The History of the World (Raleigh)

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The History of the World (originally The Historie of the VVorld / In Five Bookes) is an incomplete work of history by Sir Walter Raleigh, begun in about 1607 whilst the author was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and first published in 1614. It covers the course of human history from Genesis to the conquest of Macedon by Rome. Raleigh intended to write more volumes relating the rise and fall of the great empires, but his release in 1615, his expedition to Guiana, and his execution in 1618, prevented the accomplishment of his plan.



Metrical translations

John Hannah, ed. Poems by Sir Walter Raleigh (London: George Bell & Sons, 1892), XXIV. Metrical Translations occurring in Sir W. Raleigh’s History of the World
  • THE HEAVEN and earth and all the liquid main,
    The moon’s bright globe and stars Titanian,
    A spirit within maintains; and their whole mass
    A mind, which through each part infused doth pass,
    Fashions and works, and wholly doth transpierce
    All this great body of the universe.
    • I. BOOK I. CH. I. § 6.
      Virgil, Æneid, vi. 724–7.
  • THE WORLD discerns itself, while I the world behold;
    By me the longest years and other times are told;
    I, the world’s eye.
    • II. BOOK I. CH. I. § 7.
      Ovid, Metam. iv. 226–8.
  • ’GAINST fate no counsel can prevail.
    Kingdoms to slaves by destiny,
    To captives triumphs given be.
    • III. BOOK I. CH. I. § 11.
      Ovid, Trist. iii. vi. 18; and Juvenal, vii. 201.
  • FROM wisdom fortune differs far;
    And yet in works most like they are.
    • IV. BOOK I. CH. I. § 15.
      Athenæus (? Agathon: cf. Ar. Eth. N. vi. 4).
  • WHILE fury gallops on the way,
    Let no man fury’s gallop stay.
    • V. BOOK I. CH. I. § 15.
      Ovid, Remed. Am. 119.
  • MORE holy than the rest, and understanding more,
    A living creature wants, to rule all made before;
    So man began to be.
    • VI. BOOK I. CH. II. § 1.
      Ovid, Metam. i. 76–8.
  • DISEASES, famine, enemies, in us no change have wrought;
    What erst we were, we are; still in the same snare caught:
    No time can our corrupted manners mend;
    In vice we dwell, in sin that hath no end.
    • VII. BOOK I. CH. II. § 3.
      Marius Victor, de perversis suæ æt. moribus Epist. 30–33.
  • FROM thence our kind hard-hearted is, enduring pain and care;
    Approving that our bodies of a stony nature are.
    • VIII. BOOK I. CH. II. § 5.
      Ovid, Metam. i. 414–5.
  • THE PLANTS and trees made poor and old
    By winter envious,
    The spring-time bounteous
    Covers again from shame and cold;
    But never man repaired again
    His youth and beauty lost,
    Though art and care and cost
    Do promise nature’s help in vain.
    • IX. BOOK I. CH. II. § 5.
      Albinovanus, Eleg. de ob. Mæc. 113–4.
  • THE SUN may set and rise;
    But we, contrariwise,
    Sleep after our short light
    One everlasting night.
    • X. BOOK I. CH. II. § 5.
      Catull. Carm. V. 4–6.
  • THE EAST wind with Aurora hath abiding
    Among the Arabian and the Persian hills,
    Whom Phœbus first salutes at his uprising.
    • XI. BOOK I. CH. III. § 3.
      Ovid, Metam. I. 61–2.
  • THE JOYFUL spring did ever last, and Zephyrus did breed
    Sweet flowers by his gentle blast, without the help of seed.
    • XII. BOOK I. CH. III. § 3.
      Ovid, Metam. I. 107–8.
  • THE AMAZON with crescent-formed shield
    Penthesilea leads into the field.
    • XIII. BOOK I. CH. IV. § 2.
      Virgil, Æneid I. 490–1.
  • O WASTEFUL riot, never well content
    With low-priced fare; hunger ambitious
    Of cates by land and sea far fetched and sent;
    Vain glory of a table sumptuous;
    Learn with how little life may be preserved.
