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lalighieri text integral passage complete quotation of the sources comedies works historical literary works in prose and in verses

Translated by Ph. Wicksteed and E.G. Gardner


[ Dante Alighieri to Giovanni del Virgilio ]

    In letters black, upon receptive white, I saw
the modulations milked for me from the Pierian bosom.
As it chanced, telling, as is our wont, our pastured goats,
under an oak, I and my Melibaeus had taken stand;
when he (by longing urged to learn the song)
"Tell me, Tityrus, what Mopsus will." I laughed,
Mopsus; but he urged me until for very love
at last I yielded; and, scarce covering my mirth--
"Ah, fool!" I said, "what madness this? Thy care
the goats bespeak, though by lean fare distressed!
Where Maenalus' high peak the sinking sun
conceals, lie shady pastures all to thee unknown;
with many a varying hue inlaid of flowers and grasses;
round them gently flows, under the osiers, with perpetual
wave his banks bedewing from his brimming verge,
a streamlet; offering a ready way wherein may gently
flow the watery store furnished by mountain heights.
There, even there, whilst in lush grass his oxen sport,
the toils of men and gods doth Mopsus contemplate, exultant!
Then through breath-receiving reeds his inward joy reveals;
until the herds follow the dulcet strain, and from the mount
lions, no longer fierce, haste to the fields. The waves are stayed,
and Maenalus himself inclines his foliage."
"Tityrus! what though Mopsus in unknown pastures sings;
yet I those unknown songs might practise for my goats,
poor wanderers, if thou wouldst show the way." So he,
and what could I, when thus he pressed breathless? "O Melibaeus,
others vie to master lore litigious. Mopsus still year in year out
himself hath dedicate to the Aonian mountains; hath grown
pale beneath the shadows of the sacred grove,
drenched by prophetic waters, inly filled, aye to the palate,
with the milk of song! He to the leaves sprung
from the Peneid's change invites me." "And thine answer?
Thinkest thou thus still to wear thy temples unadorned,
a shepherd ever on the rustic plains?" said Melibaeus.
"Scattered to the winds the glory, aye, the very name of bards!
O Melibaeus," I had said, "and scarce one vigil-keeping Mopsus hath
the muse known to maintain!" Then indignation gave a voice to utter
these: "What bleating sounds would gather from the flocks o'er hill
and plain if to a paean I should smite the strings with leaf-entwined hair!
But let me shun the glades and pastures that know not the gods!
Were it not better my triumphant locks should hide beneath
the green their hoariness, erst auburn-glowing, by the ancestral stream,
should ever I return to deck them there, of Arno."
"Nay, who doubts it ?" he replied. "But mark time's flight,
"O Tityrus, how swift! And goats whose dams we mated waxing old!"
Ah! when the gliding universal orbs and the star-woning spirits,
in my song, e'en as the nether realms, shall stand revealed,
then," I replied, "my joy shall be to bind
my brow with laurel and with ivy;
-- leave of Mopsus asked." "Of Mopsus? Why of him?" the other said.
And I myself replied: "Hast thou not marked the scorn
wherewith he greets the speech of Comedy which women's chat
stales on the lip, which the Castalian sisters blush to receive?"
And, Mopsus, here read thy verses once again.
He shrugged, and said, "How to our side shall Mopsus,
then, be won?" "A ewe is mine!" I said, "to thee well known,
choicest of all the rest, who scarce supports, so doth she teem
with milk, her udders' weight (herbage fresh cropt
she chews beneath a rock immense)
associate with no flock, nor known to any fold.
Of her own will she comes, and never driven, to the milking-pail.
Her do I purpose with deft hand to milk.
From her ten measures will I fill to send
to Mopsus. And do those give heed, the while,
to the wanton goats; and learn thy teeth to fix in stubborn crusts."
Such words beneath the oak did I and Melibaeus sing;
what time our humble cot prepared our oaten meal.


