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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 189-202.



III    Ipse malas vires

In memory of the poet’s father.

FATHER, do thou thyself, pre-eminent in scholar-craft, grant me from some fountain in Elysium sad strength and melancholy song; teach me to strike the lyre of sorrow. For without thee I scruple to meddle with the Delian cave or to arouse Cirrha according to my wont. Every strain that Apollo in the Corysican cave and Euhan on the Ismarian hills had revealed but now, — but I have unlearned it. The fillets of Parnassus are banished from my brow, and I am sore afraid when into my ivy chaplet steals the sad yew, and the bays, alas! for very dread are withering. Of a surety I am he who, with soul uplifted, assayed to exalt the deeds of great-hearted princes and to keep pace in my song with their warfare. 190 Who now has plunged my soul in barren lethargy? Who has darkened my Sun, passed sentence on my mind, and enshrouded it in chill gloom? Spell-bound stand the Muses round about their melodist, with never a note of gladness on their lips or their lutes. Their Leader herself bows her head in silence on her harp, as when, after the ravishing of Orpheus, she stood upon the banks of Hebrus, watching the herded beasts that hearkened not now his music was gone, and the woods once more immovable.

But whether thou art soaring to the skies from the prison-house of the body and dost review the glistening spheres and the alphabet of Nature, — what God is; whence comes Fire; what course guides the Sun; the secret of the waning moon and her resurrection from the darkness; and dost prolong the notes of renowned Aratus; or whether in the assembly of heroes and the shades of the blessed, on the secluded sward of Lethe’s meadow, thy spirit attends upon Maeonides and the sage of Ascra, no worse1 a man than they, answering them strain for strain and mingling thy melodies with theirs, — grant me, father, inspiration and a voice to utter my great sorrow. Thrice hath the moon renewed and thrice unwoven her disk in heaven, and sees me still dumb, with never a muse-melody to balm my grief. Since the glare of thy funeral-fire reddened upon my sight, and I glutted 191 these weeping eyes with the sight of thy ashes, dimmed is the lustre of poesy. Scarce can I rouse the uttermost fringe of my heart to pay thee this tribute and shake off the dust of sloth from my secret meditations. Even now my hand fails and my eyes are wet, as I lean upon the grave in which thy sleep is soft: for in our own land thou liest, where, when Æneas. died, Ascanius of the halo2 — in loathing for the plains so battened on Phrygian blood, his fatal stepdame’s dower-realm — set Alba on the Latian hills. Here, — for sweeter to thee this than fragrance of Sicanian saffron, sweeter than though wealthy Sheba plucked for thee her rare cinnamon, or Arabia her blades of fragrance, — here to be crowned with holy offerings3 I lay thee and bewail thee with Pierian song. Thine be this dirge, these tears and sighs of thine own son, such as seldom have been paid to fathers. Would that the wealth were mine to build to thy shade altars high as temples, and uprear a star-y-pointing pile, taller than all Cyclopean4 towers or the aspiring Pyramids, and screen thy tomb with a great grove. 192 There had I outdone the homage paid to that tomb in Sicily, ritual of forest Nemea, and worship of mangled Pelops. There no host of Greeks had stripped themselves to cleave the air with the Oebalian quoit; the fields had not been wet with the sweat of horses nor crumbling trench resounded with their flying hoofs; there had been but the votaries of Phoebus, and the leafy bays — the meed of poets — should have propitiated thy honoured shade. I myself with streaming eyes, as priest of the fabled world of ghosts and of thy soul, had rehearsed a dirge from which neither triple Cerberus nor Orphean compact could have turned thee back. Aye, as I sang thy gentleness and thy deeds, Affection it may be had deemed me the peer of mighty-mouthed Homer, and would struggle to account me the rival of immortal Maro.5

