Classical Texts Library >> Statius, Thebaid >> Book 8




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] When on a sudden the prophet fell among the pallid shades, and burst into the homes of death and the mysteries of the deep-sunken realm, and affrighted the ghosts with his armed corpse, all were filled with horror and marvelled at the weapons and horses and the body still undecayed upon the Stygian shores: for no fires had whelmed his limbs, nor came he charred from the gloomy urn, but hot with the sweat of war, and gory drops and the dust of the rent plain beflecked his shield. Not yet had the Fury met and purified him with branch of yew, not had Proserpine marked him on the dusky door-post as admitted to the company of the dead1; nay, his presence surprised the very distaff of the Fates, and not till in terror they beheld the augur did the Parcae break the thread. At the noise of his coming the care-free Elysian folk gazed round about them, and they whom far in the remoter gulf a deeper night and a blind region of denser shades o’erwhelms. Then sluggish meres and scorched lakes resound with groaning, and the pale furrower of the ghost-bearing stream cries out that a new chasm has cloven Tartarus to its depths and spirits have been let in across a river not his own.

[21] By chance the lord of Erebus, enthroned in the midst of the fortress of his dolorous realm, was demanding of his subjects the misdoings of their lives, pitying nought human but wroth against all the shades. Around him stand the Furies and various Deaths in order due, and savage Vengeance thrusts forth her coils on jangling chains; the Fates bring the souls and with one gesture2 damn them; too heavy grows the work. Hard by, Minos with his dread brother in kindly mood counsels milder justice, and restrains the bloodthirsty king; Cocytus and Phlegethon, swollen with tears and fire, aid in the judgement, and Styx accuses the gods of perjury.3 But he,4 when the frame of the world above was loosened and filled him with unwonted fears, quaked at the appearing stars, and thus did he speak, offended by the gladsome light: “What ruin of the upper world hath thrust the hateful light of day into Avernus? Who hath burst our gloom and told the silent folk of life? Whence comes this threat? Which of my brothers thus makes war on me? Well, I will meet him: confusion whelm all natural bounds! For whom would that please more? the third hazard hurled me defeated from the mighty heaven, and I guard the world of guilt; nor is even that mine, but lo! the dread stars search it from end to end, and gaze upon me. Does the proud ruler of Olympus spy out my strength?

[42] “Mine is the prison-house, now broken, of the Giants, and of the Titans, eager to force their way to the world above, and his own unhappy sire: why thus cruelly doth he forbid me to enjoy my mournful leisure and this untranquil peace, and to hate the light I lost? I will open all my kingdoms, if such be my pleasure, and veil Hyperion with a Stygian sky. I will not send the Arcadian up to the gods – why doth he come and go on errands between realm and realm? – and I will keep both the sons of Tyndareus.5 And why do I break Ixion on the greedy whirling of the wheel? Why do the waters not wait for Tantalus? Must I so oft endure the profanation of Chaos by living strangers? The rash ardour of Pirithous provoked me, and Theseus, sworn comrade of his daring friend, and fierce Alcides, when the iron threshold of Cerberus’ gate fell silent, its guardian removed. It shames me too, alas! how Tartarus opened a way to the Odrysian plaint6; with my own eyes I saw the Eumenides shed base tears at those persuasive strains, and the Sisters repeat their allotted task; me too –; but the violence of my cruel law is stronger. Yet I have scarce ventured on stolen journey, nor was that to the stars on high, when I carried off my bride from the Sicilian mead: unlawfully, so they say, and forthwith comes an unjust decree from Jove, and her mother7 cheats me of half a year. But why do I tell all this?

[65] “Go, Tisiphone, avenge the abode of Tartarus! if ever thou hast wrought monsters fierce and strange, being forth some ghastly horror, huge and unwonted, such as the sky hath never yet beheld, such as I may marvel at and thy Sisters envy. Ay, and the brothers – let this be the first sign of my hatred – let the brothers rush to slay each other in exultant combat; let there be one who in hideous, bestial savagery shall gnaw his foeman’s head, and one who shall bar the dead from the funeral fire and pollute the air with naked corpses8; let the fierce Thunderer feast his eyes on that! Moreover, lest their fury harm my realms alone, seek one who shall make war against the gods,9 and with smoking shield repel the fiery brand and Jove’s own wrath. I will have all men fear to disturb black Tartarus no less than to set Pelion on top of leafy Ossa.” He finished, and long since was the gloomy palace quaking at his words, and his own land and that which presses on it from above were rocking: no more mightily does Jupiter sway the heaven with his nod, and bow the starry poles.

[84] “But what shall be thy doom,” 10 he cries, “who rushest headlong through the empty realm on a path forbidden?” As he threatens, the other draws nigh, on foot now and shadowy to view, his armour growing faint, yet in his lifeless face abides the dignity of augurship inviolate, and on his brow remains the fillet dim to behold, and in his hand is a branch of drying olive. “If it be lawful and right for holy shades to make utterance here, O thou to all men the great Finisher, but to me, who once knew the causes and beginnings, Creator11 also! Remit, I pray, thy threatenings and thy fevered heart, nor deem worthy of thy wrath one who is but a man and fears thy laws; ‘tis for no Herculean plunder12 –, such wars are not for me – nor for a forbidden bride – believe these emblems – that I dare to enter Lethe: let not Cerberus flee into his cave, nor Proserpine shudder at my chariot. I, once the best beloved of augurs at Apollo’s shrines, call empty Chaos to bear witness – for what power to receive an oath has Apollo here? – for no crime do I suffer this unwonted fate, nor have I deserved to be thus torn from the kindly light of day; the urn of the Dictean judge doth know it, and Minos can discern the truth. Sold by the treachery of my wife for wicked gold, I joined the Argive host, not unwitting – hence this crowd of new-slain ghosts thou seest, and the victims also of this right hand; in a sudden convulsion of the earth – my mind still shrinks in horror – thy darkness swallowed me up from the midst of thousands.

