Meanwhile the Romans looked for a leader, to bear the weight of such responsibility, and follow so great a king: Fame, the true harbinger, determined on the illustrious Numa for the throne. Not content with knowing the rituals of the Sabine people, with his capable mind he conceived a wider project, and delved into the nature of things. His love of these enquiries led him to leave his native Cures, and visit the city of Crotona, to which Hercules was friendly. When Numa asked who was the founder of this Greek city on Italian soil, one of the older inhabitants, not ignorant of the past, replied: ‘They say that Hercules, Jupiter’s son, back from the sea with the rich herds of Spain, happily came to the shore of Lacinium, and while his cattle strayed through the tender grass, he entered the house of the great Croton, a not inhospitable roof, and refreshed himself with rest, after his long labours, and, in leaving, said: ‘At a future time, there will be a city here, of your descendants.’
And the promise proved true, since there was one Myscelus, the son of Alemon of Argos, dearest to the gods of all his generation. Hercules, the club-bearer, leaning over him, spoke to him as he lay in a deep sleep: ‘Rise now, leave your native country: go, find the pebble-filled waves of Aesar!’ and he threatened him with many and fearful things if he did not obey. Then the god and sleep vanished together. Alemon’s son rose, and, in silence, thought over the vision, fresh in his mind. He struggled in himself for a long time over the decision: the god ordered him to go: the law prohibited his going. Death was the penalty for the man who wished to change his nationality.
Bright Sol had hidden his shining face in Ocean’s stream, and Night had lifted her starriest face: the same god seemed to appear to him, to admonish him in the same way, and warn of worse and greater punishment if he did not obey. He was afraid, and prepared, at once, to transfer the sanctuary of his ancestors to a new place. There was talk in the city, and he was brought to trial, for showing contempt for the law. When the case against him had been presented, and it was evident the charge was proven, without needing witnesses, the wretched defendant, lifting his face and hands to heaven, cried: ‘O you, whose twelve labours gave you the right to heaven, help me, I beg you! Since you are the reason for my crime.’
The ancient custom was to vote using black and white pebbles: the black to condemn: the white to absolve from punishment. Now, also, the harsh verdict was determined in this way, and every pebble dropped into the pitiless urn was black: but when the urn was tipped over and the pebbles poured out for the count, their colour had changed from black to white, and, acquitted through the divine power of Hercules, Alemon’s son was freed.
He first gave thanks to that son of Amphitryon, his patron, and with favouring winds set sail on the Ionian Sea. He sailed by Neretum, of the Sallentines, Sybaris, and the Spartan colony of Tarentum, the bay of Siris, Crimisa, and the Iapygian fields. He had barely passed the lands that overlook those seas, when he came, by destiny, to the mouth of the river Aesar, and near it the tumulus beneath which the earth covered the sacred bones of Croton. He founded the city of Crotona there, in the land commanded by the god, and derived the name of the city from him, whom the tumulus held. Such were the established beginnings, according to reliable tradition, of that place, and the cause of the city’s being sited on Italian soil.
There was a man here, Pythagoras, a Samian by birth, who had fled Samos and its rulers, and, hating their tyranny, was living in voluntary exile. Though the gods were far away, he visited their region of the sky, in his mind, and what nature denied to human vision he enjoyed with his inner eye. When he had considered every subject, through concentrated thought, he communicated it widely in public, teaching the silent crowds, who listened in wonder to his words, concerning the origin of the vast universe, and of the causes of things; and what the physical world is; what the gods are; where the snows arise; what the origin of lightning is; whether Jupiter, or the storm-winds, thunder from colliding clouds; what shakes the earth; by what laws the stars move; and whatever else is hidden; and he was the first to denounce the serving of animal flesh at table; the first voice, wise but not believed in, to say, for example, in words like these :
‘Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavoursome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.
Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger, though not all of them, since horses, sheep and cattle live on grasses, but those that are wild and savage: Armenian tigers, raging lions, and wolves and bears, enjoy food wet with blood. Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches, that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!
But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood. Then birds winged their way through the air in safety, and hares wandered, unafraid, among the fields, and its own gullibility did not hook the fish: all was free from trickery, and fearless of any guile, and filled with peace. But once someone, whoever he was, the author of something unfitting, envied the lion’s prey, and stuffed his greedy belly with fleshy food, he paved the way for crime. It may be that, from the first, weapons were warm and bloodstained from the killing of wild beasts, but that would have been enough: I admit that creatures that seek our destruction may be killed without it being a sin, but while they may be killed, they still should not be eaten.
From that, the wickedness spread further, and it is thought that the pig was first considered to merit slaughter because it rooted up the seeds with its broad snout, and destroyed all hope of harvest. The goat was led to death, at the avenging altar, for browsing the vines of Bacchus. These two suffered for their crimes! What did you sheep do, tranquil flocks, born to serve man, who bring us sweet milk in full udders, who give us your wool to make soft clothing, who give us more by your life than you grant us by dying? What have the oxen done, without guile or deceit, harmless, simple, born to endure labour?
