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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 181-189.



II    Rura meus Tyrrhena petit

Statius celebrates the promotion and regrets the departure from Rome of his young friend Crispinus.

TO the Tuscan fields and the glades of Tages goes my friend Crispinus, — no long visit and no solitary land. And yet my heart is torn with unspoken sorrow and from my brimming eyes start swelling tears, as though I were watching him sail away over the stormy Aegean and wearily from some high cliff following still his course and sighing that the space of air was too great for my sight.

Ah, noble boy, if you were bidden to the glorious prelude of your first battle and the alluring promise of the camp, with what tears should I pour out my joy, how closely clasp you! And can it be that you are approaching already the stern work men must 182 desire, when your life has run but sixteen rounds? But your spirit is stronger than that scanty span; your years bow beneath the burden; your mind is too great for them. And no wonder: not from a line of unhonoured ancestors are you sprung, scion of a plebeian stock, of obscure descent, lacking the lustre of birth; not of the blood of Knights, a new-comer to the purple, in the garb of the poor, that has thrust his way into the august abode, the sanctuary, the Senate of Latium; a long array of your forefathers has gone before you. As a noble horse, renowned for famous pedigree, draws all eyes in the lists of the Roman Circus, one whose favoured breed can show a long line of famous ancestors; — every cheer is as a spur to him: the very dust, and the rounded turning-posts rejoice to greet him in his flying career; — even so, noble boy, the Senate saw in you its very son, and, from the first, bound the senator’s crescent upon your feet. Soon your shoulders knew the wonted robes of purple and the garb of greatness. What wonder, when, by high example, your father beckoned you to honours? He in his first youth attacked in battle quiver-bearing Araxes and Armenia, ill-schooled to brook a Nero’s tyranny. The command of that stern warfare was with Corbulo, but even Corbulo marvelled oft in glorious battle at Bolanus, his comrade in arms and partner in toil. To Bolanus he was wont to trust his thorniest cares and share with him his fears: the hour that favoured a feint, the day for open onset: what faith seemed unfaithful: what flight of bold Armenian was 183 flight indeed. Bolanus must reconnoitre the perilous road; Bolanus must find the ridge that should be fit to yield secure camping-ground; Bolanus must parcel out the fields and through barrier of jealous woods and torrents open a path. He it was who fulfilled the great purposes of our noble leader and rose — he only — to his high hests. Even the land of the barbarian soon knew our hero: his was the second crest in battle, the plume at the chief’s right hand. Even so were the Phrygians confounded: and though they marked the hero of Nemea, and although the bow Cleonae knew dealt havoc in their lines, yet, though Alcides was against them, they dreaded Telamon too. Boy, you need no stranger to teach you noble love of valour. Let the renown of your own house furnish you with courage. Let others learn the lesson of the Decii and the return of Camillus. Learn you of your father; mark in what might he went on his errand to that Thule which beats back the western waves and tired Hyperion1; with what power in his allotted year he ruled the thousand cities of mighty Asia, while civil justice tempered government. Drink in the history with attentive ears; these, these be the precepts that your kindred strive to make your own, and that comrades and the old men, his councillors, repeat to you.

Now you take your way towards another land, and make ready with eager steps to be gone, when no token of sturdy manhood has stolen yet over your cheeks, and the bent of your young life is still untried. Nor is 184 your father nigh: he is gone. Cruel fate, alas! hath engulfed him. He has left both his sons protectorless, e’er even he had lived to doff the purple of boyhood from your shoulders and gird you in the stainless robe. Who ever escaped taint from an unbridled youth; from the garb of manhood and manhood’s freedom assumed too soon? The tree that knows not the pruning-hook runs to leafage, and exhausts its fruitfulness in shade. But love of the Muses had a home in your young heart; honour, too, and loyalty that was a law unto itself; upright you were and blithe, and calm your brow; yours was the splendour that does not trespass on excess: the love that is nicely weighed according to each degree. The fortune of your house schooled you to obey the brother who was your peer, to honour your father and forgive your unhappy mother. Had she the heart to mix for you unshrinkingly that fatal cup, that draught of death, when your voice can forestall the bite of the snake, and no stepdame but your look can melt? Fain were I to attack her ashes and with curses to invoke torment on her shade: but ah, dear heart, you cast down your eyes and would say: ‘Nay, mercy to her ashes! It was ordained so; it was the anger of malignant Fate; the blame is with whatsoever power in heaven probes not till too late the hearts of humankind, and does not arrest the guilty endeavour at the very threshold ere the heart do more than design the abomination. Be that day wiped out from time! Let not after ages believe the tale! Let us at least be dumb, and suffer the sins of our own house 185 to be sunk and buried deep in night. She hath atoned to him, in whose hand are all his people, by whose ordinance Loyalty is come back again and returned to earth, before whom all Guilt trembles. Enough his vengeance, aye, and matter for our tears! Nay, I would we might win for her mercy from the merciless Furies, and rescue her trembling shade from Cerberus; yes, mother, and quickly administer to thy spirit the waters of Forgetfulness.’

