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Poems for the Millennium, Volume Four The University of California Book of North African Literature

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A Book of Multiple Beginnings




(1) Human traces in North Africa go back to more than 40,000 years B.C.E. But our knowledge of them is limited to a specific area: the region of Gafsa in west-central Tunisia, with ramifications toward the high plains between Constantine and Sétif in Algeria, and areas of the Sahara and ancient Cyrenaica-modern Libya. In this region snail farms and a stone and bone industry were found, indicating that from about 8000 until 4000 B.C.E., the human inhabitants seem to have been rather sedentary: they lived on snails, plants, and wild fruit while also hunting mammals and birds. They had clearly discovered the concept practice of art, as shown by the Capsian tools, worked ostrich eggs, and burned and incised stones found in the quarries of el-Mekta, Tunisia, and preserved in the Gafsa Museum. The Capsian cultures (named for the town of Gafsa, which in Roman times was known as Capsa) probably came into being later than those of the Sahara and the Sudan, which had evolved a Neolithic culture including ceramics by the end of the seventh millennium B.C.E.

At the core of the Capsian Neolithic a range of differentiations appear, with each region showing its own characteristics. The definitive desertification of the Sahara marked this long Neolithic (lasting from circa 6000 to circa 3000), creating in its wake a separation between two worlds, one of which would be forced to turn toward the sea. We know little about the evolution of North Africa in the second millennium B.C.E. Numerous megalithic monuments, difficult to date with any accuracy, are disseminated throughout the region around Constantine. They do, however, suggest Mediterranean influences. The introduction of the horse-which will make the reputation of the Numidians in their confrontation with the Romans-also dates from this period.

It is via the Mediterranean that North Africa entered history with a capital H: the world of writing, of traditions diffused over many centuries, and of archeology, which reveals the ancient presence of the Phoenicians and the Greeks, from the most eastern parts of what is today Libya to the Pillars of Hercules. When Elissa (a.k.a. Dido), sister to the king of Tyre, founded Carthage in 814 B.C.E., the region was peopled by Berbers. The ancient Greeks called the territory between the Egyptian border and the Pillars of Hercules, including the Saharan zones, Libya, picking up on the Egyptian name "land of the Libu." Homer has Menelaus travel through Libya on his way home, and according to the poet it was a land of great riches, where lambs have horns as soon as they are born, ewes lamb three times a year, and no shepherd ever goes short of milk, meat, or cheese. He called the inhabitants of this paradisiacal land the Lotophagi, the Lotus-eaters. But it is Herodotus who has left us the most accurate description of the ancient Libyan populations: he is the first to clearly establish a distinction between the nomadic and the sedentary populations. Some of the names he cites have survived, such as those of the Atlantes (together with the famous legend of Atlantis), the Auses (Oasians), and, most important, the Maxyes. After the Roman conquest, Libyan will no longer be the name of all the Berber peoples, only one of them.

With the Roman invasion of Africa, "Libya" is divided into four regions: Libo-Phoenicia, Numidia, Mauritania, and Getulia, the Saharan backcountry. Knowledge of the Berber peoples gets more precise during the period of Roman colonization, when Roman historians record several traditions concerning the autochthonous populations. The name Mazyes (per Kektaios) or Maxyes (per Herodotus) is Latinized as Mazaces or Mazax and applied to Caesarean Mauritania, though by the third century B.C.E. several peoples carried this label. The variations on the name probably derive from an original Berber denomination, as up to today the Berbers call themselves Imazighen or Amazigh, meaning "free man." The question of whether they are an autochthonous population or arrived in that part of the world as a result of migrations is still sometimes hotly debated.

In De Bello Jugurthino (The Jugurthine War), the Roman historian Sallust relates the settlement of North Africa according to Punic books attributed to the Numidian king HiempsalII. To sum up Sallust, this supposedly happened in three stages: Libyans and Getulians formed the original settlement. Persians and Medes from Hercules's army in Spain invaded, finally amalgamating via intermarriage. The mix of Persians and Getulians produced the Numidians, while that of Medes and Libyans resulted in the Moors. Finally came the Phoenicians, who colonized the shores and founded a number of cities.

The Berbers emerged from "obscurity" only in the third century B.C.E., when the Numidian and Moorish kingdoms got involved in the wars between Rome and Carthage along the whole perimeter of the eastern Mediterranean. Previously Carthage had played an essential role in the region's development by spreading its customs and adapting them to local circumstances. Punic, for example, was used by literate Berbers and survived the demise of the city of Carthage, flourishing side by side with the Berber languages for a long time. It is interesting to note that despite the existence of an alphabet of their own, literate Berbers have mostly used the language of the other (Punic, Greek, and Latin, then Arabic and later French) in their writings. After Carthage created several commercial centers along the coast of Africa, its rivalry with the Greeks transformed the habitat, the culture, and the religious life of this region, primarily from the fourth century B.C.E. on. Roman domination, which eventually stretched across all of North Africa, combined with the Carthaginian civilization's influence (more or less profound depending on Carthage's relation to each city) and the different levels of development of the various Berber populations to create the originality and the diversity of the North African space. And this was the result despite the unity that could not but emerge from the centralizing power of Rome-felt in, for instance, the Hellenistic and Roman culture dispensed in schools, be they in Carthage, Cirta, Caesaria, or smaller cities such as Madaurus, where Apuleius was born.

