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From The Silvae of Statius translated with Introduction and Notes, by D. A. Slater; Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1908; pp. 204-207.



V    Me miserum! neque enim

Statius laments the death of his adopted son.

AH me! Not with any1 wonted prelude will I make assay to sing, — I that am now abhorred by Castalia’s songful waters and to Phoebus hateful. Tell me, ye Sisters that haunt the Pierian mount, what mysteries or what altars of yours have I defiled? Be it granted — the penalty paid — to declare the trespass. It cannot be that I have set foot in sanctuary grove, or drunk of forbidden spring? What is the fault, what was the grievous error that is thus atoned? See, the child that clings with dying embrace, aye, with his very soul about my heart, is torn from me. Not of my blood is he, not a son to wear my features and my name; his father I was not, yet look upon my tears; see the tear-stains upon my cheeks; and mistrust not my anguish of bereavement. Bereaved am I: come hither all ye that are fathers; and ye mothers, bare your breasts, and let every one that with tottering steps hath herself borne to the grave an unweaned son and beaten her teeming bosom and with her own milk quenched his last glowing ashes, endure to look upon these embers and this guilt. Come, every one that hath plunged into his funeral-fire a youth with the print of fresh-blooming manhood on his cheeks, and hath seen the cruel flame steal over the 205 first down as he lay there; come and answer me groan for groan till thou faintest; for such an one will be worsted in the war of tears, and so will Nature be ashamed: such a savagery, such a frenzy of sorrow is mine. Even now that thrice ten days are past, as I lie upon his grave and struggle into speech, turning my sighs to song, — even now my strains are jangled, and choked with sobs is the dirge that with mournful lute I body forth. It is enough. My passion owns no curb of silence. But the wonted bays are not on my brow; the chaplet, the minstrels’ livery, is not on my head. Only these yew leaves wither in my hair and sprays of sad cypress banish the blithe ivy: not with ivory touch do I sweep the strings, but with trembling hands senselessly slash the lyre to discord. Sweet it is, ah, sweet to pour forth an unhonoured lay and in disordered numbers to lay bare my sorrow and my pain. Is this my desert? Is it with mourning dress and song that heaven is to behold me? Must my Thebes and new-born Achilles be shamed thus? Shall never a strain of peace pour from my lips? I who (ah, how often!) with caressing words could balm the wounds of mothers and of fathers, and softly assuage the sorrow of the bereaved; I who could gently soothe the mourner, to whom the bitterness of death and the passing shade gave ear; I can no more; but must crave healing hands and compresses to be set2 upon my wounds. Friends, this is the hour: O all ye whose streaming eyes and bleeding hearts 206 I have staunched, help me in turn; give me cruel recompense! Of a surety, when for your losses in sad strains3 I made lament, one there was who chid me and upbraided me, saying, ‘You who bewail the loss of others, store up your boding tears; keep4 for your own heart your melancholy music!’ ’Tis true. My strength is spent: my store of speech fails me: naught worthy of this lightning sorrow hath my heart devised: all tones are too weak, all words too mean to avail. Forgive, my son! it is by thee that I am plunged in darkness and sorrow. Ah, stony-hearted Orpheus, that could see his bride’s wounds and then find sweet matter for his muse: and hard Apollo, that with the funeral urn of Linus in his arms he was not dumb.

Call ye me gluttonous of grief and intemperate in sorrow? Say ye that I have outrun due shame in my weeping? Why, who art thou that blamest my sorrow and my sighing? O heart too blessed, O steely breast, unschooled in Fortune’s sway, that dares lay down a law for lamentation and set bounds to tears. He doth but goad on our sorrow. Nay, go check overflowing rivers or stay consuming fires, ere thou forbiddest the broken heart to bleed. Yet let this stern censor, whoe’er he be, know my wound and my plight.

My darling was no parrot favourite brought from an Egyptian galley: no glib-tongued, pert-witted boy, 207 well versed in the sallies of his native Nile. Mine he was, my own. A new-born babe I saw him and anointed him, and sang him lullaby: and as with shrill cry he claimed the new-won air I introduced him into life. What more did parents e’er bestow? Nay, second birth I gave thee, child, and freedom while thou wast yet an unweaned nursling, and didst laugh at my gift, as yet a thankless infant. Say that my love was hasty; yet that haste was thy due, lest such short-lived freedom should lose even a day. And shall I not now again in dishevelled grief assail Heaven and the unjust gods of the Underworld? Shall I not weep for thee, dear child, in whose life I never yearned for sons; whom from the first day of birth I knit and bound to my own heart; to whom I taught (ah! must I reveal my sorrow and my secret wounds!) both speech and language; and stooped to thee as thou didst play on the ground and lifted thee with my own hands to my embrace, and when thy eyes swam made thee hide them5 in my caressing arms and there woo gentle sleep! My name was the first sound on thy little lips, my play thy joy, and all thy bliss was drawn from my smiles . . .


1  Line 1.  ‘ullis’ (Peyraredus).

2  Line 43.  ‘sessura’ (Phillimore).

3  Line 1.  ‘modis . . . maestis’ (Klotz).

4  Line 48.  ‘serva’ (M).

5  Line 85.  ‘feci operire’ (Phillimore).

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