Reward that only rovers earn

From Vita Sackville-West’s The Land, an old-fashioned poem in the tradition of Virgil’s Georgics. This passage is the only thing I know of it and came to mind when rereading Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story (Traumnovelle) last night. The full text is online here.

But meadow, shaw, and orchard keep
The glaucous country like a hilly sea
Pure in its monotone. Sad eyes that tire
Of dangerous landscape, sadder minds
That search impossible regions of their quest,
Find clement haven after truancy,
A temperate answer, and a makeshift rest.
This is the thing familiar, known;
The safety that the wanderer finds,
Out of the world, one thing his own.
A pause, a lull in journeying, return
After the querying and astonishment;
Reward that only rovers earn
Who have strayed, departed from the peace,
Whether in soul or body widely flown,
Gone after Arabian Nights, the Golden Fleece,
And come back empty-handed, as they went.

As in a dream, when languid sleep seals eyes in our night-time rest

From Aeneid 12.908-918, as Turnus is hunted down by Aeneas. Virgil here borrows and improves on a Homeric image from Achilles’ pursuit of Hector:

ac velut in somnis, oculos ubi languida pressit
nocte quies, nequiquam avidos extendere cursus
velle videmur et in mediis conatibus aegri
succidimus; non lingua valet, non corpore notae
sufficiunt vires nec vox aut verba sequuntur:
sic Turno, quacumque viam virtute petivit,
successum dea dira negat. tum pectore sensus
vertuntur varii; Rutulos aspectat et urbem
cunctaturque metu letumque instare tremescit,
nec quo se eripiat, nec qua vi tendat in hostem,
nec currus usquam videt aurigamve sororem.

As in a dream, when languid sleep seals eyes in our night-time
Rest, we’re aware, in ourselves, of desperately wanting to reach out
Into some purpose or course; but strength, in the midst of our efforts,
Fails us. We feebly slump. Our tongues will not function, our usual
Bodily powers don’t support us. No sound, no words find expression.
Such was Turnus’s plight. Whatever attempt at heroic
Action he made, the grim goddess frustrated. Conflicting emotions
Whirl through his heart as he stares at Rutulians, stares at the city,
Hesitates, frightened, and shakes at the sight of the menacing javelin,
Sees no place to pull back to, no force to deploy on his foeman,
No sign at all of his chariot or of its driver, his sister.

Iliad 22.199-201 in the Loeb text and translation. The translation obscures what is a common Homeric composition technique but may be a more conscious element here to imitate the fuzzy quality of dreams – there are no names, only pronouns :

ὡς δ᾿ ἐν ὀνείρῳ οὐ δύναται φεύγοντα διώκειν·
οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὁ τὸν δύναται ὑποφεύγειν οὔθ᾿ ὁ διώκειν·
ὣς ὁ τὸν οὐ δύνατο μάρψαι ποσίν, οὐδ᾿ ὃς ἀλύξαι.

And as in a dream a man can not pursue one who flees before him—the one can not flee, nor the other pursue—so Achilles could not overtake Hector in his fleetness, nor Hector escape

Rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet

From the conclusion of Aeneid 8, following Virgil’s description of Aeneas’ new shield:

Talia per clipeum Volcani, dona parentis,
miratur rerumque ignarus imagine gaudet,

Such things on Vulcan’s shield, a parent’s gift,
does he admire and, though ignorant of the substance, he enjoys the depiction

The phrase in the title may be the first Latin I ever learned since my grandfather- who would always explain images and iconography but never inside galleries – quoted it at me whenever I had questions on the spot. The translation is what I recall of his.

Just as the shimmering light from a watery surface in bronze-lipped Cauldrons

A famous metaphor of mental processes from Aeneid 8.18-25 (Ahl’s translation below):

Talia per Latium. quae Laomedontius heros
cuncta videns magno curarum fluctuat aestu,
atque animum nunc huc celerem nunc dividit illuc
in partisque rapit varias perque omnia versat:
sicut aquae tremulum labris ubi lumen aënis
sole repercussum aut radiantis imagine lunae
omnia pervolitat late loca, iamque sub auras
erigitur summique ferit laquearia tecti.

Such is the tally of Latium’s ills. Once Laomedon’s kinsman
Drinks in this vision, the hero is swept on a swell of emotions,
Scurrying thoughts into this or that channel of choice and decision,
Surging in random directions, examining every perspective,
Just as the shimmering light from a watery surface in bronze-lipped
Cauldrons—itself but reflected sun, or the radiant, mirrored
Face of the moon—ripples all round a room, leaps up through the yielding
Air where it flickers on fretted beams panelled high on the ceiling.

