Classical Texts Library >> Statius, Thebaid >> Book 2




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] Meanwhile the winged son of Maia returns from the cold shades, fulfilling the errand of great Jove; on every side sluggish clouds hinder his way and misty air enfolds him, no Zephyrs wafted his course, but the foul vapours of the silent world. On this side Styx encircling its nine regions, on that a barrier of fiery torrents encloses his path. Behind him follows old Laius’ trembling shade, still halting from his wound; for deeper than the hilt had his kinsman’s impious swordthrust pierced into his life and sped the first blow of Avenging Wrath; yet on he goes, strengthening his steps with the healing wand. Then barren woods and spirit-haunted fields and groves of lurid hue stand in amaze, and Earth herself marvels that the backward road lies open, nor even to the dead and those already bereft of light was lacking the livid blight of envy. One there, perversely eager beyond the rest ever to revile the gods – thus indeed had he come by a grievous doom – and to repine at happiness, cries: “Good speed, thou lucky one, on what behest soever summoned, whether by Jove’s command, or whether an overmastering Fury drive thee to meet the day, or frenzied witch of Thessaly bid thee come forth from thy secret sepulchre: alas! thou that wilt see the pleasant sky and the sunlight thou didst leave behind and the green earth and the pure river-springs, yet more sadly wilt return again to this darkness.”

[26] Cerberus lying on the murky threshold perceived them, and reared up with all his mouths wide agape, fierce even to entering folk; but now his black neck swelled up all threatening, now had he torn and scattered their bones upon the ground, had not the god with branch Lethaean soothed his bristling frame and quelled with threefold slumber the steely glare.

[32] There is a place – named Taenarum by the Inachian folk – where foaming Malea’s dreaded headland rises into the air, nor suffers any vision to reach its summit. Sublime stands the peak and looks down serene on winds and rain, and only to weary stars affords a resting-place. There tired winds find repose, and there the lightnings have their path; hollow clouds hold the mountain’s midmost flanks, and never beat of soaring wing comes nigh the topmost ranges nor the hoarse clap of thunder. But when the day inclines towards its setting, a vast shadow casts its fringes wide over the level waters, and floats upon mid-sea. Around an inner bay Taenaros curves his broken shore-line, not bold to breast the outer waves. There Neptune brings home to haven his coursers wearied by the Aegean flood; in front their hooves paw the sand, behind, they end in fishy tails beneath the water. In this region, so ‘tis said, a hidden path conducts the pallid ghosts, and dowers with many a dead the spacious halls of swarthy Jove.1 If Arcadian husbandmen speak truth, shrieks are heard there and the moaning of the damned, and the land is all astir with hurrying grisly forms; often the cries and blows of the Furies have resounded till mid-day, and the baying of Death’s tri-formed warder has scared the rustics from the fields.

[55] By this way then did the nimble god, all wrapped about with dusky shadow, leap forth to the upper world, and shake from his face the vapours of the nether region, and make serene his countenance with draughts of living air. Thence by Arcturus and the moon’s mid silences o’er fields and cities he wends his way. Sleep, driving Night’s coursers, met him, and rose abashed to salute his godhead, turning aside from his celestial path. Beneath the god flies the shade, and knows again his lost stars and the land that bore him; and now he looks down on Cirrha’s heights and Phocis, that his own corpse polluted. Now they were come to Thebes, and hard by his own son’s threshold Laius groaned, tarrying to enter the well-known house. But when he saw his own yoke hanging on the lofty pillars and the chariot still stained with blood, almost had he in wild fear turned back and fled, nor could the Thunderer’s high commands restrain him, nor the waving of the Arcadian2 wand.

[71] That too chanced to be the day marked by the well-known falling of the Thunderer’s brand, when thy birth’s untimely hastening, O infant Euhius,3 caused thy sire to take thee to himself. Therein had the Tyrian settlers4 found cause to pass the night in sleepless rivalry of sport; scattered far and wide through house and field, amid garlands and mixing-bowls drained dry they panted forth the wine-god under the light of day; then many a boxwood pipe resounded and cymbals louder than the beat of bull-hide drum. Cithaeron himself exultant had set prudent matrons flocking in a nobler frenzy through his pathless groves: even as the Bistonians5 in wild concourse hold their revels upon Rhodope or in the depths of Ossa’s vales. For them one of the flock snatched half-alive from the lion’s jaw is a feast, and to abate their fury with new milk is luxury; but when the fierce fragrance of Ogygian Inachus breaths upon them, then how glorious to fling stones and goblets, and with the shedding of guiltless comrades’ blood to begin the day anew and appoint once more the festal banquet!

[89] Such was the night when the swift Cyllenian glided down on the silent air to the couch of the Echionian prince,6 where in huge bulk he had flung his limbs on a bed piled high with Assyrian7 coverlets. Alas! for mortal hearts that know not their destiny! He feasts and he slumbers. Then the old man performs what he is bidden, and, lest he seem but a false phantom of the night, puts on the darkened visage of the ancient seer Tiresias, and his voice and well-known woollen bands. His own long hair and hoary beard combed downward from the chin remain, and his own pallid hue, but through his locks there runs the feigned circlet, and the sacred fillets entwined with the grey olive are plain to view. Then he seemed to touch his breast with the olive bough and give utterance to these fateful words: “This is no time of sleep for thee, thou sluggard, who liest careless of thy brother in the depth of night! long time have great deeds summoned thee, slothful one, and weighty preparings for what shall be. But thou, even as if some ship’s captain, while the south winds are already raising the billows on the Ionian main, should lie idle beneath a black storm-cloud, forgetful of his tackling and of the rudder that sway the waters, – thou tarriest. And he even now – so Fame can tell – waxes proud of his new wedlock, and gets to himself might whereby to seize the realm and refuse thee thy part, and appoints himself an old age in thy halls. Adrastus, foretold by omen to be the father of his bride, and the Argive dowry raise his spirits, yea, and Tydeus, stained by a brother’s blood, hath he graciously received into a lifelong bond. Hence swelling pride, and a promise to thy brother of long exile for thee. The sire of gods himself in pity sends me down to thee from on high: hold fast to Thebes, and drive away thy kinsman who is blind with lust of rule, and will dare as much against thyself, nor suffer him all agape for a brother’s death to trust any more in the treachery he devises, nor to bring Mycenae to queen it over Cadmus.”

