Pusio

Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem, De Bethlehemse kindermoord, 1590
Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem, De Bethlehemse kindermoord (1590)

Audit tyrannus anxius
adesse regum principem,
qui nomen Israel regat,
teneatque David regiam.

exclamat amens nuntio
“successor instat, pellimur:
satelles, i, ferrum rape,
perfunde cunas sanguine!

mas omnis infans occidat,
scrutare nutricum sinus,
interque materna ubera
ensem cruentet pusio.

suspecta per Bethlem mihi
puerperarum est omnium
fraus, ne qua furtim subtrahat
prolem virilis indolis.”

transfigit ergo carnifex
mucrone districto furens
effusa nuper corpora,
animasque rimatur novas.

locum minutis artubus
vix interemptor invenit
quo plaga descendat patens,
iuguloque maior pugio est.

o barbarum spectaculum!
illisa cervix cautibus
spargit cerebrum lacteum,
oculosque per vulnus vomit;

aut in profundum palpitans
mersatur infans gurgitem,
cui subter artis faucibus
singultat unda et halitus

salvete, flores martyrum,
quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit,
ceu turbo nascentes rosas.

vos, prima Christi victima,
grex immolatorum tener,
aram ante ipsam simplices
palma et coronis luditis.

(Prudentius, Cathemerinon 12.93-132)

The uneasy monarch hears of the coming of the King of Kings to rule over the name of Israel and possess the throne of David. Out of his mind at the news, he cries “He that shall take my place is upon me, driving me out. Go, guard, grasp thy sword and steep the cradles in blood. Let every male child perish. Search the nurses’ bosoms, and at the mother’s breasts let the boy-child’s blood redden thy blade. I suspect guile in all that have borne babes in Bethlehem, lest one of them by stealth save her male progeny.” So the executioner raging madly with drawn sword pierces the new-born bodies and tears the young life out of them. Scarce can the slayer find room on the little frames for the gaping wound to fall upon; the dagger is bigger than the throat. O barbarous sight! A head dashed against the stones scatters the milk-white brains and spews out the eyes through the wound; or a babe is flung all throbbing into the depths of the flood, and beneath in his narrow throat water and breath make choking spasms. Hail, martyr-flowers, whom on the very threshold of life the persecutor of Christ destroyed, as the stormy wind kills roses at their birth. You are Christ’s first offerings, a tender flock slain in sacrifice, and before the very altar you play in innocence with palm and crowns. (tr. Henry John Thomson)

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