Classical Texts Library >> Statius, Thebaid >> Book 5




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] Their thirst was quenched by the river, and the army having ravaged the water’s depths was leaving the banks and the diminished stream; more briskly now the galloping steed scours the plain, and the infantry swarm exultant over the fields, inspired once more by courage and hope and warlike temper, as though from the blood-stained springs they had drunk the fire of battle and high resolution for the fray. Marshalled again in squadrons and the stern discipline of rank, they are bidden renew the march, each in his former place and under the same leader as before. Already the first dust is rising from the earth, and arms are flashing through the trees. Just so do flocks of screaming birds,1 caught by the Pharian summer, wing their way across the sea from Paraetonian2 Nile, whither the fierce winter drove them; they fly, a shadow upon the sea and land, and their cry follows them, filling the pathless heaven. Soon will it be their delight to breast the north wind and the rain, soon to swim on the melted rivers, and to spend the summer days on naked Haemus.

[17] Then the son of Talaus, ringed round once more by a band of chieftain peers, as he stood by chance beneath an aged ash-tree, and leaned on Polynices’ spear hard by him, thus spoke: “Nay, tell us, thou, whoe’er thou art, to whom – such is thy glory – fate3 has brought our countless cohorts owing thee such high honour as the Sire of the gods himself would not despise – tell us, now that we are departing in all speed from thy waters, what is thy home or native land, from what stars didst thou draw thy life?4 And who was that sire thou spakest of? For heaven is not far to seek in thy descent, though fortune may have been traitorous; a nobler birth is in thy looks, and even in affliction thy countenance breathes majesty.”

[28] The Lemnian sighed, and, stayed by shamefast tears awhile, then makes reply: “Deep are the wounds, O prince, thou biddest me revive, the tale of Lemnos and its Furies and of murder done even in the bed’s embrace, and of the shameful sword whereby our manhood perished; ah! the wickedness comes back upon me, the freezing Horror grips my heart! Ah! miserable they, upon whom this frenzy came! alas, that night! alas, my father! for I am she – lest haply ye feel shame for your kindly host – I am she, O chieftains, who alone did steal away and hide her father. But why do I weave the long prelude to my woes? Moreover battle summons you and your hearts’ high enterprise. Thus much doth it suffice to tell: I am Hypsipyle, born of renowned Thoas, and captive thrall to your Lycurgus.”

[40] Close heed they gave her then, and nobler she seemed and worthy of honour, and equal to such a deed; then all craved to learn her story, and father Adrastus foremost urged her: “Ay, verily, while we set in long array the columns of our van – nor does Nemea readily allow a broad host to draw clear, so closely hemmed is she by woodland and entangling shade – tell us of the crime, and of thy praiseworthy deed and the sufferings of thy people, and how cast out from thy realm thou art come to this toil of thine.”

[48] Pleasant is it to the unhappy to speak, and to recall the sorrows of old time. Thus she begins: “Set amid the encircling tides of Aegean Nereus lies Lemnos, where Mulciber draws breath again from his labours in fiery Aetna; Athos hard by clothes the land with his mighty shadow, and darkens the sea with the image of his forests; opposite the Thracians plough, the Thracians, from whose shores came our sin and doom. Rich and populous was our land, no less renowned than Samos or echoing5 Delos or the other countless isles against which Aegon6 dashes in foam. It was the will of the gods to confound our homes, but our own hearts are not free from guilt; no sacred fires did we kindle to Venus, the goddess had no shrine. Even celestial minds are moved at last to resentment, and slow but sure the Avenging Powers creep on.

[61] “She, leaving ancient Paphos and her hundred shrines, with altered looks and tresses,7 loosed, so they say, her love-alluring girdle and banished her Idalian doves afar. Some, ‘tis certain, of the women told it abroad that the goddess, armed with other torches and deadlier weapons, had flitted through the marriage chambers in the darkness of midnight with the sisterhood of Tartarus about her, and how she had filled every secret place with twining serpents and our bridal thresholds with dire terror, pitying not the people of her faithful spouse. Straightway fled ye from Lemnos, ye tender Loves: Hymen fell mute and turned his torch to earth; chill neglect came o’er the lawful couch, no nightly return of joy was there, no slumber in the beloved embrace, everywhere reigned bitter Hatred and Frenzy and Discord sundering the partners of the bed. For the men were bent on overthrowing the boastful Thracians across the strait, and warring down the savage tribe. And in despite of home and their children standing on the shore, sweeter it was to them to bear Edonian winters and the brunt of the cold North, or, when at last still night followed a day of battle, to hear the sudden onburst of the crashing mountain torrent. But the women – for I at that time was sheltered by care-free maidenhood and tender years – sad and sick at heart sought tearful solace in converse day and night, or gazed out across the sea to cruel Thrace.

[85] “The sun in the midst of his labours was poising his shining chariot on Olympus’ height, as though at halt; four times came thunder from a serene sky, four times did the smoky caverns of the god8 open their panting summits, and Aegon, thought the winds were hushed, was stirred and flung a mighty sea against the shores: when suddenly the crone Polyxo is caught up in a dire frenzy, and deserting unwontedly her chamber flies abroad. Like a Teumesian9 Thyiad rapt to madness by the god, when the sacred rites are calling and the boxwood pipe of Ida10 stirs her blood, and the voice of Euhan is heard upon the high hills: even so with head erect and quivering bloodshot eyes she ranges up and down the lonely city wildly clamouring, and beating at closed doors and thresholds summons us to council; her children clinging to her bear her woeful company. No less eagerly do all the women burst from their houses and rush to the citadel of Pallas on the hill-top: hither in feverish haste we press and crowd disorderly.

