Haud secus ac si olim per sudum lactea forte
lapsa columbarum nubes descendat in arvum
ruris frugiferi, laqueos ubi callidus auceps
praetendit lentoque illevit vimina visco,
sparsit et insidias siliquis vel farre doloso,
illiciunt alias fallentia grana, gulamque
innectunt avidam tortae retinacula saetae,
molle vel implicitas gluten circumligat alas,
ast aliae, quas nullus amor prolectat edendi,
gressibus innocuis sterili spatiantur in herba
suspectamque cavent oculos convertere ad escam;
mox ubi iam caelo revolandum, pars petit aethram
libera sideream plaudens super aëra pinnis,
pars captiva iacet laceris et saucia plumis
pugnat humi et volucres nequiquam suspicit auras;
sic animas caeli de fontibus unicoloras
infundit natura solo, sed suavibus istic
devinctae illecebris retinentur, et aethera paucae
conscendunt reduces, multas viscosus inescat
pastus et ad superas percurrere non sinit auras.
(Prudentius, Hamartigenia 804-823)

Just as sometimes doves in a milk-white cloud,
descending through the bright and lucid sky,
settle in a wheat field, where a clever
fowler set his snares and smeared the twigs
with sticky lime, baiting his traps with peas
and poisoned grain, and some are tempted by
the treacherous grain and caught by nets of woven
cord that choke their greedy throats, or else
soft glue traps and binds their wings: but others,
not seduced by love of eating, stroll
at ease, unharmed, about the barren grass
and take good care not to turn their eyes
toward the suspect food. Soon, when it comes
time to fly back toward the sky, some freely
seek the starry heaven and clap their wings
above the clouds, while others, taken captive,
lie wounded, struggling on the ground, their feathers
torn, looking up in vain at the passing
breezes. In just this way, nature showers
spotless souls from heaven onto earth,
but there they are retained, entrapped by sweet
delights, and very few ascend again
to heaven; the sticky food entices many
and keeps them from advancing to the upper
(tr. Martha A. Malamud)



Ut vidit Agnes stare trucem virum
mucrone nudo, laetior haec ait:
“exsulto, talis quod potius venit
vesanus, atrox, turbidus, armiger,
quam si veniret languidus ac tener,
mollisque ephebus tinctus aromate,
qui me pudoris funere perderet.
hic, hic amator iam, fateor, placet:
ibo irruentis gressibus obviam,
nec demorabor vota calentia.
ferrum in papillas omne recepero,
pectusque ad imum vim gladii traham.
sic nupta Christo transiliam poli
omnes tenebras aethere celsior.
aeterne rector, divide ianuas
caeli, obseratas terrigenis prius,
ac te sequentem, Christe, animam voca,
cum virginalem, tum Patris hostiam.”
sic fata, Christum vertice cernuo
supplex adorat, vulnus ut imminens
cervix subiret prona paratius.
ast ille tantam spem peragit manu:
uno sub ictu nam caput amputat.
sensum doloris mors cita praevenit.
exutus inde spiritus emicat,
liberque in auras exilit; angeli
saepsere euntem tramite candido.
(Prudentius, Peristephanon 14.67-93)

When Agnes saw the grim figure standing there with his naked sword her gladness increased and she said: “I rejoice that there comes a man like this, a savage, cruel, wild man-at-arms, rather than a listless, soft, womanish youth bathed in perfume, coming to destroy me with the death of my honour. This lover, this one at last, I confess it, pleases me. I shall meet his eager steps halfway and not put off his hot desires. I shall welcome the whole length of his blade into my bosom, drawing the sword-blow to the depths of my breast; and so as Christ’s bride I shall o’erleap all the darkness of the sky and rise higher than the ether. O eternal ruler, open the gates of heaven which formerly were barred against the children of the earth, and call, O Christ, a soul that follows Thee, a virgin’s soul and a sacrifice to the Father.” So saying she bowed her head and humbly worshipped Christ, so that her bending neck should be readier to suffer the impending blow; and the executioner’s hand fulfilled her great hope, for at one stroke he cut off her head and swift death forestalled the sense of pain. Now the disembodied spirit springs forth and leaps in freedom into the air, and angels are round her as she passes along the shining path. (tr. Henry John Thomson)


The flagellation of Saint Eulalia of Barcelona

Quaeritis, o miseranda manus,
Christicolum genus? en ego sum
daemonicis inimica sacris,
idola protero sub pedibus,
pectore et ore Deum fateor.

Isis, Apollo, Venus nihil est,
Maximianus et ipse nihil:
illa nihil, quia facta manu,
hic manuum quia facta colit,
frivola utraque et utraque nihil.

(Prudentius, Peristephanon 3.71-80)

Seek ye, O pitiable company, the people who worship Christ? Here am I, a foe to the worship of evil spirits; I trample idols under foot, and with heart and lips I confess God. Isis, Apollo, Venus – they are naught; Maximian* himself too is naught; they because they are works of men’s hands, he because he worships the works of men’s hands, both worthless, both naught.

* Colleague of Diocletian as emperor from 286 to 305. Spain was under his charge.

(tr. Henry John Thomson, with his note)


vestal virgins

Quae nunc Vestalis sit virginitatis honestas
discutiam, qua lege regat decus omne pudoris.
Inde ad consessum caveae pudor almus et expers
sanguinis it pietas hominum visura cruentos
congressus mortesque et vulnera vendita pastu
spectatura sacris oculis. sedet illa verendis
vittarum insignis phaleris fruiturque lanistis.
o tenerum mitemque animum! consurgit ad ictus
et, quotiens victor ferrum iugulo inserit, illa
delicias ait esse suas, pectusque iacentis
virgo modesta iubet converso pollice rumpi,
ne lateat pars ulla animae vitalibus imis,
altius impresso dum palpitat ense secutor.
(Prudentius, Contra orationem Symmachi 2.1062-3, 1096-1101)

Now I shall examine the high repute of the Vestals’ virginity, and the justice of its claim to be the standard for all the honour paid to purity. (…) Then on to the gathering in the amphitheatre passes this figure of life-giving purity and bloodless piety, to see bloody battles and deaths of human beings and look on with holy eyes at wounds men suffer for the price of their keep. There she sits conspicuous with the awe-inspiring trappings of her head-bands and enjoys what the trainers have produced. What a soft, gentle heart! She rises at the blows, and every time a victor stabs his victim’s throat she calls him her pet; the modest virgin with a turn of her thumb bids him pierce the breast of his fallen foe so that no remnant of life shall stay lurking deep in his vitals while under a deeper thrust of the sword the fighter lies in the agony of death. (tr. Henry John Thomson)