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A POETICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD’S CREATION
I. THE WORLD’S CREATION
I am minded to describe the beginnings of crude matter, which the divine creative force provided and arranged in spaces, separating Nereus from the dry land; how this same creative force sent the spheres curving in their winding orbits and gave high heaven its roof; how Man’s mind was infused by heaven’s spark; how Eden became the seedbed of deadly sin; how God’s child deserted heaven’s shining precincts; and how God fetched us back and placed us in His heavenly citadel — a great subject, worthy of the wing of a lofty mind. You Who have erected the walls of the universe and filled the sky with its fiery furnace, holy Father, come to my aid, and You too, Son of the Father, the origin of a better world, and also you, Spirit, Which emanates jointly from the Father and the Son, breathe upon me and enter into my mind. The Pegasides are no concern of mine, nor is Apollo, their president. I have no liking for Cirrha nor the vain gods of the pagans. Let fostering God Three in One move my heart, so that I may be able to consecrate for posterity and expound in verse God’s deeds, and be able to report the great weight of these things.
In the beginning the Creator of nature, mighty with His words, created heaven, earth, all that the earth contains within its bounds, whatever circles the turning heaven, and the ineffable fabric of the universe, within six days, with no matter supplying the beginnings of such a great structure. Rather, all at first was a horrid void. The land remained lifeless, not having taken on its many hues, possessing no water and unable to withstand the wounding of a plough. It was not yet resplendent with the aromas or flowers of plants. So, thoroughly disgusted with itself for being less than it should be, it refused to be seen, and ingloriously hid in the caverns of the sea, suspended beneath their liquid vaults. Seaweed lashed it on every side, the imperious ocean kept it in check with its current, and encircling azure waters girded it with their glassy wall. No light or Lucifer shone in the sky, but rather a dusky dark possessed this immense mass of water and its depths. Darkness and water were everywhere.
A breeze sent from on high fell on this vast mass, and with the tremulous flutter of its wings it stirred the floods and currents of the sea. Then the world’s Creator banished the darkness and bade light, armed with its beams, to shine. Thus nourishing light began to glow, cheering the world’s first beginnings with its rosy countenance. After God drank in its radiance with His celestial eyes, He approved of His undertakings, and at its very inception He applauded His nascent work. Then the Father made light and darkness to take turns in holding sway, bestowing equal honors of government on them both. So when the day disappears dark night rides forth in her pitch-black car, clad in shadows, but when the day arrives the gleam of gold and silver goes before it on shining wings, and fostering daylight comes crowding after, yet this was a day without a sun. This was the first stage of His labor. Then the Creator set crystal walls around heaven, spreading them out like bright linen sails, and filled it with its circling fires, above and below, set at equal distances from the earth. He set them above ambosial liquids and streams of nectar, lest the thin clouds which Phoebus’ fire summons forth sully them with their touch, or father Oceanus, if ever he be roiledm spew his waters skyward when bristling Boreas scourges his realm. For the Father reserved the spheres for His own secret purposes, and kept them apart from the sea’s embrace by interposing all Olympus.
On its other side, the ruddy evening, herald of night, brought the darkling fasces and emblems of her black king with her dark-grey horses, and when the night has been routed the dawn revealed the golden face of day.
Then the Father, seeing that there existed no limit on the currents or on the prideful flood of the watery sphere’s tyrant, and that the earth was being held prisoner in his dank prison, being wholly scourged by the lashing of the sea, did not allow the unbridled waves to range with license. Rather, He chastised the empire of the sea by imposing a fixed limit and bound its errant waters with bridles of sand, making it whirl in a more narrow gyre. The water stood gathered up in a pile, which the Father named the ocean. Into it flowed its servants, the gliding rivers. Here he who sits on his blue throne, armed with a triple-pointed weapon, ruling the world’s water with that trident, while he governs the sea he stirs up these waters and makes those ones subside into their basin. When God had released the dry land from these bonds, He celebrated the birthday of Mother Earth. Then the Father of nature turned His intention to the lifeless land and bade it thrive with crops and suddenly teem with waves of grain, renewing its produce with new crops. The land obeyed God’s command. The warmth of life stole into its limbs and and it was softened by fructifying rain, as God’s power melted its arid breast. So the land, like a a bride newly bedded by her dear bridegroom, was impregnated by this verdant seed and, her womb swollen to maturity, now labored in childbirth. The ground became clad in flowers, forests crowned the soil with their foliages, and the gardens freely yielded ruddy apples. Meadows shone like Thaumantias does in a sodden sky when she bestows a rainbow painted with a thousand colors.
That which had recently laid hidden as base untended glebe, beaten on all sides by the foaming storms of the sea, stood as proud as a purple-clad queen. In particular, there where with its hoarse babble the Tigris, smaller in its bed, greeted its master the Euphrates and ran together with it, yielding up its fasces and glassine scepter, was the delight and flower of the world, the world’s pride and joy, the prize of the fruitful earth, the darling of the countryside. This was a garden, surpassing the hopes of mortal hearts with its abundance, which God had seeded it with His own hand. It was painted with the blood-red of the rose, it was painted with the milk-white of the privet, surpassing gold gold and royal purple. Good plenty blessed its fields, waving with all manner of crops, and heaven blew upon it with happy breezes. The Creator smiled on these things, and the third evening came down from heaven, bringing behind it the unbearable chaos of black night. Likewise, the darkness banished, once more the third day decked Olympus with its rosy brightness.
