Pharsalia - Book III: Massilia
- by Marcus Annaeus Lucanus 42With canvas yielding to the western wind
The navy sailed the deep, and every eye
Gazed on Ionian billows. But the chief
Turned not his vision from his native shore
Now left for ever, while the morning mists
Drew down upon the mountains, and the cliffs
Faded in distance till his aching sight
No longer knew them. Then his wearied frame
Sank in the arms of sleep. But Julia's shape,
In mournful guise, dread horror on her brow,
Rose through the gaping earth, and from her tomb
Erect, in form as of a Fury spake:
'Driven from Elysian fields and from the plains
The blest inhabit, when the war began,
I dwell in Stygian darkness where abide
The souls of all the guilty. There I saw
Th' Eumenides with torches in their hands
Prepared against thy battles; and the fleets
Which by the ferryman of the flaming stream
Were made to bear thy dead: while Hell itself
Relaxed its punishments; the sisters three
With busy fingers all their needful task
Could scarce accomplish, and the threads of fate
Dropped from their weary hands. With me thy wife,
Thou, Magnus, leddest happy triumphs home:
New wedlock brings new luck. Thy concubine,
Whose star brings all her mighty husbands ill,
Cornelia, weds in thee a breathing tomb.
Through wars and oceans let her cling to thee
So long as I may break thy nightly rest:
No moment left thee for her love, but all
By night to me, by day to Caesar given.
Me not the oblivious banks of Lethe's stream
Have made forgetful; and the kings of death
Have suffered me to join thee; in mid fight
I will be with thee, and my haunting ghost
Remind thee Caesar's daughter was thy spouse.
Thy sword kills not our pledges; civil war
Shall make thee wholly mine.' She spake and fled.
But he, though heaven and hell thus bode defeat,
More bent on war, with mind assured of ill,
'Why dread vain phantoms of a dreaming brain?
Or nought of sense and feeling to the soul
Is left by death; or death itself is nought.'
Now fiery Titan in declining path
Dipped to the waves, his bright circumference
So much diminished as a growing moon
Not yet full circled, or when past the full;
When to the fleet a hospitable coast
Gave access, and the ropes in order laid,
The sailors struck the masts and rowed ashore.
When Caesar saw the fleet escape his grasp
And hidden from his view by lengthening seas,
Left without rival on Hesperian soil,
He found no joy in triumph; rather grieved
That thus in safety Magnus' flight was sped.
Not any gifts of Fortune now sufficed
His fiery spirit; and no victory won,
Unless the war was finished with the stroke.
Then arms he laid aside, in guise of peace
Seeking the people's favour; skilled to know
How to arouse their ire, and how to gain
The popular love by corn in plenty given.
For famine only makes a city free;
By gifts of food the tyrant buys a crowd
To cringe before him: but a people starved
Is fearless ever.
Curio he bids
Cross over to Sicilian cities, where
Or ocean by a sudden rise o'erwhelmed
The land, or split the isthmus right in twain,
Leaving a path for seas. Unceasing tides
There labour hugely lest again should meet
The mountains rent asunder. Nor were left
Sardinian shores unvisited: each isle
Is blest with noble harvests which have filled
More than all else the granaries of Rome,
And poured their plenty on Hesperia's shores.
Not even Libya, with its fertile soil,
Their yield surpasses, when the southern wind
Gives way to northern and permits the clouds
To drop their moisture on the teeming earth.
This ordered, Caesar leads his legions on,
Not armed for war, but as in time of peace
Returning to his home. Ah! had he come
With only Gallia conquered and the North,
What long array of triumph had he brought!
What pictured scenes of battle! how had Rhine
And Ocean borne his chains! How noble Gaul,
And Britain's fair-haired chiefs his lofty car
Had followed! Such a triumph had he lost
By further conquest. Now in silent fear
They watched his marching troops, nor joyful towns
Poured out their crowds to welcome his return.
Yet did the conqueror's proud soul rejoice,
Far more than at their love, at such a fear.
Now Anxur's hold was passed, the oozy road
That separates the marsh, the grove sublime
Where reigns the Scythian goddess, and the path
By which men bear the fasces to the feast
On Alba's summit. From the height afar --
Gazing in awe upon the walls of Rome
His native city, since the Northern war
Unseen, unvisited -- thus Caesar spake:
'Who would not fight for such a god-like town?
And have they left thee, Rome, without a blow?
Thank the high gods no eastern hosts are here
To wreak their fury; nor Sarmatian horde
With northern tribes conjoined; by Fortune's gift
This war is civil: else this coward chief
Had been thy ruin.'
Trembling at his feet
He found the city: deadly fire and flame,
As from a conqueror, gods and fanes dispersed;
Such was the measure of their fear, as though
His power and wish were one. No festal shout
Greeted his march, no feigned acclaim of joy.
Scarce had they time for hate. In Phoebus' hall
Their hiding places left, a crowd appeared
Of Senators, uncalled, for none could call.
No Consul there the sacred shrine adorned
Nor Praetor next in rank, and every seat
Placed for the officers of state was void:
Caesar was all; and to his private voice
All else were listeners. The fathers sat
Ready to grant a temple or a throne,
If such his wish; and for themselves to vote
Or death or exile. Well it was for Rome
That Caesar blushed to order what they feared.
Yet in one breast the spirit of freedom rose
Indignant for the laws; for when the gates
Of Saturn's temple hot Metellus saw,
Were yielding to the shock, he clove the ranks
Of Caesar's troops, and stood before the doors
As yet unopened. 'Tis the love of gold
Alone that fears not death; no hand is raised
For perished laws or violated rights:
But for this dross, the vilest cause of all,
Men fight and die. Thus did the Tribune bar
The victor's road to rapine, and with voice
Clear ringing spake: 'Save o'er Metellus dead
This temple opens not; my sacred blood
Shall flow, thou robber, ere the gold be thine.
And surely shall the Tribune's power defied
Find an avenging god; this Crassus knew,
Who, followed by our curses, sought the war
And met disaster on the Parthian plains.
Draw then thy sword, nor fear the crowd that gapes
To view thy crimes: the citizens are gone.
Not from our treasury reward for guilt
Thy hosts shall ravish: other towns are left,
And other nations; wage the war on them --
Drain not Rome's peace for spoil.' The victor then,
Incensed to ire: 'Vain is thy hope to fall
In noble death, as guardian of the right;
With all thine honours, thou of Caesar's rage
Art little worthy: never shall thy blood
Defile his hand. Time lowest things with high
Confounds not yet so much that, if thy voice
Could save the laws, it were not better far
They fell by Caesar.' Such his lofty words.
But as the Tribune yielded not, his rage
Rose yet the more, and at his soldiers' swords
One look he cast, forgetting for the time
What robe he wore; but soon Metellus heard
These words from Cotta: 'When men bow to power
Freedom of speech is only Freedom's bane,
Whose shade at least survives, if with free will
Thou dost whate'er is bidden thee. For us
Some pardon may be found: a host of ills
Compelled submission, and the shame is less
That to have done which could not be refused.
Yield, then, this wealth, the seeds of direful war.
A nation's anger is by losses stirred,
When laws protect it; but the hungry slave
Brings danger to his master, not himself.'
At this Metellus yielded from the path;
And as the gates rolled backward, echoed loud
The rock Tarpeian, and the temple's depths
Gave up the treasure which for centuries
No hand had touched: all that the Punic foe
And Perses and Philippus conquered gave,
And all the gold which Pyrrhus panic-struck
Left when he fled: that gold, the price of Rome,
Which yet Fabricius sold not, and the hoard
Laid up by saving sires; the tribute sent
By Asia's richest nations; and the wealth
Which conquering Metellus brought from Crete,
And Cato bore from distant Cyprus home;
And last, the riches torn from captive kings
And borne before Pompeius when he came
In frequent triumph. Thus was robbed the shrine,
And Caesar first brought poverty to Rome.
Meanwhile all nations of the earth were moved
To share in Magnus' fortunes and the war,
And in his fated ruin. Graecia sent,
Nearest of all, her succours to the host.
From Cirrha and Parnassus' double peak
And from Amphissa, Phocis sent her youth:
Boeotian leaders muster in the meads
By Dirce laved, and where Cephisus rolls
Gifted with fateful power his stream along:
And where Alpheus, who beyond the sea
In fount Sicilian seeks the day again.
Pisa deserted stands, and Oeta, loved
By Hercules of old; Dodona's oaks
Are left to silence by the sacred train,
And all Epirus rushes to the war.
And proud Athena, mistress of the seas,
Sends three poor ships (alas! her all) to prove
Her ancient victory o'er the Persian King.
Next seek the battle Creta's hundred tribes
Beloved of Jove and rivalling the east
In skill to wing the arrow from the bow.
The walls of Dardan Oricum, the woods
Where Athamanians wander, and the banks
Of swift Absyrtus foaming to the main
Are left forsaken. Enchelaean tribes
Whose king was Cadmus, and whose name records
His transformation, join the host; and those
Who till Penean fields and turn the share
Above Iolcos in Thessalian lands.'
There first men steeled their hearts to dare the waves
And 'gainst the rage of ocean and the storm
To match their strength, when the rude Argo sailed
Upon that distant quest, and spurned the shore,
Joining remotest nations in her flight,
And gave the fates another form of death.
Left too was Pholoe; pretended home
Where dwelt the fabled race of double form;
Arcadian Maenalus; the Thracian mount
Named Haemus; Strymon whence, as autumn falls,
Winged squadrons seek the banks of warmer Nile;
And all the isles the mouths of Ister bathe
Mixed with the tidal wave; the land through which
The cooling eddies of Caicus flow
Idalian; and Arisbe bare of glebe.
The hinds of Pitane, and those who till
Celaenae's fields which mourned of yore the gift
Of Pallas, and the vengeance of the god,
All draw the sword; and those from Marsyas' flood
First swift, then doubling backwards with the stream
Of sinuous Meander: and from where
Pactolus leaves his golden source and leaps
From Earth permitting; and with rival wealth
Rich Hermus parts the meads. Nor stayed the bands
Of Troy, but (doomed as in old time) they joined
Pompeius' fated camp: nor held them back
The fabled past, nor Caesar's claimed descent
From their Iulus. Syrian peoples came
From palmy Idumea and the walls
Of Ninus great of yore; from windy plains
Of far Damascus and from Gaza's hold,
From Sidon's courts enriched with purple dye,
And Tyre oft trembling with the shaken earth.
All these led on by Cynosura's light
Furrow their certain path to reach the war.
Phoenicians first (if story be believed)
Dared to record in characters; for yet
Papyrus was not fashioned, and the priests
Of Memphis, carving symbols upon walls
Of mystic sense (in shape of beast or fowl)
Preserved the secrets of their magic art.
Next Persean Tarsus and high Taurus' groves
Are left deserted, and Corycium's cave;
And all Cilicia's ports, pirate no more,
Resound with preparation. Nor the East
Refused the call, where furthest Ganges dares,
Alone of rivers, to discharge his stream
Against the sun opposing; on this shore
The Macedonian conqueror stayed his foot
And found the world his victor; here too rolls
Indus his torrent with Hydaspes joined
Yet hardly feels it; here from luscious reed
Men draw sweet liquor; here they dye their locks
With tints of saffron, and with coloured gems
Bind down their flowing garments; here are they,
Who satiate of life and proud to die,
Ascend the blazing pyre, and conquering fate,
Scorn to live longer; but triumphant give
The remnant of their days in flame to heaven.