[120] He spoke, and departing – for already the sun’s horses were driving in rout the pale stars – tore from his head the chaplet and woollen bands, and revealed himself for his grandsire, then leaning over his dread grandson’s couch bared his throat’s open wound and flooded his sleep with streaming blood. The other, startled from his slumbers, springs up and leaps from the couch, full of horror, and shaking from him the phantom blood shrinks appalled from his grandsire and seeks out his brother. Just as when a tigress hearing the noise of hunters has grimly faced the nets and shaken off lazy sleep; ‘tis war she yearns for, and she loosens her jaws and trims her talons, and soon she rushes amid the companies and carries off in her mouth a man still breathing, to feed her savage whelps: even so stirred by rage the chieftain dreams of war against his absent brother.

[134] And now Aurora rising from her Mygdonian8 resting-place had scattered the cold shadows from the high heaven, and shaking the dew-drops from her hair blushed deep in the sun’s pursuing beams; toward her through the clouds the rosy morning-star turns his late fires, and with slow steed leaves an alien world, until the fiery father’s orb be full replenished and he forbid his sister to usurp his rays. Then did the aged son of Talaus and with no long delay the heroes twain of Dirce and of Achelous9 rise swiftly from their couches. Upon them, wearied by blows and endurance of the storm, had Sleep poured all his horn’s bounty; but scant repose visited the breast of the Inachian monarch, while in his thoughts he broods upon heaven’s will and the new ties of friendship, and wonders what destinies he is admitting to his house in his new-found sons-in-law. They meet in the mid chambers of the palace, and draw night and grasp each other’s hand in turn, then seat themselves where they may best make interchange of secret counsel, and, the others hesitating, Adrastus thus beings: “Peerless youths, whom a propitious night has brought heaven-prompted to my realm, whose steps my own Apollo has guided even to my palace in spite of rain and lightning-flash and the Thunderer’s unseasonable sky, I cannot deem it unknown to you and the Pelasgian folk, how zealous a crowd of suitors seeks alliance with my house; for my two daughters, joyful pledge of grandchildren, are reaching equal years of full-grown maidenhood. How great their beauty and their modesty, trust not a father’s word, nay, ye could judge at yesterday’s banquet. Many a one, with throne and wide-extending sway to boast of, ahs desired them – ‘twere long to tell the tale of Pheraean and Oebalian princes10 – and mothers also throughout the towns of Achaea, for hope of posterity; nor did Oeneus thy own father despise more proffered unions, nor the sire of Pisa’s bride with his terrible chariot-reins.11 But none of Spartan birth nor of them that hail from Elis may I choose for my daughters’ consorts: to you doth ancient destiny pledge my blood and the guardianship of my halls. The gods are gracious, in that ye come to me so high in birth and spirit that I rejoice in their oracles. This is the prize that the night’s sufferings have won, this is your reward for the blows ye bore.”

[173] They heard him, and for a while held their eyes fixed in mutual gaze, seeming to yield each other place of speech. But Tydeus, in every deed more daring, begins: “O how sparingly doth thy sage mind impel thee to proclaim thy own renown, and how greatly by worth dost thou outdo all fortune’s favour! To whom should Adrastus yield in power? Who knows not that thou, when driven from thy ancestral Sicyon’s throne, didst give law to turbulent Argos? and would that thou wert willing, O just Jupiter, to entrust to these hands the races that Dorian Isthmus contains within the interior lands, and those which it removes beneath its other bound! The interrupted light would not have fled from dire Mycenae,12 nor would the vales of Elis have groaned at the fierce contests,13 nor divers Furies afflicted divers kings, nor happened all that thou, O Theban, canst best bewail.14 We verily are willing, and our hearts are open to thee.” So spake he, and the other added: “Would any one refuse to welcome such a father of his bride? Though Venus smile not yet upon us exiles, banished from our land, nevertheless all sorrows of our hearts are calmed, and the grief is gone that held fast upon our minds. No less joyfully do we take unto us this solace, than a ship rent by the tearing gale beholds the friendly shore. We delight to enter upon a reign of happy omen, and to pass, under thy destiny, what remains of our allotted lives and labours.” Without more ado they rise, and the Inachian sire adds weight of eager words to every promise, and vows that he will succour them and bring them back to their fathers’ realms.

[201] The Argives, therefore, as the report spreads through the city that husbands for his daughters have come to the king’s court, and that illustrious Argia, and Deipyle famed no less for beauty, are giving in wedlock their lusty maidenhood, eagerly prepare for great rejoicing. Fame flies through the kindred cities, and is carried from lip to lip in the neighbouring lands even as far as the Lycaean and beyond Parthenian glades and the Ephyrean15 countryside, nor less does the same tumultuous goddess descend upon Ogygian Thebes. With wings full-stretched she broods over those walls, bringing terror that accords with the past night to the Labdacian chief: the welcome and the marriage does she relate, and the royal covenant and the union of houses – what mad licence in the devilish monster’s tongue! – and at last she tells of war.

