Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Atalanta had been visited by frequent dreams of bad omen but on one occasion (Thebais ix.570 ff.) she had a dream even more significant. She beheld an oak, the object of her particular veneration, stripped of its foliage. In fright she prayed to Diana and learned that the dream denoted the impending death of her son. This information is confirmed by Apollo.Statius, Thebaid 9.570-606 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
Meantime the stern Tegean mother [sc. Atalanta] of the archer youth [sc. Parthenopaeus], troubled in her sleep by gloomy visions, was on her way before dawn with hair flying in the wind and feet bare as of wont to the chill waters of Ladon to purge her sinister slumber in the living stream.The Latin:
For in nights dismayed by weight of cares she often saw spoils she had dedicated herself fallen from their shrines and herself wandering among unknown tombs exiled from the forest and banished from the Dryad folk; and often triumphs of her son new brought from the war, his arms and familiar horse and companions, but never himself; or again she would see the quiver slip from her shoulders and her own images and familiar likenesses burnt up.
But that night above all seemed to the poor woman to portend danger and roused the mother in all her breast. There was an oak of abundant timber known throughout Arcadia's forests, which she herself had chosen from a multitude of groves and consecrated to Trivia, making it numinous by her worship. Here she would lay by her bows and wearied arrows and fix the curving weapons of boars and hides of empty lions and antlers large as great woods. Scarcely is there room for the branches, so do rustic trophies cover all around and thc glint of steel blocks the green shade. As she was returning from the mountains weary from long hunting and proudly bearing the fresh-taken bead of an Erymanthian boar, she sees the tree dying on the ground, torn with many a wound, its leaves fallen and its branches dripping blood. To her question the Nymph tells of bloody Maenads and the cruelty of hostile Lyaeus.
As she groans and surrounds her breast with phantom blows, her eyes break off the night; she leaps from her sad couch and searches her orbs for imaginary tears. So when she had dipped her hair thrice in the river to expiate the abomination and added words to comfort a mother's anxious cares, she hastens in the dew of dawn to armed Diana's shrine and rejoices to see the trees in their familiar row and the oak.
Tristibus interea somnum turbata figuris 570Michael Dewar, Statius Thebaid IX. Edited with an English Translation and Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 170:
torva sagittiferi mater Tegeatis ephebi,
crine dato passim plantisque ex more solutis,
ante diem gelidas ibat Ladonis ad undas
purgatura malum fluvio vivente soporem.
namque per attonitas curarum pondere noctes 575
saepe et delapsas adytis, quas ipsa dicarat,
exuvias, seque ignotis errare sepulcris
extorrem nemorum Dryadumque a plebe fugatam,
saepe novos nati bello rediisse triumphos,
armaque et alipedem notum comitesque videbat, 580
numquam ipsum, nunc ex umeris fluxisse pharetras,
effigiesque suas simulacraque nota cremari.
praecipuos sed enim illa metus portendere visa est
nox miserae totoque erexit pectore matrem.
nota per Arcadias felici robore silvas 585
quercus erat, Triviae quam desacraverat ipsa
electam turba nemorum numenque colendo
fecerat: hic arcus et fessa reponere tela,
armaque curva suum et vacuorum terga leonum
figere et ingentes aequantia cornua silvas. 590
vix ramis locus, agrestes adeo omnia cingunt
exuviae, et viridem ferri nitor impedit umbram.
hanc, ut forte iugis longo defessa redibat
venatu, modo rapta ferox Erymanthidos ursae
ora ferens, multo proscissam vulnere cernit 595
deposuisse comam et rorantes sanguine ramos
exspirare solo; quaerenti Nympha cruentas
Maenadas atque hostem dixit saevisse Lyaeum.
dum gemit et planctu circumdat pectus inani,
abrupere oculi noctem maestoque cubili 600
exsilit et falsos quaerit per lumina fletus.
Ergo ut in amne nefas merso ter crine piavit
verbaque sollicitas matrum solantia curas
addidit, armatae ruit ad delubra Dianae
rore sub Eoo, notasque ex ordine silvas 605
et quercum gavisa videt.
585 ff. From all the trees in the wood Atalanta had selected one, presumably for its prominence and size and strength (nota, felici robore), and consecrated it to the goddess. It is an oak, more usually sacred to Jupiter, though for an apparent association of oaks with Hecate see Ap. Rh. 3.1211 ff. At Hor. Carm. 3. 22. 5 the poet dedicates a pine-tree to Diana, and it is on a pine also that Propertius (2.19.19) and Ovid (Met. 12.267) speak of the spoils of hunting being hung. Contrast Theb. 2.707 ff., where Tydeus dedicates the spoils of the ambush to Minerva by hanging them on an oak. See further 589 ff. n. Tree-worship was, of course, an ancient and very wide-spread belief, especially prevalent in Germany (Tac. Ger. 9) and the Celtic West (e.g. Max. Tyr. 2.8). In ancient Palestine the practice aroused the wrath of the prophet (Isaiah 1:29 ff.), but the modern church has domesticated it through the the custom of decorating trees at Christmas. Atalanta's piety here is of a simple, rural kind: cf. esp. Plin. Nat. 12.3 'priscoque rite simplicia rura etiam nunc deo praecellentem arborem dicant nec magis auro fulgentia atque ebore simulacra quam lucos et in iis silentia ipsa adoramus'.Id., p. 172 (I corrected ἰσοδένδρεου in the Pindar quotation to ἰσοδένδρου in accordance with Bowra's edition):
595 ff. The phrases multo ... vulnere, deposuisse comam, sanguine, and expirare stress the identification of the tree with its dryad. Tree-nymphs were usually thought to have the same life-span as their dwellings: see Pind. fr. 168 Bowra ἰσοδένδρου τέκμωρ αἰῶνος λαχοῖσαι, Call. Hymn 4.82 ff., Ap. Rh. 2.476 ff., Theb. 6.113 (a tree felling) 'nec amplexae dimittunt robora Nymphae', Silv. 1.3.63 (to Manilius Vopiscus, who incorporated a tree into his new villa) 'non abruptos tibi debet Hamadryas annos'. The blood is the dryad's: cf. the tale of the godless Erysichthon, who cut down a grove belonging to Ceres, Call. Hymn 6.24 ff. (with Hopkinson, esp. pp. 18 ff.) and Ov. Met. 8. 738 ff., esp. 758 ff. 'contremuit gemitumque dedit Deoia quercus: / et pariter frondes, pariter pallescere glandes / coepere, ac longi pallorem ducere rami. / cuius ut in trunco fecit manus impia vulnus, / ... fluxit discusso cortice sanguis'. See also Hollis on Ov. Met. 8.771. For the impiety of desecrating a holy tree see Hollis on Ov. Met. 8.741 f., and cf. Hor. Ep. 1.6.31 f. 'virtutem verba putas, et / lucum ligna', Luc. 3.399 ff. For the evil portent of the blood cf. also Virg. A. 3.19 ff., esp. 28 f. and Williams ad loc., Ov. Met. 9.329 ff., Dante, Inf. 13.31 ff., Frazer, ii.18 ff. Ironically, Parthenopaeus will be slain by a man named Dryas.Hat tip: Eric Thomson.