[102] “Then with drawn sword she commands silence, and prompting us to crime dares thus to speak among us: `Inspired by heaven and our just anger, O widowed Lemnians – steel now your courage and banish thought of sex! – I make bold to justify a desperate deed. If ye are weary of watching homes for ever desolate, of watching your beauty’s flower blight and wither in long barren years of weeping, I have found a way, I promise you – and the Powers are with us! – a way to renew the charm of Love; only take courage equal to your griefs, yea, and of that assure me first. Three winters now have whitened – which of us has known the bonds of wedlock, or the secret honours of the marriage chamber? Whose bosom has glowed with conjugal love? Whom has Lucina beheld in travail? Whose ripening hope throbs in the womb as the due months draw on? Yet such permission is granted to beasts and birds to unite after their manner. Alas! sluggards that we are! Could a Grecian sire11 give avenging weapons to his daughters, and with treacherous joy drench in blood the bridegroom’s careless slumber? And are we then to be but a spiritless mob? Or if ye would have deeds nearer home, lo! let the Thracian wife12 teach us courage, who with her own hand avenged her union and set the feast before her spouse. Nor do I urge you on, guiltless myself or without care: full is my own house, and huge – ay, look13 – the struggle. Behold these four together, the pride and comfort of their sire; though they should stay me with embraces and tears, even here in my bosom I will pierce them with the sword, and unite the brothers in one heap of wounds and blood, and set their father’s corpse on their yet breathing bodies! Who of you can promise me a spirit for slaughter so great?’

[130] “Yet more was she urging, when yonder out at sea white sails shone – the Lemnian fleet! Exultant, Polyxo seizes the moment’s chance and cries again: `The gods themselves invite us – do we fail them? See, there are the ships! Heaven, avenging heaven, brings them to meet our wrath, and favours our resolve. Not vain was the vision of my sleep: with naked sword Venus stood over me as I slumbered, plain to my sight, and cried: “Why do ye waste your lives? Go, purge your chambers of the husbands who have lost their love! I myself will light you other torches and join you in worthier unions.” She spoke, and laid this sword, this very sword, believe it, on my couch. Take heed then, unhappy ones, whilst there is time to act. Lo! the waters churn and foam beneath the strong arms of the rowers – perchance Thracian brides come with them!’

[143] “At this all are wrought to highest pitch, and a loud clamour rolls upward to the skies. One would think it was Scythia swarming with tumultuous bucklers, when the Father gives rein to armed conflict and flings wide the gates of savage War. Their uproar held no varying voices, nor did dissension cleave into opposing factions, as is the wont of a crowd; one frenzy, one purpose inspires all alike, to lay desolate our homes, to break life’s thread for young and old, to crush babes against the teeming breasts, and with the sword make havoc through every age. Then in a green grove – a grove that darkens the ground hard by the lofty hill of Minerva, black itself, but above it the mountain looms huge, and the sunlight perishes in a twofold night – they pledged their solemn word, and thou wast witness, Martian Enyo, and thou, Ceres of the underworld,14 and the Stygian goddesses came in answer to their prayers; but unseen among them everywhere was Venus, Venus armed, Venus kindling wrath. Unwonted was the blood, for the wife of Charops made offering of her son, and they girded themselves, and at once all greedily stretched forth their right hands and mangled with the sword his marvelling breast, and made common oath in impious joy upon the living blood, while the new ghost hovers about his mother. What horror struck my limbs when I beheld so dire a sight! What colour came upon my cheeks! As when a deer is surrounded by savage wolves, and no strength is left in her tender breast and scanty confidence in speed of foot, she darts away in fearful flight, and each moment believes that she is taken, and hears behind her the snap of baffled jaws.

[170] “They were come, and already the keels grated on the edge of the strand, and they leap ashore in emulous haste. Unhappy they, whom their stark valour ‘neath Odrysian Mars15 destroyed not, nor the rage of the intervening sea! And now they fill with smoke of incense the high shrines of the gods, and drag their promised victims; but murky is the fire on every altar, and in no entrails breathes the god unimpaired.16 Slowly did Jupiter bring down the night from moist Olympus, and with kindly care held back, I ween, the turning sky, and stayed the fates, nor ever, the sun’s course finished, did the new shadows longer delay their coming. Yet at last the late stars shone in heaven, but their light fell on Paros and woody Thasos and the myriad Cyclades: Lemnos alone lies under a heavy sky’s thick pall of darkness, gloomy fogs descend upon it and above is a woven belt of night, alone is Lemnos unmarked of wandering mariners. And now, streaming forth from their homes and through the shade of sacred groves, they sate themselves in sumptuous feasting and drain vast golden goblets of the brimming wine, and tell at their leisure of battles on the Strymon, of sweat of war on Rhodope or frozen Haemus. Nay more, their wives, unnatural consorts, recline among the garlands and by the festal tables, each in her choicest raiment; on that last night Cytherea had made their husbands gracious toward them, and given a brief moment of vain bliss after so long a time, and breathed into the doomed ones a passion soon to perish.

