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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 58-62, 208-209.



III    Cernere facundi Tibur Glaciale Vopisci

The Pleasaunce of Vopiscus at Tiber.

IF any has been privileged to see at Tibur the cool retreat of eloquent Vopiscus, if any the twin dwellings, betwixt which the Anio flows dividing: if any has known those neighbouring banks united, and the pavilions that vie with one another in sheltering their master, — on such a one the fierce denizen of leafy Nemea has never looked, nor the sultry star of Sirius snarled;1 such winter’s cool is in the dwelling; so persistently does the shade defeat the sun, that through the sweltering season of Pisa’s games it is temperate ever. Venus herself with dainty hands2 (it is a joy even to write the tale!) has bedewed his house with chrism of fairy essences and charmed it with her tresses, and left therein a balmy fragrance and bidden her winged Loves never flee away.

O day never to be forgotten! O joys treasured in my heart! O eyes tired with gazing on so many marvels! How kindly the natural spirit of the soil! How fair before ever handicraft touched them the beauty of these happy haunts! Nowhere has Nature shown so opulent a fancy. Over the swift stream 59 the deep woods brood; each leaf is mirrored in the shifting picture; the reflection ravels unchanged down the long river reaches. Even Anio (believe and marvel!), though up stream and down stream his bed be rocky,3 here curbs his angry flood and stills his murmuring eddies, as thou afraid to ruffle the poetic days and songful nights of tranquil Vopiscus. Both banks are within the bound of home, unsevered by the gentle4 stream. On this shore and on that stand sentinel towers, not foreign to each other or fretting that the stream is a barrier between them. Go to now, — let legend boast the Sestian inlets and the Swimmer of the Strait; or tell of the dolphin steeds that bold youth outdid. Here is unending peace: here no storms have any charter nor ever seethes the surge. Over the waters eyes and voices — nay, well nigh hands — may meet. Is it thus that the returning tide estranges Chalcis from the mainland; thus that the Bruttian shore beholds Sicanian Pelorus severed from it by the waters? What shall be the prelude and the heart of my song? Where shall I make an end? The gilded beams, the Moorish lintels on every hand; the patterned veins of lustrous marble, the fountain-fairies that haunt every room, — shall these move me to wonder? Now this way and now that my eyes and my thoughts are allured. Shall the sacred grove of aged oaks be my theme? The hall 60 that looks upon the shallows below, or the chamber that regards the silent woods, where is the stillness of rest secure and night unruffled by the wind or but such murmurs as woo dreams in the darkness? or shall my song be of the steaming baths high uplifted upon the grassy bank and the fires piled on the cool marge5? or how the River is harnessed to the glowing furnaces and laughs to see the nymphs panting with the heat from his stream beside them? Pictures and handiwork of men of old and many a breathing bronze I saw. It were hard to recount the statues of ivory and of gold, the precious stones worthy to grace the hand; and all that in silver first or in bronze statuettes the artist hand assayed, that was hereafter to shape giant statues also. While my eyes wandered and I gazed upon the scene, my foot was set upon wealth and I never knew it. Light streamed form above: tiles bright as the bright sky fixed the eye upon the ground, where decked with all manner of skill the earth smiled, and with brede of strange shapes outdid the illusions of the Unswept Floor. My feet trembled.

Why marvel now at the roofs, here connecting, there parting in triple measured chambers; or at the tree cherished in the heart of the hoe, that over roof and lintel climbs into the clear air — that were doomed under any other master to be felled by the cruel axe? Even now some nymph of gliding stream it may be or of oaken grove, though Vopiscus know it not, shall by her death loose from it the burden of 61 years that have known no curtailment. Shall my song tell of the feast spread now on this bank, now on that? of the white pools; of the springs deep down in the river-channels; of the Marcian conduit gliding aslant through the Anio, and speeding in daring leaden duct under his flood,6 to see if it be only the river of Elis that can be lured on a lover’s path under the Ionian wave to a haven in Sicily? In those7 caves Anio himself finds rest; yes, he forsakes his source, and when in the secret night he has put off his sea-blue garments, stretches himself upon the springing moss, or into the deep pool plunges his huge bulk, and with rhythmic stroke claps against the glassy waters. In yonder shade Tiburnus rests; there Albula is fain to wash her sulphurous tresses. A bower like this might lure, from Egeria, forest Phoebe, rob cold Taygetus of his Dryad bands, and charm Pan from the Lycean woods. Nay, but that the Tirynthian temple gives other oracle, the very Praenestine Sisters had changed their house for this. Ah, praise no more the twice-yielding orchards of Alcinous8 and the tall trees ever fruitful. Hills of Telegonus, fields of Laurentine Turnus, give place! Give place, ye Lucrine homes, ye shores of murderous Antiphates: ye treacherous hills of glassy Circe, beset of old with yelping Dulichian wolves: proud steeps of Anxur; homes granted to kindly Caieta by her 62 Phrygian foster-son, and the beach of Antium that will call back Vopiscus in the rainy winter at the shortening of the days.

