Thus far the warrior's praise! Now let my gentler Muse relax the strings and tell by what virtues he governs the world, tempering fear with love, say what counsel moved him at last to assume those consular robes that cried out to him, and bestowed on our annals a year named after himself.
In the beginning Love1 was the guardian of this vast universe, she who dwelt in the sphere of Jove, who attempers the sky 'twixt cold and heat, who is eldest of the immortals. For Love, pitying the elemental confusion, first disentangled Chaos; with a smile she scattered the darkness and bathed the world in light. She dwelleth now not in temples nor by altars warm with incense but in thy heart wherein she has made her home. Taught by her thou accountest it cruel and barbarous to batten on suffering and human slaughter; the sword that drips blood in war thou wearest unstained in peace; p5 though angered thou feedest with no fuel the flame of hatred; thou forgivest the guilty even before they ask, thou layest aside thy wrath more readily than thou art moved to wrath, thou never turnest a deaf ear to prayers, all who oppose thee thou overthrowest, but deignest not to touch them when overthrown, like a lion who lusts to rend in pieces the fierce bull, but passes by the cowering prey. At her bidding thou extendest pardon to the conquered; at her prayer thou refrainest the dread fires of thine anger and those threats, not the less terrible for being unfulfilled; it is enough for thee to inspire awe, even as the heavenly Father who, shaking the world with his loud thunder, hurls the bolts of the Cyclopes upon rocks and sea-monsters and, sparing the blood of man, expends his lightnings on the forests of Oeta.
Good Faith too, Love's sister, has made her shrine in thy heart and joins herself to all thine actions. She has taught thee to practise no hypocrisy, never to speak falsehood, never to postpone the fulfilment of thy promises; to hate openly those thou hatest, and not to hide the poison of resentment in thy heart nor let a false smile mask treachery but to make thy countenance the sure mirror of thy mind. She gainsayeth secret vengeance but encourageth secret benefits. She strengthens friendships also, that grow more firm by lapse of time and binds them with chains of lasting adamant; not hers is the fickle change of mood, nor does she permit close ties to be broken by the rumour of some petty injury, nor is she lured to scorn the old friend when a new one comes. Mindful of past benefits, quick to forget wrongs, she remembers services alike small or great and strives to outdo p7 them, overcoming friends with devotion as an enemy with arms. She safeguards the absent and is the sole protector of those far away; she opens not a greedy ear to rumours, so that never does the stealthy whisper that would injure some unsuspecting client estrange thy sympathies.
Nor does the love that clings to the living forget the dead, and the gratitude a father earned is paid to his children. This kept thee loyal to Theodosius while yet he wielded the sceptre, loyal, too, after his death; nor carest thou more for thine own offspring than for the sons he entrusted to thy guidance and protection. Just and most faithful does Fame account those, who, though they might deny a trust, have chosen rather to fulfil it, unpolluted by greed of gain; but it is not riches, not a huge heritage of gold that Stilicho holds in trust for the young heirs, but two hemispheres and all that is embraced within the sun's fiery orbit. What wouldst thou not fearlessly entrust to him to whom a kingdom is entrusted safely?
Defended by this buckler Honorius did not mourn his noble sire, and on life's very threshold, ne'er scorned by any, he dictates laws to conquered races and sees his triumphs increase with his years. Him thou dost seek to shape as with kindly so with severe mind; neither to sloth dost thou deliver him by a ready yielding to all his wishes, nor by opposing dost thou crush his eager spirit: as a youth thou teachest him in secret a king's lesson — his duty to his people; as a reverend senior thou payest him honour and governest the empire at a father's bidding; to thy lord thou givest humble worship; thou guidest thy master with obedience, thy sire p9 with over. Hence it was that he knew not passion before matrimony and preferred to vindicate his manhood not in a youth of debauchery, but in the chaste bonds of legal wedlock. Blessed art thou in having an emperor for a son-in‑law; more blessed he with thee for father.a
Care no less tender watched over Honorius' brother, Arcadius. Rightly thou ascribest not to that youth the outrages of the feeble, vicious mob that seeks to screen its own mad folly behind the name of a king. Nay, even when discord raged never did Stilicho so burn with anger, though oft assailed by insult, oft attacked with the sword, that he sought to avenge the frenzy he endured by unholy war and give a handle to strife; stayed on his loyalty, mid all the factions of a court, the hallowed friendship of those brothers stood inviolate. Nay more, thou dividedst equally with him Sidonian cloaks, belts studded with pearls, jewelled togas, breastplates thick with green emeralds, helmets flashing with sapphires, swords with gleaming handles thy sire had wielded, crowns bright with the glint of manifold jewels, that both might be equal heirs of their imperial sire's rich furniture and apparel. Thou didst send soldiers to Byzantium also, though civil strife was already raising its head. Rather wouldst thou reinforce a foe than fail thy pledge; all that he fairly asks thou grantest and refusest only that the withholding of which he himself will shortly approve, and that to obtain which were shameful.