Which is a certain imitation of Apollonius’ Argonautica 3.750-760 (in Race’s now Loeb translation):

But by no means had sweet sleep overtaken Medea, because in her longing for Jason many anxieties kept her awake, as she dreaded the great strength of the oxen that were going to make him die a horrid death in the field of Ares. Over and over the heart within her breast fluttered wildly, as when a ray of sunlight bounds inside a house as it leaps from water freshly poured into a cauldron or perhaps into a bucket, and quivers and darts here and there from the rapid swirling—thus did the girl’s heart tremble in her breast.

ἀλλὰ μάλ᾿ οὐ Μήδειαν ἐπὶ γλυκερὸς λάβεν ὕπνος·
πολλὰ γὰρ Αἰσονίδαο πόθῳ μελεδήματ᾿ ἔγειρεν
δειδυῖαν ταύρων κρατερὸν μένος, οἷσιν ἔμελλεν
φθίσθαι ἀεικελίῃ μοίρῃ κατὰ νειὸν Ἄρηος.
πυκνὰ δέ οἱ κραδίη στηθέων ἔντοσθεν ἔθυιεν,
ἠελίου ὥς τίς τε δόμοις ἐνιπάλλεται αἴγλη
ὕδατος ἐξανιοῦσα, τὸ δὴ νέον ἠὲ λέβητι
ἠέ που ἐν γαυλῷ κέχυται, ἡ δ᾿ ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα
ὠκείῃ στροφάλιγγι τινάσσεται ἀίσσουσα·
ὣς δὲ καὶ ἐν στήθεσσι κέαρ ἐλελίζετο κούρης.

But also a partial recollection of an image in Lucretius (4.211-213, Rouse’s Loeb text and translation)

that as soon as the brightness of water is laid in the open air under a starry sky, at once the serene constellations of the firmament answer back twinkling in the water

quod simul ac primum sub diu splendor aquaiponitur, extemplo caelo stellante serenasidera respondent in aqua radiantia mundi.

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron

Spiralling associative chains, beginning with the Sybil to Aeneas (6.135):

Quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est,
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe, quae peragenda prius.

In Ahl’s Oxford Classics:

Yet, if there’s love so strong in your mind, so mighty a passion
Twice to float over the Stygian lakes, twice gaze upon deep black
Tartarus, if it’s your pleasure to wanton in labours of madness,
Grasp what you must do first.

And moving to Gerard de Nerval’s El Desdichado:

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, – l’inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m’as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d’Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s’allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?…. Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J’ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène…

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

And in the Penguin Selected Writings translation by Richard Sieburth:

I am the man of gloom – the widower – the unconsoled, the prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins: My sole star is dead – and my constellated lute bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me, give me back Posilipo and the Italian sea, the flower that so pleased my desolate heart, and the arbour where the vine and the rose are entwined.

Am I Amor or Phoebus? … Lusignan or Biron? My brow still burns from the kiss of the queen; I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren swims …

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron: Modulating on Orpheus’ lyre now the sighs of the saint, now the fairy’s cry.

And back to the beginning, a Homeric hapax from Odyssey 12.21, Circe to Odysseus:

σχέτλιοι, οἳ ζώοντες ὑπήλθετε δῶμ᾽ Ἀίδαο,
δισθανέες, ὅτε τ᾽ ἄλλοι ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

Unwearying, you who alive go down to the house of Hades,
twice-dying, when other men die once.

Closing with an unrelated echo from Dante, Inferno 24 4. Which commentaries tell me is also a hapax suggested by Jude’s (12) ‘arbores…. bis mortuae’ (trees twice dead).

e l’ombre, che parean cose rimorte,
per le fosse de li occhi ammirazione
traean di me, di mio vivere accorte.

And the Longfellow translation:

And shadows, that appeared things doubly dead,
From out the sepulchres of their eyes betrayed
Wonder at me, aware that I was living.



Then, for the first time, brutal horror beset me on all sides

Thanks to the sprawl of associations from Troilus and Cressida I took up The Aeneid last night. And this evening, in an effort to get my wife on board a simultaneous reading, I read her most of Aeneas’ account of Troy’s fall. She fell asleep as always so I’m not sure it landed (to be fair, we were in bed). Regardless, I found the translation – by Frederick Ahl, whom I once had as professor – more enjoyable than what I remember of the now semi-standard Fitzgerald so at least someone benefited. Here is Priam’s death at 2.226-263:

