pleasure of tardy Theseus, while thou – ah, sorrow! – art mouldering on the enemy’s fields? Would his chieftains, would his cunning soothsayer assent to war? Meanwhile thy body doth decay. Rather than that shall I not give my own limbs for the taloned birds to tear? Even now, if thou hast any feeling in the world of shades, thou art complaining, faithful spouse, to the deities of Styx that I am hard-hearted, that I am slow in coming. Alas! if thou still art bare, alas! if perchance already buried: mine is the crime in either case; hath sorrow then no power? Is death, or fierce Creon, all a dream? Ornytus, thou dost cheer me on my way!” So speaking, she hastens with rapid pace over the fields of Megara; folk that she meets point out her path. Awe-struck at her miserable plight. With grim countenance she strides onward, terrified by no sound without a panic within, with all the confidence of utter despair, and rather feared than fearing: as when upon a night in Phrygia Dindymus resounds with wailing, and the crazy leader of the women’s revel speeds to the waters of pine-rearing Simois – she to whom the goddess herself gave the knife, selecting her for bloodshed, and marked her with the wool-bound wreath.10

[228] Already had father Titan hidden his flaming chariot in the Hesperian flood, to emerge again from other waves, yet she, her weary toil beguiled by grief, knows not that the day is ended; nor does the gathering gloom of the fields affray her, but unchecked she fares o’er pathless rocks, past boughs that threaten to fall, through mysterious forests, pitch-dark even in cloudless day, over plough-lands scarred with hidden dykes, plunging heedless through rivers, past sleeping beasts and dangerous lairs of fearful monsters. So great is the strength of passion and of grief! Menoetes is ashamed of his slower pace, and marvels at the gait of his frail ward. What abodes of beasts or men echoed not to her grievous plaint? How often did she lose the track as she went, how often did the solace of the companion flame desert her straying steps, and the cold darkness swallow up the torchlight? And now the slopes of Pentheus’ ridge11 lie beside their weary path, and broaden into plain, when Menoetes nigh failing and with panting breast thus begins to speak: “Not far away, Argia, if the hope inspired by the toils we have endured deceive not, lie, methinks, the Ogygian dwellings and the bodies that lack sepulture; from close at hand come waves of heavily-tainted air, and mighty birds are returning through the void. ‘Tis indeed that cruel battle-field, nor is the city far distant. Seest thou how the plain outstretches the vast shadow of the walls, and how the dying fires flicker from the watch-towers? The city is hard by; night herself was more silent but a moment past, and only the stars broke through the pitchy gloom.”

[255] Argia shuddered, and stretched out her right hand toward the walls: “O city of Thebes, once longed-for, but now the dwelling of our foes, yet, if thou givest back my dead spouse uninjured, even so a soil beloved: seest thou in what garb arrayed, by what a train accompanied, I, the daughter-in-law of mighty Oedipus, for the first time approach thy gates? No unhallowed wish have I; a stranger, I beg but for a pyre, a corpse, and leave to mourn. Him restore to me, I pray, who was exiled from his realm and conquered in the fight, him, whom thou deemedst not worthy of his father’s throne! And come thou too, I beg, if spirits have any shape, and souls can wander freed from their bodies, show me the way, and lead me thyself to thy own corpse, if I have so deserved!” She spoke, and entering the pastoral shelter of a neighbouring cottage kindles anew the breath of the dying brand, and impetuously rushes forth upon the awful plain. Even so did the bereaved Ceres light her torch and from Aetna’s rocks cast the shifting glare of the mighty flame here over Sicily, there over Ausonia, as she followed the traces of the dark ravisher and the great wheel-furrows in the dust; Enceladus12 himself re-echoes her wild wailings, and illumines her path with bursting fire; “Persephone” cry woods and rivers, seas and clouds: only the palace of her Stygian lord calls not “Persephone.”

[278] Her faithful supporter warns the distracted dame to remember Creon and keep low her torch in stealthy hiding. She who of late was feared as queen throughout Argive cities, the ambitious hope of suitors and sacred promise of her race, through all the terrors of the night, without a guide and in the presence of the foe, goes on alone, o’er obstacles of arms, o’er grass all slippery with gore, trembling not at the gloom nor at troops of spirits hovering around or ghosts bewailing their own limbs, oft treading blindly but unheeding on swords and weapons; she labours but to avoid the fallen, and thinks every corpse the one she seeks, while with keen glance she searches the slain, and bending down turns bodies on their backs, and complains to the stars that they give not light enough.

