Catullus: Poem LXIV "The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis" |
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-398,single-format-standard,bridge-core-3.0.1,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-title-hidden,qode_grid_1300,qode-content-sidebar-responsive,qode-theme-ver-28.6,qode-theme-bridge,disabled_footer_top,qode_header_in_grid,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.1,vc_responsive
Latin Text

Catullus: Poem LXIV “The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis”

Translator’s Introduction.

i) Catullus: details of his life.

Gaius Valerius Catullus was born to an equestrian family in 84 B.C. at Verona, then in Cisalpine Gaul. His father owned a villa at Sirmio on Lake Garda, where he entertained Julius Caesar when he was wintering south of the Alps during his governorship of Gaul. Catullus was on the staff of Gaius Memmius in Bithynia in 57-56, and before returning to Italy he travelled to the Troad to pay his respects to the grave of his beloved elder brother. He, himself, also owned a house at Tibur (Tivoli), near Rome. Catullus wrote in the “neoteric” style of poetry, which concentrated more on personal life than on the myths of heroes, and often in the form of short epigrams rather than the longer epics. Other such neoteric poets included his friends Helvius Cinna and Licinius Calvus. Other close friends of his were the biographer Cornelius Nepos and Quintus Hortensius, the son of the famous orator. He appears to have had a long-standing relationship with Clodia, the wife of Quintus Metellus Celer, the consul in 60 B.C., believed by many to be the “Lesbia” to whom he addresses many of his love poems, but this identification is not certain. He died in 54 B.C. in his thirtieth year.

ii) His poetry.

Catullus’ poetical works are traditionally numbered as 116 carmina. However, one poem, LXVIII, is divided into two, A and B, and poems XVIII-XX are usually excluded from modern editions, because it is now considered Catullus did not write them. The 114 poems that comprise his works can conveniently be divided into three sections:

a. I-LX: lyric epigrams, short poems in various metres, called “polymetra”, but excluding hexameters and elegiac couplets.

b. LXI-LXVIII B: eight longer poems mainly written in hexameters or elegiac couplets.

c. LXIX-CXVI: elegiac epigrams, short poems all written in elegiac couplets.

The content of the polymetra and the elegiac epigrams include both tender love poems, many addressed to his lover “Lesbia”, and savage invective, sometimes containing very obscene language – until modern times these poems were usually not translated. Some poems are addressed to his friends, and there are works of condolence, including Carmen CI, lamenting the death of his brother, but the majority, about two-thirds, of the polymetra and the elegiacs are abusive or obscene in content. The eight longer poems, however, are very different. Seven of them constitute hymns, some of them cletic or invocatory, and one, LXIV, the subject of the translation below, is an “epyllion”, or mini-epic, written in hexameters. Of the other longer poems only LXII was also written in hexameters, but carmina LXV-LXVIII B are written in elegiac couplets and thus connect up with the following epigrams, i.e. LXIX-CXVI, all written in this metre.

iii) Carmen LXIV.

Catullus would probably have seen this poem as his masterpiece, and he may well have written it in a deliberate attempt to match or surpass the epyllia written at about the same time by his friends Gaius Helvius Cinna and Gaius Licinius Calvus Macer (sadly these do not survive). It is usually referred to as “The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis”. As such the poem is an “epithalamium,” a song in celebration of a marriage, constructed in the Alexandrian style of the Greek poet Callimachus, whose influence on Catullus and the other Roman neoteric poets of the First Century B.C. was strong. However, only lines 1-49 and 267-383, 166 in total, deal with the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and more lines, 217 (ll. 50-266), are devoted to telling the story of Theseus and Ariadne. This, effectively, a second epyllion, is facilitated by the ingenious device of embroidering the bedspread or coverlet placed on Thetis’ nuptial couch with depictions of Theseus and Ariadne, and highlighting too the appearance of Bacchus. For this reason Carmen LXIV is often described as Catullus’ “Bedspread Poem”. The poem ends with an epilogue of 25 lines (ll. 383-408), which contrasts sharply the circumstances of the Heroic Age with those of the poet’s own times. In his scheme of narration, Catullus restricts narrative as such. Perhaps the high-points of the poem are the long monologue of the despairing Ariadne (ll. 132-201) and Aegeus’ speech to his departing son (ll. 215-237), while the epithalamium itself is delivered by the Parcae in twelve strophes (ll. 323-381), each ending in a common refrain or chorus, after the memorable description of them spinning their weft (ll. 305-322). The actual date of Carmen LXIV is not known, but the assurance of expression which the work contains suggests a date towards the end of the poet’s short life.

