Ausonius, Epigram II – On the Beast Slain by Caesar

[Prefatory note: I mentioned in a prefatory note that Gibbon claimed that the popularity of Ausonius was a condemnation of the taste of his age. Gibbon would no doubt have considered the 21st Century as singularly lacking in taste as well, which – by a somewhat dubious stretch of reasoning – may suggest that perhaps modern readers will find something of interest in him. Because Ausonius is effectively an unknown name among the educated public, and even commonly excluded from the Classical curriculum, while simultaneously being the subject of a rather bold and significant literary judgment, I will be publishing (hopefully) an epigram a day – in prose translation – so that we may all consider whether Gibbon is a literary Rhadamanthys, or the Paris of poetry.]

II. De Fero a Caesara Interfecta

“This wounded beast knows not how to yield to the sword thrust at it, and the bloody weapons of the armed man just provoke it further. What magnificent death she suffers from a trifling wound; she demonstrates that the hand alone has the power of death. She marvels at the new stroke of fortune and the sudden downturn – he is attached, and the recent wound closes her eyes. Nor is the arrow content with piercing the stricken limbs, but one dart joins together two deaths. If many deaths come from the strike of one thunderbolt, you may consider those wounds to be dealt by heaven.”

 

Cedere quae lato nescit fera saucia ferro,

armatique urget tela cruenta viri,

quam grandes parvo patitur sub vulnere mortes,

et solam leti vim probat esse manum!

Miraturque casusque novos subitasque ruinas:

Quaeritur , et fallit lumina plaga recens.

Nec contenta ictos letaliter ire per artus

coniungit mortes una sagitta duas.

Plurima communi pereunt si fulminis ictu,

Haec quoque de coelo vulnera missa putes.

 

Note: This poem is about the emperor Gratian and his fondness for fighting beasts in the arena. The Delphin Variorum Edition of A.J. Valpy contains a footnote, which says that Gratian was an expert in javelin-hurling, according to Aurelius Victor, who wrote of Gratian that he spent all day and night playing with spears, and thought that the consummation of human life was the slaughter of pre-selected beasts in the arena.

3 thoughts on “Ausonius, Epigram II – On the Beast Slain by Caesar

  1. He himself wrote that the period from the accession of Nerva until the death of Marcus Aurelius would be universally acknowledged as the happiest period of human history.

  2. Gibbon’s style is like pure, clear water flowing on forever at an even pace. He has such a properly Latin idea of the way English sentences should be formed that he won’t even end one with a preposition. One can understand why he was reluctant to hop around in the stylistic mud puddles of Ausonius (for so, at least, they must have seemed to him).

    Huysmans’ Des Esseintes is one of the moderns you speak of. If memory serves me well, he passionately champions the Moselle, along with every other species of literary and moral corruption.

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