Classical Texts Library >> Virgil, Georgics >> Books 3-4




[1] You, too, great Pales, we will sing, and you, famed shepherd of Amphyrus [Apollo], and you, woods and streams of Lycaeus. Other themes, which else had charmed with song some idle fancy, are now all trite. Who knows not pitiless Eurystheus, or the altars of detested Busiris? Who has not told of the boy Hylas, of Latona’s Delos, of Hippodame, and Pelops, famed for ivory shoulder, and fearless with his steeds? I must essay a path whereby I, too, may rise from earth and fly victorious on the lips of men. I first, if life but remain, will return to my country, bringing the Muses with me in triumph from the Aonian peak; first I will bring back to you, Mantua, the palms of Idumaea, and on the green plain will set up a temple in marble beside the water, where great Mincius wanders in lazy windings and fringes his banks with slender reeds. In the midst I will have Caesar, and he shall possess the shrine. In his honour I, a victor resplendent in Tyrian purple, will drive a hundred four-horse chariots beside the stream. For me all Greece will leave Alpheus [Olympia] and the groves of Molorcus [Nemea], to compete in the foot race and with the brutal boxing glove. My brows graced with leaves of cut olive, I myself will award the prizes. Even now I long to escort the stately procession to the shrine and witness the slaughter of steers; and see how Britons raise the crimson curtain they are woven into. On the temple doors I have sculptured in solid gold and ivory the battle of Ganges’ hordes and the arms of conquering Quirites; there, too, the Nile in flood and billowing with war, and lofty columns clad with the bronze prows of hostile fleets. I will add Asia’s vanquished cities, the routed Niphates, and the Parthian relying on flight and arrows launched behind him; two trophies snatched by force from far-sundered foes, and the two nations that yielded a double triumph from Ocean’s either shore. Here in Parian marble shall stand statues breathing life, the lineage of Assaracus and the glorious names of Jupiter’s race, Tros, our ancestor, and Cynthian Apollo, architect of Troy. Wretched Envy shall cower before the Furies and Hell’s stern stream, before the snaky bonds and ghastly wheel of Ixion, and the stone beyond the tricker’s mastering [Sisyphus].

[40] Meanwhile, haste we to the Dryad’s woodlands and untrodden glades, no easy task, Maecenas, that you have laid upon me. Without your inspiration my mind can essay no lofty theme; arise then, break with slow delay! With mighty clamour Cithaeron calls, and Taygetus’ hounds and Epidaurus, tamer of horses; and the cry, doubled by the applauding groves, rings back. Yet anon I will gird me to sing Caesar’s fiery fights, and bear his name in story through as many years as Caesar is distant from the far-off birth of Tithonus.

[49] Whether a man aspires to the prize of Olympia’s palm and breeds horses, or rears bullocks, strong for the plough, let his chief care be to choose the mould of the dams. The best-formed cow is fierce looking, her head ugly, her neck thick, and her dewlaps hanging down from chin to legs. Moreover, her long flank has no limit; all points are large, even the feet; and under the crooked horns are shaggy ears. Nor should I dislike one marked with white spots, or impatient of the yoke, at times fierce with the horn, and more like a bull in face; tall throughout, and as she steps sweeping her footprints with the tail’s tip. The age to bear motherhood and lawful wedlock ends before the tenth year, and begins after the fourth; the rest of their life is neither fit for breeding nor strong for the plough. Meantime, while lusty youth still abides in the herds, let loose the males; be first to send your cattle to mate, and supply stock after stock by breeding. Life’s fairest days are ever the first to flee for hapless mortals; on creep diseases, and gloomy age, and suffering; and stern death’s ruthlessness sweeps us away. Ever will there be some cows whose mould you would wish to change; ever, I pray, renew them, and, lest too late you regret your losses, keep in advance, and year by year choose new stock for the herd.

[72] Likewise for your breed of horses is the same choice needed. Only, upon those whom you mean to rear for the hope of the race, be sure to spend special pains, even from their early youth. From the first, the foal of a noble breed steps higher in the fields and brings down his feet lightly. Boldly he leads the way, braves threatening rivers, entrusts himself to an untried bridge, and stars not at idle sounds. His neck is high, his head clean-cut, his belly short, his back plump, and his gallant chest is rich in muscles. Good colours are bay and grey; the worst, white and dun. Again, should he but hear afar the clash of arms, he cannot keep his place; he pricks up his ears, quivers his limbs, and snorting rolls beneath his nostrils the gathered fire. His mane is thick and, as he tosses it, falls back on his right shoulder. A double ridge runs along his loins; his hoof scoops out the ground, and the solid horn gives it a deep ring. Such was Cyllarus, tamed by the reins of Amyclaean Pollux, and those whose fame Greek poets recount, the two steeds of Mars, and the pair of the great Achilles. Such, too, was Saturn himself, when at his wife’s coming he fled swiftly, flinging his horse’s mane over his shoulders, and with shrill neigh filled the heights of Pelion.

[95] Yet even such a steed do you shut up in the stalls when he begins to fail, worn with disease and burdened with years; and pity not his inglorious old age, though of the has driven the foe in flight and claims Epirus or valiant Mycenae for his birthplace, and traces his line to Neptune himself for founder. The aged stallion is cold to passion, and he vainly struggles with a thankless task; when he comes to the fray his ardour is futile – as when a great fire rages in the stubble, but there is not strength in it. Therefore note above all their spirit and years; then, other merits and the stock of their sires, the grief each shows at defeat or the pride in victory. See you not, when in headlong contest the chariots have seized upon the plain, and stream in a torrent from the barrier, when the young drivers’ hopes are high, and throbbing fear drains each bounding heart? On they press with circling lash, bending forward to slacken rein; fiercely flies the glowing wheel. Now sinking low, now raised aloft, they seem to be borne through empty air and to soar skyward. No rest, not stay is there; but a cloud of yellow sand mounts aloft, and they are wet with the foam and the breath of those in pursuit: so strong is their love of renown, so dear is triumph. Erichthonius first dared to couple four steeds to the car, and to stand victorious over the flying wheels. The Thessalian Lapiths, mounting the horse’s back, gave us the bit and the circling course, and taught the horseman, in full armour, to gallop over the earth and round his proud paces. Equal to either task; equally the trainers seek out a young steed, hot of spirit and keen in the race.

[123] These points noted, they bestir themselves, as the time draws near, and take all heed to fill out with firm flesh him whom they have chosen as leader and assigned as lord of the herd. They cut him flowering grasses, and give fresh water and corn, that he may be more than equal to the seductive toil, and no feeble offspring may repeat the leanness of the sires. But the mares themselves they purposely make spare, and when now the familiar pleasure first prompts them to union, they withhold leafy fodder and debar them from the springs. Oft, too, they rouse them to the gallop and tire them in the sun, when the floor groans heavily as the corn is threshed, and the empty chaff is tossed to the freshening Zephyr. This they do that by surfeit the usefulness of the fruitful soil be not dulled, or the sluggish furrows clogged, but that it may thirstily seize upon the seed, and store it deep within.

