Ancient History Sourcebook:
Augustan Encomiums, c. 31 BCE - 14 CE
In 17 B.C. Augustus celebrated the "Secular Games," a peculiarly solemn
event, supposedly permitted only once in a century. The occasion was one of general
jubilation over the notable peace and prosperity of the age. The "Secular Hymn"
by the court poet Horace is perhaps the most successful poem of occasion ever written. It
fits admirably into the spirit of the occasion with its references to the old divinities
and the contemporary rulers and their triumphs. It was probably sung on the third day of
the festival at the temple of Apollo on the Palatine by a choir of twenty-seven noble boys
Horace: The Secular Hymn
Phoebus! and Dian, you whose sway,
Mountains and woods obey!
Twin glories of the skies, forever worshiped, hear!
Accept our prayer this sacred year
When, as the Sibyl's voice ordained
For ages yet to come,
Pure maids and youths unstained
Invoke the Gods who love the sevenfold hills of Rome.
All bounteous Sun!
Forever changing, and forever one!
Who in your lustrous car bear'st forth light,
And hid'st it, setting, in the arms of Night,
Look down on worlds outspread, yet nothing see
Greater than Rome, and Rome's high sovereignty.
You Ilithyia, too, whatever name,
Goddess, you do approve,
Lucina, Genitalis, still the same
Aid destined mothers with a mother's love;
Prosper the Senate's wise decree,
Fertile of marriage faith and countless progeny!
As centuries progressive wing their flight
For you the grateful hymn shall ever sound;
Thrice by day, and thrice by night
For you the choral dance shall beat the ground.
Fates! whose unfailing word
Spoken from lips Sibylline shall abide,
Ordained, preserved and sanctified
By Destiny's eternal law, accord
To Rome new blessings that shall last
In chain unbroken from the Past.
Mother of fruits and flocks, prolific Earth!
Bind wreaths of spiked corn round Ceres's hair:
And may soft showers and Jove's benignant air
Nurture each infant birth!
Lay down your arrows, God of day!
Smile on your youths elect who singing pray.
You, Crescent Queen, bow down your star-crowned head
And on your youthful choir a kindly influence shed.
If Rome be all your work---if Troy's sad band
Safe sped by you attained the Etruscan strand,
A chosen remnant, vowed
To seek new Lares, and a changed abode---
Remnant for whom thro Ilion's blazing gate
Aeneas, orphan of a ruined State,
Opened a pathway wide and free
To happier homes and liberty:---
Ye Gods! If Rome be yours, to placid Age
Give timely rest: to docile Youth
Grant the rich heritage
Of morals, modesty, and truth.
On Rome herself bestow a teaming race
Wealth, Empire, Faith, and all befitting Grace.
Vouchsafe to Venus' and Anchises' heir,
Who offers at your shrine
Due sacrifice of milk-white kine,
Justly to rule, to pity and to dare,
To crush insulting hosts, the prostrate foeman spare
The haughty Mede has learned to fear
The Alban axe, the Latian spear,
And Scythians, suppliant now, await
The conqueror's doom, their coming fate.
Honor and Peace, and Pristine Shame,
And Virtue's oft dishonored name,
Have dared, long exiled, to return,
And with them Plenty lifts her golden horn.
Augur Apollo! Bearer of the bow!
Warrior and prophet! Loved one of the Nine!
Healer in sickness! Comforter in woe!
If still the templed crags of Palatine
And Latium's fruitful plains to you are dear,
Perpetuate for cycles yet to come,
Mightier in each advancing year,
The ever growing might and majesty of Rome.
You, too, Diana, from your Aventine,
And Algidus= deep woods, look down and hear
The voice of those who guard the books Divine,
And to your youthful choir incline a loving ear.
Return we home! We know that Jove
And all the Gods our song approve
To Phoebus and Diana given;
The virgin hymn is heard in Heaven.
Book VI.ii.789-800, 847-853
[Introduction (adapted from Davis)]
Vergil's Aeneid might be understood as one long paean, glorifying Rome, its
founders, and its greatness in the Augustan age. How skillfully the courtly poet paid his
tribute to the reigning Julii and especially to Augustus is shown in the following lines
from the great Latin epic.
[Anchises, in the realms of the dead, is reciting to his son Aeneas the future
glories of the Roman race.]
Lo! Caesar and all the Julian
Line, predestined to rise to the infinite spaces of heaven.
This, yea, this is the man, so often foretold you in promise,
Caesar Augustus, descended from God, who again shall a golden
Age in Latium found, in fields once governed by Saturn
Further than India's hordes, or the Garymantian peoples
He shall extend his reign; there's a land beyond all of our planets
Yond the far track of the year and the sun, where sky-bearing Atlas
Turns on his shoulders the firmament studded with bright constellations;
Yea, even now, at his coming, foreshadowed by omens from heaven,
Shudder the Caspian realms, and the barbarous Scythian kingdoms,
While the disquieted harbors of Nile are affrighted!
[Anchises now points out the long line of worthies and conquerors who are to precede
Augustus, and adds these lines.]
Others better may fashion the breathing bronze with more delicate fingers;
Doubtless they also will summon more lifelike features from marble:
They shall more cunningly plead at the bar; and the mazes of heaven
Draw to the scale and determine the march of the swift constellations.
Yours be the care, O Rome, to subdue the whole world
for your empire!
These be the arts for you---the order of peace to establish,
Them that are vanquished to spare, and them that are
haughty to humble!
From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts
from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the
West, pp. 174-179.
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.
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© Paul Halsall, June 1998