Glaucus, the fisher of the swollen Euboean waters, soon left Aetna behind, that mountain piled on Typhoeus’s giant head, and the Cyclops’s fields, that know nothing of the plough’s use or the harrow, and owe nothing to the yoked oxen. Zancle was left behind as well, and the walls of Rhegium opposite, and the dangerous strait, hemmed in between twin coastlines, that marks the boundary between Sicily and Italian Ausonia. From there, swimming with mighty strokes, across the Tyrrhenian Sea, he came to the grassy hills and the halls of Circe, daughter of the Sun, filled with transformed beasts.
As soon as he saw her, and words of welcome had been exchanged, he said: ‘Goddess, I beg you, take pity on a god! You alone can help this love of mine, if I seem worthy of help. No one knows better than I, Titaness, what power herbs have, since I was transmuted by them. So that the cause of my passion is not unknown to you, I saw Scylla, on the Italian coast, opposite Messene’s walls. I am ashamed to tell of the prayers and promises, the blandishments I used, words that were scorned. If there is any power in charms, utter a charm from your sacred lips: or, if herbs are more potent, use the proven strength of active herbs. I trust you not to cure me, or heal me, of these wounds: my love cannot end: only let her feel this heat.
No one has a nature more susceptible to such fires than Circe, whether the root of it is in herself, or whether Venus, offended by Sol her father’s tale-bearing, made her that way, so she replied: ‘You would do better to chase after someone whose wishes and purposes were yours, and who was captured by equal desire. Besides, you were worth courting (and certainly could be courted), and if you offer any hope, believe me you will be too. If you doubt it, and have no faith in your attractions, well, I, though I am a goddess, daughter of shining Sol, though I possess such powers of herbs and charms, I promise to be yours. Spurn the spurner, repay the admirer, and, in one act, be twice revenged.’
To such temptations as these Glaucus replied: ‘Sooner than my love will change, Scylla unchanged, leaves will grow on the waters, and sea-weed will grow on the hills.’ The goddess was angered, and since she could not harm him (nor, loving him, wished to do so) she was furious with the girl, who was preferred to her. Offended at his rejection of her passion, she at once ground noxious herbs with foul juices, and joined the spells of Hecate to their grinding. Wrapping herself in a dusky cloak, she made her way from the palace, through the crowd of fawning beasts, and sought out Rhegium opposite Zancle’s cliffs, travelling over the seething tidal waters, as if she trod on solid ground, crossing dry-footed over the surface of the sea.
There was a little pool, curved in a smooth arc, dear to Scylla for its peacefulness. When the sun was strongest, at the zenith, and from its heights made shortest shadows, she retreated there from the heat of sky and sea. This, the goddess tainted in advance and contaminated with her monstrous poison. She sprinkled the liquid squeezed from harmful roots, and muttered a mysterious incantation, dark with strange words, thrice nine times, in magical utterance.
Scylla comes, wading waist deep into the pool, only to find the water around her groin erupt with yelping monsters. At first, not thinking them part of her own body, she retreats from their cruel muzzles, fears them, and pushes them away: but, what she flees from, she pulls along with her, and, seeking her thighs, her legs, her feet, in place of them finds jaws like Cerberus’s. She stands among raging dogs, and is encircled by beasts, below the surface, from which her truncated thighs and belly emerge.
Her lover Glaucus wept, and fled Circe’s embrace, she, who had made too hostile a use of her herbs’ powers. Scylla remained where she was, and, at the first opportunity, in her hatred of Circe, robbed Ulysses of his companions. Later she would have overwhelmed the Trojan ships, if she had not previously been transformed into a rock, whose stone is visible even now: a rock that sailors still avoid.
When the oarsmen of the Trojan ships had escaped Scylla, and rapacious Charybdis, when they had almost reached the Ausonian shore, the wind carried them to the coast of Libya. There Sidonian Queen Dido took Aeneas into her heart and home, she, who was fated not to endure her Phrygian husband’s departure. She stabbed herself with his sword, on a blazing pyre, that was built as if it were intended for sacred rites, deceiving, as she had been deceived.
Fleeing from the new city, Carthage, and its sandy shores, and carried back to the home of his loyal half-brother Acestes, son of Venus of Eryx, Aeneas sacrificed there, and paid honours at his dead father’s, Anchises’s, tomb. Then he loosed the ships, that Iris almost destroyed by fire, at Juno’s command, and passed the Aeolian Islands, smoking with clouds of hot sulphur, the kingdom of Aeolus, son of Hippotes, and passed the rocky isle of the Sirens, the daughters of Acheloüs.
Bereft of its pilot, Palinurus, he follows the coast by Inarime, Prochyte, and Pithecusae, on its barren hill, named after its inhabitants, from pithecium, a little ape. For the father of the gods, Jupiter, hating the lying and deceit of the Cercopes, and the crimes of that treacherous people, changed them into disgraceful creatures, so that, though unlike men, they should seem like them. He contracted their limbs, turned up and blunted their noses, and furrowed their faces with the wrinkles of old age. Their bodies completely covered by yellow hair, he sent them, as monkeys, to this place, but not before he had robbed them of the power of speech, and those tongues born for dreadful deceit, leaving them only the power to complain in raucous shrieks.