Hath the bereaved mother that crouches above the warm barrow of her son a better right to assail the high Gods or the remorseless Spinners: or she who gazes on the pyre of her husband, dead in his prime, and tries to fling off curbing hand and restraint of companions, fain to die — would they but suffer her — upon his funeral fire? Can haply greater bitterness spring from their grief to storm at the powers of Heaven and Hell? Can such funeral rites bring tears even to alien eyes? Ah, but not only Nature, not Duty alone have lent themselves to my sorrow to help pay thee thy rites; to me, father, it seems as though on the 193 first threshold of thy fate and in a hale youth thou hadst been torn away to enter the pitiless Underworld. The maid of Marathon wept as bitterly for her father Icarius slain by the guilt of those savage countrymen, as did Andromache for the hurling of her babe from the battlements of Troy. Nay, Erigone with the fatal noose put a term to her sorrow; thou, after great Hector’s death, when shamed by bondage to a Thessalian husband.

Not that tribute which the swan with foreknowledge of her doom sends before her as a death-melody to the shades; not the ominous music that the bird-maidens of the Tuscan Sea hymn to mariners from their gloomy cliff, — not these will I conjure to my father’s grave. Not the sorrow and the sighing that with maimed tongue Philomela pours forth to her cruel sister: — the Poet knows such tales too well. What minstrel over the pyre has not sung every bough of the Sun’s daughters and all their amber tears; the queen flint-bound in Phrygia; the melodist that contended with Apollo; the cloven boxwood wherein Pallas had no joy? Nay, let Pity that has forgotten man, and Justice recalled to heaven, and Eloquence in either tongue sing thy requiem. And with them Pallas and scholar Phoebus’ songful train: they whose task it is in epic strains to lead the Aonian quire: they who to Arcadian shell attuned their lay, — lovers of the lyre and lyrists their name:6 — they of whose sevenfold fame high Philosophy in every clime takes account; 194 they who with terror-striking buskin thundered the tale of the madness and the guile of kings, and of the sun turning back from the skies; they whose joy it was to refine their strength in a muse of gaiety, or of one foot to abridge the flowing epic. All measures did thy mind embrace, in all thou didst speak, ranging throughout the wide field of song: whether it was thy choice in Aonian bonds to chain thy phrase, or in untrammelled eloquence to scatter them, and rival the gushing rainstorm by the unbridled effusion of words.

Lift up thy head, Parthenope, half whelmed beneath that sudden avalanche: extricate a look from under that engulfing mass and lay it on the barrow and the corse of thy great foster-son. For never have Munychia’s towers, learned Cyrene, or gallant Sparta borne his better. Hadst thou been accounted of lowly stock (forbid it, heaven!) and obscure repute, unpossessed of aught to witness thy descent, by such a citizen thou didst yet approve thyself true Greek, and from the blood of Euboic fathers sprung. So often was that brow presented for thy bays! When in noble melody he sang at the festival each fifth year brings, he outdid the eloquence of the Pylian sage, and that Dulichian king, and wore both their effigies in his circlet. Not of churls’ blood was thou sprung, unhonoured, father, nor lustreless thy line, though straitened the fortune of thy house. From the ranks of the Knights,7 Infantia 195 chose thee to wear according to the custom of the wealthy the purple bestowed by rank, and golden badge of nobility upon thy breast. At thy first birth the Aonian sisters smiled good success on thee, and Apollo — gracious to me even then — gave thee a lute and put to they childish lips his hallowed waters. Nor undisputed the glory of bearing thee! two lands in conflict of debate contend which gave thee birth. Grecian Hyele claims thee by descent her own; Hyele, — newcomer among the burghs of Latium, — where the drowsy8 helmsman, leaving the tiller unmanned, fell headlong and in the midst of the waters kept hapless vigil; but then a greater than Hyele9 (even Parthenope), for the long tenor of thy life approves thee her own Maeonides: aye, and yet other cities hale thee to be honoured at other festivals as their son; one and all they approve thee theirs. All possessed not the true Maeonides; yet the vanquished feed upon so immensely honourable a forgery. There, in thy nascent youth and first greeting to life, thou wast hurried 196 straightway to the quinquennial contest of thy motherland, to which grown men were scarce adequate, — so swift thy triumph, so bold thy Muse! Those youthful songs held the Euboic10 commons spell-bound, and fathers pointed thee out to their sons. Then many a time rose thy accents in contest and at no festival lacked they a meed of honour: not so often did Castor prevail in the foot-race and Pollux in the boxing-match, when green Therapnae made for them a close field. But if it was easy to be conqueror at home, what of the winning Achaean bays? What of the brow covered now with Apollo’s laurel, now with the herb of Lerna, now with the pine of Athamas; when Victory, wearied so often for thee, yet never shrank out of reach, nor took from thee her chaplets and set them on another’s brow?

