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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.

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The Rape of Proserpine

 p315  Book II: Preface

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Orpheus sought repose and, lulling his song to sleep, had long laid aside his neglected task, the Nymphs complained that their joy had been reft from them and the sad rivers mourned the loss of his tuneful lays. Nature's savagery returned and the heifer in terror of the lion looked in vain for help from the now voiceless lyre. The rugged mountains lamented his silence and the woods that had so often followed his Thracian lute.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But after that Hercules, setting forth from Inachian Argos, reached the plains of Thrace on his mission of salvation, and destroying the stables of Diomede, fed the horses of the bloody tyrant on grass, then it was that the poet, o'erjoyed at his country's happy fate, took up at once more the tuneful strings of his flute long laid aside, and touching its  p317 idle chords with the smooth quill, plied the famed ivory with festal fingers. Scarce had they heard him when the winds and waves were stilled; Hebrus flowed more sluggishly with reluctant stream, Rhodope stretched out her rocks all eager for the song, and Ossa, his summit less exalted, shook off his coat of snow. The tall poplar and the pine, accompanied by the oak, left the slopes of treeless Haemus, and even the laurel came, allured by the voice of Orpheus, though erstwhile it had despised Apollo's art. Molossian dogs fawned playfully on fearless hares, and the lamb made room for the wolf by her side. Does sported in amity with the striped tiger and hinds had no fear of the lion's mane.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] He sang the stings of a step-dame's ire​1 and the deeds of Hercules, the monsters overcome by his strong right arm; how while yet a child he had shown the strangled snakes to his terrified mother, and had laughed, fearlessly scorning such dangers. "Thee nor the bull that shook with his bellowing the cities of Crete alarmed, nor the savagery of the hound of Hell; thee not the lion, soon to become a constellation in the heavens, nor the wild boar that brought renown to Erymanthus' height. Thou hast stripped the Amazons of their girdles, shot with thy bow the birds of Stymphalus, and driven home the cattle of the western clime. Thou hast o'erthrown the many limbs of the triple-headed monster and returned thrice victorious from a single foe. Vain the falls of Antaeus, vain the sprouting of the Hydra's new heads. Its winged feet availed not to save Diana's deer from thy hand. Cacus' flames were quenched and Nile ran rich with Busiris' blood. Pholoë's slopes reeked with the slaughter of the  p319 cloud-born Centaurs. Thee the curving shoe of Libya held in awe; thee the mighty Ocean gazed at in amaze when thou laidst the world's bulk on thy back; on the neck of Hercules the heaven was poised more surely; the sun and stars coursed over thy shoulders."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So sang the Thracian bard. But thou, Florentinus,​2 art a second Hercules to me. 'Tis thou causest my quill to stir, 'tis thou disturbest the Muses' cavern long plunged in sleep and leadest their gentle bands in the dance.

