VIRGIL: GEORGICS: BOOK I

Introduction.

For a thorough introduction to the "Georgics" as a whole, which was composed by Virgil between 36 and 29 B.C., the reader is referred to the translation of Book IV, which was published on this blog on 11th November 2010. The subject of this, the first book, is "field crops," mainly cereals, although the second part, dealing with weather signs, leading into portents of disaster, is more general. Virgil stresses the importance of labour, but in Book I, as indeed in the rest of the work, there is a deep ambivalence about the efficacy of work. In the world of the "Georgics," labour is as likely to fail as it is to succeed, confronted, as it is, by the ravages of the natural world.

The Latin text for this translation comes from "Virgil: the Georgics: a Poem of the Land," translated and edited by Kimberley Johnson, Penguin Books, 2009. Sabidius has also benefited from the translation of H.R. Fairclough, 1916, available in the Loeb Book collection.

1) Ll. 1-42.  Proem to the whole work: invocation to the country gods and Caesar.

What makes the cornfields glad, beneath what star it is meet to turn the soil, Maecenas, and to attach vines to the elms, what tending of oxen, what care it is necessary for the flocks to have, what great experience (is needed) for the thrifty bees, here I shall begin my song (lit. to sing). You. O most glorious lights of the world (i.e, the sun and the moon) who lead the year that slides across the sky, (you O) Liber and gracious Ceres, if by your bounty earth has exchanged Chaonian acorns (n.b. Chaonia was a region in the north-west of Greece where stood the ancient oracle of Zeus at Dodona) for rich ears of corn, and has blended (lit. intermingled) draughts of Achelous (i.e. a river in central Greece thought to be the oldest river in the world) with fresh grapes, and you (O) Fauns, the ever-present guardian powers of rustics, both Fauns and Dryad maids, dance (lit. lift up your feet) together: I sing (of) your bounties. And you, O Neptune, for whom the earth, hammered by your mighty trident, cast forth the champing horse, and (you), the haunter (lit. cultivator) of the groves (i.e. Aristaeus, son of Apollo, and beekeeper and master-herdsman of Arcadia ) whose three hundred snow-white bullocks crop the lush thickets; (you) yourself, O Tegean Pan (n.b. Tegea was a settlement in Arcadia, traditionally associated with the god Pan), guardian of the sheep, forsaking your native groves and the Lycaean glades (n.b. Lycaea was a mountain in Arcadia, where a sanctuary sacred to Pan was located), if your Maenalus (is) of concern to you (n.b. Maenalus was a mountain in Arcadia, sacred to Pan) (being) gracious, may you come, and also (you), Minerva, inventress of the olive, and (you), the boy inventor of the plough (i.e. Triptolemus, i.e. a prince of Eleusis, credited with the invention of the plough), and (you), Silvanus (i.e. the god of fields and farming), bearing a tender cypress (torn) from its root, and all (you) gods and goddesses, whose zeal watches over the fields, and who nourish fresh produce without any seed, and who send down enough plentiful rain from the sky; and you, even you, Caesar, whom it is uncertain which of the assemblies of the gods may soon hold, whether you choose to look at cities or (have) a concern for land, and the wide world may welcome you (as) the author of fruits and the lord of the seasons, wreathing your brows in your mother's myrtle, or whether you come (as) god of the unfathomable sea, and sailors alone, reverence your divine power, farthest Thule (i.e. a land to the north of Britain, considered to be the farthest northern landfall. e.g. Iceland or the Orkneys) is tributary to you, and Tethys (i.e. the wife of Ocean and the mother of all the nymphs) with all her waves wins you (as) her son-in-law, or whether you attach yourself (as) a new star to the lingering months, where between the Maiden (i.e. the constellation Virgo) and those pursuing Claws (i.e. the ancient Greek name for the constellation Scorpio) a space is opening - the blazing Scorpion himself already draws in his arms, and leaves you (with) more than a fair share of heaven - whatever you will be - for Tartarus does not hope that you (will be) its king, nor may such a cruel lust for ruling come upon you, although Greece reveres the Elysian plains, and the recalled Proserpina does not care to follow her mother (i.e. Ceres) - grant (me) an easy passage and approve (lit. give the nod to) my bold endeavours, and pitying with me those country-folk (who are) ignorant of the way, go forward and learn even now to be summoned to prayers.