[291] By chance Juno, stealing herself from the bosom of her mighty lord, was faring through the slumberous darkness of the sky to Theseus’ walls, that she might move Pallas to yield and Athens to give gracious welcome to the pious suppliants; and when from the height of heaven she beheld the innocent Argia exhausted by fruitless wandering o’er the plain, she was grieved at the sight, and encountering the lunar team she faced them and spoke thus with calm accents: “Grant me a little boon, O Cynthia, if Juno can command respect; ‘tis true that Jove’s bidding, thou shameless one, that threefold night when Hercules – but I will let old quarrels be; now canst thou do me a service. Argia, daughter of Inachus, my favourite votary – seest thou in what a night she roams, nor with failing strength can find her spouse in the thick darkness? Thy beams too are faint with shrouding vapour; show forth thy horns, I pray thee, and let thy orbit approach the earth nearer than is thy wont. This Sleep, too, who leaning forward plies for thee thy humid chariot-reins, send him upon the Aonian watchmen.” Scarce had she spoken, when the goddess cleft the clouds and displayed her mighty orb; the shadows started in terror, and the stars were shorn of their radiance; scarce did Saturnia herself endure the brightness.

[312] First by the light that floods the plain she recognizes her husband’s cloak, her own handiwork, poor woman! though the texture is hidden and the purple mourns to be suffused with blood; and while she calls upon the gods, and thinks that this is all that is left of the beloved corpse, she catches sight of himself, nigh trampled into the dust. Her spirit quailed, and vision and speech fled, and grief thrust back her tears; then she falls prostrate about his face, and seeks with kisses for his departed soul, and pressing the blood from his hair and raiment gathers it up to treasure.13 At last as her voice returns: “My husband, is it he who once marched captain of the war to the realm that was his due, is it the son-in-law of powerful Adrastus whom I now behold? Is this the manner in which I go to meet thy triumph? Raise hither thy countenance and thy sightless eyes: Argia has come to thy Thebes; lead me then inside thy city, show me thy father’s halls and make me welcome in thy turn. Alas! what am I doing? thou liest on the naked earth, and this is all that thou dost own of thy native land. What were those quarrels? ‘Tis sure thy brother holds not dominion here. Didst thou move none of thine own to tears? Where is thy mother? Where the famed Antigone? Verily ‘tis for me thou liest dead, for me alone thou didst suffer defeat! I asked thee: Whither marchest thou? Why demandest thou the sceptre denied thee? Thou hast Argos and wilt reign in my father’s hall; long honours await thee here, and undivided power. But why do I complain? Myself I gave thee war, and with my own lips begged it of my sorrowing sire – that now I might hold thee thus in my embrace. But it is well, ye gods; I thank thee, Fortune; the distant hope of my wandering is fulfilled: I have found his body whole. Ah! what a deep and gaping wound! Was this his brother’s work? Were lies, I pray, that infamous robber? I would outdo the birds, might I but approach him, and keep the beasts away! Hath the fell villain fire as well? But thee thy land shall not behold undowered of flame; burn thou shalt, and tears that may not weep for kings shall rain on thee, and desolate love shall endure and aye tend thy sepulchre; thy son shall be the witness of my sorrow, a little Polynices shall cherish thy couch for me.”

[349] Lo! with another torch and other sounds of woe hapless Antigone drew nigh the dead, having scarce won from the town the escape she longed for; for ever do guards attend her, and the king himself bids her be held fast; the times of watching are shortened and more frequent glow the fires.14 Therefore she makes excuse for her delaying to the gods and her brother, and frantically, so soon as the rough sentinels relaxed one whit their vigilance, burst from out the walls: with such a cry does the virgin lioness terrify the countryside, her fury free at last, when for the first time her mother shares not in her rage. Not long did she tarry, for she knew the cruel plain and where her brother lay in the dust: Menoetes, as he stands unbusied, marks her as she comes, and hushes the groans of his dear ward. But when the latest sob reached the maiden’s15 uplifted ears, and when she saw by the stars’ rays and the light of either torch her mourning raiment and dishevelled hair and face all foul with congealed gore, she cried: “Whose body seekest thou in this night that is mine? Who art thou, daring woman?”