For this translation Sabidius has relied mainly on the text of Catullus’ works contained in “Catullus: The Complete Poems”, edited, with an accompanying translation, by Guy Lee, Oxford University Press, 1990. He has also found very useful E.T. Merrill’s “Commentary on Catullus” (Harvard University Press, 1893), which is available on the Perseus website. Sabidius would also like to draw to the attention of the reader a very recent book, “Catullus’ Bedspread: the life of Rome’s most erotic poet”, written by Daisy Dunn and published by William Collins, 2016. In this book, the author ingeniously uses a series of selective extracts from Carmen LXIV to open up to scrutiny the life of Catullus and the events of the momentous age in which he lived. Reading this book encouraged Sabidius to undertake this translation.

1) Preface – how the marriage of Peleus and Thetis occurred (ll. 1-30).

Pine-trees born on the summit of (Mount) Pelion are once said to have swum through Neptune’s clear waves to the waters of (the River) Phasis and the territories of Aeëtes, when the chosen young men, the flower of Argive manhood, wishing to steal the gilded hide (i.e. the Golden Fleece) from the Colchians, ventured to traverse the briny seas in a swift ship, (while) sweeping the dark-blue surface of the sea with oars (made) of fir-wood. For them the goddess who holds the citadels on the high-points of cities (i.e. Athena Polias), herself made a vehicle (i.e. the Argo, the first ocean-going ship) that moves rapidly in a light gust of wind (by) binding the pine-wood fabric in a curved keel. That (ship) first accustomed the raw Amphitrite (i.e. the sea-goddess and wife of Poseidon or Neptune, and here a metonym for the open sea) to voyages. As soon as she ploughed the windy surface of the sea with her beak, and the waves, churned by the oars, grew white with foam, faces arose from the dazzling white depths of the sea, the Nereids (i.e. the sea-nymphs, daughters of Nereus and Doris, including Thetis, Amphitrite and Galatea), amazed at this wonder of the ocean. On that day, if on no other, mortals saw with their eyes the sea-nymphs projecting themselves from the white depths, with their bodies naked as far as their nipples. Then Peleus (i.e. one of the Argonauts) is said to have burned with love of Thetis, then Thetis did not scorn espousals with mortals, then did the Father Himself realise that Peleus must be joined in marriage to Thetis. Hail O (you) heroes, the stock of the Gods, born at a time of the ages too much longed for! O noble progeny of beautiful mothers, I hail (you) once more! I shall invoke you often, (I shall invoke) you in my song, and you, Peleus, mainstay of Thessaly, so exceptionally blessed by happy bridal torches, to whom Jupiter Himself, the Father of the Gods Himself, gave up his own love. Did Thetis, the fairest daughter of Nereus, embrace you? Did Tethys (i.e. a sea-goddess, the daughter of Uranus and Gaia and mother of Nereus) allow you to marry her granddaughter, and Oceanus (i.e. Tethys’ husband and brother) also, who encircles the whole world with sea?

2) The marriage of Peleus and Thetis: the gathering of the wedding-guests (ll. 31-42).