2) Ll. 43-203.  Work, especially on field crops.

In the early spring, when the frozen liquid melts in the snowy mountains, and the decaying clod crumbles (lit. loosens itself) in the Zephyr (i.e. the West Wind), even then I would have (lit. [there would be] to me) a bull to begin to groan at the deeply-dug plough, and the ploughshare, worn by the furrow, (to begin) to shine. That cornfield, which felt the sun twice and the frost twice, at last replies to the prayers of the greedy farmer; his boundless harvests have burst his granaries. (50) But before we cleave the unknown plain with iron, let our care be to learn about the winds and the sky's changing moods, and the native customs and habits of the place, and what (crops) each district bears and what each rejects. Here corn-harvests come more fruitfully, there grapes, (and) elsewhere the produce of trees or unbidden herbs flourish. Do you not see how Tmolus (i.e. a mountain in Lydia) sends saffron scents, India ivory, the soft Sabaeans (i.e. inhabitants of Saba in south-west Arabia), their incense? But the naked Chalybes (i.e. mining inhabitants of Chalybia on the southern shore of the Black Sea) (send) their iron, and Pontus the odorous secretion of the beaver, (and) Epirus the prize-palms of Elean mares (n.b. the Olympic Games were held in Elis). From of old nature has laid these laws and everlasting compacts upon certain places, when (lit. at which time) Deucalion (i.e. the Greek Noah, who, together with his wife Pyrrha, repeopled the earth after the Flood by throwing stones that turned into humans) first cast these stones upon the empty world, from which men, a gritty race, (were) born. So, come, from the early months of the year, let your sturdy bulls at once overturn the rich soil of the earth, and let dusty summer bake the flat clods in the ripening sun; But if the earth shall be unfruitful, it will be sufficient to ridge (it) with a shallow furrow right under (the rising) Arcturus (n.b. the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, i.e. the Herdsman, and the third brightest star in the night sky, it rises in springtime): there, lest weeds obstruct fertile produce, here, lest scant moisture forsakes the barren sand.

Likewise, you will let (your lands) lie fallow, in turn, after they have been reaped, and the sluggish field grow hard through neglect; or, beneath a changed star, you will sow golden spelt there, where previously you will have carried off the bean, rejoicing in its quivering pod, or the fruits of the slender vetch, and the brittle stalks and the rustling undergrowth of the bitter lupine. For a crop of flax parches a field, oats parch (it), (and) poppies, steeped in Lethe's slumber (n.b. Lethe was the River of Unmindfulness in the Underworld), parch (it): but yet, by alternating (crops) the toil (is) light, only do not be ashamed to saturate the dry soil with rich dung, nor to scatter grimy ashes over the exhausted fields; so also, with changed crops, the fields find rest; nor, meanwhile, are there any thanks in the unploughed earth. Often too it is worthwhile to burn the barren fields, and to set the light stubble alight in the crackling flames: whether the earth thereby derives secret strength and rich sustenance, or by such (means) her evil is removed by the fire and the useless moisture comes out in sweat, or that that heat may open out further ducts and hidden pores, by which the sap may come to fresh shoots, or rather hardens and binds her gaping veins, so that prolonged rain and the fierce power of the devouring sun or the piercing frost of Boreas (i.e. the North Wind) may not harm (it). For indeed he is of much service to the fields who breaks up the sluggish clods with the mattock, and drags hurdles of osier (over them), nor, from lofty Olympus, does golden-haired Ceres regard him in vain; and (he is also of much service) who turns his plough again and forces his way sideways through the ridges which he raises along the furrowed surface of the ground, and (who) keeps the earth ever busy and gives orders to the fields.