[109] What were my feelings, while I made my way on and on through the hollow womb of earth, and while I was whirled along, suspended in shrouding mist? Ah, woe is me! nought of me is left to my country or my friends, nor in the power of Thebes; no more shall I behold the roofs of Lerna, nor shall I return in ashes to my stricken sire. With no pomp of tomb or pyre or kinsmen’s tears, to thee am I come with all my funeral train, nor likely to venture aught with yonder steeds; content am I to receive my shade,13 nor remember my tripods any more. For what avails thee the use of prescient augury, when the Parcae spin thy commands? Nay, be thou softened, and prove more merciful than the gods. If ever my accursed wife come hither, reserve for her thy deadly torments: she is more worthy of thy wrath, O righteous lord!” He accepts his prayer, and is indignant that he yields: just as a lion, when the glittering Massylian steel confronts him, then most summons up his anger and his might: but if the foeman fall, to pass over him is enough, and to leave to the vanquished his life.

[127] Meanwhile his chariot, garlanded with sacred wool and victorious bay, and feared but of late for noble feats of arms, is sought in the clear light of day in vain, though by none vanquished and by none put to flight: the troops fall back, and the ground is suspected by all, and the soldiers avoid the traces of the dangerous field; that ill-omened spot of ravenous destruction lies idle, shunned from awe of the hellish abyss. While Adrastus in a different quarter is encouraging his men, Palaemon flies to him with tidings, scarce trusting what he has seen, and cries in terror – for it chanced that he stood nigh the falling seer, and paled, poor wretch! to see the chasm open: “Turn, prince, and flee, if at least the Dorian land yet remains in its place, and our native towers where we left them. No need of arms or bloodshed: why draw we against Thebes the unavailing sword? The impious earth sucks in our chariots and our weapons and men of war; lo! even the field where we stand seems to flee away. With my own eyes I saw the road to deepest night, and the firm soil rent, and him, alas! Oeclides, falling, than whom none was dearer to the prescient stars; and in vain I stretched out my arms and cried aloud. ‘Tis a miracle that I tell: only now has my charioteer left the furrowed ground and the smoking, foam-bespattered fields. Nor is the ruin shared by all: the earth knows its own children, the Theban host remains.”

[150] Adrastus, horror-struck, is slow to believe, but Mopsus and affrighted Actor were bringing the same tidings. Already rumour, bold to ply new terrors, reports that more than one have perished. Unbidden, not awaiting the wonted bugle-call that sounds retreat, the troops take to headlong flight; but their movement is sluggish, their knees fail their eager haste; the horn-footed steeds themselves – one would think they knew – resist them, and stubbornly defy every command, whether to hasten pace or lift their eyes from earth. More valiantly the Tyrians press on, but dark Vesper is already leading forth the horses of the moon; a scant truce brings the warriors sad repose, and night that will but increase their fears.

[162] How looks it now, think you,14 when groans are granted their fill? How fell the tears from the loosened helms? Nought customary delights the weary warriors; they cast down their dripping shields, just as they were, none wiped his spear, or praised his charger, or dressed and decked the plume of his polished helm; scarce do they care to wash their grievous wounds, and stitch up the wide-gaping blows: so great the despair of every heart. Nor could the fear of battle persuade them to take food and due sustenance for war: all sing of thy praises, Amphiaraus, and of thy mind, unfailing oracle of truth; one speech is heard throughout the tents: that the gods have left them, and their protection is departed from the camp. “Where, alas! the laurelled chariot and the sacred arms and fillet-bearing crest? Is this the faith of Castalian lake and grotto, and holy tripod? Is this Apollo’s gratitude? Who now shall explain to me the falling stars, or the purpose of the lightning on the left, or the will divine that leaps in the new-slain entrails? or when to march or tarry, what hour is profitable for battle, or rather calls for peace? Who now shall lay bare all the future, or with whom shall birds hold converse of my destiny? The chances of this war thou knewest also, both for thyself and us, and yet – how great the courage in that inspired breast! – thou camest and didst join our ill-fated arms. And when the earth and thy fatal hour called thee, thou hadst time to lay low the Tyrian lines and hostile standards; then even in the midst of death we saw thee a terror to the foe, and thy spear still threatening as thou didst depart. And now what fate befalls thee? Wilt thou be able to return from the abodes of Styx, and break forth from the depths of earth? Or sittest thou beside the glad Parcae, thine own deities, and by harmonious interchange dost learn and teach the future? Or hath the lord of Avernus in pity granted thee to watch Elysian birds in the groves of the blest?

[195] “Whatever thou art, an eternal grief to Phoebus shalt thou be, and a loss that is ever new, and long shalt thou be mourned by a Delphi that is dumb.15 This day shall silence Tenedos and Chryse, and Delos, made fast for the bringing-forth, and unshorn Branchus’ shrine, nor on this day shall any suppliant draw nigh to the Clarian temple-gates, nor to the threshold of Dindymus, nor consult the Lycian god.16 Nay, the precinct also of the horned prophet and the panting oak of Molossian Jove and Trojan Thymbra shall be mute.17 The very streams and laurels shall of their own will fail and wither, the air itself shall utter no certain presage in prophetic cries, and no wing of bird shall beat the clouds. And soon shall come the day, when thou too shalt be worshipped by truth-inspiring shrines, and thy own priest impart thy oracles.”

[208] Such solemn chant do they make in honour of the prophet-prince, as though they were paying the due of flame and gifts and mournful service to the pyre, and laying the soul to rest in the soft earth. Then broken were the spirits of all, with loathing for the war: even so when sudden death snatched Tiphys from the brave Minyae, no longer seems the tackling to obey, no longer the oars to endure the water,18 and even the breezes drew the vessel with less power. And now were they wearied of weeping, and having mourned their fill in converse, their hearts were lightened little by little, till sorrow was drowned in the approach of night and sleep that gently steals o’er tearful eyes.

