A Strain of Sodom.
(Author Uncertain.)

Already had Almighty God wiped off

By vengeful flood (with waters all conjoined

Which heaven discharged on earth and the sea's plain [1214]

Outspued) the times of the primeval age:

5 Had pledged Himself, while nether air should bring

The winters in their course, ne'er to decree,

By liquid ruin, retribution's due;

And had assigned, to curb the rains, the bow

Of many hues, sealing the clouds with band

10 Of purple and of green, Iris its name,

The rain-clouds' proper baldric. [1215]

But alike

With mankind's second race impiety

Revives, and a new age of ill once more

Shoots forth; allotted now no more to showers

15 For ruin, but to fires: thus did the land

Of Sodom earn to be by glowing dews

Upburnt, and typically thus portend

The future end. [1216] There wild voluptuousness

(Modesty's foe) stood in the room of law;

20 Which prescient guest would shun, and sooner choose

At Scythian or Busirian altar's foot

'Mid sacred rites to die, and, slaughtered, pour

His blood to Bebryx, or to satiate

Libyan palæstras, or assume new forms;

25 By virtue of Circæan cups, than lose

His outraged sex in Sodom. At heaven's gate

There knocked for vengeance marriages commit

With equal incest common 'mong a race

By nature rebels 'gainst themselves; [1217] and hurts

30 Done to man's name and person equally.

But God, forewatching all things, at fix'd time

Doth judge the unjust; with patience tarrying

The hour when crime's ripe age -- not any force

Of wrath impetuous -- shall have circumscribed

35 The space for waiting. [1218]

Now at length the day

Of vengeance was at hand. Sent from the host

Angelical, two, youths in form, who both

Were ministering spirits, [1219] carrying

The Lord's divine commissions, come beneath

40 The walls of Sodom. There was dwelling Lot

A transplantation from a pious stock;

Wise, and a practicer of righteousness,

He was the only one to think on God:

As oft a fruitful tree is wont to lurk,

45 Guest-like, in forests wild. He, sitting then

Before the gate (for the celestials scarce

Had reached the ramparts), though he knew not them

Divine, [1220] accosts them unsolicited,

Invites, and with ancestral honour greets;

50 And offers them, preparing to abide

Abroad, a hospice. By repeated prayers

He wins them; and then ranges studiously

The sacred pledges [1221] on his board, [1222] and quits [1223]

His friends with courteous offices. The night

55 Had brought repose: alternate [1224] dawn had chased

The night, and Sodom with her shameful law

Makes uproar at the doors. Lot, suppliant wise,

Withstands: "Young men, let not your new fed lust

Enkindle you to violate this youth! [1225]

60 Whither is passion's seed inviting you?

To what vain end your lust? For such an end

No creatures wed: not such as haunt the fens;

Not stall-fed cattle; not the gaping brood

Subaqueous; nor they which, modulant

65 On pinions, hang suspended near the clouds;

Nor they which with forth-stretched body creep

Over earth's face. To conjugal delight

Each kind its kind doth owe: but female still

To all is wife; nor is there one that has

70 A mother save a female one. Yet now,

If youthful vigour holds it right [1226] to waste

The flower of modesty, I have within

Two daughters of a nuptial age, in whom

Virginity is swelling in its bloom,

75 Already ripe for harvest -- a desire

Worthy of men -- which let your pleasure reap!

Myself their sire, I yield them; and will pay

For my guests' sake, the forfeit of my grief!"

Answered the mob insane: "And who art thou?

80 And what? and whence? to lord it over us,

And to expound us laws? Shall foreigner

Rule Sodom, and hurl threats? Now, then, thyself

For daughters and for guests shalt sate our greed!

One shall suffice for all!" So said, so done:

85 The frantic mob delays not. As, whene'er

A turbid torrent rolls with wintry tide,

And rushes at one speed through countless streams

Of rivers, if, just where it forks, some tree

Meets the swift waves (not long to stand, save while

90 By her root's force she shall avail to oppose

Her tufty obstacles), when gradually

Her hold upon the undermined soil

Is failing, with her bared stem she hangs,

And, with uncertain heavings to and fro,

95 Defers her certain fall; not otherwise

Lot in the mid-whirl of the dizzy mob

Kept nodding, now almost o'ercome. But power

Divine brings succour: the angelic youths,

Snatching him from the threshold, to his roof

100 Restore him; but upon the spot they mulct

Of sight the mob insane in open day, --

Fit augury of coming penalties!

Then they unlock the just decrees of God:

That penalty condign from heaven will fall

105 On Sodom; that himself had merited

Safety upon the count of righteousness.