As soon as, at the appointed time, that longed-for day had come, the whole of Thessaly, by invitation, crowds (Peleus’) house, the palace is filled completely with a joyful company, and they bring gifts with them (and) and reveal their joy in their faces. Cieros is deserted, they leave Phthian Tempe, and the houses of Crannon and the walls of Larisa. They assemble at Pharsalus, and throng the roof-tops of Pharsalus. No one is tilling the fields, the necks of the bullocks grow soft, (and) the low-lying vineyard is not cleared (of weeds) by curved mattocks; the ox does not break up the earth with the downward sloping ploughshare; the pruners’ sickle does not thin the shade of the tree; (and) coarse rust attacks the abandoned ploughs.

3) The adornment of the palace of Peleus (ll. 43-49).

But (Peleus’) own quarters, wherever the wealthy palace stretched back, shines with glistening gold and silver. The ivory on the thrones (i.e. their legs) shines white, the cups on the tables gleam, the whole house revels in its glittering royal treasure. But (there) in the midst of the palace the Goddess’s nuptial couch is placed, and, furbished with Indian tusk (i.e. ivory), a purple (cloth) covers it, tinged with the rosy dye of the (murex) shell.

4) The bedspread illustrating Ariadne’s lament (ll. 50-75).

This bedspread, embroidered with the forms of ancient men, reveals with wondrous art, the virtues of the heroes. For (there), watching from the wave-resounding shore of Dia (i.e. Naxos), Ariadne, bearing uncontrollable passions in her heart, sees Theseus sailing away with his swift fleet. Nor yet does she even believe that she beholds what she is beholding, since, now first aroused from treacherous sleep, she sees herself wretchedly abandoned on the lonely sand. The forgetful young man beats the waters with his oars as he flees, leaving his vain promises to the windy storm. At him, afar from the beach, the daughter of Minos with her sad eyes, like the marble statue of a Bacchanal, gazes, alas! She gazes, and swells on a great tide of troubles, not keeping the delicate headband on her blonde hair, nor is her breast covered by its veil of light drapery, nor are her milk-white bosoms bound by her well-turned girdle; these all slipped in every direction from the whole of her body, (and) the waves (full) of salt lapped around before her very feet. But she, caring in turn neither for her headband nor her floating raiment, was gazing on you, Theseus, with all her heart, all her soul and all her mind, (completely) lost. Ah, poor (girl), whom Erycina (i.e. Aprodite or Venus) had terrified with continual sorrows, sowing thorny cares in her breast at that hour, from the time when bold Theseus, setting out from the curving shores of Piraeus, reaches the Gortynian (i.e. Cretan) precincts of the unjust king (i.e. Minos).

5) How Ariadne had arrived in her sad predicament (ll.76-131).

For they say that, previously, Cecropia (i.e. Athens, founded by Cecrops), driven by a cruel pestilence to pay a penalty for the slaughter of Androgeos (i.e. the son of Minos), was wont to give (as) a feast to the Minotaur chosen youths, together with the flower of unwedded (maidens). (Now) when its narrow walls were troubled by these evils, Theseus himself chose to offer his own body for his beloved Athens rather than that such deaths of Cecropia should be carried, (while) not dead, to Crete. And so, relying on a light ship and gentle breezes, he comes to great Minos and his proud quarters. As soon as the royal maiden caught sight of him with her eager eye, (she) whom her chaste bed, emitting sweet scents, was (still) nursing in her mother’s soft embrace – (these scents were) such as the myrtles which the streams of Eurotas (i.e. a river in Sparta), or the different coloured (flowers which) the spring brings forth – she did not turn her smouldering eyes away from him, until she had caught a flame throughout the whole of her body, and was ablaze in her innermost marrow. Alas, (you) Holy Child (i.e. Cupid), who wretchedly arouses passions with a pitiless heart, and who mingles the joys of men with troubles, and (you) who rules Golgi and leafy Idalium (i.e. Aphrodite or Venus), on what billows you tossed the girl with her heart on fire and sighing so often for the blonde(-haired) stranger! How many fears she bore with a fainting heart! How often she turned more pale than a gleam of gold, when Theseus, eager to contend with the savage monster sought either death or the prize of glory! Yet vainly promising not unwelcome little gifts to the Gods, she kindles vows on silent lips. For, just as a wild whirlwind uproots an oak-tree, as it shakes its boughs on the summit of (Mount) Taurus, or a cone-bearing pine with a sweating bark, twisting its trunk in the blast (wrenched up by its roots it falls headlong for some distance, shattering everything in its way far and wide), so did Theseus lay low the savage (monster), having overcome (the force of) its body as it tossed its horns in vain in the empty air. Thence, he retraced his steps, unhurt (and) with great renown, guiding his footsteps with a thin clue of thread, lest, (while) quitting the Labyrinthine turnings of the palace, an unnoticed mistake might thwart (him).

