Classical Texts Library >> Statius, Thebaid >> Book 3




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] But not to the perfidious lord of the Aonian palace comes the repose of slumber in the twilight hours, although for the dank stars long travail yet remain till dawn; in his mind care holds vigil and wreaks the penalty for his plotted crime; then fear, gloomiest of augurs in perplexity, broods deeply. “Ah me!” he cries, “why this tarrying?” – for he had deemed the task a light one, and Tydeus an easy prey to so many warriors, nor weighed his valour and spirit against their numbers – “Went they by different rods? Was a company sent from Argos to his succour? Or has news of the deed spread round the neighbouring cities? Chose we too few, O father Gradivus, or men unrenowned in action? But valiant Chromis and Dorylas and the Thespians, a match for these towers of mine, could at my bidding level all Argos with the ground. Nor proof, I ween, against my weapons had he come hither, though his frame were wrought of bronze or solid adamant. For shame, ye cowards, whose efforts fail before a single foe, if indeed ye fought at all!” Thus is he tormented by various gusts of passion, and above all his sword as he spoke in mid assembly, nor openly sated to the full his savage wrath. Now he feels shame of his design, and now repents him of the shame. And like to the appointed helmsman of a Calabrian barque upon Ionian waters (nor does the lack sea-craft, but the Olenian star1 rising clearer than its wont has beguiled him to leave a friendly haven), when a sudden uproar fills the wintry sky, and all heaven’s confines thunder, and Orion in full might brings low the poles – he himself would fain win the land, and struggles to return, but a strong south wind astern bears him on; then, abandoning his craft, he groans, and heedless now follows the blind waters: even so the Agenorean chieftain upbraids Lucifer, yet lingering in the heavens, and the sun, so slow to rise on the distressed.

[33] Lo! beneath the western rein of Night, her course already turned, and the setting stars, so soon as mighty Tethys had driven forth tardy Hyperion from the Eastern sea, the earth with swaying masses trembled to her foundations, drear sign of ills to come, and Cithaeron was stirred and made his ancient snows to move; then were the rooftops seen to rise and the sevenfold gates to meet the mountain-ridges. Nor distant was the cause: wroth with his destiny and sad that death had been denied him, the son of Haemon2 was returning in the cold hour of dawn; not yet is his face plain, but, though indistinct to view, he gave from afar clear signs of dire disaster by wailing and beating his breast; for all his tears had soon been shed. Not otherwise does a bereaved herdsman leave the glade where savage wolves have wrought nocturnal carnage, what time a sudden squall of rain and the windy horns of the winter moon have driven his master’s cattle to the woods; light makes the slaughter manifest; he fears to take the new tidings to his lord, and pouring unsightly dust upon his head fills the fields with his lamentations, and hates the vast and silent stalls, while he calls aloud the long roll of his lost bulls.

[53] When the mothers crowding to the threshold of the gates beheld him all alone – ah, horror! – no troop around him or valiant chieftains, they venture not to question him, but raise a cry like unto that last cry when cities are flung open to the victors, or when a ship sinks at sea. As soon as audience at his desire was granted by the hated king: “This hapless life fierce Tydeus doth present thee of all that company, whether the gods have willed it so, or fortune, or, as my anger feels shame to confess, that man’s unconquerable might. Scarce to I believe my own report; all have perished, all! Witness night’s wandering fires, my comrades’ ghosts, and thou, evil omen wherewith I must needs return,3 no tears nor wiles won me this cruel grace and dishonoured gift of light. But the gods’ commands snatched destruction from me, and Atropos, whose pleasure knows no denial, and the fate that long since shut against me this door of death. And now that thou mayst see that my heart is prodigal of life, nor shrinks from final doom: ‘tis an unholy war thou hast begun, thou man of blood, no omens will approve thy arms; and while thou endeavourest to banish law, and reign exultant in thy kinsman’s exile, the unceasing plaint of a long line of ruined desolate homes, and fifty spirits hovering night and day shall haunt thee with dire terror; for I also delay not.”

[77] Already the fierce king’s anger was stirred, and blood lights up his scowling visage. Then Phlegyas and Labdacus, who never dallied at evil work – the realm’s armed might was in their keeping – prepare unbidden to go and assault him with violence. But already the great-souled seer had bared his blade, and looking now at the truculent tyrant’s face, now at his sword: “Never shalt thou have power upon this blood of mine nor strike the breast that great Tydeus spared; I go, yea exultant, and meet the fate whereof he robbed me; I am borne to the shades of my expectant comrades. As for thee, to the gods and thy brother – “ Even as he spoke, the sword was in his side to the hilt, cutting short his words; he fights against the agony, and with a strong effort doubling himself over the mighty blow sinks down, and the blood, sped by the last gaspings of his life, comes forth now from his mouth, now from the wound. The chiefs are stricken with dismay, the councillors mutter in alarm; but he, with visage set and grim in the death his hand accomplished, is borne to his house by his wife and trusty kinsmen, who have had no long joy of his return. But the mad rage of the impious ruler cannot so long be stayed; he forbids that the corpse be consumed with fire, and in vain defiance bars the peace of the tomb from the unwitting shades.

