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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 109-116.



I    Intermissa tibi renovat

Pollius dedicates a temple to Hercules at Sorrento.

LORD of Tiryns, Pollius to-day revives thy interrupted honours and shows reason good for the neglectful year. ’Tis that thy ritual has now a more spacious shrine. No longer a poor dwelling on the bare shore, a hut for strayed mariners to inhabit, but gay portals and lintels resting upon the marbles of Greece are thine, as though a second time thou hadst just risen purified by lustral brands of ennobling fire from thy pyre on Oeta to the sky.

Scarce can one trust the testimony of eye and memory. Art thou that unhonoured warden of tiny altar and threshold with no door? Whence has Alcides of the wilds these new-built courts, this sudden splendour? Gods and scenes have alike their changes. How swift this homage! But yesterday there was nothing here to see save barren sand round about the sea-drenched mountain spur; nothing but brier-clad rock and soil too churlish to allow any footing. What chance, then, has on a sudden enriched the rugged cliff? Have Theban lyre and Thracian lute conjured up these walls? Even the year marvels at the task: those twelve short moons — a narrow span — wonder as at the work of centuries. It is the god: he has brought hither and upreared towers for his own dwelling. His might has 110 dislodged the struggling crags: his giant breast has stemmed back the mountain. You might think his merciless stepdame had enjoined the labour.

Come then, sire, whether thou dwellest enfranchised in thy native Argos, and tramplest on Eurystheus sunk in the grave; or thy father’s throne and the heaven thy worth has won are now thy home, and Hebe, fairer than slighted Ganymede, reaches to thee draughts of blissful nectar: — come hither! let thy presence fill the new-built shrine. It is not guilty Lerna, nor the plough-lands of needy Molorchus, not the dreaded field of Nemea nor Thracian cave, nor the polluted altars of the Pharian king that call. Heaven-blessed and guileless is the home, unwitting of foul deceit, right worthy of a guest from heaven. Lay aside, then, thy deadly bow and the merciless array of thy quiver, and the club dyed deep with the blood of the oppressor. Do off the lion skin from those stark shoulders. Here is a couch for thee, and piled-up cushions embroidered with purple patterns of acanthus; and high thy throne and rough with carven ivory. Come not in heavy displeasure nor in the suspicious spirit of servitude; but mild-eyed and in peace: in the guise wherein Maenalian Auge stayed thee outworn with revelry and drenched with thy brother’s grapes; or as when Thestius, father of thy fifty brides, marvelled at thee after the reproach of that night’s inconstancies. Here are festal games in thy honour; here with innocent rivalry and ungauntleted strife in swift-recurring rites men yearly celebrate thy contest. Here, to his grand-sire’s 111 joy, a child is written down as priest to thy temple, still young as thou, when thou didst first crush with baby hands thy stepdame’s monsters and then weep their death.

But say, revered Calliope, whence took this shrine its sudden rise? Speak, and in unison with thee Alcides shall make his tense bowstring ring amain and echo thy song.

It was in the season when the heavens burn most fiercely over earth, and stricken with the fullness of the sun’s force Sirius eagerly scorches the sweltering fields. The day was come whereon at Aricia Trivia’s grove that welcomes the runaway for its king, is lurid with torches, and the lake that shares the secret of Hippolytus gleams with the light of many a flambeau. The goddess herself frees from the chase and garlands her hounds, and wipes her javelins and suffers the deer to go unharried: while all Italy at pure altars keeps Hecate’s day holy. Now although my own demesne beneath the hills of Dardan Alba and the stream that by our great lord’s bounty is mine, had full availed to temper the fiery heat and soothe my meditations, yet by the rocks of the Sirens and the hearth of eloquent Pollius I dwelt awhile, a visitor but no stranger, busily seeking to learn the secret of his calm soul and gentle bearing, and gathering the fresh blossoms of his stainless song. It chanced that, weary of narrow doors and wonted shelter, we were keeping Trivia’s day on the dank shore, screened from the sun’s fierce rays by the leafage of a spreading tree, when the 112 sky grew dark: sunshine gave place to sudden storm and the penetrating West was changed to rain-laden South, in such a tempest as Saturnia sent on Libya, when royal Dido was given to a Trojan lover, and the witness nymphs shrilled through the wilds. We scattered, and the slaves snatched up the festal meats and garlanded wine. But they knew not where our feast could find shelter. For though houses without number were perched upon the gay fields above, and though the hillside shone bright with many a cupola, the menace of the storm and the promise that the banished sunshine would return made us seek the nearest covert. There stood a tiny cottage, — a shrine ’twas called and holy, — that beneath its narrow roof-tree cabined and confined the mighty Hercules; scarce was there room within to shelter sea-roaming mariners, and the searchers of the deep. Here we gathered one and all, with the feast and the costly couches, our thronging attendants and fair Polla’s winsome suite — all crowded here: the doors could not hold us, the narrow temple failed. The god blushed, and laughing stole into the heart of his loved Pollius. Then with a soft caress, ‘What,’ he whispered, ‘lordly giver, whose lavish heart has enriched alike the halls of Dicarcheus and budding1 Parthenope, who on my hill hast set all these pinnacles, all these green groves, — so many lifelike statues of bronze and of marble, so many figures fashioned 113 in bright wax that seem to breathe, — for what was yonder hill or yonder park, ere it rejoiced in thee? It was thou that over the bare rocks didst draw the covered way. Where there was but a footpath of old stands now, on painted pillars, a high arcade. It was thou that didst shut within twin cupolas channels of the warm wave yonder on the margin of the winding shore, to make fair the road. I can scarce count all thy works: and is Pollius niggardly and poor to me alone? Yet joyously I enter even this mean abode and cherish the shore vouchsafed to me by thee. But from hard by Juno mocks my dwelling and covertly sneers at my shrine. Grant me a temple and altars worthy of thy achievements, so that every ship shall be sorry when fair winds carry her past too quickly; and that the heavenly father, with all the host bidden to the feasts of the gods, aye, and my sister too, from her lofty temple, may resort thither. Fear not, though hard the stiff boss of grudging hillside confronting thee, that untold years have not consumed: I, even I, will be at hand. I will aid your high endeavour and will tear the stubborn heart out of the reluctant earth. Begin: fear not: mistrust not the counsel of Hercules. Not Amphion’s towers, not toil-wrought Pergamus could rise so swiftly.’ He said, and glided from his heart.