[218] But elsewhere, throughout the Sidonian city, far different was that night; in various sport before their houses and within they spend the hours of darkness, and even the sentinels on the walls are tipsy; cymbals and the Idaean drums19 resound, and the pipe that makes its music by varied breathing. Then in honour of their darling gods and every native deity in order sacred paeans everywhere swell high, everwhere are garlands seen and wreathed bowls of wine. Now mock they the witless augur’s death, and again they vie in praising their own Tiresias; now they tell the history of their sires, and sing from its beginnings the ancient tale of Thebes: some tell of the Sidonian sea and the hands that grasped the Thunderer’s horns and the mighty bull that ploughed the deep, others of Cadmus and the weary heifer and the fields pregnant with bloody war, others again of the boulders that moved to the music of the Tyrian lute and Amphion stirring rocks to life; these celebrate the travail of Semele, those the Cytherean nuptials and the train of brothers’ torches that led Harmonia to her home; every table has its story. ‘Tis as though Liber of late had ravaged Hydaspes rich in gems and the kingdoms of the East, and were displaying to the folk the banners of his swarthy captive-train and Indians yet unknown.

[240] Then for the first time Oedipus, who ever lurked unseen in his dread abode, came forth, they say, to the friendly gatherings of the social banquet, and, serene in countenance, freed his grey hairs from their black filth and his face from unkempt straying locks, and enjoyed the kindly converse of his fellows and the solace denied before, nay, partook of the feast and wiped the undried blood from his eyes. To all he listens and to all he makes reply, who was wont but to assail with sad complain Dis and the Furies and his guide Antigone. They know not the cause. ‘Tis not the prosperous issue of the Tyrian war, but war alone delights him; he encourages and approves his son, yet would not have him win; but he searches for the first clash of swords and the seeds of guilt with prayers unspoken. Thence his pleasure in the feast and the strange joy upon his face. Even so old Phineus,20 after the long fast that was his punishment, when he knew the birds were driven away nor screamed any more about his house – yet believed he not wholly, – recline hilarious at the board, and handle the cups that no fierce wings upset.

[259] The rest of the Grecian host lay fordone with care and battle; from a high mound in the camp Adrastus – frail now and old, but forced by the curse of power to be watchful against disaster – heard with sinking heart the shouts of the merrymakers. From all sides the clamour of bronze and Theban uproar gall him, and the pipe grates harshly on his ears, he is vexed by the insolent shouts of the drunken and the flickering torches and the fires already scarce lasting out the night. So when upon the waves a ship is whelmed in the silence of universal sleep, and the crew in careless trust commend their lives to the peace of ocean, alone upon the poop stands the vigilant helmsman and the god who sails in the bark that bears his name.21

[271] It was the time when Phoebus’ fiery sister, hearing the sound of his yoked steeds and the roar of Ocean’s cavernous abode beneath the gathering dawn, collects her straying beams and with light flick of whip chases the stars away: the king calls the doleful council, and in dismay they ask who shall take up the duty of the tripod, to whom shall pass the prescient laurel and the widowed glory of the fillet. Straightway all demand holy Melampus’ son. Thiodamas of high renown, with whom alone Amphiaraus’ self was wont to share the mysteries of the gods and view the flying birds, nor grudged him so much skill, but rejoiced to hear him called his like and nearest rival. Overwhelmed by the high honour and confounded by the unlooked-for glory he humbly reverences the proferred leaves, and pleads that he is unequal to the task, and must needs for his merit be constrained: even as when perchance a young Achaemenian22 prince has succeeded to the throne and all his father’s realms (though safer were it for him that his sire still lived), his delight he balances with uncertain fear, whether his chiefs be loyal, whether the folk will fight against he reins, to whom he shall entrust the frontier of Euphrates or the Caspian gate; then does he feel awe to wield the bow and to mount his sire’s own steed, nor can he see himself upholding the sceptre with large grasp nor as yet filling the diadem.

[294] He therefore having set upon his locks the emblem of the twisted wool and held intercourse with the gods, proceeds in triumph through the camp amid shouts of joy, and, first evidence of his priestly office, prepares to appease the Earth: nor seemed it vain to the sorrowing Danaans. Therefore he straightway bids altars twain he wreathed with living trees and well-grown turf, and on them, in honour of the goddess, he flings, countless flowers, her own bounty, and heaps of fruit and the new produce of the tireless year, and pouring untouched milk upon the altars he thus begins: “O eternal Creatress of gods and men, who bringest into being rivers and forests and seeds of life throughout the world, the handiwork of Prometheus and the stones of Pyrrha,23 thou who first didst give nourishment and varied food to famished men, who dost encompass and bear up the sea; in thy power is the gentle race of cattle and the anger of wild beasts and the repose of birds; round thee, firm, steadfast strength of the unfailing universe, as thou hangest in the empty air the rapid frame of heaven and either chariot doth wheel, O middle of the world, unshared by the mighty brethren!24 Therefore art thou bountiful to many races, so many lofty cities and peoples, while from above and from beneath thou art all-sufficient, and with no effort carriest thyself star-bearing Atlas who staggers under the weight of the celestial realm; us alone, O goddess, dost thou refuse to bear? Doth our weight vex thee? What crime, I pray, do we unwittingly atone? That we come hither, a stranger folk, from Inachian shores? All soil is human birthright, nor doth it beseem thee, worthiest one, to distinguish by a test so cruel and so mean peoples who are everywhere and in every land thine own: abide thou common to all alike, and bear alike the arms of all; grant us, I pray, in war’s due course to breathe out our warrior souls and restore them to the sky. Whelm not in burial so sudden our still-breathing bodies; haste not, for we shall come by the path all tread, by the permitted way; hearken but to our prayer, and keep firm for the Pelasgians the fickle plain, and forestall not the swift Fates. But thou, dear to the gods, whom no violence nor Sidonian sword did slay, but mighty Nature opened her bosom to enfold in union with herself, as though for thy merits she were entombing thee in Cirrha’s chasm, gladly vouchsafe, I pray, that I may learn thy supplications, conciliate me to the gods and the prophetic altars, and teach me what thou didst design to tell the peoples; I will perform thy rites of divination, and in Phoebus’ absence be the prophet of thy godhead and call upon thy name. That place whither thou speedest is mightier, I ween, than any Delos or Cirrha, and more august than any shrine.” Having thus spoken he casts into the ground black sheep and dark-hued herds, and piles up heaps of billowy sand on their living bodies, duly paying to the seer the emblems of death.25

