Claudian, Epithalamium of Honorius and Maria


When Pelion reared his height to form a bridal chamber with long-drawn arches, and his hospitable land could not contain so many gods; when Nereus, sire of the bride, and all the throng of her sisters strove to link day to day with feastings; when Chiron, lying at ease with his horse-flanks curled under him, offered the loving-cup to Jove; when Peneus turned his cold waters to nectar and frothing wine flowed down from Oeta’s summit, Terpsichore struck her ready lyre with festive hand and led the girlish bands into the caves. The gods, the Thunderer himself, disdained not these songs, for they knew that lovers’ vows ever harmonized with tender strains. Centaurs and Fauns would have none of it: what lyre could touch Rhoetus or move inhuman Pholus?

The seventh day had flamed in heaven, seven times had Hesperus relumed his lamp and seen the dances completed; then Phoebus touched his lyre with that nobler quill, wherewith he leads captive rocks and mountain-ashes, and sang to his sacred strings now the promised birth of Achilles, now the slaughter of the Trojans and the river Simois. The happy marriage-cry re-echoed o’er leafy Olympus, and Othrys and Ossa gave back their mistress Thetis’ name.


Unfelt before was the fire the Emperor Honorius had conceived for his promised bride, and he burned, all unexperienced, with passion’s first fever, nor knew whence came the heat, what meant the sighs — a tyro and as yet ignorant of love. Hunting, horses, javelins — for none of these he now cares nor yet to fling the spear; how often a blush, mantling to his cheeks, betrayed his secret; how often, unbidden of himself, his hand would write the loved one’s name. Already he prepares gifts for his betrothed and selects to adorn her (though their beauty is less than hers) the jewels once worn by noble Livia of old and all the proud women of the imperial house. The impatient lover chafes at the delay; the long days seem as though they stood still and the moon as though she moved not her slow wheel. Thus Deidamia, girl of Scyros, e’er yet she sees through his disguise, inflamed with love the young Achilles, and taught his warrior hand to draw the slender thread and passed her rosy fingers through the locks of that Thessalian of whom all Ida was soon to stand in awe.

Thus too he communed with himself: “How long will honoured Stilicho forbear to grant my prayers? Why postpones he the union of those whose love he has approved? Why should he refuse to fulfil my chaste desires? I follow not the example of luxurious princes in seeking the beauties of a pictured countenance, whereby the pander canvass may pass from house to house to make known the charms demanded; nor yet have I sought to choose the uncertain object of my love from this house or from that, and thus entrusted to deceptive wax the difficult selection of a bride. I sever not in violence the bonds that unite a wedded woman to her lord; her I seek who hath long been betrothed to me, who by a father’s orders was left my affianced bride and who through her mother shares with me a common grandsire. A suppliant I have laid aside my rank and acted the suitor. Princes, second only to myself in rank, have I sent from my imperial palace to present my petition. ‘Tis no small thing I ask, Stilicho; that I admit; yet surely to me, an emperor, son of that other emperor who, by giving thee his brother’s adopted daughter to wife, made thee his son-in‑law, — to me thou dost owe Maria. Pay back to the son the interest due to his sire; restore to the palace those who are its own. Mayhap her mother​ will be less inexorable. Daughter of mine uncle Honorius, whence I derive my name, chief glory of the land of swift-flowing Ebro, cousin by birth, by mother’s love a mother, to thy care was mine infancy entrusted, in thine arms I grew to boyhood; save for my birth thou, rather than Flacilla, art my mother. Why dost thou separate thy two children? Why not bestow a daughter born upon an adopted son? Will the longed-for day ever come? the marriage-night ever be sanctioned?

With such complaint he assuages the wounds of love. Cupid laughed and speeding across the deep bore the news to his gentle mother, proudly spreading his wings to their full extent.

Where Cyprus looks out over the Ionian main a craggy mountain overshadows it; unapproachable by human foot it faces the isle of Pharos, the home of Proteus and the seven mouths of the Nile. The hoar frost dares not clothe its sides, nor the rude winds buffet it nor clouds obscure. It is consecrate to pleasure and to Venus. The year’s less clement seasons are strangers to it, whereover ever brood the blessings of eternal spring. The mountain’s height slopes down into a plain; that a golden hedge encircles, guarding its meadows with yellow metal. This demesne, men say, was the price paid by Mulciber for the kisses of his wife, these towers were the gift of a loving husband. Fair is the enclosed country, ever bright with flowers though touched with no labouring hand, for Zephyr is husbandman enough therefor. Into its shady groves no bird may enter save such as has first won the goddess’ approval for its song. Those which please her may flit among the branches; they must quit who cannot pass the test. The very leaves live for love and in his season every happy tree experiences love’s power: palm bends down to mate with palm, poplar sighs its passion for poplar, plane whispers to plane, alder to alder.

