Carmen ad Antonium

The last in our short series of short anonymous late Latin Christian poems discussing paganism is the Carmen ad Antonium, the Poem to Anthony.  This is preserved in a couple of manuscripts of the poems of Paulinus of Nola, where it appears, following the poems of Paulinus, but without name or title.  It was first printed by Muratori, who gave it the title of “Poema Ultimum” and attributed it to Paulinus.  It may be found in modern editions of Paulinus as poem 32 (CSEL 30, carm. 32, p. 329-338).[1]  Like the others, it sheds light on late paganism, albeit in a critical way.  The cult of Mithras with its subterranean worship of the sun is mentioned, as is the cult of the Magna Mater (Cybele) and Attis.  Interesting is the reference to Adonis — a statue of Adonis — being carried out into the arena at the festival of Venus and filth thrown at it.

The excellent translation of Croke and Harries is as follows:

I admit to having examined all ways of belief, Antonius; I have enquired into much, run through questions in every detail, yet I have found nothing superior to belief in Christ. Now I have arranged to set this out in flowing verse and, to avoid offence in my choice of poetic subject, I cite David himself who prayed to God through the poetry he sang, as my precedent for treating great matters with humble words. I shall speak of what should be shunned, followed, or worshipped, although both practice and its principles must be established in all things.

In the first place, even the marvellous favour of God did not influence the Jewish race; for, when they were rescued from the wicked Pharaoh and crossed the sea on foot with their leader, the pillar of light shining before them, they saw the enemy cavalry Overwhelmed by the waters. Although they had left cultivated fields behind them, they never lacked anything, as manna fell from the sky and springs gushed from the rock, yet, after all these great things, they denied the present help of God and, while seeking another divinity in the madness of their hearts, lit fires and lost the gold that he had sent.

The pagan, too, is the same. He worships stones he has carved himself and creates by his own hand the object to which he owes fear. Then he adores images which he has so moulded from bronze that he can melt them down for coin whenever he wants to, or change them, as he often does, into shapes he should be ashamed of. Hence he sacrifices unfortunate cattle and looks in their warm lungs for the intentions of the gods whom he believes angry, and prays for the life of a man through the death of a beast. What kind of forgiveness can a man ask who asks it with blood? What a strange, stupid damnable practice it is! After the omnipotent God once formed man man dares to fashion God; to complete the tally of sin, he also sells the image and the buyer purchases himself a master.

Could I accept that philosophers’ beliefs are reasonable when they are unreasonable themselves, they whose wisdom is but vain? There are the dog-like Cynics — their name betrays them.  Some follow the dogma of Plato, who doubted it himself, and worry themselves over the composition of the soul, a matter discussed now for a long time past. They investigate it constantly yet are never able to reach a conclusion, which is why they like copying Plato’s book on the soul, a book containing nothing susceptible of proof apart from the title.[1]

There are also the Physici, so called from the word for nature, who enjoy living in an old-fashioned, uncultivated and uncouth fashion. For there was once a man[2] who carried only a staff and a pottery dish, because they were, he thought, the only indispensably useful things, hence the only possessions one should have, the one to support him, the other to drink out of. But when he saw a farmer standing and drinking water out of his cupped hands, he smashed his dish and threw it away from him saying that one should reject all superfluous things. A country man had taught him that one could reject that small dish too. These men neither drink wine, nor do they eat bread, nor lie on a bed nor wear clothes to keep out the cold and, in their ingratitude to God, refuse what he has offered them.

