The reason for this month’s name’s also doubtful:
Choose the one you please from those I offer.
I sing the truth: but some will say I lied,
Believing no deity was ever seen by mortal.
There is a god in us: when he stirs we kindle:
That impulse sows the seeds of inspiration.
I’ve a special right to see the faces of the gods,
Being a bard, or by singing of sacred things.
There’s a dense grove of trees, a place masked
From every sound, except the trickle of water.
There I considered the origin of the month
Just begun, and was thinking about its name.
Behold I saw the goddesses, but not those Hesiod saw,
That teacher of farming, following his Ascraean flock,
Nor those Priam’s son, Paris, judged in moist Ida’s
Valleys: though one of them was there.
One of them, her own husband’s sister:
Juno, it was (I knew her) who stands in Jove’s temple.
I shivered, and betrayed myself by speechless pallor:
Then the goddess herself dispelled the fear she’d caused,
Saying: ‘O poet, singer of the Roman year,
Who dares to tell great things in slender measures,
You’ve won the right to view a celestial power,
By choosing to celebrate the festivals in your verse.
But so you’re not ignorant or led astray by error,
June in fact takes its name from mine.
It’s something to have wed Jove, and to be Jove’s sister:
I’m not sure if I’m prouder of brother or husband.
If you consider lineage, I was first to call Saturn
Father, I was the first child fate granted to him.
Rome was once named Saturnia, after my father:
This was the first place he came to, exiled from heaven.
If the marriage bed counts at all, I’m called the Thunderer’s
Wife, and my shrine’s joined to that of Tarpeian Jove.
If his mistress could give her name to the month of May,
Shall a similar honour be begrudged to me?
Or why am I called queen and chief of goddesses?
Why did they place a golden sceptre in my hand?
Shall days (luces)
make up the month, and I be called
Lucina from them, yet not name a month myself?
Then I would repent of having loyally shed my anger
Against the race of Electra and the house of Dardanus.
I had twin cause for anger: I grieved at Ganymede’s abduction,
And my beauty was scorned by that judge, on Ida.
I would repent of not favouring Carthage’s walls,
Since my chariot and my weapons are there:
I would repent of having granted Rome rule of Sparta,
And of Argos, Mycenae, and ancient Samos:
And of old Tatius, and the Faliscans who worship me,
Whom I allowed to fall prey to the Romans.
But let me not repent, no race is dearer to me: here
I’m worshipped: here I occupy a shrine with my dear Jove.
Mavors himself said to me: ‘I entrust these walls
To you. You’ll have power in your grandson’s city.’
His words are fulfilled: I’m worshipped at a hundred altars,
And my month is the not the least of my honours.
Nevertheless not merely Rome does me that honour,
But the neighbouring townsmen treat me the same.
Look at the calendar of wooded Aricia,
Of the Laurentines, and my own Lanuvium:
They’ve a month of June. Look at Tiber,
And the sacred walls of the goddess at Praeneste:
You’ll read of Juno’s month. Romulus didn’t found them:
But Rome, it’s true, is the city of my grandson.’
Juno ended. I looked back: Hebe, Hercules’ wife,
Stood there, with youthfulness in her look.
She said: ‘If my mother commanded me to leave heaven,
I wouldn’t stay, against my mother’s will.
And I won’t argue now about the name of the month:
I’ll persuade and act the petitioner’s role,
I’d prefer to maintain my rights by prayer alone.
Perhaps you’ll take my side yourself.
My mother occupies the golden Capitol, and shares
The summit shrine, as is right, with Jove himself.
While all my glory comes from the month’s name,
My only honour, one with which they tease me.
What harm, Roman, in your granting the name
Of a month to Hercules’ wife: posterity agreeing?
This land owes me something too, because of my great
Husband: here he drove the cattle he captured,
Here Cacus, badly protected by his father’s gift of fire,
Stained the Aventine earth with his blood.
But back to my point. Romulus organised the people,
Dividing them into two parts, according to age:
One was ready to give advice, the other to fight:
One decided on war, while the other waged it.
So he decreed, and divided the months likewise:
June for the young (iuvenes): the month before for the old.’
She spoke. And in the heat of the moment they might have
Quarrelled, and anger disguised true affection:
But Concord came, her long hair twined with Apollo’s laurel,
A goddess, and the dear care of our pacific leader.
When she’d told how Tatius and brave Romulus,
And their two kingdoms and people had merged,
And fathers- and sons-in-law made a common home,
She said: ‘The month of June gets its name from
Their union (iunctus).’
So three reasons were given.
Goddesses, forgive me: it’s not for me to decide.
Leave me, equally. Troy was ruined by judging beauty:
Two goddesses can harm, more than one may delight.
June 1: Kalends
Carna, the first day’s yours. Goddess of the hinge:
She opens the closed, by her power, closes the open.
The story of how she gained the powers she has is obscured
By time, but you’ll still learn of it from my verse.
