From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 152-157.
SWIFTLY, my Letter, you must cross the Euboic plains and linger not. Set forth upon your way where now the far-famed Appia shoots out into a new road and a firm banks keeps fast the quaking sand. Then when you have come hot-foot to the towers of Romulus, hasten to the right shore of tawny Tiber, 153 where Sea-fight Lake is shut fast behind the Tuscan ridge and city parks fringe the stream. There you will see Marcellus, pre-eminent in looks and gallantry. By his lofty stature you will know him. First give him in prose the greeting of every day. Then forget not to repeat this message in metre. ‘Now spring with its showers is past, and, passing, frees earth and the whirling sky. The snarling dogstar1 makes the heavens burn: thinned now are the throngs in towered Rome. Some in hallowed Praeneste and some in Diana’s cool boskage take shelter; these upon shaggy Algidus and those in bowered Tusculum, while others court the cool freshness of Anio and Tibur’s woods. What more temperate land steals you now away from the roar of Rome? Under what sky are you baffling the summer sun? And what of Gallus, my friend too, but most chiefly yours beyond all others? — and who shall decide whether for worth or for wit to praise him most? — Is he spending the summer on the Latian coast, or returns he to the towers of quarried Luna and his Tuscan home? If he is nigh and at your side, my name, I know, is not far from your discourse. Yes, that is why both my ears are ringing. Now, while in wanton Hyperion’s grip burns the glowering lion’s mane, you too must banish care from your breast and steal away from unremitting toil. Even the Parthian unbends his bow and hides his murderous quiver. The charioteer bathes in Alpheus the steeds that have sweated in the lists at Elis. My lyre, too, is faint and I unstring it. For strength finds 154 spur and sustenance in timely rest, and valour rises more valorous from repose. So from singing of Briseis Achilles came forth deadlier to battle, and laid aside the lute to burst upon Hector. You, too, by a brief spell of ease, will secretly be kindled to fresh fire and go forth exultant to your wonted task. Assuredly the fray of Law is not raging now; it is a sluggish and a tranquil time; the return of the harvest-tide has emptied the courts. The accused are not now crowding your halls; your clients are not now entreating you with cries to come forth. The spear is at rest, the emblem of the Hundred, before whom your eloquence rings conspicuous, already of a high renown beyond your years. Happy are you in your pursuits, for neither the garlands of Helicon nor the peaceful laurels from Parnassus’ peak delight you. Your wits are strong, your spirit, braced for high employ, is patient of success and failure alike. We the while solace our leisured life with song: the windy joys of fame are our ambition. And so, lured by the desire of sleep to this voluptuous shore, where in an Ausonian haven Parthenope, the stranger, found shelter, see, with feeble hands I strike upon my puny lyre. For sitting here at the threshold of Maro’s shrine, I still take courage and pour forth a lay to my master’s grave. But if Fate grants your life for long years to run, — and grant she must, and may it please the godhead of our lord of Latium, whom it is your study to honour above the Thunderer, and who is crowning your consulate with fresh office and charges you to restore Latina’s slanting track, — YOU, it may be, will go forth to bridle the legions 155 of Ausonia; the nations of the Rhine or the shores of gloomy Thule are your charge to guard, or else the Danube or the grim threshold of the Caspian pass. For your worth is not the power of eloquence alone. A martial frame is yours, and limbs that might with a struggle2 do on ponderous armour. If you should march on foot over the plain, you have a crest that will nod above them all; or if the jingling rile be in your hands, the most fiery-tempered charger will be as meek as a bondslave to your bidding. We, with singing the deeds of others, are drifting to old age: you, a hero in battles of your own, will yourself do deeds for others to sing and set a high pattern before the boy Geta, whose warrior grandsire3 is already asking of him worthy exploits and grants him knowledge of triumphs his own kindred have won. Up, boy, up! Man though thy father be, quick and overtake him, thou, as blessed in his valour as in thy mother’s lineage. Even now Fame, the sorceress, in her Tyrian purple, with happy omens fosters thee for herself, and radiantly promises thee all the great offices of State.’
This lay, Marcellus, I pen to you here on the Chalcidic shore, where Vesuvius jets forth ’minished fury, spouting his columned fires in rivalry with Sicily. 156 ’Tis strange — but true. When the crops grow again, and the desolate fields are green once more, will mankind hereafter believe that cities and peoples lie imprisoned beneath, and that the fields of their forefathers perished by a like fate?4 Even now the peak still menaces death. Far be that ruin from your beloved Teate! May such fury never possess the Marrucinian hills!
Now, if haply you would know what theme my muse assays, the Thebaid, my argosy, has weathered her Tyrian voyage and at last has furled her sails in the longed-for haven. On the peaks of Parnassus and in Helicon’s groves she has flung upon the ritual fire due incense, and the entrails of a virgin heifer: now upon the tree of offerings she hangs my fillets, while about my discrowned brow a fresh chaplet twines with strange caress: now I assay to tell the tale of Troy and of great Achilles, but the archer-god bids me to another task and points to the doughtier deeds of Ausonian majesty. Thither my desire this long while beckons, only fear plucks me back. Can my shoulders bear the load? Will not my back bend beneath the ponderous burden? Tell me, Marcellus, is the task for me? Dare I trust to the perils of the Ionian a bark that has known no such formidable seas? And now farewell! Let there be no waning of your love for the poet who is bound heart and soul to you, for Tirynthius, too, stinted not his friendship.5 So will you outstrip 157 the fame of loyal Theseus and of him who round towered Troy dragged mangled Hector to solace his dead friend.
1 Line 13. See note on I. iii. 5 (p. 208).
2 Line 66. This seems grotesque. If for tarde we might conjecture Aeacidea* the translation would run: — ‘limbs that might do on the ponderous armour of Aeacides.’ The breastplate of Achilles was proverbial. Cf. Juvenal, xi. 30.
3 Line 72-3. ‘quem . . . Poscit avos praestatque’ (M). For domi cf. e. g. Livy vi. 34. 10 “Consolans inde filiam Ambustus bonum animum habere iussit, easdem propediem domi visuram honores, quos apud sororem videat’.
4 Line 83-4. ‘fato . . . pari.’* See note on p. 211.
[End Note, p. 211.]
IV. iv. 83-4. This is one of the very few passages which Markland (Praef. p. xvii) gives up in despair. (1) If toto mari could mean all along the sea-board there would be no difficulty. But this appears to be impossible. Nor (2) is there any evidence, either in Pliny’s letters, or, according to Vollmer, in other authors, to show that the sea gained much in the eruption. (3) Vollmer himself reads tosto . . . mari and understands the expression to refer to the sea of lava that engulfed the fields. But this seems intolerably vague and ambiguous, nor does he establish such a meaning of mare. (4) Abiisse can hardly refer, as Stephens suggests, to the appearance of fresh islands in the bay, thrown up by the shock which attended the eruption. (5) To obtain a passable sense the translator conjectures fato pari (a change of three letters) and understands the words to mean that the fields were blotted out by the same catastrophe that overwhelmed cities and peoples also. The occurrence of the plural fata in the next line but one does not necessarily put this suggestion out of court, for —the Greek and Roman writers were not nearly so sensitive as ourselves to such repetitions’ (Leeper, quoted in C. R. xxi. 43b). Statius has aequali fato in Achilleid, i. 177 (but with a different sense), and subito fato occurs in the Silvae, II. iv. 3, q.v.
5 Line 103. ‘parcus amicitiae.’*