What can I say of the various religious rites and temples set up to gods and goddesses? Let me first talk of the character of the Capitol; they have a god and a god’s wife and will have it that she is his sister, as Virgil, their creator, denoted by his phrase ‘both sister and wife’. It is also said of Jupiter that he violated his daughter and gave her to his brother and, to get other women, changed his shape; now he was a snake, now a bull, now a swan and a tree and by all these changes provided his own evidence as to his real nature, preferring the shapes of others to his own. Even more disgraceful than this, he pretended to be an eagle and accepted the unnatural embraces of a boy. What do his crowd of worshippers say? Let them either deny this is Jupiter or admit his unseemly conduct. He certainly has a prestige not confirmed by reasoned thought. They make sacrifices to Jupiter and call him ‘Jupiter the Best’ and make requests to him and also place ‘Father Janus’ in the first rank of gods. This Janus was a king long ago who named the Janiculan hill after himself, a wise man who (foresaw) as many things in the future as he could look back (on in the past) and so the ancient Latins pictured him with two faces and called him the two-headed Janus. Because he had arrived in Italy in a boat, the first coin was struck in honour of him with the following devices: on one side was carved a head, on the other, a ship. It is in memory of this that men distinguish the sides of some of their coins, calling one side ‘heads’ and the other ‘ships’ after that event long ago. Why do they hope for anything from Jupiter who came second after this king yet who is served with offerings through the lips of suppliants? This god has a mother, too, who was overtaken by love for a shepherd, so the shepherd himself came before Jupiter or Jove; but the shepherd was his superior for, wishing to preserve his chastity, he rejected the goddess who in her rage castrated him so that he who had refused to come to her bed should never be the husband of another.[3] Was this the just ordinance of the gods however, that a man who had not been made a fornicator should never be a husband? Now, too, eunuchs chant shameful mysteries nor are there lacking men to be corrupted by this infection. They worship some secret the more profound for being behind closed doors and call holy something which would render a modest man unholy should he approach it. Thus the priest himself, more restricted, avoids sleeping with women and accepts the embrace of men.

O blinded intellect of man! Plays about their holy things always arouse laughter, yet they do not abandon the error of their ways. They maintain Saturn was Jupiter’s father and that first he devoured his children and then vomited up his unspeakable meal, yet later, by a trick of his wife’s, he swallowed a stone, believing it to be Jupiter and that if he had not done that, Jupiter would have been consumed. They call Saturn Chronus and give him this name, meaning Time, because he swallows the time he creates and then brings up again what he has swallowed. But why be so devious in inventing a name for Time? Moreover, this god, who always so feared his children’s designs for himself, when hurled out of heaven by Jupiter, lay latent in the fields of Italy, called Latium for that reason. What great gods they both were! One hid under the earth, the other could not know the earth’s hiding places. Therefore the Quirites [Romans] established the evil rite of Latiaris, using human sacrifice to glut an empty name. How deep is the night of the mind, how unthinking the human heart! The object of their worship is nothing, yet the rites cause the shedding of blood.

What of the fact that they hide the Unconquered One in a rocky cave and dare to call the one they keep in darkness the Sun? [4] Who adores light in secret or hides the star of the sky in the shadows beneath the earth except for some evil purpose? Why do they not hide the rites of Isis with her symbols and the dog-headed Anubis even deeper, instead of showing them throughout the public places as they do? Yes, they look for something and rejoice when they have found it and lose it again so that they can hunt for it again. What sensible man could put up with the sight of one sect hiding the sun, as it were, while the others openly display their monstrous gods? What had Serapis done to deserve to be so dragged and torn by his own people through such varied and degrading places? Always at last he becomes a wild beast, a dog, a decomposing ass’s corpse, he becomes now a man, now bread, now heavy with disease. While acting in this way, they admit he feels nothing.

What should I say too of Vesta, when her own priest says he does not know what she is? Yet deep in the heart of her sanctuary they claim there is preserved the undying fire. Why is she a goddess, not a god? Why is fire [masculine in Latin] called a woman? Yet Vesta was a woman, so Hyginus implies, who was the first to weave a garment from new thread, called a ‘vestment’ from her name, which she gave to Vulcan who, in return, showed her how to watch over her hidden hearths; Vulcan, in his turn, was pleased with the gift and offered it to the Sun, by whose help he had previously discovered the adultery of Mars; nowadays all the credulous mob at the Vulcanalia hang up garments for the Sun. To show the character of Venus, Adonis [5] is carried out; then they send for manure and throw it about him. If you look into everything, it becomes more and more laughable. There is this additional detail: I gather that every five years the so-called Vestal Virgins take a feast to a serpent who either does not exist at all, or else is the Devil himself, who formerly persuaded the human race to its ruin. But they venerate him, even though now he trembles and hangs imprisoned by the name of Christ and confesses to his evil deeds. How strange is the mind of man that he tells lies instead of the truth, worships what he should renounce and turns his back on what he should adore.