He is truly thankless, and not worthy of the gift of corn, who could, in a moment, remove the weight of the curved plough, and kill his labourer, striking that work-worn neck with his axe, that has helped turn the hard earth as many times as the earth yielded harvest. It is not enough to have committed such wickedness: they involve the gods in crime, and believe that the gods above delight in the slaughter of suffering oxen! A victim of outstanding beauty, and without blemish (since to be pleasing is harmful), distinguished by sacrificial ribbons and gold, is positioned in front of the altar, and listens, unknowingly, to the prayers, and sees the corn it has laboured to produce, scattered between its horns, and, struck down, stains with blood those knives that it has already caught sight of, perhaps, reflected in the clear water.
Immediately they inspect the lungs, ripped from the still-living chest, and from them find out the will of the gods. On this (so great is man’s hunger for forbidden food) you feed, O human race! Do not, I beg you, and concentrate your minds on my admonitions! When you place the flesh of slaughtered cattle in your mouths, know and feel, that you are devouring your fellow-creature.’
‘Now, since a god moves my lips, I will follow, with due rite, the god who moves those lips, and reveal my beloved Delphi and the heavens themselves, and unlock the oracles of that sublime mind. I will speak of mighty matters, not fathomed by earlier greatness, things long hidden. I delight in journeying among the distant stars: I delight in leaving earth and its dull spaces, to ride the clouds; to stand on the shoulders of mighty Atlas, looking down from far off on men, wandering here and there, devoid of knowledge, anxious, fearing death; to read the book of fate, and to give them this encouragement!
O species, stunned by your terror of chill death, why fear the Styx, why fear the ghosts and empty names, the stuff of poets, the spectres of a phantom world? Do not imagine you can suffer any evil, whether your bodies are consumed by the flames of the funeral pyre, or by wasting age! Souls are free from death, and always, when they have left their previous being, they live in new dwelling-places, and inhabit what received them. I myself (for I remember) was Euphorbus, son of Panthoüs, at the time of the Trojan War, in whose chest was pinned the heavy spear of the lesser Atrides, Menelaüs. I recognised the shield I used to carry on my left arm, recently, in the temple of Juno at Argos, city of Abas!
Everything changes, nothing dies: the spirit wanders, arriving here or there, and occupying whatever body it pleases, passing from a wild beast into a human being, from our body into a beast, but is never destroyed. As pliable wax, stamped with new designs, is no longer what it was; does not keep the same form; but is still one and the same; I teach that the soul is always the same, but migrates into different forms. So, I say as a seer, cease to make kindred spirits homeless, by wicked slaughter: do not let blood be nourished by blood!’
‘Since I have embarked on the wide ocean, and given full sails to the wind, I say there is nothing in the whole universe that persists. Everything flows, and is formed as a fleeting image. Time itself, also, glides, in its continual motion, no differently than a river. For neither the river, nor the swift hour can stop: but as wave impels wave, and as the prior wave is chased by the coming wave, and chases the one before, so time flees equally, and, equally, follows, and is always new. For what was before is left behind: and what was not comes to be: and each moment is renewed.
You see the nights’ traverses tend towards day, and brilliant light follow the dark of night. The sky has a different colour when all weary things are at rest, at midnight, than when bright Lucifer appears on his white charger, and alters again when Aurora, herald of the dawn, stains the world she bequeaths to Phoebus. The shield of the god himself is red, when it rises from beneath the earth, and still red, when it is hidden below the earth, again: but is white at the zenith, because there the atmosphere is purer, and it escapes far from the contagion of earth. And Diana, the moon, can never have the same or similar form, and is always less today than tomorrow if her orb is waxing, greater if it is waning.’
‘Do you not see that the year displays four aspects, passing through them, in a semblance of our life? For spring, in its new life, is tender and sap-filled, and like a child: then the shoots are fresh and growing, delicate, without substance, quickening the farmer’s hopes. Then everything blossoms, the kindly land is a riot of brightly coloured flowers, but the leaves are still not strong. From spring, the year, grown stronger, moves to summer, and becomes a powerful man: no season is sturdier, or more expansive, than this, or shines more richly. Autumn comes, when the ardour of youth has gone, ripe and mellow, between youth and age, a scattering of grey on its forehead. Then trembling winter, with faltering steps, its hair despoiled, or, what it has, turned white.
And our bodies themselves are always, restlessly, changing: we shall not be, tomorrow, what we were, or what we are. There was a time when we were hidden in our first mother’s womb, only the seed and promise of a human being: nature applied her skilful hands, and, unwilling for our bodies to be buried, cramped in our mother’s swollen belly, expelled us from our home, into the empty air. Born into the light, the infant lay there, powerless: but soon it scrambled on all fours like a wild creature, then, gradually, helped by a supporting harness, it stood, uncertainly, on shaky legs. From that point, it grew strong and swift, and passed through its span of youth.