Here spring two fountains, the one of sweet water, the other of bitter, honey is mingled with the first, poison with the second, and in these streams ’tis said that Cupid dips his arrows. A thousand brother Loves with quivers play all around upon the banks, a tender company like to Cupid himself in face and of equal age. The nymphs are their mothers; Cupid is the only child of golden Venus. He with his bow subdues the stars and the gods and heaven, and disdains not to wound mighty kings; of the others the common people is the prey. Other deities, too, are here: Licence bound by no fetters, easily moved Anger, Wakes dripping with wine, inexperienced Tears, Pallor that lovers ever prize, Boldness trembling at his first thefts, happy Fears, unstable Pleasure, and lovers’ Oaths, the sport of every lightest breeze. Amid them all wanton Youth with haughty neck shuts out Age from the grove.

Afar shines and glitters the goddess’ many-coloured palace, green gleaming by reason of the encircling grove. Vulcan built this too of precious stones and gold, wedding their costliness to art. Columns cut from rock of hyacinth support emerald beams; the walls are of beryl, the high-builded thresholds of polished jasper, the floor of agate trodden as dirt beneath the foot. In the midst is a courtyard rich with fragrant turf that yields a harvest of perfume; there grows sweet spikenard and ripe cassia, Panchaean cinnamon-flowers and sprays of oozy balm, while balsam creeps forth slowly in an exuding stream.

Hither Love glided down, winging his way o’er the long journey. Joyfully and with prouder gait than e’er his wont he enters. Venus was seated on her glittering throne, tiring her hair. On her right hand and on her left stood the Idalian sisters.​ Of these one pours a rich stream of nectar over Venus’ head, another parts her hair with a fine ivory comb. A third, standing behind the goddess, braids her tresses and orders her ringlets in due array, yet carefully leaving a part untended; such negligence becomes her more. Nor did her face lack the mirror’s verdict; her image is reflected all over the palace and she is charmed wheresoever she looks. While she surveys each detail and approves her beauty she notes the shadow of her son as he approaches and catches the fierce boy to her fragrant bosom. “Whence comes thy joy?” she asks; “cruel child, what battles hast thou fought? What victim has thine arrow pierced? Hast thou once more compelled the Thunderer to low among the heifers of Sidon? Hast thou overcome Apollo, or again summoned Diana to a shepherd’s cave? Methinks thou hast triumphed over some fierce and potent god.”

Hanging upon his mother’s kisses he answered: “Mother, be thou glad; a great victory is ours. Now has Honorius felt our arrows. Thou knowest Maria and her sire, the general whose spear protects Gaul and Italy; the fame of noble Serena is not hidden from thee. Haste thee, assent to their princely prayers and seal this royal union.”

Cytherea freed her from her son’s embrace, hastily bound up her hair, gathered up her flowing dress and girt herself about with the divine girdle whose all-compelling charm can stay the rain-swollen torrent and appease the sea, the winds and angry thunderbolts. Soon as she stood on the shore she thus addressed her small foster-children. “Come, children, which of you will plunge beneath the glassy wave and summon me hither fleet Triton to bear me quickly o’er the deep? Never will he have come to do us better service. Sacred is the marriage that I seek. Make all speed in your search; may be the Libyan sea rings to his conch, may be he cleaves the Aegean main. Whoso shall find and bring him hither shall have a golden quiver as a reward.”

She spake and, dividing into various bands, the scouts set out. Triton was swimming beneath the waves of the Carpathian sea, pursuing reluctant Cymothoë. She feared her rough lover and eluded his pursuit, her wet form gliding through the embraces of his strong arms. One of the Loves espied him and cried, “Stay! the deeps cannot hide your amours. Make ready to carry our mistress; as a reward for thy services (and ’tis no meagre one) thou shalt have Cymothoë, a complaisant mistress shall she be though she flout thee now. Come and win thy recompense.”

The dread monster uprose from the abyss; his billowing hair swept his shoulders; hoofs of cloven horn grown round with bristles sprang from where his fishy tail joined his man’s body. He swam three strokes and at the fourth stranded upon the shore of Cyprus. To shade the goddess the monster arched back his tail; then his back, rough with living purple, was bedded with scarlet coverlets; resting in such a retreat does Venus voyage, her snowy feet just dipping in the sea. A great company of wingèd Loves fly after her, troubling the calm surface of Ocean. Neptune’s palace is all adorned with flowers. Leucothoë, daughter of Cadmus, sports on the water, and Palaemon drives his dolphin with a bridle of roses. Nereus set violets here and there among the seaweed and Glaucus wreathes his grey hair with deathless flowers. Hearing the tale the Nereids, too, came mounted on various beasts: one (maiden above but fish below) rides the dread sea-tiger of Tartessus; another is carried by that fierce ram, the terror of the Aegean, who shatters ships with his forehead; a third bestrides the neck of a sea-lion; another is borne by the sea-calf to whom she clings. They vie with one another in bringing gifts to the newly-wedded pair. Cymothoë presents a girdle, Galatea a precious necklace, Psamathe a diadem heavily encrusted with pearls gathered by herself from the depths of the Red Sea. Doto suddenly dives to gather coral, a plant so long as it is beneath the water, a jewel once it is brought forth from the waves.

