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When Python had fallen, laid low by the arrow of Phoebus, his dying limbs outspread o'er Cirrha's heights — Python, whose coils covered whole mountains, whose maw swallowed rivers and whose bloody crest touched the stars — then Parnassus was free and the woods, their serpent fetters shaken off, began to grow tall with lofty trees. The mountain-ashes, long shaken by the dragon's sinuous coils, spread their leaves securely to the breeze, and Cephisus, who had so often foamed with his poisonous venom, now flowed a purer stream with limpid wave. The whole country echoed with the cry, "hail, Healer": every land sang Phoebus' praise. A fuller wind shakes the tripod, and the gods, hearing the Muses' sweet song from afar off, gather in the dread caverns of Themis.
A blessed band comes together to hear my song, now that a second Python has been slain by the weapons of that master of ours who made the rule of the brother Emperors hold the world steady, observing justice in peace and showing vigour in war.
My mind has often wavered between two opinions: have the gods a care for the world or is there no ruler therein and do mortal things drift as dubious chance dictates? For when I investigated the laws and the ordinances of heaven and observed the sea's appointed limits, the year's fixed cycle and the alternation of light and darkness, then methought everything was ordained according to the direction of a God who had bidden the stars move by fixed laws, plants grow at different seasons, the changing moon fulfil her circle with borrowed light and the sun shine by his own, who spread the shore before the waves and balanced the world in the centre of the firmament. But when I saw the impenetrable mist which surrounds human affairs, the wicked happy and long prosperous and the good discomforted, then in turn my belief in God was weakened and failed, and even against mine own will I embraced the tenets of that other philosophy1 which teaches that atoms drift in purposeless motion and that new forms throughout the vast void are shaped by chance and not design — that philosophy which believes in God in an ambiguous sense, or holds that there be no gods, or that they are careless of our doings. At p29 last Rufinus' fate has dispelled this uncertainty and freed the gods from this imputation. No longer can I complain that the unrighteous man reaches the highest pinnacle of success. He is raised aloft that he may be hurled down in more headlong ruin. Muses, unfold to your poet whence sprang this grievous pest.
Dire Allecto once kindled with jealous wrath on seeing widespread peace among the cities of men. Straightway she summons the hideous council of the nether-world sisters to her foul palace gates. Hell's numberless monsters are gathered together, Night's children of ill-omened birth. Discord, mother of war, imperious Hunger, Age, near neighbour to Death; Disease, whose life is a burden to himself; Envy that brooks not another's prosperity, woeful Sorrow with rent garments; Fear and foolhardy rashness with sightless eyes; Luxury, destroyer of wealth, to whose side ever clings unhappy Want with humble tread, and the long company of sleepless Cares, hanging round the foul neck of their mother Avarice. The iron seats are filled with all this rout and the grim chamber is thronged with the monstrous crowd. Allecto stood in their midst and called for silence, thrusting behind her back the snaky hair that swept her face and letting it play over her shoulders. Then with mad utterance she unlocked the anger deep hidden in her heart.
"Shall we allow the centuries to roll on in this even tenour, and man to live thus blessed? What novel kindliness has corrupted our characters? Where is our inbred fury? Of what use the lash with none to suffer beneath it? Why this purposeless girdle of smoky torches? Sluggards, ye, p31 whom Jove has excluded from heaven, Theodosius from earth. Lo! a golden age begins; lo! the old breed of men returns. Peace and Godliness, Love and Honour hold high their heads throughout the world and sing a proud song of triumph over our conquered folk. Justice herself (oh the pity of it!), down-gliding through the limpid air, exults over me and, now that crime has been cut down to the roots, frees law from the dark prison wherein she lay oppressed. Shall we, expelled from every land, lie this long age in shameful torpor? Ere it be too late recognize a Fury's duty: resume your wonted strength and decree a crime worthy of this august assembly. Fain would I shroud the stars in Stygian darkness, smirch the light of day with our breath, unbridle the ocean deeps, hurl rivers against their shattered banks, and break the bonds of the universe."
So spake she with cruel roar and uproused every gaping serpent mouth as she shook her snaky locks and scattered their baneful poison. Of two minds was the band of her sisters. The greater number was for declaring war upon heaven, yet some respected still the ordinances of Dis and the uproar grew by reason of their dissension, even as the sea's calm is not at once restored, but the deep still thunders when, for all the wind be dropped, the swelling tide yet flows, and the last weary winds of the departing storm play o'er the tossing waves.