(100) Farmers, pray for moist summers and mild winters; most gladsome (is) the spelt, gladsome (is) the the field, with winter's dust: Mysia does not boast (lit. vaunt itself) so much in any tillage, and even Gargara (i.e. a city in the legendary fertile region of the Troad in north-west Asia Minor) marvels at her own harvests. What should I say (of him) who, having scattered the seed, attacks the fields by hand, and levels the hillocks of barren sand, (and) then properly guides the river and its accompanying streams, and, when the parched field with its dying shoots is sweltering, behold, he lures the wave from the brow of a hilly pathway? As it falls, it gives rise to a hoarse murmur over the smooth stones, and tempers the dry fields with its babbling (waters). What (of him) who, lest the stalk droops with its heavy ears of corn, mows the luxuriant crop with its tender greenery, as soon as the corn is level with the furrows? Or (of him) who draws off a marsh's gathered moisture with its absorbent sand? Especially, if during the doubtful months a river, at the full, overflows, and holds fast everything far and wide in enveloping mud, from which hollow pools sweat with warm moisture.

Nor yet, although the toils of both men and oxen endured these (things) in turning the soil, the unruly goose and the Strymonian cranes (n.b. the Strymon is a river in Thrace to the north of Greece) and endives with their bitter fibres do no mischief, or the shades (of the trees) do no harm (to the crops). The Father himself has willed that the path of husbandry should not be easy, and he was the first to arouse the fields through skill, sharpening men's wits by their diligence, and not letting his realm become stupified in deep sloth. Before Jupiter no farmers subdued the fields; not only to mark (possession of) a field or to divide (it) by paths was sacrilege: (men) strove in fellowship, and earth of her own accord gave everything more freely when no one demanded (anything). He (it was who) put the noxious venom into black snakes and bade wolves plunder and the sea heave, and shook honey from the leaves, and concealed fire, and kept back the wine which was running everywhere in streams, so that the practice of contemplation might gradually forge sundry practical skills, and seek the blade of corn in the furrows, and strike hidden fire from veins of flint. Then rivers first experienced hollowed-out alder trees; then the mariner gave numbers and names to the stars, the Pleiades, the Hyades, and the bright Lycaonian Arctos (i.e. the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear); then (it was) discovered (how) to catch wild animals in traps and to snare with bird-lime, and (how) to surround vast woodland-pastures with hounds: now one man is lashing a broad stream with a dragnet, seeking its depths, and another is dragging his dripping gear from the sea; then (came) the hardness of iron, and the rasping blade of the saw (for the ancients cleft wood which was easy to split with wedges); then came sundry skills. Unrelenting toil and pinching want amid harsh circumstances conquered everything.

Ceres was the first to teach men to turn the earth with iron, when the acorns and arbutus-berries of the sacred grove were already beginning to run short, and Dodona (i.e. Zeus' ancient oracle in Epirus) denied (them) food. (150) Soon also hardship fell upon (lit. was brought to) the corn-crops, as the baneful mildew devoured the stalks, and the lazy thistle bristled in the fields; the crops are lost, a rough forest of burs and thorns springs up, and amid the gleaming plantations luckless tares and wild oats hold sway. But unless you are ready to pursue the weed with a ceaseless rake and terrify the birds with your voice, and prune with your sickle the shades (of the trees) over the darkened countryside and invoke rain in your prayers, alas, you will gaze in vain upon another man's stockpile (of grain) and assuage your hunger by shaking the oak-tree in the woods.

I must tell (lit. It is necessary [for me] to tell) (you) what weapons the farmers have (lit. there are to the farmers), without which the crops could neither be sown nor raised: first, the ploughshare and the heavy hardwood (frame) of the curved plough, and the slow rolling wagons of the Mother of Eleusis, (i.e. Demeter, the Greek equivalent of Ceres) and the threshing-sledges and harrows and the excessive weight of the mattock; in addition (there is) the cheap wicker-ware of Celeus (i.e. King of the agricultural region of Eleusis, and the father of Triptolemus), the hurdles of arbutus and the mystical winnowing-fan of Iacchus (i.e. Bacchus, the god of wine).  Mindful that all these (things) are to be provided for, you will store (them) away long beforehand, if the glory of the countryside justly awaits you. In the woods, right from the beginning, an elm-tree, bent by great force, is trained into a plough-beam, and receives the shape of the curved plough. To its shaft are fixed a pole, extended to eight feet (in length), two mouldboards, and a share beam with a double back. Also, a light lime-tree is felled beforehand for the yoke, and a tall beech-tree, (as) a plough-handle, to turn the bottom of the car from the rear, while (lit. and) smoke seasons (lit. puts to the test) the hardwood hung from the hearth.

