Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada


[For publication and copyright details, please use the following link: Table of Contents. Note that the numbers without brackets refer to the English text; those in square brackets refer to the Latin text.]




[Numa succeeds Romulus; Numa goes to Crotona; Hercules visits Croton; Myscelus founds a new Greek city in Italy; Pythagoras moves to Crotona; Pythagoras proclaims his philosophy: vegetarianism, as in the Golden Age, immortality of the soul, doctrine of metempsychosis; constant changes in nature and human bodies, the four elements, geological changes, different effects of different waters, Mount Aetna’s fire, spontaneous generation, the phoenix, strange animals, the rise and fall of civilizations, the destiny of Rome (Helenus’ prophecy to Aeneas), immorality of eating meat; Numa becomes king, educates the Romans in arts of peace; Numa dies; Egeria mourns him; Hippolytus tells her the story of his death and return; Egeria is transformed; the story of Romulus’ spear; Cipus grows horns and refuses to enter Rome; Aesculapius comes to Rome; Julius Caesar is made a god; Venus tries to prevent his assassination; the gods send omens to warn of the disaster; Jupiter reveals the future triumphs of Augustus; Julius Caesar becomes a star; the poet celebrates the achievements of Augustus; Ovid’s final words.]


Meanwhile Rome was looking for a leader                                            NUMA
who could succeed great Romulus as king
and bear the weight of such a heavy burden.
Then Fame, prophetic messenger of truth,
selected famous Numa for the throne.
He was not satisfied merely to know
the rituals of the Sabine people,
for his wide-ranging mind was keen to think
about much grander schemes and to explore
the nature of things. This passion of his                                                  10
led him to leave Cures, his native town,
and travel to Crotona, where Hercules
had once been well received.(1) When Numa asked
who could have been the very first to found
a Grecian city in Italian land,
one of the citizens, an older man                                                                           [10]
with knowledge of the past, gave this reply:


“They say that Hercules, Jupiter’s son,                                            HERCULES AND CROTON
coming back by sea with a splendid herd
of cattle he had taken in Iberia,                                                        20
after a prosperous voyage landed
at Lacinium on the coast.(2) And then,
while his cattle grazed on tender grasses,
he went in person to the friendly home
of mighty Croton, to renew his strength
by resting after his extended labour.
As he was leaving, he remarked


                                                    ‘In future,
when your grandsons are alive, this place
will be a city.’


                                             And what he promised                        HERCULES AND MYSCELUS
did come true. An Argive man called Alemon                                  30
had a son Myscelus, whom the gods loved                                                      [20]
more than anyone his age. Hercules,
the club-wielding god, went to Myscelus
when he was fast asleep, leaned over him,
and said:


          ‘Come, leave your father’s land and seek
the pebbled streams of the distant Aesar!’(3)


And Hercules made many fearful threats
if he did not obey. Then the god and sleep
both disappeared together. Myscelus
got up and, saying nothing, thought about                                         40
the vision he had only just received,
going through a lengthy struggle with himself.
The god was telling him he had to go,
but the law prevented him from leaving.
The punishment for anyone who wished
to change his native land was death.


                                                      By now,
the shining Sun had hidden his bright face                                                        [30]
beneath the Ocean, and the darkest Night
had raised her starry head, when Hercules
seemed to appear again, threatening him                                          50
in the same way and warning Myscelus
his punishment would be much more severe
if he failed to carry out his orders.
Myscelus was afraid and at once began
preparing to move his paternal goods
into a foreign land. But in the city
people talked, and he was brought to trial
for disobeying the law. His accusers
presented their case first. When it was clear
the charges had been proved without the need                                 60
for witnesses, the wretched prisoner
raised his face and hands to the gods above
and shouted out:


                 ‘O you, whose twelve labours
gave you the right to a place in heaven,
I’m begging for your help! You are the one                                                 [40]
who drove me to this crime.’


                                      Now, long ago
it was the custom to vote with pebbles,
black ones to declare the person guilty,
white ones to acquit, and in this case, too,
the harsh result was rendered in this way.                                        70
Every pebble placed in the cruel urn
was black, but then, when they tipped it over
and poured the pebbles out to tally them,
their colour had been changed from black to white.
So, through the sacred power of Hercules,
Alemon’s son was favoured in the verdict
and set free.


                           Myscelus thanked his patron,
Amphitryon’s son, and with following winds
sailed across the Ionian Sea, passing                                                               [50]
Neretum, a city where Sallentines lived,                                           80
Sybaris, Tarentum (a Spartan settlement),
the bay of Siris, Crimisa, and fields
of Iapygia.(4) Once he had he passed
these lands that overlook the sea, he found
the Aesar estuary, his destined home,
and close beside it a burial mound
which covered Croton’s sacred bones. So here,
Myscelus built his city, naming it
after the man who had been buried there.”


This was the way the city first began,                                                    90
according to the best-received traditions,
and the reason it was built in Italy.
There was a man living in Crotona                                                                       [60]
called Pythagoras, who was born in Samos                                          PYTHAGORAS
but had fled that island and its rulers
and gone into exile of his own free will,
because he hated tyranny. In his thoughts
he visited the gods, although they lived
far off in distant regions of the sky,
and what nature has denied to human sight                                            100
his mind could see. Once he had scrutinized
all things with his inner eye and studied
them with care, he made his knowledge public
and taught his silent audience, who heard
and were amazed by what he had to say
about how the vast universe began,
about how things are caused, what Nature is,
what gods are, where the snows originate,
where lightning comes from, whether Jupiter
or wind makes thunder when clouds split apart,                                     110           [70]
what forces make Earth shake, what laws control
the motions of the stars, and everything
that lies hidden away from human sight.
He was the first one to complain about       
wild beasts being killed and served for dinner,
the first to say things like the following
(judicious words, indeed, but not believed):