Now I shall have said enough about useless fears. Before I saw the clear light, I too was uncertain on all these things for a long time, tossed by many a storm, but the holy church received me into a harbour of safety and set me in a peaceful anchorage after my wanderings over the waves, so that the dark clouds of evil might be dispersed and, at the promised time, I might hope for the calm light of heaven. For that former salvation, which the forgetful Adam lost when urged off course by an adverse wind, now, with Christ at the oar, is pushed off the rocks and arises once more to remain with us forever. For he, our helmsman, so guides all things everywhere that he who but recently removed our mistaken thinking now  sets us on a better road and opens the gates of Paradise. Fortunate is our faith in its dedication to a sure and single God.

[1] The Phaedo.
[2] Diogenes.
[3] Cybele, and Attis.
[4] Mithras Sol Invictus.
[5] The lover of Venus.

  1. [1]Update (12 May 2017) The varied names of this item have confused me, and doubtless others.  A splendid introduction to the work may be found here (in French).  There is also a good translation by P.G.Walsh of the poems of Paulinus, including this one, in the ACW series.  See also this review of an Italian edition in JSTOR.

Carmen ad Senatorem quendam

Another little poem from the dying days of paganism is the Carmen ad senatorem quendam.  This turns up on old editions of Cyprian, and sometimes Tertullian, but its author is in fact unknown.  Long ago I scanned the Latin text, which is here.

I mentioned recently that Brian Croke and Jill Harries in their excellent (and cheap!) Religious Conflict in Fourth Century Rome had translated a number of these short verses.  The Carmen ad Senatorem is among them, and what follows is their translation.

It’s always an interesting question, with ancient verse, whether to attempt to translate it into English verse.  Most translators wisely eschew doing so, aware of their own limitations.  John Wilson in his Parsi Religion (1843) gave a translation by a friend of the medieval text, the Zartusht-Nama on p.477-522, online here.   This the translator began in verse.  After a few pages, however, the text reverts to prose with the pained footnote:

 It was the intention of my friend to have translated the whole of the Zartusht-Namah into verse. Its gross absurdity, however, and the almost total want in it of poetical conception forced him at this stage to resort to plain prose. — W.

Some English verse translations are excellent.  On my shelves stands the World’s Classics translation of Ovid: the love poems by A. D. Melville.  The virtues of the translation may be appreciated from these opening lines (which should be read aloud, as with all verse):

We who once were Ovid’s five slim volumes
Are three; he thought it better to compress
Though reading us may still give you no pleasure
With two removed, at least the pain is less.

I’ve not read Pope’s Homer, but doubtless that fluent versifier made an excellent job of the task.  But surely the excellences, whatever they are, of the translation will be those of the translator, not the original?

Another issue with every short translation, is that all of us feel tempted to “improve” it, to smooth a word here or there, to introduce our own ideas.  I have strenuously resisted doing so with Dr Croke’s translation!  Of course suggestions as to improvements are very welcome in the comments.  If you prefer verse, feel free to contribute!

Anyway, let’s enjoy this translation of this late Roman poem, written by a Christian aristocrat to a friend, a senator who had abandoned a nominal Christianity for the old cult of the Magna Mater — Cybele — and that of Isis.

Carmen ad senatorem ex Christiana religione ad idolorum servitutem conversum
(Poem to a Senator converted from Christianity to the service of idols)

When I saw you paying homage once again to a variety of empty sacred objects and clinging to your former error, I was dumb¬founded. Because you always enjoyed poetry, I have hastened to write verses so that by replying in a poem I shall reproach you. For who may allow darkness to be preferred to light or that you should believe that the Great Mother could be said to be a goddess and think that she whose devotees are branded by scandalous infamy may be worshipped again? For indeed the priests in effeminate garb confess to their same private vice in public ritual, and think admissible that which is not. Whereupon they mince lightly through the city speaking in feminine voices and carry themselves with languishing hips and finger extended, and change their sex through a well publicized crime. And when they celebrate their rites they proclaim that on these days they are chaste.

