Friday, 18 February 2011

Rutilius' Return 1: Book 1.1-42

Rutilius introduces his journey. The proem, lines 1-36, is divided equally, as the poet himself is, between his two homes, Rome and Gaul. Nothing could be more fortunate than to be a senator of Rome (1-18) -- but Gaul calls him back, because it has suffered from long wars, and he should be on the spot to rebuild (19-36). [These wars are usually defined as the barbarian invasions of 406 and onwards, and sometimes mysterious domestic dissidents, the Bagaudae, are added -- but in fact there had also been straightforward civil wars for much of the period]. Then a self-contained passage of six lines (37-42) explains why he made the journey by sea instead of land: here the Goths are explicitly mentioned -- who had been an independent presence in Italy from 408 to 412.


You’ll marvel rather, reader, that my swift Return can so quickly do without the blessings of Romulus. What is long for those who venerate Rome for all time? Nothing is ever long that gives pleasure without end. How much and how often do I count those people blessed who have won the prize of being born on your fortunate soil! who, high-born offspring of noble Romans, heap on to their inborn glory the honour of the city! The seeds of virtues could not in other places more worthily be received from and passed to heaven. Fortunate also are those who, having won rewards close to the first, have obtained Latian homes! The venerable Senate is open to foreign merit and does not think strangers those who deserve to be hers. They enjoy the authority of the order and of their colleagues, and have a part in the Genius which they revere, just as through the heavenly poles of the world’s top, we believe there exists the council of the highest god. [18]

But my fortune is torn from these beloved shores, and the fields of Gaul summon their native—too disfigured indeed from long wars, but as less pleasant, so more to be pitied. The charge of ignoring your fellow citizens is less serious when they are untroubled: public losses demand private commitment. We owe tears in person to our ancestral roofs: toil brought on by distress often helps. It is not right any longer to ignore the long ruins, which the delay and suspension of help has multiplied. Now’s the time, on farms ravaged after cruel fires, to build even shepherd’s huts. No indeed, if the very springs could utter speech, and if our arbours could speak, they could press me on as I tarry and add sails to my longings. Now at last, with the embraces of the beloved city loosening, I am conquered and, scarcely, endure my belated journey. [36]

The sea has been chosen, since the paths of the land are soaked by rivers on the plains, and on the mountains are stiff with crags. After the Tuscan fields, after the Aurelian causeway suffered Gothic troops with fire and sword, and do not restrain the woods with lodgings or the rivers with bridges, better to entrust sails to the uncertain sea. [42]

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