Nick (phantastes) wrote in againstnature,
Nick
phantastes
againstnature

Publius Vergilius Maro

I'm no particular fan of the so-called "Golden Age" of Latin literature, and I'd be the first to agree that all the scorn heaped upon, say, Horace and Cicero is richly deserved (though there's something to be said for Catullus and what little of Ennius survives), but I do think that our friend Des Esseintes was perhaps a bit unnecessarily hard on the poor "Swan of Mantua". Admittedly, my Latin is nowhere near good enough to tell whether his hexameters indeed ring false, or to judge to what extent the prosody is padded, barren, and pedantic, and the Aeniad, at least in translation, is indeed unbearably pompous and deathly dull. The Georgics, however, are a delight from start to finish, at least to a reader raised on the pastoral/romantic tradition of English poetry- charming and vivid, with a wonderful eye for detail and the kind of solemn, almost liturgical reverence for the cycles of, well, for lack of a better word, that I suspect would have delighted Huysmans had he found it in a medieval Book of Hours or the miniatures in the margins of an illuminated manuscript. The Eclogues are rather more of a mixed bag, sometimes fresh and springlike, sometimes tiresome, insipid, and full of conventions that seem stale even to a reader who's never encountered them before, often within the same poem. There are enough charming passages to make their perusal worthwhile, though, and every so often you'll stumble upon something genuinely marvelous and strange, as I did when trying a translation of the eighth one, describing a magic rite meant to bring a the shepherd's man back from the big bad city:



"Effer aquam, et molli cinge haec altaria uitta,
uerbenasque adole pinguis et mascula tura, 65
coniugis ut magicis sanos auertere sacris
experiar sensus: nihil hic nisi carmina desunt.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Carmina uel caelo possunt deducere lunam;
caminibus Circe socios mutauit Vlixi; 70
frigidus in pratis cantando rumpitur anguis.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Terna tibi haec primum triplici diuersa colore
licia circumdo, terque haec altaria circum
effigiem duco: numero deus impare gaudet. 75

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Necte tribus nodis ternos, Amarylli, colores;
necte, Amarylli, modo et "Veneris" dic "uincula necto".

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Limus ut hic durescit, et haec ut cera liquescit 80
uno eodemque igni, sic nostro Daphnis amore.
Sparge molam et fragilis incende bitumine laurus.
Daphnis me malus urit; ego hanc in Daphnide laurum.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Talis amor Daphnim, qualis cum fessa iuuencum 85
per nemora atque altos quaerendo bucula lucos,
propter aquae riuom, uiridi procumbit in ulua
perdita, nec serae meminit decedere nocti,
talis amor teneat, nec sit mihi cura mederi.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim. 90

Has olim exuuias mihi perfidus ille reliquit,
pignora cara sui; quae nunc ego limine in ipso,
terra, tibi mando: debent haec pignora Daphnim.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Has herbas atque haec Ponto mihi lecta uenena 95
ipse dedit Moeris (nascuntur pluruma Ponto);
his ego saepe lupum fieri et se condere siluis
Moerim, saepe animas imis excire sepulcris,
atque satas alio uidi traducere messis.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim. 100

Fer cineres, Amarylli, foras, riuoque fluenti
transque caput iace, nec respexeris. His ego Daphnim
adgrediar; nihil ille deos, nil carmina curat.

Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim.

Aspice: corripuit tremulis altaria flammis 105
sponte sua, dum ferre moror, cinis ipse. Bonum sit!
Nescio quid certe est, et Hylax in limine latrat.
Credimus? an qui amant ipsi sibi somnia fingunt?

Parcite, ab urbe uenit, iam parcite, carmina, Daphnis."





“Bring water, and with soft wool-fillet bind
these altars round about, and burn thereon
rich vervain and male frankincense, that I
may strive with magic spells to turn astray
my lover's saner senses, whereunto
there lacketh nothing save the power of song.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

Songs can the very moon draw down from heaven
circe with singing changed from human form
the comrades of Ulysses, and by song
is the cold meadow-snake, asunder burst.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

These triple threads of threefold colour first
I twine about thee, and three times withal
around these altars do thine image bear:
uneven numbers are the god's delight.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

Now, Amaryllis, ply in triple knots
the threefold colours; ply them fast, and say
this is the chain of Venus that I ply.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

As by the kindling of the self-same fire
harder this clay, this wax the softer grows,
so by my love may Daphnis; sprinkle meal,
and with bitumen burn the brittle bays.
Me Daphnis with his cruelty doth burn,
I to melt cruel Daphnis burn this bay.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

As when some heifer, seeking for her steer
through woodland and deep grove, sinks wearied out
on the green sedge beside a stream, love-lorn,
nor marks the gathering night that calls her home--
as pines that heifer, with such love as hers
may Daphnis pine, and I not care to heal.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

These relics once, dear pledges of himself,
the traitor left me, which, O earth, to thee
here on this very threshold I commit--
pledges that bind him to redeem the debt.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

These herbs of bane to me did Moeris give,
in Pontus culled, where baneful herbs abound.
With these full oft have I seen Moeris change
to a wolf's form, and hide him in the woods,
oft summon spirits from the tomb's recess,
and to new fields transport the standing corn.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

Take ashes, Amaryllis, fetch them forth,
and o'er your head into the running brook
fling them, nor look behind: with these will
upon the heart of Daphnis make essay.
Nothing for gods, nothing for songs cares he.
‘Draw from the town, my songs, draw Daphnis home.’

Look, look I the very embers of themselves
have caught the altar with a flickering flame,
while I delay to fetch them: may the sign
prove lucky! something it must mean, for sure,
and Hylax on the threshold 'gins to bark!
May we believe it, or are lovers still
by their own fancies fooled?
Give o'er, my songs,
daphnis is coming from the town, give o'er.”

(I find the translation of the last line before the refrain particularly irksome- rendered literally, it reads something more like "or do lovers themselves fashion their own dreams?")
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