Yet if only then are they, as they say, chaste, then what are they for the rest of the time? But because they are compelled to be pure at least once, they groan in spirit, disfigure their body and shed their blood. What holy rite indeed is it which goes by the name of blood? For I have now learnt that not age but your religion has made you bald, that your [Roman] boots are removed and your feet swathed in the soft papyrus of the Galli — an object quite astonishing and this could be thrown down from a great height. If any consul proceeds into the city from the rite of Isis he will be the laughing¬stock of the world: who, however, will not mock that you who were consul are now a minister of Isis? What is shameful in the first instance you are not ashamed to be in the second: to abuse your mind through vile hymns with the rabble responding to you and the senate censuring you; and, once depicted in your home with the fasces, now to bear a dog-like countenance with your rattle.[1] Is this humility? It is but a semblance of humility. Those monuments will always remain part of your house. And the general rumour abroad had reached our ears that you have said: ‘Goddess, I was mistaken, forgive me, I have returned’. Tell me, if you please, since you often made these requests and sought forgiveness, what words does she say to you? You, who follow those who are mindless, are truly deprived of your wits. Once again you seek out these things and do not realize that you are doing wrong. See what you deserve. Perhaps you would have been less notorious if you had known only this and persisted in this error. Yet, since you have crossed the threshold of the true Law and come to know God for a few years, why do you cling to what should be abandoned or why do you give up what should be retained? When you worship everything, you worship nothing. Nor do you reconsider in your heart how different is truth from falsehood, light from darkness. You only pretend to be a philosopher since opinion changes your mind. For if popular anger prompted your displeasure you would be both a Jew and be held to be uncertain of everything. Indulge yourself with words, lofty wisdom does not satisfy. All that is carried to excess, fails: heat and cold have the same effect, the former burns and so does the latter. So darkness brings light and the sun the opposite; the icy cold and the boiling hot bath are equally harmful. Food sustains the body, the body is corrupted by food and decreases its own strength, if too much is consumed. Lastly, if you sit it is a great rest from work: but if you sit for long it becomes a strain. For the poet Virgil described as a punishment: ‘Unfortunate Theseus sits and will sit forever’.[2] Length always harms something useful: lengthy banquets are harmful, long fasts are trying. Likewise, knowing too much makes you stupid.

‘The wicked sect, so the goddess taught me, said moderation was good.’

But you care for neither principle nor the guidance of the mean. However, a stable mind is not thrown off course by any turmoil and simplicity itself never contemplates any evil. Wherefore, sincere faith shall enjoy an eternal abode and wrongdoing on the other hand will be tortured in lasting fire. Choose what you wish in order to avoid deserved punishments. I say nevertheless that the creditor deserves this concession. If you do not wish to know the truth, the offence will be light. It will not be light if you abandon the truth already known. But perhaps mature old age will recall you,when you are sated with these errors, to correction and the better path. For time changes evil, time sets everything in order. Therefore, then, when age and experience have restored you, learn to keep faith with God, lest you happen to lapse the same way a second time, because it is truly said that he who has once tripped over a stone and is not aware of how to avoid it and carelessly hurts himself a second time must ascribe blame to himself, and not to other causes. Correct your sin with faith, straighten out your mind. It was sufficient to sin once. Leave off fearing. He who repents of what he previously was will not be held to account.

[1] The ritual masks of the rites of the Great Mother.    [2] Aeneid VI.617.


Carmen adversus paganos

I mentioned that Brian Croke and Jill Harries had put together a volume of documents around the fall of paganism and the final establishment of Christianity during the fourth century, entitled Religious Conflict in Fourth-Century Rome.  Some pages of this have reached me, and I have been pretty impressed.

Among the texts translated for the first time is the Carmen contra paganos which I was considering getting translated a little while ago.  Since it is short, I think I may quote it in full as an example of the truly vivid impression that the book made on me (or at least those bits I saw).  I’ve abbreviated the copious notes so that the general reader may still understand; but the notes are full and highly useful.