“O you mortal beings, stop corrupting                                             VEGETARIANISM
your own bodies with such defiling food.
We have grain, apples weighing branches down,                              120
along with grapes which ripen on the vine.
You can use fire to cook sweet-tasting plants
and make them tender. There is no lack of milk
or honey smelling of the fragrant thyme.                                                           [80]
Munificent Earth offers you her wealth,
producing feasts of harmless things to eat,
without the need for blood and slaughter.
Some beasts feed on meat, but many do not,
for horses, sheep, and cattle live on grass.
Those whose temperament is wild and savage—                              130
Armenian tigers, raging lions, bears,
as well as wolves—delight in blood-soaked meat.
How wrong it is to feed our flesh with flesh,
to fatten up our gluttonous bodies
by eating bodies, to let one creature live
by bringing death to other living things.                                                             [90]
Is it really true that, with all this wealth
the Earth, the best of mothers, offers us,
nothing pleases you unless your savage teeth
bring back the eating habits of the cyclops                                    140
and gnaw on pitiful wounds? Can you men
not satisfy the ravenous hunger pangs
inside your greedy and intemperate gut
unless you butcher other living things?
That earlier time, which we call Golden,
was happy with its harvests plucked from trees
and crops the earth produced. Men did not stain
their mouths with blood. Birds winged their way
in safety through the air, hares roamed unafraid                                                [100]
in open fields, and fish were not hauled up                                        150
on hooks because they were so credulous.
There was no treachery in anyone,
no fear of fraud. All things were filled with peace.
Then someone, whoever he was, acting
against the common good, was envious
of what the lions ate, and stuffed raw meat
into his greedy stomach, thus opening
the road to crime. It may well be the case
that at the start men’s gory swords grew hot
from slaying animals, but that’s all right,                                            160
for I concede that men may kill those beasts
intent on killing them. That is no sin.
But while such creatures may be put to death,                                                  [110]
it is not right for men to eat them, too.
From that time on the wickedness spread further.
The pig is thought to be the first wild beast
men felt deserved to die, for its broad snout
dug up the seeds and killed the hoped-for harvest.
And then men led the goat away to die
on Bacchus’ altars, as a punishment                                                 170
for chewing on his vines. And so the harm
these animals went through was their own fault.
But what have sheep done to deserve the same?
O you peaceful flocks, born to serve mankind,
you bear sweet milk for us in your full udders
and grow the wool from which we make soft clothes.
Your life serves us so well, more than your death.
What have oxen done, simple, harmless beasts,                                               [120]
without fraud or deceit, and born for toil?
That man is truly an ungrateful wretch,                                             180
unworthy of the gift of harvest grain,
who, after he has just relieved his ox
by freeing it from the heavy, curving plough,
can kill the creature who has tilled his fields,
hacking its worn down neck with his sharp axe,
when with its help he has so many times
worked hard to open up hard earth and sow
so many harvests. Even crimes like this
are not enough, for men involve the gods
in their own wickedness when they believe                                       190
that killing toiling cattle brings delight
to higher powers in heaven! A victim
of outstanding beauty, without a flaw                                                               [130]
(its pleasing looks make it a sacrifice),
adorned with gold and garlands, is led out
before the altars. In its ignorance,
it hears the praying priest and sees him shake
the grain it helped produce across its forehead,
between the horns. And when the beast is struck,
its blood then stains the knives which earlier                                     200
it may have seen reflected in still water.
Next, while the animal is still alive,
its lungs are quickly ripped out from its chest,
and priests probe into them to ascertain
what gods may be intending . And after this,
(the human craving for forbidden food
has so much force) you dare to eat that meat,
you race of mortal men! Do not do this,
I beg you, and keep my admonitions                                                               [140]
in your mind! Know and understand this well:                                   210
when you put the meat of slaughtered cattle
in your mouths, the food you are devouring
is flesh from those who labour on your land.

And since a god is urging me to speak,
I will follow, as I should, the deity
who moves my lips and tell you what I know
of Delphi and of very heaven itself.
The oracles of a majestic mind
I will unlock and sing of mighty things
left unexplored by previous intellects                                                220
and long concealed. It pleases me to move
among the lofty stars, and I delight
in leaving earth and this dull home behind
to ride up on the clouds and stand up there
on mighty Atlas’ shoulders looking down
on men from far away, as they scurry                                                              [150]
everywhere, with no good sense or reason,
and to unfurl for them the scroll of fate
and comfort them in their anxiety
and fear of death, by speaking words like these:                               230


‘O race of men, so stricken by your dread                                 IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL
of icy death, why do you fear the Styx,
and shadows of the dead and empty names,
the stuff of poets, the terrors of a world
which is not there? For you should not believe
these bodies of ours, whether destroyed
by funeral fires or ravages of age,
can suffer any further injuries.
For our souls do not die. Once they depart                                 METEMPSYCHOSIS
an earlier dwelling place they always find                                    240
new homes, and, once received in there, live on.
I myself at the time of the Trojan war                                                          [160]
(and I remember this) was Euphorbus,
a son of Panthous, whose chest was pierced
by a heavy spear from Menelaus,
a son of Atreus. Not long ago,
in Argos, that city ruled by Abas,
I recognized in Juno’s holy shrine
the shield I used to hold on my left arm!
Each thing changes, but nothing ever dies.                                   250
The spirit wanders, roaming here and there,
and takes possession of a creature’s limbs,
whatever body it desires, passing
from savage animals to human beings,
from human beings to beasts, but spirits
never are destroyed. Just as pliant wax
shaped in a new form does not stay the same
as what it was before or keep its shape,                                                     [170]
and yet in essence does remain the same,
so, according to the principles I teach,                                        260
our souls always continue on unchanged,
passing into various body shapes.
And thus, in case your stomach’s appetite
overwhelms your natural affections,
I warn you: stop this wicked butchery
which drives the souls of your own relatives
out of their homes. Do not feed blood with blood.’


And now that I am being transported                                              CHANGES IN NATURE
over the great sea and have spread my sails
and filled them with the wind, I will go on.                                        270
Nothing in the whole universe persists.
Matter is always changing. Particular things
arise as transitory images,
and even time itself, like a river,
keeps flowing on with never-ending motion.
For like the running stream, the fleeting hour                                                    [180]
can never stop. As one wave drives another,
chasing the one in front, while being pursued
by one behind, in just that way time’s moments
run ahead and follow and are always new.                                       280
For what was once ahead is left behind,
what did not exist comes into being,
and every passing instant must give way
to some fresh instant. You observe how night
completes its course and passes into day,
how the light of dawn replaces darkness.
The colour of the sky is not the same
at midnight with all weary things at rest
and when bright Lucifer on his white horse
emerges. Its colour changes once again                                            290           [190]
when the herald of the day, Aurora,
paints the world she must hand on to Phoebus.
The Sun god’s shield is red when it is rising
from underneath the earth and red once more
when sinking down below, but at its height
the shield is brilliant white, because up there
the aether is more pure and far removed
from earth’s contagion. And Moon at night
cannot remain the same, keeping her shape
the way she was before—if on the wane                                          300
tomorrow she will be smaller than today,
and if her orb is waxing, she will grow.

Besides, have you not noticed how the year                                     SEASONS OF THE YEAR
travels through a sequence of four seasons,
and in this imitates the way we live?                                                                 [200]
For early spring, with its new life, is tender
and full of juice, and very like a child.
Then the plants spring up, fresh but delicate,
not yet robust, and kindle farmers’ hopes.
It is the time when all things are in flower.                                         310
In fertile fields the coloured blossoms dance,
but there is still no strength in any leaves.
As summer follows on the spring, the year,
now sturdier, displays his youthful strength.
No season is more vigorous or rich,
none glows with greater heat. Next Autumn comes,
all youthful passion spent, ripe and mellow,
in temperament halfway between our youth                                                     [210]
and our old age, his temples flecked with gray.
And then comes aged, trembling wintertime,                                    320
with tottering steps. He has lost his hair,
or else the hair he has is now quite white.

And our bodies, too, are always changing.
They never stop. Tomorrow we will not be
what we have been or what we are today.
There was a time when, early in our lives,
we lived inside our mother’s womb as seeds,
mere hopes of mortal beings. Then Nature
put her skillful hands to work, refusing
to let our twisted bodies stay concealed                                           330
inside the belly of our swollen mother,
and sent us out into the empty air.                                                                    [220]
Brought out into the light, the infant lies there,
helpless, but soon, just like a quadruped,
he moves his limbs the way wild creatures do,
and gradually, with something for support
to help his trembling sinews, he stands up
on shaky knees, not yet quite firm enough.
Then he grows strong and swift, passing through
his youthful stage, and soldiers on through years                               340
of middle age, then glides along the path
of his old age, where life declines, a time
which undermines and saps the strength he had
in earlier years. Old man Milon weeps
to see his arms, once strong and muscular,
like those on Hercules, hang limp and scrawny.(5)
And Tyndarus’ daughter Helen cries
to see an old crone’s wrinkles in the glass
and wants to know why she’s been ravished twice.
Devouring Time and you, hateful Old Age,                                       350
destroy all things. The teeth of passing years
gnaw everything to shreds, and gradually
you two swallow them all in a drawn-out death.

