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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 72-75.



VI    Et Phoebus pater et severa Pallas

The Emperor’s Carnival.

HENCE Father Phoebus and Pallas the austere! Away ye Muses, keep ye holiday; at the new year we will call you back. But come hither to me, Saturn, thy chains struck off; and come December flushed with many a bumper! Come wanton Quips and laughing Jollity! Be with me while I sing the glad feast-day of blithe Caesar and the midnight1 revel.

Scarce was the dawn rising anew, when sweetmeats rained from the awnings. Such was the dew shed by the breeze of morning. All the wealth of the nut-groves of Pontus, all the spoils of the rich slopes of Edom; the fruits of the trees of god-fearing Damascus, the figs that ripen early on the canes of Ebusea2 are lavished in generous showers. Luscious cakes, dainty cates, pears from Ameria not spoiled by the sun; mustcake and teeming dates — so thick you cannot see the palm — showered down. Not stormy Hyades nor angry Pleiades hurl such rains upon the earth, as the storm that with fair-weather hail lashed the people in the theatre of Rome. Ah, let Jupiter above marshal his clouds throughout the world, and menace the broad plains with storms, if only our Jupiter in Rome sheds such showers upon us!


But lo! through all the tiers, beautiful to behold in bright raiment a fresh people, as numerous as the seated commons! Vessels of dainties, napery snow-white, cates yet richer they bring anew; while others pour bumpers of languorous wine: you would think every man of them a Ganymede.

The circle of noble and grave and the clans that wear the gown thou feastest alike. But although so many houses banquet on thy bounty, Annona3 for all her pride has no part in the festival. Go to now, hoary Eld; compare with our day the days of Iove’s youth, and the golden time! Wine flowed not so freely then; crops forestalled not the tardy autumns. At one board feast all ranks, knight and senator, children and women and commons alike; freedom has relaxed awe. Thou too, moreover — what God would brook to find such leisure or grant such pledge? — thou, too, hast feasted with us. Now prince and pauper, whoe’er he be, can boast himself an Emperor’s guest.

Amid the clamour and the strange delicacies the pleasant show flies swiftly by. See, women, novices and strangers to battle — see, how untiringly they assay the weapons of men! You would think that this was some wild combat of Thermodon’s daughters on the banks of Tanais or barbarous Phasis. Then in turn come forth the bold battalions of dwarfs, whom Nature from their birth cramped and bound once for all into 74 a knotted lump. These join in battle and deal wounds; see, with Lilliputian hands they menace each his fellow with death; while Father Mars and murderous Valour, and the cranes, ere in random raid they pounce, marvel at the courage of the pygmies.

Then, as the shades of night are approaching, what riot waits upon the shower of good cheer! Hither come maidens not difficult to win; here is all that in the theatres win favour and applause for skill or comeliness. In one company buxom Lydian beauties clap their hands, here is tumult of cymbals and the jingling music of Spain; here are Syria’s noisy troups; here the common folk of the theatre; here they whose trade is to barter their cheap sulphur for scraps of glass.

Amid the riot, with sudden swoop, as from the stars, fall in clouds the birds of holy Nile and wintry Phassis, and those on which the Numidians prey in the rainy south. No hands are left to seize them; the armfuls of spoil hamper4 those who would gather fresh largess still. Myriad voices are raised to heaven in praise of the Prince’s carnival. With affectionate enthusiasm they salute their Lord; this measure of liberty — and this alone — Caesar forbade.

Scarce was dark night climbing the sky, when from the midst of the arena, up through the gathering gloom, soared5 a ball of fire, brighter than the radiance of Ariadne’s crown. The sky blazed with light; banished was the power of midnight; banished was 75 sluggish sleep; and dull repose fled to other cities at the sight. Who can recount the spectacle and the licence of jollity, or who the revel, the unbought feast, the rivers of generous wine? I faint, I fail; and heavy with thy Naxian,6 drag myself at last away to sleep.

For how many years shall this day be handed down! Never, never shall it be blotted out by time. As long as the hills of Latium endure, as long as Father Tiber flows, as long as thy city shall remain and that Capitol which thou hast restored to the world, the memory shall live.


1  Line 8.  ‘noctem’ (Thomson). But see J. P. vol. xxx, pp. 146-7.

2  Line 15.   ‘et quod praecoquit Ebosia cannis’ (Lafaye, Quelqum notes sur les Silvae de Stace (Paris, 1896), pp. 62-6 q.v.).

3   Line 38.  Annona was the goddess of the national corn supply. The Emperor — Statius means — provides the feast out of his private revenue, without drawing on the national funds.

4  Line 80.  ‘tardant’ (Phillimore).

5  Line 86.  ‘escendit’ (Stange).

6  Line 96.  ‘tuaque Naxo.’*

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