But, having digressed from my opening poem, what more should I relate, how the daughter, leaving her father’s countenance, and the embrace of her sister (i.e. Phaedra), and, finally, (that) of her mother (i.e. Pasiphaë), who lamented, lost in grief for her wretched daughter, had preferred the sweet love of Theseus to all these (things); or how, carried by ship, she came to the foaming shores of Dia, or how her departing spouse, with his forgetful heart, left her with her eyes blindfolded by sleep? Often, they say that, raving in her burning heart, she poured out piercing cries from the depths of her breast, that then in her grief she climbs up steep mountains, from where she could extend her sight towards the desolate surges of the sea, that she then runs out towards the waters of the rippling brine that face (her), lifting the soft coverings from her bared legs, and that in her sadness she spoke these (words) in her last laments, uttering faint little sobs from a tearful face:

6) Ariadne’s lament (ll. 132-201).

“Is this how you have abandoned me on this lonely shore, after taking (me) from my father’s hearths, (O) faithless, faithless Theseus? Is this how, disregarding the will of the Gods, on your departure, ah, forgetful (one), you carry accursed perjury to your home? Could nothing deflect your cruel mind from its purpose? Did you have no mercy at hand, that your inexorable heart might wish to have pity on us? But these (were) not the promises (which) you once gave me with a winning voice; you did not bid me to expect these (things), but joyful wedlock and longed-for nuptials, all of which the airy winds (now) vainly disperse. From now on let no woman believe a man’s oath, (and) let no (woman) expect that a man’s words are trustworthy; while a man’s mind desires something and longs eagerly to obtain (it), (there is) nothing they fear to swear and nothing they forebear to promise, but, as soon as the lust of their greedy mind is satisfied, they do not remember what they have said at all, and they are quite unconcerned about perjury. Indeed, when (you) were turning in the midst of death’s maelstrom, I saved you, and I decided to let my brother (i.e. the Minotaur) go rather than fail you, deceitful (as you are), in your extreme moment (of danger). For this I shall be given to the beasts and birds to be torn apart (as) prey, nor, (when) dead, shall I be interred with some earth thrown on top (of me) (n.b. the passage of a dead soul across the Styx required a burial with at least three handfuls of earth). What lioness gave you birth on a lonely crag, (and) what sea conceived (you) and spewed (you) out in its foaming waves, what Syrtes (i.e. the sandbank off the coast of Libya), what ravening Scylla, what bottomless Charybdis (conceived you,) who returns such rewards for his sweet life? If you did not have our marriage in your mind, because you dreaded the cruel precepts of your stern father, yet you could still have led me (me) into your family dwelling, in order that I might serve you (as) a slave with joyful work, bathing your pale feet in clear water, or covering your couch with a purple bedspread.

