An Epigram of George Buchanan: Icones 1 (Updated)

Please find below a new translation from George Buchanan‘s collection of Icones (which I will here render Word-Pictures) found in the second book of his Epigrammata (Epigrams).

Buchanan’s poem consists of two elegiac couplets, which I have rendered in three English couplets consisting of alternating iambic pentameters and iambic tetrameters.

This first Icon is about Saturn and is spoken in propria persona–that is, Saturn is the poem’s “I.” In this epigram, Buchanan draws on the myth of a paradisiacal golden age on earth during the heavenly reign of Saturn or Kronos that is found already in one of the earliest surviving Greek poems, Hesiod’s Works and Days. The golden age myth forms part of a narrative of decline through successive ages of human history: men originally lived in non-acquisitive peace with one another, until the discovery of gold put an end to the golden age and inaugurated an unabated (almost—the heroic age is a partial exception) descent into more and more vice, reaching right down to the present age.

I give the Latin text as found in his 1725 Opera omnia, Tomus secundus, pars prima, 386. Hope you enjoy it.

In Latin:

I. Saturnus.

Aurea secla olim me pauperere rege fuerunt:

    lis, vis, fraus aberant, omnia pacis erant.

At nunc iustitiam mentita iniuria dives,

    lis, vis, fraus, auri secula nuda premunt.

And in English:

1. Saturn

When I was king, though poor, the days and nights

    Were all of gold: no violence or fraud

Disrupted peace, no penny-ante fights.

    But now injustice (that rich, lying bawd),

With violence, fraud, penny-ante fights,

    Debases goldless days and nights. 


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