‘By all the heavenly gods that rule the world, And command the human race,
What does this hubbub mean, and all these savage Faces, turned towards me alone?
By your children, if Lucina came when called To assist at their proper birth,
By these worthless rags of purple clothing, I pray, By Jupiter who will condemn this,
Tell me why you gaze at me like my stepmother, Or a beast pursued by the spears?’
When the lad, who lamented with trembling lips Stood silent, stripped of a boy’s insignia,
His youthful body such a one as might soften The impious hearts of Thracians:
Canidia, those blunt vipers entangled In her head of dishevelled hair,
Ordered wild fig-trees, ripped from the sepulchres, With funereal cypresses,
With the feathers and eggs of nocturnal screech-owls All smeared with the blood of vile toads,
With herbs that Iolchos and Iberia, fertile In poisons nurture for us,
And bones snatched from the jaws of a hungry bitch, All to be burnt in Colchian flames.
Meanwhile eager Sagana, sprinkled water From Avernus all through the house,
Hair fierce and bristling, like a spiny sea-urchin, Or like a wild-boar in the chase.
And Veia, unrestrained by sign of conscience, Was digging the earth, with a sturdy
Mattock, while groaning hard over her labours, So the lad, buried to his neck,
His face showing like a swimmer’s, chin touching The surface of the water,
Might die staring at food, brought and taken away Two or three times each endless day:
This so his marrow and liver, extracted, then Dried, might form a love potion,
When his eyeballs, fixed on the meal he was denied, Had shrivelled all to nothingness.
Idle Naples, and every neighbouring town, Believed that the mannish wanton,
Folia of Ariminium was also Present as one of that number,
Who spirits away the stars with Thessalian Charms, and steals the moon from the sky.
Then savage Canidia, gnawing a long nail With livid tooth, what did she say
What did she not say? ‘Oh, faithful witnesses Of my actions, you, Night,
And you, Diana, who are the queen of silence, Where our secret rites are performed,
Now, aid me now, now, turn your anger and power Against the houses of my foes!
While wild beasts lie in the fearsome woods, Wrapped in the sweetest slumber,
Let Subura’s dogs bark at the old adulterer, He whom everyone laughs at,
Who’s smeared with the ointment that my hands prepared, And never more perfectly.
What happened? Why have barbarous Medea’s dire Potions failed to work, those with which
She took vengeance on that proud paramour, great Creon’s daughter, then fleeing,
When the gift of a robe steeped in poisoned blood, Engulfed the new-made bride in flames?
And yet no root or herb that may grow secretly In wild places eluded me.
He is sleeping there between perfumed sheets Forgetful of mistresses. Alas! He walks at liberty, freed by the charms
Of some clever enchantress! O Varus, doomed to a life heavy with weeping,
By use of no common potion Will you return to me, nor will your devotion
Be revived by Marsian spells. I’ll prepare something stronger, a stronger dose I’ll pour,
That will counter your disdain, And sooner shall the sky sink under the sea,
With all the earth spread over both, Than you not burn with passion for me, just like
Bitumen with its smoky flame.’ Hearing this the boy no longer tried, as before,
To mollify the impious, But uncertain how best to break the silence,
Uttered Thyestean curses: ‘Your magic spells can’t alter right and wrong, or
Avert human retribution. I’ll pursue you with terrors: no sacrifice
Will expiate my dark threats. Even when, doomed to death, I expire, I’ll come
To you as a Fury by night, A shadow whose crooked claws will tear your faces
With the Manes’ divine power, And settling myself in your unquiet hearts, I’ll drive sleep out with terror.
The crowd will crush you, obscene old hags, pelting you With stones from every side:
And then the wolves and birds of the Esquiline, Will scatter your unburied limbs,
And my parents, who will alas survive me, shall Not miss a moment of that sight