Nor fails to join the host a hardy band
Of Cappadocians, tilling now the soil,
Once pirates of the main: nor those who dwell
Where steep Niphates hurls the avalanche,
And where on Median Coatra's sides
The giant forest rises to the sky.
And you, Arabians, from your distant home
Came to a world unknown, and wondering saw
The shadows fall no longer to the left.
Then fired with ardour for the Roman war
Oretas came, and far Carmania's chiefs,
Whose clime lies southward, yet men thence descry
Low down the Pole star, and Bootes runs
Hasting to set, part seen, his nightly course;
And Ethiopians from that southern land
Which lies without the circuit of the stars,
Did not the Bull with curving hoof advanced
O'erstep the limit. From that mountain zone
They come, where rising from a common fount
Euphrates flows and Tigris, and did earth
Permit, were joined with either name; but now
While like th' Egyptian flood Euphrates spreads
His fertilising water, Tigris first
Drawn down by earth in covered depths is plunged
And holds a secret course; then born again
Flows on unhindered to the Persian sea.
But warlike Parthia wavered 'twixt the chiefs,
Content to have made them two; while Scythia's hordes
Dipped fresh their darts in poison, whom the stream
Of Bactros bounds and vast Hyrcanian woods.
Hence springs that rugged nation swift and fierce,
Descended from the Twins' great charioteer.
Nor failed Sarmatia, nor the tribes that dwell
By richest Phasis, and on Halys' banks,
Which sealed the doom of Croesus' king; nor where
From far Rhipaean ranges Tanais flows,
On either hand a quarter of the world,
Asia and Europe, and in winding course
Carves out a continent; nor where the strait
In boiling surge pours to the Pontic deep
Maeotis' waters, rivalling the pride
Of those Herculean pillar-gates that guard
The entrance to an ocean. Thence with hair
In golden fillets, Arimaspians came,
And fierce Massagetae, who quaff the blood
Of the brave steed on which they fight and flee.
Not when great Cyrus on Memnonian realms
His warriors poured; nor when, their weapons piled,
The Persian told the number of his host;
Nor when th' avenger of a brother's shame
Loaded the billows with his mighty fleet,
Beneath one chief so many kings made war;
Nor e'er met nations varied thus in garb
And thus in language. To Pompeius' death
Thus Fortune called them: and a world in arms
Witnessed his ruin. From where Afric's god,
Two-horned Ammon, rears his temple, came
All Libya ceaseless, from the wastes that touch
The bounds of Egypt to the shore that meets
The Western Ocean. Thus, to award the prize
Of Empire at one blow, Pharsalia brought
'Neath Caesar's conquering hand the banded world.
Now Caesar left the walls of trembling Rome
And swift across the cloudy Alpine tops
He winged his march; but while all others fled
Far from his path, in terror of his name,
Phocaea's manhood with un-Grecian faith
Held to their pledged obedience, and dared
To follow right not fate; but first of all
With olive boughs of truce before them borne
The chieftain they approach, with peaceful words
In hope to alter his unbending will
And tame his fury. 'Search the ancient books
Which chronicle the deeds of Latian fame;
Thou'lt ever find, when foreign foes pressed hard,
Massilia's prowess on the side of Rome.
And now, if triumphs in an unknown world
Thou seekest, Caesar, here our arms and swords
Accept in aid: but if, in impious strife
Of civil discord, with a Roman foe
Thou seek'st to join in battle, weeping then
We hold aloof: no stranger hand may touch
Celestial wounds. Should all Olympus' hosts
Have rushed to war, or should the giant brood
Assault the stars, yet men would not presume
Or by their prayers or arms to help the gods:
And, ignorant of the fortunes of the sky,
Taught by the thunderbolts alone, would know
That Jupiter supreme still held the throne.
Add that unnumbered nations join the fray:
Nor shrinks the world so much from taint of crime
That civil wars reluctant swords require.
But grant that strangers shun thy destinies
And only Romans fight -- shall not the son
Shrink ere he strike his father? on both sides
Brothers forbid the weapon to be hurled?
The world's end comes when other hands are armed
Than those which custom and the gods allow.
For us, this is our prayer: Leave, Caesar, here
Thy dreadful eagles, keep thy hostile signs
Back from our gates, but enter thou in peace
Massilia's ramparts; let our city rest
Withdrawn from crime, to Magnus and to thee
Safe: and should favouring fate preserve our walls
Inviolate, when both shall wish for peace
Here meet unarmed. Why hither turn'st thou now
Thy rapid march? Nor weight nor power have we
To sway the mighty conflicts of the world.
We boast no victories since our fatherland
We left in exile: when Phocaea's fort
Perished in flames, we sought another here;
And here on foreign shores, in narrow bounds
Confined and safe, our boast is sturdy faith;
Nought else. But if our city to blockade
Is now thy mind -- to force the gates, and hurl
Javelin and blazing torch upon our homes --
Do what thou wilt: cut off the source that fills
Our foaming river, force us, prone in thirst,
To dig the earth and lap the scanty pool;
Seize on our corn and leave us food abhorred:
Nor shall this people shun, for freedom's sake,
The ills Saguntum bore in Punic siege;
Torn, vainly clinging, from the shrunken breast
The starving babe shall perish in the flames.
Wives at their husbands' hands shall pray their fate,
And brothers' weapons deal a mutual death.
Such be our civil war; not, Caesar, thine.'
But Caesar's visage stern betrayed his ire
Which thus broke forth in words: 'Vain is the hope
Ye rest upon my march: speed though I may
Towards my western goal, time still remains
To blot Massilia out. Rejoice, my troops!
Unsought the war ye longed for meets you now:
The fates concede it. As the tempests lose
Their strength by sturdy forests unopposed,
And as the fire that finds no fuel dies,
Even so to find no foe is Caesar's ill.
When those who may be conquered will not fight
That is defeat. Degenerate, disarmed
Their gates admit me! Not content, forsooth,
With shutting Caesar out they shut him in!
They shun the taint of war! Such prayer for peace
Brings with it chastisement. In Caesar's age
Learn that not peace, but war within his ranks
Alone can make you safe.'
Fearless he turns
His march upon the city, and beholds
Fast barred the gate-ways, while in arms the youths
Stand on the battlements. Hard by the walls
A hillock rose, upon the further side
Expanding in a plain of gentle slope,
Fit (as he deemed it) for a camp with ditch
And mound encircling. To a lofty height
The nearest portion of the city rose,
While intervening valleys lay between.
These summits with a mighty trench to bind
The chief resolves, gigantic though the toil.
But first, from furthest boundaries of his camp,
Enclosing streams and meadows, to the sea
To draw a rampart, upon either hand
Heaved up with earthy sod; with lofty towers
Crowned; and to shut Massilia from the land.
Then did the Grecian city win renown
Eternal, deathless, for that uncompelled
Nor fearing for herself, but free to act
She made the conqueror pause: and he who seized
All in resistless course found here delay:
And Fortune, hastening to lay the world
Low at her favourite's feet, was forced to stay
For these few moments her impatient hand.
Now fell the forests far and wide, despoiled
Of all their giant trunks: for as the mound
On earth and brushwood stood, a timber frame
Held firm the soil, lest pressed beneath its towers
The mass might topple down. There stood a grove
Which from the earliest time no hand of man
Had dared to violate; hidden from the sun
Its chill recesses; matted boughs entwined
Prisoned the air within. No sylvan nymphs
Here found a home, nor Pan, but savage rites
And barbarous worship, altars horrible
On massive stones upreared; sacred with blood
Of men was every tree. If faith be given
To ancient myth, no fowl has ever dared
To rest upon those branches, and no beast
Has made his lair beneath: no tempest falls,
Nor lightnings flash upon it from the cloud.
Stagnant the air, unmoving, yet the leaves
Filled with mysterious trembling; dripped the streams
From coal-black fountains; effigies of gods
Rude, scarcely fashioned from some fallen trunk
Held the mid space: and, pallid with decay,
Their rotting shapes struck terror. Thus do men
Dread most the god unknown. 'Twas said that caves
Rumbled with earthquakes, that the prostrate yew
Rose up again; that fiery tongues of flame
Gleamed in the forest depths, yet were the trees
Unkindled; and that snakes in frequent folds
Were coiled around the trunks. Men flee the spot
Nor dare to worship near: and e'en the priest
Or when bright Phoebus holds the height, or when
Dark night controls the heavens, in anxious dread
Draws near the grove and fears to find its lord.
Spared in the former war, still dense it rose
Where all the hills were bare, and Caesar now
Its fall commanded. But the brawny arms
Which swayed the axes trembled, and the men,
Awed by the sacred grove's dark majesty,
Held back the blow they thought would be returned.
This Caesar saw, and swift within his grasp
Uprose a ponderous axe, which downward fell
Cleaving a mighty oak that towered to heaven,
While thus he spake: 'Henceforth let no man dread
To fell this forest: all the crime is mine.
This be your creed.' He spake, and all obeyed,
For Caesar's ire weighed down the wrath of Heaven.
Yet ceased they not to fear. Then first the oak,
Dodona's ancient boast; the knotty holm;
The cypress, witness of patrician grief,
The buoyant alder, laid their foliage low
Admitting day; though scarcely through the stems
Their fall found passage. At the sight the Gauls
Grieved; but the garrison within the walls
Rejoiced: for thus shall men insult the gods
And find no punishment? Yet fortune oft
Protects the guilty; on the poor alone
The gods can vent their ire. Enough hewn down,
They seize the country wagons; and the hind,
His oxen gone which else had drawn the plough,
Mourns for his harvest.
But the eager chief
Impatient of the combat by the walls
Carries the warfare to the furthest west.
Meanwhile a giant mound, on star-shaped wheels
Concealed, they fashion, crowned with double towers
High as the battlements, by cause unseen
Slow creeping onwards; while amazed the foe,
Beheld, and thought some subterranean gust
Had burst the caverns of the earth and forced
The nodding pile aloft, and wondered sore
Their walls should stand unshaken. From its height
Hissed clown the weapons; but the Grecian bolts
With greater force were on the Romans hurled;
Nor by the arm unaided, for the lance
Urged by the catapult resistless rushed
Through arms and shield and flesh, and left a death
Behind, nor stayed its course: and massive stones
Cast by the beams of mighty engines fell;
As from the mountain top some time-worn rock
At length by winds dislodged, in all its track
Spreads ruin vast: nor crushed the life alone
Forth from the body, but dispersed the limbs
In fragments undistinguished and in blood.