I can repeat to you many of the maxims of the men of old, if you do not shrink from (them) and dislike learning about such trivial concerns.

In the first place, the threshing floor must be levelled by a heavy roller, and plied by hand, and made solid with binding clay, lest weeds spring up, and, overwhelmed, it crumbles into dust, and then every kind of plague shall mock (you): often the tiny mouse sets up his home under the ground and builds his store-houses, or moles, deprived of sight, dig out their burrows, and the toad and whatever countless monsters the earth brings forth (are) found in holes, and the weevil or the ant, fearful of a destitute old age, plunders a huge heap of spelt.

Likewise, (be) an observer, when, in the woods, an almond-tree attires herself thickly in blossom and bends her fragrant branches. If the fruit prevails, the corn-crops will keep pace with it (lit. follow at the same time), and great threshing will come with great heat; but, if shade abounds in luxuriance of leaves, in vain will your threshing-floor grind stalks, rich (only) in chaff. I have, myself, seen many a sower treat seeds and soak (them) first in nitre and (then) in the dregs of olive-oil, so that the fruit in the deceptive pod might be abundant, and stew quickly, although (it is) on a small fire. I have seen (seeds, though) picked a long time ago, and tested with much toil, still degenerate, unless human effort, should pick the largest of these by hand every year. So, in accordance with fate, (200) all (things) run to the worse, and, slipping backwards, are borne away (from us), just like (lit. not otherwise than) (a man) who can scarcely force his skiff up-stream with his oars, and, if perhaps he has relaxed his arms, the channel hurries it headlong down the steep river.

3) Ll. 204-350.  The farmer's calendar.

Besides, the star of Arcturus, the days of the Kids (i.e. the constellation Haedi) and the gleaming Snake (i.e. the constellation Anguis) must be watched by us as much as by those who, (while) sailing to their homeland over windswept seas, brave the Black Sea  and the jaws of oyster-breeding Abydos. When the Scales (i.e. the constellation Libra) makes equal the hours of the day and of sleep, and now divides the world between light and shade, (then), my men, work your bulls, and sow barley in your fields right up to the extreme rainfall of the unmanageable mid-winter; moreover, (it is) also the time to hide your crop of flax and Ceres' poppy in the ground, and well past the time to bend to the plough, while the dry soil allows (it) (lit. it is permitted [to you] by the dry soil), (and) while the clouds are (still) hanging (in the sky). In the spring (there is) the sowing of beans; then the crumbling furrows welcome you too, lucern, and annual care comes to the millet, (and) the snow-white Bull (i.e. the constellation Taurus, which is visible in the Northern Hemisphere during winter) with his gilded horns ushers in the year, and the Dog(-Star) (i.e. Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky) sets, yielding to his starry foe. But if you are working the ground for a harvest of wheat and hardy spelt, and you are aiming at wheat-ears alone, may the daughters of Atlas (i.e. the constellations Pleiades and Hyades) pass from your sight and let the Cnossian (n.b. this refers to Cnossos, an ancient city of Crete) star of the blazing Crown (i.e. the Corona, a star of Ariadne, a northern constellation, set in the sky by her lover Bacchus) withdraw, before you commit the seeds (which are) due, to the furrows, and before you hasten to entrust a year's hope to the reluctant earth. Many have begun before Maia's (i.e. a star in the constellation Pleiades) setting, but the expected crop has mocked them with empty husks. But if indeed you will sow vetch or the  common kidney-bean, and you do not scorn the care of the Pelusian (n.b. this refers to Pelusium, an Egyptian city on the Nile delta) lentil, the setting Herdsman will send you no unclear signs: (so), begin, and extend your sowing to mid(-winter's) frosts.

