[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 85-92.



II     Est inter notos Sirenum

The poet commemorates a visit to his friends Pollius and Polla at their countryseat near Sorrento

BETWEEN the walls that bear the name of the Sirens and the rocks burdened with Tyrrhene Minerva’s temple, stands a lofty mansion that looks out upon the Bay of Puteoli. This is ground dear to Bromius. On the high hills ripens a vintage that needs not to be jealous of Falernian vats. Hither I came rejoicing from the quinquennial festival of my birthplace, when the quiet hung heavy and the dust settled 86 white upon the course, since to the laurels of Ambracia turned the thoughts of the contestants. The honey-sweet tongue of gentle Pollius and the girlish grace of winsome Polla lured me to cross the bay of my native Parthenope, though fain ere then to be bending my steps where the beaten highway, Appia, queen of far-stretching roads, sweeps along its well-known track.

Yet I am glad I spent the time. The sheltered waters, the crescent bay break a passage through the arc of cliff on either hand. Nature is beaten off the field! Here, between hill and sea, is the only beach on the promontory, that landward ends in an over-arching cliff. The charm that first greets the sight is a steaming bath-house with twin cupolas. From the land a rivulet of fresh water flows to meet the brine. Here would the blithe choir of Phorcus and Cymodoce, with dripping tresses, and ocean Galatea delight to bathe. Before the bath-house the dark-haired King of the swelling wave keeps watch and ward over that home of peace. The fane is his on which the salt waves shed their caressing foam. The happy fields have Alcides for their guardian. These are the two Deities that make glad the haven. One stands sentinel over the land, one curbs the cruel sea. A wondrous calm is upon the waters. Here the waves in weariness forget to rage. Gentler is the breath of the wild sirocco; less daring the headlong storm; peaceful and unruffled the pools, calm as the Master’s soul. From the shore, along the high counterscarps of cliff, the Colonnade makes its way, worthy of a city. The 87 long platform dominates the rough rocks. Where once was blinding dust and dazzling sunshine — a wild unlovely track — it is now a joy to pass. Even such is the arcade that leads from Ino’s haven, the Lechaeum, the wayfarer who would climb to the high citadel of Bacchus-haunted Corinth.

Not though Helicon should vouchsafe to me all her waters, or Pimplea more than quench my thirst; not though the hoof-mark of the flying steed should bounteously refresh me, and chaste Phemonoe unlock for me her secret springs, or the waters that my Pollius (Phoebus guiding him) with deep-thrust urn disturbed, — not even so could I avail in hallowed strains worthily to sing the countless graces and beauties of the spot. So long was the array, my sight could scarce follow it; scarce could my feet bear me, as I traced each detail. O the confusion of things! I know not whether first to marvel at the genius of the master or of his land! One hall looks out upon the sunrise and the fresh beams of Phoebus, another keeps him back at his setting, and will not suffer the after-glow to pass, when the day is wearied out, and the shadows from darkening hills fall upon the waters, and the mansion is mirrored in the glassy flood. Here are rooms that resound with the voices of the sea; here are others that refuse to know the thunderous surges, but choose rather the silence of the land. Here Nature had been lavish to the ground; here, though, she has yielded and bowed before the artist’s hand, and obediently has learned new and gentler ways. 88 Here once stood a hill where now you see level ground. The halls you enter now were wildwood thickets aforetime; where to-day you see tall groves there was not even soil of old. The master has tamed the place, and blithely has the land obeyed his conquering sway, that has given shape to the rocks while it carried them by storm. See, the cliffs bow to his yoke. See the hill that would force a way into the house and now is bidden to retire.1 Forthwith let the cunning hand of Methymna’s bard, the peerless lute of Thebes, and the glory of the Thracian lyre own thee their master; thou too movest mountains, thee too high woods obey.

What need to tell of the statues fashioned long since in wax and in bronze? Of all that the tints of Apelles delight to have endowed wellnigh with breath; all that the hand of Pheidias fashioned to wondrous loveliness even while Pisa was still tenantless; all that the skill of Myro or the chisel of Polyclitus conjured into life; bronzes, from the funeral-fire of Corinth, more precious than gold; busts of great captains and bards and wise men of old, whom it is thy study to follow, whose influence fills thy whole heart, my unruffled sage, as with a virtuous tranquillity of mind and a soul at peace thou heedest not the bidding of others. Why should I rehearse the countless roof tops, and the ever-changing view? Each has a charm of its own: every chamber-window has its 89 private sea. Across the level waters each room commands a territory all its wwn. One looks upon Inarime, from another the cliffs of Prochyta come into sight; on one hand appears great Hector’s amour-bearer, from another, look how sea-girt Nesis draws a niggard breath of murky air; from another Euploea of happy augury to roving mariners. There Megalia’s high bluffs beat back the curling waves and thy Limon chafes that his master rests beyond the waters over against him, as he gazes at thy Surrentine home far off. Yet one hall there is, that quite outshines the rest; one hall that straight across the sea presents to thee Parthenope. Therein are marbles chosen from the heart of quarries in Greece; some splashed with tracery as of Orient Syene, some hewn by Phrygian picks up and down the land of lovelorn Cybele; where, as on painted stone, the white ground is picked out with rings of red. Here is marble quarried from the hills of Lycurgus at Amyclae, — a mimicry of the green grass in stone. And here are bright yellow blocks from Numidia; here the marble of Thasos and of Chios, and Carystian pillars that delight to face seawards.2 These all front and greet the towers of Naples. A blessing on the fancy that prefers the Greek, that makes a Grecian land thy home! Never may the city of thy birth, 90 Puteoli, grudge thee to us. We shall make better owners of our poet foster-son.

