On the Nature of Things
"Aulide quo pacto Triviai virginis aramThe Captain answers her cry for help:
Iphianassai turparunt sanguine foede
ductores Danaum delecti, prima virorum."
His eyes are closed, recalling the words
and lines of a poet long ago dead -
to her, at least. She hears the latin
in colours and shades crowding her skull;
flickering frames of figures and shapes
collected together to grapple cadences
into scenes of a film performed just for her.
"Cui simul infula virgineos circum data comptusA girl dressed in white walks to the temple.
ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,
et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem
sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros
aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere civis,
muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat."
Her hair is braided with beads, her steps
are slow and precise; there's priests before her
and behind, chanting a hymn to please
their Aphrodite. The hour has come
for the girl to honour the goddess, to ask
for victory in battle: she unveils, abases
herself on the steps that stack to the altar.
Beyond the girl, the gathering waits:
a goat is hauled by its halter towards
the slaughter space. A silent priest
brings the coppery blade he concealed
in his shawl out; its sharpened edge
looks dull in the rust of the rosy dawn.
Murmuring prayers, he moves the knife
to the veins in the neck of the victim. The goat
still chews its cud as a column of blood
pistons from the cut he creates in the skin.
"Nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat,A mask of shock meanders across
quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem;
nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras
deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum
perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,
sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso
hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis,
exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur."
the virgin's face. Her fingers grope
for the cut beneath the nob of her jaw.
Her eyes widen. A whisper of scarlet
dampens her lips. She levers her hips
and sits on the step, stares at the knife
and the man who holds it: 'how can this be?'
her forehead furrows in a final question.
"Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum."