Votive sonnet to Minerva

So here’s me, all wondering what I ought to think about the prospect of getting LASIK surgery, not knowing whether I should trust myself to these mysterious lasers and throwing away so much money all in one place. I do some divination, and I’m like, “Yo, deities. If this is a terrible idea or whatever, just go ahead and let me know. Don’t spare my feelings. My proposal’s to get LASIK, but if I ought to change my mind and endure having annoying glass-and-metal contraptions on my face forever, I’m open to that too.”

So then I cast my astragaloi (knuckle-bones, in my case of white-tailed deer), and decode the message, and lo and behold, it comes back as follows: “Of the martial Minerva (ΑΘΗΝΑΣ ΑΡΕΙΑΣ). If four Chians (i.e. ones) and one three are cast, the god signals: ‘By avoiding enmity and animosity, you will reach your prize; you will arrive and the blue-eyed goddess Minerva will save you. The activity that you have in mind will turn out as you wish it.”

I thought that was an awfully positive signal, and I was keenly grateful to enlist the support of Minerva, because, I mean, wisdom—strategems—foresight—courage, I can has?

I therefore gratefully dedicate to Minerva the following votive sonnet:

Unwoven threads, a jumble, tell no tale
and limn no image to delight the mind;
dissolved, the elements cannot but fail
to form a structure, or as one to bind—
but as the chaos ere the world was made,
without a plan or scheme must aimless flow,
dissolve, disperse, insensibly then fade,
and leave untried its chance to join and grow.
’Tis thine, Minerva, such parts to interweave—
to let thy matchless wisdom pick and shed
and batten beauty, tangled bedlam cleave,
and craft divine blessings widely spread.
Let all the elements know thy expert hand
and come together true at thy command.

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Votive sonnet to Mercury

Attentive readers of this blog may already have picked up on the fact that Mercury is my patron deity, so I need no particular excuse to include him in my suite of votive sonnets in the event that my LASIK surgery was a success. What’s more, however, the particular divinatory instrument that I was using to gage whether I ought to go ahead with the procedure is specially dedicated to Hermes according to some of the Anatolian inscriptions from which it’s known. I refer to Hellenistic astragalomancy (which I practise using the knuckle-bones of a white-tailed deer that I ordered from Etsy from somebody in Utah or thereabouts who seemed to have plenty of unwanted deer knuckle-bones lying about…).

This is (of course!) the most tongue-in-cheek and self-referential of the sonnets I’ve written for this purpose. I present it to my readers today (Wednesday, the day of Mercury) in the hope that they, like the deity to whom it was offered, won’t find it too contemptible for their perusal.

Thy votary, by troubles laden down,
from anxious doubts humbly seeks relief,
to thee offering gesture, verb, and noun,
a wisp of frankincense, an oaken leaf—
as if to render visible internal grief
and place before the god an earnest note
to buy the loyalty of the sainted thief
(contented, dare we think, with so mean a groat).
But nay, the lusty nuncio with cock and goat
unstintingly bestows, with merry laugh,
abundant gifts to keep his throng afloat
and flits away, in hand his serpent staff.
Thus behind unnumbered successful schemes
the eye of Mercury sneakily gleams.

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Votive sonnet to Lenus Mars

The archæological evidence (notably at Pommern) indicates that some, at least, of the ancient worshippers of Lenus Mars considered his intervention efficacious in health matters. Many warrior deities in Gaul double as health deities, partly for the same reason that we all talk about ‘battling disease’ or ‘being a fighter’ against cancer or whatever, and partly because inflicting, avoiding, and recovering from injury are of course so central to the business of battle.

For the perhaps inadequate reason that I simply couldn’t stand glasses and contacts anymore, I decided to get LASIK surgery. It’s the first and only elective surgery I’ve ever had, and I naturally gave it very serious thought. The divinatory signals I got were very favourable, and I vowed devotional sonnets, if all went well, to Lenus Mars, Mercury, and Minerva. For the first I wrote a Petrarchan, for the second a Spenserian, and for the third a Shakespearean sonnet. It’s been a long time since I’ve written sonnets of any description, and I can’t claim that any of them are destined to undying fame, but I beg my readers’ indulgence for them all. Today (Tuesday, the day of Mars), I present my votive sonnet to Lenus Mars, the ‘bosky Mars’, healer and national protector of the Treveri.

As smiths the keenest weapons shape and hone
who know their plan and see their work most clear;
as archers aim their bolts so that they will not veer
and failing vision costs the chief his throne—
so sight the martial god presides o’er as his own.
In bygone days thy votaries with rheumy tear
as their sight with passing age began to blear,
O Lenus Mars, would look to thee alone.
So now I humbly pray thee, put to flight
the phantom foes that blur, obscure, and flash
and blind me save to colour, dark, and light.
Thy healing power use; thy endless might
exert, and my affliction from me dash.
An it please thee, restore me all my sight. 


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Votive hymn to the divine Faustina

polychrome Faustina the Elder

Polychrome version of the statue of the divine Faustina the Elder at Mt Holyoke.

