Thursday, 24 February 2011

Rutilius' Return 2: The Hymn To Rome

In the most famous passage of his poem, Rutilius tearfully bids farewell to Rome. He begins by addressing Roma as a goddess and worldwide power (1.47-66); he moves on to describe her ancestry and to contrast her to other empire (1.67-92); her buildings, waters, and climate are praised (1.93-114). Then he urges her to return to her former glories, here referring to the Gothic sack of the city seven years earlier: Rome, unlike other empires, is reborn because she can grow from suffering (1.115-140). He prays for the pacified world to send tributes to Rome (1.141-154), and for her to grant him, her former Prefect, a safe journey over the sea.

The Hymn has much in common with earlier literature: it fits the traditional patterns of a epibaterios logos, a speech of farewell; it is likely that Rutilius knew Aelius Aristides' second-century panegyric of Rome; it is certain that he took much from Claudian's work, especially Book 3 of De consulatu Stilichonis (written seventeen years before Rutilius' journey, in AD 400); and the Hymn is framed in the language of Ovid's exile poetry. But the combination of these elements is distinct and deeply moving.

In my next post, I'll discuss some of my choices about the Latin text translated here. For the first part, see here.

We fix abundant kisses on the gates that must be left behind; unwillingly our feet pass the holy threshold. With tears we beg forgiveness, and we make an offering with praise, as far as weeping allows our words to run: [1.43-46]

“Hear, fairest queen of your world, Rome taken up among the starry skies. Hear, mother of men and mother of gods: we are not far from heaven through your temples. You we sing and will always sing, while the fates allow: nobody can be safe and forgetful of you. Wicked oblivion will sooner blot out the sun than the honour due to you retreat from our heart: for you offer gifts the equal of the sun’s rays, wherever the encircling Ocean surges. For you Phoebus himself travels his course - Phoebus who contains everything – and in your lands he sends down his horses, risen from your lands. Africa did not slow you with her flame-wielding sands, the Bear armed with her ice did not repel you. As far as lifebringing nature has stretched towards the poles, so far is the earth open to your courage. You have made from many nations one fatherland: under your rule it has benefited the lawless to be captured. And while you offer the conquest a share in your own laws, you have made a city what was previously a world. [1.66]

As begetters of our race we acknowledge Venus and Mars, the mother of the sons of Aeneas and the father of the sons of Romulus. Victorious clemency softens armed strength: both names are appropriate for your character. Hence your equal pleasure in combat and in mercy, which overcomes those it feared, which loves those it overcame. She who discovered the olive-tree is worshipped, and he who invented wine, and the lad who first pressed ploughs to the earth. Medicine has won altars through Paeon’s skill, Alcides is held a god for his nobility. You too have embraced the world in lawbringing triumphs make all things live by a shared treaty. You, goddess, you every corner of the Roman world honours, and wears a peace-bearing yoke on free necks. All the stars which maintain their everlasting orbits have seen no fairer empire. What like this did it befall Assyrian arms to knit together? The Medes utterly overwhelmed their neighbours. The great kings of the Parthians and the Macedonians’ tyrants imposed laws on each other through various reversals. And for you at your birth there were not more souls or hands, but there was more counsel and judgment. Noble in the lawful causes of your wars and in peace without haughtiness, your glory reached the highest riches. What you rule is less than what you deserve to rule. You surpass your mighty destiny with your deeds. [1.92]

It is a task to number the monuments lofty with abundant trophies, as if one wished to count out the stars, and glittering shrines confuse the wandering gaze: I would have believed that the gods dwelt in such a way. Should I mention the streams hanging from an arch through the air, where scarcely Iris would left her rainbearing waters? These you would rather say were mountains which had grown up to the stars: Greece would praise such a work as that of the giants. Captured rivers are buried within your walls; lofty bathhouses consume whole lakes. And equally, the space within your walls is full and damp with its own springs and all resounds with native fountains. Hence a fresh exhalation tempers the summer air, and a clean flow quenches harmless thirst. Indeed for you a sudden torrent of hot waters broke the path of the Tarpeian when the enemy pressed. If it were still flowing, I might perhaps think it chance: a river which was going return under the earth flowed to bring aid. Should I mention the woods enclosed within ceilings, for the home-bred bird to play with varying song? The year never ceases to be soothed by your spring, and vanquished winter keeps safe your delights. [1.114]

Raise up the laurels in your hair, Rome, and reshape the old age of your hallowed head into verdant locks. Let golden diadems gleam on your tower-bearing helm and let the golden shieldboss pour forth perpetual flames. May the destruction of injustice conceal your sad fall; may contempt for pain close and knit your wounds. From your adversities it is customary to hope for fortunate things; you undergo enriching losses in the fashion of the heavens. The stars’ fires rise anew from their setting; you see the moon ended so that it can begin. Victorious Brennus’ punishment was not hindered by the Allia. The Samnite paid with slavery for his savage treaty. After many disasters, beaten, you put Pyrrhus to flight. Hannibal himself bewailed his successes. Things that cannot be sunk rise again with great force, and leap out higher when driven in to the deepest waves; and as a downturned torch takes up new strength, you seek the heights more brightly from your lowly fortune. Stretch forth your laws that will endure to Roman centuries, and you alone should not fear the distaffs of the fates, although with sixteen decades and a thousand years gone your ninth year beyond that is passing. The times that are left you are restricted by no limits, while the lands shall stand and the sky hold up the stars. What undoes other kingdoms restores you: the law of rebirth is to be able to grow from evils. [1.140

So come, may a victim, of the sacrilegious race, fall at last: may the trembling Goths bow down their treacherous neck. May pacified lands give rich tributes; may barbarian booty fill your august lap. Eternally may the Rhine plough for you, may the Nile flood for you, and may the fertile world nourish its nurse. Yes, and may Africa convey fertile harvests on you, rich in her own soil, but more so in your rains. And meanwhile may barns of grain rise high from Latian furrows, and fat presses flow with Hesperian nectar. May Tiber himself, wreathed with triumphal reeds, fit his servant waters to the uses of Romulus’ city, and from peaceful banks may wealthy trade be brought you, downriver from the country, upriver from the sea. [1.154]

Open, I pray the main calmed by Castor the twin; let Cythera’s goddess temper soften the road over the waters, if I did not displease you, when I administered the laws of Quirinus, if I cherished and consulted the holy fathers (for the fact that no criminal charges unsheathed my steel is not the prefect’s glory, but the people’s). Whether it be granted to end my life in my ancestral lands, or whether you will someday be restored to my eyes, I shall live fortunate and more blessed than anything I could pray for, if you would deign always to remember me.” [1.164]

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