[99] But thou, so noble in thy death and in thy constancy, thou who wilt never suffer oblivion – such is thy due reward – thou who daredst scorn a monarch to his face, and thus hallow the path of ample freedom: by what strain of sufficing utterance can I add due renown to thy high prowess, augur beloved by the gods? Not in vain did Apollo teach thee all his heavenly lore and deem thee worthy of his laurel, and Dodona mother of forests and the Cirrhaean virgin shall rejoice to keep the folk in suspense while Phoebus holds his peace. And now far removed from Tartarean Avernus go thou and roam Elysian regions, where the sky admits not Ogygian4 souls, nor a guilty despot’s cruel behests have power; thy raiment and thy limbs endure, left inviolate by gory beasts, and the forest and the birds with sorrowing awe watch o’er thee, as thou liest beneath the naked sky.

[114] But fainting wives and children and ailing parents pour forth from the city walls, and by easy road or trackless region everywhere haste in piteous rivalry, eager to gain the object of their own lament, while in their company go crowded thousands zealous to console; some are burning with desire to see one warrior’s achievement and all the labours of the night. The road is loud with lamentation, and the fields re-echo the cries of grief. But when they reached the infamous rocks and the accursed wood, as though none had mourned before, nor bitter tears had flowed, once cry of keenest anguish rises, as from one mouth, and the sight of carnage drives the folk to madness; Grief inconsolable stands there with bloody raiment rent and with pierced breast incites the mothers. They search the helmets of the warriors now cold in death, and display the bodies they have found, stretched prostrate alike on stranger and on kinsman. Some steep their hair in the gore, some close up eyes and wash the deep wounds with their tears, others draw out the darts with vainly merciful hand, others gently replace the severed limbs and set the heads again to their shoulders.

[133] But Ide5 wanders through the thickets and on the open dusty plain – Ide, mighty mother of twin heroes, twinned now in death – with dishevelled hair all flowing, and nails piercing deep her livid cheeks; no more unhappy or pitiable is she, but terrible in her grief; and everywhere by weapons and by bodies she strews on the dire ground her white uncombed locks, and in helpless plight seeks her sons and over every corpse makes lamentation. Not otherwise does the Thessalian witch, whose race’s hideous art it is to charm back men to life by spell of song, rejoice in warfare lately ended, and holding high her faggot-torch of ancient cedar nightly haunt the fields, while she turns the slain folk over in their blood, and tries the dead, to see to which corpse she shall give many a message for the world above; the gloomy councils of the shades complain,6 and black Avernus’ sire waxes indignant.

[147] Together they were lying, apart from the rest beneath a rock, fortunate, that one day, one hand had wrought their doom; their wound-pierced breasts are knit fast by the uniting spear. She saw them, and her eyes made passage for the streaming tears: “Is it so ye embrace, my sons, is it so ye kiss, before your mother’s eyes? Is it so that Death’s cruel cunning at the final hour hath bound you? Which wounds shall I first touch, which face caress? Are ye those strong defenders of your mother, that glory of my womb, whereby I thought to touch the gods, and surpass the mothers of Ogygia in renown? How much better far, how happy in their union are they whose chamber is barren, whose house Lucina never visited at the cry of travail! Nay, to me my labour hath brought but sorrow. Nor in the broad glare of battle met ye a glorious fate, nor daring deeds ever famous among men did ye seek a death whose story might be told to your unhappy mother, but obscure ye fell and counting but in the tale of deaths7; alas! in what streams of blood ye lie, unnoticed and unpraised! I dare not indeed sunder your poor embracing arms, or break the union of so noble a death; go, then, and long abide true brothers, unparted by the final flames, and mingle your loved ashes in the urn!”

[169] No less in the meantime do the rest make lament, each over their own slain: here doth his wife mourn Chthonius, there Astyoche his mother grieves over Pentheus, and tender lads, thy offspring, Phaedimus, have learnt their father’s fate; Marpessa laves Phylleus, her betrothed, and his sisters cleanse the blood-stained Acamas. Then with the iron they lay bare the woods, and lop the antique crown of the neighbouring hill, that knew the secret of the night’s doings and watched the agony; there before the funeral piles, while each clings to the fire he himself has kindled, aged Aletes speaks consoling words to the unhappy company: “Often indeed has our race known sorrow and been racked by the heartless sport of Fate, ay, ever since the Sidonian wanderer cast the iron seed upon the furrows of Aonia, whence came strange growing and fear to the husbandmen of their own fields. But neither when old Cadmus’ palace sank into fiery ashes at cruel Juno’s bidding,8 nor when hapless Athamas,9 gaining a deadly fame, came down from the astonied mount, haling, alas! with exultant cries Learchus, nigh a corpse, hath such woe come to Thebes; nor louder then did Phoenician homes re-echo, when weary Agave overcame her frenzy, and trembled at her comrades’ tears.10 One day alone matched this in doom, and brought disaster in like shape, that day when the impious Tantalid11 atoned her presumptuous boasting, when she caught up all those bodies whose countless ruin strewed the earth around her, and sought for each its funeral flames. As great then was our people’s woe, and even so from forth the city went young and old and mothers flocking, and cried out their hearts’ bitterness against heaven, and in crowding misery thronged the double pyre at each mighty gate. I too, so I remember, though my years were tender, wept nevertheless, and equalled my parents’ tears. Yet hose ills were heaven-sent; nor would I more lament that the mad Molossian hounds knew not their master, when he crept forth from his unholy hiding-place to profane, O Delia, thy chaste fountains, nor that the queen, her blood transformed, melted suddenly into a lake.12 Such was the hard assignment of the Sisters, and so Jove willed it.