There’s an ancient grove of Alernus near the Tiber:
And the priests still make sacrifices there.
A nymph was born there (men of old called her Cranaë)
Who was often sought in vain by many suitors.
She used to hunt the land, chasing wild beasts with spears,
Stretching her woven nets in the hollow valleys.
She’d no quiver, yet considered herself Apollo’s
Sister: nor need you, Apollo, have been ashamed of her.
If any youth spoke words of love to her,
She gave him this answer right away:
‘There’s too much light here, it’s too shameful
In the light: if you’ll lead to a darker cave, I’ll follow.’
While he went in front, credulously, she no sooner reached
The bushes than she hid: and was nowhere to be found.
Janus saw her, and the sight raised his passion.
He used soft words to the hard-hearted nymph.
She told him to find a more private cave,
Followed him closely: then deserted her leader.
Foolish child! Janus can see what happens behind him:
You gain nothing: he looks back at your hiding place.
Nothing gained, as I said, you see! He caught you, hidden
Behind a rock, clasped you, worked his will, then said:
‘In return for our union, the hinges belong to you:
Have them as recompense for your maidenhead.’
So saying he gave her a thorn (it was white-thorn)
With which to drive away evil from the threshold.
There are some greedy birds, not those that cheated
Phineus of his meal, though descended from that race:
Their heads are large, their eyes stick out, their beaks
Fit for tearing, their feathers are grey, their claws hooked.
They fly by night, attacking children with absent nurses,
And defiling their bodies, snatched from the cradle.
They’re said to rend the flesh of infants with their beaks,
And their throats are full of the blood they drink.
They’re called screech-owls, and the reason for the name
Is the horrible screeching they usually make at night.
Whether they’re born as birds, or whether they’re made so
By spells, old women transformed to birds by Marsian magic,
They still entered Proca’s bedroom. Proca was fresh
Prey for the birds, a child of five days old.
They sucked at the infant’s chest, with greedy tongues:
And the wretched child screamed for help.
Scared at his cry, the nurse ran to her ward,
And found his cheeks slashed by their sharp claws.
What could she do? The colour of the child’s face
Was that of late leaves nipped by an early frost.
She went to Cranaë and told her: Cranaë said:
‘Don’t be afraid: your little ward will be safe.’
She approached the cradle: the parents wept:
‘Restrain your tears,’ she said, ‘I’ll heal him.’
Quickly she touched the doorposts, one after the other,
Three times, with arbutus leaves, three times with arbutus
Marked the threshold: sprinkled the entrance with water,
Medicinal water, while holding the entrails of a two-month sow:
And said: ‘Birds of night, spare his entrails:
A small victim’s offered here for a small child.
Take a heart for a heart, I beg, flesh for flesh,
This life we give you for a dearer life.’
When she’d sacrificed, she placed the severed flesh
In the open air, and forbade those there to look at it.
A ‘rod of Janus’, taken from a whitethorn, was set
Where a little window shed light into the room.
After that, they say, the birds avoided the cradle,
And the boy recovered the colour he’d had before.
You ask why we eat greasy bacon-fat on the Kalends,
And why we mix beans with parched grain?
She’s an ancient goddess, nourished by familiar food,
No epicure to seek out alien dainties.
In ancient times the fish still swam unharmed,
And the oysters were safe in their shells.
Italy was unaware of Ionian heath-cocks,
And the cranes that enjoy Pigmy blood:
Only the feathers of the peacock pleased,
And the nations didn’t send us captive creatures.
Pigs were prized: men feasted on slaughtered swine:
The earth only yielded beans and hard grains.
They say that whoever eats these two foods together
At the Kalends, in this sixth month, will have sweet digestion.
They also say that the shrine of Juno Moneta was founded
On the summit of the citadel, according to your vow, Camillus:
Before it was built, the house of Manlius had protected
Capitoline Jove against the Gallic weapons.
Great Gods, it would have been better, if he’d fallen,
In defence of your throne, noble Jupiter!
He lived to be executed, condemned for seeking kingship:
That was the crown long years granted him.
This same day is a festival of Mars, whose temple
By the Covered Way is seen from beyond the Capene Gate.
You too, Tempest, were considered worthy of a shrine,
After our fleet was almost sunk in Corsican waters.
These human monuments are obvious. If you look
For stars too, great Jove’s eagle, with curved talons, rises.
Next light summons the Hyades, the horns on Taurus’
Brow, and then the earth’s soaked with heavy rain.
When two dawns are past, and Phoebus has risen twice,
And the crops have twice been wet by the dewfall,
On that day, they say, during the Tuscan War, Bellona’s
Shrine was consecrated, she who always brings Rome success.
Appius was responsible, who, when peace was denied Pyrrhus,
Saw clearly with his mind, though deprived of sight.
