Of Tarpeian crime and
- I shall tell, and how the thresholds
of ancient Jupiter2 were captured.
- What was Rome then, when a bugler from [Sabine] Cures-town
- was close enough to shake Jupiter's boulders with his long blast?
- The city-wall was the hills: where now the Senate-house is
- from that spring a war-horse used to drink.
- And where now laws are pronounced for subjected lands
- Sabine missiles were standing in the Roman
- There was a fruitful grove, bosomed in an ivy-filled grotto,
- and many a tree echoes with the waters that rise there:
bough-filled home, where the sweet pipe
- used to order sheep to go drink, away from summer's heat.
- In front of it,
girds his camp with a maple palisade
- and encompasses it safely with outworks of piled-up earth.
- From here Tarpeia took a little liquid for her
- jar pressed hard on the crown of her head.
- She saw that Tatius was training in the sandy fields
- and lifted up ornate weapons along [his horse's] tawny mane.
- She was thunderstruck at the king's looks and regal weapons
- and the jar fell from between her distracted hands.
- Often she pleaded omens from the undeserving moon,
- and said she must rinse out her tresses in the stream;
- often she brought silvery lilies to the alluring Nymphs
- so that a Roman spear might not wound the visage of Tatius.
- And while the cloudy Capitoline sank under the first haze
- she brought back arms cut by bristly shrubs.
- And lingering, from her own citadel Tarpeia wept over her
- wounds unendurable to nearby Jupiter:
- "Fires of the camp and tents of Tatius's squadron,
- and Sabine weapons lovely in my eyes,
- if only I might sit captive by your family gods,
- so long as, as a captive, I might espy the face of my
- Roman hills, and Rome built on the hills,
- and Vesta too, farewell, who must feel shame at my disgrace!
- That horse, that one, will return my darling to the camp,
- whose mane Tatius himself dresses to the right.
- "What wonder that
savaged her father's hair,
- and her ivory loins turned into savage dogs?
- What wonder that [Ariadne's]
monster-brother's horns were betrayed
- when a wound-up thread laid open the twisted
- How great an indictment am I about to make for Italian maidens:
- an immoral attendant chosen to the virgin hearth?
- If anyone will wonder that
Pallas's9 fires are
- let him excuse it: the altar is sprinkled with my tears.
- "Tomorrow, as the rumor says, the whole city will stand down:
- that's the time to sieze the thorny ridge's dewy back!
- The whole way is slippery and treacherous, since the turf hides
- lurking waters with its deceitful pathway.
- Oh, would that I knew the incantations of the
- This tongue too would have brought aid to a gorgeous man.10
- The embroidered
suits you, not the man whom, without a mother's grace,
- the leathery pap of an inhuman wolf
- "Thus, visitor, do I range, a queen within
- As dowry, not a lowly one, you're getting Rome betrayed.
- If that's too much, yet don't let the Sabine women have been
- ravish me and pay back the trade by the law of tit for tat!
- Married, I can dissolve the armies that are engaged:
- enter into a treaty between you by means of my matron's gown.
add your measures!
put up your untamed blasting!
- Have faith, my marriage-bed will soften your weapons.
- "And already the fourth horn sings the coming light,
- the very stars, exhausted, fall into Ocean.
- I shall make trial of sleep, about you shall I try to find dreams:
- see that you come to my eyes as a well-meaning shade!"
- She spoke, and relaxed her arms to uneasy sleep,
- not knowing she had lain down with new furies.
- For Venus,15
fruitful guardian of the Trojan ember,
- feeds up her fault and plants more torches in her bones.
- [Tarpeia] rages like a bare-breasted Thracian woman
- near the swift river Thermodon, the bosom of her garment torn
- The city had a holiday (our fathers called it "Parilia"):
- this day began to be the first for the city-walls,
- annual shepherds' banquets, playing in the city,
- when rustic barrows drip with riches
- and when the drunken crowd flings up its dirty feet
- over haphazard heaps of flaming hay.