But as protected by the armour shield
The might of Rome drew nigh beneath the wall
(The front rank with their bucklers interlaced
And held above their helms), the missiles fell
Behind their backs, nor could the toiling Greeks
Deflect their engines, throwing still the bolts
Far into space; but from the rampart top
Flung ponderous masses down. Long as the shields
Held firm together, like to hail that falls
Harmless upon a roof, so long the stones
Crushed down innocuous; but as the blows
Rained fierce and ceaseless and the Romans tired,
Some here and there sank fainting. Next the roof
Advanced with earth besprinkled: underneath
The ram conceals his head, which, poised and swung,
They dash with mighty force upon the wall,
Covered themselves with mantlets. Though the head
Light on the lower stones, yet as the shock
Falls and refalls, from battlement to base
The rampart soon shall topple. But by balks
And rocky fragments overwhelmed, and flames,
The roof at length gave way; and worn with toil
All spent in vain, the wearied troops withdrew
And sought the shelter of their tents again.
Thus far to hold their battlements was all
The Greeks had hoped; now, venturing attack,
With glittering torches for their arms, by night
Fearless they sallied forth: nor lance they bear
Nor deadly bow, nor shaft; for fire alone
Is now their weapon. Through the Roman works
Driven by the wind the conflagration spread:
Nor did the newness of the wood make pause
The fury of the flames, which, fed afresh
By living torches, 'neath a smoky pall
Leaped on in fiery tongues. Not wood alone
But stones gigantic crumbling into dust
Dissolved beneath the heat; the mighty mound
Lay prone, yet in its ruin larger seemed.
Next, conquered on the land, upon the main
They try their fortunes. On their simple craft
No painted figure-head adorned the bows
Nor claimed protection from the gods; but rude,
Just as they fell upon their mountain homes,
The trees were knit together, and the deck
Gave steady foot-hold for an ocean fight.
Meantime had Caesar's squadron kept the isles
Named Stoechades, and Brutus turret ship
Mastered the Rhone. Nor less the Grecian host --
Boys not yet grown to war, and aged men,
Armed for the conflict, with their all at stake.
Nor only did they marshal for the fight
Ships meet for service; but their ancient keels
Brought from the dockyards. When the morning rays
Broke from the waters, and the sky was clear,
And all the winds were still upon the deep,
Smoothed for the battle, swift on either part
The fleets essay the open; and the ships
Tremble beneath the oars that urge them on,
By sinewy arms impelled. Upon the wings
That bound the Roman fleet, the larger craft
With triple and quadruple banks of oars
Gird in the lesser: so they front the sea;
While in their rear, shaped as a crescent moon,
Liburnian galleys follow. Over all
Towers Brutus' deck praetorian. Oars on oars
Propel the bulky vessel through the main,
Six ranks; the topmost strike the waves afar.
When such a space remained between the fleets
As could be covered by a single stroke,
Innumerable voices rose in air
Drowning with resonant din the beat of oars
And note of trumpet summoning: and all
Sat on the benches and with mighty stroke
Swept o'er the sea and gained the space between.
Then crashed the prows together, and the keels
Rebounded backwards, and unnumbered darts
Or darkened all the sky or, in their fall,
The vacant ocean. As the wings grew wide,
Less densely packed the fleet, some Grecian ships
Pressed in between; as when with west and east
The tide contends, this way the waves are driven
And that the sea; so as they plough the deep
In various lines converging, what the prow
Throws up advancing, from the foemen's oars
Falls back repelled. But soon the Grecian fleet
Was handier found in battle, and in flight
Pretended, and in shorter curves could round;
More deftly governed by the guiding helm:
While on the Roman side their steadier keels
Gave vantage, as to men who fight on land.
Then Brutus to the pilot of his ship:
'Dost suffer them to range the wider deep,
Contending with the foe in naval skill?
Draw close the war and drive us on the prows
Of these Phocaeans.' Him the pilot heard;
And turned his vessel slantwise to the foe.
Then was the sea all covered with the war:
Then Grecian ships attacking Brutus found
Their ruin in the stroke, and vanquished lay
Beside his bulwarks; while with grappling hooks
Others laid fast the foe, themselves by oars
Held back the while. And now no outstretched arm
Hurls forth the javelin, but hand to hand
With swords they wage the fight: each from his ship
Leans forward to the stroke, and falls when slain
Upon a foeman's deck. Deep flows the stream
Of purple slaughter to the foamy main:
By piles of floating corpses are the sides,
Though grappled, kept asunder. Some, half dead,
Plunge in the ocean, gulping down the brine
Encrimsoned with their blood; some lingering still
Draw their last struggling breath amid the wreck
Of broken navies: weapons which have missed
Find yet their victims, and the falling steel
Fails not in middle deep to deal the wound.
One vessel circled by Phocaean keels
Divides her strength, and on the right and left
On either side with equal war contends;
On whose high poop while Tagus fighting gripped
The stern Phocaean, pierced his back and breast
Two fatal weapons; in the midst the steel
Meets, and the blood, uncertain whence to flow,
Stands still, arrested, till with double course
Forth by a sudden gush it drives each dart,
And sends the life abroad through either wound.
Here fated Telon also steered his ship:
No pilot's hand upon an angry sea
More deftly ruled a vessel. Well he knew,
Or by the sun or crescent moon, how best
To set his canvas fitted for the breeze
To-morrow's light would bring. His rushing stem
Shattered a Roman vessel: but a dart
Hurled at the moment quivers in his breast.
He falls, and in the fall his dying hand
Diverts the prow. Then Gyareus, in act
To climb the friendly deck, by javelin pierced,
Still as he hung, by the retaining steel
Fast to the side was nailed.
Twin brethren stand
A fruitful mother's pride; with different fates,
But ne'er distinguished till death's savage hand
Struck once, and ended error: he that lived,
Cause of fresh anguish to their sorrowing souls,
Called ever to the weeping parents back
The image of the lost: who, as the oars
Grecian and Roman mixed their teeth oblique,
Grasped with his dexter hand the Roman ship;
When fell a blow that shore his arm away.
So died, upon the side it held, the hand,
Nor loosed its grasp in death. Yet with the wound
His noble courage rose, and maimed he dared
Renew the fray, and stretched across the sea
To grasp the lost -- in vain! another blow
Lopped arm and hand alike. Nor shield nor sword
Henceforth are his. Yet even now he seeks
No sheltering hold, but with his chest advanced
Before his brother armed, he claims the fight,
And holding in his breast the darts which else
Had slain his comrades, pierced with countless spears,
He fails in death well earned; yet ere his end
Collects his parting life, and all his strength
Strains to the utmost and with failing limbs
Leaps on the foeman's deck; by weight alone
Injurious; for streaming down with gore
And piled on high with corpses, while her sides
Sounded to ceaseless blows, the fated ship
Let in the greedy brine until her ways
Were level with the waters -- then she plunged
In whirling eddies downwards -- and the main
First parted, then closed in upon its prey.
Full many wondrous deaths, with fates diverse,
Upon the sea in that day's fight befell.
Caught by a grappling-hook that missed the side,
Had Lysidas been whelmed in middle deep;
But by his feet his comrades dragged him back,
And rent in twain he hung; nor slowly flowed
As from a wound the blood; but all his veins
Were torn asunder and the stream of life
Gushed o'er his limbs till lost amid the deep.
From no man dying has the vital breath
Rushed by so wide a path; the lower trunk
Succumbed to death, but with the lungs and heart
Long strove the fates, and hardly won the whole.
While, bent upon the fight, an eager crew
Were gathered to the margin of their deck
(Leaving the upper side as bare of foes),
Their ship was overset. Beneath the keel
Which floated upwards, prisoned in the sea,
And powerless by spread of arms to float
The main, they perished. One who haply swam
Amid the battle, chanced upon a death
Strange and unheard of; for two meeting prows
Transfixed his body. At the double stroke
Wide yawned his chest; blood issued from his mouth
With flesh commingled; and the brazen beaks
Resounding clashed together, by the bones
Unhindered: now they part and through the gap
Swift pours the sea and drags the corse below.
Next, of a shipwrecked crew, the larger part
Struggling with death upon the waters, reached
A comrade bark; but when with elbows raised do
They seized upon the bulwarks and the ship
Rolled, nor could bear their weight, the ruthless crew
Hacked off their straining arms; then maimed they sank
Below the seething waves, to rise no more.
Now every dart was hurled and every spear,
The soldier weaponless; yet their rage found arms:
One hurls an oar; another's brawny arm
Tugs at the twisted stern; or from the seats
The oarsmen driving, swings a bench in air.
The ships are broken for the fight. They seize
The fallen dead and snatch the sword that slew.
Nay, many from their wounds, frenzied for arms,
Pluck forth the deadly steel, and pressing still
Upon their yawning sides, hurl forth the spear
Back to the hostile ranks from which it came;
Then ebbs their life blood forth.
But deadlier yet
Was that fell force most hostile to the sea;
For, thrown in torches and in sulphurous bolts
Fire all-consuming ran among the ships,
Whose oily timbers soaked in pitch and wax
Inflammable, gave welcome to the flames.
Nor could the waves prevail against the blaze
Which claimed as for its own the fragments borne
Upon the waters. Lo! on burning plank
One hardly 'scapes destruction; one to save
His flaming ship, gives entrance to the main.
Of all the forms of death each fears the one
That brings immediate dying: yet quails not
Their heart in shipwreck: from the waves they pluck
The fallen darts and furnishing the ship
Essay the feeble stroke; and should that hope
Still fail their hand, they call the sea to aid
And seizing in their grasp some floating foe
Drag him to mutual death.
But on that day
Phoceus above all others proved his skill.
Well trained was he to dive beneath the main
And search the waters with unfailing eye;
And should an anchor 'gainst the straining rope
Too firmly bite the sands, to wrench it free.
Oft in his fatal grasp he seized a foe
Nor loosed his grip until the life was gone.
Such was his frequent deed; but this his fate:
For rising, victor (as he thought), to air,
Full on a keel he struck and found his death.
Some, drowning, seized a hostile oar and checked
The flying vessel; not to die in vain,
Their single care; some on their vessel's side
Hanging, in death, with wounded frame essayed
To check the charging prow.
Upon the bulwarks of his ship was struck
By leaden bolt from Balearic sling
Of Lygdamus; straight through his temples passed
The fated missile; and in streams of blood
Forced from their seats his trembling eyeballs fell.
Plunged in a darkness as of night, he thought
That life had left him; yet ere long he knew
The living rigour of his limbs; and cried,
'Place me, O friends, as some machine of war
Straight facing towards the foe; then shall my darts
Strike as of old; and thou, Tyrrhenus, spend
Thy latest breath, still left, upon the fight:
So shalt thou play, not wholly dead, the part
That fits a soldier, and the spear that strikes
Thy frame, shall miss the living.' Thus he spake,
And hurled his javelin, blind, but not in vain;
For Argus, generous youth of noble blood,
Below the middle waist received the spear
And failing drave it home. His aged sire
From furthest portion of the conquered ship
Beheld; than whom in prime of manhood none,
More brave in battle: now no more he fought,
Yet did the memory of his prowess stir
Phocaean youths to emulate his fame.
Oft stumbling o'er the benches the old man hastes
To reach his boy, and finds him breathing still.