A little open space looks down on the heights of the Circus
From the temple, there’s a little pillar there of no mean importance:
The custom is to hurl a spear from there to declare war,
When it’s been decided to take up arms against kings and nations.
The rest of the Circus is protected by Hercules the Guardian,
The god holds the office due to the Sibylline oracle.
The day before the Nones is when he takes up office:
If you ask about the inscription, Sulla approved the work.
June 5: Nones
I asked whether I should assign the Nones to Sancus,
Or Fidius, or you Father Semo: Sancus answered me:
‘Whichever you assign it to, the honour’s mine:
I bear all three names: so Cures willed it.’
The Sabines of old granted him a shrine accordingly,
And established it on the Quirinal Hill.
I have a daughter (may she outlive me, I pray)
In whom I’ll always be happy, while she’s safe.
When I wished to give her away to my son-in-law,
I asked which times were fit for weddings, which were not:
Then it was pointed out to me that after the Ides of June
Was a good time for brides, and for bridegrooms,
While the start of the month was unsuitable for marriage:
For the holy wife of the Flamen Dialis told me:
‘Till the calm Tiber carries the sweepings from the shrine
Of Ilian Vesta, on its yellow waves to the sea,
I’m not allowed to comb my hair with a toothed comb,
Nor to cut my nails with anything made of iron,
Nor to touch my husband, though he’s Jove’s priest,
And though he was given to me by law for life.
Don’t be in a hurry. Your daughter will be better wed,
When Vesta’s fire gleams on purified earth.’
On the third dawn after the Nones, it’s said that Phoebe
Chases away Arcturus, and the Bear’s free of fear of her ward.
Then I recall, too, I’ve seen games, named for you
Smooth-flowing Tiber, held on the turf in the Field of Mars.
The day’s a festival for those who tug at dripping lines,
And hide their bronze hooks under little strands of bait.
The Mind has its own goddess too. I note a sanctuary
Was vowed to Mind, during the terror of war with you,
Perfidious Carthage. You broke the peace, and astonished
By the consul’s death, all feared the Moorish army.
Fear had driven out hope, when the Senate made their vows
To Mind, and immediately she was better disposed to them.
The day when the vows to the goddess were fulfilled
Is separated by six days from the approaching Ides.
June 9: The Vestalia
Vesta, favour me! I’ll open my lips now in your service,
If I’m indeed allowed to attend your sacred rites.
I was rapt in prayer: I felt the heavenly deity,
And the happy earth shone with radiant light.
Not that I saw you, goddess (away with poets’ lies!)
Nor were you to be looked on by any man:
But I knew what I’d not known, and the errors
I’d held to were corrected without instruction.
They say Rome had celebrated the Parilia forty times,
When the goddess, the Guardian of the Flame, was received
In her shrine, the work of Numa, that peace-loving king,
(None more god-fearing was ever born in Sabine lands.)
The roofs you see of bronze were roofs of straw then,
And its walls were made of wickerwork.
This meagre spot that supports the Hall of Vesta
Was then the mighty palace of unshorn Numa.
Yet the form of the temple, that remains, they say,
Is as before, and is shaped so for good reason.
Vesta’s identified with Earth: in them both’s unsleeping fire:
Earth and the hearth are both symbols of home.
The Earth’s a ball not resting on any support,
It’s great weight hangs in the ether around it.
Its own revolutions keep its orb balanced,
It has no sharp angles to press on anything,
And it’s placed in the midst of the heavens,
And isn’t nearer or further from any side,
For if it weren’t convex, it would be nearer somewhere,
And the universe wouldn’t have Earth’s weight at its centre.
There’s a globe suspended, enclosed by Syracusan art,
That’s a small replica of the vast heavens,
And the Earth’s equidistant from top and bottom.
Which is achieved by its spherical shape.
The form of this temple’s the same: there’s no angle
Projecting from it: a rotunda saves it from the rain.
You ask why the goddess is served by virgins?
I’ll reveal the true reason for that as well.
They say that Juno and Ceres were born of Ops
By Saturn’s seed, Vesta was the third daughter:
The others married, both bore children they say,
The third was always unable to tolerate men.
What wonder if a virgin delights in virgin servants,
And only allows chaste hands to touch her sacred relics?
Realize that Vesta is nothing but living flame,
And you’ll see that no bodies are born from her.
She’s truly a virgin, who neither accepts seed
Nor yields it, and she loves virgin companions.
I foolishly thought for ages that there were statues
Of Vesta, later I learnt there were none beneath her dome:
An undying fire is concealed with the shrine,
But there’s no image of Vesta or of fire.
The earth’s supported by its energy: Vesta’s so called from ‘depending
On energy’ (vistando), and that could be the reason for her Greek name. But the hearth (focus) is named from its fire that warms (fovet) all things:
Formerly it stood in the most important room.
I think the vestibule was so called from Vesta too:
In praying we address Vesta first, who holds first place.