Thereupon cruel Megaera rose from her funereal seat, mistress she of madness' howlings and impious ill and wrath bathed in fury's foam. No blood her drink but that flowing from kindred slaughter and forbidden crime, shed by a father's, by a brother's p33 sword. 'Twas she made e'en Hercules afraid and brought shame upon that bow that had freed the world of monsters; she aimed the arrow in Athamas'2 hand: she took her pleasure in murder after murder, a mad fury in Agamemnon's palace; beneath her auspices wedlock mated Oedipus with his mother and Thyestes with his daughter. Thus then she speaks with dread-sounding words:
"To raise our standards against the gods, my sisters, is neither right nor, methinks, possible; but hurt the world we may, if such our wish, and bring an universal destruction upon its inhabitants. I have a monster more savage than the hydra brood, swifter than the mother tigress, fiercer than the south wind's blast, more treacherous than Euripus' yellow flood — Rufinus. I was the first to gather him, a new-born babe, to my bosom. Often did the child nestle in mine embrace and seek my breast, his arms thrown about my neck in a flood of infant tears. My snakes shaped his soft limbs by licking them with their three-forked tongues. I taught him guile whereby he learnt the arts of injury and deceit, how to conceal the intended menace and cover his treachery with a smile, full-filled with savagery and hot with lust of gain. Him nor the sands of rich Tagus' flood by Tartessus' town could satisfy nor the golden waters of ruddy Pactolus; should he drink all Hermus' stream he would parch with the greedier thirst. How skilled to deceive and wreck friendships with hate! Had that old generation of men produced such an one as he, Theseus had fled Pirithous, Pylades deserted Orestes in wrath, Pollux hated Castor. I confess myself his inferior: his quick genius has outstripped p35 his preceptress: in a word (that I waste not your time further) all the wickedness that is ours in common is his alone. Him will I introduce, if the plan commend itself to you, to the kingly palace of the emperor of the world. Be he wiser than Numa, be he Minos' self, needs must he yield and succumb to the treachery of my foster child."
A shout followed her words: all stretched forth their impious hands and applauded the awful plot. When Megaera had gathered together her dress with the black serpent that girdled her, and bound her hair with combs of steel, she approached the sounding stream of Phlegethon, and seizing a tall pine-tree from the scorched summit of the flaming bank kindled it in the pitchy flood, then plied her swift wings o'er sluggish Tartarus.
There is a place where Gaul stretches her furthermost shore spread out before the waves of Ocean: 'tis there that Ulysses is said to have called up the silent ghosts with a libation of blood. There is heard the mournful weeping of the spirits of the dead as they flit by with faint sound of wings, and the inhabitants see the pale ghosts pass and the shades of the dead. 'Twas from here the goddess leapt forth, dimmed the sun's fair beams and clave the sky with horrid howlings. Britain felt the deadly sound, the noise shook the country of the Senones,3 Tethys stayed her tide, and Rhine let fall his urn and shrank his stream. Thereupon, in the guise of an old man, her serpent locks changed at her desire to snowy hair, her dread cheeks furrowed with many a wrinkle and feigning weariness in her gait she enters the walls of Elusa,4 in search of the house she had long known so well. Long p37 she stood and gazed with jealous eyes, marvelling at a man worse than herself; then spake she thus: "Does ease content thee, Rufinus? Wastest thou in vain the flower of thy youth inglorious thus in thy father's fields? Thou knowest not what fate and the stars owe thee, what fortune makes ready. So thou wilt obey me thou shalt be lord of the whole world. Despise not an old man's feeble limbs: I have the gift of magic and the fire of prophecy is within me. I have learned the incantations wherewith Thessalian witches pull down the bright moon, I know the meaning of the wise Egyptians' runes, the art whereby the Chaldeans impose their will upon the subject gods, the various saps that flow within trees and the power of deadly herbs; all those that grow on Caucasus rich in poisonous plants, or, to man's bane, clothe the crags of Scythia; herbs such as cruel Medea gathered and curious Circe. Often in nocturnal rites have I sought to propitiate the dread ghosts and Hecate, and recalled the shades of buried men to live again by my magic: many, too, has my wizardry brought to destruction though the Fates had yet somewhat of their life's thread to spin. I have caused oaks to walk and the thunderbolt to stay his course, aye, and made rivers reverse their course and flow backwards to their fount. Lest thou perchance think these be but idle boasts behold the change of thine own house." At these words the white pillars, to his amazement, began to turn into gold and the beams of a sudden to shine with metal.