When the middle years are also done, life takes the downward path of declining age. Milon, the athlete, grown old, cries when he looks at those weak and flabby arms, that were once, like those of Hercules, a solid mass of muscle. Helen, the daughter of Tyndareus, also weeps, when she sees an old woman’s wrinkles in the glass, and asks why she has been twice ravaged. Devouring Time, and you, jealous Age, consume everything, and slowly gnawing at them, with your teeth, little by little, consign all things to eternal death!’
‘Even the things we call elements do not persist. Apply your concentration, and I will teach the changes, they pass through. The everlasting universe contains four generative states of matter. Of these, two, earth and water, are heavy, and sink lower, under their own weight. The other two lack heaviness, and, if not held down, they seek height: that is air, and fire, purer than air. Though they are distinct in space, nevertheless they are all derived from one another, and resolve into one another. Earth, melting, is dilated to clear water: the moisture, rarified, changes to wind and air: then air, losing further weight, in the highest regions shines out as fire, the most rarified of all. Then they return, in reverse, revealing the same series of changes. Since fire, condenses, turns into denser air, and this to water, and water, contracted, solidifies as earth.
Nothing keeps its own form, and Nature, the renewer of things, refreshes one shape from another. Believe me, nothing dies in the universe as a whole, but it varies and changes its aspect, and what we call ‘being born’ is a beginning to be, of something other, than what was before, and ‘dying’ is, likewise, ending a former state. Though, ‘that’ perhaps is transferred here, and ‘this’, there, the total sum is constant.
For my part, I would have thought that nothing lasts for long with the same appearance. So the ages changed from gold to iron, and so the fortunes of places have altered. I have seen myself what was once firm land, become the sea: I have seen earth made from the waters: and seashells lie far away from the ocean, and an ancient anchor has been found on a mountaintop. The down rush of waters has made what was once a plain into a valley, and hills, by the deluge have been washed to the sea. Marshy land has drained to parched sand, and what was once thirsty ground filled with a marshy pool.
Here, Nature generates fresh springs, and there seals them up, and rivers, released by deep earthquakes, burst out or dry up, and sink. So when the Lycus is swallowed by a chasm in the earth, it emerges far off, reborn, from a different source. So, engulfed, flowing as a hidden stream, the mighty Erasinus emerges again, in the fields of Argos. And they say that Mysus, ashamed of its origin and its former banks, now flows elsewhere, as Caicus. Amenanus flows sometimes churning Sicilian sands, at other times dried up, its fountains blocked. Anigrus, once drinkable, now flows with water you would not wish to touch, since, unless we deny all credence to the poets, the bi-formed centaurs washed their wounds there, dealt by the bow of club-bearing Hercules. Is the Hypanis, born in the Scythian mountains, not ruined by bitter saltwater, that once was sweet?
Antissa, and Pharos, and Phoenician Tyre, were surrounded by sea: of which not one, now, is an island. The former settlers of Leucas lived on a peninsula: now the waves encircle it. Zancle also is said to have been joined to Italy, till the waves washed away the boundary, and the deep sea pushed back the land. If you look for Helice and Buris, cities of Achaia, you will find them under the waters, and sailors are accustomed, even now, to point out the submerged towns with their sunken walls.
There is a mound near Troezen, where Pittheus ruled, steep and treeless, that once was the flattest open space on the plain, and now is a mound. For (strange to relate) the wild strength of the winds, imprisoned in dark caves, longing for somewhere to breathe, and struggling in vain to enjoy the freer expanses of sky, since there was no gap at all in their prison, as an exit for their breath, extended and swelled the ground, just as a man inflates a bladder, or a goatskin taken from a twin-horned goat. The swelling remained there, and has the look of a high hill, solidified by long centuries.’
‘Though many instances, I have heard and known of, come to mind, I shall relate only a few more. Does not water, also, offer and receive new forms? Your stream, horned Ammon, is chill at mid-day, and warm in the morning and evening, and they tell of the Athamanians setting fire to wood, by pouring your waters over it, when the moon wanes to her smallest crescent.
The Cicones have a river, whose waters when drunk turn the vital organs to stone, and that change things to marble when touched. The Crathis, and the Sybaris, here, near our own country, make hair like amber or gold: and what is more amazing, there are streams that have power to change not merely the body but the mind as well. Who has not heard of the disgusting waves of Salmacis, and the Aethiopian lakes? Whoever wets his throat with these, is either maddened, or falls into a strange, deep sleep.
Whoever slakes his thirst at Clitor’s fountain, shuns wine, and only enjoys pure water, whether it is due to a power in the water that counteracts hot wine, or whether, as the natives claim, Melampus, Amythaon’s son, when he had saved the demented daughters of Proetus from madness, by herbs and incantations, threw the remnants, of what had purged their minds, into its springs, and the antipathy to wine was left behind in its waters. The flow of the River Lyncestius has the opposite effect, so that whoever drinks even moderately of it, stumbles about, as if they had drunk pure wine. There is a place in Arcadia, the ancients called Pheneus, mistrusted for its dual-natured waters: beware of them at night, drunk at night they are harmful: in the day they can be drunk without harm. So, rivers and lakes can harbour some power or other.
