Iobi Cap. 3 (c.1573)

See d2_MelA_005 for the publication history and context of this poem. The text is a free paraphrase of chapter 3 of the Book of Job in the Old Testament, which is itself mainly in poetic form with a prose introduction and conclusion. The main subject of the book is the issue of innocent suffering, a wholly appropriate topic given that the epigrams in the Carmen Mosis focus on the martyrdom of the French Huguenots in the St Bartholomew's Day Massacres. In the OT text, Job, despite being devout, is made the subject of a wager between God and the Devil and has his faith tested through a series of trials including the loss of his family and health. Job perseveres, and is ultimately rewarded with 'twice as much as he had before' (Job 42:10), a fact which Melville reinforces poetically here through a paraphrase of Ovid's description of the suffering of Io (see note below). Metre: hexameter.

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1Ut via vix tandem voci laxata dolore est, 1
ipse 2 suum Iobus natalem devovet amens
immeritum: ac tales erumpit pectore voces: 3
'heu lucem invisam, et noctem infaelicibus actam
5auspiciis! Quae prima haustum mihi luminis hujus
dira dedit, natoque patrem illaetabilis auxit.
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O pereat lux illa, atris extincta tenebris,
nec cœlo pater omnipotens hanc spectet ab alto, 4
nec super accendat radios fulgentior axis.
10At tristes fœdent tenebrae pallentibus umbris,
densior et nimbis nigrantibus incubet aer:
ac veluti scelerum diris ultricibus acti
terribili fremitu horrificent, qui mole malorum 5
evicti ingratam exoptant abrumpere vitam.
15O pereat nox illa alta caligine mersa, 6
expuncta e fastis, exempta e mensibus anni.
Secubet, et deserta vacet: solaque sub umbra
auscultet nec laeta jocos, nec festa Hymenaeos.
At longum integrans ferali carmine luctum 7
20naenia, crudeles Superos crudelia clamet
Sidera, congeminetque atris accentibus Orcum.

Iam neque sint astrorum ignes, neque lucidus aethra
siderea polus: obscuro sed nubila caelo
semper et immenso nox intempesta profundo. 8
25Expectet lucem nequicquam: et praevius almae
Lucifer Aurorae rosei jubar abnuat oris.

Denique natalem aeternis tegat umbra tenebris,
quae me infaelicem in lucem e penetralibus alvi
extulit, et portae pariturae limina pandit. 9
30Illa meis, infandum, oculis curasque, laboresque,
et luctum, et lacrymas satis objecit iniquis.

Mene sinu clausum materno occumbere quondam
non potuisse? Ipsove animam hanc effundere in ortu: 10
aut alvo elaspum mox aevi in limine primo
35oppetere? Et tantos letho praevertere luctus?

Quid genibus susceptus ego? Quaenam ubera suxi
infaelix? Somno positum sub nocte silenti, 11
dulcis et alta quies gremio complexa foveret
me nunc, et socium magni rectoribus orbis,
40nunc et confortem claris splendore tyrannis,
quique nova antiquas instaurant mole ruinas;
quique suis tectis penitus defossa talenta
abscondunt, ignotum argenti pondus et auri. 12

Essem ego nunc (ceu vitae exors atque aethere cassus
45infans, qui latebris alvi, qui carcere caeco 13
Link to an image of this page  [p92] inclusus jacet) exanimis sine luce, sine aura.
Saevus ubi insontem parcit vexare: ubi ingens 14
parta quies fessis rerum, fractisque labore:
vinctus ubi nec vincla gerit jam rupta: nec audit
50exactorem, operi jussis qui tristibus instet;
hic et dives opum, et duris in rebus egenus. 15
Hic et avis atavisque potens, et clarus honore, 16
obscurusque aevo simul atque ignobilis ortu:
hic servi, domino excusso, jam libera cervix.

55Quid lucem aerumnoso homini? Quid munera vitae
mœstis corda dedit? Qui votis omnibus unam
expectant mortem frustra: scrobibusque subactis, 17
alte vestigant oculis, et forte reperto 18
serius, exultant laeti gaudentque sepulchro:
60queis vitam fors atra gravem caligine caeca
obsidet: obstructamque viam Deus intercludit.

Multa gemens crebo ante cibos suspiria duco,
clamores simul horrendos ad sidera tollo, 19
fletuque fremituque, et luctisono mugitu. 20
65Haud secus, ac torrentis aquae rapidissimus imber
vastior it: raucumque sonans immurmurat unda.
Quod metuit, quod fugit onus praesaga mali mens, 21
pondere nunc premit, et duris me casibus urget. 22
Non lentum, non securum, non pace beata
70florentem stupor egit iners me hoc turbine rerum.'
71Tantos ille suo rumpebat pectore quaestus. 23

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[Paraphrase of the Book of] Job, chapter 3

1 When finally a slender path for his voice was freed from his grief, a beside himself, Job curses his own undeserved birth: and he breaks forth such words from his heart: 'Oh that hateful day and night inauspiciously passed! Which first unhappily gave the breath of day to me, and joylessly provided a father with a son.

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7 O let that light of day disappear, obliterated by pitch-black night, and let neither the all-powerful father look upon this day from high heaven, b nor let the brightening wheel of the sun fire up its flashing spokes. Instead, let the gloomy night darken the day with dulling shades, and let the darkening sky brood with blackening storms: and, like the hideous roaring from men driven by the avenging furies of sins, who are overcome by a mountain of evils and earnestly wish to end their unpleasant existence, let the storms in fear-inducing groans send shivers up the spine. O let that night of my birth disappear, plunged into the deep gloom, erased from the calendar, banished from the months of the year. Let it be solitary, and let it be empty, abandoned: alone in the shade let it neither as a joyful day behold the games, nor as a festive day witness weddings. Instead, renewing its lingering lamentation in funereal song, let grief scream at the cruel Gods above and the cruel heavens, and let it make a new land of the dead with its gloomy tones.