[206] “But now by a cruel monarch’s crime have we lost these guiltless citizens, so many chiefs of our land; and not yet hath the fame of the spurned covenant reached Argos, and already we suffer the extremities of war. Alas! what sweat of toil in the thick dust of battle is in store for men and steeds! alas! how high will ye flow, ye rivers, blushing your cruel red! All this will our youth behold, yet green to war; as for me, may I be granted, while it may be, my own funeral pyre, and be laid in my ancestral earth!” So spoke the aged man, and heaped high the crimes of Eteocles, calling him cruel and abominable and doomed to punishment. Whence came this freedom of speech? his end was near, and all his life behind him, and he would fain add glory to late-found death.

[218] All this the creator of the stars had long observed from the summit of the world, and seen the peoples stained by the first bloodshed; then bids he Gradivus straight be called. He having laid waste with slaughter the wild Bistonian folk and Getic towns was driving his chariot in hot haste toward the ethereal heights, flashing the splendour of his lightning-crested helm and angry golden armour, alive with monstrous shapes of terror; heaven’s vault roars thunderous, his shield glows with blood-red light and its emulous orb strikes on the sun from far. When Jupiter saw that he yet panted with his Sarmatic toils, and that all the tempest of war yet swayed his breast: “Even as thou art, my son, even so hie thee through Argos, with thy sword thus dripping, in such a cloud of wrath. Let them cast off the sloth that curbs them, let them hate all and desire but thee, let them in frenzy vow to thee their lives and hands; sweep away the doubting, confound all treaties; thou mayst consume in war – to thee have I granted it – even gods themselves, ay, and the peace of Jove. Already I have sown the seeds of battle: Tydeus, as he returns, brings news of monstrous outrages, the monarch’s crime, the first beginnings of base warfare, the ambush and the treachery, which with his own weapons he avenged. Add thou credence to his tale. And you, ye gods, scions of my blood, indulge no angry strife, no rivalry to win me by entreaties; thus have the Fates sworn to me, and the dark spindles of the Sisters: this day abides from the beginning of the world ordained for war, these peoples are destined to battle from their birth. But if ye suffer me not to exact solemn vengeance for their sins of old, and to punish their dreadful progeny – I call to witness these everlasting heights, our race’s holy shrine,13 and the Elysian streams that even I hold sacred – with my own arm will I destroy Thebes and shatter her walls to their foundations, and cast out upon the Inachian dwellings her uprooted towers, or else pour down my rain upon them and sweep them into the blue depths, ay, though Juno’s self should embrace her hills and temple, and toil amid the chaos.”

[253] He spoke, and they were spellbound at this commands. Mortal in mind thou hadst deemed them, so curbed they one and all their voice and spirit. Even as when a long truce of winds has calmed the sea, and the shores lie wrapt in peaceful slumber, indolent summer sets her spell upon forest leaves and clouds, and drives the breezes far; then on lakes and sounding meres the swelling waters sink to rest, and rivers fall silent ‘neath the sun’s scorching rays.

[260] Exulting with joy at these commands, and glowing yet with his chariot’s burning heat, Gradivus leftward swung the reins; soon he was gaining his journey’s end and the steeps of heaven, when Venus unafraid stood in his horses’ very path; backward they gave place, and e’en now have drooped their thick manes in suppliant wise to earth. Then leaning her bosom on the yoke, and with sidelong tearful glance she beings – meanwhile bowed at their mistress’ feet the horses champ the foaming steel: “War even against Thebes, O noble father, war dost thou thyself prepare, and the sword’s destruction for all thy race? And does not Harmonia’s offspring,14 nor heaven’s festal day of wedlock, nor these tears of mine, thou madman, give thee one moment’s pause? Is this thy reward for my misdoing? Is this the guerdon that the Lemnian chains and scandal’s tongue and loss of honour have won for me at thy hands? Proceed then as thou wilt; far different service does Vulcan pay me, and even an injured husband’s wrath yet does my bidding. If I were to bid him sweat in endless toil of furnaces and pass unsleeping nights of labour, he would rejoice and work at arms and at new accoutrements, yea, even for thee! Thou – but I essay to move rocks and a heart of bronze by praying! – yet this sole request, this only do I make in anxious fear: why didst thou have me join our beloved daughter to a Tyrian husband in ill-omened wedlock?15 And boast the while that the Tyrians, of dragon stock and direct lineage of Jove, would win renown in arms and show hearts keen and alive for action? Ah! would rather our maiden had married beneath the Sithonian pole, beyond Boreas and thy Thracians! Have I not suffered wrong enough, that my daughter crawls her length upon the ground, and spews poison on the Illyrian grass? But now her innocent race – “

[291] No longer could the Lord of war endure her tears, but changed his spear to his left hand, and in a moment leapt from the lofty car, and clasping her to his shield hurt her in his embrace, and with loving words thus soothes her: “O thou who art my repose from battle, my sacred joy and all the peace my heart doth know: thou who alone of gods and men canst face my arms unpunished, and check even in mid-slaughter my neighing steeds, and tear this sword from my right hand! neither the marriage-bond of Sidonian Cadmus have I forgotten, nor thy dear loyalty – rejoice not in false accusing! – may I be rather plunged, god though I be, in my uncle’s infernal lakes, and be hunted weaponless to the pale shades! But now ‘tis the Fates’ behests and the high Father’s purpose I am bid perform – no fit choice were Vulcan’s arm for such an errand! – and how can I dare face Jove or go about to spurn his spoken decree, Jove, at whose word – such power is his! – I saw of late earth and sky and ocean tremble, and mighty gods, one and all, seek hiding? But, dear one, let not thy heart be sore afraid, I pray thee – these things no Tyrian power can change; and when soon beneath the Tyrian walls both races are making war, I will be present and help our kindred arms. Then with happier mien shalt thou behold me descending in fury upon the Argive fortunes far and wide over the bloody plain; this is my right, nor do the fates forbid it.” So speaking, he drove on through the open air his flaming steeds. No swifter falls upon the earth the anger of Jove, whene’er he stand on snowy Othrys or the cold peak of northern Ossa, and plucks a weapon from the cloud; fast flies the fiery bolt, bearing the god’s stern command, and all heaven, affrighted at its threefold trail, soon threatens with ominous signs the fruitful fields or overwhelms unhappy sailors in the deep.16