Therefore fathers entrusted to thee their hopes, and under thy guidance noble youths learnt the deeds and the loyalty of the men of old; the agony of Troy, the lingering of Odysseus; the skill of Homer in telling of the chariots and the battles of heroes; the wealth that the old man of Ascra and he of Sicily brought to honest husbandmen; the law whereby in Pindar’s melody cadence winds into cadence; Ibycus, suppliant of the birds; Alcman,11 songster of grim Amyclae; gallant Stesichorus, and daring Sappho who dreaded not Leucas and the hero’s leap; and all other favourites of the lute. Thou wert 197 skilled to unravel the strains of Battiades, the riddles of cramped Lycophron, Sophron the obscure, and the secret of Corinna’s elegance. But why rehearse slight praise? Thou wert wont to be Homer’s yoke-fellow and in flowing lines of prose to keep pace with his epic and never fail of his stride or lag behind him. What wonder that boys left their own land and came to thee from Lucania’s tilth, and from the meadows of stern Daunus; from the home that Venus bewailed and the land Alcides scorned; from the Maiden12 who on Sorrento’s cliffs keeps watch over the Tyrrhene deep; from the hill that by that nearer gulf bears for token the oar and the bugle; from Cyme that welcomed long ago the Ausonian Lar13; from havens of Dicarcheus and beach of Baiae, where the blast of fire mingles deep down with the heart of the waters and each home keeps a hidden conflagration beneath. So to the cliffs of Avernus and the Sibyl’s darksome caves the nations of old would flock from every side for counsel: and she would chant menace of heaven or decree of the Fates, a true prophetess despite Phoebus flouted. Soon it was thy lot to school the sons of Romulus destined to power, and steadfastly to guide them in the footsteps of their fathers. Under thee the Dardanian prover of the secret fire, who guards the shrine of that 198 symbol which Diomedes filched from Troy, grew to man’s estate and learnt in boyhood the rites from thee; thou didst approve and reveal to the Salii their shield-service and to the augurs presage of the truth in heaven, and who might consult the Sibyl’s scroll, and why the head of the Phrygian priest is veiled; and sorely did the upgirt Luperci dread thy lash.

Now of that company one perchance is governor of Eastern nations, and one controls the races of the Ebro; one from Zeuma beats back Achaemenid Persian; these bridle the wealthy peoples of Asia, these the Pontic lands; these by peaceful authority purify our courts; those in loyal leaguer guard their camp14; — thou art the well-spring of their fame. Who had vied with thee in moulding the heart of youth? Not Nestor, not Phoenix, warden of that tameless fosterling; not Ciron who, when Aeacides was fain to catch the warlike note of bugle and of clarion, with other strains subdued him.

Amid thy busy task the fratricidal Fury waved on a sudden her torch from the Tarpeian hill and fired another Phlegra. The Capitol blazed with sacrilegious brands and the armies of Latium took on the fury of the Senones. Scarce were those flames at rest, nor yet had the pyre of the gods sunk, when thy dauntless lips already eagerly conceived, and swifter than the fire itself, poured forth solace over our wrecked temples and dirge for the Thunderer’s durance. The chiefs of Latium and Heaven’s avenger 199 Caesar marvelled, and out of the midst of the flames the Father of the gods signed praise. And now in strains of pity thou wast purposing to bewail the havoc Vesuvius had wrought and to pay tribute of tears to thy stricken country, what time the Father made the mountain to tower from earth to heaven, and hurled it far over those doomed cities.

