Triumph of Chastity
WHEN AT one time and under one same yoke
I saw the pride of gods Olympian
So tamed, and that of men almost divine,
I took example from their sorry state,
Deriving from the sight of their distress
Some consolation for my fated woes.
For if two arrows from a single bow
Can wound Apollo and the young Leander,
One called a god, the other but a man,
And if in a single snare Juno may fall,
And Dido, she whom love for her own spouse
(Not - as they say - for Aeneas) drove to her death,
I should not grieve if I be overcome,
Being young, unarmed, incautious, and alone.
And if Love conquered not mine enemy
Not even that is cause enough for grief:
For in such plight that I could weep for him
I saw him soon, captive and reft of his wings.
As when two lions roaring in their rage
Together crash, or blazing thunderbolts
Plunge downward, riving air and earth and sea,
So I saw Love, with all his armaments,
Moving to capture her of whom I write,
Swifter than flame or wind in her defense.
And far more terrible than the mighty sounds Of
Aetna shaken by Enceladus,
Or Scylla and Charybdis in their wrath,
Was the first clash of the two combatants
The outcome of the dread assault unsure
Nor have I words to tell of it aright.
All of the captives, then, with one accord,
Withdrew to a high place, to witness thence
A battle that turned hearts and eyes to stone.
That conqueror, moving first to the attack,
Held in his hands an arrow and a bow,
The bowstring drawn already to his ear.
So swiftly did Love move to strike her down
Who bears in her face the eyes that kindle me,
That e'en a leopard, practiced in the hunt
Or free to roam in the forest, would have been
Less swift in hasting to an open place
Where he might leap upon a fleeing deer.
Pity contended in me with desire,
For she to me would be a sweet companion,
Yet 'twould be hard to see her overcome.
Virtue, that never doth forsake the good,
Proved then how deeply in the wrong is he
Who, leaving her, complains of his defeat.
Never was there a fencer so adept
At turning blows aside, never a pilot
So quick to save a ship from harbor rocks,
As she, her lovely face at once
0'erspread With valor and honor, was to fend the blow
That, if awaited, brings fatality.
I watched to the end, with eyes and heart intent,
Hoping that Love would win, as was his wont,
And I no more be held apart from her;
And like to one compelled by great desire
Whose words, before he even starts to speak,
Are written in his eyes and on his brow
I would have said: "My lord, if thou dost win
Bind me with her, if I thereof be worthy,
And have no fear that I shall seek release"
When I beheld him filled with wrath so fierce
Not e'en the greatest pens could tell of it,
Much less the little skill that is in me.
For now his gilded shafts, lit with the flame
Of amorous beauty, and in pleasure dipped,
Were by the coldness of her honor quenched.
Camilla's valor was no more than a dram,
And that of her companion Amazons,
Who sacrificed a breast for archery,
Nor in Pharsalia, .gainst his daughter's spouse,
Did Caesar strive so ardently as she
.Gainst him who shatters every coat of mail.
With her, and armed, was the glorious host
Of all the radiant virtues that were hers,
Hands held in hands that clasped them, two by two.
Honor and Modesty were in the van,
A noble pair of virtues excellent,
That set her high above all other women;
Prudence and Moderation were near by,
Benignity and Gladness of the Heart
Glory and Perseverance in the rear;
Foresight and Graciousness were at the sides,
And Courtesy therewith, and Purity,
Desire for Honor, and the Fear of Shame.
A Thoughtfulness mature in spite of Youth,
And, in a concord rarely to be found,
Beauty supreme at one with Chastity.
So moved she against Love, and favored so
By heaven, and such a host of well-born souls,
That he could not withstand the massive sight.
Thousands of victims, famed and dear, from him
She rescued; and a thousand shining palms
Of victory she wrested from his hands.
N or was the sudden fall of Hannibal,
After so many victories, so strange,
When he was vanquished by the Roman youth;
Nor in the vale of Terebinth so dazed
Lay the Philistine giant from whose might
All Israel had fled, when he was struck
By the first stone slung by the Hebrew boy;
Nor Cyrus when the widowed Scythian queen
Wrought fearful vengeance for her slaughtered son.
Like one who, being well, falls suddenly ill,
And is afraid and troubled, or is caught
In an act so shameful that he hides his eyes,
So now was Love, but in still worse a plight,
Since fear and grief and shame and wrathfulness
Were all together written on his face:
Greater his rage than that of the angry sea,
Or that of Ischia when Typhoeus weeps,
Or Aetna's when Enceladus laments.
I leave untold things glorious and great
That I beheld and dare not tell: I come
Now to my lady and her lesser friends.
She wore, that day, a gown of white, and held
The shield that brought Medusa to her death.
To a fair jasper column that was there,
And with a chain once dipped in Lethe's stream
A chain of diamond and topaz, such
As women used to wear, but wear no more
I saw him bound, and saw him then chastised
Enough to wreak a thousand vengeances:
And I was well content, and satisfied.
I could not fairly celebrate in rhyme,
Nor could Calliope and the Muses all,
The host of holy women who were there;
But I will tell of some in the forefront
Of truest honor; and among them all
Lucretia and Penelope were first,
For they had broken all the shafts of Love
And torn away the quiver from his side,
And they had plucked the feathers from his wings.
Then came Virginia, and her father arm'd
With sword and with affection and with wrath,
Who changed her state and changed the state of Rome:
For one and the other did he now set free.
Then came the German women who chose death
Their own barbaric honor to preserve;
The Hebrew Judith, wise and chaste and strong;
And the Greek maid who plunged into the sea
To flee an evil fate, and die unstained.
With these and other souls illustrious
I saw my lady triumph over him
I had seen triumph over all the world.
Among the others was the vestal maid
who that she might be free of ill report
Sped boldly to the Tiber, and from thence
Brought water to her temple in a sieve.
Then came the Sabines and Hersilia,
A troop whose honored fame fills many a tome.
And there I saw, 'mid those of other lands,
Her who for a belov'd and faithful spouse
(Not for Aeneas) willed to meet her end.
Let ignorance be still! I speak of her,
Dido, whom honor led to death, and not
An empty love, as is the public cry.
And I saw one who where the Arno flows
Renounced the world; yet it availed her not:
Another's force 0' ercame her good intent.
The triumph now had come, in the warmth of Spring,
To Baia's shore, where beat the salty waves,
And landed there, and turned to the right hand.
Thence, passing by the Sybil's ancient cave,
'Twixt Monte Barbaro and the A vernian Lake
Straight to Linterno was its onward course.
There in his simple home, living in peace
Was the great Africanus, titled thus
Since 'twas his sword that opened Africa;
And here the tidings of the victory,
Not lessened by beholding, gave delight:
Fairest of all was she who was most chaste.
And he to join a triumph not his own
Was ready, who-as is believed of him
Was born for triumphs and imperial might.
Unto the sovereign city thus we came,
First to the temple that Sulpicia built
To quench the flame of madness in the mind,
And then at last to the fane of Chastity,
That kindles pure desires within the heart,
Fit for patrician, not plebeian, folk.
There the fair victress spread her glorious spoils
And there she left the crown that she had won,
The sacred laurel crown of victory.
And there to guard the common foe she set
The Tuscan youth who in his face displayed
The wounds that made him not a cause for fear,
With several others (and the names of some
Were told me by my guide, who knew them all),
And these were youths who had dared to challenge Love!
Among them Joseph and Hippolytus.