His senses are captured by the bait, and, thrilled beyond measure, he feasts his greedy eyes on the sight. So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first p39 with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold: but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold cursed his prayer. Thus Rufinus, overcome, cried out: "Whithersoever thou summonest I follow, be thou man or god." Then at the Fury's bidding he left his fatherland and approached the cities of the East, threading the once floating Symplegades and the seas renowned for the voyage of the Argo, ship of Thessaly, till he came to where, beneath its high-walled town, the gleaming Bosporus separates Asia from the Thracian coast.
When he had completed this long journey and, led by the evil thread of the fates, had won his way into the far-famed palace, then did ambition straightway come to birth and right was no more. Everything had its price. He betrayed secrets, deceived dependents, and sold honours that had been wheedled from the emperor. He followed up one crime with another, heaping fuel on the inflamed mind and probing and embittering the erstwhile trivial wound. And yet, as Nereus knows no addition from the infinitude of rivers that flow into him and though here he drains Danube's wave and there Nile's summer flood with its sevenfold mouth, yet ever remains his same and constant self, so Rufinus' thirst knew no abatement for all the streams of gold that flowed in upon him. Had any a necklace studded with jewels or a fertile demesne he was sure prey for Rufinus: a rich property assured the ruin of it own possessor: fertility was the husbandman's bane. He drives them from their homes, expels them from the lands their sires had p41 left them, either wresting them from the living owners or fastening upon them as an inheritor. Massed riches are piled up and a single house receives the plunder of a world; whole peoples are forced into slavery, and thronging cities bow beneath the tyranny of a private man.
Madman, what shall be the end? Though thou possess either Ocean, though Lydia pour forth her golden waters, though thou join Croesus' throne to Cyrus' crown, yet shalt thou never be rich nor ever contented with thy booty. The greedy man is always poor. Fabricius, happy in his honourable poverty, despised the gifts of monarchs; the consul Serranus sweated at his heavy plough and a small cottage gave shelter to the warlike Curii. To my mind such poverty as this is richer than thy wealth, such a home greater than thy palaces. There pernicious luxury seeks for the food that satisfieth not; here the earth provides a banquet for which is nought to pay. With thee wool absorbs the dyes of Tyre; thy patterned clothes are stained with purple; here are bright flowers and the meadow's breathing charm which owes its varied hues but to itself. There are beds piled on glittering bedsteads; here stretches the soft grass, that breaks not sleep with anxious cares. There a crowd of clients dins through the spacious halls, here is song of birds and the murmur of the gliding stream. A frugal life is best. Nature has given the opportunity of happiness to all, knew they but how to use it. Had we realized this we should now have been enjoying a simple life, no trumpets would be sounding, no whistling spear would speed, no ship be buffeted by the wind, no siege-engine overthrow battlements.
p43 Still grew Rufinus' wicked greed, and his impious passion for new-won wealth blazed yet fiercer; no feeling of shame kept him from demanding and extorting money. He combines perjury with ceaseless cajolery, ratifying with a hand-clasp the bond he purposes to break. Should any dare to refuse his demand for one thing out of so many, his fierce heart would be stirred with swelling wrath. Was ever lioness wounded with a Gaetulian's spear, or Hyrcan tiger pursuing the robber of her young, was ever bruisèd serpent so fierce? He swears by the majesty of the gods and tramples on his oath. He reverences not the laws of hospitality. To kill a wife and her husband with her and her children sates not his anger; 'tis not enough to slaughter relations and drive friends into exile; he strives to destroy every citizen of Rome and to blot out the very name of our race. Nor does he even slay with a swift death; ere that he enjoys the infliction of cruel torture; the rack, the chain, the lightless cell, these he sets before the final blow. Why, this remission is more savage, more madly cruel, than the sword — this grant of life that agony may accompany it! Is death not enough for him? With treacherous charges he attacks; dazed wretches find him at once accuser and judge. Slow to all else he is swift to crime and tireless to visit the ends of the earth in its pursuit. Neither the Dog-star's heat nor the wintry blasts of the Thracian north wind detain him. Feverish anxiety torments his cruel heart lest any escape his sword, or an emperor's pardon lose him an opportunity for injury. Neither age nor youth can move his pity: before their father's eyes his bloody axe severs boys' heads p45 from their bodies; an aged man, once a consul, survived the murder of his son but to be driven into exile. Who can bring himself to tell of so many murders, who can adequately mourn such impious slaughter? Do men tell that cruel Sinis of Corinth e'er wrought such wickedness with his pine-tree, or Sciron with his precipitous rock, or Phalaris with his brazen bull, or Sulla with his prison? O gentle horses of Diomede! O pitiful altars of Busiris! Henceforth, compared with Rufinus thou, Cinna, shalt be loving, and thou, Spartacus, a sluggard.