It was once the custom to sit on long benches by the fire,
And believe the gods were present at the meal:
Even now in sacrificing to ancient Vacuna,
They sit and stand in front of her altar hearths.
Something of ancient custom has passed to us:
A clean dish contains the food offered to Vesta.
See, loaves are hung from garlanded mules,
And flowery wreaths veil the rough millstones.
Once farmers only used to parch wheat in their ovens,
(And the goddess of ovens has her sacred rites):
The hearth baked the bread, set under the embers,
On a broken tile placed there on the heated floor.
So the baker honours the hearth, and the lady of hearths,
And the she-ass that turns the pumice millstones.
Red-faced Priapus shall I tell of your shame or pass by?
It’s a brief tale but it’s a merry one.
Cybele, whose head is crowned with towers,
Called the eternal gods to her feast.
She invited the satyrs too, and those rural divinities,
The nymphs, and Silenus came, though no one asked him.
It’s forbidden, and would take too long, to describe the banquet
Of the gods: the whole night was spent drinking deep.
Some wandered aimlessly in Ida’s shadowy vales,
Some lay, and stretched their limbs, on the soft grass.
Some played, some slept, others linked arms
And beat swift feet threefold on the grassy earth.
Vesta lay carelessly, enjoying a peaceful rest,
Her head reclining, resting on the turf.
But the red-faced keeper of gardens chased the nymphs
And goddesses, and his roving feet turned to and fro.
He saw Vesta too: it’s doubtful whether he thought her
A nymph, or knew her as Vesta: he himself denied he knew.
He had wanton hopes, and tried to approach her in secret,
And walked on tiptoe, with a pounding heart.
Old Silenus had chanced to leave the mule
He rode by the banks of a flowing stream.
The god of the long Hellespont was about to start,
When the mule let out an untimely bray.
Frightened by the raucous noise, the goddess leapt up:
The whole troop gathered, and Priapus fled through their hands.
The people of Lampsacus sacrifice this animal to him, singing:
‘Rightly we give the innards of the witness to the flames.’
Goddess, you deck the creature with necklaces of loaves,
In remembrance: work ceases: the empty mills fall silent.
I’ll explain the meaning of an altar of Jove the Baker
That stands on the Thunderer’s citadel, more famous
For name than worth. The Capitol was surrounded
By fierce Gauls: the siege had already caused a famine.
Summoning the gods to his royal throne,
Jupiter said to Mars: ‘Begin!’ and he quickly replied:
‘My people’s plight is surely unknown, A grief that needs a voice of heartfelt complaint.
But if I’m to tell a sad and shameful tale in brief,
Rome lies under the feet of an Alpine enemy.
Jupiter, is this the Rome that was promised power
Over the world! Rome, the mistress of the earth?
She’d crushed the neighbouring cities, and the Etruscans:
Hope was rampant: now she’s driven from her home.
We’ve seen old men, dressed in embroidered robes
Of triumph, murdered in their bronze-clad halls:
We’ve seen Ilian Vesta’s sacred pledges hurried
From their place: some clearly think of the gods.
But if they look back at the citadel you hold,
And see so many of your homes under siege,
They’ll think worship of the gods is vain,
And incense from a fearful hand thrown away.
If only they’d an open field of battle! Let them arm,
And if they can’t be victorious, let them die.
Now without food, and dreading a cowardly death,
They’re penned on their hill, pressed by a barbarous mob.’
Then Venus, and Vesta, and glorious Quirinus with auger’s staff
And striped gown, pleaded on behalf of their Latium.
Jupiter replied: ‘There’s a common concern for those walls.
And the Gauls will be defeated and receive punishment.
But you, Vesta, mustn’t leave your place, and see to it
That the bread that’s lacking be considered plentiful.
Let whatever grain is left be ground in a hollow mill,
Kneaded by hand, and then baked in a hot oven.’
He gave his orders, and Saturn’s virgin daughter
Obeyed his command, as the hour reached midnight.
Now sleep had overcome the weary leaders: Jupiter
Rebuked them, and spoke his wishes from holy lips:
‘Rise, and from the heights of the citadel, throw down
Among the enemy, the last thing you’d wish to yield!’
They shook off sleep, and troubled by the strange command,
Asked themselves what they must yield, unwillingly.
It seemed it must be bread: They threw down the gifts
Of Ceres, clattering on the enemy helms and shields.
The expectation that they could be starved out vanished.
The foe was repulsed, and a bright altar raised to Jove the Baker.
On the festival of Vesta, I happened to be returning
By the recent path that joins the New Way to the Forum.
There I saw a lady descending barefoot:
Astonished, I was silent and stopped short.
An old woman from the neighbourhood saw me: and telling
Me to sit, spoke to me in a quavering voice, shaking her head:
‘Here, where the forums are now, was marshy swamp:
A ditch was wet with the overflow from the river.
That lake of Curtius, that supports the altars un-wet,
Is solid enough now, but was a pool of water once.
