Book IV - Orpheus and Eurydice

Publii Virgilii Maronis Georgicorum libri quatuor. The Georgicks [sic] of Virgil, with an English Translation and Notes. John Martyn, F.R.S., Professor of Botany in the Unversity of Cambridge. The Second Edition. London: Printed by R.Reily, for T. Osborne, in Gray’s-Inn, 1746.

Book IV, Pages 475-485, being a Renaissance English translation from the Latin by John Martyn.

Whilst she fled hastily from you along the river’s tide, the dying maid did not see a cruel water snake before her feet, that was guarding the banks in the high grass.

But the choir of sister Dryads filled the tops of the mountains with their cries: the rooks of Rhodope wept, and high Pangaea, and the martial land of Rhesus, and the Getae, and Hebrus, and Attic Orithyia. He assuaging his love-sick mind with his hollow lyre, lamented thee, sweet wife, thee on the solitary shore, thee when day approached, thee when it disappeared.

Orpheus and Eurydice
An illustration from the 1746 edition of The Georgicks of Virgil, by John Martyn. Acc# 214.13.10, James Logie Memorial Collection.

He also approached the jaws of Taenarus, the lofty gates of Pluto, and entering the grove gloomy with black horror, he approached the Manes, and the tremendous king, and the hearts that know not how to relent at human prayers. But the thin shades being stirred up by his song from the lowest mansions of Erebus moved along, and the Ghosts deprived of light: innumerable as birds when they hide themselves in the leaves by thousands, at the approach of Evening, or driven from the hills by wintry storm: mothers and husbands, and the departed bodies of magnanimous heroes, boys and unmarried girls, and youths laid on funeral pyres before the faces of their parents, whom the black mud and squalid reeds of Cocytus, and the lake hateful with stagnant water encloses around, and styx nine times interfused restrains. But the very habitations, and deepest surgeons of death were astonished, and the furies having their locks twisted with blue snakes, and gaping Cerebus restrained his three mouths, and the whirling of Ixion’s wheel rested at his singing.

And now returning he had escaped all dangers; and his restored Eurydice was coming to the upper air following behind; for Prosepina had given those conditions: when a sudden madness seized the unwary lover, pardonable however, did the Manes know how to pardon. He stopped, and now, even at the confines of light (thoughtless alas!) and deprived of understanding, he looked back at his Eurydice: there all his labour vanished, and the conditions of the cruel tyrant were broken and a groan was thrice heard in the Avernian lake.

Then she; who is it, O Orpheus, that has destroyed miserable me, and thee also? Whose great madness was this? Lo, again the cruel Fates call me back, and sleep seals up my swimming eyes. And now adieu: I am carried away encompassed with thick darkness, and stretching out my hands to you in vain, alas being no longer yours. She said, and fled suddenly from his sight a different way, like smoke mixing with thin air: nor did she see him catching in vain at the shadows, and desiring to say a great deal more; nor did the ferry-man of hell suffer him again to pass over the withstanding lake.

What should he do? Whither should he betake himself having twice lost his wife? With what complaint should he move the Manes with what song the deities? She already sat shivering in the Stygian boat. It is said that he lamented seven whole continued months under a lofty oak, by the waters of deserted Strymon, and that he sung his misfortunes under the cold caves, appeasing tigers, and leading oaks with his song.

So the mourning nightingale, under a poplar shade laments her lost young, which some hard-hearted ploughman observing, has taken from their nest unfeathered; but she wails all night, and sitting on a bough continues her melancholy song, and fills the places all around with her complaints.

No love, no marriage rites could bend his mind. Alone he surveys the Hyperborean ice, and snowy Tanais, and the plains never free from Riphaean frosts; lamenting his ravished Eurydice, and the fruitless gift of Pluto. The Ciconian dames enraged at his neglect of them, tore the young man in pieces, even at the sacred rites of the gods, and nocturnal orgies of Bacchus, and scattered over the wide plains his limbs.

Even then, whilst Ocagrian Hebrus bore his head, and rolled it down the middle of the tide, his voice and even his cold tongue called Eurydice, ah poor Eurydice, as his life departed, and all the rocks repeated Eurydice through the whole river.