Sunday, 27 December 2009

Statius: The Villa of Pollius Felix at Sorrento (Silvae 2.2)

Next term colleagues and I will teach for the first time a first-year course on the Roman empire. The aim is to include literary and archaeological approaches within a historical structure. An important feature is the text of the week, and one week is reserved for descriptions of villas, by Pliny and Statius. But we can't make students buy a copy of the Silvae for one poem, and nothing was available online. So I have done a translation. I have represented Latin hexameters with English blank verse; the number of lines is regularly greater in the translation than in the original, but as the original has abundant enjambment I hope that it is not thereby misrepresented. I have translated Shackleton Bailey’s text, and in many places been influenced by the wording of his prose translation. A couple of lines which are conjectural are represented in italics.

As with other poems in the Silvae, Statius makes a point of his facility of composition, when he describes this one in the prose preface to book 2: ‘My dear Pollius’ villa at Sorrento, which follows, should have been put into words by me with greater care, if only in honour of his eloquence, but my friend forgave me.’

There stands, between the Sirens’ famous walls
and the cliffs weighed down by great Minerva’s shrine
on the Tyrrhenian sea, a lofty villa
that watches all the Dicarchaean deep.
The soil there’s well-beloved by Bromius,
and on the lofty hills the grapes are baked,
grapes which don’t envy the Falernian press.
Here came I, glad after the festival
my homeland holds five-yearly, when a lull
had fallen on the stadium, when the dust
lay white, and athletes turned to Ambracian laurels;
across my native bay the eloquence
of gentle Pollius, the youthful grace
of glittering Polla brought me, though I longed
already to turn my steps where Appia runs,
familiar route, and queen of all long roads.

Delay soon turned delight. Both sides, curved cliffs
break up the seas, lunate in calm recess.
Nature gives way; a damp beach pushes through
the rock, runs in between the lowering crags.
The place’s first delight: from double dome
a bathhouse smokes, freshwater nymphs run out
from land into the bitter sea. Here Phorcus
with lightfoot chorus, here Cymodocē,
her locks all sodden, Galatea here,
green sea-nymph, all alike delight to bathe.
Before the house, blue Neptune keeps his watch,
the ruler of the swelling wave and guard
over a blameless home; his temple foams
with friendly surge. The happy fields’ defender
is Hercules. Its twin god cheers the port.
One keeps the lands, one stops the savage waves.
Wondrous the quiet of the main! Exhausted seas
here lay aside their fury, and mad winds
breathe gentler; here the headlong storm dares less;
an untumultuous moderate pool lies still,
and imitates the morals of its lord.

From there, at angles creeps a colonnade
over the hills, a city’s work, and tames
harsh rocks with its long ridge. Where sunlight once
mingled with darkling dust, and where the path
was charmless wilderness, joy now to walk:
just like, if you ascend the lofty peak
of Bacchis’ city, Ephyrē, there runs
a covered path from Inoan Lechaeum.

If Helicon should grant me all his streams,
Piplēa quench my thirst, the flying horse
give waters generously from his hoof;
should trusty Phemonoē open up
her waters chaste, or those my Pollius
disturbed when with Apollo’s auspices
he dipped his urn in deeply, I could still
not equal in Pierian songs the sights
innumerable, the adornments of that place.
In that long list, scarcely my eyes sufficed;
scarcely, while I was led past everything in turn,
my steps sufficed. What a great crowd of things!
Is it the place’s brilliance, or the master’s,
that should amaze me first? This mansion views
the sunrise and Apollo’s youthful beam;
this one detains him as he falls, forbidding
him to dismiss the light that’s rightly spent,
when day’s fatigued, when the dark mountain’s shade
falls in the water, when the palace swims
in glasslike sea. Some buildings bustle with
the ocean’s roar, others are ignorant
of the sounding waves, and favour earthly silence.
Some places Nature’s favoured, but in some,
beaten, she’s given way to cultivation,
learnt to be mollified for unknown ends.
A hill once stood where you see level ground;
there once were lairs where now you enter houses;
where you spy lofty groves, no land was there.
Their owner tamed them; while he shapes the rocks
or fights them out, the soil rejoicing follows.
Behold the cliffs learning to bear the yoke,
the houses entering, mountain moving back
when ordered. Let Methymna’s bard withdraw
his hand; with it the Theban lyre withdraws;
the Gothic plectrum’s glory yields to you.
You too move rocks, high forests follow you.
Why should I tell of ancient shapes in wax
or bronze: whatever with his paints Apelles
rejoiced to animate; whatever marvel
the hands of Phidias carved, when still the shrine
of Jupiter was empty; what the skill
of Myron or what Polyclitus’ chisel
ordered to live; bronzes from Corinth’s ash
worth more than gold, the heads of generals
and poets, heads of ancient sages, whom
you strive to follow, whom in all your heart
you feel – untroubled as you are by cares,
your mind always composed in tranquil virtue,
your mind always your own. Why should I list
the thousand rooftops and changes of scene?
Each bedroom has its own delight, its own
particular view, and different lands, across
reclining Nereus, serve different windows.
This looks on Ischia, and from that appears
rugged Prochyta; Hector’s armourer
lies open here; there sea-girt Nesis breathes
malignant breezes, while from here is seen
Euploea, sign of luck for wandering ships;
Megalia juts and wounds the curving waves;
your Limon’s pained, because his master lies
across the bay; he watches from afar
your Sorrentine headquarters.