[325] And now Tydeus on his homeward way passes with weary step through the Danaan lands and down the slopes of green Prosymna; terrible is he to behold: his hair stands thick with dust, from his shoulders filthy sweat drips into his deep wounds, his sleepless eyes are raw and red, and gasping thirst has made his face drawn and sunken; but his spirit, conscious of his deeds, breathes lofty pride. So does a warrior bull return to his well-known pastures, with neck and shoulders and torn dewlaps streaming with his foe’s blood and his own; then too doth weary valour swell high, filled with pride, as he looks down upon his breast; his enemy lies on the deserted sand, groaning, dishonoured, and forbids him to feel his cruel pains. Such was he, nor failed he to inflame with hatred the midway towns, all that lie between Asopos and ancient Argos, renewing everywhere and oft the tale, how he had gone on embassy from a Grecian people to claim the realm of exiled Polynices, but had endured violence, night crime, arms, treachery, - such was the Echionian monarch’s plighted faith; to his brother he denied his due rights. The folk are swift to believe him; the Lord of Arms inclines them to credit all, and, once welcomed, Rumour redoubles fear.

[345] When he entered within the gates – and it happened that the revered sire Adrastus was himself summoning his chiefs to council – he appears all unexpectedly, and from the very portals of the palace cries aloud: “To arms, to arms, ye men, and thou, most worthy ruler of Lerna,17 if thou hast the blood of thy brave ancestors, to arms! Natural ties, justice, and reverence for Jove have perished from the world! Better had I gone an envoy to the wild Sauromatae, or the blood-stained warden of the Bebrycian grove.18 I blame not thy commands, nor regret my errand; glad am I that I went, yea glad, and that my hand has probed the guilt of Thebes. ‘Twas war, believe me, war! like a strong tower or city stoutly fortified was I beset, all defenceless and ignorant of my path, treacherously at night, by a picked ambuscade armed to the teeth, ay, but in vain! – they lie there in their own blood, before a city desolated! Now, now is the time to march against the foe, while they are struck by panic and pale with fear, while they are bringing in the corpses, now, sire, while this right arm is not yet forgotten.19 I myself even, wearied by the slaughter of those fifty warriors, and bearing the wounds ye see still running with foul gore, beg to set forth upon the instant!”

[365] In alarm the sons of Inachus start up from their seats, and before them all the Cadmean hero runs forward with downcast countenance: “Ah! hated of the gods and guilty that I am! do I see these wounds, myself unharmed? Is this, then, the return thou hadst in store for me, brother? Am I the mark, then, of my kinsman’s weapons? Ah! shameful lust of life! Unhappy I, to have spared my brother so great a crime! Let now your walls at least abide in tranquil peace; let met not, who am still your guest, bring on you such tumult. I now – so hardly has fate dealt with me – how cruel it is, how sad to be torn from children, wife, and country; let no one’s anxious home reproach me, nor mothers fling at me sidelong glances! Gladly will I go, and resolved to die, ay, though my loyal spouse call me back, and her father’s voice20 once more plead with me. This life of mine I owe to Thebes, to thee, O brother, and to thee, great Tydeus!” Thus with varied speech he tries their hearts and makes dissembling prayer. His complaints stir their wrath, and they wax hot in tearful indignation; spontaneously in every heart, not only of the young, but of those whom age has made cold and slow to action, one purpose rises, to leave desolate their homes, to bring in neighbouring bands, and then to march. But the deep-counselling sire, well-versed in the government of a mighty realm: “Leave that, I pray you, to the gods and to my wisdom to set aright; thy brother shall not reign unpunished, nor are we eager to promise war. But for the present receive this noble son of Oeneus, who comes in triumph from such bloodshed, and let long-sought repose calm his warlike spirit. For our part, grief shall not lack its share of reason.”

[394] Straightway his comrades and anxious wife bestir themselves in haste, all thronging round the way-worn and battle-weary Tydeus. Joyfully in mid-hall he takes his seat, and leans his back against a huge pillar, while Epidaurian Idmon cleanses his wounds with water – Idmon, now swift to ply the knife, now gentler with warm juice of herbs; - he himself, withdrawn into his mind’s deep brooding, tells over the beginning of the deeds of wrath, the words each spoke in turn, the place of ambush, and the time of secret battle, what chieftains and how great were matched against him, and where most he laboured, and he relates how Maeon was preserved to take the sad tidings. The faithful company, the princes and his wife’s sire, are spellbound at his words, and wrath inflames the Tyrian exile.21

