From Peruigilium Veneris, The Eve of Venus, incerti auctoris,
carmen de vere, in Latin and in English, edited and translated with a Commentary, by R. W. Postgate, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1924; pp. 1-16.
This online text is made available with the permission of Professor John Raymond Postgate and his newphew, Daniel Postgate, two remarkably kind men, both as notable in their own right as their illustrious ancestor.
P E R V I G I L I V M V E N E R I S
This edition is limited to 260 copies for the United States of America, 250 of which are for sale.
This is number
carmen de vere
THE EVE OF VENUS
In Latin and in English
Edited and translated with
a Commentary by
R. W. Postgate
P R E F A C E
P R E F A C E
HE Peruigilium Veneris, or Eve of Venus is a short spring song, written for the eve of a festival of Venus, in this poem mostly called Dione. It is a poem of growth, of love and of marriage, and it was written some time during the long decline of Roman literature. And that is all that is known about it.
No one knows when the song was written, nor by whom. It has been ascribed to Catullus, to Seneca, and to Thomas Seneca Camers, a Renaissance writer. With less absurdity, it has been ascribed to Florus, who wrote in the reign of Hadrian, or to Tiberianus, who wrote in the reign of Constantine. Its author is in fact unknown, thought he anonymous Leipsig edition with calm impudence describes this most lovely poem as “certainly by a half-educated man in a degenerate age.” So far as probabilities go, it is probable that it was written either in the age of Florus or that of Tiberianus : it is certainly not of the “golden age” of Latin poetry, and it is not modern. It has all the mystery of the unknown : it comes to us as it were unsigned and from where we do not know.
This we do know : it is a poem as strange as it is beautiful. It is neither of the ancient nor of the modern world, but lies between, mingling some of the beauties of both. It is far away from the ancient classical verse, in its almost primitive use of the repetition of words, in its almost sensuous delight in vowel sounds and the accumulation, in the simplest rhythmic manner, of descriptive phrases:
facta Cypridis de cruore, deque amoris osculis
deque gemmis, deque flammis, deque solis purpuris.
Sometimes it reminds us not of the Romans, of Catullus  or Vergil at all, but of the most modern and most florid poets, Swinburne or Elroy Flecker. But neither is it of the medieval Latin which was driving out the classical. “There is in it,” wrote Walter Pater, “along with the last splendour of the classical language, a touch almost prophetic of that transformed life it was to have in the rhyming middle age just about to dawn.” True enough. But there is an infinite and fortunate distance between the Peruigilium and the Latin Hymn.
Noctis aura quem relinquit spargit umentis aquas.
emicant lacrimae trementes de caduco pondere;
gutta praeceps orbe paruo sustinet casus suos.
en, pudorem florulentae prodiderunt purpurae:
umor ille, quem serenis astra rorant noctibus,
and so on, was what the author of the Peruigilium wrote. Here, quoted by Johannes Wowerius (the name is not invented) is what the hymn-writer made of it:
ubi guttas florulentae
mane rorat purpurae
umor algens cum serenis
astra sudant noctibus.
Apart from the taste of the verbal alterations, the change in rhythm is enough. The crude and simple dingdong metre has brought us to another age.
The trochaic metre in which the Peruigilium is written tells us something. It was one of the oldest Roman metres, and was used by Ennius and Pacuuius. Submerged by the “classical” metres imported from Greece, it remained popular as a half-accentual metre for singing or shouting. Aurelian’s victorious soldiers sang him in to the same metre:
Mille, mille, mille, mille, mille decollauimus ;
unus home mille, mille, mille, decollauerat ;
mille, mille uiuat annos ille qui mille occidit :
tantum uini habet nemo quantum fudit sanguinis.
Less vaingloriously, Caesar himself had earlier entered Rome in triumph to the tune of his soldiers’ song:
urbani seruate uxores, moechum caluum adducimus.
The Peruigilum is obviously, from its content, not a song to be shouted or sung on the march by a crowd. But it is probably based on some such popular chorus, and its famous refrain — CRAS amet qui nunquam amauit quique amauit cras amet — is a shout in itself. It may well be true that this line was popular refrain used — who knows? — at some spring festival, in Pisa or elsewhere, of Isis or Venus.
But with that, all, and perhaps more than all, has been said that can usefully be said as an introduction to this poem.
But a few remarks may be permitted upon the translation. No prose translation, obviously, can correctly represent a verse original. Nevertheless, a prose translation here at least is better than a verse translation. The path is strewn with warnings, and many better scholars than myself have come to grief. The cadences of the Peruigilium make it nearly impossible to represent in English verse. I have never seen (though I have studied all that I could lay my hands upon) a verse translation that attempted to reproduce, for example, the change, in colour and texture, that comes at the end of the poem. The alteration from joy to sorrow is as simple as it is poignant. To me
illa cantat, nos tacemus : quando uer uenit meum?
is one of the most affecting lines in classical verse : for it is a lament, not for the death of a loved woman or friend, but for the death of a whole nation and a whole civilisation. It comes just after a passage on the new life of spring. Yet our English verse translations have failed before they even reached the point of considering such questions.