[138] In turn, care, for the sires begins to wane, and that for the dams to take its place. When their months are fulfilled and they roam heavy with young, then let no one suffer them to draw the yokes of heavy wagons, or leap across the pathway, or scour the meadows in swift flight, or stem the swirling current. They feed them in open glades and by the side of brimming rivers, where moss grows and the banks are greenest with grass, where grottoes may shelter them and the shadow of a rock be cast afar. Round the groves of Silarus and the green holm oaks of Alburnus swarms a fly, whose Roman name is asilus, but the Greeks have called it in their speech oestrus [the gladfly]. Fierce it is, and sharp of note; before it whole herds scatter in terror through the woods: with their bellowings the air is stunned and maddened, the groves, too, and the banks of parched Tanager. With this monster Juno once wreaked her awful wrath, when she devised a pest for the heifer maid of Inachus. This, too – for in midday heat more fierce is its attack – you will keep from the pregnant herd, and will feed the flock when the sun is new-risen, or the stars usher in the night.

[157] After birth, all care passes to the calves, and at once they brand them with the mark and name of the stock, setting apart those they wish to rear for breeding, to keep sacred for the altar, to set to cleave the soil and turn up the field, rough with its broken clods. The rest of the cattle graze in the green pastures; but school while yet calves those that you will shape for the farm’s pursuits and service; enter on the path of training while their youthful spirits are docile, while their age is still pliant. And, first, fasten about their shoulders loose circles of slender osier; then when their free necks are used to servitude, yoke the bullocks in pairs linked from the collars themselves, and force them to step together. Then let them now draw empty carts often over the land, and print their tracks on the surface of the dust. Later, let the beechen axle creak and strain under its heavy load and a brass-bound pole drag the coupled wheels. Meanwhile you will not feed their unbroken youth on grass alone or poor willow leaves and marshy sedge, but on young corn, plucked by hand; nor will your mother-cows fill the snowy pails, as in our fathers’ days, but will spend all their udders’ wealth on their dear offspring.

[179] But if your bent is more towards war and proud squadrons, or to glide on wheels by Pisa’s Alphean waters, and in Jupiter’s grove to drive the flying car, then the steed’s first task is to view the arms of gallant warriors, to bear the trumpet call, to endure the groaning of the dragged wheel, and to hear the jingle of bits in the stall; then more and more to delight in his trainer’s caressing praise, and to love the sound of patting his neck. And this let him venture, soon as he is weaned from his mother, and now and again let him entrust his mouth to soft halters, while still weak and trembling, still ignorant of life. But when three summers are past and the fourth is come, let him soon begin to run round the circuit, to make his steps ring evenly, to bend hi legs in alternating curves, and be as one hard labouring: then, then let him challenge the winds to a race, and, skimming over the open plains, as though free from reins, let him scarce plant his steps on the surface of the sand – and when the gathered North Wind swoops down from Hyperborean coasts, driving on Scythia’s storms and dry clouds, then the deep cornfields and the watery plains quiver under the gentle gusts, the treetops rustle, and long rollers press shoreward; on flies the wind, sweeping his flight the fields and seas alike. Such a horse will either sweat toward the Elean goal, over the vast courses of the plain, and fling from his mouth bloody foam, or will bear more nobly with docile neck the Belgian car. Then at last, when the colts are now broken, let their bodies wax plump with coarse mash; for ere the breaking they will raise their mettle too high, and when caught will scorn to submit to the pliant lash, or obey the cruel curb.

[209] But no care so strengthens their powers as to keep from them desire and the stings of secret passion, whether one’s choice is to deal with cattle or with horses. Therefore men banish the bull to lonely pastures afar, beyond a mountain barrier and across broad rivers, or keep him well mewed beside full mangers. For the sight of the female slowly inflames and wastes his strength, nor, look you, does she, with her soft enchantments, suffer him to remember woods or pastures; oft she drives her proud lovers to settle their mutual contest with clash of horns. She is grazing in Sila’s great forest, a lovely heifer: the bulls in alternate onset join battle with mighty force; many a wound they deal, black gore bathes their frames, amid mighty bellowing the leveled horns are driven against the butting foe; the woods and the sky, from end to end, re-echo. Nor is it the rivals’ wont to herd together, but the vanquished one departs, and dwells an exile in unknown scenes afar. Much does he bewail his shame, and the blows of his haughty conqueror, and much the love he ahs lost unavenged – then, with a wistful at his stall, he as quitted his ancestral realm. Therefore with all heed he trains his powers, and on an unstrewn couch, among flinty rocks, lies through the night, with prickly leaves and pointed sedge for fare. Anon he tests himself, and, learning to throw wrath into his horns, charges a tree’s trunks; he lashes the winds with blows, and paws the sand in prelude for the gray. Soon, when his power is mustered and his strength renewed, he advances the colours, and dashes headlong on his unmindful foe: as, when a wave begins to whiten in mid-sea, from the farther deep it arches its curve, and, rolling shoreward, roars thundering along the reefs, and, huge as a very mountain, falls prone, while from below the water boils up in eddies, and tosses black sand aloft.

[242] Every single race on earth, man and beast, the tribes of the sea, cattle and birds brilliant of hue, rush into fires of passion: all feel the same Love. At no other season does the lioness forget her cubs, or prowl over the plains more fierce; never does the shapeless bear spread death and havoc so widely through the forest; then savage is the boar, then most fell the tigress. Ah! it is ill faring then in Libya’s lonely fields! See you not how a trembling thrills through the steed’s whole frame, if the scent has but brought him the familiar breezes? No longer now can the rider’s rein or the cruel lash stay his course, nor rocks and hollow cliffs, nay, nor opposing rivers, that tear up mountains and hurl them down the wave. On rushes the great Sabine boar; he whets his tusks, his foot paws the ground in front, he rubs his sides against a tree, and on either flank hardens his shoulders against wounds. What of the youth, in whose marrow fierce Love fans the mighty flame? Lo! in the turmoil of bursting storms, late in the black night, he swims the straits. Above him thunders Heaven’s mighty portal, and the billows, dashing on the cliffs, echo the cry; yet neither his hapless parent can call him back, nor though of the maiden doomed to die on his untimely corpse [Hero and Leander]. What of Bacchus’ spotted lynxes, and the fierce tribe of wolves and dogs? What of the battles fought by peaceful stags? But surely the madness of mares surpasses all. Venus herself inspired their frenzy, when the four Potnian steeds tore with their jaws the limbs of Glaucus. Love leads them over Gargarus and over the roaring Ascanius; they scale mountains, they swim rivers. And, soon as the flame has stolen into their craving marrow (chiefly in spring, for in spring the heart returns to their breasts), they all, with faced turned to the Zephyrs, stand on a high cliff, and drink the gentle breezes. Then oft, without any wedlock, pregnant with the wind (a wondrous tale!) they flee over rocks and crags and lowly dales, not towards your rising, East Wind, nor the Sun’s, but to the North, and the Northwest, or thither whence rises the blackest South, saddening the sky with chilly rain. Then, and then only, does the slimy “horse madness,” which cruel stepdames often gather, mixing herbs and baleful spells.