Even those things we call the elements                                             THE ELEMENTS
do not remain the same. Focus your minds,
for I will show the changes they go through.
The everlasting universe contains
four substances which generate all things.
Two of these, earth and water, are heavy                                                        [240]
and sink down from the force of their own weight.                           360
The other two, air and fire (a substance
more rarefied than air) lack any weight.
If nothing holds them back, they try to move
up to the heights. Though these four elements
are distinct in space, all of them arise
from one another and resolve themselves
back into one another. When earth breaks down,
it liquefies and turns into clear water,
water, once it becomes less dense, changes
into wind and air, and when air loses weight                                     370
and turns into the subtlest element,
it flashes out as high aetherial fire.
Then they reverse their order and go back,
traversing the same stages as before—
fire grows more dense, turns into heavy air,                                                     [250]
air changes into water, and water,
as it grows more dense, changes into earth.

And nothing retains its shape. For Nature,
who renews all things, keeps recreating
one form from another. And, believe me,                                         380
nothing in the entire universe can die,
but things do alter, changing how they look.
What men call ‘being born’ is just the start
of turning into something different
from what was there before, and ‘dying’
means ceasing to remain in the same form.
Though this thing may perhaps change into that,
and that to this, the total sum of things
remains unchanged.

                                     For my part, I believe                                  GEOLOGICAL CHANGES
nothing retains the same appearance long.                                        390
Thus, the ages passed from Gold to Iron,                                                        [260]
and many times the fortunes of a place
have been upended. I myself have seen
what once was solid earth turn into sea
and looked at land created from the waves.
We notice sea shells lying far from shore,
and on a mountain summit men have found
an ancient anchor. A flow of water
creates a valley where there was a plain,
floods have carried off and flattened mountains,                               400
swampy areas have changed to arid sand,
and thirsty lands to stagnant marshy pools.
In one place nature opens up fresh springs,                                                      [270]
while in another closing off their flow.
Rivers may burst forth, disturbed by tremors
deep inside the earth, or they may dry up
and disappear. Thus, the river Lycus,
once swallowed by a chasm in the earth,
is reborn from a new source and flows on
far away. The mighty Erasinus                                                          410
in one place is pulled down, flows underground,
and emerges once again in Argos.(6)
They say the river Mysus grew ashamed
of his first source and his original banks
and now, as the Caïcus, flows elsewhere.
The Amenanus, too, in Sicily,
can sometimes flow so fast it churns up sand,
but then at other times its sources stop,                                                            [280]
and it dries up. The river Anigrus,
which in earlier days was fit to drink,                                               420
now flows with water you would never touch,
not since the time the centaurs used that stream
to wash the wounds inflicted by the bow
and club of Hercules (unless, of course,
we stop believing all tales poets tell).
Is it not true the river Hypanis,
born in the Scythian hills, once tasted sweet,
but has been ruined now with acrid salt?(7)
Antissa, Pharos, and Phoenician Tyre
at one time were surrounded by the sea.                                          430
None of these cities is an island now.(8)
Inhabitants of Leucas long ago
worked in fields connected to the mainland.
The place is now encircled by the sea.
Zancle, too, they say, was linked to Italy,                                                         [290]
until the sea destroyed the boundary
and waves flowed in to carry off the land.(9)
If you look now for Helice and Buris,
once Achaean cities, you will find them
buried in the waves, and sailors, even now,                                      440
like to point out these inundated towns
with walls beneath the sea.(10)

                                             Near Troezen,
where Pittheus was king, there is a mound,
steep and bare of trees, which some time ago
was the most level part of the whole plain.
Now it is a hill. How this came to be
is a strange tale. Fierce and powerful winds
shut up in hidden caverns wished to find
some outlet for their gales and vainly fought                                                     [300]
to enjoy the open sky. But their blasts                                              450
had no way out, for in their prison cell
there were no cracks at all. And so those winds
put pressure on the ground and made it swell,
the way our human breath inflates a bladder
or the skin of a horned goat. After that,
the swelling stayed and, as the years went by,
it hardened, so it looks like a steep hill.

Though many more examples of such things                                     PROPERTIES OF WATER
occur to me from what I have been told
or learned about myself, I will list here                                              460
just one or two. Think of water. Does it not
take on and generate new forms, as well?
At noon the waters of horned Ammon’s spring
are freezing cold, but when Sun is rising                                                           [310]
or declining they grow warm.(11) People say
the Athamanians set fire to wood
by pouring water from this spring on it
when Moon has shrunk down to her smallest size.(12)
The Cicones live by a stream whose water,
once drunk, turns inner organs into stone                                          470
and, when it touches things, spreads over them
a layer of marble. The Crathis river
and the Sybaris (which is close to here,
near our own lands) can change a person’s hair
and make it look like amber or like gold.(13)
Even more amazing are those rivers
capable of changing not just bodies
but even minds, as well. Who has not heard
of Salmacis, with its disgusting pools,
or of those lakes in Ethiopia                                                             480
where anyone who drinks becomes insane                                                      [320]
or falls into a deep and wondrous sleep?(14)
Whoever drinks from the Clitorian spring
avoids all wine and in his sober state
enjoys pure water. This may well take place
because there is some power in the water
which works against the warm effects of wine.(15)
Those who live there give another reason—
after Melampus, Amythaon’s son,
had with his spells and herbal potions saved                                     490
Proetus’ raving daughters from the Furies,
he threw the medicines which purged their minds
into the spring, and that is why its waters
generate a strong distaste for wine.(16)
The flowing stream of the Lyncestius
has an opposite effect. Whoever
swallows some of it, even a small amount,
stumbles around, as if he had been drinking                                                      [330]
unmixed wine.(17) Arcadia has a place
(Pheneus was its name in earlier days)                                             500
whose waters are mistrusted, for they have
two different effects. During the night
you must beware, for then a drink does harm,
but in the day its water is quite safe.
Thus, various lakes and rivers can possess
quite different properties.

once a floating island, is now fixed in place.(18)
Men on the Argo feared those clashing rocks,
the Symplegades, and the spray tossed up
by crashing waves. And now they do not move,                               510
but stand fixed in place, defying the winds.
Mount Aetna, glowing with its furnaces                                                            [340]
of blazing sulphur, will not always burn                                            MOUNT AETNA
and was not always burning in the past.
For if Earth is a living animal
with many passages that breathe out flames,
then, every time she moves, she can remake
those breathing holes. She can seal some up
and open others. Or if rapid winds
imprisoned in deep caves hurl rocks together                                   520
with matter which contains the seeds of flame,
and friction causes Aetna to catch fire,
the caves will cool off once the winds calm down.
Or if the fires are blazing bitumen                                                                     [350]
and yellow sulphur burning with less smoke,
surely, after many ages have gone by,
that rich supply of food the earth provides
will be used up and it will have no fuel
to feed the flames. Without the nourishment
their greedy nature craves, the flames will starve,                              530
and, as they die, will starve Mount Aetna’s fire.
They say that in Pallene, in those lands
beyond the northern winds, there are some men
who cover their skin with downy feathers
by plunging in Minerva’s pool nine times.(19)
As far as I’m concerned, this is not true,
but people claim that Scythian women                                                             [360]
have spells to do this, too, by sprinkling limbs
with magic potions.