And when I too craved entry to the groves of melody and those Boeotian glades, the goddesses bade me approach when I claimed sonship to thee. For to thee I owe not only boon of sky and earth and sea, that all men must owe to their parents, but whatsoever skill in song is mine: thou first didst teach me to utter no common strain but look for glory for my grave. What joy was thine whensoever I held the Fathers of Latium spell-bound with my song, and thou wast there as critic of the skill thou gavest! Ah, what tears troubled thy joy amid fatherly fears and shamefast rapture! Thine surely was the day, and my triumph not so great as thine! So when a father is watching his son in the lists at Elis, it is he that strikes, and he that deep in his heart feels the blow: he is the observed of all the tiers, on him the Achaeans gaze, while, devouring the arena15 with his eyes till they can see no more, he swears to die, if but his son be crowned victor. Alas, that in thy sight my brow bore but the wreath of my own city, and no more than the wheaten chaplet of Chalcis! Dardan Alba had scarce contained thy joy, if through me the garland 200 bestowed by Caesar’s hands had come to thee. What strength such triumph had given, what renewal of thy youth! For in that the crown of olive and of oak never rested on my brow and I was foiled of the hoped-for victory, — ah me! how blithely hadst thou received the unattainable reward of the Tarpeian Father! It was beneath thy guidance that my Thebais pressed close upon the assays of the minstrels of old. Thou didst teach me how to touch my song with fire, how to rehearse the deeds of heroes, the ways of warfare, the ranging of the scene. My path is uncertain, and my course wavers without thee: forlorn the barque, and her sails benighted. Nor was I alone cherished by thy bountiful love: to my mother thy heart was as true. Once only for thee was kindled the torch of espousals; one bride alone thou knewest. Surely I may not dissever my mother from thy cold ashes. Thou art in her thoughts and in her heart; thy face is before her eyes; at evening and at morning she greets thy grave, even as with counterfeit loyalty others pay homage to Egyptian and to Lydian sorrows and bewail the death of lovers not their own.

Grave thou wast, yet frank thy mien: why tell the tale of that and of thy loyalty, thy scorn of gain, thy watchfulness of honour, thy passion for righteousness? And anon in the joy of holiday the graces of thy wit, the light heart that never grew sad? For such service the discerning care of the gods granted thee name and fame in generous measure, and never to be downcast after any blow. Now thou art taken, father, neither 201 lacking years not overburdened: ten times hast thou seen the quinquennial festival dawn since thy third lustre passed. But Love and Sorrow suffer me not to number thy days. Worthy wast thou, father, to overstep the limits of a Nestor’s years and to vie with the patriarchs of Troy, yes, and to see in me thy counterpart! Yet even the gate of death had for thee no terrors. Light was the stroke: no lingering decease with the decay of age fore-dispatched thy body to the approaching tomb ere thy spirit passed. A drowsy numbness and death in the guise of sleep laid thee low, and in mimic slumber bore thee to the underworld.

Ah, then what lamentation was mine! In fear my comrades gazed, and gazed my mother on my ensample and gladly marked my tribute of tears. Oh, pardon me, ye Shades, and thou, father, let me be suffered to speak the word: thou hadst not shed more tears for me! Happy he who16 in his foiled arms clasped his father, and though his place was in Elysium had been fain to tear him thence and bear him yet again through the phantom Greeks! When he was making essay and strove to tread with living feet the path to the underworld, the aged priestess guided him to Diana of the Shades. So over sluggish Avernus passed the Odrysian melodist on a lesser errand: so fared Admetus on the 202 shores of Thessaly: so Laodamia brought back17 the shade of Protesilaus to his home. Why, father, cannot thy lute or mine gain any such boon from the Shades? Let but heaven suffer me, like them, to touch my father’s face, to clasp his hand, — be the ordinance what it may!