No tear bedewed his cheek, nor on his breast
One blow he struck, but o'er his eyes there fell
A dark impenetrable veil of mist
That blotted out the day; nor could he more
Discern his luckless Argus. He, who saw
His parent, raising up his drooping head
With parted lips and silent features asks
A father's latest kiss, a father's hand
To close his dying eyes. But soon his sire,
Recovering from his swoon, when ruthless grief
Possessed his spirit, 'This short space,' he cried,
'I lose not, which the cruel gods have given,
But die before thee. Grant thy sorrowing sire
Forgiveness that he fled thy last embrace.
Not yet has passed thy life blood from the wound
Nor yet is death upon thee -- still thou may'st
Outlive thy parent.' Thus he spake, and seized
The reeking sword and drave it to the hilt,
Then plunged into the deep, with headlong bound,
To anticipate his son: for this he feared
A single form of death should not suffice.
Now gave the fates their judgment, and in doubt
No longer was the war: the Grecian fleet
In most part sunk; -- some ships by Romans oared
Conveyed the victors home: in headlong flight
Some sought the yards for shelter. On the strand
What tears of parents for their offspring slain,
How wept the mothers! 'Mid the pile confused
Ofttimes the wife sought madly for her spouse
And chose for her last kiss some Roman slain;
While wretched fathers by the blazing pyres
Fought for the dead. But Brutus thus at sea
First gained a triumph for great Caesar's arms.
Pharsalia - Book IX: Cato
- by Marcus Annaeus Lucanus 35Yet in those ashes on the Pharian shore,
In that small heap of dust, was not confined
So great a shade; but from the limbs half burnt
And narrow cell sprang forth and sought the sky
Where dwells the Thunderer. Black the space of air
Upreaching to the poles that bear on high
The constellations in their nightly round;
There 'twixt the orbit of the moon and earth
Abide those lofty spirits, half divine,
Who by their blameless lives and fire of soul
Are fit to tolerate the pure expanse
That bounds the lower ether: there shall dwell,
Where nor the monument encased in gold,
Nor richest incense, shall suffice to bring
The buried dead, in union with the spheres,
Pompeius' spirit. When with heavenly light
His soul was filled, first on the wandering stars
And fixed orbs he bent his wondering gaze;
Then saw what darkness veils our earthly day
And scorned the insults heaped upon his corse.
Next o'er Emathian plains he winged his flight,
And ruthless Caesar's standards, and the fleet
Tossed on the deep: in Brutus' blameless breast
Tarried awhile, and roused his angered soul
To reap the vengeance; last possessed the mind
Of haughty Cato.
He while yet the scales
Were poised and balanced, nor the war had given
The world its master, hating both the chiefs,
Had followed Magnus for the Senate's cause
And for his country: since Pharsalia's field
Ran red with carnage, now was all his heart
Bound to Pompeius. Rome in him received
Her guardian; a people's trembling limbs
He cherished with new hope and weapons gave
Back to the craven hands that cast them forth.
Nor yet for empire did he wage the war
Nor fearing slavery: nor in arms achieved
Aught for himself: freedom, since Magnus fell,
The aim of all his host. And lest the foe
In rapid course triumphant should collect
His scattered bands, he sought Corcyra's gulfs
Concealed, and thence in ships unnumbered bore
The fragments of the ruin wrought in Thrace.
Who in such mighty armament had thought
A routed army sailed upon the main
Thronging the sea with keels? Round Malea's cape
And Taenarus open to the shades below
And fair Cythera's isle, th' advancing fleet
Sweeps o'er the yielding wave, by northern breeze
Borne past the Cretan shores. But Phycus dared
Refuse her harbour, and th' avenging hand
Left her in ruins. Thus with gentle airs
They glide along the main and reach the shore
From Palinurus named; for not alone
On seas Italian, Pilot of the deep,
Hast thou thy monument; and Libya too
Claims that her waters pleased thy soul of yore.
Then in the distance on the main arose
The shining canvas of a stranger fleet,
Or friend or foe they knew not. Yet they dread
In every keel the presence of that chief
Their fear-compelling conqueror. But in truth
That navy tears and sorrow bore, and woes
To make e'en Cato weep.
For when in vain
Cornelia prayed her stepson and the crew
To stay their flight, lest haply from the shore
Back to the sea might float the headless corse;
And when the flame arising marked the place
Of that unhallowed rite, 'Fortune, didst thou
Judge me unfit,' she cried, 'to light the pyre
To cast myself upon the hero dead,
The lock to sever, and compose the limbs
Tossed by the cruel billows of the deep,
To shed a flood of tears upon his wounds,
And from the flickering flame to bear away
And place within the temples of the gods
All that I could, his dust? That pyre bestows
No honour, haply by some Pharian hand
Piled up in insult to his mighty shade.
Happy the Crassi lying on the waste
Unburied. To the greater shame of heaven
Pompeius has such funeral. And shall this
For ever be my lot? her husbands slain
Cornelia ne'er enclose within the tomb,
Nor shed the tear beside the urn that holds
The ashes of the loved? Yet for my grief
What boots or monument or ordered pomp?
Dost thou not, impious, upon thy heart
Pompeius' image, and upon thy soul
Bear ineffaceable? Dust closed in urns
Is for the wife who would survive her lord
Not such as thee, Cornelia! And yet
Yon scanty light that glimmers from afar
Upon the Pharian shore, somewhat of thee
Recalls, Pompeius! Now the flame sinks down
And smoke drifts up across the eastern sky
Bearing thine ashes, and the rising wind
Sighs hateful in the sail. To me no more
Dearer than this whatever land may yield
Pompeius' victory, nor the frequent car
That carried him in triumph to the hill;
Gone is that happy husband from my thoughts;
Here did I lose the hero whom I knew;
Here let me stay; his presence shall endear
The sands of Nile where fell the fatal blow.
Thou, Sextus, brave the chances of the war
And bear Pompeius' standard through the world.
For thus thy father spake within mine ear:
'When sounds my fatal hour let both my sons
Urge on the war; nor let some Caesar find
Room for an empire, while shall live on earth
Still one in whom Pompeius' blood shall run.
This your appointed task; all cities strong
In freedom of their own, all kingdoms urge
To join the combat; for Pompeius calls.
Nor shall a chieftain of that famous name
Ride on the seas and fail to find a fleet.
Urged by his sire's unconquerable will
And mindful of his rights, mine heir shall rouse
All nations to the conflict. One alone,
(Should he contend for freedom) may ye serve;
Cato, none else!' Thus have I kept the faith;
Thy plot prevailed upon me, and I lived
Thy mandate to discharge. Now through the void
Of space, and shades of Hell, if such there be,
I follow; yet how distant be my doom
I know not: first my spirit must endure
The punishment of life, which saw thine end
And could survive it; sighs shall break my heart,
Tears shall dissolve it: sword nor noose I need
Nor headlong plunge. 'Twere shameful since thy death,
Were aught but grief required to cause my own.'
She seeks the cabin, veiled, in funeral garb,
In tears to find her solace, and to love
Grief in her husband's room; no prayers were hers
For life, as were the sailors'; nor their shout
Roused by the height of peril, moved her soul,
Nor angered waves: but sorrowing there she lay,
Resigned to death and welcoming the storm.
First reached they Cyprus on the foamy brine;
Then as the eastern breeze more gently held
The favouring deep, they touched the Libyan shore
Where stood the camp of Cato. Sad as one
Who deep in fear presages ills to come,
Cnaeus beheld his brother and his band
Of patriot comrades. Swift into the wave
He leaps and cries, 'Where, brother, is our sire?
Still stands our country mistress of the world,
Or are we fallen, Rome with Magnus' death
Rapt to the shades?' Thus he: but Sextus said
'Oh happy thou who by report alone
Hear'st of the deed that chanced on yonder shore!
These eyes that saw, my brother, share the guilt.
Not Caesar wrought the murder of our sire,
Nor any captain worthy in the fray.
He fell beneath the orders of a king
Shameful and base, while trusting to the gods
Who shield the guest; a king who in that land
By his concession ruled: (this the reward
For favours erst bestowed). Within my sight
Pierced through with wounds our noble father fell:
Yet deeming not the petty prince of Nile
So fell a deed would dare, to Egypt's strand
I thought great Caesar come. But worse than all,
Worse than the wounds which gaped upon his frame
Struck me with horror to the inmost heart,
Our murdered father's head, shorn from the trunk
And borne aloft on javelin; this sight,
As rumour said, the cruel victor asked
To feast his eyes, and prove the bloody deed.
For whether ravenous birds and Pharian dogs
Have torn his corse asunder, or a fire
Consumed it, which with stealthy flame arose
Upon the shore, I know not. For the parts
Devoured by destiny I only blame
The gods: I weep the part preserved by men.'
Thus Sextus spake: and Cnaeus at the words
Flamed into fury for his father's shame.
'Sailors, launch forth our navies, by your oars
Forced through the deep though wind and sea oppose:
Captains, lead on: for civil strife ne'er gave
So great a prize; to lay in earth the limbs
Of Magnus, and avenge him with the blood
Of that unmanly tyrant. Shall I spare
Great Alexander's fort, nor sack the shrine
And plunge his body in the tideless marsh?
Nor drag Amasis from the Pyramids,
And all their ancient Kings, to swim the Nile?
Torn from his tomb, that god of all mankind
Isis, unburied, shall avenge thy shade;
And veiled Osiris shall I hurl abroad
In mutilated fragments; and the form
Of sacred Apis; and with these their gods
Shall light a furnace, that shall burn the head
They held in insult. Thus their land shall pay
The fullest penalty for the shameful deed.
No husbandman shall live to till the fields
Nor reap the benefit of brimming Nile.
Thou only, Father, gods and men alike
Fallen and perished, shalt possess the land.'
Such were the words he spake; and soon the fleet
Had dared the angry deep: but Cato's voice
While praising, calmed the youthful chieftain's rage.
Meanwhile, when Magnus' fate was known, the air
Sounded with lamentations which the shore
Re-echoed; never through the ages past,
By history recorded, was it known
That thus a people mourned their ruler's death.
Yet more when worn with tears, her pallid cheek
Veiled by her loosened tresses, from the ship
Cornelia came, they wept and beat the breast.
The friendly land once gained, her husband's garb,
His arms and spoils, embroidered deep in gold,
Thrice worn of old upon the sacred hill
She placed upon the flame. Such were for her
The ashes of her spouse: and such the love
Which glowed in every heart, that soon the shore
Blazed with his obsequies. Thus at winter-tide
By frequent fires th' Apulian herdsman seeks
To render to the fields their verdant growth;
Till blaze Garganus' uplands and the meads
Of Vultur, and the pasture of the herds
By warm Matinum.
Yet Pompeius' shade
Nought else so gratified, not all the blame
The people dared to heap upon the gods,
For him their hero slain, as these few words
From Cato's noble breast instinct with truth:
'Gone is a citizen who though no peer
Of those who disciplined the state of yore
In due submission to the bounds of right,
Yet in this age irreverent of law
Has played a noble part. Great was his power,
But freedom safe: when all the plebs was prone
To be his slaves, he chose the private gown;
So that the Senate ruled the Roman state,
The Senate's ruler: nought by right of arms
He e'er demanded: willing took he gifts
Yet from a willing giver: wealth was his
Vast, yet the coffers of the State he filled
Beyond his own. He seized upon the sword,
Knew when to sheath it; war did he prefer
To arts of peace, yet armed loved peace the more.