"Gird thee, then, up to hasten hence thy flight,

And with thee to lead out what family

Thou hast: already we are bringing on

110 Destruction o'er the city." Lot with speed

Speaks to his sons-in-law; but their hard heart

Scorned to believe the warning, and at fear

Laughed. At what time the light attempts to climb

The darkness, and heaven's face wears double hue

115 From night and day, the youthful visitants

Were instant to outlead from Sodoma

The race Chaldæan, [1227] and the righteous house

Consign to safety: "Ho! come, Lot! arise,

And take thy yokefellow and daughters twain,

120 And hence, beyond the boundaries be gone,

Preventing [1228] Sodom's penalties!" And eke

With friendly hands they lead them trembling forth,

And then their final mandates give: "Save, Lot,

Thy life, lest thou perchance should will to turn

125 Thy retroverted gaze behind, or stay

The step once taken: to the mountain speed!"

Lot feared to creep the heights with tardy step,

Lest the celestial wrath-fires should o'ertake

And whelm him: therefore he essays to crave

130 Some other ports; a city small, to wit,

Which opposite he had espied. "Hereto,"

He said, "I speed my flight: scarce with its walls

'Tis visible; nor is it far, nor great."

They, favouring his prayer, safety assured

135 To him and to the city; whence the spot

Is known in speech barbaric by the name

Segor. [1229] Lot enters Segor while the sun

Is rising, [1230] the last sun, which glowing bears

To Sodom conflagration; for his rays

140 He had armed all with fire: beneath him spreads

An emulous gloom, which seeks to intercept

The light; and clouds combine to interweave

Their smoky globes with the confused sky:

Down pours a novel shower: the ether seethes

145 With sulphur mixt with blazing flames: [1231] the air

Crackles with liquid heats exust. From hence

The fable has an echo of the truth

Amid its false, that the sun's progeny

Would drive his father's team; but nought availed

150 The giddy boy to curb the haughty steeds

Of fire: so blazed our orb: then lightning reft

The lawless charioteer, and bitter plaint

Transformed his sisters. Let Eridanus

See to it, if one poplar on his banks

155 Whitens, or any bird dons plumage there

Whose note old age makes mellow! [1232]

Here they mourn

O'er miracles of metamorphosis

Of other sort. For, partner of Lot's flight,

His wife (ah me, for woman! even then [1233]

160 Intolerant of law!) alone turned back

At the unearthly murmurs of the sky)

Her daring eyes, but bootlessly: not doomed

To utter what she saw! and then and there

Changed into brittle salt, herself her tomb

165 She stood, herself an image of herself,

Keeping an incorporeal form: and still

In her unsheltered station 'neath the heaven

Dures she, by rains unmelted, by decay

And winds unwasted; nay, if some strange hand

170 Deface her form, forthwith from her own store

Her wounds she doth repair. Still is she said

To live, and, 'mid her corporal change, discharge

With wonted blood her sex's monthly dues.

Gone are the men of Sodom; gone the glare

175 Of their unhallowed ramparts; all the house

Inhospitable, with its lords, is gone:

The champaign is one pyre; here embers rough

And black, here ash-heaps with hoar mould, mark out

The conflagration's course: evanished

180 Is all that old fertility [1234] which Lot,

Seeing outspread before him,...
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

No ploughman spends his fruitless toil on glebes

Pitchy with soot: or if some acres there,

But half consumed, still strive to emulate

185 Autumn's glad wealth, pears, peaches, and all fruits

Promise themselves full easely [1235] to the eye

In fairest bloom, until the plucker's hand

Is on them: then forthwith the seeming fruit

Crumbles to dust 'neath the bewraying touch,

190 And turns to embers vain.

Thus, therefore (sky

And earth entombed alike), not e'en the sea

Lives there: the quiet of that quiet sea

Is death! [1236] -- a sea which no wave animates

Through its anhealant volumes; which beneath

195 Its native Auster sighs not anywhere;

Which cannot from its depths one scaly race,

Or with smooth skin or cork-like fence encased,

Produce, or curled shell in single valve

Or double fold enclosed. Bitumen there

200 (The sooty reek of sea exust) alone,

With its own crop, a spurious harvest yields;

Which 'neath the stagnant surface vivid heat

From seething mass of sulphur and of brine

Maturing tempers, making earth cohere

205 Into a pitch marine. [1237] At season due

The heated water's fatty ooze is borne

Up to the surface; and with foamy flakes

Over the level top a tawny skin

Is woven. They whose function is to catch

210 That ware put to, tilting their smooth skin down

With balance of their sides, to teach the film,

Once o'er the gunnel, to float in: for, lo!

Raising itself spontaneous, it will swim

Up to the edge of the unmoving craft;

215 And will, when pressed, [1238] for guerdon large, ensure

Immunity from the defiling touch

Of weft which female monthly efflux clothes.

Behold another portent notable,

Fruit of that sea's disaster: all things cast

220 Therein do swim: gone is its native power

For sinking bodies: if, in fine, you launch

A torch's lightsome [1239] hull (where spirit serves

For fire) therein, the apex of the flame

Will act as sail; put out the flame, and 'neath

225 The waters will the light's wrecks ruin go!

Such Sodom's and Gomorrah's penalties,

For ages sealed as signs before the eyes

Of unjust nations, whose obdurate hearts

God's fear have quite forsaken, [1240] will them teach

230 To reverence heaven-sanctioned rights, [1241] and lift

Their gaze unto one only Lord of all.