Divine Faustina, august, eternal,
in you succeeding ages have saluted
a holy icon of women’s majesty.
Belovèd in life, belovèd in death,
on eagle’s wings borne to heaven,
eternal goddess forevermore,
your numen was adored by crowds,
your sacred image on a chariot drawn
by teams of elephants though Rome.
From countless pious people’s necks,
your likeness hung on sacred amulets.
Behold and give your blessing now,
I pray, divine, august Faustina,
to all the women who refuse
to be silent, who denounce the crimes
so long unjustly covered up,
and who now through your grace begin
to assume their rightful share of power.
Sustain their cause, divine Faustina,
and reveal to them the straightest way
to justice, dignity, and truth.
For this I thank you, goddess eternal,
and offer you this humble token.


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Votive hymn to the divine Antoninus Pius


Bust of the divine Antoninus Pius in the Glyptothek in Munich. (This image is a derivative work of a photograph in the public domain)

Divine lord Antoninus, famed for pious deeds,
a second Numa living thou wert felt to be:
attuned to what is right, judicious, kindly, wise.
Thy course provides for humankind a guide
to good and upright governance for aye.
With clemency thou didst temper justice stern,
with moderation thine inherent majesty,
with magnanimity thy true magnificence.
Unto the heavens, pious prince, didst thou ascend
to take thy rightful place among the deathless gods
and thus rejoin thy much adored Faustina there.
As god and goddess side by side eternally,
I honor thee and her. O Pius, thanks are due
to thee for all the wonders thou hast brought to pass,
restoring partly this Republic’s dignity.
May thy beneficent influence yet shine on those
in whom the people freely place their confidence,
and turn the minds of all the magistrates of state
to justice, not to pelf, vanity, or petty pride.
Let not corruption, depraved intolerance,
contempt for truth, or naked inhumanity
prevail again as hitherto. May unfit guards
be guarded with a vigilance that never fails.
I therefore humbly offer thee this pious gift.


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Votive hymn to Libertas


The most familiar depiction of the goddess Libertas in the United States. (This image is a derivative work of a photograph in the public domain)

To you, Liberty, were these states
in their infancy
dedicated—a solemn offering
in revolutionary times
by delegates anxious for what might be,
anxious to secure
the goodwill of Providence:
to you, Liberty, were their commonwealths
and in you were they conceived.
Our every failure to secure for you
the freedom of the people
has been a debt incurred against you,
generous goddess—a debt
we must requite, or tremble
for the consequences.
Too long did slavery, the source
of misery to innocent millions
for toilsome centuries,
rebuke our nation’s insincerity,
and terrible was the wrath
of the avenging deities
exacted against the slaveholder and
the slaveholder’s every accomplice—
too long has freedom been
an empty promise
for millions of citizens.
Let us never fall away
from our dedication to you;
let us never waver in the earnestness
of our natal sacrifice.
Mighty goddess, stay not your hand
in scourging those powerful recreants
who would sin against you,
stealing children from their parents,
or shutting millions behind bars,
or depriving citizens of the franchise.
Strike quick
against your enemies, O goddess,
and save our commonwealth from worse
punishment in days to come.
Yours, immortal Liberty, is the torch
that lights the path for our republic;
yours the words that sing our destiny.
Your lofty tree roots deep in
the soil of Columbia;
beneath its shade may we rejoice
and feast forever upon its fruit.
I thank you, Liberty, for delivering
the house of the people from those
apostate to your divine grace.
Kindly accept my gifts,
my words of thanks,
my inexhaustible devotion.


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Votive hymn to Columbia


“America” by Currier and Ives (1870)

Long ago, we hear from ancients,
Ocean’s depths were roiled and eddied:
out from sea the mighty turtle
rose and lifted up its substance,
making permanent its homestead
’twixt Atlantic and Pacific,
’twixt the Gulf and Arctic waters.
Ridges rose and valleys tumbled
on the shell of that great turtle.
Lakes colossal, painted deserts,
swamps entangled, plains majestic,
rounded out the glorious vista.
On the back of that great turtle,
proud Columbia made her dwelling.
Many names the goddess uses;
many tongues the goddess utters.
Many children does she number—
many climes and tastes she gives them.
Great her heart is, keen her wisdom:
home she gives to craft and science,
haven gives to hatred’s victims.
Dauntless goddess, sound your tocsins!
Chase away corrupt defilers,
chase away pollution’s minions,
chase away the madcaps’ poison!
Let us aid you, let us heed you:
let us heal your bruised dominion.
Let us merit to be numbered
rightly ’midst your pious children.