Honour to your young heart! Yet is her guilt the greater. Not only loyal love, but high-souled virtue have you pursued. But yesterday, when friend of yours — as it befell — was turning pale at false charge of undeserved reproach and aroused the interest of the Forum; and when the Julian edict surrounded by many a champion2 arose and flashed in chaste lightnings; it was you, though until then a stranger to courts and iron laws — you, who had been cloistered in the silence and seclusion of the schools, who brought succour; you, who though but a recruit and weaponless, averted the fears of your quailing friend and beat off the darts of the enemy. Never did Romulus, never the aged Dardan see so young a champion in the gowned mellay, in the heart of the Forum, waging conflict. The fathers were amazed at your endeavour,3 amazed, too, was he who a moment ago pressed so stern 186 an indictment, and now himself the defendant he quailed, Vectius, before thy high daring. In they body is no weakness either: quick strength for enterprise that does not fail but follows out the heart’s high bidding. But yesterday I saw you with my own eyes on Tiber-bank, where the Tuscan waters seethe in the Laurentine rapids, — urging your course and with bare heel galling the flanks of your fiery steed; so menacing your mien and your hand (will you believe me!), I was amazed and thought you armed4 indeed for conflict. Thus on his Gaetulian steed, his hands filled with Trojan shafts, went fair Ascanius a-hunting in his stepdame’s land, and fired ill-starred Elissa with love for his sire: and so would Troilus sweep round in a nimbler ring and baulk the menacing chargers of the foe: or he on whom the Tyrian dames did not scowl as they watched him keeping ward over5 the Arcadian lists upon the Theban plain. Up, then! The 187 generous Emperor goads you on; with a light heart your brother leaves sure footprints for your vows to follow. Up, with a strong soul arise and open your mind to the gallant studies of war. Mars and the Maid of Attica shall school you in battle; Castor shall show you how to guide your steed, and Quirinus how to set arms to shoulder, for it was Quirinus who suffered you in your first boyhood to clash the bloodless bronze and the shields that fell from the clouds.

Unto what lands, then, unto which of Caesar’s worlds will you go? Are you for swimming the rivers of the North and the conquered waters of the Rhine? Or will you sweat in the deserts of sultry Libya? Or harry the ridges of Pannonia and the nomad Sauromatae? Or are you for sevenfold Danube and Peuce girded with her lord’s dark stream? Or will you journey to the ashes of Jerusalem and into the captive woods of Edom, planter of palms that reserve their riches for others? But if the land your great father ruled receives you, how great will be the joy of fierce Araxes! What glory will exalt the Caledonian plains! When some aged native of the defiant land shall say to you: ‘Here was your father wont to give judgement: from this turf hillock to bespeak his squadrons. See you from the mound yonder castellated town?6 It was his gift; he it was who drew the moat round the fortress. There are the weapons, these the gifts he consecrated — 188 you can read the writing still — to the gods of battle. This is the corselet he took from a British chief and this he did on himself at the battle-call.’ So when Pyrrhus prepared a war of vengeance against the Teucrians, Phoenix would rehearse Achilles to the son that knew him not.