[213] The long-expected day had spread the Argives all abroad16: the royal halls are filled with joyous gathering, here may they look face to face upon their forefathers, and see bronzes that vie with the living countenance. So much hath skill dared and wrought! Father Inachus himself, twin-horned, leans leftward upon his titled urn; old Iasius supports him and calm Phoroneus and warrior Abas, and Acrisius angry with the Thunderer,17 and Coroebus bearing a head upon his naked sword, and the grim likeness of Danaus already meditating murder; and many a prince thereafter. Then the common folk in clamorous flood are given entrance at the proud portals, while the whole company of chiefs and all who in degree stand night the monarch’s majesty take first place of rank. Within, the palace is all aglow with sacrificial fires, and loud with female tumult; a chase band of Argive women surrounds the mother-queen, others thronging about he maidens reconcile them to the new bonds and reassure their timorous hearts. They moved in splendour and majesty of look and dress, with eyes cast down and modest blush suffusing all their fairness; that last regretful love of maidenhood steals silently into their hearts, and the first shame of guilt overwhelms their countenances; then a generous rain bedews their cheeks, and tears bring joy to their tender-hearted parents. Just so might Pallas and Phoebus’ sterner sister18 glide down together from high heaven, terrible alike in armour and in looks, and with golden hair braided on their heads, bringing their maiden company, from Cynthus she and she from Aracynthus19; they wouldst thou never learn by long gazing, even had thine eyes leave to gaze, which had the greater beauty, which the greater charm, or which had more of Jove, and were they but pleased to take each other’s dress, Pallas would beseem the quiver and Delia the crested helmet.

[244] The sons of Inachus contend in rivalry of joy, and weary the gods with vows, as each had household-gear and power of offering. These make supplication with entrails and the victim’s life, those with bare turf; others, heard no less, if their heart be accepted would fain win merit of the gods by incense, and shade their portals with the spoil of the woodlands. But lo! a sudden fear – so cruel Lachesis commanded – strikes on their hearts and robs the sire of his rejoicing, and turns the day to gloom. On her threshold20 they were drawing nigh to Pallas the unwedded, who among cities prefers not the Muychian21 hills to Argive Larissa; here by ancestral rite the daughters of Iasus, so soon as their chaste years grew ripe for wedlock, were wont to make offering of virgin tresses, and pray pardon for the first marriage-bed. As they climb the steps and approach the lofty pile, there fell from the temple’s highest summit a brazen shield, the spoil of Arcadian Euhippus, and overwhelmed the heralding torches, the festal light of the marriage train; and while they dare not yet to make sure advance, a mighty trumpet-blare, heard from the shrine’s inmost recesses, filled them with terror. All at the first shock of panic turned toward the king, then denied they had heard aught; yet all are troubled by the event’s dire omen, and increase their fear by various talk. Nor was it wonderful: for thou wast wearing, Argia, the ill-starred ornament of thy husband’s giving, the dread necklace of Harmonia.22 Far back the story runs, but I will pursue the well-known tale of woes, whence came it that a new gift had such terrible power.

[269] The Lemnian,23 so they of old believed, long time distressed at Mars’ deceit and seeing that no punishment gave hindrance to the disclosed amour, and the avenging chains removed not the offence, wrought this for Harmonia on her bridal day to be the glory of her dower. Thereat, through taught mightier tasks, the Cyclopes labour, and the Telchines famed for their handiwork helped in friendly rivalry of skill; but for himself the sweat of toil was heaviest. There forms he a circlet of emeralds glowing with a hidden fire, and adamant stamped with figures of ill omen, and Gorgon eyes, and embers left on the Sicilian anvil from the last shaping of a thunderbolt, and the crests that shine on the heads of green serpents; then the dolorous fruit of the Hesperides24 and the dread gold of Phrixus’ fleece; then divers plagues doth he intertwine, and the king adder snatched from Tisiphone’s grisly locks, and the wicked power that commends the girdle25; all these he cunningly anoints about with lunar foam,26 and pours over them the poison of delight. Not Pasithea,27 eldest of the gracious sisters, nor Charm nor the Idalian youth did mould it, but Grief, and all the Passions, and Anguish, and Discord, with all the craft of her right hand. The work first proved its worth, when Harmonia’s complaints turned to dreadful hissing, and she bore company to grovelling Cadmus, and with long trailing breast drew furrows in the Illyrian fields.28 Next, scarce had shameless Semele put the hurtful gift about her neck, when lying Juno crossed her threshold.29 Thou too, unhappy Jocasta, didst, as they say, possess the beauteous, baleful thing, and didst deck thy countenance with its praise – on what a couch, alas! to find favour; and many more beside. Last Argia shines in the splendour of the gift, and in pride of ornament and accursed gold surpassed her sister’s mean attiring. The wife of the doomed prophet30 had beheld it, and at every shrine and banquet in secret cherished fierce jealousy, if only it might ever be granted her to possess the terrible jewel, nought profited, alas! by omens near at hand. What bitter tears she doth desire! to what ruin tend her impious wishes! Worthy is she, indeed, but what hath her hapless consort deserved, and his deluded arms? And what the guiltless frenzy of her son?