    In gold and myrrh they need not to carouse;
    But with the brook the people’s thirst is served,
    Who, fed with bread and water, are not starved.
    • XIV. BOOK I. CH. V. § 5.
      Lucan, Pharsal. IV. 373–8, 380–1.
  • FROM the earth and from thy blood, O heaven, they came,
    Whom thereupon the gods did giants name.
    • XV. BOOK I. CH. V. § 8.
      John Cassam out of Orpheus, Fragm. L. from Etym. M.
  • I SACRIFICE to God the beef which you adore;
    I broil the Egyptian eels, which you as God implore;
    You fear to eat the flesh of swine; I find it sweet;
    You worship dogs; to beat them I think meet,
    When they my store devour.
    • XVI. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 3.
      Anaxandr. Rhod. ap. Natal. Com. I. 7; p. 12, ed. 1612.
  • THE EGYPTIANS think it sin to root up or to bite
    Their leeks or onions, which they serve with holy rite.
    O happy nations, which of their own sowing
    Have store of gods in every garden growing!
    • XVII. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 3.
      Juvenal, XV. 9–11.
  • ASTRÆA last of heavenly wights the earth did leave.
    • XVIII BOOK I. CH. VI. § 4.
      Ovid, Metam. I. 150.
  • THE GIANTS did advance their wicked hand
    Against the stars, to thrust them headlong down;
    And, robbing Jove of his imperial crown,
    On conquered heavens to lay their proud command.
    • XIX. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 4.
      Cornelius Severus, Ætna, 43–5.
  • SATURN to be the fatter is not known,
    By being the grave and burial of his own.
    • XX. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 5.
      Lycophron, Alexandr. 1200.
  • THINGS thus agreed, Titan made Saturn swear
    No son to nourish; which by reigning might
    Usurp the right of Titan’s lawful heir.
    • XXI. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 5.
      Sibylla, III. p. 227, ed. Paris, 1599.
  • THE CRETANS ever liars were; they care not what they say;
    For they a tomb have built for thee, O king that livest alway.
    • XXII. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 5.
      Callim. [Greek] 8, 9.
  • HEAVEN and earth one form did bear;
    But when disjoined once they were
    From mutual embraces,
    All things to light appeared then;
    Of trees, birds, beasts, fishes, and men
    The still remaining races.
    • XXIII. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 7.
      Eurip. Fragm. Melanipp. vi. Dind.
  • THEN marking this my sacred speech, but truly lend
    Thy heart that’s reason’s sphere, and the right way ascend,
    And see the world’s sole king. First, He is simply one
    Begotten of Himself, from whom is born alone
    All else, in which He’s still; nor could it e’er befall
    A mortal eye to see Him once, yet He sees all.
    • XXIV. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 7.
      Orpheus to Musæus; Fragm. I. from Just. Mart., Cohort. ad Gent. 15.
  • THE FIRST of all is God, and the same last is He.
    God is the head and midst; yea, from Him all things be.
    God is the base of earth and of the starred sky;
    He is the male and female too; shall never die.
    The spirit of all is God; the sun and moon and what is higher;
    The king, the original of all, of all the end:
    For close in holy breast He all did comprehend;
    Whence all to blessed light His wondrous power did send.
    • XXV. BOOK I. CH. VI. § 7.
      Id. Fragm. vi. from Proclus.
  • BURA and Helice on Achaian ground
    Are sought in vain, but under sea are found.
    • XXVI. BOOK I. CH. VII. § 2.
      Ovid, Metam. XV. 293–4.
  • SATURN descending from the heavens high,
    Fearing the arms of Jupiter his son,
    His kingdom lost, and banished, thence doth fly.
    Rude people on the mountain tops he won
    To live together, and by laws; which done,
    He chose to call it Latium.
    • XXVII. BOOK I. CH. VII. § 3.
      Virgil, Æneid, viii. 318–23.
  • THEN came the Ausonian bands and the Sicanian tribes.
    • XXVIII. BOOK I. CH. VII. § 3.
      Virgil, Æneid, viii. 328.
  • THE ANCIENTS called me Chaos; my great years
    By those old times of which I sing appears.
    • XXIX. BOOK I. CH. VII. § 7.
