Before there was Google, there was Arnobius…

Sestina on Six Words by Arnobius of Sicca

Cuius rei tesimonium argumentumque fortunae, suis prodidit in carminibus Vates Thracius;
talos, speculum, turbines, volubiles rotulas, et teretes pilas, et virginibus aurea sumpta ab
Hersperidibus mala. (Arnbobius, The Case against the Pagans, 5.19)

In olden days, the bones of men were knuckled dice
The gods of sacrifice played on their mirror
Of smoke to beat the human race. Like spinning tops
Ingenious men took crops from clouds, invented wheels
And stole fire from the sky. Hercules even had the balls
To run away with Hera’s golden apples –

Of course resisting Eden’s read on fallen apples,
Does theogony fail as theophany dies?
Defiantly, emboldened tongues mute the mere roar
Of divinity with the whispering mystery that tops
Off the Golden Age, eclipsing Ezekiel’s wheels.
See, as vaulting Atalanta rolls on the balls

Of her feet and falls off her balance. How she bawls
Her golden tears! – her heels all smeared with apple’s
Amber pith. She stumbles like tumbling dice;
Malanion her out-of-breath admirer
Receives her into his hands. Then he easily tops
This feat: his wedding copse pays out in nuptial weals.

Alas, how the victor feels the slow, revolving wheels
That crush golden cider from vintage apples –
And fresh blood from ancient justice (just as leaden balls
Will roll from balance dish to cannon’s prejudice)!
Let it suffice that these newlyweds’ chose, more or
Less foolishly, Jupiter’s temple to crop the tops

From chastity’s tassles. Stopped in their tracks – their tops
Became the golden manes of regal commonweals
And avatars of the first public court of appeals.
But Atalanta and Malanion are no more oddballs
Than any other exiles – as the Hesperides’,
So other gardens yielded up the same error.

Even today, we outdare the gods to mar our
Universal complexion – pulling out all stops
To foreshorten the finish line. But victory wheels
Around and smacks us in the gob. Our greed appalls
Even vice’s piety – but rolls many more balls
With less friction than any old paradise.

So Eden’s apples in winter winds seem to mirror
The clicking clack of dice – but eyes are crystal balls
That see hubris not spinning tops but spinning wheels.


  1. Jonathan Webb says


  2. I'm sure it's good, but I'm tired from ordering a supermarket delivery.

  3. Jonathan Webb says

    That's because nobody speaks English in England anymore. Tired? I bet you're tired of trying to maintain the facade or progressivism in the face of obvious and accelerated social decay. But, nevertheless, enjoy your appalling puddings, ales, hard sauces and spotted dick as much as your can because the lights are going out soon, and no one can blame Herr Hitler this time.

    All you need to do is look in the mirror.

    Happy American Thanksgiving.

  4. Rufus McCain says

    That is amazing. The updraft under the fella's groin in the painting is also amazing. Could you help us out and provide a trans. of the ep.? I'm guessing them's the six words.

    You have read it once to puzzle out the variations and then another time or two or ten for the sense.

    My wife and I just bought a used Land Rover to replace our endoflease Sienna. It's amazing how British one feels driving it into conjugal copses.

  5. Quin Finnegan says

    Nice. I especially like The gods of sacrifice played on their mirror / Of smoke … that's just marvellous.

  6. Quin Finnegan says

    Something like: As testimony and an argument for (the role of) chance in this matter, the Thracian Prophet [Orpheus?] offered in his songs dice, a mirror, whirlwinds, spinning wheels, and smooth balls as well as golden apples taken from the Hesperidean maidens [nymphs guarding a garden that was sacred to Hera]

    Something like that.

  7. From the Ancient Christian Writer's Series: The Case Against the Pagans – George McCracken (no realtion to Phil) translates thus:

    "As evidence and proof of [the merrymaking of Liber (the Roman version of Dionysius)], the Thracian [Orpheus] in his poems handed down the dice, mirror, spinning tops, wheels, and smooth balls, and the golden apples taken from the virgin Herperides."

    I suppose "turbines" means most literally "winds" – but McCracken (no relation to Phil) must have gone with a connotative for the word.


    p.s. Word Ver: "amuslant" – the tendency of a body to feel gravity's pull after much Liber-induced hilarity.

  8. Quin Finnegan says

    I get the "spinning tops" now, and "Liber" certainly works for Dionysus … but I don't see Liber, and Fortuna is something else entirely. It's an interesting thought, but a bit of a stretch. Or so it seems to me.

    I wonder what Phil would make of this.

  9. Quin,

    Actually, I'm sure you're right – fortuna is obviously the right read – my interpolation was faulty.

    Don't blame George – his brother Phil, I hear, is a real asshole – and I don't want him on my wrong side….


  10. Rufus McCain says

    The Guemes Island McCracken connection just blew my little mind.

  11. Rufus McCain says

    .. or blew mind a little. I'm not sure which.

    I like "chastity's tassles" — an all-girl Catholic rock band.

  12. As long as they play a mean guitar…

    And hang out in a steak bar…


  13. Jonathan Webb says

    Phil lives on Guemes and knows where you live.

    He is to George what Mycroft is to Sherlock.

  14. Jonathan Webb says

    The Land Rover was a good move.

  15. Rufus McCain says

    The Land Rover is a solid car. I feel like we should drive it to South America to really test its British mettle. It wouldn't do for you, though, at least the Discovery wouldn't. No one over about 6'2" would fit in it.

  16. Do you listen to our conversations?

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