Venus now you’ve returned again
to battles long neglected. Please, oh please, spare me.
I’m not prey to the power of kind
Cinara, as once I was. After fifty years,
cruel mother of sweet Cupids,
leave one now who’s hardened to your soft commands:
take yourself there, where seductive
prayers, from the young men, invite you to return.
It would be better still for you,
lifted by wings of gleaming swans, to adventure
to Paulus Maximus’s house,
if you want a worthy heart to set on fire.
Since he’s noble and he’s handsome,
and he’s not un-eloquent, for anxious clients:
he’s a lad of a hundred skills,
and he’ll carry your army’s standard far and wide:
and he’ll laugh when he’s successful
despite his rival’s expensive gifts, and he’ll raise,
just for you, by the Alban Lake,
a statue in marble, under a wooden roof.
You’ll smell rich incense, and you’ll take
delight in the notes of the lyre, when they’re mingled
with the Berecyntian flute’s,
and the sound of the reed pipes won’t be absent, there:
while sweet, virgin girls celebrate
your power, there, twice every day, see the young boys
beat the ground with their snow-white feet,
in a triple measure, like Salian dancers.
Women and boys can’t please me now,
nor those innocent hopes of mutual feeling,
nor wine-drinking competitions,
nor foreheads circled by freshly-gathered flowers.
But why, ah Ligurinus, why
should tears gather here on my cheeks, from time to time?
Why does my tongue, once eloquent,
fall indecorously silent while I’m speaking?
In dreams, at night, hard-hearted one,
I hold you prisoner, or follow you in flight,
over the grassy Fields of Mars,
or wing with you above the inconstant waters.
Iulus , whoever tries to rival Pindar,
flies on waxen wings, with Daedalean art,
and is doomed, like Icarus, to give a name
to glassy waters.
Like a river, rushing down from the mountains,
that the rain has filled above its usual banks,
so Pindar’s deep voice seethes, immeasurably,
and goes on flowing,
Pindar, deserving Apollo’s laurel crown,
whether he coins new phrases in audacious
dithyrambs, and is carried along in verse
that’s free of rules,
or whether he sings gods, and kings, the children
of gods, at whose hands the Centaurs, rightly, died,
and by whom the fearful Chimaera’s fires
were all extinguished,
or speaks of those godlike ones an Elean
palm, for boxing or riding, leads home again,
granting a tribute much more powerful than
a hundred statues,
or weeps for the young man snatched from his tearful
bride, praises his powers, to the stars, his spirit,
his golden virtue, begrudging all of them
to gloomy Orcus.
Son of Antony, a powerful breeze raises
the Dircean swan, whenever it’s carried
to cloudy heights, while I create my verses,
in the manner
of a humble Matinian bee, that goes
gathering pollen from all the pleasant thyme,
and labours among the many groves, on the banks
of flowing Tiber.
You, a poet of much greater power, will sing
Caesar, honoured with well-earned wreaths, as he climbs
the sacred slopes, drawing along in his wake
the savage Germans:
he, whom no greater and no better ruler
has Fate, and the true gods, given to the world,
nor ever will, though the centuries roll back
to that first age of gold.
You’ll sing of those happy days, and the City’s
public games, when our brave Augustus returns,
in answer to our prayers: you’ll sing the Forum
free of all quarrels.
Then, if what I utter’s worth hearing, the best
strains of my voice, thrilled by Caesar’s return,
will rise, and I will sing: ‘O lovely sun, O
worthy to be praised!’
While you lead us along: ‘Hail, God of Triumph!’
not once but many times: ‘Hail, God of Triumph!’
all the city will shout, and offer incense
to the kindly gods.
Ten bulls will acquit you, and as many cows:
me, a tender calf that has left its mother,
one that’s been fattened on wide pastures, one that
can fulfil my vow,
echoing, with its brow, those returning fires
of the crescent moon, at the third night’s rising,
appearing snow-white where it carries a mark,
and the rest tawny.
Melpomene, Muse, one whom you
have looked on with favourable eyes at his birth
Ismian toil will never grant
fame as a boxer: while no straining horses
will draw him along, triumphant
in a Greek chariot, nor will his acts of war
show him to the high Capitol,
wreathed with the Delian laurel crown, who’s crushed
the bloated menaces of kings:
but the waters that run beneath fertile Tibur,
and the thick leafage of the groves,
will make him of note in Aeolian song.
It’s thought that I’m worthy by Rome’s
children, the first of cities, to rank there among
the choir of delightful poets,
and already envy’s teeth savage me less.
O Pierian girl, you who
command the golden tortoise shell’s sweet melodies,
O you, who could, if you wished,
lend a swan’s singing, too, to the silent fishes,
all of this is a gift of yours:
that I’m pointed out by the passer-by as one
who’s a poet of the Roman lyre:
that I’m inspired, and please as I please: is yours.
Like the winged agent of the bright lightning-bolt,
to whom Jove granted power over wandering
birds, once the divine king had found him
faithful in snatching blond Ganymede:
youth and his native vigour first launching him
fresh to his labours, out from the nest: spring winds,
despite his fears, when the storms were past,
teaching him, then, unaccustomed effort:
now with a fierce, hostile assault sweeping down
on the sheepfold, and love of spoils, and the fight,
hurling him at writhing snakes: or like
a lion-cub newly weaned from rich milk
and its tawny mother, seeing a roe deer
intent on its browsing, that’s fated to die
in his inexperienced jaws, such
was Drusus, as the Vindelici found
waging war beneath the Rhaetian Alps:
(where the custom’s derived from that, as long as
is known, has forced them to arm themselves,
clutch, in their right hands, Amazonian
battle-axes, I’ve not tried to ascertain,
it’s not right to know everything) but those hordes,
triumphant everywhere, for so long,
were conquered by the young man’s strategies:
they came to realise what mind, and character
nurtured, with care, in a fortunate household,
by Augustus’ fatherly feelings
towards his stepsons, the Neros, could do.
By the brave and good, are the brave created:
their sire’s virtues exist in horses and men,
while the ferocious golden eagles
don’t produce shy doves, but education
improves inborn qualities, and its proper
cultivation strengthens the mind: whenever
moral behaviour falls short, its faults
dishonour whatever was good at birth.
The Metaurus river’s a witness, O Rome
to what you owe to the Neros, so too is
defeated Hasdrubal, and that day
as sweet, when the shadows fled Latium,
the first day to smile in its kindly glory,
since dread Hannibal rode through Italy’s
cities, a fire among the pine-trees,
or an East wind on Sicilian seas.
And after that, through favourable efforts,
the Roman youth grew in stature, and the shrines
destroyed by Carthaginians’
impious uproar, had their gods restored.
At last that treacherous Hannibal proclaimed:
‘Of our own will, like deer who become the prey
of ravening wolves, we’re chasing those
whom it’s a triumph to flee and evade.
Their race, still strong despite the burning of Troy,
brought their children, sacred icons, and aged
fathers, tossed about on Tuscan seas,
to the towns of Italy, as some oak,
rich in its dark leaves, high on Mount Algidus,
trimmed back by the double-bladed axe, draws strength
and life, despite loss and destruction,
from the very steel itself. The Hydra,
as its body was lopped, grew no mightier,
in grief at being conquered by Hercules,
nor was any greater monster reared
by Colchis or Echionian Thebes.