Book II

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Not yet had bright day with herald beams struck the waves of the Ionian main; the light of dawn shimmered on the waters and the straying brilliance flickered over the deep blue sea. And now bold Proserpine, forget­ful of her mother's jealous care and tempted by the wiles of Venus, seeks the stream-fed vale. Such was the Fates' decree. Thrice did the doors sound a warning note as the hinges turned; thrice did prophetic Aetna rumble mournfully with awful thunders. But her can no portent, no omen detain. The sister goddesses bore her company.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] First goes Venus exulting in her trickery and inspired by her great mission. In her heart she takes account of the coming rape; soon she will rule dread Chaos, soon, Dis once subdued, she will lead the subject ghosts. Her hair, parted into many  p321 locks, is braided round her head and secured by a Cyprian pin, and a brooch cunningly fabricated by her spouse Vulcan supports her cloak thick studded with purple jewels.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Behind her hasten Diana, fair queen of Arcadian Lycaeus, and Pallas who, with her spear, protects the citadel of Athens — virgins both; Pallas, cruel goddess of war, Diana, bane of wild creatures. On her burnished helmet the Triton-born goddess wore a carved figure of Typhon, the upper part of his body lifeless, the lower limbs yet writhing, part dead, part quick. Her terrible spear, piercing the clouds as she brandished it, resembled a tree; only the Gorgon's hissing neck she hid in the spread of her glittering cloak. But mild was Diana's gaze and very like her brother looked she; Phoebus' own one had thought her cheeks and eyes, her sex alone disclosed the difference. Her shining arms were bare, her straying locks fluttered in the gentle breeze, and the chord of her unstrung bow hung idle, her arrows slung behind her back. Her Cretan tunic, gathered with girdles twain, flows down to her knees, and on her waving dress Delos wanders and stretches surrounded by a golden sea.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Between the two Ceres' child, now her mother's pride, so soon to be her sorrow, treads the grass with equal pace, their equal, too, in stature and beauty; Pallas you might have thought her, had she carried a shield, Diana, if a javelin. A brooch of polished jasper secured her girded dress. Never did art give happier issue to the shuttle's skill; never was cloth so beautifully made nor embroidery so life-like. In it she had worked the birth of the sun from the seed of Hyperion, the birth, too, of the Moon,  p323 though diverse was her shape — of sun and moon that bring the dawning and the night. Tethys affords them a cradle and soothes in her bosom their infant sobs; the rosy light of her foster-children irradiates her dark blue plains. On her right shoulder she carried the infant Titan, too young as yet to vex with his light, and his encircling beams not grown; he is pictured as more gentle in those tender years, and from his mouth issues a soft flame that accompanies his infant cries. The Moon, his sister carried on Tethys' left shoulder, sucks the milk of that bright breast, her forehead marked with a little horn.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Such is the wonder of Proserpine's dress. The Naiads bear her company and on either side crowd around her, those who haunt thy streams, Crinisus, and Pantagia's rocky torrent and Gela's who gives his name to the city; those whom Camerina, the unmoved, nurtures in her shallow marshes, whose home is Arethusa's flood or the stream of Alpheus, her foreign lover; tallest of their company is Cyane. So move they as the beauteous band of Amazons, brandishing their moon-shaped shields what time the maiden warrior Hippolyte, after laying waste the regions of the north, leads home her fair army after battle, whether they have o'erthrown the yellow-haired Getae or cloven frozen Tanais with the axe of their native Thermodon; or as the Lydian Nymphs celebrate the festivals of Bacchus — the Nymphs whose sire was Hermus along whose banks they course, splashed with his golden waters: the river-god rejoices in his cavern home and pours forth the flooding urn with generous hand.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Henna, mother of blossoms, had espied the goddess' company from her grassy summit and thus addressed  p325 Zephyrus, lurking in the winding vale: "Gracious father of the spring, thou who ever rulest over my meads with errant breeze and bringest rain upon the summer lands with thine unceasing breath, behold this company of Nymphs and Jove's tall daughters who deign to sport them in my meadows. Be present to bless, I pray. Grant that now all the trees be thick with newly-grown fruit, that fertile Hybla may be jealous and admit her paradise surpassed. All the sweet airs of Panchaea's incense-bearing woods, all the honied odours of Hydaspes' distant stream, all the spices which from the furthest fields the long-lived Phoenix gathers, seeking new birth from wished for death — spread thou all these through my veins and with generous breath refresh my country. May I be worthy to be plundered by divine fingers and goddesses seek to be decked with my garlands."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So spake she, and Zephyrus shook his wings adrip with fresh nectar and drenches the ground with their life-giving dew. Wheresoe'er he flies spring's brilliance follows. The fields grow lush with verdure and heaven's dome shines cloudless above them. He paints the bright roses red, the hyacinths blue and the sweet violets purple. What girdles of Babylon, meet cincture of a royal breast, are adorned with such varied jewels? What fleece so dyed in the rich juice of the murex where stand the brazen towers of Tyre? Not the wings of Juno's own bird display such colouring. Not thus do the many-changing hues of the rainbow span young winter's sky when in curved arch its rainy path glows green amid the parting clouds.