Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: A STRAIN OF SODOM. - Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 4: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Part First and Second
2.: A STRAIN OF SODOM. - A. Cleveland Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 4: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Part First and Second 
Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 4: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Part First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Revised and Chronologically arranged with brief prefaces and occasional notes by A. Cleveland Coxe (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885).
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A STRAIN OF SODOM.
- Already had Almighty God wiped off
- By vengeful flood (with waters all conjoined
- Which heaven discharged on earth and the sea’s plain
- Outspued) the times of the primeval age:
- 5Had pledged Himself, while nether air should bring
- The winters in their course, ne’er to decree,
- By liquid ruin, retribution’s due;
- And had assigned, to curb the rains, the bow
- Of many hues, sealing the clouds with band
- 10Of purple and of green, Iris its name,
- The rain-clouds’ proper baldric.
- But alike
- With mankind’s second race impiety
- Revives, and a new age of ill once more
- Shoots forth; allotted now no more to showers
- 15For ruin, but to fires: thus did the land
- Of Sodom earn to be by glowing dews
- Upburnt, and typically thus portend
- The future end. There wild voluptuousness
- (Modesty’s foe) stood in the room of law;
- 20Which prescient guest would shun, and sooner choose
- At Scythian or Busirian altar’s foot
- ’Mid sacred rites to die, and, slaughtered, pour
- His blood to Bebryx, or to satiate
- Libyan palæstras, or assume new forms
- 25By virtue of Circæan cups, than lose
- His outraged sex in Sodom.
- At heaven’s gate
- There knocked for vengeance marriages commixt
- With equal incest common ’mong a race
- By nature rebels ’gainst themselves; and hurts
- 30Done to man’s name and person equally.
- But God, forewatching all things, at fix’d time
- Doth judge the unjust; with patience tarrying
- The hour when crime’s ripe age—not any force
- Of wrath impetuous—shall have circumscribed
- 35The space for waiting.
- Now at length the day
- Of vengeance was at hand. Sent from the host
- Angelical, two, youths in form, who both
- Were ministering spirits, carrying
- The Lord’s divine commissions, come beneath
- 40The walls of Sodom. There was dwelling Lot,
- A transplantation from a pious stock;
- Wise, and a practiser of righteousness,
- He was the only one to think on God:
- As oft a fruitful tree is wont to lurk,
- 45Guest-like, in forests wild. He, sitting then
- Before the gate (for the celestials scarce
- Had reached the ramparts), though he knew not them
- Divine, accosts them unsolicited,
- Invites, and with ancestral honour greets;
- 50And offers them, preparing to abide
- Abroad, a hospice. By repeated prayers
- He wins them; and then ranges studiously
- The sacred pledges on his board, and quits
- His friends with courteous offices. The night
- 55Had brought repose: alternate dawn had chased
- The night, and Sodom with her shameful law
- Make uproar at the doors. Lot, suppliantwise,
- Withstands: “Young men, let not your newfed lust
- Enkindle you to violate this youth!
- 60Whither is passion’s seed inviting you?
- To what vain end your lust? For such an end
- No creatures wed: not such as haunt the fens;
- Not stall-fed cattle; not the gaping brood
- Subaqueous; nor they which, modulant
- 65On pinions, hang suspended near the clouds;
- Nor they which with forth-stretchèd body creep
- Over earth’s face. To conjugal delight
- Each kind its kind doth owe: but female still
- To all is wife; nor is there one that has
- 70A mother save a female one. Yet now,
- If youthful vigour holds it right to waste
- The flower of modesty, I have within
- Two daughters of a nuptial age, in whom
- Virginity is swelling in its bloom,
- 75Already ripe for harvest—a desire
- Worthy of men—which let your pleasure reap!
- Myself their sire, I yield them; and will pay,
- For my guests’ sake, the forfeit of my grief!”
- Answered the mob insane: “And who art thou?
