Volume 4, Number 2
PRUDENTIUS' DEAD MARCH:
A VERSION OF CATHEMERINON 10
Robert J. Baker
Department of Classics & Ancient History
University of New England,
CATHEMERINON 10Electronic Antiquity Vol. 4 Issue 2 - April 1998 edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington antiquity-editor@classics.Server.edu.au ISSN 1320-3606
(hymnus circa exequias defuncti)
(hymnus circa exequias defuncti)
A hymn on the burial of the dead
St. 1 O thou God, of our souls source all burning, Who, by mingling together two natures, One a living, the other a dying, Humankind thou, O Father, hast fashioned, St. 2 Thine they are, thine, O ruler, they both are; 5 Just for thee is the bonding between them And to thee, while alive and cohering Both the spirit and flesh are the servants. St. 3 But when these two are parted asunder, They dissolve a man, bring him destruction; 10 Then the thirsty earth welcomes the body, And a breath of air takes the pure spirit; St. 4 Because all of creation is destined In the end to grow weak and senescent, What is joined, to become separated, 15 And the contrasting weave to unravel. St. 5 It is this death that thou, God all goodness, Art prepared to destroy for thy servants, And dost show an inviolate pathway Whereby bodies once lost be resurgent, 20 St. 6 That, so long as the noble with feeble, As though locked in a prison, is shackled, That part may turn out to be stronger Which has drawn its first source from the heavens. St. 7 If perchance the earth-bound inclination 25 Savours mire and for grossness is longing, Then the soul, by the heaviness conquered, Follows downwards the bodily members. St. 8 But if fire, of its origin mindful, Should reject the enfeebling contagion, 30 It conveys with it flesh it has lived with And carries it heavenward likewise. St. 9 For whereas a dead body lies resting, As we see it there, empty of spirit, There remains a short time till in heaven 35 A reunion with soul is forthcoming. St. 10 Very soon will come time when already Fellow warmth to the bones is returning And, by living blood-flow animated, Will its old dwelling-place be adopted. 40 St. 11 And the corpses which, long since unmoving, Had been lying in graves, putrefying, Will be borne to the high-flying breezes, With their own former souls as companions. St. 12 Which is why on our graves so much tending 45 Is expended, and why on the lifeless Frame we the last compliments lavish, And with funeral procession adorn it, St. 13 Why the white-shining radiance resplendent Of a spread linen shroud is our custom, 50 And why myrrh sprinkled on with its Saba- Based balm keeps the corpse from decaying. St. 14 What the point of the rock-fashioned chambers, What the meaning of monuments handsome, But that something to them is entrusted 55 Not dead, but committed to sleeping? St. 15 This care does the foresight of Christians' Sense of duty observe, as believing That everything soon will be living Which now a cold slumber oppresses. 60 St. 16 He who corpses all scattered, unburied, Out of pity with earth covers over, Is performing a work full of kindness In his duty to Christ the almighty, St. 17 Since the same law enjoins upon all men 65 To be groaning as under the one fate, And, as though for the loss of our kindred, To grieve for the death of a stranger. St. 18 The father of saintly Tobias, He a holy and venerable hero, 70 Though his meal was all properly ready, Gave preference to last rites' sad duty. St. 19 While his servants stood ready to serve, he Left his cups and his dishes behind him, And, zealously girt for interment, 75 Laid the bones in the tomb, the while weeping. St. 20 Soon there comes his reward down from heaven, And his payment is price quite enormous; For, his eyes, which have never known sunshine With a smearing of gall God enlightens. 80 St. 21 Even then the world's Father has taught us How much, to those lacking in reason, Is the remedy biting and bitter When the soul is assailed by the new light. St. 22 He has taught, too, that nobody ever 85 Catches sight of the kingdom of heaven Before, in the darkness and hurting, He has suffered the world's sore afflictions. St. 23 Death itself is thereby the more blessed, In that through the grim torments of dying 90 Lies a way up on high for the righteous, And they go to the stars by their sufferings. St. 24 Thus do bodies that know the death process Come again when the seasons are better; Nor, on gaining new warmth after dying, 95 Does the frame any more know a weakening. St. 25 Where now there is pallor and wasting And a grey colour spreads, on the same cheeks Then more lovely than any fair flower, Will blood give the skin beauty's tincture. 100 St. 26 No longer will any old age then In jealousy pluck at the brow's grace, Nor will dryness, which wastes all the muscles, Leave them shrunken by draining their juices. St. 27 And Disease, bringing bane to the members, 105 Who now leaves them ravaged and breathless, Will at that time his own torments, sweating, Pay as fine, while a thousand times bonded. St. 28 From afar, upon him from high heaven The virtuous flesh, now immortal, 110 Will gaze, as he groans without ceasing At the pains he himself had been causing. St. 29 Why does band of survivors in foolish Lamentations so boisterously join in? Why do laws which are so well established 115 Catch a scolding from grief-maddened sorrow? St. 30 Fall thou silent now, wretched complaining, Your tears discontinue, ye mothers: Let no one lament for his dear ones; This death is renewal of living. 120 St. 31 It is thus that the dry seeds shoot greenly, Once dead, and moreover once buried. It is they, from the deep furrow rising, That replace all the yesterdays' harvests. St. 32 Receive now, O earth, for your keeping, 125 And take to your soft lap this fellow: They are limbs of a man I lay in you; My commission, remains which are noble. St. 33 They were onetime the home of a spirit Created by mouth of its maker; 130 There has dwelt all aglow in these objects Sheer wisdom, with Christ as the leader. St. 34 Do thou cover the corpse laid within thee; Not forgetting it, he will go looking, He its maker and author, for his gift: 135 His own face's image and likeness. St. 35 Let there come soon the season of justice, When God will fulfil all our hoping; You must open, O grave, and surrender The form, just as I give it to you. 140 St. 36 Even though the decay of old age should Dissolve all the bones into ashes, And the dry little cinders should turn out But a measure of slightest of handfuls, St. 37 Even though changing blasts and the breezes, 145 As they fly through the void ever empty, Were to take with the dust all the muscles, Man will not be allowed to have perished. St. 38 But until the decayable body Thou dost call back, O God, and refashion, 150 What region, pray tell, will you order That the soul which is pure take its rest in? St. 39 In the holy old man's bosom staying, Shall it lie just as does Eleazar Whom, hedged all about him with flowers, 155 Rich man as he burns sees from far off. St. 40 So we follow thy sayings, Redeemer, With which over black death triumphant You counsel to follow your footsteps The robber, your cross's companion. 160 St. 41 For the faithful, see, open to spacious Fields of paradise leads a bright roadway, And to enter that grove is permitted Which the serpent from man had sequestered. St. 42 In that place, do I pray, excellent leader, 165 Give command that the spirit, your servant, Be confirmed in abode it was born in, Which it quitted to wander in exile. St. 43 The bones covered here we shall cherish With violets and green leaves in plenty; 170 And inscription, on cold stones engraven, Shall we sprinkle with perfume sweet-smelling.
Robert J. Baker, email@example.com
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by Kaavya Giridhar