[284] But time meanwhile is flying, flying beyond recall, while we, charmed with love of our theme, linger around each detail! Enough this for the herds; there remains the second part of my task, to tend the fleecy flocks and shaggy goats. Here is toil, hence hope for fame, yet sturdy yeomen! And well I now how hard it is to win with words a triumph herein, and thus to crown with glory a lowly theme. But sweet desire hurries me over the lonely steeps of Parnassus; joyous it is to roam o’er heights, where no forerunner’s track turns by a gentle slope down to Castalia. Now, worshipful Pales, now must we sing in lofty strain.

[294] First I decree that the sheep crop the herbage in soft pens, till leafy summer soon returns, and that you strew the hard ground beneath them with straw and handfuls of fern, lest the chill ice harm the tender block, bringing scab and unsightly foot rot. Passing hence, I next bid you give the goats much leafy arbutus, offering them fresh running water, and placing the stalls away from the winds towards the winter sun, to face the south, at the time when the cold Water Bearer is now setting, sprinkling the departing year. These goats, too, we must guard with no lighter care, and not less will be the profit, albeit the fleeces of Miletus, steeped in Tyrian purple, are bartered for a high price. From them is a larger progeny, from them a plenteous store of milk; the more the milk pail has foamed from the drained udder, the more richly will flow the streams, when again the teats are pressed. Nor less, meanwhile, do herdsmen clip the beard on the hoary chin of the Cinyphian goat, and shear his hairy bristles, for the need of camps, and as coverings for hapless sailors. Again, they feed in the woods and on the summits of Lycaeus among the prickly briars and the hill-loving brakes; and of themselves are mindful to return home, leading their kids, and scarce able to overtop the threshold with their teeming udders. Therefore, the less they need man’s care, the more zealously should you screen them from frost and snowy blasts, gladly bringing them their food and provender of twigs, and closing not your hay lofts throughout the winter.

[322] But when, at the Zephyr’s call, joyous Summer sends both sheep and goats to the glades and pastures, let us haste to the cool fields, as the morning star begins to rise, while the day is young, while the grass is hoar, and the dew on the tender blade most sweet to the cattle. Then, when heaven’s fourth hour has brought thirst to all, and the plaintive cicadas thrill the thickets with song, I will bid the flocks at the side of wells or deep pools drink of the water that runs in oaken channels. But in midday heat let them seek out a shady dell, anywhere that Jove’s mighty oak with its ancient trunk stretches out giant branches, or where some grove, black with many holms, lies brooding with hallowed shade. Then give them once more the trickling stream, and once more feed them till sunset, when the cool star of eve freshens the air, and the moon, now dropping dew, gives strength to the glades, when the shores ring with the halcyon, and the copses with the finch.

[339] Why follow for you in song the shepherds of Libya, their pastures, and the settlements where they dwell in scattered huts? Often, day and night, and a whole month through, the flocks feed and roman into the desert stretches, with no shelters; so vast a plain lies outstretched. The African herdsman takes with him his all – his house and home, his arms, his Spartan dog and Cretan quiver – even as the valiant Roman, when, arrayed in his country’s arms, he hastes on his march under a cruel load, and, ere the foe awaits him, halts his column and pitches his camp.

[349] Far otherwise is it where dwell the tribes of Scythia by the waters of Maeotis, where the turbid Danube tosses his yellow sands, and where Rhodope bends back, stretching up the central pole. There they keep the herds penned up in stalls, and no blade is seen upon the plain, or leaf upon the tree; but far and wide earth lies shapeless under mounds of snow and piles of ice, rising seven cubits high. ‘Tis even winter; ever Northwest blasts, with icy breath. Then, too, never does the Sun scatter the pale mists, either when, borne on his chariot, he climbs high heaven, or when he laves his headlong car in Ocean’s crimson plain. Sudden ice crusts form on the running stream, and anon the water bears on its surface iron-bound wheels – giving welcome once to ships, but now to broad wains! Everywhere brass splits, clothes freeze on the back, and with axes they cleave the liquid wine; whole lakes turn into a solid mass, and the rough icicle hardens on the unkempt beard. No less, meanwhile, does the snow fill the sky; the cattle perish, the oxen’s great frames stand sheathed in frost, the deer in crowded herd are numb under the strange mass and above scarce rise the tips of their horns. These they hunt not by unloosing hounds, or laying nets, or alarming with a scare of the crimson feather, but as their breasts vainly strain against that mountain rampart men slay them, steel in hand, cut them down bellowing piteously, and bear them home with loud shouts of joy. Themselves, in deep-dug caves, low in the earth, they live careless and at ease, rolling to the hearths heaps of logs, whole elm trees, and throwing them on the fire. Here they spend the night in play, and with barm and sour service berries joyously mimic draughts of wine. Such is the race of men lying under the Wain’s seven stars in the far north, a wild race, buffeted by the Riphaean East Wind, their bodies clothed in the tawny furs of beasts.

[384] If wool be your care, first clear away the prickly growth of burs and caltrops; shun rich pastures, and from the first choose flocks with white, soft fleeces. But the ram, however white be his fleece, if he have but a black tongue under his moist palate, cast out, lest with dusky spots he tarnish the coats of the newborn lambs; and look about for another in your teeming field. ‘Twas with gift of such snowy wool, if we may trust the tale, that Pan, Arcadia’s god, charmed and beguiled you, O Moon, calling you to the depths of the woods; nor did you scorn his call.

[394] But let him who longs for milk bring with his own hand lucerne and lotus in plenty and slated herbage to the stalls. Thus they love streams the more, and the more distend their udders, wile their milk recalls a lurking savour of salt. Many bar the kids from the dams as soon as born, and from the first front their mouths with iron-bound muzzles. What milk they drew at sunrise of day, they press into cheese at night; what they drew at night or sunset, they press at dawn: they ship it in baskets which a shepherd takes to town, or else they salt it sparingly and put it by for the winter.

[404] Nor let the care of dogs be last in your thoughts, but fed swift Spartan whelps and fierce Molossians alike on fattening whey. Never, with them on guard, need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or restless Spaniards [brigands] in your rear. Oft, too, you will course the shy wild ass, and with hounds will hunt the hare, with hounds the doe. Oft you will rout the boar from his forest lair, driving him forth with the baying pack, and o’er the high hills with loud cry will force a huge stag into the nets.