Anonymous, Carmen contra paganos (Poem against the Pagans)

Tell me, you people who worship the sacred groves and cave of the Sibyl and the thicket of Ida; the lofty Capitol of thundering Jupiter, the Palladium and the household gods [Lares] of Priam, the chapel of Vesta, and the incestuous gods, the sister married to her brother,[1] the cruel boy [Cupid], the statues of unspeakable Venus, you whom only the purple toga consecrates, you to whom the oracle of Phoebus has never spoken true, you whom the delusive Etruscan diviner forever mocks; this Jupiter of yours, overwhelmed with love for Leda, did he mean to cover himself with white feathers so as to change into a swan, when desperately in love to flow all at once to Danae as a golden shower, to bellow through the straits of Parthenope [Naples] as an adulterous bull? If these monstrous rites find favour are no hallowed things modest? Is the ruler of Olympus [Saturn] forced to retreat, in flight from the arms of Jupiter?  And does any suppliant venerate the temples of the tyrant, when he sees the father compelled to fight by his own son? Finally, if Jupiter himself is ruled by Fate what advantage is it to wretched men to pour forth prayers already foredoomed? The handsome young man, Adonis, is mourned in the temples, naked Venus weeps, Mars the hero rejoices, Jupiter in the middle does not know how to bring about reconciliation and Bellona urges on the quarrelling gods with her whip.

Is it fitting for senators to hope for safety from sacred leaders such as these? Should they be allowed to settle your quarrels? Tell me, what benefit to the City was your prefect, when, a plunderer in ceremonial attire, he had reached the throne of Jupiter, whereas [in fact] he scarcely atones for his crimes by a protracted death? This man who feverishly purified the whole city for three months finally came to the limits of his life. What madness of spirit was this, what insanity of mind? He was certainly able to disturb your Jupiter’s peace! Who, most beautiful Rome, provoked your suspension of public business? Was the populace, long since a stranger to them, to resort to arms?

But there was no one on earth more hallowed than he whom Numa Pompilius, the chief diviner among many, taught by an empty rite outrageously to pollute the altars in the blood of cattle with putrefying carcasses [2]. Is this not the very same man who once betrayed the wine of his country[3] and ancient households, overturning the towers and residences of the nobility, since he wished to bring destruction on his city, adorned his doorposts with laurel, gave banquets, offered unclean bread tainted with the smoke of incense, asking in jest whom he would give over to death, who was ever accustomed to put on the sacred garments, forever ready to corrupt the unfortunate with some new deceit?

How, I ask you, did your priest help the city? He taught the [Greek] priest to seek the Sun beneath the earth,[4] and when a grave-digger from the countryside happened to cut down a pear tree for himself, would say that he was a companion of the gods and mentor of Bacchus, he, a worshipper of Serapis, always a friend to the Etruscan diviners, the one who sought eagerly to pour for the unwary his draughts of poison, who sought a thousand ways of harming and as many contrivances. Those whom he wished to ruin he struck down — the ghastly snake! — ready as he was to fight the true God, in vain, he who always mourned in silence the times of peace, unable to proclaim his own deep grief.

Which initiate of the taurobolium persuaded you to change your clothes so that you, a puffed-up rich man, should suddenly become a beggar covered in rags and having been made a pauper by your small contribution sent underground, stained with bull’s blood, dirty, corrupted, to preserve your bloodied garments and hope to live pure for twenty years? [5] You set yourself up as a censor to cut down the life of your betters, henceforth trusting that your own actions would lie hidden, although you had always been surrounded with the dogs of the Great Mother,[6] you whom the licentious band (O horror!) accompanied in your triumph. The old man of sixty remained a boy,[7] a worshipper of Saturn, constant friend of Bellona, who persuaded everyone that the Fauns,  companions of the nymph Egeria, and the Satyrs and Pans are gods. He is a companion of nymphs and Bacchus and priest of Trivia,[8] whom the Berecynthian Mother inspired to lead the choral dances, take up the staffs of effeminacy and clash the cymbals; whom powerful Galatea [Venus], born of lofty Jove and endowed with the prize of beauty through the judgement of Paris, commanded. Let no priest be allowed to keep his shame when they are in the habit of chanting in falsetto in the Megalensian celebrations. Thus in his madness he wanted to damn many worshippers of Christ were they willing to die outside the Law, and would give honours to those he would ensnare, through demonic artifice, forgetful of their true selves, seeking to influence the minds of certain people by gifts and to make others profane with a small bribe and send the wretched people below with him to Hell. He who wanted pious agreements to replace the laws had Leucadius put in charge of the African farms, to corrupt Marcianus so that he might be his proconsul. [9]

