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FIRST BOOK OF STATIUS'S THEBAIS.
TRANSLATED IN THE YEAR 1703.
EDIPUS, King of Thebes, having, by mistake, slain his father Laius, and married his mother Jocasta, put out his own eyes, and resigned his realm to his sons Eteocles and Polynices. Being neglected by them, he makes his prayer to the fury Tisiphone, to sow debate betwixt the brothers. They agree at last to reign singly, each a year by turns, and the first lot is obtained by Eteocles. Jupiter, in a council of the gods, declares his resolution of punishing the Thebans, and Argives also, by means of a marriage betwixt Polynices and one of the daughters of Adrastus King of Argos. Juno opposes, but to no effect; and Mercury is sent on a message to the shades, to the ghost of Laius, who is to appear to Eteocles, and provoke him to break the agreement. Polynices, in the mean time, departs from Thebes by night, is overtaken by a storm, and arrives at Argos; where he meets with Tideus, who had fled from Calidon, having killed his brother. Adrastus entertains them, having received an oracle from Apollo that his daughters should be married to a boar and a lion, which he understands to be meant of these strangers, by whom the hides of those beasts were worn, and who arrived at the time when he kept an annual feast in honour of that god. The rise of this solemnity. He relates to his guests the loves of Phoebus and Psamathe, and the story of Chorobus: he inquires, and is made acquainted with their descent and quality. The sacrifice is renewed, and the book concludes with a hymn to Apollo.
FRATERNAL rage, the guilty Thebes' alarms,
Th' alternate reign destroy'd by impious arms
Demand our song; a sacred fury fires
My ravish'd breast, and all the Muse inspires.
O goddess! say, shall I deduce my rhymes
From the dire nation in its early times,
Europa's rape, Agenor's stern decree,
And Cadmus searching round the spacious sea?
How with the serpent's teeth he sow'd the soil,
And reap'd an iron harvest of his toil;
Or how from joining stones the city sprung,
While to his harp divine Amphion sung?
Or shall I Juno's hate to Thebes resound,
Whose fatal rage th' unhappy monarch found?
The sire against the son his arrows drew,
O'er the wide fields the furious mother flew,
And while her arms a second hope contain,
Sprung from the rocks, and plung'd into the main.
But wave whate'er to Cadmus may belong,
And fix, O Muse! the barrier of thy song
At Edipus-from his disasters trace
The long confusions of his guilty race:
Nor yet attempt to stretch thy bolder wing,
And mighty Cæsar's conquering eagles sing;
How twice he tam'd proud Ister's rapid flood,
While Dacian mountains stream'd with barbarous
Twice taught the Rhine beneath his laws to roll,
And stretch'd his empire to the frozen pole;
Or, long before, with early valour strove
In youthful arms t' assert the cause of Jove.
And thou, great heir of all thy father's fame,
Increase of glory to the Latian name!
O! bless thy Rome with an eternal reign,
Nor let desiring worlds entreat in vain.
What though the stars contract their heavenly
And crowd their shining ranks to yield thee place;
Though all the skies, ambitious of thy sway,
Conspire to court thee from our world away;
Though Phoebus longs to mix his rays with thine,
And in thy glories more serenely shine;
Though Jove himself no less content would be
To part his throne, and share his heaven with thee?
Yet stay, great Cæsar! and vouchsafe to reign
O'er the wide earth, and o'er the watery main;
Resign to Jove his empire of the skies,
And people heaven with Roman deities.
The time will come when a diviner flame Shall warm my breast to sing of Cæsar's fame;
Meanwhile permit that my preluding Muse
In Theban wars an humbler theme may choose:
Of furious hate surviving death she sings,
A fatal throne to two contending kings,
And funeral flames that, parting wide in air,
Express the discord of the souls they bear:
Of towns dispeopled, and the wandering ghosts
Of kings unburied in the wasted coasts;
When Dirce's fountain blush'd with Grecian blood,
And Thetis, near Ismenos' swelling flood,
With dread beheld the rolling surges sweep
In heaps his slaughter'd sons into the deep.
What hero, Clio! wilt thou first relate?
The rage of Tydeus, or the prophet's fate?
Or how, with hills of slain on every side,
Hippomedon repell'd the hostile tide?
Or how the youth, with every grace adorn'd,
Untimely fell, to be for ever mourn'd?
Then to fierce Capaneus thy verse extend,
And sing with horror his prodigious end.
Now wretched Edipus, depriv'd of sight,
Led a long death in everlasting night;
But while he dwells where not a cheerful ray
Can pierce the darkness, and abhors the day,
The clear reflecting mind presents his sin
In frightful views, and makes it day within;
Returning thoughts in endless circles roll,
And thousand furies haunt his guilty soul:
The wretch then lifted to th' unpitying skies
Those empty orbs from whence he tore his eyes,.