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Bill Thayer

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This text of one of the

Calpurnius Siculus

published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1934 (revised 1935)

is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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 p279  Calpurnius Siculus
Eclogue VII

lycotas: Corydon

L. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] You are slow, Corydon, in coming back from Rome. For twenty nights past, of a truth, have our woods longed to see you, and the saddened bulls waited for your yodellings.

C. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] O you slow-coach, no more unbending than a tough axle, Lycotas, you prefer to see old beech-trees rather than the new sights exhibited by our youthful god​1 in the spacious arena.

L. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I wondered what could be reason enough for your delay, why your pipe was idle in the silent woods, and why Stimicon, decked in pale ivy, sang alone: to him, for want of you, we have sadly awarded a tender kid. For while you tarried from home, Thyrsis purified the sheepfolds and bade the youths compete on shrill-toned reed.2

C. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Let Stimicon be unconquered and win prizes to enrich him, — let him not only rejoice in the kid he has received, but let him carry off the whole of the folds which Thyrsis purifies, still he will not equal my joys, nor yet, if someone gave me all the herds of Lucanian forests, would they delight me more than what I have seen in Rome.

L. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Tell me, come, tell me, Corydon. Be not so grudging as to disdain my ears. Truly, I shall find your words as sweet as your songs are wont to be whenever men to sacred rites invoke Pales the fertile or Apollo of the herds.3

 p281  C. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I saw a theatre that rose skyward on interwoven beams and almost looked down on the summit of the Capitoline.​4 Passing up the steps and slopes of gentle incline, we came to the seats, where in dingy garments the baser sort viewed the show close to the women's benches. For the uncovered parts, exposed beneath the open sky, were thronged by knights or white-robed tribunes.​5 Just as the valley here expands into a wide circuit, and, winding at the side, with sloping forest background all around, stretches its concave curve amid the unbroken chain of hills, so there the sweep of the amphitheatre encircles the level ground, and the oval in the middle is bound by twin piles of building.​6 Why should I now relate to you things which I myself could scarcely see in their several details? So dazzling was the glitter everywhere. Rooted to the spot, I stood with mouth agape and marvelled at all, nor yet had I grasped every single attraction, when a man advanced in years, next me as it chanced on my left, said to me: "Why wonder, country-cousin, that you are spellbound in face of such magnificence? you are a stranger to gold and only know the cottages and huts which are your humble homes. Look, even I, now palsied with age, now hoary-headed, grown old in the city there, nevertheless am amazed at it all. Certes, we rate all cheap we saw in former years, and shabby every show we one day watched."

 p283  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Look, the partition-belt​a begemmed and the gilded arcade vie in brilliancy; and withal just where the end of the arena presents the seats closest to the marble wall,​7 wondrous ivory is inlaid on connected beams and unites into a cylinder which, gliding smoothly on well-shaped axle, could by a sudden turn balk any claws set upon it and shake off the beasts.​8 Bright too is the gleam from the nets of gold wire which project into the arena hung on solid tusks, tusks of equal size; and (believe me, Lycotas, if you have any trust in me) every tusk was longer than our plough. Why narrate each sight in order? Beasts of every kind I saw; here I saw snow-white hares and horned boars, here I saw the elk, rare even in the forests which produce it. Bulls too I saw, either those of heightened nape, with an unsightly hump rising from the shoulder-blades, or those with shaggy mane tossed across the neck, with rugged beard covering the chin, and quivering bristles upon their stiff dewlaps.​9 Nor was it my lot only to see monsters of the forest: sea calves also I beheld with bears​10 pitted against them and the unshapely herd by the name of horses, bred in that river whose waters, with spring-like renewal, irrigate the crops upon its banks.​11 Oh, how we quaked, whenever we saw the  p285 arena part asunder and its soil upturned and beasts plunged out from the chasm cleft in the earth;​12 yet often from those same rifts the golden arbutes sprang amid a sudden fountain spray (of saffron).13

L. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] O lucky Corydon, unhampered by palsied eld; lucky in that by the grace of heaven it was your lot to set​14 your early years in this age! Now if fortune has vouchsafed to you close sight of our worshipful Emperor-god, if there and then you marked his countenance and mien, tell me, come, tell me, Corydon, what I may deem to be the features of the gods.

C. [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] O would that I had not been clad in peasant garb! Else should I have gained a nearer sight of my deity: but humble dress and dingy poverty and brooch with but a crooked clasp prevented me; still, in a way, I looked upon his very self some distance off, and, unless my sight played me a trick, I thought in that one face the looks of Mars and of Apollo were combined.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The emperor Nero.

