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This webpage reproduces one of the
Carmina Minora


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text 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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 p239  In Praise of Serena​1


[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Say, my muse, why tarriest thou so long to crown Serena's brows with the Pierian garland they so well deserve? Thinkest thou the gift too poor shouldst thou, a queen, deck but with flowers the head of a queen accustomed rather to wear a tiara bright with all the jewels of the Red Sea? Nay, those flowers of thine are such that neither Boreas' cold blast nor Sirius' scorching heat can hurt them; theirs is the bloom of everlasting spring for they  p241 have grown by Permessus' fount and been watered by Aganippe's wave. Those flowers have fed the holy bees that skim the meadows and transmit the honey of Helicon to coming generations.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Did ever the single theme of woman's worth more fitly stir other bards? The Greeks sing of Alcestis, that chaste Thessalian, who, to win her husband from death, freely offered herself in his stead, allowing him to enjoy her own span of life. The Latin Muse takes prophetic Tanaquil​2 for her theme or Cloelia breasting Tiber's waves in her return to Rome or the maiden Claudia dragging with her own hair the ship which bore Cybele, what time it stuck fast in that same stream. Does old Homer's soaring soul essay aught else throughout his song? Dangers from Charybdis' gulf, from Scylla's dogs, from Circe's cup, the escape of Ulysses from the greed of Antiphates, the passage of the ship between the rocks where sat the Sirens to whose alluring voices the rowers were deaf, the blinding of Cyclops, the desertion of Calypso — all these do but redound to the glory of Penelope, and the whole scene is set to display her chastity alone. Toils by land and sea, ten years of war, ten years of wandering, all do but illustrate the fidelity of a wife. Let Claudia rejoice in the goddess' witness and with heaven's help vindicate her claim to chastity, freeing at the same moment the vessel's stern and her own character from shame. Let Penelope by artful delays deceive the madness of the suitors and, ever faithful to Ulysses, delude their solicitations, ever winding up again by night the warp of her day-spun web. Yet shall not one of these heroines dare to vie with Serena.