When he had passed those islands, and left the walls of Parthenope behind him to starboard, the tomb of Misenus, the trumpeter, the son of Aeolus, was to larboard, and the shore of Cumae, a place filled with marshy sedges. He entered the cave of the Sibyl, and asked to go down to Avernus, to find his father’s ghost. Then the Sibyl after remaining, for a long time, with her eyes gazing at the earth, lifted them, at last, filled with the frenzy of the god, and cried: ‘You ask great things, man of great achievements, whose hand has been tested by the sword, whose faith has been tested by the fire. But have no fear, Trojan, you will have what you desire, and, with me as your guide, you will know the halls of Elysium, and earth’s strangest realm, and the likeness of your dear father. To virtue, no way is barred.’
She spoke, and pointed out to him a gleaming golden bough, in the woods of Proserpine, the Juno of Avernus, and ordered him to break it from the tree. Aeneas obeyed, and saw the power of dread Dis, and he saw his own ancestors, and the ancient shade of great-souled Anchises. He learned also the laws of those regions, and the trials he must undergo in fresh wars.
Then taking the return path, with weary paces, he eased the labour by talking with his Cumean guide. As he travelled the fearful road through the shadowy twilight, he said: ‘Whether you are truly a goddess, or only most beloved by the gods, you will always be like a goddess to me, and I will acknowledge myself in your debt, who have allowed me to enter the place of the dead, and having seen that place of the dead, escape it. When I reach the upper air, I will build a temple to you, for this service, and burn incense in your honour.’
The priestess gazed at him and with a deep sigh, said: ‘I am not a goddess: and do not assume any human being is worth the honour of holy incense, or err out of ignorance. I was offered eternal life without end, if I would surrender my virginity to Phoebus my lover. While he still hoped for it, while he desired to bribe me beforehand with gifts, he said: “Virgin of Cumae, choose what you wish, and what you wish you shall have.” Pointing to a pile of dust, that had collected, I foolishly begged to have as many anniversaries of my birth, as were represented by the dust. But I forgot to ask that the years should be accompanied by youth. He gave me the years, and lasting youth, as well, if I would surrender: I rejected Phoebus’s gift, and never married.
But now my more fruitful time has turned its back on me, and old age comes, with tottering step, that must be long endured. Though I have now lived seven centuries, three hundred harvests, three hundred vintages, still remain to be seen, to equal the content of the dust. The time will come when the passage of days will render such body as I have tiny, and my limbs, consumed with age, will reduce to the slightest of burdens. I will be thought never to have loved, and never to have delighted a god. Phoebus too perhaps will either not know me, or will deny that he loved me. I will go as far as having to suffer transformation, and I will be viewed as non-existent, but still known as a voice: the fates will bequeath me a voice.’
As the Sibyl spoke these words, they emerged, by the rising path, from the Stygian regions, into the city of Cumae of the Euboeans. Trojan Aeneas came to the shore that was later named after his nurse Caieta, where he carried out her funeral rites, as accepted, according to custom. This was also the place where Macareus of Neritos, a companion of sorely tried Ulysses, had settled, after the interminable weariness of hardship.
Macareus now recognised Achaemenides, among the Trojans, he, who had been given up as lost, by Ulysses, long ago, among the rocks of Aetna. Astonished to discover him, unexpectedly, still alive, he asked: ‘What god or chance preserved you, Achaemenides? Why does a Trojan vessel now carry a Greek? What land is your ship bound for? Achaemenides, no longer clothed in rags, his shreds of clothing held together with thorns, but himself again, replied to his questions, in these words: ‘If this ship is not more to me than Ithaca and my home, if I revere Aeneas less than my father, let me gaze at Polyphemus once more, with his gaping mouth dripping human blood. I can never thank Aeneas enough, even if I offered my all. Could I forget, or be ungrateful for, the fact that I speak and breathe and see the sky and the sun’s glory? Aeneas granted that my life did not end in the monster’s jaws, and when I leave the light of day, now, I shall be buried in the tomb, not, indeed, in its belly.
What were my feelings, then (if fear had not robbed me of all sense and feeling), abandoned, seeing you making for the open sea? I wanted to shout to you, but feared to reveal myself to the enemy. Indeed, Ulysses’s shout nearly wrecked your vessel. I watched as Cyclops tore an enormous boulder from the mountainside, and threw it into the midst of the waves. I watched again as he hurled huge stones, as if from a catapult, using the power of his gigantic arms, and, forgetting I was not on board the ship, I was terrified that the waves and air they displaced would sink her.
When you escaped by flight from certain death, Polyphemus roamed over the whole of Aetna, groaning, and groping through the woods with his hands, stumbling, bereft of his sight, among the rocks. Stretching out his arms, spattered with blood, to the sea, he cursed the Greek race like the plague, saying: “O, if only chance would return Ulysses to me, or one of his companions, on whom I could vent my wrath, whose entrails I could eat, whose living body I could tear with my hands, whose blood could fill my gullet, and whose torn limbs could quiver between my teeth: the damage to me of my lost sight would count little or nothing then!”
Fiercely he shouted, this and more. I was pale with fear, looking at his face still dripping with gore, his cruel hands, the empty eye-socket, his limbs and beard coated with human blood. Death was in front of my eyes, but that was still the least of evils. Now he’ll catch me, I thought, now he’ll merge my innards with his own, and the image stuck in my mind of the moment when I saw him hurl two of my friends against the ground, three, four times, and crouching over them like a shaggy lion, he filled his greedy jaws with flesh and entrails, bones full of white marrow, and warm limbs.
