A Strain of Sodom.

Early Christian Writings

Title: A Strain of Sodom.

Subheading: (CCEL Part Fourth. – Appendix)


Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol IV. (Part.IV)

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

Original Source: CCEL

Related Linkearlychristianwritings.com

Translated by: Rev. S. Thelwall

By: Tertullianus, Quintus Septimius

Published: 197-220 A.D.

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A Strain of Sodom.

Already had Almighty God wiped off
By vengeful flood (with waters all conjoined
Which heaven discharged on earth and the sea’s plain
Outspued) the times of the primeval age:

5 Had pledged Himself, while nether air should bring
The winters in their course, ne’er to decree,
By liquid ruin, retribution’s due;
And had assigned, to curb the rains, the bow
Of many hues, sealing the clouds with band

10 Of purple and of green, Iris its name,
The rain-clouds’ proper baldric.
But alike
With mankind’s second race impiety
Revives, and a new age of ill once more
Shoots forth; allotted now no more to showers

15 For ruin, but to fires: thus did the land
Of Sodom earn to be by glowing dews
Upburnt, and typically thus portend
The future end. There wild voluptuousness
(Modesty’s foe) stood in the room of law;

20 Which prescient guest would shun, and sooner choose
At Scythian or Busirian altar’s foot
’Mid sacred rites to die, and, slaughtered, pour
His blood to Bebryx, or to satiate
Libyan palæstras, or assume new forms;

25 By virtue of Circæan cups, than lose
His outraged sex in Sodom. At heaven’s gate
There knocked for vengeance marriages commit
With equal incest common ’mong a race
By nature rebels ’gainst themselves; and hurts

30 Done to man’s name and person equally.
But God, forewatching all things, at fix’d time
Doth judge the unjust; with patience tarrying
The hour when crime’s ripe age—not any force
Of wrath impetuous—shall have circumscribed

35 The space for waiting.
Now at length the day
Of vengeance was at hand. Sent from the host
Angelical, two, youths in form, who both
Were ministering spirits, carrying
The Lord’s divine commissions, come beneath

40 The walls of Sodom. There was dwelling Lot
A transplantation from a pious stock; 130
Wise, and a practicer of righteousness,
He was the only one to think on God:
As oft a fruitful tree is wont to lurk,

45 Guest-like, in forests wild. He, sitting then
Before the gate (for the celestials scarce
Had reached the ramparts), though he knew not them
Divine, accosts them unsolicited,
Invites, and with ancestral honour greets;

50 And offers them, preparing to abide
Abroad, a hospice. By repeated prayers
He wins them; and then ranges studiously
The sacred pledges on his board, and quits
His friends with courteous offices. The night

55 Had brought repose: alternate dawn had chased
The night, and Sodom with her shameful law
Makes uproar at the doors. Lot, suppliant wise,
Withstands: “Young men, let not your new fed lust
Enkindle you to violate this youth!

60 Whither is passion’s seed inviting you?
To what vain end your lust? For such an end
No creatures wed: not such as haunt the fens;
Not stall-fed cattle; not the gaping brood
Subaqueous; nor they which, modulant

65 On pinions, hang suspended near the clouds;
Nor they which with forth-stretched body creep
Over earth’s face. To conjugal delight
Each kind its kind doth owe: but female still
To all is wife; nor is there one that has

70 A mother save a female one. Yet now,
If youthful vigour holds it right to waste
The flower of modesty, I have within
Two daughters of a nuptial age, in whom
Virginity is swelling in its bloom,

75 Already ripe for harvest—a desire
Worthy of men—which let your pleasure reap!
Myself their sire, I yield them; and will pay
For my guests’ sake, the forfeit of my grief!”
Answered the mob insane: “And who art thou?

80 And what? and whence? to lord it over us,
And to expound us laws? Shall foreigner
Rule Sodom, and hurl threats? Now, then, thyself
For daughters and for guests shalt sate our greed!
One shall suffice for all!” So said, so done:

85 The frantic mob delays not. As, whene’er
A turbid torrent rolls with wintry tide,
And rushes at one speed through countless streams
Of rivers, if, just where it forks, some tree
Meets the swift waves (not long to stand, save while

90 By her root’s force she shall avail to oppose
Her tufty obstacles), when gradually
Her hold upon the undermined soil
Is failing, with her bared stem she hangs,
And, with uncertain heavings to and fro,

95 Defers her certain fall; not otherwise
Lot in the mid-whirl of the dizzy mob
Kept nodding, now almost o’ercome. But power
Divine brings succour: the angelic youths,
Snatching him from the threshold, to his roof

100 Restore him; but upon the spot they mulct
Of sight the mob insane in open day,—
Fit augury of coming penalties!
Then they unlock the just decrees of God:
That penalty condign from heaven will fall

105 On Sodom; that himself had merited
Safety upon the count of righteousness.
“Gird thee, then, up to hasten hence thy flight,
And with thee to lead out what family
Thou hast: already we are bringing on

110 Destruction o’er the city.” Lot with speed
Speaks to his sons-in-law; but their hard heart
Scorned to believe the warning, and at fear
Laughed. At what time the light attempts to climb
The darkness, and heaven’s face wears double hue

