From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 75-85.
MELIOR, how shall I find prelude for my words of solace at your foster-son’s untimely death? How can I sing unfeelingly, before the pyre, ere the funeral fire has sunk? The veins are still torn; the lamentable wound gapes wide; the perilous avenue of the great gash lies open. And now while I compose you but words and song for salve, you have more a mind for beating your breast; you cry aloud in sorrow, turning with deaf ears in loathing from the lute. Untimely is my son. Sooner would lonely 76 tigress or lioness robbed of her whelps give heed to me.1 Not though the song of the three Siren sisters could float hither; not though the lyre to which beast and wild wood hearkened were mine, not even so could the madness of your grief be charmed away. An agony of sorrow fills your soul; at a touch your heart moans and sobs.
Have your fill of bitterness! No man says you nay. With free vent assuage the fever and the pain. Is the passion of weeping sated at last? At last for very weariness do you scorn not my kindly entreaties, but brook my song? Even as I speak, see, my eyes are wet, tears fall and blot the page; for indeed I, like you, have paid mournful tribute of the wonted rites, have seen the cruel doom that all Rome beheld, and have followed the child’s bier to the funeral fire. I have seen the cruel incense of the gods below heaped high, and the ghost that wailed above his own pyre. I have seen you outdoing fathers in your sighs and mothers in beating of the breast, — clasping the fagots and ready to swallow the fire. Scarce could I, your fellow mourner, hold you back, and angered you by my endeavour. Now, alas, the fillets that deck the Poet’s brow put off, — a prophet of sorrow, I change my strains and beat my breast with you. Assuage your grief, and suffer me, I pray,2 to have part in your 77 tears and lot in your mourning, if such is my desert, if a share in the sorrow of your heart has been mine. My voice has been heard by fathers when the bolt fell. My song has found solace for mothers and loyal sons weeping beside their dead, — I too, sorrowing and outworn for my own loss, have bewailed, O Nature, what a father! I do not sternly debar you from grief; nay, but let me mingle my tears with yours, and sorrow with you.
Long while, beloved boy, have I sought for a worthy prelude to thy praises, an avenue to thy dirge, in vain. Now it was thy youth hovering on the threshold of life, and now thy beauty that ravished my thoughts; now thy modesty so early ripe, now thy shamefaced honour beyond thy tender years. Gone is that clear countenance bright with the flush of health. Gone those starlike eyes, — eyes beamed from heaven; perished the sedate modesty, the low forehead, the crown of natural tresses and wavy line of comely curls. Lost are the lips, tattling with fond complaints, and kisses balmy as spring blossoms, when he hung, Melior, in your embrace. Lost the laughter and the tears, the speaking voice, sweet as honeycomb3 from Hybla, of a melody to charm the serpent’s hiss or to win abject service even from stern step-dames. I am adding nought to the true sum of his worth. Alas, the milk-white throat, the arms that ever rested upon his master’s neck! Where now is the near promise of his hastening youth? The longed-for adornment 78 of his cheeks? The beard that Melior did often swear by? All, all has one disastrous day, one merciless hour, given to the pyre: to us only the memory is left. Who now Melior, when you are glad, will soothe your heart with sweet converse? Who will solace your secret care and sadness? When you are fired with bitter anger and wroth with your slaves, who will assuage your passion and turn you aside from choleric heat to thoughts of him? When you have sipped the wine and tasted the meat, who will snatch these dainties from your lips, and with pretty foray confound the feast? Who will leap upon your bed a dawn and with whispering cries banish sleep, stay you at your outgoing with close-knit embrace and call back even the lictors to caress you again?4 Who will meet you at your home-coming, leaping into your arms and to your kiss, and twining his little arms about your shoulders? The sentinel is gone from your door,5 your home is left desolate: forlorn is your chamber, and silent your board.
