Ludi Megalenses MMDCCLXVII (2767) AUC (Nova Roma)/Roman Poetry

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Selections of Roman Poetry

Along with the commencement of the poetry showcase, and separately, I would also like to present a selection of ancient Roman poetry.


The True Life (an excerpt)

"Let other men gather bright gold to themselves

and own many acres of well-ploughed soil,

let endless worry trouble them, with enemies nearby,

and the peals of the war-trumpets driving away sleep:

let my moderate means lead me to a quiet life,

as long as my fireside glows with endless flame.

If only I might now be happy to live with little,

and not always be addicted to distant journeys,

but avoid the rising Dog-star’s summer heat

in the shade of a tree by a stream of running water.

Nor be ashamed to take up the hoe at times

or rebuke the lazy oxen with a goad:

or object to carrying a ewe-lamb home

or a young kid deserted by its mother.

Let me plant the tender vines at the proper time,

tall fruit-trees, myself a rustic, with skilled hands:

nor let hope fail, but deliver the piled-up fruits,

and the rich vintage in overflowing vats,

since I worship wherever there’s a stump left in the fields,

or an old stone at the crossroads, wreathed with flowers:

and whatever fruit of mine the new season brings

I set as an offering before the god of the fields."

- Tibullus, Book I: Delia

Make Peace Not War

Who was he, who first forged the fearful sword?

How iron-willed and truly made of iron he was!

Then slaughter was created, war was born to men.

then a quicker road was opened to dread death.

But perhaps it’s not the wretch’s fault we turn to evil

what he gave us to use on savage beasts?

That’s the curse of rich gold: there were no wars

when the beech-wood cup stood beside men’s plates.

There were no fortresses or fences, and the flock’s leader

sought sleep securely among the diverse sheep.

I might have lived then, Valgius, and not known

sad arms, or heard the trumpet with beating heart.

Now I’m dragged to war, and perhaps some enemy

already carries the spear that will pierce my side.

Lares of my fathers, save me: you are the same

that reared me, a little child running before your feet.

Don’t be ashamed that you’re made from ancient wood:

so you were when you lived in my grandfather’s house.

Then faith was better kept, when a wooden god

poorly dressed, stood in a narrow shrine.

He was placated, if someone offered the first grapes

or placed the garland of wheat-ears on his sacred head:

and whoever gained his wish brought the honey-cakes

himself, his little daughter behind, with the pure comb.

Turn the bronze spears away from me, Lares,

and accept a sacrifice of a hog from the full sty.

I will follow in pure clothing, carrying the basket

bound with myrtle, myrtle binding my own head.

So I may please you: let another be brave in war,

and topple hostile generals with Mars’ help,

then he can tell me his military deeds while I drink,

and draw his camp on the table with wine.

What madness to summon up dark Death by war!

It menaces us, and comes secretly on silent feet.

There are no cornfields down there, no trim vineyards,

only bold Cerberus, and the foul ferryman of Styx’s stream.

There, with eyeless sockets and scorched hair,

a pallid crowd wanders by the lakes of darkness.

No he’s more to be praised whom, blessed with children,

a long old age keeps occupied in his humble cottage.

He tends the sheep, and his son the lambs,

and his wife provides hot water for weary limbs.

So let me be, and may my head whiten with snowy temples,

and recall old things from ancient deeds.

Meanwhile let peace tend the fields. Bright peace first

bowed the oxen for ploughing under the curved yoke.

Peace nurtured the vines and laid up the juice of the grape

so the son’s wine might pour from the father’s jar.

Hoe and ploughshare gleam in peace, but rust seizes

the grim weapons of the cruel soldier in darkness.

The countryman drives home from the wood,

himself half-sober, with wife and children in his cart,

but then they summon love’s war, and the woman

bewails her torn hair and the broken doors.

The bruised girl weeps for her tender cheeks, but the victor

weeps himself that his hands were so strong in his madness.