[195] “The choirs fell silent, a term is set to banqueting and amorous sport, and as night deepens the noises die away, when Sleep, shrouded in the gloom of his brother Death and dripping with Stygian dew, enfolds the doomed city, and from his relentless horn pours heavy drowse, and marks out the men. Wives and daughters are awake for murder, and joyously do the Sisters sharpen their savage weapons. They fall to their horrid work: in the breast of each her Fury reigns. Not otherwise on Scythian plains are cattle surrounded by Hyrcanian lionesses, whom hunger drives forth at sunrise and greedy cubs implore for their udders’ milk. Of a thousand shapes of guilt I hesitate what to tell thee that befell.17

[207] “Bold Gorge stands over her chaplet-crowned Elymus, who on high-piled cushions pants out in his sleep the rising fumes of wine, and probes in his disordered garments for a vital blow, but his ill-omened slumber flees from him at the near approach of death. Confused and half-awake, he seizes his foe in his embrace, and she, as he holds her, straightway stabs through his side from behind, till the point touches her own breast. There at last the crime had ending: his head falls back, but still with quivering eyes and murmur of endearing words he seeks for Gorge, nor losses his arms from her unworthy neck. I will not now tell of the slaughter of the multitude, cruel as it was, but I will recall the woes of my own family: how I beheld thee, fair-haired Cydon, and thee, Crenaeus, with thy unshorn locks streaming o’er thy shoulders – my foster-brothers these, born of another sire – and brave Gyas, my betrothed, of whom I stood in awe, all fallen beneath the blow of bloodthirsty Myrmidone; and how his savage mother pierced Epopeus as he played among the garlands and the couches. Lycaste, her weapon flung away, is weeping over Cydimus, her brother of equal years, gazing alas! upon his doomed body, his face so like her own, the bloom upon his cheeks and that hair which she herself had decked in gold, when her cruel mother, her spouse already slain, stands over her, and threatening drives her to the deed, and thrusts the sword upon her. Like a wild beast, that under a soothing master has unlearnt its madness and is slow to make attack, and in spite of goadings and many a blow refuses to assume its native temper, so she falls upon him as he lies, and sinking down gathers the welling blood in her bosom, and staunches the fresh wounds with her torn tresses.

[236] “But when I beheld Alcimede carry her father’s head still murmuring and his bloodless sword, my hair stood erect and fierce shuddering horror swept through my frame; that was my Thoas, methought, and that my own dread hand! Straightway in agony I rush to my father’s chamber. He indeed long while had pondered – what sleep for him whose charge is great? – although our spacious home lay apart from the city, what was the uproar, what the noises of the night, why the hours of rest were clamorous. I tell a confused story of the crime, what was their grievance, whence their passionate wrath. `No force can stop their frenzy; follow this way, unhappy one; they are pursuing, and will be on us if we linger, and perchance we shall fall together.’ Alarmed by my words he sprang up from the couch. We hurry through devious paths of the vast city, and, shrouded in a covering of mist, everywhere behold great heaps of nocturnal carnage, wheresoe’er throughout the sacred groves the cruel darkness had laid them low. Here could one see faces pressed down upon the couches, and the sword-hilts projecting from breasts laid open, broken fragments of great spears and bodies with raiment gashed and torn, mixing-bowls upset and banquets floating in gore, and mingled wine and blood streaming back like a torrent to the goblets from gaping throats. Here are a band of youths, and there old men whom no violence should profane, and children half-slain flung o’er the faces of their moaning parents and gasping our their trembling souls on the threshold of life. No fiercer are the banquet-revellings of the Lapithae on frozen Ossa, when the cloud-born ones18 grow hot with wine deep-drained; scarce has wrath’s first pallor seized them, when overthrowing their tables they start up to the affray.

[265] “Then first Thyoneus19 beneath night’s cover revealed himself to us in our distress, succouring his son Thoas in his hour of need, and shone in a sudden blaze of light. I knew him: yet he had bound no chaplets round his swelling temples, nor yellow grapes about his hair: but a cloud was upon him, and his eyes streamed angry rain as he addressed us: `While the fates granted thee, my son, to keep Lemnos mighty and feared still by foreign peoples, never failed I to aid thy righteous labours; the stern Parcae have cut short the relentless threads, nor have my prayers and tears, poured forth in vain supplication before Jove, availed to turn away this woe; to his daughter hath he granted honour unspeakable.20 Hasten ye then your flight, and thou, O maiden, worthy offspring of my race, guide thy sire this way where the wall’s twin arms approach the sea; at yonder gate, where thou thinkest all is quiet, stands Venus in fell mood and aids the furious ones; - whence hath the goddess this violence, this heart of Mars? Trust thou thy father to the broad deep: I will take thy cares upon me.’

[284] “So speaking he faded into air again, and since the shadows barred our vision lit up our road with a long stream of fire, in kindly succour. I follow where the signal leads, and anon entrust my sire, hidden in a vessel’s curving beams, to the gods of the sea and the winds and Aegaeon who holds the Cyclades in his embrace; nor set we any limit to our mutual grief, were it not that Lucifer is already chasing the stars from the eastern pole. Then at last I leave the sounding shore, in brooding fear and scarce trusting Lyaeus’ word, resolute in step but casting anxious thoughts behind me; nor rest I but must fain watch from every hill the breezes rising in heaven and the ocean waves.

[296] “Day rises shamefast, and Titan opening heaven to view turns aside his beams from Lemnos and hides his averted chariot behind the barrier of a cloud. Night’s frenzied deeds lay manifest, and to all the new terrors of the day brought sudden shame, though all had share therin; they bury in the earth their impious crimes or burn with hurried fires. And now the Fury band and Venus sated to the full had fled the stricken city; now could the women know what they had dared, now rend their hair and bedew their eyes with tears. This island blest in lands and wealth, in arms and heroes, famed for its site and enriched of late by a Getic triumph, ahs lost, not by onslaught of the sea or of the foe or by stroke of heaven, all her folk together, bereft and ravaged to the uttermost. No men are left to plough the fields or cleave the waves, silent are the homes, swimming deep in blood and stained red with clotted gore: we alone remain in that great city, we and the ghosts that fiercely hiss about our rooftops. I, too, in the inner courtyard of my house build high a flaming pile and cast thereon my father’s sceptre and arms and well-known royal raiment, and sadly do I stand by the blazing welter of the pyre with blood-stained sword, and lament the feigned deed and empty funeral in fear, should they perchance accuse me, and pray that the omen may be void of harm towards my sire and that so my doubting fears of death may come to naught.21

