periculo laborique isto temere succumbis? Nam si spiritus corpore tuo semel fuerit seiugatus, ibis quidem profecto18
ad imum Tartarum, sed inde nullo pacto redire poteris. Mihi ausculta. Lacedaemo, Achaiae nobilis civitas, non longe sita est. Huius conterminam deviis abditam locis quaere Taenarum. Inibi spiraculum Ditis, et per portas hiantes monstratur iter invium, cui34 te limine transmeato simul commiseris, iam canale directo perges ad ipsam Orci regiam. Sed non hactenus vacua debebis per illas tenebras incedere, sed offas polentae mulso concretas ambabus gestare manibus, at in ipso ore duas ferre stipes. Iamque confecta bona parte mortiferae viae, continaberis claudum asinum lignorum gerulum cum agasone simili, qui te rogabit decidentis35 sarcinae fusticulos aliquos porrigas ei; sed tu nulla voce deprompta tacita praeterito. Nec mora cum ad flumen mortuum venies, cui praefectus Charon, protinus expetens portorium, sic ad ripam ulteriorem sutili cumba deducit commeantes. Ergo et inter mortuos avaritia vivit, nec Charon ille Ditis exactor36 tantus deus quicquam gratuito facit. Sed moriens pauper viaticum debet quaerere, et aes si forte prae manu non fuerit, nemo eum exspirare patietur. Huic squalido seni dabis nauli nomine
which is the last of your labours? Once your breath is separated from your body, you will indeed go straight down to the bottom of Tartarus, but in no way will you be able to return from there. Listen to my advice.
The famous Achaean18 city Lacedaemon is not far from here. Ask for Taenarus, hidden in a remote area bordering Lacedaemon.13 There is Dis’s breathing-vent,14 and through wide-gaping doors one is shown a dead-end road. Once you cross the threshold and commit yourself to this road, you will continue by a direct track to Orcus’ palace. But you must not go forward into that shadowy region empty-handed. In each hand you must carry a barley-cake soaked in mead, and hold two coins in your mouth.15 Now, when you have completed a good part of your deathly journey you will meet a lame ass carrying wood, with a driver lame as well, who will ask you to hand him some twigs that have fallen off his load. But you must not utter a single word and must pass by him in silence. Very soon you will come to the river of the dead,16 where the administrator Charon immediately demands the toll and then ferries travellers to the farther bank in his patched skiff. We see that greed is alive even among the dead; and Charon, Dis’s tax-gatherer, great god that he is, does nothing unpaid. A poor man who is dying must find his passage-money, and unless a copper happens to be on hand no one will let him breathe his last breath. For your fare you will give that filthy old man one of the coins you
- 13The Roman province Achaea included Lacedaemon (Sparta) and Cape Taenarus, where there was a temple and cave traditionally considered an entrance to the underworld.
- 14The expression comes from Vergil, Aeneid VII 568, and in this and the following chapter there are several other echoes of the poet.
- 15The dead were often buried with a small coin in the mouth to pay the ferryman Charon.
- 16Or “the dead river”, if mortuum is read as neuter accusative singular instead of genitive plural.