[342] Such things were happening among the Greeks, when already yonder the Martial horns were heard, and the blare of bronze drew fierce swords from their sheaths. From Teumesus’ height Tisiphone sends her shrill cry, and shakes her locks, and with their hissing adds a sharpness to the trumpets’ note; drunken Cithaeron and the towers that followed a far different music26 listen in amaze to the unwonted din. Already Bellona is beating at the trembling gates and the armed portals, already by many a doorway Thebes is emptying fast. Horsemen set infantry in disarray, chariots delay the hurrying troops, as though the Danaans urged their rear: thus at the issues of all the seven gates the crowded columns are stuck fast. Creon goes out by lot from the Ogygigan, the Neistae send forth Eteocles, Haemon guards the lofty Homoloian, the Proetian and Electran pour forth the men of Hypseus and tall Dryas, the troops of Eurymedon make the Hypsistae shake, great-hearted Menoeceus crowds the Dircean battlements. Even so, when Nile in his secret region has drunk with mighty mouth the nurture of a distant sky and the cold snows of the East,27 he breaks up all his wealth of waters and carried his tempests to the sea in seven wide channels o’er the fields; the routed Nereids take refuge in the depths, and fear to meet the saltless main.

[363] But sad and slow move yonder the Inachian warriors, especially cohorts of Elis and Lacedaemon, and thy of Pylos; robbed of their augur they follow the late-appointed Thiodamas, not yet assenting to his command. Nor is it only thy own ranks that miss thee, lord of the tripods: all the host feels its loss: less gloriously along the line rises that seventh crest. ‘Tis as though a jealous cloud were to snatch from the clear sky one of the Parrhasian cluster28 – spoiled is the glory of the Wain, the axle wavers, shorn of one fire, and the seamen count their stars in doubt.

[373] But already battle calls me: from a fresh source, Calliope, supply new vigour, and may a mightier Apollo attune my lyre! The day of doom brings nigh to the peoples the fatal hour of their own asking, and Death let loose from Stygian darkness exults in the air of heaven, and hovers in flight over the field of battle, and with black jaws gaping wide invites the heroes; nought vulgar doth he choose, but with bloody nail marks as victims those most worthy of life, in the prime of years or valour; and now all the Sisters’ strands are broken for the wretched men, and the Furies have snatched the threads from the Fates. In the midst of the plain stands the War-god with spear yet dry, and turns his shield now against these, now against those stirring up the fray and blotting out home and wife and child. Love of country is driven out, and love of the light, that lingers latest in the heart; rage holds their hands all ready on the sword-hilt and on the lance, the panting spirit strives beyond its corslet, and the helmets tremble beneath the quivering plumes. What wonder that the heroes are hot for battle? Horn-footed steeds are inflamed against the foe and bedew the crumbling earth with a snow-white shower, as though they were made one in body with their masters, and had put on the riders’ rage: so champ they the bits, and neigh to join the fight, and rearing toss the horsemen backward.

[395] And now they charge, and the first dust-clouds of the heroes begin to meet in the onset; both sides dash forward an equal space, and see the intervening plain diminish. Then shield thrusts against shield, boss upon boss, threatening sword on sword, foot against foot and lance on lance: in such close struggle they meet; together their groans reek,29 close-packed crests gleam over helmets not their own. The face of battle is still fair: plumes stand erect, horsemen bestride their steeds, no chariot is without its chief; weapons are in their place, shields glitter, quivers and belts are comely, and gold as yet unsightly with blood. But when fury and valour prodigal of life give rein to passion, Arctos lashes not airy Rhodope so fiercely with hardened snow when the Kids are falling, nor does Ausonia hear so loud an uproar when Jupiter thunders from end to end of heaven, nor are the Syrtes beaten with such hail, when dark Boreas hurls Italian tempests upon Libya. Their darts shut out the day, a steely cloud hangs athwart the sky, and the crowded air has no room for all the javelins. Some perish by flung spears, others by spears returning,30 stakes meet in the void and robe ach other of the wounds they carry, spears meet, and dread arrows winged with a double death31 rival the lightning-stroke. No place for weapons earthward, every dart falls on a body; often they slay and are slain unwitting. Chance does the work of valour: now the press retires and now advances, loses ground in turn and wins it. Even so when threatening Jove has loosed the reins of winds and tempests, and sends alternate hurricanes to afflict the world, opposing forces meet in heaven, now Auster’s storms prevail, now Aquilo’s, till in the conflict of the winds one conquers, be it Auster’s overwhelming rains, or Aquilo’s clear air.