Pleased took he power, pleased he laid it down:
Chaste was his home and simple, by his wealth
Untarnished. Mid the peoples great his name
And venerated: to his native Rome
He wrought much good. True faith in liberty
Long since with Marius and Sulla fled:
Now when Pompeius has been reft away
Its counterfeit has perished. Now unshamed
Shall seize the despot on Imperial power,
Unshamed shall cringe the Senate. Happy he
Who with disaster found his latest breath
And met the Pharian sword prepared to slay.
Life might have been his lot, in despot rule,
Prone at his kinsman's throne. Best gift of all
The knowledge how to die; next, death compelled.
If cruel Fortune doth reserve for me
An alien conqueror, may Juba be
As Ptolemaeus. So he take my head
My body grace his triumph, if he will.'
More than had Rome resounded with his praise
Words such as these gave honour to the shade
Of that most noble dead.
Meanwhile the crowd
Weary of warfare, since Pompeius' fall,
Broke into discord, as their ancient chief
Cilician called them to desert the camp.
But Cato hailed them from the furthest beach:
'Untamed Cilician, is thy course now set
For Ocean theft again; Pompeius gone,
Once more a pirate?' Thus he spake, and gazed
At all the stirring throng; but one whose mind
Was fixed on flight, thus answered, 'Pardon, chief,
'Twas love of Magnus, not of civil war,
That led us to the fight: his side was ours:
With him whom all the world preferred to peace,
Our cause is perished. Let us seek our homes
Long since unseen, our children and our wives.
If nor the rout nor dread Pharsalia's field
Nor yet Pompeius' death shall close the war,
Whence comes the end? The vigour of a life
For us is vanished: in our failing years
Give us at least some pious hand to speed
The parting soul, and light the funeral pyre.
Scarce even to its captains civil strife
Concedes due burial. Nor in our defeat
Does Fortune threaten us with the savage yoke
Of distant nations. In the garb of Rome
And with her rights, I leave thee. Who had been
Second to Magnus living, he shall be
My first hereafter: to that sacred shade
Be the prime honour. Chance of war appoints
My lord but not my leader. Thee alone
I followed, Magnus; after thee the fates.
Nor hope we now for victory, nor wish;
For all our Thracian army is fled
In Caesar's victory, whose potent star
Of fortune rules the world, and none but he
Has power to keep or save. That civil war
Which while Pompeius lived was loyalty
Is impious now. If in the public right
Thou, patriot Cato, find'st thy guide, we seek
The standards of the Consul.' Thus he spake
And with him leaped into the ship a throng
Of eager comrades.
Then was Rome undone,
For all the shore was stirring with a crowd
Athirst for slavery. But burst these words
From Cato's blameless breast: 'Then with like vows
As Caesar's rival host ye too did seek
A lord and master! not for Rome the fight,
But for Pompeius! For that now no more
Ye fight for tyranny, but for yourselves,
Not for some despot chief, ye live and die;
Since now 'tis safe to conquer and no lord
Shall rob you, victors, of a world subdued --
Ye flee the war, and on your abject necks
Feel for the absent yoke; nor can endure
Without a despot! Yet to men the prize
Were worth the danger. Magnus might have used
To evil ends your blood; refuse ye now,
With liberty so near, your country's call?
Now lives one tyrant only of the three;
Thus far in favour of the laws have wrought
The Pharian weapons and the Parthian bow;
Not you, degenerate! Begone, and spurn
This gift of Ptolemaeus. Who would think
Your hands were stained with blood? The foe will deem
That you upon that dread Thessalian day
First turned your backs. Then flee in safety, flee!
By neither battle nor blockade subdued
Caesar shall give you life! O slaves most base,
Your former master slain, ye seek his heir!
Why doth it please you not yet more to earn
Than life and pardon? Bear across the sea
Metellus' daughter, Magnus' weeping spouse,
And both his sons; outstrip the Pharian gift,
Nor spare this head, which, laid before the feet
Of that detested tyrant, shall deserve
A full reward. Thus, cowards, shall ye learn
In that ye followed me how great your gain.
Quick to your task and purchase thus with blood
Your claim on Caesar. Dastardly is flight
Which crime commends not.'
Cato thus recalled
The parting vessels. So when bees in swarm
Desert their waxen cells, forget the hive
Ceasing to cling together, and with wings
Untrammelled seek the air, nor slothful light
On thyme to taste its bitterness -- then rings
The Phrygian gong -- at once they pause aloft
Astonied; and with love of toil resumed
Through all the flowers for their honey store
In ceaseless wanderings search; the shepherd joys,
Sure that th' Hyblaean mead for him has kept
His cottage store, the riches of his home.
Now in the active conduct of the war
Were brought to discipline their minds, untaught
To bear repose; first on the sandy shore
Toiling they learned fatigue: then stormed thy walls,
Cyrene; prizeless, for to Cato's mind
'Twas prize enough to conquer. Juba next
He bids attack, though Nature on the path
Had placed the Syrtes; which his sturdy heart
Aspired to conquer. Either at the first
When Nature gave the universe its form
She left this region neither land nor sea;
Not wholly shrunk, so that it should receive
The ocean flood; nor firm enough to stand
Against its buffets -- all the pathless coast
Lies in uncertain shape; the land by earth
Is parted from the deep; on sandy banks
The seas are broken, and from shoal to shoal
The waves advance to sound upon the shore.
Nature, in spite, thus left her work undone,
Unfashioned to men's use -- Or else of old
A foaming ocean filled the wide expanse,
But Titan feeding from the briny depths
His burning fires (near to the zone of heat)
Reduced the waters; and the sea still fights
With Phoebus' beams, which in the length of time
Drank deeper of its fountains.
When the main
Struck by the oars gave passage to the fleet,
Black from the sky rushed down a southern gale
Upon his realm, and from the watery plain
Drave back th' invading ships, and from the shoals
Compelled the billows, and in middle sea
Raised up a bank. Forth flew the bellying sails
Beyond the prows, despite the ropes that dared
Resist the tempest's fury; and for those
Who prescient housed their canvas to the storm,
Bare-masted they were driven from their course.
Best was their lot who gained the open waves
Of ocean; others lightened of their masts
Shook off the tempest; but a sweeping tide
Hurried them southwards, victor of the gale.
Some freed of shallows on a bank were forced
Which broke the deep: their ship in part was fast,
Part hanging on the sea; their fates in doubt.
Fierce rage the waves till hems them in the land;
Nor Auster's force in frequent buffets spent
Prevails upon the shore. High from the main
By seas inviolate one bank of sand,
Far from the coast arose; there watched in vain
The storm-tossed mariners, their keel aground,
No shore descrying. Thus in sea were lost
Some portion, but the major part by helm
And rudder guided, and by pilots' hands
Who knew the devious channels, safe at length
Floated the marsh of Triton loved (as saith
The fable) by that god, whose sounding shell
All seas and shores re-echo; and by her,
Pallas, who springing from her father's head
First lit on Libya, nearest land to heaven,
(As by its heat is proved); here on the brink
She stood, reflected in the placid wave
And called herself Tritonis. Lethe's flood
Flows silent near, in fable from a source
Infernal sprung, oblivion in his stream;
Here, too, that garden of the Hesperids
Where once the sleepless dragon held his watch,
Shorn of its leafy wealth. Shame be on him
Who calls upon the poet for the proof
Of that which in the ancient days befell;
But here were golden groves by yellow growth
Weighed down in richness, here a maiden band
Were guardians; and a serpent, on whose eyes
Sleep never fell, was coiled around the trees,
Whose branches bowed beneath their ruddy load.
But great Alcides stripped the bending boughs,
And bore their shining apples (thus his task
Accomplished) to the court of Argos' king.
Driven on the Libyan realms, more fruitful here,
Pompeius stayed the fleet, nor further dared
In Garamantian waves. But Cato's soul
Leaped in his breast, impatient of delay,
To pass the Syrtes by a landward march,
And trusting to their swords, 'gainst tribes unknown
To lead his legions. And the storm which closed
The main to navies gave them hope of rain;
Nor biting frosts they feared, in Libyan clime;
Nor suns too scorching in the falling year.
Thus ere they trod the deserts, Cato spake:
'Ye men of Rome, who through mine arms alone
Can find the death ye covet, and shall fall
With pride unbroken should the fates command,
Meet this your weighty task, your high emprise
With hearts resolved to conquer. For we march
On sterile wastes, burnt regions of the world;
Scarce are the wells, and Titan from the height
Burns pitiless, unclouded; and the slime
Of poisonous serpents fouls the dusty earth.
Yet shall men venture for the love of laws
And country perishing, upon the sands
Of trackless Libya; men who brave in soul
Rely not on the end, and in attempt
Will risk their all. 'Tis not in Cato's thoughts
On this our enterprise to lead a band
Blind to the truth, unwitting of the risk.
Nay, give me comrades for the danger's sake,
Whom I shall see for honour and for Rome
Bear up against the worst. But whose needs
A pledge of safety, to whom life is sweet,
Let him by fairer journey seek his lord.
First be my foot upon the sand; on me
First strike the burning sun; across my path
The serpent void his venom; by my fate
Know ye your perils. Let him only thirst
Who sees me at the spring: who sees me seek
The shade, alone sink fainting in the heat;
Or whoso sees me ride before the ranks
Plodding their weary march: such be the lot
Of each, who, toiling, finds in me a chief
And not a comrade. Snakes, thirst, burning sand
The brave man welcomes, and the patient breast
Finds happiness in labour. By its cost
Courage is sweeter; and this Libyan land
Such cloud of ills can furnish as might make
Men flee unshamed.' 'Twas thus that Cato spake,
Kindling the torch of valour and the love
Of toil: then reckless of his fate he strode
The desert path from which was no return:
And Libya ruled his destinies, to shut
His sacred name within a narrow tomb.
One-third of all the world, if fame we trust,
Is Libya; yet by winds and sky she yields
Some part to Europe; for the shores of Nile
No more than Scythian Tanais are remote
From furthest Gades, where with bending coast,
Yielding a place to Ocean, Europe parts
From Afric shores. Yet falls the larger world
To Asia only. From the former two
Issues the Western wind; but Asia's right
Touches the Southern limits and her left
The Northern tempest's home; and of the East
She's mistress to the rising of the Sun.
All that is fertile of the Afric lands
Lies to the west, but even here abound
No wells of water: though the Northern wind,
Infrequent, leaving us with skies serene,
Falls there in showers. Not gold nor wealth of brass
It yields the seeker: pure and unalloyed
Down to its lowest depths is Libyan soil.
Yet citron forests to Maurusian tribes
Were riches, had they known; but they, content,
Lived 'neath the shady foliage, till gleamed
The axe of Rome amid the virgin grove,
To bring from furthest limits of the world
Our banquet tables and the fruit they bear.
But suns excessive and a scorching air
Burn all the glebe beside the shifting sands:
There die the harvests on the crumbling mould;
No root finds sustenance, nor kindly Jove
Makes rich the furrow nor matures the vine.
Sleep binds all nature and the tract of sand
Lies ever fruitless, save that by the shore
The hardy Nasamon plucks a scanty grass.