Where processions file through the Velabrum to the Circus,
There was nothing but willow and hollow reeds:
Often some guest returning over suburban waters,
Sang out, and hurled drunken words at the boatmen.
That god, Vertumnus, whose name fits many forms,
Wasn’t yet so-called from damning back the river (averso amne).
Here too was a thicket of bulrushes and reeds,
And a marsh un-trodden by booted feet.
The pools are gone, and the river keeps its banks,
And the ground’s dry now: but the custom remains.’
So she explained it. I said: ‘Farewell, good dame!
May whatever of life remains to you be sweet.’
I’d already heard the rest of the tale in boyhood,
But I won’t pass over it in silence on that account.
Ilus, scion of Dardanus, had founded a new city
(Ilus was still rich, holding the wealth of Asia)
A sky-born image of armed Minerva was said
To have fallen on the hillside near to Troy.
(I was anxious to see it: I saw the temple and the site,
That’s all that’s left there: Rome has the Palladium.)
Apollo Smintheus was consulted, and gave this answer
From truthful lips, in the darkness of his shadowy grove:
‘Preserve the heavenly goddess, and preserve
The City: with her goes the capital of empire.’
Ilus preserved her, closed in the heights of the citadel.
The care of it descended to his heir Laomedon.
Priam failed to take like care: so Pallas wished it,
Judgement having gone against her beauty.
They say it was stolen, whether by Diomede,
Or cunning Ulysses, or taken by Aeneas:
The agent’s unknown, but the thing’s in Rome:
Vesta guards it: who sees all things by her unfailing light.
How worried the Senate was, when Vesta’s temple
Caught fire: and she was nearly buried by her own roof!
Holy fires blazed, fed by sinful fires,
Sacred and profane flames were merged.
The priestesses with streaming hair, wept in amazement:
Fear had robbed them of their bodily powers.
Metellus rushed into their midst, crying in a loud voice:
‘Run and help, there’s no use in weeping.
Seize fate’s pledges in your virgin hands:
They won’t survive by prayers, but by action.
Ah me! Do you hesitate?’ he said. He saw them,
Hesitating, sinking in terror to their knees.
He took up water, and holding his hands aloft, cried:
‘Forgive me, holy relics! A man enters where no man should.
If it’s wrong, let the punishment fall on me:
Let my life be the penalty, so Rome is free of harm.’
He spoke and entered. The goddess he carried away
Was saved by her priest’s devotion, and she approved.
Now sacred flames you shine brightly under Caesar’s rule:
The fire on the Ilian hearths is there, and will remain,
It won’t be said that under him any priestess disgraced
Her office, nor that she was buried alive in the earth.
So the unchaste die, being entombed in what they
Have violated: since divine Earth and Vesta are one.
This day Brutus won his title from the Galician foe,
And stained the soil of Spain with blood.
Surely sadness is sometimes mixed with joy,
Lest festivals delight the crowd’s hearts completely:
Crassus, near the Euphrates, lost the eagles, his army,
And his son, and at the end himself as well.
The goddess said:
‘Parthians, why exult? You’ll send
The standards back, a Caesar will avenge Crassus’ death.’
But once the violets are stripped from the long-eared mules,
And the rough millstones are grinding the grain again,
The sailor at the stern says: ‘We’ll see the Dolphin,
When day is put to flight and night comes on.’
June 11: The Matralia
Now you complain, Phrygian Tithonus, abandoned by your bride,
And the vigilant Morning Star leaves the Eastern waters.
Good mothers (since the Matralia is your festival),
Go, offer the Theban goddess the golden cakes she’s owed.
Near the bridges and mighty Circus is a famous square,
One that takes its name from the statue of an ox:
There, on this day, they say, Servius with his own
Royal hands, consecrated a temple to Mother Matruta.
Bacchus, whose hair is twined with clustered grapes,
If the goddess’ house is also yours, guide the poet’s work,
Regarding who the goddess is, and why she excludes
(Since she does)
female servants from the threshold
Of her temple, and why she calls for toasted cakes.
Semele was burnt by Jove’s compliance: Ino
Received you as a baby, and nursed you with utmost care.
Juno swelled with rage, that Ino should raise a child
Snatched from Jove’s lover: but it was her sister’s son.
So Athamas was haunted by the Furies, and false visions,
And little Learchus died by his father’s hand.
His grieving mother committed his shade to the tomb.
And paid the honours due to the sad pyre.
Then tearing her hair in sorrow, she leapt up
And snatched you from your cradle, Melicertes.
There’s a narrow headland between two seas,
A single space attacked by twofold waves:
There Ino came, clutching her son in her frenzied grasp,
And threw herself, with him, from a high cliff into the sea.
Panope and her hundred sisters received them unharmed,
And gliding smoothly carried them through their realm.
They reached the mouth of densely eddying Tiber,
Before they became Leucothea and Palaemon.