The economic weight of the African provinces also gave them a certain cultural leverage. The Berbers were talented practitioners of Latin letters: Apuleius's Metamorphoses, a.k.a. The Golden Ass, remains important to this day, standing as one of the great early prose works foreshadowing the development of such literary forms as the novel. But it is before all in the domain of religious thought, with the spreading of Christianity, that North Africa and specifically Numidia was to make a capital contribution. Tertullian (155-222 C.E.) was the first major Christian author and the first Maghrebi writer of religious matter in Latin. He opened the way to a wide literary tradition then developed by Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), Arnobius (d.330), Lactantius (250-325), Optatus of Milevis (d.387), and Dracontius (c.455-c. 505), whom some claim as possibly the last poet whose mother tongue was Latin. And then there is of course Augustine, probably the most illustrious representative of this early North African tradition. Born in Thagaste (today Souk Ahras) and later made bishop of Hippo (today Annaba), Augustine marked the consciousness of not only the scholars with whom he was in contact both in Africa and throughout the Roman Empire but also those of the following centuries, first with the specific positions he took on a whole range of theological problems in his voluminous writings and maybe even more lastingly with his literary-philosophical magnum opus, the Confessions. When Augustine died in 430, the Vandals were at the doors of Hippo, and North Africa was about to begin another of its many transformations.

(2) Even though the earliest literary material traces found in North Africa are inscriptions, texts, and poems written in Greek, Punic, and Latin, we contend that the Berbers, the earliest inhabitants of the area, had rich oral traditions that predated these by millennia. Their tradition of tales, songs, and other genres-explored in more detail in the three Oral Tradition sections-not only has lasted until today but is now experiencing what can only be described as a renaissance, with present-day Morocco and Algeria finally inscribing Amazigh as an official language in their constitutions, thus taking the first step toward doing away with the official neglect, opprobrium, and repression that were the lot of the native North African languages during the centuries of colonial domination-be it Latin-, Arabic-, or French-speaking.

We therefore open the first chapter-called A Book of Multiple Beginnings to make clear the multiplicity of the area's cultural origins ab initio-with three Berber tales that give Amazigh versions of how the world and all that's in it came to be created. That these were gathered in the opening decades of the twentieth century by Leo Frobenius, whose work-take, for example, his concept of Paideuma, culture as a gestalt and a living organism-would be so important to the rich experimental poetic tradition of that century all the way from Ezra Pound to Jerome Rothenberg's later ethnopoetics movement, seems to us a meaningful link between the most distant past and our own-in the poet cultural passeur Michel Deguy's words-"extreme contemporaneity."

The First Human Beings, Their Sons and Amazon Daughters

In the beginning there were only one man and one woman, and they lived not on the earth but beneath it. They were the first people in the world, and neither knew that the other was of another sex. One day they both came to the well to drink. The man said: "Let me drink." The woman said: "No, I'll drink first. I was here first." The man tried to push the woman aside. She struck him. They fought. The man smote the woman so that she dropped to the ground. Her clothing fell to one side. Her thighs were naked.

The man saw the woman lying strange and naked before him. He saw that she had a taschunt. He felt that he had a thabuscht. He looked at the taschunt and asked: "What is that for?" The woman said: "That is good." The man lay upon the woman. He lay with the woman for eight days.

After nine months the woman bore four daughters. Again, after nine months, she bore four sons. And again four daughters and again four sons. So at last the man and the woman had fifty daughters and fifty sons. The father and the mother did not know what to do with so many children. So they sent them away.

The fifty maidens went off together toward the north. The fifty young men went off together toward the east. After the maidens had been on their way northward under the earth for a year, they saw a light above them. There was a hole in the earth. The maidens saw the sky above them and cried: "Why stay under the earth when we can climb to the surface, where we can see the sky?" The maidens climbed up through the hole and onto the earth.

The fifty youths likewise continued in their own direction under the earth for a year until they too came to a place where there was a hole in the crust and they could see the sky above them. The youths looked at the sky and cried: "Why remain under the earth when there is a place from which one can see the sky?" So they climbed through their hole to the surface.

Thereafter the fifty maidens went their way over the earth's surface and the youths went their way, and none knew aught of the others.

At that time all trees and plants and stones could speak. The fifty maidens saw the plants and asked them: "Who made you?" And the plants replied: "The earth." The maidens asked the earth: "Who made you?" And the earth replied: "I was already here." During the night the maidens saw the moon and the stars, and they cried: "Who made you that you stand so high over us and over the trees? Is it you who give us light? Who are you, great and little stars? Who created you? Or are you, perhaps, the ones who have made everything else?" All the maidens called and shouted. But the moon and the stars were so high that they could not answer. The youths had wandered into the same region and could hear the fifty maidens shouting. They said to one another: "Surely here are other people like ourselves. Let us go and see who they are." And they set off in the direction from which the shouts had come.

But just before they reached the place, they came to the bank of a great stream. The stream lay between the fifty maidens and the fifty youths. The youths had, however, never seen a river before, so they shouted. The maidens heard the shouting in the distance and came toward it.

The maidens reached the other bank of the river, saw the fifty youths, and cried: "Who are you? What are you shouting? Are you human beings too?" The fifty youths shouted back: "We too are human beings. We have come out of the earth. But what are you yelling about?"

The maidens replied: "We too are human beings, and we too have come out of the earth. We shouted and asked the moon and the stars who had made them or if they had made everything else." The fifty boys spoke to the river: "You are not like us," they said. "We cannot grasp you and cannot pass over you as one can pass over the earth. What are you? How can one cross over you to the other side?" The river said: "I am the water. I am for bathing and washing. I am there to drink. If you want to reach my other shore, go upstream to the shallows. There you can cross over me."

The fifty youths went upstream, found the shallows, and crossed over to the other shore. The fifty youths now wished to join the fifty maidens, but the latter cried: "Do not come too close to us. We won't stand for it. You go over there and we'll stay here, leaving that strip of steppe between us." So the fifty youths and the fifty maidens continued on their way, some distance apart but traveling in the same direction.

