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Sirenes.

Sirens

Absque alis volucres, & cruribus absque puellas,
Rostro absque & pisces, qui tamen ore canant,
Quis putet esse ullos? iungi haec natura negavit
Sirenes, fieri sed potuisse docent.[1]
Illicium est mulier, quae in piscem desinit atrum,[2]
Plurima quòd secum monstra libido vehit.
Aspectu, verbis, animi candore, trahuntur,
Parthenope Ligia Leucosiaque[3] viri.
Has musae explumant,[4] has atque illudit Ulysses.[5]
Scilicet est doctis cum meretrice nihil.

Birds without wings, girls without legs, fish without snouts, yet singing with their mouths - who would think such creatures exist? Nature said such things could not be combined, but the Sirens show that it could happen. Woman is an enticement, and she ends in a black fish, because lust brings many monstrous things in its train. By looks, by words, by radiant charm, men are drawn on, by Parthenope, by Ligeia and by Leucosia. These the Muses strip of their feathers, these Ulysses also dupes. The wise of course have no truck with a whore.

Notes:

1.  The Sirens, creatures that lured passing sailors to destruction with their entrancing song, are described in Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.552ff. as having the faces of girls and the wings and feet of birds. The fish-tail seems to be added from the description of Scylla, Vergil, Aeneid, 3.427. The ‘woman ending in a black fish’ echoes Horace, Ars Poetica, ‘ut...atrum desinat in piscem mulier’, indicating an incongruous juxtaposition.

2.  Variant reading, Illicitum est, ‘That which is forbidden’.

3.  Various names for the Sirens are recorded. The ones given here mean ‘Maidenface’, ‘Sweet sounding’, ‘Bright’. The Sirens represent snares and temptation.

4.  The Sirens were defeated in a contest with the Muses and stripped of their wings. See Pausanias, Periegesis, 9.34.2. The Muses represent learning.

5.  See Homer, Odyssey, 12.39ff. and 165ff. for Ulysses’ escape from the Sirens. After this the Sirens killed themselves. Ulysses becomes the type of the wise man who escapes temptation through self-control.


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In divites publico malo.

Those who grow rich out of public misfortune

Anguillas quisquis captat, si limpida verrat
Flumina, si illimes ausit adire lacus,
Cassus erit, ludetque operam. multum excitet ergo
Si cretae, & vitreas palmula turbet aquas,
Dives erit. sic iis res publica turbida lucro est,
Qui pace, arctati legibus, esuriunt.[1]

If anyone hunting eels sweeps clear rivers or thinks to visit unmuddied lakes, he will be unsuccessful and waste his efforts. If he instead stirs up much clay and with his oar churns the crystal waters, he will be rich. Likewise a state in turmoil becomes a source of profit to people who in peace go hungry, because the law cramps their style.

Notes:

1.  Cf. Erasmus, Adagia, 2579 (Anguillas captare).


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