[428] At the outset of the fight Asopian Hypseus repulsed the Oebalian squadrons – for these in fierce pride of race were thrusting their stout bucklers through the Euboean lines – and slew Menalcas the leader of the phalanx. He, a true-souled Spartan, child of the mountain-torrent, shamed not his ancestry, but pulled back through bones and bowels the spear that would pass beyond his breast, lest his back should show dishonour, and with failing hand hurled it back all bloody at the foe; his loved Taygetus swims before his dying eyes, and his combats, and the strong breast his mother praised. Dircaean Amyntas marks out Phaedimus, son of Iasus, with his bow: ah! the swift Fates! already Phaedimus lies gasping on the field, and not yet the bow of sure Amyntas ceased to twang. Calydonian Agreus cut the right arm of Phegeus from off its shoulder: on the ground it holds the sword in unyielding grip and shakes it: Acoetes advancing feared it as it lay amid the scattered weapons, and struck at it, severed though it was. Stern Acamas pierced Iphis, fierce Hypseus Argus, Pheres laid Abas low, and groaning from their different wounds they lay, horseman Iphis, foot-soldier Argus, chariot-drive Abas. Inachian twins had smitten with the sword twin brothers of Cadmus’ blood, hidden by their helms – war’s cruel ignorance! – but stripping the dead of all their spoils they saw the horror of their deed, and each in dismay looked on his brother, and cried that they were both at fault. Ion worshipper at Pisa overthrew Daphneus worshipper at Cirrha,32 in the confusion of his steeds: this one Jupiter praises from on high, that on Apollo vainly pities, too late to aid.

[456] Fortune on either side of the bloody fray sheds lustre on mighty warriors: Cadmean Haemon slays and routs the Danaans, Tydeus madly pursues the ranks of Tyre; the one has Pallas’ present aid, the other the Tirynthian inspires: just as when two torrents break forth from mountain heights and fall upon the plain in twofold ruin, one would think they strove, which could whelm crops and trees or bury their bridges in a deeper flood; lo! at last one vale receives and mingles their waters, but proudly each would fain go by himself, and they refuse to flow down to ocean with united streams.

[466] Idas of Onchestus strode through the midst shaking a smoky brand, and disarrayed the Grecian ranks, forcing his way with fire; but a great lunge of savage Tydeus’ spear from nigh at hand smote through his helm and pierced him: in huge length he falls upon his back, the lance stays upright in his forehead, the flaming torch sinks upon his temples. Tydeus pursues him with a taunt: “Call not Argos cruel; burn, Theban, in thy own flames; see, we grant thee a pyre!” Then like a tigress exulting in her first blood and eager to go through all the herd, he slays Aon with a stone, Pholus and Chromis with the sword, with thrust of lance two Helicaons, whom Maera, priestess of Aegaean Venus, bore against the goddess’ pleasure: victims are ye of bloodstained Tydeus, but even now your mother visits the pitiless altars.

[480] No less on the other side is Haemon, ward of Hercules, led on by restless vigour; with unsated sword he speeds through thousands, now laying low the pride of Calydon, now Pylene’s grim array, now sad Pleuron’s sons, until with wearied sear he happens on Olenian Butes. Him he attacks, as he turns toward his men and forbids them to retreat; a lad was he, with cheeks yet smooth and hair unshorn, and the Theban battle-axe aimed against his helmet takes him unaware; his temples are cleft asunder, and his locks divided fall upon his shoulders, and he, not fearing such a fate, passed from life unwitting on its threshold. Then he slays fair-haired Hypanis and Polites – this one was keeping his beard for Phoebus, that one his hair for Iacchus; but cruel was either god – and joins Hyperenor to his victims, and Damasus who turned to flee; but the hero’s lance sped through his shoulders and passed out by his heart, and tearing his buckler from his grasp, carried it on the lance-point as it flew.

[497] Even yet would Ismenian Haemon be laying low his Inachian adversaries – for Amphityron’s son directs his darts and gives him strength – but against him Pallas urged fierce Tydeus. And now they33 met in rivalry of favour, and first the Tirynthian thus calmly spoke: “Good sister, what chance has thus brought about our meeting in the fog of war? Has royal Juno devised this evil? Sooner may she see me – unutterable thought! – assault the thunderbolt and make war against the mighty Sire! This man’s race – but I disown him, since thou dost aid his foes, ay, were it even Hyllus or Amphitryon sent back from the world of Styx that the spear of thy Tydeus sought in close combat; I remember, and shall remember everlasting, how much that godlike hand, how oft that aegis of thine hath laboured for me, while, a thrall to hardship, I roamed through every land; yea! thou wouldst have gone thyself to pathless Tartarus with me, did not Acheron exclude the gods. Thou gavest me my home, ay, heaven – who could name a service so great? All Thebes is thine, if thou hast a mind to destroy it. I yield and crave pardon.” So he spake, and departed. Pallas is soothed by the praise; her countenance is calm again, the anger spent, and the snakes erect upon her bosom sank to rest.

[519] Cadmean Haemon felt that the god had left him; more weakly he hurls his darts, nor recognizes his skill in any stroke. Then more and more his powers and courage fail him, nor is he ashamed to retreat; as he gives ground the Acheloian hero assails him, and poising a spear that he alone could wield aims the blow where the rim of the helmet rests on the topmost margin of the shield and the vulnerable throat gleams white. Nor erred his hand, and the spear had found a deadly spot, but Tritonia forbade, and suffered it to touch the left shoulder, sparing her brother for his merits’ sake. But the warrior dares no longer hold his ground or engage or bear the sight of murderous Tydeus; his courage grows faint, and his confidence has departed: as when the bristly visage of a boar has been grazed by a Lucanian javelin-point, and the blow has not sunk deep into his brain nor has the aim been true, he lets the anger of his side-stroke weaken, nor attacks the spear he knows too well.