      Ovid, Fasti, i. 103–4.
  • TYRUS knew first how ships might use the wind.
    • XXX. BOOK I. CH. VIII. § 3.
      Tibull. Eleg. I. vii. 20.
  • THE MOISTENED osier of the hoary willow
    Is woven first into a little boat;
    Then, clothed in bullock’s hide, upon the billow
    Of a proud river lightly doth it float
    Under the waterman:
    So on the lakes of overswelling Po
    Sails the Venetian; and the Briton so
    On the outspread ocean.
    • XXXI. BOOK I. CH. VIII. § 3.
      Lucan, Pharsal. IV. 131–5.
  • THE CHALYBES plough not their barren soil,
    But undermine high hills for iron veins;
    Changing the purchase of their endless toil
    For merchandize, which their poor lives sustains.
    • XXXII. BOOK I. CH. VIII. § 4.
      Apollon. Rhod. Argonaut. II. 1004–6.
  • THE ARCADIANS the earth inhabited
    Ere yet the moon did shine, or Jove was bred.
    • XXXIII. BOOK I. CH. VIII. § II. 2.
      Ovid, Fasti, II. 289–90.
  • SEMIRAMIS with walls of brick the city did enclose.
    • XXXIV. BOOK I. CH. X. § 2.
      Ovid, Metam. IV. 57–8.
  • AH! wretched they that worship vanities,
    And consecrate dumb idols in their heart;
    Who their own maker, God on high, despise,
    And fear the work of their own hands and art!
    What fury, what great madness, doth beguile
    Men’s minds, that man should ugly shapes adore,
    Of birds or bulls or dragons, or the vile
    Half-dog, half-man, on knees for aid implore!
    • XXXV. BOOK I. CH. X. § 7.
      Sedulius, I. 226–31.
  • IF Crœsus over Halys go,
    Great kingdoms he shall overthrow.
    • XXXVI. BOOK I. CH. XI. § 7.
      Cic. De Divin. II. 56, et al.
  • WE fear by light, as children in the dark.
    • XXXVII. BOOK I. CH. XI. § 8.
      Lucretius, II. 54–5.
  • BUT fortune governed all their works, till when
    I first found out how stars did set and rise,—
    A profitable art to mortal men.
    And others of like use I did device:
    As letters to compose in learned wise
    I first did teach, and first did amplify
    The mother of the Muses, Memory.
    • XXXVIII. BOOK II. CH. VI. § 4.
      Æschylus, P. V. 456–61.
  • NO man was better nor more just than he,
    Nor any woman godlier than she.
    • XXXIX. BOOK II. CH. VI. § 5.
      Ovid, Metam. I. 322–3.
  • I HAVE no wine of Gaza nor Falerna wine,
    Nor any for thy drinking of Sarepta’s vine.
    • XL. BOOK II. CH. VII. § 3. 3.
      Sidonius, Carm. xvii. 15, 16.
  • OF yew the Ituræans’ bows were made.
    • XLI. BOOK II. CH. VII. § 4. 5.
      Virgil, Georg. II. 448.
  • THE QUEEN anon commands the weighty bowl,
    Weighty with precious stones and massy gold,
    To flow with wine. This Belus used of old,
    And all of Belus’ line.
    • XLII. BOOK II. CH. VIII. § 1.
      Virgil, Æneid, I. 728–30.
  • PHŒNICIANS first, if fame may credit have,
    In rude characters dared our words to grave.
    • XLIII. BOOK II. CH. VIII. § 1.
      Lucan, Pharsal. III. 220–1.
  • IF a Phœnician born I am, what then?
    Cadmus was so; to whom Greece owes
    The books of learned men.
    • XLIV. BOOK II. CH. VIII. § 1.
      Diog. Laert. VII. 30.
  • THE WHITE dove is for holy held in Syria Palestine.
    • XLV. BOOK II. CH. X. § 2.
      Tibullus, I. vii. 18.
  • HERE Tantalus in water seeks for water, and doth miss
    The fleeting fruit he catcheth at; his long tongue brought him this.
    • XLVI. BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 3.
      Ovid, Am. II. ii. 43–4.