2 The Palilia (Parilia) or festival of Pales (cf. 22 infra, II.63, V.25) was celebrated by shepherds in April and was accompanied by musical competitions.

Thayer's Note: For fuller details, see the article Palilia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

3 The Apollo of Euripides' Alcestis had been compelled to tend the flocks of King Admetus in Thessaly.

4 This is best taken as describing the wooden amphitheatre constructed by Nero in A.D. 57 (Suet. Nero, 12; Tac. Ann. XIII.31).

5 For the allotment of seats at Roman spectacula see Suet. Aug. 44. Keene's edition of Calpurnius has an appendix on the amphitheatre in relation to this eclogue.

Thayer's Note: More accessibly online, for fuller details, see the article Amphitheatrum in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. Note that what is translated above as "dingy garments" (pulla sordida veste) corresponds to "wearing a dark cloak" (pullatorum) in Suetonius: pullus is a semi-technical term for the "unbleached" wool commonly worn by the poorer classes.

6 The first amphitheatre determined the oval shape, as it was made by C. Scribonius Curio (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.15 (24), 117) of two wooden theatres revolving on pivots to face each other, and each greater than a semicircle. Pliny pictures the imperial Roman people whirled round by this invention through the air and cheering at the risk they ran (loc. cit. § 118).

7 i.e. the podium (πόδιον), a projecting parapet or balcony just above the arena for the emperor or other distinguished spectators. The balteus was a praecinctio, a wall running round the amphitheatre at intervals dividing the tiers of seats into stories.

8 Between the arena and the lowest tier of seats was a marble wall, in front of which the revolving cylinder was designed to keep the beasts from clambering up to the spectators.

9 The humped bulls suggest the buffalo, and the shaggy ones the urus.

Thayer's Note: The urus (Bos primigenius) is also often termed an aurochs; and by "buffalo" the writer refers to what is usually now called the European bison (Bison bonasus) — although Calpurnius' description better fits the zebu (Bos primigenius indicus).

10 This is an allusion to far northern seas, where Polar bears prey on seals.

Thayer's Note: The first to call attention to this passage seems to have been zoologist George Jennison, in "Polar Bears at Rome" (a brief note in Classical Review, XXXVI.73).

11 The countryman has not knowledge enough to name the Nile: the shapeless brute to which he alludes is the hippopotamus or "river-horse."

12 Such arrangements for letting beasts rise from under­ground in the arena are well illustrated by the excavations at the Amphitheatrum Flavium (the "Colosseum").

13 The beauty of an artificially contrived garden in the amphitheatre contrasts with the savage beasts; and the spectators are refreshed by jets of saffron water.

Thayer's Note: That "saffron water" is the translator's unfortunate invention; Calpurnius' text says nothing about saffron nor scent of any kind, nor even hints as much. I suspect that we owe this gloss to the translator's memory of the (notoriously unreliable and sensationalistic) Historia Augusta, in which (Hadr. 19.5) saffron is strewn on the seats; noting that in that passage "essences of" is yet another gloss by a Loeb translator: the Latin text merely has "saffron". A few centuries earlier, Sallust speaks of Metellus returning from his war victories and setting up a temporary theater, "the ground strewn with saffron and other [substances] as is done in the most famous temples" (ap. Macrobius, Sat. III.13.8). Both of these instances suggest that the fragrance of the saffron was released, as any cook knows, by the stamens being crushed, in this case as people walked or sat on them. Neither of these at any rate accords well with water — who would want to sit on a wet theater seat? — and a distant spray of water, either cold or quickly cooling in the air, would probably not scent the air much if at all, while requiring a huge amount of the herb. The only passage I've been able to find in which saffron is explicitly mixed with a liquid for the sake of its scent, rather than its flavor as in wine mixtures or food, pretty much confirms that: also in the Historia Augusta (Elag. 19.8), we have the notoriously extravagant emperor Elagabalus swimming in a pool perfumed with it; so expensive that it took the most profligate of men to use it in water, and not for the general public; and as a bath, not a spray, the better to capture its scent.

14 Barth explains demittere as "inserere aut intro porrigere." The metaphor may be from planting.

Thayer's Note:

a Balteus — the word here translated "partition-belt" — is the standard technical term for the wall marking a cross-aisle in a theater or amphitheater: see the article Balteus in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

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