“But why should I, distracted with woe, complain in vain to the unheeding airs, which (are) endowed with no feelings, and can neither hear nor reply to the words which I have dispatched? But he is now tossing almost in the midst of the waves, nor does any human being appear on this empty beach. So, cruel Fortune, exulting too much at my most extreme moment, has even begrudged her ears (listening) to my complaint. (O) Almighty Jupiter, would that the Cecropian ships had not touched the Cretan shores, and that this faithless sailor, bearing that fearful tribute to the untamed bull, had not moored his ship in Crete, and that this evil (man), hiding his cruel designs under a fair form, had not stayed in our house (as) a guest! For whither shall I return? Lost (as I am), on what hope can I rely? Shall I seek the mountains of Ida (i.e. to return to Crete)? Ah, no, when the stormy sea marks out (those) on the deck, it separates (us) by its wide gulf, (does it not)? Can I hope for my father’s assistance? Surely not when I left him, of my own accord, to follow a young man, bespattered with (the blood of) my slaughtered brother? Shall I console myself with the devoted love of my husband? What, even when he is flying (from me), bending his pliant oars in the waves? Besides, this lonely island is adorned with no houses. Nor is any way out open (to me), surrounded (as I am) by the waters of the sea? (There is) no means of flight, no hope (for me): all (is) speechless, all is desolate, everything points to death. Yet, my eyes shall not grow faint in death, nor shall the senses depart from my weary body before I demand from the Gods a just penalty, and in my last hour I pray for the good faith of the Heavenly Beings. Therefore, (O) Furies, (you) who chastise the (evil) deeds of men with an avenging punishment, (and) whose foreheads wreathed in snaky hair display furious rage exuding from your breasts, come hither, hither (and) hear my complaints, which I, alas in my wretchedness, am compelled to bring forth from my inmost soul, powerless, burning, blinded with demented fury. Since these (complaints) are truly borne from the bottom of my heart, don’t you let my grief pass away, but, in that (state of) mind through which Theseus left me desolate (i.e. his forgetfulness), in just such a (state of) mind, (O) Goddesses, let him desecrate both himself and his kinsmen.”

7) Theseus’ fatal loss of memory (ll. 202-214).

When she had poured out these words from her sad breast, in her anguish demanding punishment for his cruel deeds, the Ruler of the Heavenly Beings (i.e. Jupiter) nodded his invincible assent, at which movement the earth and the stormy seas trembled, and the firmament shook the quivering stars. But Theseus himself, his mind beset with a blinding mist, let slip from his forgetful heart all the injunctions which he had previously kept constantly in mind, and he did not show that he was safely in sight of Erechtheus’ harbour (i.e. the Piraeus) (by) raising the welcome sign to his father. For they say that earlier, when Aegeus was entrusting his son to the winds, as he leaving the Goddess’s walls (i.e. Athens) with his fleet, he embraced (him) and gave the young man the following commands:

8) Aegeus requests Theseus, if successful in his mission, to raise a white flag on his return (ll. 215-237).

“My only son, sweeter to me than a long life, my son, recently restored to me at the extreme end of my old-age, whom I am compelled to send off to uncertain hazards, since my misfortune and your fiery valour tear you away from me against my will, when my failing eyes are not yet satiated with the dear form of my son, I shall not send you gladly with a cheerful heart, nor shall I allow you to bear the signs of favourable fortune (i.e. white sails), but first I shall bring forth many laments from my heart, soiling my grey hair with earth and sprinkled dust, (and) then I shall hang dyed sails from your roving mast, so that canvas darkened with Iberian rust (i.e. a dark violet-coloured ochre from Spain) will publicise my grief and the fires in my heart. But, if she who dwells in holy Itonus (i.e. a city in Boeotia with a shrine to Athena), (she) who vouchsafes to defend our race and the abodes of Erechtheus (i.e. Athens), shall allow you to sprinkle your right (hand) with the blood of the bull, then indeed see to it that these injunctions (of mine), preserved in your mindful heart, stay fresh, and that no amount of time shall blur (them); so that, as soon as your eyes shall catch sight of our hills, your yard-arms shall set aside every stitch of their mourning garb, and your curled rigging may raise white sails, (and) so that I, seeing (them) at the soonest possible moment, may recognise your delight with a joyous heart, when a happy hour delivers you safely home.”

9) Theseus’ anguish at the death of Aegeus (ll. 238-250).