[320] “For these deserts – since the ruse of my pretended crime wins credence – the throne and kingdom of my father are given me – punishment indeed! Was I do deny their urgent pressure? I submitted, having oft called heaven to witness my innocence and to give protection; I succeed – ah! ghastly sovereignty – to power’s pale image and to a Lemnos sad without its chief. And now ever more and more do they writhe in wakeful anguish, now openly lament, and little by little grow to hate Polyxo; now is it permitted to remember the crime, and to set altars to the dead and adjure with many prayers their buried ashes. Even so when the frightened heifers behold in horror their leader and sire of the stall, to whom belonged the pastures and the glory of the grown herd, lying mangled beneath the Massylian foe,22 leaderless and dejected goes the herd, and the very fields and rivers with the mute cattle mourn the monarch slain.

[335] “But lo! dividing the waters with brazen prow the Pelian pinewood bark draws nigh, stranger to that wide unadventured sea: the Minyae are here crew; the twofold splashing wave runs white along her towering sides: one would think Ortygia moved uprooted or a sundered mountain sailed upon the deep. But when the oars stayed poised in air and the waters fell silent, there came from the vessel’s midst a voice sweeter than dying swans or quill of Phoebus, and the seas themselves drew night the ship. Thereafter did we learn ‘twas Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, who leaning against the mast sang thus amid the rowers and bade them know such toils no more. Towards Scythian Boreas were they voyaging and the mouth of the unattempted sea that the Cyanean rocks hold fast. We at the sight of them deemed them Thracian foes, and ran to our homes in wild confusion like crowding cattle or fluttering birds. Alas! where now is our frenzied rage? We man the harbour and the shore-embracing walls, which give a far view over the open sea, and the lofty towers; hither in excited haste they bring stones and stakes and the arms that mourn their lords, and swords stained with slaughters; nay, it shames them not to don stiff woven corselets and to fit helms about their wanton faces; Pallas blushed and marvelled at their bold array, and Gradivus laughed on the far slopes of Haemus. Then first did our headlong madness leave our minds, nor seemed it a mere ship on the salt sea, but the gods’ late-coming justice and vengeance for our crimes that drew nigh o’er the deep.

[361] “And already were they distant from the land the range of a Gortynian23 shaft, when Jupiter brought a cloud laden with dark rain and set it over the very rigging of the Pelasgian ship; then the waters shudder, all its light is stolen from the sun24 and the gloom thickens, and the wave straightway takes the colour of the gloom; warring winds tear the hollow clouds and rend the deep, the wet sand surges up in the black eddies, and the whole sea hangs poised between the conflict of the winds, and with arching ridge now all but touching the stars falls shattered; nor has the bewildered vessel its former motion, but pitches to and fro, with the Triton on its bows now projecting from the waters’ depths, now borne aloft in air. Nor aught avails the might of the heroes half-divine, but the demented mast makes the vessel rock and sway,25 and falling forward with overbalancing weight smites upon the arching waves, and the oars drop fruitlessly on the rowers’ chests.

[376] “We, too, from rocks and every walled rampart, while they thus toil and rage against he seas and the southern blasts, with weak arms shower down wavering missiles – what deed did we not dare? – on Telamon and Peleus, and even on the Tirynthian we bend our bow. But they, hard pressed both by storm and foe, fortify, some of them, the ship with shields,26 others bale water from the hold; others fight, but the motion makes their bodies helpless, and there is no force behind their reeling blows. We hurl our darts more fiercely, and the iron rain vies with the tempest, and enormous stakes and fragments of millstones and javelins and missiles trailing tresses of flame fall now into the sea, now on the vessel: the decking of the bark resounds and the beams groan as the gaping holes are torn. Even so does Jupiter lash the green fields with Hyperboreans snow; beasts of all kinds perish on the plains, and birds are overtaken and fall dead, and the harvest is blasted with untimely frost; then is there thundering on the heights, and fury in the rivers. But when from on high Jove flung his brand with shock of cloud on cloud, and the flash revealed the mariners’ mighty forms, our hearts were frozen fast, our arms dropped shuddering and let fall the unnatural weapons, and our true sex once more held sway.

[398] “We behold the sons of Aeacus, and Ancaeus threatening mightily our walls, and Iphitus with long spear warding off the rocks; clear to view among the desperate band the son of Amphitryon outtops them all, and alternately on either hand weighs down the ship and burns to leap into the midst of the waves. But Jason – not yet did I know him to my cost – leaping nimbly over benches and oars and treading the backs of heroes, calls now on great Oenides, now on Idas and Talaus, now on the son of Tyndarues27 dripping with the white spume of the sea, and Calais driving aloft in the clouds of his frosty sire28 to fasten the sails to the mast, and with voice and gesture again and again encourages them. With vigorous strokes they lash the sea and shake the walls, but none the more do the foaming waters yield, and the flung spears rebound from our towers. Tiphys himself wearies by his labours the heavy billows and the tiller that will not hear him, and pale with anxiety oft changes his commands, and turns right- and leftward from the land the prow that would fain dash itself to shipwreck on the rocks, until from the vessel’s tapering bows the son of Aeson holds forth the olive-branch of Pallas hat Mopsus bore, and through the tumult of his comrades would prevent him, asks for peace; his words were swept away by the headlong gale.

