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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 147-152.



III    Quis duri silicis

The Emperor’s road.

WHAT means the clash of stubborn flint and ponderous steel that fills the stony Appian where it neighbours the sea? Not from Libyan hordes, I know, comes the turmoil. No alien chief, whose warfare keeps faith with no man, is restlessly harrying the Campanian lands; nor is a Nero bridling the rapids, hewing down hills, and filling up discoloured marshes. He who with courts of law and justice has encircled the warlike threshold of Janus; he who to chaste Ceres gives back her long lost fields and temperate acres; he who suffers not men to be unsexed; the censor who will not have grown youths stand in dread of punishment for their comeliness; he who restores the Thunderer to his Capitol and makes Peace dwell in her own shrine; he who consecrates a temple to his father’s race and hallows the Flavian1 148 sway; — this is his handiwork. In anger at the roads that delayed his people and the plains that checked their goings to and fro, he puts an end to the long circuits of old, re-lays the track and makes firm the heavy sand. It is his pleasure to bring the home of the Euboic Sibyl, the Gauran bay, and sultry Baiae nearer to the Seven Hills.

Here of old the traveller, moving slow in his carriage, with one wheel foundered,2 hung and swung in balanced torture, while the churlish soil swallowed his wheels, and in mid land the Latins shuddered at the ills of sea-voyaging. No swift journeying was theirs: while the suppressed ruts clogged and checked their going, and the tired nags, fretting at their burden, under the high yoke crawled upon their way. But now what was a whole day’s journey is become scarce two hours’ travel. No barque, no straining bird of the air will make better speed.

The first task was to prepare the furrow, to open a track and with deep digging hollow out the earth; the next in other wise to re-fill the caverned trench, and prepare a lap on which the convex surface of the road might be erected, lest the ground should sink or the spiteful earth yield an unstable bed for the deep-set blocks: then, with close-knit revetments on this side and on that, and with many a brace, to gird the road. What a multitude of hands wrought together at the work! These felled the forest and stripped the hills; those made smooth the beams 149 and the rocks with steel: these bound the stones together and wove fast the work with baked bricks and dingy pumice; others with might and main dried the thirsty pools and drained off afar the lesser rivulets. Such toilers might have hollowed Athos and shut in sad Helle’s moaning flood with a bridge not of boats. It had been short work for them — did not heaven warn them from the way — to make Inos’ Isthmus unite, not part, two seas.

Shores and nodding woods are all astir, and far through the heart of the cities resounds the crash; the echo, breaking on this side and on that, is tossed from vine-clad Massicus to Gaurus. Peaceful Cyme marvels at the tumult; sluggish Savo and the marshes of Liternum are amazed.

Soon Vulturnus with yellow locks, and far-streaming ooze of moisture on his sedge-crowned heads, arose and leant on the vast span of the Emperor’s bridge. Hoarse from his lips surged a cry: ‘Hail, kind founder of my lands, how hast thou curbed, within the straight course thou enjoinest, me, who overflowed of old the pathless valleys and knew nor bank nor bound? Now I, that was so grim and terrible, and aforetime scarce brooked the hesitating barques, bear to-day a bridge and am become a thoroughfare. The flood that was wont to rend the land and whirl the forest (ah, shame!) is henceforth but a river. Yet am I grateful: the reward is worth the thraldom; for it is at thy bidding, and under thy rule that I have yielded; and men will read of thee as my strong disposer and lord for ever of my banks. 150 And now thou honourest me with a sumptuous dyke and sufferest me not to go neglected, but dost banish afar barren soil and foul reproach, that my stream may not be defiled with dust or charged with mud, when I am lost3 in the depths of the Tyrrhene sea — such is Cinyphian Bagrada that between his silent banks goes winding through the fields of Carthage; — nay, but so clear shall be my hurrying waters, that their pure flood shall rival the still sea, and challenge the stream of neighbouring Liris.

