I hate the vulgar crowd, and keep them away:
grant me your silence. A priest of the Muses,
I sing a song never heard before,
I sing a song for young women and boys.
The power of dread kings over their peoples,
is the power Jove has over those kings themselves,
famed for his defeat of the Giants,
controlling all with a nod of his head.
It’s true that one man will lay out his vineyards
over wider acres than will his neighbour,
that one candidate who descends to
the Campus, will maintain that he’s nobler,
another’s more famous, or has a larger
crowd of followers: but Necessity sorts
the fates of high and low with equal
justice: the roomy urn holds every name.
Sicilian feasts won’t supply sweet flavours
to the man above whose impious head hangs
a naked sword, nor will the singing
of birds or the playing of zithers bring back
soft sleep. But gentle slumber doesn’t despise
the humble house of a rural labourer,
or a riverbank deep in the shade,
or the vale of Tempe, stirred by the breeze.
He who only longs for what is sufficient,
is never disturbed by tumultuous seas,
nor the savage power of Arcturus
setting, nor the strength of the Kids rising,
nor his vineyards being lashed by the hailstones,
nor his treacherous farmland, rain being blamed
for the state of the trees, the dog-star
parching the fields, or the cruel winter.
The fish can feel that the channel’s narrowing,
when piles are driven deep: the builder, his team
of workers, the lord who scorns the land
pour the rubble down into the waters.
But Fear and Menace climb up to the same place
where the lord climbs up, and dark Care will not leave
the bronze-clad trireme, and even sits
behind the horseman when he’s out riding.
So if neither Phrygian stone, nor purple,
brighter than the constellations, can solace
the grieving man, nor Falernian
wine, nor the perfumes purchased from Persia,
why should I build a regal hall in modern
style, with lofty columns to stir up envy?
Why should I change my Sabine valley,
for the heavier burden of excess wealth?
Let the boy toughened by military service
learn how to make bitterest hardship his friend,
and as a horseman, with fearful lance,
go to vex the insolent Parthians,
spending his life in the open, in the heart
of dangerous action. And seeing him, from
the enemy’s walls, let the warring
tyrant’s wife, and her grown-up daughter, sigh:
‘Ah, don’t let the inexperienced lover
provoke the lion that’s dangerous to touch,
whom a desire for blood sends raging
so swiftly through the core of destruction.’
It’s sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.
Yet death chases after the soldier who runs,
and it won’t spare the cowardly back
or the limbs, of peace-loving young men.
Virtue, that’s ignorant of sordid defeat,
shines out with its honour unstained, and never
takes up the axes or puts them down
at the request of a changeable mob.
Virtue, that opens the heavens for those who
did not deserve to die, takes a road denied
to others, and scorns the vulgar crowd
and the bloodied earth, on ascending wings.
And there’s a true reward for loyal silence:
I forbid the man who divulged those secret
rites of Ceres, to exist beneath
the same roof as I, or untie with me
the fragile boat: often careless Jupiter
included the innocent with the guilty,
but lame-footed Punishment rarely
forgets the wicked man, despite his start.
The passion of the public, demanding what
is wrong, never shakes the man of just and firm
intention, from his settled purpose,
nor the tyrant’s threatening face, nor the winds
the stormy masters of the troubled Adriatic,
nor Jupiter’s mighty hand with its lightning:
if the heavens fractured in their fall,
still their ruin would strike him, unafraid.
By these means Pollux, and wandering Hercules,
in their effort, reached the fiery citadels,
where Augustus shall recline one day,
drinking nectar to stain his rosy lips.
Bacchus, for such virtues your tigers drew you,
pulling at the yoke holding their untamed necks:
for these virtues, Romulus, escaped
with horses that were Mars’, from Acheron,
while Juno, in the council of the gods, spoke
welcome words: ‘Ilium, Ilium is in
the dust, through both Paris’s fatal,
sinful judgement, and that foreign woman:
Ilium was mine, and virgin Minerva’s,
and its citizens, and its treacherous king,
from the time when Laomedon robbed
the gods, withholding the payment agreed.
The infamous guest no longer shines for his
Spartan adulteress, nor does Priam’s house,
betrayed, hold back the fierce Achaeans,
with Hector’s help: now the ten-year battle,
which our quarrels long extended, is ended.
From this moment on I’ll abandon my fierce
anger, and I’ll restore my hated
grandson, he who was born of a priestess
of Troy, to Mars: I’ll allow him to enter
the regions of light, and to drink sweet nectar,
and to be enrolled, and take his place,
here, among the quiet ranks of the gods.
Let the exiles rule happily in any
place they choose, so long as there’s a width of sea,
roaring, between Ilium and Rome,
so long as the cattle trample over
the tombs of Paris and of Priam, and wild
beasts hide their offspring there with impunity:
and let their Capitol stand gleaming,
let warlike Rome make laws for conquered Medes.
Let her extend her dreaded name to farthest
shores, there where the straits separate Africa
and Europe, there where the swollen Nile
irrigates the lands beside the river,
firm in ignoring gold still undiscovered,
that’s better where it is while earth conceals it,
than mining it for our human use,
with hands that grasp everything that’s sacred.
Whatever marks the boundaries of the world,
let Rome’s might reach it, eager to see regions
where solar fires perform their revels,
or places where the mists and rain pour down.
But I prophesy such fate for her warlike citizens,
with this proviso: that they show no excess
of piety, or faith in their powers,
wishing to rebuild Troy’s ancestral roofs.
Troy’s fortunes would revive with evil
omens, and they’d repeat their sad disaster,
while I, who am Jove’s wife and sister,
would lead the victorious armies.
If her bronze walls were to rise again three times
with Apollo’s help, three times they’d be destroyed,
shattered by my Argives, and, three times,
the captive wife would mourn sons and husband.’
What are you saying, Muse? This theme doesn’t suit
the happy lyre. Stop wilfully repeating
divine conversations, and weakening
great matters with these trivial metres.
O royal Calliope, come from heaven,
and play a lengthy melody on the flute,
or, if you prefer, use your clear voice,
or pluck at the strings of Apollo’s lute.
Do you hear her, or does some lovely fancy
toy with me? I hear, and seem to wander, now,
through the sacred groves, where delightful
waters steal, where delightful breezes stray.
In my childhood, once, on pathless Vultur’s slopes,
beyond the bounds of nurturing Apulia,
exhausted with my play and weariness,
the fabled doves covered me with new leaves,
which was a wonder to everyone who holds
Acherontia’s high nest, and Bantia’s
woodland pastures, and the rich meadows
of low-lying Forentum, since I slept
safe from the bears and from the dark vipers,
the sacred laurel and the gathered myrtle
spread above me, a courageous child,
though it was thanks to the power of the gods.
Yours Muses, yours, I climb the high Sabine Hills,
or I’m carried off to my cool Praeneste,
to the slopes of Tibur, if I please,
or the cloudless loveliness of Baiae.
A friend of your sacred fountains and your
choirs, the rout of the army at Philippi
failed to kill me, and that accursed
tree, and Palinurus’ Sicilian Sea.
Whenever you are with me, as a sailor
I’ll attempt the raging Bosphorus, or be
a traveller in the burning sands
of the Syrian shore: as a stranger
I’ll see the fierce inhospitable Britons,
the Spaniards that love drinking horses’ blood,
I’ll see the quiver-bearing Thracians,
and, unharmed, visit the Scythian stream.