[420] Then came there a truce to arms, and the tempest likewise sank to rest, and day looked forth once more from the turbid heaven. Then those fifty heroes, their vessels duly moored,29 as they leap from the sheer height shake the stranger shores, tail comely sons of glorious sires, serene of brow and known by their bearings, now that the swelling rage has left their countenances. Even so the denizens of heaven are said to burst forth from their mystic portals, when they desire to visit the homes and the coast and the lesser banquet of the red Aethiopians30: rivers and mountains yield them passage, Earth exults beneath their footsteps and Atlas knows a brief respite from the burden of the sky.

[431] “Here we behold Theseus, lately come in triumph from setting Marathon free,31 and the Ismarian32 brethren, pledges of the North Wind’s love, with red wing-feathers whirring loud on either temple; here, too, Admetus, whom Phoebus was content to serve, and Orpheus, in nought resembling barbarous Thrace; then Calydon’s offspring and the son-in-law of watery Nereus. The twin Oebalidae33 bewilder our vision with puzzling error: each wears a bright red mantle and wields a spear, bare on the shoulders of each and their faces unbearded, their locks are aglow with the same starry radiance. Young Hylas bravely marching follows great Hercules stride for stride, scarce equalling his pace, slow though he bear his mighty bulk, and rejoices to carry the Lernaean arms and to sweat beneath the huge quiver.

[445] “So once more Venus and Love try with their secret fires the fierce hearts of the Lemnian women. Then royal Juno instils into their minds the image of the heroes’ arms and raiment, and their signs of noble race, and all fling open their doors in emulous welcome to the strangers. Then first were fires lit on the altars, and unspeakable cares were forgotten, then came feasting and happy sleep and tranquil nights, nor without heaven’s will, I ween, did they find favour, when they confessed their crime. My fault, too, my fated pardonable fault, perchance ye would hear, O chieftains: by the ashes and avenging furies of my people I swear, innocent and unwilling did I light the torch of alien wedlock – as Heaven’s Providence doth know – though Jason be wily to ensnare young maidens’ hearts: laws of its own bind blood-stained Phasis, and you, ye Colchians, breed far different passions. And now the skies have broken through the bonds of frost and grow war in the long sunlit days and the swift year has wheeled round to the opposite pole. A new progeny is brought to birth in answer to our prayers, and Lemnos is filled with the cries of babes unhoped-for. I myself also bear twin sons, memorial of a ravished couch, and, made a mother by my rough guest, renew in the babe his grandsire’s name; nor may I know what fortune hath befallen since I left them, for now full twenty years are past, if the fates but suffer them to live and Lycaste reared them as I prayed her.

[468] “The boisterous seas fell tranquil and a milder southern breeze invites the sails: the ship herself, hating to tarry in the quiet haven, strains with her hawsers at the resisting rock. Then would the Minyae fain begone, and cruel Jason summons his comrades – would he had ere that sailed past my shores, who recked not of his own children, nor of his sworn word; truly his fame is known in distant lands: the fleece of seafaring Phrixus hath returned. When the destined sun had sunk beneath the sea and Tiphys felt the coming breeze and Phoebus’ western couch blushed red, once more alas! there was lamentation, once more the last night of all. Scarce is the day begun, and already Jason high upon the poop gives the word for sailing, and strikes as chieftain the first oar-stroke on the sea. From rocks nad mountain height we follow them with our gaze as they cleave the foamy space of outspread ocean, until the light wearied our roaming34 vision and seemed to interweave the distant waters with the sky, and made the sea one with heaven’s extremest marge.

[486] “A rumour goes about the harbour that Thoas has been carried o’er the deep and is reigning in his brother’s isle of Chios, that I am innocent and the funeral pyre a mockery; the impious mob clamours loud, maddened by the stings of guilt, and demands the crime I owe them. Moreover, secret murmurings arise and increase among the folk: `Is she alone faithful to her kindred, while we rejoiced to slay? Did not heaven and fate ordain the deed? why then bears she rule in the city, the accursed one?’35 Aghast at such words – for a cruel retribution draws nigh, nor does queenly pomp delight me – I wander alone in secret on the winding shore and leave the deadly walls by the road of my father’s flight, well known to me; but not a second time did Euhan meet me, for a band of pirates putting in to shore carried me speechless away and brought me to your land a slave.”

[499] While thus the Lemnian exile recounts her tale to the Lernaean princes and by a long plaint consoles her loss, forgetful – so ye gods constrained her! – of her absent charge,36 he, with heavy eyes and drooping head and wearied by his long childish play, sinks to slumber, deep buried in the luxuriant earth, while one hand holds the grass tight-clutched.

[505] Meanwhile an earth-born serpent, the accursed terror of the Achaean grove, arises on the mead, and loosely dragging his huge bulk now bears it forward, now leaves it behind him. A livid gleam is in his eyes, the green spume of foaming poison in his fangs, and a threefold quivering tongue, with three rows of hooked teeth, and a cruel blazonry rises high upon his gilded forehead. The Inachian countrymen held him sacred to the Thunderer, who has the guardianship of the place and the scant worship of the woodland altars; and now he glides with trailing coils about the shrines, now grinds the hapless forest oaks and crushes huge ash-trees in his embrace; oft lies he in continuous length from bank to bank across the streams, and the river sundered by his scales swells high. But fiercer now, when all the land is panting at the command of the Ogygian god37 an the Nymphs are hurrying to the hiding of their dusty beds, he twists his tortuous writhing frame upon the ground, and the fire of his parched venom fills him with a baneful rage. Over pools and arid lakes and stifled springs he winds his way, and wanders in the riverless valleys, and consumed by burning thirst38 now flings back his head and laps the liquid air, now brushing o’er the groaning fields cleaves downward to the earth, should there be any sap or moisture in the grasses; but the herbage falls stricken by his hot breath, whereso’er he turns his head, and the mead shrivels at the hissing of his jaws; vast is he as the Snake that divides the pole from the Norther Wain and passes even unto the Southern winds and an alien sky,39 or as he that shook the horns of sacred Parnassus, twining his coils among them, until pierced by a hundred wound he bore, O Delian, a forest of thy arrows.40