Moreover, all the virtues whose pure aspect puts all wickedness to flight live conjoined in thee and, dwelling within thine heart, aid thee in the p11 manifold businesses of life. Justice teaches thee to prefer the right to the useful, to obey the general laws of mankind and never to enrich thy friends at others' cost. Patience strengthens thy body so that it seeks never to yield to toil. Temperance guides thee to chaste desires. Prudence will have thee do nought without forethought, Constancy nought without decision and firm purpose. The deadly vices which Tartarus sends up from his monstrous abyss fly far from thee; but first and foremost thou banishest Avarice, mother of crimes, greedy for more the more she possesses, searching ever open-mouthed for gold; with her thou drivest out her most foul nurse, Ambition, who watches at the gate of the powerful and haunts their dwelling-places, cherishing the sale of honours for gold. This age's more turbid stream of corruption has not drawn thee to follow its examples — corruption which had with lapse of time established crime and turned the custom of rapine into a law. Beneath thy rule the rich tremble not for the safety of ancestral lands or houses; no informer stalks the world set on making no matter whom his victim. Virtue suffers no eclipse by poverty. Thou exaltest men of all countries, asking what are their merits not their place of birth, what their character not whence their origin. A generous prince takes note of our life; rewards allure into the ways of virtue. Hence it comes that the arts of old flourish once more; the path to fortune is open to genius, while poesy again raises her despised head. Rich and poor strive with equal zeal towards their ends, for both see that, as poverty cannot depress merit, so riches cannot elevate incapacity.
Fair-fronted wantonness deceives thee not, wantonness, p13 that sweet curse, which surrendering to the arbitrament of the body dulls the wits with darkness, enervating the limbs with bane more deadly than that of Circe. Fair, indeed, is her face but none is fouler within; dyed are her cheeks; clothed about is she with treacherous lures, and deadly vipers hide them in her golden hair. Many hath she caught with the bait of pleasure, thee, though often she has tried, she has never ensnared. No lust bids thee wake for adultery's sake, nor does sleep cheat the hours of toil. Neither the strains of the lyre nor the wanton song of boys accompany thy repast. Has any seen thee free from care, thy mind entirely at rest, or indulging in the banquet unless some public rejoicing commanded? No shameful expenditure strains the resources of the treasury, no pitiless missive in a tiny roll disposes of the property of the absent. Though thrifty thou art beloved of the army, for thou neglectest not thy soldiers in peace, and dost not only enrich them when war is toward. Thou knowest that belated gifts, offered in fear to those hitherto scorned, earn no gratitude: 'tis but a useless flinging away of gold as uselessly hoarded. Thou preventest thy soldiers' needs and art generous over and above their expectations; thou callest them to thy board and addressest each by his name, mindful of all the brave deeds ever done by each beneath thy banners. To thy gifts thou addest praises that will ever be remembered, whereby the grace of your close bond is doubled.