[407] Far on the sloping margin of the western sea the sinking Sun had unyoked his flaming steeds, and laved their bright manes in the springs of Ocean; to meet him hastens Nereus of the deep and all his company, and the swift-striding Hours, who strip him of his reins and the woven glory of his golden coronet, and relieve his horses’ dripping breasts of the hot harness; some turn the well-deserving steeds into the soft pasture, and lean the chariot backward, pole in air. Night then came on, and laid to rest the cares of men and the prowlings of wild beasts, and wrapped the heavens in her dusky shroud, coming to all with kindly influence, but not to thee, Adrastus, nor to the Labdacian prince22; for Tydeus was held by generous slumber, steeped in dreams of valiant prowess. And now amid the night-wandering shades the god of battle from on high made to resound with the thunder of arms the Nemean fields and Arcady from end to end, and the height of Taenarum and Therapnae favoured of Apollo, and filled excited hearts with passion for himself. Fury and Wrath make trim his crest, and Panic, his own squire, handles his horses’ reins. But Rumour, awake to every sound and girt with empty tidings of tumult, flies before the chariot, sped onward by the winged steeds’ panting breath, and with loud whirring shakes out her fluttering plumes; for the charioteer23 with blood-stained goad urges her to speak, be it truth or falsehood, while threatening from the lofty car the sire24 with Scythian lance assails the back and tresses of the goddess. Even so their chieftain Neptune drives before him the Winds set free from Aeolus’ cell, and speeds them willing over the wide Aegean; in his train Storms and high-piled Tempests, a surly company, clamour about his reins, and Clouds and dark Hurricane torn from earth’s rent bowels; wavering and shaken to their foundations the Cyclades stem the blast; even thou, Delos, fearest to be torn away from thy Myconos and Gyaros, and entreatest the protection of thy mighty son.25

[440] And now the seventh Dawn with shining face was bearing bright day to earth and heaven, when the Persean hero26 first came forth from the private chamber of his palace, distracted by thought of war and the princes’ swelling ambition, and perplexed in mind, whether to give sanction and stir anew the rival peoples, or to hold tight the reins of anger and fasten in their sheaths the restless swords. On the one side he is moved by the thought of tranquil peace, on the other by the shame of dishonoured quiet and the hard task of turning a people from war’s new glamour; in his doubt this late resolve at last finds favour, to try the mind of prophets and the true presaging of the sacred rites. To thy wisdom, Amphiaraus, is given the charge to read the future, and with thee Melampus, son of Amythaon – an old man now, but fresh in vigour of mind and Phoebus’ inspiration – bears company; ‘tis doubtful which Apollo more favours, or whose mouth he has sated with fuller draughts of Cirrha’s waters. At first they try the gods with entrails and blood of cattle: even then the spotted hearts of sheep and the dread veins threatening disaster portend refusal to the timorous seers. Yet they resolve to go and seek omens in the open sky.

[460] A mount there was, with bold ridge rising far aloft – the dwellers in Lerna call it Aphesas – sacred of yore to Argive folk: for thence they say swift Perseus27 profaned the clouds with hovering flight, when from the cliff his mother terror-stricken beheld the boy’s high-soaring paces, and well nigh sought to follow. Hither the prophets twain, their sacred locks adorned with leaves of the grey olive and their temples decked with snow-white fillets, side by side ascend, when the sun rising bright has melted the cold hoarfrost on the humid fields. And first Oeclides28 seeks with prayer the favour of the wonted deity: “Almighty Jupiter, – for thou, as we are taught, impartest counsel to swift wings, and dost fill the birds with futurity, and bring to light the omens and causes that lurk in mid-heaven, – not Cirrha29 can more surely vouchsafe the inspiration of her grotto, nor those Chaonian leaves that are famed to rustle at thy bidding in Molossian groves: through arid Hammon envy, and the Lycian oracle contend in rivalry, and the beast of Nile, and Branchus, whose honour is equal to his sire’s, and Pan, whom the rustic dweller in wave-beat Pisa hears nightly beneath the Lycaonian shades, more richly blest in mind is he, for whom thou, O Dictaean,30 dost guide the favouring flights that show thy will.

[482] “Mysterious is the cause, yet of old has this honour been paid to the birds, whether the Founder of the heavenly abode thus ordained, when he wrought the vast expanse of Chaos into fresh seeds of things; or because the birds went forth upon the breezes with bodies transformed and changed from shapes that once were ours; or because they learn truth from the purer heaven, where error comes not, and alight but rarely on the earth: ‘tis known to thee, great sire of earth and of the gods. Grant that we may have foreknowledge from the sky of the beginnings of the Argive struggle and the contest that is to come. If it is appointed and the stern Fates are set in this resolve, that the Lernaean spear shall shatter the Echionian gates, show signs thereof and thunder leftward; then let every bird in heaven join in propitious melody of mystic language. If thou dost forbid, then weave delays, and on the right shroud with winged creatures the abyss of the day.” So he spoke, and settled his limbs upon a high rock; then to his prayer he adds more deities and deities unknown, and holds converse with the dark mysteries of the illimitable heaven.

[499] When they had duly parted out the heavens and long scanned the air with keen attention and quick-following vision, at last the Amythaonian seer: “Seest thou not, Amphiaraus, how beneath the breathing sky’s exalted bounds no winged creature travels on a course serene, nor hangs aloft, encircling the pole in liquid flight, nor as it speeds along utters a cry of peaceful import? No dark companion of the tripod,31 nor fiery bearer of the thunderbolt is here, and fair-haired Minerva’s hooting bird with the hooked beak comes not with better augury; but hawks and vultures exult on high over their airy plunder. Monstrous creatures are flying, and direful birds clamour in the clouds, nocturnal screech-owls cry, and the horned owl with its dismal funeral chant. What celestial portents are we to follow first? must we take these as lords of the sky, O Thymbraean?32 Even now in frenzy do they tear each other’s faces with crooked talons, and lash the breezes with pinions that seem to smite the bosom, and assail their feathery breasts.”

