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Publius Papinius Statius – the temple we all need

November 20, 2014

At the town’s centre stands a temple raised
To no almighty god. It is the seat
Of kind Compassion, sanctified by souls
In grief and misery. She never lacks
New suppliants nor will reject a prayer.
Whoever asks is heard and day and night
One may approach and win the goddess’ heart
By piteous tears alone. Her worship claims
Small cost: no incense-flame will she accept,
No welling blood. With tears her altar flows,
And offerings hang there, sad severed tresses,
And garments left behind when Fortune changed.
A gentle grove surrounds it, hallowed growth
Of bay, with holy braids and suppliant
Olive. And there no statue stands, and no
Metal is trusted with the form divine:
In hearts and minds the goddess loves to dwell.
Always the place has throngs of sufferers,
In fear or want. Only the fortunate
Know not her altars there. Its founders were,
Fame tells, the sons of Hercules, preserved
In battle after that great hero died.
Fame fails the facts: the truth one should believe
Is that the gods themselves, in Athens’ land
Guests ever welcome, as they once gave laws
And ceremonies and the seed that came
Down to the empty earth, so in this place
For souls in travail they had sanctified
A common refuge where the wrath and threats
Of monarchs should be far removed and chance
Withdraw from sacraments of righteousness.
Already nations beyond counting knew
That shrine. Assembled there the vanquished came,
Conquered in war, and exiles driven from
Ancestral lands, kings who had lost their crowns,
And those whose crime was error, and they all
Sought peace.

(from the closing of the Thebaid, translation by A. D. Melville)

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