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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Calpurnius Siculus: The Rustic in the Amphitheatre

By Roman Poets of the Later Empire

Translation of Harriet Waters Preston

CORYDON—I saw the heaven; high structure of woven timbers wrought,

Looking down on the very Tarpeian rock, methought;

I saw the gradients vast, and I gained by easy stairs

The place assigned to the common folk, and the women’s chairs,

Where these and the men in homely raiment view the show;

For the statelier places under the open sky below

Are all for the knights and the tribunes in their snowy dress.

Even as our sunny valley in the wilderness

Ringed by these forest ranks that aye reclining seem,

Flares to the unbroken chain of hills about its brim,

So there, the arena circuit girds the level ground,

And the massive hemispheres in an oval vast are bound.

But how to tell thee all, which I scarce had eyes to see

In part? For the universal splendor dazzled me.

And there I stood agape, and as rooted to the spot,—

Though little of all the coming wonders then I wot,—

Till an ancient gaffer on my left hand spake and said:—

“No marvel if all this glory hath turned thy clownish head,

Who knowest, mayhap, not gold by sight, nor ever saw

Statelier home than a starveling peasant’s hut of straw!

Why, hoary-headed and shaky as I stand here to-day,

Having grown old in the city—I know not what to say!

All they have shown us in years before is poor and mean,

Sordid, I tell thee, man, to this bewildering scene!

Look how the gem-set barriers and gilded loggia shine!

And down on the marble wall,—the arena’s boundary-line,—

Where are the foremost seats of all, dost thou discern

The cylinders made of beauteous ivory slabs, that turn

Smoothly on polished axles, and suddenly let slip

Claws of the dizzied climber, who tumbles in a heap?

For him too glitter the nets of golden wire hung out,

Each from an ivory tusk,—the arena round about

Whole tusks, and all of a size!” And I, Lycotas, deem

Each one of those tusks was longer than our plowshare beam!

And what shall I tell thee next? All manner of beasts were there,

The elk, even in his own native forest rare;

With snow-white hares, and horrid boars, and bulls galore!

Some without necks, a hideous hump on the shoulders bore;

There were shaggy manes and bearded chins. And others yet

Had rigid dewlaps all with quivering bristles set.

But the strange, wild forest creatures made not all the show:—

Seals were there, along with the bear, their constant foe;

And the shapeless being called a river-horse, and born

Of the stream whose overflowings quicken the vernal corn.

Awesome it was indeed, to see in the sandy deep

The wild things out of their subterranean caverns leap,

Or up from the selfsame hollow places grow amain

Living arbutus bowers, in a nimbus of golden rain!

Lycotas—Ay, ay! And thou art a happy fellow, Corydon,

To have seen by grace divine, e’er tremulous eld come on,

This age of ours! And tell, oh, tell me if by chance

Thou hadst a right near view of the godlike countenance;

And how did the dread one look? What manner of garb wore he?

I fain would know the aspect on earth of deity!

Corydon—Would I had gone less meanly clad! For then, mayhap,

I had not been balked of a noble sight by a sordid wrap

And a clumsy brooch! But to me, as I stood afar,

He carried, unless these eyes of mine deceivers are,

The part at once of the god of song and the god of war!