What wonder, Glaucias, if thy devoted foster-father honours thee with a costly funeral? In thee he found as it were a haven of rest in his old age; and now delight and now sweet torment, of thy giving, were his. Thou wast not turned to and fro in the whirling of the slave cage: thou wast not set amid Pharian wares, a child for sale. Thou hadst not, with parrot-jest and well-conned words of 79 greeting on thy lips, to seek, and scarce at last to win, a buyer by pranks of thine. This was thy home, here thy birthplace; dear of old to thy master’s house were thy father and mother; and to give thee joy they were set free, lest thou shouldst weep for loss of family. But as soon as thou wast born it was thy master that with joy upraised thee, and as thy first cry of greeting went up to the shining stars, his heart claimed thee: he clasped thee to his breast and accounted thee his very son. Suffer me, honoured parents; and thou, Nature, whose it is to knit the first heart-ties throughout the world, forbid not my words: it is not always nearness of blood or descent from a common stock that makes us kin:6 often changelings and adopted children steal closer to our hearts than our own people. Sons of our blood are ours perforce; sons of our love it is a joy to choose. Thus it was that half-brute Chiron outdid Peleus of Haemonia in loving-kindness to the boy Achilles. The old man Peleus marched not with his son to do battle before Troy, but Phoenix was never sundered from his famed pupil. Evander was left to long afar off that Pallas might return in triumph, while staunch Acoetes watched the fray. And it was Dictys the seafarer who tended winged Perseus, when his father, whose home was amid the shining stars, tarried afar. Why should I rehearse the roll of foster-mothers that 80 have outdone mothers in their loyal love? Why tell how the babe Bacchus, when his mother had been lured to her lightning-death, was safer leaping in Ino’s arms; how Acca was still wearily bearing the sturdy Romulus when Ilia, rescued from her father, reigned a queen beneath the Tuscan waves? Ere now I have seen boughs upon stranger stock ingrafted overtop their parent tree. Your own will and fancy had made you, Melior, at the first his father, not yet his loyalty and grace: but dear to you already were his lisping cries, his childish tears, his wailing innocence.
As a flower, that at the first gale must fall, in the velvet meadows lifts its head defiantly on high, so ere his day in pride of look and bearing the boy had outstripped his playmates and left his years far behind. If he stood with limbs bent in the locking wrestle, you had thought him the son of a Spartan mother; Apollo had forsaken Oebalides right eagerly for him, and eagerly had Alcides bartered the love of Hylas for his. If in Greek garb he chanted the Attic lines of rare Menander, Thalia had joyfully praised his tones and merrily ruffled his fair licks with rosy chaplet. Anon, if he sang old Homer’s lays, — travail of Troy or hazard of lingering Ulysses, — forthwith even his father, even his masters were astounded at his insight. Be sure Fate laid her baleful hand upon his cradle, and Envy clasped and fondled the boy in her bosom. The one caressed the long curls on his cheeks; the other taught him that skill and breathed in him those words we sigh for now. His years were but growing 81 to the sum of the labours of Hercules, — the days of babyhood scarcely past, — when already his step was firm: his thews outswelled his garments; the boyish dress seemed to shrink upon him. And what robes, Glaucias, what raiment did not thy fond master eagerly give thee!7 He would fasten the short cloaks across the boyish chest and contract the web of the narrow mantle. He never gave thee loose, shapeless folds, but ever suiting the raiment to thy years, clad thee now in Phoenician purple, now in grass-green tunic, now in gay glowing scarlet, and rejoiced to make those hands shine with vivid gems; and gifts and thronging attendants were there: thy winsome beauty lacked nought but the garb of liberty.
Such bounty the Fortune of the house bestowed. Then on a sudden Fate raised her hand in anger. Ah, goddess, why cruelly bare those fell talons against him? Does not his beauty, does not the pathos of his youth touch your heart? Procne, cruel though she was, could not have mangled him for her lord; Medea could not have persisted in her savage anger, not though he had been the son of her Corinthian rival; grim Athamas had turned from his frenzied arrows; yes, and despite his bitter hatred of Troy and of dead Hector, Ulysses had wept when he was about to hurl him from the Phrygian battlements. The seventh day dawned and already his eyes were languid and chill, already the Queen of the shades set her hand upon the tress. Yet at the last, even while the Fates 82 strangled the tender life, his dying eyes sought yours, his failing lips whispered your name: for you he spent the last breath in his dying breast: on you, on you alone he thought and called: moving for you his lips, leaving for you his accents, and forbade your anguish and solaced your pain. Yet we are grateful to the Fates that no lingering death consumed his boyish beauty as he lay a-dying; that he went down perfect into the underworld, just as he was, with no blighting stain upon him.
Ask me not now of that burying; of the gifts lavished on the flames; of the funeral fire that prodigal sorrow kindled. Upon a flower-crowned mound the grim pyre was heaped. Cilician saffron, and gifts of Indian balsam, perfumes of Arabia, of Egypt, and of Palestine steeped thy locks for the fire. Nothing would Melior in his profusion deny thee, but in loathing of his orphaned wealth would fain burn all his substance; the jealous fire could not contain such tribute, the flames were not large enough to consume it. My heart was awed. Ah, Melior, once so tranquil, in what frenzy at those last rites by the pyre I beheld you and was afraid! Is this my gay companion, he of gentle countenance? Whence then this passion, those rending hands, that savage grief? Stretched on the bare earth you shrink from the agony of life. Now fiercely you pluck at your robe and your heart; now you kiss those loved eyes and snatch cold caresses. There stood the father and there in tears the mother of the dead, but his 83 parents gazed in wonderment on you. Why marvel, when all the people and all the host that went before over the Mulvian agger along the Flaminian road were weeping for the innocent child who was given over to the baleful fire, that for his youth and beauty deserved their lamentation. Such was Palaemon, when his mother flung herself upon him as he lay, after tossing in the waves, cast up by the sea in the Isthmian haven: and such Opheltes when the greedy fire consumed him, mangled by those fangs as he played in Lerna’s snake-haunted meadows.
