Eclogue VI The Song of Silenus

Eclogue VI The Song of Silenus is in Eclogues.

My first Muse was fit to play Sicilian measures,
and never blushed at living in the woods.
When I sang of kings and battles the Cynthian grasped
my ear and warned me: ‘Tityrus, a shepherd
should graze fat sheep, but sing a slender song.’
Now (since there are more than enough who desire to sing
your praises, Varus, and write about grim war)
I’ll study the rustic Muse on a graceful flute.
I don’t sing unasked. Yet if anyone, captivated by love,
reads these as well, my tamarisk sings of you Varus,
and all the grove: no written page is more pleasing
to Phoebus than that which the name of Varus ordains.
Speak, Muses. The boys Chromis and Mnasyllos
saw Silenus lying asleep in a cave,
his veins swollen as ever with yesterday’s wine:
nearby lay the garlands fallen just now from his head,
and his weighty bowl hung by its well-worn handle.
Attacking him, they tied him with bonds from his own wreaths
(for the old man had often cheated them both of a promised song).
Aegle arrived, and added an ally to the fearful pair,
Aegle, loveliest of the Naiads, and as he opens his eyes
she’s painting his face and brow, with crimson mulberries.
Laughing at the joke, he says: ‘Why fasten me with chains?
Free me, boys: it’s enough your power’s been shown.
Hear the songs you desire: she’ll have another present,
you your songs.’ And at once he begins.
Then you might have seen Fauns and wild creatures dance
to the measure, then the unbending oaks nodded their crowns:
no such delight have the cliffs of Parnassus in their Phoebus,
Rhodope and Ismarus are not so astounded by Orpheus.
For he sang how the seeds of earth and air and sea and liquid fire
were brought together through the great void: how from these first
beginnings all things, even the tender orb of earth took shape:
then began to harden as land, to shut Nereus
in the deep, to gradually take on the form of things:
and then the earth is awed by the new sun shining,
and rain falls from the clouds borne on high:
and woods first begin to rise, and here and there,
creatures roam over the unknown hills.
Then he tells of the stones Pyrrha threw, of Saturn’s reign,
of Prometheus’s theft and the Caucasian birds.
To these he adds Hylas, abandoned beside the spring,
called by the sailors till all the shore cried: ‘Hylas, Hylas!’
And Pasiphae, happier if cattle had never been known,
he consoles, concerning her desire for the white bull.
Ah, unhappy girl, what madness seized you!
The daughters of Proetus filled the fields with false lowing:
yet none of them chased so vile a union with the beasts,
though each feared to have the yoke around her neck,
and often looked for horns on her smooth brow.
Ah, unhappy girl, now you wander in the hills:
he chews pale grass under a dark oak tree,
his snowy side pillowed on sweet hyacinths,
or he chases another amongst the vast herd.
‘Nymphs of Dicte, close up the woodland glades,
if by any chance the bull’s wandering tracks
might meet my gaze: he perhaps
tempted by green grass, or following the herd,
may be led by some cows home to our Cretan stalls.’
Then he sings of the girl who marvelled at the apples
of the Hesperides: then encloses Phaethon’s sisters in the moss
of bitter bark, then lifts them from the soil as high alders.
Then he sings Gallus wandering by the waters of Permessus,
how one of the Muses led him to the Aonian hills,
and how all the choir of Phoebus rose to him:
how Linus, the shepherd of divine song,
his hair crowned with bitter celery and flowers,
cried: ‘Here, take these reeds, the Muses give them to you,
as to old Ascraean Hesiod before, with which, singing,
he’d draw the unyielding manna ash-trees from the hills.
Tell of the origin of the Grynean woods, with these,
so there’s no grove Apollo delights in more.’
Why say how he sang of Scylla, Nisus’s daughter, of whom
it’s told, that, with howling monsters round her white thighs,
she attacked the Ithacan ships and, oh, in the deep abyss,
tore the fearful sailors apart with her ocean hounds:
or how he told of Tereus’s altered body, what feast it was
Philomela prepared, what gifts, what path she fled to the waste,
and with what wings, unhappy one, she first flew over her home?
He sings all Phoebus once practised, and blest Eurotas heard,
and ordered his laurels to learn by heart,
(the echoing valleys carry them again to the stars),
till Vesper commands the flocks to be gathered and counted,
in the fold, as he progresses through the unwilling sky.