There was a time when Ortygia floated on the waves, now it is fixed, and the Argo’s crew feared the Symphlegades’ collisions, and the spray of their crashing waves, islands that now stand there motionless, and resist the winds.
And Aetna that glows, with its sulphurous furnaces, was not always on fire, and will not always be on fire. For if the earth is a creature, that lives, and, in many places, has vents that breathe out flame, she can alter her air passages, and as frequently as she shifts, she can close these caverns and open others. Or, if swift winds are confined in the deep caves, and strike rock against rock, or against material containing the seeds of fire, and Aetna catches alight from the friction, the caves will be left cold when the wind dies. Or, if it is bituminous substances that take fire, and yellow sulphur, burning with little smoke, then, when the ground no longer provides rich fuel, or nourishment for the flames, and their strength fails after long centuries, earth herself will lack the support of devouring nature, and will not withstand that famine, and forsaken, will forsake her fires.
There is a tale of men in Hyperborean Pallene, who are used to clothing their bodies in soft plumage, by plunging nine times in Minerva’s pool: for my part, I can scarcely believe it: also the women of Scythia are said to practise the same arts, sprinkling their bodies with magic liquids.’
‘However if trust is only placed in proven things, do you not see that whenever corpses putrefy, due to time or melting heat, they generate tiny creatures? Bury the carcases of sacrificed bulls (it is a known experiment) in the ditch where you have thrown them, and flower-sipping bees, will be born, here and there, from the putrid entrails. After the custom of their parent bodies, they frequent the fields, are devoted to work, and labour in hope of harvest.
A war-horse dug into the earth is the source of hornets: If you remove the hollow claws of land-crabs, and put the rest under the soil, a scorpion, with its curved and threatening tail, will emerge from the parts interred: and the caterpillars that are accustomed to weave their white cocoons, on uncultivated leaves (a thing observed by farmers) change to a butterfly’s form, symbol of the soul.
Mud contains the generative seeds of green frogs, and generates them without legs, soon giving them legs for swimming, and, at the same time, with hind legs longer than their forelegs, so that they are fit to take long leaps. The cub that a she-bear has just produced is not a cub but a scarcely living lump of flesh: the mother gives it a body, by licking it, and shapes it into a form like that she has herself. Do you not see how the larvae of the honey-carrying bees, protected by the hexagonal waxen cells, are born as limbless bodies, and later acquire legs, and later still wings?
Who would believe, if he did not know, that Juno’s bird, the peacock, that bears eyes, like stars, on its tail; and Jupiter’s eagle, carrying his lightning-bolt; and Cytherea’s doves; all the bird species; are born from the inside of an egg? There are those who believe that when the spine decomposes, interred in the tomb, human marrow forms a snake.’
‘Yet these creatures receive their start in life from others: there is one, a bird, which renews itself, and reproduces from itself. The Assyrians call it the phoenix. It does not live on seeds and herbs, but on drops of incense, and the sap of the cardamom plant. When it has lived for five centuries, it then builds a nest for itself in the topmost branches of a swaying palm tree, using only its beak and talons. As soon as it has lined it with cassia bark, and smooth spikes of nard, cinnamon fragments and yellow myrrh, it settles on top, and ends its life among the perfumes.
They say that, from the father’s body, a young phoenix is reborn, destined to live the same number of years. When age has given it strength, and it can carry burdens, it lightens the branches of the tall palm of the heavy nest, and piously carries its own cradle, that was its father’s tomb, and, reaching the city of Hyperion, the sun-god, through the clear air, lays it down in front of the sacred doors of Hyperion’s temple.
If there is anything to marvel at, however, in these novelties, we might marvel at how the hyena changes function, and a moment ago a female, taken from behind by a male, is now a male. Also that animal, the chameleon, fed by wind and air, instantly adopts the colour of whatever it touches.
Vanquished India gave lynxes to Bacchus of the clustered vines, and, they say that, whatever their bladder emits, changes to stone, and solidifies on contact with air. So coral, also, hardens the first time air touches it: it was a soft plant under the waves.’
‘The day will end, and Phoebus will bathe his weary horses in the deep, before my words can do justice to all that has been translated into new forms. So we see times change, and these nations acquiring power and those declining. So Troy, that was so great in men and riches, and for ten years of war could give so freely of her blood, is humbled, and only reveals ancient ruins now, and, for wealth, ancestral tombs. Sparta was famous, great Mycenae flourished, and Cecrops’s citadel of Athens, and Amphion’s Thebes. Sparta is worthless land, proud Mycenae is fallen, and what is the Thebes of Oedipus but a name, what is left of the Athens of Pandion, but a name?
Even now, there is a rumour that Rome, of the Dardanians, is rising, by Tiber’s waters, born in the Apennines, and laying, beneath its mass, the foundation of great things. So, growing, it changes form, and one day will be the capital of a whole world! So, it is said, the seers predict, and the oracles that tell our fate. As I remember also, when the Trojan State was falling, Helenus, son of Priam, said to a weeping Aeneas, who was unsure of his future: “Son of the goddess, if you take careful heed, of what my mind prophesies, Troy will not wholly perish while you live! Fire and sword will give way before you: you will go, as one man, catching up, and bearing away Pergama, till you find a foreign land, kinder to you and Troy, than your fatherland. I see, even now, a city, destined for Phrygian descendants, than which none is greater, or shall be, or has been, in past ages.