‘Look, one of Priam’s sons, named Polites, has just escaped Pyrrhus’
Murderous hand. Past enemy lines, dodging spears, he is fleeing
Down through long colonnades and is crossing the now empty courtyard
Wounded. But hot on his heels, and intent on inflicting the death-blow
Pyrrhus pursues, and he’s now within arm’s reach, he’s thrusting his javelin.
Lurching in front of the faces and eyes of his parents, Polites
Finally crumples and spews out life in a fountain of dark blood.
Priam, at this point, though already trapped in a circle of killing,
Can’t hold back. For he doesn’t suppress all his wrath, he proclaims it.
“You will pay dear for this crime,” he declares, “you will pay for this outrage.
If any power in heaven feels righteous concern in such matters,
May gods show you the thanks you deserve, pay you back in the proper
Coinage for staging my son’s death here, and for making me watch it,
You have disfigured a father’s face with the blood of his son’s death.
You are no child of Achilles, you liar. He never mistreated
Priam, his foe, like this! He blushed for shame, he respected
Rights that are granted a suppliant, he showed good faith by returning
Hector’s blood-drained corpse for interment, and me to my kingdom.”
Once he’d spoken, the elderly man made a feeble strike with a powerless
Spear. And it fell, with a clang, on the bronze shield, instantly halted,
Then dangled limply down from the top of its central embossment.
Pyrrhus replied: “You’ll report this, then, to my father Achilles,
Fully, in person. Remember to tell of my grisly actions!
Call Neoptolemus just what he is: a degenerate bastard.
Now: die.”
‘While he was speaking, he pounced on the quivering Priam
Dragged the king, slipping in pools of his own son’s blood, to the altar,
Grabbed his hair, yanked back his head with his left, with his right drew his gleaming
Sword which he then buried up to the hilt in the flank of the old king.
So ended Priam’s role, as prescribed by the fates. His allotted
Exit made him a spectator at Troy’s Fires, Pergamum’s Ruin,
This man once in command of so many countries and peoples,
Ruler of Asia! He’s now a huge trunk lying dead on the seashore,
Head torn away from his shoulders, a thing without name, a cadaver.
‘Then, for the first time, brutal horror beset me on all sides.
Rooted me down stock-still. Stealing into my mind came my cherished
Father’s face as I watched that king, just his age, being butchered,
Gasping his life out. Then in stole the thought of Creusa, deserted,
Thoughts of my home being plundered, the fate of my little Iulus.

And the Latin:

Ecce autem elapsus Pyrrhi de caede Polites,
unus natorum Priami, per tela, per hostis
porticibus longis fugit, et vacua atria lustrat
saucius: illum ardens infesto volnere Pyrrhus
insequitur, iam iamque manu tenet et premit hasta.
Ut tandem ante oculos evasit et ora parentum,
concidit, ac multo vitam cum sanguine fudit.
Hic Priamus, quamquam in media iam morte tenetur,
non tamen abstinuit, nec voci iraeque pepercit:
“At tibi pro scelere,” exclamat, “pro talibus ausis,
di, si qua est caelo pietas, quae talia curet,
persolvant grates dignas et praemia reddant
debita, qui nati coram me cernere letum
fecisti et patrios foedasti funere voltus.
At non ille, satum quo te mentiris, Achilles
talis in hoste fuit Priamo; sed iura fidemque
supplicis erubuit, corpusque exsangue sepulchro
reddidit Hectoreum, meque in mea regna remisit.”
Sic fatus senior, telumque imbelle sine ictu
coniecit, rauco quod protinus aere repulsum
e summo clipei nequiquam umbone pependit.
Cui Pyrrhus: “Referes ergo haec et nuntius ibis
Pelidae genitori; illi mea tristia facta
degeneremque Neoptolemum narrare memento.
Nunc morere.” Hoc dicens altaria ad ipsa trementem
traxit et in multo lapsantem sanguine nati,
implicuitque comam laeva, dextraque coruscum
extulit, ac lateri capulo tenus abdidit ensem.
Haec finis Priami fatorum; hic exitus illum
sorte tulit, Troiam incensam et prolapsa videntem
Pergama, tot quondam populis terrisque superbum
regnatorem Asiae. Iacet ingens litore truncus,
avolsumque umeris caput, et sine nomine corpus.
At me tum primum saevus circumstetit horror.
Obstipui; subiit cari genitoris imago,
ut regem aequaevum crudeli volnere vidi
vitam exhalantem; subiit deserta Creüsa,
et direpta domus, et parvi casus Iuli.

Virgil set out to write a masterpiece; curiously, he succeeded.

I am rereading Troilus and Cressida and, for lack of engagement, my mind keeps wandering to Homer and Virgil. So here, by association, is Borges’ prologue to The Aeneid from his A Personal Library project (translation included in Selected Non-Fictions):

Leibniz has a parable about two libraries: one of a hundred different books of different worth, the other of a hundred books that are all equally perfect. It is significant that the latter consists of a hundred Aeneids. Voltaire wrote that Virgil may be the work of Homer, but he is the greatest of Homer’s works. Virgil’s preeminence lasted for sixteen hundred years in Europe; the Romantic movement denied and almost erased him. Today he is threatened by our custom of reading books as a function of history, not of aesthetics.

