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Bill Thayer

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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,
please let me know!

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 p257  Letter to Serena


[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] At the first kindling of Orpheus' marriage-torch when festive Hymen filled the countryside of Thrace the beasts and gay-plumaged birds strove among themselves what best gifts they could bring their poet. Mindful of the cave whose sounding rocks had offered a wondrous theatre for his tuneful lyre, the lynxes brought him crystal from the summits of Caucasus; griffins golden nuggets from regions of the north; doves wreaths of roses and other flowers which they had flown to gather from Venus' meadow; the swan bore from the stream of its native Padus amber broken from the boughs of the famed sisters;​1 while the cranes, after their war with the pygmies, recrossed the Nile and gathered in their mouths the precious pearls of the Red Sea. There came, too, immortal Phoenix from the distant East, bearing rare spices in his curvèd talons. No bird nor beast was there but brought to that marriage-feast tribute so richly deserved by Orpheus' lyre.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Busily Calliopea decked her son's bride with her riches and all the treasures of Helicon, and, moreover,  p259 with a mother's pride dared to invite to her son's wedding the queen of starry heaven herself. The queen of the gods spurned not her request either out of respect for Calliopea herself or because she was drawn by a just affection for the pious poet who had so often in her honour chanted his songs before her altars, hymning Juno's godhead with his sweet voice and telling of the battles of her lord the Thunderer waged on the plains of Phlegra, and of the menace of Enceladus and the Titans there broken. Straightway, counting the marriage-night worthy of her presence, she brought heavenly gifts to deck the bridal, gifts such as stoop not to adorn mortals, gifts that the gods alone may possess. But as Juno showed herself gracious to Thracian Orpheus, so wilt thou, Serena, be favourable to my prayers. The stars, her slaves, obey the nod of her head; thee land and sea, subdued beneath thy feet, obey. I did not, as other suitors use, promise at my courtship fields where graze unnumbered flocks nor hills covered with countless vines, nor rich olive-trees waving in the breeze their grey foliage, nor harvests reaped by a thousand scythes, nor a lofty palace with golden pillars. Enough was the mandate of a goddess; thy letter, Serena, stands me in stead of flocks, of harvests, of palace. The shadow of thy name has won over her parents and an imperial prayer concealed my poverty. When Serena writes, what with such words could not the empire's spirit or duteous love accomplish?2

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Would heaven had allowed me to solemnize the longed-for day in the light of thy presence, in thy  p261 lord's camp, before thy son-in‑law's throne. The royal purple would have been a good omen for our union, the august assembly of the court would have graced the ceremony and the hand which, by writing that letter, promised me my bride would have kindled the torch to light her to the altar. Now that the envious sea deprives me of my fondest hopes and stretches between thee and the coasts of Libya, yet, though absent, be gracious unto me, O queen, and of thy goodness grant me a safe return as by a nod of thy head thou, a goddess, canst do. Make straight the paths of earth; bid but gentle breezes blow and a calm sea prosper my voyage, that the Muses and Aganippe's stream, the fount of song, may hymn thy praises in gratitude for the saving of their servant, the poet.3

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 i.e. of Phaëthon, who were changed into poplars.

2 Claudian means that Serena's imperial position and his own respect therefor ensure his obedience. Serena had written (littera, l. 43) urging Claudian to marry, and the poet uses the letter to urge his suit (ll. 37‑46).

3 The Muses themselves are to hymn Serena for having by her prayers (l. 60) secured the safe return of their servant, Claudian.

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Page updated: 11 Aug 07