Other leaders will make her powerful, through the long centuries, but one, born of the blood of Iülus, will make her mistress of the world. When earth has benefited from him, the celestial regions will enjoy him, and heaven will be his goal.”
These things, I remember well, Helenus prophesied for Aeneas, as Aeneas carried the ancestral gods, and I am glad that the walls, of his descendants, are rising, and that the Greeks conquered to a Trojan’s gain.’
‘Now (lest I stray too far off course, my horses forgetting to aim towards their goal), the heavens, and whatever is under them, change their form, and the earth, and whatever is within it. We, as well, who are a part of the universe, because we are not merely flesh, but in truth, winged spirits, and can enter into the family of wild creatures, and be imprisoned in the minds of animals.
We should allow those beings to live in safety, and honour, that the spirits of our parents, or brothers, or those joined to us by some other bond, certainly human, might have inhabited: and not fill our bellies as if at a Thyestean feast! What evil they contrive, how impiously they prepare to shed human blood itself, who rip at a calf’s throat with the knife, and listen unmoved to its bleating, or can kill a kid to eat, that cries like a child, or feed on a bird, that they themselves have fed! How far does that fall short of actual murder? Where does the way lead on from there?
Let the ox plough, or owe his death to old age: let the sheep yield wool, to protect against the chill north wind: let the she-goats give you full udders for milking! Have done with nets and traps, snares and the arts of deception! Do not trick the birds with limed twigs, or imprison the deer, scaring them with feathered ropes, or hide barbed hooks in treacherous bait. Kill them, if they harm you, but even then let killing be enough. Let your mouth be free of their blood, enjoy milder food!’
His mind versed in these and other teachings, it is said that Numa returned to his native country, and took control of Latium, at the people’s request. Blessed with a nymph, Egeria, for wife, and guided by the Muses, he taught the sacred rituals, and educated a savage, warlike, race in the arts of peace.
When, in old age, he relinquished his sceptre, with his life, the women of Latium, the populace, and the senators wept for the dead Numa: but Egeria, his wife, left the city, and lived in retirement, concealed by dense woods, in the valley of Aricia, and her sighs and lamentations prevented the worship of Oresteian Diana. O! How often the nymphs of the lakes and groves admonished her to stop, and spoke words of consolation to her!
How often Hippolytus, Theseus’s heroic son, said, to the weeping nymph: ‘Make an end to this, since yours is not the only fate to be lamented: think of others’ like misfortunes: you will endure your own more calmly. I wish my own case had no power to lighten your sorrow! But even mine can. If your ears have heard anything of Hippolytus, of how, through his father’s credulity, and the deceits of his accursed stepmother, he met his death, though you will be amazed, and I will prove it with difficulty, nevertheless, I am he.
Phaedra, Pasiphaë’s daughter, having tried, vainly, to tempt me to dishonour my father’s bed, deflected guilt, and, (more through fear than anger at being rejected?), made out I had wanted, what she wished, and so accused me. Not in the least deserving it, my father banished me from the city, and called down hostile curses on my head.
Exiled, I headed my chariot towards Troezen, Pittheus’s city, and was travelling the Isthmus, near Corinth, when the sea rose, and a huge mass of water shaped itself into a mountain, and seemed to grow, and give out bellowings, splitting at the summit: from it, a horned bull, emerged, out of the bursting waters, standing up to his chest in the gentle breeze, expelling quantities of seawater from his nostrils and gaping mouth. My companions’ hearts were troubled, but my mind stayed unshaken, preoccupied with thoughts of exile, when my fiery horses turned their necks towards the sea, and trembled, with ears pricked, disturbed by fear of the monster, and dragged the chariot, headlong, down the steep cliff.
I struggled, in vain, to control them with the foam-flecked reins, and leaning backwards, strained at the resistant thongs. Even then, the horses’ madness would not have exhausted my strength, if a wheel had not broken, and been wrenched off, as the axle hub, round which it revolves, struck a tree. I was thrown from the chariot, and, my body entangled in the reins, my sinews caught by the tree, you might have seen my living entrails dragged along, my limbs partly torn away, partly held fast, my bones snapped with a loud crack, and my weary spirit expiring: no part of my body recognisable: but all one wound. Now can you compare your tragedy, or dare you, nymph, with mine?
I saw, also, the kingdom without light, and bathed my lacerated body in Phlegethon’s waves: there still, if Apollo’s son, Aesculapius, had not restored me to life with his powerful cures. When, despite Dis’s anger, I regained it, by the power of herbs and Paean’s help, Cynthia, created a dense mist round me, so that I might not be seen and increase envy at the gift. And she added a look of age, and left me unrecognisable, so that I would be safe, and might be seen with impunity. She considered, for a while, whether to give me Crete or Delos to live in: abandoning Delos and Crete, she set me down here, and ordered me to discard my name that might remind me of horses, and said: “You, who were Hippolytus, be also, now, Virbius!” Since then I have lived in this grove, one of the minor deities, and sheltering in the divinity of Diana, my mistress, I am coupled with her.’