The Aeneid is the highest example of what has been called, without discredit, the artificial epic; that is to say, the deliberate work of a single man, not that which human generations, without knowing it, have created. Virgil set out to write a masterpiece; curiously, he succeeded. I say “curiously” because masterpieces tend to be the daughters of chance or of negligence. As though it were a short poem, this epic was polished, line by line, with the felicitous care that Petronius praised-I’ll never know why-in Horace. Let us examine, almost at random, a few examples.

Virgil does not tell us that the Achaeans waited for darkness to enter Troy; he speaks of the friendly silence of the moon. He does not write that Troy was destroyed, but rather, “Troy was.” He does not write that a life was unfortunate, but rather “The gods understood him in another way.” To express what is now called pantheism, he says, “All things are full of Jupiter.” He does not condemn the aggressive madness of men; he calls it “the love of iron.” He does not tell us that Aeneas and the Sybil wandered alone among the shadows in the dark night; he writes, “Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram.” This is not a mere rhetorical figure, a hyperbaton: “alone” and “dark” have not changed places in the phrase; both forms, the usual and the Virgilian, correspond with equal precision to the scene they represent.

The selection of each word and each turn of phrase also makes Virgil the classic of the classics, in some serene way, a Baroque poet. The carefulness of his writing did not impede the fluidity of his narration of Aeneas’ deeds and adventures. There are events that are almost magical: Aeneas, exiled from Troy, disembarks in Carthage and sees on the walls of a temple images of the Trojan War, images of Priam, Achilles, Hector, and even himself. There are tragic events: the Queen of Carthage who watches the Greek boats leaving and knows that her lover has abandoned her. There is a predictable abundance of heroism, such as these words spoken by a warrior: “My son, learn from me strength and genuine valor; and from others, luck.”

Virgil. Of all the poets of the earth, there is none other who has been listened to with such love. Even beyond Augustus, Rome, and the empire that, across other nations and languages, is still the Empire. Virgil is our friend. When Dante made Virgil his guide and the most continual character in the Commedia, he gave an enduring aesthetic form to that which all men feel with gratitude.

Et clauso ventorum carcere regnet

Aeneid 1.137-41, Neptune chastising the winds for the storm they launched – at Juno’s order – against the Trojan fleet:

Hasten your flight and say these words to your king:
Not to him were the power over the sea and the fierce trident
given by lot – but to me.  He has those huge rocks,
your home, Eurus; Let him vaunt himself in that hall
– Aeolus – and let him reign in his closed up prison of winds.

Maturate fugam, regique haec dicite vestro:
non illi imperium pelagi saevumque tridentem,
sed mihi sorte datum. Tenet ille immania saxa,
vestras, Eure, domos; illa se iactet in aula
Aeolus, et clauso ventorum carcere regnet.

Virgil can be so damning so succintly.  And with such perfect word order and verbal juxtapositions: Aeolus + clausus (enclosed) + ventus (winds) + carcer (prison) + regnere (reign).  The prison and its adjective enclose the winds.  Aeolus and his verb enclose/rule the prison.  And then the line ends leading up to regnere so perfectly draw out Neptune’s flow of irony – from his dismissive saxa (plain rocks) to mocking aula (grand hall, court, palace) to the very much cut down sense of the final verb regnere.

Hoc opus, hic labor est

What is certainly one of the Aeneid’s best known passages (6.129ish),

Trojan, son of Anchises, easy is the descent to Avernus:
night and day do the doors of black Dis lay open;
but to retrace your step and escape to the upper air,
this is the task, this the labor

Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averno:
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.

Which, with consistent temperamental flippancy, I cannot read without recalling Ovid’s corrupting echo in Ars Amatoria 1.453:

But what you haven’t given, seem always on the cusp of giving:
In this way a barren field has often deceived its owner:
In this way the gambler – so that he won’t lose – does not leave off losing
and often the dice call back his greedy hands.
This is the the task, this the labor – to get her to bed without a preceding gift;
And so that what she’s given won’t have been given for nothing she’ll keep on giving.

At quod non dederis, semper videare daturus:
Sic dominum sterilis saepe fefellit ager:
Sic, ne perdiderit, non cessat perdere lusor,
Et revocat cupidas alea saepe manus.
Hoc opus, hic labor est, primo sine munere iungi;
Ne dederit gratis quae dedit, usque dabit.