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Even more lovely than the flowers is the country. The plain, with gentle swell and gradual slopes, rose into a hill; issuing from the living rock gushing  p327 streams bedewed their grassy banks. With the shade of its branches a wood tempers the sun's fierce heat and at summer's height makes for itself the cold of winter. There grows the pine, useful for seafaring, the cornel-tree for weapons of war, the oak, friendly to Jove, the cypress, sentinel of graves, the holm filled with honeycombs, and the laurel foreknowing of the future; here the box-tree waves its thick crown of leaves, here creeps the ivy, here the vine clothes the elm. Not far from here lies a lake called by the Sicani Pergus, girt with a cincture of leafy woods close around its pallid waters. Deep down therein the eye of whoso would can see, and the everywhere transparent water invites an untrammeled gaze into its oozy depths and betrays the uttermost secrets of its pellucid gulfs. Hither came their company well pleased with the flowery climb.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Venus bids them gather flowers. "Come, sisters, while yet the morning sun shines through the moist air, and while Lucifer, my harbinger of dawn, yet drives his dewy steeds and waters the bright field." So spake she and gathered the flower that testified to her own woe.​3 Her companions ranged the various vales. You could have believed a swarm of bees was on the wing, eager to gather its sweetness from Hyblaean thyme, where the king bees lead out their wax-housed armies and the honey-bearing host, issuing from the beech-tree's hollow bole, buzzes around its favourite flowers. The meadows are despoiled of their glory; this goddess weaves lilies with dark violets, another decks herself with pliant marjoram, a third steps forth rose-crowned, another wreathed with white privet. Thee also, Hyacinthus,  p329 they gather, thy flower inscribed with woe, and Narcissus too — once lovely boys, now the pride of flowering spring. Thou, Hyacinthus, wert born at Amyclae, Narcissus was Helicon's child; thee the errant discus slew; him love of his stream-reflected face beguiled; for thee weeps Delos' god with sorrow-weighted brow; for him Cephisus with his broken reeds.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But beyond her fellows she, the one hope of the corn-bearingº goddess, burned with a fierce desire to gather flowers. Now she fills with the spoil of the fields her laughing baskets, osier-woven; now she twines a wreath of flowers and crowns herself therewith, little seeing in this a foreshadowing of the marriage fate holds in store for her. E'en Pallas herself, goddess of the trumpets and of the weapons of war, devotes to gentler pursuits the hand wherewith she o'erwhelms the host of battle and throws down stout gates and city walls. She lays aside her spear and wreaths her helmet with soft flowers — strange aureole! The iron peak is gay, o'ershadowed the fierce martial glint, and the plumes, erstwhile levin bolts, now nod with blossoms. Nor does Diana, who scours Mount Parthenius with her keen-scented hounds, disdain this company but would fain bind her free-flowing tresses with a flowery crown.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But while the maidens so disport themselves, wandering through the fields, a sudden roar is heard, towers crash and towns, shaken to their foundations, totter and fall. None knows whence comes the tumult; Paphus' goddess alone recognized the sound that set her companions in amaze, and fear mixed with joy fills her heart. For now the king of souls was pricking his way through the dim labyrinth of the underworld and crushing Enceladus, groaning  p331 beneath the weight of his massy steeds. His chariot-wheels severed the monstrous limbs, and the giant struggles, bearing Sicily along with Pluto on his burdened neck, and feebly essays to move and entangle the wheels with his weary serpents; still o'er his blazing back passes the smoking chariot. And as sappers seek to issue forth upon their unsuspecting enemy and, following a minèd path beneath the foundations of the tunnelled field, pass unmarked beyond the foe-infested walls of the city to break out, a victorious party, into the citadel of the outwitted enemy, seeming sprung from earth, even so Saturn's third son scours the devious darkness whithersoever his team hurries him, all eager to come forth beneath his brother's sky. No door lies open for him; rocks bar his egress on every side and detain the god in their escapeless prison. He brooked not the delay but wrathfully smote the crags with his beam-like staff. Sicily's caverns thundered, Lipare's isle was confounded, Vulcan left his forge in amaze and the Cyclops let drop their thunderbolts in fear. The pent-up denizens of the frozen Alps heard the uproar and he who then swam thy wave, father Tiber, thy brows not as yet graced with the crown of Italy's triumphs; there heard it he who rows his bark down Padus' stream.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So when the rock-encircled lake, ere Peneus' wave rolled seaward, covered all Thessaly and allowed not its submerged fields to be tilled, Neptune smote the imprisoning mountain with his trident. Then did the peak of Ossa, riven with the mighty flow, spring apart from snowy Olympus; a passage was made and the waters were released, whereby the sea won back her feeding streams and the husbandman his fields.

