To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
A POEM TO THE SAME MOST DISTINGUISHED EARL OF ARUNDEL, WRITTEN IN EIGHT LINES
If my translation has pleased you in any point, distinguished Earl, or if it contains any good matter, let this my Pomp likewise please you and profit you in the reading, a Pomp which Antigone’s sad tale contains within itself wholly. Furthermore, I have added to the Pomps noteworthy Themes: may you approve these too on account of their utility. So deign read these with a smiling face, as the friendly Muse of a stranger has given them to you.
Most zealous for your honor,
THE FIRST POMP
Divine wisdom permeates literature in all its branches: she is common to every book, the proper matter for art. All writers are steeped in her, towards her all bend their zeal. But she never shines forth as brightly as she does in good poetry, which can speak — a talking picture, imprinting virtue in the minds of men. The closer you examine her, the fairer she is. She stamps the form of good things upon the mind, and, as a teacher of the right way, corrects life’s evil. A poem is born so as to bring aid to our minds, and to remove straying errors. In this genre, the fictitious character teaches the proper course of life: what is fitting, what not to pursue. As, for example, here Creon, prostrated by bitter ruin, clearly demonstrates by his sorrows how unspeakable an evil is hard-mindedness and unyielding rigor of spirit. Against him, no power, reason, or threats prevail,. but he always tenaciously persists in his original decision. The following Pomp with show this.
JUSTICE, with a scepter
A judge, alone holding the reins of government, I am responsible for maintaining the peace, and I decide cases: by the sacred laws I govern realms and cities; by my command the prosperity of things increases; in my strength I uproot old quarrels and settle weighty suits; I follow the written rule, whether I am commending the upright or visiting ill upon the guilty. But often I am distracted from these things willy-nilly, as Equity pulls me in this direction and Rigor in that, and I hesitatingly doubt which is better to follow. But here I want to hear the argument which now confronts me.
EQUITY, a woman with a set of scales
I tread the path between legality and misrule, Equity, always an attendant upon kindness. Even though I honor legality most highly, nevertheless, insofar as it is permitted, I temper the letter of the law, as often as a good cause demands. I temper my very self, burning rage never sweeps me away. If needs be, I alter the judgment that has been handed down, or if fit tradition requires otherwise. It is often proper gently to remit a heavy penalty. So let me be your handmaiden rather than your mistress: good will will be of great value in judging a criminal case. Through me you will bear salvation to the nation, and aid in troubled times. You will grant peace to your citizens. For just as whoever holds sway is the servant of the law, so he is its master. To cling tenaciously to the written law is scarcely right.
RIGOR, a man with a sword
Rather, this mercifulness is the mark of a foolish mind, and makes depraved crime grow worse. Indeed, unbent Rigor protects a prince, with shining steel repressing tongues and evil. Fear, that trusty servant, preserves government. Only the hope of pardon topples cities: once it is granted, it provokes another and greater ill. Whoever remits sentences teaches the laws how to be transgressed. The man who punishes reluctantly nourishes wickedness. The business of the good judge is to adhere to his decision with severity, and to the rule of the written law. How often has indulgence wasted great cities! How many prosperous realms has it brought down to the level of the shameful dust! Let he who stubbornly refuses to heed the law’s decree be killed by an avenging sword, let him fall in extinction. Show an example to all men. Allow yourself to be swayed by no man’s threats, nor by the entreaties of any man’s voice. Thus by means of me, Rigor, you will render your kingdom secure.
This advice is best: here I shall employ your steel, nobody will trample on my laws with impunity.
OBSTINACY, a man wearing a breastplate
I, Obstinacy, have a heart harder than adamant. Stiff-necked, I hold iron and fire in contempt. This impenetrable breastplate protects my heart from arrows. Neither does death-dealing steel subdue me, nor do soft wheedlings move my unheeding countenance. Rock reverberates, quailing at my strokes, and the aspect of my face is always indomitable. A harsh child, I follow Right, my father.
IMPIETY, a man with a dagger
I, Impiety, destroy all right in my frenzy. My hand is busy in all manner of crime, nor have I any fear of fellow citizens, kinsmen, or the gods. I am swept at a run into all manner of evildoing. This poignard is sparing of no man, it strikes anybody. It will wound even high Jove himself.
Being the Scourge of Jove, I punish unjust men, thanks to me avenging punishment awaits the cruel. Constantly I threaten wrongdoing, and oppress the guilty. Whoever sins is destroyed by my whip, nor will any misdeed escape this avenging hand. Jove’s retribution is slow, but is never brought to naught.
LATE REPENTANCE, a man
Alas, I, Late Repentance, at length gain wisdom. What insane fury has enchanted my heart? What blindness has beset this heart of mine? For if I had known this beforehand, I would have chosen to die before committing such deeds. Now my wish is to die. Alas my foolish mind! Dire destruction oppresses me.
