Pablius Papinius Statius

(45 - 96 / Latin)

Thebais - Book One - part II


A robe obscene was o’er her shoulders thrown,
A dress by fates and furies worn alone. us
She tossed her meagre arms; her better hand’
In waving circles whirled a fun’ral brand:
A serpent from her left was seen to rear
His flaming crest, and lash the yielding air.
But when the fury took her stand on high, too
Where vast Oitheron’s top salutes the sky,
A hiss from all the snaky tire went round:
The dreadful signal all the rocks rebound,
And through th’ Aobaian cities send the sound.
Œte, with high Parnassus, heard the voice;
Eurotas’ banks remurmured to the noise;.
Again Leucothea shook at these alarms,
And pressed Palæmon closer in her arms.
Headlong from thence the glowing fury springs,
And o’er the Theban palace spreads her wings,
Once more invades the guilty dome, and shrouds
Its bright pavilions in a veil of clouds.
Straight with the rage of all their race possessed
Stung to the soul, the brothers start from rest,
And all their furies wake within their breast.
Their tortured minds repining envy tears,
And hate, engendered by suspicious fears;
And sacred thirst of sway; and all the ties
Of nature broke; and royal perjuries;
And impotent desire to reign alone,
That scorns the dull reversion of a throne;
Each would the sweets of sov’reign rule devour,
While discord waits upon divided power.
As stubborn steers by brawny plowmen broke,
And joined reluctant to the galling yoke,
Alike disdain with servile necks to bear
Th’ unwonted weight, or drag the crooked share,
But rend the reins, and bound a diff’rent way,
And all the furrows in confusion lay:
Such was the discord of the royal pair,
Whom fury drove precipitate to war.
In vain the chiefs contrived a specious way,
To govern Thebes by their alternate sway:
Unjust decree ! while this enjoys the state,
That mourns in exile his unequal fate,
And the short monarch of a hasty year
Foresees with anguish his returning heir.
Thus did the league their impious arms restrain,
But scarce subsisted to the second reign.
Yet then, no proud aspiring piles were raised,
No fretted roofs with polished metals blazed;
No laboured columns in long order placed,
No Grecian stone the pompous arches graced;
No nightly bands in glitt’ring armour wait
Before the sleepless tyrant’s guarded gate;
No chargers then were wrought in burnished gold,
Nor silver vases took the forming mold;
Nor gems on bowls embossed were seen to shine,
Blaze on the brims, and sparkle in the wine.
Say, wretched rivals ! what provokes your rage?
Say, to what end your impious arms engage?
Not all bright Phœbus views in early morn,
Or when his ev’ning beams the west adorn,
When the south glows with his meridian ray,
And the cold north receives a fainter day;
For crimes like these, not all those realms suffice,
Were all those realms the guilty victor’s prize !
But fortune now (the lots of empire thrown)
Decrees to proud Eteocles the crown:
What joys, oh tyrant ! swelled thy soul that day,
When all were slaves thou couldst around survey,
Pleased to behold unbounded power thy own,
And singly fill a feared and envied throne !
But the vile vulgar, ever discontent,
Their growing fears in secret murmurs vent;
Still prone to change, though still the slaves of state,
And sure the monarch whom they have, to hate;
New lords they madly make, then tamely bear,
And softly curse tile tyrants whom they fear.
And one of those who groan beneath the sway
Of kings imposed, and grudgingly obey,
(Whom envy to the great, and vulgar spite
With scandal armed, th’ ignoble mind’s delight,)
Exclaimed-“ O Thebes ! for thee what fates remain,
What woes attend this inauspicious reign?
Must we, alas ! our doubtful necks prepare,
Each haughty master’s yoke by turns to bear,
And still to change whom changed we still must fear?
These now control a wretched people’s fate,
These can divide, and these reverse the state:
Ev’n fortune rules no more !-O servile land,
Where exiled tyrants still by turns command.
Thou sire of gods and men, imperial Jove !
Is this th’ eternal doom decreed above?
On thy own offspring hast thou fixed this fate,
From the first birth of our unhappy state;
When banished Cadmus, wand’ring o’er the main,
For lost Europa searched the world in vain,
And fated in Bœotian fields to found
A rising empire on a foreign ground,
First raised our walls on that ill-omened plain,
Where earth-born brothers were by brothers slain?
What lofty looks th’ unrivalled monarch bears !
How all the tyrant in his face appears !
What sullen fury clouds his scornful brow !
Gods ! how his eyes with threat’ning ardour glow !
Can this imperious lord forget to reign,
Quit all his state, descend, and serve again?
Yet, who, before, mere popularly bowed?
Who more propitious to the suppliant crowd?
Patient of right, familiar in the throne?
What wonder then? he was not then alone.
O wretched we, a vile, submissive train,
Fortune’s tame fools, and slaves in ev’ry reign !
As when two winds with rival force contend,
This way and that, the wav’ring sails they bend,
While freezing Boreas, and black Eurus blow,
Now here, now there, tho reeling vessel throw:
Thus on each side, alas ! our tott’ring state
Feels all the fury of resistless fate,
And doubtful still, and still distracted stands,
While that prince threatens, and while this commands.”
And now th’ almighty father of the gods
Convenes a council in the blest abodes:
Far in the bright recesses of the skies,
high o’er the rolling heav’ns, a mansion lies,
Whence, far below, the gods at once survey
The realms of rising and declining day,
And all lii’ extended space of earth, and air, and sea.
Full in the midst, and on a starry throne,
The majesty of heav’n superior shone;
Serene he looked, and gave an awful nod,
And all the trembling spheres confessed the god.
At Jove’s assent the deities around
In solemn state the consistory crowned.
Next a long order of inferior pow’rs
Ascend from hills, and plains, and shady bow’rs;
Those from whose urns the rolling rivers flow;
And those that give the wand’ring winds to blow:
Here all their rage, and ev’n their murmurs cease,
And sacred silence reigns, and universal peace.
A shining synod of majestic gods
Gilds with new lustre the divine abodes;
Heav’n seems improved with a superior ray,
And the bright arch reflects a double day.
The monarch then his solemn silence broke,
The still creation listened while he spoke,
Each sacred accent bears eternal weight,
And each irrevocable word is fate.
“How long shall man the wrath of heav’n defy,
And force unwilling vengeance from the sky!

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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