Just one room,
one only, far apart from all the rest,
stands out and offers you across the sea’s
straight path, Parthenopē. And here, dug deep
from Grecian quarries, marbles: this the vein
of eastern Syenē has tinged, and this
in mournful Synnas Phrygian axes mined,
among the fields of grieving Cybelē,
where on the painted marble, purple rings
set off the pure white base. Here too, cut from
the mountain of Amyclaean Lycurgus,
a stone that’s green, rock mimicking soft grass;
here shine Numidia’s yellowing stones, and Thasos,
and Chios, and Carystos that delights
to match the rolling wave. All turn and all
salute the towers of the Chalcidian city.
Hail to your spirit, for you love and live
in Grecian country! May Dicharchus’ walls
that gave you birth not envy – for it’s right
that we possess our learned foster-son.
Why should I now recount the country’s wealth,
and ploughlands thrown upon the main, and rocks
dripping with Bacchus’ nectar? Oftentimes
in Autumn, when the vines are ripening,
there climbed the rocks, hidden in shades of night,
a Nereid; she wiped her dewy eyes
on shoots, and snatched sweet bunches from the slopes.
And often too, the neighbouring waves threw spray
on to the vintage, satyrs tumbled down
into the shallows, and the mountain Pans
longed to catch Dōris, naked in the waves.
Be blessed, earth, for lord and lady both,
for all the Trojan’s and the Pylian’s years;
and do not change your noble servitude.
Let the Tirynthian hall with its display
surpass you not, nor the Dicharchan bay;
Let not the pleasant vineyards please them more
beside Galaesus, Therapnaean stream.
Here Pollius practices Pierian arts
whether he ponders Epicurus’ lore,
or strikes my lyre, or weaves unequal songs,
or threatens to unsheathe the avenging iamb.
Here lightly flies the Siren from her rock,
to better songs than hers; Tritonia there
listens and moves her crests. Then blustering gusts
are calm, the seas themselves no longer roar,
delightful dolphins rise up from the deep,
drawn to his lyre, and wander past the cliffs.

Live long, live wealthier than Midas’ treasure,
than Lydian gold, more blest than diadems
of Troy or Persia. The uncertain rods
of state, the fickle crowd, the laws, the camp,
shall not irk you, who in your mighty heart
tame hopes and fears, lifted above all prayers,
one who’s immune to fate and who rebuffs
indignant Fortune. When your last day comes,
you’ll not be found engulfed in doubtful doings,
but ready to depart, replete with life.
We, worthless crowd, always prepared to slave
away and long for fleeting benefits,
we’re scattered to the winds of chance; but you,
you from your mind’s high citadel despise
our wanderings, and laugh at human joys.
There was a time when you yourself were torn
by a twin land’s votes, when you were lifted high
through the two cities, by Dicarchus’ folk
greatly revered, adopted too by mine,
and generous here and there in equal share,
in the heat of youth, proud in your wandering
from the right path. But now, the fog dispersed,
you see the truth. Others are tossed about
again upon that ocean, but your ship
has come unshaken to a tranquil calm
in a safe harbour. So proceed, and never
send back your well-sailed ship into our storms.

And you, who stand above all Latin daughters,
whose mind equals your man’s, whose heart no cares,
whose brow no threats have turned, but in whose face
is candid joy, and pleasure free from cares:
for you no luckless strongbox suffocates
your wealth, no loss from greedy usury
torments your soul; your riches can be seen,
and with restraint and wisdom you enjoy them.
No hearts are joined under a better god,
no other minds has Concord better taught
to love their bonds. The joys of fleeting life
learn now carefree; flames mingled from your breasts
have made a lasting bond, and hallowed love
preserves the laws of honourable friendship.
Go through the years and centuries to come,
and outdo all the claims of ancient fame.


Jacob said...

I came across this poem having just visited the villa. I'm struck both by Statius' skill in capturing the site, the wonderfully pleasing tension between nature and the mastery of nature, and your very successful translation. Thanks!

Gavin Kelly said...

Thank you very much!

Markus said...

I have just read Statius's Silvae and wanted to check up the villa Pollius on Google,
I remember faintly that I had visited the place in my younger years.
To my delight, I found wonderful pictures of what is now remaining of it and most of all your personal translation of this poem, which I find just delightful.
Thank you for it.