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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a Book of
The Rape of Proserpine


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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 p293  The Rape of Proserpine

Book I: Preface

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] He who first made a ship and clave therewith the deep, troubling the waters with roughly hewn oars, who first dared trust his alder-bark to the uncertain winds and who by his skill devised a way forbidden of nature, fearfully at the first essayed smooth seas, hugging the shore in an unadventurous course. But soon he began to attempt the crossing of the broad bays, to leave the land and spread his canvas to the gentle south wind; and, as little by little his growing courage led him on, and as his heart forgot numbing fear, sailing now at large, he burst upon the open sea and, with the signs of heaven to guide him, passed triumphant through the storms of the Aegean and the Ionian main.

Book 1

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] My full heart bids me boldly sing the horses of the ravisher from the underworld and the stars darkened by the shadow of his infernal chariot  p295 and the gloomy chambers of the queen of Hell. Come not nigh, ye uninitiate. Now has divine madness driven all mortal thoughts from my breast, and my heart is filled with Phoebus' inspiration; now see I the shrine reel and its foundations totter while the threshold glows with radiant light telling that the god is at hand. And now I hear a loud din from the depths of the earth, the temple of Cecrops new-found and Eleusis waves its holy torches. The hissing snakes of Triptolemus raise their scaly necks chafed by the curving collar, and, uptowering as they glide smoothly along, stretch forth their rosy crests toward the chant. See from afar rises Hecate with her three various heads and with her comes forth Iacchus smooth of skin, his temples crowned with ivy. There clothes him the pelt of a Parthian tiger, its gilded claws knotted together, and the Lydian thyrsus guides his drunken footsteps.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Ye gods, whom the numberless host of the dead serves in ghostly Avernus, into whose greedy treasury is paid all that perishes upon earth, ye whose fields the pale streams of intertwining Styx surround, while Phlegethon, his rapids tossed in spray, flows through them with steaming eddies — do you unfold for me the mysteries of your sacred story and the secrets of your world. Say with what torch the god of love overcame Dis, and tell how Proserpine was stolen away in her maiden pride to win Chaos as a dower; and how through many lands Ceres, sore troubled, pursued her anxious search; whence cornº was given to man whereby he laid aside his acorn food, and the new-found ear made useless Dodona's oaks.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Once on a time the lord of Erebus blazed forth  p297 in swelling anger, threatening war upon the gods, because he alone was unwed and had long wasted the years in childless state, brooking no longer to lack the joys of wedlock and a husband's happiness nor ever to know the dear name of father. Now all the monsters that lurk in Hell's abyss rush together in warlike bands, and the Furies bind themselves with an oath against the Thunderer. Tisiphone, the bloody snakes clustering on her head, shakes the lurid pine-torch and summons to the ghostly camp the armèd shades. Almost had the elements, once more at war with reluctant nature, broken their bond; the Titan brood, their deep prison-house thrown open and their fetters cast off, had again seen heaven's light; and once more bloody Aegaeon, bursting the knotted ropes that bound his huge form, had warred against the thunderbolts of Jove with hundred-handed blows.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But the dread Fates brought these threats to naught, and, fearing for the world, gravely laid their hoary locks before the feet and throne of the lord of Hell, and with suppliant tears touched his knees with their hands — those hands beneath whose rule all things are set, whose thumbs twist the thread of fate and spin the long ages with their iron spindles. First Lachesis, her hair unkempt and disordered, thus called out upon the cruel king: [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Great lord of night, ruler over the shades, thou at whose command our threads are spun, who appointest the end and origin of all things and ordainest the alternation of birth and destruction; arbiter thou of life and death — for whatsoever thing comes anywhere into being it is by thy gift that it is created and owes its life to thee, and after a fixed  p299 cycle of years thou sendest souls once more into mortal bodies — seek not to break the stablished treaty of peace which our distaffs have spun and given thee, and overturn not in civil war the compact fixed 'twixt thee and thy two brothers. Why raisest thou unrighteous standards of war? Why freest the foul band of Titans to the open air? Ask of Jove; he will give thee a wife."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Scarce had she spoken when Pluto stopped, shamed by her prayer, and his grim spirit grew mild though little wont to be curbed: even so great Boreas, armed with strident blasts and tempestuous with congealed snow, his wings all frozen with Getic hail as he seeks battle, threatens to overwhelm the sea, the woods, and the fields with sounding storm; but should Aeolus chance to bar against him the brazen doors idly his fury dies away and his storms retire baulked to their prison-house.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Then he bids summon Mercury, the son of Maia, that he may carry these flaming words to Jove. Straightway the wingèd god of Cyllene stands at his side shaking his sleepy wand, his herald cap upon his head. Pluto himself sits propped on his rugged throne, awful in funereal majesty; foul with age-long dust is his mighty sceptre; boding clouds make grim his lofty head; unpitying is the stiffness of his dread shape; rage heightened the terror of his aspect. Then with uplifted head he thunders forth these words, while, as the tyrant speaks, his halls tremble and are still; the massy hound, guardian of the gate, restrains the barking of his triple head, and Cocytus sinks back repressing his fount of tears; Acheron is dumb with silent wave, and the banks of Phlegethon cease their murmuring.  p301 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Grandchild of Atlas, Arcadian-born, deity that sharest hell and heaven, thou who alone hast the right to cross either threshold, and art the intermediary between the two words, go swiftly, cleave the winds, and bear these my behests to proud Jove. 'Hast thou, cruel brother, such complete authority over me? Did injurious fortune rob me at once of power and light? Because day was reft from me, lost I therefore strength and weapons? Thinkest thou me humble and cowed because I hurl not bolts forged by the Cyclops and fool not the empty air with thunder? Is it not enough that deprived of the pleasant light of day I submit to the ill-fortune of the third and final choice and these hideous realms, whilst thee the starry heavens adorn and the Wain surrounds with twinkling brilliance — must thou also forbid our marriage? Amphitrite, daughter of Nereus, holds Neptune in her sea-grey embrace; Juno, they sister and they wife, takes thee to her bosom when wearied thou layest aside thy thunderbolts. What need to tell of thy secret love for Lato or Ceres or great Themis? How manifold a hope of offspring was thine! Now a crowd of happy children surrounds thee. And shall I in this empty palace, sans joy, sans fame, know no child's love to still instant care? I will not brook so dull a life. I swear by elemental night and the unexplored shallows of the Stygian lake, if thou refuse to hearken to my word I will throw open Hell and call forth her monsters, will break Saturn's old chains and shroud the sun in darkness. The framework of the world shall be loosened and the shining heavens mingle with Avernus' shades.' "