[516] The other in reply: “Oft indeed, father, have I read omens of various sort from Phoebus. Yea, when in my vigorous youth the pinewood barque of Thessaly33 bore me in company of princes half-divine, even then did the chieftains listen spellbound to my chant of what should befall us on land and sea, nor Mopsus’ self was hearkened to more often by Jason in perplexity than my presagings of the future. But never ere this day felt I such terror, or observed prodigies so dire in heaven; yet happenings more awful are in store. Look hither then: in this clear region of profound aether numberless swans have marshalled their ranks, whether Boreas has driven them from the Strymonian North, or the benignant fostering air of placid Nile recalls them. They have stopped their flight: these deem thou in fancy to be Thebes, for they hold themselves motionless in a circle and are silent and at peace, as though enclosed by walls and rampart. But lo! a more valiant cohort advances through the empty air; a tawny line of seven birds that bear the weapons of Jupiter supreme34 I see, an exultant band; suppose that in these thou hast the Inachian princes. They have flung themselves on the circle of the snow-white flock, and open wide their hooked beaks for fresh slaughter, and with talons unsheathed press on to the attack. Seest thou the breezes dripping unwonted blood, and the air raining feathers? What sudden fierce anger of unpropitious Jove is driving the victors to destruction? This one35 soaring to the height is consumed by the sun’s quick fire, and lays down his proud spirit, that other, bold in pursuit of mightier birds, you let sink, ye still frail pinions.36 This one fails grappling with his foe, that one is swept backward by the rout and leaves his company to their fate. This one a rain-cloud overwhelms, another in death devours his winged foe yet living; blood bespatters the hollow clouds.” “What mean those secret tears37?” “Him yonder falling, reverend Melampus, him I know full well!”

[547] Affrighted thus by the future’s dire import, and having suffered all under a sure image of things to come, the seers are held by terror; it repents them that they have broken in upon the councils of the flying birds, and forced their will upon a forbidding heaven; though heard, they hate the gods that heard them. Whence first arose among unhappy mortals throughout the world that sickly craving for the future? Sent by heaven, wouldst thou call it? Or is it we ourselves, a race insatiable, never content to abide on knowledge gained, that search out the day of our birth38 and the scene of our life’s’ending, what the kindly Father of the gods is thinking, or iron-hearted Clotho? Hence comes it that entrails occupy us, and the airy speech of birds, and the moon’s numbered seeds,39 and Thessalia’s horrid rites. But that earlier golden age of our forefathers, and the races born of rock or oak40 were not thus minded; their only passion was to gain the mastery of the woods and the soil by might of hand; it was forbidden to man to know what to-morrow’s day would bring. We, a depraved and pitiable crowd, probe deep the counsels of the gods; hence come wrath and anxious fear, hence crime and treachery, and importunity in prayer.

[566] Therefore the priest tears from his brow the fillets and wreaths condemned of heaven, and all unhonoured, his chaplet cast away, returns from the hated mount; already war is at hand, and the sound of trumpets, and in his heart he hears the clamour of absent Thebes. Not sight of populace, nor trusted converse with the monarch, nor council of chieftains can he bear, but hidden in his dark chamber refuses to make known the doings of the gods; thee, Melampus, shame and thy own cares keep in thy country region. For twelve days he speaks not, and holds people and leaders in long-drawn suspense. And now tumultuous grow the Thunderer’s high behests, and lay waste of men both fields and ancient towns; on every side the war-god sweeps countless troops before him; gladly do they leave their homes and beloved wives and babes that wail upon the threshold; with such power hath the god assailed their frenzied hearts. Eager are they to tear away the weapons from their fathers’ doorposts and the chariots made fast in the inmost shrines of the gods; then they refashion for cruel wounds the spears that rotting rust has worn, and the swords that stick in their scabbards from neglect, and on the grindstone force them to be young once more. Some try shapely helms and the brazen mail of mighty corselets, and fit to their breasts tunics that creak with the mouldering iron, others bend Gortynian bows; in greedy furnaces scythes, ploughs and harrows and curved mattocks glow fiercely red. Nor are they ashamed to cut strong spear-shafts from sacred trees, or to make a covering for their shields from the worn-out ox. They rush to Argos, and at the doors of the despondent king clamour with heart and voice for war, for war! And the shout goes up like the roar of the Tyrrhenian surge, or when Enceladus41 tries to shift his side: above, the fiery mountain thunders from its caves, its peak o’erflows and Pelorus’ flood is narrowed, and the sundered land hopes to return once more.

[598] Then Capaneus, impelled by war’s overmastering passion, with swelling heart that had long thought scorn of lingering peace, - nobility of ancient blood had he in full measure, but, surpassing the prowess of his sires, he had long despised the gods; impatient too was he of justice, and lavish of his life, did wrath but urge him – even as a dweller in Pholoe’s dark forests, or one who might stand equal among Aetnaean brethren,42 clamours before they portals, Amphiaraus, amid a crowd of chieftains and yelling folk: “What shameful cowardice is this, O sons of Inachus, and ye Achaeans of kindred blood? Before on citizen’s lowly door – for shame! – do we hang irresolute, so vast a host, iron-girt and of ready valour? Not if beneath Cirrha’s caverned height43 he, whoe’er he is – Apollo cowards and rumour account him – were to bellow from the deep seclusion of his crazy grotto, could I wait for the pale virgin to announce the solemn riddlings! Valour and the good sword in my hand are the gods I worship! And now let this priest with his timid trickery come out, on this very day I shall make trial, what wondrous power there is in birds.”