And at once, after the Father had noticed that the sky was brightened by no cultivation and unpainted by any shining torches, He wove into Olympus’ fabric a thousand glowing bodies, a thousand eyes, a thousand little fires. Just as a mantle made at Sidon glitters with its many golden ornaments, or as a Babylonian garment shines with the gold and silver of the Meander, attracting the onlookers’ eyes, so the roofs of heaven shone with their tinkling fires. Then you could see the armies of the stars, their bright battalions, some standing still, others wandering through the sky with their errant fire, not without encountering opposing fires in battle. Of these, the torch of the daystar was the fairest for the honor of its rosy face, borne on its golden car, claiming the title of king and the royal government, so that it might bring the light or summon the long shadows. This is why, when it makes the day circle in a shorter circle and loosens the night’s bonds as it sinks, chill winter ravages the honor of the countryside with its cold, and the land is sluggish, covered over with the marble hardness of ice. But when it it is sooner to rise from its eastern limits and later in hiding its car in the western waters, the earth abandons its sloth and grows green with a garment of plants, and her replenishing grace breathes with a happy face. Furthermore a light was set in heaven which could dictate laws to the silent night and decree ordinances for the ebbing and surging sea, a fire to imitate the sun, showing a virginal blush on her golden face. Whether she grows faintwhen embraced by her brother’s light, or broods with small horns in her brow, or waxes more powerful and shows her full fires, she sets and imposes her reins on the sea. And when her brother, with much gasping and panting, ceases to whip on his weary horses and thirstily plunges into the waters of the Tartessian sea, at evening she immediately mounts her dewy car to give consolation for the lost day, and heaven’s mercy waters the arid fields with its fruitful showers.
The Creator Himself congratulated His work. The fourth evening covered the earth in shadows, and the god of Delos, overcome by his toil and by his love, entered the seaweed-hung bower of his watery bride and consummated his marriage in the waves. Then, rising from her yellow bed, Aurora tore him, hesitating, from his wife’s humid embrace, as she went before him making the fields serene with her ruddy brow. Then the Creator addressed Himself to what went on inside the watery kingdom and wholly plunged Himself into the sea. Soon the mothers of the deep were quickened, a race rough with scales was born, and all their sea-brood swam through the azure palaces of their kingdom. Part skimmed through the water on the oars of their fins, and their first leaders, the monstrous whales, assaulted the reefs and wearied the currents with their mass. Part relied on the number of their feet, not cleaving the waves with the oars of their feet, but rather, hidden beneath the protection of their shells, they made their trails along the humid highways. Part, having no fins or feet, clung to the reefs in their shells and fed on the sand.
And so, when the finny denizens of the water had filled their foamy homes, immediately the birds, those genial guests of the fields, assembled, flying in thick flocks. To the birds’ applause the eagle, that commander of things that fly, raised his head to the stars and flew his airy way, with his fierce eyes and menacing talon, having no fear of Phoebus’ shining darts. Next after him followed a series of birds, such as the augurs observe, coursing over the airy tracts and soothing the forests with their countless tunes and hundred different voices. First came the nightingale, preeminent for her songs and melody. Whether she sings with a low murmur or broadcasts her tunes with a shrill voice, whether she sings separate notes or blurs them together and blends their colors, she moves the stones and ash-trees on lofty mountains. In third place came that kind of bird most lovely to behold, the peacock, shining with its bejewelled wings, its face and shoulders of bright gold, and its iridescent back. When it puffs itself up and sees the long train of its spotted tail, it is inflamed with self-love, and feeds its agreeable fires in his bones. Nor will I pass you by, you who celebrate the waters of the Cayster, you swan, surpassing the other frost-colored Getic birds with your whiteness and challenging the dawn with your snowy whiteness. When your death is close at hand, as if prescient, you sing a dirge to the nearby rocks, ponds and forests, to which the nearby rocks, ponds, and forests mournfully resound. Nor will you go unmentioned, you bird who takes pride in your size, you who assault heaven not with the rowing of your wings but with your tall head, secure about your offspring since you bury your eggs alongside the streams of the sea to tread with your feet as you sound your monstrous bellow. You also excel in this trifling gift of nature, that you out-do the power of a furnace with that cast-iron stomach of yours.
The Creator greeted these things with His favorable applause, and blessed them with these words: “Bless you, you bird who swims through the blue sky on your pinions, and you who cleave the waters of the sea with your fins,” and made their kinds to endure with numerous offspring.
