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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 99-104.



VI    Saeve nimis, lacrimis

To Flavius Ursus on the death of a favourite slave

OVER-HARSH is he who sets bounds to sorrow and a limit to lamentations. It is sad for a father to kindle (alas!) the funeral fire of his children in their prime and of his sons growing to manhood; hard for a husband to be robbed of his wife, and left to bewail the partner of his couch. Bitter it is to sigh for a sister or to weep a brother lost. Yet men of other blood than ours steal into our hearts, so that a lighter wound touches us more nearly than a greater grief. ’Tis for a slave, Ursus, that you mourn, a slave 100 — since thus with blind hands Fortune confounds the name and discerns not the heart. Yet he was loyal; and for his loving faith he deserved the tears we are shedding. Nobler than an unbroken pedigree was the freedom of his soul. Check not your tears. Be not ashamed. If so cruel a lot is decreed, let your sorrow on this day know no curb. You are a man1: and for a man, — alas, I am but kindling the fire of grief, — a man after your own heart you weep. Fain was he to serve you: no bitterness was in him; he welcomed the yoke, and of himself ruled himself sternly. Who shall chide your sorrow over such a grave? The Parthian sighs for his charger slain in battle, the Molossian for his trusty hound. Even birds have had their pyre and a deer his dire from Maro. What if he was at heart no slave? I have seen him with my eyes and marked his bearing; how he brooked2 you only for his lord; but prouder than his bearing was the pride upon his brow; high character was plain to read on his boyish countenance. Right glad had been the mothers of Greece and eager they of Latium to have borne such a son. Less noble was proud Theseus, whom the subtle maid of Crete with careful clew won back; and less comely the shepherd Paris, when, to behold his Spartan love, he launched the reluctant pine-barks upon the wave. Think not that I am deceiving you: the wonted freedom of poetry leads not my song astray. I saw him, and see 101 him still, a fairer shape than Achilles when Thetis hid him on the maiden-haunted shore, that he might beware of battle; or Troilus, when the lance from the hand of Achilles overtook him as he sped round the walled town of merciless Phoebus. How fair thou wast! Comelier far than all youths or men; surpassed only by thy lord. His beauty alone outshone thee, as the moon outshines the lesser lights, or as Hesperus dims the stars of heaven. It was not womanish fairness that was on thy brow, not softness of beauty on thy countenance,3 — as on theirs whose limbs uncharactered by the forbidden knife proclaim them outcasts from manhood, — but boy4 though thou wast, thou hadst a man’s comeliness: not overbold thy glance, but mild thine eye, yet earnest and bright: so looked Parthenopaeus, when his helmet was doffed.5 Simple thy comely wavy locks: thy chin unbearded, but golden with the bloom of youth. Such are the striplings whom the river Eurotas rears by Leda’s wave, and in such guise and so innocent the boys who come to Elis and approve their boyhood to Jove. The honour (whence was it?)6 of a stainless soul, untroubled calm of heart, a wisdom riper than thy years — all these were thine. In song — wherein perchance I may have power — oftentimes he would 102 rally his master — who was fain to listen — and help him with high and zealous counsel. Your sadness and your gladness, Ursus, he shared; nor ever followed his own bent, but to your looks formed his own; worthy to surpass in renown that Haemonian Pylades and the loyalty of Theseus. Nay, let the limit of his praise be the bound that his rank allows; not more faithfully did sad-hearted Eumaeus await the return of lingering Ulysses.

What god was it, what chance that chose out a wound so fell? Whence did the Fates find such skill to harm? How much more bravely, Ursus, had you borne loss of wealth and rich substance; whether in smoking avalanche the rich fields of the Locrians had belched forth Vesuvian fire, or the rivers had overwhelmed the Pollentine glades, or Lucanian Acir or headstrong Tiber had hurled his deep waters on his right bank, with unruffled brow you would have borne the will of heaven. Aye, or if nurturing Crete and Cyrene and whatsoever lands there be from which Fortune returns to you with her bosom full of plenty, — if all had refused the promised harvest. But baleful Envy, skilled to wound, saw the weak point in your heart and the sure avenue of pain. But now he was at the turning point of manhood, and peerless in beauty assayed to add yet three years more to his three Olympiads, when grim-visaged Nemesis set her stern glance upon him; and first she made his thews stronger and his eyes brighter, and bade him bear his head higher than of old. Alas, deadly was her 103 favour to the hapless youth. She tormented her own heart with the sight and, taking to her embrace Treachery7 and Death, she cast her toils on him as he lay, and with taloned hands mercilessly tore that brow serene. Hardly was the morning star at the fifth rising8 saddling his dripping steeds, when already, Beloved, the bitter shore of pitiless Charon and pitiless Acheron were before thine eyes. With what an agony of grief thy master called thee back!9 Not thy mother, had she lived, nor thy father could more passionately have bruised and disfigured their limbs: and surely thy brother who saw thy burial blushed to be outdone. Yet not on a slave’s pyre was thy body burnt. Fragrance of frankincense and saffron of Cilicia the flame consumed: cinnamon from the Phoenix’ nest, balm that distils from Assyrian simples, and thy master’s tears;: these only thine ashes drank, those the pyre greedily consumed. The Setian wine that drowned the grey embers, the polished onyx that took thy bones to its heart, was not so precious to thy poor shade as those tears.

But do even your tears help the dead? Why, Ursus, do we yield to sorrow? Why do you hug your loss and wilfully cherish the wound? Where is the eloquence that men haled to the judgment seat know so well? Why torture the loved shade with so savage a grief? Though he be a matchless soul and worthy to be mourned, thou hast paid the debt. He is entering among the blest, and at peace in 104 Elysium; there perchance he finds father and mother ennobled now; or in the sweet stillness of Lethe the fountain-fairies of Avernus mingle, it may be, and sport with him, and Proserpine with sidelong glances marks their play. Peace, I pray you, to your lament. The Fates will find for you, or he himself mayhap will give, another Beloved, and joyously will bestow on him the same heart and the same mien, and teach him to win your love by his likeness to the lost.


1  Line 14.  ‘homo enim’ (Macnaghten).

2  Line 22.  ‘capientis’ (Markland).

3  Line 39.  Cf. III. iv. 74-5.

4  Line 40.  ‘parvoque virilis’ (edd. vett.)

5  Line 42.  ‘demissa casside visu.’*

6  Line 48.  ‘nam pudor (unde?)’ &c. (Garrod). Cf. Theb. viii. 627.

7  Line 77.  ‘Insidias.’*

8  Line 89.  ‘Oeta’ (Postgate).

9  Line 82.  Cf. I. ii. 199 ‘quantum non clamatus Hylas’.

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