 p333  [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When Trinacria beneath Pluto's stroke loosed her rocky bonds and yawned wide with cavernous cleft, sudden fear seized upon the sky. The stars deserted their accustomed courses; the Bear bathed him in forbidden Ocean; terror hurried sluggish Boötes to his setting; Orion trembled. Atlas paled as he heard the neighing coursers; their smoky breath obscures the bright heavens and the sun's orb affrighted them, so long fed on darkness. They stood biting the curb astonied at the brighter air, and struggle to turn the chariot and hurry back to dread Chaos. But soon, when they felt the lash on their backs and learned to bear the sun's brightness, they gallop on more rapidly than a winter torrent and more fleet than the hurtling spear; swifter than the Parthian's dart, the south wind's fury or nimble thought of anxious mind. Their bits are warm with blood, their death-bringing breath infects the air, the polluted dust is poisoned with their foam.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The Nymphs fly away in all directions; Proserpine is hurried away in the chariot, imploring aid of the goddesses. Now Pallas unveils the Gorgon's head, Diana strings her bow and hastes to help. Neither yields to her uncle's violence; a common virginity compels them to fight and engages them at the crime of the fierce ravisher. Pluto is like a lion when he has seized upon a heifer, the pride of the stall and the herd, and has torn with his claws the defenceless flesh and has sated his fury on all its limbs, and so stands all befouled with clotted blood and shakes his tangled mane and scorns the shepherds' feeble rage.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Lord of the strengthless dead," cries Pallas,  p335 "wickedest of thy brothers, what Furies have stirred thee with their goads and accursed torches? Why hast thou left thy seat and how darest thou pollute the upper world with thy hellish team? Thou hast the hideous Curses, the other deities of Hell, the dread Furies — any of them would be a worthy spouse for thee. Quit thy brother's realm, begone from the kingdom allotted to another. Get thee hence; let thine own night suffice thee. Why mix the quick with the dead? Why treadest thou our world, an unwelcome visitant?"