One day the fifty boys came to a spring. The fifty maidens also came to a spring. The youths said: "Did not the river tell us that water was to bathe in? Come, let us bathe." The fifty youths laid aside their clothing and stepped down into the water and bathed. The fifty maidens sat around their spring and saw the youths in the distance. Abold maiden said: "Come with me and we shall see what the other human beings are doing." Two maidens replied: "We'll come with you." All the others refused.

The three maidens crept through the bushes toward the fifty youths. Two of them stopped on the way. Only the bold maiden came, hidden by the bushes, to the very place where the youths were bathing. Through the bushes the maiden looked at the youths, who had laid aside their clothing. The youths were naked. The maiden looked at all of them. She saw that they were not like the maidens. She looked at everything carefully. As the youths dressed again the maiden crept away without their having seen her.

The maiden returned to the other maidens, who gathered around her and asked: "What have you seen?" The bold maiden replied: "Come, we'll bathe too, and then I can tell you and show you." The fifty maidens undressed and stepped down into their spring. The bold maiden told them: "The people over there are not as we are. Where our breasts are, they have nothing. Where our taschunt is, they have something else. The hair on their heads is not long like ours, but short. And when one sees them naked, one's heart pounds and one wishes to embrace them. When one has seen them naked, one can never forget it." The other maidens replied: "You lie." But the bold maiden said: "Go and see for yourselves and you'll come back feeling as I do." The other maidens replied: "We'll continue on our way." The fifty maidens continued on their way, and so did the fifty youths. But the youths went ahead slowly. The maidens, on the other hand, described a half circle so that they crossed the path of the youths. They camped quite close to one another.

On this day the youths said: "Let us not sleep under the sky any more. Let us build houses." Afew of the youths began to make holes in the earth for themselves. They slept in the holes. Others made themselves passages and rooms under the earth and slept in them. But a few of the youths said: "What are you doing digging into the earth to make houses? Are there not stones here that we can pile one upon the other?"

The youths gathered stones and piled them one on the other in layers. When they had built the walls, one of them went off and began to fell a tree. But the tree cried and said: "What, you will cut me down? What are you doing? Do you think you are older than I? What do you think to gain by it?" The youth answered: "I am not older than you, nor do I wish to be presumptuous. I simply wish to cut down fifty of you trees and lay the trunks across my house for a roof. Your branches and twigs I will lay within the house to protect them from the wet."

The tree answered: "That is well."

The youth then cut down fifty trees, laid their trunks across his house, and covered them with earth. The branches he cut up and stored away inside the house. Afew of the larger trunks he set upright in the house to carry the weight of the roof. When the others saw how fine the house was, they did even as he had done. Among the youths there was a wild one, just as among the maidens one was wild and untamed. This wild youth would not live in a house. Rather he preferred to creep in and out among the houses of the others, seeking someone whom he could rend and devour, for he was so wild that he thought only of killing and eating others.

The fifty maidens were encamped at a distance. Looking, they saw how the fifty youths first dug themselves holes and tunnels in the earth and how they finally built their houses. They asked one another: "What are these other humans doing? What are they doing with the stones and the trees?" The bold maiden said: "I'll go there again. I will sneak over and see what these other humans are doing. I have seen them naked once and I want to see them again."

The bold maiden crawled through the bushes to the houses. She came quite close. Finally she slid into a house. There was no one there. The maiden looked around and saw how fine the house was. The wild one came by outside. He scented the maiden. He roared. The maiden screamed and, dashing out of the house, made for the place where the other maidens were encamped. All the youths heard the maiden scream, and all jumped up and ran after her. The maiden ran through the bushes and screamed. The other maidens heard her. They sprang to their feet and ran in her direction to help her. In the bushes the fifty maidens and the fifty youths came together, each maiden with a youth. They fought in the bushes, the maidens with the youths. Even the wild maiden encountered the wild youth in the bushes.

It was dark in the bushes, and they fought in pairs. No pair could see the next one. The fifty maidens were strong. They hurled the fifty youths to the ground and threw themselves on top of them. And they said to themselves: "Now I will see at last if the bold maiden lied." The maidens seized the youths between the thighs. They found the thabuscht. As they touched it, it swelled, and the youths lay quite still. As the maidens felt the thabuscht of the youths, their hearts began to swell. The fifty maidens threw aside their clothes and inserted the thabuscht into their taschunt. The youths lay quite still. The fifty maidens began to ravish the fifty youths. Thereupon the fifty youths became more active than the fifty maidens.

Every youth took a maiden and brought her into his house. They married. In the house the youths said: "It is not right that the woman lies on the man. In the future we shall see to it that the man lies on the woman. In this way we will become your masters." And in the future they slept in the fashion customary among the Kabyls today.

The youths were now much more active than the maidens, and all lived happily together in great satisfaction. Only the wild youth and the wild maiden, who had no house, roamed here and there, seeking others to devour. The others chased them, and when they met them, they beat them. The wild ones said to each other: "We must be different from these humans that they treat us so badly. We will do better to keep out of their way.Let us leave this place and go to the forest." The wild ones left and went to the forest, from which, in future, they emerged only to steal children, whom they devoured. The wild maiden became the first teriel (witch) and the wild youth the first lion. And they both lived on human flesh. The other young men and women were happy to be rid of the cannibals. They lived happily with one another. Their food consisted only of plants, which they uprooted.