Egeria’s grief could not be lessened, even by the sufferings of others: prostrate, at the foot of a mountain, she melted away in tears, till Phoebus’s sister, out of pity for her true sorrow, made a cool fountain from her body, and reduced her limbs to unfailing waters.
This strange event amazed the nymphs, and the Amazon’s son was no less astounded, than the Tyrrhenian ploughman when he saw a fateful clod of earth in the middle of his fields, first move by itself with no one touching it, then assume the form of a man, losing its earthy nature, and open its newly acquired mouth, to utter things to come. The native people called him Tages, he who first taught the Etruscan race to reveal future events. No less astounded than Romulus, when he saw his spear, that had once grown on the Palatine Hill, suddenly put out leaves, and stand there, not with its point driven in, but with fresh roots: now not a weapon but a tough willow-tree, giving unexpected shade to those who wondered at it.
No less astounded than Cipus, the praetor, when he saw his horns in the river’s water (truly he saw them) and, thinking it a false likeness of his true form, lifting his hands repeatedly to his forehead, touched what he saw. Unable now to resist the evidence of his eyes, he raised his eyes and arms to the sky, like a victor returning from a beaten enemy, and cried: ‘You gods, whatever this unnatural thing portends, if it is happiness, let it be the happiness of my country, and the race of Quirinus: if it is a threat, let it be towards me.’
Making a grassy altar of green turf, he appeased the gods with burning incense, and made a libation of wine, and inspected the quivering entrails of sacrificed sheep, as to what they portended for him. As soon as the Tyrrhenian seer, there, saw them, he recognised the signs of great happenings, not yet manifest, and when indeed he raised his keen eyes from the sheep’s entrails to Cipus’s forehead, he cried: ‘Hail! O King! You, even you, Cipus, and your horns, this place, and Latium’s citadels, shall obey. Only no delay: hurry and enter the open gates! So fate commands: and received in the city, you will be king, and safely possess the eternal sceptre.’
Cipus drew back, and grimly turning his face away from the city’s walls, he said: ‘Oh, let the gods keep all such things, far, far away, from me! Far better for me to spend my life in exile, than for the Capitol to see me crowned! He spoke, and immediately called together the people and the grave senators. First however he hid his horns with the laurels of peace, then standing on a mound raised by resolute soldiers, and praying to the ancient gods as customary, he said: ‘There is a man here who shall be king, unless you drive him from the city. I will show you who he is, not by name, but by a sign: he wears horns on his forehead! The augur declares that if he enters Rome, he will grant you only the rights of slaves. He could have forced his way in, through the open gates, but I opposed it, though no one is more closely connected to him than me. Quirites, keep the man out of your city, and, if he deserves it, load him with heavy chains, or end all fear, with the death of this fated tyrant!’
There was a sound from the crowd, like the murmur from the pine-trees when the wild East wind whistles through them, or like the waves of the sea, heard from far off: but among the confused cries of the noisy throng, one rang out: ‘Who is he?’ They looked at each other’s forehead looking for the horns foretold. Cipus spoke to them again: ‘You have here, whom you seek,’ and, taking the wreath from his head, the people trying to prevent him, he showed them his temples, conspicuous by their twin horns. They all sighed, and lowered their eyes (who could believe it?) and were reluctant to look at that distinguished head. Not allowing him any longer to be dishonoured, they replaced the festal wreath.
But since you were forbidden to enter the city, Cipus, they gave you, as an honour, as much land as you could enclose, with a team of oxen, harnessed to the plough, between dawn and sunset. And they engraved horns on the bronze gateposts, recalling their marvellous nature, to remain there through the centuries.
You Muses, goddesses present to poets, reveal, now (since you know, and spacious time cannot betray you) where Aesculapius, son of Coronis, came from, to be joined to the gods of Romulus’s city, that the deep Tiber flows around.
Once, plague tainted the air of Latium, and people’s bodies were ravaged by disease, pallid and bloodless. When they saw that their efforts were useless, and medical skill was useless, wearied with funeral rites, they sought help from the heavens, and travelled to Delphi, set at the centre of the earth, to the oracle of Phoebus, and prayed that he would aid them, in their misery, by a health-giving prophecy, and end their great city’s evil. The ground, the laurel-tree, and the quiver he holds himself, trembled together, and the tripod responded with these words, from the innermost sanctuary, troubling their fearful minds: ‘You should have looked in a nearer place, Romans, for what you seek here: even now, look for it from that nearer place: your help is not from Apollo, to lessen your pain, but Apollo’s son. Go, with good omens, and fetch my child.’