Trembling seized me: I stood there, pale and downcast, watching him chew and spit out his bloody feast, vomiting up lumps of matter, mixed with wine. I imagined a like fate was being prepared for my wretched self. I hid for many days, trembling at every sound, scared of dying but longing to be dead, staving off hunger with acorns, and a mixture of leaves and grasses, alone, without help or hope, left to torture and death.
After a long stretch of time, I spied this ship far off, begging them by gestures to rescue me, and ran to the shore and moved their pity: a Trojan ship received a Greek!
Now, dearest of comrades, tell me of your fortunes too, and of your leader, and the company that has entrusted itself to the sea with you.’
Macareus spoke of how Aeolus ruled the Tuscan deep, Aeolus son of Hippotes, imprisoning the winds. Ulysses, the Dulichian leader, had received them from him, an amazing gift, fastened up, in a bull’s hide bag. Sailing for nine days, with a favourable wind, Ulysses and his crew spied the homelands they sought, but when the tenth morning came, his comrades were conquered by greed and desire for their share: thinking the bag contained gold, they loosened the strings that tied up the winds. The ship was blown back over the waters, through which they had come, and, once more, entered King Aeolus’s harbour.
‘From there,’ Macareus said, ‘we came to the ancient city of Lamus, of the Laestrygonians: Antiphates was now king in that land. I was sent to him with two companions. One of my friends and myself, fleeing, barely reached safety. The third reddened the Laestrygonians’ evil mouths with his blood. Antiphates chased us as we ran for it, urging his men on. They rushed us, hurling rocks and tree-trunks, drowning the men, and sinking the ships. The one which Ulysses himself, and I sailed in, escaped.
Mourning our lost companions, lamenting greatly, we came to that land you see, in the distance, (believe me the island I saw is best seen from a distance!) and I warn you, O most virtuous of Trojans, son of the goddess, (since the war is over now, I will not treat you as an enemy, Aeneas) shun the shores of Circe! We, likewise, beaching our vessel, refused to go on, remembering Antiphates, and savage Cyclops: but we were chosen by lot to explore the unknown place. I, and the loyal Polites, and also Eurylochus, and Elpenor, too fond of wine, and eighteen others of my comrades, were sent within Circe’s walls.
We had no sooner arrived, and were standing on the threshold of her courts, when a thousand wolves, and. mixed with the wolves. she-bears and lionesses rushed at us, filling us with terror. But there was nothing to be afraid of: none of them gave our bodies a single scratch. Why they even wagged their tails in the air with affection, and fawned on us, as they followed our footsteps, until female servants received us, and led us, through halls covered with marble, to their mistress.
She sat in a lovely inner room on her sacred throne, wearing a shining robe, covered over with a gold-embroidered veil. Nereids and nymphs were with her, who do not work wool with nimble fingers, nor, then, spin the thread: they arrange herbs, scattered without order, separating flowers and grasses of various colours, into baskets. She herself directs the work they do: she herself knows the use of each leaf, which kinds mix in harmony, examines them, and pays attention to the weighings of the herbs.
When she saw us, and words of welcome had been received, she smiled at us, and seemed to give a blessing to our desires. Without delay she ordered a drink to be blended, of malted barley, honey, strong wine, and curdled milk, to which she secretly added juices, that its sweetness would hide. We took the cup offered by her sacred hand. As soon as we had drained it, thirstily, with parched lips, the dread goddess touched the top of our hair with her wand, and then (I am ashamed, but I will tell you) I began to bristle with hair, unable to speak now, giving out hoarse grunts instead of words, and to fall forward, completely facing the ground.
I felt my mouth stiffening into a long snout, my neck swelling with brawn, and I made tracks on the ground, with the parts that had just now lifted the cup to my mouth. I was shut in a sty with the others in the same state (so much can magic drugs achieve!) We saw that only Eurylochus had escaped the transformation: the only one to avoid the proffered cup. If he had not refused, I would even now be one of the bristly herd, since Ulysses would not have heard of our plight from him, or come to Circe, as our avenger.
Peace-loving Cyllenian Mercury had given him the white flower, the gods call moly, that springs from a black root. With this, and divine warnings, he entered Circe’s house in safety, and, when he was asked to drink from the fateful cup, he struck aside the wand, with which she tried to stroke his hair, and scared off the frightened goddess, with drawn sword. Then they gave their right hands to each other, as a pledge of good faith, and after being received into her bed as her husband, he asked for his friends true bodies to be restored, as a wedding gift.
We were sprinkled with the more virtuous juices of unknown herbs, our heads were stroked with the wand reversed, and the words, she had said, were pronounced, with the words said backwards. The more words she spoke, the more we stood erect, lifted from the ground. Our bristles fell away, our cloven hoofs lost their cleft, our shoulders reappeared, and below them were our upper and lower arms. Weeping we embraced him, as he wept himself, and clung to our leader’s neck, and nothing was said until we had testified to our gratitude.