When bountiful though dost not also turn the bounty into a reproach, nor dost thou address those whom thou hast advanced with the language of disdainful patronage; nor yet does prosperity make thee p15 puffed up. Nay, pride itself is far removed from thee, pride, a vice so familiar in success, ungracious attendant on the virtues. All, no matter when or where, may meet and address thee. Talk over the wine is not watched, but each guest, at liberty to say just what he pleases, mingles grave converse with gay and fears not his words. Each marvels to find an equal in the emperor's father-in‑law and the father of his country, when one so powerful acts the citizen so graciously. With the learned thou discoursest of antiquity, with the aged of experience, with the soldier of valiant deeds, and dost mingle thy talk with such pleasant wit that none would rather hear the strains whereby Amphion built the walls of Thebes or Orpheus' lute drew the woods to follow him.
Hence all love thee, all anxiously pray heaven for thee with no feigned intercession, all shout applause at the mention of thy name and reproduce thy form in gilded statues. What anvil should not ring, what forge be idle, from what vast furnaces should bronze not flow that is to shape thine image? What corner of the world, what region so remote but should worship thy beloved countenance as divine, — hadst thou not always refused such honour? Nay, let him snatch at such glory whom hollow gifts inspired by fear can beguile and who despairs of a people's love. He who in truth deserves can alone afford to despise them.
Embassies arrive from every quarter and in the presence of thy son-in‑law pray for a hundred voices to herald thy renown. The Gallic envoys gives thee thanks for that, safe from attack though no legion guards his frontier, and fearing no hostile p17 incursion, he builds new dwelling-places along the banks of the Rhine and fringes the river, famed once for the savagery of its tribes, with houses as pleasant as those by Tiber's stream. Here Carthaginians crown thy praise, because they possess their lands delivered from the tyrant's rule; there the Pannonian, freed from the blockade, and he who drinks the Save, grateful because he now dare throw open the gates of cities closed for so many years. Such sharpen once more upon the whetstone their sickles dark with rust and cause their mattocks, foul with want of use, to shine as of old. Each sees again his well-remembered cottage, kisses his native hills, and can scarce believe real the furrows cut by his heavy plough. He hews down the forests and renders again fit for cultivation fields which generations had let run wild. Once more he covers the banks of the Danube with vineyards and rejoices to pay the taxes his forefathers paid, for it was bloodshed that brought immunity. While thou art safe, heaven allows the harassed body of our distracted empire to regain its youthful vigour. Thou dost restore all that we have lost of old under so many princes. Only when Stilicho's hand brings remedy can grow a scar to hide Roman wounds, and when at last the husbandman of Illyria returns to his farms the treasury will again be enriched with Illyrian tribute.
But heaven's judgement is not a whit behind man's favour. The gods unite for thine especial protection and deliver thine enemy into thy hands upon the sea shore or hinder his flight by the ocean's immense barrier or make him turn his arms madly against himself; and so, a second Pentheus, he is hewn in p19 pieces by his own soldiers' frenzied blades. The gods discover for thee plots against thy life and lead thee to the very lair of treason, even as Molossan hounds guide the huntsman with their subtle scent. They show forth the future by omens or by birds or they deign to give thee clear warning in dreams.
For which things' sake countless lands in rivalry have sought for thee the consul's robe, but thou thyself didst oppose their desire, and thy mind, so ready to grant favour to another, so rigorous a critic of itself, kindling with the torch of modesty, with bashful pleading deprecates that late reward. And so, anxious to see accomplished the hopes, vainly conceived through so many years, of seeing in thee their new consul, they hasten to the gates of royal Rome, determined, should she not listen to their entreaties, to constrain her hesitation, and prepared to sweep away all hindrances that delay their prayer. They meet at the temple of the goddess that shines bright upon the Palatine.2 First to speak was Spain, her head crowned with a grey-leaved garland from Minerva's olive and golden Tagus woven into her shining robe: "Everything that I have ever asked of Stilicho he has granted me, and has begrudged only honour for himself. Once he found it in his heart to refuse the consulship at the hands of an emperor, his father-in‑law; he now refuses it also from his son-in‑law. If not as a guardian from the world he rules, at least let him receive it as a kinsman from his emperor. Counts he it a small thing that, taking my offspring to his arms, he so upholds my grandsons3 in their undisturbed rule, that the purple ennobles their native Baetis? That by means of fair Maria he dowers p21 Rome with a dynasty? That he is looked to as the ancestor of kings?"