Here follow certain Themes, deducted from the very bowels of the preceding tragedy.
THE FIRST THEME
WE LEARN FROM THE EXAMPLE OF CREON THAT BLIND SELF-LOVE IS THE CAUSE OF MANY A DOWNFALL
A poem in iambic distichs
Insolent happiness never accepts any limit in the midst of prosperity. Swollen power compels many to be swept into crazed self-love. This bloated folly of mind blinds the keen sight of proper wisdom. Immediately discernment of the right and the just is banished, violent impulse holds sway. Whatever headstrong emotion grasps at strikes one as good, raging desire rules. It makes the tyrant’s will collapse in the direction in which unbridled passion draws it. The authority of virtue and uprightness is dissolved, piety herself is dislodged from her position. With the rein slackened, the horse dashes headlong wherever license dictates. A harsh mind and rigor towards cruel evils attends all these things. The man who is swayed by no reason, nor by prudence, who is not broken by passionate threats, indeed this man stubbornly clings to his original design, never letting go of what he grasps. No words of the prudent, no grave authority of elders ever moves this rigid man. He scorns the holy prestige of pious prophets, their noble dignity yields to him. Indeed, his impiety, provoked against God on high, breaks forth in foul crime. His previous fault invites new guilt, and there is no limit to his sinning. In truth, the unhappy ending of a former evil is always a step towards a worse. At length God, the severe Avenger of crimes, demands severe penalties. But the wise man embraces not the things which please him, but those which befit him and are upright, nor will he smoothly ignore his own faults, disdaining of those of other men more than his own. Rather, he is a harsh judge of his own mind, guiding his decisions by counsel. He criticizes any man, making no exception of himself, being particularly zealous to gain self-knowledge. The disease is especially grave for a man who lacks this self-awareness, this is the man who rejects the cure. The hidden wound shuns the surgeon’s knife, things which are concealed refuse aid. The first step towards a cure is to obey the physician, the man who best knows himself is best. Thus you must take care lest self-love deceive you, nor destroy your intelligence. Weigh whatever you shall have done, if you desire to live free of misfortune and in happiness.
THE SECOND POMP
When a great spirit pays attention to private misfortunes, led in a wrongful direction by fickle emotion, it strives to violate the public law, mindful of its own unhappiness, unmindful of its duty towards its nation. It is swept at a run to go against the fasces of government, and hastens its death by means of its wicked misdeed. Antigone’s doleful tomb teaches these things, and now the following spectacle will make them manifest.
LOFTY SPIRIT, a woman
I, Lofty Spirit, a noble offspring of an eminent parent, boast the honor of my pedigree. Fickle emotion will scarce befit my heart. I am unmoved by trifles, not excited by a small evil. It greatly disgraces me to lie idle, I set many things in motion. Whatever I undertake, I bring to completion. Whatever part I choose, I defend with vehemence. Unsure, I am hesitant where to turn me, while my country, my family relations, my prince call to me. I can scarce obey them all at once, when my nation, my family obligation, and my prince call me. Proceed, teach me, teach me what path is best to take.
NATION, an old woman
Steadfastly love me, Nation, your mother. This bosom bore you. I gave you suck. Wise Ulysses preferred his country, perched like a nest amidst the rocks, to immortality. You can put nothing before that which you owe to me. Every man who is happy while my security flourishes, becomes wretched when I perish. To die for me is a trifle. My decree is to be observed, whatever it commands. You want to be blessed? You must heed me.
KINSHIP, a shabby man
Are you abandoning me, Kinship, a part of your blood? Are you allowing me to be trampled by an enemy? See how much I suffer. Miserable, I shall collapse utterly if I am betrayed by you. Nobody will bring me aid, there shall be no remedy for my ill. Tgh ereforel lend a helping hand to this petitioner, and do as Nature’s laws command. Nature bids you come to the aid of your kinsman.
Now I shall come to your aid and cleave to you of my own free will, that one blue disdained.
TRANSGRESSION, a man
My name is Transgression of the Right. I follow where my will leads me. I devastate the neighboring fields, I overleap fences and tear down boundaries. An obstacle placed in my path further inflames my heart. Nothing constrains me, I break the public laws. If there is some semblance of honor in me, I care about nothing.
CONTUMACY, a man
To that end I, Contumacy, assist rebels. I wear an impudent face, my spirits run high. Nor does the countenance of the judge frighten me. I am not ashamed to have committed any sin. I defend the crime I have worked, I boast of it, I glory in it. As if greedy for reputation, I cheerfully suffer whatever the Fates decree.
HATRED, a man
I, Hatred, pursue the wicked. With my ponderous weight I oppress those in the wrong, nobody can withstand me. In the end I shudder at my erstwhile dear friends, their former good deeds elude my memory. In my stubbornness, I am moved by nobody’s catastrophe. I bark at every man’s misdeed as if I were a dog.