We stayed there for a year, and, in that length of time, I saw and heard many things. Here is one told me, in secret, by one of the four female servants, dedicated to those earlier tasks. While Circe was tarrying alone with our leader, the girl showed me the statue of a young man, carved out of snow-white marble, with a woodpecker’s head on top. It stood in a holy temple, distinguished by many wreaths. I asked, as I wished to know, who it was, and why he was worshipped in a holy temple, and why he bore a bird’s head. She said “Listen, Macareus, and learn, as well, how great is my mistress’s power: keep your mind on my words!” ’
‘ “Picus, the son of Saturn, was king in the land of Ausonia, and loved horses trained for war. The hero’s appearance was as you see it there. Though, if you looked at his beauty itself, you would approve the true and not the imaginary form. His spirit equalled his looks. In age, he had not yet seen four of the five-yearly Games at Elis in Greece. He had turned the heads of the dryads born on the hills of Latium: the nymphs of the fountains pursued him, and the naiads; those that live in the Tiber; and in the River Numicius; in Anio’s streams; and the brief course of the Almo; the rushing Nar; and Farfar of dense shadows; and those who haunt the wooded pool of Scythian Diana, and its neighbouring lakes.
But, spurning them all, he loved one nymph alone, whom, it is said, Venilia once bore, on the Palatine hill, to two-faced Janus. She, when she had grown to marriageable age, was given to Picus of Laurentum, preferred of all her suitors. She was of rare beauty, but rarer her gift of song, so that she was called Canens. She could move the rocks and trees with her singing, make wild beasts gentle, halt wide rivers, and detain the wandering birds. One day when she was singing her song, with a girl’s expressiveness, Picus left home to hunt the native wild boar, in the Laurentian fields. Astride the back of an eager mount, he carried two hunting spears in his left hand, and wore a Greek military cloak, dyed crimson, fastened with a golden brooch.
Sol’s daughter had come to those same woods, leaving the fields, called Circean from her name, to cull fresh herbs in the fertile hills. As soon as she saw the youth from the cover of a thicket, she was stunned: the herbs she had culled fell from her hand, and flames seemed to reach to her very marrow. As soon as she had recovered rational thought after the wave of passion, she wanted to own to her desires, but she could not reach him, because of his horse’s speed, and his crowd of companions. ‘Though the wind take you, you will not escape,’ she cried, ‘if I know my skill, if the power of herbs has not completely vanished, and my incantations do not fail.’ Saying this, she conjured up a bodiless phantom boar, and commanded it to cross under the king’s very eyes, and seem to enter a dense grove of trees, where the woods were thickest, and the place was impenetrable to horses. Instantly, and unwittingly, without a moment’s delay, Picus, followed his shadowy prey, and, quickly leaping from the back of his foaming mount, he roamed, on foot, through the deep wood, chasing an empty promise.
Circe recited curses, and spoke magic words, worshipping unknown gods, with unknown incantations, by which she used to dim the face of the bright moon, and veil her father’s orb, with moisture-loving cloud.
Now, also, by her song, the sky is darkened, and the earth breathes out fog, and his companions wander on blind trails, and the king’s protection is lost. Having made the time and place, she says: ‘O, by those eyes, that have captured mine, and by that beauty, most handsome of youths, that has made a goddess suppliant to you, think of my passion, and accept the sun, who sees all things, as your father-in-law. Do not, unfeelingly, despise Circe, daughter of Titan.’
She spoke: he fiercely rejected her and her entreaties, and said: ‘Whoever you may be, I am not for you. Another has captured my love and holds me, and I hope she will hold me forever. While the fates guard Canens, Janus’s daughter, for me, I will not harm our bond of affection by an alien love. Repeating her entreaties, time and again, in vain, Circe cried: ‘You will not go unpunished, or return to your Canens, and you will learn the truth of what the wounded; a lover; a woman, can do: and Circe is a lover; is wounded; is a woman!’
Then twice to the west, twice to the east, she turned; thrice touched the youth with her wand, thrice spoke an incantation. He ran, but was surprised to find himself running faster than before: he saw wings appear on his body. Angered at his sudden transformation to a strange bird in the woods of Latium, he pecked at the rough oak wood with his hard beak, and in fury wounded the long branches. The feathers of his crown and nape took on the colour of his crimson cloak, and what had been a golden brooch, pinning his clothes, became plumage, and his neck was surrounded behind by green-gold. Nothing was left to Picus of his former being, except his name.” ’
‘ “Meanwhile, his companions came upon Circe, after calling for Picus through the fields, often, and uselessly (she had now thinned the mist, and dispersed the clouds with winds, and revealed the sun). They pressed true charges against her; demanded the king; showed force; and prepared to attack her with deadly spears. She sprinkled them with harmful drugs and poisonous juices, summoning Night and the gods of Night, from Erebus and Chaos, and calling on Hecate with long wailing cries.
Marvellous to say, the trees tore from their roots, the earth rumbled, the surrounding woods turned white, and the grass she sprinkled was wet with drops of blood. And the stones seemed to emit harsh groans, and dogs to bark, and the ground to crawl with black snakes, and the ghostly shades of the dead to hover. The terrified band shuddered at these monstrosities. She touched the fearful, stunned, faces with her wand, and, at its contact, the monstrous forms of various wild beasts appeared, as the warriors were transformed: none of them retained his human form.