 p303  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Scarce had he spoken when his messenger trod the stars. The Father heard the message and, communing with himself, debated long who would dare such a marriage, who would wish to exchange the sun for the caves of Styx. He would fain decide and at length his fixed purpose grew.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Ceres, whose temple is at Henna, had but one youthful daughter, a child long prayed for; for the goddess of birth granted no second offspring, and her womb, exhausted by that first labour, became unfruitful. Yet prouder is the mother above all mothers, and Proserpine such as to take the place of many. Her mother's care and darling is she; not more lovingly does the fierce mother cow tend her calf that cannot as yet scamper over the fields and whose growing horns curve not yet moonwise over her forehead. As the years were fulfilled she had grown a maiden ripe for marriage, and thoughts of the torch of wedlock stir her girlish modesty, but while she longs for a husband she yet fears to plight troth. The voice of suitors is heard throughout the palace; two gods woo the maiden, Mars, more skilled with the shield, and Phoebus, the mightier bowman. Mars offers Rhodope, Phoebus would give Amyclae, and Delos and his temple at Claros; in rivalry Juno and Latona claim her for a son's wife. But golden-haired Ceres disdains both, and fearing lest her daughter should be stolen away (how blind to the future!) secretly entrusts her jewel to the land of Sicily, confident in the safe nature of this hiding-place.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Trinacria was once a part of Italy but sea and tide changed the face of the land. Victorious Nereus brake his bounds and interflowed the cleft mountains  p305 with his waves whereby a narrow channel now separates these kindred lands. Nature now thrusts out into the sea the three-cornered island, cut off from the mainland to which it once belonged. At one extremity the promontory of Pachynum hurls back with jutting crags the furious waves of the Ionian main, round another roars the African sea that rises and beats upon the curving harbour of Lilybaeum, at the third the raging Tyrrhenian flood, impatient of restraint, shakes the obstacle of Cape Pelorus. In the midst of the island rise the charred cliffs of Aetna, eloquent monument of Jove's victory over the Giants, the tomb of Enceladus, whose bound and bruisèd body breathes forth endless sulphur clouds from its burning wounds. Whene'er his rebellious shoulders shift their burden to the right or left, the island is shaken from its foundations and the walls of tottering cities sway this way and that.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The peaks of Aetna thou must know by sight alone; to them no foot may approach. The rest is clothed with foliage but the summit no husbandman tills. Now it sends forth native smoke and with pitch-black cloud darkens and oppresses the day, now with awful stirrings it threatens the stars and feeds its flame with the dread fruit of its own body. But though it boils and bursts forth with such great heat yet it knows how to observe a truce with the snow, and together with glowing ashes the ice grows hard, protected from the great heat and secured by indwelling cold, so that the harmless flame licks the neighbouring frost with breath that keeps its compact. What huge engine hurls those rocks; what vast force piles rock on  p307 rock? Whence flows forth that fiery stream? Whether it be that the wind, forcing its way past hidden barriers, rages amid the fissured rocks that seek to bar its passage and, seeking a way of escape, sweeps the crumbling caverns with its wandering blasts in its bid for freedom, or that the sea, flowing in through the bowels of the sulphurous mountain, bursts into flame when its waters are compressed and casts up great rocks, I know not.