22 Now let there neither be bright fires from the stars, nor let the heavens shine with a starry sky: rather let there always be clouds in a covered heaven and darkest night in an endless abyss. Let day await the light in vain: and let Lucifer, the forerunner of nourishing Dawn, block the splendor of her rosey face.

27Finally, let a shade cover that day of my birth in eternal darkness, which brought forth an unhappy me into the light of day from inside the womb, and lay open the threshold of a door about to open. By unjust fate, that day threw out unspeakable sorrow, worries, hardships, and tears before my eyes.

32 Ah, why could I have not died when enclosed within the maternal bosom? Why could I have not given up the ghost in birth itself, or having slipped out of the womb, not met death soon after the very beginning of my life? And thus through death averted so many sorrows?

36 Why was I received on my mother's knees? Why the breast, pray tell, did I unhappily feed upon? For calmed in sleep beneath a silent night, a sweet and deep sleep embracing me in its bosom would now keep me warm, and I would be a companion to the rulers of the great globe, and now a partner in dignity with the illustrious lords, who erected with fresh mass the buildings now laid waste and ancient, and who, in those palaces of theirs, concealed treasures buried far within the ground, an unkown amount of gold and silver.

44 I would now have been (just like the infant deprived of life, without sweet air, who lies imprisoned in the depths of the womb, in a cell Link to an image of this page  [p92] devoid of light) lifeless without light, without air. Where the cruel stop harassing the innocent: where limitless rest is acquired by those worn out by their lot, and ground down by toil: where the defeated no longer endure their broken chains: nor do they hear the oppressor, who would compel them to work with dire commands; here are both the rich in wealth and the destitute in harsh conditions. Here are the powerful in lineage and illustrious in dignity, and also those unknown in their own lifetime and lowly in birth: here, with the master driven out, the slave's collar is released.

55 What gave the gift of life to the suffering man? What gave the gift of life to the dejected in spirit? Those who, in vain with all their prayers, long for death alone: and who, with grave-trenches dug, search with their eyes to the depths below, and when they have later found their grave, gladly they rejoice and exult: for whom grim fortune haunts their burdensome life in gloomy mist: and God blocks the impassable way.

62 Often groaning, I let out many sighs before I eat, and also in tears, in grumbles, and in loud doleful lament c I raise up terrible shouts to the heavens. Just so pours forth the vast and fastest-flowing flood of swirling water: and the resounding wave rumbles loudly. What I feared, the onerous prophecy which my divining mind fled, now bears down upon me with its burden, and with unyielding misfortunes oppresses me. Not lazy, nor indifferent, nor flourishing in blessed rest was I, as some languid numbness pursued me with a whirlwind of misfortunes.' Such plaintive cries did Job continually burst forth from his heart.



1: Virgil, Aeneid XI.151

2: Mistakenly 'Ipe' in the original text.

3: Virgil, Aeneid V.409

4: Virgil, Aeneid VII.141

5: Virgil, Aeneid IV.465

6: Virgil, Aeneid VI.267

7: Virgil, Aeneid IV.463

8: Virgil, Aeneid III.585-587

9: cf. Virgil, Aeneid VI.525

10: Virgil, Aeneid I.97-98

11: Virgil, Aeneid IV.527. The preceding line is an extremely close paraphrase of the Vulgate, Job 3.12: 'Quare exceptus genibus...' The current line has been little changed from the original where Virgil tells of the portentous circumstances before Aeneas leaves Dido.

12: Virgil, Aeneid I.359

13: For this and the following line cf. Virgil, Aeneid VI.734

14: Virgil, Aeneid I.99

15: Virgil, Georgics I.146

16: Virgil, Aeneid VII.56

17: Virgil, Georgics II.50

18: Virgil, Aeneid VI.145

19: Virgil, Aeneid II.222

20: Ovid, Metamorphoses I.732

21: Virgil, Aeneid X.843

22: cf. Virgil, Georgics I.146

23: Full line quotation from Virgil, Aeneid IV.553. There may be a problem with the text here. For 'quaestus' we should read 'questus'.


a: These are the words of Evander (see note in Latin text for specific passage) as he curses the fact that his son is dead. Despite his son's death Evander refuses to blame his covenant with the Trojans. This mirrors Job's own reluctance to break his covenant with God in the face of his own loss.

b: At line 1, where Melville incorporates an entire Vergilian passage to add dramatic colour, and at line 7, where he closely paraphrases the Vulgate's 'pereat dies/o let that light perish', we begin to see two aspects of Melville's compositional approach: Vergilian accretion; and linguistic fidelity to the Vulgate. Here we see a third: a close paraphrasing of the Vulgate that replaces individual Vulgate Latin words with specifically Vergilian terms - 'pater omnipotens/all-powerful father' for 'deus/god' and 'caelo ab alto/from high heaven' for 'desuper/from above'. These three approaches are in evidence throughout the work.

c: This passage comes from Ovid's description of the plight of Io (see note above in Latin text), who has lost her offspring and been turned into a heifer by divine will (Juno). Job too, of course, has been deformed by divine will, and has also lost his family. Io's deformity and sorrow are of short duration, as Jupiter transforms her back and then gives her a new family. This fate, ultimately (at the end of the book), awaits Job. Melville here plays on his readers' literary knowledge to promise a positive outcome.