[534] What god appointed for thee, little one, the burden of so dire a fate? Scarce on thy life’s earliest threshold, art thou slain by such a foe? Was it that thus thou mightest be sacred for ever to the peoples of Greece and dying merit so glorious a burial? Thou diest, O babe, struck by the end of the unwitting serpent’s tail, and straightway the sleep left thy limbs and thine eyes opened but to death alone. But when thy frightened dying wail rose upon the air and the broken cry fell silent on thy lips, like the half-finished accents of a dream, Hypsipyle, heard it and sped with faint and failing limbs and stumbling gait; her mind forebodes sure disaster, and with gaze turned to every quarter she scans the ground in search, vainly repeating words the babe would know; but he is nowhere, and the recent tracks are vanished from the meadows. Gathered in a green circle lies the sluggish foe and fills many an acre round, so lies he with his head slantwise on his belly. Struck with horror at the sight the unhappy woman roused the forest’s depths with shriek on shriek; yet still he lies unmoved.

[554] Her sorrowful wail reached the Argives’ ears: forthwith the Arcadian knight41 at his chief’s word flies thither in eager haste and reports the cause. Then at last, at the glint of armour and the shouting of men he rears his scaly neck in wrath: with a vast effort tall Hippomedon seizes a stone, the boundary mark of a field, and hurls it through the empty air; with such a whirlwind do the poised boulders fly forth against the barred gates in time of war. Vain was the chieftain’s might, in a moment had the snake bent back his supple neck and foiled the coming blow. The earth re-echoes and in the pathless woods the close-knit boughs are rent and torn. “But ever shalt thou escape my stroke, “ cries Capaneus, and makes for him with ashen spear, “whether thou be the savage inmate of the trembling grove, or a delight granted to the gods – ay, would it were to the gods!42 – never even if thou broughtest a Giant to battle with me upon those limbs.” 43 The quivering spear flies, and enters the monster’s gaping mouth and cleaves the rough fastenings of the triple tongue, then through the upright crest and the adornment of his darting head it issues forth, and fouled with the brain’s black gore sinks deep into the soil. Scarce has the pain run the length of his whole frame, with lightning speed he twines his coils around the weapon, and tears it out and carries it to his lair in the dark temple of the god; there measuring his mighty bulk along the ground he gasps and hisses out his life at his patron’s shrine.

[578] Him did the sorrowing marsh of kindred Lerna mourn, and the Nymphs who were wont to strew him with vernal flowers, and Nemea’s fields whereon he crawled; ye too, ye woodland Fauns, bewailed him in every grove with broken reeds. Jupiter himself had already called for his weapons from the height of air, and long had clouds and storms been gathering, had not the god allayed his wrath and Capaneus been preserved to merit a direr punishment; yet the wind of the stirred thunderbolt sped and swayed the summit of his crested helm.

[588] And now the unhappy Lemnian, wandering o’er the fields when the place was rid of the serpent, grows pale to behold on a low mound afar the herbage stained with streams of blood. Thither frantic in her grief she hastens, and recognizing the horror falls as though lightning-struck on the offending earth, nor in the first shock of ruin can find speech or tears to shed; she only bends and showers despairing kisses, and breathlessly searches the yet warm limbs for traces of the vanished life. Nor face nor breast remain, the skin is torn away and the frail bones are exposed to view, and the sinews are drenched in fresh streams of blood: the whole body is one wound. Even as when in a shady ilex-tree a lazy serpent has ravaged the home and brood of a mother bird, she, returning, marvels at the quiet of her clamorous abode, and hovers aghast, and in wild dismay drops from her mouth the food she brings, for there is nought but blood on the tree and feathers shed about the plundered nest.

[606] When, poor woman, she had gathered the mangled limbs to her bosom and covered them in her tresses, at length her voice released gave passage to her grief and her moans melted into words: “Archemorus, sweet image of my babes in my lonely plight, solace of my woes and exile, and pride of my thraldom, what guilty gods have slain thee, O my joy, whom, when I lately parted from thee, I left frolicking and crushing the grasses in thy crawl? Alas, where is that star-bright face? Where are thy half-formed words and tongue-tied utterance, those smiles, and mutterings that I alone could understand? How often used I to talk to thee of Lemnos and the Argo, with my long sad tale soothe thee to sleeping! For so indeed did I console my griefs, and gave the babe a mother’s breasts, where now in my bereavement the milk flows in vain and falls in barren drops upon thy wounds. ‘Tis the gods’ work, I see: O cruel presage of my dreams and nightly terrors! ah! Venus, who never appeared in the darkness to my startled vision but ill befell! But why do I blame the gods? Myself I exposed thee to thy fate – for why should I fear to confess, so soon to die? What madness carried me away? Could I so utterly forget a charge so dear? While I recount the fortunes of my country and the boastful prelude of my own renown – what true devotion, what loyalty! – I have paid thee, Lemnos, the crime I owed. Take me then, ye princes, to the deadly snake, if ye have any gratitude for the service that has cost so dear, or any respect to my words; or slay me yourselves with the sword, lest I see again my sorrowing masters and bereaved Eurydice, now made my foe44 – although my grief comes not short of hers. Am I to carry this hapless burden and cast it on a mother’s lap? nay, what earth may sooner engulf me in its deepest shades?” Thereupon, her face befouled with dust and gore, she turns to follow the mighty chieftains, and secretly as they grieve lays the waters to their charge.45

[638] And now the news, sweeping sudden though the palace of devout Lycurgus, had brought full measure of tears to himself and all his house – himself, as he drew nigh from the sacred summit of Perseus’ mountain,46 where he had offered sacrifice47 to the angry Thunderer, and was shaking his head as he returned from the ill-omened entrails. Here he abides without share in the Argolic war, not lacking in courage, but the temples and the altars kept him back; nor had the gods’ response and ancient warning yet faded from his mind, nor the words received from the innermost shrine: “In the Dircaean war, Lycurgus, the first death shall be thine to give.” Of that he is afraid, he is tortured at the trumpets’ sound, and envies the doomed hosts.