[618] The Achaean mob raise joyful outcry, and encourage his madness. At last Oeclides, driven to rush forth among them: “’Tis not the unrestrained clamour of a blasphemous stripling nor the fear of his taunts that draws me from my darkness, mad though his threatenings be; far different are the tumultuous cares that vex me, far other is the destiny that brings my final doom, nor may mortal arms have power upon me. But now my love for you and Phoebus’ strong inspiration compel me to speak forth my oracle; sadly to you will I reveal what is to come, yea all that lies beyond, - to you, I say, for to thee, thou madman, nought may be foreshown, concerning thee only is our lord Apollo silent. Whither, unhappy ones, whither are ye rushing to war, though fate and heaven would bar the way? What Furies’ lash drives you blindly on? Are ye so weary of life? Is Argos grown so hateful? Hath home no sweetness? Heed ye not the omens? Why did ye force me to climb with trembling step to the secret heights of Perseus’ mount, and break into the council of the heavenly ones? I could have remained in ignorance with you, of what hap awaits our arms, when cometh the black day of doom, what heralds the common fate – and mine! I call to witness the mysteries of the universe I questioned, and the speech of birds, and thee, Thymbraean, never before so pitiless to my supplication, what presagings of the future I endured: I saw a mighty ruin foreshown, I saw gods and men dismayed and Megaera exultant and Lachesis with crumbling thread laying the ages waste. Cast away your arms! behold! heaven, yea, heaven withstands your frenzy! Miserable men, what glory is there in drenching Aonia and the fallows of dire Cadmus with the blood of vanquished foes? But why do I warn in vain? why do I repel a fate foredoomed? I go to meet it – “ Here ceased the prophet and groaned.

[648] Capaneus yet once more: “To thyself alone utter thy raving auguries, that thou mayst live empty and inglorious years, nor ever the Tyrrhenian clangour44 resound about thy temples. But why dost thou delay the nobler vows of heroes? Is it forsooth that thou in slothful ease mayst lord it over thy silly birds and thy son and home and women’s chambers, that we are to shroud in silence the striken breast of peerless Tydeus and the armed breach of covenant? Dost thou forbid the Greeks to make fierce war? then go thyself an envoy to our Sidonian foe: these chaplets will assure thee peace. Can thy words really coax from the void of heaven the causes and hidden names of things? Pitiable in sooth are the gods, if they take heed of enchantments and prayers of men! Why doest thou affright these sluggish minds? Fear first created gods in the world!45 Rave therefore now thy fill in safety; but when the first trumpets bray, and we are drinking from our helms the hostile waters of Dirce and Ismenos, come not then, I warn thee, in my path, when I am yearning for the bugle and the fray, nor by veins or view of winged fowl put off the day of battle; far away then will be thy soft fillet and he crazy alarms of Phoebus: then shall I be augur, and with me all who are ready to be mad in fight.”

[669] Again out thunders a vast approving shout, and rolls uproarious to the stars. Even as a swift torrent, drawing strength from the winds of spring and from the melting of the frozen cold upon the mountains, when o’er vainly hindering obstacles it bursts its way out upon the plain, then homesteads, crops, cattle, and men roar mingled in the whirling flood, until its fury is checked and baffled by a rising hill, and it finds itself embanked by mighty mounds: even so interposing night set an end to the chieftains’ quarrel.

[679] But Argia, no longer able to bear with calm mind her lord’s distress, and pitying the grief wherein she shared, even as she was, her face long marred by tearing of her hair and marks of weeping, went to the high palace of her reverend father in the last watch of night ere dawn, when Arctos’ wagon sole-surviving envies the ocean-fleeing stars, and bore in her bosom to his loving grandsire the babe Thersander. And when she had entered the door and was clasped in her mighty parent’s arms: “Why I seek thy threshold at night, tearful and suppliant, without my sorrowful spouse, thou knowest, father, even were I slow to tell the cause. But I swear by the sacred laws of wedlock and by thee, O sire, ‘tis not he that bids me, but my wakeful anguish. For ever since Hymen at the first and unpropitious Juno raised the ill-omened torch, my sleep has been disturbed by my consort’s tears and moans. Not if I were a tigress bristling fierce, not if my heart were rougher than rocks on the sea-strand, could I bear it; thou only canst help me, thou hast the sovereign power to heal. Grant war, O father; look on the low estate of thy fallen son-in-law, look, father, here on the exile’s babe; what shame for his birth will he one day feel! Ah! where is that first bond of friendship, and the hands joined beneath heaven’s blessing? This surely is he whom the fates assigned, of whom Apollo spake; no hidden fires of Venus have I in secret cherished, no guilty wedlock; thy reverend commands, thy counsel have I ever esteemed. Now with what cruelty should I despise his doleful plaint? Thou knowest not, good father, thou knowest not, what deep affection a husband’s misery implants in a loyal bride. And now in sadness I crave this hard and joyless privilege of fear and grief; but when the sorrowful day interrupts our kisses, when the clarions blare their hoarse commands to the departing host, and your faces glitter in their stern casques of gold, ah! then, dear father, mayhap I shall crave a different boon.”