[367] Nought answered the other a long while, but cast her raiment about her husband’s face and likewise her own, a prey to sudden fear and awhile forgetful of her sorrow. Antigone, chiding her suspected silence, persists the more, and urges her comrade and herself; but both are lost in utter silence. At last Argia unveiled her face and spoke, yet still clasped the body: “If thou comest to seek aught with me in this stale blood of battle, if thou also fearest Creon’s harsh commands, I can with confidence reveal myself to thee. If thou art wretched – and surely I behold tears and signs of grief – come join with me in friendship; Adrastus’ royal seed am I – ah! is any near? – at the pyre of my beloved Polynices, though kingdoms set their ban –“ the Cadmean maiden started in amaze and trembled, and broke in upon her speech: “Is it I then whom thou dost fear? – how blind is chance! – I, the partner of thy woes? Mine are the limbs thou holdest, mine the corpse thou dost bewail. Take him, he is thine! Ah, shame! Ah, for the cowardly devotion of a sister! She came before me – !”

[385] Side by side they fall, and together embracing the same body mingle greedily their tears and tresses, and share his limbs between them, and anon return with united lament to his face and glut themselves by turns upon his well-loved breast. And while they recall the one her brother and the other her spouse, and each tells to each the tale of Argos and of Thebes, Argia in longer strain brings to mind her own sad story: “By the sacred communion of our stolen mourning, by our common dead and the witnessing stars I swear to thee: not his lost crown, nor his native soil, nor his dear mother’s breast did he desire, wandering exile though he was, but thee alone; of thee, Antigone, he spake by night and day; I was a lesser care and easily relinquished. Yet didst thou perchance before the horrid deed from a lofty turret behold him towering high and giving the Grecian companies their banners, and he looked back at thee from the very line of battle, and saluted thee with his sword and the nodding summit of his helm: but I was far away. But what god drove them to the extremity of wrath? Did your prayers nought avail? Did the other refuse thy own entreaty?” Antigone had begun to set forth the causes and the cruelty of fate, but the faithful comrade warned them: “Nay finish rather your task! Already the stars are paling in rout before the approaching day; complete your toil, the time for tears will come; kindle the fire, then weep your fill.”

[409] Nor far away a roar betrayed the channel of Ismenos where he was flowing still discoloured and befouled by gore. Hither with united effort they feebly bear the mangled limbs, while their companion as weak as they adds his arms to theirs. So did his sisters lave the smoking Phaëthon, Hyperion’s son, in the heated Padus: scarce was he interred, when a weeping grove rose by the river-side.16 When the filth was purged in the stream and the body was once more beautiful in death, the wretched women after the last kisses searched for fire, but dead and cold were the ashes in the mouldering pits, and all the pyres were silent. Still there remained one funeral pile, whether by chance or heaven’s will, that had been fated to burn the limbs of fierce Eteocles – whether Fortune once more gave opportunity for portents, or the Fury had spared the fires for mutual strife. Here both in their eagerness beheld a feeble glow still alive among the blackened timbers, and together wept tears of joy; nor yet knew they whose the pyre, but prayed, whosesoe’er it be, that he be favourable and graciously admit a partner to his latest ashes and unite their ghosts.

[429] Once more behold the brothers: as soon as the devouring fire touched the body, the pile shook, and streams up with double head, each darting tongues of flashing light. As though pale Orcus had set in conflict the torches of the Eumenides, each ball of fire threatens and strives to outreach the other; the very timbers, with all their massive weight, were moved and gave way a space. The maiden cries out in terror: “We are undone; ourselves we have stirred his wrath in death. It was his brother; who else would be so cruel as to spurn the approach of a stranger ghost? Lo! I recognize the broken buckler and the charred sword-belt, ay, it was his brother! Seest thou how the flame shrinks away and yet rushes to the fight? Alive, ay, alive is that impious hatred. The war was in vain: while thus ye strive, unhappy ones, Creon has conquered after all! Gone is your realm, why then such fury? For whom do ye rage? Appease your anger. And thou, everywhere an exile, ever debarred from justice, yield at last; this is thy wife’s and thy sister’s prayer, else shall we leap into the fierce flame to part you.”

