Pablius Papinius Statius
Thebais - Book One - Part Iii - Poem by Pablius Papinius Statius
Oh race confed’rate into crimes, that prove
Triumphant o’er th’ eluded rage of Jove!
This wearied arm can scarce the bolt sustain,
And unregarded thunder rolls in vain:
Th’ o’erlaboured Cyclops from his task retires,
Th’ Æolian forge exhausted of its fires.
For this, I suffered Phœbus’ steeds to stray,
And the mad ruler to misguide the day;
When the wide earth to heaps of ashes turned,
And heaven itself the wand’ring chariot burned.
For this, my brother of the wat’ry reign
Released th’ impetuous sluices of the main:
But flames consumed, and billows raged in vain.
Two races now, allied to Jove, offend;
To punish these, see Jove himself descend.
The Theban kings their line from Cadmus trace,
From godlike Perseus those of Argive race.
Unhappy Cadmus’ fate who does not know,
And the long series of succeeding woe?
How oft the furies, from the deeps of night,
Arose, and mixed with men in mortal fight:
Th’ exulting mother, stained with filial blood;
The savage hunter and the haunted wood;
The direful banquet why should I proclaim,
And crimes that grieve the trembling gods to name?
Ere I recount the sins of these profane,
The sun would sink into the western main,
And rising, gild the radiant east again.
Have we not seen (the blood of Laius shed)
The murd’ring son ascend his parent’s bed,
Through violated nature force his way,
And stain the sacred womb where once lie lay?
Yet now in darkness and despair he groans,
And for the crimes of guilty fate atones.
His sons with scorn their eyeless father view,
Insult his wounds, and make them bleed anew.
Thy curse, oh Œdipus, just heav’n alarms,
And sets th’ avenging thunderer in arms.
I from the root thy guilty race will tear,
And give the nations to the waste of war.
Adrastus soon, with gods averse, shall join
In dire alliance with the Theban line
Hence strife shall rise, and mortal war succeed;
The guilty realms of Tantalus shall bleed;
Fixed is their doom; this all-rememb’ring breast
Yet harbours vengeance for the tyrant’s feast.”
He said; and thus the queen of heav’n returned;
(With sudden grief her lab’ring bosom burned)
“Must I, whose cares Phoroneus’ tow’rs defend,
Must I, oh Jove, in bloody wars contend?
Thou know’st those regions my protection claim,
Glorious in arms, in riches, and in fame:
Though there the fair Egyptian heifer fed,
And there deluded Argus slept, and bled;
Though there the brazen tower was stormed of old,
When Jove descended in almighty gold:
Yet I can pardon those obscurer rapes,
Those bashful crimes disguised in borrowed shapes;
But Thebes, witero shining in colostial charms
Thou cam’st triumphant to a mortal’s arms,
When all my glories o’er her limbs were spread,
And blazing light’nings danced around her bed;
Cursed Thebes the vengeance it deserves, may prove:
Ah why should Argos feel the rage of Jove?
Yet since thou wilt thy sister-queen control,
Since still the lust of discord fires thy soul,
Go, raze my Samos, let Mycene fall,
And level with the dust the Spartan wall;
No more let mortals Juno’s pow’r invoke,
Her fanes no more with eastern incense smoke,
Nor victims sink beneath the sacred stroke;
But to your Isis all my rites transfer,
Let altars blaze and temples smoke for her;
For her, through Egypt’s fruitful clime renowned
Let weeping Nilus hear the timbrel sound.
But if thou must reform the stubborn times,
Avenging on the sons the father’s crimes,
And from the long records of distant age
Derive incitements to renew thy rage;
Say, from what period then has Jove designed
To date his vengeance; to what bounds confined?
Begin from thence, where first Alpheus hides
His wand’ring stream, and through the briny tides
Unmixed to his Sicilian river glides.
Thy own Arcadians there the thunder claim,
Whose impious rites disgrace thy mighty name;
Who raise thy temples where the chariot stood
Of fierce Œnomaus, defiled with blood:
Where once his steeds their savage banquet found,
And human bones yet whiten all the ground.
Say, can those honours please; and canst thou love
Presumptuous Crete that boasts the tomb of Jove?
And shall not Tantalus’s kingdoms share
Thy wife and sister’s tutelary care?
Reverse, O Jove, thy too severe decree,
Nor doom to war a race derived from thee;
On impious realms and barb’rous kings impose
Thy plagues, and curse ‘em with such sons as those.”
Thus, in reproach and pray’r, the queen expressed
The rage and grief contending in her breast;
Unmoved remained the ruler of the sky,
And from his throne returned this stern reply:
“‘Twas thus I deemed thy haughty soul would bear
The dire, though just, revenge which I prepare
Against a nation thy peculiar care:
No less Dione might for Thebes contend,
Nor Ilacehus less his native town defend;
Yet these in silence see the fates fulfil
Their work, and rev’rence our superior will.
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