Psychomachia — Modesty vs. Lust

Next on the grassy field appeared Modesty;
The virgin shines in lovely armor.
The Sodomite Lust is advancing,
whose ancestors warred with torches —
and a burning pineknot dipped in spruce tar
and sulphur, she thrusts in the maid’s eyes.
Modesty grabs for the flaming light,
and Lust tries to choke her with smoke.
But Modesty, the fearless virgin,
tosses a rock with her right hand
at the dire she-wolf’s red-hot weapon.
Thrown down, the pine torch goes out.
Then the whore’s bared neck’s bored through
with a shortsword. She vomits
hot steaming clots of infected blood;
exhaling her rotted breath,
she pollutes the neighboring air.

“She’s done,” exclaims the queen victrix,
“This will be your end, supreme one.
You’ll be flat on your face forever,
not daring to spit deadly flames
at God’s servants, men or maids.
Only Christ’s lamp kindles chaste souls.
Harasser of humans, think you can recover
doused powers, or grab breath to warm you?

“After the Assyrian bedroom?
Holofernes’ neck was chopped;
the drunk’s desire washed out in his blood.
Sharp Judith scorns the jewels and pillows
of the wife-betraying warlord
and quenches sinful frenzies with a sword.
The woman is carrying back
from the foe, a notorious trophy.
Go with unshaking hand,
bold heavensent defender!”

Maybe the strong matron’s companions
up till now were fighting
under the shadow of the Law,
Still, our times she shapes. In truth,
strength flows into earthly bodies;
the head of the great is cut off
by the weak, powerless servants.

“And after divine command already
gave an untouched virgin childbirth,
is it possible anything’s left
still to be done to you?
After the virgin birth — by which
the former origin of the human body
deserts nature, and the High Power
brings forth new flesh,
and the unmarried wife even
conceives God the Christ —
mortal man from his mother,
but divine from his Father.
Even now, from that which conceives Him,
everyone’s flesh is divine,
and takes the character of co-heirs
of God, by league of alliance.

“Of course, the Word made flesh doesn’t lose
being what it has been,
while the Word glues on experience of the flesh —
His majesty not diminishing through it,
but drawing the poor ones up to be nobler.
What He has always been remains so,
while He’s beginning to be what He’s not been.
We, who were not, are what we weren’t already;
we will be made wealthy, born into better.
He carries me back to myself,
remaining Himself. Nor does God lessen
what’s His by what’s ours; instead what is His
becomes our own; and He has carried us
up to Heaven with the gifts He granted us.

“Gifts like this — that you lie conquered,
filthy Lust, nor, after Mary,
are able to break through what’s right, what’s our duty.

“You deathroad guide, you gate of ruin,
staining the body and plunging the soul
into Tartarus! Take your gloomy head,
still cursed with cold, down to the Abyss!
Die, brotheldweller! Beg to the manes!
Be shut in Avernus, and dumped to the deeps
of the shadows of night.
May fiery streams pull you under,
may black and brimstone streams
whirl you round through resounding whirlpools —
and already, Greater one of furies,
you may not tempt Christ-worshippers,
for their cleansed bodies
will be guarded for the King.”

She said this, and glad Lust was killed dead,
Modesty washed in the Jordan’s waves
the corrupted shortsword sticky with ichor’s
red dew, and the wound-spotted shining iron.
So the victorious victrix purified the point
in the teaching river, destroying by baptism
what’d been blemished by the foe’s jugular;
nor yet was contented to sheathe the cleansed shortsword
back in its scabbard, lest rust under cover
occupy rough spots she had washed off
and eat off its sheen. In a Catholic temple
of the divine spring, she consecrated it
where it coruscates with light eternal.

This is a translation from Prudentius’ “Psychomachia”. You can read the previous part — Faith vs. OldGodsWorship — back here. (Given that the poem’s preface is almost a hundred lines summarizing all of salvation history, I think I’ll be leaving that for last.)

And yes, it does say “catholico in templo”! I don’t make this stuff up! πŸ™‚

Pudicitia isn’t quite Chastity or Purity. It’s actually modesty, shamefacedness, maybe even shyness. So Modesty Blaise was following venerable precedent. πŸ™‚

Notice the clear connection of Modesty’s weaponry to Judith’s, and of treating the body with respect to Jesus’ incarnation making flesh a holy thing. So this turned out to be very suitable for Christmastime.

Big huge illustrated “Psychomachia” page from Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. Note that Modesty’s obviously flameproof!

Over at St. Gall, the Psychomachia is in Cod. Sang 135, starting at p. 384. There are pictures of Fides rassling with Cultura Veterus Deorum on pp. 388-389. Pudicitia chucks rocks at Libido on p. 391.

I’ll try to translate Patience next week.


Filed under Church, Translations

3 responses to “Psychomachia — Modesty vs. Lust

  1. Roger

    Hello! I am translating the psychomachia from latin to portuguese.My question is: Who made this translation? And where can I find the complete work translated?


    • Clovis

      Oi Roger,

      Vi umpost antigo seu que diz que estava traduzindo psychomachia para portugues. Voc concluiu? Poderia compartilhar?



  2. I did this translation — Maureen S. O’Brien. I’m not done with it yet, as you can see, and I’m no Latin scholar. So I wouldn’t trust it too far, if I were you.

    There was a translation available through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, but it was purposefully partial. (It was intended to help students get the gist, but not do the Latin reading for them.) I can’t seem to find it now, so the professor may have made the Internet Archive Wayback Machine take it down.

    This guy’s blog has a translation of part of Psychomachia, though I don’t know if it’s his own or from a book.

    The only other translations into English that I know of are in books. They aren’t out of copyright yet, and so they aren’t online.

    Good luck!

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