Then warlike Gaul, her hair combed back, a rich necklace about her neck, and javelins twain in her hands, thus spake with kindling heart: "Why is his title not yet read in the annals of Rome, who by his own might o'ercame for me the Germans and the Franks? Why is the page of history still ignorant of a name that by now should have been inscribed therein so often? Is, then, bringing peace to the Rhine so light a title to fame?"
Next spake Britain clothed in the skin of some Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, and an azure cloak, rivalling the swell of ocean, sweeping to her feet: "Stilicho gave aid to me also when at the mercy of neighbouring tribes, what time the Scots roused all Hibernia against me and the sea foamed to the beat of hostile oars. Thanks to his care I had no need to fear the Scottish arms or tremble at the Pict, or keep watch along all my coasts for the Saxon who would come whatever wind might blow."
Then up spake Africa, her hair gay with wheat ears and an ivory comb and her face all sun-burned: "I hoped that after Gildo's death no obstacle could prevent Stilicho's acceptance of the consulship. Does he even yet refuse and hesitate to honour with the fasces so great a triumph — he who has enabled me utterly to forget the tearful name of Moor?"
After these came Italy, pliant vine and ivy interlacing on her head, pressing the wine from plentiful ripe grapes. Said she: "If you are thus eager that Stilicho should augment the dignity of the curule chair, you to whom the mere report can bring delight, how much more rightly does a longing p23 inspire me to enjoy his presence, to attend him as he mounts his seat and to salute his opening of the new year's course?"
One after another they pour forth these entreaties and beg Rome to approach Stilicho in the name of them all. Right swiftly she obeyed their behest and seizing at once her arms winged her way quicker than a shooting star through the clouds of heaven. Over Etruria she flew, grazed the Apennines in her flight, and lit Eridanus' wave with the reflexion of her shield. She stood before the general, imposing as mighty Pallas, terrible as Mars. The palace trembled at the glitter of her aegis and her helmet plumes brushed the pannelled ceiling. Then as he stood astonished she first addressed him flattering reproaches: "I acknowledge, revered Stilicho, that thou hast saved but not yet brought honour to the curule chair. Of what avail to have rid the year of the brand of slavery? Dost thou defend a dignity thou shunnest? Scorn what with all thy might thou madest? reject when offered what thou didst save when falling? Why dost thou hold back? Why disappoint my prayers? No danger threatens from the north, the south is quiet; the Moors have been subdued, Germany has yielded, profound peace holds fast the doors of Janus' temple. Am I not yet worthy to have thee for my consul? Can we believe that office unimportant and of slender dignity to hold which emperors think themselves honoured, that office by means of which I have caused conquered peoples and captive kings to pass beneath the yoke?
"If nature by her portents foreshadow coming ills I am not besmirched therewith. Nay, that thou p25 countest ill omen was for the East. Yet no facts confirm the tale I have heard; Rumour's self scarce smiled at such a tale of guilt.4 The disgrace has no proof; no letter came to divulge the wicked secret. In this lies thine especial virtue, that, while consulting the senate on every question, thou hast not mentioned this portent. No decree for the suppression of this scandal has impaired the dignity of this august assembly, nor has that ill-omened name been heard in my senate. To have hesitated would have been to share his guilt. All letters telling of this profanation that came from the far East were destroyed e'er they could cross the sea, that fortune's shameful turn should not offend the chaste ears of Italy. That infatuation of a people was best rewarded with silence — and how strenuous were thine endeavours that it should so be! Joy should be his who needs no longer pen the annals of the East. Our Latin story knows no such blot: let others take pains to conceal their own disgrace. Why should I applaud the downfall of one of whose elevation I never heard nor knew? 'Tis for the guilty to repent; we have never even believed.
