Vergil, Aeneid 4.173-190: Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama

by Tom Gardner

Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes—
Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius ullum;
mobilitate viget, viresque adquirit eundo,
parva metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras,
ingrediturque solo, et caput inter nubila condit.
Illam Terra parens, ira inritata deorum,
extremam (ut perhibent) Coeo Enceladoque sororem
progenuit, pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis,
monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui, quot sunt corpore plumae
tot vigiles oculi subter, mirabile dictu,
tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit aures.
Nocte volat caeli medio terraeque per umbram,
stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno;
luce sedet custos aut summi culmine tecti,
turribus aut altis, et magnas territat urbes;
tam ficti pravique tenax, quam nuntia veri.
Haec tum multiplici populos sermone replebat
gaudens, et pariter facta atque infecta canebat.

Rumour goes forthwith through the great cities of Libya—
Rumour: that evil which nothing else is swifter than;
it thrives with quickness, and gains strength by travelling;
at first, it is small with dread; it soon lifts itself into the winds,
and proceeds along the ground, and then puts its head in clouds.
The earth as its parent, vexed by anger towards the gods,
bore the last (as they say) sister for Coeus and Enceladeus,
swift of foot and nimble of wing,
a dreadful monster, enormous, who has just as many feathers on its body
as it has unsleeping eyes beneath them, amazing to describe,
so many uttering tongues, so many mouths, so many pricked ears.
By night, it flies through darkness between earth and heaven,
hissing, and does not close its eyes for sweet sleep.
By daylight, it is sentinel, either on the uppermost roof gable,
or the summits of towers, and terrorises great cities;
it clings to crooked falsehoods as much as to messages of truth.
Now it delights to fill the people with winding gossip,
singing equally of things done, and of things not done.