[650] But lo! – so the gods keep faith! – the daughter of Thoas accompanies the mangled infant’s funeral train, and his mother comes to meet her, leading a band of women and troops of mourners. But not sluggish was the devotion of great-souled Lycurgus: grief emboldened him, the father’s mad rage thrust back the tears, and with long strides he covers the fields that stay his wrath, and cries aloud: “Where now is she, who recks little or is glad of the shedding of my blood? Lives she? Then seize her, comrades, and bring her speedily! I will make her insolence forget all her tale of Lemnos and her father and her lies about a race divine!” He advanced and prepared to deal the death-blow, his sword drawn in rage; but as he came, the Oeneian hero,48 quick to act, thrust his shield against his breast and barred the way, with stern rebuke: “Abate thy fury, madman, whoe’er thou art!” and Capaneus likewise and brave Hippomedon, with sword drawn back, and the Erymanthian, with levelled blade, were there to succour, and the prince is dazzled by their flashing swords: but on the other side the rustic bands protect their king. Between them Adrastus in gentler mood and Amphiaraus, fearing the strife of kindred fillets,49 cry: “Not so, I pray you, unhand the sword! Our sires are of one blood, give not vent to rage! Thou first disarm!” But Tydeus, his spirit not assuaged, rejoins: “Daredst thou then slay upon the grave – and in revenge for what a death! – 50 and before so many thankless thousands the guide and preserver of the Inachian host, who was once a queen, and has Thoas for her sire and shining Euhan for her ancestor? Is it too little for thy cowardice that, when on all sides they folk are speeding to war, thou alone keepest peace among the hurrying cavalcades? Keep it them, and let the Grecian triumph find thee still groaning at this tomb.”

[680] He spoke, and the other, now more controlled as anger ebbed, replied: “Indeed I thought your troops were bound, not for the walls of Thebes, but hither with hostile intent. March on then to destroy, if kindred murder so delights you, flesh first your arms at home, ay, and let impious fire – what indeed is not lawful? – devour Jove’s temple that but now I sought in vain, if I thought, oppressed by bitter grief, that I had power upon a worthless slave, who am her king and lord! 51 But he ruler of the gods beholds it, yea he beholds it, and his wrath, though late it fall, awaits your daring deeds.” So speaking he looks back toward the city. And lo! there another armed affray is raging from house to house; recent Fame had outstripped the horsemen’s flying squadrons, with twofold tumults gathered beneath her wings; some repeat that Hypsipyle is being dragged to death, some that she is even now meeting her fate, and is deserving of it: they believe, nor stay their anger, and already brands and javelins fly against the palace, cries are raised to overturn the kingdom, and to seize and carry away Lycurgus with Jove and all his shrines; the houses re-echo with female shrieks, and routed grief flees before panic terror.

[699] But Adrastus, aloft upon his car of wing-footed steeds and bearing with him the daughter of Thoas in the sight of the raging warriors, drives in amongst the ranks and cries: “Give o’er, give o’er; no cruel deed has been done, nor has Lycurgus deserved to perish thus, and lo! here is the discoverer of the welcome stream!” So when with opposing blasts Boreas and Eurus from one quarter, and from another Auster black with rain has upheaved the sea, when day is banished and the hurricanes hold sway, high on his chariot comes the ruler of the deep, and twy-formed Triton swimming by the foaming brides gives signal far and wide to the subsiding main; Thetis is smooth again, and hills and shores emerge.

[710] Which of the gods consoled her loss, and by granting her heart’s desire brought joys unhoped-for to sad Hypsipyle and recompense for tears? Thou, Euhan, author of her race, who didst convey the twin youths52 from Lemnos’ shore to Nemea, and wert preparing a wondrous destiny. In search of their mother they came, and not inhospitably had the palace of Lycurgus given them entry, when forthwith came that message to the monarch of his offspring’s piteous death. Therefore hasten they to his support – so strange is Chance, so blind the purpose of men! – and favour the king’s cause; but when “Lemnos” and “Thoas” reached their ears, straight had they rushed through weapons and troops of men, and both with tears snatch their mother to their greedy embrace and in turn press her to their bosoms. But she, like a stony rock, with countenance unmoved stirs not nor dares believe the gods she knows so well. But when she recognized their faces and the marks of Argo on their swords the mariners had left and Jason’s name inwoven on their shoulders, her grief was stayed, and overcome by so great a blessing she swooned, and her eyes were moist with other tears. Signs too were shown in heaven, and he drums and cymbals of the god and the glad huzzas of his wild train resounded through the echoing air.