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When the loving mother had entrusted her charge to the secret keeping of Henna she went freed from care to visit tower-crowned Cybele in her Phrygian home, driving a car drawn by twining serpents which cleave the pervious clouds on their wingèd course and fleck the bit with harmless poison. Their heads are crested and spots of green mottle their backs while sparkling gold glints amid their scales. Now they swim circling through the air, now they skim the fields with low-driven course. The passing wheels sow the plough-land with golden grain and their track grows yellow with corn. Sprouting stalks cover their traces and attendant crops clothe the path of the goddess.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now is left behind Aetna, and all Sicily sinks lessening into the distance. Ah, how often, foreknowing of coming ill, did she mar her cheek with welling tears; how often look back upon her home with words like these: "Be happy, dear land, dearer than heaven to me, into thy safe keeping I commend my daughter, my sole joy, loved fruit of my labour. No despicable reward shall be thine, for thou shalt suffer no hoe nor shall the cruel iron of the ploughshare know thy soil. Untilled thy fields shall bear fruit, and though thine oxen plough not, a richer  p309 husbandman shall view with wonder the self-sown harvest." So spake she and reached Mount Ida, drawn by her yellow serpents.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Here is the queenly seat of the goddess and in her holy temple the sacred statue, o'ershadowed by the thick leaves of the pine wood which, though no storm wind shakes the grove, gives forth creakings with its cone-bearing branches. Within are the dread bands of the initiate with whose wild chantings the shrine rings; Ida is loud with howlings and Gargarus bends his woods in fear. As soon as Ceres appears the drums restrain their rattle; the choirs are silent and the Corybantes stay the flourish of their knives. Pipes and cymbals are still, and the lions sink their manes in greeting. Cybele​1 rejoicing runs forth from the shrine and bends her towered head to kiss her guest.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Long had Jove seen this, watching from his lofty seat, and to Venus he thus enfolded the secrets of his heart: "Goddess of Cythera, I will impart to thee my hidden troubles; long ago I decided that fair Proserpine should be given in marriage to the lord of Hell; such is Atropos' bidding, such old Themis' prophecy. Now that her mother has left her is the time for action. Do thou visit the confines of Sicily, and armed with thy wiles, lead Ceres' daughter to sport in the level meads what time to-morrow's light has unfolded the rosy dawn; employ those arts with which thou art wont to inflame all things, often even myself. Why should the nether kingdoms know not love? Let no land be free and no breast even amid the shades unfired by Venus. At last let the gloomy Fury  p311 feel the sting of passion and Acheron and the steely heart of stern Dis grow tender with love's arrows."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Venus hastes to do his bidding; and at their sire's behest there join her Pallas and Diana whose bent bow affrights all Maenalus' slopes. Neath her divine feet the path shone bright, even as a comet, fraught with augury of ill, falls headlong, a glowing portent of blood-red fire; no sailor may look on it and live, no people view it but to their destruction; the message of its threatening tail is storm to ships and enemy's attack to cities. They reached the place where shone Ceres' palace, firm-built by the Cyclopes' hands; up tower the iron walls, iron stand the gates, and steel bars secure the massy doors. Neither Pyragmon nor Steropes e'er builded a work with toil so great as that, nor ever did bellows breathe forth such blasts nor the molten mass of metal flow in a stream so deep that the very furnaces were weary of heating it. The hall was walled with ivory; the roof strengthened with beams of bronze and supported by lofty columns of electron.​a

