Het grafmonument van Quintus Sulpicius Maximus

Pia de Jong schrijft vanuit Princeton, New Jersey, voor NRC Handelsblad. Afgelopen 7 mei 2018 beschreef ze het verhaal van Quintus Sulpicius Maximus en hoe zijn ouders hem eerden op zijn grafsteen.

In het jaar 94 na Christus deed Quintus mee aan een literaire wedstrijd met een Grieks gedicht, ten overstaande van zevenduizend mensen, onder wie ook keizer Domitianus. Het opschrift op de grafsteen luidt: “Hier rust Quintus Sulpicius Maximus, een Romeinse jongeman die maar elf jaar, vijf maanden en twaalf dagen leefde. Hij stierf nadat hij had deelgenomen aan een poëziewedstrijd voor volwassenen.”

De hele column van Pia de Jong is op de website van NRC te lezen.

Het gedicht van Quintus gedicht, in hexameters, staat in zijn geheel gegraveerd op de grafsteen. Het gaat over de goden op de Olympus – Zeus, Rhea, Demeter – en hun snode plannen.

Er is een Engelse vertaling van het gedicht, ook te lezen via deze link:

The light-bearing charioteer of our well-ordered world,
Thee alone did the gods, lords of heaven, appoint.
Why then, pray, thy heedless son bring to the vault of Olympus,
And thy charger’s ineffable swiftness surrender to him,
Not even in secret afraid of my power?
False to the gods this folly of thine. Now whither away
Fled young Phaethon’s car? Thy torch’s unquenchable fire,
Why up to my throne did it flare ? why through the wide world
And the circling stars swept thy stifling heat ?
Old Ocean raised his suppliant hands to heaven,
What stream lamented not its dwindling course ?
The harvests on the fruitful ground lay sear,
And every swain leaned on his scythe and mourned his parching sheaves,
In vain he sowed the ungracious soil ; in vain
He yoked his oxen to his crooked plow. Till evening star
Behind his weary oxen, bent his manly limbs.
All lands made moan for him, that heedless boy,
And I at last did quench his glowing flame.
Weep not the lad’s dire fate, but for thy world take thought
Lest thou shouldst find the flaming weapon from my hand too fierce for thee.
Mark well the mind of heaven-dwelling Zeus.
By Rhea’s self, Olympus never saw a madder prank ;
My world, thy trust, no schoolboy’s task, to rule !
Let be the past ; the future guard with greater care.
Unworthy of his sire, thy son. He wot not of thy chargers’ boundless strength,
Nor had he skill to guide the reins, thy task stupendous.
Come now, return to earth again, lest unto other hands be given
Thy vaunted task, the fleeting pleasures of thy toilsome round.
Thou only, hastening on with flaming wheels,
All that fair way from East to West didst pass.
To thee this trust I gave, thy ceaseless vaunt.
Take pity on the earth and all the star-bright world,
And through Olympus hold thy way again.
Such tasks are god-befitting, such our rightful sphere.
Thy gracious light again, oh, god, take up. — Thy son hath ravaged wide. —
And do thou then thyself the vault illimitable traverse,
Half way ‘twixt heaven above and earth beneath.
For thus thy fires will light the sons of Uranus,
And mortal prayers be ever free from plaint.
Thus shalt thou find the heart of Zeus o’ersoft to pardon thee.
But if some other purpose hold thee, reckless one,
The stars themselves be witness, that my flaming bolt
With swift-winged power shall utterly destroy alike the bodies of thy steeds
and of thy son.



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