[ Dante Alighieri to Giovanni del Virgilio ]

    Their Colchian fleeces doffed, Eous swift and th' other
steeds the beauteous Titan bore. And momently the track
in equal poise held either chariot-bearing orb,
what point it felt the first down-swerving from the height.
Sun-smitten things, but now by self-cast shade out-lengthed,
their shadows overpassed; the fields, all unprotected, burned.
And woodward now had Tityrus and Alphesibaeus fled,
themselves compassionating and their herds seeking the copse where,
'twixt the ash's growth, linden and plane find frequent space.
And there -- the while reposing on the woodland grass,
cattle, with goats between, sniff the cool air --
Tityrus, drowsed by odours somnolent, with maple leaves,
reclining, shields his age; and, to discourse,
Alphesibaeus stands, leaning upon
a gnarled pear-wood staff wrenched from its stock.
"That souls," quoth he, "of men make for the stars,
whence they were newly come when first our frames
they entered; that white swans love to make ring Cayster
with their joy in temperate heavens and in plashy vale;
that fishes of the sea gather, and quit that sea,
just where the streams first touch the realm of Nereus;
that the Caucasus is dabbed with blood Hyrcanian-tiger-spilt,
the sands of Lybia swept by serpent-scales, I not admire;
for, Tityrus, each thing delights in what
to its own life conforms; but I marvel, and marvel
all my fellow-swains holding Sicilia's pastures, that the rocks
that parch 'neath Etna's summit should delight Mopsus." So he.
When, lo! (his panting breath checking his speed)
toil-heated Melibaeus approaches and scarce gasps "Look Tityrus!"
His throbbing throat the seniors laugh to see
no less than the Sicanians laughed of old seeing Sergestus,
wrenched from off the rock, from the green sod raising his hoary locks,
the aged swain thus to the panting boy, with nostrils still distent:
"What novel cause has urged thee, in the wantonness of youth,
the bellows of thy bosom thus to strain with rapid course?"
Here naught in answer he; but rather placed
against his quivering lips the pipe he held;
whence to our greedy ears issued no simple breath;
but as he toils to give the reed a voice (strange things
but true am I to tell) the reed's self uttered forth:
it chanced on the well-watered slopes where Rhine and Sarpina,
and had but three more breaths been urged beyond those breathed,
a hundred strains had the mute rustics charmed.
Tityrus felt the purport; felt it too Alphesibaeus,
and gave it words. To Tityrus he turned:
"Old venerated Sire! and wilt thou dare to desert Pelorus'
dewy fields and brave the Cyclops' den ?"
"What is thy fear? What dost thou probe?" he cried;
"My fear? What probe?" returned Alphesibaeus,
"Can'st not feel the power divine, vocal within the flute?
(Such power was in the reeds by whispers bred, whispers that told
what shame his temples bore, the monarch's, who,
at Bromius' mandate, tinged Pactolus' sands.) It summons thee
to shores strewed with Aetnean pumice.
Trust not thou delusive favours! Pity, loved old Sire,
the Dryads of the place. Thine own flocks pity. Thee absent
will the mountains weep, and thee our glades and streams;
and, sharing in our fears of worse to come, the nymphs.
Envy no more will vex Pachynus; and we swains shall grieve
e'er to have known thee. Think not then to leave,
O loved old Sire, the springs and pastures,
famed for thy name's living sake."
"O more than half, -- and rightly -- of this breast,"
touching his own, the aged Tityrus cried, "Mopsus,
with me in love united (for their sakes
who fled in terror from Pyreneus' evil will),
deeming I dwell on shores to Padua's right
and left of Rubicon, where Adria bounds
the Emilian land, of Aetna's shore commends the pastures,
ignorant that we dwell on a mount Trinacrian,
than which no other hill of Sicily more rich
doth pasture flocks and herds. But though the rocks
of Aetna vie not with Pelorus' sward, yet,
to see Mopsus, I would take my way, my flocks abandoned,
but for dread of thee, O Polyphemus!"
"Polyphemus," cried Alphesibaeus, "who dreads not?
His jaws familiar with the drip of human gore,
since when, scarce 'scaping, Galatea saw
forsaken Acis mangled; while herself
love's power had barely shielded from the rage
that boiled so fiercely. Achimenides
near breathed his last barely at sight of him,
drenched with his comrades' blood. My life! I pray
never may such dread purpose master thee
as that Rhine with his neighbour nymph enclose
that head illustrious, which the pruner speeds
to grace with leaves undying, from the boughs
culled of the exalted virgin." Not unpleased,
in silence, Tityrus with full assent
received the words of th' flock's great fosterling.
But since, by now, so prone the yoke-mates cleft the ether
that the shadow each thing cast stretched far beyond its height,
the crookbearers, quitting the woods and the cool vale, returned
after their flocks; the shaggy goats before to pastures soft,
like home-comers, led on. Wily Iolas, lurking close at hand,
the whilst, heard all, and all he heard rehearsed:
he unto us, and, Mopsus, we to thee.

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