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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 121-131.



III    Summa Deum, Pietas

The poet consoles Claudius Etruscus
on the death of his aged father.

DUTY, greatest of gods, whose deity, best-beloved of heaven, looks but seldom upon this debased earth, — hither with the fillets on thy brow, hither in 123 the glory of white robes, even as when, ere the sins of the guilty had driven thee forth, thou still didst dwell, a mighty goddess, among innocent nations and the realms of gold, — come hither to these peaceful obsequies! Behold the dutiful sorrow of Etruscus, commend his eyes and wipe the tears from them. Who, that saw him breaking his heart with insatiable sorrow, clasping the bier and bending over the funeral fire, who would not think that it was a young wife’s death he bewailed, or that of a son’s face just budding with manhood was the prey of yonder pyre? Nay, he weeps a father dead. Come gods and men to our rites. Begone, ye guilty: begone, ye whose hearts harbour some secret sin; if any counts his weary father’s old age too long; if conscience speaks to any that he has ever1 struck his mother, so that he dreads the judgement-urn of grim Aeacus below. The innocent and the chaste I call. See, gently he clasps and caresses the old man’s brow, bedewing those reverend grey hairs with tears, and cherishing the last cold breath. Here is a son (believe and marvel!) who thinks his father’s years too soon ended, and the dark Sisters’ stroke too swift.

Rejoice, ye quiet ghosts beside Lethe’s wave, and let the halls of Elysium exult! Garland the shrines, and let the gay altars make glad your hueless groves. Happy is yonder shade that comes; too happy, for his son laments him. Avaunt, ye hissing Furies, and let Cerberus, the tri-formed sentinel, begone! Open 124 wide a way for the noble dead! Let him advance and approach the dread throne of the silent king, and pay his last gratitude, and earnestly entreat like years for his son.

Blessed be thou, Etruscus, for these duteous tears! We will solace so worthy a sorrow, and to thy sire, unbidden, pay the tribute of an Aonian dirge. It is for thee to lavish Eastern perfumes, to sink the princely harvests of Arabia and Cilicia on the pyre. Let the fire taste of thy rich inheritance: high on the pyre be heaped such store as burning shall send up duteous clouds to the bright sky. The gift I will bring is not destined for the flames; thy grief by my witness shall endure for years to come. Nor unknown to me is sorrow for a father dead. I, like thee, have wept outstretched before the funeral-fire. That day moves me to find song to assuage your loss; I have borne alone the plaints that now I offer to you.

Noble lineage was not thine, O tranquil sire, nor didst thou trace thy descent from forefathers of long ago; but thy high fortune ennobled thy blood, and hid the reproach of thy parents. For thy masters were not of the common herd, but men to whom East and West alike do service. Nor need such condition shame thee. For in earth and sky there is naught but is bound by law of allegiance. Each land has its king. Crowned kings own the sway of fortunate Rome: rulers are set to govern her: and over them towers the sovereignty of the gods; but even the gods bow to rule and 125 ordinance: in vassalage is the swift choir of the stars, in vassalage the nomad moon, nor is it without command that daylight runs his bright course so often: and — if but the gods suffer me to compare the lowly with the great — even the lord of Tiryns brooked the behests of a merciless master, and Phoebus with his flute did not blush to be a slave.

But not from a barbarous shore didst thou come over to Latium. Smyrna was thy native place: thou didst drink of the hallowed springs of Meles and the waters of Hermus, whither Lydian Bacchus resorts and renews his horn with that golden silt. Then a happy career was thine: with divers tasks in due succession thy dignity increased. It was granted to thee ever to move near to the divinity, ever to be at Caesar’s side, and close to the sacred secrets of the gods. First the halls of Tiberius were opened to thee when early manhood was but just darkening thy cheeks. There it was and then — for thy worth was beyond thy years — that the boon of freedom overtook thee. And the next heir, fierce though he was, and hounded by the Furies, drove thee not away. In his train you journeyed far to the frozen North. You endured the tyrant — him of the fierce eyes and cruel speech, the terror of his people — as boldly as they who tame terrible beasts and bid them, even after they have tasted blood, release a hand when it is plunged within their jaws, and live not by rapine. But Claudius it was who for thy deserts raised thee to pre-eminent power, ere he passed, an old man, to the starry sky, 126 leaving thee to the service of his nephew’s son. What zealous worshipper was ever suffered to serve as many temples, or as many altars as thou hast Emperors? The winged Arcadian is the messenger of Jove on high: rain-bringing Iris is the thrall of Juno: swift to obey stands Triton at Neptune’s beck: thou hast duly borne the oft-changed yoke of many leaders scatheless, and on every sea thy little bark has ridden safe.

