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Panegyric of Messalla


This poem is included in the manuscripts of Tibullus, although it clearly was not written by him. It was probably written soon after 31 B.C., when Messalla was consul; for a learned commentary on the poem, see H.Schoonhoven, "The Panegyricus Messallae" (ANRW, 1983 - Google Books). The verses are of little merit as poetry, but they are of some interest as evidence for the early career of Messalla.

This translation is by J.P.Postgate (1921), with a few minor changes. The Latin text can be found on the Bibliotheca Augustana website.



[1] Messalla, I will sing of you, although the knowledge of your worth affrights me. Though my feeble powers may not bear the strain, still will I make beginning: and, if my verse fall short of your due of praise and I am but a poor chronicler for deeds so great, and if none but thyself can so embroider the page with your achievements that what is left is not greater than what is recounted, it is enough for me to have shown the will. And do not reject the humble offering. Even to Phoebus did the Cretan bring gifts most welcome, and to Bacchus was Icarus a host more pleasing than all besides, as stars in the clear sky witness, Erigone and the Hound, lest a distant age deny the tale. Nay, more : Alcides, who was to mount as a god to Olympus, gladly set foot in the dwelling of Molorchus. A few grains [of salt] appease the powers above; nor do they always claim as their victim a bull with gilded horns. So may this humble effort prove welcome also, that thereafter the memory may give me strength to make yet other and yet other verses in your honour.

[18] Let another tell of the great world's wondrous fabric, how the Earth sank down in the measureless Air and how the Sea streamed over the round globe; and how, where the shifting Air strives to rise from the Earth, conjoined to it closely far and wide undulates the fiery Ether, and how all is shut in above by the hanging Firmament. All efforts of my muses' daring, whether they can reach your level or whether (but this Hope grants not) they rise above it or they fall below (and below it surely will they fall), I dedicate to you; nor must a name so great be wanting to my page. For though you have distinctions abundant in your ancient family, your thirst for fame is not to be sated with the renown of ancestors, nor do you ask what the scroll says beneath each mask; but you strive to surpass the ancient honours of your family, yourself a greater lustre to posterity than ancestry to you. For your exploits no legend underneath a name has room. You shall have great rolls of immortal verse; and, in eagerness to write your praises, all will assemble who compose in rhythm, whether bound or free. They will strive who shall be first. May I be the conqueror among them all, that I may write my name above the great story of those deeds.

[39] For who does greater things than you, whether in camp or forum? Yet neither here nor there have you either greater or lesser praise. Just as when a true pair of scales is loaded with equal weights - one that, so often as it has to carry a balancing load on either side, wavers unsteadily with each pan lower in turn - it sinks no more on this side than it rises on that.

[45] For whether it be the fickle populace roaring in division, there will be none to appease it like you; or be it an angry juror to be soothed, your words will avail to make him mild. Neither Pylus nor Ithaca can claim to have had sons as great in Nestor or in Ulysses, high ornament of a humble town, though the old man lived on while Titan ran for three times through his cycle of fruit-bringing seasons, and the other roved fearlessly through unknown cities where Earth is shut in by Ocean's bounding waves. He faced the bands of Cicones in fight and drove them back. The Lotus could not ensnare and turn aside his course. No match for him was Neptune's son {Polyphemus} that dwelt on the cliffs of Aetna whose eye was ravaged when the wine of Maron made it close. He bore the winds of Aeolus over the calmed realm of Nereus. He visited the savage Laestrygonians and Antiphates, whose lands the cool waters of renowned Artacie irrigate. Him only could the cup of cunning Circe not transform, though she was the offspring of the Sun and skilled to change man's proper shape by herbs and spells. He came also to the dark fastnesses of the Cimmerians, whose eyes never saw the day dawn brightly, whether Phoebus ran above or underneath the Earth. He saw how, subjected to the infernal rule of Pluto, the gods' great sons laid down the law for flitting shades; and in swift-rowed ship he passed the Sirens' coast. He sailed a strait bordered by death on either hand; yet neither did the swoop of Scylla's six mouths dismay him when the monster stole out amid the waves that her wild dogs infested, nor did raging Charybdis destroy him after her wont, whether rising aloft in surge from the abyss or baring the sea-bed with the breach in her waters. I should not be mute on the profaning of the pastures of the far-travelling Sun, nor the passion and rich fields of Atlas' daughter Calypso, nor Phaeacia's land, the end of his woeful wandering. And whether these adventures were encountered amid the lands we know or report has placed his wanderings in some new world, in suffering he may be first, but you must be first in eloquence.

[82] Again, than you there is none with a surer mastery of the arts of war : where should be drawn a protecting ditch before a camp, after what fashion stakes should be driven in to stop the foe, round what spots it is best to draw the enclosing earthwork where the earth throws up a gush of sweet spring water, so that approach thereto may be easy for your men and uphill for the enemy. How the soldiery may be kept robust by unceasing struggles for distinction, to prove whose hand discharges best the slow pole or the speedy arrow or the obstinate javelin breaking all down before it; whose hand has skill to hold in the swift horse with bridle tightened and let the reins fly free for the slow, and, changing about, now gallop on a straight course or at pleasure make him wheel in the circle's narrow round; who excels in the shield-guard on right or left side as he will, as on the one or the other quarter comes the spear's heavy rush, or in getting the swift sling home upon the mark. Next, as soon as the struggle of venturous battle comes, and under confronting standards the lines prepare to close, then you will not fail in forming the order of the fight, whether it be needful for the troops to draw into a square, so that the dressed line runs with level front, or it be desired to sunder the battle into two several parts, so that the army's right may hold the left and its left the right and the twofold hazard yield a double victory.