[414] Learn, too, to burn in your stalls fragrant cedar and with fumes of Syrian gum to banish the noisome water snakes. Often under uncleansed sheds has lurked a viper, deadly to touch, and shrunk in terror from the light; or an adder, sore plague of cows, that is wont to glide under the sheltering thatch and sprinkle venom on the cattle, has hugged the ground. Snatch up in your hand, shepherd, snatch stones and staves, and as he rises in menace and swells his hissing neck, strike him down! Lo, now in flight he has buried deep his frightened head, while his mid coils and the end of his writhing tail are still untwining themselves, and the last curve slowly drags its folds. There is, too, that deadly serpent in Calabria’s glades [water snake], wreathing its scaly back, its breast erect, and its long belly mottled with large spots. So long as any streams gush from their founts, so long as earth is wet with spring’s moisture and showery south winds, he haunts the pools, and, dwelling on the banks, there greedily fills his black maw with fish and croaking frogs. But when the fen is burnt up, and the soil gapes with heat, he spring forth to dry land and, rolling his blazing eyes, rages in the fields, fierce with thirst and frenzies with the heat. Let me not then be tempted to woo soft sleep beneath the open sky, or to lie outstretched in the grass on some wooded slope, when, his slough cast off, fresh and glistening in youth, he rolls along, leaving his young or eggs at home, towering towards the sun, and darting from his mouth a three-forked tongue!

[440] Diseases, too, their causes and tokens, I will teach you. Foul scab attacks sheep, when chilly rain and winter, bristling with hoar frost, have sunk deep into the quick, or when the sweat, unwashed, clings to the shorn flock, and prickly briars tear the flesh. Therefore the keepers bathe the whole flock in fresh streams; the ram is plunged in the pool with his dripping fleece, and let loose to float down the current. Or, after shearing, they smear the body with bitter oil lees, blending sliver scum and native sulphur with pitch from Ida and richly oiled wax, squill, strong hellebore, and black bitumen. Yet no help for their ills is of more avail than when one has dared to cut open with steel the ulcer’s head; the mischief thrives and lives by concealment, while the shepherd refuses to lay healing hands on the wounds, and sits idle, calling upon the gods for happier omens. Nay more, when the pain runs to the very marrow of the bleating victims, there to rage, and when the parching fever preys on the limbs, it is well to turn aside the fiery heat, and within the hoof to lance a vein, throbbing with blood, even as he Bisaltae are wont to do, and the keen Gelonian, when he flees to Rhodope and the wilds of the Getae, and there drinks milk curdled with horses’ blood. Should you see a sheep oft withdraw afar into the soft shade, or listlessly nibble the top of the grass, lagging in the rear, or sink while grazing in the midst of the field and retire, late and lonely, before night’s advance, straightway with the knife check the offence, ere the dread taint spreads through the unwary throng. Not so thick with driving gales sweeps a whirlwind from the sea, as scourges swarm among cattle. Not single victims do diseases seize, but a whole summer’s fold in one stroke, the flock and the hope of the flock, and the whole race, root and branch. Of this may one be witness, should he see – even now, so long after – the towering Alps and the forest of the Noric hills, and the fields of Illyrian Timavus and the shepherds’ realm derelict, and their glades far and wide untenanted.

[478] On this land from the sickened sky there once came a piteous season that glowed with autumns full heat. Every tribe of cattle, tame or wild, it swept to death; it poisoned the lakes, it tainted the pastures with venom. Nor was the pathway to death uniform; but when the fiery thirst had coursed through all the veins and shriveled the hapless limbs, in its turn a watery humour welled up and drew into itself all the bones, as piecemeal they melted with disease. Often in the midst of divine rites, the victim, standing by the altar, even as the woolen fillet’s snowy band was passed around its brow, fell in death’s throes amid the tardy ministrants. Or if, before that, the priest had slain a victim with the knife, yet the altars blazed not therewith, as the entrails were laid on; the seer, when consulted, could give no response; the knife beneath the throat is scarce stained with blood, and only the surface sand is darkened with the thin gore. Then on every side amid gladsome herbage the young cows die or yield up sweet life by their full folds. Then madness visits fawning hounds; a racking cough shakes the sickening swine and chokes them with swollen throats. The steed, once victor, sinks; failing in his efforts and forgetful of the grass, he turns from the spring, and beasts the ground repeatedly with his hoof; his hears droop, on them breaks out a fitful sweat – sweat that is cold as death draws nigh; the skin is dry and, hard to the touch, withstands the stroking hand. Such are the signs they yield before death in the first days; but as in its course the sickness grows fierce, then the eyes blaze, the breath is drawn deep – at times laden with moans – their utmost flanks are strained with long-drawn sobs, black blood gushes from the nostrils, and the rough tongue chokes the blockaded throat. It has availed to pour in wine-juice through a horn inserted – this seemed the one hope for the dying. Soon even this led to death; they burned with the fury of fresh strength, and, though now in the weakness of death (Heaven grant a happier lot to the good, and such madness to our foes!), rent and mangled their own limbs with bared teeth.

[515] But lo, the bull, smoking under the ploughshare’s weight, falls; from his mouth he spurts blood, mingled with foam, and heaves his dying groans. Sadly goes the ploughman, unyokes the steer that sorrows for his brother’s death, and amid its half-done task leaves the share rooted fast. No shades of deep woods, no soft meadows can touch his heart, no stream purer than amber, rolling over the rocks in its course towards the plain; but his flanks are unstrung throughout, numbness weighs upon his languid eyes, and his neck sinks with drooping weight to earth. Of what avail is his toil or his services? What avails it, that he turned with the share the heavy clod? And yet no Massic gifts of Bacchus, no feasts, oft renewed, did harm to him and his. They feed on leaves and simply grass; their cups are clear spring and rivers racing in their course, and no care breaks their healthful slumbers.

[531] Only at that time, they say, were cattle in those regions sought in vain for the rites of Juno, and chariots were drawn by ill-matched buffaloes to her lofty treasure house [at Argos]. Therefore men painfully scratch the earth with harrows, with their own nails bury the seed, and over the high hills with straining necks drag the creaking wains. The wolf tries not his wiles around the sheepfold, nor prowls by night about the flocks; a keener care tames him. Timorous deer and shy stags now stray among the hounds and about the houses. Yea, the brood of the great deep, and all swimming things, like shipwrecked corpses, are washed up by the waves on the verge of the shore; in strange wise sea calves flee to the rivers. The viper, too, vainly defended in her winding lairs, perishes, and the water snake, his scales erect in terror. The air is unkind even to the birds; headlong they fall, leaving life beneath the clouds on high. Further, even change of pasture avails no more; the remedies sought work harm; masters in the art fail, Chiron, son of Phillyra, and Melampus, Amythaon’s son. Ghastly Tisiphone rages, and, let forth into light from Stygian gloom, drives before her Disease and Dread, while day by day, uprising, she rears still higher her greedy head. The rivers and thirsty banks and sloping hills echo to the bleating of flocks and incessant lowing of cattle. And now in droves she deals out death, and in the very stalls piles up the bodies, rotting with putrid foulness, till men learnt to cover them in earth and bury them in pits. For neither might the hides be used, nor could one cleanse the flesh by water or master it by fire. They could not even shear the fleeces, eaten up with sores and filth, nor touch the rotten web. Nay, if any man donned the loathsome garb, feverish blisters and foul sweat would run along his fetid limbs, and he had not long to wait before the accursed fire was feeding on his stricken limbs.