These commands drifted away from Theseus, who previously had kept (them) constantly in mind, like clouds, driven by a gust of wind, (drift away from) the airy peak of a snowy mountain. But his father, as he sought a view from the top of his citadel (i.e. the Acropolis), exhausting his anxious eyes in constant weeping, as soon as he caught sight of the cloth of the swelling sail, hurled himself headlong from the top of the rocks, believing that Theseus was lost to inexorable fate. So, proud Theseus, as he entered the dwellings of his home, (which were) in mourning for his father’s death, himself received such grief as he had caused the daughter of Minos; meanwhile, she, gazing sadly at the receding ship, (and) wounded in spirit, was pondering her manifold troubles.

10) Bacchus’ love for Ariadne (ll. 251-266).

But in another part (of the bedspread) Iacchus (i.e. Bacchus), in the bloom of youth, was flying by, with his troupe of Satyrs and Nysa-born Sileni, searching for you, Ariadne, and inflamed with his love of you. Then, the excitable (Thyiades, i.e. the Maenads or Bacchantes) were raving all over the place with their frenzied minds, chanting “Euhoe! Euhoe!” (and) shaking their heads. Some of them were waving their thyrsi (i.e. Bacchic wands) with veiled points, others were tossing about the limbs of a mangled steer, some were girding themselves with writhing snakes, others were carrying in procession the secret mysteries in hollow wicker baskets, mysteries which the profane desire in vain to hear, (and) others too were beating timbrels with uplifted hands or were producing sharp clashing sounds with rounded bronze (cymbals). From many, horns blared out cacophonous booming noises, and barbarous (i.e. Phrygian) reed-pipes screeched a dreadful tune. Splendidly adorned with such figures (as these), the bedspread embraced and covered the (royal) couch with its fabric.

11) The mortal guests at the marriage of Peleus and Thetis give way to the immortals (ll. 267-277).

When the folk of Thessaly were sated with eagerly gazing at these (marvels), they started to make way for the holy Gods. Then, just as the West Wind, ruffling the placid sea with its morning breath, arouses the sloping waves, (and) when Dawn is rising up the threshold of the roving Sun, these (waves), driven by a gentle breeze, proceed slowly at first and resound with a light beat of laughter, (and) afterwards grow more and more strong in the growing wind, and reflect (the light) as they swim far away from the rosy light (of Dawn), so then, leaving the royal Palace by the forecourt, the (guests) departed in various directions on their wandering feet, each to his own (home).

12) The immortals, bringing gifts, attend the wedding feast (ll. 278-304).

After their departure, in the first place came Chiron (i.e. the famous centaur) from the top of (Mount) Pelion, carrying woodland gifts. For whatever (flowers) the plains bear, what (flowers) the region of Thessaly grows on her mighty mountains, what flowers the fruitful breeze of warm Favonius (i.e. the West Wind) produces, these he brought himself, interwoven into assorted bunches, and, charmed by this delightful fragrance, the house smiled. At once, (the River) Peneus comes to the verdant (Vale of) Tempe, Tempe, which overhanging woodlands encircle from above, leaving the celebrations of the Doric dances to the Naiads (i.e. water-nymphs from the Vale of Tempe), but not empty-handed; for he (i.e. the Peneus) bore lofty beech-trees, roots and all, and tall laurels with upright stems, together with the nodding plane-tree and the supple sister of the burnt-out Phaëthon (i.e. a poplar-tree), and a towering cypress. These he placed, intertwined, far and wide around the palace, so that the forecourt, covered with tender foliage, might be made green. Prometheus, with his ingenious mind, follows after him, bearing the fading imprints of his ancient punishment, which he once paid with his limbs bound fast to the rock by a chain, (while) hanging from the sheer mountain tops. Then came the Father of the Gods with his sacred consort and children, leaving you, Phoebus (i.e. Apollo) alone in heaven, together with your twin-sister (i.e. Artemis or Diana), a fellow-inhabitant of the mountains of Idrus (i.e. a region of Caria) for, together with you, your sister spurned Peleus, nor did she deign to celebrate the nuptial torches of Thetis. When they (i.e. the Gods) had reclined their limbs on the snow-white couches (i.e. their legs were made of ivory), the tables were lavishly heaped with dainties.

