Hygeae (n.d.)

The third in Melville's sequence of odes on sickness and disease (see d2_MelA_014 and d2_MelA_015), 'Hygea' is interesting for the fact that it makes a sustained appeal to a pagan deity for health and well-being. The 'Hygea' of the title is Hygeia, the daughter of Asclepius and goddess of health. At lines 35-36 the narrator also invokes Panacea, another daughter of Asclepius and the goddess of universal healing, and Paeon, the physician to the Greek gods who later became a personification of both Apollo and Asclepius as healers. The poem completely lacks the invocations made to Christ or God of the kind seen in d2_MelA_014 and d2_MelA_015. Instead, the poem twice makes direct appeals to Hygeia - at lines 2-3 and lines 42-4 - to restore the narrator's health and give him a 'sound mind in a sound body', and also questions whether Hygeia is merely a 'goddess of salvation' or indeed 'equal to god, or God himself' (l.34-5). Melville is perhaps being playful, and he does make a pointed reference to the fact that Hygeia is the 'Deus aevitatis', the god of his allotted time on earth. This suggests that he may only be appealing to her for help in so far as she can alleviate his mortal suffering, while the God of Israel will look after his eternal well-being. However, it is still highly unusual to see Melville cast off his normally Christo-centric view of the world to focus so strongly on a 'pagan' and classical goddess. Metre: sapphic stanzas.

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1Te cano, pulchrae decus aevitatis,
aureum cœli jubar, Hygiia,
quae foves mentem bene sana sanam in
corpore sano. 1

5Tu fugas morbos, maciemque longe:
te fugit pallor, feritasque fati,
et cohors curarum animos fatigans
dura malarum.

9Integer membris, validisque pollens 2
viribus per te, viridi juventa 3
perfruor, succi bene plenus, atque
sanguinis audax.

13Vernat hinc per te species venusta,
concolor suavi violae rosaeque,
lecta quae nondum tereto tenellae
virginis ungue est.

17Castior per te Cytherea sancti
Link to an image of this page  [p108] uberos lecti creat alma fœtus.
Gratior per te Charis et Camœnae
vera canentes.

21Nec minus Phœbus pater, atque Pallas:
purior Phœbus, meliorque Pallas
et polo plaudunt, Superumque regi
gaudia miscent.

25Gestiunt celsae super astra mentes
surgere, et summum superare Olympum:
gestiunt diae Sophiae liquentes
ducere rivos

29unde sublimes animae rigantur
nectare, et sensus animantium, hausto;
unde vitali scatebra perennis
flumina vitae

33viva rumpuntur. Dea tu salutis,
an salus divina? Deo par, ipse 4
an Deus? Certe es Panacaea vero,
Paeone vera.

37Lucis et lumen radians paternae,
luminis splendor radians sereni, et
vera supremi soboles parentis,
veraque vita.

41Tu mihi salve, Deus aevitatis:
aureum cœli jubar, Hygiia,
redde mi sanam bene sana mentem in
44corpore sano. 5

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To Hygea

1I sing of you, Hygeia, the glory of handsome youth, the golden splendour of heaven, you who fosters the good health which makes for a sound mind in a sound body.

5You put sickness and thinness to distant flight: pallor flees from you, as does the savageness of fortune, and the harsh cohort of evil pains exhausting minds.

9Whole in limbs, and thriving with stout strength through you, I greatly enjoy the benefits of my verdant youth, well filled with sap, and bold of blood.

13Hence through you attractive beauty shows signs of spring, coloured with sweet violet and rose which has not yet been picked by the shapely nail of a dainty virgin.

17Through you dear Venus more chastely Link to an image of this page  [p108] begets the bountiful offspring of the holy marriage-bed. Through you also Grace, with more grace, and the Muses are singing truths.

21It is no less so with Father Phoebus and Pallas: both a purer Phoebus and a kinder Pallas applaud in heaven, and mix together joys for the king of the Gods.

25Lofty minds above the stars are eager to rise up and surpass the top of Olympus: they are eager to direct the flowing stream of divine wisdom

29 from whence, with its nectar drawn off, the souls on high and the senses of the living are moistened; and from whence in a vital gushing stream the living floods of eternal life

33are made to burst open. Are you the goddess of salvation, or divine salvation itself? The equal of God, or God himself? Certainly you are the true Panacea, with true Paeon.

37The radiant light of the paternal light, the radiant splendour of serene light, and the true offspring of the supreme parent, and the true life.

41You, god of my mortal life, give me health: Hygeia, golden splendour of heaven, return to me the good health which makes a sound mind in a sound body.



1: Juvenal, Satires X.356

2: This line and the start of next: Buchanan, Psalms XCV.29-30

3: Virgil, Aeneid V.295

4: cf. Catullus, Carmina LI.1

5: See above: Juvenal, Satires X.356