For this purpose, the golden sun rules his orbit, measured out in fixed divisions through the universe's twelve constellations. Five zones occupy the heavens, of which one (is) ever reddening in the glimmering sun, and (is) ever scorched by his fire. Around this, the bleak poles, compounded in ice and black storms, are stretched out to right and left; between these and the central (one), two (zones) are granted by the grace of the gods to feeble mortals, and a path (is) cut through both, on which the slanting array of the constellations may revolve (lit. turn itself). As our world rises steeply towards Scythia (i.e. a vast region of Eurasia, north and east of the Black Sea) and the Rhipaean (n.b. the Rhipean mountains are a legendary range to the north of Scythia, eternally snow-bound) crags, (so) it sinks downwards to Libya's southern (lands). This pole is ever above us; but the black Styx and the infernal shades beneath our feet perceive the other. Here, the mighty Snake with his sinuous coils glides around and through the two Bears in the manner of a river, the Bears shrinking from being dipped in the surface of the ocean. There, they say, either the dead of night is silent, and the shadows are thickening in perpetual night, or Dawn returns to us, and leads back the day; (250) and when the rising (sun) with his panting steeds, first breathed on us, there the ruddy Evening Star is kindling her late rays. Hence, from the fitful sky we can foretell the weather, and the day of the harvest and the time for sowing, and when it is meet to lash the faithless sea with our oars, and to launch our well-equipped fleet, or to fell a mature pine-tree in the woods. Not in vain do we watch the settings and the risings of the constellations, and the year (divided) equally by its four separate seasons.

If ever a cold shower keeps the farmer indoors (lit. confines the farmer), he is able (lit. it is granted [to him]) to bring to completion many (tasks) which, under clear skies, would have had to to be hurried: the ploughman hammers out the rough tooth of his blunted ploughshare, hollows troughs out of a tree, or stamps his mark on his livestock or numbers on the (grain-)sacks. Others sharpen stakes and two-pronged forks, or fashion cords of Amerian (willows) (n.b. Ameria was a region of central Italy known for its willows) for the trailing vine. Now let the pliant basket be woven with twigs of briar, now bake corn by the fire, now grind (it) on the stone. For even on festive days, divine law and the laws (of man) allow (you) to  undertake certain (tasks); no scruples (ever) forbade (us) to to deflect the rivulets, (or) to spread a hedge-row in front of a crop, to set snares for birds, to burn bramble-bushes, or to immerse a bleating flock in a health-giving stream. Often (too), the driver loads his slow donkey's flanks with oil and cheap fruits, and, returning (home), he carries back from town a grooved millstone or a lump of black pitch.

The Moon, herself, has appointed certain days in a certain order (as) auspicious for work. Avoid the fifth: pale Orcus (i.e. Pluto or Hades) and the Furies (were) born (on that day); then Earth spawned in an abominable birth Coeus and Iapetus and savage Typhoeus and those brothers who conspired to tear down the heavens. Three times indeed they tried to pile Ossa upon Pelion and to roll leafy Olympus on to Ossa; three times the Father destroyed their heaped-up mountains with his thunderbolt. The seventeenth (is) a lucky (day) to set vines and to break in corralled steers, and to bring threads to the loom. The ninth (is) rather good for the escape  (of slaves), but bad for robbery.

Many (tasks) too present themselves better in the cool of the night, or when at early sunrise the Day Star bedews the earth. At night, the light stubble, at night the dry meadows are shorn better, (and) the lingering moisture does not fail the nights. And some man stays awake by the late blaze of a winter's firelight, and cuts torches with a sharp knife. Meanwhile, his wife, easing (lit. solacing) he long toil with a song, zips across the web with her noisy shuttle, or boils down the juice of sweet must over the fire, and skims the froth of the bubbling cauldron with leaves. But the auburn grain is reaped in the midday heat, and in the midday heat the threshing-floor grinds the scorched corn. Plough naked, sow naked; winter (is) lazy for the husbandman. (300) During cold periods, farmers usually enjoy their stores of corn (lit. [what) has been produced), and happily arrange reciprocal banquets between one another. Genial winter summons (them), and loosens their anxieties, Just as, when laden keels have at last reached port, the happy sailors have placed garlands on their poops. But yet then (is) the time to pluck acorns from the oak-trees and berries from the laurel, and the olive-berry and the (fruit of) the blood-red myrtle, then (is the time) to set snares for the cranes and nets for the stags, and to track the long-eared hares, then (is the time) to strike down the does, as you whirl the hempen straps of a Balearic sling, when the snow lies deep and when the rivers drive down the (packs of) ice.


