This poem is undated, but given its central theme of the fickleness of the goddess Fortune and the constant cycle of hardships that men must endure, it seems likely that it was written at some point between early 1597 and Rollock's death in 1599. By this stage in his life Rollock had suffered numerous setbacks and miseries. He had been granted the post of commissary of Dundee in September 1580 by James VI only to have the post summarily voided by the Privy Council in the following January after the St Andrews commissary court successfully protested that Rollock was interfering in their jurisdiction. Rollock's eleven-year tenure as principal of Edinburgh High School between 1584 and 1595 had also come to an ignominious end after one of his students, William Sinclair of Caithness, shot John McMorane, a baillie and local merchant, during a student riot. Finally, his reputation had been attacked in verses by Andrew Melville in retaliation for Rollock's written defence of the king after the 'Tolbooth Riot' of 16 December 1596 (for further details of both episodes, see d2_RolH_002, d2_RolH_020). It is thus understandable as to why Rollock would feel the need to lament the cruelties of fortune, and here he devotes considerable space to doing just that. Metre: elegiac couplets.
Sylva I: querela de Fortunae inconstantia (c.1597-1599)
SYLVA I: querela de Fortunae inconstantia
1Aeolus insanos ubi solvit carcere ventos, 1
aethereisque furunt ignis et unda plagis,
tunc operae intentus per devia rura colonus,
sive legit Cererem seu bove vertit humum,
5sensit ubi enixas crepitantia fulmina nubes,
vicinumque avidas per nemus ire faces,
attonitus strage ac strepitu, flammisque Tonantis,
ipse licet, nullo tactus ab igne, jacet.
Sic ego, quem humanas tacite spectare procellas
10iusserat Aonii turba beata chori,
quamlibet ipse vago vivam securus ab orbe,
nec mea cum populi vita furore fluat.
[p346] Cum tamen instabiles Fortunae conspicor auras,
quae levis incerta statque, caditque 2 mora,
15non aliter volvor vicini vortice fati,
quam mea si tumidis cymba volaret aquis.
Et pavor ipse vetat Superos onerare querelis,
et rerum instabiles voce notare vices:
quisquis agit mundum dubiis auriga lupatis,
20praecipiti nostrum ne premat axe caput.
Sed grave supplicium nimis est, cum voce dolores
dicere plectentis dextra cruenta vetat.
Libera vox miseris affert solamina curis,
lenimenque mali luctus habere solet.
25Ergo mihi querulae veniam date, numina, linguae,
tristia dum miseris increpo fata modis.
Criminibus non vos onero communibus omnes,
non una innumeros voce lacesso Deos.
Verum una innumeris est Diva premenda querelis:
30Fortunam in Divis si numerare licet!
Nec tantum humanas merito sibi concitat iras,
sed simul insensos debet habere Deos.
Mortalem cum torquet enim vertigine sortem,
et stabilem rebus non finit esse locum,
35aut querimur non esse Deis mortalia curae,
numina vel nostris ludere saeva malis.
Atque ita si culpam Fortunae adscribimus omnem,
proteget hinc reliquos integra fama Deos.
Dicite, Di, vestris illam si adjungere templis,
40et vestrae sociam laudis habere placet.
Cuncta regit certis Superum prudentia metis,
solamen miseris caelitus omne venit.
Cuncta trahit pessum celeri fors invida gyro,
et miserum faelix qui fuit ante facit.
45Iratosque Deos pietas et vota morantur,
et precibus flecti numina sancta solent.
Sed nihil Fortunam pietas et vota remordent:
nec gemitu orantis se finit illa capi.
Atque ita cum Divis cui nil commune, Deorum
50cœtibus aeternum cur habet illa locum?
An quia concessa est illi sine fine potestas? 3
[p347] Vertat ut arbitrii cardine cuncta sui.
Quisquis erat, primus dederat qui munera Divis,
iussit et officio quemque praeesse suo.
55Huic latas Fortuna nimis ditionis habenas
abstulit, et vatis regna suberba plagis.
Sola potest hominum stabiles dum figere leges;
quodque ligant homines, solvere sola potest.
Iuppiter aetherea quantum vix regnat in aula,
60rebus in humanis haec moderamen habet.
Aut magis angusto debebat limite claudi,
aut non tam levibus flectere regna rotis.
Seu Dea sit, Divum se jussa arcana capessit,
consilio certum non finit esse locum.
65Antiquis pulchra consuevit imagine pingi,
ingenio forma conveniente suo.
Non gerit illa viri speciem: sed fœmina mollis
indicium in sexu mobilitatis habet.
Et parat incassum teriti consistere saxo,
70ut sibi non stabiles indicet esse gradus.
Nec frustra paribus se tollit in aethera pennis, 4
scilicet haud uno docta manere loco.