What need to recount the wealth of the fields; the plough-lands invading the sea; the cliffs that stream with the wine-god’s nectar? Oftentimes in autumn, when the vintage is ripening, some sea-nymph scales the rocks and, screened by the murk of night, brushes the brine from her eyes with a ripe bough and snatches sweet clusters from thy hills. Often the spray from the waves hard by dashes over the vines; the Satyrs plunge into the flood, and the hill-gods are fain to seize the ocean-nymphs as they play naked in the waters.

Fair betide the lord and lady of the land, until they reach the years of a Tithonus or a Nestor! Never may it change this its noble allegiance, nor ever be outmatched by the steading of Hercules3 or the bay of Dicarchus; nor may the Master oftener find joy4 in his loved vineyards on Spartan Galesus. Here rather, where Pollius plies his muse-craft, — whether he ponders the counsels of the sage of Gargettus, whether he strikes my epic lute or weaves an elegiac lay, or menacingly unsheathes the satire of his vengeance; here from the rocks lightly speed the Sirens to melodies more entrancing than their own; here Tritonia stirs her crests to listen. Then, then the wild winds cease: even the waves are forbidden to rage. Dolphins rise from the deep, and drawn to the magic of his music gently swim along the cliff-foot.


Long life to thee, and greater wealth than the treasures of Midas and the gold of Croesus, and happiness beyond the kingship of Troy and the Euphrates, — to thee whom neither treacherous power nor the fickle mob, neither laws nor camp can lure! Thy heart is too great for hope or fear, uplifted high above all longing; beyond the reach of fate, and flouting the disdain of fortune. Death shall not find thee in doubt and confusion but sated with life and prepared to be gone. We are an unprofitable folk, bond-salves of transitory blessings, and never free from some fresh desire. We scatter to meet fresh adventures. Thou from the fastness of wisdom dost look down on our wandering and laugh at the joys of men. Time was when the allegiance of two lands distracted thee, when thou wert the idol of two cities. On this side worshipped and worshipful to the people of Dicarchus, yet again bidden to my own folk, lavish alike to these and those, full of the fire of youth and proud in thy changing strains. But now the mist is scattered; the truth shines clear; others are tossed yonder upon the deep; thy bark is come safe to a quiet haven and a peaceful port, unshaken by storm. Go on as thou hast begun, and nevermore unmoor thy skiff (her voyaging is over) to face the hurricane that overwhelms us. And thou, wise beyond all other wives of Latium, and matched in mind with thy husband, — thou, whose heart is never tortured by care, whose countenance is never bent to frown, but ever wears bright joy and careless gladness: thy 92 riches are not hoarded and stifled in miserly chests; thy heart is not tortured for loss of greedy gain. Frank and open is thy abundance, moderate thy desires, and no strangers to joy. Never hearts were joined together under a happier star. Even such are the souls that are schooled by harmony to love their chains.5 Learn ye the joys of the sheltered life, and live happy, without one care, for from your hearts proceed fires of true love knitted for ever in one. Passion is sanctified to the rule of a passionless friendship. So let your names endure till the years roll into centuries, and so outstrip the glory of old renown.


1  Line 59.  Cf. Mrs. Humphrey Ward, The Marriage of William Ashe, part v, sub fin.: ‘Through the open door of one of the rooms Ashe saw the foaming mass (of water), framed as it were in a window and almost in the house.’

2  Line 93.  This interpretation of a much-emended phrase I owe to Prof. Phillimore. Unlike the cedar in Tennyson’s Maud (xviii. 3) that ‘sighs for Lebanon’, the marble rejoices to behold the sea, which recalls the view from the quarries at Carystos out of which it was hewn.

3  Line 110.   i. e. Bauli.

4  Line 111.  ‘placeant’ (S).

5  Line 143.  The translation follows Prof. Housman, who considers (C. R. vol. xx. pp. 42-3) that a line has been lost before 143, which he supplies thus —

‹vincula amare magis. Fallentis gaudia vitae›

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]