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Meliboeus: Tityrus, you lie reclining under the cover of this spreading beech, practicing your woodland songs on slender pipe, while I must leave behind the borders of my homeland and my dear fields. I depart, an exile from my homeland, but you, Tityrus, at your ease in the shade teach the woods to re-echo the beauties of Amaryllis.
Tityrus: O Meliboeus, a god has contrived this happy ease for me. For always in my eyes will that man be a god — a tender lamb from my flocks always will stain his altar with its blood. It is through that man's agency that my herds stray through the pasture, as you see, and that I play what songs I will on my country reed.
Meliboeus: It's not that I'm jealous — rather, I marvel: the other farms all about have been thrown into such chaos. ... But tell me, Tityrus, just who is this god of yours?
Tityrus: The city that men call Rome, Meliboeus — fool that I was, I thought it not unlike our own, the one to which we shepherds often drive the tender offspring of our sheep. Thus did I assume that puppies were like mastiffs, that kids were like their mothers; thus was I wont to compare great things with small. Indeed, this city towers above all others as the cypresses do above the yielding shrubs. ... There I saw that youth, Meliboeus, for whom my altars will send up the smoke of sacrifices one day each month. There that man first gave kind answer to my suit: "Graze your herds as you did formerly, my lads, and put your bulls to stud." ...
Who would dare to call the sun a liar? He it is who often warns of impending civic strife, and of deceit, and of hidden wars that fester. He it was who showed sympathy for Rome when Caesar was killed, veiling his bright head with a darksome shade, and the impious generations feared eternal darkness had arrived. And yet the earth, too, and the expanses of sea, ill-omened dogs and sinister birds kept providing signs at that time. How often did we see teeming Aetna, its furnaces broken open, boil out into the fields of the Cyclopses, while balls of flame and liquified rocks flew through the air! Germany heard the sound of arms ringing throughout the heavens, the Alps shook with unaccustomed tremors. A voice, monstrous, was heard at large through the silent woods, and phantom ghosts were sighted at the approach of dusky night. Beasts of the field spoke (monstrous!), the rivers stayed their courses; tracts of the earth gape open, ivory images in temples burst into mournful tear, those of bronze shed sweat. Eridanus, [FN 1] king of rivers, flooded the woods, sending trees toppling down with the raging height of its wave; it swept the herds through all the fields, along with their steadings. Nor at that time did entrails of threatening aspect cease to appear from the ominous victims, or bloody gore to flow from wells, and lofty cities resounded with the mournful howls of wolves throughout the night. At no other time did more flashes of lightning fall from a clear sky and so many threatening comets burn in the heavens. So it was that Philippi once more [FN 2] saw Roman forces clash among themselves with like arms, nor did the gods above take umbrage that Emathia and the broad fields of Haemus [FN 3] should grow fertile with our blood. Indeed, a time will even come when the farmer, breaking up the land in his fields with the curved plough, will find spears eaten through with scaly rust and will strike against empty helmets with his heavy hoe, and will marvel at the immense bones that emerge from graves uncovered. Paternal gods and heroes of the land! Romulus, and mother Vesta — you who preserve Tuscan Tiber and the Roman Palatine! Do not keep this young man, [FN 4] at least, from bringing rescue to an age where all has been overturned! Already have we paid back in full sufficiency, with our blood, the perjury of Laomedontian Troy. [FN 5] For some time now, Caesar, the courts of heaven have begrudged us your presence here on earth, complaining that you have concern for mortal triumphs, here where right and wrong have been inverted: where there are so many wars throughout the globe, so many forms of crime; where no worthy honor is accorded the plough and the fields lie neglected, those who used to till them stolen away, and curved sickles are melted down into unyielding swords. On this side Euphrates moves war, on that Germany; neighboring cities, all laws shattered, bear arms against one another. Impious Mars rages over all the globe, as when chariot teams pour forth from the starting gates: they speed on lap after lap, and the charioteer is borne along by his horses, straining in vain to check them, nor does the chariot heed the reins.