                                   But if what you believe                                  SPONTANEOUS GENERATION
relies on what experience can prove,                                               540
you must have seen that corpses when they rot,
because of time or melting heat, are changed
to tiny animals. We know full well
that if you take a sacrificial bull
and bury the tossed-out carcass in a ditch,
from every portion of the putrid entrails
flower-sipping bees will rise. And these bees,
just like the animal from which they spring,
live in the fields, love toil, and work with hope.
A war horse buried in the ground becomes                                      550
a source of hornets, and if you remove
a land crab’s hollow claws and put the rest                                                      [370]
below the ground, then from that buried part
a scorpion will emerge and threaten you
with its hooked tail. As farmers have observed,
those grubs which cover leaves in country fields
with their white thread change into butterflies,
their shape transformed to emblems of the dead.(20)
And mud contains the seeds that generate
green frogs, which, when they first appear, lack feet.                        560
Soon it gives them legs well formed for swimming
and makes the back ones longer than in front,
adapting them to jump huge distances.
When she gives birth to young, a mother bear
does not produce a cub but a mere lump
of living flesh, barely alive. But then,
by licking it, she gives that lump its limbs                                                          [380]
and turns it into something with a shape
just like her own. And have you not observed
how grubs from honey bees which lie contained                               570
in their hexagonal cells have bodies
but no limbs and how their legs come later
and then, even later still, their wings?
Who could imagine, if he did not know,
that Juno’s bird, whose tail plumes carry stars,
and Jupiter’s eagle with the lightning bolt,
and Venus’ doves, and every race of birds
come into being from inside an egg?(21)
Some people claim that when the human spine
is buried in a tomb and rots, its marrow                                           580            [390]
is transformed into a snake.


                                  The elements                                                 THE PHOENIX
of all these animals originate
from other species. But there is one bird
which reproduces and renews itself
all on its own. Those in Assyria
call it the phoenix. It does not live on grain
or grasses, but eats drops of frankincense
and balsam sap. And when this bird has lived
five centuries, it builds itself a nest
in a swaying palm tree, in the branches                                            590
at the very top, using its chaste beak
and claws. Then, after it has lined the nest
with bits of cassia, smooth ears of nard,
pieces of cinnamon, and yellow myrrh,
it sits down on the top and ends its life                                                             [400]
in the perfumed air. And, so people say,
from the father’s body a small phoenix
is reborn, destined to remain alive
for just as many years. When this bird’s age
has made it strong enough to bear the weight,                                   600
it lifts the heavy nest from the high branches
and piously removes its father’s tomb
and its own cradle, flying through the air
towards the city of the Sun, and there,
inside the temple of Hyperion,
it puts it down before the sacred doors.


If there is anything astonishing                                                          STRANGE ANIMALS
in these strange events, we might well wonder
how hyenas can alternate their sex,
with a female who has just been mounted                                         610
by a male now becoming male herself.                                                             [410]
Then, too, there is an animal which feeds
on winds and air. When it touches something
it at once takes on that object’s colour.
Conquered India once gave its lynxes
to Bacchus, god of the grape-bearing vine.
Every time these beasts discharge their bladders,
so men report, the liquid turns to stone
which hardens from its contact with the air.
And coral, which, while underneath the waves,                                620
remains a tender plant, grows hard, as well,
in just this way, when it is touched by air.


The day will end and Phoebus’ weary horses                                  CIVILIZATIONS
will plunge into the sea before my words
can mention all those things that have been changed
into new forms. So with revolving time                                                            [420]
we see some nations growing powerful
and others in decline. Troy, for instance,
which was so great in wealth and citizens
and for ten years could squander so much blood,                             630
is now a humble ruin. Ancient stones
are all it has to show, and all its wealth
lies in ancestral tombs. And Sparta, too,
was famous once, great Mycenae flourished,
as did Athens, king Cecrops’ citadel,
and Amphion’s city, Thebes. But Sparta now
consists of worthless land, and proud Mycenae
has collapsed. What is Oedipus’ Thebes
except a story? And Pandion’s Athens—
what remains of that except its name?                                              640            [430]


Today the story goes Dardanian Rome                                            ROME’S DESTINY
is growing and, close beside the Tiber,
which rises in the Apennines, building
an immense foundation to provide support
for mighty things. And with this kind of growth
the city’s shape is changing. The day will come
when Rome will be the head of the whole world!
That, so people say, is what the seers predict,
and those oracles which foretell our fate.
As I remember, when the Trojan state                                             650
was facing ruin and Aeneas was in tears,
anxious about the safety of his race,
Helenus, a son of Priam, said to him:


‘Child of Venus, if you will take good note
of what I prophesy, while you are safe                                                        [440]
Troy will not fall completely! Fire and sword
will offer you a path, and you will go,
taking with you our plundered Pergamum,
until you reach a foreign place kinder
to you than your own native land of Troy.                                   660
Even now I see a city destined
for Phrygian posterity, a town
so mighty nothing like it now exists
or will exist, or has been seen before,
in earlier years. Through long centuries
other leading men will make it powerful,
but one man born from blood of Iülus
will make that city mistress of the world.
And when that leader’s time on earth is done,
aetherial realms will welcome him with joy                                   670
and heaven will be his final dwelling place.’


My mind recalls how Helenus prophesied                                                        [450]
these matters to Aeneas, who carried
ancestral gods away from Troy. My heart
rejoices that city walls are rising
for his posterity, and I am pleased
the Greek defeat of Troy has led to this,
such a benefit to Trojans.

                                                  But now,
I must not wander too far off my course
and let my horses lose sight of the goal.                                            680
The heavens and everything below them
change their form. So does the earth, as well,
and all things it contains. We mortals, too,
part of the universe, are not mere flesh,
but souls with wings, and thus we can create
a home inside the bodies of wild beasts
or settle in the hearts of our own cattle.
And therefore, we should allow those bodies
which could well contain the souls of parents,
brothers, or others linked to us somehow,                                        690            [460]
or human beings, at least, to rest safe
and undisturbed and not cram our stomachs
with food fit for Thyestes’ dinner feast.(22)
How those men get used to evil actions
and, in their impiety, prepare themselves
for spilling human blood, when with their knives
they slit a young calf’s throat and, quite unmoved,
hear its mournful bleats, or slaughter a young goat,
which cries out like a child, or feed on birds
which they themselves have fed. When they do this,                         700
how close are they to acting out real crimes?
Where do such actions lead?

                                           Let oxen plough
or perish from old age. Let sheep provide                                                       [470]
protection from the freezing northern winds,
let well-fed she goats offer us their udders
for our hands to milk. Throw your nets away,
your traps and snares and your deceptive tricks.
Do not use twigs and lime to fool the birds,
or scare deer into nets with feathered rope,
or hide barbed hooks inside deceiving bait.                                      710
Destroy what injures you, but even then
do nothing more than kill. Make sure your mouths
abstain from blood and eat more wholesome food!”


The story goes that when his mind had learned                                     NUMA AS KING
these and other teachings of Pythagoras,
Numa went back to his native city,
and there, by popular request, took up
the reins of power and ruled in Latium.                                                                 [480]
Blessed with his wife Egeria, a nymph,
and guided by the Muses, he brought in                                                720
sacrificial rites and trained his people,
who were familiar with ferocious war,
in the arts of peace. When, in ripe old age,
his life and reign were over, everyone—
Latian matrons, senators, and citizens—
all mourned the death of Numa. But his wife                                         EGERIA
moved from the city and hid herself away
in the dense valley forests of Aricia,
and there, with her groans and lamentations,
kept interfering with the sacred rites                                                      730
worshipping Diana, which Orestes
first introduced into those wooded groves.(23)
O how often the nymphs of lakes and trees                                                           [490]
advised her to be quiet and spoke words
of consolation! And Hippolytus,                                                           HIPPOLYTUS
brave son of Theseus, would say to her,
as she continued weeping:


                                           “You must stop.
You are not the only one whose fortunes
are a cause for grief. Consider others
who have gone through similar disasters,                                          740
and you will find yours easier to bear.
I wish I knew examples of such sorrow,
apart from mine, which could relieve your pain.
But even mine can help.