The nude crowd of Nereids throng around Venus, following her and singing praises after this manner: “We beg thee, Venus, our queen, to bear these our gifts, these adornments, to queen Maria. Tell her that never did Thetis receive their like nor even our sister Amphitrite when she espoused our Jupiter.​ Let the daughter of Stilicho hereby realize the devotion of the sea and know that Ocean is her slave. ‘Tis we who bore up her father’s fleet, the hope of his victorious land, what time he set out to avenge the ruined Greeks.”

And now Triton’s foam-flecked breast had touched the Ligurian shore and his wearied coils were extended over the surface of the water. Straightway Venus flew high in the air to the city founded by the Gauls, the city that shows as its device the fleece-covered pelt of a sow.​ At the coming of the goddess the routed clouds retire; bright shine the Alps beneath the clear North wind. The soldier rejoices though he cannot tell why. The standards of war burgeon with red flowers and the spears on a sudden sprout with living leaves. Then Venus thus addresses her attendant throng. “Comrades mine, keep away for a while the god of war that the palace may be mine and mine alone. Banish afar the terror of the flashing breastplate; lets its scabbard sheath the threatening sword. Advance not the standards of war, the eagles and savage dragons. This day the camp shall yield to my standards; the flute shall sound instead of the bugle, the soft strains of the happy lyre take the place of the trumpets’ blare. Let the soldiers feast even when on guard and the beakers foam in the midst of arms. Let regal majesty lay by its awful pride and power, disdaining not to associate with the people, make one the nobles with the crowd. Let joy be unrestrained and sober Law herself be not ashamed to laugh.

“Hymen, choose thou the festal torches, and ye Graces gather flowers for the feast. Thou, Concord, weave two garlands. You, winged band, divide and hasten whithersoever you can be of use: let none be slothful or lazy. You others hang numberless lamps in order from their brackets against the coming of night. Let these haste to entwine the gleaming door-posts with my sacred myrtle. Do you sprinkle the palace with drops of nectar and kindle a whole grove of Sabaean incense. Let others unfold yellow-dyed silks from China and spread tapestries of Sidon on the ground. Do you employ all your arts in decorating the marriage-bed. Woven with jewels and upborne on carved columns be its canopy, such as rich Lydia ne’er built for Pelops nor yet the Bacchae for Lyaeus, decked as his was with the spoils of Ind and the mantling vine. Heap up there all the gathered wealth of the family, all the spoil that Honorius the elder, our emperor’s grandsire, won from Moor and Saxon, all that his dread father with Stilicho at his side gained from numberless wars, all that the Geloni and Armenians have contributed or Meroë added — Meroë encircled by furthermost Nile whose people decorate their hair with arrows; whatever the Medes sent from the banks of Persian Tigris when suppliant Persia bought peace of Rome. Let the lofty couch be adorned with the barbaric splendour of kings’ treasuries; be all the wealth of all our triumphs gathered in that marriage-chamber.”

So spake she and all unannounced sought the bride’s home. But Maria, with no thoughts of wedlock nor knowing that the torches were being got ready, was listening with rapt attention to the discourse of her saintly mother, drinking in that mother’s nature and learning to follow the example of old-world chastity; nor does she cease under that mother’s guidance to unroll the writers of Rome and Greece, all that old Homer sang, or Thracian Orpheus, or that Sappho set to music with Lesbian quill; (even so Latona taught Diana; so gentle Mnemosyne in her cave gave instruction to meek Thalia) — when the sky from afar grows more bright, a sweeter air breathes through the astonished palace and there is spread the happy fragrance of scented locks. Soon came the proof; in all her beauty the goddess bursts upon them. Yet Venus stands amazed, admiring now the day’s loveliness, now the snowy neck and golden hair of the mother. The one is like upon the crescent moon, the other to the full. So grows a young laurel beneath the shadow of its parent tree and, small as it now is, gives promise of great branches and thick foliage to come. Or as ’twere two roses of Paestum on one stalk; the one day’s fulness has brought to maturity; steeped in the dews of spring it spreads abroad its petals; the other yet nestles in its bud nor dares receive the sun’s warmth within its tender heart.