And now a great light shone on thy loyal home, and in all her greatness, with steps unchecked, Fortune drew near. Now to thee alone was given the government of our holy Ruler’s treasures; of the wealth all nations yield, the revenue of the big world; the output of Hiberia’s treasure-pits, the glistening ore of Dalmatia’s hills; all that is gathered form the harvests of Africa, all that is crushed from the threshing-floors of sultry Nile; the gleanings of divers in eastern seas, rich flocks of Spartan Galesus; the frost of crystals, the citron-wood of Massylia, the glory of the Indian tusk: — all is the charge and care of his hands alone, all that the North and cloudy South and wild East send into our coffers: sooner might you count the drops of winter rain or the leaves of the forest. Watchful, too,2 is he and prudent of heart; shrewdly he reasons out what sum the Roman armies in every clime, what the tribes and the temples, what the watercourses demand, what the forts that guard our havens, and the far reaching chain of roads; the gold that must gleam upon the Emperor’s panelled ceilings; 127 the lumps of ore that must be melted in the fire to counterfeit the features of the gods; the metal that must ring under the stamp of Ausonian Moneta’s fire. And so was pleasure banished from thy heart and peace was seldom thine: meagre thy fare, thy attention never dulled or drowned in wine. No distaste hadst thou for ties of wedlock. It was thy pleasure with that chain to bind thy mind fast, to make an auspicious marriage, and be the father of vassals loyal to thy lord.

Who but must know the high birth and fair beauty of stately Etrusca? Though my eyes never beheld her, yet her picture shows beauty that matches her renown,3 and like measure of comeliness in her sons reveals their mother in their features. Yes: noble was her stock; from her brother the lustre of the fasces and the curule throne was hers. He had led Ausonian swordsmen and loyally marshalled the standards of his charge, when frenzy first launched the Dacians on their savage raid and the nation was doomed to furnish forth that triumph. Thus all the shortcomings in the father’s blood the mother made good, and, rejoicing in the union, the house saw its weaker side ennobled. Soon were children too vouchsafed. Twice did Lucina bring babes to the birth, and with her own fruitful hands lightly soothed the agony of travail. Happy — ah, had but length of days, had but due span of years suffered her to see the pride of youth upon the cheeks of her sons and the light in their eyes. But ere her 128 prime had fled, the thread of her joy was snapped and broken, and Atropos forcefully shattered the blooming life: even as lilies droop their wan heads, and glowing roses wither at the first sirocco, or in the fresh meadows the purples of spring die away. About the bier fluttered the arrow-bearing Loves and anointed the fagots with their mother’s perfumes. They ceased not to fling upon it locks of their hair and feathers from their wings: their heaped-up quivers made the pyre. — Ah, what offerings and what sighs, Etruscus, would you have rendered to your mother’s grave, when you reckon your father’s death untimely and lovingly bewail his years.

He who to-day moves with a nod the heights of heaven, who of his nble sons has granted one to earth and one to the stars, gladly gave your father the glory of a triumph over Edom; for, counting him worthy of the rank and renown of the procession of victory, he forbade not the ceremonial; parents of low degree seemed to him no bar. Yet again from among the people into the seats of the knights he withdrew him, and ennobled his stock, struck off from his left hand the iron ring of humiliation and raised him to the high degree of his sons. Prosperously now for twice eight lustres his life glided by: his course ran without a cloud. How lavish in the service of his sons, how ready to resign all his substance, the splendour that princely Etruscus has ever practised since that day bears witness; thy fatherly fondness taught him noble bearing: with caresses that could not bear a parting thou didst cherish 129 him yearningly with nothing of a father’s sternness: even his brother was more eager for his fame than for his own, and rejoiced to give place to him.