[447] Scarce had she spoken, when a sudden tremor shook the plain and the lofty roofs, and increased the chasm of the discordant pyre, while the watchmen, whose very sleep shaped images of woe, started from repose: straightway the soldiers rush forth, and with a ring of arms search the whole countryside. As they draw nigh, the old man alone has fear; but the women openly before the pyre confess to have spurned fierce Creon’s command, and with loud cry admit their secret deed, careless, for they see that already the whole body is consumed. Ambitious are they for cruel destruction, and a spirited hope of death is aflame within them: they contend that they stole, the one her consort’s, the other her kinsman’s limbs, and prove their case by turns: “I brought the body,” “but I the fire,” “I was led by affection,” “I by love.” They delight to ask for cruel punishment and to thrust their arms into the chains. Gone is the reverence that but now was in the words of each; wrath and hatred one would deem it, so loud on either side rise the cries of discord; they even drag their captors before the king.

[464] But far away Juno leads the distraught Phoronean dames – herself no less distraught – to the walls of Athens, having gained at last the goodwill of Pallas, and goes before them on the road; she gives the train of mourners favour in the people’s sight and inspires reverence for their tears. With her own hand she gives them boughs of olive and supplicating fillets, and teaches them to hide their faces in their robes and bear before them urns untenanted by the dead. A multitude of every age streams forth from the Erechthean homes and fills the housetops and the streets; whence comes this swarm? Whence so many mourners together? Not yet do they know the cause of their distress, yet are already weeping. With either concourse the goddess mingles and tells them of all: of what race they are sprung, what deaths they are bewailing, and what they seek; they themselves too in various converse make everywhere loud outcry against the Ogygian laws and inhuman Creon. No lengthier plaint do the Getic birds17 utter upon the foreign housetops in mutilated speech, when they exclaim against he treachery of the wedding bower and Tereus’ cruel deed.

[481] There was in the midst of the city an altar belonging to no god of power; gentle Clemency had there her seat, and the wretched made it sacred; never lacked she a new suppliant, none did she condemn or refuse their prayers. All that ask are heard, night and day may one approach and win the heart of the goddess by complaints alone. No costly rites are hers; she accepts no incense flame, no blood deep-welling; tears flow upon her altar, sad offerings of severed tresses hang above it, and raiment left when Fortune changed. Around is a grove of gentle trees, marked by the cult of the venerable, wool-entwined laurel and the suppliant olive. No image is there, to no metal is the divine form entrusted, in hearts and minds does the goddess delight to dwell. The distressed are ever nigh her, her precinct ever swarms with needy folk, only to the prosperous is her shrine unknown. Fame says that the sons of Hercules, saved in battle after the death of their divine sire, set up this altar; but Fame comes short of truth: ‘tis right to believe that the heavenly ones themselves, to whom Athens was ever a welcoming land, as once they gave laws and a new man and sacred ceremonies and the sees that here descended upon the empty earth,18 so now sanctified in this spot a common refuge for travelling souls, whence the wrath and threatenings of monarchs might be far removed, and Fortune depart from a shrine of righteousness. Already to countless races were those altars known; hither came flocking those defeated in war and exiled from their country, kings who had lost their realms and those guilty of grievous crime, and sought for peace; and later this abode of kindliness o’ercame the rage of Oedipus and sheltered the murder of Olynthus and defended hapless Orestes from his mother. Hither guided by the common folk comes the distressful band of Lerna, and the crowd of previous votaries give way before them. Scarce were they arrived, when their troubles were soothed and their hearts had rest: even as cranes chased o’er the deep by their native North wind, beholding Pharos, spread in denser array over the sky and raise a joyful clamour; they delight beneath a cloudless heaven to thin scorn of snows, and to loose the grip of winter by the banks of Nile.

[519] And now Theseus, drawing nigh his native land in laurelled car after fierce battling with the Scythian folk, is heralded by glad applause and the heaven-flung shout of the populace and the merry trump of warfare ended. Before the chief are borne his spoils, and virgin chariots19 that recall the grim War-God, and wagons heaped with crests and downcast steeds and broken axes, wherewith the foe were wont to cleave the forests and frozen Maeotis, light quivers too are borne and baldricks fiery with gems and targes stained with the blood of the warrior-maids. They themselves, still unafraid, admit no thought of sex, and scorn to entreat nor utter mean lament, only they seek the shrine of unwedded Minerva. The first passion of the folk is to behold the conqueror, drawn by his four snow-white steeds; Hippolyte too drew all toward her, friendly now in look and patient of the marriage-bond. With hushed whispers and sidelong gaze the Attic dames marvel that she has broken her country’s austere laws, that her locks are trim, and all her bosom hidden beneath her robe, that though a barbarian she mingles with mighty Athens, and comes to bear offspring to her foeman-lord.