  • THE THIRSTING Tantalus doth catch at streams that from him flee;
    Why laughest thou? The name but changed, the tale is told of thee.
    • XLVII BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 3.
      Horace, Sat. I. i. 68–70.
  • BECAUSE that, stealing immortality,
    He did both nectar and ambrosia give
    To guests of his own age to make them live.
    • XLVIII. BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 3.
      Natalis Com. p. 627, ed. 1612, out of Pindar, Ol. i. 60–63.
  • NINE furlongs stretched lies Tityus, who for his wicked deeds
    The hungry birds with his renewing liver daily feeds.
    • XLIX. BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 3.
      Tibullus, I. iii. 75–6, out of Homer, Od. xi. 576.
  • STRONG Ilion thou shalt see with walls and towers high,
    Built with the harp of wise Apollo’s harmony.
    • L. BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 3.
      Ovid, Heroid, xvi. 179–80.
  • THE BRAZEN tower, with doors close barred,
    And watchful bandogs’ frightful guard,
    Kept safe the maidenhead
    Of Danae from secret love,
    Till smiling Venus and wise Jove
    Beguiled her father’s dread:
    For, changed into a golden shower,
    The god into her lap did pour
    Himself and took his pleasure.
    Through guards and stony walls to break
    The thunderbolt is far more weak
    Than is a golden treasure.
    • LI. BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 4.
      Horace, Od. III. xvi. 1–11.
  • IF all this world had no original,
    But things have ever been as now they are
    Before the siege of Thebes or Troy’s last fall,
    Why did no poet sing some elder war?
    • LII. BOOK II. CH. XIII. § 8.
      Lucretius, V. 325–8.
  • IN the main sea the isle of Crete doth lie,
    Whence Jove was born; thence is our progeny.
    There is Mount Ida; there in fruitful land
    An hundred great and goodly cities stand.
    Thence, if I follow not mistaken fame,
    Teucer, the eldest of our grandsires, came
    To the Rhœtean shores, and reigned there
    Ere yet fair Ilion was built, and ere
    The towers of Troy. Their dwelling-place they sought
    In lowest vales. Hence Cybel’s rites were brought;
    Hence Corybantian cymbals did remove;
    And hence the name of our Idæan grove.
    • LIII. BOOK II. CH. XIV. § 1.
      Virgil, Æneid, III. 104–12.
  • HESPERIA the Grecians call the place,—
    An ancient fruitful land, a warlike race.
    Œnotrians held it; now the later progeny
    Gives it their captain’s name, and calls it Italy.
    This seat belongs to us; hence Dardanus,
    Hence came the author of our stock, Iasius.
    • LIV. BOOK II. CH. XIV. § 1.
      Virgil, Æneid, III. 163–8.
  • SOME old Auruncans, I remember well—
    Though time have made the fame obscure—would tell
    Of Dardanus, how born in Italy;
    From hence he into Phrygia did fly.
    And leaving Tuscane, where he erst had place,
    With Corythus did sail to Samothrace;
    But now enthronized he sits on high,
    In golden palace of the starry sky.
    • LV. BOOK II. CH. XIV. § 1.
      Virgil, Æneid, VII. 205–11.
  • MANY by valour have deserved renown
    Ere Agamemnon, yet lie all oppressed
    Under long night, unwept for and unknown;
    For with no sacred poet were they blest.
    • LVI. BOOK II. CH. XIV. § 1.
      Horace, Od. IV. ix. 25–8.
  • WHO rules the duller earth, the wind-swollen streams,
    The civil cities and the infernal realms,
    Who the host of heaven and the mortal band
    Alone doth govern by his just command.
    • LVII. BOOK II. CH. XXI. § 6.
      Horace, Od. III. iv. 45–8.
  • I AM that Dido which thou here dost see,
    Cunningly framed in beauteous imagery.
    Like this I was, but had not such a soul
    As Maro feigned, incestuous and foul.
    Æneas never with his Trojan host
    Beheld my face, or landed on this coast.
    But flying proud Iarbas’ villainy—
    Not moved by furious love or jealousy—
    I did, with weapon chaste, to save my fame,
    Make way for death untimely ere it came.
