Orpheus et Eurydice
ipse cava solans aegrum testudine amorem
te, dulcis coniunx, te solo in litore secum,
te veniente die, te decedente canebat.
Taenarias etiam fauces, alta ostia Ditis,
et caligantem nigra formidine lucum
ingressus, manesque adiit regemque tremendum
nesciaque humanis precibus manuescere corda.
at cantu commotae Erebi de sedibus imis
umbrae ibant tenues simulacraque luce carentum,
quam multa in foliis avium se milia condunt,
vesper ubi aut hibernus agit de montibus imber,
matres atque viri defunctaque corpora vita
magnanimum heroum, pueri innuptaeque puellae,
impositique rogis iuvenes ante ora parentum,
quos circum limus niger et deformis harundo
Cocyti tardaque palus inamabilis unda
alligat et novies Styx interfusa coercet.
quin ipsae stupuere domus atque intima Leti
Tartara caeruleosque implexae crinibus angues
Eumenides, tenuitque inhians tria Cerberus ora,
atque Ixionii vento rota constitit orbis.
iamque pedem referens casus evaserat omnes
redditaque Eurydice superas veniebat ad auras
pone sequens (namque hanc dederat Proserpina legem),
cum subita incautum dementia cepit amantem,
ignoscenda quidem, scirent is ignoscere manes:
restitit, Eurydicenque suam iam luce sub ipsa
immemor heu! victusque animi respexit. ibi omnis
effusus labor atque immitis rupta tyranni
foedera, terque fragor stagnis auditus Averni.
illa 'quis et me' inquit 'miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? en iterum crudelia retro
fata vocant, conditque natantia lumina somnus.
iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte
invalidasque tibi tendens, heu non tua, palmas.'
dixit et ex oculis subito, ceu fumus in auras
commixtus tenues, fugit diversa, neque illum
prensantem nequiquam umbras et multa volentem
dicere praeterea vidit; nec portitor Orci
amplius obiectam passus transire paludem.
quid faceret? quo se rapta bis coniuge ferret?
quo fletu manes, quae numina voce moveret?
illa quidem Stygia nabat iam frigida cumba.
septem illum totos perhibent ex ordine menses
rupe sub aeria deserti ad Strymonis undam
flevisse et gelidis haec evolvisse sub antris
mulcentem tigres et agentem carmine quercus;
qualis populea maerens philomela sub umbra
amissos queritur fetus, quos durus arator
observans nido implumes detraxit; at illa
flet noctem, ramoque sedens miserabile carmen
integrat, et maestis late loca questibus implet.
nulla Venus, non ulli animum flexere hymenaei:
solus Hyperboreas glacies Tanaimque nivalem
arvaque Riphaeis numquam viduata pruinis
lustrabat, raptam Eurydicen atque irrita Ditis
dona querens. spretae Ciconum quo munere matres
inter sacra deum nocturnique orgia Bacchi
discerptum latos iuvenem sparsere per agros.
tum quoque marmorea caput a cervice revulsum
gurgite cum medio portans Oeagrius Hebrus
volveret, Eurydicen vox ipsa et frigida lingua
a miseram Eurydicen! anima fugiente vocabat:
Eurydicen toto referebant flumine ripae.
Orpheus and Eurydice
[Soothing his sick heart with hollow lyre, of you,
dear wife, he sang; of you alone on lonely shore,
you at the sun's coming, you at the sun's setting.]
Entering Taenarus' very jaws — deepest mouth
of Dis — and through black horror the misty woods,
to the spirits of the dead and their terrible king
he came: hearts not known to soften to human prayers.
But at his song unsettled shades from Erebus'
lowest resting-places streamed, and the lightless
insubstantial phantoms, many as the thousand birds
hidden in the leaves, when evening or a wintry shower
stirs them from the mountains: mothers and husbands
and brave heroes' life-worn bodies; boys, unmarried girls,
youths placed before parent's faces on the pyre,
whom all about black mud, ugly reeds and the
sluggish waves of Cocytus' hateful marsh hem in,
and whom nine times the interweaving Styx confines.
Spell-bound, indeed, were those in the house of Death,
innermost Tartarus, and the Furies with blue-green snakes
entwined in their hair; Cerberus' three mouths gaped silent;
and still in the wind stood Ixion's revolving wheel.
Now after all her misfortunes retracing her steps,
Eurydice — restored — had escaped, was coming
to the upper air, following behind (this Persephone
had decreed), when sudden madness seized her heedless lover,
one to be forgiven, if ghosts know how; he stopped —
alas forgetful soul! — and resolve lost, looked back
at his Eurydice, now on the verge of daylight.
Then all his work was wasted, the cruel king's conditions
broken, and three times a thunder-crash was heard
by Avernus' swamps. What tide of madness ruins us both,
Orpheus?' she called. 'See the cruel Fates call me back
again, and sleep closes my swimming eyes. Now farewell:
I am carried away, surrounded by great darkness —
no longer yours! — and to you stretching my weak palms.'
And suddenly — like smoke mixed with thin air — she fled
from his eyes, and did not see him grasping shadows in vain,
and wanting to say many more things afterwards;
and the ferryman of the Underworld
suffered him cross the marsh thrown in his path no more.
What could he do, where go, his wife twice seized?
[What ghosts with tears, what gods with words could he move?]
She, cold, was sailing now by Stygian boat.
They say for seven whole months on end under a rock
high in the air he wept at lonely Strymon's waters,
and under a frosty cavern unrolled this story,
entrancing tigers, moving oak-trees with his song,
just as the nightingale lamenting under a poplar shadow
cries for her lost children, whom some cruel ploughman,
spying the nest stole unfledged; she weeps all night,
then perched on a branch her mournful song
renews, and with sad laments fills the land far and wide.
No thought of love nor marriage rites swayed his heart:
alone he roamed over the Hyperborean ice-fields, snowy
Taenis, and the Riphaean plains never free from frost,
mourning his stolen Eurydice and the futile gifts
of Dis. Spurned by his devotion, the Thracian women
during the gods' sacred rites and Bacchus' night-mysteries
scattered the young man ripped apart over their wide fields.
When, carrying in the middle of its flood the head torn
from marble neck, Oegrius' River Hebrus would turn,
then too — breath escaping — his voice and frozen tongue
called again and again 'alas my poor Eurydice!':
'Eurydice!' the banks the whole river-long re-echoed.
Translated from the Latin by James Potts