PUNISHMENT, with an axe
With the correct word I am called monstrous Punishment. I always hang on the judge’s lips. In this hand I carry exile, death, the dungeon. I carry out orders, and produce the severed head. No convicted man dodges this savage axe.
THE SECOND THEME
THE EXAMPLE OF ANTIGONE TEACHES WHAT AN EVIL THING IT IS TO DISOBEY A PUBLIC MAGISTRATE’S EDICT
A poem in anapestic dimeters
Mother Nature has invented absolutely nothing better than just laws: on these depend gentle piety, fixed faith, and great virtue. An unchanging rule of governing the people is the very life of a peaceful city. The man who exercises magnificent government is the servant of the laws. This error will not befall the person treading the path that is straight. What high authority has decided, this is to be observed by the subject populace as if it were the law. When the spring is obstructed and the water fails, the little stream grows thirsty. When the head is infected, the limbs grow slack and quickly perish by a fatal plague. Nobody may hold the laws in contempt with impunity, unless at the same time his shattered city’s posture takes a tumble, convulsed into nothing. The deceitful appearance of uprightness incites great souls to strive after what is forbidden. While they fix their attention on private ills, they violate the public commandments of kings. Sharp grief over personal catastrophe takes away all concern for duty. High-spirited virtue attempts the worst of deeds, to its own destruction: it struggles to swim against the tide, in vain it tries to dam the rapid river’s swift current. No power of private grief legitimately resists the fasces of justice. To these, concern for a friend, the favor owed brothers, the greater concern for parents are obliged to yield. A boundless ocean, a morass of ills weighs down on the guilty: they cancel out former good deeds; the well-disposed mind of a dear friend, injured, shrinks from your wicked example, and he is transformed from a loyal friend into a fierce enemy. Heavy is the wrath of an offended king. A pliable wickerwork basket cannot carry a huge weight, rather it collapses when the load is put in it. Prison, want, and squalor master the wrongdoer, his catastrophe knows no limit. At length the harsh force of fatal doom will follow as the ultimate penalty. He who kicks against the pricks is a fool, and vainly thrusts forward, his foot being stricken. The snare that has been set harms the man who has set it. Tranquility is a welcome thing. To grow wise after receiving the wound is to learn too late. So wish your healthy body to flourish for a long time? Obey your head. Let it long enjoy authority in happiness. Thus everything goes well in its enduring course.
THE THIRD POMP
Perfervid love, penetrating a youthful heart, changes the lad’s prior state and makes him another person. If the thing falls out amiss, he knows not how to be controlled. Driven out of his wits, he is swept headlong into wicked ways, and neglects his welfare. There is an old proverb, “it is scarce granted even Jove to be wise and to love at the same time.” The fate of Haemon, as he kills himself, teaches this, and the procession which is now entering shows the same thing.
CUPID, a boy with a bow and arrows
I, Cupid, am present, called the infamous god. Though I am deprived of both my eyes, this arrow here strikes its mark: when shot, it penetrates any liver, and sticks in the right place. Busily I wander through all the corners of the world, I always have good fortune in setting my snares. My torch burns even Jove with his lightning. And this throng attends me as I rage.
TEMERITY, a man
I am futile Temerity, bold of tongue, governed by uncertain chance rather than any manner of reason. I prudently foresee nothing; I follow where happenstance leads; I reject friendly advice; I make a clamor, shamelessly and without intelligence. Error leads me astray.
IMPUDENCE, a man of iron countenance
I, iron-faced Impudence, make my entrance. This shameless countenance shuns no man at all, nor does conscious guilt ever mark its brow. In my insolence I totally neglect seemly duty. I do not defer to my father, rather I assail him with insults. Such audacity is innate within my breast.
I am present, Impulse, headstrong, erratic, prone to disaster. If anything obstructs my loves, or if sorrows pang my heart with bile, where am I afraid to be swept? I am reckless, I attempt any crime, reason is banished. As if incited by a malign madness, I often put myself in death’s way, anticipating my fate.
I, Death, am here self-damaging in my frenzy. No natural process of failing nature draws me here, but rather a blind violence which breaks life’s tread has armed my hand against myself. My mind, impatient with myself, has robbed me of this life, and the consuming chagrin of a love which has been snatched away. I am made the attendant of whatever man takes the lead.
THE THIRD THEME
HAEMON’S DEMISE TEACHES THAT IT IS SCARCELY GRANTED TO ANY MAN TO LOVE AND BE WISE AT THE SAME TIME
A poem in choriambic Asclepiadeans.