So said the River: and ere he ended, a long reach of marble roadway had arisen. For gateway at its fair threshold stood an arch that shone with the trophies of our warrior Lord and all the wealth of Ligurian mines, huge as the rainbow that spans the cloudy sky. Thereunder swiftly the traveller turns, leaving Appia to sigh that she is flouted. Swifter forthwith and more eager is the journeying; forthwith even the horses delight in the speed, as when the arms of the rowers tire and the breezes first begin to fan the sails. Come therefore all ye that under the Eastern skies keep true fealty and allegiance to the Roman Father: come, for the path is easy, and resort to us! Come fast you Eastern laurels! No bar is there to your desire, nought to delay. Whoso at daybreak leaves the Tiber may sail the Lucrine at nightfall.


Hist! Who is this that I descry at the far limits of the new way, where Apollo points out old-world Cumae? White is her hair and white her snood. Is my sight duped? Or is it the laurel-crowned Sibyl of Chalcis who is even now approaching from her hallowed cave? Yield we, my lyre! Let thy notes be hushed: a holier minstrel is lifting up her voice: we must silence our strains. See how4 her neck sways: see how she revels far and wide over the new-built track; her presence fills the road. Then thus with maiden lips she speaks: ‘Did I not say, River and Plains, be patient, for by heaven’s grace there will surely come one that with a road and lofty bridges will make easy to the traveller rank woodland and quaking sand? Behold the god! He it is whom Jupiter commands to rule as his vice-gerent over the happy world. No worthier Sovereign has taken up the sway, since under my guidance Æneas., in his eager quest for the future, threaded the prophetic woods of Avernus and then went his way. He is a friend to peace: he is terrible in battle; yes, and he is kinder and mightier than Nature. Were he lord of the starry sky, India would be watered with bountiful showers, there would be bubbling springs in Libya, and summer warmth on Haemus.

Hail, lord of men and father of gods to be, whose godhead I foresaw and founded. No longer seek out my words with the appointed litanies of the Fifteen and pore over them in the mouldering scroll: nay, that thou mayest have help5, listen to my song as I stand revealed; 152 I have seen the linked years of service that the shining Sisters are weaving for thee: great is the tale of centuries that awaits thee: beyond the span of thy sons and thy sons’ sons shalt thou wear thy youth unbroken; to the peaceful eld that Nestor, so men say, attained, to the years that hoary Tithonus reckoned, and that I asked of my Delian lover. Already the snowy North has sworn allegiance to thee; soon the East shall yield a noble triumph. By the path of Euhan and errant Hercules thou shalt ascend beyond the stars and the flaming sun, past source of Nile and snows of Atlas; rejoicing in every meed of renown, thou shalt disdain the laurel6 and the car. As long as the altar-fire of Troy endures and the Tarpeian Sire still thunders in his re-born temple; aye, until this road comes to be older7 than the time-worn Appian and sees thee still sovereign over all the world.


1  Line 19.  I read clavum. Such passages, however, as V. i. 241, and Martial ix. I. 10 (on the dedication of this temple) ‘invicta quidquid condidit manus, caeli est’, — point rather to caelum, the conjecture of Turnebus. If we read caelum, lumina (M) gains immediate significance. These ‘clarissima mundi lumina’ are Vespasian and Titus, ‘stars in the Flavian firmament’ who are consecrated to be the beacons of the Roman people (genti patriae) for ever; the sidera of V. i. 240, the rata numina of IV. ii. 59, the astra of I. i. 98.

2  Line 27.  See note on p. 211.


[End Note, p. 211.]

IV. iii. 27.  ‘Is this the sense? Does not Statius mean that in old days the road was difficult for a two-wheeled cart (one axle), whereas it is now possible for a faeda or a petorritum with four wheels?’ (W. R. H.)

3  Line 89.  ‘obruat’ (S). Dr. Stange’s conjecture ‘abnuat’ is very tempting here, ‘lest I be rejected by,’ &c. Obruat is somewhat pointless, and M’s reading, which Stange defends, is unintelligible.

4  Line 121.   ‘en ! ut.’ *

5  Line 144.  ‘ut iuveris.’*

6  Line 159.  ‘frondes.’*

7  Line 163.  ‘senescat’ (M).

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