Yes, this is a place or the grave broodings of your well-schooled mind; this is a shelter for your fruitful leisure; your noble and unruffled virtue, — temperate splendour, chaste delights, — a home for which even the old man of Gargettus had left his garden and forsaken Athens. This were worth seeking through Aegean storms, beneath the snow-laden Hyades and the Olenian star. Yes; though the ship had to double the Cape of Malea and steer a course over the Sicilian surges. Why seems beauty less beautiful when it is at our doors? Here do the fauns of Tibur and even Alcides and Catillus, sung by a mightier lyre,9 delight in thy minstrelsy; whether it be thy fancy to vie with Pindar’s strains; or whether thou wouldst wield thy hurtling missile, the lampoon, charged with biting venom; or whether it be some sparkling letter of no less carefully polished wit. Worthy art thou of all the treasure of the East. Be thy bliss the wealth of the mind! Hermus through thy well-watered fields should have poured his yellow stream and Tagus his sands of gold. So mayst thou enjoy thy lettered ease; so, with a heart unclouded and serene,10 mayst thou overstep the limit of a Nestor’s years!


1  Line 5.  See note on p. 208.


[End Note, p. 208.]

I. iii. 5.  latrivit Sirius.  This is one of those expressions bizarres of which M. Nisard complains. To modern taste the idea of a barking Dogstar is certainly grotesque. Professor Littledale has, however, kingly pointed out to me a close parallel in Spenser’s Shepheard’s Caldender:

And now the Sun hath reared up
     His fierie footed teme,
Making his way between the Cup
     And golden Diademe:
The rampant Lyon hunts he fast,
     With dogges of noysome breath
Whose balefull barking brinks in haste
     Pine, plagues and dreerie death.

with E. K.’s comment,’The meaning whereof is that in July the Sun is in Leo. At which time the Dogge Star which is called Syrius and Canicula reigneth, and with immoderate heate causeth pestilence, drought, and many diseases.’ Thus Spenser as well as Statius makes the Dogstar bark. See also Silvae IV. iv. 13, and Coleridge on Pope (Biographia Literaria, cap. 2, sub fin.): ‘The Dog Star, so called, is turned into a real dog, a very odd dog, a Fire, Fever, Plague, and death-breathing, red-air-tainting dog,’ &c.

2  Lines 9-10.  ‘ipsa m. t. (tantum scripsisse voluptas!) Huic Venus.’*

3  Line 21.   I should prefer to read ‘spumeus hic tumidam rabiem saxosaque ponit’, &c. See note on p. 208.

[End Note, p. 208:]

21.  The only parallel (if a parallel it be) for this use of saxeus is the saxeus imber of Thebaid, vii. 408. A slight transposition would remove the anomaly, and we ought perhaps to read ‘Ipse Anien (miranda fides) infraque superque Spumeus hic tumidam rabiem saxosaque ponit Murmura’.

Statius has a trick of repeating himself. Remembering 209 this, compare the lines on the Inachus in Thebaid, iv. 119-21: —

                                   Neque enim violentior exit
Amnis humo, cum Taurum aut Pliades hausit aquosas
Spumeus et genero tumuit Iove.

and again in line 801 of the same book: —

                                   Iamque amne propinquo
Rauca sonat valles, saxosumque impulit auris

4  Line 24.  ‘elementissimus.’*

5  Line 44.  ‘ripis’ (M).

6  Line 68.  ‘an solum’ (M.)

7  Line 70.  ‘illis I.a. Anien-nam forte.’*

8  Line 81.  ‘The bifera Alcinoi pomaria must be the name of an orchard in the villa’ (Phillimore).

9  Line 100.  Virgil, Aeneid, vii. 672.

10  Line 109.  ‘detersus’ (Heinsius).

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