13) Description of the Parcae (ll. 305-322).

Meanwhile, the Parcae (i.e. the Moirai or the Fates), their bodies shaking with a feeble motion, began to utter their truth-telling chants. The white raiment completely enfolding their trembling bodies had girded their ankles with a crimson border, while rose-red fillets rested on their snow-white heads, and their hands duly plied the eternal task (i.e. their weaving). The left (hand) held the distaff (which was) wrapped in soft wool, then the right (hand), gently drawing down the threads with upturned fingers, shaped (them), and then twisting (them) with a down-turned thumb, revolved the spindle, balanced by its rounded whorl; and so, with their teeth plucking (the threads), they always made the work smooth, and little pieces of wool, which had previously been sticking out from the smooth yarn, clung to their dry lips. Moreover, at their feet small wicker baskets preserved soft fleeces of shining-white wool. Then, they, as they plucked at the fleeces, poured forth, with a clear-sounding voice, such prophecies as these in a divine song, a song which no age to come will (ever) accuse of falsehood:

14) The prophetic marriage-song of the Parcae, constituting the epithalamium (in 12 strophes) (ll. 323-381).

i) “O (you) (i.e. Peleus), who augments exceptional honour with (deeds of) great courage, bulwark of Emathia (i.e. Thessaly), most dear to the son of Ops (i.e. Jupiter), hear the truthful oracle, which, on this happy day, the Sisters reveal to you. But run, you spindles, run, drawing out the weft, which the Fates follow.

ii) “Now, Hesperus (i.e. the Evening Star) will come to you, bringing to bridegrooms what they long for, with his lucky star your spouse will come, who shall pour out to you her feelings with a heart-warming love, and prepare to join with you in languid slumbers, spreading her smooth arms beneath your strong neck. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

iii) “No house has ever given shelter to such loves as these, no love (ever) joined lovers in such a union as the harmony which exists between Thetis and Peleus. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

iv) “Achilles shall be born to you, (one who is) free from fear, known to his enemies not by his back, but by his stout breast, who, very often the winner in the fickle contest of the foot-race, shall outstrip the red-hot footsteps of the swift hind. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

v) “(There is) not any hero (who) shall compare himself to him in war, when the Phrygian plains shall flow with Teucrian (i.e. Trojan) blood, and the third heir of oath-breaking Pelops (i.e. Agamemnon), besieging the walls of Troy in a lengthy war, shall destroy (them). Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

vi) “Mothers shall often acknowledge his exceptional virtues and his famous deeds at the funerals of their sons, when they loosen their dishevelled hair from their hoary heads, and bruise their withered breasts with feeble hands. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

vii) “For, just as the reaper, lopping off the closely-packed ears of corn beneath the burning sun, harvests the golden fields, he shall cut down Trojan-born bodies with his hostile sword. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

viii) “The wave of Scamander (i.e. one of the main rivers of the Troad) which spreads out in all directions in the rapid Hellespont shall be witness to his great (deeds of) valour, and, choking its passage with heaps of slaughtered bodies, he shall make the waters warm with mingled blood. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

ix) “The final witness will be the booty assigned (to him) even in death, when a rounded tomb, heaped up with a lofty mound of earth, shall receive the snow-white limbs of a slaughtered maiden. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

x) “For, as soon as Fortune shall grant the weary Achaeans the means to loosen Neptune’s chains around the city of Dardanus (i.e. Troy, built by Neptune), the lofty tomb will drenched in the blood of Polyxena (i.e. the daughter of Priam, reputedly betrothed to Achilles, and slaughtered by his son Pyrrhus after the fall of Troy) who, like a (sacrificial) victim succumbing to a two-edged sword, will cast her headless body forward, as her knees bend. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

xi) “Come, then, unite your souls’ longed-for loves. Let the husband (i.e. Peleus) receive the Goddess (i.e. Thetis) in a happy union, let the bride be given up to forthwith to her eager spouse. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

xii) “Her nurse, revisiting her at first light, will not be able to encircle her neck with yesterday’s ribbon (n.b. the Romans thought that a girl’s neck would thicken when she lost her virginity), nor shall her anxious mother, saddened by her quarrelsome daughter’s sleeping alone, cease to hope for dear grandchildren. Run, spindles, run, as you draw out the weft.

