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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Saturnalia
By Statius (c. 45–c. 96 A.D.)
 
From the ‘Silvæ’: Translation of Harriet Waters Preston

HENCE, Pallas grave, and Sire Apollo!
And let the attendant Muses follow!
Your fêtes be holden far away,
Nor hither come ere New Year’s day.
But aid me, Saturn, loose of gait,        5
December with new wine elate,
And saline jest, and laughter free,
To sing our Cæsar’s jubilee,—
A day of sport, a night of revel!
 
Aurora scarce had cleared the level        10
Of the horizon, on a morn
Dewless and bright as e’er was born,
When canvas whitened all the plain,
And showers of dainties fell like rain:
Huge Pontic nuts, and noble spoil        15
Of wild Idumea’s mountain soil;
The sun-baked figs of fiery Caunus
And damson plums descended on us,
With cakes and cheeses of the fairies,
And the sweet curd of Umbrian dairies,        20
And spicy loaves, bay-flavored, and
Plump dates dispensed with open hand!
Not Hyas’s weeping sisterhood
E’er deluged earth with such a flood;
Nor such, when wintrier stars prevail,        25
The flurry of sun-smitten hail
To folk who view the Latin play.
But let the tempests have their way
If but this homely Jove of ours
Deny us not his toothsome showers!        30
Till now each busy booth and tent
Receives a fuller complement
Of stately folk in garments fine,
Who, mid the flow of watered wine,
Their costlier viands bring to light,        35
Their baskets full, and napery white,—
For gods who feast on Ida, meet.
 
If thou, whom all the nations greet
As harvest-giver,—nor alone
The toga’d race thy sceptre own,—        40
Annona, scorn our festival,
When I on hoary Eld will call
To answer if the golden prime
Excelled in aught this happy time;
If crops were ever more abundant        45
Than now, or vintage more redundant;
Or if, at any time, the classes
Were ever friendlier with the masses,—
Churl, knight, and senator, man and woman
All gorging at a table common!        50
Nay,—if it be not too audacious
To name the thing,—our sovereign gracious
Himself hath found a sitting here,
Thrice welcome to the boundless cheer;
And many a pauper felt the pride        55
Of feasting once at Cæsar’s side!
Curious, to stand aloof, and see
How works this novel luxury:
In fiery spurts of virile passion,
Or strifes, in Amazonian fashion,        60
As if by Tanaïs’s banks engaged,
Or shores of savage Thasis waged.
 
But now the folk of puny stature,
All bossed and bowed, the sport of nature,
Enter in line, our gifts partake,        65
And then a mutual onslaught make
With fists of so diminutive size
That Mars and Valor in the skies
Explode with laughter; while the cranes
Who wait our festival’s remains,        70
Awhile oblivious of their plunder,
Observe the fray in silent wonder.
As day declines, impulsive charges
Are made upon a lavish largess.
Light ladies enter on the scene,        75
With whoso walks the stage’s queen,
For beauty or for art renowned.
The players’ pompous lines are drowned
By cymbals beaten to the whirls
Of Syrian and Spanish girls,        80
While one there is outvies the dancer,—
To wit, that humble necromancer
Who changes, by mysterious passes,
Sulphur to gold, in shivered glasses.
Amid these various junketings,        85
A sudden flight of wingèd things
Obscures the firmament. Captives, they,
The rain-beset Numidian’s prey,
Or snared beside the Euxine sea,
Or sacred Nile. Incontinently        90
The seats are cleared, the chase begins,
And soon the wealth of him who wins
His bulging sinus clear displays.
Then what a shout in Cæsar’s praise—
Lord of these Saturnalia glorious—        95
Ascends from countless throats uproarious!
Forbidden the tribute, still they cheer,
Until the darkening atmosphere
Hath taken eve’s cerulean hue;
When blazes on the startled view        100
A flaming orb the arena over,
And all the shadows fly to cover.
The heavens, from pole to pole, are lit,
The Gnosian 1 stars with pallor smit,
The privacy of night hath vanished,        105
And quiet flies, and sleep is banished
To drowsy cities, far remote.
 
Our further pranks, who will may note!
Recount our tireless banqueting,
Our large potations fitly sing!        110
For now, at last, o’er even me
A soft Lyæan lethargy
Prevails. I prophesy however
The day I’ve sung will live forever;
The memory of its hero last,        115
While stand the Latian mountains fast,
While Tiber flows, till Rome shall fall
And the regenerate Capitol.
 
Note 1. Cretan: the constellation of “Ariadne’s Crown.” [back]
 
 
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