AESCULAPIUS BROUGHT TO ROMERelate, O Muses, guardian deities
of poets (for you know, and the remote
antiquity conceals it not from you),
the reason why an island, which the deep stream
of Tiber closed about, has introduced
Coronis' child among the deities
guarding the city of famed Romulus.
A dire contagion had infested long
the Latin air, and men's pale bodies were
deformed by a consumption that dried up
the blood. When, frightened by so many deaths,
they found all mortal efforts could avail
them nothing, and physicians' skill had no
effect, they sought the aid of heaven. They sent
envoys to Delphi center of the world,
and they entreated Phoebus to give aid
in their distress, and by response renew
their wasting lives and end a city's woe.
While ground, and laurels and the quivers which
the god hung there all shook, the tripod gave
this answer from the deep recesses hid
within the shrine, and stirred with trembling their
“What you are seeking here,
O Romans, you should seek for nearer you.
Then seek it nearer, for you do not need
Apollo to relieve your wasting plague,
you need Apollo's son. Go then to him
with a good omen and invite his aid.”
After the prudent Senate had received
Phoebus Apollo's words, they took much pains
to learn what town the son of Phoebus might
inhabit. They despatched ambassadors
under full sail to the coast of Epidaurus.
When the curved ships had touched the shore, these men
in haste went to the Grecian elders there
and prayed that Rome might have the deity
whose presence would drive out the mortal ill
from their Ausonian nation; for they knew
response unerring had directed them.
The councillors dismayed, could not agree
on their reply: some thought that aid ought not
to be refused, but many more held back,
declaring it was wise to keep the god
for their own safety and not give away
a guardian deity. And, while they talked,
discussing it, the twilight had expelled
the waning day, and darkness on the earth
spread a thick mantle over the wide world.
Then in your sleep, the healing deity
appeared, O Roman leader, by your couch,
as in his temple he is used to stand,
holding in his left hand a rustic staff.
Stroking his long beard with his right, he seemed
to utter from his kindly breast these words:
“Forget your fears; for I will come to you,
and leave my altar. But now look well at
the serpent with its binding folds entwined
around this staff, and accurately mark
it with your eyes that you may recognize it.
I will transform myself into this shape
but of a greater size, I will appear
enlarged and of a magnitude to which
a heavenly being ought to be transformed.”
The god departed, when he said those words;
and sleep went, when the god and words were gone;
and genial light came, when the sleep had left.
The morning then dispersed fire-given stars.
The envoys met together in much doubt
within the temple of the long sought god.
They prayed the god to indicate for them,
by clear celestial tokens, in what spot
he wished to dwell.
Scarce had they ceased the prayer
for guidance, when the god all glittering
with gold and as a serpent, crest erect,
sent forth a hissing as to notify
a quick approach— and in his coming shook
his statue and the altars and the doors,
the marble pavement and the gilded roof.
Then up to his breast the serpent stood erect
within the temple. He gazed on all with eyes
that sparkled fire. The waiting multitude
was frightened; but the priest, his chaste hair bound
with a white fillet, knew the deity.
“Behold the god!” he cried, “It is the god.
Think holy thoughts and walk in reverent silence,
all who are present. Oh, most Beautiful,
let us behold you to our benefit,
and give aid to this people that performs
your sacred rites.”