Neu teneat certos constanti tramite cursus,
perpetua sentit lumina nocte premi.
75Mentis inops errans, et sani pectoris impos,
non posse ostendit se ratione regi.
Eripit et reddit nullo discrimine dotes
cui volet: ancipitem fertque refertque manum.
Et tamen haec Diva est, quam rerum arcana potestas
80se penes humanos jussit habere lupos.
Haec Diva est vasti moderatrix unica mundi:
haec regit, heu, nostras quo volet axe vias.
Haec dubiam torquet clavo, quasi navita, puppim,
qua volat humanum per vada caeca genus.
85Hac sine quid validae possunt in corpore vires?
Hac sine mansurum quid decor oris habet?
Hac sine quid proles, et avorum nobilis ordo?
Quo valet auriferi dives arena Tagi? 5
Hac fine palpatrix quid prodest turba clientum?
90Quid tandem obsequio regna subacta tuo?
[p348] Haec tibe ni faveat, quo prosunt munera mentis?
Quo vigili virtus parta labore valet?
Nam quascunque habeas animo, seu corpore laudes,
quaeque aliter vitam dona beare solent:
95quicquid id est quo te Superi fecere beatum,
vertet in exitium, si volet, ista tuum.
Consilii nisi fausta comes Fortuna sequatur,
virtute incassum sub duce carpis iter.
Marte ferox studio Martis fallace peribis,
100pace bonus fueris, pax tibi damna feret. 6
Si juvat audaces in caelum extendere pennas, 7
fors premet Icariis corda superba vadis.
Si libeat vitam latebris mandare, latentem
eruet arbitrio subjicietque suo.
105Utraque mobilibus fors est subjecta cylindris,
pondere celsa licet flebiliore ruat.
Lubricat in nostris Divae inconstantia rebus,
et sola similis mobilitate sui est. 8
Cum blande arridet, tacito nil pectore volvit,
110quam dare 9 praecipites insidiosa rotas.
Non aliter placidi Siren modulamine cantus
allicit incautas in cava saxa rates.
Non auceps aliter mentitur arundine voces,
multa suis laqueis ut capiatur avis.
115Non tenues aliter telas contexit Arachne, 10
ut misere in casses inscia praeda cadat.
Aeternum caelo Superi posuere tenorem,
temporibusque ligant sydera quaeque suis.
Legibus et certis fœcundae jugera terrae
120germina nunc reddunt, nunc nive tecta jacent.
Non temere turget vasti vaga gurgitis unda,
sed fluit et spatio refluit ipsa suo.
Quique fugit celeri ventus per inane volatu,
quique rigat natus nubibus imber humum,
125naturae positas metuunt transcendere leges,
et vicibus redeunt umbraque luxque suis.
Solus homo est, animo quem Di finxere superbo,
quique potens rutilo cuncta sub axe regit.
Solus homo Superum se jactat imagine fingi,
[p349] 130et qui caelestis lumina mentis habet.
Solus homo est, dubiis quem fors inimica procellis
iactatum rapidi turbinis instar habet.
Fortunae instabiles casus non ventus, et unda,
non vario tellus germine fœta timet.
135Non auras quae sulcat avis, non incola ponti
piscis, quaeque udam bellua calcat humum.
Verum homo, sublimi qui affectat sydera vultu,
et socium Divis se putat esse parem: 11
ille suam fragili vitam temone rotari
140cernit, et in vitrea per vada puppe vehi.
Qui modo sublimis Tyrio splendebat in ostro, 12
et populis terror pluribus unus erat:
avertente Dea vultus mendicat, et aegre
in media tenues plebe tuetur opes.
145Quique modo tacita se ignobilis abdidit umbra,
eriget in cœlum, forte volente, caput.
Nunc vagus exit aquis, patulas nunc pervolat auras,
nunc humili rursum Cynthius amne natat.
Sic hominem e medio fors erigit invida vulgo,
150erectum casu quo graviore premat.
Quin potius tacitis dat semper vivere tectis?
Stare vel excelsa semper in arce finit?
Cur nunc summa petunt miseri? Cur ima suberbi?
Cur non tota pari vita tenore fluit?
155Cur animal reliquis praestantius omnibus unum
sic volvi incerta Di voluere rota?
Scilicet in terris pacem si fata dedissent,
nec foret alterno mista labore quies:
altius humanis nil mens humana videret,
160sed misere turpi fixa jaceret humo.
Nunc ubi tam infirmas posuerunt Numina sedes,
sortis et ancipiti nos levitate regunt,
ingrata est tellus, excelsique atria caeli
suspicimus; fidae quae loca pacis habent.
165Illic nulla tibi est fallax Fortuna, potestas,
166et requies vanas non habet illa vices.
