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Cuculi.

Cuckoos

Ruricolas agreste genus plerique cuculos
Cur vocitent, quaenam prodita causa fuit?[1]
Vere novo cantat Coccyx, quo tempore vites
Qui non absolvit iure notatur iners.
Fert ova in nidos alienos, qualiter ille
Cui thalamum prodit uxor adulterio.

Whatever explanation has been given for the custom of calling country-dwellers, that rustic race, ‘cuckoos’? - When spring is new, the cuckoo calls, and anyone who has not pruned his vines by this time is rightly blamed for being idle. The cuckoo desposits its eggs in other birds’ nests, like the man on whose account a wife betrays her marriage bed in adultery.

Notes:

1. áSee Pliny, Natural History, 18.66.249, and Horace, Satires, 1.7.31, for the use of the word ‘cuckoo’ as term of mockery for the idle man who has failed to finish pruning his vines before the cuckoo is heard calling.


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Scyphus Nestoris.

Nestor’s cup

Nestoreum geminis cratera hunc accipe fundis, [1]
Quod gravis argenti massa profudit opus.
Claviculi ex auro: stant circum quattuor ansae:
Unam quanque super fulva columba sedet.
Solus eum potuit longaevus tollere Nestor.
Maeonidae doceas quid sibi musa velit.
Est coelum scyphus ipse. color argenteus illi est:
Aurea sunt coeli sidera claviculi.
Pleiadas esse putant, quas dixerit ille columbas.[2]
Umblici [=Umbilici] gemini,[3] magna minorque fera est.[4]
Haec Nestor longo sapiens intelligit usu.
Bella gerunt fortes, callidus astra tenet.

Receive this bowl of Nestor with its double support, a work which a heavy mass of silver shaped. Its studs are of gold. Four handles stand about it. Above each one sits a yellow dove. Only aged Nestor was able to lift it. Do tell us what Homer’s Muse intended. The cup itself is the heavens; its colour is silvery; the studs are the golden stars of heaven. They think that what he called doves are the Pleiades. The twin bosses are the great and lesser beast. The wise Nestor understood this by long experience: the strong wage war, the wise man grasps the stars.

Notes:

1. áNestor’s bowl is described at Homer, Iliad, 11.632-7. Only Nestor, for all his great age could lift it when full. For the interpretation of Nestor’s cup (or mixing bowl) given here, see Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 11.487 F ff.

2. áThe Greek word for ‘doves’ is πελειάδες.

3. á‘twin bosses’, i.e. possibly the protuberances inside the bowl where it was joined to the two supports.

4. á‘great and lesser beast’, i.e. the Great and Little Bear, a phrase based on Ovid, Tristia, 4.3.1: ‘magna minorque ferae’.


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