                                 Perhaps your ears
have picked up stories of Hippolytus—
how he met his death because his father
was so credulous and his stepmother
so evil and deceitful. You will find
my words astonishing—it will be hard
for me to prove the things I say. But still,                                          750
I am Hippolytus. Some time ago,                                                                    [500]
Phaedra, the daughter of Pasiphaë,
tried to seduce me into dishonouring
my father’s bed.(24) When she did not succeed,
she accused me of the criminal act
she herself desired (she may have done that
more through fear of being found out herself
than through her rage at being rejected).
So I was charged. Though I was innocent,
my father ordered me to leave the city                                              760
and, as I left, rained down hostile curses
on my head. I went off into exile
in my chariot, intending to reside
in Troezen, a city ruled by Pittheus.
While I was moving past the shore near Corinth,
the sea rose up. A huge amount of water                                         THE BULL FROM THE SEA
seemed to curl and grow into a mountain
which bellowed and, at the very summit,                                                          [510]
shot up spray. Then that seething mass of sea
spat out a bull with horns. It just stood there,                                   770
in the gentle breezes, chest above the waves,
its gaping mouth and nostrils vomiting
great quantities of sea. My companions
felt terror fill their hearts, but I remained
quite unafraid, my mind preoccupied
with thoughts of exile. But my fierce horses
turned their necks towards the sea and trembled,
ears erect. Frightened by that monstrous bull,
they panicked and dragged the chariot down the rocks.
My hands tried hard to gain control but failed.                                  780
I pulled the reins, now white with flecks of foam,
and leaned out backwards to take up the slack.                                               [520]
I might have reined those maddened horses in,
but one of the wheels collided with a stump,
right on the axle hub where it spins round.
The wheel broke off and shattered. I was tossed
clear of the chariot, my arms entangled
in the reins. My living flesh was torn away,
while my body was still skewered on the wood.
Some of my limbs were pulled right out, and some                           790
stayed on the stump. With a loud snapping noise,
my bones broke off. You could have seen me there,
totally done in, breathing out my life,
with no part left which you could recognize,
and every part a single giant wound.
Now, nymph, can you or dare you still compare                                              [530]
your tragedy with mine?

                                                           I also saw
that kingdom where there is no light and bathed
my mangled body in Phlegethon’s stream.
My life would not have been restored to me                                     800
without the power of healing potions
from Aesculapius, Apollo’s son.
Thanks to his potent herbs and Paean’s help,
I came alive once more, although this act                                         HIPPOLYTUS AND DIANA
made Pluto angry.(25) So Diana cast
dense fog around me, in case my presence
increased the rage he felt about my gift.
To keep me safe and away from danger
when I was visible, the goddess added
years to my age and changed the way I look,                                   810
so I would not be known to anyone.
Then, for a long time Diana wondered
whether she should make my home in Delos                                                    [540]
or in Crete but in the end rejected both
and placed me here. She also ordered me                                         HIPPOLYTUS BECOMES VIRBIUS
to cast aside my name, which could arouse
ideas about the horses I had owned.(26)


‘You, who used to be Hippolytus once,
must now be Virbius!’


                                 From that time on,
I have lived as one of the minor gods                                               820
within this grove, where I remain concealed
under the sacred power of Diana,
my mistress, to whom I am now linked.”


But disasters other people suffered                                                       EGERIA IS TRANSFORMED
could not relieve Egeria’s discontent.
At the foot of a mountain she lay down,
dissolving in her tears, until Diana,
moved by Egeria’s loyal sorrow,
transformed her body to an icy spring                                                                   [550]
and made her limbs an ever-flowing stream.                                          830


This remarkable event amazed the nymphs.                                           TAGES
Hippolytus, too, an Amazon’s son,
was no less astonished than that ploughman
in Tyrrhenian fields when he first observed
a fateful lump of earth begin to move,
all on its own, with no one touching it.                                                  A LUMP OF EARTH IS TRANSFORMED
The clod soon lost its earth-like form and changed
so it looked like a man. Its new-formed mouth
then opened to reveal man’s future fate.
The natives called him Tages, the first one                                             840
to teach Etruscan people to foresee
what was to come.


                                And Romulus, as well,                                          ROMULUS’ SPEAR
was equally surprised when he once saw
his spear sticking in the Palatine hill                                                                       [560]
suddenly sprout leaves and stand fixed in place,
held there by new roots, not by its iron point
which he had driven in the ground, for now
his weapon had become a hardy willow,
offering those who looked on in amazement
its unexpected shade.


                                              Praetor Cipus                                         850
was astonished, too, when he saw his face                                           CIPUS
reflected in the waters of a stream,
for he saw he had grown horns.(27) At first,
thinking the image was a mere illusion,
he touched his forehead, then touched it again.
His fingers felt the horns which he had seen.
Now he could no longer blame his eyesight.
At that moment, he was on the march back home,
having prevailed against his enemies.
So he stopped, raised his eyes up to the sky,                                         860           [570]
stretched his arms out in the same direction,
and cried:


            “O you gods in heaven above,
no matter what this omen indicates,
if it is auspicious, may it benefit
my native land and Quirinus’ people,
but if disaster threatens, let that be
for me alone.”


                                          He built a grassy altar
of green turf and sought to appease the gods
with burning fires of incense. He offered
bowls of wine and had the trembling organs                                          870
of slaughtered sheep inspected to find out
what they might indicate about his future.
Once the Etruscan seer peered into them,
he saw at once the signs of something great,
though not yet clear. But when his watchful eyes
glanced upward from the entrails of the sheep                                                        [580]
and saw the horns on Cipus, he cried out:


“Hail to you, O king! For to you, Cipus,
and your horns this place and every citadel
in Latium will pledge obedience.                                                      880
But you must not delay. With all speed
you must go in the open city gates.
So Fate commands. For once the people there
have welcomed you, you will become their king
and safely hold the everlasting throne.”


Cipus stepped back. Turning his stern features
from the city walls, he said:


                                           “May the gods
drive all such prophecies a long way off—
far, far away! It would be much better
to spend my life in exile than to have                                                890
the Capitol see me enthroned as king.”(28)


He said this and immediately summoned                                                               [590]
the people and distinguished senators
to an assembly. But first he wrapped his horns
with laurel symbolizing peace, then stood
upon a mound raised by his brave soldiers,
offered up prayers to the ancient gods,
as was their custom, and said:


                                           “With us here
there is a man who will become our king,
unless you expel him from the city.                                                   900
I will not name him, but I will tell you
a sign that indicates just who he is.
On his forehead he has horns! The seer
predicts that if this man comes into Rome
the laws he makes will turn you into slaves.
He could have entered through the open gates,
but I prevented him, despite the fact
that no one is more closely linked to him
than me. Romans, you must make sure this man                                               [600]
stays outside the city. If he deserves it,                                             910
bind him in heavy chains or end all fear
by sending the destined tyrant to his death.”


There was a murmur from the crowd, like the sound
of lofty pines trees when raging East Wind
whistles through their leaves or like ocean waves
when heard from far away. Amid the sounds
of that confused and noisy crowd, one voice
cried out:


            “Which one is he?”


                                                Those in the crowd
looked at each other’s foreheads, trying to find
the horns he had predicted would be there.                                           920
Then Cipus addressed the crowd once more:


“That man you’re looking for—you’ll find him here.”