Translation from Leo Frobenius's French version by Steven Weber

Hanno the Navigator (Carthage, c. sixth century B.C.E.)

from The Periplos of Hanno

Record of the voyage of King Hanno of Carthage round the lands of Libya which lie beyond the Pillars of Hercules. It has been engraved on tablets hung up in the Temple of Chronos.

The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should go past the Pillars and found Carthaginian cities. He set sail with sixty penteconters carrying thirty thousand men and women with provisions and other necessities. After passing the Pillars of Hercules and sailing for two days beyond them we founded the first city, which was named Thymiaterion. Around it was a large plain. Next we went on in a westerly direction and arrived at the Libyan promontory of Soloeis, which is covered with trees; having set up a shrine to Poseidon, we set sail again toward the rising sun for half a day, after which we arrived at a lagoon close to the sea covered with many tall reeds. Elephants and large numbers of other animals were feeding on them. Leaving this lagoon and sailing for another day, we founded the coastal cities named Carian Wall, Gytte, Acra, Melitta, and Arambys.

Leaving this place we arrived at the great river Lixos, which comes from Libya. On the banks nomads, the Lixites, were feeding their flocks. We stayed for some time with these people and made friends with them. Upstream from them lived the unfriendly Ethiopians, whose land is full of wild beasts and is broken up by high mountains where they say the Lixos rises. They also say that about these mountains dwell the strange-looking Troglodytes. The Lixites claim that they can run faster than horses. Taking Lixite interpreters with us we sailed alongside the desert in a southerly direction for two days, then toward the rising sun for one more day. We then found at the far end of an inlet a little island five stades in circumference. We named it Cerne and left settlers there. Judging by our journey we reckoned that it must be opposite Carthage, since we had to sail the same distance from Carthage to the Pillars of Hercules as from the Pillars of Hercules to Cerne. From there, sailing up a big river named the Chretes, we arrived at a lake in which there were three islands, all larger than Cerne. Leaving these islands, we sailed for one day and came to the end of the lake, which was overshadowed by high mountains full of savages dressed in animal skins who threw stones at us and thus prevented us from landing. From there we entered another river, which was big and wide, full of crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Then we retraced our journey back to Cerne.

From there we sailed south along a coast entirely inhabited by Ethiopians, who fled at our approach. Their language was incomprehensible even to the Lixites whom we had with us. On the last day we disembarked by some high mountains covered with trees with sweet-smelling, multicolored wood. We sailed round these mountains for two days and arrived in a huge bay on the other side of which was a plain; there we saw fires breaking out at intervals on all sides at night, both great and small. Having renewed our water supplies, we continued our voyage along the coast for five days, after which we arrived at a huge inlet, which the interpreters called the Horn of the West. There was a big island in this gulf, and in the island was a lagoon with another island. Having disembarked there, we could see nothing but forest by day, but at night many fires were seen, and we heard the sound of flutes and the beating of drums and tambourines, which made a great noise. We were struck with terror, and our soothsayers bade us leave the island.

We left in haste and sailed along by a burning land full of perfumes. Streams of fire rose from it and plunged into the sea. The land was unapproachable because of the heat. Terror-stricken, we hastened away. During four days' sailing we saw at night that the land was covered with fire. In the middle was a high flame, higher than the others, which seemed to reach the stars. By day we realized that it was a very high mountain, named the Chariot of the Gods. Leaving this place, we sailed along the burning coast for three days and came to the gulf named the Horn of the South. At the end of it was an island like the first one, with a lake in which was another island full of savages. The greater part of these were women. They had hairy bodies, and the interpreters called them Gorillas. We pursued some of the males, but we could not catch a single one because they were good climbers and they defended themselves fiercely. However, we managed to take three women. They bit and scratched their captors, whom they did not want to follow. We killed them and removed the skins to take back to Carthage. We sailed no further, being short of supplies.

Anonymous translation from Greek

Callimachus (Cyrene, 310-c. 240 B.C.E.)

Thirteen Epigrammatic Poems


I loathe the serial poem, rejoice not

in a road that many people travel,

and hate a beloved who's made the rounds.

No fountain drinks, things public disgust me.

But you, Lysanias, I thought fair, I thought fine.

No sooner said than Echo replies, "But not mine."


Kleon of Thessaly, you poor, poor thing!

By the dazzling sun, I didn't know you.

Where've you been, pathetic bag of hair and bones?

Have you caught my luck, been hit hard by heaven?

Now I get it. Euxitheos took off with you.

When you came here, you just ate him up with both eyes.


But half my soul still breathes, the other half

off with Love or Death, don't know, but it's gone.

With one of the boys again? I often said,

"Don't take him in, young men, that runaway."

Look for it at ... for someplace around there

that lovelorn condemned thing is hanging out.


Your hunter in the hills, Epikydes, tracks every hare

and the slot of every hind through frost and snow.

Show him a wounded beast, and he won't take it.

That's my way of loving: to pursue my quarry

as it runs away, and to fly right by

whatever lies in my path for the taking.


If I came to you in fun on purpose, Archinos, then a thousand apologies, but if I'm here strictly because I couldn't help myself, consider the urgency of it. Strong wine and Love compelled me. One pulled me while the other took away my sobriety. But when I came, I didn't howl about who I was or whose, but kissed the doorpost. If that's a sin, then I'm a sinner.


I swear it by the gods, there is

fire hidden under these embers.

I can't trust myself. Don't hold me.

Still waters can gnaw away at a wall.

I fear, my friend, lest the silent

creeper chase me back into love.


Menippos, I know that I'm not wealthy,

but, for god's sake, please stop telling me so.

To hear incessant bitter words pains me.

Yes, dear, this is your most unlovely side.


On the twentieth of last month, I said,

"I'll get you, Menekrates, no escape."