[1] Next will I discourse of Heaven’s gift, the honey from the skies. On this part, too, of my task, Maecanas, look with favour. The wondrous pageant of a tiny world – chiefs great-hearted, a whole nation’s character and tastes and tribes and battles – I will in due order to you unfold. Slight is the field of toil; but not slight the glory, if adverse powers leave one free, and Apollo hearkens unto prayer.

[8] First seek a settled home for your bees, whither the winds may find no access – for the winds let them not carry home their food – where no ewes or sportive kids may trample the flowers, nor straying heifer brush off the dew from the mead and bruise the spring blade. Let the spangled lizard with his scaly back be also a stranger to the rich stalls, and the bee-eater and other birds, and Procne [the swallow], with breast marked by her blood-stained hands. For these spread havoc far and near, and, while the bees are on the wing, carry them of in their mouths, a sweet morsel for their cruel nestlings. But let clear springs be near, and moss-green pools, and a tiny brook stealing through the grass; and let a palm or huge wild olive shade the porch, so that, when the new kings lead forth the early swarms in the spring they love, and the youth revel in their freedom from the combs, a bank near by may tempt them to quit the heat, and a tree in their path may hold them in its sheltering leafage. In the midst of the water, whether it stand idle or flow onward, cast willows athwart and huge stones, that they may have many bridges whereon to halt and spread their wings in the summer sun, if haply the East Wind has sprinkled the loiterers or with swift gust has plunged them in the flood. All about let green cassia bloom, and wild thyme with fragrance far borne, and a wealth of strong-scented savory; and let violet beds drink of the trickling spring.

[33] Then, let the hive itself, whether it be sewn of hollow bark, or woven of pliant osier, have its entrances narrow; for winter with its cold congeals the honey, while heat thaws and makes it run. Either trouble is alike to be feared for the bees; nor is it with vain zeal that in their homes they smear the tiny crevices with wax, fill the entrances with paste from flowers, and keep a store of glue, gathered for this very purpose, more binding than lime or the pitch of Phrygian Ida. Often, too, if report be true, they have made a snug home in tunneled hiding places underground, and are found deep in the hollows of pumice rock, or the cavern of a decayed tree. Yet keep them snug, smearing the chinks of their chambers with smooth clay, and flinging thereon a few leaves. And suffer no yew too near the hive, nor roast the reddening crab at your hearth; and trust not a deep marsh or a place where the smell of mud is strong, or where the hollow rocks ring when struck, and the echoes voice rebounds from the shock.

[51] For the rest, when the golden Sun has driven winter in rout beneath the earth, and with summer light unlocked the sky, straightway they range through glades and groves, cull bright flowers, and lightly sip the stream’s brink. Hence it is that, glad with some strange joy, they cherish nest and nestlings; hence they deftly mould fresh wax and fashion the gluey honey. Hence when you look up and see the host, just freed from the hive, floating towards the starry sky through the clear summer air – when you marvel at the dark cloud trailing down the wind – mark it well; they are ever in quest of sweet waters and leafy coverts. Here scatter the scents I prescribe – bruised balm, and the honeywort’s lowly herb; raise a tinkling sound, and shake the Mighty Mother’s cymbals round about. Of themselves they settle on the scented resting places; of themselves, after their wont, will hide far within their cradling cells.

[67] But, if haply for battle they have gone forth – for strife with terrible turmoil has often fallen on two kings; and straightway you may presage from afar the fury of the crowd, and how their hearts thrill with war; for the warlike ring of the hoarse clarion stirs the loiterers, and a sound is heard that is like broken trumpet blasts. Then, all afire, they flock together: their wings flash, they sharpen their stings with their beaks and make ready their arms. Round their king, and even by his royal tent, they swarm in throngs, and with loud cries challenge the foe. Therefore, when they have found a clear spring day and open field, they sally forth from the gates. There is a clash; in high air arises a din; they are mingled and massed in one great ball, then tumble headlong: no thicker is hail from the sky, not so dense is the rain of acorns from the shaken oak. In the midst of the ranks the chiefs themselves, with resplendent wings, have mighty souls beating in tiny breasts, ever steadfast not to yield, until the victor’s heavy hand has driven these or those to turn their backs in flight. These storms of passion, these savage conflicts, by the tossing of a little dust will be quelled and laid to rest.

[88] But when you have called both captains back from the field, give up to death the meaner of look, that he prove no wasteful burden; let the nobler reign in the palace alone. The one will be aglow with rough spots of gold for there are two sorts: one is better, noble of mien and bright with gleaming scales; the other squalid from sloth, and trailing ignobly a broad paunch. As twofold are the features of the kings, so are the bodies of the subjects. For some are ugly and unsightly, as when from out of deep dust comes the parched wayfarer, and spits the dirt from his dried mouth. Other gleam, and flash in splendour, their bodies all ablaze and flecked with equal drops of gold. This is the nobler breed; from this, in the sky’s due season, you will strain sweet honey – yet not so sweet as clear, and fit to subdue the harsh flavour of wine.

[103] But when the swarms flit aimlessly and sport in the air, scorning their cells and leaving their hives chill, you must check their fickle spirit from such idle play. No hard task is it to check them. Do you tear from the monarchs their wings; while they tarry, no one will dare to go forth aloft, or pluck the standards from the camp. Let there by gardens fragrant with saffron flowers to invite them, and let the watchmen against thieves and birds, guardian Priapus, lord of the Hellespont, protect them with his willow hook. Let him to whom such care falls, himself bring thyme and laurestines from the high hills, and plant them widely round their homes; himself harden his hand with stern toil; himself plant in the ground fruitful slips and sprinkle kindly showers.

[116] In fact, were I not, with my task well-nigh done, about to furl my sails and making haste to turn my prow to land, perchance I might sing what careful tendance clothes rich gardens in flower, and might sing of Paestum whose rose beds bloom twice yearly, how the endive rejoices in drinking streams, the verdant banks in celery; how the cucumber, coiling through the grass, swells into a paunch. Nor should I have passed in silence the late-flowering narcissus, the twining tendril of the acanthus, pale ivy sprays, or the shore-loving myrtle. For I call to mind how once under the towers of the Oebalian citadel [Tarentum], where dark Galaesus waters the yellowing corn, I saw an old Cilician, who occupied a few acres of unclaimed land, not rich enough for ploughing, nor fit for pasturage, nor suited to the vine. Even so, planting cabbages here and there among the brambles, and white lilies and vervain and fine-seeded poppies, in happiness he equaled the wealth of kings, and returning home late at night he used to load his table with an unbought banquet. First he was in the spring to gather roses, and apples in the fall; and when grim winter was still bursting rocks with her frost and braking the current of rivers with ice, already he was cutting soft-haired hyacinths and chiding laggard summer and the loitering zephyrs. Thus it was that he was still the first to be enriched with teeming bees and a plenteous swarm, and first to gather from the squeezed comb the frothing honey; his limes and laurestines were ever luxuriant, and all the fruits which clothed his fertile trees in their early blossoming, so many they kept in the ripeness of autumn. He would also plant out elms in rows, though late in season, pears when quite hard, blackthorns already hung with sloes, and planes already offering to drinkers the service of their shade. But all this I must pass by, constrained by narrow bounds, and leave to others after me to record.