What should I say of autumn's storms and stars, and, when the days (are) now shorter and the summer softer, for which (it is) necessary for men to keep watch? Or now when rainy spring rushes in, when a harvest of wheat-ears bristles and when the corn, full of sap, swells on its green stem. I have often seen, when the farmer was bringing the reaper into his golden fields, and was just beginning to shear the barley from its frail stalk, all the winds join battle to tear out the full harvest from its deepest roots far and wide, tossing it on high; thus, in a black whirlwind, did the storm bear carry off the light straw and the flying stubble. Often, too, an immense column of water appears in the sky, and clouds, gathered from on high, roll together a foul tempest of black showers; the lofty heaven tumbles down, and with its deluge of rain washes away the gladsome crops and the toil of the oxen; the dykes fill and the deep-channelled rivers swell with a roar, and the sea, with its heaving straits, seethes. The Father himself in the midst of a night of storm-clouds wields his thunderbolts with a flashing hand, at the impact of which the earth trembles; wild beasts scatter and terror lays low men's hearts through (all) the nations; with his blazing bolt he dashes down Athos or Rhodope or the peaks of Ceraunia (i.e. a region to the north-west of Greece); the south wind and the thickest rain redouble; now woods, now shores wail in the mighty (blast of) wind. In fear of this, watch the months and the constellations of heaven, whither Saturn's cold star retires (lit. betakes itself) and into which cycles in the sky the Cyllenian fire (i.e. the planet Mercury) wanders. Above all, worship the gods, and pay great Ceres her annual rites, sacrificing on the reviving grass on the occasion of the end of winter, (and) now (you are) in a clear spring. Then lambs (are) fat and wine (is) most mellow, then sweet (is) sleep, and thick (are) the shades on the hills. (Then) let all your rustic folk worship Ceres; to her you must wash the honey-combs with milk and mature wine, and three times let the luck-bringing victim go around the fresh crops, which all the chorus of your companions follows exulting, and loudly call Ceres into their homes; and no one should put his sickle to the ripe corn, before, having garlanded his brows with leaves of (lit. with twisted) oak, (350) he should give disordered dances and chant her hymns.

Ll. 351-460. Weather signs.

And, so that we can learn of these (dangers) by fixed signs, the heat and the rains and the cold-bringing winds, the Father himself has ordained what the monthly moon should warn, by what sign the south winds should fall, (by) (and) at what regularly seen (sightings) farmers should keep their cattle nearer to their pens. From the first, with the winds rising, either the sea's straits begin to heave (and) swell, and a dry crash is heard from the mountain top, or the (noises of the) far-echoing beaches are combined, and the woodland murmur grows louder. Then also the wave scarcely restrains itself from the curved keels, when the swift sea-bird fly back  from the middle of the ocean and carry their clamour to the shores, and when the sea-coots frolic on dry land and the heron quits her familiar marshes and flies above the lofty clouds. Often, too, when the wind threatens, you will see the stars fall headlong from the sky, and, behind (them) (lit. at their back), trails of flame gleam white through the shades; often (you will see) light chaff and fallen leaves fluttering and feathers dancing around, floating on top of the water. But, when there is lightning from the region of the grim north wind, and the home of the east and the west wind thunders, with the ditches filled, the whole countryside floods, and on the deep every mariner furls his dripping sails. Never has rain brought harm to (men who are) expecting (it): either the sky-cranes flee from it as it wells up in the valleys' depths, or the heifer, gazing at the sky, courts the breezes with open nostrils, or the twittering swallow flits around the cisterns, and in the mud the frogs croak their traditional complaint. Often, too, the ant, wearing away her narrow path, brings out her eggs from her innermost chamber, and a  vast rainbow drinks, and an army of rooks claps their closely-packed wings, as they depart from their feeding-ground in a great column. Now the various birds of the sea and (those) which rummage around the Asian meadows in Cayster's (i.e. a river of Asia Minor which flows into the Aegean Sea near Ephesus) sweet pools, eagerly splash large showers of) spray over their shoulders: now you can see (them) ducking their heads into the channels, now running into the waves and exulting vainly with a desire for bathing. Then the unruly crow calls in full voice for rain, and strolls alone with herself on the dry sand. Not even the girls spinning their allotments of wool at night are unaware of the storm, when the see the oil sputter and the decaying mould gather on the burning wick.