Forthwith the design and the plan are sketched and shaped. There is gathering of countless toilers. These are set to fell the woods, and these to plane the beams, and those to lay the foundations deep in earth. Anon there is baking of moist earth to keep winter at bay 114 and be proof against the frost. In rounded furnace is melted the stubborn rock.2 But the chief task is with might and main to uproot opposing cliffs and crags that gainsay the pick. Thereon the genius of the spot, the lord of Tiryns, laid aside his weapons, and when the shades of night curtained and obscured the sun, took a stout axe and with the sweat of his face dug in person at the shapeless mass. Rich Capreae and green Taurubulae resounded, and loud rang back to land the echo from the sea. Not so great is the turmoil of Etna when her anvils quake beneath the blows of Brontes and Steropes; nor louder the thunder of the Lemnian caves when glowing Mulciber is forging an aegis and fashioning chaste gifts for Pallas. Down sink the crags, till returning with the rose of morning the toilers marvel at his work. Scarce was the next panting summer come when Tirynthius looked down in state from a towering keep upon the waves. To-day he vies in splendour with the halls of his stepdame hard by, and can welcome Pallas his sister to a worthy temple. And now there was winding of the bugles of peace; the beach was astir with a festival of strength. Here is homage that neither Jupiter of Pisa nor the lord of gloomy Cirrha could disdain. No sadness here. Room, dolorous Isthmus, room grim Nemea, give room! Here a happier babe inaugurates the rite. Even the sea-maidens leap unbidden from their pumice-caves, cling to the dripping crags and covertly look on, unashamed, at the bare-limbed wrestle. 115 There, too, Gaurus, thickset with the Icarian plant, looks on, and the woods that crown Nesis rooted in the waves; Limon, the calm, and Euploea, whose name augurs well to ships; Venus of Lucrinum, and thou, Misenus, from thy Phrygian fastness must now learn the bugle-call of Greece. Yonder, kindly Parthenope smiles on the rites of her own race, on the heroes stripped for the struggle, the little mimicry of her own festival.

Nay come, sire, and graciously deign to set thine own unvanquished hand to the struggle thou lovest, whether it be thy pleasure to hurl cloud-high the quoit, or with the javelin to outrace the wind: or mightily to lock thee in Libyan wrestle. Shun not our festival, and if thou still hast apples of the Hesperides fling them in the lap of adorable Polla; worthy is she and asks, a noble suppliant, for this great gift. Nay, might she but win back the sweet bloom of her golden youth, — forgive me, Hercules, — perchance thou hadst even wound the skein at her bidding.

This offering I have brought, a joyous reveller, to the new-born altar. Now the god himself is on the threshold. As I gaze, he opens his lips and speaks: — ‘Blessings on the spirit and the store that have rivalled my labours, subduer of the rugged rock and of barren Nature’s unsightly wilds, that turnest to men’s use the pathless haunts of wild beasts, and honourest my hidden and slighted godhead! What reward can I pay thee? What thanks bestow on thy service? My hand shall hold fast the threads of the Sisters, and check their spindles. 116 (Am I not skilled to conquer Death?) I will banish Sorrow and bid grim Loss begone. I will renew thy youth and keep thee scatheless in a hale old age. I will suffer thee to see thy children’s children grow to their strength, till the maiden is ripe for a husband and the boy for his bride, and from them springs another generation, and the romping band now climb their grandsire’s shoulders and now run in eager rivalry to win kisses from gentle Polla. Never shall the days of my temple reach their close, as long as I am upborne by the fabric of the fiery sky. Nemea shall not more often be my home, nor mansion at Tibur, nor immemorial Argos, nor Gades the chamber of the Sun.

He spoke and touched the fire that flamed up from the altar;3 then shook the poplar wreath whitening on his brow, while he swore the vow by Styx and by his father’s lightnings.


1  Line 92.  This use of ‘iuvenis’ is almost unexampled: tenuem* would be very apt in the context and the change involved is slight. ‘Juvenum, perhaps proleptic, “rejuvenated”; cf. IV. viii. 55-56 (Hardie).

2  Line 122.  ‘The silex is the lava’ (Phillimore).

3  Line 184.  Cf. for the omen Virgil, G.. iv. 384-6.

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