Thursday, 20 February 2014

Statius Silvae 5.4: Sleepless nights.



Publius Papinius Statius (45-96) was a poet belonging to the Sliver Age of Latin, called so because the literature of that period could not match the literature of the days of Cicero and Virgil. Of course the Romans writers of that Silver Age did not define themselves as such: the term has been coined by the German philologist W.S Teuffel in his book about the history of Roman literature published in 1870 – dry but useful for its  bibliographical details,  as his wiki lemma says. Not an encouraging remark for reading it, in my opinion at least.
Statius - a native of Naples - moved to Rome for a career as poet and indeed he had some success with his poems, but not the success he had hoped for and disappointed he went back to Naples. The very fact that I am now writing this post proves that he was a bit too pessimistic.
What has remained of the works by Statius are two epic poems of which one unfinished and a collection of occasional poems, the Silvae. In the poem below our poet has already sleepless nights for a week (or pretended to have for the sake of this poem) and is now addressing the god of sleep, Sumnus, and prays him to pass by and give at least some sleep. The cause of this insomnia is left open, which makes this poem intriguing.
Nowadays Statius is little read outside academic circles but this has not always been the case: Keats’ poem To Sleep clearly betrays influences by this poem:

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
      Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
      Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
      In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the "Amen," ere thy poppy throws
      Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
      Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
      Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

And though I am not sure whether Goethe had lines 3-6 in mind, the similarities are striking in this poem:

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh',
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest Du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur! Balde
Ruhest du auch.

Above all summits
it is calm.
In all the tree-tops
you feel
scarcely a breath;
The birds in the forest are silent,
just wait, soon
you will rest as well!


Statius, Silvae 5.4 Somnus.
Metrum: Hexameter

Crimine quo merui, iuvenis placidissime divum,
quove errore miser, donis ut solus egerem,
Somne, tuis? tacet omne pecus volucresque feraeque
et simulant fessos curvata cacumina somnos,
nec trucibus fluviis idem sonus; occidit horror          5
aequoris, et terris maria adclinata quiescunt.
septima iam rediens Phoebe mihi respicit aegras
stare genas; totidem Oetaeae Paphiaeque revisunt
lampades et totiens nostros Tithonia questus
praeterit et gelido spargit miserata flagello.          10
unde ego sufficiam? non si mihi lumina mille,
quae sacer alterna tantum statione tenebat
Argus et haud umquam vigilabat corpore toto.
at nunc heu! si aliquis longa sub nocte puellae
brachia nexa tenens ultro te, Somne, repellit,          15
inde veni; nec te totas infundere pennas
luminibus compello meis - hoc turba precatur
laetior: extremo me tange cacumine virgae,
sufficit, aut leviter suspenso poplite transi.

crimine quo: through what crime
mereo merui meritum: to deserve
divum = divorum
donis ut = ut donis
egeo egui (+ abl.): to need
pecus pecoris (n.): cattle
fera: wild animal
cacumen cucuminis (n.): top, peak, point
fessos sumnos: weary sleep, though of course not the sleep is weary, but the culmina, The transference of an adjective to a noun, while ir actually belongs to another noun  is called hypallage.
nec trucibus fluviis idem sonus: nor is there the same sound for
trux trucis: fierce, wild
occido occidi occasus: to fall down
horror: aequoris: i.e. the strong winds at sea (At night there is less wind at sea.)
acclino: to lean on
Phoebe: the moon
aegras stare genas: that my ill eyes are gazing
Oetaeae Paphiaeque lampades the lights of Oeta and Paphius, i.e. the evening star and the morning star (the evening star was believed to rise from mount Oeta and Paphus is a city on Cyprus, the island connected with Venus.
Thitonia: Aurora (Her lover was Tithonus.)
questus –us (m.): complaint



gelido spargit miserata flagello:  sprinkles (me) pitiful with her cool whip (i.e. the whip with which de morning drives the stars away. The image of sprinkling is at first sight strange, but what is meant here by the cool whip is the morning dew.)
sufficio suffeci suffectum: to endure (Note that in the last line  the verb is used in the meaning `to be sufficient’ – a deliberate play with the various meanings.)
lumina mille: In the oldest text, a fragment of a lost poem Aigimios, attributed to Hesiod, Argos had only four eyes, but this rapidly increased in later literature. Because of his many eyes Argos could easily close a couple for sleep (haud umquam vigilabat corpore toto). Argos was appointed by Hera to keep an eye on Io, a mistress of Zeus, who turned her into a heifer in order to escape detection by Hera. Without success…
sacer Argos: Argos is sacred because he served Hera.
brachia nexa: embracing arms
ultro te: against your will
infundo infudi infusum: to pour upon
penna: feather
hoc turba precatur laetior: let a happier crowd pray for that
virga: twig
suspenso poplite: with the knee (poples poplitis, m.) raised

Here is an audio version read by Kathleen Coleman. You need Quick time for the audio:



Translation by J. H. MOZLEY, M.A. (1927)

TO SLEEP

O youthful Sleep, gentlest of the gods, by what
crime or error of mine have I deserved that I alone
should lack thy bounty ? Silent are all the cattle,
and the wild beasts and the birds, and the curved
mountain summits have the semblance of weary
slumber, nor do the raging torrents roar as they were
wont ; the ruffled waves have sunk to rest, and the
sea leans against earth's bosom and is still. Seven
times now hath the returning moon beheld my fixed
and ailing eyes ; so often have the lights of Oeta and
Paphos  revisited me, so oft hath Tithonia passed by
my groans, and pitying sprinkled me with her cool
whip. Ah ! how may I endure ? Not if I had the
thousand eyes of sacred  Argus, which he kept but
in alternate watchfulness, nor ever waked in all his
frame at once. But now — ah, me ! — if some lover
through the long hours of night is clasping a girl's
entwining arms, and of his own will drives thee from
him, come thence, O Sleep ! nor do I bid thee shower
all the influence of thy wings upon my eyes — that
be the prayer of happier folk ! — touch me but with
thy Avand's extremest tip — 'tis enough — or pass over
me with lightly hovering step.


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