[106] But my verses do not stray among unproved distinctions. I sing what wars have shown. I have a witness in the gallant soldiery of vanquished Iapydia; a witness also in the cunning Pannonian, scattered far and wide over the icy Alps; a witness too in the poor son of Arupium's fields, whom whoso sees unbroken by advanced old age will wonder less at the three lifetimes of the Pylian legend. For while the old man accomplishes his long life's period Titan will have brought round a hundred fruitful years. Yet unaided he scruples not to fling his nimble limbs above the fleet steed's back and sit there its master, with a strong grasp on the reins. You were commander when (?) Domator that never turned his back before stooped his free neck to take the Roman chains.

[118] Nor will you rest content with this. What is coming is greater than what has already come to pass, as I have ascertained from signs that tell the truth, which Amythaon's Melampus could not match. You had just donned the garb of flaming Tyrian threads {the toga praextexta of a consul} as the day dawned that ushers in the fruitful year, when, brighter than before, the Sun lifted his head from the clear waves and the warring winds held their wild gusts in check, nor did the winding rivers pursue their wonted courses. Nay, even the whirling sea stood still, its waves at peace. And no bird is there that glides across the airs of heaven or savage four-footed beast that grazes in woodland thickets but gave lavish silence to your prayers. Jupiter himself rode in airy chariot through the void to your side, and left Olympus, neighbour of the sky. He gave himself with ear attentive to your prayers, and granted all, bowing the head that never lies; and when fire touched the altar, its glad flare rose on high above the piled-up incense.

[135] Now at the god's call may you press on to great achievements. Not the same triumphs should there be for you as others. Confronting Gaul shall not detain you in combat close at hand, nor the wide territory of martial Spain, nor the wild land whereon the settlers of Thera lodged {Cyrene}, nor that where flows the Nile or the king's stream Choaspes, or where the rushing Gyndes which maddened Cyrus lies parched, or the waters of Oroatis in the plains of Aracca, nor where is the wild Araxes which Tamyris made the boundary of her kingdom, or where the Padaean, on whose savage tables is often spread a cannibal repast {Herodotus, 3.99}, dwells in remotest lands, the neighbour of Phoebus, and where the Hebrus and the Tanais water the Getae and the Magyni.

[147] Why do I trifle thus ? Wherever the Ocean's deep encompasses the earth, no land will meet you with opposing force. The Briton whom Roman prowess has not vanquished is reserved for you, and the other portion of the world, with the Sun's path set between. For the Earth rests on circumambient air, and into five parts is its whole sphere distributed. And two are always ravaged by icy cold. There the earth is buried in thick shade and no waters slip to the end of their liquid course, but are frozen hard to thick ice and snow, since Titan there never shows his rising orb on high. But the middle is always underneath the heat of Phoebus, whether he moves nearer to the earth on his summer orbit or whether swiftly he hastes to conclude the winter day. So there the earth does not rise in ridges before the deep-driven plough, nor do the cornfields yield grain or the lands pasture. No god tends the fields, whether Bacchus or Ceres, nor do any animals live in those parched regions. Between it and both the frozen zones is set a fruitful one, ours and the region that is opposite this land of ours, moderated to likeness by the neighbouring climes that hold them in on either side, one air destroying all the other's power. Hence comes it that our year turns kindly through its seasons; hence that the bull has learned to bow his neck to the yoke and the pliant vine to climb the lofty bough, and year by year the cornfield yields its ripe fruit to its shearer, and iron ploughs the earth and bronze the sea; yea, and towns rise high with their pile of walls. So, then, when your deeds shall claim their glorious triumph, you only shall have the name of great in either world.

[177] I am not strong enough to advertise such glory, no, not if Phoebus himself dictate my song. You have in Valgius one that can gird himself for these great achievements : none other comes nearer to immortal Homer. It is not that toil with me leaves leisure to be passed in indolence, albeit Fortune, as is her wont, harasses me with her enmity. For though once I had a lofty mansion glittering with wealth, and rows of yellow furrows, pouring treasure into barns that could not cope with the plenteous harvests, and serried lines of cattle browsing on the hills, enough for owner and overmuch for thief and wolf, now naught but the sense of loss remains. For pain springs up again as Grief remembers and reminds me ever of the bygone years.

[190] But though harder times befall and I be stripped of what is left me, my Muse will not fail to tell of you. Nor shall Pierian homage only be accorded you. For you I would venture over the rushing billows of the sea, though the stormy friths swelled with hostile winds; for you I would await alone the serried squadrons' charge or commit this poor body to the flames of Aetna. All that I am is yours. If you have but a little thought of me, however small it is, if you do but have it, neither Lydia's monarchy nor the renown of great Gylippus would be more to me, nor would I choose rather to surpass the writings of {Homer} the son of Meles. But if my verse, whether all of it or less, shall be well known to you or else but cross your lips, the Fates shall set no bounds to my singing of you. Nay, more even then when the grave has covered my bones, whether the appointed day hastens soon to bring me a speedy end or a long life awaits me, whether a change of shape shall make me a horse that is trained to scour the unyielding plains or I am a bull, the pride of the slow herd, or a bird, borne on wings through the flowing air, none the less, when lapse of ages receives me back among mankind, will I weave verse to append to the pages I had begun to write on you.


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