Unclothed their race, and living on the woes
Worked by the cruel Syrtes on mankind;
For spoilers are they of the luckless ships
Cast on the shoals: and with the world by wrecks
Their only commerce.
Here at Cato's word
His soldiers passed, in fancy from the winds
That sweep the sea secure: here on them fell
Smiting with greater strength upon the shore,
Than on the ocean, Auster's tempest force,
And yet more fraught with mischief: for no crags
Repelled his strength, nor lofty mountains tamed
His furious onset, nor in sturdy woods
He found a bar; but free from reining hand,
Raged at his will o'er the defenceless earth.
Nor did he mingle dust and clouds of rain
In whirling circles, but the earth was swept
And hung in air suspended, till amazed
The Nasamon saw his scanty field and home
Reft by the tempest, and the native huts
From roof to base were hurried on the blast.
Not higher, when some all-devouring flame
Has seized upon its prey, in volumes dense
Rolls up the smoke, and darkens all the air.
Then with fresh might he fell upon the host
Of marching Romans, snatching from their feet
The sand they trod. Had Auster been enclosed
In some vast cavernous vault with solid walls
And mighty barriers, he had moved the world
Upon its ancient base and made the lands
To tremble: but the facile Libyan soil
By not resisting stood, and blasts that whirled
The surface upwards left the depths unmoved.
Helmet and shield and spear were torn away
By his most violent breath, and borne aloft
Through all the regions of the boundless sky;
Perchance a wonder in some distant land,
Where men may fear the weapons from the heaven
There falling, as the armour of the gods,
Nor deem them ravished from a soldier's arm.
'Twas thus on Numa by the sacred fire
Those shields descended which our chosen priests
Bear on their shoulders; from some warlike race
By tempest rapt, to be the prize of Rome.
Fearing the storm prone fell the host to earth
Winding their garments tight, and with clenched hands
Gripping the earth: for not their weight alone
Withstood the tempest which upon their frames
Piled mighty heaps, and their recumbent limbs
Buried in sand. At length they struggling rose
Back to their feet, when lo! around them stood,
Forced by the storm, a growing bank of earth
Which held them motionless. And from afar
Where walls lay prostrate, mighty stones were hurled,
Thus piling ills on ills in wondrous form:
No dwellings had they seen, yet at their feet
Beheld the ruins. All the earth was hid
In vast envelopment, nor found they guide
Save from the stars, which as in middle deep
Flamed o'er them wandering: yet some were hid
Beneath the circle of the Libyan earth
Which tending downwards hid the Northern sky.
When warmth dispersed the tempest-driven air,
And rose upon the earth the flaming day,
Bathed were their limbs in sweat, but parched and dry
Their gaping lips; when to a scanty spring
Far off beheld they came, whose meagre drops
All gathered in the hollow of a helm
They offered to their chief. Caked were their throats
With dust, and panting; and one little drop
Had made him envied. 'Wretch, and dost thou deem
Me wanting in a brave man's heart?' he cried,
'Me only in this throng? And have I seemed
Tender, unfit to bear the morning heat?
He who would quench his thirst 'mid such a host,
Doth most deserve its pangs.' Then in his wrath
Dashed down the helmet, and the scanty spring,
Thus by their leader spurned, sufficed for all.
Now had they reached that temple which possess
Sole in all Libya, th' untutored tribes
Of Garamantians. Here holds his seat
(So saith the story) a prophetic Jove,
Wielding no thunderbolts, nor like to ours,
The Libyan Hammen of the curved horn.
No wealth adorns his fane by Afric tribes
Bestowed, nor glittering hoard of Eastern gems.
Though rich Arabians, Ind and Ethiop
Know him alone as Jove, still is he poor
Holding his shrine by riches undefiled
Through time, and god as of the olden days
Spurns all the wealth of Rome. That here some god
Dwells, witnesses the only grove
That buds in Libya -- for that which grows
Upon the arid dust which Leptis parts
From Berenice, knows no leaves; alone
Hammon uprears a wood; a fount the cause
Which with its waters binds the crumbling soil.
Yet shall the Sun when poised upon the height
Strike through the foliage: hardly can the tree
Protect its trunk, and to a little space
His rays draw in the circle of the shade.
Here have men found the spot where that high band
Solstitial divides in middle sky
The zodiac stars: not here oblique their course,
Nor Scorpion rises straighter than the Bull,
Nor to the Scales does Ram give back his hours,
Nor does Astraea bid the Fishes sink
More slowly down: but watery Capricorn
Is equal with the Crab, and with the Twins
The Archer; neither does the Lion rise
Above Aquarius. But the race that dwells
Beyond the fervour of the Libyan fires
Sees to the South that shadow which with us
Falls to the North: slow Cynosure sinks
For them below the deep; and, dry with us,
The Wagon plunges; far from either pole,
No star they know that does not seek the main,
But all the constellations in their course
Whirl to their vision through the middle sky.
Before the doors the Eastern peoples stood
Seeking from horned Jove to know their fates:
Yet to the Roman chief they yielded place,
Whose comrades prayed him to entreat the gods
Famed through the Libyan world, and judge the voice
Renowned from distant ages. First of these
Was Labienus: 'Chance,' he said, 'to us
The voice and counsel of this mighty god
Has offered as we march; from such a guide
To know the issues of the war, and learn
To track the Syrtes. For to whom on earth
If not to blameless Cato, shall the gods
Entrust their secrets? Faithful thou at least,
Their follower through all thy life hast been;
Now hast thou liberty to speak with Jove.
Ask impious Caesar's fates, and learn the laws
That wait our country in the future days:
Whether the people shall be free to use
Their rights and customs, or the civil war
For us is wasted. To thy sacred breast,
Lover of virtue, take the voice divine;
Demand what virtue is and guide thy steps
By heaven's high counsellor.'
But Cato, full
Of godlike thoughts borne in his quiet breast,
This answer uttered, worthy of the shrines:
'What, Labienus, dost thou bid me ask?
Whether in arms and freedom I should wish
To perish, rather than endure a king?
Is longest life worth aught? And doth its term
Make difference? Can violence to the good
Do injury? Do Fortune's threats avail
Outweighed by virtue? Doth it not suffice
To aim at deeds of bravery? Can fame
Grow by achievement? Nay! No Hammen's voice
Shall teach us this more surely than we know.
Bound are we to the gods; no voice we need;
They live in all our acts, although the shrine
Be silent: at our birth and once for all
What may be known the author of our being
Revealed; nor Chose these thirsty sands to chaunt
To few his truth, whelmed in the dusty waste.
God has his dwelling in all things that be,
In earth and air and sea and starry vault,
In virtuous deeds; in all that thou can'st see,
In all thy thoughts contained. Why further, then,
Seek we our deities? Let those who doubt
And halting, tremble for their coming fates,
Go ask the oracles. No mystic words,
Make sure my heart, but surely-coming Death.
Coward alike and brave, we all must die.
Thus hath Jove spoken: seek to know no more.'
Thus Cato spake, and faithful to his creed
He parted from the temple of the god
And left the oracle of Hammon dumb.
Bearing his javelin, as one of them
Before the troops he marched: no panting slave
With bending neck, no litter bore his form.
He bade them not, but showed them how to toil.
Spare in his sleep, the last to sip the spring
When at some rivulet to quench their thirst
The eager ranks pressed onward, he alone
Until the humblest follower might drink
Stood motionless. If for the truly good
Is fame, and virtue by the deed itself,
Not by sucoessful issue, should be judged,
Yield, famous ancestors! Fortune, not worth
Gained you your glory. But such name as his
Who ever merited by successful war
Or slaughtered peoples? Rather would I lead
With him his triumph through the pathless sands
And Libya's bounds, than in Pompeius' car
Three times ascend the Capitol, or break
The proud Jugurtha. Rome! in him behold
His country's father, worthiest of thy vows;
A name by which men shall not blush to swear,
Whom, should'st thou break the fetters from thy neck,
Thou may'st in distant days decree divine.
Now was the heat more dense, and through that clime
Than which no further on the Southern side
The gods permit, they trod; and scarcer still
The water, till in middle sands they found
One bounteous spring which clustered serpents held
Though scaroe the space sufficed. By thirsting snakes
The fount was thronged and asps pressed on the marge.
But when the chieftain saw that speedy fate
Was on the host, if they should leave the well
Untasted, 'Vain,' he cried, 'your fear of death.
Drink, nor delay: 'tis from the threatening tooth
Men draw their deaths, and fatal from the fang
Issues the juice if mingled with the blood;
The cup is harmless.' Then he sipped the fount,
Still doubting, and in all the Libyan waste
There only was he first to touch the stream.
Why fertile thus in death the pestilent air
Of Libya, what poison in her soil
Her several nature mixed, my care to know
Has not availed: but from the days of old
A fabled story has deceived the world.
Far on her limits, where the burning shore
Admits the ocean fervid from the sun
Plunged in its waters, lay Medusa's fields
Untilled; nor forests shaded, nor the plough
Furrowed the soil, which by its mistress' gaze
Was hardened into stone: Phorcus, her sire.
Malevolent nature from her body first
Drew forth these noisome pests; first from her jaws
Issued the sibilant rattle of serpent tongues;
Clustered around her head the poisonous brood
Like to a woman's hair, wreathed on her neck
Which gloried in their touch; their glittering heads
Advanced towards her; and her tresses kempt
Dripped down with viper's venom. This alone
Thou hast, accursed one, which men can see
Unharmed; for who upon that gaping mouth
Looked and could dread? To whom who met her glance,
Was death permitted? Fate delayed no more.
But ere the victim feared had struck him down:
Perished the limbs while living, and the soul
Grew stiff and stark ere yet it fled the frame.
Men have been frenzied by the Furies' locks,
Not killed; and Cerberus at Orpheus' song
Ceased from his hissing, and Alcides saw
The Hydra ere he slew. This monster born
Brought horror with her birth upon her sire
Phorcus, in second order God of Waves,
And upon Ceto and the Gorgon brood,
Her sisters. She could threat the sea and sky
With deadly calm unknown, and from the world
Bid cease the soil. Borne down by instant weight
Fowls fell from air, and beasts were fixed in stone.
Whole Ethiop tribes who tilled the neighbouring lands
Rigid in marble stood. The Gorgon sight
No creature bore and even her serpents turned
Back from her visage. Atlas in his place
Beside the Western columns, by her look
Was turned to rocks; and when on snakes of old
Phlegraean giants stood and frighted heaven,
She made them mountains, and the Gorgon head
Borne on Athena's bosom closed the war.
Here born of Danae and the golden shower,
Floating on wings Parrhasian, by the god
Arcadian given, author of the lyre
And wrestling art, came Perseus, down from heaven
Swooping. Cyllenian Harp did he bear
Still crimson from another monster slain,
The guardian of the heifer loved by Jove.
This to her winged brother Pallas lent
Price of the monster's head: by her command
Upon the limits of the Libyan land
He sought the rising sun, with flight averse,
Poised o'er Medusa's realm; a burnished shield
Of yellow brass upon his other arm,
Her gift, he bore: in which she bade him see
The fatal face unscathed. Nor yet in sleep
Lay all the monster, for such total rest
To her were death -- so fated: serpent locks
In vigilant watch, some reaching forth defend
Her head, while others lay upon her face
And slumbering eyes. Then hero Perseus shook
Though turned averse; trembled his dexter hand:
But Pallas held, and the descending blade
Shore the broad neck whence sprang the viper brood.
