De proditione pulverea, quae incidit in diem Martis (1605)

Ayton's poem on the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605, when a group of Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up James VI and I and the parliament in session, is one of a range of poems by Scottish authors on the event (including Andrew Melville; see d2_MelA_011). The explosion was supposed to take place on Tuesday 5 November (dies Marti in Latin, 'the day of Mars'), but evidence of the plot (a large pile of tinder in the undercroft beneath the House of Lords) was discovered the preceding day (Monday, or dies lunae, 'the day of the Moon') which led to repeated searches of the buildings and ultimately to the discovery around midnight of Guy Fawkes, holding a lantern and in the possession of matches and kindling. Ayton's central conceit makes a play on these dates and their connection to Greco-Roman divinities, arguing that Mars, the god of war, and Diana/Artemis, the goddess of the moon, intervened to protect James and the royal family (in the case of the latter, by hiding her light to force Fawkes to use a lantern). The idea of divine protection is stretched to include Apollo, god of the sun (whose day is Sunday, or dies solis, 'the day of the sun'), who further darkened the sky by refusing to shine. Metre: hexameter.

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De proditione pulverea, quae incidit in diem Martis

1Heu Marti sacrata dies, quam pene fuisti
sacra Iovi inferno et caecis devota tenebris!
Sanguineo torrente suis te inscribere fastis
Cerberus et Stygiae properabat cura catervae,
5sed Superi vetuere nefas. Tu primus Apollo
infandas scelerum fraudes, deposta latebris
sulphura, et ardenti glomeranda incendia ligno
sensisti, et roseos potius tenebrescere vultus
passus es insoliti marcentes tabe laboris,
Link to an image of this page  [p66] 10quam si magna suo viduata Britannia Phoebo
in tenebras totum traxisset funditus orbem.

Nec tibi cura minor nocturna Diana Dianae
Saxonidis fuerat, te caeca silentia noctis, 1
quae sceleri indictam praecessit proxima lucem,
15destituisse ferunt flamma ductrice, et opaci
pensa ministerii facibus mandasse cruentis,
quae totum per inane vagae flammante ruboris
prodigio eriperent Arctoam protenus Annam
caede, cruore, rogis. Sed quo portenta Deorum
20consiliis inscripta polo, si caeca futuri
mens hominum nescit 2 superos audire vocantes,
si visis tam parca fides? Scelerata nocentum
perfidia admissas fraudi laxabat habenas,
et coeptum peragebat opus, cum Martis ab alto
25cura vigil propius, terras despexit inerteis,
Henricique memor, cujus victricibus armis
deberi Imperium mundi fatale sciebat,
non tulit ulterius, 3 sed dedignatus amores
deliciasque suas in aperta pericula 4 ferri,
30luce sibi sacra roseis ubi vecta quadrigis
venit agens Aurora diem, molimina cuncta
criminis infandi dedit innotescere mundo.

I nunc et superos infami fraude lacesse
34Cerbere, et his meritis inde sperare salutem.

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On the gunpowder plot, which happened on the day of Mars

1Oh day sacred to Mars, how you were almost sacred to hellish Pluto and became devoted to the gloomy darkness! Cerberus and the Stygian throng's a love for you made haste to inscribe your name in their fasti b with flowing blood, but the Gods above prohibited the sacrilege. You, Apollo, first noticed the unspeakable conspiracy of wickedness, the gunpowder placed in a hidden cellar, and the bonfire to be heaped up with kindling, and you preferred to allow your rosy complexion to grow black as it dimmed with the taint of an unaccustomed toil,Link to an image of this page  [p66]than were Great Britain, deprived of its own Sun, to have dragged the whole world into complete darkness.

12And for your love of Diana of the Saxons, c nocturnal Diana, they say that you robbed the impenetrable stillness of the night (which preceded the day that brought to light the crime) of your light, and entrusted the execution of the shady task to dawn's rosy torches, so that, with the flaming signal of their blush, they would immediately snatch Anna of the northern sky from death, murder, and the funeral pyre. But why are the portents of the Gods written with their decrees in the heavens, if the mind of man, blind to the future, does not know how to listen to the voices of the gods, if those who see them have little faith? The pernicious treachery of the culprits was giving free rein to their crime, and was finishing the task that was already underway, when the close-by, ever-alert care of Mars surveyed the sleeping earth, and was conscious of Henry, d to whose unconquerable arms he knew that the fated control of the world was promised; no longer tolerating it, rather he refused that his dear ones and beloved ones be exposed to open dangers, and when Aurora came on her rosy chariot, bearing the day with her sacred light, she allowed the world to learn every aspect of the unspeakable crime.

33Go now, Cerberus, and rouse the gods with this shocking crime, and urge them to promise salvation for for those who have deserved it.



1: Buchanan, Psalm Paraphrases 91.17

2: Lucan, Bellum Civile II.14-15

3: Ovid, Metamorphoses III.486-7

4: Virgil, Aeneid IX.663


a: The conspirators.

b: A term used elsewhere by Ayton. See d1_AytR_002, note b.

c: Queen Anna.

d: Prince Henry.