[306] When twice six days had ended the regal banqueting and the rejoicing of the people, the Ismenian hero turned his gaze towards Thebes, and would fain now be seeking his kingdom. For he recalls that day, when by the hazard that favoured his brother he stood in Echion’s palace stripped of power, and saw his cause deserted by the gods and his friends all slunk away in hurry and alarm, himself defenceless on every side and all his fortune fled. For but one sister had dared to escort the exile on his sad path; from her even had he parted, his journey scarce begun, and in deep anger repressed his tearful grief. Then nightly and day by day does he recount in order those whose joy he marked as he went forth, those who were foremost in flattery of the unjust prince, or whom he had himself seen to bewail his exile; anguish devours his mind, and furious wrath, and hope, than which the heart can bear no heavier burden, when ‘tis long deferred. Brooding thus in his mind upon a cloud of care, he makes ready to set out for Dirce and the Cadmean home denied him. Even as a chieftain bull, banished from his loved valley, whom a conqueror has driven from his wonted meadow and bidden low far parted from his stolen love, yet anon in exile takes pleasure in his mighty thews, and his neck fresh-blooded waxes strong again, and he bethinks him of the oaks that he has shattered, and eager for battle demands back the pastures and the captive herds; already in speed of foot and power of horn hath he the mastery, his conqueror himself is dismayed at his return, and the astonished herdsmen scarce now him for the same: not otherwise does the Teumesian youth sharpen his wrath in brooding silence. But his faithful wife had marked his secret yearning to be gone, and lying on the couch in the first pale light of dawn, her arms about her lord, “What thoughts of flight,” she said, “are these thou ponderest? nought escapes a lover’s eye. I know thy wakeful complainings and thy bitter sighs, thy ever-troubled slumber. How often touching thee with my hand do I find this face all wet with tears, and thy breast loud groaning with thy weight of cares! ‘Tis not the sundering of our marriage-bond that moves me, nor a widowed youth; although our love is still fresh, nor has our couch yet since the bridal lost he first glow of passion. ‘Tis thy own safety, O beloved – I hasten to confess it – that wrings my heart. Wilt thou seek thy realm unarmed, unfriended, and be able to quit thine own Thebes, should he refuse it? Yea, Report, that is ever cunning to catch the mind of princes, tells that he is proud and arrogant in his stolen power, and ill-disposed to hear thee; nor had he yet reigned a full year.31 Terrified too am I now by soothsayers, now by entrails that speak of threatening gods, by flight of birds, or by disturbing visions of the night; and ah! never do I call to mind that Juno came falsely to me in my dreams. Whither doth thy journey lead thee? except it be a secretly cherished passion that draws thee to Thebes, and union with a nobler house.” Then at last the Echionian youth brief-laughing consoled his wife’s tender grief, and set timely kisses on her sorrowful cheeks and stayed her tears: “Free thy mind of fear; prudent counsels, believe me, win peaceful days; cares beyond thy years become thee not. But should one day the Saturnian father take knowledge of my fate, and Justice, if she think at all to glance down from heaven and defend the right on earth: then perchance that day shall dawn for thee, when thou shalt see thy husband’s walls, and go in queenly pomp through two cities.”

[363] So saying he hurried forth from the chamber that he loved, and sadly accosts Tydeus, already the partner of his enterprise, already sharing his troubles with faithful heart – so strong the bond of love that united them after their quarrel – and Adrastus, father of his spouse. Long time do they hold counsel, when after pondering many a scheme one plan at last finds preference with all, to make trial of his brother’s constancy and seek by humble request a safe return to the realm. Bold Tydeus volunteers the mission; yea, and thee too, bravest of the Aetolian race, would Deipyle fain stay by many a tear, but her father’s command and the assurance of any envoy’s safe return and her sister’s just entreaties make her yield.

[375] And now he had accomplished the full measure of a journey made rough by forests and seashore: where lay the marsh of Lerna and the burnt Hydra’s heat makes warm the depths of those unrighteous waters, and where through the length of Nemea scarce is heard to scanty song of the yet timid shepherds32; where Ephyre’s eastern side slopes to the winds of Orient and the Sisyphian havens lie, and the wave that vents its wrath upon the land lies in the curved retreat of Lechaeum sacred to Palaemon.33 Thence passes he by Nisus, leaving thee, kindly Eleusis, on his left hand, and at last treads the Teumesian fields and enters the Agenorean towers. There he beholds the cruel Eteocles high upon a throne and girt round with bristling spears. The appointed season of his reign already past, he was holding the folk under savage governance in his brother’s stead; prepared for every crime he sits, and complains of so late a claiming of his promise.

[389] Standing in the midst – the branch of olive proclaims him ambassador – when asked his name he declared it and the purpose of his coming; then, rude of speech as ever and quick to anger, and with mixture of harsh words, although his plea was just, he thus began: “Hadst thou simple honesty left thee and regard for a sworn bond, ‘twere more right that envoys should go hence to thy brother, now thy year is finished, and that thou in due course shouldst put off thy state and contentedly leave thy throne, so that he, after long wanderings and unseemly hardships in many a strange city, should at length succeed to the promised kingdom. But since thy darling passion is to reign, and power exerts its flattering charm, we summon thee; already hath the swift circle brought round the starry globe, and the mountains have regained the shadows that they lost,34 since they brother hath suffered the unhappy lot of poverty and exile in unknown cities; now is it time thou too didst spend they days under Jove’s open sky, and let earth’s coldness freeze thy limbs, and pay submissive court at the hearths of strangers. Set a term to thy prosperity; long enough in rich pomp of gold and purple hast thou mocked at thy brother’s year of mean poverty; I warn thee, unlearn of thine own will the joys of ruling, and in patient exile merit thy return.”