What was the divine custodian of Paphos [Venus], the matron Juno and elderly Saturn able to provide for you, their priest? What did the trident of Neptune promise you, O madman? (90) What responses could the Tritonian maiden [Minerva] give? Tell me, why did you seek the temple of Serapis by night? What did deceitful Mercury promise you as you went? What do you gain from having worshipped the Lares and two-faced Janus? What pleasure to you as priest did our parent Earth give, or the beautiful mother of the gods? (95) What barking Anubis; what the pitiable mother Ceres, and Proserpine below; what lame Vulcan, weak in one foot? Who did not laugh at your grieving, whenever you came bald to the altars as a suppliant to beseech rattle-bearing Faria [Isis] and when, after lamentation, you carried the broken olive branch when mourning wretched Osiris, [as Isis] sought the one she would lose again when found? We have seen lions bearing yokes wrought in silver, [10] when joined together they pulled creaking wooden wagons, and we have seen that man holding silver reins in both his hands. We have seen eminent senators following the chariot of Cybele which the hired band dragged at the Megalensian festival, carrying through the city a lopped-off tree trunk,[11] and suddenly proclaiming that castrated Attis is the Sun. While through your magic arts, alas, you seek the honours of princes, pitiable man, you are thereby brought low with the gift of a small tomb. Yet only the promiscuous Flora rejoices in your consulship, the shameful mother of games and mistress of Venus, to whom but recently your heir Symmachus [13] constructed a temple. You, stationed in the temple, continually worshipped all those monstrous things while your suppliant wife with her hands heaps up the altars with grain and gifts and prepares to fulfil her vows to the gods and goddesses on the threshold of the temple, and threatens the divine powers, desiring to sway Acheron with magic verses, yet sent him wretched headlong down to Tartarus. Leave off weeping after such a spouse, a sufferer from dropsy, he whose wish was to hope for salvation from Latian Jupiter.

[1] Juno and Jupiter.

[2] This refers to the augural ritual and the feast of the Parentalia (Prudentius, Contra Symmachum II.1107-8).

[3] This is apparently an allusion to some tampering with the wine supply during the City prefecture of Flavianus in 383 (Mommsen, ‘Carmen Codicis Parisini 8084’,. p. 363).

[4] Mithras as Sol.

[5] The initiation of the taurobolium was normally meant to last for twenty years according to contemporary inscriptions from Rome (e.g. CIL VI. 502, 504, 512).

[6] A reference to the dog masks worn at the festival of the Great Mother, the Megalensia. For similar instances: Carmen ad senatorem line 31 and Carmen ad Antonium lines 117-18.

[7] The word efebus here may refer to a grade of worship of the cult of Hercules.

[8] Trivia = Hecate. 

[9] Leucadius was an imperial financial official in Africa at the time. See ‘Leucadius 2′, PLRE I, p. 505. Marcianus became Prefect of the City of Rome in 409. After the defeat of Eugenius and Arbogast in September 394 Marcianus was compelled to pay back the salary he had acquired as Flavianus’ pronconsul in Africa (‘Marcianus 14’, PLRE I, pp. 555-6).

[10] The lions of Cybele; see M. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, London 1977, pp. 96ff.

[11] The pine trunk was carried in procession through the city on 22-23 March each year (ibid., p. 115).

[12] Attis was declared the Sun at the annual feast of the Hilaria, held on 25 March.

