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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces the
Fescennine Verses in Honour of the
Marriage of the Emperor Honorius


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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Fescennine Verses in Honour of the
Marriage of the Emperor Honorius​1

I (XI)

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Prince, fairer than the day-star, who shootest thine arrows with an aim more sure than the Parthian's, rider more daring than the Geloni, what praise shall match thy lofty mind, what praise thy brilliant beauty? Leda would rather have thee her son than Castor; Thetis counts thee dearer than her own Achilles; Delos' isle admits thee Apollo's victor; Lydia puts Bacchus second to thee. When in the heat of the chase thou guidest thy coursing steed amid the towering holm-oaks and thy tossing locks stream out upon the wind, the beasts of their own accord will fall before thine arrows and the lion, right gladly wounded by a prince's sacred hand, will welcome thy spear and be proud to die. Venus scorns Adonis returned from the dead, Diana disapproves Hippolytus recalled to life.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] When after thy toils thou seekest the shade of a green plane-tree or shunnest Sirius' extreme heat in some cool grot and freest thy wearied limbs in sleep, what a passion of love will inflame the Dryads' hearts! how many a Naiad will steal up with trembling foot and snatch an unmarked kiss! Who,  p233 though he be more uncivilized than the wild Scythians and more cruel even than the beasts, but will, when he has seen near at hand thy transcendent loveliness, offer thee a ready servitude? Who will not willingly seize the chains of slavery and demand the toke for a neck as yet free? Hadst thou o'er the heights of snowy Caucasus gone against the cruel Amazons in all thy beauty, that warrior band had fled the fight and called to mind again their proper sex; Hippolyte, amid the trumpets' din, forget­ful of her sire, had weakly laid aside her drawn battle-axe, and with half-bared breast loosed the girdle all Hercules' strength availed not to loose. Thy beauty alone would have ended the war.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Blessed is she who will soon call thee husband and unite herself to thee with the bonds of first love.



[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Come, earth, wreathed about with nuptial spring, do honour to thy master's marriage-feast. Sing, woods and rivers all, sing, deep of ocean. Give your blessing, too, Ligurian plains and yours, Venetian hills. Let Alpine heights on a sudden clothe themselves with rose-bushes and the fields of ice grow red. Let the Adige re-echo the sound of choric lays and meandering Mincius whisper gently through his  p235 reeds and Padus make answer with his amber-dripping alders. Let Tiber's banks now ring with the voices of Rome's full-fed citizens and the golden city, rejoi­cing in her lord's marriage, crown her seven hills with flowers.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Let Spain hear afar, Spain the cradle of the imperial race, where is a house that is mother of emperors, rich in crowns of laurel, whose triumphs can scarce be numbered. Hence came the bridegroom's sire, hence the bride's mother; from either branch flows the blood of the Caesars, like twin streams reunited. Let rich herbage clothe Baetis' banks and Tagus swell his golden flood; may Ocean, ancestor of the imperial race, make merry in his crystal caves. Let East and West, the two brothers' realms, join in their applause, and peace and joy fill the cities illumined by the sun at his rising and at his setting. Be still, ye storms of the north and ye mad blasts of Caurus; sounding Auster, sink to rest. Let Zephyrus have sole rule over this year of triumph.



[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Twine with a soft garland, Stilicho, the locks whereon a helmet is wont to shine. Let the trumpets of war cease and the propitious torch of marriage banish savage Mars afar. Let regal blood unite once more with regal blood. Perform a father's office and unite these children with thine illustrious hand. Thou didst marry an emperor's daughter, now, in turn, thy daughter shall marry an emperor. What room is here for the madness of jealousy? What excuse for envy? Stilicho is father both of bride and bridegroom.



[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Hesperus, loved of Venus, rises and shines for the marriage with his Idalian​2 rays. Maiden shame now overcomes the anxious bride; her veil now shows traces of innocent tears. Hesitate not to be close in thine attacks, young lover, e'en though she oppose thee savagely with cruel finger-nail. None can enjoy the scents of spring nor steal the honey of Hyla from its fastnesses if he fears that thorns may scratch his face. Thorns arm the rose and bees find a defence for their honey. The refusals of coyness do but increase the joy; the desire for that which flies us is the more inflamed; sweeter is the kiss snatched through tears. How oft wilt thou say: "Better this than ten victories over the yellow-haired Sarmatae"!

 p239 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Breathe a new loyalty into your breasts and let your sense kindle a flame that shall never be extinguished. May your clasped hands form a bond more close than that betwixt ivy and leafy oak tree or poplar and pliant vine. Be the frequent kisses that ye give and receive breathed more softly than those of plaintive doves, and when lips have united soul to soul let sleep still your throbbing breath. Be the purple couch warm with your princely wooing, and a new stain ennoble coverlets ruddy with Tyrian dye. Then leap victorious from the marriage-bed, scarred with the night's encounter.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] All night long let the music of the flute resound and the crowd, set free from law's harsh restraints, with larger licence indulge the permitted jest. Soldiers, make merry with your leaders, girls with boys. Be this the cry that re-echoes from pole to pole, among the peoples, over the seas: "Fair Honorius weds with Maria."

The Translator's Notes:

1 The marriage of Honorius and Maria, daughter of Stilicho, took place at Milan, Feb. 398.

2 Idalian: from Idalium, a mountain in Cyprus, sacred to Venus.

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Page updated: 17 Jan 04