[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 41-46.



I    Quae superimposito moles

The unveiling of an equestrian statue of the Emperor.

WHAT ponderous mass is this that, magnified to twice the size by the giant surmounting figure, stands as if with the Roman Forum in its clasp? Has the work dropped down completed from the sky? or did the finishing of it in the foundries of Sicily leave the hands of Brontes and of Steropes wearied out? or have Athenian masters fashioned thee for us, Germanicus, in such guise as was thine when the Rhine, and the Dacian, panic-stricken in his mountain fastnesses, saw thee but yesterday curb thy charger? Go to now, let the legend of the elder days marvel at the immemorial fame of the Dardan horse, for the building of which the holy heights of Dindymus and of Ida shrank stripped of their leafy pines. This charger Troy could not have admitted, though her walls were rent in a breach; nor mingled crowd of boys and unwedded maidens, nor even Aeneas nor great Hector could have brought it in. Aye, and laden with death, with 42 merciless Achaeans was the horse of Epeus; to this the gentleness of his rider lends winning graces. Sweet it is to see that countenance clouded1 with the scars of war, yet wearing promise of gentle peace.

But think not the statue fairer than the man; like form, like grace, like goodliness has he. Mars towers not higher after the battle on the Thracian steed that exults to bear his giant bulk, and swiftly2 with steaming flanks gallops by the river side, and his mighty breathing makes Strymon roll down the swifter. The place is worthy of the work; on one side our war-weary Founder’s open gates, who first by the grace of his adopted son pointed to our Emperors and Gods the path to Olympus. From thy countenance he learns how much greater is thy clemency in war; for thou art not fain to vent thy rage even on the madness of strange peoples, but to Cattians and Dacian allow a charter. Hadst thou been chief, Caesar’s son-in-law and Cato had bowed and come to terms with Caesar. Upon his broad flanks from this side the Julian halls, from that the proud Basilica of warlike Paulus looks down; behind thee thy father’s temple and mild-eyed 43 Concord. Thou itself, thy head encircled by the unbroken air, dost outsoar and outshine the temples, seeming to watch and see whether the new pile on the Palatine, scorning the flames, rises more lovely than the old; whether the Trajan fire still keeps secret watch; whether Vesta now approves her handmaids whom reform has purged; thy right hand bids war to cease; thy left the Tritonian maid burdens not, but holding out Medusa’s severed neck, rouses, as with a goad, the mettle of thy charger. Nowhere has the goddess a happier resting-place, not even on her father’s hand. That breast is a breast that can unravel the cares of the whole world and the cloak that falls flowing from thy shoulders is one to fashion which Temese, has yielded all her ore. Thy side fears nothing though the sword be at rest — a sword as huge as the blade with which great Orion menaces the winter nights and strikes fear into the stars. The horse, emulous of his rider’s gallant air uplifts his head more eagerly and makes as if to break into career. The mane stands stiff upon his neck; the shoulders thrill as with life; broad his flanks and able to bear that mighty spur; the brazen hoofs planted on no sod of barren earth, but upon the hair of captive Rhine. The charger of Adrastus had trembled to behold him, and the horse of Leda’s son is afraid in the temple hard by at the sight. He shall never obey but one master’s rein; never a change of bridle for him; to one star alone shall he be true. Scarce can the earth support him; the ground gasps and faints beneath such 44 a burden, — a burden not of iron or of bronze, but of godhead, — though everlasting the pedestal that upholds it; so strong it might have supported the peaks of a mountain charged upon it, and had endured the grinding pressure of Sky-bearer Atlas.

No long delay was there either. The very presence of our God lightened the task. The workers, bent upon their labour, marvelled to find unusual power in their hands. Huge cranes creaked with the strain. Ceaselessly over the seven hills of Mars went the din, drowning the wandering noises of mighty Rome.

Even the Warden of the spot, whose hallowed chasm and legend-haunted pools preserve the record of his name, marked the myriad beat of bronze, felt the Forum bellow at the brutal stroke, and forthwith uplifted his countenance, grisly and mouldering yet full of awe; his brow hallowed with the well-won oak leaves. At first he trembled at the flashing brilliancy, the giant port, of this mightier steed; and thrice in terror plunged his erected head in the chasm; anon, in joy at beholding our Prince, ‘All hail,’ he cried, ‘scion and sire of mighty Gods; from afar have I heard the fame of thy godhead. To-day, to-day is my marsh blessed and hallowed, now that it is granted me to see thee and thy deathless glory in thy home hard by. Once alone did counsel and contrivance of mine save Rome. Thou art3 Joves champion; thou art the conqueror 45 of Rhine; thou hast checked cursed sedition, and in stubborn warfare subdued a mountain people slow to make peace. Hadst thou been born in my day, though I had quailed, thou hadst essayed to plunge into the pit, but Rome would have caught thee by the bridal-reins.

Henceforth let the steed give place that over against the temple of our Lady of Latium stands in Caesar’s forum, the steed which men say Lysippus hazarded for the lord of Pella, and which anon in amazement bore on its back a sculptured Caesar. With straining eyes scarce couldst thou discern how far below this it falls. None so dull but when he has seen both will count the horses as ill-matched as their riders.

Neither stormy winter nor Jove’s triple lightnings, not the armies of the Aeolian prison-house nor the lingering years does this statue dread. It shall stand as long as heaven and earth, as long as the date of Rome4 endures. Hither, in the silent night-time, when gods love to visit earth, thy kindred shall glide down from heaven to thy embrace, sister and brother, father and son shall assemble. On thy neck alone shall all these heavenly visitants fall.

From the nation and our noble senate is this gift. May it be for ever thine. Ah, an Apelles were fain to paint thee; the old Attic master in fresh temple to mould thee to the semblance of Elean Jove. Soft Tarentum and rugged Rhodes, in scorn of her sculptured 46 sun-god, would rather have pictured the starlike brightness of thine eyes. Yet be constant; love thou thy earth: inhabit in person the temples we dedicate to thee. Let not the heavenly court delight thee, but live, live happy to see thy sons’ sons offer incense to this thy statue.


1  Line 16.  ‘maesta notis’.* Statius elsewhere compares the light of the Imperial countenance to the radiance of sun and stars, as for instance in line 83 of this poem, and in IV. ii. 40-4. The words maestus and mistus are confused in a Thebaid MS., and Ovid (Met. xi. 272) uses maestus with special reference to the obscuration of a star. The expression mixta notis is so extraordinarily harsh that I am led to adopt my conjecture. Later in the line que is of course adversative.

2  Line 20.  ‘nec tardo’ (M).

3  Line 79.  Some such verb as vineis must be supplied with bella and proelia (Vollmer). The reference is to the struggle for the Capitol on Vespasian’s succession.

4  Line 94.   Others understand the words Romana dies to mean ‘the light that shines on Rome’. Cf. Martial, ix. I. 8-9 ‘Manebit altum Flaviae decus gentis Cum sole et astris cumque luce Romana.’

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]