ODÆ. Davidis canticum in mortem Saulis et Ionathanis (n.d.)

David (prob. d. c.970BC) intially rose to prominence under Saul (ruled c.1020-1000BC), the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 16-17). David built up an extremely close friendship with Jonathan, Saul's son, and married Michal, Saul's daughter (1 Samuel 18). However, Saul became increasingly afraid and suspicious of David and the latter fled, ultimately settling at Ziklag, where he became a vassal of Achish, King of Gath (1 Samuel 18-27). Saul's main enemies were the Philistines, originally a race of sea-farers from the Aegean who had gradually moved inland. In a battle with the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, Saul's sons, including Jonathan, were slaughtered, and Saul himself committed suicide by falling on his sword (1 Samuel 31). Following Saul's death David became the first king of both the tribes of Judaea and Israel. His poetic lament on hearing the news of Saul and Jonathan's death, which forms the basis of Melville's paraphrase, is recorded in 2 Samuel 1:19-27. Metre: alcaic stanzas.

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Davidis canticum in mortem Saulis et Ionathanis

1Gentis sacratae dulce decus tuis 1
ergo sacratis corruit in jugis?
Ergo feroci Marte fortes
turpe solum tetigere mento? 2

5Ne cladis atrae nuntius aut Gathum
aut Ascalonis compita personet:
ut ne Palestinae profanas
concelebrent choreas puellae.

9Vos celsa montis culmina Gilboe,
vos juncta caelo culmina Gilboe,
Link to an image of this page  [p93] ne roris almi gutta roret,
ne pluviae riget imber undae.

13Hic, heu, nirorum scuta valentium 3
transfixa, scutum tergore multiplex
Saulis perempti, cui sacratus
malabathro maduit capillus. 4

17Fuso a cruore, a sumine pinguium
impastus arcus, dum Ionathan stetit,
non retrocessit, nec recessit
Saulis acinacis incruentus.

21Hunc inter atque hunc mutuus, ac piis
iucundus, arsit fomes amoribus,
dum vita mansit. Nunc sub atra
nocte nefas dirimit 5 sepultos.

25Non sic Tonantis fulminat armiger 6
pennis coruscis, non leo viribus
praepollet aeque, ut Saulus acri
vi et Ionathas volucrique planta.

29Lugete Saulem, Isralides piae,
lugete regem qui Tyrianthinis
vestibat ornans vos, et auro
deliciasque super refundens.

33Ergo virorum mascula fortium 7
virtus duelli hoc pulvere sordido
prostrata procumbit, tuisque
in tumulis Ionathan peremptus.

37Te propter ingens me, Ionathan, premit
mi frater, angor; dulcis amor tui
mi lucis instar: vicit in me
fœmineos tuus ardor ignes.

41Ergo virorum mascula fortium 8
virtus retuso concidit impete,
telumque duri Martis omne
44occidit indecore ruina.

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David's poetic lament on the death of Saul and Jonathan

1 So the sweet glory of the sacred tribe has fallen on your sacred mountains? And those mighty in fierce battle have prostrated their chins on the filthy ground? b

5 Let not the messenger of this terrible calamity make it known throughout the streets of Gath and Askelon: c lest the daughters of Palestine d start up their impious dances.

9 You high ridges of the mountain of Gilboa, e you peaks of Gilboa joined to the heavens, Link to an image of this page  [p93] let not the drop of nourishing dew moisten you, let not the shower of rain water make you wet.

13 Here, alas, are the shields of mighty men pierced-through, here is the well-covered shield of the now slain Saul, whose holy locks were annointed with fragrant oil.

17 From blood spilled, from the flesh of his prey, Johnathan's hungry bow, while he lived, did not retreat, nor did the sword of Saul retire bloodless from the fray.

21 While life remained a spark kindled between this man and that, agreeable to the pious, and befitting love. Now under black night it is not right that they are divided in burial.

25 Not so much does the armour-bearer of the Thunderer f dart forth on flashing wings, nor does the lion excel with greater force, as Saul with fierce strength and Johnathan with swift feet.

29 Bewail Saul, pious Israelites, bewail the king who in purple gowns clothed you, and adorned you with gold while pouring forth other delights besides. g

33 Now the manly courage of these brave heroes lies prostrate on the filthy dust of battle, and on your hills Jonathan has been slain.

37 A great anguish presses down on me, on your account, Johnathan, my brother; your sweet love was like a bright light to me: your brilliance eclipsed in me even a burning passion for women. h

41 Now the manly courage of these brave heroes has fallen in a repelled assault, and all the weapons of the harsh battlefield disgracefully have fallen to the ground in defeat.



1: cf. Horace, Odes I.1.2

2: Horace, Odes II.7.12

3: '...valentium / refixa...' Horace, Epodes XVII.4-5

4: Horace, Odes II.7.8

5: 'Dirimi' in original.

6: Claudian,De Bello Gildonico 467. Melville uses this epithet at 'Carmen Mosis' (d2_MelA_005), 69-70

7: cf. Horace, Odes III.6.37

8: See note 6.


a: Editorial convention by the original DPS editors, distinguishing the odes from the other longer poems.

b: There is a play on the Latin word 'turpe' here. It refers (adjectivally) to the 'filthy' nature of the ground, but also implies that the ground is shameful and that the action of prostrating oneself is shameful (adverbially). The original passage in Horace (see notes to the Latin text above) carries this triple meaning.

c: Two of the five city-states that (along with Ekron, Ashdod, and Gaza) made up the Philistine 'pentapolis', a confederation on the south-western coastal strip of Canaan.

d: 'Daughters of the Philistines' in King James Version (2 Samuel 1:20).

e: Site of the murder of Jonathan and his brothers Abinadab and Malchisua at the hands of the Philistines, and the suicide of Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-6).

f: The eagle. See note on Jupiter the Thunderer in d2_MelA_005.

g: Saul was the first king of the Israelites, who asked the Lord for a ruler to be set over them (1 Samuel 8).

h: The friendship between Jonathan and David was a deep and powerful one. 1 Samuel 18:1 notes that 'the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul', and as a result (1 Samuel 18:3) the two men entered into a covenant with one another. This passage, and the one paraphrased here from 2 Samuel 1:26, have been interpreted in a variety of ways, ranging from evidence of a homosexual relationship between the two men through to an idealised form of Stoic friendship.