- 80And what? and whence? to lord it over us,
- And to expound us laws? Shall foreigner
- Rule Sodom, and hurl threats? Now, then, thyself
- For daughters and for guests shalt sate our greed!
- One shall suffice for all!” So said, so done:
- 85The frantic mob delays not. As, whene’er
- A turbid torrent rolls with wintry tide,
- And rushes at one speed through countless streams
- Of rivers, if, just where it forks, some tree
- Meets the swift waves (not long to stand, save while
- 90By her root’s force she shall avail to oppose
- Her tufty obstacles), when gradually
- Her hold upon the underminèd soil
- Is failing, with her barèd stem she hangs,
- And, with uncertain heavings to and fro,
- 95Defers her certain fall; not otherwise
- Lot in the mid-whirl of the dizzy mob
- Kept nodding, now almost o’ercome. But power
- Divine brings succour: the angelic youths,
- Snatching him from the threshold, to his roof
- 100Restore him; but upon the spot they mulct
- Of sight the mob insane in open day,—
- Fit augury of coming penalties!
- Then they unlock the just decrees of God:
- That penalty condign from heaven will fall
- 105On Sodom; that himself had merited
- Safety upon the count of righteousness.
- “Gird thee, then, up to hasten hence thy flight,
- And with thee to lead out what family
- Thou hast: already we are bringing on
- 110Destruction o’er the city.” Lot with speed
- Speaks to his sons-in-law; but their hard heart
- Scorned to believe the warning, and at fear
- Laughed. At what time the light attempts to climb
- The darkness, and heaven’s face wears double hue
- 115From night and day, the youthful visitants
- Were instant to outlead from Sodoma
- The race Chaldæan, and the righteous house
- Consign to safety: “Ho! come, Lot! arise,
- And take thy yokefellow and daughters twain,
- 120And hence, beyond the boundaries be gone,
- Preventing Sodom’s penalties!” And eke
- With friendly hands they lead them trembling forth,
- And then their final mandates give: “Save, Lot,
- Thy life, lest thou perchance should will to turn
- 125Thy retroverted gaze behind, or stay
- The step once taken: to the mountain speed!”
- Lot feared to creep the heights with tardy step,
- Lest the celestial wrath-fires should o’ertake
- And whelm him: therefore he essays to crave
- 130Some other ports; a city small, to wit,
- Which opposite he had espied. “Hereto,”
- He said, “I speed my flight: scarce with its walls
- ’Tis visible; nor is it far, nor great.”
- They, favouring his prayer, safety assured
- 135To him and to the city; whence the spot
- Is known in speech barbaric by the name
- Segor. Lot enters Segor while the sun
- Is rising, the last sun, which glowing bears
- To Sodom conflagration; for his rays
- 140He had armed all with fire: beneath him spreads
- An emulous gloom, which seeks to intercept
- The light; and clouds combine to interweave
- Their smoky globes with the confusèd sky:
- Down pours a novel shower: the ether seethes
- 145With sulphur mixt with blazing flames: the air
- Crackles with liquid heats exust. From hence
- The fable has an echo of the truth
- Amid its false, that the sun’s progeny
- Would drive his father’s team; but nought availed
- 150The giddy boy to curb the haughty steeds
- Of fire: so blazed our orb: then lightning reft
- The lawless charioteer, and bitter plaint
- Transformed his sisters. Let Eridanus
- See to it, if one poplar on his banks
- 155Whitens, or any bird dons plumage there
- Whose note old age makes mellow!
- Here they mourn
- O’er miracles of metamorphosis
- Of other sort. For, partner of Lot’s flight,
- His wife (ah me, for woman! even then
- 160Intolerant of law!) alone turned back
- At the unearthly murmurs of the sky)
- Her daring eyes, but bootlessly: not doomed
- To utter what she saw! and then and there
- Changed into brittle salt, herself her tomb
- 165She stood, herself an image of herself,
- Keeping an incorporeal form: and still
- In her unsheltered station ’neath the heaven
- Dures she, by rains unmelted, by decay
- And winds unwasted; nay, if some range hand
- 170Deface her form, forthwith from her own store
- Her wounds she doth repair. Still is she said
- To live, and, ’mid her corporal change, discharge
- With wonted blood her sex’s monthly dues.