No less after the rain  you can foresee the the sun and the open skies, and recognise (them) by certain signs: for then the star's edge is seen undimmed (lit. unblunted), nor does the moon rise submissive to her brother's rays, and no flimsy fleeces of wool are borne across the sky; the halcyons (i.e. mythical birds reputed to nest on the sea for periods of fourteen days, during which halcyon days the sea was calm), dear to Thetis, do not spread their wings on the shore to the warm sun, nor (400) do the filthy hogs think to toss the loosened bundles of hay with their snouts. But the mists rather seek the valleys and recline on the plain, and the night-owl, watching the setting of the sun from some high roof, plies her evening songs in vain. Nisus (i.e. the legendary king of Megara, who possessed a crimson lock of hair which made him invincible) appears aloft in the clear sky, and Scylla (i.e. the daughter of Nisus, who cut off her father's crimson lock through her love for Minos, and who is then turned into a sea-bird, relentlessly pursued by Nisus in the form of a sea-eagle) pays the penalty for the crimson lock: in whatever direction she flees, she cleaves the light air with her wings, but, lo! Nisus, implacable (lit. hostile) and unyielding, follows (her) through the breezes with a loud hissing (noise); wherever Nisus mounts up (lit. bears himself) to the winds, she, fleeing hastily, cleaves the light air with her wings. Then, the crows, with their tight throats, repeat their soft cries three or four times, and often in their lofty nests joyous with a strange and unaccustomed pleasure (lit. with I know not what pleasure contrary to custom) they chatter among themselves amid the leaves; with the rains spent, it pleases (them) to revisit  their little brood and their sweet nests; of course, I do not think that they have (lit. there is to them) some disposition from heaven, or, through fate, a greater knowledge of things (to come), but when the weather and the sky's fitful vapours have changed their course, and Jupiter, wet from the south winds, thickens what was just now rare, and thins out what (was just now) thick, their minds' ideas are changed and their breasts now conceive other emotions, other (than they felt) while the the wind was driving the clouds: hence that symphony of birds in the fields, and the joyous cattle and the crows exulting in their throats.  

But if you have regard for the swift sun and the moon following in its turn, tomorrow's hour will never cheat you, nor will you be caught by the snare of a cloudless night. As soon as the moon gathers her returning fires, if she encloses a dark mist within her dim horns, heavy rain will be in store for farmers and the sea. But if a maiden's blush suffuses her face, there will be wind; golden Phoebe (i.e. the moon) always blushes in the wind. But if, on her fourth rising, for this is our surest guide, she passes through the sky clear and with undimmed horns, then all that day and (the days) which are born from it to the end of the month will be free from rain and winds, and the sailors, safe in port, will pay their vows to Glaucus (i.e. a sea-deity beloved of fishermen) and to Panope (i.e. one of the Nereids or sea-nymphs) and to Melicerta (i.e. the god of harbours, thrown into the sea by his mother Ino in order to save him from his insane father) the son of Ino (i.e. the daughter of Cadmus and queen of Thebes).