What visage bore the Gorgon as the steel
Thus reft her life! what poison from her throat
Breathed! from her eyes what venom of death distilled!
The goddess dared not look, and Perseus' face
Had frozen, averse, had not Athena veiled
With coils of writhing snakes the features dead.
Then with the Gorgon head the hero flew
Uplifted on his wings and sought the sky.
Shorter had been his voyage through the midst
Of Europe's cities; but Athena bade
To spare her peoples and their fruitful lands;
For who when such an airy courser passed
Had not looked up to heaven? Western winds
Now sped his pinions, and he took his course
O'er Libya's regions, from the stars and suns
Veiled by no culture. Phoebus' nearer track
There burns the soil, and loftiest on the sky
There fails the night, to shade the wandering moon,
If o'er forgetful of her course oblique,
Straight through the stars, nor bending to the North
Nor to the South, she hastens. Yet that earth,
In nothing fertile, void of fruitful yield,
Drank in the poison of Medusa's blood,
Dripping in dreadful dews upon the soil,
And in the crumbling sands by heat matured.
First from the dust was raised a gory clot
In guise of Asp, sleep-bringing, swollen of neck:
Full was the blood and thick the poison drop
That were its making; in no other snake
More copious held. Greedy of warmth it seeks
No frozen world itself, nor haunts the sands
Beyond the Nile; yet has our thirst of gain
No shame nor limit, and this Libyan death,
This fatal pest we purchase for our own.
Haemorrhois huge spreads out his scaly coils,
Who suffers not his hapless victims' blood
To stay within their veins. Chersydros sprang
To life, to dwell within the doubtful marsh
Where land nor sea prevails. A cloud of spray
Marked fell Chelyder's track: and Cenchris rose
Straight gliding to his prey, his belly tinged
With various spots unnumbered, more than those
Which paint the Theban marble; horned snakes
With spines contorted: like to torrid sand
Ammodytes, of hue invisible:
Sole of all serpents Scytale to shed
In vernal frosts his slough; and thirsty Dipsas;
Dread Amphisbaena with his double head
Tapering; and Natrix who in bubbling fount
Fuses his venom. Greedy Prester swells
His foaming jaws; Pareas, head erect
Furrows with tail alone his sandy path;
Swift Jaculus there, and Seps whose poisonous juice
Makes putrid flesh and frame: and there upreared
His regal head, and frighted from his track
With sibilant terror all the subject swam,
Baneful ere darts his poison, Basilisk
In sands deserted king. Ye serpents too
Who in all other regions harmless glide
Adored as gods, and bright with golden scales,
In those hot wastes are deadly; poised in air
Whole herds of kine ye follow, and with coils
Encircling close, crush in the mighty bull.
Nor does the elephant in his giant bulk,
Nor aught, find safety; and ye need no fang
Nor poison, to compel the fatal end.
Amid these pests undaunted Cato urged
His desert journey on. His hardy troops
Beneath his eyes, pricked by a scanty wound,
In strangest forms of death unnumbered fall.
Tyrrhenian Aulus, bearer of a flag,
Trod on a Dipsas; quick with head reversed
The serpent struck; no mark betrayed the tooth:
The aspect of the wound nor threatened death,
Nor any evil; but the poison germ
In silence working as consuming fire
Absorbed the moisture of his inward frame,
Draining the natural juices that were spread
Around his vitals; in his arid jaws
Set flame upon his tongue: his wearied limbs
No sweat bedewed; dried up, the fount of tears
Fled from his eyelids. Tortured by the fire
Nor Cato's sternness, nor of his sacred charge
The honour could withhold him; but he dared
To dash his standard down, and through the plains
Raging, to seek for water that might slake
The fatal venom thirsting at his heart.
Plunge him in Tanais, in Rhone and Po,
Pour on his burning tongue the flood of Nile,
Yet were the fire unquenched. So fell the fang
Of Dipsas in the torrid Libyan lands;
In other climes less fatal. Next he seeks
Amid the sands, all barren to the depths,
For moisture: then returning to the shoals
Laps them with greed -- in vain -- the briny draught
Scarce quenched the thirst it made. Nor knowing yet
The poison in his frame, he steels himself
To rip his swollen veins and drink the gore.
Cato bids lift the standard, lest his troops
May find in thirst a pardon for the deed.
But on Sabellus' yet more piteous death
Their eyes were fastened. Clinging to his skin
A Seps with curving tooth, of little size,
He seized and tore away, and to the sands
Pierced with his javelin. Small the serpent's bulk;
None deals a death more horrible in form.
For swift the flesh dissolving round the wound
Bared the pale bone; swam all his limbs in blood;
Wasted the tissue of his calves and knees:
And all the muscles of his thighs were thawed
In black distilment, and file membrane sheath
Parted, that bound his vitals, which abroad
Flowed upon earth: yet seemed it not that all
His frame was loosed, for by the venomous drop
Were all the bands that held his muscles drawn
Down to a juice; the framework of his chest
Was bare, its cavity, and all the parts
Hid by the organs of life, that make the man.
So by unholy death there stood revealed
His inmost nature. Head and stalwart arms,
And neck and shoulders, from their solid mass
Melt in corruption. Not more swiftly flows
Wax at the sun's command, nor snow compelled
By southern breezes. Yet not all is said:
For so to noxious humours fire consumes
Our fleshly frame; but on the funeral pyre
What bones have perished? These dissolve no less
Than did the mouldered tissues, nor of death
Thus swift is left a trace. Of Afric pests
Thou bear'st the palm for hurtfulness: the life
They snatch away, thou only with the life
The clay that held it.
Lo! a different fate,
Not this by melting! for a Prester's fang
Nasidius struck, who erst in Marsian fields
Guided the ploughshare. Burned upon his face
A redness as of flame: swollen the skin,
His features hidden, swollen all his limbs
Till more than human: and his definite frame
One tumour huge concealed. A ghastly gore
Is puffed from inwards as the virulent juice
Courses through all his body; which, thus grown,
His corselet holds not. Not in caldron so
Boils up to mountainous height the steaming wave;
Nor in such bellying curves does canvas bend
To Eastern tempests. Now the ponderous bulk
Rejects the limbs, and as a shapeless trunk
Burdens the earth: and there, to beasts and birds
A fatal feast, his comrades left the corse
Nor dared to place, yet swelling, in the tomb.
But for their eyes the Libyan pests prepared
More dreadful sights. On Tullus great in heart,
And bound to Cato with admiring soul,
A fierce Haemorrhois fixed. From every limb,
(As from a statue saffron spray is showered
In every part) there spouted forth for blood
A sable poison: from the natural pores
Of moisture, gore profuse; his mouth was filled
And gaping nostrils, and his tears were blood.
Brimmed full his veins; his very sweat was red;
All was one wound.
Then piteous Levus next
In sleep was victim, for around his heart
Stood still the blood congealed: no pain he felt
Of venomous tooth, but swift upon him fell
Death, and he sought the shades; more swift to kill
No draught in poisonous cups from ripened plants
Of direst growth Sabaean wizards brew.
Lo! Upon branchless trunk a serpent, named
By Libyans Jaculus, rose in coils to dart
His venom from afar. Through Paullus' brain
It rushed, nor stayed; for in the wound itself
Was death. Then did they know how slowly flies,
Flung from a sling, the stone; how gently speed
Through air the shafts of Scythia.
Murrus, the lance by which thou didst transfix
A Basilisk? Swift through the weapon ran
The poison to his hand: he draws his sword
And severs arm and shoulder at a blow:
Then gazed secure upon his severed hand
Which perished as he looked. So had'st thou died,
And such had been thy fate!
Whoe'er had thought
A scorpion had strength o'er death or fate?
Yet with his threatening coils and barb erect
He won the glory of Orion slain;
So bear the stars their witness. And who would fear
Thy haunts, Salpuga? Yet the Stygian Maids
Have given thee power to snap the fatal threads.
Thus nor the day with brightness, nor the night
With darkness gave them peace. The very earth
On which they lay they feared; nor leaves nor straw
They piled for couches, but upon the ground
Unshielded from the fates they laid their limbs,
Cherished beneath whose warmth in chill of night
The frozen pests found shelter; in whose jaws
Harmless the while, the lurking venom slept.
Nor did they know the measure of their march
Accomplished, nor their path; the stars in heaven
Their only guide. 'Return, ye gods,' they cried,
In frequent wail, 'the arms from which we fled.
Give back Thessalia. Sworn to meet the sword
Why, lingering, fall we thus? In Caesar's place
The thirsty Dipsas and the horned snake
Now wage the warfare. Rather let us seek
That region by the horses of the sun
Scorched, and the zone most torrid: let us fall
Slain by some heavenly cause, and from the sky
Descend our fate! Not, Africa, of thee
Complain we, nor of Nature. From mankind
Cut off, this quarter, teeming thus with pests
She gave to snakes, and to the barren fields
Denied the husbandman, nor wished that men
Should perish by their venom. To the realms
Of serpents have we come. Hater of men,
Receive thy vengeance, whoso of the gods
Severed this region upon either hand,
With death in middle space. Our march is set
Through thy sequestered kingdom, and the host
Which knows thy secret seeks the furthest world.
Perchance some greater wonders on our path
May still await us; in the waves be plunged
Heaven's constellations, and the lofty pole
Stoop from its height. By further space removed
No land, than Juba's realm; by rumour's voice
Drear, mournful. Haply for this serpent land
There may we long, where yet some living thing
Gives consolation. Not my native land
Nor European fields I hope for now
Lit by far other suns, nor Asia's plains.
But in what land, what region of the sky,
Where left we Africa? But now with frosts
Cyrene stiffened: have we changed the laws
Which rule the seasons, in this little space?
Cast from the world we know, 'neath other skies
And stars we tread; behind our backs the home
Of southern tempests: Rome herself perchance
Now lies beneath our feet. Yet for our fates
This solace pray we, that on this our track
Pursuing Caesar with his host may come.'
Thus was their stubborn patience of its plaints
Disburdened. But the bravery of their chief
Forced them to bear their toils. Upon the sand,
All bare, he lies and dares at every hour
Fortune to strike: he only at the fate
Of each is present, flies to every call;
And greatest boon of all, greater than life,
Brought strength to die. To groan in death was shame
In such a presence. What power had all the ills
Possessed upon him? In another's breast
He conquers misery, teaching by his mien
That pain is powerless.
Hardly aid at length
Did Fortune, wearied of their perils, grant.
Alone unharmed of all who till the earth,
By deadly serpents, dwells the Psyllian race.
Potent as herbs their song; safe is their blood,
Nor gives admission to the poison germ
E'en when the chant has ceased. Their home itself
Placed in such venomous tract and serpent-thronged
Gained them this vantage, and a truce with death,
Else could they not have lived. Such is their trust
In purity of blood, that newly born
Each babe they prove by test of deadly asp
For foreign lineage. So the bird of Jove
Turns his new fledglings to the rising sun
And such as gaze upon the beams of day
With eves unwavering, for the use of heaven
He rears; but such as blink at Phoebus' rays
Casts from the nest. Thus of unmixed descent
The babe who, dreading not the serpent touch,
Plays in his cradle with the deadly snake.