There was a grove: known either as Semele’s or Stimula’s:
Inhabited, they say, by Italian Maenads.
Ino, asking them their nation, learned they were Arcadians,
And that Evander was the king of the place.
Hiding her divinity, Saturn’s daughter cleverly
Incited the Latian Bacchae with deceiving words:
‘O too-easy-natured ones, caught by every feeling!
This stranger comes, but not as a friend, to our gathering.
She’s treacherous, and would learn our sacred rites:
But she has a child on whom we can wreak punishment.’
She’d scarcely ended when the Thyiads, hair streaming
Over their necks, filled the air with their howling,
Laid hands on Ino, and tried to snatch the boy.
She invoked gods with names as yet unknown to her:
‘Gods, and men, of this land, help a wretched mother!’
Her cry carried to the neighbouring Aventine.
Oetaean Hercules having driven the Iberian cattle
To the riverbank, heard and hurried towards the voice.
As he arrived, the women who’d been ready for violence,
Shamefully turned their backs in cowardly flight.
‘What are you doing here,’ said Hercules (recognising her),
‘Sister of Bacchus’
mother? Does Juno persecute you too?’
She told him part of her tale, suppressing the rest because of her son: Ashamed to have been goaded to crime by the Furies.
Rumour, so swift, flew on beating wings,
And your name was on many a lip, Ino.
It’s said you entered loyal Carmentis’ home
As a guest, and assuaged your great hunger:
They say the Tegean priestess quickly made cakes
With her own hands, and baked them on the hearth.
Now cakes delight the goddess at the Matralia:
Country ways pleased her more than art’s attentions.
‘Now, O prophetess,’
she said, ‘reveal my future fate,
As far as is right. Add this, I beg, to your hospitality.’
A pause ensued. Then the prophetess assumed divine powers,
And her whole breast filled with the presence of the god:
You’d hardly have known her then, so much taller
And holier she’d become than a moment before.
‘I sing good news, Ino,’ she said, ‘your trials are over,
Be a blessing to your people for evermore.
You’ll be a sea goddess, and your son will inhabit ocean.
Take different names now, among your own waves:
Greeks will call you Leucothea, our people Matuta:
Your son will have complete command of harbours,
We’ll call him Portunus, Palaemon in his own tongue.
Go, and both be friends, I beg you, of our country!’
Ino nodded, and gave her promise. Their trials were over,
They changed their names: he’s a god and she’s a goddess.
You ask why she forbids the approach of female servants?
She hates them: by her leave I’ll sing the reason for her hate.
Daughter of Cadmus, one of your maids
Was often embraced by your husband.
Faithless Athamas secretly enjoyed her: he learned
From her that you gave the farmers parched seed.
You yourself denied it, but rumour confirmed it.
That’s why you hate the service of a maid.
But let no loving mother pray to her, for her child:
She herself proved an unfortunate parent.
Better command her to help another’s child:
She was more use to Bacchus than her own.
They say she asked you, Rutilius, ‘Where are you rushing?
As consul you’ll fall to the Marsian enemy on my day.’
Her words were fulfilled, the Tolenus
Flowed purple, its waters mixed with blood.
The following year, Didius, killed on the same
Day, doubled the enemy’s strength.
Fortuna, the same day is yours, your temple
Founded by the same king, in the same place.
And whose is that statue hidden under draped robes?
It’s Servius, that’s for sure, but different reasons
Are given for the drapes, and I’m in doubt.
When the goddess fearfully confessed to a secret love,
Ashamed, since she’s immortal, to mate with a man
(For she burned, seized with intense passion for the king,
And he was the only man she wasn’t blind to),
She used to enter his palace at night by a little window:
So that the gate bears the name Fenestella.
She’s still ashamed, and hides the beloved features
Under cloth: the king’s face being covered by a robe.
Or is it rather that, after his murder, the people
Were bewildered by their gentle leader’s death,
Their grief swelling, endlessly, at the sight
Of the statue, until they hid him under robes?
I must sing at greater length of a third reason,
Though I’ll still keep my team on a tight rein.
Having secured her marriage by crime, Tullia
Used to incite her husband with words like these:
‘What use if we’re equally matched, you by my sister’s
Murder, I by your brother’s, in leading a virtuous life?
Better that my husband and your wife had lived,
Than that we shrink from greater achievement.
I offer my father’s life and realm as my dower:
If you’re a man, go take the dower I speak of.
Crime is the mark of kingship. Kill your wife’s father,
Seize the kingdom, dip our hands in my father’s blood.’
Urged on be such words, though a private citizen
He usurped the high throne: the people, stunned, took up arms.
With blood and slaughter the weak old man was defeated:
Tarquin the Proud snatched his father-in-law’s sceptre.
Servius himself fell bleeding to the hard earth,
At the foot of the Esquiline, site of his palace.
His daughter, driving to her father’s home,
Rode through the streets, erect and haughty.