[410] He ended, but the other’s fiery heart rages beneath his silent breast, as when a serpent angered by a flung stone darts up close at hand, whose limbs long thirst has racked, down in its hollow lair, and gathered all the venom to its throat and scaly neck. “Had they been doubtful signs that forewarned me of my brother’s quarrel, did not his secret hate shine clear as day to me, that bold assurance alone would suffice, whereby you, in mind his very pattern, thus prelude his fury, as though already a new train of sappers were breaching our fenced walls, and the trumpets were kindling the hostile bands to fierceness. Even if thou hadst been speaking to Bistonians face-to-face in their midst, or to the pale Geloni, on whom the sun shines not, thou wouldst have been more sparing of thy eloquence, and more observant of what is fair and just, in opening thy cause. Nor would I accuse thee of this madness: thou speakest but at command. Now, therefore, since all your words are threats, and ye demand the sceptre with warrant neither of trust nor peace, and your hands are ever on the sword-hilt, carry back in turn this message of mine, far short of thine as yet, to the Argolic prince: The fortune that is my right, the sceptre that due privilege of years hath assigned me, I hold, and will hold long. Keep thou thy royal dower, the gift of thy Inachian consort, pile up thy Danaan treasure – for why should I envy thee those nobler deeds? – rule Argos and Lerna under happy auspices! Be it mine to hold the rough pastures of Dirce, and the shores narrowed by the Euboean waves, nor think it shame to call unhappy Oedipus my sire! Let ancestral splendour be thy boast – scion of Pelops and Tantalus! – and by a nearer channel of descent unite Jove’s blood with thine.35 Will thy queen, accustomed to her father’s luxury, endure this simple home? rightly would my sisters perform their anxious tasks for her, my mother, unsightly from long mourning, and that accursed dotard, heard clamouring perchance from his dark seclusion, would give her offence! The people’s minds are already accustomed to my yoke; I am ashamed, alas! for the folk and elders alike, lest they should suffer so oft the uncertainty of fortune and the distressful change of rulers, and unwillingly obey a doubtful throne. Unsparing to a people is a short reign; turn and behold the dismay and horror of my citizens at my danger! Shall I abandon these, whom under thy sway sure punishment awaits? ‘Tis in anger, O kinsman, that thou comest. Or suppose me willing: the fathers themselves will not suffer me to render up the crown, if I but know their love and there is gratitude for all my bounty.”

[451] No more endured he, but even in mid-speech flung at him this retort: “Thou shalt restore,” he cries, and again, “Thou shalt restore! Nay, should an iron rampart fence thee, or Amphion with the strains of another song draw about thee a triple wall, in no wise shall fire or sword defend thee from paying for thy bold deed, and, ere thou die, beating thy captive diadem on the ground beneath our arms. Such a fate wilt thou deserve; those do I pity, whose cheap lives thou dost seize and hurl to death in horrid butchery, worthy king, and their wives and babes and thou, Ismenus, roll down upon thy blood-stained waters! This then is loyalty, and this thy trusted word! Nor marvel I at the crimes of your race; such was the first author of your blood, such your incestuous sires; but there is a flaw in your parentage, thou only art the son of Oedipus, and this, O man of violence, shall be the reward for thy sin and crime! We claim our year! But I waste words – “ Boldly thus he shouted back while still in the doorway, then dashed out headlong through their disordered ranks. Even so the famous champion of Oenean Diana,36 with bristles stiff and lightning stroke of tusked jaw, hard pressed though he be by the Argive band, that rolls down stones upon him and boughs of trees uprooted from Achelous’ banks, yet leaves now Telamon, now Ixion prostrate on the ground, and attacks thee, Meleager; there at last was he stayed upon the spear-thrust, and relaxed the weapon’s force in the fierce-struggling shoulder. Such was the Calydonian hero, as he left the yet timorous council, with savage threats, as thou ‘twere he who was denied the kingdom; he hastes away, hurling from him the branch of olive. The mothers in amazement watch him from their thresholds’ edge, and utter curses on the fierce son of Oeneus, and withal in their secret hearts upon the king.

[482] But the monarch is not slothful, nor lacks cunning resource of crime and fraud unspeakable. A faithful company of chosen warriors he urges now by bribes, now by ardour of persuasive words, and fiercely plots a nocturnal affray, and would fain attack the ambassador – a name reverenced by peoples through the ages – by treachery and the silent-lurking sword. What is there that kings hold not vile? What cunning would he devise, were it his brother thou didst place in his power, O Fortune! O blind and guilty counsels! O ever timorous crime! A sworn band of soldiery go out against one single life, as though they made ready to storm a camp or level a city’s lofty side with the ram’s battering blows; fifty thus form close array, and march in order through the tall gates. Heaven favour now thy courage, who art deemed worthy of so numerous a foe!

[496] A nearer road leads them through copses, where by a hidden path they make the better speed and travel by a cut through the dense woods. It was a choice spot for a stratagem37: at a distance from the city two hills bear close upon each other with a grudging gulf between; the shadow of a mountain above and leafy ridges of curving woodland shut them in. Nature has implanted treachery in the place, and the means of hidden ambush. Through the middle of the rocks threads a rough and narrow track, below which lies a plain and a broad expanse of sloping fields. Over against it a threatening cliff rises high, the home of the winged monster of Oedipus38; here aforetime she stood, fierce uplifting her pallid cheeks, her eyes tainted with corruption and her plumes all clotted with hideous gore; grasping human remains and clutching to her breast half-eaten bones she scanned the plains with awful gaze, should any stranger dare to join in the strife of riddling words, or any traveller confront her and parley with her terrible tongue; then, without more ado, sharpening forthwith the unsheathed talons of her livid hands and her teeth bared for wounding, she rose with dreadful beating of wings around the faces of the strangers; nor did any guess her riddle, till caught by a hero that proved her match, with failing wings – ah! horror! – from the bloody cliff she dashed her insatiate paunch in despair upon the rocks beneath. The wood gives reminder of the dread story: the cattle abhor the neighbouring pastures, and the flock, though greedy, will not touch the fateful herbage; no Dryad choirs take delight in the shade, it ill beseems the sacred rites of Fauns, even birds obscene fly far from the abomination of the grove. Speeding hither with silent steps comes the doomed band; leaning on their spears and with grounded arms held ready, they await their haughty foe, and set strong guard around the wood.