But ye, Lords of the Shadow-world, and thou, Juno of Enna, if my prayer deserve your praise, remove the brands and the snaky tresses of the Eumenides: let the barking of your grim warder be hushed. Let the Centaurs and the teeming Hydra and monstrous Scylla be hidden in glades remote. Let the boatman of that last ferry sunder the crowd and beckon to the bank the time-worn shade, and set him softly in the mid-bark on the sea-weed. Up, loyal shades, and up, all ye thronging bards of Greece; up, and shower down chaplets from Lethe on the noble dead! Show him the grove that no Fury ever invades, the grove of mimic day and of heaven-like air.

But come thou thence, father,18 by the gate of horn that surpasses the grudging ivory portal, and, mirrored in dreams, be my counsellor as of old. So came the gracious nymph to reveal to Numa in the Arician cave rite and manner of observing sacrifice: so the Ausonians deemed that in his sleep Scipio was inspired by Latian Jove; so was Sulla endowed with Apollo’s grace.


1  Line 26.  ‘Non segnior perhaps no less of a musician,as in “conspecta coniuge segnis”, V. i. 202’ (Phillimore).

2  Line 38.  The allusion in ‘stellatus’ appears to be to such legends as that preserved in Aeneid, ii. 680 sqq. The stella or halo portended similar success in the case of Servius Tullius (Livy i. 39).

3  Line 44.  ‘inferiis cumulande sacris, te’ (Phillimore).

4  Line 49.  Cyclopean. So Professor Housman, C. R. xx. 46b ‘When “Cyclopum scopuli” are set beside “saxa Pyramidum” they must signify the architecture of Tiryns and Argos and Mycenae’. ‘Scopulos’ he adds ‘is just the word for the huge polygonal blocks of the Mycenaean masonry.’

5  Line 63.  ‘temptet et aeterno.’* Cf. Martial xi. 52. 18 ‘Rura vel aeterno proxima Vergilio’.

6  Line 94.  ‘cura lyrae’ (Politian).

7  Line 118.  ‘ex celsis’ (Phillimore). Line 119. ‘sumere’ (Markland).

8  Line 127.  Instead of ‘gravidus’ it might be better to read ‘vidua’, as in the parallel passages of the Thebaid, v. 13-14 and 182-5, but the change from ‘gravis’ to ‘vidua’ is a violent one. Gronovius proposed gratus. Mr. Garrod suggests ‘segnis’. For ‘gravidus’ in the sense of ‘drowsy’ cf. the Copa, line 32:

Eia age pampinea fessus requiesce sub umbra
Et gravidum roseo necte caput strophio.

9  After line 129 Markland conjectures that something has fallen out. This seems to be the true explanation of the difficulty, but as no critic has stopped the gap, I have endeavoured to make sense of the passage as it stands, assuming that Statius with filial exaggeration calls his father the Homer of his native town, and in what follows pushes the parallel further.

10  Line 137.  ‘Euboica’ (Phillimore).

11  Line 153.  The Amyclaeans are ‘cantores Alcmanis’.

12  Line 166.  i. e. Minerva of Sorrento.

13  Line 168.  Who was ‘the Ausonian Lar’? Apparently Æneas., who landed at Cyme, i. e. Cumae, on his arrival in Italy (Aeneid, vi. init.) and was worshipped, after he had disappeared from the earth, under the title of Indiges; see Aeneid, xii. 794, with Nettleship’s note ad loc.

14  Line 190.  The reference is to the Emperor’s Praetorian Guard.

15  Line 223.  Cf. Prop. iv. 2. 40.

16  Line 266.  I read ‘felix qui’ (cf. III. iii. 188) without supposing a lacuna. But the text is very uncertain. The passage is discussed and a conjectural restoration proposed by Prof. Housman in the Classical Review, vol. xx, p. 101.

17  Line 273.   ‘Laudamia retro’ (Phillimore).

18  Line 288.  ‘venias, genitor,’* But cf. v. 2. 164.

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