[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 96-97.



IV    Psittace dux volucrum

In memory of Melior’s parrot.

PARROT, parrot, king of birds, fluent favourite of thy master; parrot, skilled to mimic the accents of man, what power by too swift a fate has stilled thy voice? Poor thing, only yesterday, though doomed to die, thou hadst a place at our feast. Beyond the midnight we saw thee ranging the couches and tasting the good cheer. Greetings, too, and well-conned words thou hadst repeated. To-day the dateless silence of Death seals all that melody. Oh, tell no more the oft-told tale of Phaethon’s sisters. ’Tis not only the dying swan that sings its own death-hymn.

Ah, how spacious was thy dwelling-place! How radiant the ruddy dome! a row of silver bars set in ivory round about thee. Shrill rang the portals at the pecking of thy beak.1 Alas, to-day the doors 97 speak their own vexation. Tenantless is that blissful prison; vanished the scolding voice that filled the princely mansion!

Let all scholar birds flock hither, unto whom Nature has granted the right divine of speech. Let the favourite of Phoebus utter a lament; the starling too, that forgets not to re-echo faithfully the accents it has heard; the woodpeckers that for rivalling the Muses suffered change; the partridge that links and repeats the words of man; the nightingale that warbles forlorn in her Thracian bower. Mourn, mourn ye birds together! Bear your dead companion to the funeral fire; and, one and all, learn ye this new dirge. ‘The Parrot, — the glory and the pride of the fowls of the air, the radiant Ruler of the East, — is dead, is dead. Whom neither the bird of Juno with jewelled plumage, nor the denizen of frozen Phasis, nor the Meleagrides, the prey of the Numidians in the rainy south, could surpass in beauty. The Parrot that had greeted kings, that had uttered the name of Caesar, that had played the part now of mourning friend, and now of gay companion, — so ready to repeat the message it had learned. When he was released from his cage, Melior never wanted for company. Yet not without honour is his passing to the Shades. With Eastern perfumes the pyre is kindled; fragrant is his delicate plumage with Arabian incense and saffron of Sicily. Untouched by the languor of old age he shall be borne a happier phoenix to a richer pyre.’2


1  Line 13.  No instance is cited of cornu in the sense of beak, though Ovid (Met. viii. 546) has ‘cornea rostra’. ‘Perhaps the parrot’s screech is described as his “winding his horn” (writes Prof. Phillimore), otherwise I can only imagine that “cornu” is a material used in the cage, real horn: in which case tuo would ask to be emended.’ But the phrase as it stands is quite in the manner of Statius. An exaggerative writer would not scruple to describe the beak of (e. g.) the Great Black Cockatoo as its ‘horn’, and that I take to be the meaning here.

2  Line 27-37.  The translation follows the traditional view that the dirge extends to the end of the poem.

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]