Now Phoebus, setting, dyed the shores of Spain, and Canens was looking, in vain, for her husband, with her eyes and in her thoughts. Her servants, and her people, ran through the woods to meet him, carrying torches. The nymph was not satisfied with weeping, and tearing at her hair, and beating her breast (though she did all those things) and she rushed out herself, and roamed madly through the fields of Latium. Six nights, and as many returns of the sun’s light, found her wandering, without food or sleep, through valleys and hills, wherever chance lead her.
Tiber was last to see her, as she lay down, weary with grief and journeying, on his wide banks. There, she poured out her words of grief, tearfully, in faint tones, in harmony with sadness, just as the swan sings once, in dying, its own funeral song. At the last she melted away, wasted by grief, liquefied to the marrow, little by little vanishing into thin air. But her story is signified by the place, that the Muses of old, fittingly, called Canens, from the nymph’s name.” ’
‘I heard many such stories, and saw many things throughout that long year. Sluggish and torpid, through inactivity, we were commanded to spread the sails and travel the seas again. Circe, the Titan’s daughter, had told us of the fierce dangers of the seas to come, the dangerous channels, and the vast reaches: I confess I was afraid, and finding this shore, I clung to it.’ Macareus had done.
HERE HE WHOM I, CAIETA, NURSED, WHO, NOTED FOR HIS PIETY,
SAVED ME FROM ACHAEAN FIRE, AS IS RIGHT, CREMATED ME.
Freeing their cables from the grassy shore, and keeping far away from the treacherous island and the home of the infamous goddess, the Trojans sought the groves where dark-shadowed Tiber, rushes, yellow with sand, to the sea. There, Aeneas won the daughter, Lavinia, and the kingdom of Latinus, son of Faunus, but not without a battle.
Turnus fights with fury for his promised bride, and war is waged with a fierce people. All Etruria clashes with Latium, and for a long time, with anxious struggle, hard-fought victory is looked for. Both sides add to their strength with outside aid, and many support the Rutuli, many others the Trojan camp.
Aeneas did not seek help from Evander in vain, but Venulus, sent by Turnus, had no profit from the city of exiled Diomede. He had founded a major city, Arpi, in Daunus’s kingdom of Iapygia, and held the country given him as a dowry. When Venulus had done as Turnus commanded and asked for help, Diomede, Aetolia’s hero, pleaded lack of resources as an excuse: he did not wish to commit himself or his father-in-law’s people, nor had he any men of his own race he could arm. ‘So that you do not think that these are lies,’ he said, ‘I will endure the telling of my story patiently, though its mention renews my bitter grief.
When high Ilium had been burned, and Pergama had fed the Greek fires, and when Ajax, hero of Naryx, had brought down, on us all, the virgin goddess Minerva’s punishment, that he alone deserved, for the rape of virgin Cassandra, we Greeks were taken, and scattered by storms, over the hostile seas. We suffered lightning, darkness, and storms, the anger of sea and sky, and Cape Caphereus, the culminating disaster. Not to waste time by telling you our sad misfortunes one by one, the Greeks then might even have appeared to warrant Priam’s tears. Warrior Minerva’s saving care for me, however, rescued me from the waves. But I was driven from my native country again, for gentle Venus, remembering the wound I had once given her, exacted punishment. I suffered such great toils in the deep sea, such conflicts on land, that I often called those happy whom the storm, that we shared, and the troubled waters, of Caphereus, drowned, and I longed to have been one of them.’
‘Now my friends lost heart, having endured ultimate misery in war and on the sea, and begged me to end our wanderings. But fiery-natured Acmon, truly exasperated by our disasters, said: “What is left, indeed, men, that your patience would not bear? What more could Cytherean Venus do, do you think, if she wished to? When we fear the worst there is a place for prayer, but when our lot is worst, fear is under our feet, and at the height of misfortune we are unconcerned. Though she herself should hear me, though she should hate, as she does, all those under Diomede’s command, yet we all scorn her hatred. Great powers hardly count as great to us.”
Acmon of Pleuron goaded Venus with these insulting words, and rekindled her former anger. Few of us approved of what he said: the majority of his friends reproved him, and when he tried to answer, his voice and throat grew attenuated; his hair turned to plumage; and plumage covered his newly formed neck, chest and back. His arms received large feathers, and his elbows twisted to form swift wings; his toes took up most of his feet, and his face hardened and stiffened like horn, and ended in a pointed beak. Lycus, and Idas, Rhexenor, Nycteus and Abas, marvelled at him, and while they marvelled, they took the same form. The larger number of the flock rose, and circled the oarsmen on beating wings. If you ask the shape of these suddenly created birds, they were like white swans, though they were not swans. Now I can scarcely hold this house, and its parched fields, as Daunus of Iapygia’s son-in-law, with this tiny remnant of my friends.’
So said Diomede, grandson of Oeneus of Calydon. Venulus left that kingdom passing the Peucetian valleys, and the fields of Messapia. Here he came across a cave, dark with trees, and masked by slender reeds, that now is held by the goat-god Pan, but once was held by the nymphs. A shepherd from that region of Apulia scared them to flight, at first, suddenly inspiring terror in them. When they had collected their wits, scornful of their pursuer, they returned to their dancing, feet skipping to the measure.
The shepherd mocked them, leaping wildly in imitation, and adding foul language, with coarse abuse. Nor was his mouth silent till tree-bark imprisoned his throat: he is indeed a tree: you may know its character, by the taste of its fruit that bears the mark of his speech in the wild olives’ bitterness. The sharpness of his words has entered them.