    This was my end. But first I built a town,
    Revenged my husband’s death, lived with renown.
    Why didst thou stir up Virgil, envious Muse,
    Falsely my name and honour to abuse?
    Readers, believe historians; not those
    Which to the world Jove’s thefts and vice expose.
    Poets are liars; and for verses’ sake,
    Will make the gods of human crimes partake.
    • LVIII. BOOK II. CH. XXII. § 6.
      Ausonius, Epigr. CXVIII.
  • NOR southern heat nor northern snow,
    That freezing to the ground doth grow,
    The subject regions can fence,
    And keep the greedy merchant thence.
    The subtle shipmen way will find,
    Storm never so the seas with wind.
    • LIX. BOOK II. CH. XXIII. § 4.
      Horace, Od. III. xxiv. 36–41.
  • SUCH as like heavenly wights do come
    With an Elean garland home.
    • LX. BOOK II. CH. XXIII. § 5.
      Horace, Od. IV. ii. 17, 18.
  • THERE is a land which Greeks Hesperia name,
    Ancient and strong, of much fertility;
    Œnotrians held it; but we hear by fame,
    That, by late ages of posterity,
    ’Tis from a captain’s name called Italy.
    • LXI. BOOK II. CH. XXIV. § 1. (Compare No. LIV.)
      Virgil, Æneid, I. 530–3.
  • YET, though thou fetch thy pedigree so far,
    Thy first progenitor, whoe’er he were,
    Some shepherd was; or else—that I’ll forbear.
    • LXII. BOOK II. CH. XXIV. § 5.
      Juvenal, viii. 272–5.
  • SELDOM the villain, though much haste he make,
    Lame-footed vengeance fails to overtake.
    • LXIII. BOOK III. CH. VII. § 3.
      Horace, Od. III. ii. 31–2.
  • BY gifts the Macedon clave gates asunder,
    The kings envying his estate brought under.
    • LXIV. BOOK IV. CH. I. § 5.
      Horace, Od. III. xvi. 13–15.
  • THE MINDS of men are ever so affected
    As by God’s will they daily are directed.
    • LXV. BOOK IV. CH. II. § 8.
      Homer, Od. XVIII. 135–6.
  • OVER the Medes and light Sabæans reigns
    This female sex; and under arms of Queen
    Great part of the Barbarian land remains.
    • LXVI. BOOK IV. CH. II. § 15.
      Claudian in Eutrop. I. 321–3.
  • HAVE special care that valiant poverty
    Be not oppressed with too great injury.
    • LXVII. BOOK V. CH. II. § 1.
      Juvenal, VIII. 121–2.
  • ONE fire than other burns more forcibly;
    One wolf than other wolves does bite more sore;
    One hawk than other hawks more swift doth fly;
    So one most mischievous of men before,
    Callicrates, false knave as knave might be,
    Met with Menalcidas, more false than he.
    • LXVIII. BOOK V. CH. VI. § 11.
      Pausan. (VII) XII. vol. iii. p. 182, Siebelis.
  • EVEN they that have no murderous will
    Would have it in their power to kill.
    • LXIX. BOOK V. CH. VI. § 12.
      Juvenal, X. 96–7.


  • This huge composition is one of the principal glories of seventeenth-century literature, and takes a very prominent place in the history of English prose. As before, so here we find Raleigh superior to the ornaments and oddities of the Euphuists. He indites a large matter, and it is in a broad and serious style. The Preface, perhaps, leads the reader to expect something more modern, more entertaining than he finds. It is not easy to sympathise with a historian who confutes Steuchius Eugubinus and Goropius Becanus at great length, especially as those flies now exist only in the amber of their opponent. But the narrative, if obsolete and long-winded, possesses an extraordinary distinction, and, in its brighter parts, is positively resplendent. The book is full of practical wisdom, knowledge of men in the mass, and trenchant study of character. It is heavy and slow in movement, the true historical spirit, as we now conceive it, is absent, and it would probably baffle most readers to pursue its attenuated thread of entertainment down to the triumph of Emilius Paulus. But of its dignity there can be no two opinions, and in sustained power it easily surpassed every prose work of its own age.