[731] Then the devout Oeclides,53 so soon as wrath appeased made the crowd fall silent, and there was approach to tranquil ears: “Hearken, O ruler of Nemea and ye flower of Argive princes, what Apollo surely reveals for us to do. Long hath this woe been ordained for you at Argive hands, unwavering runs the line of Destiny.54 The drought of perished streams, the deadly serpent, and the child Archemorus, whose name, alas, bears the seal of our fate,55 all these events flow down and issue from the high purpose of the gods. A truce now to your passions, lay down your hasty arms! To this infant enduring honours must be paid. Truly he hath deserved them; let virtue make fair libation to a virtuous soul, and would that thou mightest continue, O Phoebus, to weave even more delays, would that new chances might ever bar us from the fray, and thou, O deadly Thebes, fade from our sight for ever! And O ye happy ones, who have surpassed the common fate of noble parents, whose name will long endure through the ages, while Lerna’s lake remains and father Inachus flows on, while Nemea throws the flickering shadows across her fields – profane not this holy rite by weeping, mourn not for the gods: for a god is he, yea a god, nor would he prefer to enjoy a Pylian age, nor a life that outlived the Phrygian span.” 56 He finished, and night wrapt the heaven in her enfolding shade.

1. i.e., cranes, cf. Virg. Aen. x. 264.
2. The epithet is taken from a town named Paraetonium, on the Libyan coast west of the Delta.
3. If “fatum” of most MSS. is kept = “our lives,” then “honorem,” etc., must be in a kind of apposition to the preceding sentence, e.g., “to owe our lives, an honour which . . .“ In any case, “venimus debere” is doubtful Latin, and the line has been variously emended.
4. i.e., where were you born?
5. Some explain “with oracles,” but the more likely meaning is “with dashing waves,” as in the next line.
6. i.e., the Aegean Sea.
7. lit., “Not as she previously was in respect of . . .” Cf. xi. 459, “non habitu, quo nota prius, non ore sereno."`
8. i.e., Vulcan, who dwelt in Lemnos.
9. i.e., Theban, from Teumesus, a mountain of Boeotia.
10. The Phrygian mountain, where Cybele was worshipped.

11. Danaus, cf. iv. 133 n.
12. Procne, wife of Tereus, king of Thrace; she set before him the flesh of his son Itys. Rhodope, a mountain in Thrace.
13. She points to her four children, whom it is hard to slay.
14. i.e., Proserpine.
15. i.e., in Thracian warfare.
16. The god shows his will in the yet living (“spirat”) entrails, just as he speaks in the cry of birds; to be favourable the entrails must be perfect (“integer”), and every slight imperfection was given some meaning by the “haruspices.”
17. For similar scenes see x. 273 sq.
18. The Centaurs; the epithet is sometimes explained by regarding them as a personification of mountain-torrents; cf. Theb. i. 365.
19. Bacchus.
20. i.e., to Venus, to whom he has granted the awful privilege of destroying the Lemnians.

21. She weeps from the fear lest they suspect the fraud, and prays that it may not be an evil omen to her father, and that she may escape death.
22. i.e., a lion, often called Massylian, i.e., African.
23. Cretan, i.e., arrows, for which Crete was famous.
24. This phrase can be explained by inversion, “all the sunlight taken from the day,” or by translating “dies” as “light” (cf. 421), with hypallage of “omni.”
25. For this meaning of “flagello” cf. iii. 26, x. 169.
26. i.e., so that they act as a sort of bulwark.
27. i.e., Castor of Pollux.
28. i.e., Boreas.
29. Apparently a reminiscence of Aen. vi. Init.
30. Homer describes the gods as visiting the Aethiopians and banqueting with them (Il. i. 423).

31. One of the exploits of Theseus was to slay a wild bull that ravaged the fields of Marathon.
32. i.e., Thracian, Northern, sons of the north wind.
33. Castor and Pollux; Oebalus was their grandfather, a king of Sparta.
34. “euntes” expresses the “travelling” of the sight as it follows the ships out to sea.
35. i.e., our deed was ordained by heaven and fate; in disobeying them she is “nefanda.”
36. i.e., Opheltes, the infant, cf. iv. 742, 787.
37. i.e., Bacchus, patron deity of Thebes.
38. I have adopted Schrader’s emendation; “incertusque sui” seems hardly to justify Klotz’s explanation “mentis non compos,” i.e., “in a fury.”
39. He means the snake (Draco) that winds between the two Bears (cf. Virg. G. i. 244), but his expression is difficult; nor does Draco go anywhere near the southern hemisphere, though Statius may have been thinking of either Hydra or Serpens, which do, and confused them somehow with Draco.
40. Python, slain by Apollo at Delphi.

41. Parthenopaeus.
42. Statius loses no opportunity of emphasizing Capaneus’s hostility to the gods.
43. The Giants were said to have snakes for legs, cf. Ov. F. v. 37 “mille manus illis dedit et pro cruribus angues.” Or “super haec membra” may be “over these (slain) limbs.”
44. Eurydice, wife of Lycurgus, was the mother of the babe Opheltes, whom Hypsipyle had been nursing.
45. i.e., blames them for the disaster, of which the stream was the cause, by separating her from the babe.
46. Cf. iii. 460; apparently the same mountain is meant.
47. “prosecta,” lit. that which is cut out for offering, i.e., the entrails.
48. Tydeus. “Erymanthian,” below = Arcadian, i.e., Parthenopaeus.
49. Lycurgus had just been sacrificing, and would be wearing the fillets; Amphiaraus as a soothsayer wore them habitually.
50. Ironically spoken: it was only a babe’s death.

51. This too is ironical: let Jove’s temple be destroyed, if he was so impious as to think he had power over his own slave!
52. Their names were Thoas and Euneus.
53. Amphiaraus.
54. The metaphor is probably of a river-channel; cf. “fluunt,” l. 740.
55. “Archemorus” means “the beginning of doom.”
56. i.e., longer than Nestor or Priam.