When her driver saw the king’s body, he halted
In tears. She reproved him in these terms:
‘Go on, or do you seek the bitter fruits of virtue?
Drive the unwilling wheels, I say, over his face.’
A certain proof of this is Evil Street, named
After her, while eternal infamy marks the deed.
Yet she still dared to visit her father’s temple,
His monument: what I tell is strange but true.
There was a statue enthroned, an image of Servius:
They say it put a hand to its eyes,
And a voice was heard:
‘Hide my face,
Lest it view my own wicked daughter.’
It was veiled by cloth, Fortune refused to let the robe
Be removed, and she herself spoke from her temple:
‘The day when Servius’
face is next revealed,
Will be a day when shame is cast aside.’
Women, beware of touching the forbidden cloth,
(It’s sufficient to utter prayers in solemn tones)
And let him who was the City’s seventh king
Keep his head covered, forever, by this veil.
The temple once burned: but the fire spared
The statue: Mulciber himself preserved his son.
For Servius’ father was Vulcan, and the lovely
Ocresia of Corniculum his mother.
Once, performing sacred rites with her in the due manner,
Tanaquil ordered her to pour wine on the garlanded hearth:
There was, or seemed to be, the form of a male organ
In the ashes: the shape was really there in fact.
The captive girl sat on the hearth, as commanded:
She conceived Servius, born of divine seed.
His father showed his paternity by touching the child’s
Head with fire, and a cap of flames glowed on his hair.
And Livia, this day dedicated a magnificent shrine to you,
Concordia, that she offered to her dear husband.
Learn this, you age to come: where Livia’s Colonnade
Now stands, there was once a vast palace.
A site that was like a city: it occupied a space
Larger than that of many a walled town.
It was levelled to the soil, not because of its owner’s treason,
But because its excess was considered harmful.
Caesar countenanced the demolition of such a mass,
Destroying its great wealth to which he was heir.
That’s the way to censure vice, and set an example,
When the adviser himself does as he advises.
June 13: Ides
The next day has no features worth your noting.
On the Ides a temple was dedicated to Unconquered Jove.
Now I must tell of the lesser Quinquatrus.
Help my efforts, yellow-haired Minerva.
‘Why does the flautist wander widely through the City?
Why the masks? Why the long robes?’ So I spoke,
And so Tritonia, laying down her spear, answered me.
(Would I could relay the learned goddess’ very words!):
‘Flautists were much employed in your fathers’ days,
And they were always held in high honour.
The flute was played in shrines, and at the games,
And it was played at mournful funerals too:
The effort was sweetened by reward. But a time came
That suddenly ended the practice of that pleasant art.
ordered there should be no more than ten
Musicians accompanying funeral processions.
The flute-players went into exile at Tibur.
Once Tibur itself was a place of exile!
The hollow flute was missed in the theatre, at the altars:
No dirge accompanied the funeral bier.
There was one who had been a slave, at Tibur,
But had long been freed, worthy of any rank.
He prepared a rural banquet and invited the tuneful
Throng: they gathered to the festive table.
It was night: their minds and vision were thick with wine,
When a messenger arrived with a concocted tale,
Saying to the freedman: “Dissolve the feast, quickly!
See, here’s your old master coming with his rod.”
The guests rapidly stirred their limbs, reeling about
With strong wine, staggering on shaky legs.
But the master cried:
“Away with you!” and packed
The laggards into a wagon lined with rushes.
The hour, the motion, and the wine, brought on sleep,
And the drunken crowd dreamed they were off to Tibur.
Now they re-entered Rome through the Esquiline,
And at dawn the cart stood in the middle of the Forum.
To deceive the Senate as to their class and number,
Plautius ordered their faces covered with masks:
And introduced others, wearing long garments,
So that female flautists could be added to the crew:
And their return best hidden, in case they were censured
For coming back contrary to their guilds’ orders.
The ruse succeeded, and they’re allowed their new costume,
On the Ides, singing merry words to the ancient tunes.’
When she’d instructed me, I said: ‘It only remains
For me to learn why the day’s called the Quinquatrus.’
She replied: ‘There’s my festival of that name in March,
And that guild is one of my creations.
I first produced the music of the long flute,
By piercing boxwood with spaced holes.
The music pleased: but I saw the swollen cheeks
Of my virginal face reflected in the water.
I said: “ I don’t value my art that highly, away
My flute”: and threw it to fall on the turf by the river.
Marsyas the satyr found it, and marvelled at first
Not knowing its use: but found his breath produced a note:
And worked it now by breathing now by fingering.
He soon boasted of his skill among the nymphs:
And challenged Phoebus: trounced by Phoebus he was hanged:
And his skin was flayed from his limbs.
I’m the true creator and inventor of this music.
That’s why the guild keeps my holy days.
The third day comes, when you, Thyone of Dodona,
Stand with the Hyades on the brow of Agenor’s Bull.
