Of Dionysos, Sem’le’s famous son,
I sing, who came once, looking like a youth,
atop a headland over fruitless sea,
so fine! His lovely hair all down his neck,
so dark! A purple cloak about his muscled frame!
A well-benched fleet Tyrrhenian pirates’ ship
came fast upon the wine-dark sea. Their fate
was dark. On seeing him each nodded to the next,
Then they jumped out and right away they seized
him, thrilled to force him up into their ship.
A son he seemed of god-groomed kings. They sought
to tie him up with painful ropes – the bonds
broke free, the withes fell altogether off
his hands and feet. And still he smiling sat
with deep dark eyes. At once the helmsman knew,
cried out to all his comrade crew, and said,
“Possessed! You’ve grabbed and bound some god who’s strong.
No well-made ship can hold this one for long!
For Zeus it is, Apollo with his silver-bow,
or else Poseidon. He’s not like a man,
not mortal but divine, Olympian.
Come now, let’s put him out on this dark shore
right now. Don’t touch him, or, irate, he’ll bring
us grievous winds, and he’ll incite great storms.”
That’s what he said. The captain then rebuked him,
“You’re mad! Look to the breeze and hoist the sail!
Haul on the ropes! And we’ll take care of him!
He must be bound for Cyprus, Egypt, or
the ends of earth or further yet. He’s sure
to name his friends, admit his wealth, his kin.
Some god has surely given him to us.”
He spoke, then ordered mast and sail raised;
wind filled the canvas; sailors pulled lines taut;
but soon unfolded marvels on that ship,
for first sweet fragrant wine swamped all the deck
of that black ship. Ambrosial fragrance rose.
Amazement seized the sailors when they saw.
Then sudden grapevines grew from highest sail,
in clusters grapes hung down on every side.
And then dark ivy twined about the mast,
with blossoms bursting, lovely berries, too.
Each thole was wreathed about. On seeing this
the crew called , “Helmsman, bring our ship to shore!”
No god was high on deck; a lion fierce
now loudly roared; he made also a bear
with shaggy neck midship that glowered huge.
Sure signs enough. The lion on the deck
in fury glared. They fled back to the stern
about the helmsman where they stood
amazed in thought. The lion sprang and seized
the captain. Fleeing their dark fate, they leaped
into the holy sea – what things they’d seen! –
and dolphins they became. The helmsman, though,
got mercy and was held and blessed with words:
“Take heart, my man, for you are dear to me.
Loud-shouting Dionysos is your friend
whom Cadmus’ Sem’le bore in love with Zeus.”
I hail the fair-faced Sem’le’s son! Without
your aid no one can weave sweet words in song.