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Proserpine herself, soothing the house with sweet song, was sewing all in vain a gift against her mother's return. In this cloth she embroidered with her needle the concourse of atoms and the dwelling of the Father of the gods and pictured how mother Nature ordered elemental chaos, and how the first principles of things sprang apart, each to his proper place — those that were light being born aloft, the heavier ones falling to the centre. The air grew bright and fire chose the pole as its seat. Here flowed the sea; there hung the earth suspended. Many were the colours she employed, tricking the stars with gold and flowing the sea  p313 with purple. The shore she embossed with precious stones and cunningly employed raised threadwork to imitate the swelling billows. You might have thought you saw the seaweed dashed against the rocks and heard the murmur of the hissing waves flooding up the thirsty sands. Five zones she added; indicating it with red yarn: its desert confines are parched and the thread she used was dried by the sun's unfailing heat. On either side lay the two habitable zones, blessed with mild climate fit for the life of man. At the top and bottom she set the two frozen zones, portraying eternal winter's horror in her weaving and the gloom of never-ceasing cold. Further she embroidered the accursèd seat of her uncle, Dis, and the nether gods, her destined fellows. Nor did the omen pass unmarked, for prophetic of the future her cheeks grew wet with sudden tears.​b

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Next she began to trace Ocean's glassy shallows at the tapestry's farthest edge, but at that moment the doors opened, she saw the goddesses enter, and left her work unfinished. A glowing blush that mantled to her clear cheeks suffused her fair countenance and lit the torches of stainless purity. Not so beautiful even the glow of ivory which a Lydian maid has stained with Sidon's scarlet dye.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now the sun was dipped in Ocean, and misty Night scattering sleep had brought for mortals ease and leisure in her black two-horsed chariot; when Pluto, warned by his brother, made his way to the upper air. The dread fury Allecto yokes to the chariot-pole the two fierce pairs of steeds that graze Cocytus' banks and roam the dark meads of Erebus, and,  p315 drinking the rotting pools of sluggish Lethe, let dark oblivion drip from their slumbrous lips — Orphnaeus, savage and fleet, Aethon, swifter than an arrow, great Nycteus, proud glory of Hell's steeds, and Alastor, branded with the mark of Dis. These stood harnessed before the door and savagely champed the bit all eager for the morrow's enjoyment of their destined booty.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cybele and Cybebe are alternative forms in Latin. The normal English form is Cybele.

Thayer's Notes:

a Much more usually: electrum. This is not necessarily the electrum "everyone knows", viz. an alloy of gold and silver: here, it is probably amber. See the article Electrum in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, which immediately starts out with the same cautionary note.

b A real-life example, and thus much more moving, is given by a literary work. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder repeatedly praises the beauty and fertility of Campania (H. N. XVIII.110‑111, and especially III.40 ff.: ". . . In what terms to describe the coast of Campania taken by itself, with its blissful and heavenly loveliness, so as to manifest that there is one region where nature has been at work in her joyous mood! . . .") — he will die there, a victim of Nature in an altogether different mood.

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