When the fifth evening had kindled its ruddy fires and the fifth dawn shone, the stars having been put to rout, the Father of nature saw that the lands were barren of settlers, and the countryside was playing host to no live thing, that the plenty of the tender grass was never being grazed, that the crops were standing untouched and that everything was chock-full of foodstuffs but that no tables were being set. Throughout the lands he breathed life into the burgeoning limbs of lowly cattle, a tribe devoted to pasturing, which might eat the leaves of willows and graze the happy meadows, cropping the tall grass with its munch. Next the lion, a new denizen of the fields, roaring with its mouth, flashing with its eyes, boasting a mane on its sinuous neck, filled the air with its snarls. Standing near to him was the elephant, towering as huge as a mountain, stronger than the lion albeit less courageous, and these were joined by the boar, fierce with its tusk, the bear, fearsome for its hugs, and all the beasts who are disposed to haunt the forest, who dwell in trackless glades and solitary places. But those animals whom our bountiful Father desired to be tamed for mankind's use live in cultivated places. The bull sported with his snow-white consort, the bristly boar with his mate, and the ram, who butts with his horns, with his. In open fields the swift-running horse exercised himself, challenging the winds to a running-match, and learning to use his legs in a measured prance. What should I say of the snake, notable for its markings, which curls itself up coil upon coil? What about the race which burrows in the bowels of the earth, who, while digging his tunnels at night imbibes the moist nutrition of the soil and, alas, damages our hard mother with his numerous woundings?
These things thus completed, the Creator weighed His work in a fair balance and liked this train of events and laborious arrangement of everything Then the fostering Trinity Which governs the lands and the stars, Its heart bound by everlasting love for humankind, brooded on many things and pondered them in Its mind, and then broke Its holy silence thus: “We, the everlasting God, the final source and goal of all things, from Whom everything derives and to Whom everything returns, We venerable Trinity, have created everything the world contains, together with the spaces below the world and the trackless spaces above it. But to what purpose are these artful creations and this work of such great size? Why have we urged these things forward when the sea, the land, nor the regions of the sky bring Us no gifts of grain or offer Us heaps of incense? So let Us create Man, a celestial race. He will not look at the earth, face-downward, his attention will not be fixed on things beneath, but rather he stand erect and ardently look up at his native heaven, the kindred citadels of the sky. Let the earth defer to him and the surrounding water obey his commands. Let the peaceful animal dive under his great auspices, and let him address his prayers and vows to Us, and humbly worship Us with sacred honors.”
He next took a shapeless mass of dusty soil and sticky liquid, and shaped it into the comely form of a body, which he filled with the divine breath of heaven. His mind, dwelling as a guest in this mass of mud, brought its subordinated limbs into the circle of reason. Coursing the starry citadels and steep places, Man’s reason is carried by constant motion, as if were heaven’s imitator. Flourishing with celestial works and God’s inspiration, it differs from the brutes and makes Man the equal of Olympus. When he first came forth in the light of day, nature’s Creator spoke these kindly words from heaven: “Son of God, destined to produce sons and daughters of God, be of good cheer. I shall bring it about that you have a mate, joined to you in the bonds of marriage by wedding-torches, who will bear you progeny made of the divine spark, a woman who will propagate the human race for the ages. Nor should you be troubled by concern over food or poverty. Whatever you see contained in the world’s embrace is yours: the sky lends you its light, the rivers pay you the tribute of water, and Mother Earth bestows sustenance and a home. For you the fruitful forest bends down its branches, bearing sun-ripened fruit to eat, the dewy meadows submit their grasses, golden Ceres ripens with heavy stalks of wheat, and the pale grape purveys cheerful Lyaeus. She will also grant these fresh nutriments and tasty seeds to the race of birds and cattle, both those which dwell in rough brambles and solitary places, and in cultivated parts.”
“But you, son of God, since your origin is heavenly and your race is eternal, fill your mind with heavenly things, enjoy what is eternal and only use those that are transitory. I only ask one thing and command this with My words, since My very bountiful love for you is granting you to enjoy lavish banquets, which is that you should shun the fatal fruit of a single tree. This tree stands in the middle of the garden, with its shaggy foliage and spreading branches. Mad Knowledge has given it its name, taking it from the knowledge gained by means of the wretched senses. Although it surpasses the apples of red and gold, although it wards off the sun with its arching branches and shines with the honor of its fresh leaves, beware lest you violate its apples with your bite or mark them with your tooth. If the desire to eat this unhappy food should seize you, how many deaths these sweet apples will bring it with a single death, and how many bitter things! For, just as one wave follows after another, so these apples will renew cares with more cares and catastrophe with more catastrophe. And in the end, after you have been constantly been tossed about by a hard storm, they will you to the Stygian darkness of everlasting night. But if do not resist and give Me your ears, and conduct everything in the future in accordance with My commands, you shall live the years of the beings of the sky, and enjoy heaven.”
Having said these things, with a throng of heavenly beings looking on, He made the earth and all Olympus shudder at His nod. Next, surveying with His eyes the seas, the lands, and everything, fit in their places, harmonious in their mutual binding, and fair to behold, He gave His approval, evening covered the sky with shadow, and for the sixth time the Dawn raised her head from the liquid waves.
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