Friday, 11 January 2019

Silvae Book IV: 3 – The Via Domitiana - Publius Papinius Statius

What vast cacophony, of tough flints
And solid steel, filled stony Appia,
On the side that borders on the sea?
Not the sound of Hannibals’ cavalry;
No wandering foreign general shakes
Campania’s fields in perfidious war.
Nor is it Nero disturbing the waters,
Cleaving hills, creating murky swamps.

Rather it is he who surrounds Janus’s
Threshold with a Forum and just laws,
And so restores her virgin acres to Ceres,
Sober fields long denied her; as Censor
Forbids emasculation and grown males
To fear the punishment of sexless form;
Who restores the Capitoline Thunderer,
And returns Peace to her own dwelling;
Who consecrates an everlasting temple
To his father’s tribe, with Flavian deities;
Who impatient of tracks that limit men,
Plains that obstruct their every journey,
Eliminates long diversions, and paves
Over, in solid form, the clinging sand,
Happy to make the Euboean Sibyl’s cave,
The slopes of Gaurus, and steaming Baiae,
More accessible to Rome’s Seven Hills.

Here the slow traveller gripped the swaying
Pole of his two-wheeled cart as malignant
Ground sucked at his wheels, here Latian
Folk feared their journey through the plain.
No swift passage; glutinous ruts slowed
Tardy travel, while weary beasts crawled
Along, under the weight of their high yoke,
And baulked at their over-heavy burdens.

Yet now a task, that wore away a whole
Day, scarcely takes a couple of hours.
No vessel, no outstretched wings of a bird,
Speeding under the stars, consume less time.

The first labour was to mark out trenches,
Carve out the sides, and by deep excavation
Remove the earth inside. Then they filled
The empty trenches with other matter,
And prepared a base for the raised spine,
So the soil was firm, lest an unstable floor
Make a shifting bed for the paving stones;
Then laid the road with close-set blocks
All round, wedges densely interspersed.

O what a host of hands work together!
These fell trees and strip the mountains,
Those plane beams and smooth posts;
Some bind stones, consolidate the work,
With baked clay and tufa mixed with dirt;
Others toil to drain waterlogged ditches,
And divert the lesser streams elsewhere.

Such hands might carve Mount Athos,
And bridge the mournful Hellespont
With a solid causeway, unlike Xerxes’.
Subject to them, Ino’s Isthmus might
See waters mingle if the gods allowed.

Shores are roused, and swaying woods.
The din travels the towns along the road,
And vine-girt Mount Massicus returns
Faintly-heard echoes to Mount Gaurus.
Peaceful Cumae, the Liternian marsh,
The slow Savone, wonder at the sound.

But Volturnus lifts his face, tawny head
And mass of dripping hair close-tangled
With soft rushes, then leaning against
The mighty arch of Caesar’s bridge he
Pours out words from his hoarse throat:
‘O beneficent landscaper of my plains,
Who seeing me spread over far valleys,
Not knowing how to keep within limits,
Bound me by rule in a straight channel,
Behold how I, threatening and turbulent,
Once barely letting boats pass, riskily,
Now bear a bridge, trampled underfoot!
I that once carried earth and trees away
Now flow (shamefully) between banks.
But I give thanks, my servitude is just,
As I yield to your power and command,
Men shall read of you as the great leader,
And the eternal conqueror of my shores.
Now you tend to my gushing channel,
Free me of silt, wipe away the shame
Of barren soil on every side; the wave
Of the Tyrrhene sea no longer breaks
Against my sandy, mud-laden current,
(As the Cinyphian Bagrada crawls by
Silent shores midst Carthaginian fields.)
Rather I run so as to challenge the calm
Sea with my shining flow, and contend
Against the Liris with my clear stream.’

So the river spoke; as he did so, a stretch
Of marbled roadway reared its mighty back.
Its gateway, auspicious entrance, arched
Gleaming with the output of all Liguria’s
Quarries and the warlike leader’s trophies,
Vast as the bow that crowns the rain-cloud.

There the hastening traveller makes a turn,
There Appia grieves at being left behind.
Then the journey is swifter and livelier,
Then even the horses enjoy their speed,
As when a rising breeze fills all the sails,
Just as the oarsmen’s arms grow wearied.

Come then, all you peoples of the East,
Who owe allegiance to Rome’s Emperor,
Flow along in your unimpeded journey,
Arrive more swiftly, you Oriental laurels!
Nothing obstructs your wish, no delays.
Let whoever leaves Tivoli at daybreak
Sail the Lucrine Lake in early evening.

But who is this at the end of the new road,
With white hair and sacred ribbons, where
Apollo’s shrine marks out ancient Cumae?
Does sight deceive, or does the Sibyl bring
Chalcidian laurels from her sacred cavern?

Withdraw lyre, set your song aside: a holier
Chant begins, and we must fall silent. See!
She twists her head about, raging widely
Over the new extent, occupying the way!
Then she gives utterance from virgin lips:
‘I prophesied: “He shall come (fields and
Rivers, wait) by heaven’s favour he shall
Come, he will nullify the dark woods and
Powdery sand with a high bridge and road.”
Behold he is a god, Jupiter commands him
To rule the fortunate earth in his place; no
Man worthier has held the reins of power
Since Aeneas, eager to learn of his future,
Was able to penetrate and leave Avernus’
Prescient grove, with me to conduct him.
He’s a friend to peace, formidable in war;
Were he to command the blazing heavens,
More powerful and effective than Nature,
India would be damp, with copious cloud,
Libya be watered, and Haemus grow warm.
Hail, leader of men, and father of new gods,
A divinity foreseen and attested to by me!

No need to read my words as they unroll
On disintegrating parchment to the solemn
Prayers of the Fifteen, but listen, as you
Deserve to, close beside me, while I sing.
I have seen the thread of everlasting ages
The white-robed Sisters weave for you.
A long sequence of centuries awaits you.
Longer lived than your sons, than their
Great-grandsons, you’ll pass such years
Of peace, in endless youth, as Nestor did,
Or such, they say, as Tithonus attained,
As many as I myself once asked of Apollo.
The snowbound north already obeys you,
Now the east will win you great triumphs.
You will go where Bacchus and Hercules
Went, beyond the stars and blazing sun,
And the Nile’s source, and Atlas’ snows,
And, a warrior blessed with every crown
Of glory, ascend triumphal chariots and
Refuse them, while Vesta’s Trojan fire
Burns, Capitoline Jupiter thunders in his
Renascent halls, you ruling earth, until
This road’s as old as ancient Appia now.

Publius Papinius Statius (ca. 45-96) Italy
Translated by A. S. Kline
Source: Poetry in Translation

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