Aaron Poochigian reads

The Maiden (Virgo)

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An excerpt from Phaenomena by Aratus (ca. 315—240 BCE)
trans. by Aaron Poochigian

Aratus explains why the goddess Justice departed from the
world and how to identify her (as the constellation Virgo) in
the Northern Sky.

A Maiden clutches golden ears of corn.
Whether, as poets rumor, she was born
The daughter of Astraeus, primal source
Of stars, or some god else, I pray her course
Above us bring no evil. Some maintain
She used to walk earth and did not disdain
To meet the tribes of mortals face to face.
Though born divine, she joined the human race.
Her name was Justice then; through every street,
Through all the markets where we mortals meet,
She propogated what was fair and right.
Humans had never heard the hiss of spite,
The bellow of quarrel and the cry of war.
The wicked sea churned at a distance; oar
And sail had never shipped our livelihood.
Cows, ploughs and Justice, giver of the good
And queen of peoples, furnished everything.
So long as land alone was nourishing
The Golden Race, she only lived on land.
Though later stooping low to hold the hand
Of the Silver children, she still walked the earth
Yearning for ways and men of greater worth.
From twilit foothills she would steal alone
And chasten humans in a harsher tone.
While gawkers hunkered on a mountainside
She would give speeches from the peak, deride
Their baser stock and swear that, come what may,
She would no longer help them when the prey:
“What trash your golden fathers have begotten!
O, your descendents shall be still more rotten—
Burdens of blood and war shall bow their backs,
Conscience shall crush them.” She retraced her tracks
Down to the foothills when she had her say,
And all the people watched her walk away.
When they were dead, a fiercer brazen race
Inherited—the first men to unbrace
Cows from a ploughshare so that they might gorge
On flesh instead of grain, the first to forge
Marauders’ trouble-making scimitars.
Justice turned misanthrope and joined the stars.
She still resides in heaven where at night
The Maiden wheels above us mortals, right
Beside the prominent Ploughman.
                                                      Wings carried her
To heaven—atop her right wing, Vintager
Is borne along, a star shedding a glare
Bright as the star which follows the Great Bear.
The Maiden is ill-omened stars that circle near her.
Using these stars, however, one can plot
The contours of her figure, dot by dot,
For all her stars show plainly to the eye.
There’s one before her toes, one on her thigh,
And one beneath the backside of her knee.
Anonymous, they all wheel separately.

Note to the reader: After The Iliad and The Odyssey, Aratus’
Phaenomena was the most widely read poem in the ancient world.
Aaron Poochigian’s full translation of The Phaenomena will be
available from Johns Hopkins University Press in May 2010.
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