[13] This refers to the younger Flavianus who had married the daughter of Symmachus, rather than Symmachus’ son (‘Q. Fabius Memmius Symmachus 10’, PLRE II, p. 1047).

 I didn’t agree with all the footnotes; e.g. why introduce Attis, when Mithras is the Sol worshipped under the earth in a thousand inscriptions?  I wasn’t sure how we know that Attis was identified with the sun either. 

But … a tour de force.  Recommended.


De ligno vitae – The Tree of Life

There are a number of short poems which appear in the manuscripts and older editions of the works of Tertullian and Cyprian.  In truth their authorship is unknown, but they seem to belong to the end of the 4th century.

One of these is De ligno vitae, The tree of life.  I was considering commissioning a translation, but then I came across this lovely translation in Early Christian Latin Poets by Carolinne White in Google books.  The text itself is clearly a gem!

There is a place, we believe, at the centre of the world,
Called Golgotha by the Jews in their native tongue.
Here was planted a tree cut from a barren stump:
This tree, I remember hearing, produced wholesome fruits,
But it did not bear these fruits for those who had settled there:
It was foreigners who picked these lovely fruits.
This is what the tree looked like: it rose from a single stem
And then extended its arms into two branches
Just like the heavy yardarms on which billowing sails are stretched
Or like the yoke beneath which two oxen are put to the plough.
The shoot that sprung from the first ripe seed
Germinated in the earth and then, miraculously,
On the third day it produced a branch once more,
Terrifying to the earth and to those above, but rich in life-giving fruit.
But over the next forty days it increased in strength,
Growing into a huge tree which touched the heavens
With its topmost branches and then hid its saccred head on high.
In the meantime it produced twelve branches of enormous
Weight and stretched forth, spreading them over the whole world:
They were to bring nourishment and eternal life to all
The nations and to teach them that death can die.
And then after a further fifty days had passed
From its top the tree caused a draught of divine nectar
To flow into its branches, a breeze of the heavenly spirit.
All over the tree the leaves were dripping with sweet dew.
And look! Beneath the branches shady cover
There was a spring, with waters bright and clear
For there was nothing there to disturb the calm. Around it in the grass
A variety of flowers shone forth in bright colours.
Around this spring countless races and peoples gathered,
Of different stock, sex, age and rank,
Married and unmarried, widows, young married women,
Babies, children and men, both young and old.
When they saw the branches here bending down, under the weight
Of many sorts of fruit, they gleefully reached out with greedy hands
To touch the fruits dripping with heavenly nectar.
But they could not pick them with their eager hands
Until they had wiped off the dirt and filthy traces
Of their former life, washing their bodies in the holy spring.
And so they strolled around on the soft grass for some time
And looked up at the fruits hanging from the tall tree.
If they ate the shells that fell from those branches
And the sweet greenery dripping with plenty of nectar,
Then they were overcome with a desire to pick the real fruit.
And when their mouths first experienced the heavenly taste,
Their minds were transformed and their greedy impulses
Began to disappear; by the sweet taste they knew the man.
We have seen that an unusual taste or the poison of gall
Mixed with honey causes annoyance in many:
They rejected what tasted good because they were confused
And did not like what they had eagerly grabbed at,
Finally spitting out the taste of what they had for long drunk unwisely.
But it often happens that many, once their thoughts are set to rights,
Find their sick minds restored and achieve what they denied
Was possible and so obtain the fruits of their labours.
Many, too, having dared to touch the sacred waters,
Have suddenly departed, slipping back again
To roll around in the same mixture of mud and filth.
But others, faithfully carrying the truth within them, receive it
With their whole soul and store it deep in their hearts.
And so the seventh day sets those who can approach
The sacred spring beside the waters they longed for,
And they dip their bodies that have been fasting.
Only so do they rid themselves of the filth of their thoughts
And the stains of their former life, bringing back from death
Souls that are pure and shining, destined for heaven’s light.

I will look more at the volume.  It looks as if Dr. White has done something that should have been done a century ago, and addressed all these Latin poets who are largely neglected.