[540] The sorrowful daughters of Pelops moved a short space from the altars where they sat, and marvelled at the triumph with its train of spoils, and their vanquished lords came once more to their minds. And when the conqueror halted the chariots and from his proud car inquired the causes that had brought them and with kind attention bade them make their request, the wife of Capaneus dared speak before the others: “Warlike son of Aegeus, for whom Fortune opens up vast fields of unexpected glory through our ruin, no strangers by race are we, nor guilty of any heinous crime; our home was Argos, and our husband princes, would they had not been brave also! What need was there to arouse a sevenfold host, and chastise the city of Agenor? We complain not that they were slain; but they were no monsters risen from Sicilian dens or twyformed creatures of Ossa20 who fell in the battle. Of their race and famous sires I speak not; they were men, renowned Theseus, and of the seed of men, born to the selfsame stars to the same human lot, the same food and drink as ye are; yet Creon denies them fire, and like the father of the Furies or the ferryman of Lethe’s stream debars them from the Stygian gate and keeps them hovering doubtfully between the worlds of heaven and hell. Alas! sovereign Nature! Where are the gods? Where is the hurler of the unrighteous brand? Where art thou, Athens? Already the seventh dawn shrinks with frightened steeds from their corpses; the starry pole shudders in all its splendours and withdraws its rays; already the very birds and prowling beasts loathe the horrid carrion and the battle-field that reeks of corruption and heavily taints the breezes and the air. How much indeed remains? let him but permit me to sweep up bare bones and putrid gore! Make haste, ye worthy sons of Cecrops! such a vengeance becomes you, before the Emathians and Thracians suffer, and every race of men that would fain be burnt on pyres and be given the last rites of death. For what limit will be set to his fury? We made war, I grant it; but hatred is assuaged, and death has put an end to sullen wrath. Thou also, for so Fame hath taught us of thy noble deeds, didst not give Sinis and the unutterable Cercyon to cruel monsters, and wert willing to let fierce Sciron burn. I ween too that Tanais smoked with Amazonian pyres, whence thou hast brought this host: deem then this triumph also worthy of thee. Devote one exploit to earth and heaven and hell alike, if thou didst save thy native Marathon from fear, and the halls of Crete, and if the aged dame21 that welcomed thee shed not her tears in vain. So may no battles of thine lack Pallas’ aid, nor the divine Tirynthian envy thy equal exploits, may thy mother ever behold thee triumphant in thy car, and Athens know not defeat nor ever make a prayer like mine!”

[587] She spoke: they all with hands outstretched make clamorous echo to her words; the Neptunian hero22 flushed, deeply stirred by their tears; soon fired by righteous anger he cries: “What Fury has inspired this strange unkingly conduct? Not so minded were the Greeks at my departure, when I sought Scythia and the Pontic snows; whence this new madness? Thoughtest thou Theseus conquered, fell Creon? I am near at hand, think me not blood-weary; even yet my spear thirsts for righteous slaughter. I make no delay; turn on the instant thy galloping steed, most trusty Phegeus, speed to the Tyrian towers and proclaim that the Danai must burn of Thebes must fight.” So speaks he, forgetful of the labours of warfare and the march, and encourages his men and inspires their exhausted strength anew: as when a bull has lately won back his brides and pasture and ceased from battle, if by chance another glade resound with a warrior’s lowing, then, though his neck and breast be dripping with the bloody rain, he prepares afresh for war and pawing the plain hides his groaning and conceals his wounds in dust. Tritonia herself smote upon her buckler the Libyan terror,23 the Medusa that guards her bosom. Straightway all the serpents rose erect together, and in a mass looked towards Thebe; not yet were the Attic warriors on the march, and already ill-fated Dirce trembled at the trumpets’ sound.