[536] Lo! now, indignant that Prothous the leader of a squadron is hurling sure darts with happy aim against the foe, Oenides furiously strikes two bodies with one shaft of pine, horseman and horn-footed steed: Prothous falls and the horse upon him, and as he gropes for the lost reins the horse tramples the helm upon his face and the shield upon his breast, until as the last drops ebb from his wound he casts off the bridle and sinks with his head upon his master’s body. Even so from Mount Gauranus fall an elm-tree and a vine together, a twofold loss to the husbandman, but the elm more sorrowful seeks also for its comrade tree, and falling grieves less for its own boughs than for the familiar grapes it crushes against its will. Corymbus of Helicon had taken arms against the Danaans, formerly the Muses’ friend, to whom Uranie34 herself, knowing full well his Stygian destiny, had long foretold his death by the position of the stars. Yet seeks he battles and warriors, perchance to find theme for song; now lies he low, worthy himself to be sung with lasting praise, but the Sisters wept his loss in silence.

[554] Atys, betrothed from childhood to Ismene, offspring of Agenor, went his way, a youth no stranger to the wars of Thebes, though Cirrha was his home, nor had he shunned his bride’s kinsmen for their evil deeds; nay, her misery undeserved and chaste humility commend her to her lover’s favour. He too was noble, nor was the maiden’s heart turned from him, and they were pleasing in each other’s sight, had only Fortune suffered it. But war forbids his marriage, and hence the youth’s fiercer wrath against the foe; among the foremost he rushes on, and now afoot with errant sword, now grasping the reins aloft, as though at some spectacle, he drives before him the ranks of Lerna. With threefold robe of purple had his mother clothed his yet growing shoulders and smooth breast, and now, lest he should go in meaner raiment than his spouse, she had plated with gold his harness and with gold his arrows and his belt and armlets, and had encrusted his helm with inlay of gold. Trusting alas! in such things as these he challenges the Greeks to combat, and first assailing a weak company with his spear he brings back spoil of arms to his comrades, and the slaughter accomplished returns to the friendly lines. So a Caspian lion beneath Hyrcanian shade, still smooth nor terrible yet in the yellow glory of his mane, and guiltless of great carnage, raids the slow-moving flock not far from their fold while the shepherd is away, and sates his hunger on a tender lamb. Soon he feared not to attack Tydeus, knowing not his prowess but judging only by his stature, and dared to vex him with his frail weapon, as of the shouted taunts at some and pursued others. At length the Aetolian turned his gaze by chance upon his feeble efforts, and with a terrible laugh: “Long since,” he cries, “I have seen, insatiate one, ‘tis a famous death that thou desirest!” and forthwith, deeming the bold youth worthy of neither sword nor spear, with careless fingers lightly flung an unwarlike shaft; yet the missile drained deep the recesses of the groin, as though hurled with all his might. His death assured, Oenides passes him by, and is too proud to plunder. “For not such spoils as these,” says he, “will I hang up to Mars, or to thee, warlike Pallas; shame keep me far from taking them for my own pleasure35; scarcely had Deipyle36 left her bower and come with me to war, would I have borne her spoils that might mock at.”

[592] So saying, he is led on to dream of nobler prizes of the fight: as when a lion by chance hath slaughter innumerable in his power, he passes by the unwarlike calves and heifers: he is mad to drench himself in some mighty victim’s blood, nor to crouch37 save on the neck of a chieftain bull. But Menoeceus fails not to hear the dying wail of fallen Atys: thither he turns his horses, and leaps down from his swift chariot; the Tegean warriors were drawing night him where he lay, nor did the Tyrians hold them off. “For shame, Cadmean youth,” he cries, “that belie your earthborn sires! Whither fly ye, degenerate ones? Hath he not fallen more nobly for our folk, the stranger Atys? Ay, still but a stranger, nor yet, hapless one, hath he avenged his spouse; shall we betray a pledge so great?” Heartened by righteous shame they rally, and each bethinks himself of those he loves.

[607] Meanwhile in the seclusion of their chamber the sisters – innocent pair, guiltless offspring of unhappy Oedipus – mingle their converse with varying complaint. Now grieve they for their present ills, but starting from the far origins of their fate, one laments their mother’s marriage, the other their father’s eyes, this one the brother that reigns, that one him that is an exile, and both lament the war. Long do they hesitate in their unhappy prayers: fear sways them either way, in doubt whom they wish defeated in the fight, and whom victorious: but in their silent hearts the exile wins the day. So when Pandion’s birds38 seek once more trusty welcome and the homes they left when winter drove them forth, and they stand over the nest and tell to the house the old story of their woe, a broken, dolorous sound goes forth: they deem it words, nor in truth does their voice sound other than words.39 Then after tears and a long silence Ismene begins again: “What delusion is this of mortals? What means this trust deceived? Is it true then that our cares are awake in time of rest, and our fancies return in sleep so clearly? Lo! I, who could not bear the thought of wedlock, not even in sure abiding peace, this very night, my sister – ah! for shame! – I beheld myself a bride; whence did my fevered slumber bring my husband before my vision, whom I scarce know by sight? Once in this palace I caught sight of him, my sister, not of my own will – while pledges in some wise were exchanged for my betrothal. One the instant all was confusion to my view and sudden fire fell between us, and his mother followed me, demanding Atys back with loud clamour. What presage of disaster to whom I know not is this? And yet I have no fear, so but our home be safe and the Dorian host depart, and we can reconcile our haughty brothers.”

[636] Such was their converse, when the quiet house started at a sudden tumult, and Atys, rescued at great labour’s cost, bloodless but still living, is borne in; his hand is on his hurt, outside the shield the neck droops languid, and the tresses hang backward from his forehead. Jocasta saw him first and trembling called his beloved Ismene; for that prayer alone do the dying accents of her son-in-law utter, that name alone hovers on his parched mouth. The women shriek, and the maiden lifts her hands to her face; fierce shame restrains her, yet she must needs go to him, Jocasta grants the dying man this final boon, and shows her and sets her before him. Four times at the very point of death he bravely raised his eyes and failing vision of her name; at her alone, neglecting the light of heaven, he gazes, and cannot gaze enough on the face he loves. Then because his mother is not near and his father is laid in blissful death, they give to his betrothed the sad office of closing his eyes; there at last unwitnessed and alone, she gave utterance to wifely grief and drowned her eyes in tears.