- Romulus decreed that the outposts should be released at ease
- and the camps be silent, the bugle interrupted.
- Thinking this was her time, Tarpeia accosts the enemy.
- She binds her terms, herself a future partner in the terms.
- All things were patently asleep; but Jupiter alone
- decided to stand guard over his own penalties.
- The hill was mounted, relaxed for feasts and festival,
- nor was there a delay: barking dogs she cuts off with a sword.
- She had betrayed the trust of the gate and of her native country
as it lay:
- she seeks the marriage date he should desire.
- Yet Tatius (for the enemy did not give honor to a crime)
- said, "Marry, and mount my kingdom's bed!"
- He spoke, and crushed her with his comrades' piled-up weapons.
- This, virgin, was a fitting dowry for your services.
- Nor could a single death be enough for an evil maiden
- who wished to deceive your flames, Vesta.
- From the guide the hill took its
- Oh, watcher, you have the reward of your unjust fate.
1. Roman women normally were known by a feminine
form of their father's names. The commander of the Roman citadel at
this time, on top of the Capitoline Hill, is supposed to have been
named Tarpeius: therefore his daughter is named Tarpeia. The name can
also be used as an adjective.
2. The Roman state's chief temple, of Jupiter
Optimus Maximus, on top of the Capitoline.
3. The center of Roman government, located in
a valley just below the Capitoline Hill. BACK
4. A woodland god of Italian cult, here also
associated with shepherding. BACK
5. King of the Sabines, who were making war on
Rome in response to the Romans' abducting their young women.
6. Tarpeia is pictured as a member of the state
priesthood of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth and thus of the
inviolability of the Roman state as its people's home.
7. Tarpeia thinks of mythological stories.
Scylla fell in love
with Minos when he was attacking her father Nisus's kingdom (Megara).
Scylla promised to cut off a magic lock of purple hair that made Nisus
invulnerable, if Minos would marry her when he captured Megara. Minos
agreed and Scylla cut the lock, but Minos in victory reneged and
refused to marry someone who would betray her own father. Scylla in
desperation swam after Minos's ship as he left; in the water the lower
half of her body turned into a pack of mad dogs, so that she
became a sea-monster. BACK
8. Ariadne can be said to have betrayed her
half-brother, the Minotaur (a half-human monster with a bull's head,
who ate human flesh), because she had fallen in love with
Theseus: she gave him a ball of thread to unwind as he walked
into the Labyrinth where the Minotaur lived, so he would be able to
kill the Minotaur and get back out again. BACK
9. A different virgin goddess from Vesta, but
here partially identified with her: besides an ever-burning flame,
Vesta's shrine also preserved the Palladium, a protective,
super-archaic image of Pallas Athene.
10. Tarpeia refers to the sorceress Medea, who
fell in love with Jason and with her magic helped him get the Golden
Fleece away from her father. BACK
11. The embroidered toga (as opposed to the
plain toga, that all male Roman citizens wore) was
the special garment of Roman kings. BACK
12. Tarpeia refers to the legend that Romulus,
the founder and first king of Rome, at birth was taken away from his
mother and left to die in the wilderness, but was rescued because a
she-wolf nursed him. BACK
13. Traditional divinity of wedding-festivity,
here asked to lend celebratory song; also the etymology of "hymen".
14. As in the beginning of the poem, the
"bugler" (tubicen) is invoked especially as a symbol of war.
15. Goddess of sex and mother of the legendary
hero Aeneas, who the Romans liked to believe established the Trojan
blood-line in Italy. Romulus was supposed to have been directly
descended from Aeneas, but the whole people shared a "Trojan spark"
which was also symbolized in Vesta's eternal flame. Aeneas is
credited with bringing the Palladium from Troy (see note
16. Thus the poem takes the traditional form
of explaining the story behind a name: the Capitoline Hill,
and especially the part of it where the Romans executed traitors by
throwing them off it, was called the "Tarpeian Rock".