[611] At once not only are they inflamed to war who were returned from sharing the Caucasian victory: all the countryside stirred up its untrained sons to war. They flock together and of their own accord follow their prince’s standard: the men who spare not chilly Brauron and the Monychian fields and Piraeus, firm ground for frightened sailors, and Marathon, not yet famous for her Eastern triumph. The homesteads of Icarius and of Celeus that entertained their native gods24 send troops to battle, green Melaenae too, and Aegaleos, rich in forests, and Parnes, friend of vines, and Lycabessos, richer in the juicy olive. Violent Alaeus came, and the ploughman of fragrant Hymettus, thou, too, Acharnae, who didst clothe the bare wands in ivy.25 Sunion, far seen of Eastern prows, is left behind, whence Aegeus fell,26 deceived by the lying sails of the Cretan bark, and gave a name to the wandering main. These folk from Salamis, those from Eleusis, Ceres’ town, were sent, their ploughs hung up, to the dreadful fray, and they whom Callirhoë enfolds with her nine errant streams, and Elisos who privy to Orithyia’s rape concealed beneath his banks the Thracian lover.27 That hill too is emptied for the fight, where gods strove mightily, until a new tree rose from the doubting rocks and cast its long shadow on the retreating sea.28 Hippolyte too would have led her Northern squadrons to the Cadmean walls, but the already certain hope of her swelling womb restrains her, and her spouse entreats her to dismiss the thoughts of battle and in the marriage-bower to dedicate her war-spent quiver.29

[639] When the chief perceives them in warlike mood and ablaze with joyous steel, how they give hurried kisses and brief embraces to their loving children, he speaks thus from his lofty chariot: “Soldiers, who will defend with me the laws of nations and the covenants of heaven, take courage worthy of our emprise! For us, ‘tis clear, stands the favour of all gods and men, Nature our guide and the silent multitudes of Avernus: for them the troops of the Furies, that Thebes has marshalled, and the snake-haired Sisters bring forth their banners. Onward in warlike spirit, and trust, I pray you, in a cause so noble!” He spake, and hurling his spear dashed forth upon the road: as when Jupiter plants his cloudy footsteps upon the Hyperborean pole and makes the stars tremble at the oncoming of winter, Aeolia30 is riven, and the storm, indignant at its long idleness, takes heart, and the North whistles with the hurricane; then roar the mountains and the waves, clouds battle in the blind gloom, and thunders and crazed lightnings revel.

[656] The smitten earth groans, the heavy hoof changes the aspect of the verdant plains, and the crushed fields expire beneath countless troops of horse and foot, nor is the gleam of armour lost in the thick dust, but flashes far into the air, and the spears burn amid the clouds. Night too and the quiet shades they add to their toil, and the warriors mightily strive how they may speed the army’s march, who may proclaim from a hillock the first sight of Thebes, who lance will first stand fixed in the Ogygian rampart. But from afar Theseus, son of Neptune, dwarfs the ranks with his huge shield, and bears upon its boss the hundred cities and hundred walls of Crete, the prelude to his own renown,31 and himself in the windings of the monstrous cave twisting the shaggy neck of the struggling bull, and binding him fast with sinewy arms and grip of either hand, and avoiding the horns with head drawn back. Terrified are the folk when he goes to battle ‘neath the shelter of that grim device, to behold Theseus in double shape and his hands twice drenched in gore; he himself recalls his deeds of old, the band of comrades and the once-dreaded doorway and the pale face of the Gnosian maid as she followed out the clue.

[677] But meanwhile the ruthless Creon leads onward to death Antigone and the widowed daughter of Adrastus, their hands fettered behind them; both cheerful and proudly eager for death, they hold our their necks to the swords and battle the cruel king, when lo! bearing Theseus’ message Phegeus stood there. All peaceful he with innocent olive-branch, but war is his intent, and war he threatens in loud and angry tones, and well remembering his lord’s commands repeats that he will soon be nigh at hand in person, soon covering the countryside as he passes with all his cohorts. The Theban stood in doubt amid surging cares, his anger wavers and his first wrath grows cool. Then steeling his heart, and with a feigned and sullen smile he answered: “Too slight assurance then did we give of Mycenae’s ruin? Lo! here come others to vex our walls! Let them come! We take the challenge! But let them not whine when they are beaten; one law awaits the conquered.” He speaks, but sees the daylight wane in thickening dust, and the sharp outlines fade from the Tyrian hills; yet in pale anxiety he bids his people arm and go to war, and suddenly beholds in his palace-hall the Furies, and Menoeceus weeping, and the Pelasgians exultant on their pyres. Ah! fatal day! when peace gained for Thebes at such a price of blood is lost again! They tear down the arms lately hung in their native shrines, and shield their bodies with pierced bucklers, don mutilated helms and take up gore-encrusted spears; none is gay with quiver or sword, none is glorious to behold upon his charger; no trust is there in the palisade, the city walls are all agape, the gates cry for defences; the former foe hath them in possession; the battlements are gone: Capaneus hath o’erthrown them; strengthless and faint, the warriors no more give the last kisses to wives or children, nor do their dazed parents utter any prayer.

