Amores II:6

My girlfriend’s parrot, her winged mimic from the Dawn-lighted Indies, has died. Flock to its funeral rites, birds. Come, dutiful winged ones: beat your breasts with your pinions and tear your delicate cheeks with your unbending claws. Pluck out your crests as humans tear their hair and let your own songs quiver in place of the funerary horn. 

Philomela, you have complained long enough about the crime of the tyrant Tereus; now turn your grief to the miserable funeral of this rare bird. The fate of Itys was terrible, but it’s in the far past now.

All of you who wend your courses through the currents of the air, grieve! And you above all grieve for your friend, turtledove. You and the parrot lived together in perfect concord for his whole life; your mutual faith remained firm to the end. As was the friendship of Phocean Pylades with Orestes the Argive, so was the turtledove’s to you, parrot, for so long as the fates granted.

But what value was your friendship, your uniquely beautiful color, your amazing art of mimicry; what value that you pleased my girlfriend, to whom you were given with that intent? Though you were beyond question the very crown of avian existence, you lie in death!

Your wings made the green of brittle emeralds look dull and your beak blushed as though stained with Tyrian purple. No bird in all the world could better mimic a human voice: you spoke back the words perfectly, but with a fetching lisp.

It was envy that snatched you off. You were never quarrelsome; you chattered gently, a lover of peaceful calm. Look at the way quail live, constantly fighting among themselves even worse than a gaggle of old women.

It didn’t take much to fill you, nor did you stop talking frequently to gobble down more food. A nut was enough for you or the head of a sleep-bearing poppy, and a drink of pure water slaked your thirst. The vulture is greed incarnate; likewise the kite wheeling in the skies and the jackdaw that brings the rains. The crow, though hated by armed Minerva, lives for nine centuries and more; but you have died, parrot, gift brought from the ends of the Earth.

It’s always the best whom the greedy shades first snatch off; lesser creatures are left to fill out long lives. Thersites lived to watch the sad funeral of Protesilaus, and Hector was cremated while his brothers lived.

Why is it that I must remember the prayers of my frightened girlfriend–vain prayers which Notus, the stormy Southwind, snatched across the sea? Your seventh dawn rose, but there would not be an eighth. Fate stood holding the distaff empty of the thread of your life.

Even at the end your throat did not choke on unworthy words. Dying, your tongue cried, “Corinna, farewell!”

Beneath the hill of Elysium spreads a grove of dark ilex; the grass is always green on the well-watered soil beneath. If one may ever speak with confidence about such doubtful things, there is the place of blessed birds from which their foul kin are barred. There flocks of harmless swans browse, and there lives the only phoenix ever to exist. Here the peacock sacred to Juno displays, and the gentle dove gives kisses to her loving mate. The parrot has reached this shaded grove and has taught the pious birds to speak the way he does.

A cairn covers his bones, a cairn far greater than his body. Its capstone bears this worthy epitaph:


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