Precor

Andrea Sacchi, Didone abbandonata, ca. 1630
Andrea Sacchi, Didone abbandonata (ca. 1630)

Et iam prima novo spargebat lumine terras
Tithoni croceum linquens Aurora cubile.
regina e speculis ut primam albescere lucem
vidit et aequatis classem procedere velis,
litoraque et vacuos sensit sine remige portus,
terque quaterque manu pectus percussa decorum
flaventisque abscissa comas ‘pro Iuppiter! ibit
hic,’ ait ‘et nostris illuserit advena regnis?
non arma expedient totaque ex urbe sequentur,
diripientque rates alii navalibus? ite,
ferte citi flammas, date tela, impellite remos!
quid loquor? aut ubi sum? quae mentem insania mutat?
infelix Dido, nunc te facta impia tangunt?
tum decuit, cum sceptra dabas. en dextra fidesque,
quem secum patrios aiunt portare penates,
quem subiisse umeris confectum aetate parentem!
non potui abreptum divellere corpus et undis
spargere? non socios, non ipsum absumere ferro
Ascanium patriisque epulandum ponere mensis?
verum anceps pugnae fuerat fortuna. fuisset:
quem metui moritura? faces in castra tulissem
implessemque foros flammis natumque patremque
cum genere exstinxem, memet super ipsa dedissem.
Sol, qui terrarum flammis opera omnia lustras,
tuque harum interpres curarum et conscia Iuno,
nocturnisque Hecate triviis ululata per urbes
et Dirae ultrices et di morientis Elissae,
accipite haec, meritumque malis advertite numen
et nostras audite preces. si tangere portus
infandum caput ac terris adnare necesse est,
et sic fata Iovis poscunt, hic terminus haeret,
at bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli
auxilium imploret videatque indigna suorum
funera; nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquae
tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur,
sed cadat ante diem mediaque inhumatus harena.
haec precor, hanc vocem extremam cum sanguine fundo.
tum vos, o Tyrii, stirpem et genus omne futurum
exercete odiis, cinerique haec mittite nostro
munera. nullus amor populis nec foedera sunto.
exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor
qui face Dardanios ferroque sequare colonos,
nunc, olim, quocumque dabunt se tempore vires.
litora litoribus contraria, fluctibus undas
imprecor, arma armis: pugnent ipsique nepotesque.’
(Vergil, Aen. 4.584-629)

Dawn was by now beginning to stipple the earth with new brightness,
Leaving Tithonus’ saffron bed. From her watchtower, the ruler
Watched as the early light whitened and noticed the fleet under full sail
Standing seaward, well under way, and observed that the empty
Coastline displayed not a single oarsman strolling the harbours.
Three times, four times she pounds on her beautiful breast, and rips golden
Hair from her head by the roots. ‘Oh Jupiter! Shall this intruder
Go on his way,’ she exclaims, ‘mocking me and the power of my kingdom?
Get a force fitted, pursue them with all of our city’s resources,
Others must haul out our vessels from storage docks. Go to it, right now!
Hurry, bring fire, issue weapons, have rowers press hard upon oarlocks!
What am I saying? Where am I? What madness is warping my reason?
Unfulfilled Dido, your unrighteous acts come to haunt you!
When action was the appropriate course, you were giving him your power.
Witness the word and the honour of one, who, they say, carries with him,
Gods of ancestral shrines, who once took on his shoulders his agèd
Father! Could I not have taken him off, torn his body to pieces,
Scattered it over the sea, or murdered his comrades, and even
Served up Ascanius himself as a treat for his banqueting father?
If war’d ensued, though, the outcome was not, and could not have been, certain.
Whom did I fear? I was going to die. I’d have torched his encampment,
Filled up his holds with my fires, and once I’d extinguished the father,
Child, and the whole of his race, I’d have thrown myself onto the bonfire.
Sun: your cleansing flames survey all earthly endeavours!
Juno: you sense, and are my intercessor in, all of my anguish!
Hecate: your name is howled by night throughout cities, at crossroads!
Demons of vengeance, gods of the dying, forgotten Elissa!
Take it all in, focus your divine will, as you should, on my sufferings.
Hear what I pray. If it must be that this indescribable person
Makes it to port, that he floats back to dry land, and if this is really
Jupiter’s last word on fate and he must reach the goal of his journey,
Let him be hammered in war by the armies of valiant people,
Forced from his borders, torn far away from Iulus’ embraces.
Let him beg help, let him watch as his men are disgracefully slaughtered!
When he surrenders himself to an unjust peace and its strict terms,
Grant him no joy in his realm or the light he so loves. Let him lie dead,
Well before his due day, halfway up a beach and unburied.
This is my prayer; these final words I express with my life-blood:
Tyrians, drive with relentless hate against his stock and every
Future brood, and dispatch them as ritual gifts to my ashes.
No love must ever exist between our two peoples, no treaties.
Rise from my bones, my avenger—and there will be an avenger!—
So you can hound these Dardan settlers with hot fire and cold steel,
Now, or some day in the future, whenever that strength coalesces.
Menace of coast against coast and of waters hurled against waters,
Arms against arms, I invoke. Let them fight, they themselves and their grandsons!’
(tr. Frederick Ahl)

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