[149] Come now, the qualities which Jove himself has given bees, I will unfold – even the reward for which they followed the tuneful sounds and clashing bronzes of the Curetes, and fed the king of heaven within the cave of Dicte. They alone have children in common, hold the dwellings of their city jointly, and pass their lives under the majesty of law. They alone know a fatherland and fixed home, and in summer, mindful of the winter to come, spend toilsome days and garner their gains into a common store. For some watch over the gatherings of food, and under fixed covenant labour in the fields; some, within the confines of their homes, lay down the narcissus’ tears and gluey gum from tree bark as the first foundation of the comb, then hang aloft clinging wax; others lead out the full-grown young, the nation’s hope; others pack purest honey, and swell the cells with liquid nectar. To some it has fallen by lot to be sentries at the gates, and in turn they watch the rains and clouds of heaven, or take the load of incomers, or in martial array drive the drones, a lazy herd, from the folds. All aglow is the work, and the fragrant honey is sweet with thyme. And as, when the Cyclopes in haste forge bolts from tough ore, some with oxhide bellows make the blasts come and go, others dip the hissing brass in the lake, while Aetna groans under the anvils laid upon her; they, with mighty force, now one, now another, raise their arms in measured cadence, and turn the iron with gripping tongs – even so, if we may compare small things with great, an inborn love of gain spurs on the Attic bees, each after its own office. The aged have charge o the towns, the building of the hives, the fashioning of the cunningly wrought houses. But the young betake them home in weariness, late at night, their thighs freighted with thyme; far and wide they feed on arbutus, on pale-green willows, on cassia and ruddy crocus, on the rich linden, and the dusky hyacinth. All have on season to rest from labour, all one season to toil. At dawn they pour from the gates, no loitering; again, when the star of eve has warned them to withdraw from their pasture in the fields, then they seek their homes, then they refresh their frames; a sound is heard, as they hum about the entrances and on the thresholds. Anon, when they have laid them to rest in their chambers, silence reigns into the night, and well-earned sleep seizes their weary limbs. Nor yet, if rain impend, do they stray far from their stalls, or trust the sky when eastern gales are near, but round about, beneath the shelter of their city walls, draw water, and essay short flights; and often they raise tiny stones, as unsteady barques take up ballast in a tossing sea, and with these balance themselves amid the unsubstantial clouds. Often, too, as they wander among rugged rocks they bruise their wings, and freely yield their lives under their load – so deep is their love of flowers and their glory in begetting honey.

[206] You will also marvel that this custom has found favour with bees, that they indulge not in conjugal embraces, nor idly unnerve their bodies in love, or bring forth young with travail, but of themselves gather their children in their mouths from leaves and sweet herbs, of themselves provide a new monarch and tiny burghers, and remodel their palaces and waxen realms. Therefore, though the limit of a narrow span awaits the bees themselves – yet the race abides immortal, for many a year stands firm the fortune of the house, and grandsires’ grandsires are numbered on the roll.

[210] Moreover, neither Egypt nor mighty Lydia, nor the Parthian tribes, nor Median Hydaspes, show such homage to their king. While he is safe, all are of one mind; when he is lost, straightway they break their fealty, and themselves pull down the honey they have reared and tear up their trellised combs. He is the guardian of their toils; to him they do reverence; all stand round him in clamorous crowd, and attend him in throngs. Often they lift him on their shoulders, for him expose their bodies to battle, and seek amid wounds a glorious death.

[219] Let by such tokens and such instances, some have taught that the bees received a share of the divine intelligence, and a draught of heavenly ether; for God, they saw, pervades all things, earth and sea’s expanse and heaven’s depth; from him the flocks and herds, men and beasts of every sort draw, each at birth, the slender stream of life; to him all beings thereafter return, and, when unmade, are restored; no place is there for death, but, still quick, they fly unto the ranks of the stars, and mount to the heavens aloft.

[228] Whenever you would break into the close-packed dwelling and the honey hoarded in their treasure houses, first with a draught of water sprinkle and rinse your mouth, and in your hand hold forth searching smoke. Their rage is beyond measure; when hurt, they breathe poison into their bites, and fastening on the veins leave there their unseen stings and lay down their lives in the wound. Twice they gather the teeming produce; two seasons are there for the harvest – first, so soon as Taygete the Pleiad has shown her comely face to the earth, and spurned with scornful foot the streams of Ocean, and when that same star, fleeing before the sign of the water Fish, sinks sadly from heaven into the wintry waves. But if you fear a rigorous winter, and would be lenient with their future, and have pity for their crushed spirits and broken fortunes – yet who would hesitate to fumigate them with thyme, and cut away the empty waxen cells? For often the newt, unnoticed, has nibbled at the combs, the light-shunning beetles cram the chambers, and the unhelpful drone seats him at another’s board. Or the fierce hornet has rushed upon their unequal forces, or the moths appear, a pestilent race, or the spider, hateful to Minerva, hangs in the doorway her loose-woven nets. The more their hoards are drained, the more eagerly will they press on to repair the ruin of their fallen race, filling up their cell galleries and weaving their granaries with flower gum.

[251] But, since to bees as well has life brought the ills of man, if their bodies droop with grievous disease – and this you can at once discern by no uncertain signs: straightway, as they sicken, their colour changes, an unsightly leanness mars their looks; forth from their doors they bear the bodies of those bereft of life, and lead the mournful funeral train; or else, linked foot to foot, there by the portal they hang, or within locked doors they linger, all spiritless with hunger and torpid with pinching cold. Then is heard a duller sound, a long-drawn buzz, as at time the chill South sighs in the woods, as the fretted sea whistles with its ebbing surge, as seethes in close-barred furnaces the devouring flame. Then would I have you burn forthwith fragrant gum, and give them honey through pipes of reed, freely heartening them, and calling the weary to their familiar food. It will be well, too, to blend the flavour of pounded galls, and dried rose leaves, or must made rich over a strong fire, or dried clusters from the Psithian vine, with Attic thyme and strong-smelling centaury. A flower, too, there is in the meadows, which farmers have called amellus, a plant easy for searchers to find, for from a single clump it lifts a vast growth. Golden is the disk, but in the petals, streaming profusely round, there is a crimson gleam amid the dark violet. Often with its woven garlands have the gods’ altars been decked; its flavour is bitter to the tongue; shepherds cull it in meadows cropped by the flock, and by Mella’s winding streams. This plant’s roots you must boil in fragrant wine, and set for food at their doors in full baskets.

[281] But if anyone’s whole stock has failed him, and he knows not how to restore the race in a new line, then it is also time to reveal the famed device of the Arcadian master [Aristaeus], and the mode whereby often, in the past, the putrid blood of slain bullocks has engendered bees. From its fount I will unfold the whole story, tracing it back from its first source. For where the favoured people of Macedonian Canopus [Egypt] dwell by the still waters of the flooded Nile, and sail in painted barges about their fields, there, where the borderland of quivered Persia presses close and the rushing river splits up into seven separate mouths after sweeping all the way down from the swarthy Indians [Ethiopians] and with its black sands fertilizes verdant Egypt, there the whole region rests its sure hope of salvation upon this device.