[527] Night had begun to shroud the sunlight in her dewy pall, and had cast over the earth her dark shadow. The hero drew nigh the woods, and from a lofty mound sees the red gleam of warriors’ shields and plumed helmets, where the forest boughs leave an open space, and through the opposing shade the flickering moonlight plays upon the brazen armour. Appalled at the sight he yet went onward; he but draws to him his spiky darts, and the sword sheathed to the hilt. Then first he makes question, in no base terror: “Whence are ye, men, what mean ye lurking thus armed?” No voice made answer, the suspicious silence holds no sure pledge of peace. Lo! a spear, hurled by the mighty arm of Chthonius, the leader of the band, flies through the dusky air; but heaven and fortune let no aid to his venture. Yet through the covering of Olenian boar and the black bristly hide it sped, over his shoulder, near drawing blood, and widowed of its point strikes harmless on his throat. With hair erect and blood frozen about his heart he looks this way and that, fiercely alert and pale with rage, nor deems so large a troop to be equipped against him: “Come forth against me! out with you into the open! why such timorous daring, such arrant cowardice? alone I challenge you, alone!” Nor waited they; but when he saw them, more than he thought, swarming up from countless lurking places, some issuing from the ridges, others in ever-growing numbers coming from the valley-depths, nor few upon the plain, as when the first cry drives the encircled quarry into the open, and the road all lit by gleams of armour, he makes for the heights of the dire Sphinx – the only path of safety in his bewilderment – and tearing his nails upon the sheer cliff he scales the dreadful steep and gains mastery of the rock, where he has security behind and a clear downward range of harm. Then he tears away from the rocks a huge boulder, that groaning bullocks scarce with full strength could move from the ground and drag up to the wall; then heaving with all his force he raises ands strives to poise the deadly mass: even as great-hearted Pholus lifted the empty mixing-bowl against his Lapith foes. Right in death’s path, aghast they view him high aloft; the mountain falls hurtling, and whelms them; at once human limbs and faces, weapons and armour lie in mingled ruin. Four men in all groan mangled beneath that one rock; straightway the host flees panic-stricken, dashed from their enterprise. For no cowards were they who lay there dead: Dorylas of the lightning stroke, in glowing valour a match for princes, and Theron of the seed of Mars, proudly confident in earth-born ancestors, Halys, second to none in swaying at will his reined steed, but fallen on those fields in dismounted flight, and Phaedimus, who drew his birth from Pentheus, and found thee, Bacchus, still his foe.39

[576] But when he saw the band in terror and disordered rout from the sudden fate of these, he hurls two javelins – these alone did he carry, and had leant them against the mountain – and sends them after the fugitives. Soon, lest darts should fall on his exposed breast, of his own will he leapt down swiftly to the level plain, and seized the shield which he saw had rolled away when Theron was crushed down, and with his wonted covering of back and head, and breast defended by his enemy’s shield he stood his ground. Then gathering again into one dense body the Ogygians advance: instantly Tydeus draws his Bistonian blade, great Oeneus’ warlike gift, and attacking every quarter alike confronts now these, now those, and with his sword strikes down their glittering weapons; their numbers hinder them, and their arms impede each other; no strength is in their efforts, but their blows go astray on their own fellows, and falling they are entangled in their own disorder. He awaits their onset, a narrow mark for javelins, and resists them, firm and unshakeable. Not otherwise – if Getic Phlegra be worthy credence40 – stood Briareus vast in bulk against embattled heaven, contemning on this hand Phoebus’ quiver, on that the serpents of stern Pallas, here Mars’ Pelethronian pinewood shaft, with point of iron, and yonder the thunderbolt oft changed for new by weary Pyracmon, and yet complaining, though combated in vain by all Olympus, that so many hands were idle; no fainter was he in ardour, with shield outheld now this way, now that, himself retiring, doubling round, and ever and anon darting on their irresolute lines and pressing his vantage, while he pulls forth the many javelins that are stuck quivering all about his shield, an armoury for the hero; and many a bitter wound he suffers, yet none gains entrance to life’s secret courses, nor may hope to be deadly. A whirling stroke deals he at raging Deilochus, and bids Phegeus, who threatens attack with axe upraised, go join him beneath the shades, Dircean Gyas too and Lycophontes of Echionian stock. And now, losing heart, they seek each other and count their numbers, nor feel the same zest for blood, but grieve that so large a band is growing few.

[613] Lo! Chromis, of Tyrian Cadmus’ seed – him once Phoenician Dryope was carrying in her weighted womb, when revelling bands swept her along forgetful of her burden, and while she was dragging a bull unto thee, O Euhan,41 grasping its horns, the babe fell forth by stress of undue striving – Chromis at that time, in bold confidence of spears and hide of captured lion, brandished a stout club of knotted pinewood, and taunting cried: “Is one man, ye warriors, one man to go to Argos, boasting of so many slain? Scarce will he gain credence on his return! Come, friends, are there none strong in arm or weapon any more? was this our promise to the king, O Cydon? was it this, O Lampus?” While yet he shouts, the Teumesian42 cornel-shaft enters his open mouth, nor does his throat stay it; his voice is choked, and the sundered tongue floats in the rush of blood. Awhile he stood, till death poured through his limbs, and he fell, and falling was silent, while his teeth bit upon the spear.

