Blame it on the Comets


Manilius, Astronomica 875-893

“The sky has never gone alight with meaningless fires,
But farmers, deluded, have cursed their wasted fields
And in the infertile rows the depressed plowman
Pointlessly coaxes his mourning oxen to their yokes.
Or when a mortal spark hollows out the marrow of life
In bodies taken by heavy sickness or aged exhaustion,
And it takes a wavering people, and throughout entire cities
Shared mourning is accompanied by funereal fires.

That’s what the plague was like when it attacked Erekhtheus’ people
And carried ancient Athens out to graves in a time of peace.
One after another, slipping into sickness and cursing fate,
No kind of medical skill or prayer was helping them.

Duty itself fell to sickness, and the dead received neither
Burial nor tears. Even fire failed in its exhaustion
And the limbs of bodies were piled on burning limbs.
A people once so great could…

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