[709] Meanwhile the Attic chief, beholding the rays burst through the clouds in growing splendour and the sun first glint upon the arms, leaps down into the plain where by the walls the dead still lie unburied, and breathing beneath his dusty helm the dread vapours of the tainted air he groans and is inflamed to righteous rage for war. His honour at least did the Theban chieftain pay to the hapless Danaans, that he engaged not the warring hosts in a second battle o’er the very bodies of the fallen; or else, that his impious lust might lose naught of mangled carnage,32 does he choose a virgin field to drink up the streams of gore? Already in far different wise Bellona summons the armies to mutual fight: here only is heard the battle-cry, here only the trumpet-blast; there frail warriors stand, with drooping ineffectual swords and loosened slings; they give way, and drawing back their armour display old wounds yet bleeding. Already even the Cecropian chiefs have lost their ardour for the fray, their temper wanes and confident valour flames less high; just as the wrath of the winds is weakened, if no forest impede their raging blasts, and the furious billows are silent where there is no shore.

[730] But when Theseus, born of the main, held aloft his Marathonian oaken shaft, whose cruel shadow as he lifted it fell upon the foe, and the spear-point flashed o’er the battle-field afar – as though father Mavors were driving his Edonian chariot down from Haemus’ summit, with death and Panic riding upon his hurrying axle, even so does pale fear drive the sons of Agenor in terror-stricken rout; but Theseus disdains to do battle with the fugitives, his right hand thinks scorn of easy victims. The rest of the gallant host sate their rage in common slaughter. Even so dogs and coward wolves delight in prey that lies cowering at their feet, while anger is the strength of mighty lions. Yet he slays Olenius and Lamyrus, the one as he takes arrows from his quiver, the other as he raises a great stone aloft, and the sons of Alcetus, trusting in their threefold might, whom he pierces at long range with as many spears. Phyleus received the spear-point in his breast, Helops bit the iron with his teeth, the missile sped through the shoulder of Iapyx. And now he makes for Haemon riding aloft in four-horsed car, and whirls the terrible javelin with his arm; the other swerved his frightened steeds, but the spear, far-flung, struck home, and piercing two of them thirsted for yet a third wound, but the point was stayed by the intervening pole.

[752] But Creon alone is the object of his hopes and prayers, him alone he summons with terrible challenge amid all the squadrons of the field; he perceives him on a battle-front afar, exhorting his troops and uttering desperate threats in vain. His comrades flee away, but those of Theseus leave him at his bidding, relying on the gods and the prowess of their chief; Creon restrains his men and calls them back, but seeing that he is hated by either side alike, he nerves himself to a last outburst of rage, inspired now by the frenzy of doom and emboldened by inevitable death: “Tis with no targe-bearing girls33 thou doest battle here; no maiden’s hands are ours, be sure; here is the stern strife of men who have sent great Tydeus and furious Hippomedon to death, and the vast bulk of Capaneus to the shades. What headlong madness drove thee to fight, thou reckless fool? Seest thou not their corpses whom thou wouldst avenge?” So he spoke, and lodged his missile fruitlessly in the buckler’s edge.

[768] But the terrible son of Aegeus laughed at his words and deed alike, and poising his iron-clad shaft for a mighty blow first proudly cries in thunderous accents: ”Ye Argive spirits, to whom I offer this victim, open wide the void of Tartarus, bring forth the Avenging Furies, lo! Creon comes!” He spoke, and the quivering spear rends the air; then, where with iron weft the slender chains combine to form the manifold cuirass, it falls; through a thousand meshes spirts upward the accursed blood; he sinks, his eyes open in the last spasm of death. Theseus stands over him in stern wrath, and spoiling him of his armour speaks: “Now art thou pleased to give dead foes the fire that is their due? Now wilt thou bury the vanquished? Go to thy dreadful reckoning, yet be assured of thy own burial.”

[782] From either side the banners meet and mingle in friendly tumult; on the very field of war a treaty is made, and Theseus is now a welcome guest; they beg him to approach their walls and to deem their homes worthy of his presence. The victor disdains not to set foot in the dwellings of his foes; the Ogygian dames and maidens rejoice: even as, o’ercome by the warring thyrsus,34 Ganges by now drunken applauded womanly revels. Lo! yonder on the shady heights of Dirce a shout of women shakes the vault, and the Pelasgian matrons come running down: like raving Thyiads are they, summoned to Bacchus’ wars, demanding, thou mightest deem, or having done some deed of horror; their wailing is of joy, fresh tears gush forth; they dart now here, now there, doubting whether first to seek great-hearted Theseus, or Creon, or their own kinsmen; their widowed grief leads them to the dead.

