Homer, Vergil and Macrobius: Embracing the Beloved Dead

Odyssey 11.204-222

“So she spoke but as I pondered this in my thoughts,
I wanted to clutch the soul of my departed mother.
Three times I reached out as my heart urged me to embrace her,
And three times she drifted from my hands like a shadow
Ora dream. The grief in my heart only grew sharper
And I spoke to her, uttering winged words.

“Mother, why don’t you wait as I come to hold you,
So we may even in Hades throw our arms around another
And have our fill together of cruel grief?
Or is it that dread Persephone sends only this ghost to me
So I may groan, grieving still more?”

So I spoke and my lady mother responded right away:
“Oh, my child, most ill-fated of all men,
Zeus’ daughter Persephone does not allow you things,
This is the law of mortals whenever they die.
We possess no tendons, flesh or bones—
Those things the strong force of burning fire
Consumed, and when the spirit first leaves its white bones,
The soul flits about and flies like a dream.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γ’ ἔθελον φρεσὶ μερμηρίξας
μητρὸς ἐμῆς ψυχὴν ἑλέειν κατατεθνηυίης.
τρὶς μὲν ἐφωρμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ
ἔπτατ’· ἐμοὶ δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ γενέσκετο κηρόθι μᾶλλον,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδων·
‘μῆτερ ἐμή, τί νύ μ’ οὐ μίμνεις ἑλέειν μεμαῶτα,
ὄφρα καὶ εἰν ᾿Αΐδαο φίλας περὶ χεῖρε βαλόντε
ἀμφοτέρω κρυεροῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο;
ἦ τί μοι εἴδωλον τόδ’ ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια
ὤτρυν’, ὄφρ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὀδυρόμενος στεναχίζω;’
ὣς ἐφάμην, ἡ δ’ αὐτίκ’ ἀμείβετο πότνια μήτηρ·
‘ὤ μοι, τέκνον ἐμόν, περὶ πάντων κάμμορε φωτῶν,
οὔ τί σε Περσεφόνεια Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἀπαφίσκει,
ἀλλ’ αὕτη δίκη ἐστὶ βροτῶν, ὅτε τίς κε θάνῃσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἔτι σάρκας τε καὶ ὀστέα ἶνες ἔχουσιν,
ἀλλὰ τὰ μέν τε πυρὸς κρατερὸν μένος αἰθομένοιο
δαμνᾷ, ἐπεί κε πρῶτα λίπῃ λεύκ’ ὀστέα θυμός,
ψυχὴ δ’ ἠΰτ’ ὄνειρος ἀποπταμένη πεπότηται.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.13

“What do you make of the fact that all of Vergil’s work is made as sort of mirroring of Homer’s”?

Quid, quod et omne opus Virgilianum velut de quodam Homerici opus speculo formatum est?

Aeneid, 6.700-2

“Three times I tried there to wrap my arms around his neck,
Three times his ghost fled the empty closure of my hands,
Something like a blowing breeze or a flying dream.”

Ter conatus ibi collo dare brachia circum,
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.

These lines in the underworld are repeated from Aeneas’ description of his flight from Troy when he bursts back into the city and encounters the ghost of Creusa.

Macrobius (Saturnalia 5.4 ) lists this a one of many passages adapted from Homer. But in his version, he offers a slightly different version of the Latin. Instead of the line listed in most MSS (2.794=6.702) Macrobius has Par levibus ventis volucrique simillima fumo, “similar to light winds and something like floating smoke”.

In his commentary, John Connington doesn’t make much of this variation. He does mention another.

Commentary on 2.792-794

[794] Hom.’s words are σκιῆ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ. Virg., in talking of sleep, probably has a dream in his mind. In any case there is no probability in Macrobius’ (Sat. 5. 5) misquotation ‘fumo,’ which Wakef. adopts. The Medicean of Pierius has a curious variety, “Par levibus pennis volucrique simillima vento.”

Creusa

British Museum, inv. 1877,0512.536 (c.1781)

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