But fear not. Dread no more menacing death. Cerberus with triple jaws will not bark at him. The Sisters with their flames and towering snakes will terrify him not. Nay, even the churlish mariner of the greedy skiff will draw nearer to the barren banks and parched shore, that the boy may without hazard step on board.
What message is this that with joyous wand Cyllene’s son is signalling to me? On a day so dark can there be aught of gladness? ‘Many a time the boy had marked you twining fresh garlands and clasping to your breast the bust of Blaesus: he knew those features and the noble head erect. So when among Ausonian nobles and the sons of Quirinus he saw Blaesus pacing the banks of Lethe-water, he knew him for a friend; and first in silence and with timid steps walked by his side and plucked at the fringe of his robe: anon followed more boldly, for as more boldly he plucked Blaesus spurned him not, but thought him one of the sons of his house whom he 84 knew not. Soon when he learnt that the boy was the favourite of Melior, the solace for his lost friend Blaesus, the darling of his peerless companion, he raised him from the ground and twined him about his brawny shoulders, and long while sought joyously with his own hands such presents as Elysium can soften to afford, — the fruitless boughs, the songless birds it may be, and the wan flowers nipped in the bud. And did not bid him forget you, but joined heart to heart and shared in turn with you in the boy’s love.
He is gone; this is the end. Heal then your wound, uplift your grief-sunken head. All things you see have suffered or must suffer death. Day and night pass away, — aye, and the stars also, nor is the solid earth saved by her massy fabric. The nations bow to death; who can stay to weep the passing of a frail and strengthless people? War and ocean claim their victims, love and madness deal doom, aye, and fell desire. Why bewail disease? Winter’s freezing breath, the fierce heat of the baleful Dogstar, and wan Autumn, from whose jaws proceed forth storms. All that is born must die. Death will claim us, — yes, claim us all; for countless shades Aeacus shakes the urn.
But he whom we weep is happy; he has outsoared gods and men, danger and hazard, and the pitfalls of our blind life; he is secure from fate. ’Twas not his lot to shrink from — or to pray for — death, nor yet to deserve to die. We are a restless people and evil-starred; for we know not whence our death is to come, nor how our life shall close; 85 from what star the thunder threatens, what cloud shall sound our knell. Doth this thought not move thee? Yet thou shalt be moved and with a good grace. Come, Glaucias, come hither from the gloomy threshold. Thy prayers alone can win every boon; for neither Charon nor the comrade of that baleful8 monster restrains the souls of the innocent. Thou must soften his heart; thou must stay his streaming tears; thou must make glad for him the nights with thy sweet accents and living looks. Tell him thou art not dead; and still commend to his kindness — thou canst — thy hapless parents and thy sister forlorn.
1 Line 9.
2 Line 28. ‘plango lyra: fiendi comitem.’* Cf. line 35.
3 Line 48. ‘mulsa favis’ (Housman).
4 Line 64. ‘atque ipsos revocabit ad oscula fasces.’*
5 Line 67. ‘mota domu statio.’*
6 Cf. All‘s Well That Ends Well, I. iii. 150-2:
7 Line 128. See note on p. 210.
[End Note, p. 210.]
II. i. 128-31. The rendering of these lines is borrowed almost entirely from that given by Mr. Hugh Macnaghten in a note on the passage, in the J. Phil. vol. xix, no. 37 (1891). ‘Nothing can be plainer than this’ (says Mr. Macnaghten), ‘Melior was eager to give Glaucias the best of everything; even before the usual age he dressed him in laenae and lacernae, made especially to suit him. 211 Instead of buying clothes which Glaucias will “grow into”, everything is made to fit exactly, and this of course involves the contant purchase of new dresses.’ Quas vestis, which many emend, is from Thebaid, vi. 79, a passage worth comparing with this.
8 Line 230. ‘dirae’ (S). If the text is sound, the comrade is Cerberus, the monster possibly the Hydra, which in the sixth Aeneid (line 287) is represented as guarding the approach to Tartarus.