When the ambassadors returned, saying that Aetolia’s arms were denied them, the Rutuli pursued war without their help, and much blood was spilled on both sides. Turnus attacked the pinewood ships, with devouring fire, and the Trojans feared to lose by fire what the sea had spared. Now Mulciber’s flames burned the pitch and wax, and other fuel, and climbed the tall masts to the sails, and the thwarts across the curved hulls were smouldering, when Cybele, the sacred mother of the gods, remembering that these pines were felled on Mount Ida’s summit, filled the air with the clashing throb of bronze cymbals, and the shrilling of boxwood flutes. Carried through the clear air by tame lions, she cried out: ‘Turnus, you hurl those firebrands, with sacrilegious hands, in vain! I will save: I will not allow the devouring fire to burn what was part of my woods and belongs to me.’
As the goddess spoke it thundered, and, after the thunder, heavy rain, and leaping hail, fell, and the winds, the brothers, sons of Astraeus the Titan by Aurora, troubled the air and the sea, swollen by the sudden onrush, and joined the conflict. The all-sustaining mother goddess, used the force of one of them, and broke the hempen cables of the Trojan ships, drove them headlong, and sank them in the deep ocean.
Their rigidity softened, and their wood turned to flesh; the curved sternposts turned into heads; the oars into fingers and legs, swimming; the sides of each vessel became flanks, and the submerged keel down the ship’s middle turned into a spine; the cordage became soft hair, the yards were arms; and their dusky colour was as before. Naiads of the waters, they play, in the waves they used to fear, and born on the hills they frequent the gentle sea, and their origin does not affect them. Yet not forgetting how many dangers they have often endured on the ocean, they often place their hands beneath storm-tossed boats, unless they have carried Greeks. Remembering, as yet, the Trojan disaster, they hate the Pelasgians and with joyful faces they saw the wreckage of Ulysses’s ship, and with joyful faces they saw King Alcinous’s vessel become a rock, its wood turning to stone.
There was hope that the Rutuli, in awe of the wonder of the Trojan fleet being turned into sea-nymphs, would abandon the war. It continued, and both sides had gods to help them, and courage that is worth as much as the gods’ assistance. Now they were not seeking a kingdom as a dowry, nor a father-in-law’s sceptre, nor you, virgin Lavinia, but to win: and they waged war because they were ashamed to surrender. At length Turnus fell, and Venus saw her son’s weapons victorious. Ardea fell, spoken of as a power while Turnus lived. After the savage fires had destroyed it, and warm ashes buried its houses, a bird flew from the ruins, one now seen for the first time, and beat at the embers with flapping wings. Its cry, its leanness, its pallor, everything that fitted the captured city, even its name, ardea, the heron, survived in the bird: and in the beating of its wings, Ardea mourns itself.
Aeneas’s virtues had compelled all the gods, even Juno herself, to bring to an end their ancient feud, and since his young son Julus’s fortunes were firmly founded, Cytherea’s heroic son was ripe for heaven. Venus had sought the opinion of the gods, and throwing her arms round her father’s neck, had said ‘You have never been harsh to me, father, now be kindest of all, I beg you. Grant my Aeneas, who claims you as his grandfather through my bloodline, some divinity, however little - you choose - so long as you grant him something! It is enough that he once gazed on the hateful kingdom, once crossed the steams of Styx.’ The gods agreed, and Juno, the royal consort, did not display her severe expression, but consented peacefully. Then Jupiter said: ‘You are worthy of this divine gift, you who ask, as is he for whom you ask it: my daughter, possess what you desire!’
The word was spoken: with joy she thanked her father, and drawn by her team of doves through the clear air, she came to the coast of Laurentum, where the waters of the River Numicius, hidden by reeds, wind down to the neighbouring sea. She ordered the river-god to cleanse Aeneas, of whatever was subject to death, and bear it away, in his silent course, into the depths of the ocean. The horned god executed Venus’s orders, and purged Aeneas of whatever was mortal, and dispersed it on the water: what was best in him remained. Once purified, his mother anointed his body with divine perfume, touched his lips with a mixture of sweet nectar and ambrosia, and made him a god, whom the Romans named Indiges, admitting him to their temples and altars.
After that the Alban and Latin kingdom had both names under Ascanius. Silvius succeeded him, whose son claimed the name Latinus, with the sceptre. The famous Alba followed Latinus, and then Epytus inherited. After him came first Capys, and then Capetus. Tiberinus inherited the kingdom from them, who, drowning in the waters of that Tuscan stream, gave his name to the River Tiber. His sons were Acrota the warrior, and Remulus. The elder Remulus was killed by a lightning-bolt, when trying to portray the lightning. Acrota, more restrained than his brother, passed the sceptre to brave Aventinus, who lies buried on the very hill where he reigned, and has given his name to it, the Aventine hill. And then Proca had the rule of the Palatine people.