[655] While these things were happening in Thebes, Enyo,40 afire with torch fresh-charged and other serpents, was restoring the fight. They yearn for battle, as though they had but lately borne the opening shock of combat hand to hand, and every sword still shone bright and clear. Oenides is pre-eminent; though Parthenophaeus draw an unerring shaft, and Hippomedon trample the faces of the dying with furious steed, though the spear of Capaneus fly even from far with a message to Aonian troops, that day was the day of Tydeus: from him they flee and tremble, as he cries out: “Whither turn ye your backs? Lo! thus can ye avenge your slain comrades, and atone for that sad night. I am he who took fifty lives in unsated carnage; bring as many, ay, as many squadrons in swarms! Are there no fathers, no loving brothers of the fallen? Why such forgetfulness of sorrow? Shame on me that I departed content to Inachian Mycenae! Are these all that stand for Thebes? Are these your monarch’s strength? And where can I find that noble chieftain?” Therewith he spies him on the left of the array, encouraging his columns and conspicuous by the flash of haughty helm; not less swiftly does he rush to meet him all afire, than the bird that wields the flame swoops on the frightened snow-white swan and enfolds him in his mighty shadow. Then he first speaks: “Most righteous king of the Aonian people, meet we in open fight, and show we our swords at last, or doth it please thee to await the night and thy wonted darkness?” Nought spake he in reply, but the whizzing cornel-shaft comes flying against his foe, bearing the chieftain’s message; the prudent hero strikes it aside just as it reached its mark, and himself eagerly hurled a mighty weapon with strength unknown before: on was the angry lance flying, to end the war. On it the gods, Sidonian and Greek, who favoured either side, turned their eyes41; cruel Erinys checks the course, and preserves Eteocles for a brother’s impious deed; the erring spear-point lighted on Phlegyas the charioteer.

[688] Then a great fight arose of heroes, for the Aetolian, drawing his sword, charged more fiercely, while Theban warriors protected the retreating king. So in the murk of night a crowd of shepherds forces away a wolf from the bullock he has seized; but he relentlessly rises up against them, nor cares to attack those who bar his way; him, him only, whom he had once assailed, does he pursue. Just so does Tydeus ignore the lines arrayed against him and the lesser throng, and pass them by in the fight; yet he wounds the face of Thoas, the breast of Deilochus, Clonius in the flank, stern Hippotades in the groin; now he throws back their limbs to mutilated trunks, or whirls heads and helms together through the air. And now he had enclosed himself with the spoils and corpses of the fallen; the ring of foes spends itself on him alone, at him alone all darts aspire; some lodge within his limbs, some fall amiss, others Tritonia tears away, many stand stiffly in his shield. Thick-planted already with spears, his buckler is a quivering grove of steel, and his native boarskin is torn upon his back and shoulders; gone is the towering glory of the crest, and the Mars that held the peak of his grim helmet falls, a happy omen to its lord. The bare bronze42 is fixed and welded in his temples, stones strike his head and fall rattling about his armour. His helm now fills with blood, and now his wounded breast is drenched by a dark mingling torrent of blood and sweat. He looks round upon his applauding comrades and on faithful Pallas, who conceals from afar her face behind her shield; for she was on her way to soften with her tears her mighty sire.

[716] Lo! an ashen spear charged with mighty wrath and fate cleaves the zephyrs, its author unperceived: Melanippus it was, the son of Astacus, and he betrayed not his own work and would fain have been hidden, but the joy of his troop revealed him all affrighted; for Tydeus bending o’er his groin had sunk upon his side and let go his round shield. Aonians and Pelasgians mingle their shouts and groans, and form a barrier, and protect the indignant hero. He spying afar through the foe the hated Astacides, summons for a stroke all the vital forces that remain, and hurls a dart that Hopleus who stood by had given him; the effort makes the blood spout and flow. Then his grieving comrades drag him away, eager yet to fight – what fiery zeal! – and calling for spears, and even in death’s agony refusing to die, and set him on the farthest margin of the field, propped against shields on either side, and promise with tears a return to the conflicts of fierce Mars. But he too now felt the light of heaven fail him and his mighty spirit yield to the final chill, and lying on the ground he cries: “Have pity, sons of Inachus: I pray not that my bones be taken to Argos or my Aetolian home; I care not for funeral obsequies; I hate my limbs and my body so frail and useless, deserter of the soul within it. Thy head, thy head, O Melanippus, could one but bring me that! for thou art grovelling on the plain, so indeed I trust, nor did my valour fail me at the last. Go, Hippomedon, I beg, if thou has aught of Atreus’ blood, go thou, Arcadian, youth renowned in thy first wars, and thou, O Capaneus, mightiest now of the Argive host!”

