This elegy by Hildebert of Lavardin is one of my favorite Latin poems. I was surprised to find when I went to share it with several non-classicists last year that I couldn't find an English translation anywhere! Therefore, I went ahead and did the translation myself.
Hildebert wrote this sometime in the late 11th or early 12th century when he visited Rome in the hopes of convincing the Pope to allow him to stop being a bishop (it had landed him in political hot water). Rome had only a few years prior been through another bout of destruction.
The poem is in elegiac couplets, a form with its origins in ancient Greece, used masterfully some two thousand years later. While
Hildebert mourns what has been lost, he also sees great majesty in what remains, and, presumably, in its legacy. Hildebert’s style is fairly straightforward and the poem translates about as well as you could hope for.
Thanks to Christopher Brunelle at St. Olaf College for helping me work through a few confusing spots.
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Equal to you, Rome, there is nothing, though you be nearly a total ruin. Broken, you teach how great you were whole. Long ages have destroyed your pride, and the fortresses of Caesar and the temples of the gods lie in the swamp. That work, that great work is ruined, which the dreadful Araxes  feared when it was standing and mourned when it had fallen; which the swords of kings, the provident laws of the Senate, the gods established as the capital of all things, which Caesar chose with his crime to have for himself alone rather than be a pious friend and father-in-law,  which arising by three pursuits conquered enemies with force, severed crime with laws, bought friends with wealth. Until the work was finished, the care of the gods watched over it; the people’s piety helped the work, and the wave of the guest helped the place.  Both ends of the earth sent materials, craftsmen, money: this very place offered itself for walls. Kings offered treasures, Fate her favor, craftsmen their pursuits, all the world its wealth. The city has fallen. If I attempt to say anything worthy of it, I will be able to say this: “Rome was.” Nevertheless no succession of years, neither flame nor sword has been able to obliterate its eternal glory. So much still stands firm, so much has been destroyed, that it is not possible either to level the standing part or to rebuild the destroyed part. Bring resources and new marble and the favor of the gods, let the hands of craftsmen be awake with new work; but still it is not possible to make a crane tall enough for the remaining walls, or to restore even a single ruin. The care of men has been as much able to rebuild Rome as the care of the gods has been unable to dissolve it. Even the gods themselves are amazed at the images of the gods here, and they desire to be like these false faces. Nature was not able to create the gods with such a face, the face with which man created these wondrous statues of the gods. These faces are close to the gods, and the gods are worshiped better by the devotion of the craftsmen than by their own divinity. The city would have been happy, if either it lacked lords or lacking faith were shameful to its lords. 
- The Araxes River (in Armenia) destroyed Alexander’s bridge over it, and Augustus famously built a new one (mentioned in the Aeneid).
- Julius Caesar’s daughter Julia was married to Pompey during the early years of Caesar and Pompey’s alliance; the reference is to Caesar’s later break with Pompey.
- The text is somewhat suspect here. The “wave of the guest” may be taken to refer to Aeneas’ and the Trojans’ immigration across the sea to Italy prior to the founding of Rome.
- That is, Rome’s fall was due to its rulers lacking Christian faith and/or being bad people. This final couplet may be an attempt to soften the potentially heretical nature of the preceding lines about humans being better than the gods.
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Par tibi, Roma, nihil cum sis prope tota ruina. quam magni fueris integra, fracta doces. longa tuos fastus aetas destruxit, et arces Cesaris et superum templa palude iacent. ille labor, labor ille ruit, quem dirus Araxes et stantem tremuit, et cecidisse dolet; quem gladii regum, quem provida iura senatus, quem superi rerum constituere caput; quem magis optavit cum crimine solus habere Cesar, quam socius et pius esse socer. qui crescens studiis tribus hostes, crimen, amicos, vi domuit, secuit legibus, emit ope. in quem, dum fieret, vigilavit cura deorum, iuvit opus pietas, hospitis unda locum. materiem, fabros, expensas axis uterque misit: se muris obtulit ipse locus. expendere duces thesauros, fata favorem, artifices studium, totus et orbis opes. urbs cecidit, de qua si quicquam dicere dignum moliar, hoc potero dicere “Roma fuit.” non tamen annorum series, non flamma nec ensis aeternum potuit hoc abolere decus. tantum restat adhuc, tantum ruit, ut neque pars stans equari possit, diruta nec refici. confer opes marmorque novum superumque favorem, artificum vigilent in nova facta manus; non tamen aut fieri par stanti machina muro, aut restaurari sola ruina potest. cura hominum potuit tantam componere Romam, quantam non potuit solvere cura deum. hic superum formas superi mirantur et ipsi, et cupiunt fictis vultibus esse pares. non potuit Natura deos hoc ore creare, quo miranda deum signa creavit homo. vultus adest his numinibus, potiusque coluntur artificum studio quam deitate sua. urbs felix, si vel dominis urbs illa careret, vel dominis esset turpe carere fide.
This translation may be freely reproduced if the following notice is included:
“Par tibi, Roma” by Hildebert of Lavardin.
Translation © 2017 Soren Bjornstad.