It’s the day, Tiber, when you send the sweepings of Vesta’s
Shrine down the Tuscan waters, to the sea.
Spread your sails to the west wind, mariners, if you trust
The breeze, tomorrow it blows fair over your waters.
But when the Sun, the father of the Heliades, has dipped his rays
In the waves, and the quiet stars have circled the twin poles,
Orion will lift his mighty shoulders above the earth:
And the next night the Dolphin will be seen.
Once it saw the Volscians and Aequians fleeing
Over your plains, Mount Algidus:
And you Tubertus triumphing famously over your neighbours
Rode as victor, in a chariot drawn by snow-white horses.
Now twelve days are left to the end of the month,
But you must add another day to that number:
The sun departs the Twins, and the Crab flames red:
Pallas begins to be worshipped on the Aventine.
Now Laomedon, the wife of your son, Tithonus, rises, and rising
Drives away the night, and the black hoar-frost flees the meadows.
A shrine is said to have been dedicated to Summanus, whoever
He is, when you, Pyrrhus, were a terror to the Romans.
When that day’s sun has been received by Galatea, in her
Father’s waves, and the whole world is sunk in quiet sleep,
The young man blasted by his grandfather’s lightning, rises,
Ophiucus, stretching out his hands circled by twin snakes.
Phaedra’s passion is known: and Theseus’ wrong:
When over-credulous he condemned his son.
The pious, but doomed youth, was travelling to Troezen:
When a bull parted the waters in its path.
Fear seized the startled horses: their master restrained them
In vain, and they dragged him over crags and harsh stones.
He fell from the chariot and, limbs tangled in the reins,
Hippolytus’ wounded body was carried along,
Till he gave up his spirit, to Diana’s great anger.
‘There’s no need for grief,’ said Aesculapius:
I’ll restore the pious youth to life, free of wounds,
And sad fate will yield to my skill.’
Quickly he took medicines from an ivory casket,
(They had once been of aid to Glaucus’ shade,
When a seer went down to cull the herbs he’d noted,
One snake having been healed by another snake),
He touched his breast three times, three times spoke
Words of healing: the youth lifted his head from the ground.
Hippolytus hid in his own sacred grove, in the depths
Of Diana’s woods: he is Virbius of the Arician Lake.
But Clotho, the Fate, and Dis both grieved: she, that a life-thread
Had been re-spun, he that his realm’s rights had been curtailed.
Jupiter, fearing the example set, directed his lightning
At one who employed the power of too great an art.
Phoebus, you complained: but Aesculapius is a god: be reconciled
To your father Jove: he himself did for you what he forbids to others.
Caesar, however much you rush to conquer,
I’d not have you march if the auspices are bad.
Let Flaminius and the shores of Lake Trasimene
Be your witness, the just gods often warn by means of birds.
If you ask the hour of that ancient, and reckless disaster,
It was on the tenth day from the end of the month.
The next day’s better: Masinissa defeated Syphax,
And Hasdrubal fell by his own sword.
Time slips by, and we age silently with the years,
There’s no bridle to curb the flying days.
How swiftly the festival of Fors Fortuna’s arrived!
June will be over now in seven days.
Quirites, come celebrate the goddess Fors, with joy:
She has her royal show on Tiber’s banks.
Hurry on foot, and others in swift boats:
It’s no shame to return home tipsy.
Garlanded barges, carry your bands of youths,
Let them drink deep of the wine, mid-stream.
The people worship her, because they say the founder
Of her shrine was one of them, and rose from humble rank,
To the throne, and her worship suits slaves, because Servius
Was slave-born, who built the nearby shrines of the fatal goddess.
See, returning from the suburban shrine, a drunken
Worshipper hailing the stars with words like these:
‘Orion your belt is hidden today, and perhaps will be tomorrow,
But after that it will be visible to me.’
And if he wasn’t tipsy he’d have said
The solstice will fall on that same day.
Next day the Lares are granted a sanctuary in the place
Where endless wreaths are twined by skilful hands.
The same day owns to the temple of Jupiter the Stayer,
That Romulus founded of old in front of the Palatine.
When as many days of the month are left as there are named Fates,
A temple was dedicated to you, Quirinus of the striped gown.
Tomorrow the Kalends of July return:
Muses put the final touch to my work.
Pierides, tell me, who placed you with Hercules
Whose stepmother Juno unwillingly conceded it?
So I spoke, and Clio replied: ‘Behold the monument
To famous Philip, from whom chaste Marcia descends,
Marcia whose name derives from sacrificial Ancus Marcius,
And whose beauty equals her nobility.
In her, form matches spirit: in her
Lineage, beauty and intellect meet.
Don’t think it shallow that I praise her form:
We praise the great goddesses in that way.
Caesar’s aunt was once married to that Philip:
O ornament, O lady worthy of that sacred house!’
So Clio sang. Her learned sisters approved:
And Hercules agreed, and sounded his lyre.