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Title/Paratext] "[Prose translation by J. R. [...]" H.W. Starr/J.R. Hendrickson, 1966.
"[Prose translation by J. R. Hendrickson:]
"The Moon is inhabited"
While Night, not without her retinue, urges her steeds on through the dewy air and moves the stars in their silent circle, be, O Muse, my aid—the youngest, but not to be disowned by any of your sisters. For you the portals of the lofty sky are open; you behold the stars, and neither their numbers nor their names are unknown to you. Come hither to my aid, Goddess; sweet it is to enjoy the liquid Spring under cloudless skies and to wander over the silent plain. Rather say it would be sweet to enjoy the Spring if only you, acquiescent to my prayer, would be my companion and stroll with me in the cool darkness.
Surely it is not to be imagined that these orbs, these lofty ornaments of the firmament, the jewels of the night, shine only for us and reveal themselves only to the eyes of men—mere ornamented ceilings of our world, giant stage-settings, the curtains of a vast theatre. Oh, who will give me wings to mount in wonder above the steeps of the upper air, who will grant me the privilege of beholding the vaulted arch from nearer by—at least as far as you, from whom a softer light flows and reveals the fields, a paler day, lightening gloomy shadows?
So I; in reply the smiling goddess thus began: No need of wings is here to enable us to seek those lofty realms together; rather, my son, learn how to draw the moon down from heaven. And do not believe that you must have recourse to magic arts or Thessalian incantations; a new Endymion, you shall behold Phoebe's self descending; of her own free will she shall present herself to you—seen before your very eyes, and larger than you have ever known her.
Just apply yourself to the little tube (you have reached a good position and are looking aloft from a hillock); as soon as you enter the bottom of the tube with gaze thus sharpened, the lofty mansions of the sky will be revealed. Instantly, when you have ventured to gaze upon the realms of the moon, you will walk upon the earth but place your head among the clouds.
Now look! You see Phoebe taking her place in the circle of glass, and an ocean and straits thickly sown with many lands. The ocean is revealed, although it hides its dark surface in a dimly-lit mist; it shrinks away and tries to conceal itself from the eyes of anyone who looks at it; indeed, it absorbs all the light of the sun on the open sea, thirsting for his beams and drinking in long streamers of fire. But from the straits, which, variegated with shining spots, interweave the dark blue reaches with gold, many an island protrudes, with lofty spine and beaches lying in front of rocks; for, you see, a freer nature is given to them, and they do not so completely absorb the clear light; rather, they twist aside the shafts of day and teach the flames to turn back.
From your vantage point you can see long tracts, lands lying in a gleaming row, and shining mountains rearing their heights aloft—mountains such as Rhodope looks up to and even Ossa with its snow-clad summit. Then, down below, caves fashioned out of beetling crags look black, because of the shade of the cliffs and the shadows cast by groves of trees.
That world does not lack dew, nor its own kind of clouds, nor congealing cold, nor rain welcome to plants. In these lands too the fabled daughter of Thaumas glows with painted bow, and the rosy face of Aurora, and its own twilight glows in its sky.
Can you believe that a world so vast lacks some kind of inhabitants? These beings till their fields and found cities of their own. No doubt, too, they wage war, and when they are victorious celebrate triumphs: here too glory has its fit reward. Fear and love and mortal chances affect the minds of these creatures. Moreover, just as at this very moment it pleases us to let our eyes traverse the fields and shining lands of the moon, and its deep, dark sea; so likewise must ardent excitement move them when the golden orb, our greater earth, presents itself in a cloudless sky. Surely then they must observe every sea, the whole body of the earth, and the nations that live under either pole; and some tireless creature watches through the night, gazing at the fires of the summer sky, and wearies the heavens with his searching. Presently the Gauls appear, then wide-spreading Germany rises into view, and white-topped father Apenninus towers aloft; finally, behold! Look to the north! tiny England, no bigger than a beauty spot (although brighter far than all other lands), offers its shores to view. Straightway throngs of princes come to see this lovely radiance, this shining dot, and continue looking far into the night; and each one vies eagerly to distinguish it with his name. It may well be, too, that some far-distant tyrant in the world of the moon calls himself master, and swaggers in our palace.
I could tell of other lands warmed by the nearer sun, and of still others where the warmth of the sun is feeble; although they have a thronging chorus of moons, they have a dearth of the light of Phoebus, even in his weakened state. And I would do so, if my sister, who is planning to reveal these same things in adventurous song, were not already striking her lyre and beginning her prelude.
Nevertheless I will not keep silent about those words of praise that are justly mine, nor about the deeds long since inscribed in the book of fate, prophecies of the fame of our native land. The time will come when you will see great throngs hastening into the sky in a long procession and the first colonists emigrating to the moon and leaving behind their familiar household gods: while this goes on, the ancient inhabitant will gaze in stunned silence and from afar will spy upon birds such as he has never seen, the fleet of flying ships.
As happened once upon a time when Columbus sailed across the watery plains of an unknown sea, seeking the lands of Zephyr, new kingdoms; the circling shores and the waters gaze in wonder at the troops encased in steel, the centaur-like squadrons, the ominous monsters filled with armed men, and the inimitable lightning.
Soon I see the conclusion of treaties and commerce between the two worlds and columns of men assembled under a sky with which they have become familiar.
England, which has already long ruled the sea, and, sending out her mariners in great numbers, has harnessed the wind and spread her empire over the waves, will raise her conquering standards over the air; here, too, she will celebrate the triumphs that have been her habit, and will be queen of the subjugated realms of air."
- The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited by Herbert W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966.
Contractions, italics and initial capitalization have been largely eliminated, except where of real import. Initial letters of sentences have been capitalized, all accents have been removed. The editor would like to express his gratitude to library staff at Pembroke College, Cambridge, at the British Library, and at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for their invaluable assistance.