Nor with their own immunity from harm
Contented do they rest, but watch for guests
Who need their help against the noisome plague.
Now to the Roman standards are they come,
And when the chieftain bade the tents be fixed,
First all the sandy space within the lines
With song they purify and magic words
From which all serpents flee: next round the camp
In widest circuit from a kindled fire
Rise aromatic odours: danewort burns,
And juice distils from Syrian galbanum;
Then tamarisk and costum, Eastern herbs,
Strong panacea mixt with centaury
From Thrace, and leaves of fennel feed the flames,
And thapsus brought from Eryx: and they burn
Larch, southern-wood and antlers of a deer
Which lived afar. From these in densest fumes,
Deadly to snakes, a pungent smoke arose;
And thus in safety passed the night away.
But should some victim feel the fatal fang
Upon the march, then of this magic race
Were seen the wonders, for a mighty strife
Rose 'twixt the Psyllian and the poison germ.
First with saliva they anoint the limbs
That held the venomous juice within the wound;
Nor suffer it to spread. From foaming mouth
Next with continuous cadence would they pour
Unceasing chants -- nor breathing space nor pause --
Else spreads the poison: nor does fate permit
A moment's silence. Oft from the black flesh
Flies forth the pest beneath the magic song:
But should it linger nor obey the voice,
Repugmant to the summons, on the wound
Prostrate they lay their lips and from the depths
Now paling draw the venom. In their mouths,
Sucked from the freezing flesh, they hold the death,
Then spew it forth; and from the taste shall know
The snake they conquer.
Aided thus at length
Wanders the Roman host in better guise
Upon the barren fields in lengthy march.
Twice veiled the moon her light and twice renewed;
Yet still, with waning or with growing orb
Saw Cato's steps upon the sandy waste.
But more and more beneath their feet the dust
Began to harden, till the Libyan tracts
Once more were earth, and in the distance rose
Some groves of scanty foliage, and huts
Of plastered straw unfashioned: and their hearts
Leaped at the prospect of a better land.
How fled their sorrow! how with growing joy
They met the savage lion in the path!
In tranquil Leptis first they found retreat:
And passed a winter free from heat and rain.
When Caesar sated with Emathia's slain
Forsook the battlefield, all other cares
Neglected, he pursued his kinsman fled,
On him alone intent: by land his steps
He traced in vain; then, rumour for his guide,
He crossed the sea and reached the Thracian strait
For love renowned; where on the mournful shore
Rose Hero's tower, and Helle born of cloud
Took from the rolling waves their former name.
Nowhere with shorter space the sea divides
Europe from Asia; though Pontus parts
By scant division from Byzantium's hold
Chalcedon oyster-rich: and small the strait
Through which Propontis pours the Euxine wave.
Then marvelling at their ancient fame, he seeks
Sigeum's sandy beach and Simois' stream,
Rhoeteum noble for its Grecian tomb,
And all the hero's shades, the theme of song.
Next by the town of Troy burnt down of old
Now but a memorable name, he turns
His steps, and searches for the mighty stones
Relics of Phoebus' wall. But bare with age
Forests of trees and hollow mouldering trunks
Pressed down Assaracus' palace, and with roots
Wearied, possessed the temples of the gods.
All Pergamus with densest brake was veiled
And even her stones were perished. He beheld
Thy rock, Hesione; the hidden grove,
Anchises' nuptial chamber; and the cave
Where sat the arbiter; the spot from which
Was snatched the beauteous youth; the mountain lawn
Where played Oenone. Not a stone but told
The story of the past. A little stream
Scarce trickling through the arid plain he passed,
Nor knew 'twas Xanthus: deep in grass he placed,
Careless, his footstep; but the herdsman cried
'Thou tread'st the dust of Hector.' Stones confused
Lay at his feet in sacred shape no more:
'Look on the altar of Jove,' thus spake the guide,
'God of the household, guardian of the home.'
O sacred task of poets, toil supreme,
Which rescuing all things from allotted fate
Dost give eternity to mortal men!
Grudge not the glory, Caesar, of such fame.
For if the Latian Muse may promise aught,
Long as the heroes of the Trojan time
Shall live upon the page of Smyrna's bard,
So long shall future races read of thee
In this my poem; and Pharsalia's song
Live unforgotten in the age to come.
When by the ancient grandeur of the place
The chieftain's sight was filled, of gathered turf
Altars he raised: and as the sacred flame
Cast forth its odours, these not idle vows
Gave to the gods, 'Ye deities of the dead,
Who watch o'er Phrygian ruins: ye who now
Lavinia's homes inhabit, and Alba's height:
Gods of my sire Aeneas, in whose fanes
The Trojan fire still burns: pledge of the past
Mysterious Pallas, of the inmost shrine,
Unseen of men! here in your ancient seat,
Most famous offspring of Iulus' race,
I call upon you and with pious hand
Burn frequent offerings. To my emprise
Give prosperous ending! Here shall I replace
The Phrygian peoples, here with glad return
Italia's sons shall build another Troy,
Here rise a Roman Pergamus.'
He seeks his fleet, and eager to regain
Time spent at Ilium, to the favouring breeze
Spreads all his canvas. Past rich Asia borne,
Rhodes soon he left while foamed the sparkling main
Beneath his keels; nor ceased the wind to stretch
His bending sails, till on the seventh night
The Pharian beam proclaimed Egyptian shores.
But day arose, and veiled the nightly lamp
Ere rode his barks on waters safe from storm.
Then Caesar saw that tumult held the shore,
And mingled voices of uncertain sound
Struck on his ear: and trusting not himself
To doubtful kingdoms, of uncertain troth,
He kept his ships from land.
But from the king
Came his vile minion forth upon the wave,
Bearing his dreadful gift, Pompeius' head,
Wrapped in a covering of Pharian wool.
First took he speech and thus in shameless words
Commends the murder: 'Conqueror of the world,
First of the Roman race, and, what as yet
Thou dost not know, safe by thy kinsman slain;
This gift receive from the Pellaean king,
Sole trophy absent from the Thracian field,
To crown thy toils on lands and on the deep.
Here in thine absence have we placed for thee
An end upon the war. Here Magnus came
To mend his fallen fortunes; on our swords
Here met his death. With such a pledge of faith
Here have we bought thee, Caesar; with his blood
Seal we this treaty. Take the Pharian realm
Sought by no bloodshed, take the rule of Nile,
Take all that thou would'st give for Magnus' life:
And hold him vassal worthy of thy camp
To whom the fates against thy son-in-law
Such power entrusted; nor hold thou the deed
Lightly accomplished by the swordsman's stroke,
And so the merit. Guest ancestral he
Who was its victim; who, his sire expelled,
Gave back to him the sceptre. For a deed
So great, thou'lt find a name -- or ask the world.
If 'twas a crime, thou must confess the debt
To us the greater, for that from thy hand
We took the doing.'
Then he held and showed
Unveiled the head. Now had the hand of death
Passed with its changing touch upon the face:
Nor at first sight did Caesar on the gift
Pass condemnation; nor avert his gaze,
But dwelt upon the features till he knew
The crime accomplished. Then when truth was sure
The loving father rose, and tears he shed
Which flowed at his command, and glad in heart
Forced from his breast a groan: thus by the flow
Of feigned tears and grief he hoped to hide
His joy else manifest: and the ghastly boon
Sent by the king disparaging, professed
Rather to mourn his son's dissevered head,
Than count it for a debt. For thee alone,
Magnus, he durst not fail to find a tear:
He, Caesar, who with mien unaltered spurned
The Roman Senate, and with eyes undimmed
Looked on Pharsalia's field. O fate most hard!
Didst thou with impious war pursue the man
Whom 'twas thy lot to mourn? No kindred ties
No memory of thy daughter and her son
Touch on thy heart. Didst think perchance that grief
Might help thy cause 'mid lovers of his name?
Or haply, moved by envy of the king,
Griev'st that to other hands than thine was given
To shed the captive's life-blood? and complain'st
Thy vengeance perished and the conquered chief
Snatched from thy haughty hand? Whate'er the cause
That urged thy grief, 'twas far removed from love.
Was this forsooth the object of thy toil
O'er lands and oceans, that without thy ken
He should not perish? Nay! but well was reft
From thine arbitrament his fate. What crime
Did cruel Fortune spare, what depth of shame
To Roman honour! since she suffered not,
Perfidious traitor, while yet Magnus lived,
That thou should'st pity him!
Thus by words he dared,
To gain their credence in his sembled grief:
'Hence from my sight with thy detested gift,
Thou minion, to thy King. Worse does your crime
Deserve from Caesar than from Magnus' hands.
The only prize that civil war affords
Thus have we lost -- to bid the conquered live.
If but the sister of this Pharian king
Were not by him detested, by the head
Of Cleopatra had I paid this gift.
Such were the fit return. Why did he draw
His separate sword, and in the toil that's ours
Mingle his weapons? In Thessalia's field
Gave we such right to the Pellaean blade?
Magnus as partner in the rule of Rome
I had not brooked; and shall I tolerate
Thee, Ptolemaeus? In vain with civil wars
Thus have we roused the nations, if there be
Now any might but Caesar's. If one land
Yet owned two masters, I had turned from yours
The prows of Latium; but fame forbids,
Lest men should whisper that I did not damn
This deed of blood, but feared the Pharian land.
Nor think ye to deceive; victorious here
I stand: else had my welcome at your hands
Been that of Magnus; and that neck were mine
But for Pharsalia's chance. At greater risk
So seems it, than we dreamed of, took we arms;
Exile, and Magnus' threats, and Rome I knew,
Not Ptolemaeus. But we spare the boy:
Pass by the murder. Let the princeling know
We give no more than pardon for his crime.
And now in honour of the mighty dead,
Not merely that the earth may hide your guilt,
Lay ye the chieftain's head within the tomb;
With proper sepulture appease his shade
And place his scattered ashes in an urn.
Thus may he know my coming, and may hear
Affection's accents, and my fond complaints.
Me sought he not, but rather, for his life,
This Pharian vassal; snatching from mankind
The happy morning which had shown the world
A peace between us. But my prayers to heaven
No favouring answer found; that arms laid down
In happy victory, Magnus, once again
I might embrace thee, begging thee to grant
Thine ancient love to Caesar, and thy life.
Thus for my labours with a worthy prize
Content, thine equal, bound in faithful peace,
I might have brought thee to forgive the gods
For thy disaster; thou had'st gained for me
From Rome forgiveness.'
Thus he spake, but found
No comrade in his tears; nor did the host
Give credit to his grief. Deep in their breasts
They hide their groans, and gaze with joyful front
(O famous Freedom!) on the deed of blood:
And dare to laugh when mighty Caesar wept.
Poems by Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Marcus Annaeus Lucanus's poems collection. Marcus Annaeus Lucanus is a classical and famous poet (39 - 65 / Italy). Share all poems of Marcus Annaeus Lucanus.
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