[711] Her sire, with kisses on her tear-bedewed face: “Never, my daughter, could I blame these plaints of thine; have no fears, praiseworthy is thy request, deserving no refusal. But much the gods give me to ponder – nor cease thou to hope for what thou urgest – much my own fears and this realm’s uncertain governance. In due measure shall thy prayers be answered, and thou shalt not complain thy tears were fruitless. Console thy husband and hold not just tarrying cruel waste of time; ‘tis the greatness of the enterprise that brings delay. So gain we advantage for the war.” As thus he spoke, the new-born light admonished him, and his grave cares bade him arise.

1. The star Capella, whose rising was at the rainy season; from Aege, daughter of Olenus (from whom the Aetolian town derived its name), who with her sister Helice suckled Zeus in Crete, and as a reward was turned into a goat and given a place in the sky. The rising of Orion was also at the rainy season. “Brings low the poles”: i.e., when the low clouds make the sky seem to touch the earth.
2. Maeon, see ii. 690.
3. “protinus”: lit. “thou immediately, i.e., inevitably evil omen”; the very fact of his coming home alive was an evil omen, because it meant that he must kill himself.
4. Theban; see n. on i. 173.
5. A Theban mother, not elsewhere mentioned: the names of her sons are not given.
6. i.e., of being disturbed by the witch.
7. Lit. “suffering deaths which were (only) for the counting,” numeranda, not memoranda; they were only two more in the list of dead.
8. See note on ii. 293.
9. See n. on i. 13.
10. Agave slew her son Pentheus unwittingly, under the influence of Bacchic frenzy.

11. Niobe, daughter of Tantalus and wife of Amphion, king of Thebes. She boasted of her seven sons and seven daughters and was punished by their being all slain by Apollo and Artemis.
12. The references are to Actaeon and Dirce; the latter, the wife of Lycus, a Theban prince, was changed into the fountain of that name.
13. mentis, the MSS. Reading here, can hardly be right, though “clesa tu mentis ab arce” (Silv. ii. 2. 131) is quoted in its defence. “Elysian streams”: i.e., Styx, a river of the underworld.
14. i.e., the people of Thebes, which was founded by Cadmus, whose wife she was.
15. i.e., Harmonia, wife of Cadmus, son of Agenor, king of Tyre.
16. Literally “and terrifies all the heaven so that it gives signs”; the infinitive is best explained as following “territat” by analogy with “cogit”; “territat,” therefore, is equivalent to “terrore cogit.” Such uses of analogy are very characteristic of Statius.
17. As often, for Argos.
18. Where Amycus, king of the Bebrycii, fought all strangers and slew those whom he defeated, until he was himself slain by Pollux.
19. “excidit,” sc. “memoria” as in l. 302. It is easier to suppose that this was not understood and “capulo” therefore inserted and “nunc soccer” dropped than to account for the latter replacing “capulo.”
20. For “auditus” with noun, simply meaning “the voice of,” see ii. 54, ii. 455, v. 94. The word has been unnecessarily emended.

21. i.e., Polynices.
22. Theban, from Labdacus, grandfather of Oedipus.
23. Bellona, cf. vii. 73.
24. Mars.
25. Delos, formerly called a floating island, was made fastened to Myconos and Gyaros and made stationary, when Leto was about to give birth to Apollo and Artemis on it.
26. Adrastus; “Persean” here, as in i. 225, means Argive, because Perseus was son of Danaë, daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos.
27. Perseus was given wings to enable him to fly, when he slew the Gorgon Medusa.
28. i.e., Amphiaraus, son of Oecleus.
29. The oracles referred to area those of Apollo at Delphi, Zeus at Dodona, Zeus Ammon in Libya, Apollo in Lycia, Apis in Egypt, Branchus (son of Apollo) at Miletus.
30. Jupiter was born on Mt. Dicte in Crete, according to one legend. [Or rather, he was born in the Cave of Dicte on Mount Ida.]

31. The raven (bird of Apollo), the eagle (of Jupiter), and the owl.
32. Apollo was worshipped at Thymbra, in the Troad.
33. The Argo, which started from Iolcos in Thessaly.
34. i.e., eagles, “ministers of the thunderbolt.”
35. In the following lines the fate of the Seven is foreshown, first Capaneus, then Parthenopaeus, Polynices, Adrastus, Hippomedon, Tydeus: finally Amphiaraus sees his own fate.
36. “tenerae” shows that Parthenopaeus is meant here.
37. This is the only instance in the Thebaid of a change of speaker without introductory words (e.g., he said); I have kept the traditional punctuation, though it would be quite possible to give “quid,” etc., to Amphiaraus, and not make Melampus speak at all. Melampus weeps because he understands Amphiaraus’s fate; then Amphiaraus says “why do you weep for me: I know my fate.”
38. The reference is apparently to horoscopes.
39. It is not clear what he means by this; possibly “semita” should be read, “the calculated path of the moon.”
40. The earliest races, e.g. the Arcadians, were supposed to have sprung from trees or rocks.

41. A giant imprisoned under Aetna. Pelorus was a promontory to the N.E. of Messana.
42. i.e., like a Centaur or one of the Cylopes.
43. Parnassus: Cirrha was really the town on the Corinthian gulf, but is often used for Delphi.
44. i.e., of the trumpet; the Etruscans excelled in bronze work, and this epithet of the trumpet is as old as Aeschylus (Eum. 567).
45. See Petronius, frag. 27, where this commonplace of the rhetoricians is developed in verse.