Then he removed the wreath around his head,                                                      [610]
though some men tried to stop him, and displayed
the two horns clearly growing from his head.
The whole crowd groaned and lowered its eyes.
Who could believe that people would not wish
to gaze at such a famous and deserving head?
No longer able to watch him standing there
without a tribute to his honour, they placed                                            930
a festive garland on his head. And then,
Cipus, since you were not allowed to pass
inside the city walls, they honoured you
with land, as much as you could move around
from dawn to sunset, with a team of oxen
harnessed to the plough, and on bronze pillars
by the city gates they carved a pair of horns,                                                        [620]
a lasting symbol of that miracle
which would remain through ages yet to come.


And now, you Muses, divine presences                                                940
who attend on poets, since you know the past                                      AESCULAPIUS
and vast extents of time cannot mislead you,
reveal to us where Aesculapius,
the son of Coronis, came from and why
that island which deep Tiber flows around
made him a part of sacred rituals
in Romulus’ Rome.

                           Once, long ago,
a foul disease infected Latian air,
and people’s pallid bodies were destroyed
by a sickness which siphoned off their blood.                                        950
When they realized, after so much death,
that human efforts were of no avail
and their healing skills were ineffectual,
they looked to the heavenly gods for help,                                                            [630]
travelling to the centre of the world,
the oracle of Phoebus built in Delphi,
praying to the god for his assistance
in their distress, asking for some remedy
to make them healthy once again and end
the evils plaguing so great a city.                                                           960
The ground, the laurel tree, and the quivers
belonging to the god himself, trembled,
all together, and from the deepest place
within the shrine, the tripod spoke these words
and shook their fearful hearts:(29)


                                          “What you seek here,
Roman, you might have looked for in a place
nearer where you live. Now go and seek it
closer to your home. The help you ask for
will not come from Apollo but his son.
The omens are propitious, so go now                                               970
and summon Aesculapius to help.”(30)                                                             [640]


The prudent Senate heard the god’s command,
then, in their deliberations, enquired
about Apollo’s youthful son, to learn
the city where he lived, and sent out men
to follow the winds to Epidaurus.(31)
As soon as their curved ship had touched the shore,
the men who had been sent at once approached
the elder statesmen in the Grecian council
and urged the Greeks to let them have the god                                     980
who by his presence might end the disease
which was destroying people in Ausonia,
for that was what Apollo’s oracle,
the voice of truth, had said. Among the Greeks,
the various opinions were divided.
Some believed they should not withhold their help,
but most men argued they should keep the god
and not give up what now belonged to them,                                                        [650]
or let other men sail off with their own gods.
While this debate wore on, as the evening                                             990
pushed away the waning light and darkness
covered earth in shadows, the Roman envoy,
fast asleep, seemed to see the healing god
standing beside his bed. In his left hand
he gripped a rustic staff, while with his right
he stroked his lengthy beard, the way he looks
in his own temple. The words he uttered
were full of reassurance:


                                          “Do not fear.
I will leave my images here and come.
Gaze upon this serpent folding itself                                                 1000
around my staff and note the features well,                                                       [660]
so you can recognize it. I will change
into this serpent, but in a larger form
and look as huge as celestial bodies
should be when they change their shape.”


                                       His voice stopped,
and, when it did, the vision disappeared.
With them sleep fled, as well, and, as it went,
the gentle light of day arrived. Once dawn
had scattered fiery stars, the civic leaders,
still unsure what they should do, assembled                                           1010
at the splendid temple of the very god
the Romans wished to take, prayed to him,
and asked him for some heavenly signal
to indicate where he might wish to live.
They had barely finished praying when the god,
a golden serpent with its crest erect,
gave out a hiss to announce his presence,                                                              [670]
and, as he entered, made his statue shake,
as well as altars, doors, marble paving stones,
and gilded pediments in the temple roof.                                                1020
He halted in the middle of the shrine,
reared up chest high and gazed around the crowd,
eyes flashing fire. The people gathered there
were paralyzed with terror, but the priest,
a white band holding down his sacred locks,
recognized the presence of the god
and cried:


                                 “It is the god! Behold the god!
Let all those present keep pure tongues and minds.
Most beautiful one, may we look on you
and prosper, and may you help all people                                        1030
who observe your sacred rites!”


                                      Those in the shrine
adored the god as the priest had ordered,                                                             [680]
echoing his words. And the Romans there
with voice and heart showed reverent respect.
The god nodded and, as he moved his crest,
confirmed his favour with a triple hiss
and a flickering tongue, then glided down
the gleaming stairs. About to move away,
he turned his head for one last final look
at his ancient altars and nodded farewell                                                1040
to the familiar sanctuary and shrine
which had been his home. Then the huge serpent
moved away, slithering across the ground
now strewn with flowers, winding his coils,
gliding through the middle of the city,
to the crescent spit around the harbour.                                                                [690]
Here he stopped and with a calm expression
seemed to dismiss the crowd of worshippers
who dutifully followed in his train.
Then his body moved into the Roman ship,                                           1050
which felt the heavenly load, as his weight
forced it to settle further in the sea.
Aeneas’ descendants were overjoyed.
They sacrificed a bull beside the shore,
then loosed the twisted cables on their ship,
all wreathed in garlands, and gentle breezes
pushed the vessel through the sea. Arching up,
the god placed his neck on the curving stern,
pressing it down, and gazed at the azure waves.
Fair winds blew him across the Ionian Sea                                            1060
and, as Aurora rose on the sixth day,                                                                   [700]
the god arrived in Italy, passing
Lacinium’s coast, with Juno’s famous shrine,
and Scylaceum’s coast, then sailing on
past Iapygia, rowing around
the rocks of Amphrisia on his left,
while passing steep Cocinthia on the right,
then moving by Romethium, Caulon,
and Narycia, through Pelorus’ strait
in Sicily, then past the dwelling place                                                     1070
of Aeolus and mines of Temese,
moving by Leucosia and Paestum,
with fields of roses. He sailed past Capri,
Minerva’s headland, the fertile vineyards
on Surrentum’s hills, Herculaneum,                                                                       [710]
Stabiae, and Parthenope, a place
created for idleness and leisure,
past the Sibyl’s shrine at Cumae, and from there
to Baiae’s thermal pools and Liternum,
with rows of mastic trees, Volturnus’ stream,                                        1080
whose waters bear huge quantities of sand,
and Sinuessa, where the white doves fly,
Minturnae’s marshes, full of pestilence,
Caïeta, whose name comes from the nurse
Aeneas buried there, and then the home
of Antiphates, and swampy Trachas,
to Circe’s land and Antium’s firm shore.(32)
The sailors steered their ship, still under sail,
towards the beach, for the sea was restless.                                                          [720]
The god unwound his coils, fold after fold,                                            1090
and his huge arching body glided away
towards his father’s temple close to shore.
Then, once the seas grew calm again, the god
from Epidaurus left Apollo’s shrine,
where his own father’s hospitality
had brought him joy, dragging his raspy scales
and ploughing furrows in the sandy ground,
climbed on board by sliding up the rudder,
and settled his head on the lofty stern.
There he stayed until the ship reached Castrum                                     1100
and Lavinium’s sacred shrines and sailed
to where the Tiber’s waters meet the sea.
All the people from every side rushed down
to meet the god, hordes of men and women,
along with those who tend your sacred fires,
O Trojan Vesta. Every person there                                                                     [730]
hailed the god with shouts of joy.(33) As the swift ship
made its way upstream, crackling incense burned
on rows of altars on both riverbanks,
filling the scented air with perfumed smoke,                                           1110
while sacrificial knives grew hot with blood
of slaughtered victims.


