Ualerius Flaccus was one of the many poets of the Silver Age who retold stories from Greek mythology. The only evidence for when he lived is a reference he makes to the eruption of Vesuvius in a.d. 79. His epic poem, the Argonautica, tells how fason sailed from Greece with a band of warriors to regain the Golden Fleece, which was in the possession of Aeetes, king of Colchis, on the east coast of the Black Sea.
Valerius owed much to the Greek poet Apollonius Rhodius (fl. 250 b.c.), whose epic of the same name had been translated into Latin by Terentius Varro Atacinus (b. 82 b.c.). (The Greek poem has survived, but the Latin translation has not.) However, the rhetorical flavor that permeates Valerius' work marks him as a writer of the same mold as those criticized by Juvenal for their pompous regurgitation of Greek myths (see Juvenal Satires 1.1-18, page 202).
The following selection describes how Jason gives his men much-needed encouragement when, on arriving at Colchis by night after an exhausting voyage, they must face unknown dangers in the next stage of their quest.
Tunc defixa solo coetuque intenta silenti versus ad ora virum'quod pridem ingentibus ausis optavistis" ait'veterumque quod horruit aetas, adsumus en tantumque fretis enavimus orbem. 315
text Valerius Flaccus Argonautica, ed. W.-W. Ehlers
(BibliothecaTeubneriana, 1980) meter hexameter [§mi]
tunc de|fixa so|Io || coe|tuqu(e) In|tenta si|lenti versus ad | oravi|rum |j quod j prld(em) In|gentlbus | ausis
3i2ff. The understood subject of ait (1. 314) is Jason, who is described as versus ad ora virum (= virorum [§G95]), lit., having turned (versus passive used in a reflexive sense [§g 59]) to the faces of [his] men; deiixa (deflgo -ere fix) agrees with ora and is followed by solo (on the ground (abl. of place where [§g38])); trans, -que by or—some men were looking at the ground and others were looking around the group; intenta (intendo -ere direct [something] (acc.) to [something] (dat.)) also agrees with ora and is followed by coetu ... silenti (toward the silent group (coetus -us m.—coetu is an alternative form of the dat, sg. of the fourth declension)—the silent group is the men themselves); the two quod clauses (11. 313 and 314) are in apposition [§G52] to the two main clauses in 1. 315; pridem previously; ingentibus ausis optavistis i.e., you wished [would happen] through [your] mighty exploits (instrumental abl. [§g47]; ausum -I n.); veterum ... aetas the age of past [men]; quod postponed rel. pron. [§g4]; horred -ere shudder at (tr.)—previous generations had, out of fear, not undertaken any sea travel, and the voyage of the Argo, the vessel of the Argonauts, represented the first attempt at navigation.
nec pelagi nos mille viae nec fama fefellit soligeiiam Aeeten media regnare sub Arcto.
ergo ubi iux altum sparget mare, tecta petenda urbis et ignoti mens experienda tyranni.
adnuet ipse, reor, neque inexorabile certe 320
quod petimus. sin vero preces et dicta superbus respuerit, iam nunc animos firmate repulsae quaque via patriis referamus vellera terris, stet potius: rebus semper pudor absit in artis."