[1214] Maris æquor.

[1215] See Genesis 9:21, 22; x. 8-17.

[1216] Comp. 2 Pet. iii. 5-14.

[1217] The expression, "sinners against their own souls," in Numbers 16:38-where, however, the LXX. have a very different version--may be compared with this; as likewise Proverbs 8:36.

[1218] Whether the above be the sense of this most obscure triplet I will not presume to determine. It is at least (I hope) intelligible sense. But that the reader may judge for himself whether he can offer any better, I subjoin the lines, which form a sentence alone, and therefore can be judged of without their context:-- "Tempore sed certo Deus omnia prospectulatus, Judicat injustos, patiens ubi criminis ætas Cessandi spatium vis nulla coëgerit iræ."

[1219] Comp. Hebrews 1:14. It may be as well here to inform the reader once for all that prosody as well as syntax is repeatedly set at defiance in these metrical fragments; and hence, of course, arise some of the chief difficulties in dealing with them.

[1220] "Divinos;" i.e., apparently "superhuman," as everything heavenly is.

[1221] Of hospitality--bread and salt, etc.

[1222] "Mensa;" but perhaps "mensæ" may be suggested--"the sacred pledges of the board."

[1223] "Dispungit," which is the only verb in the sentence, and refers both to pia pignora and to amicos. I use "quit" in the sense in which we speak of "quitting a debtor," i.e., giving him his full due; but the two lines are very hard, and present (as in the case of those before quoted) a jumble of words without grammar; "pia pignora mensa Officiisque probis studio dispungit amicos;" which may be somewhat more literally rendered than in our text, thus: "he zealously discharges" (i.e., fulfils) "his sacred pledges" (i.e., the promised hospitality which he had offered them) "with (a generous) board, and discharges" (i.e., fulfils his obligations to) "his friends with honourable courtesies."

[1224] Altera =alterna. But the statement differs from Genesis 19:4.

[1225] "Istam juventam," i.e., the two "juvenes" (ver. 31) within.

[1226] "Fas" =hosion, morally right; distinct from "jus" or "licitum."

[1227] i.e., Lot's race or family, which had come from "Ur of the Chaldees." See Genesis 11:26, 27, 28.

[1228] I use "preventing" in its now unusual sense of "anticipating the arrival of."

[1229] Segor in the LXX., "Zoar" in Eng. ver.

[1230] "Simul exoritur sol." But both the LXX. and the Eng. ver. say the sun was risen when Lot entered the city.

[1231] So Oehler and Migne. But perhaps we may alter the pointing slightly, and read:-- "Down pours a novel shower, sulphur mixt With blazing flames: the ether seethes: the air Crackles with liquid exust."

[1232] The story of Phaëthon and his fate is told in Ov., Met., ii. 1-399, which may be compared with the present piece. His two sisters were transformed into white poplars, according to some; alders, according to others. See Virg., Æn., x. 190 sqq., Ec., vi. 62 sqq. His half-brother (Cycnus or Cygnus) was turned into a swan: and the scene of these transformations is laid by Ovid on the banks of the Eridanus (the Po). But the fable is variously told; and it has been suggested that the groundwork of it is to be found rather in the still-standing of the sun recorded in Joshua.

[1233] i.e., as she had been before in the case of Eve. See Genesis 3:1 sqq.

[1234] I have hazarded the bold conjecture--which I see others (Pamelius at all events) had hazarded before me--that "feritas" is used by our author as ="fertilitas." The word, of course, is very incorrectly formed etymologically; but etymology is not our author's forte apparently. It will also be seen that there is seemingly a gap at this point, or else some enormous mistake, in the mss. An attempt has been made (see Migne) to correct it, but not a very satisfactory one. For the common reading, which gives two lines, "Occidit illa prior feritas, quam prospiciens Loth Nullus arat frustra piceas fuligine glebas," which are evidently entirely unconnected with one another, it is proposed to read, "Occidit illa prior feritas, quam prospiciens Loth, Deseruisse pii fertur commercia fratris. Nullas arat," etc. This use of "fratris" in a wide sense may be justified from Genesis 13:8 (to which passage, with its immediate context, there seems to be a reference, whether we adopt the proposed correction or no), and similar passages in Holy Writ. But the transition is still abrupt to the "nullus arat," etc.; and I prefer to leave the passage as it is, without attempting to supply the hiatus.

[1235] This use of "easely" as a dissyllable is justifiable from Spenser.

[1236] This seems to be the sense, but the Latin is somewhat strange: "mors est maris illa quieti," i.e., illa (quies) maris quieti mors est. The opening lines of "Jonah" (above) should be compared with this passage and its context.

[1237] Inque picem dat terræ hærere marinam.

[1238] "Pressum" (Oehler); "pretium" (Migne): "it will yield a prize, namely, that," etc.

[1239] Luciferam.

[1240] Oehler's pointing is disregarded.

[1241] "De cælo jura tueri;" possibly "to look for laws from heaven."

1 a strain of jonah
Top of Page
Top of Page