                        The god now entered Rome,
capital of the world. The snake reared up,
set his head on the summit of the mast,
and turned his neck, searching out a place
suitable for him to live. Where Tiber
splits into two streams flowing past a spot
they call the Island, with both arms branching                                                        [740]
equally on either side, surrounding
dry land in the middle, the serpent god,                                                 1120
a child of Phoebus, left the Latian ship,
resumed the form of his divinity,
and ended all their grief, for he came there
as one who would restore the city’s health.


The god Asclepius was a foreigner                                                       JULIUS CAESAR
who came into our shrines from far away.
But Caesar is a god in his own city,
a man preeminent in peace and war.
Still, it was not the battles that he fought
and finished with triumphant victories,                                                   1130
or his achievements in affairs at home,
or the speed with which he won such glory,
that changed him to a brand new heavenly star
with a fiery tail, but rather his own son,                                                                 [750]
for of all great Caesar’s deeds, the greatest one
was that he was the father of this man,
Augustus Caesar.(34) Yes, he overcame
that British race surrounded by the sea,
steered his victorious ships up seven mouths
of the papyrus-bearing river Nile,                                                          1140
compelled those rebels in Numidia
to follow Rome, along with Juba, too,
from Cinyps, and Pontus, swollen with pride
to hear the very name of Mithridates,
earned many triumphs, and enjoyed a few.(35)
But surely all these feats cannot compare
with being the father of a man so great?
With him in charge of our affairs, you gods
have shown great favour to the human race!
Thus, to make sure Augustus was not born                                            1150          [760]
from mortal seed, Caesar had to be divine.
When the golden mother of Aeneas
thought of this and saw men were preparing
an armed conspiracy to bring about
the tragic death of Caesar, she grew pale
and kept repeating to every god she met:


“Look at how they hatch their plots against me,
using every kind of fraud to take the life
of the only man who is still left for me
of those who come from Trojan Iülus.                                              1160
Am I to be the only one who cares
about these troubles, which are all too real
and come up all the time? I was the one
wounded by that Calydonian spear
of Diomedes. Then the walls of Troy                                                               [770]
and the wretched way they were defended
brought me grief. I saw my son Aeneas
driven out to wander far and wide, tossed
by the sea, moving to the silent realm
of shadows, and waging war with Turnus,                                        1170
or rather, if I speak the truth, with Juno.
Why remember now the ancient sufferings
my family went through? This present fear
inhibits all my thoughts of earlier days.
You see those lethal knives being sharpened!
Stop those men, I beg you. Prevent their crime.
Do not let them extinguish Vesta’s flame
with the blood of her own priest.”(36)


                                   With words like these,
Venus spoke about her anxious worries
throughout the heavens, but without success.                                         1180
Gods were sympathetic, but could not break                                                         [780]
the ancient sisters’ iron rules of Fate.(37)


Still, they did give unambiguous signs                                                   OMENS OF CAESAR’S DEATH
of future sorrow. Men talk of weapons
clashing high among black clouds, fearful blasts
from horns and trumpets pealing in the sky,
warnings in advance of the disaster.
The visage of the sun grew dark, as well,
and cast a pale light down on troubled earth.
People could often see torches blazing                                                  1190
in the middle of the stars, and often
drops of blood fell from the clouds. Lucifer
grew dim with rusty dark spots on his face,
the chariot of the moon had flecks of blood.                                                          [790]
The Stygian screech owl shrieked mournful cries
in a thousand spots, an ominous warning.
In a thousand places, ivory busts
wept tears of sorrow, and, so men maintain,
chants were heard in sacred groves and with them
words of caution, No sacrifice revealed                                                1200
a welcome omen. The inner organs warned
a major conflict was in store. They found,
among the entrails, livers with the top part
sliced away. In the forum, by men’s homes,
and near the temples of the gods, dogs howled
all night and, so they say, the silent dead
roamed everywhere, while tremors shook the city.


But still, no omens from the gods could halt
the treacherous act or what Fate had in store.
Drawn swords were carried to the sacred house,                                  1210           [800]
for no place in the city pleased those men
for their foul murder except the Senate.
Then Venus struck her breast with both her hands
and tried to hide that offspring of Aeneas
in a cloud which earlier had hidden Paris,
when she snatched him away from Menelaus,
the warlike son of Atreus, the same cloud
which had hidden Aeneas when he escaped
the sword of Diomedes.(38)


                                          Jupiter,                                                       JUPITER AND VENUS
her father, then said to Venus:


                                             “My child,                                           1220
are you attempting on your own to change
immutable Fate? You are permitted,
as a goddess, to go inside the house
where those three sisters live. There you will see
huge tablets made of solid brass and iron                                                         [810]
where everything is clearly written down.
These have no fear of heavenly thunder,
or lightning’s rage, or any form of harm,
for they are safe throughout eternity.
You will find the fates of your descendants                                       1230
inscribed in everlasting adamant.
I myself have read them and remember.
And to ensure that you no longer stay
quite ignorant of what the future holds,
I will repeat them now.

                                      This man Caesar,
for whom you are so anxious, Cytherea,
has lived out his time. The years allotted
to his life on earth are over. Now you,
together with his son, heir to his name,
will make sure great Caesar reaches heaven                                     1240
as a god and his people worship him.
And Caesar’s son, all by himself, will bear
the heavy burden placed upon his back.                                                          [820]
We will be with him when he goes to war
and seeks with utmost courage to avenge                                        ACHIEVEMENTS OF AUGUSTUS
his father’s death. Under his leadership,
the walls of Mutina will be besieged,
and fall, and sue for peace. Pharsalia
will come to know him well, and Philippi
will twice be soaked in Macedonian blood.                                      1250
Pompey’s famous name will be defeated
in Sicilian seas, and Cleopatra,
a Roman general’s Egyptian wife,
will place mistaken trust in marriage ties,
and fall, and render empty all her threats
that our own Capitol would be enslaved
by her Canopus.(39) But there is no need
for me to list barbarian races
and nations placed beside both ocean shores.
He will control all habitable lands                                                     1260           [830]
and will be master even of the sea.
Once countries are at peace, his mind will turn
to civil affairs, and he will prove himself
a most just legislator through the laws
he will enact. By his own example
he will guide our morals, and with an eye
on future ages and generations
as yet unborn, he will order a child
born from his blessed consort, to take up
his own name and, with it, all his duties.(40)                                      1270
He will not come to his celestial home
and kindred stars, until, in his old age,
his years will rival those of ancient Nestor.(41)
In the meantime, take out Caesar’s spirit                                                         [840]
from his murdered corpse. Change it to a star,
so from his seat high in the sky, Julius,
now transformed into a god, may gaze down
upon our forum and our Capitol.”


Jupiter had hardly finished speaking                                                      VENUS AND JULIUS CAESAR
when gentle Venus, invisible to all,                                                        1280
stood in the centre of the Senate house,
snatched away the soul from Caesar’s body,
now it had been freed, thus preventing it
from scattering in the air, and took it
up to the heavenly stars. As she moved,
she felt the soul catch fire and start to blaze.
She hurled it from her bosom, and it flew
high above the moon, dragging in its train
a tail of fire. Now a glittering star,                                                                         [850]
Caesar looks down at his son’s splendid deeds,                                    1290
confesses they are greater than his own,
and derives great joy from being surpassed.


