Translated by Steven J. Willett
[Please note that ….. indicates text missing from the Latin manuscript.]
Who was it, who first invented the terrifying sword?
How savage and truly iron-tempered he was.
Then butchery for the race of men, then battles were born,
then a shorter road to cursed death was opened.
Or was that wretch quite blameless, but to our own evil we
turn what he gave us for use against wild beasts?
This is the crime of opulent gold, and wars did not exist
when beechwood goblets stood beside the meal.
There were no citadels, no palisades, and safely the flock's
commander sought sleep with his dappled sheep.
I would have lived then, Valgius, and never known cruel
warfare or heard with quaking heart the trumpet.
Now I'm dragged to war, and some enemy may already
carry the blade to burrow in my side.
Yet save me, Lares of my ancestors: you also raised me
when, as a child, I scampered about your feet.
Nor be ashamed that you are carved from an antique stump:
so shaped you dwelt in my grandsire’s house of old.
They kept their faith better then, when the wooden god
stood simply tended in a scanty shrine.
He was pleased if anyone offered grapes as first fruits
or placed a spiky wreath of grain on holy hair.
Yes, and one who’d gained his prayer brought cakes in hand,
his little daughter trailing with pure honeycomb.
Drive off, O Lares, the bronze-tipped spears from me,
. . . . .
and the rustic offering of a hog from a full sty.
I’ll follow it in dress of purest white, bearing a rush basket
bound with myrtle, my head bound with myrtle.
Thus may I please you: let another be valiant in arms,
scattering the enemy captains with Mars’ help,
to tell me, while I drink, the tales of his martial feats
and trace the camp in wine on tabletops.
What madness makes us summon somber Death by war?
It looms behind and comes secretly on silent feet.
No grain fields lie below, no trim vineyards, but fearless
Cerberus and the foul mariner of Stygian waters.
There, with hollow burnt-out eyes and pyre-scorched hair,
an ashen crowd wanders by shadowy waters.
No, let us praise that hero whom, surrounded by children,
sluggish old age surprises in a humble cottage.
He follows closely after his sheep, his son the lambs,
and his wife heats water for exhausted limbs.
So may I live, and let my head grow glitteringly white
and tell, an old man then, deeds of days gone by.
For now let Peace tend the fields. Shining Peace first
led oxen beneath the curving yoke to plow.
Peace nurtured the vines and stored the juice of grapes
so the father’s jar might pour wine for the son.
In Peace the hoe and ploughshare shine, but in the dark
rust conquers the grim arms of cruel soldiers.
. . . . .
The farmer drives back from the grove, far from sober,
taking his wife and offspring home in a cart.
But then the wars of love flame up, and the mistress
laments her ravaged hair and shattered doors.
She weeps for bruises to her tender cheeks, but the victor
weeps too for frenzied hands that were so strong.
Provoking Love stokes the quarrel with angry words,
then sits indifferent between the raging pair.
Oh he is stone, he is heartless iron, who would strike his girl
with violent hands: he drags the gods from heaven.
It is enough to tear the tenuous gown from her limbs,
enough to rumple her ornate coiffure,
enough to make tears flow; thrice happy is he whose
anger can cause a tender girl to weep.
But he who’s savage in hand should carry shield and stake
to war—let him live far from gentle Venus.
Then come to us, bountiful Peace, take the spike of grain,
and pour fruit lavishly before your shining lap.