[797] I could not, even if some god gave hundredfold utterance to my heart, recount in worthy strains so vast a funeral of chieftains alike and common folk, so many lamentations united: how fearless Evadne with impetuous bound had her fill of the fires she loved and sought the thunderbolt in that mighty breast, how as she lay and showered kisses on his terrible form his unhappy spouse made excuse for Tydeus; how Argia tells her sister the story of the cruel watchmen, with what lament the Erymanthian mother bewails the Arcadian, the Arcadian, who keeps his beauty though all his blood is spent, the Arcadian, wept for by either host alike. Scarce would new inspiration or Apollo’s presence sustain the task, and my little bark has voyaged far and deserves her haven.

[810] Wilt thou endure in the time to come, O my Thebaid, for twelve years object of my wakeful toil, wilt thou survive thy master and be read? Of a truth already present Fame hath paved thee a friendly road, and begun to hold thee up, young as thou art, to future ages. Already great-hearted Caesar deigns to know thee, and the youth of Italy eagerly learns and recounts thy verse. O live, I pray! nor rival the divine Aeneid, but follow afar and ever venerate its footsteps. Soon, if any envy as yet o’erclouds thee, it shall pass away, and, after I am gone, thy well-won honours shall be duly paid.


1. The Dawn (Aurora), husband of Tithonus.
2. Doves, sacred to Venus.
3. Statius seems to mean Demeter here, though “Eleusin” in vii. 411 above means the town of Eleusis.
4. Juno.
5. Busiris, king of Egypt, sacrificed strangers to the gods, till slain by Hercules; the Odyrsian (Thracian) horses of Diomedes ate human flesh; the Sirens, who ate unwary seamen, were supposed to have lived on the coast of Sicily (cf. Silv. ii. 1. 10).
6. i.e., over the Amazons.
7. “illa vames,” that hunger, i.e. hungry beast; cf. “timor,” vii. 746.
8. i.e., no Amazon and no Medea.
9. Marathon is a village in Attica; the epithet probably has reference to Theseus, who performed an exploit there.
10. The votaries of Cybele cut themselves with knives in honour of the goddess.

11. i.e., the slopes of Cithaeron; cf. “Tibur supinum,” Hor. C. iii. 4. 23.
12. One of the Giants, imprisoned by Jupiter under Aetna.
13. i.e., as the soul is fled (“absentem”), she gathers up some of his blood.
14. i.e., the guards succeed each other at shorter intervals and the watchfires are kindled more frequently.
15. i.e., Antigone’s.
16. His sisters were turned into poplars.
17. Nightingales, see note on viii. 616. Tereus, king of Thrace, ravished Philomela, sister of his wife Procne; “trunco,” because she cut out her own tongue.
18. He refers to the gift of the knowledge of agriculture, which Triptolemus brought to Attica, and the worship of Demeter which he instituted there. The “new man” appears to be Triptolemus himself. Athens boasted to have always been a refuge for the distressed, e.g. for Orestes and Oedipus; Olynthus is not otherwise known.
19. i.e., of the Amazons, the tribe of warrior-maids of Scythia, cf. v. 144; the Maeotis is the Sea of Azov.
20. i.e., Cyclopes or Centaurs.

21. Hecale, who entertained Theseus when he went out to slay the Marathonian bull.
22. Theseus was a son of Neptune, according to some legends.
23. Medussa and the Gorgons lived in Libya.
24. Bacchus and Demeter.
25. Acharnae was famous for the ivy that decked the thyrsi, or wands of the Bacchanals.
26. Aegeus, father of Theseus, threw himself into the sea (whence called Aegean), thinking that his son had perished in Crete.
27. Boreas, the north wind.
28. The Acropolis of Athens, scene of the strife between Athene and Poseidon (god of the sea); Athene gained the victory by her gift of the olive-tree.
29. Veterans on their discharge (“emeriti”) were accustomed to dedicate their arms in a temple.
30. The abode of Aeolus, king of the winds.

31. Theseus’s exploits in Crete (slaying of the Minotaur) were the prelude to his still greater subsequent fame.
32. i.e., that the carnage might be greater on a fresh field.
33. i.e., Amazons.
34. i.e., of Bacchus, warring in the East.