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A statue of Bacchus

Bacche pater quis te mortali lumine novit,
Et docta effinxit hinc[2] tua membra manu.
Praxiteles[3], qui me rapientem Gnosida[4] vidit,
Atque illi [=illo] pinxit tempore qualis eram.
Link to an image of this page  Link to an image of this page  [D4v]Cur iuvenis teneraque etiam lanugine vernat,
Barba, queas Pylium cum superare senem.[5]
Muneribus quandoque meis si parcere disces,
Iunior & forti pectore semper eris.
Tympana non manibus capiti non cornua desunt,[6]
Quos nisi dementeis talia signa decent.
Hoc doceo, nostro quod abusus munere sumit,
Cornua & insanus mollia sistra[7] quatit,
Quid vult ille color membris penè igneus omen,
Absit, an humanis ureris ipse focis?
Cum Semeles de ventre[8] parens me fulmine traxit,
Ignivomo, infectum pulvere mersit aquis.
Hinc sapit, hinc[9] liquidis qui nos bene diluit undis,
Qui non ardenti torret ab igne iecur.
Sed nunc me doceas, quî vis miscerier? & qua
Te sanus tutum prendere lege queat?
Quadrantem addat aquae calicem sumpsisse falerni[10],
Qui cupit, hoc sumi pocula more iuvat.
Stes citra[11] haeminas[12], nam qui procedere tendit,
Ultra, alacer, sed mox ebrius, inde furit.
Res dura haec nimium, sunt pendula guttura dulce,
Tu fluis, heu facile commoda nulla cadunt.

Father Bacchus, who set mortal eyes upon you and accordingly fashioned your limbs with skilful hand? - It was Praxiteles, who saw me carrying off the girl from Knossos and represented me as I was at that time. - Why are you young, and why is your beard fresh with tender down, though you can surpass the old man of Pylos? - Because you will always be young and of a brave heart, if you will learn to use my gifts sparingly. - Drums are not absent from your hands, horns are not missing from your head. Whom but the mad do such symbols fit? - I teach men that anyone who abuses my gifts grows horns and in madness shakes unmanly rattles. - What is the meaning of the colour like fire upon your limbs? Perish the thought - do you yourself burn with mortal fires? When my father drew me with his flaming lightning-blast from Semele’s womb, he dipped me in water, all marked with ash as I was. And so that man is wise who dilutes me well with water. He who does not, gets his liver scorched from the raging fire. - But now, tell me how you wish to be mixed, and under what conditions a sensible man can take you in safety. - The man who desires to take a cup of Falernian should add a quadrans of water. It is good when cups are taken like this. You should keep within small measures. Anyone who pushes on further is first merry, soon drunk and then mad. - This is a very hard thing. Our tongues hang out, you flow sweetly down. Alas, nothing good for us comes easy.


1.  For a description of Bacchus, see Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.4ff.

2.  Textual variant: quis.

3.  Praxiteles. This artist fashioned a famous group of statues in bronze depicting Bacchus/Dionysus with Drunkenness and a Satyr. See Pliny, Natural History 34.19.69.

4.  Gnosida, ‘the girl from Knossos’, i.e. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Knossos, who helped Theseus destroy the Minotaur, was taken by him to Naxos and there abandoned. Dionysus, the young, exotic and beautiful god of wine, rescued her and made her his bride. See Philostratus, Eikones 1.15.

5.  Pylium...senem, ‘the old man of Pylos’, i.e. Nestor, king of Pylos, who had outlived three generations of men and was a proverbial example of age.

6.  ‘horns are not missing from your head’. The god was represented with ram’s or bull’s horns, symbolising power and virility. Under the influence of wine the weak imagine themselves strong and powerful: see Horace, Odes 3.21.18.

7.  mollia sistra, ‘unmanly rattles’. Small percussion instruments (see l.9) were used in the wild rites of Bacchus, mainly celebrated by women.

8.  Semeles de ventre, ‘from Semele’s womb’. Semele, pregnant with Bacchus by Jove, desired to see Jove in his full glory, and the ensuing lightning-blast consumed her. Jove rescued the foetus and enclosed it in his thigh until it was full-grown, whereupon he entrusted the baby to the nymphs (i.e. water-spirits) to bring up. For the content of ll.15-18 compare Anthologia graeca 9.331.

9.  Later editions read hic.

10.  calicem...Falerni, ‘cup of Falernian’. Wine from Falernum was one of the best in ancient Italy, but here stands for wine in general.

11.  Textual variant: intra.

12.  As a hemina measures six cyathi and a quadrans (l.21) contains three cyathi, this suggests that the wine should be at two-thirds strength. For diluting wine, see Erasmus, Adagia 1196, Perdidisti vinum infusa aqua. The ancients normally diluted their wine.

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