Happy Optatus, who in pride of hale youth shalt face every march and approach the rampart, and — so the Emperor’s star be gracious! — shalt thyself too be girded up for battle and be the untiring comrade of thy heart’s friend, even as loyal Pylades bore him, and as the son of Menoetius fought before Troy. Such is the love, and such the harmony (long may it endure!) between thee and thy leader. But I am losing the strength of my youth. In Rome with prayer and vow I will strengthen your hearts. Alas, for if, as of old, it chance that I rehearse my plaintive song and the Senators of Rome gather to listen, Crispinus will be missing7; along each tier my Achilles will look for him in vain. But you, Crispinus, will return more mighty: (a Poet’s promises come true) and he, who to-day throws open to you the camp and its powers, will also grant to you to hold every preferment and to be surrounded with the proud emblems and sit, like your fathers, upon the throne of office.

But how now? From Trojan Alba’s lofty heights, whence our Deity upon earth looks out upon towered Rome hard by, what messenger comes here, Crispinus, outstripping rumour, and fills your home? Surely 189 I was just saying: ‘a Poet’s auguries come true’! See, in his might Caesar unbars for you the threshold of preferment and to your hands commits the sword of Ausonia. Forward! Be strong: and rise to the height of such great favours, happy in sworn allegiance even now to our great chief, and in your keeping the imperial sword of hallowed Germanicus! No meaner lot is this than if the Lord of battles himself gave you his eagles and set his grim helmet upon your brow. Forward with a will, and learn to deserve honour yet greater!


1  Line 55.  ‘fessoque Hyperioni’ (Imhof).

2  Line 101.  ‘vindice multo.’* Cf. Ad Liuiam Aug. Consolatio, line 185 ‘Iura silent mutaeque tacent sine vindice leges’.

3  Line 110.  Criticizing a suggestion of mine that the words ‘nec te’ might conceal the genitive of the proper name ‘Vectius’, Professor Hardie write: ‘I could understand “reus ipse” if the libeller had already been named, perhaps thus

                stupuere patres temptamina tanta
(Ipse etiam stupuit tanti modo criminis auctor)
Conatusque tuos, Vecti, — reus ipse — timebat.

The tables are turned, and the prosecutor finds that he is being arraigned.’ This reconstruction of the passage is adopted in the translation.

4   Line 117.  Armatus means armed ‘cap à pied’, and is the word regularly used to describe a horseman going into battle (cf. Lucretius v. 1297). ‘Verum certamen redidi’ says Stephens. The case for Markland’s ingenious conjecture — ‘Martem’ — is vigorously but unconvincingly argued by Professor Postgate in the Classical Review, vol. xx, p. 323 a.

5  Line 123.  ‘servantem.’*

6  Line 145.  ‘vicum e specula.’* A reference to some such station as Borcovicus on Hadrian’s wall. Cf. Livy xxxv. 21. § 10 ‘Castella vicosque eorum pervastavit’.

7  Line 162.  See note on p. 212.


[End Note, p. 212.]

V. ii. 162.  The following sketch of Crispinus in his friend’s lecture-room is one of M. Nisard’s happiest etchings from the Silvae (Études, &c., vol. i, pp. 288-9).

‘Crispinus est le plus ardent de ses amis ; il y a dans son admiration plus que de l’ intolérance. Crispinus ne souffre pas les amis tièdes, et il est prêt à cercher querelle aux indifférents. Crispinus fait placer les gens aux lectures de Stace; il indique d’ avance ce qui sera beau. Quand son voisin s’ extasie à quelque chute harmonieuse : “Vous n’ y êtes pas encore,” lui dit-il, ”attendez ! ” Jusqu’à ce qu’ on soit arrivé au passage qui emporte tout, Crispinus s’ enfle, il retient son haleine, il s’ emplit d’ air, il va étouffer. Heureusement Stace est à la fin de son improvisation; alors Crispinus éclate, saute au cou de son maître, baise ses cheveux, chiffonne sa robe si bien arrangée à la grecque ’ ; il parcourt l’ assemblée, il y échauffe les applaudissements. N’ allez pas au moins le contredire dans un tel moment ; il ferait bientôt siffler à vos oreilles, l’ épée que vient de lui donner César.’

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