The sun also, both (when) rising and when concealing himself in the waves, will offer signs; the most sure signs will follow the sun, both (those) which he brings at dawn and (those) which (he brings) as the stars arise. When he dapples with spots his nascent rising hidden in clouds, and shrinks back in the middle of his orbit, showers should be the object of suspicion to you; for from the deep the south wind, foe to tree, crops and flock, sweeps onward. Either when at daybreak, scattered shafts (of light) burst (lit. force themselves) between thick clouds, or, when pale Aurora (i.e. Dawn) rises, as she leaves Tithonus' saffron couch, alas! then the vine-shoots will protect the ripe grapes poorly. So thickly the rough hail dances, rattling on the roofs. (450) When, having traversed Olympus (i.e. the sky), he now sets, it will profit (you) more to bear this in mind too; for we often see fitful hues flitting (lit. wandering) over his face: a dark (hue) threatens rain, a fiery (one) east winds; but if the spots begin to mingle with red fire, then you will see everything glowing with wind and storm-clouds alike. On such a night let no one urge me to go on the deep or pluck my cable from the land. Yet, if when he (i.e. the sun) restores the day and brings to a close the day (which he has) brought back, his orbit will be bright, you will fear storm-clouds unnecessarily (lit. in vain), and you will see the forests swaying in the north wind.

Ll. 461-514.  Portents of Rome's disasters and prayers for its salvation. 

Finally, what (burden) late evening carries, (the quarter) from where the wind drives clear the clouds, what the moist south wind broods over, the sun will send you the signs. Who dares to call the sun untrue? He also often warns that dark upheavals threaten, and treachery, and that wars are beginning to swell up. He even pitied Rome when Caesar was killed, when he veiled his dazzling head in dark gloom, and an impious age dreaded everlasting night. Yet, at that season earth also and the surface of the sea and filthy dogs and ominous birds gave signs. How often did we see Aetna boiling up in the fields, flooding forth from her ruptured furnaces and rolling along balls of fire and molten rocks! Germany heard the crash of arms across the whole sky, (and) the Alps shook with strange disturbances. Also, a deafening (lit. vast) voice (was) widely heard through the silent groves, and in the darkness of the night pale phantoms (were) seen in amazing ways, and - it is unspeakable!  - beasts talked. Rivers stand still and the earth gapes open, and in the temples the ivory (faces) weep in mourning and the bronzes sweat. Eridanus, the king of rivers (i.e. the Po), swirling in his frennzied current, swamps the forests, and over all the plains carries off the herds together with their stalls. Nor, in that same hour, did menacing fibres cease to appear in grim entrails, or (did) blood (cease) to flow from wells, and (did) our hillside towns (cease) to resound throughout the night with howling wolves. At no other time did more lightning fall from a cloudless sky, nor did dire comets flare so often. Thus, Philippi beheld Roman armies clash among themselves for a second time with matching arms, nor was it shameful to the gods that Emathia (i.e. Macedonia and Thessaly) and the wide plains of Haemus (i.e. a mountain in Thrace) should twice grow fat on our blood. And, no doubt, the time will come when, in those lands, the farmer, working the land with his curved plough, will find javelins corroded with rusty mould, or will strike empty helmets with his heavy hoe, and marvel at the gigantic bones in the upturned graves.

Gods of our fathers, deified national heroes, Romulus and (you) mother Vesta, who guards the Tuscan Tiber and the Roman Palatine, (500) at least do not prevent this young man from coming to the salvation of this ruined age! For long enough have we paid with our blood for Laomedon's perjury at Troy (n.b. the king of Troy, who cheated Apollo and Neptune of their reward for building the walls of Troy); for a long time the courts of heaven have begrudged you to us, Caesar, and complain that you should concern yourself with the triumphs of men; where right and wrong (have) in fact (been) transposed: (where there are) so many wars across the world, (and) so many forms of wickedness; (there is) not any proper honour in the plough, the farmers having been removed, our lands lie in waste, and curved sickles are melted down into a straight sword. Here the Euphrates, there Germany sets war in motion; their mutual treaties (lit. their treaties between themselves) broken, neighbouring cities bear arms; impious Mars rages throughout the world; just as when the teams rush out (lit. pour themselves forth) from their starting-gates (and) increase (their speed) lap by lap, and the driver, tugging at the halters in vain, is carried along by his steeds, and the chariot does not heed the reins.
Last modified onWednesday, 01 November 2017 22:51

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