15) Epilogue, providing a peroration on the fallen state of man and the withdrawal of the gods from human ceremonies due to the impiety of the race.

The Parcae once sang such songs from their prophetic breasts, foretelling happiness to Peleus. For, in the past, while piety was not yet scorned, the Heavenly Beings were accustomed to visit the pure homes of heroes and show themselves to mortal company. Often, the Father of the Gods, residing in his shining temple, when the annual sacred rights had come on festal days, watched a hundred bulls fall to the ground. Often, Liber (i.e. Diomedes or Bacchus), roving on the topmost height of (Mount) Parnassus, drove the Thyiades, shouting the Bacchic cry with their hair flying, when the inhabitants of Delphi, rushing zealously from their city, welcomed the Gods joyfully with smoking altars. Often, in the fatal strife of war, Mavors (i.e. Ares or Mars), or the Lady of swift Triton (i.e. Athena or Minerva), or the Amarynthian maid (i.e. Artemis or Diana) encouraged armed bands of men in person. But, after the Earth was steeped in unspeakable crime, and everyone expelled justice from their greedy minds, brothers poured the blood of brothers over their hands, the son ceased to mourn his parents dying, the father wished for the death of his youthful son so that he might be free to possess the bloom of a new bride, the mother, impiously spreading herself beneath her ignorant son, in her impiety did not fear to defile the sacred household gods; all (things), speakable (and) unspeakable, having been confounded in wicked madness, have turned the just-dealing thoughts of the Gods away from us. So, they do not deign to visit such assemblies (as ours), nor do they allow themselves to be touched by the clear light (of day).

APPENDIX: Prosodic features of Carmen LXIV.

1. Spondeiazons.

Spondeiazons, i.e. spondaic hexameters, lines in which the fifth foot is an irregular spondee, occur in the following 31 lines: 3, 11, 15, 23 B, 24, 28, 36, 44, 67, 71, 74, 78, 79, 80, 83, 91, 96, 98, 108, 119, 252, 255, 258, 269, 274, 277, 286, 291, 297, 302, 358. Of these instances, 9 involve the use of Greek proper names, and these are underlined above. After a fairly regular use of these lines in the first 120 lines, they do not appear again until l. 252. After a number of incidences between then and l. 302, there is only one further spondeiazon before the end of the poem.

2. Other exceptional usages.

l. 20. Lengthening of a syllable ‘in arsis’ (i.e. in the first part of the metron or foot): despexit hymenaeos.

l. 119. Prodelision: lamentatast, i.e. contraction of ‘lamentata est’.

l. 120. Synaeresis: praeoptarit, i.e. the running together of a diphthong and a vowel into one long syllable.

l. 120. Synizesis: Thesei, i.e. the union into one syllable of two vowels without forming a recognised diphthong.

l. 186. Lengthening of a syllable ‘in arsis’: nulla spes, i.e. the lengthening of a short vowel before an ‘s’ and a consonant.

l. 229. Synizesis: Erechthei, i.e. cf. l. 120.

ll. 298-9. Hypermeter and synaphaea (or hypermetric elision) : natisque / advenit, i.e. the additional syllable ‘que‘ is elided into ‘advenit‘ at the beginning of the following line.

l. 336. Synizesis: Peleo, cf. l. 120.

l. 360. Diastole: tepefaciat, i.e. the lengthening of a short syllable.

l. 382. Synizesis: Pelei, i.e. l. 120.

No Comments

Post A Comment