Sylva I: a lament on Fortune's inconstancy
When Aeolus unleashes the frenzy of the winds from their prison, and both fire and water roar down from the open heavens, then the farmer in his fields, attentive to his work, whether gathering the harvest or turning the furrow with his oxen, when he has seen that the clouds have produced cracks of lightning, and voracious fires sweep through the neighbouring meadows, although awestruck by both the sound and destruction, and the Thunderer's bolts, he himself lies back, untouched by any fire. Thus it is also for me, whom the blessed band of the Aonian chorus had ordered to behold human tempests in silence, however long I should live untroubled by the inconstant world, and my life not pass along with the anger of the people. a [p346] However, as I discern the inconstant favour of Fortune, who stands fickle and uncertain, and falls slowly, I tumble from the peak of a fate close-at-hand, as if my boat were hurtling over the raging waves. Then fear itself prevents me not only from burdening the Gods with lamentations, but also from calling the unstable condition of things by name: Whichever guide directs the world with an unfixed curb, let it not bear down upon my head with its swift wheel. But it is an excessively burdensome punishment, when the blood-stained hand of the punished prevents them from composing on their misery. b The unshackled voice brings comfort amid wretched worries, and is wont to give respite for bitter grief. Therefore, divinities, give me permission to let loose my querulous tongue, as I assail the harsh fates in wretched song. I do not burden you all with general accusations, nor attack the numerous Gods under one title. c Still, there is one divinity who should be hounded with countless complaints - if one can number Fortune among the Gods! Not only justly does she rouse up human anger against herself, but at the same time she is bound to have the Gods hostile to her. When she spins the human lottery with a whirl, and she does not suffer there to be a reliable arena for human affairs, we complain that either the Gods have no concern for mortal affairs, or that savage divinities sport with our misfortunes. So if we now attribute every sin to Fortune, an undiminished reputation will henceforth cover the remaining Gods. Tell us, Gods, if it pleases you to add her to your temples, and have her share your worship. In every respect good sense regulates Heaven with fixed limits, and every comfort for the wretched comes from heaven. Envious fortune drags everything down to the depths in swift spiral, and makes him miserable who was happy before. Also devotion and religious duty restrain the enraged Gods, and the holy divinities are regularly appeased by prayers. But dutifulness and devotion do not worry Fortune: nor does she permit herself to be charmed by the lament of a prayer. And as she has nothing in common with the Gods, why does she have a perpetual seat amid the assembly of the Gods? Or rather why was power without limits granted to her? [p347] May she turn everything on the hinge of her own free-will. The first person who had allotted responsibilities to the Gods, whoever they were, ordered that each God have jurisdiction over their own area. From this person Fortune snatched away the broad reins of excessive power, and kingdoms magnificent in their immense expanse. She alone has the power to determine men's settled laws; and whatever binds men, she alone has the power to dissolve. Scarcely has Jupiter as much influence in his heavenly court, as this woman has control amid human affairs. Either he was bound to be enclosed within smaller boundaries, or to govern his dominion with a steadier wheel. Whether she happens to be a God, or she simply carries out the sacred decrees of the Gods, it is certain that she admits no place for wisdom. She contrived to be depicted by the ancients in a beautiful guise, in a form befitting her talents. She does not bear the appearance of a man: instead she is a pliant woman giving her judgements clad in inconstancy's gender. And she tries in vain to pause and relax upon a smooth stone, to discern for herself where the path is unstable. Not in vain does she raise herself to the heavens on balanced wings, clearly not accustomed to abide in the one place. And she suffers light to be locked in eternal night, so that she does not hold a fixed course on an unchanging path. Wandering without wits, not master of a healthy soul, she appears unable to be governed by reason. Indiscriminately does she take away and restore gifts to whoever she wishes: again and again she deals an ever-changing hand. And although this woman is a goddess, the sacred power of the universe has yet decreed that there be wolves amid humans. This goddess is the only governess of the wide universe: she, alas, directs our journey on whichever wheel she wishes. Like the mariner, she twists the wavering stern with the rudder, and under her direction the human race hurtles over dark waterways. Without her what robust strength can there be in a body? Without her how does the beauty of the face have longevity? Without her what of the people, and the order of the ancestral nobles? How does the rich sand of the gold-bearing Tagus continue? Without her what use are the fawning crowd of hangers-on? Really now, how has her dominion been undermined by your compliance? [p348] Unless she should favour you, of what use are the gifts of the mind? of what good is the virtue gained through conscientious study? For whatever merits you should have, whether in mind or body, each gift usually conferring different blessings upon