When the senate, in its wisdom, heard the god’s command, it made enquiries as to the city where Phoebus’s son lived, and sent an embassy to sail to the coast of Epidaurus. As soon as the curved ship touched shore, the embassy went to the council of Greek elders, and begged them to give up the god, who, by his presence, might prevent the death of the Ausonian race: so the oracle truly commanded. They disagreed, and were of various minds: some thought that help could not be refused: the majority recommended the god should be kept, and their own wealth not released, or surrendered.
While they wavered, as dusk dispelled the lingering light, and darkness covered the countries of the earth with shadow, then, in your dreams, Aesculapius, god of healing, seemed to stand before your bed, Roman, just as he is seen in his temple, holding a rustic staff in his left hand, and stroking his long beard with his right, and with a calm voice, speaking these words: ‘Have no fear! I will come, and I will leave a statue of myself behind. Take a good look at this snake, that winds, in knots, round my staff, and keep it in your sight continually, until you know it! I will change into this, but greater in size, seeming as great as a celestial body should be when it changes.’ The god vanished with the voice, at once: and sleep, with the voice, and the god: and as sleep fled, kind day dawned.
When morning had put the bright stars to flight, the leaders, still unsure what to do, gathered at the temple complex of that god whom the Romans sought, and begged him to show them by some divine token where he himself wanted to live. They had hardly ceased speaking, when the golden god, in the likeness of a serpent with a tall crest, gave out a hiss as a harbinger of his presence, and by his coming, rocked the statue, the doors, the marble pavement, and the gilded roof. Then he stopped, in the middle of the temple, raising himself breast-high, and gazed round, with eyes flashing fire.
The terrified crowd trembled, but the priest, his sacred locks tied with a white band, knew the divine one, and cried: ‘The god, behold, it is the god! Restrain your minds and tongues, whoever is here! Let the sight of you, O most beautiful one, work for us, and help the people worshipping at your shrine!’ Whoever was there, worshipped the god, as they were told, and all re-echoed the priest’s words, and the Romans gave dutiful support, with mind and voice.
The god nodded, and shook his crest, confirming his favour, by hissing three times in succession, with his flickering tongue. Then he glided down the gleaming steps, and turning his head backwards, gazed at the ancient altars he was abandoning, and saluted his accustomed house, and the temple where he had lived. From there the vast serpent slid over the flower-strewn ground, flexing his body, and made his way through the city centre to the harbour, protected by its curved embankment. He halted there, and, appearing to dismiss the dutiful throng, with a calm expression, settled his body down in the Ausonian ship. It felt the divine burden, and the keel sank under the god’s weight. The Romans were joyful, and, sacrificing a bull on the shore, they loosed the twisted cables of their wreath-crowned ship. A gentle breeze drove the vessel: the god arching skyward, rested his neck heavily on the curving sternpost, and gazed at the dark blue waters.
With gentle breezes he reached Italy, over the Ionian Sea, on the sixth morning. He passed the shores of Lacinium, famous for Juno’s temple, and Scylaceum; he left Iapygia, and avoided the rocks of Amphrisia to larboard, the cliffs of Cocinthia to starboard; he coasted by Romethium, by Caulon and Narycia: he passed the narrow strait of Sicilian Pelorus, and the home of King Aeolus, and the mines of Temese, and headed for Leucosia and the rose-gardens of gentle Paestum.
From there he skirted Capri, and Minerva’s promontory, and Surrentum’s hills well-stocked with vines, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Parthenope, born for idleness, and headed for the temple of the Cumean Sibyl. By Baiae’s hot pools; and Liternum’s lentisk trees; and the River Volturnus, dragging quantities of sand along in its floodwaters; and Sinuessa, frequented by white doves; and unhealthy Minturnae; and Caïeta, named after her whom Aeneas her foster-son buried; and the home of Antiphates; and marsh-surrounded Trachas; and Circe’s land; and Antium’s firm shore.
When the sailors steered their ship, under sail, to the place (since the sea was now rough) the god unwound his coils, and gliding along, fold after fold, in giant curves, entered his father Apollo’s temple, bordering the yellow strand. When the sea was calm, the Epidaurian left the paternal altars, and having enjoyed the hospitality of his divine father, furrowed the sandy shore as he dragged his rasping scales along, and climbing the rudder, rested his head on the ship’s high sternpost, until he came to Castrum, the sacred city of Lavinium, and the Tiber’s mouths.
All the people, men and women alike, had come thronging from every side, in a crowd, to meet him, along with those who serve your flames, Trojan Vesta, and they hailed the god with joyful cries. As the swift ship sailed up-stream, incense burned with a crackling sound on a series of altars on either bank, and the fumes perfumed the air, and the slaughtered victims bled heat on the sacrificial knives.
Now it entered Rome, the capital of the world. The snake stood erect, and resting his neck on the mast’s summit, turned, and looked for places fit for him to live. The river splits here into two branches, flowing round what is named the Island, stretching its two arms out equally on both sides, with the land between. There the serpent-child of Phoebus landed, and, resuming his divine form, made an end to grief, and came as a health-giver to the city.
