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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 104-108.



VII     Lucani proprium diem

Lucan’s Birthday.

UP, all ye dwellers on the hills of Dione of the Isthmus, all ye whose hearts are fired by the thrill of inspiration, and who drink of the fountain which sprang from the flying hoof. Up, and do honour to Lucan’s day! Ye also, even ye, in whose hands is the honour of minstrelsy! Arcadian Hermes, deviser of the tuneful lyre, and Bacchus, who dost whirl the Bassarids in the dance; Paean and the Hyantian sisters, up! and blithely do on new ribbons of purple; adorn your hair and let your white robes be wreathed with streamers of lush ivy. Let the rivers of song take a wider sweep; let the woods of the Muses put on fresh leafage, and every gap and inlet of the daylight be filled with fresh greenwood shade. In the Thespian groves set up a hundred fragrant altars, offer a hundred victims, fresh form bathing in Dirce or browsing on 105 Cithaeron. Lucan is my theme. Attend, ye Muses! in your honour we keep the day. Let an auspicious silence reign, while to the poet who exalted you in the twin arts of prose and poetry — the High Priest of Roman song — we pay our homage.

Happy, thrice happy and blessed, the land that sees the downward course of Hyperion sink under the surface of the sea; that hears the hiss of his plunging wheels; whose fat olive-presses vie with Athens that yields increase to Tritonis; — since for Lucan the world is her debtor. Greater, O land, is this guerdon than thy gift of Seneca to man; greater than the bestowal upon us of thy golden-mouthed Gallio; more renowned than Grecian Meles shall Baetis be. Baetis, turn back thy stream and exalt thy waters to the stars; let Mantua beware of challenging thee.

At his first birth, while he was still crawling on earth, and lisping with baby lips in numbers sweet, gracious Calliope took him to her heart. Never till then had she softened and put off her long-drawn sorrow and sighing for Orpheus. ‘Child,’ she cried, ‘to the Muses vowed, soon thou shalt outstrip the bards of old. Not streams nor herded beasts, not the ash-trees of Thrace shall thy lyre entrance; nay, but the Seven Hills and the river of Mars, scholar knights and crimson-robed senators shall hang upon thy eloquence. Let others follow the beaten track of poesy; let their theme be the midnight sack of Troy, the return of lingering Ulysses, the adventures of Minervas bark. Thou shalt be the darling of Latium; and, mindful of thy birth, shalt utter 106 in bolder strains a Roman-liveried lay. In boyhoods days, thy first slight songs shall be of Hector. and the chariot of Achilles; of the suppliant gold of princely Priam. Thou shalt unbar the gates of the underworld, and to the gay theatres rehearse the story of thankless Nero and of Orpheus my son. Thou shalt sing the impious flames of the guilty Emperor that coursed over the roof-tops of Rome. Then unto chaste Polla shall honour and glory be paid by thy merry address. Anon, in manhoods nobler language, the thunders of thy verse shall sound of Philippi whitening with the bones of Romans, and the fight at Pharsalus (ah, lightning blow,1 dealt by our sovereign Lord in arms); of great Cato, loyal and free, and of Pompey the darling of the people. Thy faithful heart shall bewail the guilt of Egyptian Canopus, thy hand uprear to Pompey a loftier monument than blood-stained Pharos. Thus shalt thou sing in thy first manhood, younger than Virgil when he bewailed the Gnat. Bold Ennius and his untutored muse shall give place before thee; Lucretius the prophet, and his impassioned lore; and2 he who tells of the passage of the Argonauts and he who throws constituent atoms into new shapes.3 Yea, fuller praise, even the Aeneid shall do homage to thee, the bard of Rome.

Nor shall the glory of song be my only gift to thee. In happy marriage I will bestow on thee a poetess worthy 107 of thy muse,4 a bride such as Juno and gracious Venus might give. Beauty and innocence, kindness and wealth, lineage and all grace and comeliness shall be hers, and at your gates in jocund strains my own lips shall chant the bridal song.

Ah! why is fate so harsh, so cruel? Why is renown ever short-lived? Why do the thunderbolts of Fortune strike the highest peaks? Why by harsh dispensation does greatness never see old age? By such a law it was that after he had blasted East and West with his lightnings,5 the son of Libyan Jove was laid at Babylon in a little grave. By such a law Thetis shuddered at the fall of Pelides, pierced by the dart of trembling Paris. By such a law I followed the severed but still melodious head of my own Orpheus down the banks of echoing Hebrus. By such a law thou too, the reproach of the unbridled tyrant,6 shalt be forced to plunge in the cataracts of Lethe, with the story of battle on thy lips, and thy voice uplifted 108 to give comfort to the mighty dead. Even so (alas! the cruel, cruel crime!) the silence shall take thee.

She ended, and with gleaming quill lightly brushed away her falling tears.

But for thee, — whether uplifted in the soaring chariot of Fame along the swift orbit of the sky, from the heights of the mighty thou gazest down upon earth and smilest at the grave;7 or whether thou dost inhabit the grove of bliss thy worth has won, — a happy soul on the Elysian shores, where gather the heroes of Pharsalus; and Pompeys and Catos attend upon thy lofty strains; — or whether thy proud and hallowed shade surveys the place of torment, and from afar thou hearkenest to the tortures of the damned, and seest Nero paling at the sight of his mother’s torch: — let thy bright presence come to us, and at Polla’s prayer, entreat, I beseech thee, one day of the gods of silence. That door is oft unbarred for the return of husbands to their brides. Not in wantonness of feigned rites doth Polla endue thee with pretended godhead. Thee, thee she worships, thee she cherishes. Thine image lives in her inmost heart, and idle8 is the comfort brought her by thy presentment that, fashioned in gold, shines above her couch and broods over her innocent dreams. Banished far hence be all shapes of death! This day is the birthday of life and happiness. A truce to all agony of grief! Let tears of joy be shed, and sorrow turn all its late weeping into worship.


1  Line 67.  ‘o fulmen . . . !’*

2  Line 77-8.  i. e. Varro and Ovid.

3  Line 78.  The Lucretian phrase, corpora prima, seems to be suggested by the mention of Lucretius just above.

4  Line 83.  For the construction cf. Plautus, Miles, 619 ‘Neque te decora neque tuis virtutibus’.

5  Line 94.  Ortus and oceanus are so used in IV. vi. 61. But the line of Sidonius (xxiii. 96)

Vitam fulminibus parem peregit

looks very like an imitation of this (cf. also Sid. ix 50 ‘Paterno Actum fulmine pervolasse terras’), and there is much to be said for the traditional rendering ‘after his lightning rise and passing’, if the rare adjective, ‘fulminatus,’ can bear such a sense. See L. & S. sub v.; and cf. Romeo and Juliet, II. ii. 119:

Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say ‘It lightens’.

6  Line 100.  ‘sic et tu, rabidi nefas tyranni’ (the new Corpus Poetarum). Prof. Postgate compares Lucan, viii. 549:

          Si meruit tam claro nomine Magnus
Caesaris esse nefas.

7  Line 107 sqq.  An allusion to the opening lines of the ninth book of the Pharsalia.

8  Line 128.  ‘vana’ (M.).

Elf.Ed. Notes

For a sample of Lucan's work and life, and more about his wife Polla, see the article on Lucan,” Specimens of the Poets and Poetry of Greece and Rome by Various Translators, edited by William Peter, A. M. of Christ-church, Oxford; Philadelphia: Carey and Hart; 1847; pp. 504, 513, on this site.

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