Today, the tenth, the ox accepts the yoke

in just twenty days. Good for Hermes! Good for me!


What an excellent charm for the lovelorn Polyphernos found! You can bet he wasn't completely unschooled, that Cyclops. The Muses make Love very thin, Philip, and learning is a kind of panacea for every ill.And I think hunger has one good to set against its evils, the radical excision of the boy-love disease. I certainly have my reasons for telling Love, "Your wings are being clipped, little guy, I'm not in the least afraid of you." For I have at home both of the charms that will treat this grave wound.


If handsome, dark Theokritos hate me, hate him

back times four, but if he love me, love him.

For surely, divine Zeus, by fair-haired Ganymede,

you were in love once, too. That's enough said.


We hadn't noticed our guest is wounded.

You saw, though, how stressed out his breathing was

when he took his third drink. And how the roses

shed their petals and fell from his wreath to the ground.

He's on fire. By god, I'm not just guessing,

but being a thief myself, I read the clues.


Kallignotos swore to Ionis that no man

or other woman would be dearer to him.

He swore, but it's true what they say about lovers'

oaths, that they never get past the gods' ears.

Now he's on fire for some boy, and the poor girl,

like a ghost town, gets no account or word.


May such a sleep be yours, Konopion,

as that you make me take by your cold doors.

May such a sleep as that your lover sleeps

be yours, bitch. You've not a dream of pity.

Neighbors show pity, but you, not a dream.

May white hair remind you of this-and soon!

Translations from Greek by George Economou

Mago (Carthage, pre-second century B.C.E.)

from De Agricultura

These things, Mago of Carthage so reported, so I will record them here ...

In buying new bulls make sure they are squarely built, with great limbs, long black and robust horns, a wide and curling brow, hairy ears, eyes and lips black, nostrils turned up and open, a long and muscular neck, ample dewlap (falling almost to the knees), breast great, forequarters vast, a spacious belly (as if always full), flanks extended, loins wide, back straight and flat (or even sunken), buttocks round, legs compact and straight (more short than long), knees not weak, tail long and bristly, hair of the body thick and short-of reddish or dark color-and a body quite soft to the touch.

On preserving pomegranates:

Seawater should be brought to a violent boil and pomegranates lowered briefly in it (tied with flax or twine) until they are discolored, and taken for three days to dry in the sun. Afterward, they should be hung in a cool place, so when they are finished and ready to be used, they should be softened in cool, fresh water for one night and the following day.... Too, the fresh fruit may be thickly kneaded in potter's clay, and when it has dried white, the fruit hung in a dark, cool place. ... These methods will preserve all fruit as well as if they were just picked.

Mago of Carthage emphasizes this significance, when at the auspicious beginning of his writings he states ...

A man who has bought land must sell his town house. That way he'll not be praying to the gods of the city more than to the deities of the country. For any man who keeps his town house nearer his heart has no need of a country estate.

Translation from a Latin version of the lost Punic by Emmett P. Tracy

Lucius Apuleius (Madaurus, now M'Daourouch, c. 123-c. 180 C.E.)

from The Golden Ass, or Metamorphoses, Book 11

[7] Immediately afterward, I awoke from sleep into a state of panic and joy. I rose quickly, disordered, and drenched in sweat. I was amazed at the clear vision of the powerful goddess in my dream. So I sprinkled myself with seawater, and eager to understand her great command, I recalled over and over the order of her instructions. Then immediately a golden sun arose, dispersing the clouds of dark night, and there a crowd filled all the streets with a triumphal, religious procession....


[8] Lo! this prelude of the great parade gradually marched along beautifully adorned in their emotions and votive displays. One masqueraded as a soldier wearing a sheath! One was girdled in a Greek cloak, made out like a hunter with sandals and a spear! Another was in gilded slippers, a silken robe, and expensive jewelry, with woven hair plaits, imitating the walk of a woman. Far off, there was another in leggings, a shield, a helmet and sword, and an emblem from the games so that you might think a gladiator had appeared. Neither was a magistrate missing-with his functionary rods and royal purple toga-nor one who reinvented himself in a cloak and scepter, woven sandals, and the bearded goatee of a philosopher. Along came a pair carrying different cane rods: one of birdlime for a bird catcher, another with hooks for a fisherman. I even saw a trained bear dressed like a woman being carried in a chair, and a monkey in a woven hat and a saffron-colored Phrygian dress like the shepherd boy, Ganymede, carrying a golden cup. There was even an ass with glued wings walking beside a crippled old man, so that one was Bellerophon and the other Pegasus (though you'd laugh at both!).


[9] Among these playful spectacles of common folk parading everywhere, there arrived the private procession of my savior goddess. And at first came the women, radiant in white garments, rejoicing in their various vestments, blooming in spring garlands, and strewing the ground with flowerlets from their bosoms along the streets where the sacred throng followed ...


[10] ... when another appeared carrying in his happy bosom the venerable effigy of my savior goddess: not in the image of a goat, or a bird, or a wild beast, or even a human itself, but by some clever invention a thing which inspired in its strangeness such fear, so far that it was an ineffable token of a more profound sanctity having to be hidden in secret. It was a little urn, shaped in splendid gold and most skillfully hollowed, with a rounded base and strange Egyptian images on its surface. Its mouth, not particularly elevated, jutted out like a beak into a long spout, and on its other side, a large handle was attached, arching into a broad curve. On top, coiled in a knot and rearing the striped swelling of a scaly neck, was a viper.