I, first, will return, leading back with me the Muses, from the Aonian mount [FN 6] to my homeland. [FN 7] (May my span of life suffice!) I, first, will bear Idumaean palms of victory [FN 8] for you, Mantua, and will found a temple of ivory in the green fields, near the water where the immense Mincius [FN 9] wanders with its slowly twisting stream and clothes its banks with tender reeds. In the temple's midst will be Caesar — his shall it be — and in his honor I, triumphant, conspicuous in Tyrian purple, will drive a hundred four-horse chariots beside the river's streams. All of Greece, deserting the Alpheus and the groves of Molorchus, [FN 10] will compete there in racing and in boxing with the cruel glove. I myself, my head adorned with leaves culled from the olive, will bear sacrificial gifts. Even now I desire to lead the sacred procession toward the shrine and to see the oxen slaughtered in sacrifice; or to see how the scene withdraws as the stage-sets are rotated [FN 11] and how the Britons, woven on the purple tapestry, rise up. [FN 12] On the temple's doors I will display in gold and solid ivory the battle against the people of the Ganges [FN 13] and the arms of the victorious Quirinus, [FN 14] while here I will portray the mighty Nile in its course, teeming with war, and columns rising up, decorated with the prows of ships. [FN 15] I will add the conquered cities of Asia, and Niphates, [FN 16] successfully driven back, and the Parthians who trust in flight, shooting arrows backwards as they flee, and two trophies, seized from foes far separated, with peoples from the opposite shores of the world led in a double triumph. [FN 17] Statues of Parian marble will stand there as well, so lifelike they will seem to breath: the offspring of Assarcus, [FN 18] and the other famous names of that race descended from Jove — father Tros, [FN 19] and Cynthius, [FN 20] the builder of Troy. Dire Envy will lurk in terror of the Furies, the dread river Cocytus, the twisted snakes of Ixion, the monstrous wheel, and the rock not to be conquered. [FN 21]
In the meanwhile I will pursue the forests of the woodland nymphs and the untouched groves — your bidding, Maecenas; [FN 22] no easy feat. Without your prodding my mind conceives no such lofty undertakings. Come! Cast off lingering delay! With a mighty clamor does Cithaeron call me, and the dogs of Taygetus, and Epidaurus, mistress of horses, [FN 23] while their cry rings out, redoubled by the applause of the groves. Shortly, however, I will gird myself to sing of Caesar's fiery battles and to bear his name, famous, through so many future generations as separate Caesar from the birth of ancient Tithonus. [FN 24]
[FN 1] Greek name for the river Po. [Return to text]
[FN 2] Philippi, in Macedonia, is the site where Antony and Octavian defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC. Pharsalus, also in Macedonia and so treated here as if within sight of Philippi, was the site of Caesar's victory over Pompey in 48 BC. [Return to text]
[FN 3] Emathia and Haemus are located in Thessaly. [Return to text]
[FN 4] Octavian. [Return to text]
[FN 5] Laomedon is the father of Priam, who cheated Apollo and Poseidon (Neptune) of their payment after they built the walls of Troy. [Return to text]
[FN 6] I.e., Mount Helicon, in Boeotia, home of the (Greek) Muses. [Return to text]
[FN 7] I.e., Mantua, in northern Italy. [Return to text]
[FN 8] Idumaea is in Palestine. The reference here is to Callimachus of Alexandria, a famous poet of the third century BC whose ornate style Vergil here is copying. [Return to text]
[FN 9] A tributary of the Po, this river flows through Mantua. [Return to text]
[FN 10] The Alpheus is the river at Olympia, site of the Olympic games. Molorchus is a mythical figure associated with Nemea, site of games in honor of Heracles (Hercules). [Return to text]
[FN 11] I.e., to see the plays typically put on as part of a Roman religious festival. [Return to text]
[FN 12] A reference to the raising of the curtain at the end of a play. Captive Britons would provide a suitable decoration — an illustration of the extent of Rome's power. [Return to text]
[FN 13] I.e., the people of the east. [Return to text]
[FN 14] I.e., of the victorious Roman troops, although a reference to Octavian as the "second" Quirinus/Romulus is likely. [Return to text]
[FN 15] Most likely a reference to such columns commemorating the victory over Antony and his largely Egyptian fleet at Actium. The prows of Antony's ships were used adorn the Temple of the Divine Julius, built by Octavian in 29 BC. [Return to text]
[FN 16] A mountain in Armenia. [Return to text]
[FN 17] Vergil here imagines Octavian's future victories in the East and the West, and the subsequent extension of the Roman domain. [Return to text]
[FN 18] Father of Anchises. [Return to text]
[FN 19] Great-grandson of Zeus (Jupiter/Jove), father of Ilus and Assaracus. [Return to text]
[FN 20] Apollo. [Return to text]
[FN 21] A standard list of horrors of the netherworld and the punishment there of the damned. [Return to text]
[FN 22] Vergil's patron, who introduced him to Octavian, and Octavian/Augustus' unofficial "minister of culture." [Return to text]
[FN 23] Cithaeron: mountain range in Boeotia. Taygetus: mountain range in Sparta. Epidaurus: city in NE Peloponnese. All suitable locales for pastoral subjects. [Return to text]
[FN 24] Priam's brother, loved by Dawn. [Return to text]
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Copyright John Porter, University of Saskatchewan, 1995.