- Gone are the men of Sodom; gone the glare
- 175Of their unhallowed ramparts; all the house
- Inhospitable, with its lords, is gone:
- The champaign is one pyre; here embers rough
- And black, here ash-heaps with hoar mould, mark out
- The conflagration’s course: evanishèd
- 180Is all that old fertility which Lot,
- Seeing outspread before him, . . .
- . . . . . . . .
- No ploughman spends his fruitless toil on glebes
- Pitchy with soot: or if some acres there,
- But half consumed, still strive to emulate
- 185Autumn’s glad wealth, pears, peaches, and all fruits
- Promise themselves full easely to the eye
- In fairest bloom, until the plucker’s hand
- Is on them: then forthwith the seeming fruit
- Crumbles to dust’neath the bewraying touch,
- 190And turns to embers vain.
- Thus, therefore (sky
- And earth entombed alike), not e’en the sea
- Lives there: the quiet of that quiet sea
- Is death! —a sea which no wave animates
- Through its anhealant volumes; which beneath
- 195Its native Auster sighs not anywhere;
- Which cannot from its depths one scaly race,
- Or with smooth skin or cork-like fence encased,
- Produce, or curlèd shell in single valve
- Or double fold enclosed. Bitumen there
- 200(The sooty reek of sea exust) alone,
- With its own crop, a spurious harvest yields;
- Which ’neath the stagnant surface vivid heat
- From seething mass of sulphur and of brine
- Maturing tempers, making earth cohere
- 205Into a pitch marine. At season due
- The heated water’s fatty ooze is borne
- Up to the surface; and with foamy flakes
- Over the level top a tawny skin
- Is woven. They whose function is to catch
- 210That ware put to, tilting their smooth skin down
- With balance of their sides, to teach the film,
- Once o’er the gunnel, to float in: for, lo!
- Raising itself spontaneous, it will swim
- Up to the edge of the unmoving craft;
- 215And will, when pressed, for guerdon large, ensure
- Immunity from the defiling touch
- Of weft which female monthly efflux clothes.
- Behold another portent notable,
- Fruit of that sea’s disaster: all things cast
- 220Therein do swim: gone is its native power
- For sinking bodies: if, in fine, you launch
- A torch’s lightsome hull (where spirit serves
- For fire) therein, the apex of the flame
- Will act as sail; put out the flame, and ’neath
- 225The waters will the light’s wreckt ruin go!
- Such Sodom’s and Gomorrah’s penalties,
- For ages sealed as signs before the eyes
- Of unjust nations, whose obdurate hearts
- God’s fear have quite forsaken, will them teach
- 230To reverence heaven-sanctioned rights, and lift
- Their gaze unto one only Lord of all.
See Gen. ix. 21, 22, x. 8-17.
Comp. 2 Pet. iii. 5-14.
The expression, “sinners against their own souls,” in Num. xvi. 38—where, however, the LXX have a very different version—may be compared with this; as likewise Prov. viii. 36.
Whether the above be the sense of this most obscure triplet I will not presume to determine. It is at least (I hope) intelligible sense. But that the reader may judge for himself whether he can offer any better, I subjoin the lines, which form a sentence alone, and therefore can be judged of without their context:—
- “Tempore sed certo Deus omnia prospectulatus,
- Judicat injustos, patiens ubi criminis ætas
- Cessandi spatium vis nulla coëgerit iræ.”
Comp. Heb. i. 14. It may be as well here to inform the reader once for all that prosody as well as syntax is repeatedly set at defiance in these metrical fragments; and hence, of course, arise some of the chief difficulties in dealing with them.