"Yet had the good of all been one and this pollution stained our axes, all the more shouldst thou have taken the high office thou dost shun lest that ancient dignity — ever the goal of all dignities — should be destroyed. No consul, save Stilicho alone, can repair that ruin. With what foreknowledge had thy soul led the hour: once it would have added lustre unto thee, now thou dost add lustre unto it. Do thou as consul wipe out the insult offered to all consuls that have been and yet shall be. Give thy name to the year that posterity p27 may dwell thereafter securely, and that antiquity, thus vindicated, may case from her complaints. Brutus was the founder of the office, let Stilicho be its avenger. Brutus, the first consul, won liberty for the Roman people by means of the consular fasces: Stilicho banished the taint of slavery from those fasces. Brutus instituted this supreme dignity; Stilicho saved it; and it is greater to preserve what already is than to create that which is not. Why do thy blushes grant so tardy an acceptance of our prayers? Why does the accustomed flush o'erspread thy brow? World-conqueror, conquer now thine own diffidence.
"Full well I know that no gift can seduce thee, yet be pleased to admire and receive this cloak, woven for thee on no mortal loom by Minerva and myself. Twice together have we dipped the thread that goes to make the cloth in purple dye and interwoven therewith that same gold of which Lachesis has woven the golden centuries that are to be mine beneath thy rule. See here I have prefigured thy destined progeny, those thy children for whom the world prays; soon shalt thou confess me a true prophet and coming fate prove that my embroidery is true."
She spake and drew from her bosom the gift, a consul's cloak, stiff and heavy with gold. The glorious woof breathes Minerva's skill. Here is depicted a palace with columns of red marble and Maria's sacred travail. Lucina eases her labour. On a splendid couch lies the young mother, by her side sits her own mother, pale with anxiety yet happy withal. The flower-crowned Nymphs take up the babe and wash him in a golden basin. Almost could one hear rising from the embroidery the little child's mingled laughter and wailing. And now the babe p29 had grown up, recalling his father in countenance; Stilicho, riper in years, teaches his grandson, the emperor that is to be,b the science of war. In another part Eucherius, the down of early manhood on his cheeks, rode his horse that flecked its silken reins with bloody foam. Woven himself of gold he smites with javelin or arrow the purple stags that raise their golden horn. Here Venus, borne in her dove-drawn chariot, unites for the third time the hero's family with princely house5 and the winged Loves throng the affianced bride, daughter and sister of an emperor. Eucherius now lifts the veil from the bashful maiden's face; Thermantia smiles upon her brother's joy. This house now seeks the crown in the person of either sex, it gives birth to queens and the husbands of queens.
Such are the gifts wherewith the goddess sought to win Stilicho, handing to him at the same time the ivory staff.6 She shook the urn to obtain the customary signs and confirmed the beginning of his task by favourable auspices. Then she clothed with the vesture of Romulus those shoulders better accustomed to armour. The garb of Latium covers his breast and the toga graces what erstwhile the cuirass protected. Thus Mars, returning victorious from the Danube or the Scythian clime, a god of peace now his shield is laid aside, enters the city wearing the consul's cloak and in a chariot drawn by white horses; Quirinus directs the ample reins and Bellona marches before her father's car holding aloft the bloody oak-branch decked with the spoils won in single combat; Fear and his brother Terror are the lictors and cast chains of iron on the necks of captive p31 barbarians, their helmets wreathed with laurel, while Panic, her robe up-girt, walks by the yoke-horses, brandishing a mighty battle-axe.
When Rome saw herself possessed of the consul for whom she had prayed, "Now," she said, "fain would I hasten to the fields and woods of Elysium to bear the news of this wondrous answer to our universal prayer to the Curii and Fabricii who have wept for the dignity of the consul's toga so lately outraged. Let them now tread the meads in joyous dance and the austere Catos not blush to join their sport. Let the elder Brutus hear the news and the Scipios, terror of Carthage, learn that by one man's help I have been rescued from a double danger and have recovered both Libya and the fasces. One thing only is left, and do thou, brave consul, add it to my prayers — bestow awhile that presence she entreats upon the city which thou hast rescued from war and famine, and restored to the overlordship of the world. Let our famous rostrum welcome a second Camillus and our citizens look upon their avenger and saviour, ay, and the common people whom thou, their leader, lovest, the people to whom Africa, because of thee, offers her harvests and the Rhone her crops till now unheard of, whereby Libyan fields and Gallic abundance are at my service and now the rainy south-wind and now the north wafts grain to my shores and my granaries are full whatever breeze may blow.
