Sunday, April 17, 2011


Dedications of Trees to Gods

Thyillus (contemporary with Cicero), in Greek Anthology 6.170 (tr. W.R. Paton):
The elms, and these lofty willows, and the holy spreading plane, and the springs, and these shepherds' cups that cure fell thirst, are dedicate to Pan.

Αἱ πτελέαι τῷ Πανὶ καὶ αἱ τανυμήκεες αὗται
  ἰτέαι, ἥ θ'ἱερὰ κἀμφιλαφὴς πλάτανος
χαἱ λιβάδες καὶ ταῦτα βοτηρικὰ Πανὶ κύπελλα
  ἄγκειται δίψης φάρμακ' ἀλεξίκακα.
Catullus, fragment 1 (tr. Leonard C. Smithers):
This grove I dedicate and consecrate to thee, Priapus, who hast thy home at Lampsacus, and eke thy woodlands, Priapus; for thee especially in its cities worships the coast of the Hellespont, richer in oysters than all other shores.

Hunc lucum tibi dedico consecroque, Priape,
qua domus tua Lampsaci est quaque <silva>, Priape,
nam te praecipue in suis urbibus colit ora
Hellespontia ceteris ostreosior oris.

silva: Itali
Horace, Odes 3.22 (a hymn to Diana, tr. Niall Rudd):
Virgin who guard the mountains and the woods, who when thrice invoked give ear to young women in labour and rescue them from death, three-formed Goddess, let the pine that overhangs my villa be yours, so that at the end of every year I may joyfully present it with the blood of a young boar practising its sidelong slash.

Montium custos nemorumque Virgo,
quae laborantis utero puellas
ter vocata audis adimisque leto,
    diva triformis,

imminens villae tua pinus esto,
quam per exactos ego laetus annos
verris obliquum meditantis ictum
    sanguine donem.
Vergil, Aeneid 7.59-63 (tr. H Rushton Fairclough):
In the midst of the palace in the high inner courts, stood a laurel of sacred leafage, preserved in awe through many years which lord Latinus himself, 'twas said, found and dedicated to Phoebus, when he built his first towers; and from it he gave his settlers their name Laurentes.

laurus erat tecti medio in penetralibus altis
sacra comam multosque metu servata per annos,
quam pater inventam, primas cum conderet arces,
ipse ferebatur Phoebo sacrasse Latinus,
Laurentisque ab ea nomen posuisse colonis.
Pliny, Natural History 12.2.3 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
The trees formed the first temples of the gods, and even at the present day, the country people, preserving in all their simplicity their ancient rites, consecrate the finest among their trees to some divinity; indeed, we feel ourselves inspired to adoration, not less by the sacred groves and their very stillness, than by the statues of the gods, resplendent as they are with gold and ivory.

haec fuere numinum templa, priscoque ritu simplicia rura etiam nunc deo praecellentem arborem dicant. nec magis auro fulgentia atque ebore simulacra quam lucos et in iis silentia ipsa adoramus.
Titus Pomponius Victor (2nd century A.D.), in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum XII.103, tr. Frank Frost Abbott in The Common People of Ancient Rome: Studies of Roman Life and Literature (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911), p. 104:
Silvanus, half-enclosed in the sacred ash-tree,
guardian mighty art thou of this pleasaunce in the heights.
To thee we consecrate in verse these thanks,
because across the fields and Alpine tops,
and through thy guests in sweetly smelling groves,
while justice I dispense and the concerns of Caesar serve,
with thy protecting care thou guidest us.
Bring me and mine to Rome once more,
and grant that we may till Italian fields with thee as guardian.
In guerdon therefor will I give a thousand mighty trees.

Silvane sacra semicluse fraxino
et huius alti summe custos hortuli,
tibi hasce grates dedicamus musicas,
quod nos per arva perque montis Alpicos
tuique luci suave olentis hospites,
dum ius guberno remque fungor Caesarum,
tuo favore prosperanti sospitas.
tu me meosque reduces Romam sistito
daque Itala rura te colamus praeside:
ego iam dicabo mille magnas arbores.
Abbott's comments (pp. 104-105):
It is a pretty picture. This deputy of Caesar has finished his long and perilous journeys through the wilds of the North in the performance of his duties. His face is now turned toward Italy, and his thoughts are fixed on Rome. In this "little garden spot," as he calls it, in the mountains he pours out his gratitude to the forest-god, who has carried him safely through dangers and brought him thus far on his homeward way, and he vows a thousand trees to his protector. It is too bad that we do not know how the vow was to be paid — not by cutting down the trees, we feel sure. One line of Victor's little poem is worth quoting in the original. He thanks Silvanus for conducting him in safety "through the mountain heights, and through Tuique luci suave olentis hospites." Who are the hospites? The wild beasts of the forests, we suppose. Now hospites may, of course, mean either "guests" or "hosts," and it is a pretty conceit of Victor's to think of the wolves and bears as the guests of the forest-god, as we have ventured to render the phrase in the translation given above. Or, are they Victor's hosts, whose characters have been so changed by Silvanus that Victor has had friendly help rather than fierce attacks from them?
I owe all of the ancient citations above to R.G.M. Nisbet and Niall Rudd, A Commentary on Horace: Odes, Book III (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 255-256 (introduction to Odes 3.22). On p. 257 Nisbet and Rudd offer this suggestion to modern readers of the ode:
By using his imagination an urban rationalist can still recapture something of the feeling for rural cults, the communion with the spirits of the wild, a sense of the sanctity of trees, and the significance of an annual blood-sacrifice in gratitude for the sanctity of life.

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