“Divinos;” i.e., apparently “superhuman,” as everything heavenly is.
Of hospitality—bread and salt, etc.
“Mensa;” but perhaps “mensæ” may be suggested—“the sacred pledges of the board.”
“Dispungit,” which is the only verb in the sentence, and refers both to pia pignora and to amicos. I use “quit” in the sense in which we speak of “quitting a debtor,” i.e., giving him his full due; but the two lines are very hard, and present (as in the case of those before quoted) a jumble of words without grammar. “pia pignora mensa Officiisque probis studio dispungit amicos,” which may be somewhat more literally rendered than in our text, thus: “he zealously discharges” (i.e., fulfils) “his sacred pledges” (i.e., the promised hospitality which he had offered them) “with (a generous) board, and discharges” (i.e., fulfils his obligations to) “his friends with honourable courtesies.”
Altera = alterna. But the statement differs from Gen. xix. 4.
“Istam juventam,” i.e., the two “juvenes” (ver. 31) within.
“Fas” = ὅσιον, morally right; distinct from “jus” or “licitum.”
i.e., Lot’s race or family, which had come from “Ur of the Chaldees.” See Gen. xi. 26, 27, 28.
I use “preventing” in its now unusual sense of “anticipating the arrival of.”
Σηγώρ in the LXX., “Zoar” in Eng. ver.
“Simul exoritur sol.” But both the LXX. and the Eng. ver. say the sun was risen when Lot entered the city.
So Oehler and Migne. But perhaps we may alter the pointing slightly, and read:—
- “Down pours a novel shower, sulphur mixt
- With blazing flames: the ether seethes: the air
- Crackles with liquid heats exust.”
The story of Phaëthon and his fate is told in Ov., Met., ii. 1-399, which may be compared with the present piece. His two sisters were transformed into white poplars, according to some; alders, according to others. See Virg., Æn., x. 190 sqq., Ec., vi. 62 sqq. His half-brother (Cycnus or Cygnus) was turned into a swan: and the scene of these transformations is laid by Ovid on the banks of the Eridanus (the Po). But the fable is variously told; and it has been suggested that the groundwork of it is to be found rather in the still-standing of the sun recorded in Joshua.
i.e., as she had been before in the case of Eve. See Gen. iii. 1 sqq.
I have hazarded the bold conjecture—which I see others (Pamelius at all events) had hazarded before me—that “feritas” is used by our author as = “fertilitas.” The word, of course, is very incorrectly formed etymologically, but etymology is not our author’s forte apparently. It will also be seen that there is seemingly a gap at this point, or else some enormous mistake, in the mss. An attempt has been made (see Migne) to correct it, but not a very satisfactory one. For the common reading, which gives two lines,
- “Occidit illa prior feritas, quam prospiciens Loth
- Nullus arat frustra piceas fuligine glebas,”
which are evidently entirely unconnected with one another, it is proposed to read,
- “Occidit illa prior feritas, quam prospiciens Loth,
- Deseruisse pii fertur commercia fratris
- Nullus arat,” etc.
This use of “fratris” in a wide sense may be justified from Gen. xiii. 8 (to which passage, with its immediate context, there seems to be a reference, whether we adopt the proposed correction or no), and similar passages in Holy Writ. But the transition is still abrupt to the “nullus arat,” etc.; and I prefer to leave the passage as it is, without attempting to supply the biatus.
This use of “easely” as a dissyllable is justifiable from Spenser.
This seems to be the sense, but the Latin is somewhat strange: “mors est maris illa quieti,” i.e., illa (quies) maris quieti mors est. The opening lines of “Jonah” (above) should be compared with this passage and its context.
Inque picem dat terræ hærere marinam.
“Pressum” (Oehler): “pretium” (Migne): “it will yield a prize, namely, that,” etc.
Oehler’s pointing is disregarded.
“De cælo jura tueri;” possibly “to look for laws from heaven.”