Venus stood and addressed Maria with these gentle words: “All hail! revered daughter of divine Serena, scion of great kings and destined to be the mother of kings. For thy sake have I left my home in Paphos’ isle and Cyprus; for thy sake was I pleased to face so many labours and cross so many seas lest thou shouldst continue to live a private life little befitting thy true worth and lest young Honorius should still feed in his heart the flame of unrequited love. Take the rank thy birth demands, resume the crown to bequeath it to thy children and re-enter the palace whence thy mother sprang. E’en though no ties of blood united thee to the royal house, though thou wert in no way related thereto, yet would thy beauty render thee worthy of a kingdom. What face could rather win a sceptre? What countenance better adorn a palace? Redder than roses thy lips, whiter than the hoar-frost thy neck, cowslips​ are not more yellow than thine hair, fire not more bright than thine eyes. With how fine an interspace do the delicate eyebrows meet upon thy forehead! How just the blend that makes thy blush, thy fairness not o’ermantled with too much red! Pinker thy fingers than Aurora’s, firmer thy shoulders than Diana’s; even thy mother dost thou surpass. If Bacchus, Ariadne’s lover, could transform his mistress’ garland into a constellation how comes it that a more beauteous maid has no crown of stars? Even now Boötes is weaving for thee a starry crown, even now heaven brings new stars to birth to do thee honour. Go, mate with one who is worthy of thee and share with him an empire co-extensive with the world. Ister now shall do thee homage; all nations shall adore thy name. Now Rhine and Elbe shall be thy slaves; thou shalt be queen among the Sygambri. Why should I number the peoples and the Atlantic’s distant shores? The whole world alike shall be thy dowry.”

She spake and fitted to Maria’s neck and shining limbs the rich gear which the happy Nereids had just given her. She parted her hair with the spear’s point, girded up her dress, and with her own hands set the veil over the maiden’s hair.​ The procession is halted singing at the door; brightly gleams the holy chariot in which the new bride is to fare. The prince burns to run and meet her and longs for the sun’s tardy setting. Even so the noble steed when first the smell that stirs his passions smites upon him proudly shakes his thick, disordered mane and courses over Pharsalia’s plains. His nostrils are aflame and with a neighing he greets the streams that saw his birth. His masters smile at the hope of their stud’s increase, and the mares take pleasure in their handsome mate.

Meanwhile the army has laid aside its swords: the soldiers are dressed in white and throng around Stilicho, the bride’s father. No standard-bearer nor common soldier fails to scatter flowers like rain and to drench their leader in a mist of purple blossoms. Crowned with laurel and myrtle they sing: “Blessed father, whether the vault of heaven is thy home, or thou walkest in Elysium, the mansion of the blest, behold Stilicho hath now fulfilled the promises he made thee. A happy interchange has now been made: he compensates thee for his upbringing, and renders marriage in return for marriage, giving back to a son what thou, that son’s father, gave to him. Never needst thou repent of thy choice; a dying father’s love misled thee not. Worthy is he to be thine heir, worthy to be entrusted with the child of so power­ful a prince and to hold the reins of government. Now could I tell of the battles fought beneath the slopes of Mount Haemus, the contests wherefrom Strymon reeked red with blood; I could sing the fame of his arms and how, like a thunderbolt, he falls upon his foes, but the marriage-god says me nay. Our song must be such as now befits the singing. Who can surpass Stilicho in counsel? who in knowledge of law and equity? In thee are two opposèd qualities reconciled, wisdom and strength, prudence and fortitude. Was e’er so noble a brow? Whom would Rome’s highest place more befit? What heart but thine is strong enough to bear so many troubles? Shouldst thou stand amid the crowd whoe’er shall see thee would exclaim, ‘That is Stilicho.’ It is thus that the aspect of supreme majesty brings its own witness — not with arrogant voice, or pompous walk, or haughty gesture. The graces which others affect and strive to seem to possess are thine by nature’s gift. Modesty shines forth together with a noble sternness, and white hairs come hastening to increase the reverence of thy face. Though dignity be the crown of age and strength, by a far different lot, of youth, yet either season decks thee with its own peculiar honours. Thou art the ornament of fortune. Never tookst thou up the sword for hurt nor ever didst steep its blade in citizens’ blood. No cruelties on thy part aroused men’s hatred; favouritism never slacks the reins of justice. We love thee, yet we fear thee. Our very fear testifies to our love, O thou most righteous interpreter of Law, guardian most sure of peace with honour, greatest of our generals, most blessèd among the fathers of our country. We all confess that now we owe our emperor an even firmer allegiance for that thou, hero invincible, art the father of his bride. Crown thy head with a garland, lay aside thy rank for a moment and join our dances. An thou dost this, so may thy son Eucherius​ surpass the virtues of his sire; so may the fair Thermantia,​ thy daughter, live to see a marriage such as this; so may Maria’s womb grow big and a little Honorius, born in the purple, rest on his grandsire’s lap.