Neither is the violence of racing fire, nor of the savage North wind, or of vigorous lightning, or of the vast ocean as great as when the consuming heat of wicked Cupid enter’s one’s inmost veins, and his flaming torch scorches the lusty liver. When ardor has worked its way into a lad’s heart, his character deteriorates into bad habits; he is tossed in various directions; he has no interest in food or drink; he stays awake of nights; anxious care wears down his spirit; his former comeliness is consumed, and also his strength; often he reels about with stumbling step; the poor boy is deserted by his right mind; he neglects his health, and foul madness occupies his heart; reason does not sway him, nor wisdom. As the licking fire consumes solid beams, and the wood collapses into small ash; as the mighty onrush of the howling wind completely overthrows whatever has stood in its way, so cruel love, lurking in one’s bowels, completely shatters the upright state of the mind; it sweeps everything along with itself; it banishes sane sense; aware of what it is doing, the mind hurls itself headlong; piety, right, seemliness, fairness, virtue, holy trust, and blushing shame depart. The mind is cheerfully swept towards those things which are worst, neither suffering any reins nor able to be controlled. Truly, in his frenzy the lover hastens his doom, and often places himself in the way of greedy death. And so let base love depart, if you are wise, while you are sane and able to accomplish this, for the god is fickle. Let your mind not burn with such a crazed torch, but be firm in its first onset: thus is paved the road that leads to renowned praise.
THE FOURTH AND FINAL POMP
He is to be deemed happy who acts prudently, with intelligence. He is kindly and pious towards his own people; he knows how to obey decreed law; he always remains unharmed; he emerges unscathed from every peril; whatever adversity befalls him he bears calmly with a good mind. This thing gentle Ismene plainly teaches, and this troop which is the last to approach.
Behold Reason, the unique illumination of human life. Part of my task is to point out the right. Emotion yields when I look askance. I praise sound counsels, and do nothing impulsively. Customs and faults are subject to my scales. I cling to the right and reject whatever is bad. Although Fortune heaps on me a double dose of ills, placidly I persist. The upright mind always endures.
I, unarmed Piety, worship my country and the gods: I am well disposed towards all the afflicted. No part of my life is free of its proper duty. I revere brothers and parents with intact loyalty, and I always show my gratitude to all men. Wherever I am borne, I am always dear to everybody, and whatever I ever undertake is pleasing to all.
I, gentle Obedience, have a humble heart and do not aspire to high things. I am content with my lot. Whatever authority commands, I cheerfully obey. I know how to bear hard fortune aright. I refuse to seek after great things. For whoever keeps well hidden also lives well: a fall is a trifle when taken on level ground. Having obeyed is scarcely ever cause for regret.
I, Security, approach, my limbs are safe and sound. Whatever accusation is brought against my person, my integrity soon dispels with its mighty virtue. For the innocent person hardly stands in blame for long. Sudden death does not disturb me, uncertain death does not oppress me. Rather, my life remains bright until hoary old age.
HAPPINESS, with a crown
Every man seeks me, Happiness, the goal of his long quest. I am the destination of his effort, the prize of fostering virtue, its end, its attendant. Those in power, those resplendent in their government pursue me, all those who are sound of mind. Yet in vain: blind fortune does not capture me in my sublimity. Only virtue, climbing the arduous path, attains to this crown, wins and holds it.
THE POET, speaking these words by way of an Epilogue
How great a harvest is reaped from these trifles, appearing in this order, is clear enough.
THE FOURTH THEME
ISMENE, GIVING US THE IMAGE OF A QUIET LIFE, TEACHES THAT WE SHOULD NOT TRY TO ALTER THOSE THINGS WHICH WE CANNOT
A Sapphic poem.
If supreme authority should enjoin an impious statute, or if it should violate the laws of kindly Nature, it is scarce right for anyone to break its command.
The wise man will lament at being thrust into difficult matters: welcome freedom strives to keep concealed. He who has hidden well has lived well.
He abstains from great things, and learns well how to bear a small fortune with a calm mind. The wise man employs small things, and holds his peace within his own skin.
Weak arms gladly yield because they can bear no great weight, nor do they allow a harsh load to shatter their feeble strength.
The outcomes of things are shifting and doiubtful, since nothing remains in the same state. All right and wrong things yield to each other in a fixed order.
What a lesser power has set up crookedly, a greater power will come along and tear down. The thing for which you strive amiss is often brought to pass by time’s headlong passage.
Whatever is lofty stands on an uncertain foundation. High towers are scourged by the cloudy North wind, lightning strikes the snow-clad mountains.
The neck that is slender avoids the wound. Moderate things rightly keep themselves under control. The frenzy of the turbid South wind does not harm the little skiff.
The man whom the revolving wheel has carried aloft constantly fears lest he take a fall. The man who falls on level ground takes a light tumble, and rises without injury.
Safe food is always taken from a humble table. Green sod invites deep slumber. A small cottage banishes fear.
You should steer clear of the evils which are beyond your powers; always expect better things. In the meantime, restrain yourself and stay at peace, happy in your personal lot.