[629] You too, O Thespians, why should I deny you and withhold from honourable renown? Periphas – none of brighter parts than he, or truer devotion – was raising from the ground his brother’s dying frame, his left hand supporting the languid neck, and his right arm about his side; his breast beneath the cuirass is drained by choking sobs of grief, nor can the fastenings restrain the welling tears that flow from his helm, when amid his deep groans a heavy spear shatters his curved ribs from behind him. Issuing from him it pierces his brother also, and with one weapon unites the kindred breasts.43 The other steadies his swimming eyes, where light still lingered, but beholding his kinsman done to death closes them in darkness. But he, to whom life remains and strength as yet despite his wound, cries: “Such an embrace, such kisses may thy sons give thee!” So fell they, alike in doom, their vow performed alas! in death, and their eyes closed each by the other’s hand.

[645] But Tydeus, straightway attacking, drove Menoetes with shield and spear before him terrified, in hurried backward retreat, till stumbling on the uneven ground he lost his footing; then prays he with both hands spread wide in supplication, and pushes away the spear that presses at his throat: “Spare me, I beseech thee by these star-inwoven shades, by the gods above, and by this night that favours thee: suffer me to bear to Thebes the sad tidings of thy deeds, and in our king’s despite laud thee before our trembling folk; so may our darts fall fruitless and no steel pierce thy breast, and thou return triumphant to thy friend’s desire!” He finished, but the other with countenance unchanged: “Vain tears thou wastest, and thou, if I mistake not, didst promise my head to the cruel prince. Surrender now thy arms and the light of day! Why seek the gaining of thy craven life? ‘Tis wars are waiting.” 44 While yet he speaks, the spear-point returns thick-clotted with blood. Thereupon with bitter words he pursues the vanquished: “No triennial night or solemn festival are ye keeping now! no orgies of Cadmus do ye behold, no mothers eager to profane Bacchus! Did ye think ye were carrying fawnskins and brittle wands to your unwarlike music? or were joining the fray that true men know nought of at the sound of Celaeanae’s45 boxwood pipe? Far other carnage is this, far other madness! To death with you, cowards and too few!” So thunders he, but nevertheless his limbs deny hi, and the tired blood beast heavy on his heart. His arm is raised, but falls in idle blows, his steps are slow, nor can his elbow bear the weight of the buckler changed46 by the spoils it bears; the cold sweat pours down his panting breast, and his hair and burning visage stream with gory dew and the foul bespattering of dying bodies: even as a lion, who had driven the shepherd far from the meadows and taken his fill of Massylian sheep, when his hunger is sated I in abundance of blood, and his neck and mane are congealed and heavy with corruption, stands faint in the midst of the slaughter, his mouth agape, fordone with gorging; gone is his savage fury, he only snaps in the air his empty jaws, and with hanging tongue licks them clean of the soft wool.

[682] Rich in spoils and bloodshed, he would even have gone to Thebes, and vaunted his triumph before astonished prince and people, hadst not thou, Tritonian maid,47 deemed worthy of thy counsel the hero, still ardent and all dazed by his deeds: “Scion of proud Oeneus, to whom just now, though far away, we granted victory over Thebes, set now a limit, and strain no more the gods’ undue favour; seek only credence for these toils. Depart, having sued thy fortune to the full.” There yet remained, an unwilling survivor of his comrades’ slaughter, Maeon, the son of Haemon; all this he had foreseen, taught of omens from the air nor deceived by any bird; nor had he feared to deter his chieftain, but the fates deprived his warnings of belief. His doom is to be pitied as a useless life; in terror he receives Tydeus’ stern behest: “Whosoever of the Aonians thou art, whom saved by my bounty from uttermost darkness to-morrow’s Dawn shall yet behold, this message I command thee to carry to thy prince: Raise a mound about your gates, renew your weapons, see to your old and mouldering walls, mind above all to marshall your men in close array and press troop on troop; look now at this field, everywhere smoking from my sword: even so do we make war!”

[704] So speaking, he prepares for thee, O Pallas, of thy deserving a fair guerdon from the gory rout, and in joy collects the booty lying there and surveys all his mighty deeds. Upon a hillock in mid-plain there was an oak tree, long time forgetful of its tender youth, with curving boughs and rude strength of trunk and thick encompassing bark. To this he brings and fastens smooth helmets and armour pierced by many a stroke, to this he binds swords that his blows have broken short and spears pulled out from limbs yet breathing. Standing then on the heap of arms and bodies he thus begins, while night and the long ridges make echo to his prayer: “Stern goddess, glory and wisdom of they mighty sire, powerful in war, thou on whose cheeks the terrible splendour of thy grim casque and blood-besprinkled Gorgon glow fierce with rage, - nor did ever Mavors or Bellona with her battle-spear inspire more furious trumpet-blasts – look favourably on this offering, whether thou comest from Pandion’s hill48 to be present at my night of triumph, or whether thou dost turn aside from thy glad dances in Aonian Itone,49 or hast washed and combed thy hair again in Libyan50 Triton’s waters, whither the fleet axle of thy inviolate mares doth speed thee shouting loud upon thy two-horsed chariot; now do we dedicate to thee the shattered spoils and shapeless armour of heroes. But should I come to my native Parthaonian fields,51 and Martian Pleuron throw wide her gates for my returning, then in the midst of the city’s hills will I consecrate to thee a golden temple, where it may be thy pleasure to look down upon Ionian storms, and where turbulent Achelous with yellow head tossed high disturbs the deep, and leaves the barrier of the Echinades behind. Here will I carve ancestral wars and the awful visages of great-hearted kings, and arms will I hang in the proud shrines, arms that I myself bore home and gained at my own blood’s cost, and those that thou, Tritonian maid, shalt give when Thebes is taken. A hundred Calydonian maidens there, votaries of thy virgin altars, shall duly twine thee Attic torches, and weave from thy chaste olive-tree purple fillets set off with snow-white wool; an aged priestess shall tend a never-failing fire upon the hearths, and hold in continual reverence thy mystic sanctities. Thou as of old shalt win in war and in peace rich first-fruits of my labours, nor shall Diana be offended.” 52 So prayed he, and set out again for pleasant Argos.