[295] First is chosen a place, small and straitened for this very purpose. This they confine with a narrow roof of tiles and close walls, and towards the four winds add four windows with slanting light. Then a bullock is sought, one just arching his horns on a brow of two summer’s growth. Struggle as he will, both his nostrils are stopped up, and the breath of his mouth; then he is beaten to death, and his flesh is pounded to a pulp through the unbroken hide. As thus he lies, they leave him in his prison, and strew beneath his sides broken boughs, thyme, and fresh cassia. This is done when the zephyrs begin to stir the waves, before ever the meadows blush with their fresh hues, before the chattering swallow hangs her nest from the rafters. Meantime the moisture, warming in the softened bones, ferments, and creatures of wondrous wise to view, footless at first, soon with buzzing wings as well, swarm together, and more and more essay the light air, until, like a shower pouring from summer clouds, they burst forth, or like arrows from the string’s rebound, when the light-armed Parthians enter on the opening battle.
What god, ye Muses, forged for us this device? Whence did man’s strange adventuring take its rise? Aristaeus the shepherd, quitting Tempe by the Peneus, when – so runs the tale – his bees were lost through sickness and hunger, sorrowfully stopped beside the sacred fount at the stream’s head, and with much complaint called on his mother thus: “O mother, mother Cyrene, who dwell in this flood’s depths, why, from the gods’ glorious line – if indeed, as you say, Thymbraean Apollo is my father – did you give me birth, to be hated of the fates? Or whither is your love for me banished? Why did you bid me hope for Heaven? Lo, even this very crown of my mortal life, which the skilful tending of crops and cattle had scarce wrought out for me for all my endeavour – though you are my mother, I resign. Come, and with your own hand tear up my fruitful woods; put hostile flame to my stalls, destroy my crops, burn my seedlings, and swing the stout axe against my vines, if such loathing for my honour has seized you.”

[333] But his mother heard the cry from her bower beneath the river’s depths. About her the Nymphs were spinning fleeces of Miletus, dyed with rich glassy hue – Drymo and Xantho, Ligea and Phyllodoce, their shining tresses floating over snowy necks; Nesaea and Spio, Thalia and Cymodoce [four Nereids]; Cydippe and golden-haired Lycorias – a maiden one, the other having but felt the first birth-throes; Clio and Beroe, her sister, daughters of Ocean both, both arrayed in gold, and both in dappled hides [as huntresses]; Ephyre and Opis, and Asian Deiopea, and fleet Arethusa, her arrows laid aside at last. Among these Clymene was telling of Vulcan’s baffled care, of the wiles and stolen joys of Mars, and from Chaos on was rehearsing the countless loves of the gods. And while, charmed by the strain, they unrolled the soft coils from their spindles, again the wail of Aristaeus smote upon his mother’s ear, and all upon their crystal thrones were startled. Yet, first of all the sisters, Arethusa, looking forth, raised her golden head above the water’s brim, and cried from afar: “O sister Cyrene, not vain was your alarm at this loud lament. ‘Tis even he, your own beloved, your Aristaeus, standing sadly and in tears by the waters of our father, and crying out on you by name for cruelty.”

[357] To her the mother, her soul smitten with strange dread cries: “O bring him, bring him to us; lawful it is for him to tread the threshold divine.” And withal, she bade the deep streams part asunder far, that so the youth might enter in. And lo, the wave, arched mountain-like, stood round about, and, welcoming him within the vast recess ushered him beneath the stream. And now, marveling at his mother’s home, a realm of waters, at the lakes locked in caverns, and the echoing groves, he went on his way, and, dazed by the mighty rush of waters, he gazed on all the rivers, as, each in his own place, they glide under the great earth – Phasis and Lycus, the fount whence deep Enipeus first breaks forth, whence Father Tiber, whence the streams of Anio and rocky, roaring Hypanis, and Mysian Caïcus, and Eridanus, on whose bull’s brow are two gilded horns: no other stream of mightier force flows through the fertile fields to join the violet sea. Soon as he reached the bower with its hanging roof of stone, and Cyrene heard the tale of her son’s idle tears, the sisters, in due order, pour on his hands clear spring-waters, and bring smooth-shorn napkins. Some load the board with the feast, and in turn set on the brimming cups; the altars blaze up with Panchaean fires. Then cried his mother: “Take the goblets of Maeonian wine’; pour we a libation to Ocean!” And she prayed to Ocean, universal father, and the sister Nymphs, who guard the hundred forests and a hundred streams. Thrice with clear nectar she sprinkles the glowing hearth; thrice the flame, shooting up to the rooftop, gleamed afresh. With this omen to cheer his heart, she thus her self began:

[387] “In Neptune’s Carpathian flood there dwells a seer, Proteus, of sea-green hue, who traverses the mighty main in his car drawn by fishes and a team of two-footed steeds. Even now he revisits the havens of Thessaly and his native Pallene. To him we Nymphs do reverence, and aged Nereus himself; for the seer has knowledge of all things – what is, what hath been, what is in train before long to happen – for so has it seemed good to Neptune, whose monstrous herds and unsightly seals he pastures beneath the wave. Him, my son, you must first take in fetters, that he may unfold to you all the cause of the sickness, and bless the issue. For without force he will give you no counsel, nor shall you bend him by prayer. With stern force and fetters make fast the captive; thereon alone his wiles will shatter themselves in vain. I myself, when the sun has kindled his noonday heat, when the grass is athirst, and the shade is now welcome to the flock, will guide you to the aged one’s retreat, whither when weary he retires, so that you may assail him with ease as he lies asleep. But when you hold him in the grasp of hands and fetters, then will manifold forms baffle you, and figures of wild beasts. For of a sudden he will become a bristly boar, a deadly tiger, a scaly serpent, or a lioness with tawny neck; or he will give forth the fierce roar of flame, and thus slip from his fetters, or he will melt into fleeting water and be gone. But the more he turn himself into all shapes, the more, my son, should you tighten his fetters, until after his last changes of body he become such as you saw when he closed his eyes at the beginning of slumber.”