And impudent Love supplies evil words to the quarrel,

and sits indifferent between the angry pair.

Ah, he’s stone and iron, whoever would strike his girl:

that action draws down the gods from the heavens.

let it be enough to have torn the thin cloth from her limbs,

enough to have disordered the arrangement of her hair,

enough to have caused her tears: he’s four times blessed

whose anger can make a tender girl weep.

But he whose hands are cruel, should carry shield and pike,

and stay far away from gentle Venus.

Then come, kindly Peace, hold the wheat-ear in your hand,

and let your radiant breast pour out fruits before us.

- Tibullus, Book I: Delia


Georgic I (an excerpt)

What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what star

Maecenas, it is meet to turn the sod

Or marry elm with vine; how tend the steer;

What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proof

Of patient trial serves for thrifty bees;-

Such are my themes.

O universal lights

Most glorious! ye that lead the gliding year

Along the sky, Liber and Ceres mild,

If by your bounty holpen earth once changed

Chaonian acorn for the plump wheat-ear,

And mingled with the grape, your new-found gift,

The draughts of Achelous; and ye Fauns

To rustics ever kind, come foot it, Fauns

And Dryad-maids together; your gifts I sing.

And thou, for whose delight the war-horse first

Sprang from earth's womb at thy great trident's stroke,

Neptune; and haunter of the groves, for whom

Three hundred snow-white heifers browse the brakes,

The fertile brakes of Ceos; and clothed in power,

Thy native forest and Lycean lawns,

Pan, shepherd-god, forsaking, as the love

Of thine own Maenalus constrains thee, hear

And help, O lord of Tegea! And thou, too,

Minerva, from whose hand the olive sprung;

And boy-discoverer of the curved plough;

And, bearing a young cypress root-uptorn,

Silvanus, and Gods all and Goddesses,

Who make the fields your care, both ye who nurse

The tender unsown increase, and from heaven

Shed on man's sowing the riches of your rain:

And thou, even thou, of whom we know not yet

What mansion of the skies shall hold thee soon,

Whether to watch o'er cities be thy will,

Great Caesar, and to take the earth in charge,

That so the mighty world may welcome thee

Lord of her increase, master of her times,

Binding thy mother's myrtle round thy brow,

Or as the boundless ocean's God thou come,

Sole dread of seamen, till far Thule bow

Before thee, and Tethys win thee to her son

With all her waves for dower; or as a star

Lend thy fresh beams our lagging months to cheer,

Where 'twixt the Maid and those pursuing Claws

A space is opening; see! red Scorpio's self

His arms draws in, yea, and hath left thee more

Than thy full meed of heaven: be what thou wilt-

For neither Tartarus hopes to call thee king,

Nor may so dire a lust of sovereignty

E'er light upon thee, howso Greece admire

Elysium's fields, and Proserpine not heed

Her mother's voice entreating to return-

Vouchsafe a prosperous voyage, and smile on this

My bold endeavour, and pitying, even as I,

These poor way-wildered swains, at once begin,

Grow timely used unto the voice of prayer.


Love Proclaimed

At last. It's come. Love,

the kind that veiling

will give me reputation more

than showing my soul naked to someone.

I prayed to Aphrodite in Latin, in poems;

she brought him, snuggled him

into my bosom.

Venus has kept her promises:

let her tell the story of my happiness,

in case some woman will be said

not to have had her share.

I would not want to trust

anything to tablets, signed and sealed,

so no one reads me

before my love--

but indiscretion has its charms;

it's boring

to fit one's face to reputation.

May I be said to be

a worthy lover for a worthy love.

In Sickness

Have you any kind thought for your girl, Cerinthus,

now that fever wastes my weary body?

Ah, otherwise I would not want to conquer

sad illness, if I thought you did not wish it too.

And what use is it to me to conquer illness, if you

can endure my trouble with indifferent heart?

Selection of Roman poetry:

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