From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 116-122.
GODS, whose joy is to guard daring barks and to allay the savage perils of the windy deep, make calm and smooth the sea; pay gentle heed to my vows; let the waves be merciful and drown not my prayer: ‘Great and precious, Neptune, is the pledge we are committing to your waters. Young is Maecius whom we entrust to the hazard of the sea, and who is making ready 117 to pass — and with him the half of my heart — across the flood. Now may the Spartan brethren put forth their auspicious stars and alight on the twin peaks of the yardarm. Let their radiance be bright on sea and sky to drive far off their Trojan sister’s stormy light, and banish her utterly from the sky. Ye too, O Nereids, a sea-blue host, to whose lot has fallen the glorious queenship of half the upper world (may it be granted me to call you stars of the sea!), arise from the glassy caves of foam-queen Doris, and with soft strokes swim in rivalry round Baiae bay and the shores that are alive with hot springs. Seek out the tall ship wherein Celer, the noble foster-son of armed Ausonia, prefers to embark. Not for long need ye search: even now across the sea, outstripping all, she came to the shores of Dicarcheus freighted with the harvest of Egypt; outstripping all, she greeted Capreae, and on the starboard side poured libation of Mareotic wine to Tyrrhene Minerva. Around her sides do ye weave your lithe circle, and, with tasks apportioned, some brace taut the mainmast’s hempen stays; some set the topsails; some spread her canvas to the West-wind; let others arrange the thwarts and others dip the tiller in the waves to guide the curved bark; let there be some to help the big ship try her ponderous oars,1 some to make fast the skiff to follow in her wake, and some to plunge 118 deep and drag up her moorings. Let one control the tides and slope the waters towards the sunrise. Not one of your sea-sisterhood must lack her task! On this side manifold Proteus, on that twy-formed Triton must glide on before her, and that Glaucus, whose loins were transformed by sudden magic; and still whensoever he returns to his native waters, see, it is a fish that with fawning tail beats Anthedon beach. Thou above all,, Palaemon, thou and thy goddess mother, be propitious, if it is my choice to sing of your dear Thebes, and with no degenerate lyre I hymn the minstrel Amphion, whom Phoebus loved. Last, let the father, who in his Aeolian prison curbs the winds, — whom the divers blasts and every breeze that blows over the world’s seas, whom storm and storm-cloud obey, — let him, I say, shut faster beneath the mountain barrier North and South and East; let only the West have the freedom of the sky; only the West drive on the bark and glide untiringly over the face of the waters, till, unscathed by storm, the vessel shall furl her sails off the Egyptian shore.’
My prayer is heard. The West-wind himself woos the bark and upbraids the laggard sailors. Ah, but now my heart fails with chill fear, and though warned by dread of the omen, my eyes cannot lock up the tears that quiver on their lids. And now the hawser is cast off: the sailors have unmoored the bark and flung the narrow gangways into the sea. The hard-hearted master on the bridge with long-drawn cry severs our embraces, and parts loving lips: not for long may my arms clasp the dear one’s neck. Yet will 119 I be the last of all the throng to pass to the shore, nor begone till the vessel is scudding on her way.
When the sea was still untried and shut against hapless men, who was the bold spirit who made it a highway and drove out upon the waves loyal fosterlings of the solid earth? — and who launched them upon the gaping flood? Not more reckless was their valour, who planted snowy Pelion on the peaks of Ossa, and crushed panting Olympus under a twofold burden. Was it so small a thing to find out a path through clinging marsh and mere and to curb and straiten rivers with bridges? We hurry into jeopardy and on every side flee headlong from our native lands under the bare sky,2 with but a narrow plank for bulwark. That is why the winds rage and the storms chafe, the sky moans and the bolts of the Thunderer are multiplied. Before barks were, the deep lay sunk in leaden slumber; the sea durst not foam nor the waves lash the clouds. The waters swelled at sight of ships and the tempest rose against men. Then it was that the Pleiads and the Kids were clouded, and Orion grew fiercer than of old.