[415] She spoke, and shed abroad ambrosia’s fragrant stream, wherewith she steeped her son’s whole frame: and lo, a sweet effluence breathed from his smoothened locks, and vigour and suppleness passed into his limbs. There is a vast cavern, hollowed in a mountain’s side, whither many a wave is driven by the wind, then separates into receding inlets – at times a haven most sure for storm-caught mariners. Within, Proteus shelters himself with the barrier of a huge rock. Here the Nymph stations the youth in ambush, away from the light; she herself, veiled in mist, stands aloof. And now the Dog Star, fiercely parching the thirsty Indians, was ablaze in heaven, and the fiery Sun had consumed half his course; the grass was withering and the hollow streams, in their parched throats, were scorched and baked by the rays down to the slime, when Proteus came from the waves, in quest of his wonted cave. About him the watery race of the vast deep gamboled, scattering afar the briny spray. The seals lay them down to sleep, here and there along the shore; he himself – even as at times the warder of a sheepfold on the hills, when Vesper brings the steers home from pasture, and the cry of bleating lambs whets the wolf’s hunger – sits down on a rock in the midst and counts their number. Soon as the chance came to Aristaeus, he scarce suffered the aged one to settle his weary limbs, before he burst upon him with a loud cry and surprised him in fetters as he lies. On his part, the seer forgets not his craft, but changes himself into all wondrous shapes – into flame and hideous beast and flowing river. But when no stratagem wins escape, vanquished he returns to himself, and at last speaks with human voice: “Why, who,” he cried, “most presumptuous of youths, bade you invade our home? Or what seek you hence?” But he: “You know, Proteus; you know of yourself, nor may one deceive you in aught, but give up your wish to deceive. Following the counsel of Heaven, we are come to seek hence an oracle for our weary fortunes.” So much he spoke. On this the seer, yielding at last to mighty force, rolled on him eyes ablaze with grey-green light, and grimly gnashing his teeth, thus opened his lips to tell of fate’s decrees:

[453] “It is a god, no other, whose anger pursues you: Great is the crime you are paying for; this punishment, far less than you deserve, unhappy Orpheus arouses against you – did not Fate interpose – and rages implacably for the loss of his bride. She, in headlong flight along the river, if only she might escape you, saw not, doomed maiden, amid the deep grass the monstrous serpent at her feet that guarded the banks. But her sister band of Dryads filled the mountaintops with their cries; the towers of Rhodope wept, and the Pangaean heights, and the martial land [Thrace] or Rhesus, the Getae and Hebrus and Orithyia, Acte’s child. But he, solacing an arching heart with music from his hollow shell, sang of you, dear wife, sang of you to himself on the lonely shore, of you as day drew nigh, of you as day departed. He even passed through the jaws of Taenarum, the lofty portals of Dis, the grove that is murky with black terror, and made his way to the land of the dead with its fearful king and hearts no human prayers can soften. Stirred by his song, up from the lowest realms of Erebeus came the unsubstantial shades, the phantoms of those who lie in darkness, as many as the myriads of birds that shelter among the leaves when evening or a wintry shower drives them from the hills – women and men, and figures of great-souled heroes, their life now done, boys and girls unwed, and sons placed on the pyre before their fathers’ eyes. But round them are the black ooze and unsightly reeds of Cocytus, the unlovely mere enchaining them with its sluggish water, and Styx holding them fast within this ninefold circles. Still more: the very house of Death and deepest abysses of Hell were spellbound, and the Furies with livid snakes entwined in their hair; Cerberus stood agape and his triple jaws forgot to bark; the wind subsided, and Ixion’s wheel came to a stop.

[485] “And now, as he retraced his steps, he had avoided all mischance, and the regained Eurydice was nearing the upper world, following behind – for that condition had Proserpine imposed – when a sudden frenzy seized Orpheus, unwary in his love, a frenzy meet for pardon, did Hell know how to pardon! He halted, and on the very verge of light, unmindful, alas, and vanquished in purpose, on Eurydice, now regained looked back! In that instant all his toil was split like water, the ruthless tyrant’s pact was broken and thrice a peal of thunder was heard amid the pools of Avernus. She cried: ‘What madness, Orpheus, what dreadful madness has brought disaster alike upon you and me, pour soul? See, again the cruel Fates call me back, and sleep seals my swimming eyes. And now farewell! I am borne away, covered in night’s vast pall, and stretching towards you strengthless hands, regained, alas! no more.’ She spoke, and straightway from his sight, like smoke mingling with thin air, vanished afar and saw him not again, as he vainly clutched at the shadows with so much left unsaid; nor did the ferryman of Orcus suffer him again to pass the barrier of the marsh. What could he do? Whither turn, twice robbed of his wife? With what tears move Hell? To what deities address his prayers? She indeed, already death-cold, was afloat in the Stygian barque. Of him they tell that for seven whole months day after day beneath a lofty crag beside lonely Strymon’s stream he wept, and in the shelter of cool dales unfolded his tale, charming tigers and drawing oaks with his song: even as a nightingale, mourning beneath a poplar’s shade, bewails her young ones’ loss, when a heartless ploughman, watching their resting place, has plucked them unfledged from the nest: the mother weeps all night long, as, perched on a branch, she repeats her piteous song and fills all around with plaintive lamentation. No thought of love or wedding song could bend his soul. Alone he roamed the frozen North, along the icy Tanais, and the fields ever wedded to Riphaean snows, mourning his lost Eurydice and Pluto’s cancelled boon; till the Ciconian women, resenting such devotion, in the midsts of their sacred rites and their midnight Bacchic orgies, tore the youth limb from limb and flung him over the far-spread plains. And even when Oeagrian Hebrus rolled in mid-current that head, severed from its marble neck, the disembodied voice and the tongue, now cold for ever, called with departing breath on Eurydice – ah, poor Eurydice! ‘Eurydice’ the banks re-echoed, all along the stream.”

[528] Thus Proteus, and at a bound plunged into the deep sea, and where he plunged, whirled the water into foam beneath the eddy. Cyrene stayed, and straightway spoke to the startled youth: “You may dismiss from your mind the care that troubles it. This is the whole cause of the sickness, and hence it is that the Nymphs, with whom she used to tread the dance in the deep groves, have sent this wretched havoc on your bees. You must offer a suppliant’s gifts, sue for peace, and pay homage to the gentle maidens of the woods; for they will grant pardon to prayers, and relax their wrath. But first I will tell you in order the manner of your supplication. Pick out four choice bulls, of surpassing form, that now graze among your herds on the heights of green Lycaeus, and as many heifers of unyoked neck. For these set up four altars by the stately shrines of the goddesses, and drain the sacrificial blood from their throats, but leave the bodies of the steers within the leafy grove. Later, when the ninth Dawn displays her rising beams, you must offer to Orpheus funeral dues of Lethe’s poppies, slay a black ewe, and revisit the grove. Then with Eurydice appeased you should honour her with the slaying of a calf.”

[548] Tarrying not, he straightway does his mother’s bidding. He comes to the shrine, raises the altars appointed, and leads there four choice bulls, of surpassing form, and as many heifers of unyoked neck. Later, when the ninth Dawn had ushered in her rising beams, he offers to Orpheus the funeral dues, and revisits the grove. But here they espy a portent, sudden and wondrous to tell – throughout the paunch, amid the molten flesh of the oxen, bees buzzing and swarming forth from the ruptured sides, then trailing in vast clouds, till at last on a treetop they stream together, and hang in clusters from the bending boughs.

[559] So much I say in addition to the care of fields, of cattle, and of trees, while great Caesar thundered in war by deep Euphrates and bestowed a victor’s laws on willing nations, and essayed the path to Heaven. In those days I, Virgil, was nursed by sweet Parthenope [the Siren of Naples], and rejoiced in the arts of inglorious ease – I who toyed with shepherds’ songs, and, in youth’s boldness, sang of you, Tityrus, under the canopy of spreading beech.