[11] Then and there approached the promised beneficence of the omnipresent goddess. The priest (carrying my fate and my very fortune!) came forward, extending in his right hand a sistrum, decorated to the order of the goddess' divine right-it was like a crown to me-oh Hercules, more than a crown! Having endured so many labors, traversed such danger, by the foresight of the great goddess I'd overcome a Fortune which most cruelly wrestled me down. And yet, impassioned in sudden ecstasy, I did not rush forth with unmerciful haste. For of course, I was scared that the solemn procession of the ceremony might be frightened by the sudden appearance of a four-footed animal, so I calmly and gradually hesitated forward, as if with human steps and a bent body, and I gently crept (truly by providence!) through the parting crowd.


[13] Then the priest, whom I was fully able to recognize, was mindful of the oracle of my dream and marveled at the accordance of the foretold offering. He stopped at once, and with his right hand he held out a garland wantonly before my mouth. I was shaking, with my beating heart endlessly throbbing, and the crown, which was interwoven with pleasant roses, was glistening, and I, hungry for what I'd been promised, in my yearning mouth eagerly devoured that gift. Nor did the divine promise deceive me: suddenly the ugly, beastly form was stripped from me. At first the naughty hair shed down, then the thick skin began to contract, the gross belly retracted, the soles of the feet shot through the hooves into toes, my hands were no longer feet but stretched out in their upright function, my extended neck shrunk, the mouth and head became round, the enormous ears went back to their pristine littleness, the bulky teeth returned to small human shape, and that which had tortured me most of all-my tail-disappeared.

The crowds were amazed. The pious ones worshiped the clear power of the supreme goddess and the splendor mirrored by the vision of my dream and the ease of my transformation with a voice both clear and consonant, and putting their hands in the sky, they bore witness to the clear beneficence of the goddess.

Translation from Latin by Emmett P. Tracy

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (Carthage, c. 160-c. 220 C.E.)

from De Pallio (The Cloak)

1.1. You who have been always leaders of Africa, men of Carthage, men of rank, men of happiness, I am glad you live in such prosperous times that you can find both the time and the pleasure of censuring clothing! This is the sort of pursuit of peace and plenty. All is well on the part of the empire and on the part of the sky.

However, in the past you too wore your clothing, tunics, differently: they were even famous for their skillful weave, harmonious coloring, and proper size. For they did not fall extravagantly over the legs or shamelessly above the knees, they did not fit shortly at the arms nor tightly at the hands. No, in a fourfold suitable form it fitted men (it was not considered easy to divide its folds with a belt). The outer garment, the pallium, itself also quadrangular, was thrown back from both sides and knit around the neck in the bit of a buckle, and so rested on the shoulders.

Its equivalent today is what is worn by the priests of Aesculapius, who has also become yours. This is the way the twin town close by used to dress, and wherever else in Africa there is a Tyrus. But as soon as the urn of worldly loss swung around and the deity favored the Romans, your twin town hastened to change on its own account. Thus it wished to salute Scipio at his landing beforehand through its prematurely Roman attire.


3.1. Animals also change, not in dress but in form. And yet for the peacock its feathers form a dress, a festive dress at that: one that has a deeper hue than all purple at its flowery neck, more golden than all edgings at its gleaming back, fanning out more than any strange robe where its tail lies down; many-colored, parti-colored, changing in color; never itself, always different, although it is always itself when it is different, bound to change color as often as it is moved.

The snake too must be mentioned, though after the peacock, for this animal also exchanges what it has been allotted, namely its skin and its age, for as soon as it senses the coming of old age, it wrings itself into a narrow spot, enters a hole, and at once leaves its skin, being scraped smooth at the very threshold. Abandoning its slough right there, revived, it then snakes its way out. Along with its scales it shakes off the years.

The hyena, if you look closely, is of an annual sex: it alternates between male and female. I keep silent about the stag, that it also controls its own age: having fed on a snake and falling sick it is rejuvenated.

Then we have the four-footed, slowly stepping, lowly, stubborn creature ... do you think I mean the Pacuvian tortoise? No, I don't. The line applies to another little animal as well, really one of medium size, but with a great name. If you hear about a "chameleon" without any knowledge of it, you will fear something bigger than a lion. But once you come across one, generally in a vineyard, lying in its entirety under a vine foliage, you will laugh right away at the boldness of its name, which is Greek at that. For its body contains no moisture, unlike much smaller creatures.

. . .

Much needed to be said to arrive well-prepared at man. Whatever you regard as his beginnings, by all means he was naked and undressed when he was fashioned by his maker. It was only later that he grasped wisdom, prematurely, before he was entitled to it. Then and there he hastened to cover the part of his new body not yet meant for shame: for the time being he veiled it with fig leaves. Later, when he was exiled from his birthplace because he had sinned, he was shown into the world, as if into a mine, clad in a skin.

But these are mysteries for not all to know. Come, show us something of yours, a story told by the Egyptians, listed by Alexander, read by his mother, a story about the time of Osiris, when Ammon, rich in sheep, made his way from here to Africa.

Translation from Latin by Vincent Hunink

from Scorpiace (The Scorpion)

From a little scorpion the land emits great evil. As many poisons, as many types, as much ruin, as many species, as much pain, as many colors. Nicander writes about it and depicts it well.

Yet of all things, the movement of its tail (the so-called coda, which extends from behind the body and strikes) inflicts the most pain. So this is the scorpion: its chain of knots, from a thin, poisonous vein, rising up in an arc of rage, and drawing at its height a barbed spear like the war-plan of a catapult.

For this reason the war machine with retracted spears is also called a scorpion. Its sting is also an open vein, and it volleys venom into the wound as it pierces. It's well known the dangerous season is summer. In the south and southwest winds, this ferocity is at work. In terms of remedies, natural things appear most effective; so too magic works; there's a cure by knife and potion. Some, who hope to swiftly avoid pain, drink an immunization, but sex keeps it from working, and then immediately you're at risk again.