Not unprovoked is my plaint. See, over the wandering waves speeds the bark in its flight. Fainter it shows 120 and fainter; then fades from the sight of the watcher afar. How many fears it clasps within its slender timbers! Thee above all,3 thee, Celer, the brother of my love, it must waft over the waters. Where can I find courage now to endure the sleep-time and the day? Who in my vague dread shall bring me tidings whether the savage coast of the Lucanian sea has sent thee on thy way? Whether whirling Charybdis seethes and frets; what of the maiden reiver of the Sicilian deep; how boisterous Hadria serves thy speed; whether the Carpathian is calm, and with what breeze the sea, that smiled on the sleight of that Phoenician bull, helps thy course? But I have deserved to sigh, or, when you were going to the wars, why was I not ready to go with you and tire not, even to the unknown Indies or the Cimmerian darkness? I should be standing even now under my patron’s banner, whether bridle or sword be yours to hold, or whether you dispense justice by moral authority to armed tribesmen. So though I could not share, I had marvelled at your achievements. If Phoenix of old, a man of peace not sworn to help the proud Atrides, went an honoured companion with great Achilles to Thymbraean Pergamus and the Ilian shore, why was my love cowardly? Yet my faithful thoughts shall ever be with you and my vows follow your sails far.
Isis, who hadst once thy manger in the caves of Phoroneus, queen of Pharos now and goddess of the breathless East, welcome with the manifold voice of 121 thy timbrels the Mareotic bark and the peerless hero, whom the lord of Latium has sent to curb his Eastern standards and the armies of Palestine. With thine own hand lead him in peace through festal shrine and holy haven and the cities of thy realm. Under they guidance let him learn the secret of the lawless foison of overflowing Nile: why his waters sink so that the flood is kept within bounds by the banks which the nesting swallows4 have overlaid with clay: the jealousy of Memphis, the wanton revelry on the shores of Spartan Canopus; why Lethe’s sentinel guards the altars of Pharos; why beasts of little worth are honoured as the high gods; what altars the long-lived Phoenix arrays for his rites; what fields Apis, the adoration of the eager shepherds, deigns to crop, and in what pools of Nile to plunge. Aye, and bring him to the Emathian grave, where, steeped in honey from Hybla, the warrior-founder of your city keeps undecayed his state. Lead him to the snake-haunted shrine, where Cleopatra of Actium, sunk in painless poisons, escaped Italian chains. Follow him right on to his Assyrian resting-place, to the camp, his charge, and with the Latian war-god leave him. No stranger guest will he be. In these fields he toiled in boyhood, when the radiance of the broad purple was his only renown: yet strong was he already in nimble flight to outstrip the 122 horsemen, and with his javelin to put to reproach the arrows of the East.
Aye, then a day will dawn, when, thy warfare over, Caesar, to give thee nobler station, will bid thee home; when once again we shall stand here upon the shore, gazing out upon the great waves and praying for another breeze. What pride, then, will be mine! How loudly on my lute shall I sound the votive strain! When about your sinewy neck I cling and you raise me to our shoulders: when, fresh from the ship, you fall first upon my breast, and give me all your treasured talk; when in turn we tell the tale of the intervening years; you, of the rushing Euphrates and royal Bactra, the sacred store of holy Babylon, and Zeugma the ford of Roman Peace; how sweet the groves of blooming Edom; where the costly scarlet of Tyre; and with what dye the purple glows when it is dipped once and again in the vats of Sidon; and where the fertile rods that first from their bud exude the bright spikenard; while I recount what burial I have granted to the vanquished Argives, and what issue closes my laboured tale of Thebes.
1 Line 30. ‘sint quibus exploret remos quatrieris iniquos.’* This is a stop gap. See Journal of Philology, vol. xxx, pp. 150 sqq. The true text is hardly likely to be recovered, but one is loth to invent for the suggested artemo a meaning which does not belong to it elsewhere; nor are any of the emendations proposed at all convincing.
2 Line 70. ‘aëre nudo is very difficult. Can it be a corruption of ‘aere (mi)nuto’? ‘Aeratae puppes’ may mean ‘sheathed in bronze’, and this poem is so reminiscent of the third ode of Horace (Book I) that the phrase may even have been suggested — as Mr. A. B. Cook, to whom I referred my proposal, saw — by the famous ‘Illi robur et aes triplex’ of that ode. Minutus is often applied to ships. Juvenal’s ‘aere minuto’ might be conscious parody. He has other echoes of Statius.
3 Line 81. ‘teque super’ (Markland).
4 Line 110. This theory that the banks of the Nile were strengthened and prevented from breaking down under the strain of the rising waters by accumulation of swallows’ nests is mentioned by Pliny in his Natural History.