Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.



By Pindar (c. 522–433 B.C.)

The First Nemæan Ode

Translated by Abraham Cowley

BEAUTEOUS Ortygia! the first breathing-place

Of great Alpheus’ close and amorous race,

Fair Delos’ sister, the childbed

Of bright Latona, where she bred

The original new-moon,—

Who saw’st her tender forehead ere the horns were grown!

Who, like a gentle scion, newly started out

From Syracusa’s side dost sprout;

Thee, first, my song does greet

With numbers smooth and fleet

As thine own horses’ airy feet,

When they young Chromius’ chariot drew,

And o’er the Nemæan race triumphant flew.

Jove will approve my song and me;

Jove is concerned in Nemea, and in thee.

With Jove, my song; this happy man,

Young Chromius, too, with Jove began;

From hence came his success;

Nor ought he, therefore, like it less,

Since the best fame is that of happiness;

For whom should we esteem above

The men whom gods do love?

’T is them, alone, the Muse, too, does approve.

Lo, how it makes this victory shine

O’er all the fruitful isle of Proserpine!

The torches which the mother brought,

When the ravished maid she sought,

Appeared not half so bright,

But cast a weaker light

Through earth and air and seas and up to the heavenly vault.

“To thee, O Proserpine, this isle I give,”

Said Jove, and as he said

Smiled, and bent his gracious head.

“And thou, O isle,” said he, “forever thrive,

And keep the value of our gift alive;

As heaven with stars, so let

The country thick with towns be set;

And, numberless as stars,

Let all the towns be then

Replenished, thick, with men

Wise in peace and bold in wars;

Of thousand glorious towns the nation,

Of thousand glorious men each town a constellation,

Nor let their warlike laurel scorn

With the Olympic olive to be worn,

Whose gentler honors do so well the brows of Peace adorn!”

Go to great Syracuse, my Muse! and wait

At Chromius’ hospitable gate;

’T will open wide to let thee in,

When thy lyre’s voice shall but begin;

Joy, plenty, and free welcome, dwells within.

The Tyrian beds thou shalt find ready dressed,

The ivory table crowded with a feast.

The table which is free for every guest

No doubt will thee admit,

And feast more upon thee than thou on it.

Chromius and thou art met aright,

For as by nature thou dost write,

So he by nature loves, and does by nature fight.

Nature herself, whilst in the womb he was,

Sowed strength and beauty through the forming mass;

They moved the vital lump in every part,

And carved the members out with wondrous art.

She filled his mind with courage, and with wit,

And a vast bounty, apt and fit

For the great dower which Fortune made to it.

’T is madness, sure, treasures to hoard,

And make them useless (as in mines) remain,

To lose the occasion Fortune does afford

Fame and public love to gain.

Even for self-concerning ends

’T is wiser much to hoard up friends.

Though happy men the present goods possess,

The unhappy have their share in future hopes no less.

How early has young Chromius begun

The race of virtue, and how swiftly run,

And borne the noble prize away,

Whilst other youths yet at the barrier stay!

None but Alcides e’er set earlier forth than he;

The god his father’s blood naught could restrain,

’T was ripe at first, and did disdain

The slow advance of dull humanity.

The big-limbed babe in his huge cradle lay,

Too weighty to be rocked by nurses’ hands,

Wrapped in purple swaddling-bands;

When, lo! by jealous Juno’s fierce commands

Two dreadful serpents come,

Rolling and hissing loud, into the room;

To the bold babe they trace their bidden way;

Forth from their flaming eyes dread lightnings went;

Their gaping mouths did forked tongues, like thunderbolts, present.

Some of the amazed women dropped down, dead

With fear; some wildly fled

About the room; some into corners crept,

Where silently they shook and wept.

All naked, from her bed, the passionate mother leaped

To save, or perish with her child;

She trembled, and she cried; the mighty infant smiled:

The mighty infant seemed well-pleased

At his gay, gilded foes;

And as their spotted necks up to the cradle rose,

With his young warlike hands on both he seized;

In vain they raged, in vain they hissed,

In vain their armed tails they twist,

And angry circles cast about;

Black blood and fiery breath and poisonous soul he squeezes out.

With their drawn swords

In ran Amphitryo and the Theban lords;

With doubting wonder and with troubled joy

They saw the conquering boy

Laugh, and point downwards to his prey,

Where, in death’s pangs and their own gore, they folding lay.

When wise Tiresias this beginning knew,

He told with ease the things to ensue,

From what monsters he should free

The earth, the air, and sea;

What mighty tyrants he should slay,

Greater monsters far than they;

How much at Phlægra’s field the distressed gods should owe

To their great offspring here below,

And how his club should there outdo

Apollo’s silver bow, and his own father’s thunder too.

And that the grateful gods, at last,

(The race of his laborious virtue passed,)

Heaven, which he saved, should to him give,

Where, married to eternal Youth, he should forever live;

Drink nectar with the gods, and all his senses please

In their harmonious, golden palaces;

Walk with ineffable delight

Through the thick groves of never-withering light,

And, as he walks, affright

The lion and the bear,

Bull, centaur, scorpion, all the radiant monsters there.