Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Satyre entituled the Witch

'A Satyre entituled the Witch' (from here, pp. 381-3) is an anonymous broadsheet, presumably from 1616, or thereabouts (it is subtitled 'supposed to bee made against the Lady Francis Countes of Somerset': which is to say, Frances Carr, who was tried for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. Here's a contemporary account of that, and here's Wikipedia's page on her. A quick peruse of this latter explains many of the references in the poem below). It goes like this ('Bustuary' in the first line means 'funereal'):
Shee with whom troopes of Bustuary slaves,
(Like Legion) sojourned still amongst the Graves;
And there laid plots which made the silver Moone
To fall in Labour many times too soon:
Canidia now drawes on.

Shee that in every vice did so excell
That Shee could read new principles to Hell;
And shew the Fiends recorded in her loooks,
Such deeds, as were not in their blackest books:
Canidia now drawes on.

Shee that by spels could make a frozen stone
Melt and dissolve with soft affection;
And in an instant strike the Factours dead
That should pay duties to the Marriage bed:
Canidia now drawes on.

Shee that consisted all of borrowed grace,
Could paint her heart as smoothly as her face,
And when he breath gave wings to silken words,
Poisons in thoughts conceive and murthering swords:
Canidia now drawes on.

Shee that could reeke within the sheets of lust,
And there bee searcht, yet passe without mistrust;
Shee that could surfle up the waies of sinne
And make streight Posternes where wide gates had been:
Canidia now drawes on.

Shee that could cheate the matrimoniall bed,
With a false-stampt adulterate maidenhead;
And make the Husband thinke those kisses chast,
Which were stale Panders to his Spouses wast.
Canidia now drawes on.

Whose brest was that Aceldama of blood,
Whose vertue still became the Cankers food;
Whose closett might a Golgotta bee stil'd,
Or else a charnell where dead bones are pil'd:
Canidia now drawes on.

Whose waxen pictures made by Incantation,
Whose philters, potions for Loves propagation;
Count Circe but a novice in the trade,
And scorn all druggs that Colchos ever made:
Canidia now drawes on.

Oh let no Bells bee ever heard to ring,
Let not a Chime the nightly houres sing;
Let not the Lyrique Lark salute the day,
Nor Philomele tune the sad dark away:
Canidia still drawes on.

Let croaking Ravens, and death-boding Owles,
let groning Mandrakes, and the ghastly howles
Of men unburied, bee the fatal knell
To ring Candida downe from Earth to Hell:
Canidia still drawes on.

Let Wolves and Tygers howle, let Serpents cry,
Let Basilisks bedew their poisoning eie;
Let Plutos dogg stretchhigh his barking note,
And chant her dirges with his triple throate:
Canidia still drawes on.

Under his burthen let great Atlas quake,
Let the fixt Earth's unmoved center shake;
And the faire Heavens wrapp't as it were with wonder
That Devills dy, speake out their loudest thunder:
Canidia still drawes on.

No longer shall the pretty Marigolds
Ly sepulchred at night in their owne folds;
The Rose should flourish, and throughout the yeare
No leaf nor plant once blasted would appeare:
Were once Canidia gone.

The Starres would seeme as glorious as the Moon,
And Shee like Phoebus in his brightest noone;
Mists, clouds and vapours, all would passe away,
And the whole yeare bee as Halcyons day:
Oh were Canidia gone.
I particularly like the way the charges against 'Canidia' begin with her specific power of rendering her husband impotent, and faking her own virginity test ('Shee that could surfle up the waies of sinne/And make streight Posternes where wide gates had been' means that she metaphorically 'surfled' or 'sewed' up her vagina, making it appear as narrow as a virgin's rather than as wide as a strumpets), but swiftly move on to a sense that all cosmic ills and infertilities would somehow be cured if she were disposed of. Why 'Canidia'? Well, this is the name of a witch from Horace's Fifth Epode (the Latin name means 'white'); a short-ish poem spoken by a boy kidnapped by Candida and her witch-sisters, who intend to bury him up to his neck and starve him to death, tempting him with food just out of his reach -- the belief is that his hunger will cause his liver to grow, and it's his liver they want, so as to make a powerful love potion (here, in Smart's translation):
Canidia, having interwoven her hair and uncombed head with little vipers, orders wild fig-trees torn up from graves, orders funeral cypresses and eggs besmeared with the gore of a loathsome toad, and feathers of the nocturnal screech-owl, and those herbs, which Colchos, and Spain, fruitful in poisons, transmits, and bones snatched from the mouth of a hungry bitch, to be burned in Colchian flames. But Sagana, tucked up for expedition, sprinkling the waters of Avernus all over the house, bristles up with her rough hair like a sea-urchin, or a boar in the chase. Veia, deterred by no remorse of conscience, groaning with the toil, dug up the ground with the sharp spade; where the boy, fixed in, might long be tormented to death at the sight of food varied two or three times in a day: while he stood out with his face, just as much at bodies suspended by the chin [in swimming] project from the water, that his parched marrow and dried liver might be a charm for love; when once the pupils of his eyes had wasted away, fixed on the forbidden food. Both the idle Naples, and every neighboring town believed, that Folia of Ariminum, [a witch] of masculine lust, was not absent: she, who with her Thessalian incantations forces the charmed stars and the moon from heaven. Here the fell Canidia, gnawing her unpaired thumb with her livid teeth, what said she? or what did she not say? O ye faithful witnesses to my proceedings, Night and Diana, who presidest over silence, when the secret rites are celebrated: now, now be present, now turn your anger and power against the houses of our enemies, while the savage wild beasts lie hid in the woods, dissolved in sweet repose; let the dogs of Suburra (which may be matter of ridicule for every body) bark at the aged profligate, bedaubed with ointment, such as my hands never made any more exquisite. What is the matter? Why are these compositions less efficacious than those of the barbarian Medea? by means of which she made her escape, after having revenged herself on [Jason's] haughty mistress, the daughter of the mighty Creon; when the garment, a gift that was injected with venom, took off his new bride by its inflammatory power. And yet no herb, nor root hidden in inaccessible places, ever escaped my notice. [Nevertheless,] he sleeps in the perfumed bed of every harlot, from his forgetfulness [of me]. Ah! ah! he walks free [from my power] by the charms of some more knowing witch. Varus, (oh you that will shortly have much to lament!) you shall come back to me by means of unusual spells; nor shall you return to yourself by all the power of Marsian enchantments, I will prepare a stronger philter: I will pour in a stronger philter for you, disdainful as you are; and the heaven shall subside below the sea, with the earth extended over it, sooner than you shall not burn with love for me, in the same manner as this pitch [burns] in the sooty flames. At these words, the boy no longer [attempted], as before, to move the impious hags by soothing expressions; but, doubtful in what manner he should break silence, uttered Thyestean imprecations. Potions [said he] have a great efficacy in confounding right and wrong, but are not able to invert the condition of human nature; I will persecute you with curses; and execrating detestation is not to be expiated by any victim. Moreover, when doomed to death I shall have expired, I will attend you as a nocturnal fury; and, a ghost, I will attack your faces with my hooked talons (for such is the power of those divinities, the Manes), and, brooding upon your restless breasts, I will deprive you of repose by terror. The mob, from village to village, assaulting you on every side with stones, shall demolish you filthy hags. Finally, the wolves and Esquiline vultures shall scatter abroad your unburied limbs.

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