All were a prey to terror, for men knew not where next his hidden hatred would break forth, they sob in silence for the tears they dare not shed and fear to show their indignation. Yet is not the spirit of great-hearted Stilicho broken by this same fear. Alone amid the general calamity he took arms against this monster of greed and his devouring maw, though not borne on the swift course of any wingèd steed nor aided by Pegasus' reins. In him all found the quiet they longed for, he was their one defence in danger, their shield out-held against the fierce foe, the exile's sanctuary, standard confronting the madness of Rufinus, fortress for the protection of the good.
Thus far Rufinus advanced his threats and stayed; then fell back in coward flight: even as a torrent swollen with winter rains rolls down great stones in its course, overwhelms woods, tears away bridges, yet is broken by a jutting rock, and, seeking a way through, foams and thunders about the cliff with shattered waves.
How can I praise thee worthily, thou who sustainedst p47 with thy shoulders the tottering world in its threatened fall? The gods gave thee to us as they show a welcome star to frightened mariners whose weary bark is buffeted with storms of wind and wave and drifts with blind course now that her steersman is beaten. Perseus, descendant of Inachus, is said to have overcome Neptune's monsters in the Red Sea, but he was helped by his wings; no wing bore thee aloft: Perseus was armed with the Gorgons' head that turneth all to stone; the snaky locks of Medusa protected not thee. His motive was but the love of a chained girl, thine the salvation of Rome. The days of old are surpassed; let them keep silence and cease to compare Hercules' labours with thine. 'Twas but one wood that sheltered the lion of Cleonae, the savage boar's tusks laid waste a single Arcadian vale, and thou, rebel Antaeus, holding thy mother earth in thine embrace, didst no hurt beyond the borders of Africa. Crete alone re-echoed to the bellowings of the fire-breathing bull, and the green hydra beleaguered no more than Lerna's lake. But this monster Rufinus terrified not one lake nor one island: whatsoever lives beneath the Roman rule, from distant Spain to Ganges' stream, was in fear of him. Neither triple Geryon nor Hell's fierce janitor can vie with him nor could the conjoined terrors of powerful Hydra, ravenous Scylla, and fiery Chimaera.
Long hung the contest in suspense, but the struggle betwixt vice and virtue was ill-matched in character. Rufinus threatens slaughter, thou stayest his hand; he robs the rich, thou givest back to the poor; he overthrows, thou restorest; he sets wars afoot, thou winnest them. As a pestilence, growing from day p49 to day by reason of the infected air, fastens first upon the bodies of animals but soon sweeps away peoples and cities, and when the winds blow hot spreads its hellish poison to the polluted streams, so the ambitious rebel marks down no private prey, but hurls his eager threats at kings, and seeks to destroy Rome's army and overthrow her might. Now he stirs up the Getae5 and the tribes on Danube's banks, allies himself with Scythia and exposes what few his cruelties have spared to the sword of the enemy. There march against us a mixed horde of Sarmatians and Dacians, the Massagetes who cruelly wound their horses that they may drink their blood, the Alans who break the ice and drink the waters of Maeotis' lake, and the Geloni who tattoo their limbs: these form Rufinus' army. And he brooks not their defeat; he frames delays and postpones the fitting season for battle. For when thy right hand, Stilicho, had scattered the Getic bands and avenged the death of thy brother general, when one section of Rufinus' army was thus weakened and made an easy prey, then that foul traitor, that conspirator with the Getae, tricked the emperor and put off the instant day of battle, meaning to ally himself with the Huns, who, as he knew, would fight and quickly join the enemies of Rome.6
These Huns are a tribe who live on the extreme eastern borders of Scythia, beyond frozen Tanais; most infamous of all the children of the north. Hideous to look upon are their faces and loathsome their bodies, but indefatigable is their spirit. The chase supplies their food; bread they will not eat. They love to slash their faces and hold it a p51 righteous act to swear by their murdered parents. Their double nature fitted not better the twi-formed Centaurs to the horses that were parts of them. Disorderly, but of incredible swiftness, they often return to the fight when little expected.a
Fearless, however, against such forces, thou, Stilicho, approachest the waters of foaming Hebrus and thus prayest ere the trumpets sound and the fight begins: "Mars, whether thou reclinest on cloud-capped Haemus, or frost-white Rhodope holdeth thee, or Athos, severed to give passage to the Persian fleet, or Pangaeus, gloomy with dark holm-oaks, gird thyself at my side and de thine own land of Thrace. If victory smile on us, thy meed shall be an oak stump adorned with spoils."