Translation from Latin by Emmett P. Tracy

Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus (Carthage, early third century-258 C.E.)

from Epistle to Donatus, 1.1

You rightly chastise me, dearest Donatus, though I remember myself what I've promised. And now seems precisely the right time to answer your letter, as the mild grape-harvest season and the appointed peace of the ending year allow an unclenched mind to withdraw in earnest reflection. The place fits the season. The pleasant beauty of the gardens becomes the gentle breezes of sweet autumn, soothing and nourishing the senses. For here, one can lead the delightful day in conversation and teach, by learned tales, some sacred sayings to the heart's conscience.

And just so any indecent onlooker might not interrupt our conversation or wild clamor of the household deafen our talk, let us seek this place-the neighboring seclusion grants us solitude-just as the wild drooping of the vines in hanging knots crawls through thick canes, and a leafy shelter has made us a vined colonnade. Rightly, we give our ears this reflection, and while looking into the groves and vineyards, pleasing the eyes with delightful scenes, at once the act of listening instructs our mind, and our eyes nourish it: and yet now your only grace, your only care, is our discourse. Rejecting the allure of pleasant scenes, you have fixed your eyes upon me: with your mouth, with your mind, you are every part the listener, with the love with which you love.

Translation from Latin by Emmett P. Tracy

Lucius Lactantius (Cirta?, c. 240-Trier?, c. 320 C.E.)

fromDe Ave Phoenice

When the Phoenix has finished a thousand years of life

(and long lengths of time become painful to her),

she flees her sweet, familiar nest of the grove

and renews her faded existence in time's turning spaces;

as when the sanctity of the place-in her passion for rebirth-

has been relinquished, then she seeks this world

where Death holds reign; and into Syria

(to which she proffered, like an ancient author,

the name Phoenicia) she directs her swift flight.

Toward its deserts, untouched, and the tranquil sacred grove

in sequestered woods, lurking beneath the forest

and high on the summit, she makes her way to the lofty palm

(which also bears the Greek name Phoenix)

into which no hurtful living creature, or slithering serpent

or any preying bird, can follow. Then Aeolus

confines the winds in vaulted grottoes (so they may

not violate the radiant air, nor the dense clouds

of a South Wind drive off the Sun through the emptiness

of the sky and harm the bird), as there she builds

for herself some nest or sepulcher: for she dies

to live, creating herself from herself, and gathers

juices and scents from the divine wood

which the Assyrians harvest, and wealthy Arabs

(like those picked by the races of Pygmaeans

or Indians or produced in their soft bosom of Sabaean

farmlands). So the Phoenix gathers cinnamon

and the odor of amomum and balsam's mixed leaf,

nor is a stem of sweet cassia absent or fragrant acanthus.

To all this, she adds tender ears of ripe nard and

mixes in the power of myrrh from you, Panacaea.

Then immediately in her nest she contracts her changing

body and on her pyre of life anoints her shriveled limbs:

so at last, upon her own funeral pyre, the spirit

in her and around her and above her inspires her to die.

Translation from Latin by Emmett P. Tracy

Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis (Saint Augustine) (Thagaste, 354-Hippo, 430 C.E.)

from Confessions

Book 3

I came to Carthage. Everywhere a medley of shameful loves was clamoring around me. I wasn't yet capable of loving, and yet I loved to love, and with more hidden desire I hated that I was less desirous. I was looking for what I could love, loving love, and I despised surety and a path free of danger. It was all because I was hungry from within, for more internal foods, for you-my God-though I hungered not with that hunger. No, I was without the desire for incorruptible nourishments. Yet I was not satisfied with them, rather more empty, more sick. Because of this, I was not rightly well in my soul, and it exposed itself as ulcerous to the world, piteously desirous to be tickled by the touch of the senses. For if the senses had no soul, they would not be so loved. To love and be loved was sweet to me, better yet if I might have taken pleasure in the body of a lover.

And so I was polluting the vein of friendship with the filth of my desires. I was darkening its purity with the hell of my lust. And yet I wanted to be disgraceful and dishonorable, handsome and cosmopolitan, all with such copious vanity. Indeed I fell in love, and I was yearning to be trapped by it. My God, my Compassion, with how much poison you inflicted that charm on me with all your goodness. Because I was loved, I arrived secretly at the bond of pleasuring. I was happy being bound to those wretched bonds, though I might be scourged with the passionate, cruel switch of jealousy and suspicions and fears and angers and arguments.

Book 8

I collapsed beneath a fig tree, I can't recall how, and unleashed my tears. My eyes, as rivers, burst forth, worthy of your sacrifice, Lord, and though not with these words, but with these feelings, I said to you, "Even you, Lord, forever? Forever, Lord, will you be angry forever? Will you be mindful of my prior sins?" (Indeed I was feeling still attached to them). I cast out such miserable words: "How long, how long? Tomorrow, even tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour end my disgrace?" So I spoke, weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart.

Yet then I heard a voice from a nearby house singing songs in constant repetition, whether a boy or girl, I can't recall: "Pick up, read; pick up, read." At once my expression changed; I began to think: were children likely to sing such things while playing? I had never heard it anywhere. So I rose, suppressing the passion of my tears, and interpreting it as nothing other than a divine commandment to take a book and read the first chapter I might find. Indeed, I had heard of Antony, as he chanced upon a reading from the Gospels, and was chastised, as though what he was reading was speaking directly to him: "Go, sell everything, sell all you have, give it to the poor, and you will have a trove in heaven; come, follow me"; and through such miracles immediately Antony was converted to you, Lord.