 p243  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But if noble birth opens the first path to fame and all its causes are to be traced to ancestry, what blood more noble, what birth more gentle than that of royalty? Such majesty could not have flourished within the house of a mere commoner nor could glory so great have sprung from any simple home. Thou art famous for that thine uncle was an emperor, more famous by reason of the warlike deeds of thy grandsire​3 who carried the Roman eagles across the British Channel and repulsed the armed bands of the Gaetulians. Cornelia, daughter of the Scipios, must cease to vaunt her high birth and to boast that she received for dower the spoils of Carthage. Thou canst point to ancestral triumphs in either hemisphere; on thy brow sit two crowns, the one won by thy sires from Scotland, the other from the South. Thou glory of the world, what time Lucina assisted at the birth of thee, our new star, thy house had not yet taken on itself the government of the whole earth; not till after Serena's birth did it know world-empire.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] What human voice can worthily sing thy praises, Spain? Though India first bathes the new-born sun in her ocean yet when the light dies thou waterest his weary steeds and in thy waves the stars find refreshment. Rich in horses, bounteous in crops, dowered with mines, prolific in good emperors, to thee the world owes Trajan, from thee sprang the Aelian​4 race. From thy land came the brothers who now govern us and their father. Other races whom Rome has either received into alliance or subdued by arms serve the varying needs of empire: the cornº of Egypt, the harvests of Africa go to feed our armies; Gaul recruits our power­ful legions;  p245 Illyria produces stout horsemen for our cavalry. But Spain alone pays that rarest tribute — the gift of emperors. Corn, money, soldiers come from all the world over and are gathered together from every quarter of the globe; Spain gives us men to govern and direct all this. Nor was she content to be esteemed only for her famous heroes, did she not also excel in heroines, and, emulous to win glory from either sex, bestow upon us Flaccilla,​5 Maria, and the fair Serena.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] At thy​6 birth they tell how swelling Tagus o'erflowed the rich fields with gold; Galicia laughed with flowers and on the rose-covered banks of Duria's fair stream the once white fleeces of the sheep were everywhere turned to purple grain. The Cantabrian main cast up jewels upon the shore, and the pale Asturian delves no more into the bowels of the mountain; on the day hallowed by thy birth earth poured forth gold as dross from her open veins. Beneath the caves of the Pyrenees the river Nymphs gather the fiery thunder-stones. The Nereids, yielding to the flowing tide, followed the flooding waves up the river's courses; there, in the sight of all, they acknowledged thee their queen by their applause and celebrated thy coming marriage in prophetic strains. And all the time beneath another sky grew the young Stilicho; he lived unwitting of his fortune, of the destined bride that awaited him afar, and in a distant world was the union of such destinies prepared.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] No mortal nurse was worthy to watch over thy cradle. First the Nymphs gave thee suck at their fragrant breasts; the three Graces held thee in their arms and breathing upon thee taught thee to speak. Roses sprang where'er thou didst creep over the  p247 grass and white lilies blossomed there; didst thou close thine eyes in quiet sleep, there burgeoned the purple violet to adorn thy grassy couch with her imperial colour. Thy mother dared not tell of such great omens and, knowing her own secret vow, hides with eager hope the fulfilment she prays for.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thy father Honorius held thee in a close embrace. Whenever Theodosius — not emperor then — came to his brother's house he covered thee with kisses and loved to take thee with him to his own home. Then turning to thy mother with gentle complaint, "Why," thou saidst, "take me from my own home? This man ever commands."​7 Prophetic was the sportive word and thine infant lips gave augury of empire. At the death of thy sire thine illustrious uncle adopted thee and to console thee for the bitterness of that loss, bestowed upon thee, his brother's child, more love than he could have bestowed on any child of his own. Leda's twin sons were not united with a bond of affection more sure. He gave his own son the name his brother had borne, hoping in some way to discover in that son the image of the brother he had loved and lost. Finally, when the people's choice had summoned him to take up the reins of empire, Theodosius would not vouchsafe his sons any proof of his affection for them until he had summoned thee and thy faithful sister from Spain to the lands of morning.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So now they leave Tagus' banks and the home of the west winds and hasten towards the cities that recognize the empery of the east. They come, the maidens twain, his brother's children, on this side Serena the younger, on that Thermantia​8 the elder born, strange as yet to love; nor has Hymen bent  p249 their snowy necks to the yoke of Venus. Spirited yet modest is the glance of each; of each the beauty fires the hearts of men. Such as are Diana and her sister, motherless child of Jove, when they visit the realm of their uncle, lord of the sea (the foaming waves grow smooth before them in honour of the approach of the chaste goddesses; Galatea ceases her mad frolics, bold Triton dares not clasp Cymothoë in his embrace; o'er the whole ocean the dictates of purity hold sway and Proteus prevents even Neptune's flocks from indulging in their shameless amours) — even such the daughters of Honorius enter the palace and view the home of their royal parent. Both did the prince embrace with a father's love but justly did affection more readily turn to thee. Often when, his heart troubled by the anxieties of public business, he returned home depressed or angered, when his own sons fled his presence and even Flaccilla feared to approach her exasperated husband, thou alone wert able to stay his wrath and bring healing with sweet converse. On thy words he would hang, to thee confess his secret thoughts.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thy modesty, worthy of an earlier age, surpassed even that of modest girlhood. Less chaste than thee was that daughter of Alcinous whom Homer, in his praises of her, compares to Diana; she who spread her clothes on the shore to dry and sported with her attendant maids, throwing a golden ball from hand to hand until she fled in alarm from Ulysses issuing forth from the thicket where he had been enjoying sleep after his shipwreck.