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. » Pre-Order