Great sovereign, what gratitude for their father’s second birth, and what loyal vows these young men, thy vassals, render to thee! Thou assuredly, — whether it was Age that erred, outworn with service and wasted with decay, or whether Fortune, so long his friend, now had a fancy to retire, — thou, when the old man was astounded and dreaded that thy lightnings would consume him, wast content to admonish him with thy thunder alone and a bolt that destroyed not. So when the partner of his trouble was banished far from Italian soil across the rude sea, Etruscus was bidden to depart to the mild Campanian coast, and the hills of Diomedes, — no exile there, but a guest. And soon, Germanicus, thou didst open to him once more the gates of Romulus, solacing his sorrow and upraising his fallen fortunes. What wonder? This is that clemency, gentle ruler, that bestowed upon the conquered Chatti so merciful a charter, and gave back to the Dacians their fastness: that but now, when the grisly war was over, disdained that Latium should triumph over the Marcomani and the nomad Sauromates.

Now his sun is setting: the remorseless thread fails. And sorrowful Etruscus out of his love asks me for a sweeter dirge than ever was echoed by Sicilian crags, or chanted by the bride of savage Tereus, or swan that knows its death at hand. Alas! — for I saw him — his arms were weary with beating his breast: 130 he laid his face prone upon his father’s kiss. Scarce could friend or slave restrain him, scarce the towering pyre daunt him. Even so upon Sunium’s crags4 did Theseus make lament, when by his false sails he had beguiled Aegeus to his death. Anon with stains of mourning on his face and agony in his cry he greeted the burning corse: ‘Father, true heart, why forsake us at the return of prosperity? But yesterday we appeased our great Ruler’s godhead and Heaven’s shortlived wrath; yet thou reapest not thy fruits, but robbed of the joy of this princely bounty passest, ungrateful, into the silence. And may we not melt the Fates or appease the angry powers of baleful Lethe? Happy he, for whom, as he bore his father on his stalwart shoulders, the Grecian flames were awed and opened out a path! and he, the beardless Scipio, who from the savage Poeni rescued his sire; and happy Lausus the Tuscan for his daring and his love! Is this then, the ordinance of Heaven? Could the wife of that Thessalian king give her life for his; could the Thracian, by his entreaties, soften the obdurate Styx; and were there not a stronger claim to save a father? Yet thou shalt not wholly be taken; I will not banish thy ashes afar: here, under my own roof-tree I still will keep thy spirit. Thou art the warden and lord of the home: to thee all that is thine shall do homage. I will ever be second to thee, as is meet, and serve thee. Without ceasing 131 I will offer meat-offering and drink-offering to thy shade and worship thine image. Now in the gleaming marble, now in the lines of cunning paintings thy likeness shall return to me: now Indian ivory5 and tawny gold shall express thy features: and in the picture I shall read the path of duty and the lesson of long life; and words of love and dreams of guidance.

He ceased: with gladness and joy his father heard him. Slowly he passed down to the remorseless shades and bore the message to tell his beloved Etrusca. Hail for the last time, O aged father, and for the last time farewell! Farewell, O gentle heart, who, while thy son lives, shall never know the gloom of the pit and the sorrow of a forgotten grave. Thy altars shall ever be fresh with fragrant flowers; Assyrian perfumes and tears, a truer tribute, thy happy urn shall ever drink. Thy son shall pay to thy spirit auspicious sacrifice, and of thine own soil build thee a barrow. My song, too, which by his example he has earned, he consecrates to thee, rejoicing with this burying place to endue thy dust.


1  Line 15.   ‘umquam’ (M).

2  Lines 98-9.  ‘vigil idem’ (Leo) ‘animique sagacis’ (Salmasius), ‘nec secus’ (Phillimore).

3  Line 113.  Or is it: ‘The echo of renown gives back her splendid beauty in a true reflection’ (Phillimore)?

4  Line 179-80.  It might be better to keep ‘periuria’ (M) and read ‘tempore qui’ for the ‘litore qui’ of S. The ‘qui’ is intolerably weak. The name Theseus may have been interpolated: an ‘Piraea regressus Litora qui’ &c.?

5  Line 202.  ‘Indum ebur’ (Garrod).

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