So I went back to that place where Alypius sat, for there I had placed the book of the apostles when I had gotten up. I took it. I opened it and read it in silence, that chapter which my eyes had first cast upon: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in laziness and immodesty, not in contention and jealousy, but as one must bear you, Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in desire. I read no more. There was no need. At once, at the end of the sentence, as if by a light of freedom infused into my heart, all shades of doubt disappeared.

from De Doctrina Christiana, Book 4

3.40. So, as children do not grow to speak other than by learning the speech of speakers, then why are orators not able to develop the art of oratory by reading and listening to the orations of orators and, as much as possible, by imitating them? Why not? Do we not experience it? For we know many more who are eloquent without the rules of rhetoricians than those who have learned them, and yet there is none excellent in orations and declamations without having read and listened. ...

27.1. The life of a writer holds greater weight than the grandeur of his diction. For he who speaks wisely and eloquently yet lives miserably teaches the multitudes eager for learning while his own soul is useless.

from De fide rerum invisibilium

"But," they say, "those things are in the mind which we can only discern in the mind and which we have no power to understand through the eyes of the body. But you say that we should believe in them, though you don't show them to us so we might see them, nor are they within our own minds, so that we can think and see them." This they say as though one were ordered to believe, as if a thing which he can see placed before him is to be believed. Yet surely we ought to believe in certain temporal things which we cannot see so that we may be worthy of seeing eternal things which we believe.

from Psalmus contra partem Donati

All you who celebrate peace, now proclaim the truth.


An abundance of sins disturbs our brothers.

For this, Our Lord wanted to forewarn us

and likened the kingdom of heaven to a sea-cast net

gathering numerous fish, everywhere, all species,

and dragging them toward the shore, separating them:

the good ones in buckets, the bad ones released.

Whoever knows the gospels, fearfully knows

that the net is the church, the age is the sea,

and a righteous race of fish has been mixed with sinners.

The end of the age is the shore, and it is time for separation.

Those who broke the nets were content with the sea.

The buckets, which hold the holy, can no longer be reached.


All you who celebrate peace, now proclaim the truth.

Translations from Latin by Emmett P. Tracy

Blossius Aemilius Dracontius (Carthage, c. 455-c. 505 C.E.)

The Chariot of Venus

Suddenly Cypris and her dove-drawn chariot

descended from the quarter where the fiery night

wheels its constellations over southern shores.

Her purple doves wore bridles woven out of flowers,

a red rose linked the gently undulating traces,

the birds' beautiful yoke was lilies mixed with roses.

She flicked a purple whip to keep the team on course.

She steered the wing beats; she controlled the feathered oars.

Translation from Latin by Aaron Poochigian

De Mensibus (Months)

January. The official ensigns of the court proffer sacred honors, exchanging new names in the books of the festival calendar. February. The Sun, already in blows, releases the ices of winter, as buds break in swollen shells on the vine. March. The rights of Mars stir. In ranks, they threaten cruel wars to rouse the troops and shear the young vines with the scythe. April. After chaos recedes, the world's young fruits rejoice. The times of night are weighed out with the light of day. May. The bejeweled fields show signs of spring through infinite colors; the sweet-smelling turf is constellated in divine flowers. June. With the armed harvests swaying like flaxen grain, the farmer reclaims his debt, and the sailor's seas swell. July. The damp dwelling of the Moon gives dry harvests and draws off the springwaters, so that the Nile floods. August. August holds the warm halls of the Sun, but the name of Caesar applies: it offers ripe fruit, as open ground wears away the dry grain. September. Autumn burns partly in multicolored vines, the wine promising the farmers a reward for their labor. October. The drunken flow is brought forth by the farmers, dancing, and the joyful country life is properly humbled in wine. November. Lazy winter, returning, grows numb, as the olive tree ripens and crops seize the ground which has replenished with interest. December. The cold midwinter's snowing loads the lofty mountains in frost, and glacial chill suckles its lambs, nursing under their mothers.

The Origin of Roses

Venus, nurturing goddess, was stricken while avoiding Mars-

and treading barefoot upon fields of flowers

where through placid grasses the profane thorn crept,

for at once, that thorn tore her sole a delicate blow

and poured out blood. The thorn was clothed in red

and though committing the crime, it kept the honor

of her fragrance. So all thickets through the golden fields

are red with blood, and the thornbush makes holy

the heavens. What benefit then, Venus, was it to have fled

bloody Mars when your foot was drenched bloodred?

And rosy-cheeked Cytherea, do you punish these crimes

so that the fiery beauty may hide the long-lasting thorn?

So it was fitting too for the goddess to have been in pain,

as it is with the power of love: as it may avenge the wounds

of love with the honor of affection.

Translations from Latin by Emmett P. Tracy

Luxorius (Carthage, sixth century C.E.)

[They say, that when the fierce bear gives birth ...]

They say, that when the fierce bear gives birth, she gently

forms her baby with her mouth,

shines and polishes its pliant, shapeless body

with her lips and, with pious devotion,

once more, tenderly, creates another generation.


The way a master craftsman sculpts

a soft clay limb into life, she molds the flesh

of her exhausted, battered whelp

into something promising.


Nature has surrendered its good duty

to a loving creature-who licks things into shape

first with her uterus, and then

with her wise tongue.

Premature Chariot

You always shoot out first and never last, Vico,

because you need to get hold of that part

you've softened with your pitiful, constant stroking.

The only time you're able to, somehow, hold

your horses is when you let the sly guy,

who's paid you off, come from behind.

Translations from Latin by Art Bec