Pomona lived in this king’s reign. No other hamadryad, of the wood nymphs of Latium, tended the gardens more skilfully or was more devoted to the orchards’ care, hence her name. She loved the fields and the branches loaded with ripe apples, not the woods and rivers. She carried a curved pruning knife, not a javelin, with which she cut back the luxuriant growth, and lopped the branches spreading out here and there, now splitting the bark and inserting a graft, providing sap from a different stock for the nursling. She would not allow them to suffer from being parched, watering, in trickling streams, the twining tendrils of thirsty root. This was her love, and her passion, and she had no longing for desire. Still fearing boorish aggression, she enclosed herself in an orchard, and denied an entrance, and shunned men.
What did the Satyrs, fitted by their youth for dancing, not do to possess her, and the Pans with pine-wreathed horns, and Silvanus, always younger than his years, and Priapus, the god who scares off thieves, with his pruning hook or his phallus? But Vertumnus surpassed them all, even, in his love, though he was no more fortunate than them. O how often, disguised as an uncouth reaper, he would bring her a basket filled with ears of barley, and he was the perfect image of a reaper! Often he would display his forehead bound with freshly cut hay, and might seem to have been tossing the new-mown grass. Often he would be carrying an ox-goad in his stiff hand, so that you would swear he had just unyoked his weary team. Given a knife he was a dresser and pruner of vines: he would carry a ladder: you would think he’d be picking apples. He was a soldier with a sword, or a fisherman taking up his rod.
In short, by his many disguises, he frequently gained admittance, and found joy, gazing at her beauty. Once, he even covered his head with a coloured scarf, and leaning on a staff, with a wig of grey hair, imitated an old woman. He entered the well-tended garden, and admiring the fruit, said: ‘You are so much more lovely’, and gave her a few congratulatory kisses, as no true old woman would have done. He sat on the flattened grass, looking at the branches bending, weighed down with autumn fruit. There was a specimen elm opposite, covered with gleaming bunches of grapes. After he had praised it, and its companion vine, he said: ‘But if that tree stood there, unmated, without its vine, it would not be sought after for more than its leaves, and the vine also, which is joined to and rests on the elm, would lie on the ground, if it were not married to it, and leaning on it.
But you are not moved by this tree’s example, and you shun marriage, and do not care to be wed. I wish that you did! Helen would not have had more suitors to trouble her, or Hippodamia, who caused the Lapithae problems, or Penelope, wife of that Ulysses, who was delayed too long at the war. Even now a thousand men want you, and the demi-gods and the gods, and the divinities that haunt the Alban hills, though you shun them and turn away from their wooing. But if you are wise, if you want to marry well, and listen to this old woman, that loves you more than you think, more than them all, reject their vulgar offers, and choose Vertumnus to share your bed! You have my assurance as well: he is not better known to himself than he is to me: he does not wander here and there in the wide world: he lives on his own in this place: and he does not love the latest girl he has seen, as most of your suitors do.
You will be his first love, and you will be his last, and he will devote his life only to you. And then he is young, is blessed with natural charm, can take on a fitting appearance, and whatever is ordered, though you ask all, he will do. Besides, that which you love the same, those apples you cherish, he is the first to have, and with joy holds your gifts in his hand! But he does not desire now the fruit of your trees, or the sweet juice of your herbs: he desires nothing but you. Take pity on his ardour, and believe that he, who seeks you, is begging you, in person, through my mouth. Fear the vengeful gods, and Idalian Venus, who hates the hard-hearted, and Rhamnusian Nemesis, her inexorable wrath! That you may fear them more (since my long life has given me knowledge of many tales) I will tell you a story, famous through all of Cyprus, by which you might easily be swayed and softened.’
‘Once, Iphis, a youth, born of humble stock, saw noble Anaxarete, of the blood of Teucer, saw her, and felt the fire of passion in every bone. He fought it for a long time, but when he could not conquer his madness by reason, he came begging at her threshold. Now he would confess his sorry love to her nurse, asking her not to be hard on him, by the hopes she had for her darling. At other times he flattered each of her many attendants, with enticing words, seeking their favourable disposition. Often he gave them messages to carry to her, in the form of fawning letters. Sometimes he hung garlands on her doorpost wet with his tears, and lay with his soft flank on the hard threshold, complaining at the pitiless bolts barring the way.
But she spurned, and mocked, him, crueler than the surging sea, when the Kids set; harder than steel tempered in the fires of Noricum; or natural rock still rooted to its bed. And she added proud, insolent words to harsh actions, robbing her lover of hope, as well. Unable to endure the pain of his long torment, Iphis spoke these last words before her door. “You have conquered, Anaxarete, and you will not have to suffer any tedium on my account. Devise glad triumphs, and sing the Paean of victory, and wreathe your brow with shining laurel! You have conquered, and I die gladly: now, heart of steel, rejoice! Now you will have something to praise about my love, something that pleases you. Remember that my love for you did not end before life itself, and that I lose twin lights in one.
No mere rumour will come to you to announce my death: have no doubt, I myself will be there, visibly present, so you can feast your savage eyes on my lifeless corpse. Yet, if you, O gods, see what mortals do, let me be remembered (my tongue can bear to ask for nothing more), and suffer my tale to be told, in future ages, and grant, to my fame, the years, you have taken from my life.”
He spoke, and lifted his tear-filled eyes to the doorposts he had often crowned with flowery garlands, and, raising his pale arms to them, tied a rope to the cross-beam, saying: “This wreath will please you, cruel and wicked, as you are!” Then he thrust his head in the noose, though, as he hung there, a pitiful burden, his windpipe crushed, even then he turned towards her. The drumming of his feet seemed to sound a request to enter, and when the door was opened it revealed what he had done.