one's life: whatever it is through which the Gods have made you blessed, that goddess will transform them into your ruin, if she so wishes. Unless Fortune follows well-disposed to your plans, in vain do you navigate under virtue's guidance. Although fierce in war you will perish with your martial studies giving false hope, and although good in peace, peace will bring harm to you. If you delight in stretching out your bold wings into the sky, Fortune will drive your proud heart down to the depths of Icarus. If you should wish to pass your life in the shade, she will pluck you out of your hiding place and subject you to her authority. Each destiny has been subjected to her turning heavy-roller, d and mounted on this grief-bearing mass she is permitted to bring destruction. The Goddess' fluidity seeps into our affairs, and she alone remains unchanged in her movement. When she smiles sweetly at us, she does not go over it with a still mind, for cunningly does she give us her swift wheels. Just so does the Siren attract heedless ships towards the cavernous rocks with the melody of her sweet song. Just so does the trapper simulate the birdcall with a reed, in order to trap many a bird in his snares. Just so did Arachne weave her slender threads, so that the oblivious prey may wretchedly fall into her nets. The Gods have set out an eternal dance in the sky, and bind fast each star to its own beat. Bound by these fixed laws the fields of the fertile earth at one time reproduce budding flowers, and then they lie covered in snow. Not by chance does the wandering wave of the vast sea rise up, but it ebbs and flows on its own course. Each breeze flees on its swift course through the air, each shower produced by the clouds irrigates the earth: light and shade dread to overstep the posited laws of nature, and they return to their alloted stations. On his own is man, whom the Gods fashioned with a proud spirit, and who as master governs all under his golden chariot. Man alone boasts that he is made in the image of the Gods, [p349] and he has the brilliance of a heavenly mind. On his own is man, whom, driven by the fluctuating winds, hostile fortune keeps just like a fierce whirlwind. Neither wind, nor water, nor the earth budding in diverse bloom fear Fortune's unpredictable calamities. Neither the bird who glides through the air, nor the resident of the sea, the fish, nor the animal which treads upon the moist earth. Yet man, who looks to the stars with raised-up face, thinks that he is an equal partner to the Gods: he sees that his life is turned on a fragile axle, and it is conveyed across the seas on a ship of brittle glass. Only recently he used to shine forth in Tyrian purple, e exalted, and he alone was the object of fear to the great multitude: now with the Goddess withdrawing her favours, he begs, and dejected he looks to his meagre wealth along with the rest of the plebs. f And he who was obscure and recently hid himself under a quiet shadow, he will raise up his head to heaven, with destiny willing it. Now the wandering sun leaves the water, and now flies through the open skies, then once again the sun submerges in a lowly stream. Thus does hostile fortune lift man from amid the multitude, and having been lifted back up she oppresses him with a greater misfortune. Why does she not rather let us live forever in quiet dwellings? Why does she not alow us to be in the heavenly citadel always? Why do the wretched now yearn for the heights? Why the haughty for the depths? Why do all our whole lives not now travel on moderate course? Why have the Gods thus wished it that one living being is borne along more favourably on the wheel of fortune than all the rest? Clearly if the fates had wished peace on earth, our rest would not have been mixed with recurring hardship: the human mind would see nothing nobler than human affairs, but it would wretchedly cast itself fixed to the shameful ground. Now where the Gods have fixed such unreliable homes, and rule us with the uncertain inconstancy of fate, the land is unpleasant, and we submit ourselves to the court of high heaven; they have a place for a trustworthy peace. There is no power for you there, deceitful Fortune, and the place of rest g has no untrustworthy changes of fortune.
1: Ovid, Metamorphoses XIV.224
2: Ovid, Ex Ponto II.III.10: 'cum fortuna statque caditque'
3: Virgil, Aeneid I.278-9
4: Virgil, Aeneid V.657
5: Ovid, Amores I.XV.34
6: Cf. Ovid, Fasti I.59-61
7: Virgil, Aeneid VI.15
8: Lucretius, De Rerum Natura V.830
9: Grammatically and metrically this must be read as 'dat', not 'dare'
10: For the story see: Ovid, Metamorphoses VI.5
11: Cf. Catullus, Carmina LI.1
12: Virgil, Georgics III.17
a: Rollock is suggesting his life has been relatively peaceful and stable up to the time of writing, which makes sense if this was written in the closing years of the 1590s.
b: Rollock's misery makes him unable to write.
c: Another example of Rollock's unconscious conflation of the pantheon of Greco-Roman gods with the Christian God (see d2_RolH_001), which he further develops in l.53-64 by arguing that an unidentified figure (presumably God, though this is unclear) allocated clear roles and responsibilities to each of the lesser divinities. However, Fortune's capricious involvment in human affairs effectively confounds God's omnipotent control over all things, and forces him to seek a smaller dominion.
d: Fortune's wheel.
e: The particular shade of imperial purple produced from the shells of the murex of Tyre, famed for the fact that the colour grew stronger with exposure to sunlight, rather than fading as most ancient dyes did.