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]

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]

Rutilius' Return: Introduction

Rutilius Namatianus' poem De reditu suo describes the author's journey from Rome back to his home in Gaul in the autumn of the year 417. The poem is in two books, but most of the second book is lost, and this means that we do not know where exactly Rutilius was going or why. The poem has appealed to readers since its rediscovery in the 1490s. It has always been popular in Italy because of its descriptions of the Tuscan coast. The poem is elegiac, both literally in its metre and metaphorically in its tone; both metre and tone are also often described as elegant. Literary history often defines the Classical in opposition to Christianity, and Rutilius happens to be the last Latin poet we know was a pagan. And as an aristocrat who sings the glories of eternal Rome, but who also has a fondness for describing ruins, he can seem like the poet of a vanishing world. Old histories of Latin literature often used to end with him. (I do not endorse this interpretation of Rutilius' poem or of Latin literary history!)

My task for 2011 is to write a book on Rutilius - and though there have been lots of editions, there have been no monographs on Rutilius in English, and none in any language other than Italian since 1904. And to help me think about text and interpretation, I have decided to write a prose translation. There are three other translations in English that I know of, in decent blank verse by J.F. Savage-Armstrong in the 1907 edition by Keen, in prose by J.D. Duff and A.M. Duff in the Loeb Minor Latin Poets, and, in (sort of verse) by Harold Isbell in a Penguin Classics, now out of print. The latter is not recommended. I am going to be as accurate as I can, and never mind if it doesn't sound like natural English. For comparison, the Duffs' text and translation can be found at the ever useful Lacus Curtius, along with some excellent maps.