And though the son forbids men to maintain                                         GLORY OF AUGUSTUS
his exploits should be praised more than his father’s,
nevertheless, when people talk, his fame,
which in its freedom follows no commands,
prefers the son, even against his will,
and in this one matter disobeys him.
In the same way, mighty Atreus yields
his claim to glory to Agamemnon,                                                         1300
Theseus is greater than Aegeus,
Achilles so much more than Peleus,
and finally, to offer an example
worthy of both Caesars, father Saturn
is a lesser god than Jupiter, his son.
For Jupiter commands the citadels
high in celestial space and every realm
of the three-fold universe. Augustus
governs lands below. Each is a ruler                                                                     [860]
and a father, too. I pray to you gods                                                     1310
who accompanied Aeneas, for whom
sword and fire gave way, to our native gods,
to Quirinus, founder of our city,
to Mars, father of unconquered Romulus,
to Vesta, worshipped with the household gods
of Caesar, and along with Caesar’s Vesta,
you too, Phoebus, living here among us,
and Jupiter, who from on high occupies
the fortress of Tarpeia, and other gods,
all the ones a poet is permitted                                                              1320
with piety and justice to invoke,
I beg you—let that day be slow to come,
postponed to well beyond our generation,
when Augustus will leave the world he rules
and move up to the heavens and, once gone,
will grant his favours to all those who pray.                                                           [870]


My task is now complete. Here I end my work,                                   OVID’S IMMORTALITY
which neither Jupiter’s rage, nor fire, nor sword,
nor gnawing time can ever wipe away.
Let that day which brings my tenuous life                                              1330
to its allotted end come when it will,
its power will only kill my body.
The finer part of me will be borne up,
as an immortal, beyond the lofty stars,
and my name will never be forgotten.
Wherever the power of Rome extends
throughout the nations it has overcome,
I will be read. Men will celebrate my fame
for all the ages, and, if there is truth
in poet’s prophecies, I will live on.                                                        1340





(1) Cures was a city near Rome, and Crotona a Greek city in southern Italy. [Back to Text]

(2) Lacinium was a coastal promontory near Crotona. [Back to Text]

(3) The Aesar was a river in southern Italy. [Back to Text]

(4) Amphitryon was king of Thebes and married to Alcmena, the mother of Hercules. However, the real father of Hercules was Jupiter. The Ionian Sea is between Greece and southern Italy. Myscelus is moving around the heel of Italy and up the west coast towards Latium. The series of names refers to people and places near or on the coast of southern Italy. [Back to Text]

(5) Milon was a citizen of Crotona famous for his great strength. [Back to Text]

(6) Lycus was the name of a river in Lydia. Erasinus was a river in Arcadia which disappeared and then re-emerged. [Back to Text]

(7) The Hypanis river flowed into the Black Sea. [Back to Text]

(8) Antissa was an island in the Aegean, thought to have once been a part of Lesbos. Pharos had been an island off the Egyptian coast, until soil deposited by the Nile joined it to the mainland. Tyre, a city in Asia Minor, had been built on an island. Now it was part of the mainland. [Back to Text]

(9) Leucas had been a peninsula on the coast of Acarnania. Zancle was a coastal city in Sicily on the strait separating Italy and Sicily. [Back to Text]

(10) Helice and Buris, cities on the coast near Corinth, were destroyed by an earthquake and flooded by the sea. Their ruins could be seen under the water. [Back to Text]

(11) Ammon was a spring and lake in Libya. [Back to Text]

(12) Athamanis was in Dodona, where Jupiter had an important shrine. [Back to Text]

(13) Crathis was a river in Arcadia, and Sybaris a river near Crotona. [Back to Text]

(14) For Ovid’s account of why the Salmacis has disgusting waters, see above 4.418 ff. [Back to Text]

(15) Clitorium was a town in the Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(16) Proetus was king of Argos. His daughters were driven mad by Venus for boasting of their beauty. [Back to Text]

(17) Lyncestius was a river in Epirus. [Back to Text]

(18) Ortygia is another name for the island of Delos. For Ovid’s story of it as a floating island see Book 6. [Back to Text]

(19) Pallene was a mountain in Thrace. [Back to Text]

(20) The butterfly was an emblem of the dead because its transformation from a worm into a flying creature reminded people of the escape of the soul from the body at death. [Back to Text]

(21) Juno’s bird was the peacock. [Back to Text]

(22) Atreus, father of Agamemnon, invited his brother, Thyestes, to a banquet of reconciliation, where he served Thyestes the cooked flesh of his own children. [Back to Text]

(23) According to some Greek and Latin traditions, Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, had brought the worship of Diana/Artemis from Taurus into Italy and set up a shrine in Aricia. [Back to Text]

(24) Pasiphaë was the wife of Minos, king of Crete. She was notorious for having sex with a bull and giving birth to the Minotaur. See above 8.212 ff. [Back to Text]

(25) Paean is a common name for Apollo. [Back to Text]

(26) The first part of Hippolytus’ name comes from the Greek word for horse. [Back to Text]

(27) The Praetors were important civic officials and military leaders in Rome. [Back to Text]

(28) In Ovid’s time the Roman state was still officially a republic and the notion of a having a king was repugnant. Although Augustus was de facto emperor, he was careful to maintain many of the outward trappings of republican Rome. [Back to Text]

(29) The priestess who uttered the response sat on a tripod deep inside the shrine of Apollo. [Back to Text]

(30) Aesculapius was the son of Apollo and Coronis. For details of his birth, see 2.929 above. [Back to Text]

(31) Epidaurus is a city in the Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(32) The names here refer to coastal towns in southern Italy. Ovid is again describing a voyage around the toe of Italy, through the Strait of Messina, and up the west coast towards Rome. [Back to Text]

(33) The Vestal Virgins were important traditional religious figures in Rome, in charge of tending a sacred fire which was not allowed to go out and of looking after ancestral relics thought to have been brought to Rome from Troy. [Back to Text]

(34) Julius Caesar was not the biological father of Octavius (later called Augustus), but his great uncle. In his will he adopted Octavius and made him his heir. Octavius fought on Caesar’s behalf during the civil wars and, after Caesar’s assassination, continued the struggle, finally emerging victorious in 31 BC. He went on to become de facto the first of the Roman emperors and changed his name to Augustus. [Back to Text]

(35) Juba was king of Mauritania, in northwest Africa. He and the Numidians had supported Caesar’s political opponents in Rome and were conquered. Caesar defeated the son of Mithridates, a famous king of Pontus, beside the Black Sea. A triumph was a large celebratory procession in Rome to mark an important military victory and was considered a rare honour. [Back to Text]

(36) Iülus (also called Ascanius) was the son of Aeneas. The mother of Aeneas is Venus. Julius Caesar, at the time of his death, held an important position as a priest in Rome [Back to Text]

(37) The ancient sisters are the three Fates. [Back to Text]

(38) These two moments, when Venus rescues Trojan warriors from their battlefield opponents by hiding them in a cloud, are part of Homer’s Iliad. [Back to Text]

(39) Mutina was a place in Gaul where Octavius won a battle against his major rival, Antony. Pharsalia in Thessaly was the site of a battle where Julius Caesar defeated his main rival, Pompey, and Philippi in Thrace was the site of a battle where Antony and Octavius defeated Brutus and Cassius, the main conspirators in the plot to murder Julius Caesar. Ovid treats the two famous battle sites as the same place. Pompey’s son was defeated at sea near Sicily. The Roman general who married Cleopatra was Antony, who had been married to Octavius’ sister. Canopus was a city in Egypt. Octavius defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, a victory which brought the civil wars to an end and left him in complete control of political affairs in Rome. [Back to Text]

(40) Augustus took Livia Drusilla as his wife (who was married and pregnant at the time), and later adopted her son, Tiberius, and made him his successor. [Back to Text]

(41) Nestor, king of Pylos, was famous for living a long time. There are some editorial difficulties with the Latin in this line. [Back to Text]




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