The servants shrieked, and lifted him down, but in vain. Then they carried his body to his mother’s house (since his father was dead). She took him to her breast, and embraced her son’s cold limbs, and when she had said all the words a distraught father could say, and done the things distraught mothers do, weeping, she led his funeral procession through the heart of the city, carrying the pallid corpse, on a bier, to the pyre.
The sound of mourning rose to the ears of stony-hearted Anaxarete, her house chancing to be near the street, where the sad procession passed. Now a vengeful god roused her. Still, she was roused, and said: “Let us see this miserable funeral” and went to a rooftop room with open windows. She had barely looked at Iphis, lying on the bier, when her eyes grew fixed, and the warm blood left her pallid body. Trying to step backwards she was rooted: trying to turn her face away, also, she could not. Gradually the stone that had long existed in her heart possessed her body. If you think this is only a tale, Salamis still preserves the image of the lady as a statue, and also possesses a temple of Gazing Venus.
Remember all this, O nymph of mine: put aside, I beg you, reluctant pride, and yield to your lover. Then the frost will not sear your apples in the bud, nor the storm winds scatter them in flower.’
When Vertumnus, the god, disguised in the shape of the old woman, had spoken, but to no effect, he went back to being a youth, and threw off the dress of an old woman, and appeared to Pomona, in the glowing likeness of the sun, when it overcomes contending clouds, and shines out, unopposed. He was ready to force her: but no force was needed, and the nymph captivated by the form of the god, felt a mutual passion.
Now unjust Amulius rules Ausonia, by means of military power, and old Numitor, with his grandson Romulus’s help, captures the kingdom he has lost, and the city of Rome is founded, on the day of the Palilia.
Saturnian Juno herself unbarred a gate, opening it silently on its hinges. Only Venus saw that the gate’s bars had dropped, and would have closed it, except that one god is never allowed to reverse the actions of another.
The Ausonian Naiads, owned a spot, adjoining the temple of Janus, moistened by a cold spring. Venus asked them for help: the nymphs did not refuse her just request, and elicited the aid of the streams, and watercourses, belonging to their fountain. But the pass of Janus was still not blocked, and the water did not bar the way: they placed yellow sulphur under their copious spring, and heated the hollow channels with burning pitch. By these and other means the vapour penetrated the depths of the spring, and you waters that a moment ago dared to compete with Alpine coldness, now did not concede to fire itself!
The twin gateposts smouldered under a fiery spray, and the gate, that vainly promised an entrance to the tough Sabines, was blocked by the new waters, while the Roman soldiers took up their weapons of war.
After this Romulus sallied out, and the Roman soil was strewn with the Sabine dead, and with Rome’s own, and the impious sword mixed the blood of son-in-law with the blood of father-in-law. Yet it was decided not to fight it out to the end, to let peace end war, and that Tatius should share the rule of Rome.
Tatius died, and you, Romulus, gave orders equally to both peoples. Mars, removing his helmet, addressed the father of gods and men in these words: ‘The time has come, lord, to grant the reward (that you promised to me and your deserving grandson), since the Roman state is strong, on firm foundations, and does not depend on a single champion: free his spirit, and raising him from earth set him in the heavens. You once said to me, in person, at a council of the gods (since I am mindful of the gracious words I noted in my retentive mind), ‘There will be one who you will raise to azure heaven.’ Let your words be ratified in full!’
Omnipotent Jupiter nodded, and, veiling the sky with dark clouds, he terrified men on earth with thunder and lightning. Mars knew this as a sign that ratified the promised ascension, and leaning on his spear, he vaulted, fearlessly, into his chariot, the horses straining at the blood-wet pole, and cracked the loud whip. Dropping headlong through the air, he landed on the summit of the wooded Palatine. There he caught up Romulus, son of Ilia, as he was dealing royal justice to his people. The king’s mortal body dissolved in the clear atmosphere, like the lead bullet, that often melts in mid-air, hurled by the broad thong of a catapult. Now he has beauty of form, and he is Quirinus, clothed in ceremonial robes, such a form as is worthier of the sacred high seats of the gods.
His wife, Hersilia, was mourning him as lost, when royal Juno ordered Iris to descend to her, by her rainbow path, and carry these commands, to the widowed queen: ‘O lady, glory of the Latin and Sabine peoples, worthy before to have been the wife of so great a hero, and now of Quirinus, dry your tears, and if it is your desire to see your husband, follow me and seek the grove, that flourishes on the Quirinal hill and shades the temple of Rome’s king.’
Iris obeyed, and gliding to earth along her many-coloured arch addressed Hersilia as she had been ordered. She, hardly raising her eyes, replied, modestly: ‘O goddess (since it is not easy for me to say who you are, but it is clear you are a goddess), lead on: O, lead on, and show me my husband’s face. If only the fates allow me to see him once, I shall declare I have been received in heaven.’
Without delay, she climbed to Romulus’s hill, with Iris, the virgin daughter of Thaumas. There a star fell, gliding from sky to earth, and Hersilia, hair set alight by its fire, vanishes with the star in the air. The founder of the Roman city receives her in his familiar embrace, and alters her former body and her name, and calls her Hora, who, a goddess now, is one with her Quirinus.