From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 159-163.
ONE day as I was idly loitering at sundown in the broad Enclosure, a truant from my task, for the fit was not upon me, I was borne off to feast with generous Vindex; and still in my inmost heart lives unforgotten the memory of that night. It was not idle cheer that regaled us, dainties fetched from divers climes and vintages old as the Public Charter Chest. Wretched indeed are they whose delight is to tell the flavour of the pheasant from the crane of Thrace; what goose has the richest vitals1; why the Umbrian boar has less breed about him than the boar of Tuscany; and on what shore the succulent oyster finds his softest bed. The feast of reason was ours and talk from the heart of Helicon, with merry jests, that lured us to sit out the mid-winter night and banish gentle sleep from our eyes, until Castor’s brother-twin peeped out from his Elysian home and Dawn mocked the feast of yesternight. Ah, honest night; and would that then as once in Tiryns two moons had been joined in one! A night to be marked with sea-pearls from Erythraean deeps; a night to reassure long and the spirit of it to live for evermore! There it was and then that I learnt so well those thousand shapes of classic ivory and bronze, and waxen forms so shrewdly counterfeited they 160 seemed upon the brink of speech. For where will you find the peer of Vindex to discern in classic work a master’s hand, or to name the artist of an unsigned piece? Vindex alone can say which bronzes were fashioned with sleepless care by cunning Myro: which marble was conjured into life by the chisel of industrious Praxiteles; what ivory carving took the last touches from the man of Pisa’s finger; what breathing bronze was cast by Polycletus; what line reveals even at a distance the hand of bygone Apelles? Whenever he lays down the lute, it is thus that Vindex makes holiday; this is the passion that lures him from the grottoes of the Muses.
Amid his treasures, guardian and god of his temperate board, was a Hercules that with deep delight took my heart captive, and with long gazing I could not satisfy my sight, such a majesty was in the work, such a power was framed within those narrow confines: the god, the god was there! Aye, he vouchsafed himself, Lysippus, to thine eyes, a dwarf to the eye, a giant to the mind. And though that wondrous stature he confined within a foot’s space, yet look the figure up and down and you will be fain to cry: ‘This is the breast that crushed the ravager of Nemea; those the arms that swung the fatal club and snapped the Argo’s oars!’ It is not bulk: tiny is the form that has this wizard power! What subtlety, what skill was in the cunning master’s hand, that had the power as well to conceive in his mind a colossal statue as to fashion an ornament for the table. Never could the Telchines 161 in the caves of Ida have devised in tiny bronze so dainty a counterfeit, — no nor brawny Brontes, nor he of Lemnos, who makes radiant the gleaming armour of the gods. Nor is his presentment repulsive and unsuited to the easy moods of feasting. That is the Hercules at whom the house of frugal Molorchus marvelled; that the Tegean priestess beheld in Alea’s groves; that rose from the cinders on Oeta to the sky, and sipped his nectar with joy while Juno still frowned. The very air of heartfelt jollity invites to the feast. One hand holds his brother’s languorous cup, the other still grips the club. And see, a rugged seat upbears him, a rock with the Nemean lion’s skin for covering.
Inspired is the work, and worthy has been its lot. Once the the lord of Pella possessed it to be the worshipful deity of his joyous board, and bore it, his companion, East and West. In the hand that but now had crowned and uncrowned kings and overthrown great cities, blithely would he clasp it. From this Hercules he would seek courage for the morrow’s fray: to Hercules he would tell, a conqueror ever, his gorgeous victories, whether he had won from Bromius the credit of putting the Indians in chains, or with strong spear burst the gates of Babylon, or overwhelmed in battle Pelasgian liberty and the land of Pelops. Of all the long array of his triumphs men say he sought excuse only for one — the overthrow of Thebes. And when Fate snapped the thread of achievement and the king drank the deadly wine, heavy as he was with the dark shades 162 of death, he was afraid at the changed countenance of the god he loved and the bronze that at that last feast broke into sweat.
Thereafter the priceless treasure fell to the Nasamonian king; aye, and Hannibal of the dread right hand, in the pride of his faithless sword poured libations to the God of Valour, who, for all that, hated a master drenched with Italian blood and menacing with fell fires the towers of Romulus; yes, hated him even when he vowed Him banquets and the bounty of Lenaeus, and sighed to follow in his accursed camp; but most when with sacrilegious flames he destroyed His own fanes, defiling hearth and shrine of innocent Saguntus and kindling in her people a noble frenzy.
Then after the passing of the Phoenician leader the princely bronze fell into no common hands. Now the trophy adorned the feasts of Sulla, accustomed as it was to enter into the homes of the great, and happy in the pedigree of its masters.
To-day, — if gods deign to read the hearts and souls of men, —‘; though neither court nor kingly purple surround thee, yet white and stainless, lord of Tiryns, is thy master’s soul. An old-world loyalty is his, a heart true for all time to friendship once vowed. Vestinus is my witness, who even in the heyday of youth yet vied with his great forefathers. It is his spirit that Vindex breathes night and day, and lives ever in the arms of that noble shade. Here then, Alcides, bravest of all gods, is welcome repose for 163 thee. Not on war and proud battle thou gazest but upon lyre and fillet and song-loving bays. Vindex in ceremonial lays shall tell in what strength thou didst strike terror into the halls of Ilium and of Thrace, into snowy Stymphalos and the rainy hills of Erymanthus: what manner of foeman thou wast to the owner of the Spanish herds and to the Egyptian potentate of the altar merciless; he shall tell how thou didst pierce and plunder the halls of Death, and leave the daughters of Libya and of Scythia in tears. Neither the Emperor of Macedon nor savage Hannibal nor the rude voice of savage Sulla could ever have hymned thee in such strains. Thou, assuredly, Lysippus, who didst devise the masterpiece, wouldst not have chosen to find favour in other eyes than his.
1 Line 10. An ‘Esca fuat?’ The archaism would give a mock-oracular flavour to the sentence. In any case the problem for the gourmet is, whether the male bird or female is better eating. (Cf. Horace, Satires, ii. 8. 88.) Hence magis.