Though Aesculapius came as a stranger to our temples, Caesar is a god in his own city. Outstanding in war or peace, it was not so much his wars that ended in great victories, or his actions at home, or his swiftly won fame, that set him among the stars, a fiery comet, as his descendant. There is no greater achievement among Caesar’s actions than that he stood father to our emperor. Is it a greater thing to have conquered the sea-going Britons; to have lead his victorious ships up the seven-mouthed flood of the papyrus-bearing Nile; to have brought the rebellious Numidians, under Juba of Cinyps, and Pontus, swollen with the name of Mithridates, under the people of Quirinus; to have earned many triumphs and celebrated few; than to have sponsored such a man, with whom, as ruler of all, you gods have richly favoured the human race? Therefore, in order for the emperor not to have been born of mortal seed, Caesar needed to be made a god.
When Venus, the golden mother of Aeneas, saw this, and also saw that a grim death was being readied for Caesar, her high-priest, and an armed conspiracy was under way, she grew pale and said to every god in turn: ‘See the nest of tricks being prepared against me, and with what treachery that life is being attacked, all that is left to me of Trojan Iülus. Will I be the only one always to be troubled by well-founded anxiety: now Diomede’s Calydonian spear wounds me: now the ill-defended walls of Troy confound me, seeing my son Aeneas driven to endless wandering, storm-tossed, entering the silent house of shadows, waging war against Turnus, or, if we speak the truth, with Juno, rather? Why do I recall, now, the ancient sufferings of my race? This present fear inhibits memory of the past: look at those evil knives being sharpened. Prevent them, I beg you, thwart this attempt, and do not allow Vesta’s flames to be quenched by the blood of her priest!’
Venus in her anxiety voiced her fears throughout the heavens, but in vain, troubling the gods, who though they could not break the iron rules of the ancient sisters, nevertheless gave no uncertain omens of imminent disaster. They say weapons, clashing among black clouds, and terrifying trumpets and horns, foretelling crime, were heard from the sky: and that the face of the sun, darkened, gave out a lurid light, over the troubled earth. Often, firebrands were seen, burning in the midst of the stars: often drops of blood rained from the clouds: Lucifer, the morning star, was dulled, with rust-black spots on his disc, and the moon’s chariot was spattered with blood.
The Stygian owl sounded its sad omens in a thousand places: in a thousand places ivory statues wept: and incantations, and warning words, were said to have been heard in the sacred groves. No sacrifice was favourable, and the livers were found with cleft lobes, among the entrails, warning of great and impending civil conflict. In the forum, and around men’s houses, and the temples of the gods, dogs howled at night, and they say the silent dead walked, and earthquakes shook the city. Still the gods’ warnings could not prevent the conspiracy, or fate’s fulfillment.
Drawn swords were carried into the curia, the sacred senate house: no place in the city would satisfy them, as scene for the act of evil murder, but this. Then in truth Cytherean Venus struck her breast with both hands, and tried to hide Caesar in a cloud, as Paris was once snatched from the attack of Atrides, and Aeneas escaped Diomede’s sword.
Then Jupiter, the father, spoke: ‘Alone, do you think you will move the immoveable fates, daughter? You are allowed yourself to enter the house of the three: there you will see all things written, a vast labour, in bronze and solid iron, that, eternal and secure, does not fear the clashing of the skies, the lightning’s anger, or any forces of destruction. There you will find the fate of your descendants cut in everlasting adamant. I have read them myself, and taken note of them in my mind, and I will tell you, so that you are no longer blind to the future.
This descendant of yours you suffer over, Cytherean, has fulfilled his time, and the years he owes to earth are done. You, and Augustus, his ‘son’, will ensure that he ascends to heaven as a god, and is worshipped in the temples. Augustus, as heir to his name, will carry the burden placed upon him alone, and will have us with him, in battle, as the most courageous avenger of his father’s murder. Under his command, the conquered walls of besieged Mutina will sue for peace; Pharsalia will know him; Macedonian Philippi twice flow with blood; and the one who holds Pompey’s great name, will be defeated in Sicilian waters; and a Roman general’s Egyptian consort, trusting, to her cost, in their marriage, will fall, her threat that our Capitol would bow to her city of Canopus, proved vain.
Why enumerate foreign countries, for you, or the nations living on either ocean shore? Wherever earth contains habitable land, it will be his: and even the sea will serve him!
When the world is at peace, he will turn his mind to the civil code, and, as the most just of legislators, make law. He will direct morality by his own example, and, looking to the future ages and coming generations, he will order a son, Tiberius, born of his virtuous wife, to take his name, and his responsibilities. He will not attain his heavenly home, and the stars, his kindred, until he is old, and his years equal his merits. Meanwhile take up Caesar’s spirit from his murdered corpse, and change it into a star, so that the deified Julius may always look down from his high temple on our Capitol and forum.’
He had barely finished, when gentle Venus stood in the midst of the senate, seen by no one, and took up the newly freed spirit of her Caesar from his body, and preventing it from vanishing into the air, carried it towards the glorious stars. As she carried it, she felt it glow and take fire, and loosed it from her breast: it climbed higher than the moon, and drawing behind it a fiery tail, shone as a star.
Seeing his son’s good works, Caesar ac