The great and original trap is the refrain. How shall one render cras amet qui nunquam amauit quique amauit cras amet? A single sentence — one which must not be bald, but must suggest the singing original. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch attempts to retain the loud shout of the opening cras by rendering : “Now learn ye to love who love never — now ye who have loved, love again.” But cras does not mean “now.” Dr. Way, in pursuit of the same end, writes : “Tomorn who ne’er hath loved shall love, and who hath loved shall love tomorn.” Tomorn! Dr. Warren wrote: — “Knowest thou love? Tomorrow mind him! Know’st him not? Tomorrow find him!” rendering one sentence by four, a refrain by a complicated series of question and answer, and introducing an unwanted “thou.” Thomas Stanley, who translated the poem in 1649, wrote:
“Love he tomorrow, who loved never;
Tomorrow, who hath loved, persever.”
But apart from the unpleasing accent “perséver,” what on earth has the idea of perseverance to do with the poem? In face of what difficulties?
Perhaps if some examples of verse translations are given, those will be the best defence of a prose one. Mr. Cecil Clementi, who varies the refrain in each section (an indefensible proceeding) writes for lines 76 to 80:
“Fields obey the touch of Venus, fecund with volup-
Aye, amid the fields (’tis rumoured) Love was born,
Him, begotten on the glebeland, Venus fondled at her
Fostered him with dainty kisses that on roses’ lips he
Know’st thou not love’s joy and sorrow? Thine be
love’s caress tomorrow.”
Readers of the Peruigilium owe a great debt to Mr. Clementi, but not for writing phrases like fecund with voluptuous joy. Almost inoffensive becomes Parnell’s:
“In rural seats the soul of pleasure reigns;
The love of beauty fills the rural scenes;
Ev’n Love (if fame the truth of Love declare)
Drew first the breathings of a rural air,
Some pleasing meadow pregnant Beauty prest,
She laid her infant on its bowery breast;
From nature’s sweets he supp’d the fragrant dew,
He smiled, he kissed them and by kissing grew.
Let those love now who never loved before,
And those who always loved, now love the more.”
One may like or abominate that particular trick of writing verse, now out of fashion. But no one can say it is in the least like the original. Avoiding artificiality, the translator turns to writing pure prose, as Mr. L. H. Grundy (lines 63 to 68):
“She herself Creation’s Sovereign
By a secret force within
Regulates both mind and matter
With her all-pervading soul
And through earth and through the heavens
Through the underlying seas
Hath in all the realms of Nature
Fused her own enkindling life,
Fused — and to the world the secret
Taught whereby men may be born.
Ye who’ve never loved, now love ye!
Ye who’ve loved, now love the more!”
Or else he falls into a floridity equally alien to the original. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in the same passage (beginning with line 62) writes: —
“As the terrible thighs drew it down, and conceived, as
the embryo ran,
 Thoro’ blood, thoro’ brain, and the Mother gave all to
the making of man,
She, she, our Dione, directed the seminal current to creep,
Penetrating, possessing, by devious paths, all the height,
all the deep.
She, of all procreation procuress, the share to the furrow
laid true ;
She, she, to the womb drave the knowledge, and opened
the ecstasy through :
Now learn ye to love who loved never — now ye who have
loved, love anew !”
I have italicised the words and phrases, which seem to me to import an idea not to be found in the original. Mr. John Clark:
“She it is that veins and instinct kindles with pervasive
Stealthily floods the caves of being with the sap that
Thorough air and thorough dry-land, thorough the sub-
Scatters she her heat prophetic, by the path of venery,
Ordering nature to discover how ’twas fated to be
Love to-morrow shall the loveless, lovers love to-morrow
Examples might be multiplied : here are enough.
As for my own translation of the refrain, I ought perhaps to say that I am aware amet does not mean “will love,” but that I have availed myself of a similar license to that taken by some of the translators above. My defence is that “let him love” and such phrases are grammarians’ English, or rather, not now English at all.
Nobody has the right to put out an edition of any author or indeed to make any statement, without letting the reader  or listener know where he can check the accuracy of what is put before him. I have therefore included in this edition a full list of variant readings, and a discussion of certain difficulties, and these will be found in their proper places. Here I only wish to remark two things. Firstly, as suits one who is not professionally a classical scholar, I have been somewhat conservative and have made no considerable changes on my own judgment. The intention of this book is not materially to advance classical scholarship, but to provide a reasonably probable, and entirely readable text and translation of a poem for readers who will appreciate the Peruigilium for its beauty more than its traps for scholars. Perhaps some of these will miss a line — the last but one — to which they have been accustomed; if so, they may read my defence in the note to that passage; but apart from that I have tried to prevent textual questions obtruding themselves. Secondly, I have not rearranged the poem in a strophic manner nor on a quatrain basis, nor even written any verses of my own and inserted them. I have studied no less than seventeen rearrangements of the poem, and they were all different. It appears incontestable that sixteen at least are wrong, and I strongly suspect that seventeen are. If the poem had systematic structure, is has not been discovered, and I have no desire to add an eighteenth scheme. The Peruigilium has been the subject of violent handling by its editors, and even, in the case of the younger Janus Dousa, of obscene practical joking. It is hoped of this edition only that it provides a reasonable text that will not offend the ordinary intelligent reader.
I am much indebted to my father, Prof. J. P. Postgate, who has read through the edition in MS. and made many valuable suggestions. I am also much indebted to the careful edition of Mr. Clementi.