1. i.e., Pluto.
2. Mercury was born in Arcadia.
3. Bacchus, untimely born from Semele who was blasted by the lightning of Jove, and lodged in his father’s thigh till he was ripe for birth.
4. i.e., Thebans.
5. Thracians.
6. Eteocles.
7. Probably with reference to Sardanapalus (Assurbanipal), the Assyrian, proverbial for luxury (Juv. x. 362).
8. Tithonus, her husband, was son of Laomedon, king of Phrygia; Mygdonia was a part of Phrygia.
9. Adrastus was the son of Talaus; Dirce was a fountain at Thebes, Achelous a river in Aetolia.
10. i.e., Thessalian and Spartan, from N. and S. Greece.

11. Oenomaus, who challenged the suitors of Hippodamia to a chariot-race, and slew them when they lost.
12. See note on i. 325.
13. See note on i. 166.
14. I understand “fuissent” with Eumenides” and “quae,” etc.
15. Ephyra was an old name of Corinth.
16. Or perhaps, “had gladdened the Argives,” by an extension of “animum diffundere,” cf. Ov. A. A. i. 218 “diffundetque animos omnibus ista dies.”
17. Because Jupiter visited his daughter Danaë in the brazen tower. For Coroebus see i. 605 sq. The “murder” was that of their husbands by the Danaïdes.
18. i.e., Diana, as the huntress; “sterner,” perhaps by comparison with other daughters of Jove, e.g. Venus; not with Pallas, who is here the goddess of war, cf. l. 243 (“cristas”).
19. Mountain in Delos and on the border of Attica respectively.
20. Possibly, as Klotz suggests, because those who were about to be brides were not allowed to enter the temple of “innupta Pallas.”

21. i.e., Athenians.
22. Daughter of Venus and wife of Cadmus.
23. Vulcan. The reference is to the famous bed which he contrived. It was fitted with chains which closed upon Venus and Mars as they lay together on the bed. (See Hom. Od. viii. 266 f.) Harmonia was the daughter of Venus and Mars.
24. Statius must mean amber, wept by the daughters of the sun when turned into poplars, but he calls them Hesperides (as being in the west) instead of Heliades.
25. The girdle of Venus is spoken of as having power to instil desire; see Hom. Il. xiv. 214.
26. For this cf. Val. Fl. Arg. vi. 447; Apuleius, Met. i. 3. It was supposed that witches could obtain foam or spume from the moon when they drew it down to earth, and so made their poisons more deadly.
27. The eldest of the Graces; their names were more commonly said to be Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.
28. According to the legend, Harmonia and Cadmus her husband were turned into serpents, and ended their lives in Illyria.
29. Juno persuaded Semele to ask her lover Jupiter to reveal himself to her as Wielder of the Lightning; he did so, and Semele was blasted by the stroke, and died giving birth to Bacchus.
30. Eriphyle, wife of Amphiaraus, in exchange for the necklace persuaded her husband to go to the war, where he met his death. Her son Alcmaeon is said to have slain his mother in revenge (305).

31. i.e., when you fled from Thebes; he will be all the fiercer when his year is over. The old emendation consumpserit (“nor will he have reigned”) misses the point.
32. i.e., after the slaughter of the Nemean lion.
33. Lechaeum was the port of Corinth (Ephyre), where Sisyphus had been king. For the reverse journey cf. i. 312 sq.
34. i.e., the shade of the leaves which have fallen and grown again.
35. The Argive house was more directly descended from Jove than that of Oedipus.
36. The Calydonian boar, who avenged the neglected worship of Diana.
37. The scene of the ambush is modelled on Virg. Aen. xi. 522 sq., but Statius has made it obscure and difficult: “colles urgentur faucibus” seems to be merely an inversion of “fauces urgentur collibus.” The “Gemini colles” recur in vi. 257.
38. The Sphinx.
39. As he had been Pentheus’ foe, when the latter tried to suppress the Bacchanals.
40. Phlegra in Thrace where the gods fought the giants.

41. i.e., Bacchus.
42. Teumesus was a mountain near Thebes.
43. Perhaps Tydeus should be regarded as the subject of “conserit.”
44. i.e., in war there is no use for the craven.
45. Where Marsyas the flute-player was defeated by Apollo.
46. Cf. the use of “mutare” in vii. 71. E. H. Alton suggests “spiclis” for “spoliis.” The spoils are apparently regarded as carried on the shield. “spiclis” (“darts”) would refer to the missiles stricking in the shield, flung by his enemies.
47. Pallas Athene, who was born, according to one legend, form a lake Triton in Libya.
48. The Acropolis of Athens, where Pandion once reigned.
49. A mountain in Thessaly, on which there was a temple of Athena. Aonian seems here to mean haunt of Muses, from its usual meaning, Boeotian: the Muses were connected with Thessaly also.
50. See note on l. 684.
51. See note on i. 670.
52. Diana was the most important deity of Aetolia.