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So exclaiming she smote with her threatening shield the horses who sought to advance and barred their way with the bulk of her targe, thrusting them back with the hissing snake-hair of Medusa's head and o'ershadowing them with its outstretched plumes. She poised for throwing her shaft of ash whose radiance met and illumed Pluto's black chariot. Almost had she cast it had not Jove from heaven's height hurled his red thunderbolt on peaceful wings, acknowledging his new son; mid the riven clouds thunders the marriage-paean and attesting fires confirm the union.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] All unwilling the goddesses yielded, and weeping Diana laid aside her weapons and thus spake: [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Fare well, a long farewell; forget us not. Reverence for our sire forbade our help, and against his will we cannot defend thee. We acknowledge defeat by a power greater than our own. The Father hath conspired against thee and betrayed thee to the realms of silence, no more, alas! to behold the sisters and companions who crave sight of thee. What fate hath reft thee from the upper air and condemned the heavens to so deep mourning? Now no more  p337 can we rejoice to set Parthenius' steep with nets nor wear the quiver; at large as he lists let the wild boar raven and the lion roar savagely with none to say him nay. Thee, Taygetus' crest, thee Maenalus' height shall weep, their hunting laid aside. Long shalt thou be food for weeping on sorrowing Cynthus' slopes. E'en my brother's shrine at Delphi shall speak no more."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile Proserpine is borne away in the winged car, her hair streaming before the wind, beating her arms in lamentation and calling in vain remonstrance to the clouds: [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Why hast thou not hurled at me, father, bolts forged by the Cyclopes' hands? Was this thy will to deliver thy daughter to the cruel shades and drive her for ever from this world? Does love move thee not at all? Hast thou nothing of a father's feeling? What ill deed of mine has stirred such anger in thee? When Phlegra raged with war's madness I bore no standard against the gods; 'twas through no strength of mine that ice-bound Ossa supported frozen Olympus. For attempt of what crime, for complicity with what guilt, am I thrust down in banishment to the bottomless pit of Hell? Happy girls whom other ravishers have stolen; they at least enjoy the general light of day, while I, together with my virginity, lose the air of heaven; stolen from me alike is innocence and daylight. Needs must I quit this world and be led a captive bride to serve Hell's tyrant. Ye flowers that I loved in so evil an hour, oh, why did I scorn my mother's warning? Too late did I detect the wiles of Venus. Mother, my mother, whether in the vales of Phrygian Ida the dread pipe sounds about thine ears with Lydian  p339 strains, or thou hauntest mount Dindymus, ahowl with self-mutilated Galli, and beholdest the naked swords of the Curetes, aid me in my bitter need; frustrate Pluto's mad lust and stay the funereal reins of my fierce ravisher."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Her words and those becoming tears mastered e'en that rude heart as Pluto first learned to feel love's longings. The tears he wiped away with his murky cloak, quieting her sad grief with these soothing words: [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Cease, Proserpine, to vex thy heart with gloomy cares and causeless fear. A prouder sceptre shall be thine, nor shalt thou face marriage with a husband unworthy of thee. I am that scion of Saturn whose will the framework of the world obeys, whose power stretches through the limitless void. Think not thou hast lost the light of day; other stars are mine and other courses; a purer light shalt thou see and wonder rather at Elysium's sun and blessed habitants. There a richer age, a golden race has its home, and we possess for ever what men win but once. Soft meads shall fail thee not, and ever-blooming flowers, such as thy Henna ne'er produced, breathe to gentle zephyrs. There is, moreover, a precious tree in the leafy groves whose curving branches gleam with living ore — a tree consecrate to thee. Thou shalt be queen of blessed autumn and ever enriched with golden fruit. Nay more; whatsoe'er the limpid air embraces, whatever earth nourishes, the salt seas sweep, the rivers roll, or the marsh-lands feed, all living things alike shall yield them to thy sway, all, I say, that dwell beneath the orb of the moon that is the seventh of the planets and in its ethereal journey separates things mortal from the deathless  p341 stars. To thy feet shall come purple-clothed kings, stripped of their pomp, and mingling with the unmoneyed throng; for death renders all equal. Thou shalt give doom to the guilty and rest to the virtuous. Before thy judgement-throne the wicked must confess the crimes of their evil lives. Lethe's stream shall obey thee and the Fates be thy handmaidens. Be thy will done."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] So speaking he urges on his triumphant steeds and enters Tartarus in gentler wise. The shades assemble, thick as the leaves the stormy south wind shakes down from the trees, dense as the rain-clouds it masses, countless as the billows it curls or the sand it scatters. The dead of every age throng with hastening foot to see so illustrious a bride. Soon Pluto himself enters with joyful mien submitting him to the softening influence of pleasant laughter, all unlike his former self. At the incoming of his lord and mistress huge Phlegethon rises; his bristly beard is wet with burning streams and flames dart all o'er his countenance.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] There hasten to greet the pair slaves chosen from out the number. Some put away the lofty chariot, take the bits from the mouths of the toil-freed horses and turn them to graze in their accustomed pastures. Some hold back the curtains, others decorate the doorway with branches and fasten broidered hangings in the bridal chamber. In chaste bands the matrons of Elysium throng their queen, and with sweet converse banish her fear; they gather and braid her disheveled hair and place the wedding-veil upon her head to hide her troubled blushes.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Joy fills that grey land, the buried throng holds  p343 high festival, and the ghosts sport them at the nuptial feast. The flower-crowned Manes sit at a joyous banquet and unwonted song breaks the gloomy silence; wailing is hushed. Hell's murk gladly disperses and suffers the darkness of age-long night to grow less impenetrable. Minos' urn of judgement throws no ambiguous lots; the sound of blows is still, for punishments are intermitted. No longer is Ixion tortured by the ever-turning wheel to which he is bound; from Tantalus' lips no more is the flying water withdrawn. Ixion is freed, Tantalus reaches the stream, and Tityus at length straightens out his huge limbs and uncovers nine acres​a of foul ground (such was his large size), and the vulture, that burrows lazily into the dark side, is dragged off from his wearied breast sore against its will, lamenting that no longer is the devoured flesh renewed for it.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The Furies, forget­ful of crimes and dread wrath, make ready the wine-bowl and drink therefrom for all their snaky hair. Nay, with gentle song, their threatenings are laid aside, they stretch out their snakes to the full cups and kindle the festal torches with unusual flame. Then, too, the birds flew unhurt over the now appeasèd stream of poisonous Avernus, and Lake Amsanctus checked his deadly exhalations; the stream was stayed and the whirlpool grew still. They say that then the springs of Acheron were changed and welled up with new milk, while Cocytus, enwreathed with ivy, flowed along in streams of sweet wine. Lachesis slit not the thread of life nor did funeral dirge sound in challenge to the holy chant. Death walked not  p345 on earth and no parents wept beside the funeral pyre. The wave brought not destruction to the sailor nor the spear to the warrior. Cities flourished and knew not Death, the destroyer. Charon crowned his uncombed locks with sedge and singing plied his weightless oars.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] And now its own evening-star had shone upon the underworld. The maiden is led into the bridal chamber. Night, clad in starry raiment, stands by her as her brideswoman; she touches the couch and blesses the union of marriage with a bond that cannot be broken. The blessed shades raise their voices and beneath the palace roof of Dis thus being their song with sleepless acclaim: [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] "Proserpine, queen of our realm, and thou, Pluto, at once the brother and the son-in‑law of Jove, the Thunderer, be it yours to know the alliance of conjoined sleep; pledge mutual troth as ye hold each other in intertwining arms. Happy offspring shall be yours; joyous Nature awaits gods yet to be born. Give the world a new divinity and Ceres the grandchildren she longs for."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Juno is called the stepmother of Hercules.

2 See Introduction, p. xiv.

3 Traditionally said to be the anemone, which is supposed to have sprung up red from the spot where Adonis was killed by the boar.

Thayer's Note:

a Well, nine jugera at any rate: 5.6 acres English measure, 2.24 hectares. . . .

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