"What thousands will then throng the Flaminian Way! How often will the deceptive dust disappoint the loving expectation of those who trust to see thee arrive every minute! Anxiously our mothers watch for thee; every road will be strewn with flowers p33 while the consul, true image of Rome's ancient senate, climbs the steep summit of the Pincian hill. What applause from the theatre of Pompey! How often will the Murcian valley raise to heaven thy name re-echoed by Aventine and Palatine! Leave the camp and let me behold thee now, soon to see thee, consul for a second time, along with thy son-in‑law."
While Rome so spake, Fame, on wings of rumour, flies over the sea and with thousand tongues bids the chiefs speed to the capital. Not one can age hold back, nor the long journey, nor the Alps' wintry blasts; Love wins the victory. Veterans whom the fasces ennobled long since hasten to greet the year of their colleague and avenger. So when by that birth in death the Phoenix renews its youth and gathers its father's ashes and carries them lovingly in its talons, winging its way, sole of its kind, from the extreme east to Nile's coasts, the eagles gather together and all the fowls from every quarter to marvel at the bird of the sun; afar its living plumage shines, itself redolent of the spices of its father's fragrant pyre.
Far away, all unknown, beyond the range of mortal minds, scarce to be approached by the gods, is a cavern of immense age, hoary mother of the years, her vast breast at once the cradle and the tomb of time. A serpent7 surrounds this cave, engulfing everything with slow but all-devouring jaws; never ceases the glint of his green scales. His mouth devours the back-bending tail as with silent movement he traces his own beginning. Before p35 the entrance sits Nature, guardian of the threshold, of age immense yet ever lovely, around whom throng and flit spirits on every side. A venerable old man writes down immutable laws: he fixes the number of stars in each constellation and causes these to move and those to be at rest, whereby everything lives or dies by pre-ordained laws. 'Tis he decides Mars' uncertain orbit, Jupiter's fixed course through the heaven, the swift path of the moon, and the slow march of Saturn; he limits the wanderings of Venus' bright chariot and of Mercury, Phoebus' companion.c
When the Sun rested upon the spacious threshold of this cavern dame Nature ran to meet him and the old man bent a hoary head before his proud rays. The adamantine door swung open of its own accord and revealed the vast interior, displaying the house and the secrets of Time. Here in their appointed places dwell the ages, their aspect marked by varying metals: there are piled those of brass; here those of iron stand stiff; there the silver ones gleam bright. In a fairer part of the cave, shy of contact with the earth, stood the group of golden years; of these Phoebus chooses the one of richest substance to be marked with the name of Stilicho. Then, bidding the rest follow behind him, he addresses them thus as they pass. "Lo! the consul is at hand for whom we have delayed an age of nobler ore. Go ye, years long prayed for by man, bring back virtue; let genius flourish once more; may Bacchus give you joy and fruitful Ceres bless you. Let not the constellation of the Serpent breathe forth too icy an air from between the two Ploughing Oxen nor the Bear vent his excessive p37 cold; let not the Lion rage with his gaping maw nor pitiless summer inflame the claws of Cancer. Let not Aquarius, too prodigal of his rainy urn, flood the young seedlings with sudden storms. Let Phrixus' ram, his horns twined with roses, extend the fertile spring and let not the Scorpion beat down the ripe olives with his hail. Let the Virgin mature the fruits of Autumn and the Dog-star, more gentle than his wont, refrain from barking at the heavy grape-clusters."
So saying he entered his garden starred with fiery dew, the valley round which runs a river of flame feeding with its bounteous rays the dripping weeds whereon the horses of the sun do pasture. Here he gathers flaming flowers wherewith he decks the heads, the golden reins, and manes of his steeds. With leaves from hence Lucifer and Aurora entwine their oozy locks. Hard by the golden year, displaying the consul's name, smiles upon his chariot, and the stars, recommencing their courses, inscribe the name of Stilicho in the annals of the sky.
1 Claudian seems to have in his mind partly the Epicurean doctrine of ἔρως and partly the personification of the Clementia Caesaris, well known as a legend on so many (p3)Roman coins. See, also, for Clementia as a goddess, Claud. xvii.166, and Stat. Theb. xii.481 et seqq.