[745] All were moved, but Capaneus first darts away, and finding the son of Astacus lifts him still breathing from the dust, and returns with him on his left shoulder, staining his back with blood from the stricken wound: in such wise did the Tirynthian return from the Arcadian lair, when he brought home to applauding Argos the captive boar.43

[751] Tydeus raises himself and turns his gaze upon him, then mad with joy and anger, when he saw them drag the gasping visage, and saw his handiwork therein, he bids them cut off and hand to him his foe’s fierce head, and seizing it in his left hand he gazes at it, and glows to see it still warm in life and the wrathful eyes still flickering ere they closed. Content was the wretched man, but avenging Tisiphone demands yet more. And now, her sire appeased, had Tritonia come, and was bringing immortal lustre to the unhappy hero: when lo! she sees him befouled with the shattered brains’ corruption and his jaws polluted with living blood44 – nor can his comrades wrest it from him –; fierce stood the Gorgon with outstretched snakes, and the horned serpents upreared before her face o’ershadowed the goddess; with averted face she flees from him where he lies, nor enters heaven ere that the mystic lamp and Elisos with plenteous water has purged her vision.45

1. Both appear to be modes of initiation to the underworld, though nowhere else mentioned as such. The yew belonged specially to Furies, cf. xi. 94. “furvus” is an epithet suitable to the underworld, cf. Silv. v. 1. 155.
2. Literally “thumb,” with which the crowd in the amphitheatre saved or condemned the gladiators who appealed for mercy.
3. An oath sworn by Styx was inviolable, and Styx could therefore punish perjury; see Hesiod, Theog. 784, where any god who is guilty of such perjury is debarred for nine years from the company of the gods.
4. i.e., Pluto, “lord of Erebus.”
5. “The Arcadian” is Mercury, messenger of the gods and conductor of souls to Hades. The sons of Tyndareus, Castor and Pollux, enjoyed an alternate immortality, one being in heaven while the other was in Hades.
6. Of Orpheus; “Odrysian” = Thracian. The task of the Sisters was repeated, for Eurydice’s thread had to be spun anew if she was allowed to return to life.
7. Demeter, whose daughter Persephone was carried off by Pluto to the underworld. Demeter eventually bargained with him that she should stay only six months of the year in Hades.
8. Tydeus and Creon, see Bk. VIII. (fin.) and Bk. XII.
9. Capaneus, see Bk. X. (fin.).
10. “manes,” existence in underworld, so doom, fate.

11. Pluto may be regarded as the source, as well as the destined end, of all souls. Earth is similar called creatress of souls, l. 304 inf.
12. Hercules descended into Hades to fetch away Cerberus, Pirithous, in order to carry off Proserpine.
13. He had not yet become a shade; Alton suggests “undam” here, i.e., of Lethe, to explain “iam non meminisse.” The two words are often confused.
14. “tibi” may be an ethic dative here.
15. Here, as in the well-known passage from Milton’s Ode on the Nativity, “the oracles are dumb.” The “bringing-forth” (l. 197) is that of Apollo and Diana.
16. Tenedos and Chrysa were both sacred to Apollo; he had an oracle at Claros and at Miletus (that of Branchus, son of Apollo), also in Lycia (Patara), and at Didyma, near Miletus.
17. Temple of Zeus Ammon in Libya, of Zeus at Dodona, of Apollo at Thymbra.
18. i.e., it is repugnant to them. By the tackling he means rudder, sails, ropes, etc.
19. Used in the worship of Cybele by Mt. Ida in Phrygia.
20. He was a king in Thrace, who was plagued by Harpies, who snatched away the food from his table.

21. The image of the god stood in the stern of the ship; cf. “picots verberat unda deos,” Ov. Tr. i. 4. 8.
22. Persian.
23. i.e., the race of men. According to one story Prometheus created men, cf. Ov. Met. i. 82; according to another he endued them with soul, as in Hor. C. i. 16. 13.
24. “Either chariot,” i.e., of sun and moon. “The brethren,” Jupiter, Neptune and Plut, took air, sea, and underworld as their portions, and left the earth common to all.
25. i.e., performing the ritual of a real funeral.
26. i.e., when they were built to the music of Amphion’s lyre.
27. Statius seems to think of the East as cold, very much as Scythia (S. Russia) is spoken of as a region of frost and snow; here he is thinking vaguely, perhaps, of the Persian highlands. In poetry rivers are commonly referred to as being swollen by rain and melting snow.
28. The Great Bear which has seven stars; see note on vii. 8.
29. A strange phrase, which seems intended to present the scene both to eye and ear.
30. i.e., flung back again, as in l. 435.

31. i.e., from their poison as well as their sharpness, or perhaps by hyperbole their power to kill two together, cf. ii. 637, viii. 538.
32. Zeus and Apollo were worshipped at Olympia and Delphi respectively.
33. i.e., Pallas and Hercules, whom Statius describes as actually present to support their rival champions.
34. Ouranie, the Muse of heavenly lroe, and therefore, appropriately, the teacher of astrology. “Stygium pensum” is the doom spun for him by the Fates of the underworld.
35. i.e., “procul arceat pudor me ipsum has exuvias ferre,” where “arceat” is given by analogy the same construction as “prohibeat.”
36. She was the daughter of Adrastus, and had married Tydeus, see ii. 201 sqq.
37. i.e., as he sucks its blood.
38. Nightingales, from Philomela, daughter of Pandion, king of Athens, changed into a nightingale. She grieves for her son Itys, whom she slew to avenge his father, Tereus’s, cruelty to her sister Procne.
39. The nightingales feel that they are expressing their grief, and, Statius adds, their notes, though not words, are yet (“tamen”) as expressive as words can be. There is real poetry in his thought.
40. Goddess of war.

41. Neither Argive nor Theban deities wished the war to end in this way.
42. i.e. of his helm.
43. Of Erymanthus.
44. This hideous scene was imitated by Dante in the Inferno (canto xxxii. ll. 124 sq.), where Count Ugoline gnaws his enemy’s skull. Other parallels between the Divina Commedia and the Thebaid will be found in Inf. Ix. 82 (Theb. ii. 55), Inf. xiv. 46 (Theb. x. fin.), Inf. xxvi. 52 (Theb. i. 33, xii. 429), Purg. ix. 34 (Ach. i. 228, 247).
45. The Gorgon is the head of Medusa with snakes for hair, that Pallas carried on her breastplate. The “mystic lamp” refers to the fire which was one of the means of ceremonial purification. “Elisos” is the river Ilissus at Athens.