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The study of the Muses and the songs of poets of olden time were thy delight. Turning the pages of Homer, bard of Smyrna, or those of Virgil,  p251 poet of Mantua, thou findest fault with Helen nor canst approve of Dido. Thy chaste mind fastens upon examples more noble: Laodamia following Protesilaus as he returned to the shades; Euadne who cast herself on the flaming pyre whereon her husband Capaneus perished, wishing to mingle her ashes with his; grave Lucrece who fell upon a chaste sword, she who self-slain bore witness to the tyrant's crime, aroused to war her country's righteous wrath, drove Tarquin into exile and died gloriously, having avenged by her one sacrifice both chastity and freedom. Of such deeds thou dost read with joy, thyself not less in virtue though more blessed of fortune.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now that thou art of an age for marriage the hopes of the young courtiers run high, but the prince hesitates to select the happy man who is to share thy couch and regal state.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The pages of the poets tell how ancient kings bade suitors contend on the hard terms of purchasing the bride at hazard of their lives, and rejoiced that death should be the wooer of their daughters. Pelops escaped the weapons of Pisa's king, thanks to the chariot Neptune gave him, for it was Myrtilus who tricked King Oenomaus by withdrawing the lynch-pin from the chariot-wheel. Panting Hippomenes got the better of Atalanta, daughter of Schoeneus, who followed close on his traces, a sword in her hand, by means of the golden apples. The inhabitants of Calydon watched from their high battlements the struggle of Hercules with the river-god when, Deianira being the prize of victory, the panting hero shouted in triumph and Achelous paled and shrank away, shorn of his horn, the wound whereof the astonished river nymphs sought to heal.  p253 But it is neither to the apples of the Hesperides nor to victory over a river nor to treacherous tampering with a chariot-wheel that Stilicho owes the winning of thy hand; the emperor himself adjudged him worthy thereof, for that his valour had been proved in countless wars; his own courage won him an empress to wife. Generals have often bestowed decorations on those who have deserved them in battle: one man wins the mural crown, another the civic wreath, a third, for having defeated an enemy's fleet, the naval decoration. Stilicho is the only warrior who, as the reward for signal services in war, has won a grateful father's hand the crown of marriage.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thermantia owes her uncle no lesser debt of gratitude: she too was married to a general. But how far inferior to thine, Serena, was thy sister's fortune! For thee with fairer promise Rome's guardian-angel kindles the torches, and glorious are the garlands that thy marriage brings. First to be set in his charge is the care of the horses reared in the royal stables, whose dams were Phrygian mares, or such as have pastured on Argos' plains, whose sires were Cappadocians. Soon he exercises a double command in the army​9 and fulfils his functions with such energy and success that, howsoever great the honours heaped upon him by the emperor, his deserts are ever in excess of his reward. Whenever the cloud of war threatened thou mightest have seen experienced commanders of horse and foot give way to a leader younger and of less exalted rank and without more ado entrust to him the whole war. Neither rank nor age stays older men through shame from ready obedience to a youth. As when on a calm sea  p255 every sailor maintains his right to manage the rudder, but if the blustering south wind comes upon them and the waves buffet them on either side, then contention ceases and the sailors accepting a more skilful hand admit their fear (for the storm has set a term to their jealousy), even so Stilicho when the storm of war broke out in Thrace was chosen as commander-in‑chief over the heads of all. Fear, that surest of judges, won him the votes of all; regard for safety o'ermastered ambition and jealousy was overthrown by dread.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] How thou didst tremble and weep when the cruel bugles summoned thy lord to arms! With a countenance wet with tears thou saw'st him leave thy home praying for his safe return after snatching the final hasty kiss from between the bars of his crested helmet's visor. But again what joy when at length he returned, preceded by the clarion of victory and thou couldst hold his still mailed form in thy loving arms once more! How sweet the long hours of the chaste night wherein thou badest him tell in safety the story of his battles. Whilst he was at the wars thou didst not comb thy shining hair nor wear the jewels that were wont to adorn thee. Thy time is spent in worship and in prayer as thy suppliant tresses sweep the temple floor; uncared for perishes the gracious beauty that shall return with thine own lord.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But love languishes not in idleness and sloth; as far as it could a woman's watchful care seconds his deeds of glory. While he warred with foreign nations thou keepest guard lest mad envy or burning calumny should dare aught against him while far away, and lest, when war was ended abroad, treachery should lie secretly in wait to injure him  p257 at home. Thou didst indeed once show thy vigilance what time Rufinus, hatching his plots, sought means to destroy his master by traitorously stirring up the Getae against Rome, for thou didst search out his foul conspiracy and in fear for thy husband's safety, didst send him warning by letters and messages.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 For Serena, niece and adoptive daughter of Theodosius and wife of Stilicho, cf. Introduction, p. xvi. I follow Vollmer (in Pauly-Wissowa, art. "Claudianus") rather than Birt in dating this poem circ. 398 and XXXI as 404.

2 Tanaquil, sister of the elder Tarquin, wife of the Etruscan Lucumo; for her prophetic powers see Liv. I.34.8. Cloelia, a hostage with Porsenna, swam back to Rome (Livy II.13.6). When the image of Cybele was brought to Rome (204 B.C.) and the boat stuck in a shallow at the Tiber's mouth it was said that only a chaste woman could move it. Claudia, who had been accused of adultery, took hold of the rope and towed the vessel to shore.

3 For Theodosius the elder cf. note on XV.216.

4 Referring to Hadrian.

5 Flaccilla, wife of Theodosius the Great (cf. X.43).

6 i.e. Serena's.

7 Claudian plays on the words imperat and imperator.

8 This Thermantia is not to be confused with her niece Thermantia, daughter of Serena and Stilicho (X.339).

9 i.e. magister utriusque militiae in the East.

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Page updated: 11 Aug 07