2 The temple, that is, of the goddess Roma.
Thayer's Note: Fine and well, but to what temple does Claudian refer? There was only one undoubted Temple of Roma in the city, and prominent though it was and its ruins still are — it stands not on the Palatine, but on the Velia, facing the Palatine from the N, at some distance away across the Sacra Via. (See the article Templum Veneris et Romae in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome; the Palatine is to the left of the area shown in the photo.)
The only other possibility, with the merit of actually being on the Palatine, is the shrine of Roma Quadrata (q.v.) which is, however, uncertain or at least problematic. I believe this passage of Claudian, not mentioned by Platner, supports the existence of such a sanctuary.
3 Arcadius and Honorius who, as sons of Theodosius, the Spaniard, are grandsons of Spain.
5 Claudian seems to refer to the marriages (1) of Stilicho and Serena; (2) of Honorius and Maria (both, of course, accomplished facts); and (3) of Eucherius, son of Stilicho, and Placidia (the "nurus"), sister of Honorius. As a matter of fact Placidia subsequently married Ataulf, brother-in‑law of Alaric.
6 One of the insignia of the consulship.
7 Eternity, in the sense of endless time, was pictured by the Egyptians as a snake devouring its own tail; cf. Plut. De Is. et Osir. i.2, p5.
Thayer's Note: Although a snake devouring its own tail (the so‑called ouroboros) is indeed an ancient Egyptian symbol of eternity, I've been unable to find any such passage in Plutarch's Isis and Osiris; if you discover it, please let me know.
a Blessed art thou in having an emperor for a son-in‑law; more blessed he with thee for father: not quite so blessed, either one of them; the danger in writing topical verse is that you can look awfully foolish pretty fast. Stilicho was beheaded by his son-in‑law a mere eight years after Claudian wrote, although the dishonour seems to have been all on Honorius's side: for the details, see Bury, Vol. I p171 ff.
I cannot help a nagging suspicion that unwittingly, Claudian himself may have been among the causes of Stilicho's end. Honorius was none too bright, and born to the purple (de III Cons. Hon., 13) may very easily have had an inflated view of himself: add to this mix a court poet constantly harping on Stilicho's virtues, and jealousy may well have worked havoc. Even from a more practical and hard-headed angle, by repeating endlessly how his hero was so closely related to the imperial family and was the architect of Roman peace and security (e.g., "the emperor's father-in‑law and the father of his country," line 166, "he is looked to as the ancestor of kings," 240; etc.), Claudian may also have set some bells off with Honorius as to his dynastic future.
b the emperor that is to be: No descendant of Stilicho ever became emperor. His son Eucherius was put to death shortly after his father was beheaded; his daughter Maria, whose baby is prefigured on Rome's embroidered robe, never had any children, and died young; his second daughter Thermantia then succeeded her sister as Honorius' wife, but was repudiated childless when the emperor had her father killed.
c Mars' uncertain orbit . . . the limited wanderings of Venus and Mercury: of the planets visible to the naked eye, Mars is the one whose orbit presents the greatest eccentricity, that is, the planet whose path around the Sun departs the most from a perfect circle. Hampered by the a priori notion that orbits were circular, ancient astronomers, almost all of whom to boot were of the Ptolemaic school according to which the planets revolve not around the Sun but around Earth, found the orbit of Mars a challenge to plot: to them it appeared to involve inexplicable wobbles. It was precisely because Mars most markedly challenged Ptolemaic theory that Copernicus investigated its positions rather than those of some other planet, and was led to derive the modern system of elliptical heliocentric orbits.
Venus and Mercury are of course no more limited in their solar orbits than any other planet. But as inferior planets (planets closer to the Sun than Earth), viewed from earth they appear never to stray very far from the Sun, with a maximum elongation, or angular distance from it, of 48° and 28° respectively: the "quantum erret" — "how far they may stray" — of Claudian's verse. (If you're puzzled by this, see this clear diagram, but ignore the 45° figure given on that page for Venus: trust me.)
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