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Votive hymn to Hercules Saxsanus


Hercules from the Leiden Aratea

Beset by foes on every side,
alone amidst the knavish host
without a hope of mortal aid,
O Hercules, you raised your voice
to Jove your kindly sire for help—
you, victor though you ever were,
did not disdain to seek relief.
No bolts of shocking lightning now,
no armies of tooth-begotten men,
did Jove provide to succor you:
the means, instead, for you to fight
and vanquish all your sneering foes
on Gaulish strand from heaven fell—
the rocks that none could hurl but you.
From that uncanny storm of stones
you drew all needful strength anew,
and whirled the heav’n-sent missiles round
confounding that Ligurian host
that sought to make your spoils their own.
Astounded, scattered, smarting brood,
they fled the field beneath your blows.
And thus you kept from jealous hands
the rustled kine of Geryon,
fulfilling heavy labors due
to deathless godhead’s stern decrees.
O persevering Hercules,
by stones from brigands’ clutches freed,
eternal friend of those distressed,
give us the means to struggle on
against the haughty hateful deeds
of those forsworn to decent shame.
You hero once, eternal god,
equip us now with all we need
to build the house of justice new,
and hold off barbarism’s sway.
For all you do for truth and right
to honor virtue through the earth,
I thank you, gracious Hercules,
and offer you this humble gift.


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Votive hymn to Diana Sancta


Diana Returning from the Hunt by Nicolas Colombel (1697).

O holy Diana of woods and groves,
Diana of hidden paths and safe houses,
Diana of the moon and stars,
Diana of the Drinking Gourd and the mossy bark,
Diana, friend of all who seek freedom,
nurturer of all that is wild and beautiful,
of all that is untrammeled and brilliant,
Diana, delighting in sisterhood,
Diana, spurning any husband
yet bestowing fertility and keeping watch
over mothers in childbirth,
Diana, passionate defender of the right,
unerring avenger of injustice,
Diana magnificent and far-sighted,
Diana inexhaustible in magic,
Diana waxing and waning, forever undiminished,
Diana of the silvery light flashing
from the speeding arrowhead,
long your flowing tresses,
short your hunting-skirt,
Diana of the hounds,
Diana of the hinds,
hail and thanks to you, most holy goddess!
Let us participate in your spirit:
let us receive your glorious lesson.
Diana queer, Diana free of labels,
Diana potent, Diana gentle,
Diana healer, Diana huntress:
favor this Republic with a new dispensation,
free of bigotry, equal for all,
committed together to social justice
and a future egalitarian and green.


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Six votive hymns for the Blue Wave


Ancient religious practice frequently revolved around the making and fulfilling of vows. One prays to a certain deity for a certain purpose, promising to perform this-or-that pious act if the outcome is as desired. In that spirit, I vowed to write devotional hymns to Columbia, Libertas, Hercules Saxsanus, Diana Sancta, Diuus Antoninus Pius, and Diua Faustina Augusta in the event of a Blue Wave in the 2018 United States elections to Congress. For the purposes of this vow, I defined a Blue Wave as a Democratic pick-up of 36 seats in the House of Representatives. It took some time for the outcome of many races to be definitely ascertained, but it is now indisputable that a Blue Wave happened and that the American people delivered a stinging rebuke to the current occupant of the White House with a margin of victory of some 9%. The incoming class of Congresspeople have now taken their seats, including such wonderful and inspiring figures as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lauren Underwood, Lucy McBath, and so many more. I’ll be posting those hymns here over the course of the next six days.

I chose to address my prayers and vows to the six deities I mentioned above because of their particular associations with the United States, liberty, and good governance, which I will elaborate on further in the text of the hymns themselves. I varied the style and format of the hymns a bit for the respective deities: free verse for Libertas (obviously!) and for Diana, trochaic tetrameter for Columbia (following the Song of Hiawatha, which itself incidentally mimics the Kalevala), and various iambic meters for Hercules, the divine Pius, and the divine Faustina (with feminine endings more common in Faustina’s).

Hercules Saxsanus is an aspect of Hercules whose mythos is set in Gaul (at least according to one interpretation). He was particularly worshipped in Gaul by the stone-workers of the vicinity of Brohl, in the part of the Treveran country tacked onto the Roman province of Germania Superior. This is why I use the provincial spelling Saxsanus in lieu of the standard Saxanus.

The topic of this vow was political, and indeed partisan, so I make no apologies for the hymns’ political allusions. I may say for the record, however, that I don’t mean to cast any personal aspersions on Republican voters. I grew up in a then–Republican-leaning suburb of Chicago; my father and his family in Nebraska were Republican (and still are, in the case of those who are still with us); I’ve never had the luxury of imagining all Republicans to be bad people. Rather, they’ve been taught to think that the lesser evil is to vote for people who do staggeringly bad things. All the more reason, then, to condemn those bad things loudly, consistently, and often.

Permit me to conclude by noting that today is the Ides of January, one of the days—along with the Ides of July—when legionaries in Germania Superior were most wont to dedicate altars of the to-Jupiter-and-many-more type. One such altar, from Mainz in what was also Treveran territory, was dedicated by a soldier of the Legio XXII Primigenia in (h)o(norem) [d(omus)] d(ivinae) / I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) / Silvano et Dian/ae Sanctae Genio / catabul(i) co(n)s(ularis) cet(e){r}ri/sque diis inmor/talibus ‘in honor of the divine house, to Jupiter Best and Greatest, Silvanus, and Holy Diana, the genius of the consular docks, and other immortal gods’. I wish a blessèd day in honor of all those deities to everyone who reads this.

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