The Father heard his prayer and rose from the snowy peaks of Haemus shouting commands to his speedy servants: "Bellona, bring my helmet; fasten me, Panic, the wheels upon my chariot; harness my swift horses, Fear. Hasten: speed on your work. See, my Stilicho makes him ready for war; Stilicho whose habit it is to load me with rich trophies and hang upon the oak the plumed helmets of his enemies. For us together the trumpets ever sound the call to battle; yoking my chariot I follow wheresoever he pitches his camp." So spake he and leapt upon the plain, and on this side Stilicho scattered the enemy bands in broadcast flight and on that Mars; alike the twain in accoutrement and stature. The helmets of either tower with bristling crests, their breastplates flash as they speed along and their spears take their fill of widely dealt wounds.
Meanwhile Megaera, more eager now she has got her way, and revelling in this widespread p53 calamity, comes upon Justice sad at heart in her palace, and thus provokes her with horrid utterance: "Is this that old reign of peace; this the return of that golden age thou fondly hopedst had come to pass? Is our power gone, and no place now left for the Furies? Turn thine eyes this way. See how many cities the barbarians' fires have laid low, how vast a slaughter, how much blood Rufinus hath procured for me, and on what widespread death my serpents gorge themselves. Leave thou the world of men; that lot is mine. Mount to the stars, return to that well-known tract of Autumn sky where the Standard-bearer dips towards the south.b The space next to the summer constellation of the Lion, the neighbourhood of the winter Balance has long been empty. And would I could now follow thee through the dome of heaven."
The goddess made answer: "Thou shalt rage no further, mad that thou art. Now shall thy creature receive his due, the destined avenger hangs over him, and he who now wearies land and the very sky shall die, though no handful of dust shall cover his corpse. Soon shall come Honorius, promised of old to this fortunate age, brave as his father Theodosius, brilliant as his brother Arcadius; he shall subdue the Medes and overthrow the Indians with his spear. Kings shall pass under his yoke, frozen Phasis shall bear his horses' hooves, and Araxes submit perforce to be bridged by him. Then too shalt thou be bound with heavy chains of iron and cast out from the light of day and imprisoned in the nethermost pit, thy snaky locks overcome and shorn from thy head. Then the world shall be owned by all in common, no field marked off from another p55 by any dividing boundary, no furrow cleft with bended ploughshare; for the husbandman shall rejoice in cornº that springs untended. Oak groves shall drip with honey, streams of wine well up of every side, lakes of oil abound. No price shall be asked for fleeces dyed scarlet, but of themselves shall the flocks grow red to the astonishment of the shepherd, and in every sea the green seaweed will laugh with flashing jewels."
2 Athamas, king of Orchomenus, murdered his son Learchus in a fit of madness.
5 Here and throughout his poems Claudian refers to the Visigoths as the Getae.
b The "Standard-bearer" is a somewhat peculiar translation of Signifer: the zodiac, that bears the signs of heaven. The well-known tract of autumn sky dipping far to the south is the constellation Scorpio; not that it is visible only in the autumn, but because the Sun traverses it then.
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Page updated: 17 Mar 18