315 adsumus we are here (adsum), i.e., at Colchis; en interjection behold!; tantum ... orbem lit., the world (orbis orbis m.) as large [as it is]; fretls on the seas (abl. of place where [§G38]; fretum -i n.); end enare sail over (tr.). 3i6f. pelagx ... mille viae (the thousand paths of the sea (pelagus -i n.)) and fama (here report) are the subjects of fefellit, which agrees with the nearer subject [§g58]; the acc.+inf. [§gio] explains fama in 1.3x6; soligena -ae m. offspring of the sun; Aeeten Greek acc. of Aeetes -ae m., king of Colchis, whose father was the sun god; media ... sub Arcto lit., under the middle of [the constellation of] the Bear (Arctus -1 f.), trans, in the farthest north (the constellation of the Bear is above the North Pole; cf. Ovid Tristia 1.2.29, page 140)—Valerius' geography is badly at fault, since the east coast of the Black Sea is at much the same latitude as Italy. 3i8f. ergo accordingly; ubi when; spargo -ere here spread over (tr.); tecta petenda [sunt] lit., the buildings (tectum -i n.) must be sought (gerundive used as a predicative adjective [§g8o]); ignoti mens ... tyranni the attitude (lit., mind) of the unknown monarch (tyrannus -1 m.—the word does not always have a negative connotation); experienda [est] lit., must be put to the test (gerundive used as a predicative adjective [§g8o]; experior -Iri). 32off. adnuet he will grant (adnud -ere) [our request]—the Argonauts had come for the fleece of a golden (and flying) ram that had transported a persecuted Greek, Phrixus, to Colchis; after sacrificing the ram, Phrixus had presented its fleece (the Golden Fleece) to Aeetes, but later, when Phrixus was dead, Jason was ordered to retrieve it; the subject of the neque clause is quod petimus ([that] which we seek, trans, what we seek), and est must be supplied; inexorabilis not to be obtained by entreaty; certe certainly; sin vero but if; dicta [our] words; superbus agrees with the understood subject, Aeetes—trans, he, in his pride; respuerit 3 sg. fut. perf. act. respuo -ere, but trans, with the English present tense [§g 66], rejects; iam nunc lit., already now, but trans, here and now; firmo -are strengthen; repulsae poetic use of dat. for ad repulsam, to (i.e., in the face of) a rebuff (repulsa -ae f.).
323 An indirect question [§Ggi] is introduced by qua ... via (instrumental abl. [§G47] by what way, i.e., by what means); patriis ... terris dat. of motion toward [§G35] to [our] native land (pi. for sg. [§G53]); refero -ferre bring back; vellera fleece (pi. for sg. [§053]; vellus velleris n.).
324 stet potius lit., let it rather stand [fixed for us] (jussive subj. [§g69] used impersonally), trans, rather let us resolve; rebus ... in artis in difficult (lit., tight) circumstances; pudor here scruple; absit (jussive subj. [§g6g]; absum be absent)— Jason is urging his men to resort to any means to achieve their goal.
dixerat et Scythicam qui se comitentur ad urbem 325 sorte petit numeroque novem ducuntur ab omni. inde viam, qua Circaei plaga proxima campi, corripiunt regemque petunt iam luce reducta.
<-: Valerius Flaccus Argonautica 5.312-328
325 dixerat trans, by the English simple past [§064]; Scythicam ... ad urbem to the Scythian city—the people to the north and east of Greece were indiscriminately called Scythians; the postponed rel. pron. [§g 4] qui introduces an adjectival clause of purpose [§g88], with its verb, comitentur (comitor -arl accompany), in the subjunctive; se (him) refers to the subject of the main verb, petit (1.326), i.e., Jason.
326 The verbs of the last three lines are all historic presents [§g6o]; the understood object of sorte petit is the antecedent of qui (1. 325), he sought by lot [men] who would accompany him; numerd ... ab omni from the whole company; novem nine.
327f. viam here road; with qua (instrumental abl. [§G47] by which) supply est; Circaei plaga ... camp! the land (plaga -ae f.) of the Circaean plain, an extreme example of a learned allusion—Circe, the witch of Homer's Odyssey who lived on a Mediterranean island, was the niece of Aeetes, and Valerius imagined this relationship sufficient justification to call the king's territory Circaean; proxima (closest) is used predicatively [§057] after the understood est; corripio -ere hurry over; iam luce reducta abl. absolute [§G49], lit., light already having been brought back (reducd -ere)—dawn had arrived.
When Aeneas finally reaches Italy, his first concern is to consult the Sibylla, a priestess of Apollo, and inquire how he can use a nearby entrance to the Underworld to visit his dead father, Anchises (cf. Vergil Aeneid 6.79iff., page 74). The Sibylla prefaces her not very encouraging reply with this sentence:
Facilis descensus Averno. Aeneid 6.126
The descent to Avernus (i.e., the Underworld) [is] easy.
She goes on to say that the real problem is how to return from the abode of the dead. Her initial remark is often misinterpreted, from a Christian perspective, as The road to Hell is easy.
For more Vergiliana, see pages 56,109,18$, and 199.
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