115 From night and day, the youthful visitants
Were instant to outlead from Sodoma
The race Chaldæan, and the righteous house
Consign to safety: “Ho! come, Lot! arise,
And take thy yokefellow and daughters twain,

120 And hence, beyond the boundaries be gone,
Preventing Sodom’s penalties!” And eke
With friendly hands they lead them trembling forth,
And then their final mandates give: “Save, Lot,
Thy life, lest thou perchance should will to turn

125 Thy retroverted gaze behind, or stay
The step once taken: to the mountain speed!” 131
Lot feared to creep the heights with tardy step,
Lest the celestial wrath-fires should o’ertake
And whelm him: therefore he essays to crave

130 Some other ports; a city small, to wit,
Which opposite he had espied. “Hereto,”
He said, “I speed my flight: scarce with its walls
’Tis visible; nor is it far, nor great.”
They, favouring his prayer, safety assured

135 To him and to the city; whence the spot
Is known in speech barbaric by the name
Segor. Lot enters Segor while the sun
Is rising, the last sun, which glowing bears
To Sodom conflagration; for his rays

140 He had armed all with fire: beneath him spreads
An emulous gloom, which seeks to intercept
The light; and clouds combine to interweave
Their smoky globes with the confused sky:
Down pours a novel shower: the ether seethes

145 With sulphur mixt with blazing flames: the air
Crackles with liquid heats exust. From hence
The fable has an echo of the truth
Amid its false, that the sun’s progeny
Would drive his father’s team; but nought availed

150 The giddy boy to curb the haughty steeds
Of fire: so blazed our orb: then lightning reft
The lawless charioteer, and bitter plaint
Transformed his sisters. Let Eridanus
See to it, if one poplar on his banks

155 Whitens, or any bird dons plumage there
Whose note old age makes mellow!
Here they mourn
O’er miracles of metamorphosis
Of other sort. For, partner of Lot’s flight,
His wife (ah me, for woman! even then

160 Intolerant of law!) alone turned back
At the unearthly murmurs of the sky)
Her daring eyes, but bootlessly: not doomed
To utter what she saw! and then and there
Changed into brittle salt, herself her tomb

165 She stood, herself an image of herself,
Keeping an incorporeal form: and still
In her unsheltered station ’neath the heaven
Dures she, by rains unmelted, by decay
And winds unwasted; nay, if some strange hand

170 Deface her form, forthwith from her own store
Her wounds she doth repair. Still is she said
To live, and, ’mid her corporal change, discharge
With wonted blood her sex’s monthly dues.
Gone are the men of Sodom; gone the glare

175 Of their unhallowed ramparts; all the house
Inhospitable, with its lords, is gone:
The champaign is one pyre; here embers rough
And black, here ash-heaps with hoar mould, mark out
The conflagration’s course: evanished

180 Is all that old fertility which Lot,
Seeing outspread before him,…
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
No ploughman spends his fruitless toil on glebes
Pitchy with soot: or if some acres there,
But half consumed, still strive to emulate

185 Autumn’s glad wealth, pears, peaches, and all fruits
Promise themselves full easely to the eye
In fairest bloom, until the plucker’s hand
Is on them: then forthwith the seeming fruit
Crumbles to dust ’neath the bewraying touch,

190 And turns to embers vain.
Thus, therefore (sky
And earth entombed alike), not e’en the sea
Lives there: the quiet of that quiet sea
Is death! —a sea which no wave animates
Through its anhealant volumes; which beneath 132

195 Its native Auster sighs not anywhere;
Which cannot from its depths one scaly race,
Or with smooth skin or cork-like fence encased,
Produce, or curled shell in single valve
Or double fold enclosed. Bitumen there

200 (The sooty reek of sea exust) alone,
With its own crop, a spurious harvest yields;
Which ’neath the stagnant surface vivid heat
From seething mass of sulphur and of brine
Maturing tempers, making earth cohere

205 Into a pitch marine. At season due
The heated water’s fatty ooze is borne
Up to the surface; and with foamy flakes
Over the level top a tawny skin
Is woven. They whose function is to catch

210 That ware put to, tilting their smooth skin down
With balance of their sides, to teach the film,
Once o’er the gunnel, to float in: for, lo!
Raising itself spontaneous, it will swim
Up to the edge of the unmoving craft;

215 And will, when pressed, for guerdon large, ensure
Immunity from the defiling touch
Of weft which female monthly efflux clothes.
Behold another portent notable,
Fruit of that sea’s disaster: all things cast

220 Therein do swim: gone is its native power
For sinking bodies: if, in fine, you launch
A torch’s lightsome hull (where spirit serves
For fire) therein, the apex of the flame
Will act as sail; put out the flame, and ’neath

225 The waters will the light’s wrecks ruin go!
Such Sodom’s and Gomorrah’s penalties,
For ages sealed as signs before the eyes
Of unjust nations, whose obdurate hearts
God’s fear have quite forsaken, will them teach

230 To reverence heaven-sanctioned rights, and lift
Their gaze unto one only Lord of all.

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